Archive for September, 2011

GenY Is The Sweet Spot For QR Codes – At Least For Now

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

The use of QR codes in advertisements continues unabated. We came across three of them on a single day recently. As you can see below, there’s one from the leading Indian retailer SHOPPERS STOP, another from THE BODY SHOP, the UK-headquartered multinational that is the global leader in ethically produced beauty products, and the third one from the leading IT magazine DATAQUEST.


Recent Ads Using QR Codes

Our own experience mirrors the growing trend of QR code usage. We’re currently developing a SmartResponse QR code product called QR360. Although it’s still in the pre-launch stage, we’re receiving a lot of inquiries for QR360.


Having said that, the awareness of QR codes among consumers still has a long way to go. As a matter of fact, we’ve noticed that even the adoption of smartphones – which are required to scan QR codes – has a lot of ground to cover before we can consider them mainstream.

At the same time, we’ve seen a distinct trend in smartphone ownership during the course of community-testing QR360: Almost one in three people below the age of 30 has a smartphone, whereas the corresponding figure among 30+ is less than 10%. We’re not sure if these are representative numbers but, until the demographic pattern of smartphone penetration become clearer, it might make sense for advertisers to treat GenY as the sweetspot for QR code based advertising and restrict their use to this age group.

Advertisers using QR codes in their ads might also want to give a strong reason to consumers for scanning them. Taking the above three examples, the Shoppers Stop ad provides a place of prominence to the QR code and promises “delightfully low prices” by scanning it; the QR code was snuck in a corner of the ad by The Body Shop and contained no explanatory text to incent the reader to scan it; not only is the QR code in the DATAQUEST ad prominently located but it also serves as a mobile coupon by offering 5% discount on the already-discounted subscription rates. We won’t be surprised if DQ and Shopper’s Stop achieve far greater consumer engagement with their QR codes.


Use QR Codes To Create Augmented Reality & Bolster Conversion Of Leads To Deals

Use High-Tech With Caution In Ads

Who Will Bell The ‘QR Code Reader’ Cat?

Differentiate Your Product By Going The Extra Mile – Part 2

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

In Part 1 of this blog post, we’d compared the realtime SMS alerts for credit card transactions sent out by  two banks, BANK1 and BANK2. In this Part 2, we’ll look at these SMS alerts as ‘products’ and see how well they work for the customer towards detecting and preventing fraudulent credit card transactions.

Both banks permit the following modes of card usage.

  1. Card Present One-Off. This is the most common usage scenario in which the cardholder physically hands over the card to the merchant to pay for product or service. Authorization happens for that specific purchase transaction.
  2. Card Not Present One-Off: In this typical online usage scenario, the cardholder makes a purchase on a website, enters the card details on the merchant’s website, and authorizes that specific purchase transaction.
  3. Card Not Present Recurring: The merchant picks up the customer’s card details from file and uses them to execute recurring transactions on the basis of a one time authorization issued by the cardholder.

As seen earlier, BANK1’s alert is not detailed enough to work for the third usage scenario. As a result, it doesn’t really fulfill its purpose of alerting the cardholder to potential fraud, let alone help them prevent it, under all usage scenarios.

BANK1 might argue that the cardholder could visit the bank’s Internet Banking website to find out more details and judge the veracity of the transaction. That argument would fall flat for more than one reason: One, that defeats the basic purpose of using an everytime, everywhere messaging medium like SMS. Two, it demands more effort from me. Three, and most importantly, even if I were willing to toil harder, it won’t serve the purpose: While SMS alerts come in realtime, card transactions are posted only a couple of days later and become visible on the Internet Banking portal only 2-4 days after they happen. Therefore, an immediate visit to the Internet Banking portal upon receipt of an SMS alert would reveal nothing about a transaction.
If BANK1 still tried to defend its defective product design by telling the cardholder to remind themselves to go the Internet Banking portal a couple of days later, I imagine that many people – including me – will go looking for another bank instead.

We can easily foresee BANK1 defending its product by arguing that the cardholder could visit Internet Banking to find out more details and judge the veracity of the transaction. That argument would fall flat for more than one reason: One, it defeats the basic purpose of using an everywhere-everytime-on channel like mobile phone. Two, it demands more effort from the cardholder. Three, and most importantly, it won’t work anyway: While SMS alerts come in realtime, card transactions are posted only a couple of days later on Internet Banking.  A visit to Internet Banking immediately upon receipt of an SMS alert wouldn’t reveal the existence of the transaction, let alone its underlying details.

If BANK1 continued to defend its defective product design by telling the cardholder to remind themselves to go the Internet Banking portal a couple of days later, I imagine that many people – including me – will go to another bank instead.

BANK2 has gone the extra mile and designed its SMS alert product in a more comprehensive manner. By delivering more detailed information, its SMS alert clearly accomplishes the goal of alerting cardholders to potential fraud.

ClairMails 2-way SMS Alert

2-way SMS Alert

On the face of it, the difference between the two products might appear trivial to a product manager but, to a customer, it makes all the difference between a good and a bad product. We wish there was a better way of putting this, but the plain and simple fact is, BANK2’s product works and BANK1’s product does not. Worse still, the sloppy design of BANK1’s product leads to False-Positives, induces anxiety and asks the customer jump several hoops to derive any actionable intelligence from it.

Now, moving on to the second goal of the product, namely to prevent fraud, let’s look at how these two products fare. Supposing a cardholder spots a fraud, what should she do? As per current design, the cardholder has to call the bank’s call center to report this transaction. We all know how painful that could be, especially for something as time critical as this.

We wish banks implement 2-way SMS alerts – yes, they’re already available  – such that the cardholder can reply with a simple “STOP” message to block a fraudulent transaction.

For banks who think we’re perhaps asking for too much, we’re not: We admit we could be victims of a common consumer affliction that is so succinctly expressed by the German saying “Waehrend des Essens kommt das Appetit“, which translates to “the appetite grows during the meal”. At the same time, like most consumers, we recognize that “there is no free lunch” and might be open to paying a nominal charge for the advanced version of this product. This could create an additional revenue stream for banks, which isn’t something they would want to sneeze at, especially in this post Dodd-Frank-Durbin era of the tight squeeze exercised by regulators on overdraft, interchange and other traditional sources of fee income.

Malls, Me And Catch-22

Friday, September 16th, 2011

I recently realized that wherever I go, malls follow.

My mall karma started when I was working in Ramco Systems in Chennai, India. Located in the basement of Apex Plaza in Nungambakkam High Road in the late ‘nineties, my office was adjacent to Landmark. Now a part of the TATA Group with countrywide presence through several stores selling books and music, Landmark was then a single bookstore. When its management decided to enter music, the store needed more space and took over our side of the floor. And out we went – to the third floor of the same building.


Phoenix Market City, Pune-Nagar Road, Pune

Then came my stint at the headquarters of Zensar Technologies in Pune, India, in 2003. My office was located in a building on Pune-Nagar Road that was a famous landmark in Pune for several decades. Although I moved on from Zensar in 2004, the office location remained on my radar since it’s close to my home in Kalyaninagar. Around 2005 or so, Zensar sold this plot and moved to a new facility. For the next 3-4 years, we were seeing some massive construction activity happening there on a “stealth” mode. Only around six months ago did it become widely known that this was the site of one ‘Phoenix Market City’, a mall. And so it turned out that yet another of my office locations became a mall.

While I haven’t been able check the current state of some of my ex-offices in Ruwi (Muscat, Oman), Niederrad (Frankfurt, Germany), Dreieich (near Frankfurt) and Marsh Wall (London, UK), I won’t be surprised if I were to find that they’ve made way for glitzy new malls.

Readers of the iconic Catch-22 might recall the character of Chief White Halfoat: Every place Chief White Halfoat pitched his tent, oil companies would sink a well and hit oil. When I’d read the book around thirty years ago, I found its characters hilarious but never imagined that I’d come across their likeness in real-life. Around 2-3 years ago, I started having second thoughts when I read about  Charles Tyrwhitt and COBRA. Now, with malls following one after the other of my offices, Catch-22 started to seem not only increasingly plausible but chillingly autobiographical!

I’ve decided to take the bull by the horns with my latest move. My present office in Regus Business Center is actually located inside a – ahem – mall (Connaught Place in Pune, India)! Instead of malls following me, I’ve started following malls and succeeded in reversing my mall karma!

I found its characters hilarious and their ploys convincing but never imagined that I’d come across their likeness in real-life.

Differentiate Your Product By Going The Extra Mile – Part 1

Friday, September 9th, 2011

Credit card holders in India might have noticed of late that they’re receiving SMS alerts on their mobile phones each time they use their cards. I’m not sure if this is a bank/card-specific initiative or the outcome of some new government regulation applicable across the industry, but I’ve been receiving these notifications from the issuers of both my Visa credit cards since the middle of June.

At the outset, let me thank both banks for this new ‘product’.

Since these alerts occur in realtime, I guess they’re primarily intended to help cardholders to detect fraudulent transactions rather than to serve as a budgeting / expense tracking tool. I can’t be sure of their true purpose since I never received any communication from these two banks when this product was launched.

As I’d pointed out in this post a few months ago in a different context, a little extra effort at communication on the part of banks can go a long way in fostering customer retention and customer delight. However, I won’t complain if these banks have chosen to stay silent either out of humility or the desire to stay below the radar of one CNSC. This Miami, FL-based company sued Visa for launching a few pilots of something similar in the USA last year, claiming that it infringed upon its patent on the underlying technology. (I don’t know how SMS can qualify for a patent, but I’ll let that one pass for now).

Assuming my guess is right, let’s see how these SMS alerts help cardholders detect fraud in realtime.

First, let’s look at a couple of recent alerts I received from BANK1, a large multinational bank headquartered in the UK and active in India for several decades.


SMS Alerts From BANK1

Since I’d handed over my credit card at a store for a purchase of INR 2370.00 on 21-Jul-2011, I could be sure that the first transaction was genuine.

Now, when I received the second alert, the card was tucked away safely inside my wallet. I’d neither handed it over to anyone nor used it online. However, for all I knew, this could’ve been an alert for one of many genuine card not present transactions put through by a merchant on the back of a recurring mandate issued by me before. Such recurring transactions based on a one-time approval are very common among American merchants (e.g. Hostgator for website hosting, Skype for monthly calling plans) and have recently started making an appearance in India as well (e.g. Regus for office rentals). Since they don’t require case-by-case approval, such transactions don’t always ring a bell at the exact instant that I receive the alert. Exacerbating the ambiguity is the fact that, while the mandate amount would be a constant figure in US$ or some other foreign currency (say US$ 8), the amount displayed on the SMS alert is in INR and varies from transaction to transaction depending upon the USD:INR prevalent on that day. If this alert was the result of transaction coming out of some such pre-issued mandate, it didn’t signal a fraud.

On the other hand, the alert could equally well have been triggered by a card not present transaction initiated by a con artist who had stolen my credit card details or a fraudulent merchant to whom I have not issued a recurring mandate.

Point is, without the merchant’s name in the SMS alert, it’s difficult – well-nigh impossible if you do a lot of CNP transactions like me – to figure out the authenticity of a transaction.

Now, let’s look at the following alert from BANK2, which is a Top3 Indian private sector bank.


SMS Alerts from BANK2

As you can see, these alerts provide valuable extra information viz. the merchant name and the time of transactions. Using these additional details, it’s much easier to differentiate between genuine and fraudulent transactions: Since I’ve never dealt with anyone called KUMARAUTO, I could conclude that the first transaction was fraudulent the moment I received the SMS alert. Whereas, since I’ve signed a mandate with HOSTGATOR for auto debit of monthly website hosting charges, the second transaction was genuine.

In Part-2 of this post, we’ll look at these SMS alerts as a ‘product’ and see how well they work for the customer towards detecting and then preventing fraudulent credit card transactions. Spoiler Alert: One bank’s product rocks, the other one’s product sucks, and the difference is in the details.

Why Is It Easier To Search The WWW Than A Single Website?

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

Those of you familiar with the world of search before Google would know that Google’s search engine attained massive following because of its blazing speed and exhaustive coverage of the Internet. Awed by the speed of Google Search across billions of websites spread in the far corners of the world wide web, have you ever wondered

  1. Why does it take far longer to do a Windows Search of your PC’s hard disk?
  2. Why do search results on one website leave a lot to be desired even when you’re using Google CSE (Custom Search Engine) to conduct your search?
  3. Why is it so hard to find a particular transaction within your Internet Banking transaction history?
  4. Why is it even more difficult to search for a particular post or comment on a blog? As TechCrunch says, “TechCrunch has published thousands of blog posts over its nearly 5 and a half years. Many are good one-day stories, some we’d like to forget, but others are gems. These classics are just as interesting today as when they were first written … But try discovering them. It’s nearly impossible.” By the way, TC uses Google CSE for site search.

pic02-200wI’ve obsessed over this subject for a long time. Only recently I learned that this is not a problem with any specific website. Since Google and many other search engines rank a web page on the basis of backlinks to it from other websites, they fail to do a good job within a website where the concept of backlinks doesn’t apply.

Is there a solution to this problem, then?

Looks like I stumbled on to one.

I was recently trying to recall the name of a PPC search engine about which I’d read a post on TechCrunch a few weeks ago. When I used Google CSE to find this post on TC, I got long list of results but none of them took me to the right one.

I was about to give up in exasperation when it suddenly struck me that, like most posts on TechCrunch, this one also might’ve been retweeted a few times. I did a Twitter Search for “TechCrunch PPC” and struck paydirt. There were only two results to go through and both of them took me to the TC post that I was looking for.


Given the realtime nature of Twitter, I’m not sure if its search would be as effective a few days or weeks later, but for now, it works!