Took a bit of a break today to get one of those perennial activities out of the way, the great Christmas tree shop. Much hasn't changed about this time honored tradition, don the hats and gloves (well, at least until global warming takes over), pile the family in the car, and hit the ATM to get a bundle of cash to pass "under the table." Not so fast, this is 2011 and Christmas tree lots aren't what they used to be.
Rest assured much of the experience hasn't changed, you still get to wade up and down aisles of freshly cut firs. Trying to select just the right balance of fat vs. thin, tall vs. short, density vs. ornament hanging potential, and there is still some haggling over price (if you are lucky) and the inevitable chainsawing, bundling, and twining to the top of the old station wagon (well, SUV). But today did have a big difference, and one that our e-commerce clients and more so our bricks and mortar clients should be particularly mindful, the "cash box" with the flip up lid and stacks of tens and twenties had been replaced by an iPad with a card reader. This Christmas tree lot has gone high tech, all the way. The iPad totaled the order, and with card reader attached, took my payment, allowed me to sign the screen with a finger, and e-mailed me my receipt.
As much as I appreciated the simplicity and convenience of paying it is a tough argument to make that it is that much better from the consumer side, paying in cash was pretty simple before too, but the secret here is for the vendor. This particular vendor (not exactly Apple) has eight tree lots around town, but what the iPad has done for this little, short lived merchant is provide real time inventory tracking, supply management, resource management, and the underpinnings of customer relationship management. In an instant they are able to see which lots are having the most foot traffic, which lots trend at which times, which are running low on a particular sort of tree, and make adjustments to stock and resourcing accordingly. I will be quite surprised if I don't receive an e-mail from them next year reminding me just where their lot is located, and that it is time to buy the centerpiece of holiday decorations.
Of course next year it will be 2012, and credit card mag strips are really so 2011, so if I need to bring anything other than my cellphone I'll be just a little disappointed. (Did I mention they provide delivery? I guess in case you drive a smart car.)