Tesco has begun testing a system that lets Google Glass owners fill a shopping cart without setting foot in the store, but this test may have a limited audience, as it launched just days before Google stopped selling its high-end headset.
Even for existing Google Glass owners, there are limits to what Tesco allows. It won't let shoppers actually pay for anything, which means that they have use their smartphone, tablet or desktop device to complete a purchase. In a potentially even more telling note, Tesco offers this service only with its e-commerce operation, Tesco.com. Walk into a Tesco brick-and-mortar wearing Google Glass and you'll be able to launch the Tesco Glass app, but it won't be able to interact with the physical store environment, meaning no bar code scans, planogram directions or in-store purchases.
In a sense, this is the perfect metaphor for Google Glass. Companies have been in love with the idea of wearables (especially Glass) but are shy about seriously committing.
Tesco, which said it is the first major retailer to publicly test Glass, is painting this trial as a research project. "This isn't about a channel that we think it is going to drive. It's about understanding how customers want to use wearable technology," said Tesco spokesperson Felicity Callaghan. "We're inviting feedback from those who have Google Glass in the U.K. Wearables are in very early stages and this is an area that is quickly changing, quickly developing."
As wearables give with one hand, they take with the other. On Jan. 15, two days after Tesco announced its Google Glass experiment, Google announced the shutdown of its Glass public trial and thus, sales of Google Glass in preparation for a full product launch. "We realize that we've outgrown the lab and so we're officially 'graduating' from Google (Labs) to be our own team here at Google," Google said in a blog post.
The Google Glass headset communicates with an Android smartphone to display notifications and run apps that appear in a small display above the user's right eye. Since the product's debut, the only available version of Glass has been the Explorer Edition, which sold for $1,500. Google solicited feedback from the "explorers" willing to pay the steep price to get the first version of its wearable device.
Despite the device's high cost and limited availability, many payment companies tested ways to use it in a retail setting. MasterCard experimented with enabling consumers to use Google Glass with its MasterPass wallet and QkR mobile app, and SCVNGR's LevelUp tested giving Glass headsets to cashiers to scan QR codes on shoppers' phones.
For Tesco's experiment, the retailer chose to limit the features of its Glass app.
"We've intentionally kept functionality very basic given the early stages of customer use of Glass. We're keen to see how customers react to shopping with Glassware and welcome feedback or suggestions from customers using Glass," said Pablo Coberly, Innovation Engineer at Tesco Labs.
"We don't envisage Glass becoming the new platform for shopping as its functionality is different and more immediate," Coberly added. "Instead, it complements other devices and integrates shopping into everyday life because products can be ordered or added as and when customers realize they need replacing."
The problem with such testing is that the results might not shed much light on how shoppers would react to a more full-fledged Glass app. For example, if shoppers know that they have to complete the transaction on a smartphone, tablet or desktop computer, they might opt to simply use those more traditional devices without touching the Glass app. Although Tesco might interpret a lackluster response from its Glass-user shoppers as indicating that they have no interest in using Glass for purchases, it could just as easily mean that testers would have preferred a more fully functional Glass app.
Dan Rosenbaum, who closely tracks the wearables space as editor of Wearable Tech Insider, said this wearables move by the U.K.'s largest retailer could reflect good strategy, even if it's a very limited rollout.
"The Tesco trial makes sense if you think about it as a way to shop on yet another platform. You're not going to look at every SKU," he said. "This is all about seeing whether the search interface makes sense."