Getting Things Right: The LCBO On The Go App
Every time I click “Publish” on a post that heavily features the LCBO, Ontario’s government-run liquor distribution monopoly, I am overcome with the sense that I am alienating a huge portion of our readership. But it’s such an odd arrangement, and the business itself such an interesting one — I know teetotalers and Muslims who go there just to pick up their self-published magazine — that I find it impossible not to talk about sometimes. Because even though the LC is a government agency that unapologetically raises prices and tells me it’s for my own good, sometimes they really get it right.
Such is the case with the latest version of their iPhone app, LCBO on the Go. Now, before I go any further, I do have to admit to the fact that I’m a bit of an Unfrozen Caveman when it comes to mobile technology. Even though I am theoretically aware of what Android and Apple phones do for people, I’ve never actually owned one of them — whatever compelling secrets they hold, I can only witness them from the outside, even while my Blackberry cheerfully tells me, “The page you’re trying to load is too big! Shutting down the browser now!”
So, while it’s possible all the apps in the store are equally spiffy, I am thrilled by the simple, perfect solution that this one provides to a fundamental problem:
Let’s talk for a moment about all the times that you encounter new, exciting alcohols (and other products I guess but whatever):
- The homes of friends and relatives
- Retailers in a different city, province, or country
In most, if not all, of those circumstances, you are likely to be discovering the new, exciting alcohol through the process of drinking it. The sequence may go something like this:
Host: Hey, glad you made it!
You: I wouldn’t have missed it! We haven’t seen each other in ages, and I can’t wait to get caught up!
Host: Awesome– oh and hey, I know how much you like red wine. I picked up one of my favorites, I can’t wait for you to try it!
(Three bottles later)
You: OH MAN I HATE TO GO BUT I HAVE TO GO WHY DON’T WE DO THIS MORE OFTEN?
Host: I MISSED YOU SO MUCH!
You: NO I MISSED YOU!
Host: NO I MISSED YOU! I HOPE YOU LIKED THE WINE YOU’RE SO AWESOME!
You: WE SURE HAD ENOUGH OF IT HA HA HA!
Host: DID YOU WANT ONE OF THE LABELS? I’LL PEEL ONE OF THE LABELS. (hopelessly shreds the wine label)
You: NO NO, IT’S TOTALLY FINE, I’LL REMEMBER BUT YOU’RE SO GREAT FOR TRYING WHY DON’T WE DO THIS MORE OFTEN?
Host: WE SHOULD.
You: WE SHOULD.
Both: OKAY BYE.
In other words, the odds of you actually coming away with the name of a wine in these situations are pitiful. Even if you did manage to scribble it on a Post-It or disused gas station receipt (perhaps by evading intoxication altogether, you killjoy), the captured information merely goes to join its new brethren — wadded together in the non-cash slot of a wallet, or slowly mashed to a pulp at the bottom of a purse.
Perhaps I’m being a bit pessimistic about the number of people out there who carry notebooks in which to jot such details (sorry, Moleskin!), but I don’t think so. It’s such a simple problem, and I very much like how the LCBO app solves it:
Step 1: Find products
Choosing the first option on the relatively nondescript main page will take you to do a keyword search, a category browse, or the totally cool way. You know which one to select.
Step 2: Scan the barcode
Another Unfrozen Caveman moment here, as you don’t actually have to do anything for the app to scan. There’s no farting around with focus or pressing another button… just aim the camera at the bottle and away it goes. I had to download something onto my Blackberry just to explain to it what barcodes are, for God’s sake.
Step 3. Read about your product
Because as soon as the app recognizes the barcode, it pops up a product details page. You get the name, size, price, and marketing blurb immediately, and the option to check out additional details if you want.
Then just make it a “Favorite”, and you have an instant shopping list.
And, should you wish to pick some up on the way home from work, you can stick your postal code in there too:
Now, as you can see for yourself, the LCBO app is not a light and sound spectacular. There’s no multimedia, and the content is basically a combination of their online catalogue and their inventory management system. Some of the products listed don’t even have an image associated with them, so the experience isn’t likely to visually dazzle.
But I like that, and I appreciate that they resisted the urge to use the app as a digital version of their magazine. Instead it takes their existing assets, and with the simple use of the iPhone camera, makes them into a tool that solves two problems: helping their customers to remember all the stuff they want to buy, and helping their stores to sell it.
I’m just a Blackberry user, confused and terrified by these tiny pretty boxes haunted by the ghosts of birds and the pigs they are trying to kill, but that seems pretty nifty to me.