You might notice something different about the sales receipt at Burgerville, a chain of 39 burger shops in the Portland area. Using a technology developed by SmartReceipt (www.receipt.com), the chain shows customized nutrition information about your specific order, news and trivia, and marketing information. On the back-end, the chain has found out new trends based on actual orders—that more customers have ordered burgers without cheese, and that fat free smoothies are gaining in popularity. The SmartReceipt system can be used to offer customized coupons based on the specific order, create a loyalty system, and add tips about nutrition for the next order, such as how much mayo adds in calories.
Did you know a smartphone can double as a barcode reader? A new app called CodeREADr (www.codereadr.com) can scan, record, track, and validate barcodes from shipping packages and products. For example, a wholesaler in Houston called Texas Jasmine (www.texasjasmine.com), which services about 5,000 convenience stores in Texas, uses the app to scan UPC symbols on all products. The barcode scans feeds directly into their POS system as a way to track inventory. The main advantage to using the app, which works on the iPhone and many Android and BlackBerry phones, is that the wholesaler does not need to invest in expensive barcode scanning equipment and relies on the handheld devices already being used.
Ordering products from China, including electronics parts, clothing, and home décor items, can open up a can of worms. It’s hard to know which companies are legitimate, but the biggest problem is that a small business is often charged more per item than big box retailers like Best Buy. OrderWithMe (www.orderwithme.com) is a new service where you can order a low number of items, but pool the order with other small businesses in the U.S.—the service then arranges a lower price per unit. The site was developed by Jonathan Jenkins and his wife Danielle, who live in China and make the deals directly with Chinese factories. The site works like Groupon—you place an order and wait for other small businesses to complete the same order until, together, you meet a minimum quantity.
The popular KickStarter site is a great way to generate initial excitement over a product idea and raise funds. However, for a legitimate capital funding effort, it’s illegal to advertise a private offering—you can’t ask investors to buy $300,000 in shares for your start-up, for example. A new site called CapLinked.com (www.caplinked.com), which has attracted about 7,500 companies already, provides a secure platform for companies to exchange documents with investors and discuss capital funding. At the site, you create a private “deal room” for prospects to find out more about your product or service. The communication goes both ways: when you post news about your start-up, every potential investor gets a notice. When a new prospect logs in to get more information, you get an alert about that as well.
Facial recognition systems often have one thing in common: they’re expensive. You might use a surveillance camera in a retail store or for security at an event to scan for photo matches, but the back-end processing requires complex and expensive software. A new facial recognition system called Viewdle (www.viewdle.com) intends to change that. The technology is currently being used in gaming and for identifying friends on a social network, but it can also work for small businesses. For example, using a custom app, a store could set up a smartphone that scans each customer as they walk in, then alerts the clerk to the customer’s buying history. The recognition engine runs entirely on the phone, and identifies the customer in just one or two seconds. A small business could build up a database by initially tagging each customer by name, and then the app can identify that person automatically.