Top Stories



Grocery Chain Connects TV Tracking And POS Data

April 16th, 2009
A grocery chain has gotten involved in a deal where it is sharing extensive POS customer data with a business that is marrying that data with those same consumers' entertainment-watching history. The goal? To overlay the two to see what those consumers are buying after they watch certain entertainment shows or commercials.

In this particular effort, the retailer has chosen to mask the individual consumer identities—for now—and is trying to draw general conclusions based on the actions of people in that Zip Code. But the technology was there for them to tie everything back to the individual consumer, raising quite a few data and privacy strategy issues.Read more...


Will DataBar Kill The Self-Checkout Produce, Coupon Nightmare?

April 16th, 2009
Grocery chains have for years struggled with self-checkout systems that couldn't easily deal with produce, POS stations that simply couldn't handle complicated coupons and barcodes that didn't understand expiration dates. But in a move that many in retail IT see as the potentially biggest change in product labeling since the rollout of the UPC barcode 35 years ago, the GS1 DataBar is looking to sharply increase its retail presence as of January. Among the chains most vocally advocating for the advance are American chains Walmart, Winn-Dixie and Krogers plus Canada's Loblaw.

At its core, the DataBar codes are today's barcodes but are much more tightly packed with much more information. But not all of this transition will be akin to scanning sugar and spice. Most chains will have to absorb non-trivial costs to support the upgrades, a tricky move at a time of store closings and massive layoffs. Most product scanners built since 2000 are capable of reading DataBars but investments need to be made beyond just the scanners.Read more...


Does New Media Demand New Metrics?

April 9th, 2009
Ran into a marketing exec who came up with a wonderfully different measuring approach for evaluating social networking sites. Understanding that social media is about influence, persuasion, he did a very informal study (resources: a pair of interns) of his targeted social site. The project was to count up every time anyone on the site referenced one of their brands and to note whether the reference was favorable, unfavorable or neutral.

After tracking that for an extended period and noting the ebbs and flows, he then ran a major campaign. But instead of looking at impressions, clickthrough, leads generated or any other typical Web metric, he simply repeated his study. The only test of a social site marketing campaign, he reasoned, is to see if it was changing the dialogue at all. Were his brands getting talked about more? And was it boosting his favorable and dropping his negatives?Read more...


POS As The Great Protector

April 8th, 2009
The POS system is the Rodney Dangerfield of the retail IT world: It gets no respect. (Could have gone back yet further and said it was the Red Buttons of the retail IT world because it never gets a dinner, but that's an even more obscure pop culture reference.)

Chains are just starting to see the business ROI potential of POS—especially when working with CRM—to fuel upsells and to legitimately increase loyalty. But few look at POS as a potential protector and a protector against some potentially very large expenses. Consider four items from the last few days.Read more...


Macy’s Cites Privacy In Fighting D.A.’s CRM, POS Subpoena

April 8th, 2009
Fighting a subpoena for CRM and POS data from the Los Angeles District Attorney, Macy's attorneys are arguing that privacy expectations prevent them from revealing the names of their customers who purchased children's jewelry made with potentially toxic lead. The D.A. argues that it needs the names so that the consumers can be contacted to try and stop the health threat.

The case raises many critical retail IT issues, including how private—or proprietary—the courts should consider data, including purchase histories from CRM/loyalty and POS payment files. Beyond privacy issues, such subpoenas could force retailers to publicly reveal that they are collecting and saving a lot more information than they want to disclose. There are also PCI implications, where a merchant could theoretically be shown to be saving prohibited payment card data.Read more...

Grocery Chain Tries Loyalty Card With 7-Day Price Guarantee

April 8th, 2009

Shoppers with RFID-enabled loyalty cards from a chain of Washington State grocery stores get their accounts automatically credited the price difference, plus 1 percent, if products they buy go on sale within a week of their shopping trips. Now there’s an incentive to use the cards. The program is being trialed at the Top Food & Drug chain, which owns 33 supermarkets in Washington and Oregon under the TOP Food & Drug, Haggen Food & Pharmacy and Larry’s Market names.

“If you buy milk for $4 on Tuesday and the provider sells it on Thursday for $3.50, you get an E-mail saying you’ve got fifty cents in your account based on the fact we put this on sale,” said Peter Gruman, president of Accelitec, a vendor involved in the program. “The next time the customer visits the store and taps his loyalty card at the POS, the cashier will see he has fifty cents credit and will ask if he wants to apply it to the sale or let it remain in the account.” The program also provides no-questions-asked automated refunds for products with quality problems. If a loyalty card holder finds the milk was sour, he can call the store and ask for a refund, which will also be credited directly to the CRM card.…

Calvin Klein’s Approach-Avoidance E-Commerce Challenge

April 5th, 2009
When Calvin Klein brands, the diversified apparel line that sold almost $6 billion worth of clothing last year for parent company Phillips-Van Heusen, launched its first E-Commerce site six months ago, it had to deal with the same channel conflict issues for any business so dependent on its retail distributors. But instead of seeing a lot of sales shift from in-store to online, it found an increase in revenue as younger consumers embraced the brand online. "Our sense is that this (Web) consumer skews a little younger than the department store channel," said Tom Murry, president/CEO of Calvin Klein Inc..

But from a strategic marketing perspective, Calvin Klein's approach-avoidance relationship with E-Commerce and New Media is fascinating. They waited more than a decade to get into E-Commerce, even though they wanted that audience. Even when they did launch, they're hesitant to go mobile and social. And yet, this is the same fearless company that pushed the envelope—many would say blew past that envelope—of good taste in X-rated advertisements, trying to stir up attention among younger consumers. That's fine, of course, but it hardly fits the profile of a brand that is scared to move into mobile and social in 2009.Read more...

Sticker Contactless Payment Misses The Point

April 1st, 2009
When Blaze Mobile and others started pushing an RFID sticker as their own contactless payment form factor, it was a media-friendly way of presenting an idea that misses the point of why contactless payment is struggling. Contactless payment has been besieged by challenges, ranging from half-hearted marketing efforts by some of the key financial players, early reports of faulty equipment and serious issues involving contactless security and the perceived lack of any security.

But the key issue has consistently been much simpler. Unlike other forms of consumer-issued RFID devices—such as EZPass and even the keyless entry systems of some newer cars—typical contactless payment methods have not given consumers any real reason to use them. With no significant convenience or cost-savings issue, one need not look too far to figure out why contactless is struggling in many sectors.Read more...

Macy’s Ignores Govt. Subpoena For CRM Records In Lead-Tainted Necklace Criminal Case

April 1st, 2009
Macy's, accused by the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office of selling lead-tainted necklaces, has taken a confrontational—and controversial—stance: It is refusing to share its CRM databases with the government, even if it means that consumers and children who are at risk of lead poisoning can't be contacted. Macy's has declined to comment on the situation—other than an E-mail to reporters saying that it won't comment—so the only version of events is coming from the D.A.'s office, which says that Macy's has provided no explanation whatsoever.

This leaves open the question of whether Macy's is refusing to turn the files over for legal—or other—reasons or if it simply cannot access and thereby produce such records, for technological and logistical reasons. But Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Daniel Wright said he is leaning more toward the "won't" as opposed to the "can't" theory, at least for some of the requested records. "It's aggravating," Wright said. "It's inexplicable to me."Read more...

Is Amazon Losing The Battle Of Brand Vs. Bland?

April 1st, 2009
Striving to maintain a unique brand in a sea of bland, some manufacturers are foregoing the revenue potential of selling to huge, generic E-Commerce sites such as Amazon, EBay and Overstock and are sticking to more specialized retailers with more perceived ambiance and character. There has been a trend this year of retailers—scared for their survival in a massive economic mess—questioning their Internet/E-Commerce investments and whether their dollars wouldn't be spent better elsewhere. The best example is likely Borders, but Canadian Tire, Sears and even Circuit City—in its last days—also provide good evidence of the trend.

But other retailers are re-evaluating their E-Commerce strategy and are not necessarily pulling back. Many are questioning the impact on their brand strategy—let alone their channel strategy—of having a high percentage of their product sold by huge E-Commerce sites that sell hundreds of thousands of other—often unrelated—products. Cloud B, a maker of fancy sleep products for children, is a good example of a specialty manufacturer who has opted to make such a change and pull its products away from Amazon. That wasn't an easy decision, given that Amazon's sales have accounted for about 10 percent of all of Cloud B's revenue.Read more... Shut Down For “Site Enhancements”

March 19th, 2009 went down a few minutes after midnight (New York time) on Thursday (March 19) morning and stayed down for at least several hours. Pingdom first detected the outage but it wasn’t hard to confirm. Initially the site was simply not responsive. After a little more than two hours, the homepage was replaced with a sign that said, “We’re sorry. is temporarily closed for site enhancements.” Is it coincidental that this comes on the heels of Sears declaring this week that it was going to be expanding more of its online efforts with its KMart corporate brother?

The early morning timing of the outage could suggest some site maintenance, but the fact that the site went silent for hours and that it was only then that such a “Move along. Nothing to see here today, folk” sign was posted, that does make it look a little baffling. (Note: The site seems to have come back now, several hours after the darkness. That’s certainly good, but the question of why it went dark for hours before a maintenance note was posted still exists. Sears just messaged that the outage was for a planned site upgrade and that they had thought the splash page had been there since it went down. It might have been somewhere, but we didn’t see it.) …

E-Commerce Wishlist When Times Are Tough

March 11th, 2009
A reader was visiting this weekend because she was about to run out of printer paper and knew she had to drive by a Wal-Mart that afternoon. Her mission was simple: She wasn't especially picky about which plain printer paper, but she just wanted to make sure it was in stock at her local store.

She hit and found tons of different printer paper, all of which looked quite acceptable. But she tried one or two and searched if it was in-stock at her store. Nope. She simply wanted to ask the site, "Limiting your answer to this one store, what printer paper does it have in stock?" If she was only interested in one very specific brand and paper type, she could have searched that store. The generic searches made so easy on the site, though, wouldn't work when focused on one store.Read more...

Is Retail Best-of-Breed Going Bye-Bye?

March 11th, 2009
For years, one of the advantages of working in IT in a large chain has been the ability to deploy in-house and best-of-breed strategies as needed. It was that ability to craft a package that precisely fit the demands of a project that made some of those jobs enviable. But as dollars have tightened, a funny thing happened: many of those packaged apps starting getting a lot better.

New stats coming from research at are suggesting that, as suspected, homegrown packages are losing their home. IT execs saying that their "preferred IT deployment philosophy" is "deploying packaged applications with few modifications" came in at 53.8 percent, almost twice as popular an answer as "best of breed" at 28.8 percent. Even though RISNews has seen that trend for years, the difference had never been so stark. While the packaged response has been right around today's 53.8 percent figure for years (ranging no farther than from the low- to mid-50s), best-of-breed has suddenly plummeted. It was at 46 percent in 2006, 45 percent in 2007 and 47 percent in 2008, before plunging to 28.8 percent this year.Read more...

Survey Suggests Retail IT Spending Recession-Proof. Or Does It?

March 11th, 2009
Many retail IT budgets in 2010 will have about the same ratio to sales they had in 2008, and a decent percentage of those budgets will be boosted to cover projects currently in progress, according to a new report. Surveys like this raise skeptical eyebrows, as they should. Do those IT execs truly expect their budgets to go up or are they merely hoping that they'll go up?

Even more cynically, is it possible that those execs know that surveys like this tend to impact CEO/CFO expectations and, therefore, they'll give the answers they want their CFOs to believe? Even if the execs are being straight with the survey takers—and that the survey takers are being straight in reporting all of the collected data without sanitation—we have to wonder what was behind those answers.Read more...

Amazon, Facebook: Retailers Want IT Leaders That Don’t Lead

March 4th, 2009
Many major retailers have been criticized for being slow to adapt to industry—especially Web-based—changes. But it's not hard to see why when we see how the industry treats e-tail pioneers such as Amazon and Facebook. To be fair, both Amazon and Facebook got spanked for going too far in respectively testing copyright and privacy limits, and both firms likely merited it.

And both firms quickly retreated. The specifics here do not indicate a major inappropriate reaction, but the pattern is discomforting. For companies to lead the industry and stake out strong global positions--especially in a weak economy—requires bold action. That means being aggressive at times to see how far consumers and competitors will permit them to go.Read more...

J.C. Penney’s Virtual Runway A Hint Of What It Might Have Been

February 25th, 2009
As a student of well-thought-out, creative E-Commerce initiatives, I was naturally excited to hear that as deep-pocketed and serious a chain as J.C. Penney was declaring an "innovative online experience" that was "one-of-a-kind" and demonstrated "leadership in the online retail space."

Imagine my disappointment when a rudimentary runway model demo was all that this experience amounted to. Barely two-dozen short videos of models walking. And yet, just down the E-Commerce corridor sit the ghosts of what J.C. Penney might have done had the company truly wanted to show E-Commerce leadership and innovation. Had it chosen to move from mediocre to meritorious, think of the customization potential in a runway show.Read more...

The PDA Instant Loyalty Card?

February 24th, 2009

One vendor is trying to get consumers to sidestep the hassle of filling out loyalty card applications at every store by integrating the functionality into a PDA.

The field test by Japan’s NTT Communication started this month, just as the vendor promised when it rolled out the program in October 2008. NTT’s new “Gyazapo” system, which uses an RFID chip in a mobile phone to carry loyalty card information for multiple retailers, can allow RFID scanners at the POS to grab shoppers’ personal information from a central database managed by NTT.…

Intel India Toys With Merging POS, Digital Signage And CRM

February 23rd, 2009

In a proof-of-concept experiment in Bangalore, Intel India is marrying RFID tags and POS with a CRM database where “frequent customers would have their preferences and favorites recorded.” Such a system could tout related products and flag new versions of that consumer’s preferred brands.

“This system is designed to replace the current simplistic computer or other system that only provides billing and basic services,” said Sanat Rao, Marketing Director (Emerging Markets), Embedded and Communications Group, at Intel. “Our system, once implemented, allows the possibility of being operated as a kiosk and provides the information on inventory.”…

Facebook Users: Do What I Want, Not What I Say

February 22nd, 2009
Facebook officials learned a hard lesson this month when the social networking site snuck in a privacy policy change that could have allowed it to access users' content—and use it forever for pretty much anything Facebook could think of—even after users had deleted it from their accounts. After public backlash, the policy was reversed—for now. But I'll bet serious money that these execs learned the wrong lesson.

To interpret motivation and real intent, sometimes a look at history can be useful. Do you remember another Facebook privacy incident back in December 2007? In that case, Facebook tried sharing—without permission—customers' purchases with people on their friends list. Is this a pattern? Is Facebook trying things, and if it's caught and there's a loud enough protest, the site pulls back? In short, is Facebook trying the permission versus forgiveness approach? Indeed, it seems to have tried both options. For a company that is trying to solidify a brand and build as much trust as possible, these tactical approaches seem odd.Read more...

Best Buy’s Price Match Problems Illustrate Merged Channel Hurdle

February 19th, 2009
It was the Christmas holiday season in 2007 and Best Buy Associate Boris Manzheley was doing what he was trained to do. According to his sworn court deposition, that meant cheating customers out of price match deals. "Best Buy had a corporate undisclosed policy of discouraging and denying customers the benefits of its price match guarantee," Manzheley said in his deposition. "Management mandated that all price match requests that resulted in a product being sold at less than 5 percent above cost would be denied. Best Buy provided a financial incentive for denying proper price match requests." That incentive involved weekly bonuses, he wrote.

What seems like a bold and obvious strategy at headquarters becomes infinitely more complex in the field. And something as mundane as regional sales bonuses can set off a domino effect that can undermine—and potentially derail—the largest merged channel (and even cross-channel) efforts.Read more...

Will eBay Survive Its Professionalization?

February 19th, 2009
A new book about eBay is coming out and it makes the argument that in an attempt to make the site and its sellers seem more professional, it's hurting the very same small sellers that made the auction site work. It was those quirky items for sale and the well-timed sale that would periodically deliver a stunningly low price that gave eBay its charm.

But in an attempt to give users a more consistent and professional experience—professional as in free shipping, 24-hour customer service and instant purchases—is eBay abandoning everything that made it work, everything that made it the world's largest and best garage sale?Read more...

P&G’s Decision To Pull Back From Wal-Mart RFID Trial Quite Understandable

February 19th, 2009
It's not surprising that so much has been made of the decision by Procter & Gamble (P&G) to abandon its RFID tagged promotional displays at Wal-Mart.

Given P&G's reputation for ROI worship, many assumed the company pulled the plug because RFID was failing the test. What is closer to the truth is that the test failed, not the technology. And to the extent that Wal-Mart was as much a player in this trial as P&G, it could also be said that the test didn't fail, the tester did.Read more...

CVS Hit With $2.5 Million Fine For Consumer Data Dumpster Diving Debacle

February 19th, 2009
As punishment for the careless disposal of items containing personal information, CVS Caremark must pay a $2.5 million fine and establish a "comprehensive information security program" to protect both paper and electronic documents containing sensitive data, according to a government settlement announced Wednesday (Feb. 18).

The orders between the chain, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Department of Human Services followed a probe that found workers at the company's pharmacies tossed into open garbage dumpsters many items containing highly sensitive consumer medical information.Read more...

Customer Satisfaction With In-Store Improves, But Drops For E-tailers

February 19th, 2009
Reversing an 18-month trend, consumer satisfaction with in-store retail products and services ticked upward in the fourth quarter of 2008. But similar good news wasn't on the menu for E-tailers. After a three-year period where consumer satisfaction with online-only retail companies steadily climbed, the Q4 2008 results showed a 1.2 percent decrease.

Overall, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) climbed 0.9 percent to 75.7 on the 100-point scale during the quarter, compared with the same period in 2007. "Very few economic indicators show positive signs these days," said Claes Fornell, who heads the ACSI. "The American Customer Satisfaction (for in-store) is one of them."Read more...

Zappos To Let Users Tweak Web Pages

February 19th, 2009

Customers of E-tailer will soon be able to personalize the content of the Zappos Web pages they see. The company, using its own technology and developers, will enable shoppers to arrange content by category and style, said a report in the Internet Retailer. Zappos also plans to include more social networking tools on its product pages. This effort will make for easy sharing of information over Twitter, Facebook and other social sites.

Zappos, which began selling only shoes but has widely expanded its product offerings, is also suggesting that its employees create their own product videos to present to Zappos customers over the Web site, a move almost identical to Best Buy’s.…


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