Top Stories



Would A Marriage Of Mobile And A Shopping Cart Solve The In-Store Tracking Issue?

September 26th, 2012
In our story this week about the various ways to track shopper location in-store, an astute reader asked whether tracking a shopping cart wouldn't be an easier approach than tracking the mobile device. Although tracking the cart or a handheld basket is much more limited, it does have some wonderful advantages. But what if you could marry the brains of a mobile app with the bulk—and easier trackability—of a cart?

This marriage could be a very low-cost proposition, with the app asking for the cart's number or, better yet, the cart presenting a QR or barcode that the app can scan. The app—with its capabilities and its CRM history—could use a cart equipped with a simple radio beacon for navigation purposes.Read more...


Brick-and-Mortars And Their Bogeymen: Showrooming, Online Sales Tax And Amazon

September 26th, 2012
For the last year or two, brick-and-mortar execs have shared three bogeymen—showrooming, E-Commerce sales tax avoidance and Amazon, itself—blaming each for plummeting sales. And just like the bogeymen of generations of children's nightmares, neither of the first two is real, other than being real excuses for their own problems. The sales tax bogeyman has been mostly exposed to the light, with the initial states where Amazon has started charging sales tax showing what should surprise no one: The sales taxes being charged have had no statistically meaningful impact on Amazon sales.

For the Amazon sales tax haven to be an issue, you first have to believe that the only—or even a main—reason why people shop at Amazon is to save the sales tax. There are quite a few reasons why that is absurd. But the fact that shipping charges are typically many times the sales tax is a pretty good place to start.Read more...


How Do I Track Thee, Mobile Shopper? Let Me Count The Ways

September 24th, 2012
For quite a few years now, retailers have salivated over the idea of mobile phones revealing exactly where shoppers are at all times. Retailers would know which displays customers are standing in front of, for how long and what actions they take right afterward. Unfortunately, even though mobile devices have advanced quite a bit recently, the ability to know location with any precision has been elusive.

No major advances in mobile location technology have emerged. In the last couple of months, however, quite a few very different approaches to location tracking have emerged. These range from leveraging the earth's magnetic field to piggybacking the data already used by mobile ads, tracking a combination of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals, and riding the audio signals from existing music speakers. One app even reacts to light patterns from specially enhanced LED bulbs.Read more...


Best Buy RedLaser Trial Just Shows One Store’s Stock

September 20th, 2012
Best Buy on Monday (Sept. 17) described a trial it's doing with eBay's RedLaser, where it uses in-store Wi-Fi triangulation coupled with near-the-store GPS tracking to confirm that a shopper has walked into a Best Buy. Once confirmed, it pops up a special version of RedLaser's app focused solely on Best Buy. The traditional RedLaser app—which will still be available to those shoppers in a Best Buy—did a more global product search among all retailers.

What's impressive is that this approach is three levels deeper than what RedLaser has been used to. It goes beyond limiting its results to Best Buy, focusing instead on what that specific Best Buy store sells and then limiting the results to what that specific Best Buy store has in stock. This means Best Buy's APIs are sharing real-time inventory data.Read more...


Do Not Track Feud Drags Retail Web Sites Into Legal Risk

September 12th, 2012
Retailers could really use some cooperation from vendors these days—or at least fewer surprises—when it comes to following privacy policies. Right, that'll happen. As of last week, Microsoft and the Apache Web server project are feuding over how Apache (the most widely used Web server) will handle Do Not Track features of Internet Explorer (the most widely used Web browser).

Unfortunately, the two software suppliers aren't just throwing the usual hissy fits at each other. They're configuring their software as part of the feud, which means retailers and their online privacy policies and, potentially, the Federal Trade Commission are caught in the middle.Read more...

Walmart Is Quietly Becoming Quite The Mobile Hipster

September 12th, 2012

With a staggering $444 billion in annual revenue, Walmart has generally been sluggish and conservative, allowing tech innovations to be toyed with by rivals such as But in the last few months, Walmart has quietly started acting like quite the aggressive startup. It has embraced mobile and various innovative tech approaches, including an infatuation with social media, in a way that no major chain—especially not the old Walmart—has ever done.

Consider just the last couple weeks’ activity at Walmart alone, and it becomes clear how change is being embraced by Bentonville. And as anyone who has ever worked with an aircraft carrier knows, turning such a huge boat around quickly is hardly easy. How that’s happening at Walmart is the topic of StorefrontBacktalk‘s September monthly column in Retail Week, the U.K.’s largest retail publication. The column lives here at Retail Week. For those who don’t have a Retail Week subscription—shame on you!—here’s a copy at StorefrontBacktalk.…

Walmart’s CRM Gateway: Mobile Checkout?

September 5th, 2012
Walmart's two-day trial last week to test in-aisle mobile checkout was about everything other than accelerating the checkout process. The chain saw it as delivering everything from a back door into a CRM system (which Walmart has never had) to making coupons and other incentives several orders of magnitude more effective and even gathering in-store geolocation data for marketing analysis. ("We may have sold 50 TVs this week, but based on the number of people standing by that area for more than six minutes, it looks like we need to tweak pricing more.")

When Walmart quietly (was it really intended to be quiet? More on that in a moment) ran this test at one store near the Bentonville mothership, many compared it with the chain's self-checkout efforts. But this setup's advantages make that particular function of minimal interest. Still, it's the most palatable explanation to offer shoppers.Read more...

Walmart’s New Search: Context Will Have To Wait

September 5th, 2012
When announced its new search engine on August 30 and that it had already gone live, the retailer promised the ability to understand "the intent" of a shopper's search. As a practical matter, though, the new engine simply didn't. But "in the next couple of months," version two of the engine will actually consider the shopper's queries in context, according to the Walmart executive in charge of the program.

To test whether the initial engine was indeed able to factor in a shopper's intent, we searched for Apple. Understandably, the results were about iPhones, iPads and other hardware from that company. But we then searched for Oranges, Bananas, Pears and then again asked it about Apple, hoping that it would now understand our desire for the Garden of Eden edible type of apple, which does indeed sell. Nope, it didn't take the hint and continued to display mobile computers. (When we searched for "fruit," the desired apples did materialize in the results.)Read more...

Is The Best Use Of NFC Just To Connect Customers With CRM?

September 5th, 2012
Maybe mobile payments are literally the last thing we should be using NFC-enabled phones for. At this week's IFA 2012 tradeshow in Berlin, Sony and Nokia are separately showing TVs and speakers that consumers can use to play music and videos from their smartphones. Their neat trick is that they use the phone's NFC to negotiate a Bluetooth connection with the AV gear.

Now imagine the same idea used in-store: A customer walks in, taps her phone against a pedestal-style kiosk and is automatically connected to the chain's CRM system via a secure Wi-Fi network. After that, everything she does in-store is CRM gravy.Read more...

Walmart’s Clever Price-Comparison Trial: Show-and-Tell Without Going To The Store

September 4th, 2012
Walmart has started a trial in three cities where shoppers can E-mail photos of competitors' receipts, inviting Walmart to do its price comparison without the shopper ever having to actually walk into a Walmart. This clever gambit shares some of the strategy of its online cash program, where the chain didn't want to lose online shoppers merely because they didn't have—or didn't want to use—a payment card.

In this trial program, called logically enough "the Receipt Comparison Tool," the idea is to showcase hopefully lower prices to consumers who don't want to walk into a Walmart store. It's sort of a Missouri approach, with the shopper in effect saying, "Show me. I like my store. But if you show me concretely how you'd charge me less for the same stuff, I'll drive over to your store quickly enough. But you show me first." The IT challenge is to accurately compare prices for a specific Walmart store at a specific time—no easy task, given that each store has its own prices and that those prices can change hourly.Read more...

PayPal/Discover’s Retailer Problem:Too Much Data?

August 23rd, 2012
When PayPal on Wednesday (Aug. 22) announced a deal with Discover for it to deliver far more in-store payments—something that PayPal said could eventually place it into millions of stores and requires no POS hardware or software changes—it did something beyond fulfilling the industry's RDA for caveats. It positioned itself in front of three serious obstacles: getting consumers to change their behaviors; convincing lots of acquirers—many of which have alternative allegiances—to permit it; and getting retailers comfortable with an awful lot more data-sharing than they're used to.

That kind of data-sharing is exactly what many of the retail treasury sorts behind the MCX retail mobile payment alliance have feared. "Whatever the retailer is passing over the lines today, in this initial phase, we'll get that data. We believe the data is that of the retailers, and we would not use that information to share with other retailers," said Don Kingsborough, PayPal's VP of Retail and Prepaid Products. "But, at the same time, when you combine it with our online and mobile information, it becomes very powerful information that we can use—with the retailers."Read more...

Inside The Interchange Revolt

August 16th, 2012
When a group of retailers pushing its own mobile payments approach formally announced its name—the Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX)—and a sampling of its newer members (7-Eleven, Best Buy, Lowe's and Sears, among the bigger names) on Wednesday (Aug. 15), it was the culmination of more than two years of talks. But with so much having changed in recent months, there are serious questions about what the group can realistically accomplish.

This comes on top of the usual political bickering when an organization includes such suspicious rivals as Walmart and Target. Indeed, participants also describe collisions between the group's treasury/finance people (who represent the bulk of the dues-paying members) and those same chains' marketing/mobile groups (who have very different objectives).Read more...

Toys”R”Us CRM Foils Another Perfectly Good Theft, After He Takes $2 Million From 139 Stores

August 15th, 2012
Being greedy is the telltale sign of a good professional thief, but there are limits. And a pair of shoplifters this week learned that if you're going to steal $2 million worth of toys from Toys"R"Us—specifically, from 139 stores in 27 states—it's best to not use a loyalty card. Yes, it was that CRM card that led police to our duo.

Granted, these aren't the first thieves to be done in by those not-so-loyal cards—a Sears associate got zapped last year—but they are among the best. Seems that Michael Pollara of Florida was hitting quite a few Toys"R"Us stores using the ever-popular box stuffing trick (take a big box with a cheap item in it and replace the contents with something much more expensive).Read more...

FTC Says It’s Now Going After A Lot More Than Just Violated Privacy Policies

August 15th, 2012
In another sign the FTC is putting some teeth in its enforcement, the commission followed up the announcement of its $22.5 million privacy settlement against Google on August 9 with a list of ways companies may be turning themselves into FTC targets.

In a blog post on Monday (Aug. 13), FTC Senior Attorney Lesley Fair said that following a published privacy policy isn't enough. The FTC could go after businesses that misrepresent privacy protections in their opt-out and customization instructions—or even just those that join an industry self-regulation group but then don't follow its code of conduct.Read more...

Can Timing Text Ads Make A Difference?

August 8th, 2012

Charlotte Russe, a 500-store youth apparel chain, recently cited almost 100 percent read-rates on its text messages, which pretty much indicates the lack of understanding of text open-rates. In E-mail, an open-rate means someone has read the subject line and the from line, and then decided the message is worth exploring. In text, “opening” means far less, if anything at all. But that doesn’t mean there are no good ways to gauge message effectiveness—redemption rates do a wonderful job—and it also doesn’t mean there are not good ways to make those messages get read more often. Consider, for example, a customized honeypot approach—sort of CRM for texting.

Few retailers are using text timing as a means to send such messages more effectively. Most consumers tend to open and respond to texts during certain hours, based on their schedules. To determine those optimal times requires little more than sending some very deep discount offers—offers too good to resist—to get targeted shoppers to respond quickly. By sending two or three such honeypot messages over the same number of weeks (use different days to gather more data), you can map the best times to send messages to those shoppers. This approach goes beyond tailoring the message to the individual shoppers. It also tailors when to send that text.…

Could “Make An Offer” Pricing Ever Work In-Store?

August 1st, 2012
Should major chain sites use "make an offer" pricing? It sounds heretical, but it's being considered at several major chains. The most interesting argument is that it's a great way for retailers to circumvent minimum advertised price (MAP) restrictions. But could it boost sales of slow-moving SKUs? Even more outlandish, could it move more top-selling items?

This discussion, though, is really about a much more strategic and fundamental issue. With showrooming and reverse showrooming and everything in between, does the very nature of retail Web pricing have to be rethought? Once the price comes off the Web page, everything is up for discussion. Customized pricing? Pricing based on how generous shoppers have been with their last five purchases? Is this another way to ditch the bottom-feeder bargain hunters? Will chains offer deeper discounts to people who shop with a short list of their most direct rivals? Will charge a lower price to someone coming to its site from an Amazon visit as opposed to a Barnes & Noble visit? And could this flex pricing ever make the transition to in-store, leveraging mobile?Read more...

Can A Mobile Coupon Concept Work With The Cloud And A Single Processor?

July 25th, 2012
Around January of next year, 10 major retail chains will be testing a way to have coupons associated with a shopper's specific payment card. The reductions will then be automatically deducted from the total purchase with no effort—not even a button press—from the store associate. The trick with this trial is that the marriage of card and coupon, along with the automatic reductions, is done by the processor.

If this approach works—it's already been tested with much smaller merchants—the potential is for payment cards to be associated with anything that the full-blown digital wallets have promised: giftcards, loyalty programs, stored value, etc. Read more...

Macy’s Piggybacks On Its Sound System To Locate Customers

July 19th, 2012
Macy's on Wednesday (July 18) confirmed that it is deploying Shopkick mobile marketing throughout its entire chain. Although any chain-wide move by Macy's—especially on a mobile marketing app—is worthy of note, the interesting element here is how it went chain-wide. It piggybacked on its existing store music system, which not only slashes the cost and time of such a mobile deployment but extends the wireless reach far beyond the entrances that Shopkick normally covers.

Behind this approach is a deal Shopkick cut with Mood Media, one of the largest retail in-store music providers. What this means is any chain that happens to use Mood for audio has a quick-and-easy way to offer mobile marketing. But there's a lot more to this. Those speakers can also offer in-store geolocation.Read more...

Walgreens First To Map Every Store In A Mobile App. Now If Customers Just Knew About It

July 19th, 2012
Walgreens on Tuesday (July 17) announced that it has become the first national retailer to map all of its stores in a mobile app. That would certainly be good, were it not for the fact that it's unlikely many of Walgreens' customers will ever know about this.

That means no signage telling customers about it, no references on the retailer's Web site (and certainly not its homepage), no marketing, no reference in E-mails to customers and no associate training so that at least they can tell customers. The mobile map app itself doesn't even have Walgreens' name, so if a customer using either an Apple or an Android smartphone went searching for Walgreens, he or she wouldn't find it. The only way to download the Walgreens map app is for a shopper to happen to know to search for the vendor's name.Read more...

With Mobile In-Store Apps, Will Reliable Beat Sexy?

July 12th, 2012
In the latest round of in-store mobile app vendor battles, the goal seems to be to capture the title of easiest to use. That's an ideal goal, but "easy" is a word that in tech circles has a deliciously paradoxical nature. The easier and more intuitive an app is, the more sophisticated and complex is its programming. That generally means there's a lot more that can—and will—go wrong and glitch.

A company called QThru, for example, is making waves with a mobile app that handles product identification and completes mobile payment through scanning an old-fashioned barcode. Its claim to fame: that the app identifies the product within two seconds even when the hand holding the phone (which is taking the picture of the barcode) and the hand holding the product with its barcode are both shaking and when the barcode is incorrectly positioned.Read more...

The Downfall Of Custom Pricing: Getting Your Shoppers To Shut Up

June 28th, 2012
How much is that doggie in the window? For Internet users, the answer may soon be, "It depends on who you are, and how much I know about you." And this trend may upset a host of laws concerning deceptive trade practices, fair pricing and even contract, trespass and computer crime laws.

Not only can online retailers charge different prices to different consumers, they may also be able to prevent one consumer from telling others how much they were charged. First off, is this approach likely? asks Legal Columnist Mark Rasch. Answer: Yes, because it's the next logical step.Read more...

Tesco Pushing Site Customization, Using Mobile and Social Site Individual Data

June 28th, 2012
Tesco, the world's third-largest retailer, is taking E-Commerce customization one huge step further than anyone else, displaying higher priced items only for customers it believes can afford them. Although what Tesco is doing is bold, bolder yet are its public statements that it's not relying solely on purchase history. Display decisions are also based on comments customers make on social sites, which payment cards they are using and, perhaps most controversially, various types of mobile phone data.

Drilling into the details of the plan raises questions about how different the site will truly feel, and that speaks to how the data is used and to how aggressive the customization is. For example, the more decisions are made—or, more precisely, perceived by customers to be made—about spend levels and then displaying higher-priced items, the more resistance might be encountered.Read more...

Microsoft Wallet: Retailers, Do It Yourself

June 27th, 2012
The mobile wallet that Microsoft unveiled on June 20 turns out to be a radically unbundled approach, at least compared to Google Wallet and ISIS. The wallet app itself just collects individual issuing-bank and loyalty-card apps, while Microsoft is handing off responsibility for securing payment-card numbers to mobile carriers. It looks like Microsoft isn't even touching transactions—which is good and bad news for retailers.

The good news: no Google-style POS changes required, at least not to meet Microsoft specs. The bad news: no help from Microsoft, either. Unless you build your own in-store shopping app, the Microsoft Wallet will basically do contactless card emulation—and not much more.Read more...

CVS’s Web Authentication Goes Way Beyond PIN

June 27th, 2012
Pharmacies today have to balance the need for more and faster data access for customers with the fact that the data being sought is not only highly sensitive but also much more strictly regulated. (Weary of infuriating PCI rules? Try working under HIPAA for a few months.) CVS has come up with an imaginative authentication method for its latest Web enhancements.

The chain last week announced enhancements such as deeper access to purchase history and promotions—which themselves telegraph specific types of drugs being prescribed. For authentication, the site is seeking the usual password and login for access. But it then requires a birthdate and—here's the good part—two pieces of information likely found only on an existing prescription bottle: a prescription number and the store number.Read more...

Facebook’s Shopper-to-Shopper Locator, Up One Moment and Gone The Next, Clears The Way For Retail Testing

June 27th, 2012
The idea of retailers using mobile geolocation data to connect shoppers and products is almost irresistible, despite the challenges of being unable to fine-tune the location nearly enough and sometimes having databases that send customers away instead of helping them find what they want. But helping shoppers find one another—as Walmart has proposed—is a much more privacy-problematic concept.

When automated, do such tools facilitate good interactions and help customers encourage each other's purchases (such as saying whether an outfit looks sharp with those shoes or if that drillbit is the proper one for a particular fix-it job) or will it just freak shoppers out when it helps strangers approach them? In New Jersey, for example, a stranger approaching while smiling is legal justification for using deadly force.Read more...


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