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What You’re Missing: Urban Outfitters Charging More Online, Does Sears Want To Go Members-Only?

May 29th, 2013

Your friends here at StorefrontBacktalk editorial also now publish a daily retail site, called FierceRetail, and wanted to give you a sense of what you’re missing by not visiting or grabbing its free newsletter. Urban Outfitters discovers that it can get away with charging more online than in-store. See? Sometimes conventional wisdom is conventionally wrong.

A look into how federal judges are likely to force changes in how price anchors are set in-store plus some questions about whether Sears is thinking about becoming members-only. Was Best Buy’s Facebook promo a victim of its own great deal—and some we-should-have-seen-this-coming rip-off artists? We also threw in our take on Walmart’s $82 million hazardous waste settlement, where Walmart spoke of mouthwash and hairspray and the feds said they were pesticides. (You say tomato, I say Molotov cocktail…) All of that—and dozens more stories—and that was just this week. And Monday was a holiday! Drop by and check it out. It’s free and the snacks all have zero calories. (That may be because they don’t exist.)…


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Walmart’s Auto Shopping List: The Next Killer Mobile App?

May 29th, 2013
Gibu Thomas, the SVP for mobile/digital at Walmart, recently floated the idea of a mobile shopping app that uses POS and CRM files to prepopulate a shopping list, filling it with things that the customer is likely to run out of very soon. At a glance, this may seem like a throwaway idea his team is toying with. But for quite a few reasons, this seemingly innocuous functionality idea could truly be the killer app that retailers often strive for.

The idea, which Thomas made a passing reference to during a keynote speech at CTIA Wireless, was referenced this way: "The best shopping list is the one you don't have to create and that's what we're working on." (Technically, the best shopping list is the one that someone else has to shop and pay for, but I digress.) Presumably, this mobile app would be built atop the chain's experimental Scan & Go mobile app, which prepares in-aisle checkout leveraging existing self-checkout units. Given that Scan & Go—by its very nature—requires the shopper to register beforehand and to be associated with a verified payment method, it delivers an ideal CRM platform. This is a nice backdoor way to get into CRM for Walmart, which doesn't have a traditional CRM program and never has had one. That is a crucial element of Thomas' self-populating shopping list.Read more...


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Hispanic Shoppers Tend To Be Younger And To Crave Mobile More, Report Says, But Taking Wise Action From That Data Is A Lot Trickier Than It Seems

May 29th, 2013
A new study finds that Hispanic shoppers are more likely than their non-Hispanic counterparts to use mobile and that's partially because the average Hispanic shopper today is 10 years younger. The report from the Integer Group also suggests that Hispanic customers are more likely to embrace mobile's interactive capabilities with friends and family—and to do so in greater numbers.

Like many reports, the statistics here do not strongly support the report's conclusions. The report found that "16 percent of Hispanic shoppers are using their mobile device to make purchases compared to 12 percent of general market shoppers" and the report had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, making such a distinction razor-thin at best. But the group has done enough reports in this area and has found this distinction consistently shows up when doing head-to-head comparisons. Martin Ferro, a senior account planner for Integer and one of the researchers of the report, said the differences make sense given what he has seen in other reports about U.S. Hispanic shoppers. "They are for sure younger. It's really the new generation of (Hispanics) that are U.S.-born," Ferro said. "They tend to be the very early adopters of mobile technology. Besides the youth, the culture is a lot more comfortable with connectivity."Read more...


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Virtual Retail Currency Could Translate Into Not-So-Virtual Legal Nightmares

May 23rd, 2013
In a bid to attract new customers, Amazon recently announced a new program in which it would give customers 50 Amazon "coins" to use in playing games and for other purposes. The idea is sort of like what happens at the boardwalk in the summer or at the gaming tables in Las Vegas. Rather than playing with real money (and risking losing real money), gamers play with coins or chips with an artificial "value." It’s easier to lose 500 Amazon coins than it is to lose actual cash.

But in creating an artificial currency, and allowing it to be transferred and exchanged, retailers like Amazon may be getting themselves into potential legal trouble, writes Legal Columnist Mark Rasch. In fact, they may be making themselves into an illegal unregistered money transfer company or even an unlicensed bank. Such is the problem with digital "money."Read more...


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The Long—Make That Really Long—Goodbye To Google Checkout

May 22nd, 2013
Is Google Checkout finally ready to checkout? We know all about the traditional Hollywood fondness for the long goodbye scene, but even by movie standards, Google is pushing it. Google has been trying to say goodbye to GoogleCheckout for years. It was mid-June 2011—just about two years ago—when Google officials threw in the towel on Google Checkout publicly, admitting that it was being allowed to "stagnate through a starvation of marketing and engineering resources." That's a slow death scene that Cleopatra would have been proud of. (We ran a story back in 2009, asking if a then-recent fee increase was "the dying gasp of Google Checkout.")

Yes, it's the same goldie oldie plot: Search Engine Loves Payment App, Search Engine Loses Payment App, Search Engine Prays That No One Finds Payment App, Search Engine Wonders If It Can Get Away With Doing A Jodi Arias On Payment App. On Tuesday (May 21), Google again tried killing Google Checkout. In a "We really mean it this time. Dead. We promise" statement, Google said: "Today, we're letting web merchants know that in six months, Google Checkout will be retired as we transition to Google Wallet." Really?Read more...


Amazon May Not Get Its .Amazon Domain-Name Extension After All

May 20th, 2013
Walmart (NYSE:WMT), Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) and more than a dozen other retailers who applied for their own top-level domains (TLDs) were expecting to see them rolled out starting this year. But the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is running into more delays in approving the vanity domains, and some—including .amazon—look like they may not be available to retailers at all.

The problem comes down to the fact that anyone can object to a TLD that has special significance beyond being a trademark, and far more objections have been filed over the nearly 2,000 applications for the new TLDs. In .amazon's case, there's a South American river with the same name (what a coincidence, huh?)—and several South American countries believe that's a good reason for Amazon not to get control of .amazon. Read more...


Fighting Falling Same-Store Sales, Walmart Looks To Be Saved By IT

May 17th, 2013
As Walmart was reporting its first same-store sales drop in seven quarters along with a barely increasing profit on Thursday (May 16), it also detailed its impressive IT and e-commerce growth. Quarterly online sales soared more than 30 percent as the chain kept boosting its number of self-checkout POS units (a 38 percent boost in that quarter alone). "Customer response (to self-checkout) has been positive, with utilization across the chain up more than 300 basis point years over year," reported Bill Simon, Walmart's senior U.S. executive. And even while reports continue that Walmart staff cutbacks are slowing down its ability to stock its shelves in a timely manner, Simon spoke of using IT magic to improve efficiency and get those shelves loaded again.

"In the back rooms, projects like MyGuide and OneTouch also enabled improvements in stocker productivity by helping to facilitate the process of moving merchandise from the truck to the shelf and prioritizing work for our associates," Simon said. "In the first quarter, these initiatives contributed to an increase of more than 3 percent cases handled per work hour."Read more...


Retailers Can Put Anything In A User Agreement, But There’s A Huge Catch

May 16th, 2013
Legal columnist Mark Rasch recently received a $25 debit card as an honorarium for giving a speech. To "activate" the gift card from GreenDot.com, he had to give them his name, address, telephone number, Social Security number, user ID, PIN, and answer to three security questions – all that just for 25 bucks. In fact, what he really did was to open a bank account with $25 and a monthly maintenance fee of $4.95. He apparently agreed to all of this on the website of GreenDot.com under their terms of service. But that’s not all he agreed to.

Years ago, he got a Wachovia stored value card, which similarly had outrageous fees – fees for putting money in, taking it out, checking the balance, loading the card, not loading the card, as well as an annual fee, monthly fees, etc. It amounted to usurious interest rates and fees of over 3000 percent. When he called to dispute one of the fees, the person on the other end told him that his wife (who had just handed him the phone) had authorized the fee–she did not, and he knew this because he was standing right there. That's when Wachovia said they had recorded the call. To a litigator, them's fightin' words.Read more...


The Myth Of Showrooming Takes Another Hit

May 15th, 2013
The myth of showrooming—the suggestion that tons of shoppers are flooding stores to only use them as a physical showroom as they had always intended to purchase the product at Amazon—lives on. But a survey conducted in late April by Bizrate Insights is helping to add a little clarity. First, showrooming really doesn't happen very often. But more interestingly, when it does, it's more likely to be within the same chain. That's a problem all right, but the name of that problem isn't showrooming. It's internal politics.

Bizrate surveyed more than 9,000 shoppers (between April 24-30) who had just completed an online purchase at one of their e-tailers. The first—and arguably most meaningful—stat is an overwhelming 78.15 percent of those online purchasers had not looked at those products in any physical store. No surprise there, but it's a key number to remember the next time someone shouts about how showrooming is gutting brick-and-mortars. When they zeroed in on that remaining 21.85 percent of shoppers who had looked instore before buying online, most of them (54 percent) ended up buying from the same chain.Read more...


Amazon Says The Two Merchants Suing Them Sold Counterfeit Goods, Tried To Get Others To Raise Prices And Said Mean Things To Amazon

May 15th, 2013
Amazon has formally responded to a lawsuit from two of its onetime sellers—in which the sellers said Amazon held their money for more than 90 days, in violation of state law—by essentially saying, "We won't see you in court, buddy." Amazon's position is that a mandatory check-off box on its site means that sellers are not allowed to sue, having agreed to settle all disputes via arbitration.

Amazon's position is very direct: that by agreeing to be a seller, the merchant has to abide by the terms of the agreement, which includes arbitration. The sellers' legal position is focused on how long Amazon held the money and that it violates state law, which sets 10 days as the limit. By violating Washington state law, the action goes beyond the contract (and its arbitration clause) and needs to be settled by a government court, in open proceedings. Amazon's contract sets a maximum time of 90 days and the lawsuit contends that it didn't even meet that deadline.Read more...


Mobile For Shopper Trends? No, But For CRM Depth, Yes

May 13th, 2013
The scenario is tempting. Retailers can have so much richer information about shoppers when they leverage mobile app data, including knowing when any one of those shoppers comes into one of your stores, roughly where they go and anything they scan. Although that's all true, it's also data that is about only a small percentage of your shoppers, and it's about your most loyal shoppers. Would extrapolation of that information yield any accurate trends about the rest of your potential shopper population?

Placed, a mobile geolocation vendor specializing in retail, found some intriguing stats when it was reviewing some of its retail findings. It found that the number of Barnes & Noble shoppers who were older than 55 increased 3.4 percent (for the month being probed) and that the number of customers earning fewer than $50,000/year decreased 2.2 percent. It noticed that Kohl's said its shoppers who earned more than $100,000 increased by 1.8 percent. And Target saw the largest increase in physical visits in the Midwest and Northeast regions of the U.S. Clearly, without many months (and perhaps years) of trend data, those stats are meaningless. But it does illustrate the kinds of insights that are possible when overlaying mobile geolocation tracking with CRM and demographic data.Read more...


FTC Eyes Data Brokers, And That Could Raise Retailers’ CRM Costs

May 10th, 2013
Data brokers are now in the sights of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and that could affect some retailers' customer-information systems. The FTC sent out letters last week warning that some brokers might be violating federal law by collecting and selling information on individuals, even if the information is publicly available.

There's no indication that any retailers are being targeted directly by the FTC. But increasingly, retailers that collect large amounts of customer data through CRM or loyalty programs are using additional data they acquire from brokers to fill in the gaps as they build a picture of customers. Some chains even use data as minimal as a name and Zip code, plus broker-provided data, to get a complete CRM record on a customer from a single transaction.Read more...


Target’s Joint Program With Facebook Goes Out Of Its Way To Exclude Target.com

May 10th, 2013
Target (NYSE:TGT) has started a trial program with Facebook, where its customers get discounts on products on services that are pushed through the social network, if they buy them inside a Target store. Bafflingly, the effort prohibits users from using the program to work with Target.com, even though that would be the much easier and intuitive way for shoppers to use the service.

This is far from the first time that Target has talked up its commitment to a merged channel/omnichannel strategy, while delivering something that seems to force shoppers to stay in whatever channel Target is pushing at that moment. Consider the chain's giftcard digital strategy deployed during last year's holiday season.Read more...


Online Sales-Tax Bill Passes Senate, With Surprises Ahead In The House

May 8th, 2013
Now that the U.S. Senate has passed its bill to allow states to force online retailers to collect sales tax, the question for both brick-and-mortar chains and E-tailers is how quickly—or slowly—the bill will move through the House on its way to becoming law. The 69-27 vote on the Marketplace Fairness Act on Monday (May 6) was lopsided, as expected. But that may be the end of any foregone conclusions as the bill heads into a much less certain future.

One assumption has already gone by the boards: House Speaker John Boehner plans to send the bill to the House Judiciary Committee, instead of the Ways and Means Committee, which would normally handle tax legislation. The Judiciary chairman, Robert Goodlatte, has said he has reservations about the bill, and hasn't yet scheduled any hearings on it. And as anyone who has followed the progress of this over the years knows, in a Congressional committee, the chairman can decide whether a bill lives or dies, no matter how the rest of his colleagues might vote.Read more...


Is American Airlines’ New Social Program—Where Influencers Get Free Airport Club Access—Something Retailers Should Try?

May 8th, 2013
The idea of retailers assessing customers' value based on their social media influence—rather than what they personally spend—is not new. But the challenge of meaningfully figuring that out is still huge. American Airlines on Tuesday (May 7) announced that it was going to offer people who have a high social influence free access to its airport lounges. On the plus side, this is one of the first major programs to offer shoppers a concrete item of value (people pay a lot to join airline clubs) in exchange for having a high social influence number. The downside is that the company calculating the social influence number—a vendor called Klout—has taken the easy way out. It simply counts up the Twitter followers and Facebook friends (and other social media stats) and looks at forwarded Tweets.

It doesn't take the next logical step and try and determine actual purchasing clout. For example, the most meaningful number would be how many dollars of purchases did that shopper's Tweets generate? It's nice if someone has a lot of Twitter followers and if they Tweet that the shoes on your homepage now are must-haves. But an influence rating needs to factor in what happened after that Tweet went out. Did it deliver 48 purchases of that product from the recipients of that Tweet?Read more...


Discount Dilemma: Remember, Customers Will Compare Online Prices They Find

May 8th, 2013
Consumer Reports' Consumerist website is having some fun with an FTD customer's complaint that a "customer appreciation" special deal was actually more expensive than the price a new customer could find on the floral association's site. It seems the customer had bought an FTD bouquet for a friend, then later searched the FTD site for Mother's Day bouquets. "My husband also started looking for FTD arrangements on his computer, and found that the prices listed for him were $3 to $5 cheaper than those listed for me," the customer wrote to Consumerist. Clearing all the FTD cookies from my browser made my prices drop precipitously. Clicking on the 'customer appreciation' email link to FTD brought the prices back up."

For customers, Consumerist's wisecrack—"Watch out for the Customer Appreciation price penalty"—seems pretty appropriate. For retailers, though, it raises a serious problem. You want to reward returning customers. You also want to entice new customers with low prices. The easiest way to tell who's returning (and link them with CRM data) is with cookies—but that's an invitation to embarrassment if new and returning customers happen to compare notes.Read more...


Walmart Builds Own Search, No Competitive Advantage In Buying

May 7th, 2013
Walmart is arguably the most tightfisted retail chain in the world, constantly driving out costs any way it can. So why is the world's largest retailer now focused on building its own technology instead of buying it off the shelf? According to the chain's e-commerce chief, that's the only way it can get a competitive advantage from the technology.

"We can't do what we need to do and want to do with off-the-shelf solutions," said Neil Ashe, Walmart president and CEO of global e-commerce, speaking at a retail conference last week. And one of the first big projects to come from the insourcing is a proprietary search engine that has tighter integration with local stores that will let Walmart continuously customize its search without having to wait for outsiders to develop the features it wants.Read more...


Foot Locker’s Mobile Redesign Slows Site To A Web Crawl

May 3rd, 2013

If a mobile site redesign’s job is to make a site look better and to deliver more sophisticated functionality, then the mobile site changes at Foot Locker (NYSE:FL) delivered. But if the goal is not to slow things to a Web crawl, it apparently failed. Such is the assessment of mobile performance firm Keynote, which evaluates retail mobile performance every month. After the redesign, Foot Locker site availability plunged from 100 percent to 93.42 percent, Keynote found, according to Internet Retailer. That’s the difference between being ranked as the faster retail site late last year and performing dead last on the publication’s 30-retailer index at the end of April. Its 10-second October 2012 home page load time had slowed to 17.42 seconds in April.

“The newly designed site has double the number of page objects and triple the amount of kilobytes,” said Herman Ng, mobile performance evangelist at Keynote. “Another factor that appears to be slowing down its mobile home page is that it now has multiple objects coming from third-party domains, and some of them have a much slower average load time compared with page objects hosted on the Foot Locker domain.” Hg added: “We also noticed Foot Locker’s site availability, also known as success rate, fluctuated the most out of all the retailer sites on the Keynote index. This means there could be back-end stability issues. Another common reason could be that they didn’t provide a maintenance message to end users when their site was undergoing routine scheduled maintenance.”…


Domino’s New Live Video Stream: It Could Have Been Quite Useful, But It Wasn’t

May 1st, 2013
When Dominos announced its newest marketing tool, "Domino's Live," on Wednesday (May 1), it looked initially like it could be an extremely useful tool for pizza buyers. It's a Webcam in the Domino's kitchen that watches the pizza being put together and streams it live for anyone to watch. It's initially being done as a one-store (in Salt Lake City) pilot that runs just the month of May. The potential advantages of such an approach are significant. A customer could watch his order of a half-pineapple-half-pepperoni pie being made and notice right away that it's being incorrectly made as an all-pepperoni pie.

By dialing that store immediately, he might be able to have it fixed before it goes in the oven. It would discourage moves such as the time-honored pizza-chain tradition of taking ingredients that drop on the floor and put them right back on the pizza. All things that could truly speak to customer service and that could also give pizza buyers a reason to switch to Dominos. Unfortunately, that's not quite what Dominos has in mind.Read more...


Best Buy Exec Sets Up A Retail Site Outside IT, Gets Hacked

May 1st, 2013
This isn't something one sees every day. A senior Best Buy executive, instructed to create a blog to conduct Best Buy business, goes outside the Best Buy IT infrastructure to set it up herself—along with some colleagues in HR—using freeware and a $30/month hosting service. If the story stopped there, it wouldn't be that unusual, as frustrated managers have gone outside the corporate structure for decades, not wanting to wait for their project to rise to the top of someone else's priority list.

In this case, though, the executive was Best Buy's chief ethics officer, who wanted to have a site outside the direct control of corporate. And she learned a lesson about why one wants to be within the protection of a multibillion-dollar chain's IT department. She learned that when her Best Buy blog was shut down, possibly due to a cyberthief attack.Read more...


PayPal’s New Autofill Program Has Real Potential With Mobile

May 1st, 2013
EBay's PayPal (NASDAQ:EBAY) Tuesday (April 30) started pushing its new online login system, called Log In With PayPal. The essence of the new program is pretty much "autofill," in that it autopopulates the forms of any e-tail site that is part of the program. It also allows PayPal users to login in with their PayPal credentials—which is not new—a move that is intended to make it less necessary for shoppers to keep track of dozens of password/login combos for all of their favorite e-tail sites.

From the shoppers' perspective, that single login is not that exciting, as most have been doing a very insecure replacement: using the same login/password for those dozens of sites. In effect, that's what PayPal is doing. The security impact is that if there is a breach—at PayPal, at that shopper's computer, elsewhere—that password can now be used to access all of those sites. At least that's the hole until PayPal is contacted and the password is shut down or changed.Read more...


Amazon’s Five-Mile Threat

May 1st, 2013
Amazon will open eight new U.S. distribution centers between now and the holiday selling season, bringing the total to 54—with almost as many DCs outside the U.S., according to the CEO of e-commerce service provider ChannelAdvisor. The result of the ferocious building spree is that Amazon will then have a DC within five miles of most major U.S. cities. Put another—and more frightening—way: That means Amazon will very likely have a DC closer to your customers than many of your stores.

That dramatically cuts Amazon's delivery costs, and it's the most obvious explanation of why Amazon flipped its position on online sales taxes in 2011, from the leading opponent to a major supporter: All those warehouses give Amazon a big advantage over its e-commerce rivals, and it doesn't want those rivals to have a sales-tax advantage in return.Read more...


CMOs Should Watch “Revenge Of The Nerds” And “Real Genius”

April 30th, 2013
The biggest challenge that is facing marketers in the next five to seven years is the quest to become relevant, which means that they need to become data geeks. In fact, it is crucial that they become bigger and better geeks than their IT counterparts. As the pendulum moves from art to science, many marketing leaders find themselves on a platform of skills that are no longer the keys to success, writes retail columnist Todd Michaud.

Instead of IP addresses, they need to think about e-mail segmentation. Instead of database clusters, they need live content marketing. Instead of disaster recovery, they need to wake up focused on integrated marketing across all digital channels. It’s as much science and math as configuring a new router, and that has many marketers nervous. And it should. But as these marketers find their way into this new world of math and science (digital relevancy), they need to be careful to not cross the fine line between being relevant and being just plain creepy.Read more...


Walmart’s Employee Mobile Trial Is That Rare Bird: It Helps Associates While Helping Corporate’s Bottom Line

April 29th, 2013
Sometimes, a program that makes associates happier—even Walmart associates—can also help the bottom line. Consider Walmart's mobile (and, to a lesser extent, desktop) program to make it easier for associates to find other work within their Walmart store.

Walmart (NYSE:WMT) has announced that it is expanding—to chainwide—an experiment to let associates more easily see work opportunities in other departments at their store, as a way to supplement their pay. "For example, a bakery or deli associate can now request to work an available shift in electronics or the lawn and garden area and vice versa," the Walmart statement said, adding that "this program is showing value beyond filling available shifts. It's providing associates the opportunity to help build their careers by learning about different departments, which helps strengthen our stores and benefit associates and our customers."Read more...


Online Sales Tax Bill Could Help Chains With Taxes, Too

April 24th, 2013
Online sales taxes are marching toward reality much faster than anyone would have expected even a month ago. The "Marketplace Fairness Act," which would allow states to collect sales taxes through online retailers even if the merchants don't have physical operations in those states, is being debated in the U.S. Senate this week after being fast-tracked to avoid the Senate Finance Committee, where every previous version of the bill since 2001 has died.

One key element of the bill that won't relieve the tax pinch but should simplify the implementation: A state can't start requiring collection of the taxes until it provides free software that nails down all the complexities of that state's sales tax structure, including automatic calculation of what rates are owed on which products for any location in the state.Read more...


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