Top Stories



Gap’s Take On Typical Buy-Online-Pickup-In-Store Programs: Too Efficient

April 24th, 2013
When Gap looked at buy-online-pickup-in-store programs, the president of Gap digital saw the programs that others chains have as very efficient. Indeed, far too efficient. It allowed the shopper to come in, get their merchandise and leave far too quickly. The chain on June 10 will launch its answer to this feature, something called reserve-in-store, and it is designed to get the shopper into the store and to keep them there for as long as practical.

The most concrete difference between the two approaches is that Gap will force shoppers to pay for their goods in-store. After it's reserved online, the customer has until the end of the next business day to show up, pay and pick it up. That's good for getting shoppers deeper into the store, but not so good for guaranteeing the sale.Read more...


Online Sales-Tax Bill Could Get Senate Votes This Week

April 22nd, 2013
A proposed law to let states collect online sales tax was fast-tracked by the U.S. Senate on Thursday (April 18). That means the measure, which was officially introduced on Tuesday (April 16), will bypass the Senate Finance Committee, whose chairman opposes the bill. A series of votes on the bill will likely begin this week. The bill, known as the "Marketplace Fairness Act," would allow states to require online retailers to collect sales tax, even if the e-tailer doesn't have a physical presence in the state.

Different versions of the proposal have been introduced in Congress for years, but all have died without a floor vote. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid used a special process under Senate rules to bypass the usual procedure. The proposal showed some life last month when it passed a test vote 75-24 during the budget debate. A big difference this time around: (NASDAQ:AMZN), previously the biggest opponent of Congressional approval for online sales-tax collection, now supports the measure.Read more...


Amazon Issued Patent To Make Mobile Purchases Anonymous

April 19th, 2013
When Amazon was awarded a patent this week to allow for anonymous online purchases—anonymous from shopper to shopper, not anonymous to Amazon—it could be the world's largest e-tailer taking its next step into payments. The actual money part of the payments are still to be handled through the same means Amazon does today—payment card, bank account debits, gift cards, Amazon Store Card, etc.—so it's not about Amazon becoming a processor. What it does, though, is add a layer on top to allow consumer-to-consumer transactions to be done without sharing private information with strangers. (Or, much worse than strangers, relatives.)

When this approach would make sense depends on the nature of the transaction. If the purchase involves the seller sending a physical product to the recipient, the recipient has little choice but to reveal name and street address. But for digital purposes, it could work well. And it might even work with physical shipments, assuming the recipient uses a post office box or some similar alternative.Read more...


Interchange Judge Orders Retailers To Change Anti-Settlement Websites

April 17th, 2013
Retailers who oppose the proposed payment-card interchange settlement will have to change the information posted on their websites, a federal judge ordered last Thursday (April 11). The changes required include links to the official site that merchants are supposed to use for objecting to or opting out of the settlement—and a banner stating that the judge determined previous information on the sites to be misleading.

In a hearing in Brooklyn on Thursday afternoon, U.S. District Judge John Gleeson said that unhappy plaintiffs, including the National Association of Convenience Stores, the National Restaurant Association and the National Grocers Association, and their lawyers in the class-action suit have until today (April 18) to decide on a plan for fixing the information on the sites.Read more...


Starbucks Weighs In On “Download Mobile App Vs. Get Customers In-Store” Debate. And The App Won

April 15th, 2013
A classic retail mobile question is whether it's better to get shoppers in the store or to get them to download the retail mobile app. Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX), which has one of the most successful mobile payment programs in retail and also happens to not have the typical online-offline internal corporate conflicts, has come down squarely on the "'tis better to get the app downloaded" side.

For years, the coffee chain has pushed a promotion called Pick Of The Week, where it gave free copies of various pieces of digital media (songs, apps, games, etc.) to shoppers who went in-store and grabbed a card with a code on it. As of April 9, Starbucks has changed the program, no longer requiring the card to get the digital goodies. All it requires is downloading the app. "The intent is really to build a relationship. You don't need to go into our stores," said Linda Mills, a Starbucks senior manager for global brand public relations. "This is about educating about our product offerings and just engaging with our customers."Read more...

JCPenney’s Johnson Is Out, Ullman Is Back. Now What?

April 9th, 2013
What happens next at JCPenney (NYSE:JCP), after the 1,100-store chain fired CEO Ron Johnson on Monday (April 8) and replaced him with the CEO that Johnson replaced, Mike Ullman? The retailer isn't saying. But one thing is certain: The chain won't just be turning the clock back to the day Ullman departed in 2011. Many of the internal changes Johnson instituted at JCPenney are effectively irreversible, including remodeling all the chain's stores and replacing much of the chain's IT capability. That money is already spent.

Johnson had already reversed many of his decisions that were the most unpopular with shoppers—including his elimination of sales, discount pricing (including "mark up to mark down") and coupons. And then there's Johnson's beloved shops-within-the-store concept—which isn't likely to be reversed, mainly because it was originally the brainchild of a former Sephora executive with a familiar name: Mike Ullman.Read more...

Why One Chain Is Insisting That Same-Day Delivery Orders Can Be Placed Only On The Phone

April 9th, 2013
When 53-store regional chain Sports Chalet decided to join many of its big-chain counterparts in offering same-day delivery, it decided to base both its pricing and its promised delivery time on location and, logically enough, on the availability of the product being sought. The chain also considers same-day orders to be very personal, which is one reason same-day isn't available online. A customer must talk with someone on the phone to receive the service.

Beyond personalization, there is a very practical reason to insist that companies get on the phone for these deliveries: to force shoppers to listen. On the Web, it's very easy to post all kinds of restrictions ("Must call by 1 p.m." or "We're not responsible for traffic jams or road closures") that shoppers won't read and they certainly won't internalize.Read more...

Care About Issues Beyond IT?

April 6th, 2013

One of the results of StorefrontBacktalk‘s being acquired back in December is that we are going to be expanding into coverage that goes beyond Retail IT into other areas of retail. The first example of this launched last week and is a daily newsletter and site called FierceRetail.

The site applies the same kind of perspective, analysis and bad jokes that StorefrontBacktalk has always delivered, but we can now explore issues way beyond IT. Consider our coverage of an unorthodox Apple patent, the reasoning behind the Sears Portrait shutdown, why Target’s Manatee mishap is a lot worse than it looked, Samsung’s real retail strategy, why Best Buy and Target’s Geek Squad alliance was doomed and stats showing Visa having all-but-cornered the debit market. It’s all free, of course. If you’d like to sign up, our latest thoughts will be in your Inbox early each morning.…

A Breached Chain Needs To Remember Its Shoppers Are Victims, Too

April 4th, 2013
When a cyberthief breaks into a retailer’s network and steals data and payment card specs, the retailer absolutely is a victim. But many chains tend to think of themselves as the only victim, an attitude that manifests itself in various ways when talking with their customers who are also victims. Just because a shopper’s monetary losses are being covered by zero liability doesn’t make them feel less violated and, therefore, feel any less like a victim, pens legal columnist Mark Rasch.

When setting policies and when talking with shoppers after a breach, communicating the message that the retailer is the only victim may prove to be self-fulfilling, as you'll quite likely be an imminent victim of lost revenue and thrown-away loyalty. When a crime has been committed, attitude and empathy go a long way — and they are among the hardest things for many chains to deliver.Read more...

Federal Judge Nixes Re-Used Digital Content Copyright Exemption

April 3rd, 2013
Retailers eyeing the repurposed (aka used) content space may want to rethink whether the effort to prepare to resell those e-books, audio files, videos, apps, games or ringtones makes much sense, given a federal court ruling Monday (April 1). That ruling, in favor of Capitol Records, said that getting around copyright rules by arguing fair use won't fly anymore. At least not with New York City-based U.S. District Court Judge Richard Sullivan.

The ruling dealt with the narrow area of recreated music, once the original producer has stopped selling the initial song. But the court's decision is likely to be applied to many kinds of resale efforts, at least in terms of copyright restrictions. In other words, pay once and sell many may have some new retail hurdles.Read more...

Are Stores Really Helpless Against Amazon? That Question Has It Backward

April 2nd, 2013
There's a jarring bit of retail insight buried in a story from The Register last Thursday (March 28): "No one can compete with Amazon when a customer knows what they want," The Register's Bill Ray writes. "Stores need to excel at selling things the customer didn't know they were after, and greater technology might not be the best way to achieve that." That sounds depressing, even though it's probably not quite true.

But let's turn it around: If a customer isn't a pure-play showroomer who really just wants to see whether that gadget looks cheesy or that blouse is the right color before buying on (NASDAQ:AMZN), what kind of in-store technology can help associates do a better job of helping customers find what they want—and convince customers that here and now is the right time and place to buy it?Read more...

The Ups And Downs Of QR Codes. (OK, It’s Really Just The Downs.)

April 2nd, 2013

QR codes have always been deceptively easy to use, for anyone other than shoppers. Business Insider recently some of the worst QR code deployments it could find and it’s worth a look.

But the retail examples were particularly interesting, such as Subway putting them on employee shirts, which is a place that employees report no one even tries to scan. But our favorite, depicted here, is a sign on how to use QR codes. And to give the lesson? Yep, the shopper has to scan a QR code. …

Why Amazon And Overstock Lost On Sales Tax

April 2nd, 2013
When Amazon's and Overstock's efforts to avoid sales tax were slapped down last week by New York state's highest court, the judges took an unusual path. Going beyond the normal arguments of nexus — essentially, whether the online operation has any people or operations based in the state — the judges focused more on what those people are doing. And they concluded they were selling, and very often, to fellow state residents. Therefore, hello sales tax.The decision raised — but quickly shut down — the question of whether local presence has any real meaning anymore, suggesting that a different top court would have to make that decision.

"The world has changed dramatically in the last two decades and it may be that the physical presence test is outdated. An entity may now have a profound impact upon a foreign jurisdiction solely through its virtual projection via the Internet," the court said. "That question, however, would be for the United States Supreme Court to consider. We are bound, and adjudicate this controversy, under the binding precedents of that Court, the ultimate arbiter of the meaning of the Commerce Clause."Read more...

Why The SAQs Will Change This Year

April 1st, 2013
October is likely to see significantly revised Self-Assessment Questionnaires (SAQs) from the PCI Council. Few merchants will be more surprised than those E-Commerce merchants who have outsourced their card processing. Effective with PCI DSS version 3.0, many E-Commerce merchants will learn that their Web servers are in scope for PCI compliance and that SAQ A got a bit longer and a bit more complicated, writes PCI Columnist Walter Conway.

These merchants typically use the simplest SAQ, SAQ A. They also always (in Walt's experience) consider their Web server out of their PCI scope, because that server does not "store process, or transmit" cardholder data. Instead, the server redirects the user to a PCI-compliant third-party service provider that processes the card transaction for the merchant. The conclusion is understandable. An E-Commerce merchant's SAQ A addresses a very small subset of PCI DSS. It includes parts of only two requirements: physical security of backups and paper records that may contain cardholder data; and managing the PCI service provider. Processing is outsourced, and it is outsourced to a PCI-compliant service provider. What could be simpler? Oh, and we should add: What could be more wrong than that conclusion?Read more...

Supreme Court: Yes, You Can Resell Products You Bought Overseas

March 28th, 2013
On Tuesday (March 19), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that merchants can purchase products intended for distribution outside the United States and then import those products into the United States for resale without violating copyright law. That's a blow against manufacturers, who wanted to use copyright law as a way of keeping out those cheaper versions of their products, writes Legal Columnist Mark Rasch.

Manufacturers have long been using copyright law, which is intended to protect certain types of expression, to prevent this practice. The Supreme Court said no.Read more...

Lands’ End’s “Oops” E-mail. Is There A Wrong Way To Fix An Error?

March 27th, 2013

When Lands’ End sent out a 25-percent off E-mail promotion last week, there was a programming glitch that caused the page to simply not work. It happens. To rectify the situation, the apparel chain owned by Sears (NASDAQ:SHLD) sent a corrected version of the campaign out to shoppers, only this time the subject line said nothing more than “Oops. Here’s the working promotion.”

The message included no explanation about the non-working promotion, which caused no shortage of baffled shoppers. But was there a better way? On the one hand, had a shopper tried the earlier promotion and been frustrated, that subject line might very well prompt him or her to try again. And those already frustrated shoppers might have simply ignored a second message with the identical subject line. For recipients who had not noticed the earlier message, would the baffling message make them more or less inclined to open it? Customer service reps for Lands’ End said they were inundated with complaints about the first E-mail. But wouldn’t more of an explanation help assure shoppers that the link could be trusted?…

Limited Makes Emergency Name Change

March 27th, 2013
Apparel group Limited Brands (NYSE:LTD) is changing its name—twice—apparently because time ran out for the company to keep using "Limited" in its name. The company, which runs the Victoria's Secret, Bath and Body Works, and La Senza chains, completed the sale of its flagship The Limited chain in August 2010, and the deal required a name change, according to an SEC filing on March 22.

But the newly christened L Brands won't have that moniker for long. "The Company expects to announce a new permanent name for the Company in the months ahead," the Limited-to-L filing said. That suggests either something went very wrong with a new name the company planned to use or executives simply forgot about the name-change requirement until the deadline arrived—and then had to scramble to switch to a name nobody wanted.Read more...

MasterCard’s Retail Data Grab: Forget PayPal, It’s About Chains

March 26th, 2013
MasterCard (NYSE:MA) wants your customer data. That's the bottom line when it comes to the new fee that the number-two card brand will start slapping on PayPal, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and other digital wallet operators in June. It's not really about digital wallets, which represent a tiny fraction of big chains' transactions. MasterCard just wants to put pressure on anyone who might keep customer data out of the hands of itself and its issuing banks.

Wait—isn't losing control of CRM data the biggest reason chains aren't wild about digital wallets in the first place? Wasn't everyone worried that Google might somehow share transaction data with a chain's competitors? Apparently, that fear was well-founded—just misplaced. It turns out the people who will do anything to grab CRM data are the card brands and issuers.Read more...

With Starbucks’ Grocery CRM Plan, It Had To Get Clever About Fraud

March 26th, 2013
When Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) announced Wednesday (March 20) it would spread its CRM program to grocery stores that sell its bagged coffee, it wasn't merely an industry first. It was Starbucks' attempt to track shopper activity beyond the limits of the chain's stores, site and mobile app—as if CRM deployments aren't already complex enough.

Given that its program would deliver expensive value in the form of free food and drink at its stores, the first priority of the rollout was to try and discourage fraud. And that involved some creative packaging and identification mechanisms. And a choice to exclude mobile from the launch.Read more...

Starbucks’ First-Ever Groupon Coupon Crashes Groupon’s Page

March 26th, 2013
Did Starbucks' Groupon cup runneth over? The first time Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) tried Groupon (NASDAQ:GRPN), on March 22, it got a good news/bad news joke. Good news: The campaign is going over extremely well. Bad news: Groupon's page for the promotion crashed, angering a lot of customers and prospective customers.

The coffee chain's first-ever daily deal offered a $10 giftcard for $5. The site indicates that more than 100,000 people purchased the coupon, but—like every other crash—there's no way to know how many tried to purchase the coupon and couldn't. Without knowing that figure, it's hard to deal with the fundamental philosophical issue: Did the crash make the campaign do more harm than good? If 100,000 prospective shoppers saw the order, but 800,000 were frustrated by the crash and potentially alienated, the popular campaign isn't necessarily a good thing for Starbucks.Read more...

PCI DSS: The Next Generation

March 25th, 2013
PCI DSS is going through a generational change. That change has nothing to do with the upcoming release of PCI DSS version 3.0 this fall, pens PCI Columnist Walter Conway. Instead, the generational change is in the security professionals he works with everyday, the people who are managing their organizations' PCI compliance. Most of these professionals are very qualified, but they are new to their job and often also new to PCI.

One result of this generational change is that Walt is being asked some of the same questions he was asked five or more years ago. The questions range from whether pre-authorization data is in scope (treat it like it is) to the feasibility of E-mailing card data (a seriously bad idea) to what constitutes effective network segmentation (think "air gap"). Fresh perspectives are always welcome, so the implications of this generational change for merchants and QSAs alike are generally positive. But with new compliance staff and assessors come fresh challenges and approaches that can impact every merchant and service provider. Read more...

Customer Service Survey Places Apple Second To Last

March 22nd, 2013
The vaunted customer service chops of Apple Stores may not be what they once were. A new retail survey of 10,000 U.S. shoppers placed Apple second-to-last in customer experience, just slightly better than RadioShack. Is Apple a victim of its own reputation? In other words, are its fans' expectations now so high as to be unreachable, delivering disappointment? Another surprise: Ace Hardware placed third, beating out customer service king Nordstrom by one notch. Amazon and Sam's Club were the only retailers to achieve better customer service scores.

Customer service is one of the hardest things to reliably, consistently, accurately and—here's the hardest one—meaningfully measure in retail. Other top customer service performers according to the survey are, in order: PetSmart, BJ's Wholesale, Walgreens, AutoZone and Home Depot. Weak performers include: JCPenney, Marshalls, Gamestop and 7-Eleven. (Note: JCPenney has the distinction of being the retailer that suffered the largest drop in customer service ratings from last year to this year. JCPenney dropped 6 percent. The biggest retail gain during the same period? Office Depot (NYSE:ODP), which boosted its score by 11 percent.) Read more...

eBay’s New Simplified Pricing Is Not So Simple

March 22nd, 2013
When eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) on Tuesday (March 19) announced "simplified pricing" that was actually far more complex pricing, it made its war with Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) over third-party sellers even more direct. It marked the first time that eBay has ever publicly compared its pricing with Amazon. The enhanced eBay assault comes at a time when Amazon is feeling a lot of heat on its Marketplace third-party seller program—and as other retailers are preparing to create such marketplaces of their own.

eBay marks the second direct assault on Amazon Marketplace in as many weeks. The first came from Germany, where government officials are challenging Amazon's ability to force Marketplace merchants to always give Amazon their lowest prices. And a federal class-action lawsuit in the U.S. is saying that Amazon delays its payments to other merchants deliberately and for too long. None of these moves can slow Amazon's marketplace efforts much, but they don't have to. To the extent that it makes Amazon's third-party merchants itchy to look elsewhere—perhaps into the waiting arms of eBay or (NYSE:WMT)—then Amazon has reason to worry, because the advantages it gets from these merchants extend well beyond the revenue commissions.Read more...

U.S. Supreme Court Knocks Down Barrier To Cross-Border E-Tail

March 21st, 2013
The U.S. Supreme Court has removed a major barricade for cross-border E-Commerce. On Tuesday (March 19), the court ruled that so long as a product isn't pirated, U.S. retailers can import it without violating copyright law. In practice, that means an online retailer can sell U.S. customers many products that are lower priced—and were never intended to be sold in the U.S.—without breaking the law.

We're not talking about pirated goods here, but what's often called the "gray market"—legitimate products that aren't authorized for U.S. sale. Those products are usually priced lower, because they're intended for less-affluent markets than the U.S. Costco (NASDAQ:COST)and Kmart (NASDAQ:SHLD) have sold those types of products in the past and gotten into legal trouble. This week's ruling says they won't have that trouble again. But there are much bigger E-Commerce implications in the court's decision to get rid of those geographical limits.Read more...

Walmart Protects Cyberthief Privacy While Choosing To Not Prosecute

March 21st, 2013
When Legal Columnist Mark Rasch's wife had her credit card stolen, it was used to make bogus purchases from Walmart (NYSE:WMT) . Walmart not only chose to not prosecute—typical when the fraud falls below a threshold that thieves know very well—but it went out of its way to protect the privacy of the thief.

"All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." So said Sir Edmund Burke. But the phrase could equally apply to merchants, and their failure to adequately and aggressively investigate and prosecute online payment-card fraud. Rather than aggressively going after these carders, most retailers consider such losses a "cost of doing business." Where does that leave the honest shopper? From the shopper's perspective, whose back is Walmart seeming to protect more?Read more...


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