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London’s Recycling Bins Don’t Do Mobile Tracking Anymore. (Until This Week, They Did.)

August 14th, 2013
At a time when many retail chains are trying to navigate the public-relations minefield of customer tracking, disclosure and data use, a story from London is a useful reminder that nobody is getting this right. On Monday (Aug. 12), the government told a startup called Renew to stop using its recycling bins in London's financial district to track passers-by by way of their phone signals.

Wait, recycling bins? Yes, 100 very high-class recycling bins outfitted with large, Internet-connected digital screens that show advertising (the financial district's government—yes, it has its own government—gets 5 percent of the airtime to display public announcements). But recently Renew added a new feature to a dozen of the bins: the ability to capture any passing smartphone's unique MAC address if it has Wi-Fi turned on. (Which, these being financial-district yuppies, is pretty much a given.) You can see the possibilities—but not necessarily all the possibilities that Renew sees.Read more...


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Sephora Buys A Software Vendor. Wait, Can They Do That?

August 9th, 2013
In the kind of move you'd expect from Walmart (NYSE:WMT) or Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) but not a retailer who couldn't make the NRF's Top 100 list, beauty products retailer Sephora has acquired a software startup. Last Wednesday (Aug. 7), the 1,300-store chain said it has acquired Scentsa, the company that developed Sephora's touchscreen Fragrance Finder in 2008 and its Color IQ system last year—a pair of in-store kiosk systems that have become signature features for Sephora.

While it's not surprising for a $2.6 billion retailer to develop in-store technology like that, no one seems to think of actually buying the startup as something most retailers can do. In part, that's because most chains are deeply marinated in the buy-don't-build concept, which makes perfect sense when it comes to ERP but no longer really holds for non-enterprise software. Besides, we're not talking about acquiring IBM here: Sephora said the acquisition will add eight or ten people to its payroll.Read more...


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Can VeriFone Actually Outsource PCI Problems?

August 7th, 2013
In theory, you can't outsource PCI issues, but VeriFone wants to try. On Monday (Aug. 5), the POS maker announced VeriFone Point, a payments-as-a-service offering that basically takes everything in the store except the PINpad out of PCI scope—and, as far as we can tell, the PINpad doesn't belong to the retailer, so that's somebody else's problem too.

This should be a really good idea, and maybe even a good product for some chains if it's implemented right (we haven't seen details yet). But let's imagine it is: The PINpad belongs to the service provider. Card data is encrypted and transferred via the service provider's network, not the merchant's. A token is kicked back to the store POS with the card approval, so the merchant can track customers and meet branded-cart transaction detail requirements. No card data ever comes near the merchant's systems. What could possibly be wrong with this plan?Read more...


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When Replacing NFC, Tech Is Really Not The Issue

August 7th, 2013
Seems that the thing to say today, when discussing a retail mobile interaction method (be it for payment or loyalty or couponing)is to say it's an alternative to NFC (Near Field Communication). What a horrible thing to say about a technology (in the U.S., at least). But the characterization—or is it an insult?—misses the point about NFC.

More precisely, it misses why NFC has fared so extremely poorly in the U.S., especially for payment. The comparison of technologies—be it Light Field Communication (LFC) or using the touch-screen of a phone such as is being done by TouchBase—to NFC usually implies that if NFC phones were more plentiful or if the POS interface was simpler or if the phone connection was faster, then NFC would have flourished. The reality, though, is that while those tech issues are true and were obstacles, tech problems weren't anywhere close to NFC's biggest headache. It has always been the business issues—and none of today's much-touted approaches seem to have a solution for that.Read more...


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How To Deal With Merged Channel Inventory?

August 7th, 2013
As merged channels (also known as omnichannel) become the default for an increasing number of retailers, the challenge of efficiently handling the supply chain and managing inventory becomes exponentially more complex. The goal in a merged environment is channel agnosticism, in that the chain’s management shouldn’t care whether a customer starts a transaction in mobile and completes it in-store or starts it with the call center and tenders the transaction online or if the research, purchase, payment and pickup are each handled with a different channel.

Store management should care as much about whether a transaction started in mobile or in-store as for whether an in-store entered the store through the South entrance or the West entrance. True merged channel thinking would say, "What do I care how they came into my store as long as they came in?"Read more...


SAP Exec Who Switched Barcodes At Target Cuts Plea Deal

August 7th, 2013

Remember that SAP exec who last year was arrested for slapping fake barcodes on products within a Target—and his defense was that he was simply testing his company’s systems? Seems he cut a plea deal this month with county prosecutors in California, agreeing to plead guilty to one burglary count. The plea deal recommends to the judge a sentence of one month in jail, five months of home detention and three years of probation.

If he was really just testing SAP systems as his lawyer argued in court, this suggested sentence and conviction might be unwarranted. But Thomas Langenbach, VP at the SAP Integration & Certification Center (ICC) at SAP Labs at the time of his arrest (LinkedIn still has him at SAP in that role), was said by police to have then sold the merchandise on eBay. If true, that rather strongly undermines the pure research defense. East Inflatable Rentals


Walmart’s Scan & Go Change Reminds Us How To Make Mobile Work

August 5th, 2013
One of the many advantages of mobile payment is significantly expanding CRM reach, getting to know about a far greater percentage of all of a shopper's purchases. Nowhere is this more attractive than with Walmart, which has never had (and still doesn't) a traditional CRM. In the latest upgrade to the chain's Scan & Go mobile payment/self-checkout hybrid, Walmart takes this all-knowing tactic to the next level, giving shoppers a reason to scan physical receipts.

At its most simple level, the upgrade merely allows shoppers to scan physical receipts from Walmart (more precisely, to scan the QR codes printed on such receipts)to receive an electronic version. For the shopper, it's a nice way to reduce paper clutter and also organize purchases in one place. For Walmart, though, it's much more.Read more...


Self-Service Shifts Legal Risks, May Let Customers Off The Hook

August 1st, 2013
One of the great things about the Internet and computer technologies is that they can empower consumers and businesses to do things that ordinarily require a middleman. Consumers can purchase their own insurance, engage in banking transactions, deposit checks, make purchases, etc. They can do this both online and in the brick and mortar environment.

But this means that when the technology fails, it is the consumer who must suffer the consequences, writes Legal Columnist Mark Rasch—when ordinarily the risk of loss would have remained with the merchant. And he has more than a few day-to-day examples to make the point.Read more...


Sen. Chuck Schumer Wants The FTC To Start Doing What The FTC Is Already Doing On Mobile Tracking. Um, Right.

July 31st, 2013
U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer has finally gotten around to asking the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to crack down on in-store mobile tracking. At a press conference on Sunday (July 28) in front of a Manhattan store, Schumer decried the Big Brother-like surveillance that retailers engage in, demanded that retailers send shoppers a message letting them opt out before they begin tracking, and called on the FTC to investigate.

If that sounds a bit familiar, it may be because Schumer was saying back in November 2011 that he was going to call the FTC because two shopping malls were tracking customers by way of their phones. It only took him 20 months to get around to it. And in light of the fact that the FTC has been warning retailers for almost a year not to engage in surreptitious tracking—and is getting increasingly aggressive in its efforts—Schumer seems like he's a wee bit behind the curve. He also doesn't seem to have thought through his proposed send-an-opt-out-message solution. But we're sure he'll get around to explaining all that—in another 20 months or so.Read more...


Why Did Gonzales Hackers Like European Cards So Much Better?

July 30th, 2013
Last Thursday's (July 25) indictment of five more Albert Gonzalez gang members by federal prosecutors in New Jersey is a reminder of how big that operation was (and may still be) and how far authorities still have to go before they have it wrapped up—after all, only one of the five is in U.S. custody, with a second one awaiting extradition in the Netherlands.

But a sharp-eyed Washington Post reporter noticed an oddity in the indictment that has less to do with cops and robbers than with mag-stripe and chip-and-PIN: Stolen European card numbers were sold for $50 each, while U.S. numbers fetched a mere $10.Read more...


Walmart Sales Tax Snafu: How Did They Get This So Wrong?

July 29th, 2013
In a sterling example of what big retailers' POS software is not supposed to get wrong, Walmart has apparently been charging too much sales tax on two-for-one coupon deals in Pennsylvania in violation of the state's law. Walmart insists the way it handles coupons in Pennsylvania has gotten an OK from the state—despite the fact that Pennsylvania law appears to spell out exactly the situation in which Walmart is accused of collecting too much tax.

According to a class-action lawsuit that was moved from state to federal court last week, when a Pennsylvania customer uses a two-for-one coupon, Walmart charges sales tax on both items, but it's only supposed to charge for one. Because Walmart gets to keep 1 percent of the sales tax it collects as a collection fee, the chain is being accused of unjust enrichment from every coupon sale it has made since June 2007.Read more...


Books-A-Million Will Test A Giant In-Store Book-Making Machine

July 22nd, 2013
After years of trying to convince major bookstore chains that printing single copies of books onsite is viable, one print-on-demand vendor has finally gotten a nibble. The 253-store Books-A-Million (NASDAQ:BAMM) chain has said that it will put a print-on-demand kiosk in its store in Portland, Me., and another one in a store to be named later.

Books-A-Million doesn't appear to be trying to reduce its need to stock inventory with the machine. Instead, it's going after sales of books it wouldn't normally stock anyway. The idea is that instead of sending customers away to order an out-of-print book from Amazon (or theoretically have the store order it and wait a week, but how likely is that?), the kiosk will be able to download and print the book in a matter of minutes. The reality is likely to be a little more complicated.Read more...


JCPenney, Lord & Taylor and Abercrombie LP Work Together To Catch Thief

July 17th, 2013

With all of the bitter retail rivalries and customer-stealing efforts, I found this story out of Syracuse, NY, refreshing. Seems that an LP officer working for Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE:ANF) noticed a shopper shoving jeans in a white bag. Fearing the worst, he reached out to his counterparts at neighbors JCPenney (NYSE:JCP) and Lord & Taylor and they then jointly subdued the thief.

Can you imagine IT workers at Walmart asking counterparts at Target for help with a programming challenge or Treasury people cooperating on a payroll snafu? Loss Prevention often gets the most dangerous duties and they always wonder if corporate will have their back in case things turn ugly. (You need not worry. The answer is almost certainly “nope, not for a second.”)And with all of this, they have enough focus on just getting the job done that petty corporate rivalries are irrelevant. I know it’s naïve and impractical, but it’s probably not time poorly spent to look at what these dedicated souls for JCPenney, Lord & Taylor and Abercrombie were able to accomplish one day in Syracuse and to think about it.…


eBay Lawsuit Asks: Is An E-Commerce Store Really “A Place Of Public Accommodation”?

July 15th, 2013
An eBay court case poses a question that gets a lot more interesting the more you think about it: If an e-commerce site is used extensively by a large number of shoppers as their primary store, does it become subject to all of the laws that govern physical stores? The legal issue in this case involves a deaf seller who argued that accessibility laws required eBay and other e-tail sites to accommodate shoppers with vision and hearing difficulties.

The argument for the shopper speaks to the intent of the original legislation—or, more precisely, the intent of the legislators who crafted that initial legislation. Did they not indeed intend that if shoppers must go to public stores to make purchases, those stores must allow in and support all shoppers equally? The counter is that the law understandably makes no reference to e-commerce and that if Congress wants to pass such a law, great, but until it does, courts must assume that a law means what it says and nothing more.Read more...


QR Codes Are A Terrible Idea. Why Is Image Recognition Even Worse?

July 12th, 2013
QR codes are ugly. They're intrusive. Most designers hate them because there's no way to make them look any less like the brick-full-of-blocks they are, especially when they've been slapped next to a great-looking retail marketing image. That's why the idea of leaving out the QR code entirely and just getting a mobile phone to react to the image itself is so appealing. It looks so much better that it's easy to forget why it's a bad idea: That ugly, intrusive QR code screams "Point your camera at me!" An ordinary image doesn't.

As a result, if potential customers know what they're supposed to do with a QR code, they can easily do it. But how are they supposed to know that there's any special significance to the image in an ad or porter or brochure?Read more...


Why Did Merged Channel Fail Barnes & Noble?

July 10th, 2013
Now that Barnes & Noble has lost its CEO and is further exploring "strategic alternatives," it looks increasingly like the last bookstore megachain has reached its last link. On Monday (July 8), CEO William Lynch resigned, and Chairman Leonard Riggio named a new president, but not a CEO. The obvious question: When does a retailer not need a CEO? When it expects a new owner to name one. The less obvious question: How could merged channel/omnichannel have failed Barnes & Noble so completely?

Think it's because Barnes & Noble is in the dead-tree book business? So is Amazon. Besides, at last report the brick-and-mortar bookstore business was still holding up (if only barely). It's the Nook and the chain's efforts to merge physical book and E-book retailing that have been a bottomless money pit. So why did Barnes & Noble—having lost its biggest physical-store competitor when Borders went under—fail to gain any merged channel traction?Read more...


Giving A Thief A Chance To Not Steal

July 9th, 2013
In the loss prevention world of counter-counter-espionage, a California vendor is pitching a silent way to detect shoplifters who have their own silent way of detecting the detectors. Let's slow this down. In an attempt to defeat standard EAS devices, shoplifters for years and years have lined shopping bags with aluminum foil and sometimes carried strong magnets to deactivate EAS tags. Then came LP's response, where stores could detect the foil and those magnets, but the detection was audible and did little beyond alerting the thief. Even worse (well, from the thief's perspective, even better), that alert happened immediately, before the thief could steal anything.

In a handful of jurisdictions, the mere possession of such devices is illegal. What the vendor, San Diego-based Indyme, is pushing is a silent system that alerts LP that a foiled bag (calling it a "booster bag" is so clichéd) or magnet has entered the store and it flags the shopper and allows the shopper to be tracked, hopefully discretely. It also triggers security cameras to follow the shopper.Read more...


Safeway Self-Checkout Security Hole Illustrates The Importance Of Button Sequence

July 3rd, 2013
The self-checkout software at a Safeway chain in California, Vons, lets the shopper move directly to the payment area and then still buy more items. This bit of flexibility likely seemed a good idea at the time, until it was discovered that it meant that the next shopper could scan groceries and those groceries would be charged to the payment card of the first shopper.

Nearby stores within the Ralph's and Albertson's chains avoid this issue by simply forcing the shopper to close out the order before proceeding to payment, according to a California TV station's report. The Safeway stores had a "finish" button but was it not required that it be hit before proceeding to payment. One wonders how much time was spent watching and fixing these holes and creating and distributing the signs, as well as dealing with customers who were apparently paying for other shoppers. It's also possible that many of those ripped-off shoppers never detected it, but they will now that media coverage has kicked in. How will those shoppers feel about Safeway's "let the glitch happen and we'll fix the individuals who notice later" approach? Compare all that to how much time it would have likely taken IT to simply force that the "finish" button be hit before payment was accepted? Ahhh, the wacky world of retail cost-benefit and analysis.Read more...


Square Mastering PayPal’s “Don’t Tell Store Associates And See What Happens” Strategy

July 2nd, 2013
When a Reuters story this week detailed that retail associates were oblivious about a Square service being offered in their stores, it had a frighteningly familiar ring to it. We have repeatedly run into chains that roll out brilliantly planned payment or mobile offerings, but somehow forgot to brief associates.

This is bad for an infinite number of reasons, but none more striking than the fact that associates are the primary interaction point with shoppers. When they see something new and unfamiliar, the associate is where they turn. When that inquiry is met with a baffled look and a pair of shrugged shoulders, that IT initiative is about to lose any shoppers—and IT may never know why. (They'd know if they asked associates, but if thought about asking associates, they would have had them briefed in the first place.)Read more...


CVS App Brings Home Hard-To-Get CRM Data

July 2nd, 2013
When CVS on Monday (July 1) launched a drug interaction feature on its mobile app, it was a classic example of a deep CRM gift that was positioned—correctly—as a truly useful shopper app. In short, it was one of those rare situations where the interests of the retailer and the shopper were perfectly aligned. The feature itself is straight-forward. A customer can download all of their CVS prescriptions and then type in any other prescriptions that are being taken plus—and this is critical—any over-the-counter (non-prescription) things they are taking, anything from aspirin or a hay fever pill to Vitamin C to 5-hour Energy.

CVS now gets three extremely valuable pieces of data: First, a list of prescription drugs presumably being filled by a rival pharmacy. What a clear chance to argue that those particular drugs should be brought over to CVS, an opportunity that doesn't exist without this information. Secondly, a list of various other things the customer is buying, many of which are likely sold by CVS. Another sales opportunity. Third, given that this is a mobile app, the data is already tied into a specific customer. This sharply enriches the CRM profile for CVS customers—and does it for very few dollars and in a way that seems to be altruistic.Read more...


Why Quarterly Vulnerability Scanning Is An Impressively Stupid Idea

July 2nd, 2013
The current PCI DSS quarterly vulnerability scanning requirement is nothing short of ridiculous, given the fact that most operating system vendors and some application software providers release patches at least monthly, pens GuestView PCI Columnist Jeff Hall. (OK, it isn’t so ridiculous if your goal is to guarantee a constant security hole for the convenience of cyberthieves. For those of you whose goals are other than that, though….) When Visa published their Customer Information Security Program (CISP) back in 2002, they set the bar of quarterly vulnerability scanning because it was believed to be the most efficient and cost effective approach for providing security. This practice has continued unaltered even when the CISP was converted to the PCI DSS in 2007.

Over the past decade, Council officials, retail IT people and QSAs have begun to question the quarterly requirement, but the fear was that retailers would simply not do it, as they could never cost-justify it, particularly for Level 4 retailers. The council has always had a strong pragmatic nature, weighing the effectiveness of guidelines against what they could realistically hope for retailers to do.Read more...


As Chain Trials Facial Recognition, Channel Assumptions Flip

July 1st, 2013
A major Russian convenience store chain, Ulybka Radugi, is now running a trial of facial recognition to choose digital in-store ads to be displayed and POS coupons to be offered. But as more chains start to seriously investigate the facial recognition potential, some of the fundamental CRM biometric assumptions are being challenged. Such activities need not end with the same channel where they began. Once a shopper is identified in-store and is matched with a CRM profile—or they are identified anonymously in-store and a purchase profile of this unknown-person-with-this-specific-face is slowly built—that information can theoretically be married to data from that person's desktop-shopping e-commerce efforts or their tablet/smartphone's m-commerce efforts.

The question, then, is whether it has to start in-store. What if this hypothetical chain pushes some attractive incentives to get lots of customers and prospects to download its free mobile app? And buried in the terms and conditions is the right for the app to monitor images? The next selfie or Snapchat that the shopper sends is captured and the facial data points are noted. Here's where it gets even freakier. Once the mobile app has identified the face of the shopper—and has linked it to whatever mobile shopper that customer has done—it can tell the in-store camera databases what to look for. When that shopper walks in, it can connect the mobile activity with any observed in-store activity.Read more...


Extremely Sad News

June 26th, 2013
It pains us greatly to have to report to you that our PCI Columnist, Walt Conway, passed away on Tuesday (June 26) after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Professionally, Walt had that rare ability to take complex compliance issues and make them approachable. He was a huge fan of the PCI process, which meant that he felt the obligation to point out its flaws or its inconsistencies.

Personally, I've never met someone who was as personable, intelligent and just plain nice as Walt. He will be missed far more than any words can convey.Read more...


Twitter Preparing Geofencing Retail Ads For The Holidays—And You’ll Be Giving A Lot More Than You’ll Receive

June 26th, 2013
Just in time for the holidays, Twitter will unveil a retail program where it will deliver geo-targeted messages to shoppers as they approach specific latitudes and longitudes, according to a report in Ad Age. Although the idea of letting Twitter blast anyone with 15 percent off coupons when they get within eyeshot of your store is pleasant enough, retailers might easily find themselves giving more than they receive—a lot more.

What is being given up is data, but this isn't referring to the limiters your team will give to Twitter ("we want 18-24 year old women who have Tweeted about clothing in the prior 96 hours and who are nearing our store between 9 AM and 10 PM"). The data at risk are the responses. Let's say you broadcast these discount messages to 4,000 proximity shoppers and 300 react, 250 download the coupon and 86 redeem the coupon. You won't be the only one saving those 86 names in the "nice" list, the one that you'll want to check a lot more than twice. So will Twitter.Read more...


Updated: No, Target Won’t Be Slashing Its IT Budget By Two-Thirds Next Year. But Could It?

June 24th, 2013
Is Target (NYSE:TGT) about to slash IT spending? No, it turns out, it's not. An investors' note from Citi analyst Deborah Weinswig on Friday (June 21) said Target has reached "peak spending" on IT and next year the IT budget will drop from the range of $130 million to $160 million down to between $30 million and $60 million. That would be $100 million, or about two-thirds of Target's IT spend, chopped from the budget.

But on Thursday (June 27), Citi reissued that investors' note at Target's prompting, because in reality Target's IT spending will actually rise next year. It seems there was a communication problem between Target's top executives and Citi. The new version of the note reads: "TGT is investing approx. $0.20-$0.25 per share more in technology this year than last year. Next year, the incremental spending on technology is expected to be worth $0.05-$0.10/share YOY." No slashed IT budget. No wild swing between investing in new systems and digesting the results. In short, a much more conventional IT budget story. But wait—what if Citi had gotten it right the first time? Could that even have worked? Read more...


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