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Can Google Get Chains To Solve The $10 Delivery Ceiling?

March 6th, 2013
Google's same-day delivery service for retailers will reportedly have an Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) Prime-like twist: a fixed annual price. That could open up a wide range of options for chains, including retailers paying the yearly fee (expected to be between $65 and $70) for favored loyalty customers. That, in turn, might make the delivery service financially viable for Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and retailers.

Google has been testing a same-day delivery service since last fall with several chains, limited to employees and a small number of other testers. The big problem is the one that all same-day efforts in the U.S. have faced: Even affluent customers won't pay more than $10 per delivery.Read more...


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Isis Revamps Its Mobile Wallet And It’s Actually Fixing What’s Broken

March 5th, 2013
The news that Isis is working on a new and improved app for its mobile-payments system is a good sign, though maybe not for the reasons Isis wants it to be. OK, switching to an app developer that has never done a mobile wallet doesn't sound so good. Neither do the only numbers that anyone has yet released on Isis use: only 600 Isis-taps per day on Salt Lake City's transit system, and that's even with Isis giving its users a free ride. Nor do the terrible reviews Isis has gotten since it finally launched in October.

That good sign? As badly broken as its system may be, Isis is trying to fix what's actually broken.Read more...


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At JCPenney, Everybody Gets A POS iPod In March

February 28th, 2013
All JCPenney (NYSE:JCP) associates will be able to do in-aisle checkout "within one month," the troubled chain's CEO said during an earnings call on Wednesday (Feb. 27). The move comes as 25 percent of sales transactions in the stores are already being done on mobile POS.

The 1,100-store chain is also a few months away from going live with a new financial system from Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL, to be followed before the end of the year by merchandising, planning and allocation systems, all of which will replace legacy systems. That's presuming the board's patience with CEO Ron Johnson holds out—unlike most big chains, JCPenney's E-Commerce site isn't doing any better than in-store, and the chain lost $552 million during the last three months.Read more...


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Macy’s Stops Reporting Online Stats, Blames Too Much Channel Blur

February 27th, 2013
Arguing that "the line between stores and the Internet is blurring so much," Macy's (NYSE:M) has become the first major publicly held retailer to stop reporting its E-Commerce stats. Setting aside the fact that Macy's would always see less disclosure—especially to rivals—as a nice thing, the move signals an important step for omni-channel/merged-channel retailing. The day when in-store, mobile and online are so intermixed that they can't be meaningfully broken out is the same day true merged-channel retailing has happened. For Macy's, that day happened on Tuesday (Feb. 26).

"Candidly, it's getting so hard to know what's a store sale and what's a mobile sale and what's Internet. It's getting harder to figure out the lines between them," Macy's CFO Karen Hoguet told analysts on Tuesday. When asked for some E-Commerce projections, she said: "I really can't give you that number. I mean, I don't know it. But clearly, the growth is continuing very aggressively. But sometimes, it's being bought on a mobile device sitting in a store. So I'm not sure how to define that."Read more...


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Best Buy Pricing Glitch Raises Reasonableness Issue

February 27th, 2013
When a California county judge hit Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) on February 22 with an $875,370 fine for having the wrong price on an item, it re-raised an old debate: What is fair, reasonable and practical when it comes to precisely updating every price in every store in a major chain? With municipalities starving for budget, and given the fact that no one ever lost votes by squeezing fines from chains accused of posting the wrong price, does it make sense to set up any type of practical test?

The bigger the chain, the better the target, as Walmart (NYSE:WMT) knows only too well. Just last month, another judge in this same California county hit grocery chain Fresh & Easy with a bill for $833,136 for similar price-tag problems. How about drawing legal distinctions between intent to defraud and unintentional human error or computer glitch? Frustratingly, these weights-and-measures cases are usually painful enough to sting but not financially worth fighting. That cost-of-doing-business reality is something cash-strapped agencies rely on.Read more...


Barnes & Noble Founder: It’s The Stores, Stupid

February 26th, 2013
One of the delicious ironies of merged-channel retail is how easy it is to lose track of the real business. When Barnes & Noble (NYSE:BKS) Chairman Leonard Riggio said on Monday (Feb. 25) that he wants to buy the chain's regular bookstores and E-Commerce operation, everyone suddenly took another look at what was presumed to be a dying brick-and-mortar business. Surprise! The stores are profitable. It's the Nook that's been bleeding the retailer dry.

The Nook was supposed to be merged-channel perfected: Buy anywhere, instant delivery, no DCs required. The physical stores were expected to be steamrolled by Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN). Instead, Amazon has crushed the Nook, while B&N's stores (with no more competition from Borders) are hanging on. Welcome to Merged Channel 2.0—or possibly Merged Channel II: The Showroom Strikes Back.Read more...


Visa’s Mobile-Payment Moves: Still Solving The Wrong Problems

February 26th, 2013

The big announcement Visa (NYSE:V) made at the Mobile World Congress on Monday (Feb. 25) was a deal to put its mobile-payments app on Samsung’s NFC-equipped smartphones, and for banks to easily install payment-card numbers in the phones’ NFC Secure Element. Analysts made the usual noises about how these moves will give NFC a much-needed boost. Are these people delusional? We hope not, but it remains true that there’s only one show-stopping problem facing pay-by-tap: Customers just don’t want it. Solve that one, and the other problems are trivial. Fail to solve it, and nothing else matters.

Actually, Visa probably isn’t delusional, just desperately optimistic, like it is when it reports contactless payments of all types (including NFC) have quadrupled in the past year, to 13 million per month. The missing context: VisaNet handles 130 million transactions per day. That means contactless is roughly one-third of 1 percent of the total. Visa knows that’s pathetic. It just doesn’t know how to convince chains to train cashiers to encourage customers to use contactless and mobile payments. Maybe Walmart (NYSE:WMT) will actually do that when its MCX finally arrives. After all, in retail, nothing cuts through the fog of optimism—or delusion—quite like hatred of interchange.…


Another Grocery POS Attack, Compromising Compromise

February 26th, 2013
Add Sprouts Farmers Market, a 151-store regional grocery chain that sells in eight U.S. states, to the list of chains learning that POS attacks are today's favorite cyberthief way to get card data. Sprouts confirmed on February 22 that it found spyware in the POS systems of 19 stores (13 in Arizona, six in Southern California), during a five-day sweep between January 25 and January 29. The statement included this wonderfully comforting line for Sprouts' shoppers: "After an investigation conducted by Sprouts along with FishNet Security, a nationally recognized data security firm, Sprouts is unable to confirm with certainty at this time whether any accounts were compromised."

That's a rather perplexing utterance. Given that the chain said data-capturing software was found in the POS systems of some 19 stores, it's pretty easy to declare the security of every card used in those machines during that timeframe was compromised. That's not to say that the thieves successfully captured that data in a usable form or that they have actually tried to use that data yet. But in terms of the data being compromised, that debate was pretty much over when the software was found.Read more...


Showrooming Showboating: If It’s In Context, It Wouldn’t Sound Good

February 25th, 2013
A showrooming study published on February 22 tries to make the case that Best Buy (NYSE:BBY), Target (NYSE:TGT) and Walmart (NYSE:WMT) are winning their battles against showrooming. But the lack of context makes a better case that showrooming is almost impossible to measure and might not even meaningfully exist. The study, done by ClickIQ, reported that all three chains saw fewer in-store shoppers eventually purchase online, when comparing 2013 data with 2012 data. What the study didn't explore was whether more shoppers were simply doing their online research first and then choosing to buy from an E-tailer.

To be blunt, the retail concern is whether Walmart and the like are losing more or fewer sales to Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) and the like, and this study simply didn't try to address that.Indeed, answering that question is the more likely next step for shoppers if these chains are losing the battle against so-called showrooming. After shoppers come into, let's say, Target repeatedly and then find that E-tailers repeatedly offer the same for less, those shoppers would simply stop bothering to even drive to Target and would go straight online. This study would interpret that outcome as a win for the physical stores—because the percentage of people who go into the store and then buy from the store would go up—when it's actually a clean loss.Read more...


Phone Tracking And The Law: Clear Sailing

February 21st, 2013
In the ongoing Nordstrom/Euclid cell phone tracking debate, it seems that Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN) failed to ask all three necessary questions when using any technology that might raise a privacy concern. These questions are, in no particular order: Is it legal? Is it profitable? And is it wise? Ask only two of these three questions, and you can be in deep trouble, pens Legal Columnist Mark Rasch.

The debate surrounds the Seattle-based retailer's use of a vendor called Euclid, which captures information from the Wi-Fi signals of both customers and passersby. Is it legal? There is no specific U.S. law on whether MAC addresses are "personal information" entitled to legal protection. Moreover, U.S. law regarding things like access to cell phone records and cell phone usage probably don't apply to the Wi-Fi portion of the device. So although it may constitute an unlawful "trap and trace" or "pen register" to capture a cell phone number or IMEI of a cell phone, these laws likely don't apply to capturing the MAC address of a Wi-Fi-enabled device. Put simply, your iPad or Wi-Fi-enabled iPod isn't a phone, nor is the non-phone portion of your iPhone, Blackberry, Android or Windows mobile device.Read more...


Why Would Google Open A Chain? Ask Apple

February 20th, 2013
Rumors this week that Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) is on the verge of launching its own chain of brick-and-mortar retail stores mostly seemed to focus on how much better Google is at creating buzz than Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), and how the search giant could give Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) real competition in the tech-vendor retail-chain sweepstakes. We also liked hearing pundits not insisting, for once, that Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) will be the next online retailer to jump into physical stores.

But largely missing from the rumor mill is a blunt reality: Google isn't actually a retailer at all. It could probably put up a chain of good-looking stores and find things to put in them—Nexus phones and tablets, Chromebook computers, Google Glass electronic glasses, driverless cars. But what, exactly, would what is fundamentally a huge online advertising company get from opening its own chain? One possible answer: some actual payments.Read more...


An EAS Tag That Can Take A Nuking And Keep On Looking

February 20th, 2013

Shoppers do the darnedest things, such as taking home packaging with attached EAS labels and then throwing it into the microwave oven. We’re not just talking about reheatable soups but about things like hamburger meat, complete with the styrofoam and ultra-meltable shrinkwrap plastic. Although the molten plastic is poisonous and smells awful, the EAS tag can catch fire. (Note: Fire, plastic chemicals, styrofoam and plenty of radiation is a recipe for a new microwave—and possibly a new kitchen.)

“Typically, people are trying to defrost beef, chicken, etc., in the original package after it is frozen and it’s difficult to remove the plastic,” said George Cohen, a spokesperson for EAS vendor Checkpoint. Checkpoint on Tuesday (Feb. 19) rolled out what it says is a microwave-safe EAS label. That may sound like a great idea, but when you’re faced with an EAS tag or label that refuses to stay deactivated, the idea of frying it in the breakroom’s microwave oven was always a nice failsafe.…


Best Buy’s Cure For Showrooming? Not Exactly

February 19th, 2013
On February 15, Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) put out a statement saying it had ended showrooming, and the sword it said will kill this merged-channel dragon is a new price-match program. Despite quite a few reports that Best Buy was making the price-match it launched in 2012's holiday season permanent, the new program—set to kick in March 3—has very little in common with its holiday price-match effort. First, this program will clearly not eliminate showrooming, and Best Buy knows it. The new program cuts in half how long regular shoppers have to return merchandise for refunds, from 30 days to 15 days. The rest of the changes are making the program much stronger, eliminating many of the non-shopper-friendly elements from last year, such as making the price-matches conditional on associate discretion, limiting price-matches to appliances and electronics hardware, and even exempting all electronics accessories.

Is it a better program (other than the strange halving of the time for a return)? Absolutely. Will it likely reduce Best Buy sales lost to showrooming? Yes. Will it eliminate all showrooming losses? Of course not. And the fact that Best Buy is trying to argue it will is mind-boggling.Read more...


PCI’s New Mobile Guidelines Acknowledge Huge Hurdles

February 15th, 2013
The PCI Council officially released its mobile payment guidelines Thursday (Feb. 14), a document that turned out to be anything other than a Valentine to retail IT execs who'd love to know the "all-clear" path to doing mobile payments and staying PCI compliant. Instead, it's more of a pragmatic acknowledgement of the various mobile hurdles that the council sees as currently insurmountable.

The recommendations, of course, also offer the generic list of best practices for mobile device security (such as strongly encouraging full-disk encryption), which is certainly a handy checklist for chains just starting to seriously explore mobile payments. One key point of the report is to acknowledge the very complex nature of mobile systems, which have far more players than traditional fixed POS systems. For example, the report speaks of the desirability of lab validation for mobile devices and why it's simply—and regrettably—not practical.Read more...


U.K.’s John Lewis Trials Electronic Shelf Tags That Don’t Look Like New Technology. Will This Reverse Psychology Work?

February 13th, 2013

Electronic shelf tags have gone pretty much nowhere in recent years, but U.K. department store chain John Lewis is doing an interesting trial at one of its newest stores. The Exeter location, which the 39-store chain uses as a testbed for new technologies, has put in hundreds of e-paper shelf tags that will display both prices and QR codes that customers can scan to get offers and product information. John Lewis is calling this an omnichannel test, the idea being that if customers are going to have their phones out in the store, shelf tags are a good thing for them to scan.

True, there’s nothing in that part of the trial that couldn’t be done with paper tags, and that is part of what’s so interesting: Unlike a more traditional electronic shelf tag, customers won’t necessarily notice that these tags are electronic. That makes them less distracting and possibly less likely to be stolen, both of which have been problems with electronic tags in the past. In-store technology that all but hides the fact that it’s new technology sounds strange, but if it finally gets easy-to-update electronic tags on shelves—and maybe eventually into John Lewis’ 290-store Waitrose grocery chain—so much the better.…


Nordstrom Phone-Tracking Trial Raises Customer-Theft Threat

February 13th, 2013
Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN) is six months into a 17-store trial in which shoppers are counted by way of Wi-Fi signals from their smartphones. The 236-store apparel chain is not storing any customer personal information from the trial, and it's only being given aggregated data on customers by the vendor handling the trial. But that vendor, Euclid, is storing hashed versions of customer Wi-Fi MAC addresses—and is also running trials for some 35 other of the nation's 100 largest retailers. That presents what could easily become an irresistible cross-retailer mobile tracking temptation.

Two very desirable—and potentially lucrative—sets of shopper data are being captured and saved here. But the retailers and the vendor involved are all pledging to not use it. The first is cross-retailer data, which is where the vendor will recognize a shopper's phone's MAC address when the shopper repeatedly walks into a Nordstrom and then detect that same shopper walking into a Nordstrom competitor. How much would that rival pay for such information? The second data set: Once one of those MAC addresses makes a purchase, the chain could connect that MAC address with the payment information. Voila, instant CRM-friendly data on whenever that customer walks into a store and, with enough sensors, every aisle he or she visits and how long the shopper lingers.Read more...


Privacy Issues Galore Crop Up In California Supreme Court E-Commerce Ruling

February 7th, 2013
On Monday (Feb. 4), the California Supreme Court revisited the question of whether online retailers are permitted to collect certain personal information when engaging in a credit-card transaction. A 1974 statute seems to say "no," but the California Supreme Court says "yes." Although the case is a victory for online retailers, the way the court came to its decision may open up consumers to much more use of personal information. In the end, that possibility may cause the State Legislature to clamp down on new forms of database misuse—for both online and offline retailers, pens Legal Columnist Mark Rasch.

In the 1970s, California passed the Song-Beverly Act. It prohibited merchants (there were no online merchants back then) from requiring, as a condition for accepting a credit card, consumers to provide certain personal information. The legislature was worried about merchants using the pretext of accepting a credit card to mandate that consumers pony up their names, addresses and other personal information.Read more...


California Opens CRM Goldmine For All E-Tailers

February 6th, 2013
The California Supreme Court on Monday (Feb. 4) ruled that online merchants have the right to ask for Zip code and other personal information about shoppers who buy electronically downloadable products, but physical retailers do not. Given the clout of the highest court from the country's largest state making such a ruling—which, in turn, makes it very likely that other states will follow—this decision could sharply change CRM and POS strategies.

Such changes are especially likely because the court did not impose any restrictions on how retailers can use this newly permitted data, despite the ruling saying that data is solely to give online shops a better chance of fighting fraud. The ruling allows address and other information to be demanded from shoppers even when the goods are physical, but only if the product is being shipped to a different location. The rationale is that when a physical product is being delivered, the retailer has an obvious need to ask for the address to which it will be sent. But for fraud purposes, the court's Monday ruling now allows the site to demand the address of the customer, in addition to the delivery address.Read more...


Duane Reade Gets Lots Of Non-Obvious Value From A Mobile Game

February 5th, 2013
Duane Reade, the largest drugstore chain in New York City, announced on Tuesday (Feb. 5) it would be trying an unusual mobile effort: It is participating in an elaborate Google mobile-fueled virtual reality game. At one level, this is just silly fun. But from a retail mobile perspective, a lot more is going on here. The game, called Ingress, is from Google's Niantic Labs and involves hiding barcodes throughout the stores. From the chain's perspective, is it about getting shoppers to walk inside its 250 stores? No, although the game certainly does that. Is it about getting shoppers to not merely enter but have to go deep into the store, searching through shelves of products to find the game barcodes? Yes, but that's not the biggest element.

The real payback for Duane Reade, owned by Walgreens, is about changing customer mobile behaviors. In English, that means getting shoppers comfortable with scanning barcodes and interacting with the resultant data. It will increase participation in more explicit mobile programs. This will mean more price comparisons—which Duane Reade is confident it will usually win—and, soon, it will soften resistance to mobile payments.Read more...


Survey Says Consumers Worry About Mobile Wallet Security. But Does That Matter?

February 4th, 2013

A ComScore survey released on Monday (Feb. 4) reminded us why we hate it when surveys don’t give us context. The topic was digital wallets, and among other not-very-surprising tidbits (48 percent of smartphone users surveyed have used PayPal, six times as many as runner-up Google Wallet) was something we’ve heard often enough: 47 percent say they’re concerned about “security/safety/theft/loss of phone” with digital wallets. To its credit, the ComScore report on the survey does point out that consumers don’t seem to understand the added security that digital wallets provide. (A real surprise: 29 percent say they have no mobile-wallet concerns.)

But we never see surveys that ask consumers “What concerns, if any, do you have about using a plastic credit or debit card to make purchases?” What percentage would say they’re worried about losing the card or having their wallet stolen? Without that, we don’t know if a question about mobile wallets means anything at all. If most consumers do fret about the risk of a stolen magstripe card but use it anyway, that’s clearly not what’s holding back mobile payments. Our theory: Consumers don’t actually care about security at all. Now will somebody please deliver numbers to prove us wrong?…


Social Media Makes It Easy To Blog Or Tweet Your Way Into FTC Fines

January 31st, 2013
Restaurant reservations Web site Open Table just paid $10 million to purchase the app developer Foodspotting, which enables people to take pictures of, well, food. The idea behind the synergy is that consumers looking to make reservations can not only read the menu but actually see the food presentation "in the real world" by looking at pictures taken by bona fide customers.

This continues a trend of technology empowering consumers, observes Legal Columnist Mark D. Rasch. It's also a way for restaurants and other retailers to get themselves into real legal trouble if they're not very careful about how they identify their use of this type of social technology.Read more...


JCPenney’s RFID Reversal Guts In-Aisle Checkout

January 30th, 2013
When JCPenney very publicly and very aggressively embraced a chain-wide, all-product item-level RFID strategy—with the promise of a full rollout by February 1 (2013)—executives cited supply-chain savings as a key driver. The chain has now reversed course, killing much of the RFID program to save money. When a chain is under this much financial pressure, a little savings today is a lot more valuable than a lot of savings down the road.

But of much greater significance is the digital domino effect. In this case, JCPenney was building its in-aisle checkout on the premise that it had item-level RFID fully in place. And if remodeled stores have dramatically scaled back the number of cashwraps (because customers would be doing in-aisle checkout), does that mean all those customers will have to line up for the limited number of cashwraps? That's not going to be pretty—presuming JCPenney can actually get enough returning customers to make it a problem.Read more...


Starbucks Dominates Mobile Payments. Why Isn’t Anyone Else Even In The Game?

January 30th, 2013
Starbucks revealed just how far it is ahead of everyone else in mobile payments last week, and the answer should be both terrifying and heartening for other retailers. The coffee-house chain said its customers do 2.1 million mobile transactions at Starbucks every week—about 5 percent of all its sales transactions in U.S. stores.

That's the terrifying part: No other brick-and-mortar retailer comes remotely close to those numbers in mobile payments. The heartening part: It's possible. Despite all the wheel-spinning from PayPal, Google and Isis when it comes to getting customers to use mobile payments, it can be done. And it's not something unique to Starbucks customers.Read more...


Macy’s Re-Commits To Merged Channel In An Important Way

January 30th, 2013
It seems that Macy's has taken advantage of the retirement of a senior executive to consolidate power to help its ongoing merged-channel strategies. Macy's created a new C-level position and promoted its EVP for omnichannel strategy to chief omnichannel officer (COO is already taken, so who knows what acronym it will get). The chain also gave the new chief (which, at Macy's, is a higher rank than EVP) control over IT and logistics.

This power consolidation happened when Thomas L. Cole retired as chief administrative officer following a 41-year career at Macy's (and companies that Macy's acquired). That gave Macy's the ability to promote Robert B. "RB" Harrison from EVP for omnichannel strategy to his new chief role. "Among his duties, Tom has been responsible for systems and logistics for many years. As Tom's duties were re-assigned, it was decided that systems and logistics fit best under R.B. Harrison, given the increasing omnichannel nature of our business," said Jim Sluzewski, Macy's SVP of corporate communications. "In that process, R.B. was promoted to a chief and he joined the company's executive committee. Tom's retirement was the trigger point."Read more...


Fake Prices At JCPenney? Why Not Real (But Rigged) Price Comparisons?

January 29th, 2013
Who actually believes in MSRP, anyway? On January 24, the New York Post breathlessly reported that JCPenney was asking (or maybe just planning to ask) suppliers for a "fake" list price, even if they don't have one, so the 110-year-old chain could display that price along with JCPenney's own lower price. The Post was shocked, shocked to find that pricing gimmicks were going on in retail.

The chain denied any fakery, but the real shock is that JCPenney bothered. Customers don't care about the Manufacturer's Spurious Retail Price. They care whether JCPenney's price is lower than Macy's or Kohl's, and they can get that information online. Why isn't JCPenney doing the same thing? Read more...


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