Top Stories



Does “What You See” Really Influence “What You Get”?

January 28th, 2009
In a NY Times piece about the tons of people who viewed President Obama's inaugural events, it rattled off some of the major U.S. broadcast networks in a chart: NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, MSNBC and Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart? Yep, the number of Americans who watched the events on Wal-Mart TV was almost half as many who saw it on MSNBC and almost a third of those who watched Fox. Those numbers nicely illustrated the massive reach that in-store retailers are finding with video, especially POS-situated videos for captive consumer audiences. And online is even stronger.Read more...


“This Is Costco Calling. Put Down That Sandwich!”

January 28th, 2009
How does a retailer morph the inadvertent selling of dangerous products and its dusty CRM program into a public relations victory? The answer is as old as the telephone. In fact, the answer is the telephone. The $73 billion Costco is using automated systems that dial the numbers of customers to alert them about product recalls. The system was activated recently to spread warnings about salmonella-tainted peanut butter.

This tactic is hardly new, as many chains—including Price Chopper and Wegmans—have been doing this for at least a year and several very large retailers are exploring it. But Costco is the largest retailer to have launched it on such a large scale.Read more...


Price Comparison Sites Beware: Expedia, Agree To Make Key Changes After Lawsuit

January 27th, 2009
Web sites providing E-Commerce price comparisons—especially those that point consumers to local brick-and-mortar locations—may want to consider adding features that could benefit physically disabled consumers. Either that or risk the fate suffered by Expedia and

Following a lawsuit, Expedia and have agreed to augment their sites' search capabilities so people with disabilities can find and book hotel rooms that accommodate their special needs. The hotel-booking sites were sued in California Superior Court on the grounds that they did not provide ways for people with disabilities to determine whether hotels offered special accommodations.Read more...


Kroger’s Goes Nationwide With Digital Couponing

January 27th, 2009

The Kroger grocery chain apparently saw good results from a 219-store digital coupon last summer, as it announced on Tuesday (Jan. 27) that it was expanding digital coupons to virtually all of its 2,400 stores in 31 states.

Kroger, which used Cellfire for its initial trial, will be varying coupon price discounts regionally. The Kroger brands involved include Ralph’s, Bakers, City Markets, Dillon, Gerbes, Gilander, Jay-C, King Scoopers, Owens, Payless, QFC, Smiths, Scott’s, Fry’s, Cala Foods and Bell Markets.…


Given An RFID Inch, Will Sam’s Club Suppliers Try Taking A Mile?

January 27th, 2009
Sam's Club, which wants suppliers to apply EPC/RFID tags on all pallets they ship to its stores and warehouses by next year, is significantly reducing the fee it will charge those who don't comply, from about $3 per tag to 12 cents per tag. Some suppliers will simply opt to pay the fee, potentially risking the wrath of Sam's Club—and its owner, Wal-Mart.

"Why would you want to invest in technology, training, software and people when Wal-Mart can do it for you for 12 cents?" asked Louis Bianchin, senior RFID analyst and program manager at VDC Research. "The risk there is that they (Sam's Club) could have sent the wrong message to the supplier community. That is not the message the supplier community needs to get."Read more...

Contactless Cards Coming To Carrefour

January 26th, 2009
Carrefour, Europe's largest retailer and the world's second-largest retailer, is about to introduce contactless credit/loyalty cards as it continues to push near field communication (NFC) payment technology.

The adoption of contactless by a retailer of Carrefour's size "is one of the largest victories so far" and a "very positive win" for contactless technology, said Forrester Research Analyst Ed Kountz. "It's looking like we are going to see more deployments in Europe. It's also being done well in Turkey, of all places, and Asia really remains the number one market for contactless payments."Read more...

Canadian Tire Gives Up On Core E-Commerce. Will Others Follow?

January 22nd, 2009
When Canadian Tire, with more than $8 billion in annual revenue and some 1,100 stores throughout Canada, makes a major strategic change to its Web site, it gets noticed. So the chain's move this week to abandon traditional E-Commerce, other than giftcards and its buy-online-pick-up-in-store program, shook up the E-Commerce community.

But within days of the Canadian Tire (CT) statement, Circuit City shut down its Web site entirely (months before closing its physical stores) and Sears added a drive-through for its buy-online-pick-up-in-store program. Is this the next growth phase for E-Commerce, or is it more of a "We can't afford anymore to subsidize this bits-and-byte annoying albatross"?Read more...

Sears Drive-Through. It’s Against The Odds But At Least It’s Trying

January 22nd, 2009
Sears is experimenting with a buy-online-pick-up-in-store approach merged with a "you want fries with that?" drive-through. The tactic is not especially novel, as several other retailers have tried such a move with mixed results (the mixed results being that some had bad experiences while others had worse). But the experiment is interesting insofar as it shows Sears trying to be creative with its merged channel efforts.

Beyond the advantage of being able to physically shop without having to take a shower, there are some tactical reasons for Sears' plan to convert one of its Illinois stores into what it is calling a "MyGofer Store." Read more...

The Reasons Behind StorefrontBacktalk’s New Look

January 22nd, 2009
Earlier this week (Jan. 20), StorefrontBacktalk unveiled a new site design (and lots of programming changes behind the scenes), and we wanted to quickly rattle off some of what we hope readers will consider improvements.

Among the changes are a centralized search box, new categories and comments that are much more easily accessible.Read more...

Trust Electrons, Not Dead Trees, Say Paperless Receipt Startups

January 20th, 2009
Hanging their hats on the "green" movement while offering retailers new ways to electronically send ads and coupons to customers, some young companies are pushing "paperless receipt" technology as the next big thing in point-of-sale efficiency.

When we recently heard of one such startup, an Atlanta company called Transaction Tree, whose products allow retailers to offer E-mailed receipts instead of receipts printed on paper, we wondered how that would work. Who hasn't been the victim of lost, sent-to-the-wrong-address or spam-bucket-swallowed E-mails? Read more...

Sears, OfficeMax Agree To Pay In Gift Card Patent Lawsuit

January 8th, 2009
Sears and OfficeMax have agreed to settle a lawsuit against them—and several other major retailers, including Walgreens, Barnes & Noble and Aeropostale—as the chains find themselves losing legal challenges to a company with a gift card validation process patent. That vendor argues that almost every retailer today is in violation of its patent if they accept gift cards at their physical stores.

Sears and OfficeMax join TJX and McDonald's as having settled—or agreed to settle—their roles by agreeing to license the technology from Card Activation Technologies.Read more...

O, Kiosk, How Doth I Differentiate Thou?

November 20th, 2008
We make calls on PCs and surf the Web on our phones. The lines of separation are blurring fast. But in the world of retail technology, the difference between a kiosk and digital signage is one of the more difficult distinctions to make.

In response to a contest—OK, a very weird contest, even by the relatively loose digital signage standards—one industry CFO chose to try and explain the difference in poetic verse. The result was decidedly less Shakespeare, Byron, Keats or Poe and much more Dr. Seuss and Burma-Shave. Even so, his poem is worth reading, if for no other reason than to make yourself feel better about your poem-crafting skill. (A free gift of decidedly little value to the first five readers who can correctly identify the Burma-Shave reference. Extra credit if you can cite an example.) Read more...

Barnes & Noble E-Commerce Focuses On Experience

October 29th, 2008
The battle for book sales should be an online natural. But as Barnes & Noble discovered this week, the compelling, intimate experience of a physical bookstore is still proving elusive.

B&N, with almost 800 bookshops in all 50 states, on Monday (Oct. 27) introduced what it dubbed "My B&N," a program designed to create personal profiles for all customers so that they can more easily interact with other customers. Read more...

Could Software Allow Shelves To Look Back At Consumers?

October 23rd, 2008
Technology that has been deployed to digitally watch—and analyze—how consumers interact with digital signage could also be used to interpret what they are doing while looking at a cereal shelf.

Are they ignoring the product or are they picking it up, reading the label and then quickly putting it back? Does the timing and eye movement indicate they were repulsed by the sugar content (near the bottom) or the low fiber count?Read more...

Circuit City Identical Online/Offline Pricing Plan Might Actually Work

October 15th, 2008
Circuit City pledged on Wednesday (Oct. 15) that it would have the same price for all products, regardless of whether they were being offered online or in-store. Historically, retailers have often had lower pricing online because the online costs are lower and, to a lesser extent, it would compensate slightly for shipping costs.

The issue is real, in that many consumers do object to the pricing differences as they see it being a scam. The Circuit City "one price promise" move could ultimately prove to be quite a clever piece of marketing. First, it will be trumpeted as a consumer advantage, even if it means that the price equality will be achieved by sometimes (all the time?) online pricing being raised to match the in-store price.Read more...

Home Depot, McDonald’s Pushing Non-Traditional Kiosk Trials

October 14th, 2008
Home Depot and McDonald's are both in the middle of non-traditional kiosk trials. McDonald's is on its fourth such trial, after having concluded that the first three simply didn't work well. Not too many retailers would opt for a fourth trial after three unsuccessful attempts.

The non-traditional Home Depot kiosk trial is based more on the units themselves—small mobile units, some as tiny as 5-inches tall—and the size of the chain's planned kiosk commitment: Well north of $100 million for full deployment, according to the technology consultant handling one of the trials.Read more...

Is Wegmans’ Self-Checkout Trial Truly For Customer Service?

October 14th, 2008
When supermarket chain Wegmans confirmed this month its first-ever self-checkout trial, it was billed as a customer service feature. That's technically true, but only in a very roundabout way.

The implication in the customer service comment is that shoppers can get checked out more quickly with a self-service unit. That's actually not often the case. Read more...

Yes, Virginia, There Really Can Be A Strategic Kiosk Strategy

October 9th, 2008

If you’re going to be in New York City on Wednesday (Oct. 15), you might want to drop by the StorefrontBacktalk panel on strategic kiosk use (yes, there is such a thing) at the Javits Center during the KioskCom/Self-Service Expo show.

We’re going to start things off by examining Home Depot’s kiosk approaches and concerns (one of our panelists has been working on it for months) and then debate the security risks of kiosks, the difficulties of POS (and back-office) integration and—for laughs—talk about some of the more futuristic robotic kiosks in the wings. It’s from 3:15 to 4:15 PM and we’d love to have you join us. Someone needs to ask probing questions. If you don’t, I’ll have to, and what fun would that be?…

As Kiosks Become More Sophisticated, Security Risks Soar

October 2nd, 2008
When a manager tries to connect a new kind of device to a network, IT is typically all over it, trying to discover potential security issues. But the much bigger risk is when a longtime network element, one that has been seen for years as innocuous and trivial, slowly becomes more intelligent and connected and quietly morphs into something that is anything but innocuous.

It happened five or six years ago when printers, faxes and scanners started getting direct access to IP—so a worker in Chicago could scan a document in and have it print out in the company's Los Angeles and New York offices. These devices were getting smart (more CPU, RAM, hard disk) and connected. But few IT departments initially thought about the security such devices, and they became an ultra-easy way to sneak into the LAN and get access to something more valuable. Today, that identical scenario is starting to play out with kiosks.Read more...

Best Buy Cautiously Tries Kiosks

August 13th, 2008
Best Buy has launched a cautious kiosk trial, with 12 machines housed at eight airports in the United States. How cautious a trial? It was announced Monday (Aug. 11) and is slated to end Sept. 1. Although it wasn't clear when the trial started, two weeks is not giving it an especially long leash.

The trial is apparently focused solely on evaluating the units' selling capabilities—and Best Buy's ability to handle and protect payment—and will not be integrated with any of the company's other systems, at least for this trial. That would mean no interactions with CRM, inventory or supply chain, and even payment systems handled outside of Best Buy's network. Read more...

Overseas Self-Checkout Pockets Going Well Beyond U.S.

August 7th, 2008
As U.S. retailers struggle to get customers to use self-checkout lanes and to manage the process, overseas merchants are moving well into Self-Checkout Phase Two, with digital cameras used to identify foods by comparing items with an image database and making self-checkout theft much more challenging with multi-chute fully automated tunnels.

Still, those technological trendsetters are found in pockets throughout Europe, Asia and Australia, with most overseas retailers still slow to embrace self-checkout, according to a new report from European retail tech analyst firm Planet Retail. That said, for those merchants who have deployed, they are often exceeding their U.S. counterpart. Read more...

Kroger Starts Mobile Coupon Program

August 1st, 2008
Kroger, the $70.2 billion grocery giant with almost 2,500 stores in 31 states, has started a mobile coupon program that links the customer's loyalty card (Kroger Plus, in this case) to a mobile phone.

The consumer uses the phone to access a list of available coupons, selects them and they are automatically added to the CRM account. Once in the store, the phone isn't even necessary, as the coupons are now available to anyone using that loyalty card.Read more...

Fujitsu Brings Euro-Style Two-Step Checkout To U.S. Will It Work On Main Street?

July 10th, 2008
Fujitsu is hoping retailers in the United States will embrace a checkout system used by some European stores, but untested in the U.S., that splits scanning and payment processes into two different stations in the store. If American retailers decide to switch to this system, it will call for a significant overhaul of their current checkout systems. The Hypermarket U-Scan Genesis Payment Station works by allowing products to be scanned at one station--by a cashier--and then paid for at another--via self-checkout. After the cashier scans the items, the customer pays for them at the U-Scan Genesis Payment Station, freeing up the cashier to move on to the next customer. Read more...

The Self-Checkout Future: Customized, Faster And More Dangerous

May 23rd, 2008
Jane's contactless loyalty card is detected as the Des Moines attorney approaches the self-checkout. The system knows the counselor's shopping history and anticipates that the counselor likely has a dozen kiwis in her cart.

So when she places the barcode-less fruit on the scale, the first fruit it displays in its list is kiwi, followed by the four fruits and vegetables that Jane typically buys. Other fruits and vegetables follow alphabetically after Jane's favorites have been displayed. Given how many fruits Jane buys each time, this shaves a precious 108 seconds off of her checkout. Read more...

Has Tesco Figured Out How To Make All-Self-Checkout Work?

May 18th, 2008

Tesco’s experiment with an all-self-checkout store in the U.S. is delivering surprisingly favorable customer satisfaction stats. Internal Tesco customer surveys for its Fresh & Easy stores are finding some 90 percent of its customers saying they were either “satisfied or very satisfied” with the checkout experience while another 27 percent say that “it doesn’t matter” what format the checkouts take, according to this story in The Retail Bulletin. The story said Tesco’s survey showed that only 13 percent of respondents prefer a conventional staffed checkout.

“Helping the Fresh & Easy situation is the fact that bananas are the only product available loose (because they are too variable in size and react badly to shrink-wrapping) whereas everything else is packaged and barcoded, thereby reducing the potential for problems at checkout and for the intervention of staff,” the story said. “This reduction in the need for staff assistance has been achieved through the ongoing development of self-service technology with (Tesco) citing the introduction of more advanced barcode look-up tables that are indexed on the most popular products sold in each store and improved standard deviation on the weight measured versus the weight expected of items.”…


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