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Google Wallet’s Osama Bedier Confirms That Google Lost Money With Every Transaction. (Good News: It Didn’t Get Many.)

June 11th, 2013

Osama Bedier, the former PalPal exec who took over Google Wallet (and is now about to become a former Google exec as well),

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has confirmed what most suspected: that the fees Google had to agree to pay to the card brands meant that it lost money on every transaction. (Good news for Google: It didn’t make very many transactions.) “The company has dedicated hundreds of developers to Wallet and spent about $300 million to acquire digital payment startups to help develop the app. But consumers aren’t sold,” reported BusinessWeek. “Wallet has been downloaded fewer than 10 million times in the two years since its launch, according to Play, Google’s app store.”

Google’s initial plans were not about making revenue directly from transactions, but to instead collect data and then sell targeted ads, a very familiar Google model. But what got short shrift was finding a way to get shoppers to use its app. Unlike the Web where it had a very robust search engine to draw in consumers, its mobile wallet was entirely dependent on retailers and payment players to promote it to shoppers, something that no one (other than Google) had much of an incentive to do. And with losses as extreme as the ones Google was facing, adding a lot of marketing dollars …


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JCPenney CTO Kristen Blum Gone, IT Transition Questions Remain

June 5th, 2013
JCPenney CTO Kristen Blum, who was hired to execute the IT side of former CEO Ron Johnson's grand vision for the 1,100-store chain, is out. The retailer confirmed on Wednesday (June 5) that Blum is gone with the standard thank-her-and-wish-her-well statement. But what's left in her wake is a set of questions about how JCPenney will deal with a massive IT overhaul that it can't really afford but may not be able to reverse.

Let's be clear: None of that uncertainty was Blum's fault. The decision to rip out 500 legacy systems and replace them with Oracle came from Johnson and former COO Michael Kramer. Kramer was the exec who ripped into the chain's culture and called its systems and IT infrastructure "a mess" last year. Blum's job was to retire systems, streamline processes and push forward into Oracle—and she reportedly managed to do that without creating nearly as many enemies as some of Johnson and Kramer's executive hires.Read more...


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Target Quietly Running Four Fulfillment Trials, But The Reason Why Is Far More Interesting

June 5th, 2013
Target CFO John Mulligan has confirmed that Target is in the middle of not one but four different fulfillment pilots, including acting as a guinea pig for the same-day-delivery trials of both Google and EBay. The other Target trials involve pay-online-pickup-in-store, pay-in-store-pickup-at-another-store and pay-online-ship-from-store.

The interesting background to these trials is that Target—as its name implies—has always been precisely focused. These trials, as the CFO pointed out, are the chain admitting that many fundamental shopper assumptions may no longer be valid. "We spent 50 years honing, moving products one direction to our supply chain and ultimately to the back door of the store. Then through the front door and trying to do that as quickly as possible. Now we're moving product different directions depending on what our guest wants and for us, we need to learn how to operationalize that," Mulligan said.Read more...


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Saks Makes Some Curious Tablet Choices When Upgrading Its Flagship Store

May 29th, 2013
Trying to boost Saks Fifth Avenue's flagship store—which Citigroup reported has underperformed the chain's store-revenue average for three of the last four quarters—the retailer has turned to iPads and some old-fashioned customer service improvements. But the chain has made some curious tablet deployment choices. The first move, which should be applauded, is equipping associates with the devices to try and show the hypothetical "single view of the shopper" through multiple channels. So if a shopper routinely logs in—and logs in with the same ID—in all channels, that customer's data could be accurate, assuming an associate is able to nonchalantly ask for the shopper's full ID. It's an ideal step in the right direction.

But Saks, according to Citi, is only deploying one iPad for every three associates. That suggests some 66 percent of associates either won't have a tablet to help their customers or they will have to awkwardly borrow one from another associate. But one associate can't borrow a tablet from another associate who is working with a customer, so an idle associate will have to be located. On a busy Saturday afternoon, that could be almost impossible. Does Saks really want some of its associates to have tablet-powered capabilities while others do not? Will some shoppers be at a disadvantage? Wasn't the whole point of tablets that their pricepoint is such that it's economical for every floor associate to have one while they are actively working the floor?Read more...


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Chicago, The City Of The Big HREF Shoulders

May 29th, 2013

A quick ping to all ye browser lovers (and, I suppose, some browser haters) out there who are planning to drop by Chicago next week for Internet Retailer‘s E-Commerce show (IRCE 2013): StorefrontBacktalk editorial will be at the show, so if any attendees know of the best places in town to deepen our understanding of the nuances of e-tail strategy (i.e., to get truly and reliably drunk), I’d love to hear from you at eschuman@storefrontbacktalk.com.

Looking forward to connecting with as many readers as possible while there. Also, if you see anything especially noteworthy at a booth or hear a strange utterance from a panel, I would love to hear about that, too.…


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

May 29th, 2013

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


Mobile Point Of Sale Is Growing Fast And Turning Up Surprises

May 22nd, 2013
Use of tablets and iPods as point-of-sale devices is growing rapidly, but it's not going to knock cashwraps out of most stores anytime soon, according to an IHL Group report released Tuesday (May 21). More than 85 percent of big retailers say that for the next three years, mobile POS devices will be add-ons to—not replacements for—traditional fixed checkouts.

The most likely users of those devices: specialty retailers (both mall-based specialty chains and small independents), who are deploying about 45 percent of all tablets shipped to retail for POS, IHL said. But only 28 percent of U.S. retailers plan to roll out any mobile POS devices by the end of 2013, a drop from previous estimates. That suggests the reality of mobile POS is beginning to set in for early adopters, who are beginning to see some of the limits—and counterintuitive aspects—of the technology.Read more...


Nordstrom Halts Mobile Customer-Tracking Trial

May 21st, 2013
Eight months into a controversial customer-tracking mobile trial, Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN) has halted the effort. Although Nordstrom took a lot of criticism for the mostly misunderstood program from consumer media, it's not clear whether the project ended as a result of the criticism or the trial had simply run its course. The trial's purpose was straightforward: to use routine signals coming from shopper's mobile devices to count how many people showed at Nordstrom and, critically, which were repeat visitors (and, if so, how many times they had previously visited, dates they visited and where in the store they went). Nordstrom had maintained that it was only seeing anonymous data, meaning that it didn't know the names of the shoppers being tracked.

The trial was controversial for a reason other than consumers' fears that their privacy was somehow being invaded.The problem is that Euclid was able to see cross-retail activity. That means that it saw when, for example, a Nordstrom shopper left Nordstrom without visiting POS and then her mobile signal appeared 20 minutes later inside Macy's, where she ended her visit with that always-desired visit to POS. (Note: That was just an example. Other than Nordstrom, we're not identifying which retailers are using Euclid.) The fact that Nordstrom is only receiving anonymous data (or so it says) doesn't mean that its rivals all are similarly limited. This is a key industry problem with many forms of mobile information gathering. Read more...


Marks & Spencer’s POS Charges Contactless Regardless, At Least Now And Then

May 21st, 2013
Some Marks & Spencer customers have reported that the U.K. chain's contactless payment terminals have taken money from contactless cards even when those cards were still in purses or wallets a foot or more away—and in at least one case, the grabby POS behavior was repeatable.

The retailer recently rolled out contactless point-of-sale terminals to 644 U.K. stores and reportedly processes more than 230,000 contactless transactions every week. But several customers told the BBC that they had the experience of inserting a chip-and-PIN card in the PINpad's slot, but being issued a receipt for a contactless card that was nowhere near the PINpad. The contactless system isn't supposed to work at distances of more than about two inches.Read more...


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

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

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


The Myth Of Showrooming Takes Another Hit

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

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


PayPal Offers Free Card Processing, But For Who?

May 15th, 2013
PayPal is offering free credit, debit, check and PayPal processing for qualifying merchants until the end of 2013. The catch: The retailer has to trade in a cash register for a PayPal-compatible point-of-sale system, according to a blog post by PayPal president David Marcus on Tuesday (May 14). The promotion will go live in June, although applications are being accepted now, Marcus wrote. He didn't give any other details of the deal, such as how much trade-in value a retailer will get in order to buy a PayPal-equipped POS from Erply, Leapset, Leaf, NCR Silver, ShopKeep or Vend, or exactly what "free" means when it comes to processing costs.

But to qualify for the promotion, merchants currently must be primarily using an old-fashioned system such as a cash register, and PayPal may send out employees to collect the register and verify the system upgrade.Read more...


Is It Technologically Practical To Send Two Different Messages Simultaneously To Children And Adults?

May 15th, 2013
One of the most challenging retail sales issues is trying to market products to children. The pitch made to sell a cereal, game, toy or piece of clothing to a child will be different than the one aimed at a parent or guardian. That's tricky when the two are often standing next to each other. A child pitch might focus on a cereal's taste, with an adult pitch focusing on nutrition and price. Or a toy message to a younger customer might emphasize fun, while the adult pitch speaks of education. What if digital signage and in-aisle displays could simultaneously make different sales pitches to children and adults?

Through the use of lenticular technology, it's quite possible. Indeed, it's being used today for something of a much more serious nature. A Spanish operation called the Aid To Children and Adolescents At Risk Foundation has created a series of street signage that was designed to send a message to a potentially abused child, understanding that the abuser could very well be standing right him to the child.Read more...


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


Walmart Builds Own Search, No Competitive Advantage In Buying

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

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


Can Ebay Pull Off A Giant Touch Window For New York Shoppers?

May 6th, 2013
Ebay and retailer Kate Spade are doing something this summer that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago: creating a pop-up store in New York that will feature a gigantic touchscreen store window. Let's be clear—what would have been unthinkable would be a relatively small (82-store) apparel chain taking on something this technically aggressive, even with a partner as big as eBay to help foot the bill.

Leaving aside all the obvious unanswered questions—from "how do you physically protect a giant touchscreen?" to "how much of an exhibitionist does a customer have to be to browse a web catalog that's taller than she is, right out in public?"—it's a testament to how inexpensive and physically tough this kind of technology has become that it's viewed as practical. Of course, that all assumes that the chain and eBay will actually get it to work as advertised.Read more...


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

May 3rd, 2013

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

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


PayPal’s New Autofill Program Has Real Potential With Mobile

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

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


Walmart, First Data Say No To PayPal. (Is That Even Allowed?)

May 1st, 2013
PayPal's plan to use Discover's payment-card network to get its in-store payment system into most U.S. stores that accept payment cards isn't quite working out. Contrary to what the eBay subsidiary has been touting, all stores that accept Discover aren't automatically able to take PayPal payments—at least not until they and their acquirers explicitly sign on.

Result: Both Walmart and acquirer First Data have declined to accept the system, and Discover is now doing deals with acquirers one by one in order to get PayPal's system available in more stores. Discover said on Tuesday (April 30) that it has gotten a green light from 50 acquirers, and it is hoping PayPal will be live in 2 million stores by the end of this year, up from 250,000 now.Read more...


NCR’s Anti-Skimming ATM Tech Could Also Help Store PINpads

May 1st, 2013
New anti-fraud technology that NCR (NYSE:NCR) announced last week for its ATMs might find even broader use in point-of-sale PINpads—but not the way that most PINpads are currently designed. The new features, which NCR is calling SPS (for "skimming protection solution"), involve two elements. First—and most technically interesting—is a jammer that disrupts a skimmer that has been attached to the front of an ATM. When a motorized card reader pulls a payment card into the ATM, the electromagnetic jammer prevents a skimmer from reading the mag stripe on the card.

The second, more mundane technology is having the card-reading device send diagnostic information to the bank in real time when there's evidence of tampering. Read more...


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