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Mobile / Wireless / Contact


New Digital-Receipt Standard Envisions Cross-Channel and Even Cross-Chain Uses

June 30th, 2011
A new digital-receipt standard released this week was designed to address retail complaints about an earlier version, with the new standard offering a single unified XML interface so that all data would be accessible and not have to be repeated. Version 2 comes from the National Retail Federation's Association for Retail Technology Standards (ARTS) Council.

"Consideration was given to the possibility of providing separate XML interfaces. However, it was decided to provide a common XML interface embracing the requirements of all of the applications, because this was consistent with the historically common practice of integrating applications through POS transaction log files," the new standard said. "It is noted that audit, security, labor productivity and activity analysis applications are very demanding of detail content, [with] all driving the need for an all-encompassing XML schema."Read more...


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Bank Admits NFC Trial Fails, Which Should Mean The Start Of Some NFC Success

June 30th, 2011

A major Australian bank has declared its mobile-payments trial a failure. ANZ Banking Group and Visa launched the trial in March, with 50 bank employees in Sydney and Melbourne using mobile-phone covers that added near-field communication (NFC) by way of a MicroSD card. The trial ended in April, but on Monday (June 27) the bank delivered the verdict: “Our participants strongly supported contactless payment as a convenient way to pay, but the MicroSD technology did not meet all of our requirements. At this stage, we will not be progressing with MicroSD as a contactless payment technology platform,” the bank told ZDNet Australia.

A bank admitting its NFC trial has failed—especially when it involves Visa’s pet project, MicroSD cards? That would have been unthinkable even six months ago. NFC-in-MicroSD was the way for Visa and the banks to keep interchange fees out of the hands of phone makers (which control NFC-in-the-phone) or mobile operators (with NFC-in-the-SIM). But now, a month into the Google Wallet era, that’s unnecessary: Visa and the banks will get interchange no matter where the NFC chip sits. Now maybe everyone can stop playing “hide the NFC” and focus on actually getting customers to use it.…


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One Cynical Retailer’s Definition Of An Internal IT Client

June 30th, 2011

One retail IT line that is too cynical to not share: In an unrelated interview, a senior IT manager discussed working with certain internal clients—business unit heads who had, until recently, been just colleagues.

What’s the difference, he was asked, between a colleague and an internal client? “Simple,” he said. “An internal client is a colleague who’s had his reasonability removed.”…


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Tesco Does M-Commerce On The Subway Wall–Literally

June 29th, 2011

In an impressively creative mobile-payment deployment in South Korea, Tesco has embedded QR codes in actual huge pictures of its shelves and then pasted those photos onto subway walls. Customers use their phones to scan and pay for the captured images, thereby selecting their groceries while waiting for their trains. The groceries are then delivered by the time they return home. In South Korea, Tesco markets itself as Homeplus.

This approach is brilliant on so many levels. Not only is it replacing the cost of putting up new stores, but it addresses the relative smallness of images on a mobile phone. The images exist in these beautiful—and gigantic—high-resolution full-color pictures. All the phone’s screen does is display the text and thumbnail of the purchased item. Signal repeaters guarantee excellent speed and connectivity. And Tesco, and its customers, is leveraging the dead time of waiting for a train and turning it into productive shopping time. True technology leaders merely deploy quickly. They think through how the technology could work. There’s no rule that says mobile images must appear on the mobile screen.…


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Can Plug-And-Play At The POS Overcome The Mobile Payments Gap?

June 23rd, 2011
One mobile-payments startup has come up with a novel approach for alternative payments: Make it really easy for retailers to add the new technology to an existing POS system. The vendor, Naratte, is getting attention for its Zoosh technology—it uses ShopKick-like high-frequency audio instead of radio signals, so it can mimic NFC-style communication on any phone that can play an MP3 file. But Naratte has also developed an inexpensive plug-in add-on for Verifone and Hypercom POS devices, so a mobile phone sending its signals will look just like a giftcard or payment card to the POS software.

That gives Zoosh instant appeal for retailers that have been showered with alternative payments wannabes, all of which seem to have brilliant business plans that contain just one hole: the part where a customer's payment-card number gets into a merchant's POS system with a minimum of fuss. That's the part Naratte has figured out at a time when anything more complicated than a magnetic strip appears to be beyond the reach of most customers—and many retailers, too.Read more...


Twitter Commerce Hurdles: Excessive Popularity and, Ironically, Twitter Itself

June 23rd, 2011
As chains continue to explore ways to cash in on Retail via Twitter, apps focused on such efforts are running into an unlikely obstacle: Twitter itself. For example, one such retail application—called Tweetalicious, which rolled out on Monday (June 20)—forces users to agree to a very frightening list of very-visible permissions.

Before downloading the Twitter Commerce app, a user must agree that the vendor can read the consumer's tweets (including private direct messages), "follow new people," "update your profile" and—my personal favorite—"post tweets for you." Yeah, what consumer would have any problem with any of that? A third-party wants to send tweets out under my name? No problem. "I don't think it's the best choice of words," said Harrison Lee, the Tweetalicious co-founder/chief marketing officer, who also dubbed the warnings "intimidating." But, he added, it's not his firm's fault; Twitter dictated that wording.Read more...


PCI Council: Mobile Payment Interim Fix By August

June 23rd, 2011
The PCI Council is clearly signaling that retailers willing to use encryption-friendly sleds (or Square-like devices) with mobile phones will have a way out of today's mobile-payment Catch-22 by "August or September." PCI Council Chief Technology Officer Troy Leach's comments related to the council's efforts on point-to-point encryption guidance and how that relates to its mobile thinking.

The point-to-point advice "will talk about the ability to encrypt at one point and decrypt at another point and the transmission between those two points being completely out of compliance scope." That is the first time the council has been that publicly explicit about point-to-point applications being out-of-scope. Even more intriguing was when Leach tied it back to mobile devices: If a retailer associate "is swiping the card or dipping the card into a peripheral device that plugs into a mobile phone, now we're talking about devices and not applications. If they can do that and the mobile phone is simply a conduit for transmitting cardholder data that is encrypted," then PCI compliance could be had through standard means without waiting for the council's formal mobile guidance next year.Read more...


Mobile Payment Vendor Claims PCI Compliance, Then Admits That It Was Fiction

June 23rd, 2011
It's not common to see a PCI security vendor issue a sales pitch E-mail blast and to then follow it up with an extensive correction to its retail IT prospects. But that happened on Wednesday (June 22), and for good reason: Not only did the company claim to be PCI compliant on mobile payment (when in fact no one can be), but it even created and posted on its site—and included in the E-mail—its own PCI Council seal of approval icon (when in fact none exists).

The actions of the vendor—TF Payments, a unit of ThoughtFocus Technologies, which is marketing the product as FocusPay—highlight some of the challenges involved when planning a retail mobile-payment strategy in an environment where the rules have yet to be established. And as a result, vendors are feeling pressured to promise capability with non-existent standards—and hoping no one notices. This time, however, someone did.Read more...


Wi-Fi Bandwidth Hog Alert: Tablets Suck Up Five Times As Much Data As Smartphones, iPods

June 23rd, 2011
As more retail chains embrace publicly available Wi-Fi to help customers and their mobile devices stay connected while in-store, IT teams must project how much bandwidth those mobile devices are likely to grab. Such calculations may need to be dramatically super-sized if a report released Wednesday (June 22) is correct, in that tablet-carrying consumers suck up five times more data than those toting only smartphones and other mobile devices.

The report comes from cloud networking vendor Meraki, but its methodology seems legitimate enough. How surprising is this result? It's certainly expected that tablets would suck in more data; their larger screens make them ideal for full-length streaming video, which is certainly one of the most data-hogging applications. But a five-fold increase in bandwidth? Couple that with projected soaring sales of tablets—lead by the iPad—and those bandwidth projections are going to need serious work.Read more...


What’s In A Name, M-Commerce Style

June 23rd, 2011

Industry shorthand is intended to be an efficient way to communicate frequently used phrases. Sometimes, however, retail tech drops its guard and ends up with multiple identical terms to refer to very different things. Some 15 years ago, “Web server” was the classic example, referring to both software and tower hardware. It was often impossible to tell which was being referenced, even in context. Today, M-Commerce is giving us a 2011 example.

If I reference Best Buy Mobile revenue, am I referring to the chain selling phones or what people buy using their phones looking at Best Buy’s site on those phones? The same can be said of just about every major chain that happens to sell phones, but Best Buy is an especially severe offender. It actually dubbed one of its divisions BestBuy Mobile—and it’s the chain’s M-Commerce group. Here’s a Merriam-Webster brain-tease: What do you call revenue that Best Buy earns from people accessing the chain’s M-Commerce site on their iPhone and then using that connection to purchase an Android phone? (Was going to ask for the name if those same people engaged in this M-Commerce Android effort while riding the LAN at a local Mobil gas station, but thought better of it.)…


Note To Readers: Cleaning Up Premium Confusion

June 23rd, 2011
Some of you may have noticed today that we have added a new pair of graphic icons for the newsletter: one that says Premium and one that says Free. Since we launched Premium back in late April, we have heard from multiple readers who apparently thought—quite mistakenly—that all of our stories are now Premium.

In fact, the vast majority of our stories (often 80 percent or more) are deliberately not Premium. We are hoping that these colorful images will make it easier to tell which stories are Premium and which ones can be read in their entirety by non-Premium subscribers. We're hoping that this clarification cuts back on the frustration of non-Premium readers who click on stories that they can't read fully as well as encourages readers to click on a story, confident that it's entirely available to them. This is also a good time to explain how StorefrontBacktalk decides which stories are Premium.Read more...


American Eagle Outfitters Discovers The Mobile Value Of A Picture

June 15th, 2011

One of the great things about mobile-marketing efforts today is that they can sometimes take the seemingly innocuous—something that always has been truly innocuous—and turn it into a little-noticed CRM bonanza. Consider a contest announcement made on Wednesday (June 15) by an American Eagle Outfitters brand (Aerie), where consumers were asked to use an app (Pose) on their phone to shoot pictures of people wearing that chain’s clothing.

The winning pictures would be displayed on the chain’s 25-story Times Square LED screen, and the photographer would get a $150 Aerie giftcard. The real prize goes to American Eagle, which can analyze and leverage the metatag data associated with each photo, revealing brand, store location, where the photo was shot and price. Shortly, such images could report back with much greater detail, including SKU, and, with near field communication, data could even include CRM history of both the photographer and the person being photographed. When they wrote that a picture’s worth a thousand words, they may have been frighteningly accurate. …


Verizon Accepts Mobile-Payment Charges On Bill. Will The Consumer Be Protected?

June 15th, 2011
Verizon Wireless on Monday (June 13) officially declared that it would do what it had been refusing to for years: support mobile payments appearing on its phone bills.

Verizon went out of its way to deny that this signals the telecom giant pulling back from its ISIS mobile-payment alliance with AT&T and T-Mobile. Indeed, it trumpeted its denial in the second paragraph of its own news release. Feels sort of like the guy who walks into house and his wife says, "Welcome home," and he shoots back, "I certainly wasn't cheating on you just now, in case you were thinking that." (Second paragraph, Verizon? The telco doth protest too much, methinks.) The denial didn't even—to be precise—refute that its affections for ISIS are cooling. "Our relationship with Payfone complements the part of the mobile-payments equation we're already working on with our ISIS joint venture," said Greg Haller, marketing vice president, Verizon Wireless.Read more...


Safeway Gets Free Mobile Payment Data, Thanks To Starbucks

June 15th, 2011
When Starbucks on Wednesday (June 15) announced a new version of its mobile app for Android, tucked away in a single sentence was a line that the $41 billion Safeway grocery chain will start accepting Starbucks' mobile payment at its almost-1,000 Starbucks kiosks in July. The Safeway move, though, is the much more interesting part of the announcement in that it's a clever way for the 1,702-store chain to learn the intricacies of mobile payment without risking its core operation.

The Safeway move required a POS system upgrade to accept the very successful Starbucks mobile card, which is not really true mobile payment at all, in that the phone merely displays the barcode of the Starbucks Card.Read more...


In October, Sears Canada To Try New E-Commerce Tactic

June 15th, 2011
The time-honored E-Commerce recommendation tactic ("Other customers who purchased that also bought this") is not without its efficiency flaws. It takes a lot of keystrokes and can only deal with one product at a time. It also often veers the customer off in unintended directions, with someone checking out microwaves—four referral paths later—finding himself looking at options for lawnmower replacement parts. Sears Canada thinks it may have a better approach, and the chain plans on unveiling it in mid-October—in time for this year's holiday shoppers.

The idea is to create experience pages for products that are typically linked with a large number of related products, such as school supplies, a home entertainment system or a backyard grill. The details are still being fine-tuned, but the idea could be a page with a list of all recommended items, each with its own checkbox. One keystroke could purchase the whole package, or selected items could be removed or their quantities changed.Read more...


Google Exec On Google Checkout: “I Don’t Know That We Failed Fast Enough”

June 15th, 2011
As Google is making the industry's most substantial push into mobile payments, it's admitting key "naïve" errors with its last major retail push, Google Checkout. That older effort is now being allowed to stagnate through a starvation of marketing and engineering resources, according to a Google executive this week.

Her comments come on the heels of our report last week that the elimination of the Google AdWords badges for Google Checkout likely meant the beginning of the end for the alternative payment system. The executive shall remain nameless for the moment because, well, there's already too much unemployment in this country. Asked if Google Checkout will be killed or whether it will simply get a lot quieter, the exec laughed and said that, in recent years, "we've spent zero time on marketing [Google Checkout] and zero dollars on consumer awareness. I don't know how much quieter we can get."Read more...


PCI Mobile Payment Guidelines To Not Appear Before April, And Probably Much Later

June 14th, 2011
The PCI Security Standards Council's much-anticipated rules on mobile-payment issues won't happen before April of next year and will probably happen much later, according to a key member of the Council's board of advisors. Given the pace of mobile-payment deployments and trials, this timetable forces retailers to move into this crucial area without standardized guidance—and virtually guarantees a lot of expensive changes in a year, when the rules finally materialize. As of Friday (June 10), the Council had not even created the mobile-payment special interest group, which will push back the release of a mobile-payment specification at least 10 months, said Christian Janoff, a retail enterprise architect with Cisco who sits on the Council's board of advisors.

This information is actually good news for retail IT for two reasons. By eliminating the possibility that mobile payment is imminent and by offering a "no sooner than" timetable, retailers are freed up to pursue various mobile-payment schemes without worrying about immediate change demands. The second reason this is good news is pragmatic.Read more...


Mobile Payment Brawl: POS Players Vs. Reader Vendors

June 8th, 2011
The battle for control of mobile payments is now pitting the POS against the reader, with large retail chains squeezed uncomfortably in the middle. It hasn't taken long for vendor infighting to kick in following the industry's first serious mobile payment play, from Google late last month. But the real fight—a standardization effort so retailers need only accept one mobile payment system—is still months away.

There are two elements to mobile payment that need that standardization: payment card security and other payment data. The retail need for consistency of payment security will be handled cleanly by the PCI Security Council, whenever it gets around to it, most likely before the end of this year. The more critical area, though, is all of the data involved, whether it's CRM, giftcards, coupons or anything else. And a later stage of the data mess will be two-way near filed communication (NFC), which is when things will get both interesting and ludicrously complex. If there are multiple competing wallets—say from Google, Apple and ISIS—how easily will it be to deal with all of that data in a homogeneous fashion?Read more...


Why PCI Doesn’t Get Easier the Second (or Fourth) Time Around

June 8th, 2011
It seems logical to expect that the effort a retailer expends validating its PCI compliance should lessen with each passing year. To some extent that logic holds, but only to a relatively small extent. Why is this the case? Why don't assessments get a whole lot easier each year? Why is last year's compensating control no longer acceptable? And why are practices assessed as compliant last year not compliant now?

The answer to all these questions is simple, pens PCI Columnist Walter Conway: Things change. And those changes are typically caused by one of three things: PCI DSS itself changes; the threat environment changes as the bad guys adopt new tactics; or, most often, the retailer's own payment environment and, therefore, its PCI scope, changes. Think about it. How many times does a year go by in which reailers don't expand their network, add new servers and expand the number of end users?Read more...


Retail CIOs Bullish About Hiring, Not So Much About Starting New Projects

June 8th, 2011
Retail CIOs are much more aggressive than their other sector counterparts in planning for more IT hires, according to new survey figures released this week by Robert Half Technology (RHT), which surveyed 1,400 CIOs (of multiple industries) from companies across the United States with 100 or more employees. But when RHT—at StorefrontBacktalk's request—isolated the answers to solely the 148 retail CIOs surveyed, the conclusions changed.

The most glaring difference was for projected hiring. When compared with the national numbers and against seven other verticals (manufacturing; finance, insurance and real estate; professional services; construction; wholesale; transportation; and business services), retail CIOs were the most optimistic about hiring IT people, tying manufacturing, with 9 percent of both segments' CIOs saying they plan to add staff and one percent saying they plan to reduce staff. The national average is 7 percent to hire and 3 percent to reduce. Three percent of wholesale CIOs say they plan to hire, with zero planning to reduce. Finance CIOs also have 3 percent planning to hire, although 8 percent plan to reduce.Read more...


Apple Wants To Turn Off Cameras With Infrared. OK, How Will That Work?

June 8th, 2011

Sometimes Apple’s patent-filing machine just seems to go off the rails. Case in point: A patent application that Apple filed in December 2009 but was only published on June 2 of this year for a system to block digital cameras from taking pictures by detecting an infrared signal. “A transmitter can be located in areas where capturing pictures and videos is prohibited (e.g., a concert or a classified facility) and the transmitters can generate infrared signals with encoded data that includes commands temporarily disabling recording functions,” the patent said.

What’s wrong with this picture? At concerts or even special events by retailers, there will always be plenty of cameras (including the type that use old-fashioned film and certainly mobile devices that aren’t made by Apple) that don’t know anything about infrared signals telling them not to take a photo. That means Apple’s latest patent is for a technology that’s either unnecessary or ineffective—pretty disappointing from the company whose previous patent applications have signaled the end of privacy as we know it. And what about consumers trying to shoot innocuous photos of friends who just happen to be near a concert? Apple legal hopefully has a rubber stamp that says “Approved to submit for Patent as long as we never ever actually try to use it.”…


Best Buy Deals With Store Revolt On Price-Matching

June 1st, 2011

The more chains try to dictate merged channel strategies—where online, mobile, in-store and call center are all part of one big happy homogeneous family—the more day-to-day realities interfere. Today’s object lesson is from Best Buy. (Yes, again.) The merged channel issue here is compensation and credit; specifically, price-matching products from BestBuy.com in-store. The problem: Price-matching the E-Commerce site erodes margins and makes the store look bad, while sending the customer to a kiosk or their phone to order online makes the problem go away. The corporate problem: That’s against policy. The corporate solution: Make the problem go away by ordering it to go away.

The issue started with one store (that we know of) posting a homemade sign telling customers, in effect, “Hey! You want online prices? Go buy online. You want to buy in our store? Pay what’s on the &^@&! pricetag.” Best Buy corporate heard about the sign and ordered all stores to indeed play by the rules and price-match. That’s fine, except the chain didn’t address the underlying issue. If that memo said brick-and-mortar managers will no longer have to take the hit for the lower margins of a dot-com price-match, then the problem would go away. Given Best Buy’s history on this issue, it is certainly likely.…


Google Wallet Struggles With Being Open, But On Only One Platform: Its Own

June 1st, 2011
When Google last week unveiled its Google Wallet near field communication (NFC) mobile-payment service, its executives repeatedly stressed how open it was. That's an odd claim to make when a service is only available on one platform: its own. To be fair, Google may have had little choice, with cooperation refusals from Apple and Research In Motion's BlackBerry group pretty much forcing Google to go it alone. That doesn't make the mobile payment fragmentation any less serious, though.

If Apple, PayPal and others opt for their own approaches, which seems inevitable, the fragmentation will make it even harder for consumers to embrace mobile payments and for any retailer to get enough traction for mobile to be profitable. Indeed, the Google exec who handled much of the rollout—Google Payments VP Osama Bedier—used that event to lay out the case for why multi-platform support is so crucial. At the time, though, he was making the case for openness everywhere other than mobile platforms. Still, his argument works.Read more...


Google Security Demo Reveals—And Undermines—More Than Intended

June 1st, 2011
For decades, predictably written TV and movie comedies telegraphed their punchlines. Everyone knew what followed a character saying, "Don't you grab those plates. You'll drop them. I'll do it." And so it was last week with Google's news conference to take the wraps off its mobile near field communication (NFC) Google Wallet effort.

In the middle of a live demo of the product, Google Payments VP Osama Bedier told the audience that he was going to use his personal phone and his personal credit card to complete a transaction and that it would all be viewable on the TV screens around the room. He knew the entire event was going to be posted to YouTube, too. But he also should have known about Murphy's Law and that he was tempting fate to then tell the audience he was a "security freak" and there was no way he was going to show them his personal card data.Read more...


Tesco’s Mobile Trial Opted For Android Because It Was Less Secure

June 1st, 2011
In what may be a first in retail IT, the more-than-5,000-store Tesco chain chose the mobile platform it would experiment with based on a determination that it was the least secure. The trial is about a Wi-Fi system in each store that should map for customers the closest route between selected products. But the reason the chain opted to trial this system on Android is deliciously counter-intuitive.

The security issue cropped up because the chain wanted to do extensive beta testing with customers before offering the final version of the application to the world. Security policies with Apple's iPhone and Research in Motion's BlackBerry, among others, require that only tested and approved apps can be installed on their phones. Android's more lax application security process made it the more desirable platform. "The service is only available publicly to Android phone owners at this time, because we don't want the app in its current state going into the public app stores. Only Android easily offers the ability to install apps from 'Unknown Sources,'" wrote Nick Lansley, who manages IT R&D projects at Tesco.Read more...


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