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Mobile / Wireless / Contact


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...


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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

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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.…


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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...


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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...


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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...


Why PCI DSS Compliance Is Not Like The Flu

February 20th, 2013
PCI DSS compliance is not like the flu. You can't "catch" it from your service provider, even though that provider might be PCI compliant. Merchants must go beyond reading the marketing materials and taking a quick glance at the service provider's attestation of compliance (AOC). The path to PCI compliance starts with PCI-compliant service providers, but it then takes the extra step of performing effective due diligence.

This lesson has been reinforced at least three times in the past few weeks in separate PCI Security Standards Council (PCI SSC) guidance documents. One question is whether merchants—particularly small and midsize merchants—will ever hear this advice. As a QSA, PCI Columnist Walter Conway occasionally gets the impression that clients might not spend more time researching their next smartphone, laptop or sailboat than they do reviewing service provider contracts and service-level agreements (SLA). It is particularly important for merchants to realize the source of the advice. It comes not from the PCI SSC staff but from active PCI practitioners with first-hand experience. Read more...


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...


eBay’s Day In Court: No Soup For You

February 14th, 2013
Some retailers sell products. Some retailers sell services. But companies like eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY), Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) and Craigslist sell something more—a marketplace. They are not simply a "store" but the entire mall—the downtown retail zone. If you can't sell on eBay, Amazon or Craigslist, then, to a great extent, you can't sell online. So what happens if you are banned for life from one of these marketplaces? A recent California Appellate Court decision substantially impaired the rights of consumers to have access to these marketplaces when the merchant/marketplace owner determines that the consumer did not follow the rules, pens Legal Columnist Mark Rasch.

Linda Genesta was a long-time eBay seller. For 18 years, beginning in 1999, she sold what she described as "high-end, high-quality, imported authentic European and American antique and vintage textiles, fabrics, pillows and trims," Everything was fine until July 2008, when eBay allegedly removed Genesta's items from the marketplace, alleging "unspecified 'misrepresentations'" in violation of its Terms of Service. As a result, Genesta says, she is effectively "out of business."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...


Walgreens Refill API Isn’t Very Interesting, But It Will Be

February 6th, 2013
Chains are still inching toward making their mobile apps genuinely useful to customers, but at least they're doing it in more technically useful ways. On Monday (Feb. 4), Walgreens announced a new application programming interface (API) that should make it easier for mobile app developers to deliver all sorts of prescription refill information to users, at least if Walgreens is willing to provide it.

Unfortunately, what this API currently does is pretty primitive: It accepts a prescription number and then reports back to the app that it has (or hasn't) successfully requested a refill. Just the fact that there's an API is a big step forward, because it means Walgreens can extend that API without breaking any apps that use it.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

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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?…


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...


Apple’s Movie-Ticket-Purchase Move Has (Broken) Promise For Mobile Payments

January 30th, 2013
When Apple on Monday (Jan. 28) announced new features in its mobile OS—including what it described as "the ability to use Siri to purchase movie tickets in the U.S. through Fandango"—it seemed like the iPhone maker's first movement into mobile payments. Alas, no. Turns out that the system doesn't give Siri (the phone's virtual assistant with comically bad voice recognition) the ability to purchase movie tickets at all. It simply does what it's always done, which is to find local movie showtimes. After that, it's up to the user to click and tap on options, which will eventually bring up the Fandango app (assuming the user has already installed it). That's more a marketing deal than IT magic.

But it does raise the question of why the app doesn't deliver the type of true integration that it promises. Why not enable movie tickets to be purchased—without leaving Siri—and charged to the user's iTunes account?Read more...


Google Privacy Lawsuit Could Quickly Hurt Retailers

January 28th, 2013
In a move that should send a frightening jolt to retailers, a group of iPhone users in London announced on Monday (Jan. 28) it is in the process of suing Google for online tracking that goes beyond the expectations of those users. On the surface, such legal action against Google falls under the heading of "Join the club." But there's actually more danger here than that.

The essence of the London case is that Google and Apple made privacy promises that are being broken. That fact may make it more of a contract law and a deceptive trade practices claim than a criminal case. And even that is dicey, because the news release from the first plaintiff to file a suit indicates it's less a matter of Google or Apple lying than it is about the companies being vague. But all of that is an issue for the lawyers at Google and maybe Apple. How does this make retailers' lives miserable? Quite easily.Read more...


MCX Sees ACH As Interchange Salvation. Many Chains Not So Sure

January 23rd, 2013
The secret sauce for beating interchange is ACH. That, at least, is the plan of the Walmart-led Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX), according to sources familiar with the payment system being developed by the retailer consortium. By using ACH transactions to debit bank accounts or credit lines instead of going through payment-card brands' networks, MCX expects to reduce transaction cost to as little as four cents—and cut Visa and card-issuing banks out of the loop.

MCX still hasn't revealed most of the details of the system, but some things are becoming clear. Others are still up in the air—like whether banks will accept a few pennies per transaction when an ACH withdrawal typically costs them more than that. Also, will banks want to get into such an effort, knowing the toxic politics surrounding any effort to knock out Visa and MasterCard? The much more fundamental issue for MCX is whether it can come up with—and agree to fund—a compelling reason for shoppers to participate. That, coupled with what some retailers—namely, those who have been pitched—see as an overly aggressive approach, has prompted some to question whether MCX can deliver the interchange relief it promises. One example of the pitch approach some have cited: MCX demanding $30,000 from retailers just to see the official PowerPoint. Chains are also being asked to commit to three-year mobile payment app exclusivity, meaning they won't support any non-MCX mobile payment other than any mobile payment app they have already deployed.Read more...


Alipay’s Retro Pay-By-Noise System May Be More Useful Than It Sounds

January 23rd, 2013

In-store mobile payments are still looking for the right technology, with NFC struggling for a foothold and QR codes only successful in pockets (or, more accurately, in Starbucks). But a new smartphone mobile wallet announced on January 18 by China’s Alipay takes a new tack: It communicates via what Alipay describes as “white noise.” (We’re pretty sure what that really means is “it sounds like the hiss of a dial-up modem, just without all the screeching.”) The Alipay wallet isn’t currently supporting POS payments, just data transfers between phones. But there’s no special reason it couldn’t be used for transactions, especially because that’s the business Alipay is in.

True, a hissing phone would be really easy to eavesdrop on, but you’d want that transaction data encrypted anyway. And as retro (and annoying) as it would sound at a POS, a pay-by-hiss system would work even for smartphones without a camera and high-resolution screen—all the phone needs is a speaker and microphone. Still, there’s that hiss, which certainly would be out of place in a tony store and might be inaudible on Black Friday. But maybe there’s a retro solution for both those problems. Acoustic couplers, anyone?…


PayPal Mobile Payment Trial Tripped Up By Lack Of Training

January 23rd, 2013
As retailers struggle with how to get shoppers to try mobile payments, PayPal has been experimenting with different approaches. Last month, for example, PayPal set up a booth at a very large New Jersey mall and offered shoppers $10 to try its mobile payment system. But the trial ran into the same issues that have tripped up so many mobile trials: lack of associate and store manager training; an approach that made it awkward for some shoppers (already rushed during December holiday shopping at an extremely crowded mall) to get the incentive; and no reason for customers to try it again after the promotion.

The trial at the 2.1 million square foot Garden State Plaza (about 300 stores) involved six chains and managers at each of the stores discussed the trial, on the condition of anonymity. The chains involved were American Eagle Outfitters, Jamba Juice, Nine West, Champs, Aerie and Foot Action (part of the FootLocker chain). On the plus side, all of the stores reported that some shoppers tried using the app. On the down side, far from all of them were able to do so.Read more...


Russian Mall Trying Unorthodox Bluetooth Tactic

January 23rd, 2013

An unorthodox use of Bluetooth is being tested at a huge Russian shopping mall for both in-store customer location and payment transactions. The catch: It’s extremely nonstandard. Instead of pairing with customer smartphones the way Bluetooth devices usually would, individual devices throughout the store broadcast amped-up signals (range: 100 meters, rather than Bluetooth’s usual 30 to 50 meters) that tell a smartphone app about discounts and specials. If the signal from, say, the display of Bartlett pears is strongest (because it’s the nearest broadcaster) and if it meets various demographic criteria (send this one to only males, this one to shoppers older than 70, etc.), that’s the signal the app displays. Meanwhile, other Bluetooth signals with very low range (a few millimeters) are used for payments—no NFC required.

We saw this demonstrated at last week’s NRF show by vendor WiseSec, and it’s clever. But WiseSec says some retailers with especially large footprints may need as many as 50 or 60 Bluetooth beacons per store. With a 100-meter range, multiple stores in a mall will overlap, which is why the differentiation of signal makes sense. A potentially bigger problem: If you’re using high-powered, nonstandard Bluetooth signals, could they interfere with other Bluetooth devices (in-store that means everything from customer phone headsets to POS keyboards)? Not that we don’t trust the Muscovites, but we’ll like this a lot better once we see it not interfering with American or Western European customers and their toys.…


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