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Mobile / Wireless / Contact

MCX Embracing QR Codes, The Cloud And Unparalleled Vagueness

January 17th, 2013
Merchant Customer Exchange, the retail group trying to offer its own mobile wallet, plans on using QR codes as the heart of its cloud-based payment app, the group announced Monday (Jan. 14). But beyond the QR code detail and the names of a few new retail members—including Meijer and Wawa—little was discussed during an hour-long panel that meaningfully addressed how the group plans on making a difference, beyond the general platitudes MCX has stressed since its March 2012 launch.

What was different this time, though, is that members were more candid in explaining why they have the goals they do, even if they were not especially forthcoming in how they plan on achieving those goals. The group, for example, re-stressed its intent that data from one chain will not be shared with another chain. Jay Culotta, the treasurer at regional convenience chain Wawa, said many of the mobile vendors say they are not—today—planning on sharing data, but they refuse to say what will happen down the road. "It's not a forever situation," Culotta said, adding that the temptations for leveraging such data will likely be overwhelming. "It's unclear what their business case would be without monetizing that data."Read more...


Reassembling Albertsons: It Won’t Be Easy, But It Has To Be Fast

January 16th, 2013
Putting Albertsons back together again won't be as easy as it looks. The grocery chain was split in 2006 between Supervalu and private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, with both chains using the same logo in different geographic regions. But on January 10 the two owners decided to reunite what will now be a 650-store chain in a complicated deal that leaves only one thing very clear: These money managers aren't thinking about IT when it comes to reassembling the chain.

Yes, the Albertsons logo is the same on both sides. But seven years later, everything from self-checkout to loyalty to POS to prescription systems is now different across the soon-to-be-unsplit chain. And everything will have to be merged—and fast.Read more...


PayPal Is Touting Everything Mobile It Can, Except Shoppers Using It

January 16th, 2013
Sometimes, it's what is not talked about in a news release that is much more informative than what is. Consider PayPal. On Monday (Jan. 14), the eBay subsidiary named 21 chains signed up to offer brick-and-mortar PayPal (along with two more chains too shy to be identified) and said its system is now available in 18,000 store locations. That's the good news: PayPal is now the most widely available U.S. mobile-payments provider, with more stores using it at POS than even the very successful Starbucks approach.

The bad news: PayPal has said nothing whatsoever about how many shoppers in all of these stores, plus Home Depot, JCPenney, Abercrombie & Fitch, Toys”R”Us, Foot Locker and Barnes & Noble, have actually used the service. And of those who did, how many came back to use it again? How many dollars are shoppers pushing through the retail PayPal system? You know that if those figures were anything less than humiliating, they'd have been released by now.Read more...


Catalogs Are Better Than Social Media? Wait, Didn’t We Dump Catalogs For Social?

January 9th, 2013
If printed catalogs are dead, someone should tell E-Commerce customers. On Tuesday (Jan. 8), personalization vendor Baynote released the results of a holiday survey of online consumers that found paper catalogs still have a bigger influence on buying than social media sites Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. And that's not just among geezers who grew up with the Sears Wish Book—online customers age 18 to 24 also rated catalogs higher than anything except Facebook, where it's essentially neck-and-neck.

Part of that may be a novelty factor—glossy printed material isn't so much a part of young consumers' lives today. But that only explains why catalogs might have some influence, not as-big-as-Facebook influence. Given that many chains completely dumped their catalog efforts in favor of social efforts in recent years, this is a genuinely annoying result.Read more...


StorefrontBacktalk‘s Next Chapter

January 8th, 2013
As the founder of StorefrontBacktalk, I am thrilled to announce today that StorefrontBacktalk is now a member of the FierceMarkets family of B2B publications. FierceMarkets is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Questex Media Group.

Our voice and approach—for good or for bad—will not change, and we have been told to continue delivering the same mix of breaking retail IT stories, analysis and opinion columns. (Yes, and some truly awful jokes. It's in the contract that those stay.) The bylines here will stay, as Frank Hayes, PCI Columnist Walt Conway, Legal Columnist Mark Rasch and the rest of the team will continue to do that which we do. Me, too.Read more...

Merged Channels Are A Lot Easier To Endorse Than To Deploy

January 8th, 2013

Why is it that the more retail execs applaud the brilliance of a merged-channel strategy, the more chains roll out everything but? Michelle Tinsley, director of transactional retail at Intel, thinks she’s figured it out. It really is just a matter of culture.

“There is a lot of infrastructure and culture built around today’s model of doing retail, which—unfortunately—is still historically a brick-and-mortar type of model. So your incentive plans, your enterprise systems, all are gauged toward a brick-and-mortar. In the last five to 10 years, we’ve added onto that an online capability. But it’s very much bolted on,” Tinsley said. “Even organizational structures have the online version of the store competing with the brick-and-mortar.” Tinsley was a guest this week on StorefrontBacktalk Radio, where she discussed ways to push merged-channel strategies that will actually get them deployed.…

New Child Protection Rules Create A Retail Catch-22

January 2nd, 2013
A few days before Christmas, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) approved major changes to its online child protection rules, including adding geolocation data, IP address and mobile device ID to the information that can't be recorded from a site visitor who is younger than 13 years old.

The problem for retail chains is the vagueness of definitions for sites aimed at children. Is the toy section of such a site? What about games at Then there's the Catch-22 of asking ages online. If you ask, you'll be required to segregate the data from anyone in that age group and handle it—no pun intended—with kid gloves. (No pun intended. That was a play on words, not a pun.) And if you don't ask, you have the perfect defense that you didn't knowingly collect data from under-age shoppers without parental consent. Did the FTC really intend to encourage what Legal Columnist Mark Rasch calls the Sgt. Schultz Defense?Read more...

With Fed Child Rules Moving In-Store Via Mobile, How Will You Know Who’s A Child?

December 12th, 2012
As federal authorities are preparing in 2013 to significantly update the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), one likely area will involve taking jurisdiction over all mobile interactions, including those in-store. This will finally address what had been a retail marketing loophole, where tracking nine-year-olds online is prohibited but the identical conduct in a store's aisles is permitted.

This puts retailers in an awkward position. As malls and stores track mobile device activity, retailers will likely have no idea the age of the shoppers associated with phones and tablets unless they ask—which is exactly what COPPA is intended to prevent.Read more...

Shoppers Want Mobile To Replace Cards And Cash, Just Not Their Cards And Cash

December 12th, 2012
If you're looking for more evidence of the bipolar nature of mobile shoppers, look no further. The Harris Poll people have what you need. In what should be called the NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) effect, some 66 percent of Americans polled said they expect mobile payments to eventually replace payment cards and even cash—but not their cards and cash.

When asked if they personally want to use mobile as a payment device, the overwhelmingly strongest answer—across literally every demographic group sampled—was the single answer of "not very or not at all interested." That's a wonderful statistical illustration of today's challenge for mobile payment: A lot of people think it's a great idea, but they personally have no interest in doing it. It's great, though, they believe, for everybody else.Read more...

Appeals Court Deals Another Blow To Card Activation Giftcard Patent Lawsuits

December 12th, 2012

The ongoing saga of Card Activation Technologies (CAT)—the gift card patent owner that has been suing many of the nation’s largest retailers including RadioShack, 7-Eleven, Nordstrom, Macy’s, Starbucks, JCPenney, Sears, OfficeMax, TJX, McDonald’s and Walgreens—took another bad turn for CAT as a federal appeals panel upheld on Monday (Dec. 10) a federal court that had ruled against CAT. CAT has previously said that all of its survival hopes are based on a successful appeal. The financially strapped CAT’s only choice now is to try an appeal to the full circuit or even to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court directly, both of which would be considered long shots.

Still, CAT attorney Mark Peterson said his client has about 30 days to decide its next move. The case that the Third Circuit sustained included a memorable line from Kent A. Jordan, who was serving as trial judge but who is primarily a member of the appellate panel. Jordan referred to one CAT claim, involving granting another party more time to amend a complaint, with the comment that “it takes some chutzpah to mount those objections.” It’s likely to take more than chutzpah for CAT to mount another appeal.…

Facebook Crashes But Its Mobile Sites Stay Up. The Value Of Good Site Management

December 12th, 2012

Facebook went down for about an hour on Monday, apparently due to what Facebook said was “a change to our DNS infrastructure.” Like many DNS mishaps, the users who couldn’t reach the site were scattered around the world, as many could get through when their local DNS lookups updated. But in a heads-up for all of retail, Facebook’s mobile sites never went down.

Based on pings to both and, Facebook handles load-sharing by routing (non-mobile) traffic to different servers, and that’s probably what the DNS infrastructure change they made had to do with. Because the mobile site was not using the DNS load-balancing—all those requests went to the same IP address—it didn’t suffer from the problem. This is exactly the potential advantage that retailers want to leverage for their sites. By keeping the mobile sites active—and, of course, available for desktop traffic too—it’s one additional level of security when the site has problems. Don’t forget that when the site goes down, a lot of in-store functionality can crash right along with it. The lesson is that you want a separate IP address for your mobile site, so you’re not putting all your IP eggs in one basket.…

A Workaround For Sending Texts To Shoppers Without Texting Plans?

December 6th, 2012

Retailers have become—understandably—quite smitten with texting shoppers, given the immediacy and intimacy involved. This starts with capturing their mobile numbers, which has to be done very carefully or retailers will suffer the legal headaches that now bedevils Walmart and Papa Johns.

But there’s a huge downside with texting. Namely, many shoppers either do not have texting plans or they have very limited texting plans. That means those sale price heads-ups are costing your customers’ money and, most likely, alienating them to a massive degree. Although harvesting mobile numbers is relatively easy, identifying who has a generous texting plan is not. AT&T, in what the telco says is an industry first, on Wednesday (Dec. 5) unveiled a program for retailers to send marketing texts to shoppers without those shoppers racking up charges, whether or not they have a text plan. Shoppers must use AT&T and retailers—initial chains include Gap, Staples, Zales and Neiman Marcus—will have to work within the limits of AT&T’s program, suggesting that the texts may be able to flow as freely as a chain might want. But it’s an interesting workaround for the text customer charge issue.…

Window Shopping Felonies

December 6th, 2012
Big data is cool and awesome, and it can help retailers compete. But depending on where the big data comes from, it can also land you in federal prison for computer hacking and trespass—even if that data is right there on a competitor's Web site. These firms overwhelmingly get this data from the same place anyone would—the Web sites or apps that are "publicly accessible." This would be the same thing as sending out "secret shoppers" to competitors' stores to scope out prices and report them back. Perfectly legal, right? Not so fast, pens Legal Columnist Mark Rasch.

The Web site, where a company "publicly" advertises its goods and services and shows its prices, is similar to the brick-and-mortar store. However, unlike the store, access to the Web site is granted subject to a "contract" between the merchant and the visitor, typically a "Terms of Use" agreement linked to on the bottom of the homepage. Visit the site, and you are agreeing to these terms. Violate the terms, and you are visiting the site unlawfully, exceeding the scope of your authorization to use the site. Or, in legal parlance, violating the computer hacking statute, 18 U.S.C. 1030.Read more...

Is It Too Radical To Rethink Pricing Optimization Strategy? Hint: If The Answer Wasn’t ‘Yes,’ Would We Have Even Bothered To Ask The Question?

December 5th, 2012
Pricing optimization today has evolved into software from one chain watching software-generated pricing from 20 other chains. The programmed engines then instantly undercut other programmed engines, sometimes resulting in hysterically priced products such as multi-billion-dollar outdated Windows CD-ROMs. But now consumers can see these pricing patterns in real time, courtesy of various data-scraping Web sites.

This new pricing transparency could severely undermine the purchase behaviors these optimized prices were supposed to cause. Will shoppers wait out fluctuations, knowing that prices will eventually drop sharply again? Will the dizzying speed of the changes make them ignore the price wars entirely and default to the chain and products they're most comfortable with? Should this new shopper pricing transparency change how retailers use pricing optimization? Chains today are soon going to have three buckets of pricing optimization options to crunch: internal, such as inventory level, close-outs, slow-moving SKUs, manufacturer incentives, etc.; external, such as competitor price monitoring or what rivals are running out of; and customer/CRM, which is individualized pricing based on a shopper's purchase history, cart assortment and demographics—for both online and, ultimately, in-store pricing.Read more...

JCPenney’s Christmas Pin Program: Channel Ping-Pong

December 5th, 2012
JCPenney is in the midst of an aggressive holiday promotion in which shoppers are encouraged to take coded buttons from store associates and, perhaps, win prizes including giftcards, a vacuum cleaner or a coffeemaker. The "Merry Christmas, America" campaign, though, suffers from two key flaws: reverse merged-channel-itis, where customers need to awkwardly go through multiple channels to find out whether they've won anything, and no opportunity within these unnecessary but mandatory channel-hops for shoppers to actually buy anything.

Such flaws could be more easily overlooked were this a minor promotion that no one has focused on. But stickers for Merry Christmas, America adorn almost every door to JCPenney stores, and the promotion involves almost every associate and customer-service desk. The idea is that customers ask associates for some holiday-themed pins (three to a customer at any one time seems to be the rule). The back of the pin has a sticker with seven numbers and letters on it.Read more...

Is Bluetooth, *Gasp,* A Viable Mobile Checkout Alternative?

December 4th, 2012
In the world of in-aisle mobile checkout, device size and convenience are critical, given that today's typical associate ships with only two arms. That would certainly argue against associates having to carry two devices, synched via Bluetooth, to perform a checkout. But the almost-having-cornered-the-market nature of iPads and iPhones in in-store mobile checkout, coupled with Apple's new and incompatible Lightning connection port, may force some inconvenient near-term options.

On Monday (Dec. 3), a European mobile and E-Commerce payments and POS card reader vendor (Adyen) introduced a device that can handle both magstripe and EMV, which certainly makes sense for Europe. The interesting part, though, is that the Adyen approach uses two units (a reader/scanner and the Apple or Android smartphone or tablet) connected by Bluetooth. That's a lot of hardware for an associate to lug around in the aisles, but it's apparently necessary (at least now) for the EMV functionality. It also nicely—if unintentionally—sidesteps the Apple Lightning problem. Indeed, Bluetooth would theoretically avoid other interface upgrade issues, too. Is the trade-off worth it?Read more...

Visa To Pull Back On Mobile/Online Verification For Low-Risk Transactions

November 28th, 2012
With a goal of trying to get mobile transactions moving, Visa on Monday (Nov. 26) floated a way to let shoppers not be bothered by password or other authentication for transactions the brand considers low-risk. The approach, dubbed the Visa Consumer Authentication Service, is designed for traditional E-Commerce transactions but will also work for any in-store mobile transactions that use the Internet (meaning it won't work for direct mobile-to-POS transactions, such as those fueled by NFC).

One new element here is Visa's use of various phone and tablet attributes to try and authenticate the device being used. (Sign of the times: In Visa parlance, laptops are no longer considered mobile.) "There are more than 100 different fields that we can get back from a particular device," including frequency, operating system version, the existence of antivirus software and physical location, said Mark Nelsen, Visa's head of risk and authentication product development.Read more...

Would You Like Spam With That?

November 28th, 2012
Recent court cases demonstrate how difficult it can be for retailers to collect personal information about their customers and then use that information for marketing directly to them. Get it right, and you have a goldmine of personal information and contact information you can use to sell your products and services and to share with other interested third parties.

Get it wrong, writes Legal Columnist Mark Rasch, and you can be paying tens of thousands of dollars in fines, court costs and legal bills. And here's the fun part: There's virtually no difference between the two.Read more...

Federal Judge Dismisses Walmart Texting Lawsuit, Just Days After Another Federal Judge Ruled The Opposite Way For Papa Johns

November 28th, 2012
Oh, that wacky federal court system. Within days of a U.S. federal judge ordering that retail pizza chain Papa Johns must stand trial in a class-action case alleging misuse of a customer texting program, a different federal judge dismissed an almost identical accusation against Walmart. The cases both deal with the issue of consent. Specifically, if a shopper gives a chain a mobile phone number for any purpose, is that consent for the chain to use that number for an unlimited number of other purposes? In the Walmart case, a customer left a prescription with a Walmart pharmacy to be filled and then picked up later. The pharmacy associate asked for a mobile number "in case they needed to contact her," presumably to discuss or ask about the prescription.

U.S. District Court Judge C. Lynwood Smith, Jr., said that Walmart associates said that the "telephone number was needed 'in case there were any questions that came up.' None of the defendant's employees explicitly sought permission to send plaintiff text messages. Nevertheless, plaintiff received an undisclosed number of text messages on her cellular telephone from defendant within hours of leaving her prescription at defendant's pharmacy."Read more...

The Sadder The Shopper, The More Impulsively They Buy

November 27th, 2012
A University of California study has come up with a bizarre but intriguing finding: The sadder a shopper is, the more likely he or she will be to accept special offers that promise immediate returns. This is true "even when such urgency comes at financial cost" to the shopper, the study found. What makes this study persuasive is that it tested another negative emotion, in addition to neutral emotions, and found that those shoppers made much better financial decisions.

Before retailers start taking down the happy Santa videos and replacing them with films about dying puppies, let's drill down into what the study actually found. (OK, you can show one of the puppy videos, but not the one with the beagles.) The study, from the University of California Riverside's School of Business Administration, offered participants various levels of Amazon gift certificates, with some of the awards being given immediately and larger payments delivered later.Read more...

Are JCPenney’s Latest Moves Bold Or Foolish?

November 27th, 2012

When a CEO takes over a troubled chain, bold moves are generally encouraged. But when the chain is a much-beloved 110-year-old, 1,100-store, $17 billion household name, bold can be very bad. Enter Ron Johnson—fresh from Apple and formerly from Target—and his taking over JCPenney. The chain is melting impressively quickly, and Johnson’s boldness is a textbook example of taking the wrong lessons from retail history.

This is explored in StorefrontBacktalk‘s November monthly column in Retail Week, the U.K.’s largest retail publication. The column lives here at Retail Week. For those who don’t have a Retail Week subscription—shame on you!—here’s a copy at StorefrontBacktalk. You can also check out all of our recent Retail Week columns here.…

U.K. Chain John Lewis Makes Vendors Pitch Retail Tech TV-Style

November 27th, 2012
How far can retailers go to get beyond retail technology that's the same as what every other chain has? U.K. department store John Lewis held a TV-style competition this month that forced start-ups to pitch ideas for solving specific problems defined by the upmarket chain—and it was judged by business-side managers alongside IT management.

The result, as our media partner Retail Week reported, isn't just that vendors were pulled into thinking in terms of actual retail needs. It also pulled non-IT managers into thinking about IT. As John Lewis Retail Operations Manager Mark Lewis said, "It sparks ideas in our minds."Read more...

Really, Visa? You’re Counting On Banks For

November 15th, 2012

Visa officially went live with its online payment service on Tuesday (Nov. 13), and there’s a lot to be underwhelmed about. After a year of testing the service—in which customers type in a login and password at an E-Commerce site and have all their payment and delivery information automatically filled in—’s marquee E-tailers are and, along with about two dozen more. Visa has also lined up 50 banks (the best known is U.S. Bank) with a total of about 55 million card customers.

But none of that may matter, because Visa is counting on the banks to promote to their customers. Yes, the same banks who have sent millions of contactless cards to their customers without telling them they were contactless cards—that’s who Visa believes can convince cardholders to use a service they’ve never heard of instead of PayPal and Amazon. The likelihood they’ll ever hear about it in a meaningful way from their card-issuing bank? Just slightly less than’s infinitesimal chances.…

Guitar Center Gets Behind PayPal In A Big Way, And For A Good Reason

November 15th, 2012
When 235-store Guitar Center agreed to a PayPal proposal to offer the alternative payment method inside its stores, the music chain had very good reason to believe its shoppers would embrace PayPal in a way that the customers of other in-store PayPal retailers—including Home Depot, JCPenney, Abercrombie & Fitch, Toys"R"Us, Foot Locker and Barnes & Noble—might not. Musicians spend a lot of time buying and selling used instruments and audio gear on eBay, which means most have a healthy amount of PayPal dollars in their accounts.

Giving those shoppers an in-store option to use that PayPal currency, a place that has used (along with new) instruments and audio equipment and where said equipment can be touched and listened to before being purchased, made a lot of sense to Wes Muddle, Guitar Center's VP for Finance. So it's not surprising that the chain made it a priority to let every customer know about the PayPal option, through lots of store signage and associate training. And, gasp, Guitar Center is even considering offering cash incentives—though it would much rather PayPal do that instead.Read more...

The Digital Way To Kill EAS Tags And Keep ‘Em Dead

November 15th, 2012
EAS tags have an annoying tendency to come back to life after being deactivated. That's embarrassing for the shopper who sets off the alarm, but it's far more embarrassing for the LP executive whose people grow tired of the false alarms and start ignoring them—especially at peak times. One EAS vendor on Tuesday (Nov. 13) tried to end the LP Frankenstein monsters by switching to a digital—rather than a mechanical—tag mechanism, one that can be fully fried by the typical 10-volt deactivation pad jolt. "We make this happen at the nano level, leveraging very very small geometries," said Amir Mashkoori, CEO of EAS vendor Kovio.

The tags are soft tags and Kovio's approach is to try and get manufacturers to embed them deep within shoes and other clothing so they are not visible to the shopper, which makes the removal of the devices almost impossible without severely damaging the product. Mashkoori argues that this could change many standard retail tactics, such as having only one shoe on the floor and forcing the associate to go to the backroom to get the mate.Read more...


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