Top Stories



JCPenney CEO: E-Commerce Is Going To Hit A Ceiling

July 25th, 2012
JCPenney CEO Ron Johnson believes E-Commerce is a toothless threat to stores. On July 18 Johnson told a conference audience he thinks that E-Commerce is like the catalog craze of the 1980s—its share of retail sales will eventually plateau, making it only a minor challenger to brick-and-mortar sales.

That theory is crucial to the century-old chain's makeover, which Johnson said will also include all-RFID sales ticketing within six months, elimination of cashwraps by the end of 2013, and a plan to combat showrooming by making 75 percent of its inventory JCPenney-only products to make direct price comparisons impossible.Read more...


Switchable Grocery Checkout Lanes: The Complications Aren’t Obvious

June 6th, 2012
The U.K.'s second-largest grocer is experimenting with checkout lanes that can quickly be switched from cashier-staffed to self-service. The 520-store Asda chain, which is owned by Walmart, is expanding a one-store trial of the quick-switch lanes to four stores and reporting that a "surprisingly high" percentage of customers are choosing to use the new lanes.

At first glance, this looks likely only to expand the problems self-checkout already generates: theft, slowdowns when associates have to verify age for alcohol or tobacco, and equipment that's simply frustrating to customers. But opening up all unstaffed lanes as self-checkouts might actually make self-checkout work better.Read more...


The Next Batch Of Monthlies Barely A Week Away

June 5th, 2012

Just a reminder that StorefrontBacktalk now has five free monthly newsletters, each one focusing on a different key area for us: E-Commerce, Mobile, PCI/Security, In-Store and CRM. The Monthlies—see the descriptions here—are available to anyone via a quick E-mail sign up.

The Monthlies publish the first half of each month, and they are a great way to catch up on all of the news in a given area. So before you miss the June Monthlies, sign up for your free copy. …


With Massachusetts’ Blessing, All States Prepare To End Item Price Labels. It Begs The Question: What Will Price Mean?

May 23rd, 2012
Legislatures first enacted requirements that grocery stores and other retailers individually price items because they simply didn't trust the barcode and other price-scanning technology. But now, argues Legal Columnist Mark Rasch, the government doesn't trust the retailers.

What is the "price" of an item? New technologies enable the prices charged, and the display of those prices, to change instantly. Ask anyone trying to purchase a plane ticket from New York to Detroit what the "price" of that ticket is. Read more...


Doing Online Fulfillment In-Store Is Harder Than Macy’s Thought

May 16th, 2012
Macy's efforts to move online order fulfillment into almost 300 of its stores this year got a look from the Wall Street Journal on Monday (May 14), and the result wasn't pretty: The Journal described the in-store Macy's distribution center in a Paramus, N.J., mall as "a dimly-lit, makeshift packing area" and said workers struggled to find merchandise in the store that exactly matched orders specifying colors like "journey" and "magical." Amazon this ain't.

The irony is that Macy's may already have the answer to its product-finding problem—by leveraging a completely different in-store IT initiative.Read more...

Will A Store-And-Forward In-Store Mobile Tactic Work?

May 16th, 2012
What if having wireless in-store access isn't really that important? Retailers' efforts to make sure customers have constant Wi-Fi access—to fuel mobile functions such as barcode scanning, demo watching and, potentially, even mobile wallet efforts—has certainly proven problematic, whether the reasons are wireless-unfriendly old buildings or young shoppers gulping all of the bandwidth with movies or games.

Beyond encouraging shoppers to use over-the-air access that chains need do nothing to facilitate, what if apps used the mobile device's memory to play those demos and to look up those barcodes, and then waited to update until the device was reconnected? Shopkick is using one version of this modified store-and-forward mobile strategy, as of an update deployed last month.Read more...

A Better Way To Search StorefrontBacktalk

May 16th, 2012

With more than 3,000 stories, columns and GuestViews in the content database here at StorefrontBacktalk, we thought it was time to do a little upgrading. Starting this week, readers (both free and Premium) can search for stories by limiting the search to just the story’s headline—as opposed to the headline and the full text. (Note: Right below the search bar, readers can choose HED Only or Story And Hed.)

The ability to isolate a search to the headline can be useful in two ways. If you happen to remember that the headline mentioned Target, for example, you need not see every story that mentioned Target (or even used the word “target”). The second way is practical. If you want a story that is primarily about tokens—and not a story that merely mentions the word somewhere—the headline-only search can be helpful.…

Disney’s RFID iPad Trial Is An Important Lesson When Battling Showrooming

May 9th, 2012

As E-tailers continue their incursions into rivals’ physical stores, the only viable defense is to radically upgrade customer service and the overall store experience. Two of the retailers most known for this are Apple and Walt Disney World Resort. Have you ever heard of an E-Commerce site cutting into the revenue at Disney? What specific tactics can brick-and-mortars steal? Here’s a good one: Disney this month is experimenting with an RFID/iPad combo to upgrade its famous FastPass system—for letting people reserve tickets/times and thereby get much faster access to rides and events. As Disney employees carry iPads, customers’ RFID bracelets will interact with CRM and ride information.

It’s fair to argue that Disney has always been the retail exception. It pushed contactless payment by offering deep discounts, and Disney even successfully got customers to use digital biometrics (fingerprints) for park access. But that’s just the point. With a heavy enough emphasis on experience and customer service, shoppers are willing to do almost anything, including—just perhaps—forgetting all about Amazon.…

32-Point Font Might Save Your IT Career

May 9th, 2012
It's you versus the sales guy in an epic battle over your IT career. The sales guy has a polished presentation about the features and benefits of his products and services. You have a status report. The sales guy has access to unlimited resources to make your business partners' wildest dreams come true. You have one really great guy who you've overworked to the point that you carry a ton of personal shame.

The sales guy says, "Yes. Yes. Yes." You say, "No. No. No." In this surreal world, pens Retail Columnist Todd Michaud, you are watching your hard-fought IT career be dismantled by an onslaught of companies that shake your hand and look you in the eye as they pitch your demise one product and service at a time. And you had better buckle-up, Buttercup; it's only going to get worse.Read more...

John Lewis’ Mirror Trial The Latest In A Long Line Of Frustrated Efforts

May 2nd, 2012
For a half-dozen years, retailers have been struggling to find a way to make mirrors work as an in-store-to-Web sales device. Bloomingdale's was one of the first. Its idea was to let a shopper model prospective new outfits to the mirror, which would then transmit the images live to the Web and allow comments from total strangers or a smaller group of logged in friends.

Seems that it missed the fun social elements of physically shopping together. This week, it was British department store chain John Lewis' turn.Read more...

Should Retailers Be Worried About Amazon’s Kiva Deal?

March 22nd, 2012

When Amazon on Monday (March 19) announced its $775 million cash deal to buy Kiva, a popular robot automation fulfillment center player, it put many of its existing retail clients in a bind. This includes current Kiva clients—Walgreens and Saks, among others—plus other recent (and possibly current) customers, such as Gap, Crate & Barrel, Staples, Dillard’s, Toys’R’Us and Office Depot. How will all of them feel about systems in their warehouses—which know everything about product flow and, even worse, can control speed, accuracy and efficiency of product flow—being owned and controlled by Amazon, a direct rival? Granted, Amazon would have to be crazy to risk being caught using that information or deliberately slowing down operations. But will the latest technology get shared quickly? Or will Amazon hold onto it for extensive testing in its own warehouses?

And what about the psychological impact of having execs at Walgreens or Toys’R’Us having to write checks to Amazon (or to a Kiva account, fully owned by Amazon)? The devices themselves are impressive little robots, capable of carrying a half-ton of products and knowing where to fetch and where to return. For any sci-fi fans out there, we’re talking about intelligent powerful robots controlled by a corporate empire and working in the inner operations of its rivals. What could possibly go wrong?…

Attention: Kindle Readers. We Need Your Help

March 6th, 2012

Due to the (strange? pyschotic? drug-induced?) unusual policies at Amazon, publishers have no idea who their Kindle subscribers are. That puts us here at StorefrontBacktalk in the awkward position of having to make a plea to our Kindle subscribers: Please reveal yourselves, and tell us how you find the Kindle subscriptions. We’re considering some changes to the service and any customer feedback goes to Amazon—and it’s not sharing. Therefore, we’re begging for whatever feedback you want to share to please share it with us directly.

For you Kindle people who have not yet subscribed to our Kindle feed, it’s not bad for convenience when traveling, when you’d like the latest on retail tech and E-Commerce beamed into your Kindle when you’re not looking. …

Is Whole Foods Launching Ultra-Smart Carts? Not Exactly

February 29th, 2012
A shopping cart prototype—which follows customers around the store, scans products and flags shopping list discrepancies, completes payment in-aisle, includes voice-recognition and, heaven help us, talks—is being touted by Microsoft as under development for the Whole Foods chain. Whole Foods, however, has a very different take.

The Jetsons-friendly cart was demoed Monday (Feb. 27) at a Microsoft event called TechForum, where various cutting-edge projects were showcased. The cart certainly has some interesting potential—and drawbacks—but one key player that is not buying into the short-term need for the cart is Whole Foods, despite the Whole Foods logo having been prominently displayed on the cart at the Microsoft demo.Read more...

You Feel Like Arguing? Yeah, I Mean You

February 27th, 2012

In our attempts to battle the never-ending assaults by Spammers, StorefrontBacktalk had to do something this week for which we need to apologize. Our direct discussion forum—Go Beyond The Story—was recently overrun by Spammers. To make the forum useful, we had to wipe out existing users. We then put in place much better security. Now, we are asking our readers who had signed up for accounts in the forum to please sign up again.

We have also cleaned up our discussion forum on LinkedIn. If you want to jump into a discussion on our LinkedIn page, you simply need to first join the StorefrontBacktalk group forum. For you Facebook fans, we have also reactivated the StorefrontBacktalk‘s Facebook page. We love when people comment on the stories, but we need to insist that only comments relating to a story be posted to that story. For comments that do not directly relate to a story or column, the Go Beyond The Story forum is home. And we want it to be a noisy home, with lots of loud arguments and shouting. That’s how retail discussions are supposed to be.…

Shipping Shift: Why Not Use Every Store As Its Own DC?

February 15th, 2012
Every time we hear one of these shipping company nightmare stories—with packages lost or recklessly damaged—it's a painful reminder of how much retailers are at the mercy of these shipping partners. When a consumer makes an E-Commerce purchase and something happens to the product en route, who does the consumer blame?

There may be a way to flip this problem into an advantage. What if chains viewed every store as a local distribution center? And used local talent to deliver not only to customers but on the same day? This approach enables the merged-channel retailer to extend that experience right back into the customer’s front yard and maybe through the front door.Read more...

University Team Up-Ends The RFID Metal Problem By Turning The Metal Into The Antenna

February 9th, 2012

One of the historic problems with RFID has been its difficulty in being read on metal or near liquids. A creative research team at North Dakota State University announced last week (February 2) an approach to turn the metal of the product into a functional antenna. It doesn’t avoid the metal problem. But it is judo-like in turning the problem around. The big downside for retail, though, is that each of these passive tags will cost 50 cents to one dollar.

The tags are 2 to 2.5 millimeters each, but Research Engineer Cherish Bauer-Reich said her group thinks they can get it down to 1 millimeter. “The tags we’ve developed actually use the metal container as an antenna, rather than having to make and place another antenna on top of the container,” said Bauer-Reich. “Many types of tags have to be spaced away from metal, since it changes the electromagnetic fields around the tags and destroys their ability to communicate. These tags, however, use the metal container as the antenna to transmit information. Because of this unique property, these tags can be used to tag anything from coffee cans at a grocery store to barrels of oil or metal cargo containers, with minimal concern about losing or damaging the tag.” She added that their tag’s high-permeability materials divert current into the tag’s integrated circuit.…

MasterCard Clarifies Its EMV Plans, Paints An EMV E-Commerce Future

February 8th, 2012
MasterCard has clarified its EMV push policies, saying its campaign will be focused solely on direct data breaches (as in a wide-scale attack on servers stealing millions of card numbers). Its second campaign will deal with individual fraud (as in consumers losing their cards and someone finding them and then running up charges).

But the number-two card brand also spoke of a near-term future where E-Commerce will be able to use the EMV chip to authenticate and process E-Commerce and M-Commerce transactions. However, will consumers pay more for laptops that can handle such security? And will tablets and smartphones—which can more easily and more cost-effectively handle such technologies—grow quickly enough to make desktop/laptop enhancements irrelevant?Read more...

The Backward World Of Loyalty: “I’d Like A VCR, A Wired Phone and a Plastic Loyalty Card, Please”

February 7th, 2012
When it comes to loyalty, many retailers are stuck in the 1990s. Does anyone else find it funny that in a world where you can very easily have a video conference with your kids from a $500 tablet over free Wi-Fi from a random hotel, we're expected to keep a 3.3- x 2.2-inch piece of plastic in our wallets to get benefits from some of our favorite retailers?

All of this, pens Retail Columnist Todd Michaud, in an area—such as CRM—where the application of technology could directly impact a retailer's top and bottom lines.Read more...

MasterCard Pushing EMV PIN. Visa? Not So Much

February 2nd, 2012
MasterCard's Monday (Jan. 30) rollout of its roadmap for EMV in the U.S. set it on the opposite side of payment security from Visa, with MasterCard pushing for EMV with PIN and Visa arguing that PIN isn't necessary. MasterCard is backing up its preference with some serious fraud-dollar forgiveness. Oddly enough, the much-smaller MasterCard has trumped—or, more precisely, nullified—Visa's position, at least as far as retailers are concerned.

Given that greater-than-99-percent of Visa retailers in the U.S. also accept MasterCard, chains must go along with whichever brand has the more strict requirements. Typically, that's been Visa, but not this time. On EMV-related PCI relaxations, however, the two brands opted to adopt identical policies.Read more...

The Never-Ending Dance Of Contactless Security

February 2nd, 2012
For quite a few years now, the contactless payment world has enjoyed an endless-loop of defend-and-repel games when dealing with contactless security. The game starts with bank assurances that the data being transmitted wirelessly couldn't possibly be enough for a thief to perform a transaction. Next is some public demo of a security researcher wirelessly grabbing data and completing a transaction. This is followed by industry refutations that the system demoed was either out-of-date or some part of the test was unrealistic.

Interestingly enough, there's truth on both sides. But the dance of demo-and-explanation seems to never slow.Read more...

Thieves Stealing Poorly Protected EAS Keys: An Amazingly Serious Achilles Heel

February 1st, 2012
It was just past 10:30 PM on January 15 when police say a shoplifter walked into the Murrieta, Calif., Wal-Mart. But as part of a growing trend, she didn't try and steal any merchandise. What she did was walk over to an unstaffed counter, pull out what seemed to be wire cutters and cut loose the store's keys to its safer security devices.

Other thieves have opted for grabbing EAS tag detachers, but the point is the same. Beyond protecting products, retailers need to reinforce protections around the devices that protect their products. How are keys and tag detachers handled when not in use? Is there an explicit policy about ignoring EAS alarms?Read more...

Should CIOs Now Surrender To Marketing? (Oddly Enough, The Answer Is “Yes. With Limits.”)

January 24th, 2012
In the power struggle between retail marketing and retail IT, IT is getting its server farms kicked. It started with E-Commerce and is now growing with mobile and social. What has to go? If it can go in the cloud, get rid of it. E-Mail? Gone. Web hosting? Out of here. CRM? Exit, stage right. If it can be easily outsourced by specialist firms or even done by people in the business unit, you need to let it go.

It's time to evict Web and mobile app development, and pretty much any marketing initiative that isn't core to your business. Heresy? Certainly, pens Retail Columnist Todd Michaud. But it's necessary.Read more...

Mobile May Force You To Rewrite Your Shoplifting Definitions. And 100 Other Things You Haven’t Yet Thought Of

January 16th, 2012
Mobile payment is going to change retail in an unknown number of unknown ways, and your lawyers will have healthy employment. Consider in-aisle checkout and shoplifting rules, pens Legal Columnist Mark Rasch. Today, customers who put products in a concealed place—a pocket, backpack, purse, etc.—while still in the store can be convicted of shoplifting even if they have yet to reach the POS checkout area.

The conceal part of that action is considered evidence of criminal intent. Now let's see you try and enforce that rule when you have in-aisle mobile checkout.Read more...

Next StorefrontBacktalk Newsletter Will Be Published January 5th

December 14th, 2011

As is our tradition, StorefrontBacktalk shuts down for the last two weeks in December, due to the fact that y’all are far too busy (a) supporting the biggest selling weeks of the year until December 25th, (b) supporting the biggest returns-and-exchanges week of the year after December 25th and (c) closing the quarterly books until December 31st on what everyone hopes will be a bigger year than 2010.

That means our next regular weekly issue will arrive on January 5th, 2012. In the meantime, everything else will still be live (the Web sites, our Kindle version, our Twitter tweets, our mobile sites, etc.). And we’ll, as always, send out breaking news alerts if circumstances merit. …

Interested In Advertising In StorefrontBacktalk In 2012?

December 12th, 2011

A message from our beloved business side: As the NRF Big Show happens next month, StorefrontBacktalk has a couple of last-minute slots for anyone wanting to communicate with NRF attendees. In mid-January, as our readers leave their postmortem holiday shopping meetings with the list of everything that went wrong, every feature management wants to add and a wishlist of products to make it all, it’s a nice time message.

We will also be adding several content channels next year—including several new weekly podcast series, more monthlies, events in addition to our usual weekly and monthly newsletters, and Web sites—and if your marketing people have any interest in getting involved, we now have new opportunities. Some of these new channels were specifically created to enable smaller vendors, with much more limited resources, into our community. If your marketers want to get your brand in the middle of these discussions, please drop us a note.…


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