Top Stories


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...


Social Media Makes It Easy To Blog Or Tweet Your Way Into FTC Fines

January 31st, 2013
Restaurant reservations Web site Open Table just paid $10 million to purchase the app developer Foodspotting, which enables people to take pictures of, well, food. The idea behind the synergy is that consumers looking to make reservations can not only read the menu but actually see the food presentation "in the real world" by looking at pictures taken by bona fide customers.

This continues a trend of technology empowering consumers, observes Legal Columnist Mark D. Rasch. It's also a way for restaurants and other retailers to get themselves into real legal trouble if they're not very careful about how they identify their use of this type of social technology.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...


The Legal Quicksand Of Giving Online Stuff Away For Free

January 16th, 2013
We all love to get stuff for free. Whether it is a coupon, a sample or a trial, if it's free, it's good. For retailers, offering a freebie can get customers used to using their products or services, may engender goodwill and may be a smart business decision. But if those retailers fail to adequately define the terms of the free trial, pens Legal Columnist Mark Rasch, they may be setting themselves up for a disaster.

This holiday season, Rasch was walking through the mall seeking out the See's Candies ladies with their free samples. "I would gladly take a chocolate lollipop or a toffee square, circle the mall and come back for another. The free sample came with no terms or conditions and no obvious limitations on access or use. Could I then argue that, because See's was giving away chocolate lollipops, these items were 'free' and that I was, therefore, lawfully entitled to take six or seven boxes from behind the counter without paying for them? Absurd. But why? Because in the real world, we have loosely formed social conventions and a system of shaming to enforce them."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...

Is Amazon’s New Gift Program The New Reality?

December 12th, 2012
When Amazon on Wednesday (Dec. 12) rolled out its Friends & Family Gifting program, what was most striking about the program is how virtually nothing was striking about the program. After all, this is, the master e-tailer who has brought us such hits as guessing religion based on giftwrap choices, how to exchange gifts in a truly new way and not charging until the gift is fully accepted.

This new program is bizarrely ordinary, offering functionality that Amazon—and almost all of its rivals—have offered for years. Could this reflect Amazon's adapting to a new environment, where many of its longtime competitive advantages—such as sales-tax-free sales—are going away? Even its move into same-day delivery is not a differentiator anymore, with Walmart, Google, eBay and Macy's toying with the same program.Read more...

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.…

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...

Monthlies And A Shout-Out To Kindle Users

October 29th, 2012

A little late October housecleaning here at StorefrontBacktalk. First, a quick reminder: StorefrontBacktalk now has five free Monthly newsletters, each one focusing on a different key area for you: 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 and the November monthlies will publish next week.

The Monthlies are a great way to catch up on all the news in a given area. So before you miss the November Monthlies, sign up for your free copy—and remember, you can sign up for multiple topics. Finally, a quick thought for Kindle users. For those of you who have not yet subscribed to our Kindle feed, it’s not bad for convenience while traveling. You’ll get the latest on retail tech, E-Commerce, mobile and security beamed into your Kindle when you’re not looking. …

Kraft Trials Pit NFC Against QR. NFC Wins, But At A Price

October 18th, 2012
Kraft Foods, the $19 billion consumer goods company, has been trying to understand the relative consumer-reach powers of NFC and QR codes to see if either is going to resonate more with mobile shoppers. Its answer: Run shelf tests at five San Francisco-area grocery stories showing both NFC and QR to consumers and see what happens.

As the owner of brands Kraft, Maxwell House, Oscar Mayer, Nabisco, Planters and JELL-O discovered, NFC was the winner. NFC's engagement level was a dozen times greater than QR codes, and engagement time was 48 seconds for NFC compared with 5–10 seconds for QR. But NFC excludes many older phones and—crucially—all Apple iPhones and iPads. For many reasons, that's a dangerous segment to ignore.Read more...

Mobile Phone Location Privacy: U.S. Justice Now Says It Doesn’t Exist

October 3rd, 2012
In a case that may have profound ramifications for retailers' ability not only to collect but also to protect the privacy of customers' location information, the U.S. Justice Department argued to a U.S. appeals court on Monday (Oct. 1) that Americans do indeed have no right to privacy when it comes to mobile phone geolocation data. This comes about two months after a different appellate court reached the same conclusion, ruling that Americans have no such privacy rights.

If there truly is no expectation of privacy in what is called "historical cell data" (where you were, as opposed to where you are right now), then there would be no problem with retailers' collecting this data about their customers with or without the knowledge and consent of those customers, pens Legal Columnist Mark Rasch. Just as video cameras in the mall capture images of customers (and their locations), retailers could use cell data to find out where their best (and worst) customers are. Accepting the government's argument before the federal court, there would be no privacy violation for a retailer doing this.Read more...

Can Price-Match Deals Work? Not Any More

September 26th, 2012
Maybe it's time for retailers to give up on price-matching promotions. Last Friday (Sept. 21), U.K. supermarket chain Asda all but threw in the towel on a promotion in which it promised to beat competitors' prices by 10 percent or refund the difference. The problem (spotlighted in a story by one of the U.K.'s biggest newspapers): "Professional shoppers" were milking the promotion to get as much as $14,000 in rebates in a month.

It used to be only chains that kept detailed databases of competitors' prices. Now every coupon or rebate Web site has data that's even more current, which makes beating a chain's price-match promotion trivial.Read more...

Walmart’s Local Facebook Fiasco

September 20th, 2012
When Walmart unveiled its local-store Facebook program almost a year ago, it touted a page for some 3,500 neighborhood stores, with content based on that community's interests and local comments and complaints answered by local store management. Since that time, the Facebook strategy of Walmart corporate (not the stores) has performed brilliantly, increasing its FB fans from 9 million to 19.5 million in less than a year. And even with those types of numbers, Walmart corporate has proven unusually responsive to comments.

But the social program of its stores, during the same timeframe, has gone nowhere, according to a report slated to be released Thursday (Sept. 20). The reason? Just about nothing that corporate is doing right—dedicated social resources, rules about the number and frequency of posts, people dedicated to responding to shopper comments—has been replicated at the store level. The stores have been left to do whatever they can fit in, which the report said seems to be pretty much nothing.Read more...

Walmart Is Quietly Becoming Quite The Mobile Hipster

September 12th, 2012

With a staggering $444 billion in annual revenue, Walmart has generally been sluggish and conservative, allowing tech innovations to be toyed with by rivals such as But in the last few months, Walmart has quietly started acting like quite the aggressive startup. It has embraced mobile and various innovative tech approaches, including an infatuation with social media, in a way that no major chain—especially not the old Walmart—has ever done.

Consider just the last couple weeks’ activity at Walmart alone, and it becomes clear how change is being embraced by Bentonville. And as anyone who has ever worked with an aircraft carrier knows, turning such a huge boat around quickly is hardly easy. How that’s happening at Walmart is the topic of StorefrontBacktalk‘s September 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.…

Walmart’s New Search: Context Will Have To Wait

September 5th, 2012
When announced its new search engine on August 30 and that it had already gone live, the retailer promised the ability to understand "the intent" of a shopper's search. As a practical matter, though, the new engine simply didn't. But "in the next couple of months," version two of the engine will actually consider the shopper's queries in context, according to the Walmart executive in charge of the program.

To test whether the initial engine was indeed able to factor in a shopper's intent, we searched for Apple. Understandably, the results were about iPhones, iPads and other hardware from that company. But we then searched for Oranges, Bananas, Pears and then again asked it about Apple, hoping that it would now understand our desire for the Garden of Eden edible type of apple, which does indeed sell. Nope, it didn't take the hint and continued to display mobile computers. (When we searched for "fruit," the desired apples did materialize in the results.)Read more...

How Real Are Facebook Likes? It Turns Out Not Real At All

July 17th, 2012

Just about everyone involved in E-Commerce knows deep down that social media “Likes” are not indicative of anything and that even most consumers are not impressed with lots of Likes. But it’s nice to see concrete proof every now and then. And so a report on July 13 was quite interesting. The BBC piece described an experiment where a reporter created an entirely non-existent business, which he called Virtual Bagel, with a tagline “We send you the bagels via the Internet. Just download and enjoy.” The reporter observed, “Seems like nonsense. Surely, nobody is going to be interested in that.”

Well, some 3,318 Facebook Likes later, the BBC found that the Likes were coming overwhelmingly from Malaysia, India, Indonesia and Egypt with almost none from the U.S. and the U.K. “People in certain parts of the world are incredibly keen to click, for no apparent reason, on random” sites such as the bagel “imaginary business,” the BBC report said. When it comes to exposing the absurd claims of social site Likes, I think it’s safe to say I like this BBC report.…

With Mobile In-Store Apps, Will Reliable Beat Sexy?

July 12th, 2012
In the latest round of in-store mobile app vendor battles, the goal seems to be to capture the title of easiest to use. That's an ideal goal, but "easy" is a word that in tech circles has a deliciously paradoxical nature. The easier and more intuitive an app is, the more sophisticated and complex is its programming. That generally means there's a lot more that can—and will—go wrong and glitch.

A company called QThru, for example, is making waves with a mobile app that handles product identification and completes mobile payment through scanning an old-fashioned barcode. Its claim to fame: that the app identifies the product within two seconds even when the hand holding the phone (which is taking the picture of the barcode) and the hand holding the product with its barcode are both shaking and when the barcode is incorrectly positioned.Read more...

The Downfall Of Custom Pricing: Getting Your Shoppers To Shut Up

June 28th, 2012
How much is that doggie in the window? For Internet users, the answer may soon be, "It depends on who you are, and how much I know about you." And this trend may upset a host of laws concerning deceptive trade practices, fair pricing and even contract, trespass and computer crime laws.

Not only can online retailers charge different prices to different consumers, they may also be able to prevent one consumer from telling others how much they were charged. First off, is this approach likely? asks Legal Columnist Mark Rasch. Answer: Yes, because it's the next logical step.Read more...

Tesco Pushing Site Customization, Using Mobile and Social Site Individual Data

June 28th, 2012
Tesco, the world's third-largest retailer, is taking E-Commerce customization one huge step further than anyone else, displaying higher priced items only for customers it believes can afford them. Although what Tesco is doing is bold, bolder yet are its public statements that it's not relying solely on purchase history. Display decisions are also based on comments customers make on social sites, which payment cards they are using and, perhaps most controversially, various types of mobile phone data.

Drilling into the details of the plan raises questions about how different the site will truly feel, and that speaks to how the data is used and to how aggressive the customization is. For example, the more decisions are made—or, more precisely, perceived by customers to be made—about spend levels and then displaying higher-priced items, the more resistance might be encountered.Read more...

Facebook’s Shopper-to-Shopper Locator, Up One Moment and Gone The Next, Clears The Way For Retail Testing

June 27th, 2012
The idea of retailers using mobile geolocation data to connect shoppers and products is almost irresistible, despite the challenges of being unable to fine-tune the location nearly enough and sometimes having databases that send customers away instead of helping them find what they want. But helping shoppers find one another—as Walmart has proposed—is a much more privacy-problematic concept.

When automated, do such tools facilitate good interactions and help customers encourage each other's purchases (such as saying whether an outfit looks sharp with those shoes or if that drillbit is the proper one for a particular fix-it job) or will it just freak shoppers out when it helps strangers approach them? In New Jersey, for example, a stranger approaching while smiling is legal justification for using deadly force.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. …

Could The BlackBerry Save Mobile Payments? Maybe It’s The Only Thing That Can

May 31st, 2012
Everybody is waiting for Apple in NFC mobile payments—the theory being that the iPhone's try-anything-if-it's-Apple owners will embrace tap-to-pay as soon as the company endorses it. But Apple is in no hurry, and Google Wallet and ISIS aren't exactly taking off, while PayPal prefers phone numbers and PINs. The one player desperate enough to jumpstart NFC mobile payments may be RIM.

Yes, everyone hates the last-generation E-mail king, which on Tuesday (May 29) announced an operating loss and layoffs. But earlier this month RIM also finally agreed to let carriers and banks use NFC-enabled BlackBerrys for payments in Canada—without coupons, ads or a cut for RIM.Read more...

The Delicate Legal, Ethical Dance Of Selling To Children

May 16th, 2012
Here's one for the marketing ethicists out there (is "ethical marketing" an oxymoron?): 18-year-olds come into the retail CRM world as clean slates, even if they have been active E-Commerce and M-Commerce shoppers for eight or nine years. It is illegal to solicit or sell data about children younger than 13—and what can be collected and used about those aged 13 to 17 is highly restricted. When that veteran shopper turns 18, though, can all of his or her juvenile shopping history be sold or even used?

One online payment vendor is preparing to sell tons of youth purchase data—apparently, this is the first time anyone has tried—avoiding immediate legal problems by offering the data in aggregate.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.…


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