Top Stories



Cracking The Code Of Amazon’s Instant Pulldown Menu

March 8th, 2013

Say what you will about Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN), but it’s an impressive operation when it comes to sweating the details. One such design innovation from Amazon—it’s ultra-smooth, almost instantaneous-responding pulldown menus—was driving one developer crazy, until he (possibly) figured out how Amazon’s people did it. The developer is Ben Kamens, who is lead developer at Khan Academy, and this is his theory on the pulldown magic, along with his suggested code for replicating it. The trick appears to be not that different from Amazon’s gravity-based link assist Patent, where the system anticipates where the cursor is headed and opens the pulldown a split-second before the cursor gets there, making it feel like an immediate response.

Pulldowns have always been an efficient programmer tool

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(lots of content, minimal space), but never a shopper favorite. They are typically infuriating to use, with the submenus disappearing as the cursor tries to get there to click. Amazon’s approach fixes this issue, too, because the submenus politely stay there, assuming the shopper’s click will eventually arrive. Hats off to Mashable for first spotting this.…


Will Amazon’s Cursor Patent Lead To Manipulated, Unintended Clicks?

March 4th, 2013
In online, when does anticipating a user's likely move and making that move easier morph into imposing what the retailer wants the shopper to do? Can the programming power to make a site visitor's cursor go where the retailer wants—and to specifically click on what the retailer wants clicked, such as "click here to purchase"—be something merchants can be expected to be disciplined about using? This ethical and marketing question (now there are two words rarely seen together) is prompted by a patent granted to Amazon on February 26.

That patent discusses using what Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) calls "gravity-based link assist" to guide a cursor to where the system thinks the shopper wants it to go. And to do so more quickly than some systems can. Although the patent specifies that this approach can be used in laptops, tablets and a wide range of other devices, its initial focus is on ebooks. That is because of a very specific technical issue: ebooks often have much slower refresh rates, so slow that shoppers can be confused about whether they have successfully clicked a link.Read more...


Abu Dhabi Addresses Go E-Commerce Friendly. Only 6 Billion More Addresses To Go

February 20th, 2013

Abu Dhabi is going to an E-Commerce-friendly street address system. The capital of the United Arab Emirates announced on Sunday (Feb. 17) that, over the next 30 months, every building will get a number and every street will get a unique name (in many cases a much shorter name, in part to satisfy the needs of online forms), along with a short postal code. Currently, streets may be known by multiple names. For example, 7th Street is also Zayed the First, but it’s commonly known as Electra. And although the street Abu Dhabians call “Bank Street” is lined with banks, it’s formally named Khalid bin Waleed Street. Even some new glass-and-steel hotels have addresses like “Between the Bridges.”

Although local couriers are currently able to navigate the city to make deliveries, U.S.-style addresses should simplify things for E-tailers using addresses or postal codes for things like payment-card verification. It’s also a useful reminder for E-tailers that online forms designed for U.S. addresses aren’t necessarily going to work well in the rest of the world. With its population of 2.4 million people and a per capita income just below that of the U.S., Abu Dhabi is hardly a little desert oasis. But having three names for every street may not be so bad—just ask anyone who has tried to find an address on Peachtree in Atlanta.…


Stealing The Keys: Bit9 Breach Means It’s Time To Throw Out Old Thinking About Security Products

February 13th, 2013
In another sign that investing in security isn't enough, three customers of security vendor Bit9 ended up with malware in their systems. This happened after a digital code-signing certificate was stolen from the vendor—and that, in turn, happened because Bit9 failed to use its own product on some of its systems.

Never mind the physician-heal-thyself aspect of this incident (which is a little tough for us because, well, Bit9 did do exactly what it tells its customers not to). More to the point, it's another sign that retailers need to stop trusting security and start thinking securely.Read more...


After Seven Months, Why Does The PCI Council Yet To Have Anyone P2PE Validated?

February 8th, 2013
For the past two years, the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council (PCI SSC) has been taunting merchants with offers of a specialized (and simplified) Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) for those using "validated P2PE" approaches. At first, the council told merchants to wait while it drew up plans to validate the products. Then—finally—seven months ago, PCI SSC released its standards and told merchants to go right ahead and pick one of these validated options. There's only one problem: As of Thursday (Feb. 7), the council hadn't validated any.

That's right. Seven months after the standards were released and nearly two full years from its initial announcements on the matter, the PCI SSC has yet to validate a single P2PE vendor that can offer the promised scope reductions and a simplified SAQ to merchants. Why? Well, quite frankly, pens GuestView Columnist J. David Oder, because the council designed the wrong standard.Read more...

Fake Prices At JCPenney? Why Not Real (But Rigged) Price Comparisons?

January 29th, 2013
Who actually believes in MSRP, anyway? On January 24, the New York Post breathlessly reported that JCPenney was asking (or maybe just planning to ask) suppliers for a "fake" list price, even if they don't have one, so the 110-year-old chain could display that price along with JCPenney's own lower price. The Post was shocked, shocked to find that pricing gimmicks were going on in retail.

The chain denied any fakery, but the real shock is that JCPenney bothered. Customers don't care about the Manufacturer's Spurious Retail Price. They care whether JCPenney's price is lower than Macy's or Kohl's, and they can get that information online. Why isn't JCPenney doing the same thing? Read more...

ISVs May Have More Power Over Retailers Than Anyone Suspected

January 24th, 2013
When there is a retail IT contractual dispute with a software vendor—as is now happening with Lands' End—that ISV (or cloud or other "as a service" provider) may have a contractual right to terminate access to the software or service, with or without notice.

Under what has been called "digital repossession," software vendors may even have the right to decide for themselves whether the terms of a contract have been breached and to simply terminate access to the software or the service. The key here, writes StorefrontBacktalk Legal Columnist Mark Rasch, is to make sure both software license agreements and service agreements have a "soft landing" provision that ensures the vendor is paid for its services while limiting the impact of a sudden withdrawal of the service or software.Read more...

How Much Too Long Did Lands’ End Wait For Its Payroll Upgrade? Maybe A Million Dollars Too Long

January 23rd, 2013
Lands' End has landed in a nasty fight over software licensing. On January 17, the Sears mail-order and online subsidiary sued the supplier of its HR and payroll software, Genesys Software Systems, which wants Lands' End to either pay for a new million-dollar license or pull the plug on the software immediately.

The lawsuit has the tactical advantage of freezing the situation, giving Lands' End a little more time (very little time) to find a new home for its payroll system. But it's also an object lesson in software end-of-life issues—that lesson being, "when a vendor has you over a barrel, it doesn't have to play nice."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...

Amazon’s Football Foul-Up Wasn’t In Sending Congrats Hours Early, But Days Late

January 9th, 2013
By now, almost everyone in retail knows about Amazon's glitch that sent congratulatory victory E-mails to fans of both Alabama and Notre Dame—half a day before they played in the NCAA championship game on Monday night (Jan. 7). The obvious question: Why weren't safeguards in place to prevent this from happening?

Amazon isn't saying, but chances are good that such safeguards were in place—and that's why the victory E-mails went out hours before the game even started.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...

Sears Black Friday Confirmation Snafu: Just Check Inventory, OK?

December 6th, 2012

Didn’t we learn this lesson last year with Best Buy? On Black Friday morning, a Houston-area couple got up at 2:00 AM to order thousands of dollars’ worth of appliances from Sears. They got their order confirmation E-mail, went back to bed—and woke up to find another E-mail telling them their order had been canceled. Then the appliances were delivered, but charged at the regular prices thousands of dollars higher. It took a local TV station’s cage-rattling to get Sears to honor the Black Friday prices.

Sears’ explanation—the system sent confirmations before checking inventory but sent the cancellation E-mail almost immediately—misses the point. It’s 2012, not the dawn of E-Commerce. Inventory is online. Customers don’t need to be reminded that they just placed an order, only notified that their order will be honored. There’s no reason for two E-mails, nor is there any excuse for confirming an order by E-mail before checking inventory. That will take an extra 30 seconds? Five minutes? It’s E-mail. Nobody expects sub-second response times, not even customers. They do expect a “confirmation E-mail” to confirm they’ve made a purchase—and it’s long past time for retailers to get that message.…

Microsoft Pop-Up Stores: Apple (And Walmart) Shouldn’t Sweat

December 5th, 2012
Microsoft has retail dreams to rival Apple's chain of stores, but we're pretty sure this isn't going to help: A blogger on November 29 reported buying a Surface tablet at a Microsoft pop-up store in a New York City mall and then watching the PC-based POS system crash twice, requiring two separate reboots to complete the transaction.

This would be a little less embarrassing for Microsoft if not for the fact that the repeatedly crashing operating system was either Windows or Microsoft's own customized version that it sells as a POS system. This is not the way you demonstrate your retail expertise—or compete with Apple.Read more...

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...

Macy’s Hiding Black Friday In-Store GPS Test In Plain Sight

November 14th, 2012
When word broke on November 8 that Macy's is testing in-store navigation technology in its Herald Square flagship store, the chain was surprisingly silent. A week later, Macy's is still saying nothing about the "indoor GPS" system, even though it has been in the chain's iPhone app since late October. Meanwhile, Macy's is promoting a Black Friday product-finding system the chain is doing with eBay.

Part of the reason for Macy's silence on in-store navigation could be that it's only in the flagship store. A more likely reason: There's only one safe way to roll out untried technology on Black Friday, and that's very, very quietly.Read more...

Amazon Prime Price Test May Be Testing A Lot More Than You Thought

November 7th, 2012
Amazon's decision to begin testing a $7.99 monthly price for Amazon Prime is at least as interesting for how Amazon is doing the test as it is for the test itself. The new price was spotted by a blogger on Monday (Nov. 5) without any announcement from Amazon, which will only confirm that it is testing a monthly price. But Amazon has made the pricing option tricky for customers to find if, it's offered at all. Click one Amazon Prime link, and you may be offered $7.99 a month; click a different link, and the price is $79 a year.

Which raises an interesting question: What exactly is Amazon testing here?Read more...

Google Joins The Same-Day Delivery Crowd, But It’s Still Not Fast Enough

October 31st, 2012
Now Google is testing same-day delivery, too. That isn't likely to have Amazon, ebay, Walmart or any other quick-delivery wannabes quaking in their boots, because Google's trial looks pretty much like all the rest. But there's a question overshadowing all these efforts: How quickly do either E-tailers or brick-and-mortar chains have to do those deliveries?

For those few critical days before Christmas, any same-day delivery for last-minute orders could be a high-margin bonanza for retailers. But for the rest of the year, the customers already know what they expect when they order something for quick delivery. And the benchmark to beat isn't Amazon. It's Domino's.Read more...

Kroger’s Geolocation Glitch: That Local Store Really Isn’t Very Local

October 31st, 2012

At the Web site for $85 billion grocer Kroger, the site makes its best guess for the customer’s location. But this week it identified a New Jersey customer as being in Missouri and located an Oregon visitor in Texas—off by more than 1,000 miles each time.

Was that a storm-related glitch? We’re still waiting for an answer from Kroger, and we know that location feature has worked fine for at least some shoppers in the past. But considering how critical geolocation is in merged-channel retail (where’s the closest store? What’s on sale right now?) and the fact that IP addresses can often be tied to other CRM data, this may be a good reminder of how tricky outsourcing location services can get. Even if your datacenter is safely out of harm’s way, an outside location provider can still be inside a disaster zone and may need its own third-party help—and end up scattering your E-Commerce credibility all over the map. So many other things can impact location accuracy: A VPN can throw it off, and an ISP’s own disaster plans can alter where others think your customers are. Then again, it’s not especially onerous for customers to fix their location, as long as the site makes that at an easy fix.…

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. …

Isis Wants Users In The Worst Way Possible, And That’s How It’s Going After Them

October 24th, 2012
Isis has finally launched its mobile payments trials in Salt Lake City and Austin—and done it in a way that guarantees the fewest possible customers will use the new service. On Monday (Oct. 22), the mobile operators' consortium announced that all customers need to do is go to their Verizon, AT&T or T-Mobile store, where their phone will be opened up, the SIM replaced and the operating system upgraded (hope you don't lose any data that was on there). What could possibly discourage customers more?

How about the fact that those mobile stores will also be pushing customers to buy a new phone as long as they're already in the store? And yes, we're sure that will make retail chains feel warm and fuzzy about Isis, too.Read more...

This Year, DDoS Attacks Are Shorter, Hit Harder And Aim At Things Like Shopping Carts

October 18th, 2012
With the big holiday distributed denial-of-service season coming up quickly for retailers' E-Commerce sites ("Merry SYN flood to all!"), here's a little bit of cheery news: Brute-force DDoS attacks are getting shorter in duration than in years past—even though the actual blast during a brute-force DDoS can get as high as 65 Gbps. And although last year attackers were starting to target routers instead of Web servers, this year they're aiming lower—and much more often going after things like the lowly shopping cart.

Unfortunately, with those so-called "low and slow" attacks—which require a lot less firepower from attackers but can still crash your site—brute-force DDoS defenses won't work. Your E-Commerce and network security teams may need to take a lesson from associates and loss prevention in thinking about online defense.Read more...

Want Out Of Interchange? It May Be A Question Of Loyalty Vs. Fear

October 17th, 2012
Can anything actually reduce interchange? With the interchange settlement inching toward approval in New York federal court, and announcements expected next week from Google Wallet, Isis and maybe Apple, it's easy to forget the underlying reality: Visa and MasterCard have their interchange stranglehold on retailers because interchange is the payment-card business model. Cutting interchange requires weaning customers off the card brands, and that means coming up with a widely used alternative to Visa and MasterCard. It's as simple—and impossibly difficult—as that.

And it can't be created the same way Visa and MasterCard were, because that's now illegal. If the MCX retailers' alliance wants to beat the card brands, that's going to require some seriously new thinking—and it should probably start with loyalty.Read more...

Urban Outfitters Dumps Cash Registers, Doubles Up On Datacenters

October 3rd, 2012
Urban Outfitters is dumping its cash registers. The 456-store chain—which includes Anthropologie, Free People, Terrain and BHLDN stores—is retiring dedicated registers, replacing them with iPod Touches for in-aisle checkout and iPads for cashwraps, the chain's IT head told analysts on September 27.

The shift is part of an IT revamp that includes a merged inventory system, ship-from-any-store capability and improved turnaround on returns—in addition to a new West Coast datacenter that effectively works as a disaster recovery hot site for the company's existing East Coast IT operations.Read more...

Walmart China: Always The Low Price Last Week

September 26th, 2012

This is just not Walmart’s week for price management. On Tuesday (Sept. 25), a Walmart store in China was slapped with almost $16,000 in fines for a “discount hoax,” according to China Daily. In May, the Walmart in Wuhan changed its price for a bottle of liquid soap from 47.6 to 48.8 yuan (a 19-cent increase), but called it a discount price. Not so, according to the local government price watchdog: “When the promotion price is higher than the traceable lowest price of the period of seven days before the campaign, it is a price fraud,” said Zhang Jianmin, vice head of the Hubei Provincial Bureau of

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It may be true that what the Chinese call a hoax, everyone else calls marketing. But with 370 stores in China, Walmart should know how this game is

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played. And with its fanatical tracking of its own and …

Do Walmart, Macy’s And Target Even Know Tablets Exist?

September 26th, 2012
After two years and 125 million iPads and other tablet computers shipped, most large chains' mobile Web sites still don't seem to know that tablets exist. They still serve up an M-Commerce site designed for a tiny smartphone screen, which looks somewhere between mediocre and terrible on a tablet screen that's seven inches or larger. That means just a few years after chains finally figured out the importance of customizing M-Commerce sites for phones, there's a new advantage to be gained by spotting which mobile devices don't have tiny screens and giving them their own customized tablet sites or the full-size Web site.

Among the largest retailers, only the Amazon, Home Depot, McDonald's, Kohl's, Apple, JCPenney, Gap and Overstock Web sites showed up in a tablet or full-screen version. showed up on a seven-inch tablet with slightly more content added to what was still clearly a site designed for a phone screen. But Walmart, Target, Walgreen, CVS, Lowe's, Best Buy, Sears, Macy's, Rite Aid, TJ Maxx, Nordstrom and even eBay served up exactly the same screen for a tablet as for a phone with a screen a small fraction of the size. On the phone, those compact, minimalist sites help usability. On even a small tablet, the result is vast expanses of blank space that all but drives away customers.Read more...


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