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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...


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Stolen POS Tablets? Apple Can Track Them

August 22nd, 2012
Tablets, especially those used as in-store mobile POS, are nightmarishly easy to steal. But in the wake of the burglary last month of Steve Jobs' home, we now know just how effectively Apple investigators can track a stolen iPad. You want fast? Apple fingered the thief only one day after police called the vendor. It's even faster if the thief wipes the tablet, which thieves tend to do.

Given that a thief can easily walk off with a device that costs hundreds of dollars to replace and is easy to sell, this could change the loss-prevention equation when it comes to tablets. The biggest challenges now may be making sure the POS app is locked down—and convincing police to call Apple. Exactly how easily and extensively can Apple track? Details shared with police are telling.Read more...


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IKEA Kills Self-Checkout In The U.S. For An Unusual Reason: It Was Too Secure And, Therefore, Too Slow

August 15th, 2012
The IKEA Group's U.S. operations have become the latest chain opting to rip out self-checkout POS, concluding that the systems simply required too much oversight and staff time. But in this case the decision is more nuanced, as the chain is keeping self-checkout at its European and Canadian stores, among others.

A key reason? The U.S. stores' systems were more secure and more sophisticated, which also slowed down operations more. The irony: Had the U.S. self-checkout systems been less secure, they might still be there.Read more...


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What Does Time Spent Mean For A Mobile App? Not What You Might Think

August 8th, 2012
A very interesting mini-report from Nielsen came out on Wednesday (Aug. 8), one that ranked the top mobile shopping apps used in June. But when it also listed those with the highest time spent, it glaringly failed to say why. And that "why" makes all of the difference.

In that category, Shopkick blew everyone away with an average of 3 hours, 19 minutes and 11 seconds. So why did Shopkick blow everyone else away, average time spent wise? It has to do with the nature of that app, not that its users were so enraptured by the content.Read more...


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Are PIN Pads Insecure By Design?

August 1st, 2012
Now that Verifone, at last week's Black Hat security conference, has confirmed one of its popular U.K. PIN pads was hacked, is it time to rethink how POS devices can be maintained, managed and upgraded? It's very convenient to do so over a network or using special maintenance cards. But we may be at the point where that's simply not secure.

To be clear, Verifone only acknowledged that one of three hacked PIN pads came from it. In addition, the secure electronic payment technologies vendor said it's already testing a fix. Great—that means other PIN pad vendors have similar security issues. We just don't know which ones.Read more...


Walmart Confirms Chain-Wide Self-Checkout Glitch

August 1st, 2012
When a picture of a Walmart self-checkout screen showing the wrong total for a purchase made its way around the Web this week, many assumed it had been altered or perhaps the screen had been captured the instant before an update. But Walmart has now confirmed that a software update impacted almost all the chain's self-checkout units for about two weeks, causing incorrect and confusing displays. The receipts and the amounts charged, however, were reportedly correct.

Sometime in mid-July, the machines were given a "routine update" via a blast from a Walmart server, said Walmart spokesperson Ashley Hardie.Read more...


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...


Walgreens First To Map Every Store In A Mobile App. Now If Customers Just Knew About It

July 19th, 2012
Walgreens on Tuesday (July 17) announced that it has become the first national retailer to map all of its stores in a mobile app. That would certainly be good, were it not for the fact that it's unlikely many of Walgreens' customers will ever know about this.

That means no signage telling customers about it, no references on the retailer's Web site (and certainly not its homepage), no marketing, no reference in E-mails to customers and no associate training so that at least they can tell customers. The mobile map app itself doesn't even have Walgreens' name, so if a customer using either an Apple or an Android smartphone went searching for Walgreens, he or she wouldn't find it. The only way to download the Walgreens map app is for a shopper to happen to know to search for the vendor's name.Read more...


PIN Pad Pong: Is Verifone Playing Games With German POS Security?

July 18th, 2012
The most popular PIN pad in Germany may have a major security hole—at least that's what a German security lab says. Verifone insists it can't reproduce the problem. In response, the researchers on July 12 went public with a demonstration on German TV in which a PIN pad was hacked to turn it into a Pong game. Yes, it looks like this started by being about security, and then about money—now, it's personal.

The problem with this needle match is that what sticks in the minds of consumers is a PIN pad playing Pong—and with that image, who can take payment security seriously?Read more...


Amazon Same-Day Delivery? Stores Not The Target

July 18th, 2012
This week saw a wide range of media reports stating that Amazon, thanks to its recent state tax deals, may offer shoppers same-day delivery and that this, as one Slate headline said, "will destroy local retail." Just a few problems: First, the tax deals are years in the making and have little to do with this. Second, no, Amazon offering same-day delivery won't mean the end for almost any retailers. How do we know? That's the third point: Amazon has already been delivering products same day—for more than three years.

There are a lot of interesting twists involved in this same-day delivery strategy—including some unusual ways one Amazon insider said the master site could deploy it—but there's a bizarre trend here.Read more...


Amazon’s Latest Pricing Glitch: What Will It Take For Third-Party Controls To Be Put In Place?

July 18th, 2012
On Tuesday (July 17), a wide range of third-party products on Amazon showed special pricing: one cent. The pricing glitch was, yet again, caused by some third-party integration and a coding error. How many third-party hiccups will Amazon—not to mention every other major E-Commerce site—suffer prior to putting in place serious checks before partners can do some serious damage to Amazon fundamentals?

A lot of Amazon sellers will have a lot of cleanup to do, but there's a bigger issue here. Customers who go to Amazon had their orders canceled and, third party or not, that's going to undermine their faith in Amazon. Buying from a third party on Amazon's site is supposed to be the best of both worlds: a chance to give business to small players while enjoying the security and reliability of the Amazon environment.Read more...


If Apple Can’t Stop One Fraudster, Can It Ever Challenge Visa?

July 18th, 2012
Apple's status as the Great Fruit Hope for alternative payments took a hit this week, after it failed to stop a Russian hacker who broke the iPhone's security for many in-app purchases. It's roughly the equivalent of customers somehow tweaking their payment cards, and then swiping them at an in-store PIN pad, which tells the POS the transaction has gone through—except the card is never charged.

Apple's billion-dollar third-party payments business takes a larger than Visa cut, sets less flexible than Visa operating rules, and then offers less help than Visa in securing transactions. And this is the company that's supposed to rescue retail from Visa's interchange rates?Read more...


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...


Is JCPenney Dumping The Datacenter?

July 12th, 2012
JCPenney's IT layoffs announced on Tuesday (July 10) aren't just the next shoe dropping after the 1,100-store chain's COO publicly shredded its IT operations in May. The job cuts—which now represent more than one out of every four headquarters IT staff, according to JCPenney sources—also signal that the retailer is preparing to dump a huge part of its current IT operations without necessarily having anything ready to replace it with.

The purge also sets the stage for the chain's "new technology platform" that CEO Ron Johnson said will be announced in August. From all indications, the focus will be on mobile and in-store, not the datacenter.Read more...


Google Burned By Partners To The Tune Of $22.5 Million

July 11th, 2012
Hidden in Google's $22.5 million deal with the FTC to settle a Web-privacy failure involving Apple users is a reminder to online retailers about just how messy the E-Commerce game is: Lots of players are involved in every transaction, and any one of them can change the rules at any time.

Sure, this is chump change to Google, customers don't care much about privacy and you're not Google. But the same dynamic could leave any E-Commerce site with holes in security or PCI compliance, especially because your carefully vetted procedures can get sidestepped as soon as an emergency fix is required—and any glitch qualifies as an emergency.Read more...


iPad As Kiosk? That’s Not As Elegant An Idea As It Sounds

July 11th, 2012

Maybe Apple can’t dominate every in-store device niche after all. A blog discussion at KioskMarketplace this week has kiosk developers debating whether the iPad’s lack of wireless-only connections, relative screen fragility and regular need to be reset makes it a poor choice for kiosk conversion. (The original July 2 post is headlined “iPad kiosks: The cheap, unreliable kiosk solution.”)

As commenters to the post point out, there are workarounds to some of the technical problems (though not to the persistent problem of Apple’s lack of enterprise support). But with a burgeoning crowd of iPad-to-kiosk vendors and given the fact that lots of chains are looking hard at such as approach, it’s worth asking how much of the vaunted Apple experience customers will get from an iPad buried in a kiosk. Customers won’t get to handle it or switch between apps—from their point of view, it’s just another touchscreen running a single kiosk application. Which may make iPad conversions just not worth the trouble for retail chains. But who knows? Maybe Apple has finally found a retail use for the Macintosh: as an oversized iPad emulator.…


Will Cloud Complexity Be The Death Of Us All?

July 11th, 2012

As retailers are embracing cloud computing more, they are rapidly discovering there’s plenty of bad to go with the good. And the complexities and unanticipated gotchas are making the cloud experience decidedly less than thrilling. Four recent incidents beautifully illustrate those gotchas.

The cloud is still a wonderful experience. But its nirvana-like reputation is now coming down to Earth a bit, we argue in our July column for Retail Week. The column resides here at Retail Week, but those who have yet to subscribe to the U.K.’s largest retail publication (for shame!), we have a copy here, too.…


For The First Time, FTC Hits Hard Against Chain Breached Three Times

June 28th, 2012
For almost as many years as it has existed, the Federal Trade Commission has complained about being toothless when it comes to punishing retailers and other businesses. But the FTC on Tuesday (June 26) said it has found its breaking point, when one hotel chain was breached three times—all leveraging the same unpatched security holes, more than a year apart—to the tune of some 619,000 payment cards. This time—for the first time—the agency is going to trial.

The chain, Wyndham Hotels, is also accused of other supremely naughty security procedures, including storing full payment-card data in clear text, not having proper network segmentation and deploying classically bad password policies. "For example, to allow remote access to a hotel’s property management system, which was developed by software developer Micros Systems Inc., Defendants used 'micros' as both the user ID and the password," said the FTC's federal filing.Read more...


Microsoft Wallet: Retailers, Do It Yourself

June 27th, 2012
The mobile wallet that Microsoft unveiled on June 20 turns out to be a radically unbundled approach, at least compared to Google Wallet and ISIS. The wallet app itself just collects individual issuing-bank and loyalty-card apps, while Microsoft is handing off responsibility for securing payment-card numbers to mobile carriers. It looks like Microsoft isn't even touching transactions—which is good and bad news for retailers.

The good news: no Google-style POS changes required, at least not to meet Microsoft specs. The bad news: no help from Microsoft, either. Unless you build your own in-store shopping app, the Microsoft Wallet will basically do contactless card emulation—and not much more.Read more...


New Square CRM Features To Create Loyalty, But Mainly To Square

June 21st, 2012
When Square on Tuesday (June 19) added CRM features to its mobile payment system, it certainly provided a way to add more loyalty. But the system setup seems designed to guarantee the loyalty of retailers to Square just as much as it does the loyalty of retailers' customers to those retailers.

On the surface, the additions are innocuous, with new punch-card-like functionality integrated into the system. The effect of this, though, is for retailers to even more completely turn over crucial information to Square, which can use it for whatever purposes Square wants. If Square later wants to market to a retailer's customers directly—on behalf of itself or even possibly a rival—it theoretically can.Read more...


Smaller Is Faster? For E-Commerce, Don’t Count On It

June 21st, 2012
The simple rules for speeding up E-Commerce Web sites are toast. That's the clear conclusion to draw from a new Pingdom study, released on Tuesday (June 19), comparing performance of the top 100 E-Commerce sites—including dozens of big retail-chain sites. Some fat sites are fast anyway. Some lightweight sites are surprisingly slow. And what's really killing performance seems to be metrics.

The good news: Virtually all the large retailers got their response times down under the fabled three-second mark. The bad news: There's no longer a clear correlation between speed and site size and the number of files requested, the variables that Pingdom tracked in this study.Read more...


Pennsylvania Making Cloud Use Taxable, Maybe, Sometimes, Depending On Where The Server Is

June 21st, 2012
Just when you thought cloud computing couldn't get any more complicated and fraught with hidden gotchas, the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue has jumped in to sprinkle taxation magic on your cloud business cases. What the Keystone State did—and other states are likely to follow—doesn't make cloud any less profitable, but the specifics of the cloud deployment could now impact tax costs.

In a letter the state ruled that cloud operations are fully taxable, assuming the end user is in Pennsylvania. "The ruling represents a marked departure from the department's earlier treatment of cloud computing. Prior department guidance advised that access to software solely through the Internet was not a taxable transaction, as long as the server did not reside in Pennsylvania."Read more...


Will Charging IE7 Shoppers More Finally Kill This Dead Browser?

June 20th, 2012
Given a choice, most developers would rather avoid writing apps or a site for versions of Internet Explorer—especially older versions—mostly because of IE's tendency to go its own way. The same code that would be fine for Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Opera often requires major changes for IE.

But what choice does a retailer have? Even though it's a hassle, a chain can't simply opt to not support the leading browser, can it? Maybe not, but one Australian E-tailer has opted to fight back against one version of Internet Explorer: It's now charging customers a 6.8 percent IE7 tax.Read more...


Is U.K. E-Commerce Talent Shortage Because Chains Are Looking For The Wrong People?

June 20th, 2012
Just like the rest of the world, U.K. retailers suffer from a lack of technical talent, especially in E-Commerce. But Martin Newman, a columnist for Retail Week, the new U.K. content partner for StorefrontBacktalk, argues that the problem there is not because of a talent shortage as much as retailers seeking the wrong kind of talent.

"Too many (U.K.) retailers still don't fully understand what skills are required to run the online channel," Newman wrote. "There tends to be too much emphasis on technical skills and not enough on core retailing requirements such as good old-fashioned day-to-day trading." Some good thoughts there for retailers on any continent.Read more...


Cloud Vendor Hypocrites: Contracts May Not Help

June 20th, 2012
Cloud providers want customers and are willing to promise just about anything to get them, including the type of security envisioned in the guidelines of the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA). But most cloud providers are unwilling to enter into contracts binding them to actually meet the CSA guidelines, even when that cloud provider has issued enthusiastic endorsements of the CSA wording, pens Legal Columnist Mark Rasch.

One reader who is now working with a major hosting company on a cloud contract specifically had this experience. He asked the vendor to accept contract wording identical to statements that hosting firm had publicly applauded. The vendor refused, saying "the CSA is a marketing and collateral document. It was not created to be a contractually binding document."Read more...


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