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Supply Chain


Will Warranty Enforcement Be Amazon Marketplace’s Achilles’ Heel?

August 13th, 2013
When it comes to competing against Amazon, eBay or even Japan's Rakuten, one of the more challenging aspects is their third-party marketplaces, which give each a seemingly endless inventory at minimal risk. But the odds may be getting more even, as shoppers are starting to notice that some manufacturers are strictly enforcing their authorized reseller rules.

The immediate impact on shoppers is they may find that the expensive flat-screen TV, surround-sound speakers or refrigerator that looked like such a bargain on Amazon voids the warranty. The arguably-unrealistic expectation from consumer goods manufacturers—which sharply strengthens the hands of traditional e-tailers trying to fight against these third-party marketplaces—is that shoppers would not only notice the actual name of the merchant shipping the item, but would take the time to run that name on the manufacturer's site to see if they are truly an authorized reseller. Or they could just make the purchase from Target.com or Bestbuy.com and know for certain.Read more...


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How To Deal With Merged Channel Inventory?

August 7th, 2013
As merged channels (also known as omnichannel) become the default for an increasing number of retailers, the challenge of efficiently handling the supply chain and managing inventory becomes exponentially more complex. The goal in a merged environment is channel agnosticism, in that the chain’s management shouldn’t care whether a customer starts a transaction in mobile and completes it in-store or starts it with the call center and tenders the transaction online or if the research, purchase, payment and pickup are each handled with a different channel.

Store management should care as much about whether a transaction started in mobile or in-store as for whether an in-store entered the store through the South entrance or the West entrance. True merged channel thinking would say, "What do I care how they came into my store as long as they came in?"Read more...


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Books-A-Million Will Test A Giant In-Store Book-Making Machine

July 22nd, 2013
After years of trying to convince major bookstore chains that printing single copies of books onsite is viable, one print-on-demand vendor has finally gotten a nibble. The 253-store Books-A-Million (NASDAQ:BAMM) chain has said that it will put a print-on-demand kiosk in its store in Portland, Me., and another one in a store to be named later.

Books-A-Million doesn't appear to be trying to reduce its need to stock inventory with the machine. Instead, it's going after sales of books it wouldn't normally stock anyway. The idea is that instead of sending customers away to order an out-of-print book from Amazon (or theoretically have the store order it and wait a week, but how likely is that?), the kiosk will be able to download and print the book in a matter of minutes. The reality is likely to be a little more complicated.Read more...


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Extremely Sad News

June 26th, 2013
It pains us greatly to have to report to you that our PCI Columnist, Walt Conway, passed away on Tuesday (June 26) after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Professionally, Walt had that rare ability to take complex compliance issues and make them approachable. He was a huge fan of the PCI process, which meant that he felt the obligation to point out its flaws or its inconsistencies.

Personally, I've never met someone who was as personable, intelligent and just plain nice as Walt. He will be missed far more than any words can convey.Read more...


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Amazon’s Supply Chain Kicking The SKUs Out Of Walmart’s

June 19th, 2013
After some 19 years of struggling with E-Commerce, Walmart is once again learning that managing a merged channel retail strategy is almost never going to beat a well-run pure-play e-tailer like Amazon when it comes to online sales. Was reminded of this point courtesy of a wonderful stat in a Wall Street Journal story that ran Wednesday (June 19), which compared Amazon and Walmart's supply chain costs: "Wal-Mart's online shipping can cost $5 to $7 per parcel, while Amazon averages $3 to $4 per parcel, analysts say—a big difference considering some of Wal-Mart's popular purchases are low-cost items like $10 packs of underwear."

There are many factors behind those numbers, but it really comes down to the fact that Walmart's massive global supply chain needs to support more than 4,000 physical stores—a feat that Amazon need not worry about. Given that huge physical burden, Walmart's costs are quite impressive. But no one ever said that fighting against a pure play was particularly fair. Like all major chains, Walmart initially had two choices. Run the chain as one big happy merged channel family or separate and run online and offline as separate companies. Neither approach is perfect.Read more...


Target Quietly Running Four Fulfillment Trials, But The Reason Why Is Far More Interesting

June 5th, 2013
Target CFO John Mulligan has confirmed that Target is in the middle of not one but four different fulfillment pilots, including acting as a guinea pig for the same-day-delivery trials of both Google and EBay. The other Target trials involve pay-online-pickup-in-store, pay-in-store-pickup-at-another-store and pay-online-ship-from-store.

The interesting background to these trials is that Target—as its name implies—has always been precisely focused. These trials, as the CFO pointed out, are the chain admitting that many fundamental shopper assumptions may no longer be valid. "We spent 50 years honing, moving products one direction to our supply chain and ultimately to the back door of the store. Then through the front door and trying to do that as quickly as possible. Now we're moving product different directions depending on what our guest wants and for us, we need to learn how to operationalize that," Mulligan said.Read more...


What You’re Missing: Urban Outfitters Charging More Online, Does Sears Want To Go Members-Only?

May 29th, 2013

Your friends here at StorefrontBacktalk editorial also now publish a daily retail site, called FierceRetail, and wanted to give you a sense of what you’re missing by not visiting or grabbing its free newsletter. Urban Outfitters discovers that it can get away with charging more online than in-store. See? Sometimes conventional wisdom is conventionally wrong.

A look into how federal judges are likely to force changes in how price anchors are set in-store plus some questions about whether Sears is thinking about becoming members-only. Was Best Buy’s Facebook promo a victim of its own great deal—and some we-should-have-seen-this-coming rip-off artists? We also threw in our take on Walmart’s $82 million hazardous waste settlement, where Walmart spoke of mouthwash and hairspray and the feds said they were pesticides. (You say tomato, I say Molotov cocktail…) All of that—and dozens more stories—and that was just this week. And Monday was a holiday! Drop by and check it out. It’s free and the snacks all have zero calories. (That may be because they don’t exist.)…


Amazon’s Five-Mile Threat

May 1st, 2013
Amazon will open eight new U.S. distribution centers between now and the holiday selling season, bringing the total to 54—with almost as many DCs outside the U.S., according to the CEO of e-commerce service provider ChannelAdvisor. The result of the ferocious building spree is that Amazon will then have a DC within five miles of most major U.S. cities. Put another—and more frightening—way: That means Amazon will very likely have a DC closer to your customers than many of your stores.

That dramatically cuts Amazon's delivery costs, and it's the most obvious explanation of why Amazon flipped its position on online sales taxes in 2011, from the leading opponent to a major supporter: All those warehouses give Amazon a big advantage over its e-commerce rivals, and it doesn't want those rivals to have a sales-tax advantage in return.Read more...


Gap’s Take On Typical Buy-Online-Pickup-In-Store Programs: Too Efficient

April 24th, 2013
When Gap looked at buy-online-pickup-in-store programs, the president of Gap digital saw the programs that others chains have as very efficient. Indeed, far too efficient. It allowed the shopper to come in, get their merchandise and leave far too quickly. The chain on June 10 will launch its answer to this feature, something called reserve-in-store, and it is designed to get the shopper into the store and to keep them there for as long as practical.

The most concrete difference between the two approaches is that Gap will force shoppers to pay for their goods in-store. After it's reserved online, the customer has until the end of the next business day to show up, pay and pick it up. That's good for getting shoppers deeper into the store, but not so good for guaranteeing the sale.Read more...


Why One Chain Is Insisting That Same-Day Delivery Orders Can Be Placed Only On The Phone

April 9th, 2013
When 53-store regional chain Sports Chalet decided to join many of its big-chain counterparts in offering same-day delivery, it decided to base both its pricing and its promised delivery time on location and, logically enough, on the availability of the product being sought. The chain also considers same-day orders to be very personal, which is one reason same-day isn't available online. A customer must talk with someone on the phone to receive the service.

Beyond personalization, there is a very practical reason to insist that companies get on the phone for these deliveries: to force shoppers to listen. On the Web, it's very easy to post all kinds of restrictions ("Must call by 1 p.m." or "We're not responsible for traffic jams or road closures") that shoppers won't read and they certainly won't internalize.Read more...


Care About Issues Beyond IT?

April 6th, 2013

One of the results of StorefrontBacktalk‘s being acquired back in December is that we are going to be expanding into coverage that goes beyond Retail IT into other areas of retail. The first example of this launched last week and is a daily newsletter and site called FierceRetail.

The site applies the same kind of perspective, analysis and bad jokes that StorefrontBacktalk has always delivered, but we can now explore issues way beyond IT. Consider our coverage of an unorthodox Apple patent, the reasoning behind the Sears Portrait shutdown, why Target’s Manatee mishap is a lot worse than it looked, Samsung’s real retail strategy, why Best Buy and Target’s Geek Squad alliance was doomed and stats showing Visa having all-but-cornered the debit market. It’s all free, of course. If you’d like to sign up, our latest thoughts will be in your Inbox early each morning.…


With Starbucks’ Grocery CRM Plan, It Had To Get Clever About Fraud

March 26th, 2013
When Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) announced Wednesday (March 20) it would spread its CRM program to grocery stores that sell its bagged coffee, it wasn't merely an industry first. It was Starbucks' attempt to track shopper activity beyond the limits of the chain's stores, site and mobile app—as if CRM deployments aren't already complex enough.

Given that its program would deliver expensive value in the form of free food and drink at its stores, the first priority of the rollout was to try and discourage fraud. And that involved some creative packaging and identification mechanisms. And a choice to exclude mobile from the launch.Read more...


NeimanMarcus.com’s Fake Faux-Fur Fiasco Draws A Real 20-Year Consent Agreement

March 20th, 2013
In what is probably a sign of the real-vs.-fake end times, Neiman Marcus agreed on Tuesday (March 19) to stop labeling real fur as "faux fur." According to a very real FTC complaint, between October 2009 and November 2012, the luxury chain's NeimanMarcus.com and BergdorfGoodman.com websites sold a Burberry jacket, a Stuart Weitzman shoe and an Alice + Olivia Kyah coat described on the sites as trimmed with faux fur, when actually the trimming was real fur.

Part of the reason Neiman Marcus got into trouble here is that it started selling the fake faux fur products less than six months after settling a previous FTC fake faux fur investigation. But the bigger problem may be the fact that physical stores have human beings who can catch some of these labeling problems before they become a federal case. Online stores don't.Read more...


Is Target Trying To Become Amazon For Cooks?

March 19th, 2013
Target (NYSE:TGT) is quietly getting into the E-Commerce infrastructure business. The $68 billion chain announced last Thursday (March 14) that it is buying online cookery sites CHEFS Catalog and Cooking.com, both of which sell kitchenware and utensils. But Cooking.com also provides the backend for several high-profile celebrity cooking websites -- and Target apparently intends to keep its hands off that business as long as it keeps growing.

Keep in mind that it's barely a year and a half since Target could barely keep its own newly built E-Commerce site running, after a decade of having its E-Commerce operations run by Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN). That's fresh in the minds of Target E-Commerce execs, so if there's any chain that can see an advantage to becoming a mini-Amazon for cooking websites, it's Target.Read more...


Macy’s Stops Reporting Online Stats, Blames Too Much Channel Blur

February 27th, 2013
Arguing that "the line between stores and the Internet is blurring so much," Macy's (NYSE:M) has become the first major publicly held retailer to stop reporting its E-Commerce stats. Setting aside the fact that Macy's would always see less disclosure—especially to rivals—as a nice thing, the move signals an important step for omni-channel/merged-channel retailing. The day when in-store, mobile and online are so intermixed that they can't be meaningfully broken out is the same day true merged-channel retailing has happened. For Macy's, that day happened on Tuesday (Feb. 26).

"Candidly, it's getting so hard to know what's a store sale and what's a mobile sale and what's Internet. It's getting harder to figure out the lines between them," Macy's CFO Karen Hoguet told analysts on Tuesday. When asked for some E-Commerce projections, she said: "I really can't give you that number. I mean, I don't know it. But clearly, the growth is continuing very aggressively. But sometimes, it's being bought on a mobile device sitting in a store. So I'm not sure how to define that."Read more...


Germany Wants Amazon To Loosen Its Third-Party Seller Restrictions

February 25th, 2013
German anti-trust officials are investigating the non-price-compete contract clauses at Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), which require third-party sellers to not sell anywhere else for less. If the agency finds against Amazon—the Associated Press quoted the agency head as saying there was "considerable" evidence that Amazon is indeed breaching cartel rules—and if the ruling spurs other agencies in other countries (including the U.S.) to act, then this has the potential to be very disruptive to Amazon. Those third-party sellers are crucial to Amazon's seemingly infinite inventory, and the ability to offer the lowest price is critical to Amazon's strategy.

"Amazon's price parity clause, under which sellers are deprived of their freedom to sell a product offered through Amazon cheaper on another Internet sales channel, could violate the general ban on cartels," said Andreas Mundt, the head of Germany's federal antitrust office (the Bundeskartellamt), on February 20.Read more...


British Department Store Allowing Online Shoe Returns At Gas Stations

February 25th, 2013

John Lewis, the huge British department store

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chain, is taking an interesting twist on E-Commerce returns. The idea of having free unlimited returns for online-purchased clothing and shoes (especially shoes) is well known, but the chain is trying to make it more hassle-free by allowing those free E-Commerce returns at more than 5,000 convenience stores, gas stations (OK, petrol stations) and newsstands. Returning too tight sneakers when you fill up for gas on the way to work?

The initial deal is limited to online purchases (no trying to return stuff purchased from a physical John Lewis store) and is further restricted to clothing, shoes and “fashion accessories.” (Wonder if the argument that an iPad Mini or a coffee machine is a fashion accessory would fly?) The John Lewis free shipping deal comes through a partnership with CollectPlus, a large U.K. parcel service. Completely non-coincidentally, the incoming E-Commerce chief for John Lewis—Mark Lewis—is the former head of CollectPlus. Regardless of where the idea came from, having a relatively quick and painless way to return those “looked good on screen but are in reality stunningly ugly patent leather pumps” is a good one. Anything that makes shoppers more comfortable with buying a lot of clothes on the chance that they’ll keep some …


JCPenney’s RFID Reversal Guts In-Aisle Checkout

January 30th, 2013
When JCPenney very publicly and very aggressively embraced a chain-wide, all-product item-level RFID strategy—with the promise of a full rollout by February 1 (2013)—executives cited supply-chain savings as a key driver. The chain has now reversed course, killing much of the RFID program to save money. When a chain is under this much financial pressure, a little savings today is a lot more valuable than a lot of savings down the road.

But of much greater significance is the digital domino effect. In this case, JCPenney was building its in-aisle checkout on the premise that it had item-level RFID fully in place. And if remodeled stores have dramatically scaled back the number of cashwraps (because customers would be doing in-aisle checkout), does that mean all those customers will have to line up for the limited number of cashwraps? That's not going to be pretty—presuming JCPenney can actually get enough returning customers to make it a problem.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...


What Happens When A Merged-Channel Supply Chain Undermines Itself

January 16th, 2013

Retailers have discovered that, although the benefits of a truly merged-channel supply chain are vast, the pain-points are potentially even more vast—at least in the beginning. Michelle Tinsley, the director of transactional retail at Intel, said chains can find it difficult to strike the right balance. “The customer views that brick-and-mortar location as today’s face of that retailer, so they need to uphold that brand image and take the (online) returns,” Tinsley said. “But in this merged world, (the chain needs to) allow any location in that nationwide retailer to see those shoes now back into inventory and to then sell them very quickly and ship it from that location. So even though it was

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returned to a brick-and-mortar store, let it be seen in those warehousing systems so that the next order that comes in over the Internet or from a store in Cincinnati gets placed from that store in, say, California.”

In Part Two of this week’s StorefrontBacktalk Radio segment, Tinsley argues that this problem is one manifestation of the old way retailers look at problems. “I think you need to flip it. Instead of saying, ‘I’ve got the inventory in the wrong place,’ say, ‘Well, I’ve just got to open up the inventory to where the next demand signal is coming from.”


The Inventory Nightmare: When Shoes Show Up Where They’re Not Wanted

January 9th, 2013
Put this one under the "no good retail deed ever goes unpunished" category. When chains listen to their customers and create localized store inventory, and then they listen more and accept online returns to any store the shopper chooses, they run into inventory train wrecks. Those Gomez Addams train crash moments occur when a shopper returns something—let's say a pair of shoes—to a store that happens to not have that SKU in that store's localized inventory.

Problem #1: Shoes have an extremely short shelf life. At the end of that shelf life ("that shoe is sooo last month"), the shoe is typically priced at a steep discount. Problem #2: Stores can't sell one or two products. The display unit would represent half of all inventory. So, again, that orphaned product goes on steep discount. Problem #3: The store could ship that shoe to a store that does have that SKU in its inventory. But you then have the cost (hard out-of-pocket shipping costs as well as labor to prep the product on both ends) and time (the multiple days involved in shipping) delays, and you're still fighting against that extremely short shelf life.Read more...


British Retailers Subsidizing Same-Day Delivery More Than 40 Percent

January 9th, 2013
As retailers are still trying to work through their new-found infatuation with the idea of same-day deliveries, it's quickly becoming a love-hate relationship. Beyond Amazon's discovery that shoppers loved the concept of same-day but ended up not using it, it now seems that some U.K. retailers are willing to very heavily subsidize same-day delivery charges.

These chains apparently think shoppers would never pay full freight, so they're willing to pay the delivery service £10 and then only charge the shopper £6, according to the CEO of a prominent same-day retail delivery service in London, whose company is trying to move into the U.S. That calculation also assumes not that many shoppers will use the service. After all, there are only so many £4 haircuts a chain selling lower priced goods is willing to take.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...


Amazon: Same-Day Delivers More Conversions, Few Actual Users

January 3rd, 2013
With all the attention recently being paid to same-day deliveries by retailers including eBay, Walmart, Macy's, Nordstrom and tons of others, here's an interesting stat—and a delicious contradiction—from the largest and earliest same-day retail deliverer: Amazon. In tests with its Amazon Prime customers, the E-tailer found that the mere display of an icon touting same-day availability increased conversions by between 20 percent and 25 percent, which is stunning.

But even better, of those Amazon shoppers who saw that icon and then made the purchase, most of them ended up not using same-day delivery, opting instead for next-day. Given the way Amazon Prime is priced, same-day didn't typically cost any more than the $3.99 next-day pricing. So what is it about same-day that is so enticing that it drives 25 percent conversion boosts but is so unattractive that shoppers opt to not use it? Is this like those people who post burglar alarm system signs but don't use the actual service, because the sign delivers 90 percent of the benefit?Read more...


Study: 29 Percent Of Online SKUs Accidentally Leave Off Manufacturer Name

November 7th, 2012

In an October sampling of some 7,000 products shown on the 10 largest E-Commerce sites in North America and the U.K., 29 percent of the SKUs did not include the manufacturer’s name and some 8 percent offered up details that were simply wrong, according to a report released Wednesday (Nov. 7) at a Paris tradeshow. The fact that SKU GS1 data is imperfect is hardly a stunner, but the large number of defects was interesting. That missing manufacturer data, for example, could exclude products from a Kraft-specific search result. For the chain itself, it could interfere with analytics of which supplier’s products are moving well.

The study, performed by vendor Clavis Technology and GS1, looked at 500 brands and 7,000 packaged food/beverage products across 23,000 Web pages. One of the biggest numbers the report stressed was that 67 percent of products examined were missing information. But that could go either way. Were products dinged for not including marketing copy or other non-sales-essential datapoints? Another good figure: 14 percent did not include any ingredients. That could be a costly omission, if a product containing an allergen—a nut product would be the most obvious issue—was purchased and eaten after the shopper did a search excluding anything that had peanut in its ingredient list.…


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