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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. …


Finish Line’s Mobile Checkout: Practical Vs. Potential

September 26th, 2012
By November, the 654-store Finish Line sportswear chain will become the first major retailer to have mobile checkout in every one of its stores, just in time for the holidays. But while piloting the system in almost 50 stores, the $1.4 billion Indianapolis chain has had to wrestle with the practical versus the potential. For example, the associate-issued mobile units have full CRM access, so associates are able to review a customer's full purchase history to deliver the best experience. To avoid awkwardness, though, most associates don't access such history until after a sale is completed, when asking for a loyalty card seems natural.

"It undermines the strategy," said Finish Line CIO Terry Ledbetter. "But quite frankly, it was hard to imagine how resistant customers would be to telling you who they are. 'You don't need to know who I am,'" he said, adding that the chain is exploring using an opt-in feature on its mobile app that would broadcast to all associates when a customer walks in the store.Read more...


To Survive, Retailers Need To Kill The IT Budget And Burn The Boats

September 4th, 2012
If a retailer really wants to compete with Amazon and the changing realities of today's retail environment, it needs to kill the IT budget, disband the IT Steering Committee and throw away the IT project list, pens Retail Columnist Todd Michaud. It's time for IT to be moved out from under the CFO's reigns. It's time to let go of the past and start thinking about IT as a business enabler, unleashing its full potential to the organization.

It's time to stop trying to plan out IT needs for an entire year at budget time and let IT scale and shrink to meet changing business demands. Smart retail organizations will give the CIO the tools necessary to solve the problems at hand, rather than trying to make sure no one runs with scissors. Todd speaks for almost every CIO out there when he says that they want to be given the responsibility and accountability to fix things, without having the "we don't trust you" strings attached.Read more...


Even Cutting-Edge IT Couldn’t Save Burlington Coat Factory From $1.5 Million Penalty

August 1st, 2012
For decades, Burlington Coat Factory has been one of the most cutting-edge retail IT shops anywhere by being first—or close to first—in its deployments of Unix, Oracle, the Web, E-mail, TCP/IP, symmetrical multiprocessing and Linux, among many others. But even that type of IT pedigree couldn't help the discount clothier do what hundreds of associates could do manually. Last week, that cost the chain a $1.5 million penalty for selling recalled children's clothing.

The penalty, from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), was issued because the government said Burlington had deliberately and knowingly sold recalled children's clothing.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...

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...

Amazon Lockers: When Urban Dwellers Find Home Delivery Really Inconvenient

July 11th, 2012
Amazon has been expanding its network of Amazon Lockers—relatively secure holding areas for Amazon packages in the middle of stores—in the U.S. since last year. They were initially limited to New York, Seattle and Washington, D.C., and inside chains including Rite-Aid and 7-Eleven. The concept has been picking up considerable traction in the U.K., though And one key reason is that package delivery is more problematic there.

The home-delivery problem for E-Commerce is hardly only a British issue; it is an apartment and city issue. But the fact is that a huge percentage of the E-Commerce decision-makers in this country do not live in apartments or urban areas.Read more...

Put To The Test, U.K. Retailers Suffer Merged-Channel Hiccups

June 27th, 2012
Buy-online-pick-up-in-store—along with its opposite cousin—is arguably the most popular merged-channel element. But it's also the most complex, with the greatest number of potential points of failure. How likely is some type of failure? Our media partner, Retail Week, decided to find out, at least as far as the most important chains in the U.K. go.

Most fared well, with a few exceptions. Coast's "service was a failure, and defied the objective of convenient click-and-collect." For Marks & Spencer, "a faster turnaround would be welcome." Homebase shoppers find that "the tight deadline for pick-up and limited availability is a drawback." These lessons learned, among others, certainly apply to the U.S., and this report offers an opportunity to avoid the hiccups suffered by our European counterparts.Read more...

U.K. Grocer Turns Warehouse Management Dashboard Into A Video Game?

June 5th, 2012

Flashy customer-facing technology is fine, but it’s nice to see a retailer giving employees something shiny to look at, too. U.K. online grocer Ocado is now using what looks like a 3D animated video game to give managers a better view of highly automated warehouse operations. Managers can “fly through the warehouse and see what’s happening in bright video-game-like colors,” a Bloomberg report said.

A “first-person grocer” may sound silly, but consider a typical software dashboard—nothing but numbers and acronyms. Even if a problem flashes red, it still takes time for a manager to identify what the numbers mean. Ocado’s system uses analytics to flag any efficiency problems in the 295,000 square foot distribution center; the game graphics are then used to render views of the problem. Like Kroger with its self-checkout tunnel, Ocado built this system itself, because no vendor offered the type of software it needed for DC management. No word on whether Ocado, like Kroger, plans to market its homegrown system to other E-grocers. (Or maybe just polish it up and sell it to video gamers. If they’ll buy baseball and auto theft, there’s gotta be a market for warehouse operations.)…

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. …

Inspections Should Be A Standard For Any New CIO

May 30th, 2012
As an IT leader, Retail Columnist Todd Michaud's least favorite phrase from his business partners is, "Well, can't you just simply…" No matter how someone finishes that sentence, the answer is, "No." The implication being that this person in Operations, Marketing or Finance believes he or she knows a simple way to solve the problem at hand. But it is never that easy. If it was, it would have been done already.

One of the biggest reasons CIOs fail—and, as a result, have such a high turnover rate—is the ghosts of decisions past.Read more...

Sears Learns That Merged-Channel Is All About Visibility. And If Systems Are Flawed, You Don’t Want That Stuff Visible

May 30th, 2012
Sears has been going through a rough patch these days, but a recent detailed customer complaint about how a ship-to-store order was handled is illustrative for reasons that go far beyond this retailer. It's a powerful reminder that what makes merged-channel work is visibility through tech automation, provided that what is visible is actually correct.

As chains become more merged-channel and outright encourage customers to fly back and forth between mobile, in-store, online, call centers and Twitter interactions, the lack of visibility into real-time inventory is going to create headaches much worse than mere out-of-stocks.Read more...

IKEA’s Online Inventory Problem: It’s Here, But You Can’t Have It

May 16th, 2012
Right before the 2011 holiday season went into ultra-intense mode (in November), IKEA Canada made a key change to its mobile and E-Commerce product availability system. Like many warehouse operations, IKEA crams an awful lot of merchandise into its stores, with much of it dozens of feet in the air, accessible only via forklift.

Under the old system, the site would tell customers that an item was in-store when it was at that store, not differentiating between a product at a lower level and one at a higher level. The problem: Because IKEA safety procedures prohibit forklifts from being used when customers are in the store, customers would come in to purchase their reserved sofa or table, only to be told that it can't be accessed and that they must return some other day.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.…

32-Point Font Might Save Your IT Career

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

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

Supreme Court: Can A Retailer Resell Cheap Foreign Products For A Profit In The U.S.?

April 18th, 2012
Buy low, sell high. Pretty simple. But a case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court tests whether manufacturers can prevent retailers from buying their products for the lowest price simply by, for example, printing the labels for the products outside the United States.

Take the example of a bottle of L'anza brand shampoo, suggests Legal Columnist Mark Rasch. The manufacturer in California sells the shampoo for, say, $5 a bottle in the U.S., but sells the same shampoo overseas for only $3 a bottle. It is perfectly legal for a retailer to buy the genuine shampoo overseas, import it back to the U.S., and then resell it for a profit. But add a label to the bottle of shampoo, and the situation may change. Read more...

New Jersey Giftcard Law Is Much More Complicated For Retailers Than Even Its Critics Believe

April 12th, 2012
The great New Jersey giftcard exodus continues. On April 5, Blackhawk Network and InComm announced they'll pull their giftcards from New Jersey retailers to avoid a new state law requiring them to collect and store the purchaser's ZIP code. (American Express giftcards are already gone from the state.) Their complaint: It's an IT project that's all cost and no business benefit. But in a merged-channel world, that's not the only problem with the new law.

In fact, what lawmakers probably thought was a simple idea runs into a buzzsaw of complexities—and the IT project is the easiest part of the problem.Read more...

FedEx: When Your Data Absolutely, Positively Has To Be Lost Overnight

March 30th, 2012
On Thursday (March 29), California reported that FedEx—with an important assist with IBM and Iron Mountain—had lost highly sensitive data from more than 800,000 people in its child support database. Although it's a very bad situation, it's a good case study of the "secure the weakest link" approach, where a small hole in Iron Mountain's distribution network sent the disks through an insecure shipment service. This is a fate that potentially awaits any retail IT shop, because backup disks ultimately have to be transported somewhere.

Almost as unsettling was a rather reckless statement from the department's director, where she offered unwarranted confidence in the impregnable nature of disk formatting.Read more...

The Project Every Retailer Needs And No One Wants: Big Data Marketing Automation

March 29th, 2012
Retailers everywhere are finding themselves being hit upside the head with big data. This data is generated by their internal systems, external systems and end customers, and it's growing at exponential rates. Quietly, this trend is going to add a new player to the corporate ranks: the Chief Data Scientist.

Organizationally, these functional experts will challenge the traditional organizational structure. Data scientists will likely enter an organization through the IT group, because that department is most likely to engage their services to help drive value from information mining projects, pens Retail Columnist Todd Michaud.Read more...

Should Retailers Be Worried About Amazon’s Kiva Deal?

March 22nd, 2012

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

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

Attention: Kindle Readers. We Need Your Help

March 6th, 2012

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

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

You Feel Like Arguing? Yeah, I Mean You

February 27th, 2012

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

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

Macy’s Store-To-Door Gets Smarter And Prepares To Take On Amazon

February 23rd, 2012
Most retailers have yet to dip a toe into merged-channel inventory, but Macy’s is already starting to tweak the model. The Macy’s “Store to Door” pilot (if a store is out of a product, it can be shipped to the customer’s home from another store) is set to expand from 23 to 290 of the chain’s 810 stores this year, but with a twist: Items will ship not from the closest store, but from the store where they’re most likely to be remaindered.

That improves Macy’s revenue, but also sets it up to take on its most threatening rival—Amazon—where the online giant should be at its strongest.Read more...

Risque Business: Sears Thought It Had Removed A Naughty Image, But It Didn’t Go Far Enough

February 16th, 2012
Sears got a double-barreled lesson this week on the risks of letting third-party sellers put products in its online marketplace at On Monday (Feb. 13), customers discovered an exceedingly revealing product image for a $24.99 lingerie item. Word—well, snickers—passed around the Internet until a Forbes blogger contacted Sears for comment, after which the offending image was removed. Sears thought the problem was resolved. It wasn't.

It turns out there was at least one more copy of the problem picture—this time on Sears' Web site.Read more...


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