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

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.

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China POS Sales Soaring

February 18th, 2005

As Chinese consumers suddenly start to embrace the retail store, orders for point of sale systems are soaring, according to a study from IHL Consulting Group. IHL projected China's accelerating 20 percent annual growth in 2004 would catapult it in 2005 beyond the POS sales of Germany, which is Europe's largest POS market. Read more...


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A Smarter Smart Cart?

February 16th, 2005

Are "smart-carts" state-of-the-art and cutting edge for retail technology? It's a matter of perspective. Compared with the best European and Asian retail chains, American retailers are electronic laggards, especially in the grocery segment.

Even compared with U.S. retail technology discussions, these carts are merely deploying and productizing capabilities that have been publicly discussed for more than a year. But compared with what is actually being used—and even offered—with today's American grocery retailers, these Fujitsu carts are positively Jetsons. Read more...


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Is Cash Losing Its Cachet?

February 14th, 2005

Credit card companies, through consumer promotions and lower fees for retailers, have been whittling away at the last few cash-friendly refuges.

And as though George Washington needed even more disrespect to be heaped upon his picture on the one-dollar-bill, contactless payment systems are now helping to take the green out of greenbacks. Read more...


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Tower Records Tunes Its Site

February 10th, 2005

Controlling how people listen to a song on a CD is as easy as humming compared with controlling how 70,000 people every day navigate an e-commerce site, executives at Tower Records have discovered. Like every other e-commerce outfit, Tower's Web team makes a long list of assumptions about how people will interact with the site right before launching a new site capability. Those assumptions are often wrong because, among other reasons, the thinking process of a Web developer/designer doesn't always mesh with the thoughts of the site's visitors.Read more...


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New Retail Pricing Standards Released

February 9th, 2005

As retailers prepare to migrate from bar codes to RFID, upgrade POS systems and accept wireless input from a wide range of new payment devices, it's critical that they know that data points mean the exact same thing at all points on the supply chain. With that goal in mind, a key retail technology standards group unveiled a series of new schemas for retail pricing data consistency. Read more...


The Dangerous Allure Of Technology

February 6th, 2005

One of the most disheartening things for a technology journalist to learn is that a lot of readers look at magazines to see the ads. Well, maybe not solely to look at the ads, but the fact that readers even glance at those dastardly marketing con jobs is enough to make us weep in our espressos. Read more...


Hunting Down E-Commerce Bandits

February 3rd, 2005

Somewhere in Arizona—they insist that their exact location be kept secret so that e-commerce bandits won't recognize their address—sits a team of 18 Internet experts who hunt down people and companies that are either selling products illegally or are violating copyrights.

But the real work is done overnight, where a suite of homegrown applications crawls literally millions of Internet e-commerce locations, including Web sites, RSS feeds, Usenet newsgroups, private discussion groups (such as Yahoo's), IRC chat rooms, mailing lists and spam. Read more...


CIO Tests Embedded RFID Chip

January 28th, 2005

As an emergency medicine physician, Dr. John D. Halamka immediately saw the life-saving potential of embedding tiny wireless RFID (radio-frequency identification) devices in people. As the CIO of the Harvard Medical School, he was naturally skeptical of such devices and wanted to test them thoroughly before recommending their adoption. Read more...


The Retail Morph

January 27th, 2005

In many ways, CIOs are in the prediction business. They must make one-, two- and sometimes even five-year plans for technology buying, when even a two-month prediction in many sectors—especially retail—is barely more accurate a predictor than a dice toss.Read more...


McDonald’s: Want VOIP with That?

January 26th, 2005

A hungry consumer pulls up to the drive-through window in a California McDonald's restaurant and places a dinner order. The person taking the order points out that the caller placed only three drink orders for four dinners and reminds the diner of a special that day on apple pie.

This might be a fairly typical fast-food—or, in industry parlance, QSR for quick-service restaurant—exchange were it not for the fact that the customer and the order-taker are dozens of miles apart, connected through a VPN-secured voice-over-IP hookup. Read more...


Amazon Rolls Out Multimedia Yellow Pages

January 26th, 2005

Shoppers wanting to see a store's neighborhood before venturing out into a potentially rundown city street corner will be able to do that by looking into a new interactive Yellow Pages sitefrom Amazon.com.

The site—to be housed at the home of Amazon subsidiary A9.com—includes data covering more than 14 million businesses.Read more...


Retail CIOs Demo RFID Prototypes

January 17th, 2005

Speaking to an overflow crowd at the National Retail Federation's Redefining Retail show, Metro Group CIO Zygmunt Mierdorf beamed in live footage of the company's prototype RFID-enabled stores from Germany, showing interactive changing rooms that make clothing recommendations and have clerks bring additional pieces, a cashier shelf that instantly scans items (so the cashier doesn't have to) and a privacy system that literally leaves the chip in the store. Read more...


Circuit City’s New IT Approach to Customer Service

January 17th, 2005

When major customers walk into a Circuit City location, CIO Mike Jones wants to whisper customized sales pitches into their ears—literally. Jones's scenario is simple: As customers walk into the store, they receive a very light wireless headset. Read more...


The Global Garage Sale Wants to Live in a Better Neighborhood

January 14th, 2005

eBay has done almost everything correctly, so it's to be expected that the Web pioneer will try to boost its margins slightly. It could issue five more price increases and it would likely still be a bargain. eBay is in a very exclusive club of the early Web innovators who have stuck to their original playbook and been true to what makes the Web powerful. This week's news that eBay is boosting some prices shouldn't be a surprise, nor should the Garage Sale Goddess' right to enhance its margins a bit. Read more...


Retail Tech Growth Spurt Reflected at Retail Show

January 13th, 2005

As the retail tech industry prepared for it largest trade show, the cutting-edge nature of expected news announcements—with an emphasis on wireless, touch-screen, kiosk and PDA applications—suggested an industry that is exploring everything but committing to little. A good example of an expected alliance is one involving IBM and some 40 companies—including Cuesol, Retek, Symbol Technologies and Triversity—that will pledge support for IBM's Store Integration Framework. That program specializes in helping retailers to target and cater to local sales and promotional preferences. Read more...


A Shoplifter’s Worst Nightmare

January 12th, 2005

Self-checkout may go down in retail history as the most secure insecure piece of technology ever. Wonder why the Wal-Mart bar-code thieves avoided self-checkout? They knew better.

The world of crime prevention is riddled with what—at first glance—seem to be contradictions, but are actually exercises in logic. Read more...


Bar-Code Scam at Wal-Mart: A Matter of Priorities

January 5th, 2005

The fact that shoplifters nabbed $1.5 million across 19 states is not a technology, people or training problem. Rather, it shows that management needs to re-evaluate its obsession with keeping the line moving. The most well-planned and meticulously detailed crimes are often foiled by the commonplace. The thieves might map out their route precisely, coordinating it based on when various employees come and go. But security guard No. 9 gets a flat tire that morning, shows up 35 minutes late and ruins everything. Read more...


Wal-Mart Stung in $1.5 Million Bar-Code Scam

January 5th, 2005

In a scheme that leveraged a little technology but relied on inattentive cashiers, Tennessee authorities arrested two couples on charges that they used bogus bar codes to steal at least $1.5 million from hundreds of stores—some belonging to Wal-Mart—in 19 states. Although the accused are said to have spent a lot of time and effort organizing colleagues in various parts of the country, the technology portion of their scheme was quite simple. Read more...


Retail’s Holy Grail: One-Stop Returning

December 31st, 2004

You're cleaning away papers that accumulated during the holidays and find a portable CD player that is identical to the one you use every day. It was given to you as a gift and you have no receipt, nor any clue where it was purchased. On a whim, you take the CD player to your favorite local retailer. Customer service scans the item, reports to you the date it was purchased and the name of the retailer it was purchased from, tells you that the other retailer's rules give you four more days to return it, and hands you a freshly printed receipt for you to use for that return. Read more...


Force-feeding Commercials To Trapped Customers

December 29th, 2004

Imagine the following scenario playing out at your favorite retail store. You have been running all around town trying to prepare for an important formal banquet on January 11, 2005. After having worked with a sales associate at a major department store for an hour to select seven possible outfits, you lug them into a dressing room to see what might work. Read more...


Weathering Storms for Retail Profits

December 29th, 2004

Some of the nation's largest retailers pay Paul Walsh to think about existential-sounding questions like "How cold is cold?" and "How wet is wet?" No, Walsh isn't a philosopher. Indeed, as a trained scientist (a meteorologist, to be precise), his answers are anything but theoretical. But it certainly is about perception. Read more...


Wal-Mart Gives Suppliers RFID Holiday Gift

December 22nd, 2004

Spreading holiday joy among its suppliers, the nation's largest retailer has softened its RFID compliance deadline.

In a briefing with analysts, Wal-Mart CIO Linda Dillman said that its top 100 suppliers—plus 37 "volunteer" suppliers—will start shipping cases and pallets by February to three Wal-Mart distribution centers. The original deadline was Jan. 1.Read more...


RFID Struggles Mount as End of Year Approaches

December 22nd, 2004

It has been written that the wiser the people, the more they are aware of how little they truly know. That unsettling thought nicely summarizes the state of RFID today. With each trial, companies discover how incredibly much they still do not understand. With each investment, they discover how it's likely to be much more expensive than they had projected. Read more...


Retail Tech Predictions For 2005

December 22nd, 2004

When I thought about retail IT operations in 2005, I envisioned an eccentric, wealthy hermit who lives in a comfortable mansion in the middle of the woods.

The hermit certainly knows about the big city and all of the glorious things he could buy there, but he is content. He has what he needs and a sufficient number of things that he wants. His home is sound and he doesn't have a heck of a lot of motivation to go out and make it fancy and state-of-the-art. Maybe someday, he thinks. Read more...


The War Against Retail Return Abuses

December 17th, 2004

With the holiday season comes fruitcake, traffic jams and an anticipated onslaught of must-be-returned gifts from well-meaning (and possibly colorblind) friends and relatives. But sprinkled amongst those gift-receipt-clutching consumers are what the industry considers thieves: people who deliberately use return policies to steal. Read more...


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