A blog for all things retail and licensing.

Best Tech for Managers to Keep Tabs on Their Store

Poor collaboration can kill your company and increase failures in the workplace, according to Salesforce. In fact, 97 percent of those surveyed think a lack of alignment with their team impacts the outcome of a project. To stay on top of your business, you need to do more than just stay in touch with your employees when you are out of the office. Instead, carefully pick and choose technology and collaboration tools to monitor what’s going on in your store even when you are out.

Set Accountability Measures

Do you really know what your employees and customers are up to? Establish a protocol for when you step out of the office to keep accountability among your employees. Set up a Google spreadsheet with a list of tasks ranging from running sales reports to organizing inventory and break schedules. Ask employees to log on and check off pre-designated tasks. Then, you can log on from a smartphone or tablet to look through the tasks to ensure the business is running smoothly. For longer errands and outings, ask for a brief status report on a Google doc or text message to stay on top of the latest developments in your store.

Stay in Touch Virtually

Using a smartphone is an obvious choice for keeping tabs on the office, but not all devices are created equally. Pick up a Samsung Galaxy S 6 with a free 128GB memory card to store more data, photos and videos. Ask employees to occasionally send over an image or video of what’s going on in the store. For example, you may need to see how promotional signage looks to pick up more supplies and inventory before heading back to the office.

Use an Electronic Gateway System

Rethink your electronic payment gateway, and switch to a system that makes it easy for you to log on remotely while doing errands or at a meeting. Choose a system that allows you to virtually access a transaction report. You can usually narrow down the search option by a credit and refund search to see how many customers are coming in for returns and how many are looking for your sale or newly stocked items.

Leverage Team Communication Tools

Incorporate a team communication tool like HipChat or Slack so owners, managers and employees can all stay on the same page. The idea is to use one central platform for both communication and tasks to keep tabs on the big picture of your business.

HipChat allows users to share comments and videos, and it integrates with services like Dropbox and Twitter. Store managers can ask employees to send out tweets alerting followers to new sales. Or, use Slack to monitor the tweets before sending employees a video file to look at for future social media posts.

Use a Webcam

Set up a basic webcam to see what customers and employees are up to for simple monitoring over your smartphone or tablet. Send back texts or notes to employees to ask questions or assign new tasks. For something more robust, try a security camera with remote access or get innovative with your options. Some stores use department store mannequins outfitted with audio and video recording capabilities. Ideal for large stores, managers can keep tabs on what customers are doing on multiple floors and ask employees to address issues as needed.

The Power of Reviews: Bringing In New Business

When prospects want to learn more about your company, they typically head directly to your website. If they like what they see, the next stop is online customer review pages to confirm that the claims you make about your offerings are factual.

But what if you don’t have any solid reviews out there for potential customers to view? There’s a possibility they may have doubts and take their business elsewhere.

Unfortunately, obtaining reviews from customers may be quite challenging if you’re crunched for time or don’t know where to start. Here are some ideas worth considering:

Get Active on Review Sites

Although there are tons to choose from, customer feedback from review sites are frequently viewed in the cyber world by curious prospects. Some reputable review sites include Angie’s List, Google Reviews, City Search, Yahoo Listings and Yelp. Also, confirm you haven’t missed any industry-specific review sites. After all, you wouldn’t want to be absent from Zagat if you own a restaurant.

Include Feedback Requests in the Sales Cycle

Once checkout is complete, encourage customers to leave a review in exchange for an incentive. If you’re a brick and mortar establishment, communicate to employees this should be done when handing over the receipt. (You could even print the incentive directly on the document). By contrast, online businesses can include a link to review sites or to a fillable form on their website at the top of the order confirmation page.

Leverage Your Company Website

Along with publishing genuine reviews on your website, you’ll also want to invite customers to share their own thoughts. Create a fillable form or post a direct link to your profiles on outside review sites. The responses received will serve as instant credibility boosters from the moment visitors enter the site.

Companies, like LifeLock, also dedicate a page on its website to customer reviews to demonstrate that its offerings live up to all the hype.

Use Social Media

Social media is an efficient and often effective way to request reviews. You can send out a tweet, ask Facebook followers to leave a detailed recommendation using the built-in tool, or use the option on the LinkedIn products and services page to share feedback.

And once your customers leave reviews, retweet, favorite or share them and respond to their specific comments or concerns if needed. The idea here is to single the customer out for going the extra mile, address any issues, and thank them for doing business with you. And by going the extra mile, chances are they’ll do business with you again and tell their friends about your company. Furthermore, other fans will be inclined to do the same to garner the same attention. (Even if the feedback is negative, fess up to your mistakes and use it as a learning experience to improve).

As the old adage says, closed mouths don’t get fed. And the same principle applies to your business with regards to customer reviews. If you sit back and expect the feedback to come rolling in without exerting any effort, don’t look forward to an overwhelming amount of feedback. But if you put in the work and express your gratitude towards customers for taking time out their busy schedule, the positive feedback will continue to roll in, and so will the sales.

Retailers, Stay on Offense

Early to Build Distribution Networks that Live Up to Intense Holiday Demands

“Ship from Store” fulfillment requires an integrated real estate strategy to meet retailers’ omnichannel objectives. Source: JLL.

Guest blog by Kris Bjorson

Delayed packages and mismatched orders characterized the 2013 holiday delivery debacle and last year saw retailers starting holiday planning months ahead. To compete effectively during the 2015 holiday season, retailers are taking a more holistic view of their supply chain real estate.

The journey to a flexible, functional distribution network is a dynamic model, and it’s vital to have the right real estate strategy in place to support growing omnichannel expectations.

For those beginning to shop for the right retail distribution real estate, we’ve captured some key changes executives can expect in today’s market:

  • Supply chains are now customer-facing. In omnichannel retailing, the supply chain is no longer hidden; it’s as customer-facing as the check-out counter. Retailers are applying systemic changes to the entire supply chain not only to streamline fulfillment and delivery, but also to make it as cost-effective as possible. Retaining flexibility in the supply chain has become critical as competitors are using the customer delivery experience as another way to delight consumers and win market share. According to JLL research, seven out of 10 retailers are still shaping their omnichannel strategy and customer commitments.
  • Network strategies are now constantly being re-evaluated. Implementing a smart distribution network strategy has forced retailers to re-evaluate their entire supply chain every three to six months rather than every two to four years. Many have brought the supply chain analysis function in-house to ensure a constant tweaking of scenarios. Supply chain executives are also being more proactive about repurposing existing property assets by investing in technology for front to back-end systems support, and creating dynamic inventory deployment strategies.
  • Advance testing has become essential. The monthly Global Port Tracker report, released by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates, predicts that shipments, on average, will rise nationwide during the first six months of 2015. This is a chance for retailers to test their supply chain strategy before holiday crunch time. For example, with the congestion and recent port closures on the West Coast retailers continue to diversify their distribution networks to the East Coast. This means competition will intensify for space near East Coast seaports and force rents to rise in locations such as New York/New Jersey, Savannah and Charleston. Retailers, with only West Coast operations, will bring in cargo earlier than usual in an effort to minimize supply chain disruptions. It is important to have distribution centers (DCs) in the right location to meet the ever-increasing and more aggressive delivery demands.

Alternative distribution locations lurk beyond the coasts. With more than 60 tenants currently seeking big box DCs of one million square feet or more nationwide, space is at a premium and demand is outweighing immediate, available buildings and sites by nearly three to one. Furthermore, the supply of distribution space is not rising as fast as in previous ‘boom’ cycles. Approximately 171 million square feet of new industrial space is expected to be completed nationwide this year. However, these new deliveries represent the highest level in seven years, but still fall below the 40-year average of 178 million square feet delivered annually. As an alternative to coastal port locations, for example, one major retailer decided to build a fulfillment center in Indianapolis in close proximity to a new CN and Indiana Rail Road intermodal terminal. The Indianapolis fulfillment center will leverage a one-day drive time to 50 percent of the US population, including a reasonable drive time to Chicago, and close proximity to FedEx’s second largest ground and air cargo hub at Indianapolis International Airport.

  • Secondary markets aren’t so secondary anymore. Leasing space in secondary and tertiary markets is a way to avoid the competition for highly coveted real estate in close proximity to ports. These markets offer tax incentives and improved, entitled land sites for new construction giving retailers options to pursue and reap the benefits of modern space ready at a lower price. Locations such as Indianapolis, Phoenix and Kansas City continue to benefit from these alternative market strategies.  
  • Smart supply chains follow smart negotiations. Know your options and cost trade-offs before going into negotiation for lease terms and conditions. With transportation and inventory being the largest costs, smart clients are widening their search areas by diversifying transportation and inventory deployment strategies for each new location.  With constrained real estate supply, this year is a landlord favorable market. So, a flexible supply chain strategy means you’re not locked into a set location, which can give you flexibility for getting the best deal with the right real estate and workforce solution. Given that the labor markets are tightening faster than the real estate markets, you may consider paying more for the fixed cost of real estate rather than paying a premium on the ongoing, variable cost of your workforce. This is typically a submarket (side of town) decision within a larger market. It is critical to consider all costs and qualitative factors in a holistic, integrated manner.
  • Seasonal space is at a premium. For seasonal space, you need to start today not only to understand the real estate options in the desired market but also lay some relationship ground work for in the long-term. For short-term deals, consider executing a temporary use agreement instead of a real estate lease, or negotiate a contract across multiple locations with a national or global landlord. You can also offer to pay the entire gross rental amount up front in exchange for a discount. For your potential long-term real estate needs, perhaps a pre-commit with a preferred landlord will unlock seasonal space today.
  • Lines are blurred between stores and distribution facilities. On the store front (excuse the pun!), retailers are rapidly turning to their physical locations for “last mile” fulfillment and delivery.  In fact, we believe that in the near future, about 30 percent of a retailer store footprints will be converted to mini-fulfillment operations for e-commerce purchases. “Ship from Store” delivery strategies take advantage of stores to reach customers more rapidly, providing package pick-up and ship-from-store services.  This strategy helps retailers with both the when and where of delivery. Additionally, some locations that might otherwise have been stores can act as non-customer-facing DCs or ‘dark stores’. Dark stores are often retail facilities that were underperforming stores and have been converted in to small DCs. The strategic location of dark stores allows the retailer to house goods near customers to fulfill online purchases and delivery in a shorter time frame than their closest distribution center hubs.

It’s never too early for retailers to start planning their distribution real estate strategy for the holiday season or the future especially when the location of fulfillment centers can make or break delivery commitments to customers and help shape the overall customer experience.

Kris Bjorson is international director, head of retail/e-commerce distribution, JLL

Consumers Pave the Way Toward Sustainability – Can Retailers Keep Up?

Guest Blog by Leela Rao-Kataria

The global movement toward sustainability went full-throttle in April. Earth Day fell on April 22nd, just prior to the two-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse. This was followed shortly after by the earthquake in Nepal. The combination of these events created more discussion around sourcing, forcing people to take a closer look at the repercussions of manufacturing products abroad.

As the public was bombarded across channels – from social media to commercials, articles and celebrity activism – it got me thinking: Have you ever heard the expression “it takes 1,000 whispers to make a shout”? Well these 1,000 statements caused a collective moment toward awareness around ethical sourcing. There were several dialogues that set-off the wave of conversation in April. Here’s what came out of them:

Patagonia Takes a Stand on Earth Day
No one goes against the tide more than the founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard. In honor of Earth Day, Chouinard took out a full page ad in the New York Times that said, “Don’t Buy Our Clothes!”1 This promotion caused quite the stir and set the stage for Patagonia’s refined version of the pop-up store, called Worn Wear Wagon. The wagon is a mobile garment shop that will make its way throughout the country, stitching, mending and fixing any clothing previously purchased from the brand. Chouinard believes this initiative is what separates Patagonia from other brands in that the retailer is actually living the values it preaches to reuse and recycle. “I’ve always felt guilty about making consumer things. So I have a sense that it’s my responsibility to help people wear them as long as possible,” Chouinard stated in an interview with the Today Show following the release of the ad.

Other retailers made waves on Earth Day, too. ModCloth launched its eco-friendly style collection, which minimizes waste through repurposing fabric and highlights the fair wage and comfortable work environment of their Balinese sourcing.2 L’Oreal was featured in Green Retail Decisions for lowering its CO2 emissions by 57%, the majority of which was achieved using renewable energy in facilities.3

Fashion Revolution Day Emerges
Fashion Revolution Day revolution emerged in response to the tragic Bangladesh factory collapse in 2013. Fashion Revolution Day4 occurred on April 24th, marking the two year anniversary of the disaster. Consumers were asked to wear their clothes inside out on that day in order to make the labels visible. The nonprofit organization behind the awareness movement stated, “Social and environment catastrophes in our fashion supply chains continue. Fashion Revolution says enough is enough.” The organization emphasizes the need to value people and the environment, accomplishing this through transparency and education. The day was accompanied by a notable social media push to promote the hashtag #whomademyclothes5.  Retailers who implement practices aligned with this thinking were promoted on the Fashion Revolution website.


John Oliver Takes Aim at the Apparel Industry

Millions tuned in to watch John Oliver berate the current state of consumerism specific to the apparel industry. Oliver claimed that people are interested in only shopping for the lowest prices possible, willing to sacrifice ethical work conditions and fair trade wages for apparel manufactured abroad. However, he failed to mention the steps that several retailers are taking to achieve greater visibility into their sourcing and to ensure that labor practices are ethical. This is an issue retailers have faced for some time, and will continue to face for the foreseeable future.

Getting insight into what’s happening at the factory level has been a priority for many retailers who understand that consumers won’t support brands that don’t practice ethical treatment of their employees. Oliver didn’t showcase the retailers that are prioritizing the manufacturers, including brands like Everlane whose value proposition is that true costs are revealed to customers using transparent sourcing. Photos of factories, as well as the stories of employees, are featured on their website, along with clear diagrams of the price their consumers pay for the material, production, etc. and how that contributes to the final price. Activists like Angelina Jolie support the brand and wear its products frequently.6

Levi Strauss & Company7 is another brand that had made strides on this front. Levi’s has partnered with the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) to secure better interest rates for its manufacturers. This allows them to purchase raw materials without the burden that comes from bank loans with exorbitant interest rates. Suppliers are rewarded with better rates based on a responsibility score card. Levi’s features this partnership on its website as a “shared prosperity,” with a mutual belief that suppliers should be rewarded for doing the right thing.

The consumer movement toward ethics and sustainability is in full force. How fast retailers will be able to respond to the demands of the public is still to be seen and will depend on their ability to prioritize investment around these initiatives. Retailers like Patagonia and Levi’s that are ahead of the game in this regard are finding their investments to already be paying off. Those that have fallen behind and fail to create a transparent sourcing model for their consumers will be left behind, as millennials continue to lead the charge toward a new model for apparel manufacturers.

Leela Rao-Kataria is Retail Marketing Manager for GT Nexus

5 Great Ways to Build Customer Loyalty

Why should consumers shop with you if they can purchase what you’re selling at a lower price elsewhere? That’s just one of the dilemmas retailers face when trying to attract and retain loyal customers. And while you can’t necessarily control what the competition is doing, you do have the ability to deliver the ultimate shopping experience so they can keep coming back for more.

Here are some ways to boost customer loyalty in your retail establishment:

1. Build Rapport

Customers don’t want to be stalked while perusing the sales floor, but that’s no excuse to avoid initiating contact. If they took the time to visit your location, the customer probably had a particular item in mind for purchasing. Train your staff to greet shoppers and subtly find out if they need any assistance upon entering the store.

Not only is Nordstrom known for its designer labels, but the brand is the poster child for customer service in the retail industry. In fact, Shopify reports that Nordstrom sales representatives are trained to provide shoppers with exceptional customer service and eliminate such pain points as long waits in line.

2. Fill the Voids

What can your company offer to shoppers in your target market that similar retailers can’t? Price is just one factor. Perhaps your retail establishment is more pleasant to shop at than the lower-priced competitor? Or maybe your customer service representatives are more pleasant? Either way, it’s the little things that help attract and retain customers over time.

Trader Joe’s, a specialty food retailer, offers consumables at a substantially cheaper price, but their selection is limited. However, it’s their willingness to listen to fulfill customer requests for local items that enable them to turn a profit and retain those loyal customers.

3. Move the Contact Center to the Cloud

Consumers are strapped for time, so if they’re forced to wait around too long for their call to be answered, they may grow disgruntled and take their business elsewhere. By contrast, implementing a cloud contact center enables your company to develop and maintain a competitive advantage over other retailers by syncing self-service and live agent service, according to Aspect. A good software provider should offer tailored solutions to meet your company’s unique preferences.

4. An Attitude of Gratitude

Take a moment to show repeat customers you appreciate their business in the same manner they appreciate your products. This can be done in several ways and doesn’t have to cost your company a fortune. Invite them to an exclusive company event or pen a note expressing your gratitude for their loyalty.

5. Rethink Your Customer Loyalty Program

It’s not uncommon for retailers to launch loyalty programs in hopes of retaining repeat customers, but are they effective? Research has shown that the costs of these programs sometimes outweigh the benefits, adding no real value to the customer’s lives, notes Forbes. Too many customer loyalty programs are identical to that of competitors in terms of size and value; the incentives are too small to earn the loyalty of a customer or serve a tangible purpose. Revisit your customer loyalty program and make adjustments to achieve higher profit margins and differentiation from others in your industry.

Translate a Great Customer Experience

Guest Blog by Paige O’Neill
Imagine you’re on vacation; you’re walking down a street crowded with storefronts searching for the perfect souvenir. One of the store’s signs shouts “Get your Typical Trinkets Here!” while another’s loudly displays “Traditional Toys for Sale!” which store would you choose to go into?

Walking around Prague it’s easy to find yourself in this very situation. “Typical” translates for many Russian or European tourists to mean “authentic,” but when retailers are promoting their wares to these customers they are missing the opportunity to connect with Americans who read “typical” as “predictable” or “common place.”

Whether it’s on the street or online when it comes to customer experience, global brands need to take into account a number of variables to communicate with consumers in a way that is personalized and relevant. Knowing the customer’s location, time zone, language, gender, device and preferences are all important to making the brand experience as contextual as possible. Language may seem like an obvious component to communicating with a customer appropriately; however, true language translation often goes beyond traditional translation and can be the differentiating factor in creating an exceptional customer experience.

Today there is a wide array of tools available to marketers looking to create a unique customer experience; in his recent industry analysis Scott Brinker cited 1,876 marketing technology companies competing in the crowded space. Every day there seems to be a new tool available to personalize, contextualize and better the customer experience which often leads people to forget the most important first step in global customer experience, translation. A popular example of translation gone wrong is a chain fast food brands expansion into China. When globalizing the brands signature slogan, what English speakers read as “Finger-lickin’ good” was translated to “Eat your fingers off”. Though it’s now comical, at the time no amount of personalization or contextualization alongside the phrase “Eat your fingers off” could overshadow the company’s faux pas.

Not only is having a correct translation important but there are other cultural nuances that need to be incorporated to speak your customers language. For example a global retail campaign promoting a sale on Boxing Day would be wasted on consumers in the U.S. or Latin America but is highly relevant for consumers in Canada and the U.K. Additionally; other words could make sense in translation but could have different meaning determined by spelling. Retailers selling sports equipment worldwide might sell a soccer ball in one country but a futbol in another, while it might make sense to translate futbol to football you’ve completely changed the product as well as your customer. Promoting a football to a Real Madrid fan won’t get you the same result as targeting a Patriots fan.  Regional culture isn’t the only thing that you have to consider, as language is also a critical part of brands focusing on niche industries. Every industry has its own set of lingo and jargon which may not translate appropriately with machine translation technology.  Brands need the ability to overcome the differences among industries in order to speak to their customers. You wouldn’t want to promote a dress suit to a lawyer looking for help with a civil suit.

Marketers are becoming more in tune with why overall customer experience is important for brand awareness but it’s critical to note that language translation as a key part of customer experience can also affect the bottom line. According to an SDL study, thirty two percent of millennial consumers in English speaking countries prefer a language other than English and 46 percent of millennials are more likely to purchase if information is in their preferred language. In the global economy, cultural borders can’t always be defined, so retailers need to be prepared to translate customer language preference to not only foster brand awareness and loyalty but to make sales.

Global retail brands are faced with multilingual customer reviews, website localization, product catalogue localization, international SEO and online support, and it’s clearly critical that they have the right language translation to help them speak their customer language. While a translation disaster could cause customer backlash, having translation and localization built into your customer experience management strategy from the onset will go a long way with your customers. At the end of the day, speaking the language of your customers pays off for the relationship and ultimately your bottom line.

Paige O’Neill is Chief Marketing Officer of SDL.

Word Choice, Global SEO and PPC

Why Homegrown Search Strategies Seldom Travel Well

Guest Blog By Donald L. Dunnington

When you enter the global search-marketing race, it doesn’t take long to figure out that Google isn’t the only search engine you need to focus on. In my own case, one of the first challenges was understanding the different rules for SEO and buying keywords on Baidu, the leading search engine inside China’s Great Firewall. Then it was Yandex, the major search engine in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). I even learned how Yahoo could be a better choice in Japan than Google.

By 2010 I was deep into taking our websites beyond translation and thinking about global search. It was at this point where I discovered that you couldn’t just translate your domestic keywords for search campaigns in foreign markets. The second thing I learned is that the digital marketing strategies perfected for my home market seldom travel well in other countries.

It happens all too often: companies entering new international markets translate the same keyword lists from country-to-country. This expedient often fails on two key levels:

•             Keyword translation fails to account for the many different ways other languages or cultures express the same idea

•             Keyword translation fails to consider that searchers in different cultures have very different motivations and priorities when they look for a product or service online

Thus both words and strategies for choosing words in search terms have to be customized to each market. Here’s a simple example from the B2B world of industrial equipment marketing: The standard Spanish translation for spare parts is repuestos. But in Mexico, they call it refacciones.

Sometimes, even the best translation isn’t the best choice. Consider this example Oban Digital provided of a keyword analysis they did for a client who planned to advertise on Google Italy. The client wanted to promote their discount airfares in Italy. Experience in other markets told them they should use the term cheap flights. The best Italian translation of cheap flights is voli economici, which Oban’s research showed could yield on average about 33,000 searches per month on Google.it.

But Oban also knew that in Italy you’d find the most popular search terms often use a combination of English and Italian. For cheap airfares, the preferred term turns out to be voli low cost. This English-Italian mashup gets eight times as much search volume, and it even offers lower competition scores. You won’t find insights like this if you’re just translating keywords. You have to conduct local keyword research.

“Your choice is clear,” Oban’s Greig Holbrook says. “If you want effective keywords for your international SEO and PPC, you have to find local experts who know the language and culture and understand your industry.”

Who Do You Trust with Your SEO Localization?

For SEO localization, the cost of relying on the wrong resources can result in crippling search engine penalties. I talked with a global B2C marketing manager who told how his company was once banished from Baidu’s search pages. The company had hired an Asian search company to help improve their search visibility in China, with emphasis on getting better results with Baidu. It turned out the agency employed black hat SEO techniques that worked at first but ultimately led to their expulsion when the search engine tightened its standards.

No one within the company understood what was produced in the Chinese-language SEO campaign. They had no idea what their vendor had done until it all went wrong. At that point they turned to another agency to clean up their website and remove or renounce the offending inbound links. A representative from the new agency then paid a visit to Baidu to beg forgiveness for their client.

Eventually, all was forgiven, and the company was returned to Baidu search results. This makes them one of the lucky ones, but then if they had put their trust in the right people to begin with, they wouldn’t have needed luck. Personally, I wouldn’t trust anyone who claims SEO is easy, or any agency that claims SEO can be automated.

Trust, security and compliance issues are an even greater concern than cost savings for regulated industries. These companies need to know precisely who is producing content for their websites, including freelance translators or SEO consultants.

At a minimum companies require a management process that protects them against fraud and negligence. In the case of banking and legal industries, the regulatory, legal and security requirements can be even more stringent, right down to what country the outsourced work is being done in.

SEO is the new PR and PR the new SEO

When you talk to today’s SEO managers, the conversation frequently turns to the sort of relationship building that was the foundation for the public relations I’ve practiced all my working life. The only difference is today’s SEO-oriented media relations are largely focused on online media, and a major objective is to influence your ranking in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), not just count news clippings.

Quality in-bound links start with producing quality content to which others want to link. But unless you want to leave it to chance that your well-crafted content receives the links it deserves, you need a linking campaign. That means in every market and every language where you’re competing for search visibility, you need close relations with respected bloggers and news sites. It takes time and creative skill to develop these individualized relations on a global level. You only want links from quality news sites and bloggers whose links search engines value. This is something few organizations can do alone.

“We have individual relationships with bloggers, local news outlets and legitimate independent websites that have authority in a vertical market or technical expertise that the search engines recognize,” Oban’s Holbrook says. “Our blog relationships are built on relevancy, quality, and the value they bring to the vertical market they serve.”

He says Oban has to work on these relationships and maintain them even when they don’t have a campaign to send their way.  “It requires a personal touch, staying in contact, developing a two-way relationship. We have to understand the content they need and what they expect from us.”

He says that to get valuable links, you have to send your global contacts valuable content that is customized for their needs. “When we have a story for them, we’ll send them a content brief and provide images that are a good fit. We don’t just send an article, we engage in a conversation and provide them the material they need to craft their own unique content.”

Donald L. Dunnington, a member of the Advisory Board for the launch of Oban Digital in the United State, is an author, speaker and consultant specializing in online communication. A special edition of his new book, “HYPER LOCAL SEO & MARKETING: How U.S. Marketers Win Global by Going Local” is available at http://www.obandigital.com/us/hyper-local-ebook/

The benefits of scan avoidance technology

Have you heard about scan avoidance technology? It may not get a lot of high-profile attention outside of the retail world, but it is literally saving retailers billions at manned and self-checkout counters. We recently had the chance to connect with Malay Kundu, founder and CEO of Cambridge, Mass.-based StopLift, to get some thoughts on why retail chains worldwide are installing StopLift Checkout Vision Systems’ Scan-It-All video recognition technology to detect scan avoidance incidence at both the manned and self-checkout.  Working with retailers on four continents, including Tesco in the UK, StopLift has already detected and confirmed more than one million incidents at thousands of checkouts.

These incidents include “sweethearting”, when cashiers pretend to scan merchandise but deliberately bypass the scanner, thus not charging the customer for the merchandise.  The customer is often a friend, family member or fellow employee working in tandem with the cashier.

“Our technology has found that shoplifting is as much as five times more likely to happen in the self-checkout lane,” said Kundu.

Big Y, with 60 Massachusetts and Connecticut stores, and Albertsons, with 217 stores in the South and West, did away with self-checkout in 2011 in order to foster more human contact and better customer service rather than having customers struggle with bar codes, coupons and payment.  On the other hand, CVS Health implemented self-checkout in some urban markets to make shopping faster and more convenient while saving on labor. BJ’s Wholesale Club has implemented self-checkout at nearly every register.

“Retailers always suspected that self-checkouts would be highly prone to scan-avoidance, and our technology has certainly found this to be the case,” Kundu said.  “Furthermore, using the incidents detected from their own stores, retailers are now able to train staff on the signals indicating when customers are either having problems using the self-checkout or are exhibiting suspicious behavior.”

StopLift’s Scan-It-All system finds any incidents of scan-avoidance, where merchandise is not scanned or rung up before being given to the customer.  This includes incidents which may be due to mistakes by the cashier or customer at self-checkout as well as items left in the shopping cart.

To watch real scan avoidance incidents – including self-checkout – tracked by StopLift, visit www.StopLift.com.

As soon as a scan avoidance incident occurs, StopLift, which constantly monitors 100% of the security video, flags the transaction as suspicious.  It quickly reports the incident, identifying the cashier or customer and the date and time of the theft.

Scan-It-All works with existing off-the-shelf overhead cameras.  No special camera equipment needs to be purchased or installed, and no changes have to be made to the checkout.

StopLift’s patented computer vision technology visually determines what occurs during each transaction to immediately identify fraud at the checkout.  Dishonest associates are identified on the basis of video evidence the first time they conduct a fraudulent transaction, rather than months or even years down the road, significantly reducing inventory shrinkage, deterring future theft, and boosting profitability.  Customers are identified at the self-checkout

The technology eliminates costly, time-consuming human review of video, drastically reduces and deters fraud at the checkout, and significantly improves profitability, Kundu said.  Rather than take a one-size-fits-all approach, StopLift develops targeted applications to address the specific needs of retailers from different sectors including general merchandise, grocery, and specialty retail.

Retailers have tried to track sweethearting or scan avoidance through data mining, but, as Kundu notes: “How do you do data mining when there’s no data?”

The U.S. National Retail Federation states that approximately $14 billion of retail shrink is due to sweethearting.  Supermarkets, with their lower profit margins, are particularly vulnerable to sweethearting, which has accounted for an almost 35% profit loss industrywide.

StopLift Checkout Vision Systems grew out of Kundu’s Harvard Business School research study “Project StopLift” on Retail Loss Prevention.  With technological research insights Kundu developed while at MIT, Project StopLift concluded that video recognition could be used to automate and, thus, make possible the comprehensive examination of surveillance video.  Prior to founding StopLift, Kundu developed facial recognition systems for identifying terrorists in airports.

Business Insurance for Retailers: Top Questions and Answers

Guest Blog by Ted Devine

Running a store can be a rewarding way to interact with your community and earn a living. But day to day, it’s also a series of hurdles. One of the biggest challenges for many small retailers is knowing how to protect what they’ve built – after all, it only takes one unplanned disaster to bring a thriving business to a screeching halt.

With appropriate business insurance in place, unexpected disasters don’t have to mean financial ruin. But how do you know which policies to choose? Every business is different, but the following questions are ones we hear most often from our retail clients. Take a look at the answers to get an idea of how business insurance can help you protect what you’ve built.

What’s the Most Significant Risk to a Retail Business Today?

The good news? The most significant risk retail businesses face is probably what you thought: inventory damage. But damage comes in a lot of flavors: fire could destroy your entire stock, a power outage could cause your perishable goods to spoil, a shipment of products could be damaged in transit, or a blizzard at your biggest supplier could mean you don’t receive goods you’re expecting.

As you might expect, no one kind of insurance can pay for all these types of damage, but…

  • Commercial Property Insurance in its most basic form can cover inventory and equipment in your store against loss or damage from fire, theft, wind, and a variety of other loss scenarios.
  • Spoilage coverage (also called “temperature change”) is an endorsement that can be added to a Business Owner’s Policy (more on that in a minute) to provide coverage when an event like power outage causes your inventory to spoil (particularly important for florists and food vendors to consider).
  • Inland Marine Insurance can protect property in transit. Special forms of Inland Marine can protect high-value items like jewelry and fine art.
  • Business Interruption Insurance offers benefits when an event covered by your Property policy forces you to close your doors. This coverage can even replace the income you would have earned if you didn’t have to close. A special form of this called Contingent Business Interruption offers benefits when one of your primary suppliers is forced to shut its doors.

And now a word about the Business Owner’s Policy (BOP) mentioned above. This is a policy that bundles Property Insurance with General Liability. It’s only available to small-business owners and most or all of the coverages listed above can be added to a BOP.

Where Are Retailers Most Vulnerable?

The familiar threat is theft, from both employees and customers.

The less familiar threat is data breach exposure. There’s a common misconception that hackers only go after big companies, but that’s not true. If you have an ecommerce website or accept credit cards, you have the kind of data that hackers find valuable.

The good news is that you can probably add Cyber Liability Insurance as an endorsement to your BOP. The other good news is that most data breaches can be prevented with basic security practices. That’s a topic for a different article, but there are great resources available online through a simple search.

Do I Need More Protection During Busy Periods Like Holidays?

That depends on how your business operates. If you hire temps or seasonal employees during your busy season, you may have to add them to your Workers’ Compensation Insurance. State laws determine how short-term workers are handled, so be sure to find out what your state requires.

The other coverage to consider is Peak Season coverage. It’s an endorsement to a Property policy that allows you to have higher limits during your busiest season, when you’re likely to have the most inventory on hand. This can be helpful for small businesses because it lets them pay more only when they need more coverage, rather than paying for a higher coverage limit year-round.

What Are the Best Ways to Lower My Business Insurance Costs?

One thing we’re always happy to share with customers is that small business insurance doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are some strategies that might lower your insurance bill:

  1. Work with an agent who’s familiar with covering small retail businesses. Experienced agents are more likely to know which endorsements can benefit your business and which ones you can do without, which helps ensure you don’t pay for extras you don’t need.
  2. Ask your agent about safety updates. Some insurance carriers offer lower premiums for those with central-station burglar alarms, for example. But always ask first: there are usually specific criteria you have to meet to enjoy savings.
  3. Manage risk to prevent claims. This means keeping your store clear and well-lit to avoid client injuries and General Liability claims, communicating with employees who get injured, and setting up a theft-prevention system.
  4. Classify workers correctly. Getting Workers’ Comp codes right can ensure that you have appropriate coverage and aren’t paying too much for it.
  5. Increase your deductible – but only to the point that you can afford it. Higher deductible policies usually have lower premiums, but if you can’t afford your deductible, it’s not a good policy (because, in the event of a claim, you have to pay your deductible before you can receive any benefits).

Top Takeaway for Retail Businesses

The most important thing to keep in mind? Your risks are as unique as your business. Before choosing policies, talk with someone who’s familiar with small retail businesses so you can be confident your coverage makes sense for you.

Ted Devine is CEO of Chicago-based insureon

Top 10 Retail Sales Bad Habits (And How to Break Them)

Guest Blog by Kevin Cundiff

Anyone who’s ever tried to give up chocolate or put in more time at the gym knows that bad habits are easy to form but hard to break. And in the monkey-see-monkey-do world of retail sales, one person’s bad habit could spread to the entire team; bad habits equal lower sales and declining revenue.

Have you identified the top ten worst retail sales habits? No? That’s fine, because we did for you. Here they are, along with a few ideas on how to stop them.

#10 – Low self-confidence

Problem: Good salespeople are confident, and confidence is contagious. If a salesperson isn’t confident in their product or in the act of selling, consumers won’t be confident about a purchase.

Solution: Knowledge is power. Know your products and the confidence of both you and your customers will grow (and so will your sales). Practice roleplaying to rehearse pitches and overcome objections and it will translate into success.

#9 – Leading with price

Problem: Once price is established, it has to be overcome with value. This can often be difficult because customers may have already been turned off by the cost.

Solution: Always lead with value. Using knowledge of your customer’s specific needs, build a mountain of benefits that will easily tower over the cost you present later.

#8 – Failing to close

Problem: Sales reps present the value of a product without a closing statement resulting in an awkward silence. The natural reaction is to fill the silence with a data dump, a communication breakdown that can kill a sale.

Solution: At the end of the benefit presentation, employing soft closing statements such as ‘How does that sound?’ or ‘We will set that up for you today as well, sound good?’ can take the customer to the finish line. You’ll either receive a ‘yes’ from your prospect, a clarifying question you can answer to close the sale, or an objection you can overcome. Avoid the awkward silence and guide the customer to the close.

#7 – Failing to connect

Problem: When sales representatives don’t learn anything about their customers, it’s very difficult to inform them of how products and services can truly enhance their lives.

Solution: Take time to learn about customer needs and link those needs to the right product or service solution. There’s no need for a ‘hard close’ or if a customer trusts you. Connect and they will take your recommendations.

#6 – Too much terminology

Problem: Slinging around fancy-schmancy adjectives about your products doesn’t necessarily help you sell more. While certain terminology may be well known internally, it is likely foreign to the customer.

Solution: Know your audience. Talk about products using vocabulary the customer is accustomed to. However, you should still be sure to use the correct legal or compliance language laid out for you.

#5 – Believing you’re short on time and #4 – Believing the store is too busy

Problem: These two habits go hand in hand. Look, we’re all busy; the customer and you included. Still, you have a job to do. Take a breath and proceed.

Solution: Always provide customers with the best experience possible. This includes making them aware of any potential products and services that could benefit them (#10) and treating them like they’re the only person in the store (#7).

#3 – Overwhelming customers with everything at once

Problem: Sometimes knowing the product isn’t the issue, but learning how and when to use it is. Just because a sales rep knows everything doesn’t mean the customer needs to hear it.

Solution: If a connection with the customer has been made, deciding what information to share, and when, becomes easy. Demonstrate that you’ve listened by presenting only what will resonate with the customer, instead of hurling value props until one sticks.

#2 – Clerking

Problem: There’s a difference between clerking and selling. Clerking is simply exchanging money and asking if they’d ‘like fries with that.’ Don’t be a clerk or a cashier, be a salesperson.

Solution: Sell! Sell! Sell! Don’t let the customer steer the conversation. Establish a sales process that builds value before you get to the register. Doing this will help you become a bona fide salesperson who can improve your customers’ lives.

#1 – Not selling to everyone

Problem: Why, why, why would every customer not be offered products or services? Who knows? But it happens. (Insert excuse here.)

Solution: No more excuses. No more making decisions for the customer.  Present to everyone. Remember, you lose 100 percent of the sales you don’t offer.

Kevin Cundiff is VP of Warranty Retail for Fortegra