A blog for all things retail and licensing.

The Reality of Using Spreadsheets to Run Your Business

 Guest blog by Brandon Levey

Even as technology becomes more accessible and consumers demand faster service, many retailers are reluctant to adopt the solutions they need to grow successfully. Instead, they rely on manual spreadsheet tracking to maintain inventory, orders and other important information. But as a business grows to multiple sales channels, manual systems won’t be enough to support a scaling company.

Here are four reasons why spreadsheets are detrimental to a business:

Drains time

Ventana Research published a study in 2013 that uncovered some of the biggest challenges and dependencies businesses have with spreadsheets. Although it wasn’t surprising to see people reported how time consuming and tedious spreadsheets are for them, it was alarming to know that not many people have adapted new technologies.

In the study, it was stated that “users underestimate the impact of spreadsheet problems on their productivity because they tend to overlook the myriad little issues that constantly crop up.”

The research group also uncovered that people spend about 12 hours per month consolidating, modifying and correcting the spreadsheets. This makes it very difficult for retailers to gain momentum in an extremely saturated market. Everyone has intentions of building a successful retail business, but only the few that build the right foundation will gain the momentum to succeed.

Limited scalability

Spreadsheets have long been used because of their easy onboarding and setup. At first, looking at this as a solution makes sense; it’s customizable, doesn’t require heavy training, and is typically setup with your other basic office tools. However, as a business grows and hires more people accessing the same documents, it becomes clear that spreadsheets won’t cut it.

Manual inventory and order tracking is not scalable. As retail businesses expand business owners must put automated systems into place that will help provide more stability and streamlined operations. Without automated systems, staying ahead of customer demand and available inventory becomes a distant dream.

Prone to human errors

Human error is inevitable when using spreadsheets. With the amount of detailed formulas and multiple team members updating the documents, it’s not only difficult to manage, but if something goes wrong – it’s nearly impossible to find the error.

Solutions that have flexibility to integrate, centralize and simplify any part of your business need to be taken more seriously as staples for a growing retail business. Errors in inventory and order tracking lead to poor customer satisfaction and decreased repeat business. Sometimes business owners think being heads down every hour of the day, pumping in manual work is how you get to the next level. The problem is this leaves no opportunity to pop your head up and realize – there’s a better way!

Lack of real-time automation

One-time transactions used to be easy to track in a brick and mortar location, but as retailers are encouraged to expand online and offline channels, automating orders and shipping is a must.

The ability to track products such as quantities, location and more, is key in scaling a business. If a business’ foundational processes like inventory management are broken, it becomes very difficult to find new opportunities for growth. These pain points extend beyond tracking product location and amounts, affecting customer satisfaction, sales insight, and business growth. It’s a lot like maintaining personal health or a car. Cosmetics and flash are good to draw attention, but if the stability and strength of its core functions falter, those other things just don’t matter.

Other statistics we can use from the study:

  • Nearly 72% of participants said that their most important spreadsheets are the ones they share with others.
  • On average people spend about 12 hours per month consolidating, modifying and correcting the spreadsheets. (That’s about a day and a half per month – or about 5 to 10 percent of their time – just maintaining these spreadsheets.)
  • Those who spend all or most of their time working with spreadsheets spend 18.1 hours per month maintaining just one spreadsheet
  • Even casual users, those that spend less than one-fourth their time, must devote about one day (8.6 hours) per month on this spreadsheet.
  • More than half of users (56%) say that combining spreadsheets is a time-consuming chore.

Brandon Levey is the creator of Stitch Labs.

Five Simple Steps for Distinguishing the Deals from the Duds

Guest Blog By Phong Vu

Many consumers see a retailer’s marked down price versus the original selling price and believe they’re saving a lot, but it literally pays to know what the numbers behind the deals mean.

Some retailers have been accused of showing inflated retail prices to make their deals look better. More often than not, they are showing the actual manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP), but no one actually sells that product at that number. These five simple steps can help you uncover the deals from the duds.

Step 1: Look at the retail price relative to the store price. If it’s below retail, than this is your first signal that it may actually be a good deal.

Step 2: Do a price comparison on the product. Sites like Google Shopping and PriceGrabber provide an easy way for you see what products are selling for at multiple retailers. More often than not, most retailers have pricing that is similar (even if they are all below retail).

Step 3: Check out Amazon (if you’re not already there) and check the price point on their site. They are almost always competitive.  When you see a product well below Amazon price, it’s usually a pretty good deal.

Step 4: Once you have a sense for what most retailers are selling the product for, look for coupons on sites like DealScience.com that can help you uncover additional ways to save. It’s quite common for stores like Kohl’s and Macy’s to issue coupon codes on specific categories of products. You may be able to snag another 20 percent off of something that is already marked down.

Step 5: Remember to compare the “out the door” price, which includes shipping and tax. This will help you determine how to get to the best available price for a particular item.

Phong Vu is CEO of DealScience.com

The New Standard for Supplier Responsibility

Guest Blog by Christian Lanng

Supply chains – often involving many vendors and complex relationships – have always been a logistical challenge. As business evolves in our modern, mobile world, and enterprises are doing more global transactions than ever before, it is also becoming a collaboration, communication and accountability challenge.

While the process of managing a supply chain is getting more complex, the environmental consequences, labor considerations and sustainability of supply chains is also under extreme scrutiny. These challenges can all be rolled into the concept of supplier responsibility; how responsible is an enterprise when choosing suppliers and how socially responsible are those suppliers when creating their products or services?

Supplier responsibility is especially important when scaling for large orders and quick ramp-up, such as is the case now for Apple as they start selling their new watch and updated laptops. In fact, while Apple’s approach to suppliers has been interesting with the Apple Watch – they are relying heavily on just two suppliers – Apple is a great example of how companies can excel when it comes to supplier responsibility.

To do business with Apple, every supplier must agree to meet the standards that the company has established in their Supplier Code of Conduct and their Supplier Responsibility Standards. These contain more than 100 pages of comprehensive requirements in 20 key areas, including labor and human rights, health and safety, environment, management systems, and ethics. Apple also regularly audits suppliers to ensure compliance to these standards. Apple believes in forming strong relationships with their suppliers, which they do by visiting their suppliers’ facilities regularly. In 2014 they performed 633 audits in 19 countries and trained 2.3 million workers on their rights.

Another company that is a good example of supplier responsibility is Chipotle, which suspended a supplier that was not in compliance with the company’s animal welfare standards. They were unable to find a new supplier that stood up to their standards, so they removed pork from their menu at a financial loss to the company.

Of course, supplier centric practices are not always about cutting costs but rather about building long-term partnerships, creating value, and delivering the best products to your customers.

As the world’s biggest enterprises set the bar for supplier responsibility, here are four things to consider to make sure that your company is keeping up:

  • Sustainability and Embracing the Circular Economy – The term Circular Economy refers to the concept of doing less with more and considering the impact of business on the environment. Make sure not only that your company uses sustainable materials and does its best to limit its emissions into the environment, but take the time to assess whether your suppliers hold themselves to the same standard.
  • Health, Safety and Human Rights – Ensure safe and healthy working conditions throughout your supply chain and invest in some training to make sure that you and your employees are steering clear of any labor and human rights violations. If you are working with global suppliers, take the time to learn the different labor regulations of each country and assess your suppliers accordingly.
  • Diversification – There are many benefits to supplier diversification. First of all, it helps protect your enterprise against supplier hurdles, such as port closures or material shortages. Also, spreading the work among a few different suppliers helps companies avoid putting too much pressure on any one supplier for quick ramp-up. It is usually during these high-stress periods of time that regulation and compliance are compromised, so take extra care to make sure that is not the case.
  • Digitalization – Conducting your business transactions digitally encourages responsible record keeping and accountability. When working with many suppliers, it’s a good idea to make sure that every transaction, contract and audit is in writing and saved digitally, preferably on the cloud, for future reference.

Companies that want to work with the best suppliers in order to make the best products need to consider supplier responsibility as part of their business strategy and take the first steps to ensure that they are aware of their supplier practices.

Christian Lanng is Tradeshift CEO

Why Retailers are Turning to In-store Trade-in

Guest Blog By Jeff Trachsel

With the prevalence of online shopping and increase in showrooming, one of the biggest challenges facing today’s brick-and-mortar retailers is how to drive in-store traffic and sales. With so many online and in-store options, sensible consumers have an abundance of options when it comes to purchasing the newest consumer electronics.

Five years ago, the average consumer knew little about trading in used electronics for cash or store gift cards. Today, awareness of trade-in is much higher and continuing to grow. Because of this opportunity, many big box and niche retailers are already leveraging in-store electronics trade-in programs. In fact, according to NPD Group, smartphone trade-in is “one of the most dynamic, leading tools that carriers and retailers use to drive new device sales.”

Providing valued customers with the convenience to sell used smartphones, tablets, laptops and video games for store value can result in a huge return for retailers – not only providing increased store traffic, but also an upsurge in customer loyalty and in-store spending.

Increased spending

Exchanging used consumer electronics for store credit is an effective way to boost in-store spending and increase margins. Device trade-in accelerates the consumer upgrade cycle by instantly allowing consumers to purchase devices more frequently and for less, thereby driving more new device sales. Retailers also benefit from the gift card multiple: Consumers buying with a gift card can spend up to five times the average purchase price, depending on the initial card value. And when consumers get paid for their unused items, spending tends to be directed toward higher margin “wants” versus “needs.”

Bolstered customer loyalty

According to the NPD Group’s Connected Intelligence report and its survey of smartphone consumers, nearly 62 percent of respondents are willing to switch retailers for a better trade-in offer. The following graphic depicts the data and customer willingness to switch, both for retailers and carriers.

Due to the widespread popularity of using smartphone trade-ins to fund upgrades, consumers are searching for the best deal they can get with the most convenient experience. Offering trade-in not only provides customers with a personalized, one-to-one exchange with a sales associate, but also gives customers the positive feeling of being paid back by their favored retailer.

Incremental in-store traffic

With the growing awareness of trade-in, consumers are now on the lookout for the right combination of convenience and value. With special trade-in offers and promotions, retailers can cut through the clutter and attract both loyal and new customers to brick-and-mortar locations. This is especially true around new device launches, when consumer awareness and interest is especially high. In addition, online channels can successfully drive foot traffic into brick-and-mortar stores, effectively reversing the showrooming trend. Highlighting retail-only trade-in offers and promotions through online channels such as social media and email marketing enhances in-store promotions and motivates shopping behavior.


In a time when the retail experience must innovate to remain relevant, in-store consumer electronics trade-in programs offer the boost retailers need. As a personalized experience that immediately pays the customer back for used products, trade-in can serve as a critical tool to drive foot traffic, increase sales and enhance customer loyalty.

Jeff Trachsel is CMO at NextWorth Solutions, Inc.

Creating Visibility across the Retail Value Chain with the Internet of Things

Guest Blog by Matt Davis

Demand volatility is the number one risk for retailers and consumer product manufacturers with 83% stating that is a concern. Visibility to risk is the challenge for 2015.

SCM World’s 2014 CSCO study asked respondents about their companies’ visibility of potential risks across the retail and consumer value chain. Each respondent was asked to rate visibility within its operations and then further into the supply base and demand channel.

Layering visibility for each of these industries together provides insight into where companies in the consumer value chain have good visibility. As the figure below shows, manufacturers across the board say they have better visibility into their operations than retailers do for themselves and, with the exception of food and beverage, better visibility into the retail channel as well.

Visibility across the retail and consumer value chain (% of respondents with “good” visibility of potential risks at each level)
Some takeaways from the holistic view of the retail and consumer value chain:

  • Apparel and consumer electronics manufacturers have the best visibility into the tier-1 supply base. Both of the industries are challenged with extremely fickle demand and short product lifecycles. Look here for benchmarking opportunities on using processes like integrating suppliers into sales and operations planning and tiered supplier relationship management to create better visibility.
  • Retail is the premier source for consumer insight. There is much value to be gained for manufacturers when they can prove value in collaboration. But
don’t overlook electronics manufacturers as the #2 best source for visibility to consumers.
  • Visibility is a consistently discussed pain point for supply chain organizations and yet, according to this data, most executives feel like they have good visibility within their operations. The clear challenge for all layers of the consumer value chain is to find ways to improve external visibility.

A retail opportunity with the Internet of Things (IoT)

Cisco estimates that there will be 60 billion connected “things” in 2020. That is nearly 10 things for every human now on the planet. For the retail value chain, IoT is going to shake up demand and is already changing the purchase experience.

IoT is already permeating its way up and down the retail and consumer value chain. Existing IoT use cases include:

  • Food and beverage supply. Coca-Cola Freestyle vending machines are using device-monitoring technology to provide early warning on supply replenishment. Each machine can monitor consumption of its supply and automatically send requests for service replenishment. Consumption patterns can be analyzed at the individual machine level, across a bank of machines, at store level, at regional level and at the net sum to better predict future demand as part of forecasting.
  • Demand sensing and shaping. In 2014, Disney released a wearable device called the Magic Band to enhance customers’ experience at its parks. The band, which has an embedded RFID chip, can be used to access rides and your hotel room and as a means of payment throughout the park. Guests can log into a website, MyMagic+, to preload itineraries, store credit card information and even sync planned activities with other individuals and groups. In addition to better forecast accuracy and an improved personalized experience, Disney can welcome an additional 3,000 guests per day based on efficiencies related to Magic Band and MyMagic+.
  • Connected retail displays. British retailer Marks
& Spencer released a new room customization technology in its stores that enables consumers to sync their tablets to a showroom display. Using an app, a consumer can design his or her ideal room by loading dimensions and then selecting from furniture and color options. Choices update in real time on the showroom display and, when final selections are made, both the consumer and the store have itemized lists of planned purchases.

A digital path forward

Use these recommendations as a plan to enhance your visibility now and into 2020:

  • Tap into existing good visibility. Visibility is a hot buzzword in supply chain and yet the great majority feel like they have good visibility internally. Use
the data in the figure above as a guide to benchmarking opportunities for external visibility across the consumer value chain.
  • Solve the process constraint. It might be time
to revisit CPFR. While it fell out of favor between retailers and consumer products manufacturers, the same concept has re-emerged in the hi-tech value chain between device manufacturers and carriers. Advances in technology, analytics and a pointed focus on customer value have made CPFR more viable than it was 15 years ago.
  • Declare your role in the Internet of Things. The majority (51%) in retail and consumer products already agrees that IoT will be
both important and disruptive. Consider partnering with device manufacturing industries to see how they are using the data for improved visibility and analytics.

Matt Davis is Senior Vice President Research at SCM World

Social Media Contests: How to Engage Your Customers

No matter the product or service you offer, engaging customers is key to growing your business. Luckily, with the popularity of social media, reaching out to potential customers has never been easier. But what are the best ways to connect with your customers in such a saturated market? Interact with your customers with freebies, promos and contests to increase your traffic and create loyal customers.


The Twitterverse is an ever-changing hub of interaction. A simple way to engage your followers on this huge platform is by holding a Twitter contest. For example, you can post a picture on Twitter and then ask your followers to create a caption for it. Provide a hashtag for contestants to use in order to track responses, and then choose the winner based on the most creative caption. Another great Twitter contest is a “fast fingers” contest. You can ask a trivia question about your brand with the instructions that the first person to tweet the right answer wins. Again, provide a hashtag for participants so you can track responses.


Depending on the products or services your business offers, Instagram can be an invaluable means of promotion. From showcasing your products to capturing the biggest moments on your work sites, Instagram can make your brand more visible.

A great way to engage customers on this platform is to encourage them to take pictures of the services you provide. Have your customers go out to your stores or use your products and take pictures on their smartphones. Then, have them use a hashtag to connect with your company and reward some of the most creative pictures with a freebie or a VIP upgrade. You can reward customers randomly or hold a photo contest to get customers to submit the most creative uses of your products. Contests such as these not only get people thinking creatively about your product, but they also help customers feel connected to your brand.


One of the advantages of Facebook is that your posts aren’t limited to 140 characters like they are on Twitter. This means Facebook contests and posts can be somewhat more involved. You can have a series of posts spanning several weeks where you ask your followers for tips on different topics. For example, you can ask about the best ways to cut down on resource usage and how to live a greener lifestyle. Or, you can ask what you can do better as a brand (just be prepared to listen to the suggestions on this one). Or, you can ask what types of presents your fans like. Then, you can reward the most helpful, creative or honest tip with a prize. Not only do these contests and posts help you interact with your customers, but it also can give you ideas on how to run a better, cleaner and smarter business.

What’s Next?

You have now interacted with your customers and hopefully gathered their social media profiles and email addresses, which sets you up for future engagement and lead generation. Now you need some tools to help you manage all of this information.

A high-quality smartphone like the iPhone 6 should be first on your list. You need to be able to manage your marketing efforts from anywhere and at anytime. With the new 8-megapixel iSight camera, you can take pictures of your products and branding information and immediately post to keep your customers engaged at all times. Then, you will want to use a social media management tool like Hootsuite to organize all of your campaigns. Its pro services include 100 social profiles, 10 enhanced analytics reports and 10 team members to help you collaborate. Finally, manage your subscribers with a tool like MailChimp to keep all of your contacts in one place.

Vetting Bloggers’ Impact in the Beauty Business

Guest Blog By Shana Starr

Beauty blogging is a serious business. The space has grown so large and is so powerful many bloggers are now becoming “celebrities” and are receiving their own television shows and ad dollars from beauty companies around the world. The vast number of these bloggers is growing daily and for beauty companies, answering requests from bloggers for product and even sponsorship money has become a job on its own. Many savvy beauty PR contacts say they are becoming overwhelmed with requests. It seems like it would be easy to look up someone’s popularity and audience reach, but it can become a time consuming chore for beauty companies to navigate the heavy onslaught of product and sponsorship requests. We have created a strategy and tips for beauty companies to vet these requests to quickly determine if they will help the beauty brand grow or just be another free product shipped.

    1. First, you need to gauge how many people their blog or social media channels reach to ensure you’re sending product to those who have sites that will reach large audiences rather than only a handful of followers. If their number of followers isn’t available on their site, use an audience reach tool like StatShow.com or Quantcast to look up the bloggers’ number of website visitors, and check out their social pages (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, etc.) to see how many followers they have. If we still aren’t able to locate the number of followers, we kindly ask that they provide this number, and many bloggers are pleased to share. We currently recommend sending full product samples if they have over 10,000 followers on various platforms or if they represent a niche audience that we are trying to get in front of. For followers at less than 10,000, we suggest trial sample sizes.
    1. Next, check to make sure the blogger communicates openly and knows how to communicate on social media. We are always surprised at the wrong hashtag used or when a blogger is using a broken link. We also suggest to our beauty clients that they make sure the blogger communicates in an interesting, fun, and friendly manner that really gives their followers insight into why they are reviewing a product or working with a company.
    1. Is the blog visually pleasing or are there a ton of ads that break up the blog? If you are going to be sending them product, make sure you would want your brand on that page. This is an easy way to make sure your product aligns with the blogger’s look and feel.
    1. Look at past reviews and confirm that the blogger actually mentions the company’s name and even goes as far as to thank the company for sending them products. Look at previous posts and see if people are engaging in their comments and reviews. We suggest companies look through the blogger’s previous posts to see what they are covering (beauty, food, clothes, etc.) and if this aligns with our client’s brand. We also check out how many views they get to videos (if they post videos or have a YouTube), how many likes or comment each post gets, and frequency of posts. Basically, make sure they are putting in effort, dedicated to their blog, and their writing is professional.
    1. We review their policies and terms and conditions – do they ask for an unreasonable amount of product, do they require payment, or do they look like they are into reviewing a product or just want free products?
    1. Lastly, it’s important to keep track of what bloggers you are sending product to. When we see a great review that was shared by a blog with a large audience reach that our clients are happy about, we will gladly offer them more product for another review, thus growing the relationship and furthering our client’s reach. On the contrary, some bloggers will continue to ask for product but then never feature a review. Keeping a record of who the product was sent to, having a follow up system in place to track down the coverage, and keeping track of who covered the product is essential so you can weed out the bloggers looking for free product and thank those who have.

All of these suggestions help vet bloggers intentions and provide a way for companies to determine if they want to work with that blogger, give them trial-size products, or commit to becoming partners to grow their brand. Work up a numeric system to rate each blogger request so you can quickly give your clients recommendations. With a detailed system in place, you can build relationships with the most desirable bloggers that your clients want to connect with and further expand their reach. It will definitely help the process and create a faster workflow for reviews.

Shana Starr is Managing Partner at LFPR, LLC

3 Mobile Payment Options for Entrepreneurs on the Go

The business environment is constantly changing and entrepreneurs need to be prepared. Although the business world is becoming more globalized, there also is a push for small local businesses and face-to-face interactions. While emails, texts, chats and video conferences are necessary to do business, in-person interactions can make a difference. According to a study by psychologist and professor at National University of Singapore Richard Arvey, 77 percent of people still believe in the value of offsite meetings.

Although in-person meetings help make a connection, another barrier in the past has been that business payment systems were simply not mobile enough to be used outside of the office environment. This meant that you could make a sale in person, but you couldn’t close the deal right then and there. Your clients either had to give their credit card information over the phone or arrange an alternative payment method. That gives enough time for the deal to fall apart.

Fortunately, with the various apps and software systems available today, you can carry everything you need to complete the sale from start to finish. Consider the following mobile payment options:

Google Wallet

Google Wallet makes payments simple with as little as a two-click process. As a merchant, all you need is a Google Wallet account of your own or a near field communication (NFC) device. If the latter, you would need to rent the applicable NFC reader from First Data. This enables clients with Android operating systems and the Google Wallet app to simply hold their phone over the NFC reader in order to affect payment.

Google Wallet also can be integrated into your current payment processing option with no fee. However, if you switch over, you are looking at a fee of at least 1.9 percent of each transaction value.


LevelUp is even simpler than Google Wallet. You just need to get the app and a LevelUp terminal that can be integrated into your current point of sale system, and then the reader scans the QR code generated by the client’s smartphone in order to complete the transaction. However, like Google Wallet, you can expect to pay 2 percent of the transaction fee.

Sage One

When considering mobile payment options, Sage One looked at the problem holistically—business owners need to be able to accept a wide range of payment types in a cost effective way and also need a way to automate the capture of these payments. After all, nobody has time to waste typing in data that could be automated.

Sage is an all-in-one system that can automatically assign the correct receipt, make all the necessary entries into your financial accounts and keep your books up to date on a per client basis. Imagine being able to call up sales reports in real time just by clicking a few buttons. This way you can analyze spending patterns and see the effects of your marketing campaigns. This helps you make better informed decisions and helps to reduce the amount of time needed to analyze the data.

While there are plenty of payment options available, these three are perfect for the entrepreneur on the go.

Lessons Learned from the Chick-fil-A Breach: Five Preventive Measures

Guest Blog By Kevin Watson

The past year has been inundated with retail breaches including Target, Home Depot and most recently, Chick-fil-A. The Georgia-based fast food company investigated a credit card breach in early 2015, focusing on the point-of-sale (POS) network at some of its restaurants. The breach is thought to have occurred between December 2013 and September 2014.  Brian Krebs, an Internet blogger who specializes in banking security, reported that one financial institution claimed that the common thread among approximately 9,000 of its affected customers were purchases at Chick-fil-A restaurants. So what can retailers learn from these types of attacks?

It is important to stress that security breaches of this nature can be caused by a variety of issues – newly discovered software flaws, lax security from a service provider, insider fraud, weak network security and countless other avenues.  There is also the possibility that the data which had been compromised did not originate from Chick-fil-A at all.  Theft can occur at numerous places along the payment chain.  For example, it may be necessary to examine the bank where the electronic transactions were processed.

In one sense, it does not matter how the breach occurred.  The fact that credit cards at a major corporation had once again been stolen highlights the threat that all quick serve restaurants and retailers of every size are facing from data thieves. Businesses interested in keeping their networks and data secure should start with simple security measures that can effectively mitigate the growing problem that hackers represent. While nothing is fool proof, the following suggestions could have prevented most (if not all) of the breaches that have garnered so much attention in the past 12 months:

Protect a Location’s Incoming Internet Traffic

The first step in stealing data is finding an avenue into the targeted business.  All of a business’ data circuits and its Internet connections must be protected by a robust and adaptable firewall, protecting the business from unwanted incoming traffic.

Implement Secure Remote Access

When permitting remote access to a network for the management of POS and other systems, it is essential that this access is restricted and secure. At a minimum, access should only be granted to individual (not shared) user accounts using 2-factor authentication and strong passwords. Remote access activities should also be logged so that an audit trail is available.

Keep Anti-malware Software Up-to-date

It is critical to keep all anti-virus / anti-malware software up to date with the latest versions and definitions.  The companies that make anti-malware software monitor threats constantly and regularly update their packages to include preventive measures and improvements to thwart malware seen in other attacks.

Update your Point of Sale as Security Patches are Released

Much like anti-virus / anti-malware updates, POS manufacturers are constantly improving their software to prevent hackers from stealing data, especially if a criminal manages to bypass the built-in security.  It is essential that the latest security releases and patches be installed on all POS systems.

Limit Outbound Internet Traffic

In addition to blocking unwanted traffic from getting into a location, it is always a good practice to selectively block outgoing traffic as well.  Many modern breaches involve software that becomes resident on your network and then tries to send sensitive data to the hacker’s system via the Internet. No system can completely prevent unwanted malware or viruses, so a good last line of defense is making sure secure data doesn’t leave your network without your knowledge.  The same firewall used in Step One should be configured to monitor outgoing traffic as well as incoming.

These suggestions might, on the surface, seem simplistic, but almost every major breach in the last 12 months failed to incorporate at least one of them.  Of course, this list is not an all-inclusive way to prevent every type of credit card theft, but it is interesting to ponder how much theft could have been prevented if just these five elements had been implemented correctly.  Remember that it costs nothing for data thieves to attempt to hack a business, so for them, every business is a worthwhile target.

Kevin Watson is the CEO of Netsurion

Putting Analytics to Work in Retail Environments

Guest blog by Murali Nadarajah

Retailers today are looking for more sophisticated ways to understand customers’ buying behavior and are increasingly turning toward big data and analytics to deliver a deeper level of insight. Access to these tools is now topping retailers’ “must-have” lists, regardless of the channels by which they sell.

Analytics makes it possible for retailers to see the choices consumers make as they move through a store. For example: they pause at one display, but not at another; they choose one aisle to walk down and ignore the next; they pick up products but don’t buy whereas they pull the trigger on others. Further, analytics allows e-tailers to track criteria such as click-through rates, site navigation, repeat visits, purchases and abandoned shopping carts.

With more traditional e-commerce retailers opening brick-and-mortar storefront such as Warby Parker, BaubleBar and Zappos and the continual growth of online shopping, retail analytics will become even more important in more clearly defining ROI in the future. According to a TechCrunch survey, 78 percent of consumers prefer to shop in-store and spend six times more in-store than online.

Today’s Use of Retail Analytics

A variety of technology and data analytics is already providing this level of insight (which we’ll dig further into later on). The combined power of technology, big data and analytics can give retailers more precise information than they’ve ever had on just how shoppers operate in their stores.

For some time now, retailers have gathered information on what customers buy, and have used it to more precisely target and tailor their marketing efforts. Store loyalty cards accumulating points to turn into discount vouchers or credits give the retailer the capability to monitor individual customer purchasing behavior. Online, retailers can track customer movements around their virtual store and have an idea which items are abandoned before the checkout stage and “re-target” to remind shoppers of the items they have forgotten.

However, it’s been particularly challenging for many retailers to bridge the gap between the available technology and the ability to actually put the insights to use. A possible solution to this issue is to either hire more personnel with a data/technical background or ensure your analytics partner can provide this counsel.

In-Store Analytics

There are several different types of analytics applied to the more precise tracking of in-store shopping behaviors, such as: zonal analytics, heat mapping, and shopper behavior flow. Let’s take a brief look at each:

  • Zonal analytics: Allows retailers to put a fine point on customer engagement and shopping trends by zone, floor or category in shopping centers.
  • Heat mapping: Identifies a particular site’s potential (whether it’s a specific aisle or section in the store) by locating hot and cold spots.
  • Shopper behavior flow: Shows retailers where shoppers are moving within the space, discovers shopping trends between categories, and identifies the most and least popular stores within a category and across categories in shopping centers.

This in-store technology also helps retailers identify what hours show spikes in foot traffic, how long customers stay in the store, how frequently they visit and who the “VIP” shoppers are. In turn, this allows retailers to better tailor marketing campaigns, better connect sales channels, create more attractive displays and capture lost sales opportunities among a host of other competitive benefits.

For managers of brick-and-mortar shopping centers, being able to map footfall gives them information they can use to increase profitability and maximize rent for retail space. Foot traffic and shopper flow analysis can expose the routes shoppers take through the mall, which is very useful information to  potential leasing customers and, for the mall management team wanting to re-model to optimize visitor flow and maximize return visits, not to mention for the setting of price zones according to traffic level.

Wi-Fi and Video

Data gathered from Wi-Fi hotspots and surveillance video cameras is another technology retailers are frequently turning to today. It can be used to create a detailed map of customer behavior going into, and moving around, the store. Brought together with sales system and transactional data, it can build a picture of how well a storefront serves to bring customers in, where shoppers go within the store, if the layout makes browsing easy, if checkout lines are losing customers and other insights into customer shopping habits and needs.

Xchanging undertook a study of five shopping malls in the United States and found that 62 percent of shoppers leave Wi-Fi up on their phones, meaning that wherever they go their phones are pinging off Wi-Fi hotspots and are leaving a digital footprint. Shoppers don’t even need to manually connect to the Wi-Fi for this location data to register – in fact, only around three percent did in this study. From this data, the movement of shoppers around a shopping center can be mapped, providing insight into the floors they visit and the shops they go into.

Add to this content from surveillance cameras and the information becomes even more granular, detailing things like gender/age profiles of customers entering specific stores and average dwell times at window displays. Combine images from cameras with a more localized focus with sentiment analysis software and a picture can even be generated of the reactions and emotions of shoppers as they shop.

Putting the Data to Work

Retailers operate in a highly competitive environment where customer insight provides a competitive edge. Through the use of retail analytics they can better understand their customers and take sales data from the level of ‘what’ to the level of ‘why.’ For shopping center management, this kind of information is likely to become the de-facto standard for retail outlet leasing and will be a necessary component of what property managers supply to retailers. For all of us – consumers and retail businesses, alike – it takes a subtle shift in mindset, one that moves away from perceptions of a ‘big brother’ environment where everything we do is watched, to one where we can see the mutual benefit in information exchange, provided it is carried out sensibly with due regard to security and privacy.

Murali Nadarajah is CEO, Xchanging Malaysia