A blog for all things retail and licensing.

Digital Brands Going Brick and Mortar (Things Get Real, Real Fast)

Guest post by Alex Vera, Director of Creative Services, IDL Worldwide

There’s an irony in the concern that brick and mortar retail is doomed to slowly erode: Some of the largest global brands are intentionally giving birth to their brands in the physical space – in real life. Their challenge is, “How do we impactfully engage the consumer when the consumer only knows us on-screen or online?”

Google and Nickelodeon are two such examples whose thinking and executions offer key lessons for any brand. Why? Because this type of migration requires a deep understanding of what a brand stands for and the key elements of what makes a brand compelling to its consumers.

This goes well beyond replicating the brand’s visual attributes and intellectual property. It means revealing the underlying essence of these attributes that truly connect with the shopper and the fan. When you’ve hit on this, the transition from digital to physical is so transparent it’s almost self-evident. But when brands simply migrate their literal assets to the store setting and expect them to cue their deeper values, it’s very easy to miss the mark.

For example, Google opened its first branded retail environment – actually a shop-in-shop – in London this March. In doing so, they thought long and hard about a key element of their persona – the notion of playful innovation. Yes, Google is a tech powerhouse underneath, but think of its two core brand beacons: the ever-changing “GOOGLE” logo on its search engine and the barely human but very lovable Android for its smartphone business.

Google took this sense of playfulness and adventure to heart and delivered it in-store – not just within the space, but in the store fixtures as well. Google used a wood texture that introduces a natural feel and brought in its primary colors through a stained application. This appears in a broad range of executions that convey a sense of comfort and warmth, whether through the use of wood, lighting or accents.

The result is a retail persona that’s tactile and welcoming, and a tone that invites the sense of childlike exploration that matches what we’ve come to love about the brand through its search engine, Android platform and Google experiments delivered in the digital space.

When you walk into the shop and see these technologies brought to life, the experiences close the loop that the retail presentation started, with the presentation providing context and color to its relationship with the consumer.

Google has continuously found opportunities to interpret its brand physically without adhering too much to its traditional brand guidelines. When the shopper combines his or her understanding of Google’s vast technological expertise with this very tactile, inviting context, the result is a surprising and delightful experience that meshes the human with the digital, elevating the brand in ways that support its digital persona.

Nickelodeon’s migration to a physical space shows the same kind of deep understanding of the brand’s persona. Nickelodeon is a longstanding, iconic American brand with roots in the earliest days of cable TV and an overwhelming popularity with young people. But how did Nickelodeon interpret its evergreen properties and characters in a chaotic competitive environment for the first time? By delivering them very cleanly.

For its installation in the Times Square Toys“R”Us, Nickelodeon color-bombed the entire space orange – one dominant color drawn from its core brand. This is brilliant because it’s on-brand but not necessarily what you expect in this context from the loud, boisterous, hey-you-can’t-do-that-on-TV home of SpongeBob SquarePants.

Nickelodeon chose to stand out with simplicity, to ID the brand and mark the space, then employ the medium it knows best to digitally implement the characters we know and love, on big bug-catcher video screens. There’s a surprising amount of physical space between the various installations to ensure that the orange context isn’t cluttered or obscured. And the installations themselves are geometrically precise and well organized, so that your eye can focus on them individually. Nickelodeon appears to have learned from the wiser children’s museums, employing the right balance of irreverence and focused presentation.

At that point you start to interact on the micro level, and here’s where it gets more energetic. There are buttons that say, “Do Not Touch,” so of course, you’re going to touch. Collages of characters on the columns provide visual reference and texture. Now you’re fully engaged and you say, “Yes, this is why I identify with this brand.”

There are some key lessons from Google and Nickelodeon’s successful interpretive executions. Consumers have come to expect that a brand promise will be delivered consistently through all touchpoints. This is the basis for omnichannel marketing. But this doesn’t mean that all – or even a lot – of a brand’s many assets have to migrate literally from the digital realm into the built environment.

First, the brand has to peel away assets that are merely layers to arrive at those that can identify with consumers most authentically at retail. These can be a broad range of physical attributes. Google and Nickelodeon employed very different physical, real-world techniques – for Google, subtle, surprising layers; for Nickelodeon, a single iconic color.

In both examples, the brands dug deeply into their own core personalities and chose – then evolved – crucial assets to bring the shopper into a place that’s both exciting and new, but reassuringly familiar.

As Director of Creative Services for IDL, Alex Vera brings over 16 years of experience in retail design to IDL. His career has focused on creative leadership, retail strategy, environmental graphics, fixture design and conceptual/thematic development. He leads the combined IDL design studio, which is comprised of industrial designers, print, 2D and 3D. Alex has executed projects for global brands, including Nike, Starbucks and Coca Cola. He was recently selected by design:retail as one of the publication’s Top 40 Under 40Alex holds a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Design from Pratt Institute in New York City. He has worked as a Designer and Creative Director for several prestigious, retail-centric firms, where he designed and deployed initiatives for some of the world’s most recognized consumer and retail brands. http://idlww.com


Target Your Back-to-School Dorm Style

By Stephanie Crets

In the age of Buzzfeed quizzes and connecting with new people through social media, Target is tackling back-to-school shopping a little differently with its new Made for U College Styler website.

With this tool, college students – or even those post-college but about to move to their first apartment – can take a quiz to determine the perfect décor style for their future dorm room or apartment. Users navigate through different categories of products from bedding to storage to kitchen to electronics and more, favorite items and curate a list of must-have items for their home away from home.

After connecting your Facebook or Instagram account to the website, you can take the personality quiz to get an even more personalized list of items. The questions ask you where your happy place is, musical tastes, color combination preferences and more to determine your design aesthetic, pulling from more than 400 of Target’s back-to-school items. Based on the results, the website compiles a sample room to shop through, along with a number of items broken down into categories. You can share your results on Facebook, Twitter or create a Pinterest board.

I took the quiz and apparently I’m an “Upstarter,” which means everything in my apartment should be very organized with a gold theme. Thus, much of my item suggestions were storage related with many gold metallic lamps and pillows. This seemed fairly accurate because now I really want this lamp.

The coolest part about this website is that you and your future roommate can connect through social media on the site. You can discover if that person is your “style bestie” or “design enemy.” After they’ve taken the quiz, you can mesh your shopping lists together and design your future home, while hopefully avoiding any arguments.

If you still need more ideas, the site also offers an inspiration section to explore many different room setups. Once you’re ready to “shop your faves,” you’ll be redirected to Target’s main website to add the list of items to your shopping cart and complete your transaction.

Target’s new website makes back-to-school shopping a more personalized, fun experience with an eye-catching, user-friendly interface. They are using the social trends to their advantage and it seems to be working out for them. I’ll be curious to see how many sales were driven to Target’s main website from the Made for U website. If it’s a success, I bet many other retailers will soon follow suit to target other popular shopping seasons.


*Photo credit to Target’s Made for U site of my post-quiz result.

Zebra Technology Printers Play an Important Role in Instacart’s Success

By Stephanie Crets

To keep up with the Joneses of competitors, businesses always need to be forward-thinking, especially when it comes to technology and innovation. Companies need to look for solutions to bring their businesses into the future instead of falling behind and constantly playing catch-up.

Zebra Technologies is all about looking ahead in the current technology landscape and the Internet of Things (IoT). As a global leader in the industry for innovation and reliability, Zebra says it offers an extensive portfolio of services and technologies for businesses and it gives physical things, such as printing services, a digital voice.

Recently, it teamed up with Instacart, a grocery service that offers same-day delivery in many cities throughout the Unites States, to assist the company with its cloud printing and device management using Zebra printers via its IoT solution Zatar.

Zatar is Zebra’s platform as a service (PaaS) IoT solution that allows businesses and developers to build custom applications so they can manage and control all the facets of their company from any location. With this duo solution in place, Instacart can print more accurate and secure labels at its locations around the United States.

Accuracy and security with label printing is a huge deal for Instacart because it prides itself on delivering groceries to its customers within an hour. A mix-up could have dire effects on its business model, causing it to lose customers or compromise its offerings. Printing is often an overlooked area, but Zebra makes sure to harness its power through Zatar. Thanks to a simple application programming interface (API), Zatar connects Instacart’s Zebra printers via the cloud so it can easily interact, monitor and manage its printers globally from any location.

By taking advantage of the Zebra/Zatar technologies, Instacart has a better handle on its real-time business and will be able to make better business decisions, respond and manage real-time issues and figure out how to improve its business along the way. Through these relationships, Instacart is staying one step ahead of the ever-evolving technology landscape, Zebra says.

E-Commerce Retailers vs. Fraudsters: How Do You Protect Yourself?

By Stephanie Crets & Ralph Dangelmaier

So, your e-commerce business is up and running and you’ve been very successful thus far, making great sales, having repeat customers and more. But now that your business has been noticed, you might be the target of less-than-savory customers who are looking to make a quick buck by ripping your company off.

Unfortunately, fraudsters are everywhere and this is an all-too-common occurrence. Not just in business, either. If you check your email right now, you’ll see the constant bombardment of spam messages geared towards getting your confidential information, from fake job offers to fake inheritances to malicious download links. Therefore, it’s not surprising that fraud has reached the e-commerce world.

According to a LexisNexis study, e-commerce fraud cost retailers $32 billion in 2014, which is a 38 percent increase from the previous year. As an online retailer, how can you protect yourself and your business from all the malicious online activity out there?

Ralph Dangelmaier, CEO of BlueSnap, has created a list of seven tips that can help you detect and fight e-commerce fraud:

1.     Is it too good to be true?

If you typically sell one unit per customer and someone orders 100 in one order, pump the brakes. Does this customer have a record of ordering wholesale quantities? Don’t let the excitement of a big sale blind you. The chargeback fees, lost product and additional fraud attempts will be painful.

2.     Can you validate the order?

If an order seems suspicious, validate it. First, verify the shopper’s address and phone numbers with WhitePages.com or Spokeo.com. Search the e-mail address in Google or even Facebook, and if nothing turns up, call the shopper. Ask if he or she can verify the billing address associated with the credit card, and then follow up by asking for the names of the cross streets nearest their address (have GoogleMaps open and listen for a delayed response or typing in the background).

3.     Duck test

You’ve probably heard the expression, “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck.” The so-called “duck test” suggests that you can determine what something is by its habits, and this applies to online shoppers. If XYZ company orders $10,000 worth of business software from a residential address, it has failed the duck test. Likewise, if Jane Smith uses the e-mail address DaveD@whatever.com, that’s a red flag. Why did this person attempt to use six different credit cards before getting an order through? Why is the customer, who supposedly lives in Chicago, shipping to an unaffiliated address in Jakarta, Indonesia? Legitimate customers act like legitimate customers.

4.     Create a blacklist

Record a blacklist of fraudulent credit cards, e-mail addresses and shipping addresses so you automatically decline them in the future. Be sure to review questionable transactions closely so you don’t accidentally put a good customer on your blacklist.

5.     Track the performance of fraud rules

Whether you use a fraud tool or monitor transactions manually, create rules for preventing fraud. Good rules flag or stop suspicious orders without stopping legitimate purchases. So, for example, if 95 percent of your orders contain less than 20 units, requiring a manual review of all orders over 20 units is a reasonable rule. To see if the rule is working, you can compare the percentages of fraudulent transactions and non-fraudulent transactions that triggered the rule.

6.     Update your rules

Review declined transactions frequently so you understand what forms of fraud are most prevalent and adapt your rules. For example, if you have multiple fraudulent orders with @aol.com e-mails (yes, people still have them!) shipping to Houston, create a rule or monitor all transactions with @aol.com e-mail domains shipping to Texas. Over time, smart fraudsters will identify your rules and find ways to get around them, so keep evolving.

7.     Identify your targets

Fraudsters often target products that will be easiest to resell. If you sell bicycling gear, for instance, criminals might have an easier time selling bike lights and locks than a whole stolen bicycle. Repeat offenders also know that high-dollar purchases trigger fraud prevention systems, so they will focus on low-dollar orders and maybe spread them across multiple credit cards.

Hopefully, these tips will give e-commerce merchants some ideas of how to guard against potential fraudulent shoppers. If online retailers remain vigilant in detecting and preventing malicious shoppers, perhaps the cost of fraud will shrink in 2015.


Coupons on the Go: How Can We Measure Their Success?

By Stephanie Crets

When you get to the checkout page of an online store, how often do you quickly open a new tab and Google for a last-minute coupon to add to your order? Almost always, probably. We’re always on the lookout for a good deal, even if we had intended to buy whatever was in our shopping cart already. But finding a “10 percent off” coupon right at checkout makes your shopping experience that much better – and makes you feel a little less guilty.

Measuring these kinds of coupon metrics comes pretty easily, considering everything is conducted online. But what do you do for those who still like to shop in store?

One of the go-to coupon sites is RetailMeNot.com, which allows you to take your coupons on the go with its mobile app. Do your coupon Googling (or swiping) right on your phone while you’re shopping.

RetailMeNot is aware that the majority of shopping is still done in stores, so it is taking advantage of this fact to reach a greater market and audience. It has partnered with a number of companies, such as Sephora, Hot Topic and Walgreens to bring coupons to everyone’s mobile devices. RetailMeNot even won the 2015 Webby award for “Best Shopping App,” so it must be doing something right.

The only hurdle it and its retail partners are facing is how to reach, target and draw in even more consumers.  Retailers have little notion of their return on investments on mobile-based in-store marketing campaigns that are active on the RetailMeNot app, so it’s hard to tell if what they’re doing is truly working.

To target these issues, RetailMeNot has aligned with Placed, an in-store attribution insight and location analytics-focused company. Placed’s technology will help retailers measure the impact of their promotions running through the RetailMeNot platform with insights such as location and user surveys.

“This partnership signals to our retail partners that we value the importance of proving RetailMeNot’s ability to drive offline action, and we can do that through a well-known and accepted methodology conducted by Placed,” Michael Magaro, senior vice president of corporate development for RetailMeNot, said in a press release. “Retailers are realizing that their digital marketing spend generates a more significant return when they run promotions through RetailMeNot.”

According to recent studies conducted through Placed analytics, RetailMeNot is already proving its worth. It showed that the presence of coupons for a specific store in the RetailMeNot app drove an increase of physical store visits during the measured time period. For example, clothing store visits improved by 110 percent, toy stores improved by 105 percent and home good stores improved by a whopping 185 percent.

“We look forward to being a trusted option for retailers on RetailMeNot who are interested in better understanding what drivers in their marketing campaigns – especially in a mobile world – are helping them most effectively drive shoppers into their stores,” David Shim, founder and CEO of Placed, said.

How Going Digital Pays off for Retailers

Guest blog by Roy Rasmussen

“Showrooming” is forcing brick-and-mortar retailers to use digital price tags to compete with online competitors such as Amazon. What’s showrooming? It’s when customers use their smartphones to compare the in-store price to what’s being offered online, making it challenging to compete on price. To adjust, Bloomberg reports that retailers, such as Nebraska Furniture Mart and Kohl’s, are adopting digital price labels that can be updated instantly, a strategy that also cuts the cost of deploying employees to change physical price tags daily. As this illustrates, digital technology presents retailers with not only competitive challenges, but also opportunities to increase efficiency and cut costs. Retailers stand much to gain from embracing digital business models.

Embracing Omnichannel Marketing

With millennials raised on mobile devices and more Baby Boomers shopping online, the line between digital and traditional marketing channels grows increasingly blurred, and omnichannel retailing is driving today’s retail trends. Social media initially served to promote products, but purchase button features on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are turning social sites into shopping platforms. Ninety percent of department sale stores still occur in-store, but 70 percent of those sales are now influenced by digital marketing, L2 Think Tank research director R. Danielle Bailey told eMarketer.com.

Nordstrom has pioneered the emerging sales model, using tactics like highlighting items popular on Pinterest with special in-store tags. Macy’s has similarly succeeded with its click-and-collect service, which enables customers to shop online and pick up purchases in-store. This strategy results in typical shoppers making additional purchases for totals averaging 125 percent of their original orders.

Optimizing Supply Chains

Business models, such as Amazon’s and Nordstrom’s, depend on digital supply chain strategies and software that can support instant adjustments to customer demand. However, a Retail Industry Leaders Association report found that trying to match Amazon’s super-expedited shipping options is not profitable for most businesses. Instead, successful retailers are learning how to balance customer-friendly shipping options with realistic cost control and revenue growth goals. For instance, many retailers are shipping online orders from delivery centers to stores for customer pick-up. Some retailers are even adopting “zero inventory” models where store space is not used to stock products but instead uses visualization technology, such as projections onto 3D surfaces, to help customers virtually preview catalog items, a trend PSFK Labs calls “Click to Visualize.”

Cloud Retail Management

To better manage ominchannel-oriented supply chains while simultaneously improving efficiency and reducing labor and costs, retail chains are increasingly digitizing their business process. The dawn of cloud-based retail as a service (RaaS) platforms, such as Oracle’s new suite of Oracle Retail cloud services, enables retailers to use the cloud to manage everything from inventory and e-commerce to customer engagement and order fulfillment. To make the move to the cloud efficiently, the best practice is to adopt a cloud backup solution, such as MozyEnterprise, to ensure that vital information like customer and inventory data is secure from loss.

Capitalizing on Digital Analytics

A key to success on the cloud is effective use of big data analytics. Many retailers are adopting analytics tools such as Groupon Works, which lets stores track customer foot track patterns in order to make appropriate adjustments, such as display placement and sales associate deployment. Another popular solution is Collect, which lets retailers track top customer spending habits and extend personalized rewards and offers.


Roy Rasmussen, coauthor of Publishing for Publicity, is a freelance copywriter who helps small businesses get more customers and make more sales. His specialty is helping experts reach their target market with a focused sales message. His most recent projects include books on cloud computing, small business management, sales, business coaching, social media marketing and career planning.

RM’s Own Jurassic Paddock

By Stephanie Crets

The Retail Merchandiser office is pretty much obsessed with dinosaurs. At least one person has a dinosaur-themed shirt on in any given week. I have a Jurassic Park mug on my desk, holding my pens. We all couldn’t shut up about the new Jurassic World movie. So, when a package from Animal Planet arrived with a bunch of dinosaur eggs to hatch, needless to say, I was more than a little excited.

The eggs are called Hatch ‘Ems and there are two dinosaur series to choose from. RM hatched a Tyrannosaurus rex, Spinosaurus, Apatosaurus, two Triceratopses and a Stegosaurus.

I began the hatching process by putting the eggs in transparent cups. Throughout the first day, the eggs cracked slowly. By the next morning, little dinosaurs were poking their noses out. I let them grow for a few more days and helped them out of their shells (a la John Hammond helping his baby Velociraptor out of its shell in the Jurassic Park movie). Soon they outgrew their cups and I moved them to a big bin filled with water (labeled “Crets’ Critters”), where they only grew more.

Although very slimy, they are made of a foamy substance, and anything spiny on a real dinosaur is actually soft and safe for kids to play with. When you take them out of the water, they will dry out over a few days and shrink to tiny proportions, but their colors become vibrant.

Each package also comes with a bonus fact card so you can learn even more about the dinosaurs you hatch.

Animal Planet offers a bunch of different Hatch ’Em series to choose from. With the rainforest series, you can hatch a black panther, cobra, macaque, tree frog, tiger and parrot; with the safari series, you can hatch an elephant, cheetah, zebra, rhino, hyena and lion; and with the sea creatures series, you can hatch a clownfish (just like Nemo!), dolphin, crab, turtle and shark.

So, if you want a creative, educational way to take care of a T-rex or tiger pet, then Hatch ’Ems is a fun way for kids – or dinosaur-obsessed adults like me – to hatch and grow a little creature, while also learning.


3 Customers Not-So-Patiently Waiting for More Trade-in Offerings

Jeff Trachsel, CMO for NextWorth Solutions

Five years ago, the average consumer knew nothing about trading in used electronics for cash or store gift cards. Times have changed. Today the average shopper is more informed about his or her purchases than ever. And trade-in is quickly becoming a critical tool to help them get the most bang for their buck when purchasing new products.

While trade-in has traditionally been focused primarily on mobility, savvy retailers are now learning that customers appreciate the ability to trade in more than just phones. This newfound behavior of asking “how much is my old one worth” before purchasing a new product is expanding to more and more categories. So, by making a variety of device types available for trade in, retailers can increase traffic, nurture customer loyalty and pad in-store spending, too.

Here are 3 types of consumers not-so-patiently waiting to trade in more than smartphones.

#1: Early adopters who want the best of everything – not just phones

Tech trailblazers want the best device on the market – and they want it before all of their friends. But this drive to be the ultimate “alpha” user comes at a cost. Trade-in programs are big in the smartphone vertical for this very reason: they allow trend hounds to score the best new devices out of the gate, but soften the blow by offering credit for their cast-offs.

Market-driving product releases like the Apple Watch have made smartwatches a big trade-in target. For example, customers looking to fund a preorder for the new Apple Watch, or simply earn cash for an unwanted smartwatch, can get paid up to $150 on NextWorth.com, dependent on model and condition.

This creates a win-win consumer cycle. As early adopters’ “starter smartwatches” are traded in, their first-gen devices like Samsung Gear 2, Samsung Galaxy Gear, Sony Smartwatch, Pebble and Motorola Moto 360s become hot commodities that provide the opportunity for new users to give smartwatches a try at a lower price point.

Other devices primed for trade-in potential include portable speakers and action cameras. Music aficionados are passionate about good sound; trade-in programs allow consumers to satisfy their search for the best portable speakers, from Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth to Beats Pill XL. Likewise, rapid advancements in the quality and durability of action cameras have led to growing demand for trade-in programs for devices like GoPro Hero.

Whether it’s a device to fill a niche interest or simply the next must-have on the market, accepting a diverse range of technology devices for trade-in helps cultivate repeat customers within the hot early adopter segment.

#2: Return on investment (ROI)-minded homeowners feathering their nests

Many consumers use trade-in programs to upgrade their home amenities and to offset the cost of improvements like new appliances.

Sometimes, these upgrades are designed to help make a home more energy efficient. By trading in outmoded, less efficient refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines and other appliances and for using ENERGY-STAR-certified replacements, not only do homeowners enjoy long-term energy savings over the life of the appliance, they get a rebate from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Offered by many major brick-and-mortar and online retailers, appliance trade-in programs can also help homeowners make ROI-informed property upgrades before listing their home for sale, or try out-of-the-box smart home technologies like Whirlpool’s Interactive Cooktops at a lower price.

#3: Business owners with an eye on the bottom line

Trade-in programs are a boon to business owners who must maximize their company dollars to turn a profit. Trading out-of-date tools for a reduced price on newer models just makes sense.

Corporations who employ a large number of staff and supply a large number of devices have long embraced trade-in programs to keep employees’ technology up to date. But now, in addition to managing the cycle of smartphone upgrades, IT managers are also brokering trade-ins for individually issued devices like company tablets and shared resources like digital printers.

Industry-specific trade-in programs are also valuable for cost-conscious business owners. Tools, for example, are an expensive yet critical cost of business for construction companies. To help diffuse this cost, big brands will sometimes help incentivize trade-in programs to drive sales. For example, in 2014, NAPA AUTO PARTS teamed up with DeWalt for a trade-in program that encouraged customers to bring in their old cordless drills (complete with bits and batteries) to receive an instant trade-in rebate of as much as $100. Customers could then apply that rebate toward the purchase of new tools like grinders, high-speed polishers and cordless impact wrenches.

In short, think outside the smartphone. Get creative with your trade-in program, and help your customers tap into more redeemable value.


About Jeff Trachsel
Jeff Trachsel is Chief Marketing Officer of NextWorth Solutions. NextWorth has been defining, running and optimizing trade-in programs for major retailers nationwide since 2006. The NextWorth Solutions team has more than 100 years of combined experience in the CE trade-in industry. Its unique combination of expertise, team and platform enables it to provide unparalleled trade-in support and experience to its partners, driving their key business objectives. Through the delivery of turnkey in-store and online trade-in platforms, NextWorth Solutions is fundamentally changing the way people buy, own and disown consumer electronics.

Sick of Doing Everything by Hand? WorkJam Helps Retailers Streamline Scheduling

By Stephanie Crets

If you’ve ever worked in retail, you’re probably familiar with the outdated ways in which you might find out your schedule. When I worked at a clothing store in the mall, I would fill out a form that listed my availability every few weeks. If I needed to take a vacation day, I’d fill out another form. My supervisor would post the printed schedule, one that was likely put together in Excel, in a communal area so everyone could see it. And then everyone would copy his or her schedule down, again by hand. This is a time-consuming, antiquated process that costs retailers time and money that could be better spent elsewhere, which is why retailers are in desperate need of an upgrade.

Not only that, but retailers are stressed out over the recently proposed overtime legislation by the Obama Administration. In our current retail environment, salaried workers who make more than $23,660 a year cannot receive any overtime pay, even if they work insanely long hours. But the proposed rule would up that line to salaried workers making $50,440, letting workers be owed what they deserve for their hard work and long hours.

Retailers are concerned that this will increase costs across the board, where they will have to hire fewer people and limit the number of advancement opportunities for workers. However, if retailers take the steps to upgrade their own systems and ways of conducting behind-the-scenes business, they might not feel the brunt of the costs.

A company called WorkJam offers retailers an employee relationship management platform to address all the different aspects of today’s worker-supervisor relationship.

“There’s a lot of pressure on retailers to maintain their margins,” says Steven Kramer, CEO of WorkJam. “Although we understand both sides of the argument, we are sensitive to the retailers. The solution is finding the middle ground, something that will allow managers to free up time from these manual processes, streamline operations and be more productive.”

Ten years ago, which is about how long ago I was working at a clothing store in the mall, these types of technology advancements didn’t exist – and my iPhone was definitely not yet running my life. Therefore, it’s important for retailers to realize what’s out there now and utilize it to their advantage, especially the ease and convenience of smartphone apps.

“Companies have been so focused on customer experience, there hasn’t been much focus for optimizing their own operations,” Kramer says. “The nice part about this platform is that innovation and technology leads to higher employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction.”

The WorkJam platform allows employees and managers to:

  • Set and manage availability;
  • Create schedules;
  • Manage shifts;
  • See open shifts;
  • Request sick time and vacation time;
  • Post and participate in training sessions;
  • Communicate with everyone; and
  • Rate managers and each shift.

Another unique feature is that this entire platform is wrapped into a rewards program where employees can earn digital badges for accomplishing certain milestones, such as great customer service, taking an open shift or completing training topics. By racking up badges, employees will then get priority for schedules and vacation requests. According to WorkJam, these incentives drive better employee productivity and will make it easier for managers to reward them for hard work.

By switching to a digital platform, retailers can also maintain better compliance practices. “How do you maintain compliances if you have all these manual processes occurring? If someone calls in sick, what controls do you have in place if it’s all manual?” Kramer tells RM. “Our system is geared towards setting legal and corporate compliances. These are all parameters you can set up in the app. You have the controls in place that you can see where you need to pay overtime, approve something, etc. You know ahead of time instead of taking a hit later on.”

Although the official court ruling for the overtime legislation is still months away, retailers can start making changes now to better improve productivity and communication and decrease margins across the board.


24 Hour Fitness: Come for the Workout, Stay for the Growing Retail Business

By Stephanie Crets

When you’re working out at the gym, the last things on your mind are how the gym merchandises and conducts its store operations. You might buy a protein bar or a new pair of running shorts, but other than that, gym members are generally oblivious to all the work that goes into running the retail side of a fitness center.

24 Hour Fitness, a leading health club throughout the United States with more than four million members, knew that it had to improve on certain factors as it expanded its operations. It needed quick and easy access to important store data without utilizing IT services, which is where Mi9 Retail came to help.

“Mi9 will help 24 Hour Fitness achieve the age-old retail goal of getting the right product at the right time in the right quantities to the right locations, which in our case is 450 clubs and growing,” says Andrew Dottermusch, senior director of retail for 24 Hour Fitness.

Mi9 Retail, a provider of enterprise retail merchandising, business intelligence and store operations software, created a solution that will help 24 Hour Fitness increase efficiencies throughout its corporate offices and retail operations. Mi9 Retail provided a suite of services for analytics, data management and financial controls. This will better assist 24 Hour Fitness with inventory management, buying and pricing throughout all of its retail channels.

“Mi9 will allow the retail team to significantly reduce the time currently invested in the mechanics and processes of achieving that goal, so they can refocus on business insights and strategic decision-making,” Dottermusch explains. “This critical shift will assist 24 Hour Fitness Retail in better meeting members’ needs and in turn drive incremental revenue.”

24 Hour Fitness is replacing a system that is more than 10 years old. Everything will now be streamlined and automated to support the growing retail business in health and fitness clubs. With this information, the gym can learn what customers want, and how to better provide and price it and keep it well stocked.

“Providing our members products to support their health and fitness goals is partly an offer of convenience, but more significantly, provides them solutions that establish 24 Hour Fitness as a source for and authority on individual wellness,” Dottermusch says.