A blog for all things retail and licensing.

Common Sales Tax Pitfalls – And How to Avoid Them

Guest Blog by Jonathan Barsade

The Great Recession and slow recovery have taken a toll on state and local government revenues. Many states and municipalities have cut services and operations in response, but they’ve also significantly ramped up tax enforcement activities in an effort to secure more revenue, relying heavily on simple technology tools to automate and expedite enforcement processes.

While governments are putting technology to work for tax enforcement purposes, many small businesses have been slower to follow suit on the tax compliance side, living under the false premise that compliance technology is expensive, difficult to use, and relegated only to those large enterprises that have armies of technical and accounting staff who master the expertise to use these tools.  This misperception leaves them vulnerable and at a significant disadvantage. It’s not that business leaders don’t want to leverage the best technology tools to ensure compliance: Often it’s a case of small business leaders not realizing the scope of their obligations and the many pitfalls associated with compliance, even for company leaders who have the best of intentions, and more important, that modern technologies are readily available to businesses of all sides, that are not difficult to implement and not expensive to use.

Unlike the hoopla surrounding the annual income tax filing deadline, sales tax deadlines happen each month without any hype. Business owners who are focused on the bottom line – particularly those who are engaged in startup activities – can easily forget about this obligation. But noncompliance can be extraordinarily costly. Here are some of ways business owners get into trouble through noncompliance:

  • Missing deadlines:  Businesses that miss sales tax filing deadlines – even by just a couple of days – can be liable for hundreds of dollars in fines, even on minor tax obligations. It’s surprisingly easy to lose track of important dates when sales taxes are completed manually, especially for smaller companies where the owner is wearing multiple hats to keep the operation going.
  • Miscalculations: A sales tax miscalculation can have devastating consequences. One retailer was hit with a class action suit after setting up a cash register to calculate sales tax based on a location that was just a few blocks away – but in a separate sales tax jurisdiction (different county) with a lower tax rate. The retailer was liable for the difference out of pocket since it was too late to collect from customers, as well as the fines and penalties associated with the under-reporting.
  • Special tax categories: Other businesses have run into trouble through lack of awareness of which products and services are subject to special sales taxes. For example, in some jurisdictions, separate sales taxes apply to soft drinks, restaurant revenues and alcoholic beverages. A business that fails to comply could be subject to heavy fines and penalties.
  • Changing tax regulations: Even business leaders who try diligently to meet their sales tax obligations may find themselves out of compliance due to changing regulations. Sales taxes are subject to frequent adjustment for a variety of reasons, and businesses – especially those with multiple locations – must keep up-to-date or risk noncompliance and the resulting penalties.

These are just a few of the ways business leaders can run afoul of state or local sales tax compliance. It’s a complex issue, and there are thousands of tax jurisdictions, so it’s easy to make mistakes. But even companies that haven’t made any mistake can find themselves adversely impacted: Since taxing authorities have automated many processes, merchants occasionally receive incorrect assessments.   For example, in many situations, the state systems that generate assessments are out of synch with the systems that register when a return was filed or payment received.  Very often, as the state determined cut-off date (typically 5 – 7 days after the filing due date) passes, an assessment will be issued automatically because the return or payment were not listed as being received.  Without doing anything wrong, the business owner must now spend countless hours in negotiating with the state and local agencies and prove their innocence that they filed the returns in a timely manner and payment was collected in full.

While the business may not have to pay a penalty in the end if they can prove the assessment is incorrect, they will have to commit time and resources to documenting compliance and making their case to the appropriate section of the bureaucracy. This is time better spent on managing your business and generating profits.

So what’s the solution? Savvy small business leaders are increasingly taking advantage of technology to ensure sales tax compliance. Over the past several years, sales tax compliance technology has evolved, becoming much more affordable, accurate and automated.

With the right outsourcing partner, businesses can benefit from the automated solutions now on the market to ensure they file state taxes accurately and on time – and have an outsourcing partner to back them up if they get an improper assessment. In this way, businesses can avoid the common pitfalls in sales tax compliance – and focus on taking care of business.

Jonathan Barsade is CEO of Exactor

Five Approaches Retailers Should Take To More Effectively Reach Women

Guest Blog by Laura Bernier

Today’s woman is a key decision maker for her household, and yet, many retailers aren’t effectively targeting the female market. When you consider that women account for 85 of all consumer purchases[1], and by 2020 women will spend $7 trillion annually[2], it’s clear that it’s time to up our game.

Insights in Marketing, LLC conducted a survey of 1,300 women, ages 18-67, to uncover five Female Behavioral Insight Profiles (FBI ProfilesTM). The goal? To help retailers get better acquainted with who their customers are. Uncovering these female profiles gave us better insight into what motivates her to buy, and, in doing so, revealed how to best communicate with female shoppers. We’ve arrived at the following tips to help sharpen your communication skills when it comes to women.

1. Start and end with her.

Putting her first requires you to have a deep understanding of who she is, beyond demographics, attitudes and purchase behaviors. Get to know her psychological makeup, and you will able to predict her underlying motives and shopping behaviors. Psychology and marketing go hand in hand. Did you know that 37 percent of women 18-67 say they often shop to feel better[3]? How can your business capitalize on that?

Lululemon does it by “promoting an ethic of self-betterment through exercise, positive thinking and clothes.” The company understands that women aren’t just looking for new workout gear, they’re seeking “the potential to transform into the best imaginable version of themselves.”

2. Tailor your communication to connect with her.

Women feel a lot of pressure to make the “right” purchase decisions for their households. Is a product healthy? Good for the environment? How will it make her feel like a better person/wife/mother? Nearly 80 percent of women say that their first obligation is to their home and family[4]. Brands should be aware of that component and provide a good combination of emotional and functional benefits to help her make a decision she feels good about.

One great example of a company doing just that is Whirlpool Duet Washer and Dryer: Teen Jeans Spot. The marketing campaign communicates the tension that a mom experiences between her daughter’s angst over potentially faded/shrunken jeans and the confidence she has in Whirlpool’s sensor/adaptor technology. This mix of emotional and functional benefits validates mom’s own concerns and reassures her daughter.


3. Avoid being overly reliant on demographics.

We often see women being marketed to as a homogeneous group without accounting for the varying motivations behind behavior. Retailers should avoid trying to be everything to every woman.

Look at Publix, for a great example. The store attracts empty-nester, higher-income females. But, via their in-store experience of high-touch interaction with shoppers, premium products, cooking classes, and the tagline, “Where Shopping Is A Pleasure,” the store has transcended demographics. Publix consistently draws in women motivated by their desire for convenience, wrapped up in a sensory shopping experience.

4. Don’t stereotype.

One popular stereotype says that women love to browse and experience products before making a purchase. We’re taught that men are “mission” shoppers who like to get in, get what they need, and get out. The truth is that women buy differently, and not just from men, but from one another as well. Avoid these stereotypes by understanding the values, needs, and core motivations for your target consumer.

We can learn a lot from examples set by Lowe’s and Home Depot. Both home improvement businesses understand that not all women like to browse. In response, both stores have created sample rooms to help consumers visualize what they can create. All of the components are accessible nearby, so there is no need to search the store for each item.

5. Be different by driving for consistency.

Stand apart from the pack by executing with consistency. No matter who your consumer is at the core, be consistently authentic, truthful and transparent. Only 23 percent of women 18-67 say that they think advertisers and marketers are trustworthy[5], so be aware that they can see through inauthentic or inconsistent communication.

Nordstrom is notable when it comes to executing with consistency. The department store maintains extraordinary standards of customer service, whereby associates communicate and receive feedback from consumers preventing any “issues” before they start. The consistency also extends to social media, in which Nordstrom invites consumers to have a say by allowing them to “Be The Buyer” and vote on specific items they should carry. Engaging in a two-way conversation goes a long way with women shoppers.

For more information on transforming how you market to women, download Insights in Marketing’s free e-book, “Getting Women To Buy: Better Insights to Transform Your Marketing.”

Laura Bernier is Senior Strategic Planner at Insights in Marketing, LLC (IIM)

[3] Insights in Marketing, LLC Proprietary Research 2013

[4] Insights in Marketing, LLC Proprietary Research 2013

[5] Insights in Marketing, LLC Proprietary Research 2013

First Impressions: Changing Your Storefront can Increase Walk-ins

Guest Blog by Ryan Gavin

As a small business owner, how often do you look out front and notice people walking by without even looking? Potential customers walk by daily and don’t even give you the chance you deserve. First impressions are everything. Window shopping hasn’t gone away yet, and it’s still an important element of attracting customers. You can’t make passersby come inside your business, but you can catch their eye.

Modern storefront windows, possibly with a catchy logo or message, are your best chance for making a mark on passersby, who will judge your business in a split second. Compare yourself to the neighboring businesses. Keep in mind the idea is to stand out from them. If their storefronts are repulsive, you have to look normal. If their storefronts are average, you have to look above average. Commercial windows have many benefits other than just standing out. Whether you have a small store or a huge building, your business will be represented as more professional, and the more professional the better. Shop owners often think that their store will sell itself and that signs can grab the attention of any potential customers and pull them in. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Without that professional appearance, you won’t appeal to your customer base. However, if you do grab their attention, your sales can significantly increase.

Commercial storefront doors and windows increase curb appeal. Storefronts can come in many shapes and sizes. Custom storefronts would be the way to go for this one. Choose one that matches your personality, and that of your business type. For example, shop owners should focus on nice strong and attractive glass. Choose a frame design and material that isn’t too overpowering of what the window is showing, but something that pulls their attention off of the sidewalk. The right storefront can make all the difference in catching the eyes of passersby. Besides the interior design you may need, these exterior appearance changes can reduce the number of people who walk by without a second thought.

Why Even Bother With Renovations?

What’s the point of going through the trouble just to catch the eye of a customer? Put simply, a customer can turn into a loyal shopper. A new storefront can increase your business’ potential customer base, leading to an increase in sales and overall profit. Many small business owners don’t realize the value of their business’ appearance. Once the customer makes it into your store, it’s up to you to make the sale and convert them from a customer to a loyal shopper. Keep in mind: The first impression of a building is a major component of making a sale, so make sure yours is a good one.

Ryan Gavin is an associate of Aeroseal Windows & Storefront

A More Sustainable Side of Shopping

Guest Blog by Ian Lifshitz

Reflecting on the 2013 holiday shopping season, it’s clear that U.S. consumers are shifting how and where they buy.  According to comScore, online holiday season sales rose 10 percent from 2012, including an 18 percent increase in online spending on Cyber Monday and a 15 percent increase on Black Friday.

E-commerce is expected to continue flourishing, with mobile transactions accelerating and online retail sales projected to reach $434 billion over the next four years.  Of course online shopping is convenient, but we are learning that consumers can also feel good about its big picture environmental impact.  A Carnegie Mellon University study found that E-commerce is the less energy-consumptive option roughly 80 percent of the time, when compared with brick and mortar shopping.

As retailers expand their online capabilities, they should explore ways to promote the intrinsic environmental benefits of shopping online.  Here are five ideas that online retailers might share with their customers:

  1. Less energy is consumed during the overall transport process.  Purchasing online results in a reduction of miles driven during a product’s journey to the consumer.  For a brick and mortar purchase, a shopper must travel to and from the store to purchase items that required shipment from a central warehouse.  Online purchases remove consumer travel from the environmental impact equation while using delivery services that optimize routes for fuel efficiency. The U.S. Postal Service and private companies like UPS already travel these routes, with some urban environments even incorporating walking into their normal deliveries. All of these elements result in a reduced carbon footprint.
  1. Packaging can be repurposed.  Packaging used to ship purchases to a consumer’s home can be repurposed in a numerous ways.  Throughout the year, boxes can be re-used to ship gifts or care packages to loved ones in other locales, used to wrap up gifts for in-person giving, or employed for off-season storage.  A lesser known use for some shipping supplies is fertilizer; certain shredded paper can actually be incorporated directly into compost.
  1. Responsibly-sourced materials are increasingly available.  The pulp and paper industry is continually innovating around sustainable packaging, light-weighting packaging while maintaining strength to increasing proportional use of post-consumer content.  The industry is also responding to demand for renewable packaging materials that are responsibly grown.  For example, paper and board packaging can be made from virgin fiber that is sustainably sourced from renewable plantations.  Certain climates, like those around the earth’s equatorial band, are optimal for accelerated tree growth and shortened maturity cycles for tree harvesting.
  1. Retailers are responding to consumer input.  Online retailers are actively reducing their environmental impact in response to consumers expressing interest in more options in package selection.  For example, Amazon is working with manufacturers to give customers the option to receive products boxed in “Frustration-Free Packaging” or to have items consolidated into one shipment to reduce the overall amount of packaging materials used.
  1. Online marketplaces foster reuse.  When considering online shopping and efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle, don’t forget to look beyond the packaging to the products themselves.  Giving another life to a used product through the emerging sharing economy is a wonderful way shoppers can exercise their eco-friendly muscle.  Online services like eBay, Craigslist and Etsy’s vintage section, enable buying and selling of (re)used goods such as books and collectibles, which can make for some thoughtful and cherished gifts.

The migration to online shopping may be rooted in convenience, but the rising trend in awareness around responsible purchasing cannot be ignored.  Those retailers who understand and embrace this view will be better positioned for a successful future.

Ian Lifshitz is the sustainability director for the Americas for Asia Pulp & Paper Group (APP).

Retailers: What’s in the way of your sourcing success?

Guest Blog by Steve Whiteman

Coming off a less than spectacular holiday shopping season, the retail industry is once again feeling the squeeze.  According to USA Today, of the 29 retailers that recently reported earnings guidance for the current quarter, 25 of them were negative. Adding to the uncertainty is a recent report from Standard & Poor, which predicted that rising healthcare costs and low retirement savings will hurt discretionary spending in the coming year.

The worst news, though, comes from Deloitte, which reported that the number of retailers going bankrupt has increased over the past three years – rising 6 percent last year and up 18 percent since 2010.

For retailers, trimming costs is more important than ever. And when it comes to improving margins and profitability, procurement is always a good place to start.

In the last decade, full-service e-sourcing has emerged as an essential tool for maximizing the value of a retailer’s supply chain. E-sourcing gives procurements teams a fast and easy way to secure more favorable terms from suppliers, eliminate inefficient processes, and glean data-based intelligence for smarter sourcing strategies. By establishing e-sourcing as a key part of the procurement process, organizations can fight against rising prices and uncertain consumer spending, and more importantly – transform the supply chain into an engine for value and growth.

Unfortunately, for many businesses – not just those in retail – procurement transformations can be daunting – filled with internal obstacles that hinder success.

In many cases, procurement leaders face resistance from buyers – either because they’re concerned that reverse auctions will damage long-standing and carefully nurtured supplier relationships, or they’re skeptical that technology and outside experts can replace traditional procurement skills or experience.

In other cases, buyers don’t believe that strategic sourcing can have a notable impact on greater business objectives – or that e-sourcing can live up to its claims of double-digit savings without negatively impacting quality or service levels.

Additionally, many procurement teams lack the staff and resources required to successfully execute a sourcing transformation.

Fortunately, there are several strategies that sourcing leaders can employ to overcome these hurdles and get their organization fully committed to supply chain excellence.

Get the C-Suite Involved

Enlisting the help of the CEO or CFO can be a powerful and effective way to ensure that your procurement team is onboard with e-sourcing. The c-suite sets the tone for the entire company – and it’s no different with procurement.

A CEO or CFO can ensure that buyers accept e-sourcing as a critical component of the procurement process by confirming and reaffirming – both publicly and privately – its importance to the overall goal of maximizing supply chain value, and continually articulating the company’s commitment to financial success.

By positively showcasing confidence in e-sourcing, the c-suite can help buyers overcome their doubts of the technology.

Empower Buyers

While the c-suite can set the overall tone, e-sourcing success ultimately depends on buyers being invested and dedicated to the process. Procurement managers can achieve this by clearly articulating what’s at stake for them – and the business itself.  

The best way to get buyers to buy-in is to celebrate sourcing success with employee recognition programs that reward buyers that hit particular goals – such as running the most sourcing events, or sourcing the highest amount of spend. By publicly recognizing the most successful savers, procurement managers can instill a positive and competitive team environment.

Additionally, managers can include e-sourcing metrics in buyers’ KPIs and annual goals. This ensures that buyers’ sourcing success will translate to their professional growth.

Provide the Tools to Succeed

Of course, once buyers are invested in supply chain transformation, procurement leaders will want to put them in the best position to succeed.

E-sourcing can enable retail buyers to make more informed procurement decisions by providing greater insight into a company’s spend – including the category volume, suppliers used, historical data, market trends, and more. With this insight, buyers can run more sourcing events, with more effective techniques – including combining vendors or sourcing multiple categories in a single event.

And with the help of outside sourcing experts, procurement managers and buyers can better understand when the best opportunities are to source specific categories, and ensure that events are run quickly and with the most effective strategy to yield the best possible results.

Driving Growth and Profitability

The key to a successful sourcing transformation in positivity and empowerment.  The company culture shift requires complete organizational participation, from the top down. It starts with the c-suite – but after that, procurement managers need to ensure that buyers are empowered and are rewarded and recognized for their success.

By committing to maximizing the value of their supply chain, retailers can win a major competitive edge that drives revenue and brings more customers in the door.

Steve Whiteman is Chairman and CEO at Intesource. Intesource’s latest report — “Overcoming Internal Roadblocks to Sourcing Transformation” – is available now for download.

Let There Be Light: Four Tips for Boosting Productivity at the Office

Guest blog by Angelo DiGangi

Remember those bulky, flickering tube lights that adorned the ceiling of your elementary school? The distracting hum? The intense glow bearing down? Alas, these eerie fixtures didn’t exactly create the ambience for long division mastery!

The truth is, proper lighting is crucial for workplace efficiency. Ineffective lighting can lead to poor morale, eye stress and fatigue. Finding the right balance, however, can be tricky – there are many subtle factors to take into account. Fortunately, a little know-how can go a long way.

When addressing the lighting in your place of business, always keep your task in mind – what works for some might not work for all. That being said, consider these useful tips for jumpstarting energy levels and encouraging productivity in the workplace.

1. Keep it consistent
Ever gone from a hazy, dimly-lit cocktail lounge to a bright, colorful frozen yogurt shop? Well, it’s just plain confusing – both for your body and for your emotional state! Studies suggest that abrupt changes in lighting can increase fatigue. Thus, keeping the lighting balanced throughout the workplace is crucial for maintaining consistent energy levels. Overhead fixtures, as well as lamps situated at varying levels, can help keep ensure an even distribution of light.

2. Avoid direct glare
Direct glare – from lamps, overhead fixtures, or natural sunlight – is known to cause lethargy. In order to avoid that dreary brain fog, look for ways to diffuse the light emitted from bright lamps and sunshine. Consider using a larger number of low-brightness fixtures to keep it mellow. Light-colored curtains or blinds on windows – along with shades for lamps and covers for overhead fixtures – can help spread the light evenly, without blocking it. Glare-controlling baffles and lenses, when attached to a fixture, do a great job diffusing direct rays.

3. Out with the old and in with the new
If you haven’t heard the hype, it’s time to ditch those old incandescent light bulbs and out-of-date fluorescents! While CFL (compact fluorescent) technology has improved tremendously in recent years, consider making the switch to LED (light emitting diode) bulbs. In addition to being more energy-efficient, reliable and safe, LEDs give off a softer light more suited to natural productivity. Depending on the size of your business, however, overhead fluorescent fixtures might be more suited for the job.

When investing in new light bulbs and fixtures, pay attention to the Color Rendering Index. Our vision systems shift to overdrive when confronted with poor color rendering – thus draining our energy and causing weariness. This quantitative scale shows the extent to which a light source retains natural color. Sunlight, for example, scores a 100 on the Color Rendering Index. Which leads us to our final tip…

4. Utilize natural light
That’s right: no light source holds a candle to good old-fashioned sunlight. Research consistently shows that natural light keeps us energetic and alert. That being said, do be careful of direct rays – this can have the adverse effect! When properly trapped and diffused, however, a little sunlight can work wonders on office morale.

If images of buzzing, alien-esque tubes dangling from the ceiling of your third-grade classroom still haunt you in your sleep, it’s time to listen to your dreams. After all, it’s not your fault you never learned the difference between a subject and a predicate – it was those obnoxious lights!

When considering ways to maximize energy levels and boost productivity around the office, never underestimate the power of quality lighting. A few simple changes can make all the difference.

Angelo DiGangi is a Home Depot on-the-floor store associate in the Chicago area, and a regular contributor on electrical topics for Home Depot’s website.

First Party Fraud: When the Customer Is NOT Always Right

Guest Blog By Adam Elliott

Recent data breaches are front-and-center in the public consciousness, with retailers and banks scrambling to provide answers and customers worried about the safety and security of their accounts and identities.

However, while high profile breaches serve to raise consumer awareness, as well as retailer responsiveness, some consumers are using both reactions to perpetrate more fraud. With such widespread publicity, it is likely that thousands of fraudsters with no connection to the original data breach may take notice and exploit retailer’s willingness to remediate the situation.

This type of fraud – known as “first party fraud” – happens when someone uses a verified identity to enter a transaction or account application with malicious intent. In a new loan application situation, the fraudster will apply for a loan with no intent of payment. In a charge-off scenario, the perpetrator will purchase merchandise, and then dispute the charge later so the full amount will be refunded – even though they did, in fact, make the transaction.

With businesses scrambling to repair customer relationships following such large and heavily publicized data breaches, first party fraudsters know that retailers will be handling an increased number of disputed charges and issuing thousands of refunds for fraudulent transactions. These customers believe they can exploit the situation and dispute purchases they have actually made, while falsely attributing the charges to the data breach.

First party fraud has always been a significant contributor to retailer losses, but the current situation is even more disastrous than past spikes in similar fraud. For many reasons, this seems to be “open season” for first party fraudsters, with national merchants in full crisis mode immediately following the holidays. Reputation management and customer preservation is making retailers more apt to charge back transactions simply because they cannot fully determine whether they were legitimate or fraudulent.

We are already seeing a significant rise in first party fraud that is adding to the already calamitous breach situation, and with merchants so fixated on controls to mitigate and remedy the damage caused from the actual breach, they will likely be hit hard with this type of fraud.

Given any of the aforementioned circumstances – the holiday season, a highly public breach, and a consumer base furiously scouring their bank statements for irregularities – a certain degree of fraud may be inevitable. However, taken together, this situation is almost unprecedented and has no simple solution.

What retailers and financial institutions must determine is the balance between heightened sensitivity to customer needs, and the potential for abuse among dishonest consumers.

Adam Elliott is President of ID Insight

The Store is a Big Focus for Retail Technology in 2014

Guest Blog By Steve Jeffery

A new year always presents the opportunity to take stock of where an industry is headed, and NRF’s Big Show in January certainly gives those of us in the retail technology space a leg up in understanding what retailers are thinking about, talking about and planning for in the year ahead. After a very busy week and many great conversations with senior retail executives, store managers, IT innovators, partners and more, it’s exciting to get back to work with tangible feedback about what retailers are challenged by, and what they are energized by, as the ways in which today’s consumers spend their dollars continue to evolve. Here are some of the key trends and themes that resonated:

  • A growing interest in in-store technologies

As online shopping continues to put pressure on brick and mortar sales, it was interesting to see that a lot of people were talking about the importance of in-store technologies, and the in-store experience specifically. This makes sense – online merchants are pretty sophisticated about using data analytics technologies to improve and personalize the shopping experience for their customers, and brick and mortar retailers will need to step up their in-store analytics to do the same. I was especially struck by a line from a presentation given by Jack Dorsey, CEO of Square and Chairman of Twitter: “Going back to physical places, there’s a real asset in having physical space. What technology can do is make that more efficient to connect a customer to a product or service, but it all ends up in a physical space.” Retailers want and need technologies that can help them optimize their assets, whether virtual or brick and mortar. And since the vast majority of all purchases (92 percent according to Gartner) still happen in physical stores, it’s exciting to see more and more retailers recognizing the importance of in-store solutions.

  • Shift from “behind the scenes” to customer facing technologies

This really was the year of the consumer at NRF, as the focus was squarely on technologies that can be engaged to improve the customer experience, with less emphasis on solutions for inventory and supply chain management. I think there are a couple of reasons for this. First, retailers have already recognized the vital importance of back-end supply chain technologies and made investments. This gives them the opportunity to now direct more resources toward improving customer-facing operations. Second, as online channels are wooing consumers with everything from vast product selections to free shipping, the role of the store is changing, making the customer experience more important than ever. When the competition is just a mouse click away, brick and mortar stores need to be doing everything they can to understand the drivers behind in-store purchasing and on improving the variables (whether it’s register wait times, personal service, displays, etc.) that can help convert more store visitors into buyers.

  • Retail data and what to do with it

Through numerous technical innovations, the amount and variety of data that can now be collected in the store is growing by leaps and bounds. But the real value lies in transforming this data into insight that drives specific actions for improving retail performance. My sense from NRF is that retailers are still feeling their way here, and are really looking for guidance in terms of how to most effectively analyze, integrate and use the data that they are able to capture, both in-store and online. Some of the issues they are thinking about include storage, data privacy, timing and how to separate information that’s important from information that’s just “noise.” Technology vendors that focus on finding ways to help retailers navigate in this landscape will be one step ahead.

  • Desire for single-platform data analytics solution

Is there a “killer app” for retail analytics? In my discussion with retailers at NRF, the question of “the next big thing” seemed less important than finding the “most useful and practical thing.” They are attracted to platforms that can do multiple types of analysis and leverage multiple types of data, including in-store traffic data, behavior data, security data, data from back end systems and more. In an environment where so many businesses need to find ways to do more with less, a multi-purpose solution that can be used to address several areas of focus is an attractive proposition.

As always, The Big Show was a great learning experience. Now comes the fun part – applying the lessons learned to winning innovation in the months ahead.

Steve Jeffery is CEO of Brickstream

How Technology Is Changing The POP Display Industry

Guest Blog by Matthew Brennan

There are certain things about your trade show POP display that always remain the same. For instance, having a stellar looking display to catch people’s attention is as important as ever. It’s a staple in making sure to attract and retain customers in a crowded, competitive environment.

That means that you need to make sure that things are perfect, and have a tool kit with you that includes things such as hammers, screwdrivers, and strong tape, like professional tape from companies like Essentra.

However, technology is changing the way POP displays are run. From the planning and conceptual stages, down to the displays at your booth, it may be time to take a look at some of the technologies available to you in order to enhance the experience for your customers.

Smart Phones – There are countless ways you can use smart phones to enhance the POP display experience. If you’re planning a trade show, there’s an app for that. Trade show apps can help you plan, as well as promote your event. These apps can also help your attendees plan their day. Smart phones can also be used for email or text promotion. You can even attach a card reader so that you can accept credit card transactions right there on the spot. Make sure that you’re getting the most out of your smart phone while planning your next POP display.

Interactive Exhibits – It’s no longer enough to invite your customers in and have them sit through your boring sales pitch. Display booths with more interactivity do better. This can be some kind of 3D interactivity, or simply giving your attendees access to information that is available at the touch of a button. That way your customers have control over what information that they are seeking from the experience, and will stay more engaged. Tablets or other mobile devices can be used to provide this type of information quickly. Make sure that your customers still have the chance to interact with people, however. You want to make sure to give them that personal touch.

Social Media – Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms are a great way to get the word out about your trade show event. They can help you give people a taste of exactly what they should expect by attending your event. Make sure that you are using them to stir industry interest and pull people in. Nothing replaces the human touch of the live event, but social is a marvelous tool for increasing your audience, improving business relationships, and getting you in front of the people that you should know. You can also use your social accounts to pump the “hi-tech” aspects of your interactive trade show booth.

Measuring Data – Just about every aspect of your POP display or trade show can be measured. The number of people who visited your booth, down to the number of sales all can help determine whether your efforts where worth it, or what adjustments to your strategy need to be made. Make sure that you are keeping track of the important data so that your efforts are not in vain.


Having the latest technology at a trade show or corporate event is a great way to differentiate your POP display from the competition, and leave a mark with your customers. While technology is supposed to make our lives easier, it doesn’t always work the way we’d like it to, however.

Make sure that if you’re using a card reader with your smart phone, that you also have an old fashioned card machine, and your receipt book. Make sure that if your displays are interactive, that people have the option of accessing the same information in offline or paper formats.

While a large percentage of the population is adopting, not everyone may prefer the high-tech methods.

That being said, make sure that you are doing everything you can to create a memorable experience. Selling at a competitive environment such as a trade show or corporate event can require a lot of planning and coordinating. It requires being prepared, and being willing to do everything that you can to differentiate yourself from other businesses.

Make sure that your business is doing all it can to stay on top of current trends, and create the best possible POP display experience for your customers. That means keeping up with all the changes in technology, and how they impact your audience.

Matthew Brennan is a marketing writer based in the Chicago area. He regularly writes about content marketing, blogging, and engaging with your audience. He has been published on ProBlogger, Soshable, and Business2Community. Connect with Matthew on his website, www.matthewlbrennan.com, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+

Customer Care Plays a Crucial Role in Retail Holiday Sales and 2014 Consumer Engagement

Guest Blog by Stacy Adams

This year, the retail holiday season is shorter than normal. Six fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas embeds a sense of urgency in retailers to recruit and retain customers in an already competitive space. Brands must differentiate themselves from competitors to meet near-term sales goals, while also laying a foundation for long-term relationships with consumers that extend beyond the holiday season. While an admittedly crowded environment, retailers can use the holiday sales and return seasons to engage consumers, expand their mobile repertoire beyond coupons, and win customers they can nurture into brand advocates in 2014.

Resources are at Brands’ Fingertips

Companies already know consumers are willing to connect with them on their mobile devices. In fact, a survey conducted by Millward Brown Digital on behalf of mBlox earlier this year found that 73 percent of respondents reported they have received a text or push message from a company, and 68 percent found it valuable. Further, 80 percent of consumers are willing to share information with brands to receive a text message.

The data shows that consumers are more accepting of text messages than ever before, and the opportunity is huge for retailers to interact with consumers over mobile channels. Plus, the infrastructure, technology  and reach of mobile devices is improving every day as more and more consumers have their devices nearby at all times. This confluence of consumer interest and technology adoption provides brands an opportunity to establish meaningful, lasting and personal relationships with consumers.

It’s not Just About the Coupon

Coupons are an inherent part of a brand’s mobile engagement strategy.  Our survey found 59 percent of respondents prefer to receive SMS or push messages with an offer or a coupon when receiving communication from companies. However, couponing is only the beginning and should not be the cornerstone of a brand’s mobile strategy. Best-in-class mobile interaction is made up of more than just your standard “BOGO,” savvy brands engage in customer care, ensuring they aren’t just bombarding their customer base with coupons.

The challenge many brands face is getting beyond the couponing mentality. Care goes beyond cost savings to the broader experience. For example, instead of a coupon, retailers may provide better shipping and returns options for opt-in text recipients, or an SMS message can remind opt-in consumers about a soon-to-expire rewards offer. This shift to a care-centered model isn’t just a short-term trend but is primed to become the norm in 2014.

Care is Proven to Work

Creating the best customer experience is retail 101. Mobile customer care takes those principles to the mobile device, creating a personal and meaningful experience for potential and existing customers. Brands will share customized information with engaged consumers, appealing to an individual’s specific interests. This engagement ensures the consumer experience will continue long after they walk out of the store or close a browser. For example, retailers can use mobile to invite consumers to VIP events at local stores, driving brand affinity and foot-traffic, or retailers can solicit feedback in the form of a customer survey that can improve the consumer’s future experience with the brand. Not only do these exchanges nurture the consumer relationships in real-time, they provide valuable information brands can use to deepen and strengthen their customer relationships beyond a one-time purchase.

Mobile Care Starts Now

Customer care is a well-established need in retail, especially as brands seek to gain wallet-share in a competitive retail environment. In order to be successful, care practices must extend across all channels (in-person, online and mobile, among others) to create a complete, personal and unique experience for shoppers. The mobile channel is an essential next step for retailers to engage customers, and create a well-rounded and valuable shopping experience. These practices enable brands to evolve shoppers from one-time customers to brand advocates. The opportunity is there, and the time is now for brands to use care-centered programming in a relatively untapped channel.

Stacy Adams is vice president of marketing for mBlox.