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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If you haven’t heard the hype, it’s time to ditch those old incandescent light bulbs and out-of-date fluorescents!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.

Conclusion

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.

3 ways business credit impacts your retail company

Guest Blog by Levi King

Between managing inventory, staff, and pricing, you can be busy—really busy. Paying attention to business credit may be the last thing on your mind, but credit really is the lifeblood of any business. You can’t afford to take a wait-and-see approach.

Unlike personal credit, your customers, suppliers, vendors, and lenders can (and do!) make decisions based on your business credit without your permission or your knowledge. You may not know it, but your unhealthy credit may be holding you back.

By exploring the different ways business credit impacts your company, you can take charge of your credit health to grow and protect everything you’ve worked so hard to build.

1. Vendor and supplier relationships

When reviewing credit worthiness, vendors and suppliers will pull a retailer’s credit and look at payment histories. This is the most common use of business credit, and likely the most overlooked.

Good credit ensures you get the products, supplies and services you need with the best possible terms, giving you more time and money to dedicate to other parts of your business. These lines of credit are essential and help free up valuable cash flow. Companies with healthy credit can usually negotiate net 30-, 60-, or even 90-day terms with vendors and suppliers, as well as secure higher credit limits.

Even if you know where your business credit stands today and are comfortable with your credit terms, it’s vital to regularly monitor your credit to avoid any surprises in the future.

As noted by the Small Business Administration (SBA), the credit score of about one in three businesses declines over just a three-month period. When it happens, it happens fast! Vendors and suppliers may regularly check to see where you stand, and if your credit deteriorates, they can stop or adjust your terms.

2. Traditional lenders

Banks and credit unions provide most of the loans, credit lines and credit cards that business owners usually think of first when it comes to business credit. And for good reason: these lenders can keep the cash flowing when you need it most.

According to the SBA, insufficient or delayed financing is the second most common reason for business failure. Protect yourself by understanding where your credit stands and the amount of funding you can qualify for—before you need it.

And since nearly all conventional and SBA loan applications are now evaluated manually instead of automated underwriting, managing both your personal and business credit profiles is more important than ever.  Lenders are looking at both, with 47 percent saying business credit scores are an important underwriting factor (Federal Reserve of Atlanta survey, March, 2009).

The same holds true for business credit cards. Most lenders use a combination of personal and business credit scores to determine amounts and terms. For businesses with a poor credit rating, interest rates may double.

3. Merchant processor discount rates

When you sign up to accept credit card payments, the acquiring bank transfers cash to you and assumes the risk that there will be a charge back. They see this as a loan, so when you apply for merchant processing, your credit health will be evaluated.

Your good or poor credit profile impacts the discount rate you pay for every transaction—anywhere from 1 ½ percent to 3 percent. For businesses with small profit margins, changes to this rate can make a big difference to the bottom line.

Make your credit work hard for you

By taking a proactive approach to your business credit health, you can ensure that lenders and suppliers view you in the best light, saving you money and helping you avoid business disruptions. You work hard to run a successful business—make sure your credit  works hard for you.

Levi King is the CEO and founder of Creditera

Avoiding Disappointment This Holiday Season

Guest Blog by Tamara Saucier

The National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts holiday sales will increase 3.9% this year. Last year the average holiday shopper spent $423 during Thanksgiving weekend alone. The holiday shopping season seems to start earlier and end later every year. And each year seems to bring new legendary tales of “must-have” items such as the Dancing Mickey Mouse, Zhu Zhu Pets, and Cabbage Patch Dolls.

In recent years, retailers have extended their focus on customers, attempting to bring the customer experience to new levels. But despite these efforts, as a consumer we more often than not come up disappointed. How many times has your holiday included one of these scenarios?

  1. “Sorry, the store was out but here’s a gift card so you can get it later.”
  2. An envelope with a cut out picture from a catalog and note saying, “This is supposed to arrive next week.”
  3. A substitute of what you really wanted with the gift giver stating, “I looked everywhere but couldn’t find it available.”

Retailers are in an extremely competitive environment and must be able to deliver on the year-round promises they are making to their customers. Recognizing that planning for the holiday sales season is part science and part art, what can a diligent merchant do? Here are a few tips for avoiding customer disappointment.

Know your sales trends – and be able to respond effectively

This means understanding your customers’ tastes and buying patterns, and mirroring that on the back-end of the business to ensure products can be delivered according to the needs and wants of the consumer. If you’re offering customized or tailored goods, such as engraved sporting equipment, be prepared. One way is to engrave or customize goods at the factory, instead of doing it domestically. Even better, if you can create customized sneakers in the factory and ship direct to consumer, you’re reducing time and costs while delivering a great customer experience.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep

A broken promise is more harmful than a promise not given. Know the limits of your customers but more importantly, know the limits of your supply chain. Do you have the ability to ship direct to consumers in 3 days? Is same day delivery possible given the existing logistics architecture? Do you have inventory visibility across all channels of the business.

If retailers can’t answer these questions with certainty, then delivery offers and promises need to be scaled back. There’s nothing worse than being the guilty culprit responsible for a disappointed child on Christmas morning. “The delivery will be here tomorrow” just doesn’t cut it. E-commerce companies like Amazon carved out their niche by “delivering” the goods. They invest heavily in their supply chains to ensure they have the resources and inventory visibility to deliver on their promises to customers. The result? 129 million consumers shopped online last year on Cyber Monday.

Enable full assortment availability to your customer

Consumers expect and demand options. Millennials in particular demand goods that are new, shiny and different. The “wow” factor is huge. Capturing this audience requires smart assortment offerings with options. This means being able to deliver what they want, when and where they want it. Consumers will remember it if you can provide real availability with confidence. But again, this requires inventory visibility.

Something we’ve all learned the hard way: There’s nothing worse than unmet expectations during the holiday season. Retailers who get it right and deliver on promises will be heavily rewarded this holiday season.

 Tamara Saucier is VP Industry – Retail Solutions with GT Nexus

To Touch or To Gesture – The On-going Battle Between Two Competing Technologies

Guest Blog by Lenny Kleyman

If you had to choose sides, would you support gesture-based or touch-based user experiences as the best practice for interactive digital signage at retail?

This isn’t the first time we as a digital society have been asked to choose sides. We’ve decided the fate of VHS and Betamax, Blu-rays and HD-DVDs, Facebook and Myspace, just to name a few. And now we have been asked to choose once more, to gesture or to touch.

From a technical standpoint, both technologies are now feasible on large and small experiences alike; however, they are not interchangeable by any means which makes the decision that much harder.  At Infusion we’ve implemented both.  Here are decision factors.

TOUCHSCREEN

Let’s talk touchscreens first. The best type of technology will depend on three factors in order of priority:

1. The size of the touch area.

2. The number of simultaneous touch-points.

3. The environment it’s being installed into.

Touch has a lot going for it out of the gate:

  • There is a higher adoption rate due to familiarity of the technology.
  • It’s more intuitive.
  • Touch engages users in closer proximity to the device.
  • There’s greater accuracy and quicker selection.
  • It has a lower risk in an uncontrollable environment.
  • Touch leaves less room for interactive error.
  • It behaves similarly to a mouse-click relative to UX design principles.

Yet touch also has a variety of cons…

  • It can be mildly unsanitary for public consumption.
  • It does not allow for skeletal/gesture recognition.
  • The screen size will limit the number of touch-points as well as the environment where it can function.
  • The price for hardware is high.
  • There’s a lack of flexibility for re-application or screen size changes.
  • There are involved maintenance and replacement factors.

GESTURAL

In regards to gestural technologies, most hardware components in Microsoft’s popular Kinect, Mesa Imaging, Panasonic and HD webcams require some form of middleware or SDK to interpret movements as gestures. When talking gesture there are several priority factors to consider right out of the gate such as the environment it’s being installed into, the expected number of simultaneous users, and the complexity of the gestures and gesture types required to create a great experience.

It has many pros:

  • Gesture allows for skeletal/gesture recognition.
  • It provides more immersive interactive experiences between users and applications.
  • Gesture may be considered more “fun” to use.
  • It can track multiple users.
  • It’s flexible to any screen size.
  • You get enhanced ease of installation and integration.
  • There is easier maintenance and replacement.

On the other hand, gesture technologies…

  • Have a small, but real, learning curve for the general population.
  • Require users to stand at a specific minimum range in order to be picked up by a sensor.
  • Are not as precise in user experience navigation and selection.
  • Run the risk of interrupted user experiences because of constant sidewalk traffic when deployed in metropolitan areas.
  • Are impacted by environmental conditions such as rain, direct sunlight, and clothing, which can affect accurate tracking of users.
  • Require more development and testing.

In the end it all boils down to two overarching questions:

  • What is the intended user experience, and
  • What is the environment surrounding the experience?

TOUCH interaction provides overall greater accuracy in selection and is projected to have a higher user adoption rate due to the general public’s familiarity with the technology. Application development and UX design tend to stay in scope, though hardware cost and installation are typically much higher than the gesture solutions.

GESTURE interaction may afford greater opportunity for cutting-edge interactive elements and experience design, but keep in mind application and UX development will require additional time for design and testing up front. However, long-term hardware cost, installation, and maintenance will be significantly lower.

So which reigns supreme?

As you may have figured out by now the answer is not that simple. I don’t believe there will ever be a clear winner between gesture and touchscreen technologies because each has its place in today’s swiping, waving, and flicking society. We have evolved from punch cards to keyboards, from the mouse to touchpads, and now to touchscreens and gestures. The true deciding factor is the type of experience you intend the user to have.

But one thing’s for sure, if brands want to stay ahead of the curve, they should plan for beautiful and intuitive applications utilizing either gesture or touch. Simply looping video and static images is right up there with Betamax, HD-DVD, and myspace, all now relics of the past.

Lenny Kleyman is an Innovation Producer at Infusion

Sharp Data Is Key to Shaping Black Friday 2.0

Leveraging Customer Insight to Keep Up with the Evolution of this Holiday – Guest Blog by Dr. Matthew Green

Black Friday is in a fast – and even violent – transition.  While some customers are waiting in line to rush the doors, others are taking a more mobile-approach and expecting deals throughout the holiday season.  Retailers are changing as well with sales creeping into Thanksgiving promotions and heavy discounts emerging ahead of Black Friday.

According to a recent column in TIME Magazine, “the act of physically shopping on Black Friday is on the decline” and “undeniably losing its importance in the marketplace.” Mobile shopping and sales days like Cyber Monday are diluting the spike of this one day Armageddon, allowing consumers to skip the lines and arm-wrestling for that coveted toy.

A new generation and buying power is unquestionably influencing Black Friday.  And retailers are looking to be part of this economic tradition.  So how can they keep up?

Black Friday offers a unique opportunity for retailers as customers provide deep data footprints and insights into their holiday shopping expectations.  The key to reshaping one of the most important sales days of the year is in that data – it all depends on if it’s interpreted correctly.

Reset the Way You’re Reading the Data

The holiday season delivers data in troves and bows. Whether it’s in-store or online, your customers are telling you what they want, who they’re buying for, and what they expect from retailers. As consumers begin to spread their holiday purchases over a much broader period, it’s important to know why they chose you and that insight is in the data.

Black Friday is great time to reset the way you’re reading data.  Clear your vision path and focus on what you really want for your customer relationships and loyalty program.  Are you focusing on the most important data to achieve that objective? Is your organization distracted by other data points that have emerged?  Remind everyone of what really counts.  Tap an outside data counselor to help refresh this, if needed – it’s essential to getting it right.

Improve Your Data Interpretation

Shopper data has the potential to unlock significant insights ahead of Black Friday, but interpreting it from the wrong angles is a lot like using Google Translate to prepare a proposal written in English for your colleagues in Japan.  It just won’t make sense.  Yet, we see it happen often, particularly with loyalty programs and data-rich seasons like the holidays.  Driving ROI from Black Friday data means mastering the interpretation of the information already in place and using it to build on the customer relationship. By leveraging exiting data and your team’s renewed training, retailers can provide relevant deals in the face of online competitors and – finally – create the personalized experience holiday shoppers are looking for.

Your most loyal customers will turn to you first when scouring the mall for the best Black Friday deals. According to a recent PWC study, which measured the experiences of about 6,000 U.S. consumers across 11 industries, consumer loyalty is “strengthened by shopping experiences that forge powerful psychological connections, and not by points or rewards programs alone.” Revamp direct mailers and holiday store layout to reflect products that customers want to buy during the season at the prices they are looking for.

Retrain In the New Year

If you’ve refreshed your read on data and focused on proper interpretation, you’ve opened the door for significant change and improvement on how you act on your customer insights.  Black Friday 2014 is just ahead – and you’ll go through sales cycles like Back-to-School to get there.  Resolve to read and act on data better in the New Year.  Retraining your team is pivotal to making that important upgrade. And after the holiday rush is gone, evaluate training for your team to evolve with your loyalty program.  Analyzing and acting on Black Friday data and insights requires a constant evaluation of team training and skills to maximize return – especially when the investment is as important as it is for the holiday season.

Dr. Matthew Green is the Managing Director for emnos U.S.

Black Friday is Important, Just Not For the Reasons You Might Think It Is

Guest Blog By Steve Russell

The first thing you should know is this: Most of what you believe about Black Friday isn’t true.

The second thing you should know is that it doesn’t matter.

We’re told that Black Friday is a consumer madhouse, that it’s the day where people run over each other for the sake of a half-price microwave. We love the narrative of the sales-crazed shopper, but what about the story of Black Friday itself?

We’re told that Black Friday got its name because it’s the day that retailers start making a profit for the year – out of the “red” and into the “black.” In fact, the name was coined by Philadelphia policemen who dreaded the massive amount of pedestrian traffic and traffic jams that always followed Thanksgiving.

And we’re told that Black Friday is the biggest sales day of the year. With all those low prices and once-in-a-lifetime deals, how could it not be?

In fact, from 1993 to 2001, Black Friday fell between the fifth and tenth busiest shopping day of the year. It didn’t become the “official” busiest shopping day until 2003, where it’s remained at the top spot more or less ever since.

But Black Friday is changing. Retail is changing. As is the entire holiday season.

Just last month, Macy’s and J.C. Penney announced they are kicking off Black Friday on Thanksgiving, breaking from tradition and opening one day early. As the retail landscape evolves — and savvy customers hunt for deals online, on mobile, and on foot — we’re going to see more change happen more often.

But here’s one thing that won’t change: Retailers want better results than last year.

Which is why regardless of history, the objectives for Black Friday remain the same. You want to get the most people in the door as possible. You want to verify that your employees are engaging customers and getting products into their hands. You want to ensure that your end caps and displays are effective, and that signage and store layout drive increased conversion.

Black Friday and the following weeks are the perfect time to test your strategies for the rest of the holidays, and ensure your stores is prepared for success. Here are three ways to be successful on Black Friday and beyond:

  1. Be on plan: It’s hard to overstate how much timing and thought has gone into store design. Make sure that every one of your stores is on brand, with the proper displays, signage, and merchandise for the season. Tools like Prism Skylabs enable retailers to remotely look into their stores, and ensure that everything is as it should be.
  2. Optimize your stores: Black Friday comes with significant customer demands and maximum competition from other retailers. It’s an ideal time to understand which end caps, promotions and displays engage your customers, so you can see what’s working and what’s not — and make meaningful adjustments.
  3. Deliver for your customers: Holiday crowds demand an increased focus on the customer. Make sure you have the appropriate resources to meet the needs of every person who enters your store. Visual analytics such as heatmaps can help you determine where to best position your employees for success.

As omnichannel retailing continues to gain momentum, Black Friday will keep evolving. In the meantime, all retailers should see Black Friday as a day to drive sales and improve the customer experience.

Steve Russell is CEO of Prism Skylabs