A blog for all things retail and licensing.

Merchandise Monday: Costume Trends

Halloween may be over for this year, but even during the celebration, I heard people planning their costumes for next year. We can’t predict what will be popular next year, as it generally depends on the hottest movies and video games among children and teens, but the trends likely won’t change too much. Superheroes, princesses and Star Wars are always trusty favorites, along with the stereotypically spooky witches, ghosts and vampires.

Surprisingly, however, according to a National Federation Retail report, Batman character costumes beat out Star Wars character costumes in the Top 5 Adult Costumes for 2015. And that might even be the case next year with the release of Batman v. Superman next March. Suicide Squad doesn’t even come out until next August, but Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn was the top trend in costume searches, according to Google’s Frightgeist. I’m sure her popularity will only continue to grow. The new Joker style from the same movie, however, was only No. 9 on most searched costumes.

Google says that more than three billion searches take place every day and Google Trends gives users an unparalleled look at what the world is searching for. With Frightgeist, you can see what costumes trended both nationally and locally. Perhaps next year you can find something more unique or enjoy going with the popular trends. There are benefits and negatives to both. With a trendy costume, you’ll be more recognizable, but you will be one of many while a unique costume might not be very recognizable, but you might really turn heads.

Here are some of the most popular costumes by Rubies Costumes.


See more New & Notable products here.

By Stephanie Crets

5 Things Retailers are Doing to Reduce Lines & Boost Holiday Sales


Retailers are already preparing for the holiday season rush. That includes looking for ways to cut down customer wait times and long lines in stores. Here are five trends you can expect to see this holiday season.

They’re Going Mobile

Go shopping this holiday season and you’ll find that more and more retailers are opting for mobile POS systems instead of using traditional registers. Why? It’s simple and it makes checking out much faster for the customer. Trendsetting companies like Apple and Nordstrom have already adopted the mobile trend years ago, but this holiday season you can expect to see more mobile POS systems on sales floors.

They’re Placing Orders In-Store

Not only are retailers embracing mobile POS systems to make in-store checkout easier, they are using portable devices to place orders for consumers. Last minute holiday shoppers won’t have to leave the store without what they came in for just because it’s sold out at that one location. Retailers are ordering merchandise from other stores or directly from their supply centers and shipping it to the consumer. In many cases, employees can show customers products on a tablet and place the order right then and there. Versatile devices like the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga, which converts into a tablet from a laptop, make this possible.

They’re Embracing E-commerce

Many consumers, more than half, according to data from the National Retail Federation, are skipping the holiday rush and headache-inducing lines and instead ordering their holiday gifts online. However, not all consumers will make a purchase online. According to an Accenture report, 65 percent of online shoppers will plan to browse online first, then come to shop or pick up an item in store. Either way, having a properly functioning, easy-to-navigate website is key for the holiday season. Many stores offer a “pickup in store” option, which makes the purchasing process more streamlined for both customers and in-store employees.

They’re Using Mobile Pay

Just like writing checks became a thing of the past, swiping credit and debit cards is quickly following the same path. Today’s mobile payment options make the checkout process easy and quicker than ever before, which lets customers get in and out of the store faster, and means that the lines are always moving. Apple, Samsung and Android have all embraced the mobile payment trend and offer the technology in their newest devices. The big switch to EMV-equipped cards in October has not only boosted the safety of shopping it has also helped ease the wait time in lines. And many of the EMV-compatible POS machines are equipped with mobile payment options.

They’re Hiring Like Crazy

E-commerce giant, Amazon, will be hiring 100,000 people to fill seasonal roles at its sorting centers and domestic fulfillment sites. That’s more than Wal-Mart and JCPenney combined. Macy’s will be hiring 85,000 seasonal employees and Target will be adding 70,000 workers for the holiday season. Even shipping companies like UPS and FedEx will be expanding their workforce to meet the demand of the holiday season. More team members in-store or in the shipping departments means that customers can expect a quicker turnaround on orders as well as access to service while visiting stores during this holiday shopping season.

Return Shipping on PayPal

By Stephanie Crets

We’re all guilty of it. We’ve all made that one online purchase we might regret later. Maybe it’s a pair of pants or shoes that might not actually fit. Or maybe we splurged on some designer sunglasses in a caffeine-fueled shopping binge and actually can’t afford them. Now, on top of the disappointment of an unsuccessful online shopping excursion, we have to pay return shipping fees to the retailer.

PayPal, however, is striving to change all that for many retailers – and just in time for the holiday shopping sprees. It has launched PayPal “Return Shipping on Us,” a service that refunds return shipping costs for customers who made purchases through PayPal. This service is now finally available in the United States after success in the 40 markets where it already exists, with millions of PayPal users enjoying the benefits.

While e-commerce spending is expected to grow by 10 percent this year to $50 billion, according to a PayPal and Ipsos’ cross-border study, many shoppers might want to splurge on an item or two, but shirk away when they see the exorbitant shipping costs and/or return shipping costs. Forty-eight percent of American shoppers view free return shipping as a necessity when making any online purchase. Free shipping and returns allow shoppers to feel comfortable in their purchases and so they return to the online retailer time and again. For example, there was a pair of pants I wanted from ModCloth, so much so that I returned the first size I ordered and requested a new size. And when that still didn’t fit, I was able to return it both times for free and accept those pants were not meant for me. The ability to buy anything from their site and return it with no consequence gave me a sense of security and confidence in the seller.

Shoppers who use PayPal’s service and are looking to return an item will now be able to request a refund on return shipping costs within 14 days of mailing the return and, once approved, will be reimbursed for costs up to $30 on eligible PayPal purchases from PayPal merchants around the world. And retailers who don’t yet use this service can look at it as a way to promote their business to potential consumers who are turned off by high shipping and return shipping costs of other sellers.

“By providing this option, we are also supporting our merchants who are not already providing this type of service a potential lucrative revenue driver that can help grow their customer base to shoppers that may not have purchased from them previously, out of concern over shipping costs,” says Jo Lambert, vice president of consumer product and engineering at PayPal.

Shoppers can activate the Return Shipping on Us service at http://www.paypal.com/returns. So, if you’re not completely satisfied with your purchase, you can submit an online request to get a refund on your return shipping costs – just keep your proof of return.

“Return Shipping on Us can save consumers money and give them more confidence when they shop, knowing they will not incur return shipping costs if their purchase was not quite right,” Lambert says. “Options like refunds on return shipping costs, formerly considered a perk or promotional tool offered by retailers, are now integral to getting a consumer to click that buy button online.”

Get on the Nice List Now: 3 Ways To Get Your App Ready for the Holiday Hustle (Before The Bustle)

By Lars Kamp, Crittercism

The kids are back in school and pumpkin-spiced products of all kinds are invading store shelves. The leaves are turning and fall is officially upon us. And that means it’s time to turn your attention to your holiday strategy – if you haven’t already.

For many retailers, holiday planning starts as soon as the last Fourth of July firework has faded from the sky. But if you’re a little late to the game this year, don’t worry. Just prioritize your planning efforts and focus on optimizing the areas that can have the biggest impact on your seasonal success – like your mobile app.

Why is mobile so critical? Because increasingly, it’s where the shoppers are: In a study by Synchrony Financial, 45 percent of all respondents said they used a mobile device to perform a shopping-related task – like researching, sharing, purchasing or reviewing – in 2015. And there are a growing number of mobile-only shoppers, too: 13 percent of Internet users accessing retail destinations (sites and apps) only use mobile devices to do so, according to comScore.

To help, here are three things you can do to get your mobile app holiday ready:

 #1: Give your app a pre-season check up.

 Every student athlete gets a sports physical to make sure they’re in top shape for the season. Retailers should give the same treatment to their apps – well before Black Friday.

By analyzing the responsiveness of your app now, you not only have time to identify any existing problems, but to fix them before the heavy shopping season. App insights allow brands to diagnose critical issues, see which devices and operating systems cause trouble, and prioritize bug fixes before they cost you buyers during the high-stakes holidays.

#2. Make sure your app plays well with all kinds of devices in all kinds of locations.

In today’s landscape, if a retailer isn’t super mobile friendly, they will probably lose sales. Why? Showrooming. According to one report, 75 percent of shoppers use their mobile phone while actually in store, with 25 percent of those patrons actually using a mobile device to make a purchase in store.

The good news is, apps win with showroomers: 55 percent of shoppers who responded to Cisco’s fifth annual retail survey said they will use a retailer’s app while shopping, and 34 percent claimed to use a third-party app for the same purpose. Not only do they help retailers provide a convenient and efficient shopping experience, apps can deliver special offers or money-saving coupons once customers walk in the store.

However, for your app to be an asset, it has to be optimized for all devices – not just the standard mobile phone screen. Gartner predicts that ultramobiles – tablets, hybrids and clamshells – will eventually take over as the main driver in the device market. And our own State of Wearables Report found that wearables like Apple Watch and Android Wear are continuing to gather steam. So, stay ahead of the curve and make sure your app is universally accessible to mobile shoppers, whether they’re in store, at home or on the road.

#3: Consider a design overhaul

 If your app isn’t designed well, it won’t convert well – and that means sales will suffer. A new look and feel is nice, but if you want to move the needle this holiday season, opt for design enhancements that improve the mobile user experience. Instead of just picking a new theme, simplify your navigation or write new product descriptions that better highlight features and benefits.

This is also a good time to fix any m-commerce design missteps in your existing app. For example, make sure you are properly segmenting your products, and that you aren’t putting too many products on a page.

Also, don’t underestimate the power of using the right colors in your retail app to boost sales. Brain science tells us that colors like red and orange create a sense of urgency and encourage immediate action, while yellow demands attention. Green is also a great choice; we’re conditioned to know that green means go, which is a good message to send when it comes to mobile holiday shopping.


Lars Kamp — VP of Business Development
Lars joins Crittercism after 12 years at Accenture. As the Managing Director, Strategy & Corporate Development for Accenture Mobility, he led a global team of professionals responsible for corporate strategy, M&A and partnerships for Accenture’s enterprise mobility business. Working closely with Accenture’s leadership, his team was also responsible for shaping Accenture’s overall digital strategy. Previously, Lars worked in Accenture’s Communications, Media, and Technology Practice on strategic and technology advisory projects for Fortune 500 companies in the US, Asia and Europe. Lars is also an active angel investor with investments into a number of technology start-ups, such as Mashape, CircleCI, EasyPost, Orderbird and Bay Sensors.

Merchandise Monday: Halloween Costumes

Halloween is already upon us and many people have already been celebrating. In fact, I had to maneuver through quite a few princesses and superheroes along the streets of my neighborhood this past weekend. But if you’re still trying to come up with a last-minute costume for the parties or for the kids for Halloween this Saturday, it’s not too late! Here are some options for you to go all-out or keep it more casual.

Ghostbusters Jumpsuit

With the new female-led Ghostbusters moving coming out, more ladies want to get in on the Ghostbusters action. With this romper by We Love Fine, ladies can showcase their love of Ghostbusters, along with their favorite member of the team stitched on the nametag. Proton pack sold separately.



Captain America Muscle Costume

Let your child answer the call of The Avengers in this Classic Captain America Costume from Party City. With the padded muscle suit, your little one will be strong enough to wield the vibranium steel shield and fight Ultron.


Dog Costume

Don’t leave your pet out of the costume fun. Petco has a plethora of dog and cat costumes, treats and toys to round out the month, as we covered in a previous article.


Hotel Transylvania’s Dracula Costume

Dracula comes in all shapes and sizes this Halloween. And now any kid can become Dracula from Hotel Transylvania 2 with this costume that includes the shirt, belt, pants, cape and mask.


R2D2 Dress

Save the day as everyone’s favorite droid in this A-line dress by Her Universe. Who needs a robot costume when you can flaunt your Star Wars love through fashion? Plus, you can wear this for Halloween or any other day of the week.





See more New & Notable products here.

By Stephanie Crets

How to Protect Your Business from Shoplifters

Shoplifting is a crime that really doesn’t need an introduction. Thirty-eight percent of Inventory Shrink in 2014, which cost U.S. retailers $44 billion, was due to shoplifting. All retailers battle shoplifting and its associated losses and these increased costs, unfortunately, are passed to the customers. This, of course, hurts businesses, especially small retailers. You will never eliminate shoplifting. However, there are several methods retailers can use to combat shoplifting, many of which are easy (and affordable) to implement.

Security Cameras

Installing security cameras is the very first thing any business should do to curtail shoplifting. Shoplifters are less likely to target your store when they know there is a security system in place. Lorex has a number of great security camera systems for businesses. The money you’ll save will offset the cost. Just make sure to monitor the system, and never put cameras in dressing rooms or bathrooms. You will need to adhere to all local laws pertaining to retail surveillance.


Once you have security cameras in place, post signs that warn shoplifters they are being watched and that you will prosecute them if they steal from your business. Do not underestimate the power of signage. It works.

Plain Clothes Loss Prevention Staff

During busier shopping days, have staff members roam the store in plain clothes. They should be armed with a two-way radio to communicate to managers. This isn’t an ideal method for all stores, and it can have drawbacks if you don’t properly train these staff members. Still, it is worth considering as part of your loss prevention plan.

Schedule Adequate Staff for Each Shift

Shoplifters often work in teams and try to distract staff members. This method is easily stopped when you have enough staff members working. Calculate the costs, and you’ll see that having extra staff will actually save you money in the long run.

Encourage Staff Members to Wander the Store

Obviously, you don’t want your staff to wander aimlessly. Assign sectors for each member to cover. You’ve already scheduled enough staff so this shouldn’t be a problem, right? Your honest customers will appreciate the extra staff, too.

Employee Code Words

If an employee suspects someone is shoplifting, your entire staff needs to be on alert. However, calling over the intercom could scare customers and could bring up legal implications by accusing a customer in public. A quick fix: Create code words employees can use over the intercom that will alert the staff. One company, which asked to remain anonymous, uses the following phrase: “Mr. Sandman, you have a call on line one.” You can use any code words. Just be sure that your employees are aware of the phrase and the procedure to follow when they hear it.

Prosecute All Thieves

You need to send a message to thieves by doing everything in your power to make them pay for their crime against your business. Fail to do so, and you will continue to be victimized. You may not get a conviction, but shoplifters will know that your store does not tolerate thieves. You aren’t running a charity. Protect your livelihood.

For more tips on shoplifting prevention in your small business, check out this Shopify article.

Millennial Women: Not Such a Mystery

By Stephanie Crets

This may come as a shock to many readers, but – brace yourselves – I’m a millennial. And because I’m one, the world has to treat me differently and give me special attention, right? Well, maybe not completely, but it’s been said time and again that millennials look at the world a little differently. And if a retailer wants a millennial like me to purchase its products and become a loyal customer, they have to move on from some of the tried-and-true ways used in the past, updating their strategies to address their newest wave of customers.

Marketing to the Millennial Woman by Ann Arnof Fishman is a guide that offers insight into the complicated (but actually not-so-complicated) minds of millennial women and how to garner their trust and support as customers. “They’re unlike any generation of women we’ve seen in the past 100 years, and there’s almost 40 million of them,” Fishman says. “If you understand what makes this generation unique, it will present opportunities for all retailers.”

While not all millennial women are cookie-cutter identical, they do all share some similar characteristics that can make reaching out to them as a retailer a little easier. They tend to be:

  1. Civic minded.

Fishman’s research found that many millennial women want to change the world in some way through causes for people in need, animal rescues, bettering the environment and more. By making a cause part of the business, retailers can connect with their customers who want to do good for the world. For example, Whole Foods focuses on putting salad bars into school systems and Starbucks uses recyclable cups.

  1. Globally connected.

Millennial women are talking to each other across oceans and continents through e-mail, text messages, social media and more, which means retailers are competing with a 24/7 international market. One way to combat this is through e-commerce with a well-designed website and social media, so products are constantly available to the always plugged-in millennials and the company has a bit of a personality through its social media channels.

  1. Physically strong.

Millennial women are the first generation to reap the benefits of Title IX, the federal legislation that guarantees equal funding for sports to both women and men in colleges and other institutions that receive public funding. This lends itself to more women wanting to empower themselves physically. Retailers can target the sportier millennial women by supporting and sponsoring local athletic teams.

  1. Media influenced.

Many millennial women grew when some of the strongest female characters were predominant in the media. From Xena to Hermione Granger to Dana Scully and Buffy Summers (my personal favorite), these women rocked the fictional worlds they inhabited, proving to other generations that they could do anything, including saving the world time and again. Even real women, such as Princess Diana and Mother Theresa, influenced the millennial generation with all the good they did in the world and all the causes they supported. These fictional and real women even tie into both of the other traits of being civic minded and physically strong. By promoting a product or business through a strong female spokeswoman or supporting a specific cause that ties into the ideals shown by these women, retailers can better reach millennial women.

  1. Initially suspicious.

Millennial women don’t like to be manipulated, especially when making a purchase. They recognize unnecessary hype and will only spend money on items they truly want, which is why every interaction – in-store or online – is important in establishing that relationship. Millennials also talk to each other – in person and online – which could make or break a retailer’s business. If a millennial woman has an excellent buying experience, she may rave about it on Facebook or tell her friends over coffee about the great pair of boots she just bought from such and such store. On the contrary, if she has a terrible experience, that can be a nightmare for a business. “This generation can be your dream come true or your worst nightmare,” Fishman says.

Fishman has been studying generational trends for a long time, thanks to her training with the U.S. Senate, where she received fellowships for these studies. She realized that to understand one generation, you have to understand all of them. Therefore, she studies and focuses on six generations, including the millennial generation and how the other generations influence it and vice versa.

Retailers don’t have the time to research how to get their products into the hands of each and every generation. But Fishman suggests training employees on how to interact with millennials will be part of the dream-versus-nightmare scenario. From her research, Fishman argues that there are rational reasons that millennial women do what they do, as noted above, and that there are pluses and minuses in every category. “If you know the pluses, you run with it,” she says. “If you know the minuses, you figure out how to work around it.”

Additionally, hiring a millennial to monitor trends in the specific industry can be a great asset to a business. For example, if a business sells jewelry, it will want to hire someone attuned to all the blogs, Pinterest boards and popular websites to track trends in what people are wanting, chatting about and buying.

“The people who get it today are the ones who are going to be successful,” Fishman says. “If they don’t try, they won’t be successful and will never understand why.”

3 Ways to Eliminate ‘No’ From the Sale

By Kevin Cundiff, VP of Retail for Fortegra

In sales, we’re told early and often never to take ‘no’ for an answer. But in practice, we all know it’s not that simple. Overcoming objections is one thing; ignoring what your customers are saying is just bad business.

This challenge means customer service professionals walk a tightrope every day. They need to make the sale, but if they approach a sale too aggressively the customer’s experience will suffer. And since 70 percent of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated, a careful approach is critical.

Today’s information-driven world has changed the game, too. Sales staff also need to be prepared to dazzle (and sometimes debate) customers who are savvy, informed and armed with extensive pre-purchase research before setting foot in the store.

The good news? The right strategy can help you minimize these challenges and eliminate ‘no’ from the sale. It’s all a matter of controlled customer engagement: by asking the right questions – again, early and often – at different points throughout the sale process, you can eliminate the risk of getting shut down at closing.

Apply these three tips to help take ‘no’ out of your sales equation:

#1: Build a dialogue based on multiple asks.

To get a sale, you’ve got to ask. And I don’t mean a cold, one-time ask: you’ll have the best chance at success if you ask early and often. Plus, your potential for a ‘yes’ is even greater if you establish a framework for your asks.

Like most success stories, a positive customer outcome begins with a plan. This proactive preparation allows you to build your ask brick-by-brick through a series of carefully planned and orchestrated interactions.

First, break your sales process into sections. For example, a smartphone sales model might include the following steps: close plan, close phone, close accessories, and then close the full sale. Once you’ve identified the key touch points in the process, create specific asks for each segment. Present opportunities for upgrades in a structured way that showcases options and provides multiple routes to ‘yes.’

By offering a variety of options, your odds for a positive response get a nice boost. There are always several shades of gray you can explore to find the right fit for a customer.

#2: Get a commitment early.

Though it may seem counterintuitive to push hard out of the gate, it’s always best to secure a clear commitment as early in the sale dialogue as possible. Why? Because it helps build confidence and momentum. Once you’ve checked off the first ‘yes’ it’s easier to earn a customer’s full buy-in.

Again, taking a measured approach to securing approval is also key. Work through the steps of your sales process, confirming the ‘yes’ at each stage. Once you’ve found a plan that meets the buyer’s needs, you can check it off your list (even if it’s only a mental checklist). Next, move on to the phone, and so on. By using a systematic approach, you can listen for emerging objections and provide solutions or other options at the problem point.

This is also a great way to deploy special offers. For example, let’s say you’ve come to a consensus on a plan and phone. However, the customer begins to show signs of indecision or uncertainty when you start talking accessories. Overcome that potential ‘no’ by proactively offering a coupon for an accessory purchase. Coupons are great tools to incite add-on purchases. In fact, 57 percent of buyers who used a digital coupon said they wouldn’t have purchased the item without a discount.

#3: Revisit touch points to reinforce the sale and isolate objections.

What are the six most dreaded words in sales? ‘I need to think about it.’ It’s not quite a ‘no’, but it’s definitely not a ‘yes,’ either. If your potential buyer suddenly needs to ponder their purchase, don’t panic. Go back to your checklist – it’s an important tool to help you reassure customers. Revisit each section and review the reasons why they made their selection.

Finally, take this opportunity to connect the customer’s purchase decisions to their personal needs. For example: ‘You went with the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 so you can write by hand, and you got that Mophie battery case so you can stay juiced up on the go. Nice work.’ By isolating problem points, you can address them individually without risking the overall sale.


About Kevin Cundiff
Kevin Cundiff is Vice President of Retail for Fortegra, a subsidiary of Tiptree Financial Inc. (NASDAQ: TIPT). Fortegra is a single source insurance services company that, through a network of preferred partners, through a network of preferred partners, offers a range of consumer protection options including credit insurance, warranty products, automotive solutions, and specialty underwriting programs. Delivering multi-faceted coverage with an unmatched service experience for both resellers and their customers, Fortegra solves immediate, everyday needs, empowering consumers to worry less and Experience More.



Merchandise Monday: Fall Foods & NYCWFF

New York City Wine & Food Festival has come and gone already. RM magazine got a chance to feast on delicious burgers and sample Blue Moon beer at the Burger Bash, enjoy breakfast and trade talks at the Founder’s Breakfast and Eating Stories with Mario Batali, all the while rubbing elbows with Rachael Ray, Giada De Laurentiis and more. This week’s Merchandise Monday focuses on the food section from our September/October issue. Check out some fall favorites below. And for more of our coverage on NYCWFF, be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook.


Kellogg Brands Fall Flavors

From pumpkin spice to apple cinnamon, the delicious, comforting flavors of fall are a red-hot seasonal trend. Now those sought-after autumn tastes are hitting breakfast tables with the debut of new Frosted Mini-Wheats Pumpkin Spice cereal and Special K Apple Cinnamon Crunch cereal. This autumn will also see the seasonal return of Pop-Tarts Pumpkin Pie toaster pastries and the debut of limited-edition Keebler Pumpkin Spice Fudge Stripe cookies.

Tiziano Sparkling Rosato

Tiziano, creators of fine Italian artisan wines, welcomes the newest addition to its portfolio, Tiziano Sparkling Rosato. With aromas of sweet cherries balanced by a vibrant acidity, this delightful combination of sparkling wine and rose’ is an invigorating treat.




Müller Dessert Inspired Yogurt

Müller yogurt is calling for time-starved moms to treat themselves to a moment – and a snack – all their own with new dessert inspired flavors. New Müller Dessert Inspired yogurt varieties feature creamy, signature Müller yogurt on top of a layer of fruit or caramel sauce and are served with scrumptious crunchy goodies on the side, providing the best of both worlds – delicious decadence in the goodness of yogurt.


Protein Kefir

Lifeway Foods Inc., the nation’s leading supplier of kefir cultured dairy products, announced that Protein Kefir, the company’s latest kefir innovation, has expanded distribution. More retailers will be carrying the product within the coming months. Lifeway Protein Kefir is available in four flavors: mixed berry, vanilla, banana and salted caramel.



See more New & Notable products here.

By Stephanie Crets

Best Practices for Harnessing Offline Data

By Mani Gopalaratnam of Xchanging

There has been an explosion of data from consumer buying and non-buying habits with e-commerce becoming ever-more dominant in retail. It’s largely leading a major transformation in the retail industry whereby retailers are facing greater competition than ever before. To remain competitive, the traditional brick-and-mortar sector has to embrace technology with the intensity that’s been powering e-commerce businesses.

To keep a robust supply chain and improve the customer experience, technology plays a key role in remaining competitive for the offline world. A retailer must embrace tools to understand customer buying behavior. The one universal tool that empowers retailers with this knowledge is data analytics. Companies that are agile and open to the power of data are more likely to stay afloat despite the e-commerce wave by offering superior customer satisfaction. Those that take a data-driven approach to decision making will thrive.

Sources and Implications of Offline Data
Retailers should start harnessing offline data by studying customer choices: Why does a customer prefer to turn left as soon as they enter the store? Why pause at an item and not the other? How much time is spent considering a purchase, which is then not purchased? What goes in a typical shopping cart? How often does the individual shop? What are the general color preferences of products in the basket?

Data comes in many formats. Take Wi-Fi hotspots, for example. By shoppers simply keeping their Wi-Fi on, retailers can read the digital footprint of a customer. One of Xchanging’s studies in the United States found that 62 percent of shoppers keep their Wi-Fi switched on while walking into a store. All of this can be used to map customer behavior. Is the right side of your outlet seeing weak traffic? What’s the demographic of shoppers visiting your store? Can you make it mandatory for shoppers to pass through the right side to arrive at the product that sees the most traffic? Thus, data gives scope to make smart and informed decisions.

All of these – and other – details are captured as unstructured data either by camera footage, sensors in baskets or detecting the volume of products on the shelves with the help of Internet of Things (IoT) devices. With analytics, this raw, indecipherable data is mined and analyzed. It’s then structured in an understandable format, which can be used to cater to the kind of patterns that are prevalent to that geographical area.

Grocery stores are a good example. Residents of a particular locale may be more likely to stock up on perishable products because the closest super-market is far away. A retailer would want to ensure it has perishable commodities that have a longer shelf-life. To break this down further, the retailer can arrange its supply chain in a manner that allows it to sell ripe mangoes at one store and unripened mangoes at another. This data-driven insight allows companies to make smarter decisions based on offline buying behaviors.

Making Data the Centerpiece of Strategy
In the past, the information retailers deemed important was all about purchases, but never about the journey taken to arrive at the buying decision. That should be the domain of data – giving insight into what motivated a customer to buy the product, or not. Understanding why a customer chose not to buy is all the more valuable, because despite your precise targeting, the demographic is not responding favorably to the product. This has a direct impact on the retailer’s marketing, merchandising and product strategy.

With retailers vying for customer footfalls and eyeballs, being able to give a customer a fulfilling and personalized experience gives the extra edge to companies. Only technology and digital data can help the marketing team achieve this task. It’s ironic really – to serve the best offline experience, you have to take it online first. It’s no surprise that data management platforms are so highly sought after but are yet to unleash their greatest potential.

Integrating offline and online is still an unconquered frontier. Since so much data is being captured and monitored, companies have to build trust with their customers, and everything starts with having a robust security framework. But the one thing that’s definitive for any organization is that data can make or break a business.

About the Author: Mani Gopalaratnam is global head of innovation and technology for Xchanging, a global, publicly held business technology and services provider. Learn more at www.xchanging.com.