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The ABC’s of Retail Safety: Keeping Kids Protected at the Store

Guest blog by Paul Giampavolo

More than 75 percent of shopping trips are taken by women, which means there’s a good chance that when many of them enter your establishment, they’re going to be accompanied by children.

The vast majority of us take great care to keep our stores safe, but when it comes to our most vulnerable customers, it’s always a good idea to go the extra mile. By implementing a few relatively minor but crucial steps, retail establishments can help ensure the well-being of their youngest customers.

Here are three tips to make your shopping environment safe and secure for children—and worry-free for parents.

Encourage shopping cart safety. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, approximately 16,000 children under the age of five fall out of shopping carts each year, resulting in thousands of injuries. Infant carriers falling from the cart account for as much as five percent of these incidents.

Customers should be discouraged from allowing their children to stand in shopping carts and climb or ride on the sides. Children should be secured with a seatbelt when riding in the seat, and should not be pushed in the cart by a sibling or another child.

Infant car seats should never be placed on top of a shopping cart seat. Though it may appear they were designed for that, this isn’t the case: car seat manufacturers have even warned against using their products on shopping carts. One option for retailers is offering docking stations: Safe- Dock is a universal infant carrier docking station that easily attaches to shopping carts and fits all infant carriers, safely securing babies to the cart and allowing parents to easily transition the carrier from the car to the cart.

Retailers can also ensure shopping cart safety by regularly checking the condition of the carts and quickly fixing any broken seat belts or replacing lost ones.

Keep bathrooms and changing tables clean, functioning and spill-free. Nobody likes a filthy bathroom, let alone a parent worried about their child getting sick from someone else’s germs. Make sure bathrooms are checked and cleaned regularly, and that there is an easy path to navigate when attempting to get there. Baby changing tables should also regularly be wiped down with disinfectant and checked for any cracks or broken parts.

Floor spills—in the bathroom or elsewhere—should be immediately wiped up or cordoned off with warning cones until they can be cleared. Employees should be made aware of where materials are located to clean up spills and debris.

If a spill or trip hazard cannot be immediately cleared, an employee should stay at the unsafe area while another obtains the proper help, cleaning materials or barriers to keep customers away.

Implement a Code Adam system. If your establishment hasn’t already, put into place a Code Adam system, a child safety program in the United States and Canada that is used when a child becomes lost or potentially abducted. The program—which trains employees on how to issue a special alert when a customer reports a missing child—is free and easy to use. You can read more about it here.

These measures don’t just offer an extra level of safety for children, they’re simply good customer service. If we want parents to continue seeing the value in shopping at our stores, we must help them to feel their children are in a safe and caring environment.

Paul Giampavolo is president of The Safe-Strap Company, and he is a leading expert on shopping cart safety and is chairman of the American Society for Testing and Materials’ (ASTM) Shopping Cart Subcommittee.

Tips on How to Get Better Results with Scanners

Guest blog by Nicole Williams

Scanners are commonly found in offices where plenty of paperwork needs to be copied digitally for online sending, computer storing, or data manipulation. They are used to scan documents such as contracts, employee records, invoices, reports, and so forth. All these purposes have one thing in common: they need to have high-quality scans from the scanning machine.

High-quality scans possess the following characteristics:

-        Sharper images, which includes figures, lines, and messages

-        No discoloration in reference to the original photo

-        Clear and no blurs.

-        The image can be enlarged more than a little without compromising quality.

How does one achieve all these when scanning documents or pictures? The first thing that normally comes to mind is to purchase a scanner with new and sophisticated hardware and installed programs.

Having a very good machine alone is not always a guarantee that the resulting scans will be excellent, though. There are other factors as well that can influence the quality of the produced output. Users, for instance, can bungle a scan just as splendidly as a mediocre machine. Mishandling the scanner or not being careful before and during the scan procedure is going to affect the resulting image. So, here are some tips that will help minimize mistakes and improve the quality of your scans:

  1. Always clean the scanning bed before using. Check for smears, fingerprints, lint, and dust. These things can mar the digital image. Depending on how wide the blemish is, where, and over what colors or lines they appear over, it could be difficult to digitally remove them without compromising the color or sharpness of the entire picture.
  2. Don’t leave the scanner open when not in use. That’s what invites grease and dirt on the flatbed. More importantly, you don’t want the scanner screen to get scratched. Dirt you can clean and remove; scratches you can do nothing about.
  3. Adjusting the angle of the image when it’s already scanned deteriorates its quality. Hence, make sure the image is positioned as straight as possible when it’s still on the scanner. Align the picture or document flush on one side of the scanner bed. Don’t take chances keeping it straight right at the center of the bed.
  4. Preview the image before starting the scan.
  5. When scanning photos, choose a resolution from 75dpi to 300 dpi (or ppi). Choosing higher, like 2400 dpi, will not give you a very good image quality.
  6. Sometimes it’s better to choose a particular type of scan instead of editing the image later. Most scanners have the following Types of scan options:
    • Color (using 16.7 million colors)
    • Grayscale (uses 256 shades of gray)
    • Line art (literally black and white, uses black or white depending on the contrasting shadows and colors of the original image. This makes line art the most appropriate scan type for documents).
    • Halftones (appears gridlike and is used for images that are to be printed out on newspapers and magazines)
  7. Don’t hesitate to repeat the scan if the result is not what you were hoping for.
  8. Save the files in PNG and JPEG if you want to send the images via email or attach them on social media or file sharing platforms. These file types are the most recognized and widely accepted ones.
  9. If you intend to blow up an A4 photograph and other near sizes into one humongous poster, scanning the photograph and enlarging the digital image is no longer the best option. You can retain photo quality for such a huge image if you take the original slide or film and run it through a film scanner instead. This is rarer than your standard scanner, but you will get the best result.
  10. Scanner pros advice that scanning pictures should be done one at a time. Basic scanners will capture an image of the entire scanner bed. Scanning two or more pictures at a time will merge them into one digital image, so alterations on one image will be applied to the rest of the pictures.
  11. If it’s necessary to save time and scan many pictures at one time, make sure each photo is positioned flush along one side of the scanner (see #3). Make sure too that there is a little space between each photo so that it will be very easy to crop and separate them into different image files later. (You should know though that the quality of digital images, especially those in JPEG form, deteriorates for each successive copy, resize, and folder-to-folder transfer.)
  12. In deference to the side-note for the previous number, make a habit of downloading scanned images directly into the folders where they are meant to be placed. Also avoid compressing images as much as possible because that decreases the quality of the digital image.

Hopefully you’ll be able to apply these tips the next time you use a scanner. You’ll get better quality, not just on the monitor but also on print.

Nicole Williams is a professional blogger and keen technology enthusiast who enjoys writing about improving workplace efficiency using technology. She currently writes for Micro Com Systems.

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