Friday, May 29, 2009

Is Your Mobile Site Helping You Interact And Transact?

Are you still wondering what to make of mobile commerce? While you consider what to do, your competitors may have just added several more customers, thanks to their own well-conceived mobile websites.

When it comes to mobile web use, the numbers don’t lie. There are more than 40 million active monthly users of the mobile Internet in the United States — a 73% increase since 2006, according to Neilsen Mobile. The growth is even more staggering worldwide, where there are more than 600 million mobile web users, according to research firm IDC, and that number is expected to rise to 1.5 billion by 2012.

“The old adage that retailing is all about location, location, location doesn’t hold true today, especially for the modern digital consumer,” NCR industry marketing director John Saccomanno told me. “You need to connect, interact, and transact with those customers wherever they choose, whenever they want, and offer a payment method that’s most pertinent to them.”

The challenge for retailers is converting mobile web users into mobile web customers, and their experience on your mobile site is a key factor in the equation. Unfortunately, websites built for personal computers don’t translate very well to cell phones, Unity Mobile CEO Daniel West recently told me. “There’s a fundamentally different infrastructure,” he said. “What’s required is a specialized design of your website for mobile.”

There are a host of substantial problems that could affect your mobile site but not necessarily your wired one, namely slow download speeds, poor site rendering, and usability issues. Also, the differences between mobile handsets, browsers, and bandwidth capabilities all can negatively impact how your customer engages with your site. Mobile site obstacles can lead to frustration and even site abandonment for customers used to a fast, positive web experience.

Fortunately, there’s help for retailers. Companies like Unity Mobile and Tealeaf help retailers optimize the mobile customer experience. (Tealeaf has worked on websites for Wal-Mart and Best Buy, among others.) They also analyze mobile online customer behavior to improve a site and, of course, its sales conversion rates.

People such as Unity Mobile’s West know retailers need to follow the mobile commerce leaders. “The line between the Internet and the mobile web is going to disappear,” West added. “Major players like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, and Apple are making massive investments in the mobile world. They realize it’s the future of the Internet — it’s the future of their business.”

It’s also the future of your business, and the time to act is now. Need proof? Visit your company’s website on your cell phone and see what your customers experience — and what you may be missing.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Fight Back When Cash Flows The Wrong Way

The economy’s downturn brought with it a double whammy for retailers: a drop in sales and a rise in theft. Who knows when the former will correct itself, but retailers have already begun efforts to combat the latter.

Cash shrinkage has been particularly troublesome for retailers during the recession, largely because shoppers are turning to cash for their retail purchases. There are several reasons behind this trend: consumers are tightening their budgets, using cash to limit their spending and their credit card debt; North America has experienced a population increase among cash-centric cultures, such as those from Latin America; and there has been a rise in "unbanked" consumers — those who spend cash because they don't have a bank account — particularly at convenience stores.

"We're seeing an increase in cash transactions at all types of retailers in all of the major retail economies of the world," NCR industry marketing director John Saccomanno told me.

With that as a backdrop, I recently spoke to several top loss prevention experts about the rise of cash shrinkage and how technology can help combat it. They included Saccomanno, Tellermate president Rick Bellerjeau, Epicor Software executives Diane Neaven (director of product management) and Darlene Bogusz (product analyst – audit and operations management), and Loomis VP of business and product development John Rhoads. The story will run tomorrow on our website; feel free to comment here or to e-mail me as well.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Competition In The Self-Service Industry Benefits Retailers

Here’s a key takeaway for retailers from the KioskCom convention: If you haven’t already recognized the value of offering self-service options to your customers, now’s an ideal time to capitalize on the increased competition within the kiosk and digital signage industry. Technology vendors are now offering more service, support, and innovative solutions to get and maintain your business in this competitive climate.

“The self-service space is changing,” Telpar director of marketing Rebecca Whalen told me at KioskCom. “More entrepreneurs are entering the industry, forcing us to be more creative. As a result, we need to offer broader product sets and give customers more technical support as well as idea support.”

While the retail market suffered another losing month in April, you can improve your survival odds by expanding your kiosk and self-service offerings. The payoff could come now — with increased customer satisfaction — and later, in the form of cost savings and added revenue. As Nanonation founder, president, and CEO Bradley Walker said in his KioskCom opening remarks, “Investments in self-service and digital signage, even in down times, can lead to transformative results.”

For more on KioskCom 2009, check out these two recent stories on Retail Solutions Online covering a dominant theme at the conference — full-service is the new self-service — and analysis and product information from KioskCom exhibitors.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Empowerment Through Data: Follow The Leaders

Keith Bradley, EVP of Ingram Micro and president of Ingram Micro North America, is a cavalry-leading optimist. “This time next year, the upturn will be here in full swing,” he told me in an interview at the Ingram Micro Data Capture/POS Partner Invitational in Phoenix last week. “And Q3 of this year it will start.”

Perhaps. Still, Bradley had more imminent good news he wanted to share with retailers. Ingram Micro, a leading technology distributor, has spent the last several years cleansing its customer database, so that it now has up-to-date sales information on 3 million purchasers of hardware and software.

The company intends to use that information, in coordination with its vendors and resellers, to help retailers uncover the real-time buying habits of retail industry leaders. Bradley believes such data analytics would provide vital advance warning to retailer companies.

“Hypothetically,” Bradley told me, “say we see that 5% of the retail leaders just bought a type of technology they never have purchased before. With a little research, we’ll be able to go to retail end-users and say, ‘You don’t know you have this opportunity, but here’s what your industry leaders are doing. Here’s what the opportunity or problem is, and here’s how we can help you.’

“If we can create that framework for trend spotting through analytics, that’s huge. It’s proactive and it’s all about empowerment through the data,” he said.

As proof of concept for the possibilities retailers may soon enjoy, Ingram is already utilizing its improved database to help government-related end-users capitalize on grant opportunities presented by President Obama’s $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Using analytics to help retailers essentially spy on each other’s technology purchases may feel a little like Big Brother is watching. But if you’re a retailer feeling bullied by today’s retail environment, it’s not so bad to have a big brother on your side.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A POS Rental Possibility

Are you looking to cut 2009 holiday season expenses? (Who isn’t in this economy?) If so, Ted Ave-Lallemant, president of AVE Investments, has a recession-friendly proposal that’s unique in the world of retail POS hardware.

AVE Investments is renting its POS system, the pcCashdrawer bundle, for just $99 a month with no minimum monthly requirement. While there are other companies out there that rent POS hardware, the open-endedness and price point of AVE’s offer make it so rare. The bundle includes a custom-designed computer (with a 1 GHz Intel fanless processor, a 1 GB hard drive, and a Windows XP OS) built into the cash drawer, a thermal printer, a POS keyboard with MSR, and an LCD monitor. The deal also covers on-site staging, integration, testing and burn-in, installation, and maintenance.

The program's flexibility essentially enables you to schedule your POS hardware the way you would your workforce: adding systems for high-demand times, reducing them during slower months. There are no upfront costs (since the systems are rentals), and in theory, you would have fewer idle POS systems in your stores.

Last holiday season, AVE tested the concept with Hickory Farms, which has retail outlets throughout the U.S. and Canada. Hickory Farms rented 750 POS systems for November and December 2008, and returned them over the course of January and February 2009. “We wanted to see if the idea would work,” Ave-Lallemant told me. “We built them, delivered them, set them up, and then picked them up. And Hickory Farms has already renewed for this year.”

Ave-Lallemant’s company has been in business since 1984, with clients including Chanel, Charlotte Russe, and A.C. Moore. He came up with this particular rental concept when competitors lowered the sale price of their POS systems to his $1,500 range. “You have to hope that once you get a customer, he’s happy with you,” Ave-Lallemant told me. “We’re betting on our service and our hardware.”

That’s a bold bet, but Ave-Lallemant’s POS rental offer is so uncommon that retailers just might take him up on it.