Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Data Breaches Challenge The Meaning Of PCI Compliance

Network Solutions, a domain registrar and e-commerce Web site host for small retailers, reported a data breach Friday that may have impacted 573,928 cardholders and 4,343 of its more than 10,000 merchant Web sites. The breach affected transactions occurring on the merchant sites between March 12, 2009 and June 8, 2009.

The company set up a Web site to answer e-commerce retailers’ questions about the breach. It also issued a statement that read in part, “At this point, we have no reports or other reasons to believe that any credit card account information has been misused.”

As a result of yet another data breach affecting the retail industry, a larger question about the true value of PCI compliance arises again. How meaningful is it to be PCI-compliant when the designation itself offers just a snapshot in time? As retailers well know, a company can be PCI-compliant one day — one hour, even — and not the next. (Click here for an article on PCI compliance.)

An investigation is ongoing, but in this case, Network Solutions was deemed PCI-compliant in October and cited this fact in its statement. The PCI Security Standards Council (PCI SSC) essentially gave its standard reply: “Oh, really?” The PCI SSC routinely asserts that no PCI-compliant firm has ever been breached.

They both might be right. Network Solutions had the PCI-compliant designation. But unless the company was enormously diligent in maintaining those standards every day since October, then the PCI SSC could be correct, since a PCI-compliant designation one day isn’t guaranteed the next. What does that say about the value of being PCI-compliant?

There has to be a better system for retailers to secure cardholder data. I’m working on a story examining tokenization, one possible alternative to PCI compliance concerns. If you’re a retailer currently using tokenization, or a vendor offering the service, contact me if you’d like to offer insights.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Find Ways To Improve Customer Engagement

Top businesses looking to beat the recession are focusing on the people who can help them most — their own customers. According to a new study, a significantly higher percentage of leading businesses view customer experience management (CEM) as important in 2009 compared to last year (63% to 47%).

However, it's not enough simply to create a CEM strategy, according to the study of senior-level executives at more than 200 organizations by CGA and Vovici, enterprise feedback management (EFM) consultants. Companies must act on their strategy, aggressively promote company-wide execution, and encourage customer input, engagement, and feedback to build brand loyalty and drive sales.

Are you doing enough to engage your customers? Click here to read the entire story and find out several ways you can improve customer engagement.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Upgrade Your Web Site Now To Drive Holiday Sales

A chart of annual Web traffic to top retailers shows a Mount Everest-sized summit from November through January, with a soaring peak in December. More people visit retail sites during the holiday season than at any other time, and those numbers of both visitors and purchasers are expected to rise again this year. “E-commerce is growing in importance each year,” Jeff Edelman, director of retail and consumer advisory services at consulting firm RSM McGladrey, told me.

Take advantage of consumers’ increased online activity by upgrading your Web site now to drive holiday business. Maximize your Web offerings and you can weather this holiday season’s perfect storm of a recessionary economy, reluctant shoppers, and reduced in-store inventory.

Click here to read the rest of this story on our site.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Win The Back-To-School Sales War

A few retailers were so eager to launch their back-to-school sales this year they started in early July — they probably would have started even sooner if the last school year weren't still in session. The back-to-school shopping season is that important to the retail industry. It's second only to the holiday season in total sales, and last year Americans spent $54.1 billion on back-to-school-related items, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF).

This year, however, parents are going back-to-school shopping for the first time since the recession struck. They're facing its lingering impact and almost double-digit unemployment, and, unlike last year, they will shop without a stimulus check to assist them. As a result, back-to-school spending is expected to drop this year to $47.5 billion, according to an NRF survey.

Consumers this back-to-school season will be comparison shopping and discount hunting like never before. Retailers can counter this price-focused approach with several strategies of their own to drive store traffic and foster sales as the season progresses.

Click here to read the rest of this story on our site.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The NRF Strikes Back

President Barack Obama’s proposed employer mandate provision, which would require large companies to provide medical insurance for employees, continues to divide retailers. Wal-Mart’s support of the proposal last week drew a sharp rebuttal from the National Retail Federation. NRF President Tracy Mullin published an open letter to retailers, condemning Wal-Mart’s position and other top NRF executives took their campaign to the media.

Now, companies are choosing sides. Target and Kelly Services Inc. say they may support Wal-Mart’s call for an employer mandate, pending the final language of the proposal, according to a Bloomberg article. Conversely, Whole Foods Market, United Parcel Service, and Wegmans Food Markets are among those opposing mandatory employer coverage.

I spoke to NRF VP Neil Trautwein (here in a video clip) about the issues dividing the retail community and the NRF’s stand. “Our objective is to get lower costs, better quality, and more effective health care,” Trautwein told me. “And we’re doing our best to get there.”

Trautwein characterized the NRF’s attack on Wal-Mart as essential as other retailers work to improve health care coverage for employees. “We’re not going out of our way to kick up a fight with the biggest retailer on the block,” Trautwein told me. “But here they come cutting a side deal and throwing a monkey wrench into the works, so we cried foul and asked our members to follow suit. We tried to paint Wal-Mart as we think they are: outliers in the debate.”

Share your thoughts on the issue by commenting here.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Three Reasons Your Company Needs Twitter Now

It's free, it's easy to use, and it's the fastest-growing social media site, with nearly 35 million users — following a 2,565% jump in the last year. It can help you engage your customers, generate revenue, and boost traffic to your websites. So, why again aren't you using Twitter yet?

Twitter, the social media site that lets users post comments of 140 characters or less to a collection of followers, offers large and small retailers alike a golden opportunity. (For more Twitter basics, click here.) You can grow relationships, revenue, and brand loyalty unlike any other customer-focused outreach.

In a story on our site, I list three reasons your company should use Twitter. Click here to read the full story.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Lots To Learn This Back-To-School Season

Still working on your tan? Hurry up, because the back-to-school shopping season is about to start. In fact, Staples has declared the “official” beginning as July 15 and is running a “First Bell” promotion as a kickoff.

After the dreadful 2008 holiday season, retailers will be monitoring back-to-school sales closer than ever. The sales figure also could indicate how the 2009 holiday season will pan out. Many retailers, of course, place their holiday orders during the summer and fall.

Back-to-school spending this year is expected to reach $38.3 billion, a 0.6% increase from 2008, according to an estimate by the International Council of Shopping Centers in a relevant Wall Street Journal article.

I’m working on retail technology-based stories about both the back-to-school and holiday shopping seasons. Feel free to contact me if you’d like to comment on the stories.

Oh, and if you think it’s too soon to be talking about back-to-school and holiday shopping, then don’t visit Sears online or one of its 372 stores, where Christmas décor shops have already been erected.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Is Your Retail Software Packed To Go Global?

New Raymark president Marc Chriqui proudly proclaims his Montreal-based company "world-ready." The privately held retail software vendor has offices in Canada, France, and China, as well as a core product developed specifically to support retail globalization.

Raymark's suite of retail management software programs has multicurrency, multilingual, and multitax capabilities to ease and speed retailers' entrance into new global markets. It also provides retailers worldwide with a range of applications, including POS, merchandising and CRM, planning and analysis, automated replenishment, and mobile retail.

Chriqui took over as Raymark president on June 10, succeeding his father Claude, who will continue as CEO and chairman of the board. Prior to joining Raymark in 2007, Chriqui spent more than a decade as a software architect and tech consultant for numerous industries, including retail. I recently spoke with him about retailers' expectations from software vendors, the growth of globalization and mobile retail, and the pain points facing retailers today.

Click here to read the rest of the story on our site.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Map Out Your Recovery Plan

While the economy flounders and retailers and consumers alike anticipate a hoped-for recovery (Is it 2010 yet?), site selection analysts are mapping ways to make the recovery happen. Their data-driven approach provides retailers with specific localized information to anticipate and respond proactively to changes in today's troubled marketplace.

"Site selection analysis is a survival strategy for retailers in this economy," said Devon Wolfe, Pitney Bowes Business Insight (PBBI) managing director, Americas strategy and analytics services. "There's a very intense need to study markets at a local level and really understand which markets make sense for which retailers and which ones don't."

Geographic information systems (GIS) — the hardware and software tools of site selection pros — analyze up-to-date, local macroeconomic indicators to help retailers improve the accuracy of retail sales projections and the efficiency of their store or store network.

Click here to read the rest of the story on our site.