Stores Crackdown On Returns

by Deepak Sharma on Tuesday, December 20, 2005

CBS News Reports, the holiday season might not be so jolly for shoppers returning presents. Some major retailers are cracking down on repeat returns and changing their policies, too.

Retailers say fraud involving returns costs stores $16 billion dollars a year, so more and more chains are fighting back with policies and practices that make it tougher to return things.

They're shortening the time you have to return items after they're bought, hitting customers with hefty "restocking fees" on returned items, and cracking down on "serial returners" with new, sophisticated computer tracking equipment.
This fall, Sears began imposing a restocking fee of 15 percent of the purchase price on all electronics products that are returned after they've been used, or with missing parts or manuals. And while they give you 90 days to return other products, you now have only 30 days to return electronics items.
Many major retailers are even using hi-tech computer systems that track every return you make, and put a red flag on serial returners.

For instance, Wal-Mart has a system that automatically flags customers who try to return more than 3 items without receipts in a 45 day period. If you surpass that limit, they won't accept your returns. If you don't make any returns without a receipt within a six month period, the red flag goes away.

Roundup on Indian Retail Industry

by Deepak Sharma on Monday, December 19, 2005

Check out the roundup on the Indian Retail Industry from the recently concluded India Economic Summit 2005. There are interesting observations and concerns on FDI in retail sector from the who's who of the Indian retail industry.

Co-Chair Sanjiv Goenka, Vice-Chairman, RPG Enterprises, India, said that retailing accounts for approximately 10% of India’s GDP and employs more people than any other industry. The challenges for achieving critical mass and generating employment in the retail industry relate to the integration of small and large retail, the integration of rural and urban markets and the integration of supply chains for a unified market. The issue is foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail; there are concerns that it will create monopolies. Demand impetus should be created through a single market and uniform taxes.

Kishore Biyani, Managing Director, Pantaloon, India, said that FDI has to enter the retail sector sooner or later. India is the last leg of the large consumer base and retail is the last leg of any business value chain. However, he stated that FDI in retail should be delayed. India is giving away a Rs 300 billion market for US$ 1 billon of FDI.

B. S. Nagesh, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Shoppers Stop, India, felt the issue of foreign retailers is being confused with FDI. If foreign brands are allowed to manufacture in India, they should also be allowed to retail. The consumer has to be given a choice of goods.

Hans-Joachim Koerber, Chief Executive Officer, Metro, Germany, a Co-Chair of the India Economic Summit 2005, said investments are needed in the supply chain. Almost all developing countries have allowed FDI in retail in a controlled way. Retailing is a technology-based business. India can wait until Indian retailers wake up or allow the nation’s retailers to benefit from the experience of other countries. A foreign retailer that has local staff does business in a country, for a country, he emphasized.

Suhel Seth, Chief Executive Officer, Equus Red Cell, India, said FDI is not about patriotism but about serious consumer issues. Indian retailers are waiting for better value. If retail prices go down, consumer spending will be spurred, and it is then irrelevant where the money comes from. From a marketing perspective, retail will give consumers more choice and allow local brands to develop.

Jean-Paul Thill, Chief Executive Officer, EMA Region, KPMG, France, said it does not matter where FDI comes from. India’s modernization is inevitable. It has a very vibrant IT sector, while it trails in retail. A mix of investment in cold storage and supply chains is needed.

Samir Modi, Managing Director, Modi Enterprises, India, said the concern is whether India wants organized retail or not. Taxes are too high and too many authorizations are required. Making organized retail easy is what is needed today. Multinational corporations offer margins of 9-11%, which is considered absurd in international markets. Levelling the playing field for the organized and unorganized markets will resolve the FDI question.

Abhiram Seth, Executive Director, Exports and External Affairs, PepsiCo India Holdings, India, said there is no incentive for quality products, especially for farmers. The impact of pricing on farm incomes is high. A 50-paise difference per kilogramme makes a difference of Rs 10,000 per acre of crop for the farmer. An aggregated model to provide better returns to the farmer and better value to the consumer is necessary.

Ajay Dua, Secretary, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, India, said the issue in retail is not limited to FDI. Retail in India represents 11% of the GDP, with a market size of Rs 300 billion, a much larger percentage than in most countries. India has a national policy on manufacturing, agriculture and tourism. Therefore, a national policy on marketing is now needed. There are, however, numerous alternatives with considerable differentiation – wholesale vs retail, rural vs urban, lifestyle goods vs basic goods, etc. Within these lies the issue of organized vs unorganized marketing. Organized marketing has not eliminated unorganized marketing anywhere in the world; the two have to coexist. Organized marketing in India is growing at 18-20% and has given a boost to real estate. It has, however, not helped rural marketing, supply chains, consumption and purchases by tourists. Malls have not started selling ethnic goods either. Some employment has probably been generated. A macro perspective on marketing is needed. Making a policy based on conjecture would lead to improvisation.

RFID offers quick payback to some retailers

by Deepak Sharma on Thursday, December 15, 2005

A newly published study finds that apparel and footwear retailers can expect a quick and significant return on investment from deploying RFID at the item level.
RFID Journal

Push for Biometric Payment

by Deepak Sharma on Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Convenience Store News reports:

Pay By Touch and NCR Corp. are combining their hardware and software solutions to offer retailers a single point of contact for supporting their entire merchant and consumer biometric needs.

"Consumer demands for convenience are growing at an unprecedented pace, and retailers of all sizes need a fast, simple and secure solution that provides the ultimate customer service," said Stephen Reade, senior vice president of product of Pay By Touch. "Our alliance with NCR addresses these needs with a fully integrated solution that improves the checkout experience -- and merchants’ top and bottom lines -- while also positioning our services for expansion into other vertical markets."

Using NCR’s biometric-enabled point-of-sale solutions, retailers can use the Pay By Touch authentication and payment service, providing shoppers a convenient and secure way to pay for goods with the touch of a finger.

Web not yet able to track store inventory in real time

by Deepak Sharma

[via NRF SmartBrief]
Google's Froogle service offers the promise of letting shoppers check if an item is in stock at a particular store before they leave the house, but industry analysts contend the reality is most retailers do not have inventory tracking systems in place to deliver such information at any given moment.
NYT: Is That Item Sold Out? Know Before You Go

Desperate time calls for desperate measures

by Deepak Sharma on Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Desperate times for retailers. USA Today reports:

Whether to draw the masses or woo the upscale shopper, retailers are pulling out all the stops — and stunts — to snag customers for the post-Thanksgiving start of holiday shopping.
More competition and less distinctiveness are driving gimmicks.

"These are desperation moves," says Erik Gordon, marketing professor at Johns Hopkins University. "Everyone is your competitor these days, and no retailer can afford to lose market share."

With online sellers open 24/7, many stores will open at 5 a.m. or earlier Friday. Some even will open on Thanksgiving.

Big retailers like Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Kmart are included in this list. Wal-Mart going back to it's old self has declared that it will match rivals' advertised discounts on Black Friday.

USA Today - Stores cook up holiday gimmicks
New York Times - Back to Basics at Wal-Mart: Spare No Rivals

SAP acquires Khimetrics

by Deepak Sharma

After Oracle, it's now SAP's turn to go shopping for Retail Tech vendors. Now who has not done it's holiday shopping, Microsoft?

In a move to further extend its leading market position in the retail software space, SAP AG (NYSE: SAP) today announced that it is acquiring privately held Khimetrics, Inc., a leading U.S.-based provider of enterprise software solutions that allow retailers to analyze how to price and position items to boost margins and optimize demand, deliver accurate profitability forecasts and implement long-term sales strategies that promote customer retention.
The acquisition of Khimetrics comes in the wake of SAP's recent acquisition of Triversity -- the leading North American provider of customer- centric, point-of-sale software solutions -- demonstrating continuing evidence of SAP's strategy to acquire narrowly-focused solutions that enhance its offerings and address specific customers' business challenges. The advanced analytical pricing and forecasting technologies from Khimetrics complement SAP's recently added in-store solution and will build on SAP's market-leading retail offering, which extends from the enterprise back office through the retail supply chain and to the store.

SAP to Acquire Khimetrics to Further Extend its Retail Market Leadership

Froogle adds new mapping and merchant search

by Deepak Sharma

New York Times reports:

Google executives said last night that the company planned to move quickly to capitalize on its new Google Base database service, adding a feature that lets merchants provide local shopping information.

Many publishers had become concerned about the potential of Google Base, which could allow the company to dominate the classified advertising business. Now, publishers of services like the Yellow Pages are facing a competitive threat from Google.

Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., said that beginning this morning it would make available a feature that provides a local version of its Froogle shopping service. The service uses a third-party database of national product inventory organized by locality.

Additionally, local merchants will be able to send Google product information that will be searchable from Froogle. For example, if users type "iPod Nano New York," they will see map information with the locations of stores that have the iPod Nano in stock.
Google declined to identify the third-party information service that would provide the initial product inventory information for local stores, but it said there would be data from "several hundred" chains, like Best Buy, Circuit City, Home Depot, Bombay and CompUSA.

The limitation of the service, Google acknowledged, is that the inventory information might not be precise or necessarily up to date.

The service will be freely available to merchants in the United States, Ms. Mayer said. Google, as it frequently notes, plans to gain revenue from the new Froogle service by placing relevant text ads on the same page as the local results.

Where's the heat in EDI?

by Deepak Sharma on Monday, November 14, 2005 has an article on current state of EDI projects.

In recent months, the activity surrounding new implementations of EDI has stagnated. According to Andrew White, Gartner Group's Director of Supply Chain Research, "Generally, traditional EDI is still a sizable business, but there are not a lot of classical EDI projects starting up right now." That being the case, where are all the energy and dollars being spent?

With the emphasis on standardization, and the move toward more Internet based connectivity, the playing field has changed. Add now-ready-for-prime-time Global Data Synchronization to the mix, and suddenly there is an entire new set of issues that need to be addressed. Many companies have recently realized that GDS is a reality and set about to implement it. As they did, the problems became internal rather than external and their efforts have turned to cleaning and standardizing the product data within their own systems.

AMR Research: The Top 25 Supply Chains for 2005

by Deepak Sharma on Tuesday, November 08, 2005

For the second year in a row, Dell tops AMR Research’s Supply Chain Top 25, exemplifying the very best in supply chain practices. The Top 25 identifies the manufacturers and retailers that exhibit superior supply chain capabilities and performance. With superior supply chains comes superior businesses.

Supply chain leaders are able to shape demand, instantly respond to market changes, and crush their competitors. According to AMR Research benchmarking data, leaders carry 15% less inventory, are 60% faster to market, and complete 17% more perfect orders. These advantages separate predators from prey.

India - Retail may get industry status before FDI

by Deepak Sharma on Monday, November 07, 2005

Economic Times reports that Indian Govt is working on according industry status to retail before allowing FDI in the sector.

The commerce & industry ministry is pitching strongly for the this move. In a communique to the PMO, it has said that the “domestic retail industry should be accorded a level-playing field by granting it industry status.” This view is based on a report prepared by the Centre for policy alternatives, which also suggests the government adopt a “gradual” approach towards allowing FDI in retail.

It is felt that resistance to FDI in retail may soften if a level-playing field is provided. It may be easier to convince the Left on this issue. Retailers Big Bazaar, Vishal Mega Mart and Trent will find it easier to strengthen their position once the sector gets industry status.

Sam Walton of India

by Deepak Sharma on Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Some time back Economic Times ran an article on Kishore Biyani. Good Read.

There would be little hyperbole in calling him the father of organised retailing in India. When everyone thought that the concept of hypermarkets (discount stores) in organised retailing was a distant dream in India, he stormed the market with Big Bazaar.

That’s Kishore Biyani for you, the 43-year old chief knowledge officer and managing director of Pantaloon Retail (India), the man who wants to be India’s Sam Walton or to use another analogy the Dhirubhai Ambani of Indian retailing.

VeriSign Buys Retail Solutions

by Deepak Sharma

Here is another company (other being Oracle) that is on buying spree. After buying and RSS content feed provider, Moreover Technologies, Verisign has bought Reatils Solutions Inc.

The deal pushes VeriSign squarely into delivering point-of-sale (POS) data, which is gathered at cash registers when customers pay for merchandise at stores, to retailers and consumer-goods and pharmaceutical companies, including Unilever and GlaxoSmithKline, respectively. "Companies want this data so they know exactly what's happening in a store at any given time," said Jeff Richards, vice president of VeriSign’s Intelligent Supply Chain Services business. "But when you provide this information, you're talking about a massive up-tick in the amount of data, billions and billions of records, you need to process." ...

VeriSign now has the tools to build on its infrastructure services in radio frequency identification (RFID) and electronic product code (EPC) technologies in which POS data increasingly is being combined. VeriSign in May shelled-out $15 million for R4 Global Solutions, a consulting-services vendor that assists companies using RFID, electronic product codes, and other data-related supply-chain technologies.

The goal is to combine services from both acquisitions -- tying POS with RFID/EPC data -- to provide real-time visibility and accurate inventory information on products in the supply chain to consumer goods companies, such as Kimberly-Clark Corp. and Gillette Co., which are working on RFID programs with retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Target Corp., and Albertson's Inc.

Tying the POS with EPC data embedded in RFID tags on cases and pallets of products will give consumer goods companies visibility into when well-timed promotional items, from razors to shaving cream, and advertising displays are brought from back storerooms at retailers and onto store floors. When the products are sold, the POS data is cross-checked against the RFID/EPC data.

Wal-Mart improving image

by Deepak Sharma on Monday, October 31, 2005

Wal-Mart is trying to fix its negative image with a host of measures that includes media summits, new health care plan for its workers, support to increase the federal minimum wage etc. More here.

Emerging Retail Technologies

by Deepak Sharma on Friday, October 07, 2005

NRF SmartBrief has published a two-part Special Report on Emerging Retail Technologies. The report covered topics like Online Retail Management, Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) and had a very good coverage on RFID. Part I is available here and Part II is available here.

Expensive Returns

by Deepak Sharma on Monday, October 03, 2005

Internet Retailer reports on a new survey reporting that while there are fewer returns thanks to customers becoming comfortable and adept at shopping online, the cost of processing returns is high and an average web retailer spends between $6 and $10 for each return.

Microsoft - Retailers guide to effective software

by Deepak Sharma on Wednesday, September 28, 2005

[Via NRF SmartBrief]
A case study from Microsoft Business Solutions examines the different areas where retailers can implement technology and how it they can use it to improve store operations. (PDF file)

RFID Beyond The Supply Chain

by Deepak Sharma on Friday, July 29, 2005

Forrester Report, RFID Beyond The Supply Chain in the Microsoft Executive Circle Magazine.

Forward-thinking consumer products (CP) manufacturers and retailers aren't limiting RFID to the supply chain. Firms like Kraft Foods and GlaxoSmithKline are testing new RFID processes like production management, market research, promotion execution, and in-store consumer services. As the uses of RFID become more fragmented, so does the vendor landscape. The result? The death of the RFID market as we know it and the emergence of process-centric solutions and technology innovation networks.

Toyota of Retail Industry

by Deepak Sharma on Thursday, July 28, 2005

A research study in Wharton is trying to find out the Toyota of Retail Industry.

It started out as an academic puzzle of sorts. The researchers already knew that in the airline industry, customers and employees revere Southwest Airlines. With computers, Dell stands out as superior in customer satisfaction. And Toyota remains the company to emulate in the automobile industry. But when it comes to the retail industry, what company sets the standards for customer and employee satisfaction?

Pretty much all the preliminary conclusions (like Customer Satisfaction, No Out of Stocks etc) drawn out of this study are known to the retail industry but it would be interesting to see who gets termed as the "Toyota of Retail".

Retail Intelligence to predict number of people in stores

by Deepak Sharma on Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Now you have Retail Intelligence technology which can predict the number of customers likely to enter a store at a given time.

"We use through traffic in the store and match that against traditional retail variables," he says.
"Those are things such as how long it takes the average person to get through a store, or what's the average transaction, the sorts of things they can get from their point-of-sale system."

From the retailer's point of view, the system promises more efficient use of staff and increased productivity. It uses sensors in the ceiling to detect inward and outward traffic.

The store's service manager has a computer screen displaying two numbers, one the number of staff the store thinks it will need, and the other a plus or minus figure supplied by the Beonic software that tells the manager if more or less staff are needed.

Beonic, the company which makes this technology has another very interesting system which improves customer service - by giving early warnings of customer queues to store managers.
Called QEW, the Queue Early Warning system uses Beonic’s advanced people counting sensors to track visitor traffic within large department stores or supermarkets while the system’s smart analytic software gives advance warning before queues begin to form.

Beonic’s breakthrough is the absolute simplicity of this system. Although it uses sophisticated calculations to estimate visitor movements, the system displays only two numbers to store managers. One is the number of employees rostered for cash register operation and the other is the number of extra cash register operators needed to meet anticipated customer demand.

New Retail System Peeks Under Shopping Carts

by Deepak Sharma on Monday, July 18, 2005

CIO Insight has a story on how Retailers are using cameras and pattern recognition software to fight back against shoplifters who try to hide items in the compartments underneath grocery carts.

Here's how the system is designed to work: When the shopping cart enters the checkout lane, it passes by a small lane-mounted camera that records images of the products beneath the cart and compares them with a database of known products that are considered likely to be stored underneath the cart, Sakaguchi said.
Using visual pattern recognition—which considers the colors, shapes and images on the product but not its barcode or RFID tag—the system tries to identify the product and then automatically puts that product into the point-of-sale system. If it works, the item automatically appears on the display just as if its barcode had been scanned by hand, Sakaguchi said.

Here are more details about the LaneHawk system refered in the story:

Retailing: What's working online

by Deepak Sharma on Friday, July 15, 2005

Mckinsey Quarterly - Successful companies should examine all available channels and then tailor an approach according to their capabilities.

  • Today's successful online retailers, depending on their underlying economics and whether or not they have physical stores, choose one of four strategies.

  • To avoid cannibalizing their offline sales, multichannel retailers must integrate their online, catalog, and store activities and properly coordinate their marketing.

  • By optimizing each channel and building efficient fulfillment processes and operations, even low-margin retailers can succeed.

Retailers Struggling with Workforce Management

by Deepak Sharma on Sunday, July 10, 2005

New Report from AberdeenGroup suggests Retailers are struggling with Workforce Management (WFM).

Most retailers are striving for better planning and labor forecasting, but about one in five retailers reports that its workforce management strategy is reactive and emergency-driven, with little or no long-term staff planning, according to research published by AberdeenGroup. Fewer than 20% of retailers say they can schedule accurately and regularly match labor needs with budget and customer peak periods, according to findings in Aberdeen's new report, "Workforce Optimization in Retail: From Point of Hire to Point of Sale."

"Stores today fail to consider the lifecycle management of the employee," said Dr. Katherine Jones, Aberdeen's research director of enterprise applications and report author. "Instead, they exhibit emergency-driven hiring, haphazard employee management, and often capricious scheduling and labor forecasting. This formula produces low morale, frustrated managers, and high turnover."

Although technology has enhanced hourly hiring practices, performance management, and employee scheduling, according to Aberdeen research, today's workforce management policies, procedures, and technologies are often poorly integrated, reducing retailers' success in optimizing labor force investments....

WFM is just not limited to Forecasting and Scheduling but also touches other things like, integration with POS systems, Reporting and Analytics, integration with Finance systems etc. Even with this much complexity, a sizable Retailer should look for managing its workforce using a WFM. This is necessitated even more in the view of more varied and diverse workforce, labor laws and unions which varies from state to state, part-time/full-time workers etc.

Oracle buys another Retail Tech Co

by Deepak Sharma on Tuesday, July 05, 2005

After $700 Million acquisition of Retek which makes software for retailers in April, Oracle today purchased privately held ProfitLogic Inc.

"ProfitLogic's software provides analysis that helps retailers put the right product, in the right store, for the right customer, at the right time," said Duncan Angove, general manager, Oracle's Retek Global Business Unit. "Our acquisition of ProfitLogic will create the most comprehensive software solution for the retail industry. With ProfitLogic's Retail Profit Optimization software, Retek's end-to-end retail products, and Oracle's infrastructure software and ERP applications, we will be able to offer an integrated solution for retailers of any size and in any industry."

"ProfitLogic has been a pioneer in the area of merchandising analytics and optimization for more than 20 years. Our solutions help many leading retailers enhance their merchandising with greater insight into customer demand, enabling more localized assortment, allocation and pricing decisions," said Scott Friend, co-founder and president, ProfitLogic. "This powerful combination will enable us to accelerate our ability to drive dramatic financial improvement for a larger set of leading retailers worldwide."

In my view, the biggest draw for Oracle in this deal is ProfitLogic's customers with likes of American Eagle Outfitters, Ann Taylor, Bloomingdale's, The Children's Place Retail Stores, Famous Footwear, JC Penney, Marshall Field's, Nordstrom, Reitmans, ShopKo Stores, and Toys R Us, among others. Second reason could be the rebounding of retail industry which would result in increased spending by the Retailers in Technology.

Related News:
What's driving retail boom
Wal-Mart outlook raises retailers' hopes

Retail Tech Link-o-Mania - 2

by Deepak Sharma on Monday, June 27, 2005

Where's RFID Going Next?
Article in InformationWeek is reporting innovative uses of RFID tags from it being embedded in Wristbands to Soccer balls and casino chips. Very good read.

...At the Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y., RFID tags have found their way into patient wristbands. Each tag contains a patient's name and medical record number. Nurses scan it using a tablet PC containing a reader and pull corresponding records from the hospital's database. Hospital personnel have seen a reduction in drug-administration errors, and CIO Daniel Morreale says freeing nursing staff from having to type information into a database has led to improved productivity....

...A doctoral student at the University of Florida is creating RFID grids in carpeting, hallway baseboards, and along outdoor walkways to help visually impaired and other disabled students navigate the campus. ...

CVS Prescribes RFID for Retail Payment Terminals
CVS Corp. is installing RFID-enabled terminals for processing various types of payment-card transactions at its 5,400 pharmacy retail stores nationwide, according to Hypercom Corp., the maker of the terminals.

....The terminals have been configured to the retailer's specifications and can accept magnetic swipe cards and smart cards in addition to the contactless cards and fobs, Rawls said. He noted that the RFID capabilities are designed to decrease the amount of time customers spend waiting in line to make purchases....

RFID Project Safeguards Drug
eWeek is reporting how a drug Manufacturer Purdue Pharma is monitoring one of its most successful drugs OxyContin's through the complete supply chain using RFID tags.
The technology helps Purdue create an electronic "drug pedigree," data that enables the company to follow products throughout the supply chain, from the manufacturer to the wholesaler to the pharmacy, said company CIO Chuck Nardi. That sort of information is normally kept in paper documents. With RFID technology, Purdue can now scan and record the 48 bottles of OxyContin in each carton shipped to distribution centers for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and H.D. Smith Wholesale Drug Co., rather than a single tag on each case. The reader scans the chip and records the specific product and the serial number on each bottle. That information is sent to Wal-Mart and H.D. Smith, which can then verify what products they received and when they received them.

The data gives Purdue greater scrutiny of the products' trip through the supply chain and gives Wal-Mart and H.D. Smith better assurances that what ended up in their partners' distribution centers is what was shipped out of Purdue's facilities.....

...Getting the pilot programs up and running took Purdue more than a year. Through an extensive trial-and-error program, the company worked closely with its label maker to figure out a way to bundle a tiny RFID chip under the label of each pill bottle. Purdue is using a 1-inch-square 915MHz chip from Symbol's RFID division—formerly known as Matrics Inc.—on each bottle of the drugs shipped.

In addition, Purdue is using ERP (enterprise resource planning) software from SAP AG that supports RFID information and is running the pilot programs on fault-tolerant servers from Stratus Technologies Inc. The SAP applications enable data captured by the tag reader to be input into Purdue's business systems.....

Thinking Loud - Box Office Mojo for Retail Chains

by Deepak Sharma on Thursday, June 23, 2005

Just wondering, Why can't we have Box Office Mojo kind of website for Retail chains which will tell you the everyday sales figures for these stores. OK, everyday may be asking too much but why can't we have something for Holidays and other events like Mothers/Fathers day etc. Think of the usefulness of such a list to the shareholders and the customers. Shareholders will know how their company is doing and Customers will know where to head to same day, next year...:)

I know we have the forecast and then results for the industry as a whole for holidays etc but never get to see what Wal-Mart made or what Sears made individually for let's say Fathers day. Won't that be cool?

Maybe I am thinking too loud.

Pay By Touch

by Deepak Sharma on Monday, June 20, 2005

SiliconValley is reporting a new use of Biometrics in the Point of Sales applications. Biometrics so far has been limited to security (identifying people), labor management etc purposes. Pay By Touch brings Biometrics to the retail landscape. The company has implemented these finger-scanning payment system at couple of retail chains. The system is very simple and here is how it works:

During checkout, you simply place your finger on the reader, and enter your search number (usually your phone number). You are immediately identified and securely linked to your financial and loyalty accounts.

Then, at the touch of a button on a familiar keypad, you select your payment method: checking account, credit or debit card. Your purchase is approved, and your reward points are automatically recognized, just as if you had presented your cards or keychain tags at the point of sale. And Pay By Touch is always free, with no hidden fees....

The benefit to the customer comes by Faster Checkouts, no need to carry cash, credit/debit cards etc. After one time enrollment you can use the system at every participating retail stores.

The benefit to the Retailers lies in the fact that the system can be integrated with the existing PoS system using simple API's and can redcuce the transacation charges by few cents.
...the electronic network used to process the biometric transactions charges retailers a lower fee than other electronic networks now used to approve debit and credit card purchases. While the cost to a merchant from the electronic network used to process a debit or credit card purchase is about 35 cents, the same purchase over the Automated Clearinghouse Network used by Pay By Touch is about 10 cents, Morris said.

The only thing is what if the system goes down, what do we use as backup? My guess is Since it is built on top of the existing PoS system, you can still use that to check out.

Retail Tech Link-o-Mania - 1

by Deepak Sharma on Friday, June 17, 2005

Starting today, I will try to post links (with some commentary, whenever possible) on various happenings/news/articles/products/events etc in the Retail Industry. Hope you find these interesting and useful too.

RFID future, hazards discussed
Senior government officials and business leaders met this week in Washington to attempt to reconcile the promise of radio-frequency identification and the privacy and standardization challenges posed by the new technology.

Real-World RFID: Wal-Mart, Gillette, And Others Share What They're Learning
Interesting notes and learnings from the field where RFID is in use.

What Is Inventory Management?
Good high level article explaining what Inventory Management is, types/categories of inventory and ways to reduce Inventory Levels etc.

Slide Decks from the Retail Systems 2005 Conference

by Deepak Sharma on Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Retail Systems has posted Presentations from Retail Systems 2005 and the VICS Retail Systems Super Conference. Would have been nice if these were released as downloadable Webcasts but nonetheless topics covered in the conference were quite varied with tracks on Store Innovation, Supply chain Management, Collaborative Commerce among others.
View Presentations

Broadband Helping Fuel Online Retail Growth

by Deepak Sharma on Saturday, June 11, 2005

[Via Retail Wire]
DowJones is reporting a research stating that Broadband access is driving online retail growth.

The factors are: more people having broadband Internet access at home; more consumers feeling comfortable using the Internet to shop; an increased use of search engines to find items; the increased use of comparison shopping sites; and retailers reaching customers through several mediums.

More than 50% of Internet users have broadband access at home, Hess said. The faster connection to the Internet compared with narrowband makes it easier for consumers to shop, and consequently broadband users spend more online than narrowband users, he said.

This is bound to happen with more Broadband penetration across the Country (and the world). With broadband users, Retailers can deliver more interactive content, for e.g. you are watching Britney Spears video online and you can click on the accessories she is wearing and buy it. Use of technology like Macromedia Flash makes it a reality. This interactive user experience leads to fewer abandoned shopping carts and higher conversion rates. There are other things to cater to Broadband users, some being Platform improvements, Server and Technology upgrades, chnages to site Look and Feel, better site usability etc.

Product Information Management (PIM)

by Deepak Sharma on Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Internet Retailer has an article speaking of the benefits of Product Information Management systems (PIM). Product Information Management (PIM) is a solution to maintain product data across different business units and groups within the enterprise. A collaborative solution, PIM provides a central repository for the Product Data with all its attributes thus enabling effective Data Synchronization.

The article talks of problems in retail arena and how PIM solves these problems.

The trouble is that many retail operations are divided into silos of information specific to each operating department, each of which may have received a different version of product data from separate sources within the same supplier. “It’s hard to get a single source of truth,” says Michael Parrish, senior vice president of business process management for West Marine Inc., a Watsonville, Calif.-based chain of more than 360 boating supply stores.

To meet the challenge of data overload in multiple versions of the truth, West Marine and other retailers, as well as their suppliers, are moving toward product information management systems, or PIM, that use web technology to streamline and automate data flow and make it simpler and faster for multiple departments to view and work with the same product information.

PIM is not to be confused with Data Synchronization.

Not to be confused with general data synchronization between suppliers and retailers, which deals with invoices, purchase orders and other supply chain issues, PIM applications push deep into a retailer’s operation to assure that product data is synchronized across all of a retailer’s internal applications.

Related Links:
IBM Product Information Management Solutions
Oracle Product Information Management Data Hub

Voice Technology in Distribution Center's

by Deepak Sharma on Friday, May 27, 2005

An article in DC Velocity talks of Voice Recognition technology that optimizes the distribution center workforce.

And in August, Dunkin' Donuts announced that it was installing voice-recognition technology from Voxware to streamline the order picking process. No longer encumbered by clipboards, workers now swarm all over the facility wearing belt-mounted computers and headsets through which they receive (and respond to) picking instructions. Fred the Baker has long since retired, but the workers still hear voices in their headsets telling them it's time—not to make the doughnuts, but to pick a 50-pound bag of flour, or a case of glaze, or a box of coffee beans.


But today, just 36 months later, it's a different story. Engard is now using voice technology in his DC and is more than eager to describe the benefits. Ask him about productivity and you'll get an earful: "In the first week of running the new system, I had workers telling me that I'd have to increase their work load," he says. And it wasn't just the top performers. Within two weeks of the system's installation, even the slowest worker—a picker whose 110-casesper-hour pace had put his job at risk—was consistently exceeding the DC's 200 cases-per-hour goal by 10 cases. The most impressive gains have come from the freezer area, where, under the old paper-based picking system, workers spent up to 20 minutes planning how best to build a pallet. Today, Engard says, the voice system automatically configures the proper picking sequence in seconds.

Accuracy rates have soared too. Prior to the voice system's installation, the DC employed eight people whose sole job was to check outgoing shipments. Today, picking accuracy has reached 99.9 percent, with just one part-time quality checker.

Best thing is that the technology from Voxware is a people-centric solution that maximizes the contribution of each worker, taking into account many variables – such as a worker’s native language, experience level, job role, and abilities – and mapping them dynamically to the job activities at hand. For instance, the system knows the experience and capability level of each employee. It can balance workloads between workers in a team so that the entire group achieves a higher standard. It can give expert workers the ability to take shortcuts for improved productivity while providing extra coaching to temps and trainees. Workers interact with the system using a wearable computer and headset. They hear human voice prompts giving them work instructions, and they speak responses as tasks progress to completion.

Windows® Embedded for Point of Service

by Deepak Sharma on Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Microsoft today rolled out Windows® Embedded for Point of Service software platform for retail industry.

Directly addressing the top challenges at the point of service faced by retail and hospitality organizations, Windows Embedded for Point of Service simplifies setup, deployment and management, includes support for new technologies designed to improve the customer experience and offers low system life-cycle costs....

As the only point-of-service software platform on the market to support peripheral plug-and-play functionality -- the feature most requested by retailers -- Windows Embedded for Point of Service will make implementation and integration with existing systems easier for retailers. Strong default security settings such as a hardened Internet Explorer, Windows Logon and buffer overrun protection, as well as a minimized operating system surface area to reduce system vulnerabilities. Additional support for Windows Update management technologies simplifies update identification and installation on Windows Embedded for Point of Service systems, providing network protection and enabling a more secure experience for customers. Further, support for third-party security solutions from companies such as Computer Associates International Inc. and Sygate Inc. provides customers with enhanced security for their point-of-service systems.

Related: Microsoft and Retail: Nearly Two Decades of Innovation

Beyond the Supply Chain: The Impact of RFID on Business Operations and IT Infrastructure

by Deepak Sharma on Monday, May 23, 2005

Computerworld has a very good article on RFID and it's impact on Business Operations and IT Infrastructure. The article identifies the opportunities enabled by RFID beyond the supply chain to fall into three categories: safety and security, mobile asset management and complex process simplification. The article then talks about the Impact of RFID on IT Strategy.

To realize the benefits of RFID, IT will need to upgrade its infrastructure in a number of areas, and the interfaces with the business will have to be closer than ever before. There are three areas that will be need to be addressed: data management, network and end-user device management, and a new category for many IT organizations, sensor management. In addition, tying all these together and integrating them with legacy systems will require a new level of systems integration capabilities.

RFID Enabled Retail Supply Chain

by Deepak Sharma on Friday, May 20, 2005

MSDN is running an article on RFID Enabled Retail Supply Chain by Javed Sikander.

Use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) to improve your organization's efficiency in tracking goods and assets, and increase your levels of product and asset visibility.

From the article:
This document will first present a brief overview of the RFID technology, discuss the various aspects of a simple retail supply chain, and identify scenarios where RFID technology can be applied. Next, it will present some key issues for the RFID software infrastructure for such scenarios. Finally, it will propose an architecture to address those issues, and provide guidance on exploiting the Microsoft .NET Platform to develop key components of the architecture.

Welcome !

by Deepak Sharma on Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Customary welcome to all the readers of this blog. Yes, both of you. :)

Intention is to write about Retail industry with a focus on Information Technology affecting this space. Stay tuned.