Friday Feb 28, 2014

Retail Service Backbone and Integration Console

A key ingredient to Commerce Anywhere is the integration of systems.  If you're going to provide customers abilities like "buy online, pick-up in the store" then you're going to have to connect several systems.  For those that choose all Oracle Retail applications, most of those integrations are already available, but the majority of retailers have heterogeneous environments that require many integrations. Those integrations can be categorized as bulk data, fire-and-forget (message-based), and request-response services.  Its last one I'd like to discuss a bit.

As part of the v14 release, Oracle Retail provides the Retail Service Backbone (RSB) to assist with the lifecycle of Web services.  The RSB is included with the RIB license and its use is optional.  The libraries and tools are built on top of the Oracle Service Bus, but using a different ESB isn't out of the question.  The RIB and RSB work together and share the use of consistent Retail Business Objects.

From the release notes, we see that the RSB contains the following components:

  • Tools for generation of OSB projects with pre-built instrumentation
  • Tools for automating full services lifecycle management
  • Tools to manage service lifecycle phases (preparation, assembly, and deployment)
  • Tools for generation and automation of web service security policies
  • Centralized configuration management of all Oracle Retail services
  • Enforcement of standardization and verification of Retail Enterprise services
  • Configuration based extensible framework to enable customization
  • Pre-configured instrumentation for alerts, SLA, logging, audit, and trace automatically built in to each integration flow
  • Retail Integration Console (RIC) is a monitoring, diagnosis, and analysis tool

That last one, the RIC, is a very cool Web application used for monitoring the Web service integrations at the application level.  From the console, its easy to see how integrations are performing, detect exceptions, and drive into details for analysis and eventual diagnosis.  Here's a screenshot of the summary page:

The tabs across the top are Integration Summary, Integration Flows, Deployment Topology, Performance & Diagnostics, Historical Trends, and Integration Guide.  These tabs provide a comprehensive view of the integrations thus allowing administrators to be more proactive in avoiding issues and quicker to diagnose those that can't be avoided.

Delivering on the Commerce Anywhere promise starts with systems that are effectively exchanging data.

Wednesday Feb 19, 2014

Marketing Automation for Retail

Marketing automation is exactly what it says.  Its software that helps marketers automate the programs used to move leads from the top of the marketing funnel to a ready-to-buy state.  Rather than blast a message out to everyone, this approach fosters personalization at scale.  A simple marketing program might be something like this:

  1. Select all females 15-25 that have visited our web site but have purchased less than $100 in the last 6 months.
  2. Send them an email offering them free shipping.
  3. If they don't accept the offer, follow-up with an 10% off in-store coupon.
  4. If they don't accept the second offer, try posting a friends-and-family coupon to their Facebook newsfeed.
  5. etc.

The idea is to target small segments of customers, and automate the escalating steps necessary to entice them into buying.  But Oracle is taking the concept much further.  Following the acquisitions of Eloqua, Conpendium, and Responsys (which in turn recently acquired Push IO), Oracle is assembling a Marketing Cloud that serves the needs of many industries, retail included.  In addition to the obvious defining and executing marketing processes, there are several things that make Oracle's marketing automation even more effective.


First, we take into account the customer's digital body language.  Those are the relevant actions and reactions of customers that yield insight.  Maybe the customer didn't use the offer to buy a item, but they did open the email, visit the website, and browsed several products.  Those "tells" are helpful in determining next steps in the marketing process.


In this case, the next interaction might be an email containing recommended products based on those recently browsed.  Messages are personalized based on the digital body language and whatever other customer demographics and psychographics that are available.  Another example of this is sending an email to customers reminding them they left something in their online cart.

Multiple Data Sources

There are many ways in which to communicate with customers including email, snail mail, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.  Marketing uses these channels to reach customers in the ways they want to be contacted.  And these channels also provide rich sources of data useful in personalization.  For example, the lastest release of Eloqua includes integrations to the Oracle Sales Cloud and Oracle Social Cloud.  If a customer is very active on Twitter, then perhaps that's the best way to reach her.

What really excites me about marketing automation is the potential to extend the digital body language concept into physical stores.  As mentioned previously, sensors inside stores can track customers, recording their visits in much the same way as is done on the Web.  This could allow us to form a more complete profile of the customer and better understand the cross-channel impacts of marketing.

Wednesday Feb 12, 2014

Push Payments for MCX

Today MCX announced its adding Paydiant's cloud-based payment technology to its platform.  Recall that MCX was formed by several leading retailers to build new payment technologies.  Although not overtly stated, they are clearly trying to bypass the fees charged by the credit and debit networks for processing payments.  These fees are quite significant.  For example, the NACS estimates that in 2007 the 146,000 convenience stores in the US paid $7.6B in credit card fees while generating $3.4B in profits.  Granted, credit cards have several benefits for merchants such as speedier checkout and elimination of cash handling, but those fees seem very out-of-line.

So how does Paydiant help retailers avoid fees?  They are taking a "push payment" approach that turns payments upside-down.  Typically the consumer hands over their account number to the merchant so that the merchant can extract the appropriate funds for the purchase.  That account number can be a checking account, debit card, credit card, etc.  The merchant hands off to the acquirer (the merchant's bank) which sends the data through one of several payment networks (like VisaNet) to reach the issuing bank (banks that issued the account) where the transaction is approved or denied.  And of course everybody gets a cut along the way.

The push model instead has the merchant give the consumer their account number so the consumer can "push" their money into the merchant's account.  When the merchant sees the money in their account, they release the product.  By skipping the acquirer and network and going directly to the issuer, most of the fees are avoided.  This method has the added advantage of better security because the consumer never exposes their account information.  Think about that.  Plus, this approach works fine with the existing POS.

The trick here is getting the merchant's account number to the consumer.  Paydiant does that by displaying a QR code at the POS that represents both the merchant's account and the transaction amount.  The consumer must use their mobile phone running the white-label Paydiant application to capture that data and process the transaction.  The request goes into the cloud, and the authorization is sent to the POS where the merchant is informed of successful payment.

Snapping a picture of a QR code at the checkout isn't exactly the most natural thing.  Using NFC or Bluetooth would certainly be preferable, but I assume that's a follow-up innovation.  Now that brings the customer experience into focus.  Thus far we've seen the huge benefits to the retailer, but what does the consumer get out of this?  Well, nothing.  In fact, this payment process seems more complex than swipe-and-sign.  Perhaps those consumers worried about privacy will love this approach, but most people appreciate the simplicity of a swipe.  (I still use a paper boarding pass at the airport even though I can get my boarding pass on my phone.  Less can go wrong with paper.)

Payment is a really tough area to win because all the different constituents have to buy-in.  Merchants wants low fees; Banks want low fraud; Consumers want convenience.  It sounds easy, but its far from it.

Monday Feb 10, 2014

E-commerce Passwords

If you're like me, you've likely established many accounts with online retailers, many of which also store your payment information.  How easily can hackers guess your password and control your account?  To avoid storing passwords, websites typically store a hashed version in their database.  A secure hash algorithm creates a unique representation of your password that cannot be reversed.  So when you enter your password, its hashed and compared to the stored hash.  If they are the same, then you've entered the correct password.  If the stored hash is stolen, the hacker can't reverse it back to a password, but they can try to guess your password.  That's why its crucial that online retailers enforce good password creation when accounts are created.  That means they should these best practices:

  • Require a minimize length
  • Mix alphas, digits, and upper/lower case
  • Disallow commonly used passwords like '123456'
  • Use email to verify accounts
  • Limit the number of invalid attempts

Of course enforcement is all over the board.  Dashlane, the provider of secure password management software, recently graded the top 100 e-commerce sites on their password management policies.  You can see the results in the infographic below:

The details of the study are available here. According to the study, Northern Tool and 1-800-Flowers allow one character passwords.  Thankfully, most of the retailers send an account confirmation email, and none of those send the password in cleartext.  Want to use 'password' as your password?  No problem at LL Bean, Gap, and Costco.  When you change your password, Blue Nile, Karmaloop, and MLB will email your password in cleartext.  And and Amazon, Aeropostale, and Shoebuy don't limit your password guesses.

As an industry, we can do better than this.


David Dorf, Sr Director Technology Strategy for Oracle Retail, shares news and ideas about the retail industry with a focus on innovation and emerging technologies.

Industry Connect

Stay Connected


« February 2014 »