Thursday Jan 09, 2014

NRF 2014

This year we're kicking off NRF with our new Release 14 which you can hear more about in the Oracle Retail booth.  I'll be spending my time there as well as walking the floor looking for trends and saying "hi" to friends.  Although I've always been a big supporter of RetailROI, this is my first year attending SuperSaturday and I'm really looking forward to it.  In additional to consuming all the great content, I'll also be leading a lunchtime discussion on innovation processes.

Here's a photo from last year's RIS/IHL/ARTS panel (courtesy of my buddy Darrell Sandefur):

On Sunday, I'll be delivering a part of the "ARTS and the Seamless Data Experience" presentation in which I'll focus on the value of standards for innovating.  I'd encourage NRF attendees to stop by and learn what ARTS has been doing this past year and what we're planing for 2014.  You can also stop by the ARTS booth and hear about our latest standard called Change4Charity.  Its an XML integration standard that simplifies taking charitable donations at the point-of-sale (which also includes Web stores).  Digital Donations, Donate Wise Now, and MiniDonations were all key contributors to this effort.

See you there!

Monday Sep 30, 2013

Standards Accelerate Innovation

At the beginning of the US Civil War there were over 20 different railroad gauges in use across America. That meant railroad cars could only travel on the track with a matching width thus limiting how far cars could travel.  For example, in 1853 there were three different gauge tracks leading into and out of Erie, Pennsylvania where a booming business grew for workers to unload cars on one track and transfer cargo to cars on a different track.  It was clear this approach wouldn't scale in our westward expansion so in 1862 Congress specified a standard gauge for railroad tracks.  During the spring of 1886 the standard was adopted across the US thus freeing minds to solve more important problems.  Instead of researching ways for cars to adjust their wheels to fit different gauge tracks, the industry focused on other aspects of improved transportation. Standardization frees capital for additional innovation.

The Association of Retail Technology Standards (ARTS), takes a similar approach.  One of its goals is to standardize the way in which we handle data so retailers can focus their limited resources on innovations that more directly impact consumers. Retailers spend far too much time integrating systems instead of adding features.  (Sometimes integration can be the innovation, but often times its just the cost of doing business.)

There's a three-stage cycle I've observed.  Typically an idea emerges, adoption begins, its standardized, then we move on to the next idea.  Its a cycle where the idea gets optimized and standardized for mass consumption.  Standardization reduces costs thus freeing resources to work on the next great idea.  In the case of the railroad, we don't really care if the gauge is 3 feet or 6 feet.  The important thing is that we all agree on a standard (by the way, the standard is 4ft 8.5in or 1435mm) and move on.  The earlier we agree on a standard, the less rework that must be done down the line (11,000 miles of track had to be fixed in the South to match the standard).

The Technology Adoption Lifecycle depicts how new ideas are adopted by the masses. (This was extended by the book Crossing the Chasm by adding a gap between the Early Adopters and Early Majority.)  The graph is depicted below along with ARTS inputs.

ARTS provides whitepapers, blueprints, and webinars that inform retailers and help the industry cross the chasm.  When its clear the industry is interested in adopting an idea, ARTS creates database and XML standards that lower the cost of adoption thus making the idea more affordable for smaller retailers.  To help the late majority, ARTS creates Request for Proposal (RFP) templates, training, and appears at conferences to tout the idea and best-practices for its use.

As you can see, ARTS helps retailers take advantage of emerging technologies at various stages of adoption.  Membership and participation in ARTS is open to both retailers and vendors that want to be on the forefront on innovation.  I've certainly found it a valuable resource over the years.

Wednesday May 08, 2013

Legislation Impacting Retailers

Today, select retailers are accompanying NRF advocates to the hill to discuss key legislation with congress.  The Washington Leadership Conference is an opportunity for congress to hear directly from retailers and to better understand the issues they face.  The key issues being discussed are:

  • Sales Tax Fairness
  • Health Care
  • Patent Trolls
  • Tax Reform
  • Loss Prevention and Organized Crime
  • Mobile Location Tracking

The headlines have been focused on the recent passing of the Marketplace Fairness Act, which allows states to begin collecting sales tax for online sales regardless of a seller's physical presence.  This should help level the playing field for brick-and-mortar retailers vs the pure online retailers, plus it could prove to be a valuable source of revenue for states at a time when the coffers are low.

But for me, the more interesting legislation are those that have to do with technology.  Patent Trolls love to go after retailers for mundane things such as assigning unique transaction numbers to sales, using an online shopping cart, or making product recommendations.  Usually retailers calculate the cost of litigation and then just decide to license the patent for less, but recently Newegg fought a troll in court...and won.  Congress is considering the Saving High-Tech Innovators from Egregious Legal Disputes (Shield) Act, which forces patent trolls to pay for litigation costs when they lose.  That might make it easier for retailers to defend themselves.

Another pending issue is that of privacy and the use of mobile phones to track shoppers' location. There's an interesting battle going on between Senator Al Franken and Euclid, a company that provides analytics to retailers based on tracking mobile phones.  On the surface, the issue has to do with shoppers opting-in or -out to tracking, as well as full disclosure on who has access to the data.  That seems reasonable, but if those steps become too onerous then they detract from the relationship between consumers and retailers.  There are huge opportunities for retailers to better serve their customers if the data can be leveraged in a mutually agreeable fashion.

Thursday Aug 09, 2012

Integrated Mobile Initiative Launch

Back in 2009, ARTS (a division of the NRF) began to collect information on the use of mobile devices in the retail industry.  A committee was assembled consisting of retailers, vendors, analysts, and standards organizations for the purpose of authoring the first retail-specific whitepaper addressing mobile marketing, mobile commerce, mobile payments, and mobile operations.  The tremendous reception of document led to a second version that followed in 2011.

As mobile continues to gain momentum in retail, the NRF has now established the Integrated Mobile Initiative (iMi), an effort aimed at providing crucial resources to retailers for all things mobile.  Today a portal (  was launched where all the NRF's information on mobile can be easily found.  This includes research, articles, whitepapers, and webinars.

Expanding upon the previous Mobile Blueprints, ARTS has published the Mobile Integration whitepaper on the new portal.  This document is available for download and explains how existing standards can be leveraged to integrate mobile applications into a retailer's existing business processes.

The upcoming ARTS User Conference, September 30 to October 2, is a gathering for experts to exchange ideas about mobile retailing and more.

Monday May 16, 2011

Social Blueprint for Retail

The Association for Retail Technology Standards (ARTS), a division of the NRF, has three primary objectives for helping retailers: build standards, produce RFP templates, and educate.  Lately I've been focused on the education aspects, helping with the SOA Blueprint, Mobile Blueprint, and Cloud Computing whitepapers.  Our next endeavor will be a whitepaper that discusses the use of social media in retail.

This will be an interesting project since social media is relatively young and fluid.  In my discussions with retailers, most generally understand the value of mobile right away, but the jury is still out on social.  Therefore, this paper will focus on classifying the different types of social media campaigns and programs, examples specific to retail, and advice on ways to get started.  Regular readers of this blog know there are many interesting examples, and retailers will benefit from having them easily accessible in a single document.

Unlike the NRF Mobile Blueprint, this project is sponsored by ARTS and therefore requires ARTS membership.  Big names like IBM, SAP, Oracle, and Pier 1 Imports are already signed-on along with others to create a healthy mix of vendors and retailers.  If you are interested in joining ARTS and participating on the sub-committee, please contact Richard Mader (  There will be several conference calls leading up to our next face-to-face in Minneapolis, July 25-27.


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.

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