Tuesday Feb 10, 2015

Your Product, Your Problem

Today's posting comes from Paul Woodward, formerly with MICROS and now part of the Oracle Retail family. Paul has 20 years experience dealing with the supply chain with recent focus on brand compliance.

This month the New York attorney general accused GNC, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart of selling fraudulent herbal supplements whose contents did not match the labels.  Four out of five products did not contain ingredients matching the label and often instead contained cheap fillers, which could potentially harm those with allergies.

With the many scares over the past 12 months including the use of horse meat in Europe, the need for retailers to demonstrate due diligence in their collection, capture, and validation of supplier and product data is now fundamental to the protection of their brand and consumer trust.

As consumers, we continue to drive complexity into the supply chain -- we want greater ranges, experimental flavours, convenient ready to go products, choice of price points and an appreciation of our dietary needs. This creates a significant risk for the retailer as they balance bringing products to market quickly to meet the demand whilst ensuring thorough assessment of these ranges.

Just ten years ago consumers didn’t really care.  They didn’t ask for the information and they probably didn’t know they needed it. Now a third of consumers are allergic to something and 1 in 6 has a form of food related illness each year. This, along with our thirst for better living, healthier options, and the media's encouragement to know more, is firmly establishing that if it’s your label, it’s your product, and it’s your problem.

The average retailer is now handling over 10,000 active products from 2,000 production sites worldwide, and as the FDA and regulative requirements continually evolve and demand more transparency.  Retailers are faced with an ever increasing risk of failing to meet their brand promises.

Oracle Retail MICROS mycreations has been specifically developed to support this requirement. With over 20 years of proven capability in enabling the growth and protection of private label brands worldwide, the brand compliance cloud platform empowers retailers to collaborate with their supply chain in efficiently providing accurate and reliable data the consumer can trust.

Wednesday Feb 04, 2015

RetailROI Hall of Fame Class of 2015

I've posted several stories about the important work that the Retail Orphan Initiative does throughout the world.  I hope that perhaps you'll be inspired to offer your time, expertise, or even make a donation.  At the recent Super Saturday event, a few people were recognized for their contributions to ROI, and were awarded fantastic bobbleheads!  Below find the ROI Hall of Fame Class of 2015:

Scott Hagizadegan

Scott has traveled to 3 different ROI countries (Honduras, Dominican Republic, and Zambia) as well as led 2 different Trips to Zambia.  His company Ignisis has also donated numerous firewalls and monitors these for health and keeping the kids safe.

Jeff Roster

Jeff has made several trips to Honduras and is leading the trip to Congo.  He also has been instrumental in helping the microbusiness in Honduras, scheduling Life Skills webinars with business leaders for the kids at Plan Escalon.  

Randy Cucerzan

Randy is in charge of the RetailROI projects in Honduras. Starting with the original computer lab, Randy has now traveled to Honduras 9 times, leading 7 or 8 of those trips.  

John Geyerman

John has made several trips to Honduras, but most importantly he spearheaded the donations and installation of a cafeteria kitchen for a school of 600 children by getting suppliers and vendors involved.  A US quality cafeteria for total cost of about $65,000.  Not satisfied with just that, John had the Schlotzky's food safety course translated to Spanish and taught classes at Plan Escalon so kids would have certification.

Congratulations to all of the inductees! 

Tuesday Feb 03, 2015

Happy Birthday Amazon Prime

Has it been 10 years?  During that time Amazon's revenue has increased from $6.9B to $89.0B, and I'm guessing the unique program was a big part of that growth.  It's estimated there are $40M members, which would represent about 45% of Amazon's US customers.  I'm a member (although I only receive the free 2-day shipping because I share my brother's membership).  The student discount trains young shoppers to expect 2-day delivery, and I imagine the program is pretty sticky.  Unfortunately, Amazon is pretty secretive about its successful program.  Clearly they lose money on the actual shipping, but they seem to make it up on the increased number of purchases.

Now there's Prime Fresh for $299/year to deliver fresh groceries in limited cities.  Back in 2005 I could never have imagined how successful this program appears to be, and what's more impressive is the breadth of its offerings. Now Amazon is starting to open stores on college campuses, considering the purchase of existing Radio Shack stores, and there's always PrimeAir hanging out there waiting for regulators to set it free.  I wonder what's next?

Thursday Jan 29, 2015

Lenox Launches eCommerce Transformation with Oracle

As we talk with new and long-standing customers of the Oracle Retail community, we truly learn their perspectives on IT priorities and the role of technology in their business strategy. E-commerce projects are on warp speed as retailers gear up and prepare to use technology platforms for omni-channel promotions and fulfillment. 

Venerable luxury tabletop brand Lenox, which sells not only its namesake lines (Lenox, Dansk, and Gorham) but also designers kate spade new york, kathy ireland HOME, Marchesa and more, is among those tapping the latest commerce technology to keep pace with customer expectations. In a recent phone conversation, Lenox CIO Erik Andersen talked about the major e-commerce transformation underway at the company, and he emphasized a focus on revitalizing the brand, improving promotion strategy and enhancing the customer experience.

 “As we evaluated where we are today and where we are going next as a company, we recognized the need for a world class e-commerce site that would enhance the entire customer experience and accommodate mobile, tablet and desktop to capture demand and execute the sale,” said Erik Andersen, CIO of Lenox. “By replacing a transactional, order management approach with a proactive and comprehensive marketing and promotion strategy, we are able to work smarter, get ahead of the curve and offer better promotions to our customers. We are also showcasing our enhanced brand image,” said Andersen.

Lenox produces its premium fine china patterns at the only fine bone china factory in the U.S., where it leverages its own marketing and design, sourcing and fulfillment, and is a top wholesaler to Macy’s, Bed Bath and Beyond, Belk, Dillard’s, and other major department stores, as well as Amazon and QVC. Lenox also sells direct through e-commerce, catalog, telemarketing and a chain of retail stores primarily located on the east coast.

This new e-commerce investment helps Lenox improve its business processes and gain efficiencies. The availability of insightful data makes it possible for marketers to develop personas, conduct market segmentation, and deliver meaningful promotions to better manage the business. The company also uses Oracle JD Edwards financials and a Manhattan Associates solution in its warehouse.

“Within a very short time, everyone on the team knew the site was looking exactly the way it should. We have strict goals for revenue lift. What I’m looking for is enhanced data and analytics. Oracle Commerce will help us gain a better understanding of our customer, better inventory turns and margin management,” said Andersen. “Working with Oracle partner Speed Commerce assured us that we would be up and running quickly with no issues.”

“As part of the RFP process we looked at R&D investment, and Oracle is second to none. We wanted to be able to stay the course and Oracle is making the right investments which gives us a lot of confidence that the platform will keep pace with changes and enhancements,” he added. “We already use Oracle Endeca in our current e-commerce environment and we will stay with that while going to the full Oracle Commerce platform. We will enhance search engine optimization and provide a more organic search experience as our online commerce business continues to grow,” said Andersen.

Congratulations to the entire team at Lenox for the transformation now underway! Welcome to the Oracle Retail community. 

Shop. Explore. Experience. Oracle Commerce @ http://www.lenox.com

Saturday Jan 10, 2015

ALEX AND ANI Selects Oracle Retail to Extend Personalized Approach

Founded in 2003, American jewelry brand Alex and Ani has cultivated a loyal customer following based on careful craftsmanship, an eye toward personalization, and reliable, seamless engagement in stores and online.  Next, the retailer is upgrading its behind-the-scenes processes with Oracle Retail merchandising, planning, point of service, and warehouse management solutions. The world-class integrated suite not only catches up with ALEX AND ANI’s recent explosive growth, but also allows for plenty of “thinking big” in coming years.

“One of our taglines is that you own the story,” said George Franzino, consultant and program manager for ALEX AND ANI’s “Project Prophet” software implementation. “This is our story. We’re going to need this system really soon. It’s the power of positivity.”

In ten years, ALEX AND ANI has grown from a single store in Newport, RI, to a nationally recognized lifestyle brand. Offering bangles, necklaces, earrings, rings and charms—all designed to “adorn the body, enlighten the mind, and empower the spirit”—the omni-channel retailer has more than 40 brick-and-mortar main street stores, an e-commerce site, international sales, and a wholesale business. The company’s legacy systems, however, have been unable to handle the complexity of the multiple distribution channels. There were no planning solutions in place to provide visibility into the supply chain, and no streamlined processes that could really provide value.

The new Oracle solution, with its first “go live” in April, focuses on planning and multichannel capabilities, with special attention given to better integrating social media. Part of the brand image, Franzino said, is the customers’ sense of relationship with award-winning brand founder Carolyn Rafaelian, in addition to principles such as domestic manufacturing, sustainability, and a focus on charitable donations.

“It’s a very creative environment,” Franzino said. And that “willing to stretch” energy carried through when it came time to build the new system.

“This is really a wholesale replacement of the system we have,” Franzino said. “It really does touch everything. At the same time we’re implementing this system, we’re building the company.” The implementation involves new departments, an expansion of functional areas, and new hires; as such, it bodes well that so many in the industry workforce already are skilled at working with Oracle.

Franzino, who has worked largely with Oracle products since 2004, said Oracle was the right choice for ALEX AND ANI because of scalability and best practices. Likewise, the retailer required an enterprise system to support its business focus of sustaining excellent customer relationships and being able to provide what they want, how they want it.

“This is the execution layer of delivering on that brand promise to our customers,” he said. “This will greatly enhance that customer experience.”

For more insight to ALEX AND ANI’s cross-channel strategy, read an executive Q&A with VP of Digital Strategy Ryan Bonifacino here. (1to1 Media)

Thursday Jan 08, 2015

Coupons in the Car

Drivers have always been an easy target for advertisers, whether its via the FM radio or roadside billboards.  But its time to be a little less "spray-and-pray" and a little more surgical in these communications.  OnStar recently announced AtYourService, a commerce platform that connects drivers to merchants in the car.  Recall OnStar is the concierge service provided in GM cars; press the OnStar button, then ask the operator for directions, a phone number, the nearest gas station, etc.

This evolution makes perfect sense.  Drivers will now be able to get offers from nearby retailers, restaurants, and hotels.  Don't panic; this is a pull model so your car won't be spammed with unwanted advertisements.  Just as BLE beacons enable contextual offers in stores, OnStar will use the car's location and the request to select relevant offers.

RetailMeNot, the online and mobile deals site, has inked a deal with OnStar to provide the deals.  I myself always visit retailmenot.com before making an online purchase so I can see if there are any applicable coupons.  Its saved me lots over the years.  Now the 6 million OnStar subscribers can save some money too.

Tuesday Jan 06, 2015

Retail Robots

I thought it fitting to kick the new year off with a futuristic topic, and what more futuristic than robots?  Lowe's hit the news back in October with their OSHbots, a robot deployed in their Orchard Supply Hardware store in San Jose, CA.  As a sales assistant, the robot provides customers with product and inventory information using voice response, much like Siri.  It navigates the store using collision avoidance technologies like its 3D camera.

Similarly, an Aloft hotel in Cupertino, CA deployed a robot that navigates the hotel and delivers items to rooms when requested by guests.  Need extra towels or perhaps another pillow?  SaviOne, your robotic bellhop, will deliver it to your door.  At Carnegie Mellon, inventory counts in the bookstore are handed by AndyVision, an autonomous robot that scans shelves looking for out-of-stock situations.

At around $150,000 per robot, these solutions are unlikely to be cost-effective yet, but as the technology matures and demand increases costs are bound to come down.  A mix of humans and robots in stores doesn't seem so impossible now, as voice and vision technology continues to evolve.  But we're still in the novelty phase with mainstream adoption several years off.  In the meantime, look for small, innovative examples popping up in California and Japan.

Thursday Dec 18, 2014

Evolution of Image Recognition

Remember the first time you tried Shazam on the iPhone? I was blown away. Even with ambient noise the thing was accurate.  Then I recall John Yopp, our head of research, say we should create a fashion Shazam that identifies clothing for people. When you see a cool tie at lunchtime, snap a picture and buy your own.  Wait a second, songs are one thing but fashion would be impossible.  Patterns, shadows, creases -- it would never work.

Then I came across GetFugu and Google Goggles, which both made good attempts are recognizing products.  Amazon's Flow was also very good, but it heavily leveraged optical character recognition to get hints about the product.  I suppose that fine when shopping in stores, but it wasn't the real world scenario I was looking for.  (Flow has undergone many upgrades over the years and now it can create a shopping list.)  Pounce was pretty good at marrying traditional advertising with digital, allowing the user to snap a picture of a product in a circular/flyer then see the product on the Website.

In a Customer Advisory Board meeting, one of my customers showed me a very cool app for recognizing sneakers.  NetShoes, a Brazilian e-commerce company, released an app that I found to be very accurate.  (I went around the conference snapping pictures of people's sneakers.  Luckily it was the last day so most were wearing comfortable shoes for the plane ride home.)  I later contacted the engineers and found there was a pretty exhaustive process for training the application to recognize the objects, but it could be used for almost anything given some degree of context.

Five years or so after my first experience with Shazam, I think we're getting closer.  Companies like Slyce are investing heavily in the technology necessary.  But we've still got a ways to go.  I downloaded and tried Neiman Marcus' implementation of Slyce and tested a few handbags.  Close but no cigar.

Wednesday Dec 03, 2014

Have you used ApplePay?

After I received my iPhone 6, I quickly registered a credit card and headed to Walgreens to test ApplePay.  It worked great, meeting my expectations.  Since then I've only used it one other time -- at a vending machine I found in a hotel.  (And they charged an extra $0.10, presumably for using a credit card.)  To be fair, I also have a case/sled for my iPhone 5 that allows me to use Isis/Softcard which I've tried at McDonald's.  But in both cases there's no real incentive for me to use it. The card in my wallet works just as well.

InfoScout just released the results of its Black Friday survey and found that ApplyPay was used only 5% of the time when it could have been used.  That is, the customer had registered a card and the store was equipped to accept ApplePay, yet only 5% of the time was ApplePay used.

There are various reason cited by the survey participants for not using ApplePay, but the biggest (31%) was not knowing whether the store accepts it.  When asked why iPhone 6/6+ owners haven't even tried ApplePay most said they didn't know how it works (32%) or they're satisfied with current payment methods (30%).

Pymnts.com declares "ApplePay a Bust on Black Friday, New Data Show," but most of the experts they interviewed said the adoption rate is normal for an emerging payment.  My own experience with smart cards is similar; a big marketing push is required to educate consumers so they feel comfortable.

So have you used ApplePay yet?  How was the experience?

Monday Nov 10, 2014

Shopping Just Got Easier with Echo

Last Thursday I was in Orlando talking to a group of retailers about the future, and specifically how the internet-of-things might change the way we shop.  I was explaining how companies like Amazon are working on ways to conveniently reorder products, like placing a reorder button in the laundry room so its easy to reorder detergent.  At the same time I was speaking, Amazon was announcing their latest product, Echo, which is even better than I had imagined.

Echo is a device you place in your home that listens for your commands, much like Siri on your iPhone.  It answers your questions and does basic tasks.  What's the weather today?  Set an alarm for 10am tomorrow.  Add paper towels to the shopping list.  When is the next Hokie football game?  Seems like every futuristic TV show or movie has an intelligent voice-response system in the home -- I guess Echo is our first step in that direction.

I'm sure the commands "add to list" and "buy" were the first things Amazon implemented. This product follows the same strategy as the tablet and phone that came before it: make it incredibly easy to buy things from Amazon.  Why bother putting "buy" buttons in strategic places around the house when you can just say what you want out-loud.  Brilliant.

Thursday Oct 02, 2014

Big Lots Chooses Oracle Commerce

More and more retailers are leveraging the full range of commerce technologies, including robust, scalable platforms, user-friendly business tools and solutions to enable a true omnichannel shopping experience. Big Lots is taking all of these options to the next level with an ecommerce program to serve its growing business. 

Big Lots operates 1,495 stores in 48 states and, if you have one near you understand why people love to shop these stores. Big Lots is a unique, non-traditional, discount retailer with product assortments in the merchandise categories of food, consumables, furniture & home décor, seasonal, soft home, hard home, and electronics & accessories. The company’s vision is to provide an outstanding shopping experience for customers both in the stores, and, coming soon, on-line.

By selecting a hosted version of Oracle Commerce, Big Lots is providing its business users with cost-effective, cutting-edge tools to shape a personalized customer experience through multi-channel promotions, targeted offers, and image-rich product profiles. 

Oracle Commerce also gives the Big Lots team the flexibility to adapt to changing business strategies or market needs such as expanding offerings, integrating new tools or bringing its commerce infrastructure in-house from the hosted solution.  

Congratulations to the entire team at Big Lots and welcome to the Oracle community!

Thursday Jul 03, 2014

Whole Foods - Give Bees a Chance

This posting is decidedly un-tech, which is unusual for me.  But its an important topic that is worthy of our attention.  Preliminary survey results from the Bee Informed Partnership indicate that 31.1% of managed honey bee colonies in the United States were lost during the 2012/2013 winter, and this is actually better than the previous season.  So what?  Its not just about the honey.  Pollinators like bees are crucial for food production.  $15B of economic activity is attributable to crops that require bee pollination.  Without bees, crops will suffer and that will lead to fewer food choices.  In fact, the impacts trickle to cows and thus reduce dairy options as depicted in the pictures below (from Whole Foods):

There isn't a smoking gun we can point to, so the White House has earmarked $50M for crucial research to find the culprit, or at least stave off the rapid decline. Its likely some combination of pesticides and parasites, but it may also have to do with their changing habitats.

Serial do-gooder Whole Foods has launched a Share the Buzz campaign to draw attention to this issue.  Did you know (from their site)?

  • 1 out of 3 bites of food is pollinated by honey bees and other pollinators.
  • Bees and other pollinators are needed for more than two-thirds of the world’s crop species.
  • Bees pollinate more than 100 types of crops in the US, including some of our summer favorites: berries, watermelons, peppers and avocados.

Low-tech is still an important part of our lives.

Wednesday Jul 02, 2014

Staples Delivers Convenience

To understand exactly what’s top of mind when it comes to digital retailing, go no further the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition (IRCE) held last month in Chicago.  Our team was there to host customer events and attend sessions by industry leaders, including Oracle customers Shop Direct, Sephora, Office Depot, NetShoes, Sur La Table and Dress Barn.

Throughout the week, retailers shared just how extensively mobile influences sales.  Among them, Sephora expects that by 2017 consumers will use a mobile device in half of all purchases, decal retailer Fathead said the same and Shop Direct predicts 100 percent of its sales will involve mobile within a year.

As consumers use mobile devices to shop anytime and anywhere they want, a few retailers are already greeting them with the right experience, the right selection of products and nearby service and support. 

Case in point is Staples, second only to Amazon in North American online sales. Staples is well into a major transformation in which the retailer has expanded to more than a million SKUs and made it convenient for customers to buy online and have items delivered or waiting for pickup in a nearby store.  84 percent of customers are businesses, and Staples provides them easy access to tech repairs, 3D printing, Apple products and, soon, a Steelcase store within a store. 

Speaking at IRCE, Staples EVP of Global E-Commerce, Faisal Masud, described design, performance and search improvements that helped to increase sales conversions by 10 percent and moved revenue per online visitor up 9 percent.

Staples personalizes the e-commerce session with your local store info to facilitate cross-channel buys. The company saw an “exponential improvement in sales” after revamping mobile to display just the products customers care about, and earlier this summer a new tablet app immediately increased conversions.

Underpinning the commerce anywhere strategy are inventory systems that recognize both store and online orders, including any order placed via a mobile app. “Without a seamless unified inventory model, the Omni-channel experience would not be possible,” said Masud.

For a closer look at Staples’ transformation, read more by Internet Retailer managing editor Zak Stambor.

Watch here for IRCE insights from Shop Direct head of e-commerce Paul Hornby, who details the company’s journey as it went from catalog retailer to top ten on the Internet Retailer Europe 500.

Read more about how Oracle helps retailers deliver Commerce Anywhere, as well as media coverage of Oracle’s recent work with retailers worldwide.

Monday Jun 30, 2014

Emotion Contagion

Facebook recently released the results of an experiment it conducted in 2012 on emotion contagion. Social experiments have shown that a person's emotional state can be influenced by those around him.  If your friends are having a bad day, you tend to unconsciously synchronize to their emotions and thus they "bring you down."  Facebook wanted to see if this type of influence thrived in social media, so they manipulated the newsfeeds of almost 700,000 people during a single week. 

[I'm going to avoid a discussion on the legality of this experiment (it was, read the terms of service) and the ethics (definitely a gray area) and simply focus on the the experiment and its potential impact to retail.  Facebook is known for pushing boundaries, getting its hand slapped, then patiently waiting for society to catch up.  In many cases what was controversial five years ago has become mainstream today, either because Facebook waited or it actually influenced society.  But I digress.]

In general, those exposed to more positive posts in turn made more positive status updates.  And the same was true for the reverse.  But it was actually a tiny impact -- something on the order of one tenth of one percent.  Of course when applied to large group (like shoppers) this could have a meaningful impact.  Below is an explanation posted on Facebook by one of the study's authors:

So how might this impact the average retailer?  Retailers already monitor social media using Natural Language Processing to gauge brand sentiment.  This experiment indicates sentiment may be influenced indirectly by exposure to other unrelated posts.  In other words, get your customers in a good mood by posting LOL cats, then slip in an offer to buy your products.  On second thought, manipulating emotions is bound to backfire.  Let's just stick with great deals and superior customer service.

Monday Apr 28, 2014

Personalization for Retail

Personalized service was one of the casualties when the retail industry moved from independent stores to chains.  Personalization at scale has always been difficult, but technology advances in the last ten years have helped.  One only needs to visit Amazon.com to see what automated personalization can accomplish.  By personalizing the customer experience, retailers like Z Gallerie and Zenni Optical are increasing customer engagement, converting more sales, and cross-selling/up-selling.  Typical approaches include:

  • Product Recommendations
  • Searchandising & Faceted Navigation
  • Personalized Emails
  • Webpage Curation
  • Targeted Alerts & Offers

All of these approaches must effectively leverage many data sources.  While these techniques are fairly mainstream in the digital world, they are only now making inroads in the physical stores.  The combination of indoor-location and mobile apps has opened new opportunities to find customers and provide relevant, personalized content while they are shopping.  Of course there has been much debate over the privacy concerns, but as long as retailers focus on being a butler rather than a stalker, those issues will work out over the long-term.

The three C's for personalization are Context, Content, and Conduits.  Understanding each is important to the overall personalization effort.

Context makes message more relevant and therefore more sticky.  Context starts with location, which includes tactics like geo-fencing and in-store location.  Messages delivered as the consumer drives near a store or as they browse a particular department within the store are relevant to the current situation and therefore more helpful.  Context also includes what might be known about the customer.  Unidentified customers might rely on what's known about local customer segments, while an identified customer might include detailed purchase history.  If the customer doesn't own a dog, don't offer them dog food.

Content includes product data, offers, and lifestyle information.  Not everything is about a coupon.  A sporting goods retailer, for example, might alert customers about local sporting events.  Alerts for new shipments or upcoming promotions are also helpful to customers.  Help customers improve their lifestyles without always overtly selling to them.

Conduits refer to the different touchpoints for contacting customers.  Obviously the web is an excellent opportunity to present offers, but email and mobile apps can be just as effective and are sometimes more appropriate.  Using a combination of conduits, possibly managed via marketing automation, can provide the most consistent messaging.  Be care to note a customer's contact preferences.

Connecting the data sources, optimization science, marketing execution, and delivery technologies will round-out the personalization solution.  Remember, customer centricity is a philosophy, not a feature.


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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