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By Ran Ben-Yair, Ubimo

To say that location intelligence is changing the face of retail is not hyperbolic.

In the same way that the Internet allowed for the rise of e-Commerce giants like Amazon and eBay, a major paradigm shift in the industry, location intelligence is now returning power to brick-and-mortar retailers by allowing them access to the sort of detailed data that online retailers take for granted.

Exactly how physical retailers are using location intelligence varies quite a bit, but a couple of distinct trends have been emerging.

Location Intelligence Informs New Location Planning

Choosing a location for a new storefront used to be a mixture of consulting very broad, generalized census data, making assumptions based off of competitor activities and trusting blindly in gut feelings and hunches.

It’s a technique that can often work — the fact that any store ever remained open is testament to that — but it puts serious restraints on a business’ growth rate. On top of that, when a poor location is chosen, its eventual failure is very costly.

Smart utilization of location intelligence both streamlines and optimizes scouting for new store locations. It starts with gaining a better understanding of the demographics in and around the proposed area. Location intelligence can give you a more in-depth breakdown of the demographics than a general census, including differentiating between local residents and commuters, other places they shop or visit and so on.

Location intelligence also can give retailers unprecedented insight into the habits of their competitor’s customers, providing data on market penetration and customer loyalty. If a major competitor is showing very short visit times in a particular area, their customers might be ready to be presented with another option; if they’re struggling to draw foot traffic at all, chances are good that you will struggle, too.

Russian grocery and convenience retailer X2 has been using location intelligence to fuel a massive location expansion: They opened more than 5,000 new stores in two years, and increased profits by more than 130%. Specifically, they used location data to select prime locations, make more informed stocking decisions and negotiate lease rates.

Location Intelligence Powers Audience-Based Marketing

Using location intelligence, you can harness customer behavior data to not only plan new stores but to maximize the performance of existing stores.

This is being done by integrating location intelligence with online and out-of-home advertising — in other words, by bridging the gap between your customers’ offline and online behaviors. This technique can be used to target existing customers with special offers based on both their online behaviors and their real-life ones.

For example, if location intelligence tells you that you have a loyal customer that visits a particular location every Friday after work, you can serve them a special offer as they approach your location. The same data that tells you when customers visit your own stores also tells you about their other activities, such as visiting competitors, their affinity for other stores and more, which allows you to build more robust customer profiles.

However, the most innovative trend we are seeing in retail is using location intelligence for in-store planning. Through audience indexing, businesses can understand the makeup of their audience on a granular, per-store level and customize strategies based on very specific audiences. For example, if you want to test a new product at select locations, understanding which locations the product’s ideal audiences frequent will ensure optimized placement and create the desired impact. Different promotions can run at different stores based on the audience index of each one. This brings a level of personalization, once available only in the digital world, to the physical world.

Exciting, Innovative Times — Don’t Get Left Behind

We live in very exciting times for the retail industry. Not only has e-Commerce’s stranglehold on retail began to loosen, but the emergence of location intelligence is giving physical-based retail brands valuable tools, tools that help to level the playing field.

I suspect that we’re seeing just the beginning of the applications that location intelligence can be put to. I also suspect that brands that don’t want to be left behind will be adopting and executing data-driven and audience-based marketing strategies.

Ran Ben-Yair is CEO and Co-Founder at Ubimo. Ben-Yair oversees Ubimo’s product direction, strategic development and execution. Prior to Ubimo, he co-founded LabPixies Ltd. (acquired by Google in 2010), a leading web and mobile app development company, bootstrapping the company and growing the business to reach tens of millions of users in four years. At Google, Ben-Yair continued as a Product Manager in Search where he led and launched large-scale products. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel.

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Barnes & Noble has a potential deal in place to sell itself to hedge fund Elliott Advisors for $683 million, marking major changes for a company that has long struggled to stay afloat in the wake of Amazon’s continued rise. Representing the last of the major traditional bookstore chains, Barnes & Noble could be in the hands of a firm that already has turned around one bookseller that had teetered on the brink of failure: UK-based Waterstones. James Daunt, CEO of Waterstones, will assume the role of CEO of Barnes & Noble following the expected completion of the transaction in Q3 2019.

However, Elliott isn’t the only entity seeking to reverse Barnes & Noble’s fortunes — book reseller Readerlink LLC is reportedly working on a higher bid for the retailer.

The RTP editors discuss whether a Barnes & Noble acquisition (whether by Elliott Advisors or another party) can help turn the brand around.

Adam Blair, Editor: I’m at least somewhat optimistic about the prospective new owners of Barnes & Noble, particularly since incoming CEO James Daunt has had book retailing experience. I hope he imports the kind of locally-led assortments that have proven successful at Waterstones and also in the U.S. at chains like Half Price Books. Carefully listening to what local readers are interested in, and stocking stores accordingly, is what has kept the country’s remaining independent booksellers afloat in tough times. One recommendation for the new owners: revamp the Barnes & Noble loyalty program. I’m an ex-member who got tired of being charged $25 per year for no appreciable benefit. Amazon can get away with charging for Prime membership because they bundle exclusives, content and free, fast shipping, but Barnes & Noble isn’t Amazon — nor should it try to be. Keep making the store a place that’s a pleasure to visit and you’ll get my loyalty.

Glenn Taylor, Senior Editor: Upon first glance, the Barnes & Noble bid made me question the price: $683 million?? (Or, a less pricey $475 million when not accounting debt.) Frankly, I thought that number was outrageous given the company’s failed attempts at reinvention in the past, its inability to generate consistently positive traffic numbers and its rotating carousel of CEOs (now on number six since 2010). It’s even crazier when you think that the figure represents a 43% premium over its share price. Looking deeper into this though, I’d like to be optimistic about the buyer, Elliott Advisors. It’s easy to give hedge funds and VC-types flak for retail purchases like these (and they certainly have deserved it in recent years), but Elliott’s turnaround of Waterstones instills confidence that the company has a firm grasp of bookselling in the digital age, and that’s what matters most here. This feels more like a genuine attempt at a resurgence than a typical investment, largely due to Daunt’s involvement. Regardless of the ownership change, Barnes & Noble will have to close more stores (or at least align with the small-format trend), retool its inventory entirely (catering to its market), emphasize BOPIS/click-and-collect and endure short-term hits to its revenues and profitability.

Bryan Wassel, Associate Editor: I’ll admit I’m of two minds about Elliott Advisors’ ultimate plans for Barnes & Noble. While the firm has been supportive of Waterstones, its involvement didn’t come until that chain had already stanched the bleeding and started expanding again. That’s a great point for VC money to come on board — the extra cash can ease the growing pains of expansion plans, and the recent increase in profitability limits the incentive to tear the chain apart in search of a return. On one hand, giving the reins at Barnes & Noble to Daunt, as opposed to a sacrificial lamb whose only purpose is to quietly prepare the company for liquidation, speaks to the idea that Elliott is serious about financing a turnaround. On the other hand, the U.S. market is incredibly different from the UK, and America simply may no longer be capable of supporting a bookstore chain the size of Barnes & Noble. After all, there hasn’t been a truly national supermarket since the mid-20th century heyday of A&P, and we saw how that story ended. If Barnes & Noble’s suitors are looking to say, “We tried, but the company was doomed before we arrived,” they will certainly have ample cover.

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By Shreesha Ramdas, Strikedeck

NPS And Its Relevance

Today’s retail world is beset with massive change, and standard sales principles are constantly under challenge. At the same time, the notion of customer loyalty has never been more important. According to the Wharton School’s Marketing Metrics, the probability of selling to an existing customer is 14X more than attracting a new one. Additionally, according to the SDL Global CX Wake Up Call report, 73% of consumers satisfied by the customer experience will recommend a brand to others. Knowing where a retailer stands with its customers has never been more important.

For years, the chief metric of customer sentiment, other than revenue and sales data, has been Net Promoter Score (NPS). It stands to reason — what better test of customer satisfaction is there than whether they recommend the retailer to another?

Where NPS Falters

While there is tremendous value in this metric, it suffers from two major problems.

  1. The first is that it tends to be a trailing indicator. Changes in NPS happen after an experience occurs, and have likely set in for some time. This is also true for revenue and sales data. At this point, the damage is already done and may even be irreparable.
  2. A second issue with NPS is that it is rather one-dimensional. Nothing about the metric shows what or why a customer feels a certain way or how something has changed. Uncovering what is really going on may be difficult and might take time, and trying to fix it may be impossible after a certain amount     of time has elapsed.
A Better Solution? Real-Time Interaction!

Businesses today continue to be characterized by real-time interaction. Chatbots try to instantly engage online customers and potential customers the moment they hit a retailer’s web site. Apps provide the means to extend a retailer’s presence and services, while social media activity aims to build conversations and spread influence. Understanding customers in real time enables retailers to shape the customer experience as and when it happens. Retailers can make adjustments in the way they do business to improve experiences for other customers.

Real-time customer data must be multi-sourced and should be the total of all interactions and conversations with employees that are captured as notes. It should include email and other forms of input and communications, such as surveys and mini-surveys, research, follow-up reports, web site activity and more.

The next task is bringing this data together, analyzing it and turning it into actionable insights. The idea is to gain a 360° picture of customers with deeper levels of insight. What follows is the ability to interpret it and develop a roadmap. Oftentimes, this means finding meaningful patterns and trends. Of course, information without action is futile! Let real-time information direct decisions and prompt actions to address specific customers, as well as the way the retailer conducts business.

NPS is still meaningful, but it is far from real-time, and it lacks context and dimension. Retailers can improve customer loyalty and retention and expand revenue by gaining a realistic understanding of customers. Based on this, they can better cater to customers and provide improved experiences, while it is still possible to make a difference.

Shreesha Ramdas is the CEO and Co-Founder of Strikedeck. Previously, Ramdas was the GM of the Marketing Cloud at CallidusCloud, Co-Founder at LeadFormix (acquired by CallidusCloud) and OuterJoin, and General Manager at Yodlee. Prior to that, he led teams in sales and marketing at Catalytic Software, MW2 Consulting, and Tata.  Ramdas advises several startups on marketing & growth hacking. You can find him on Twitter, @Shreesha.

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By Tara Jones, Allant Group

Picture this: a customer orders a product from your business and expects it be delivered within a few days. When the delivery doesn’t arrive, she panics. She reached for her phone to place the order, to track the order, and now she’s reaching for it again to inquire to your brand about the delay. She has a few choices. She can call your company. But what’s the number? She’d have to look it up. She can email your company, but to what address? She’d have to look that up, too. Or, she can simply open her favorite social media app, search for your company name, and send her question directly to you within minutes…or less.

This is the exact type of customer that retail brands encounter each day. Their customers prefer to receive service on social media, and fast. In order to handle the volume and demand, the retailer must use a systematic balance of artificial intelligence (AI) and authentic, human-delivered customer care.

On the timeline of marketing and marketing automation, social media is one of the newest business tools for retailers to utilize. And while brands were developing their web sites for marketing purposes, social media became a vehicle for digital customer service overnight. In addition, recent feature updates such as messenger and the deployment of bots present both opportunities and threats, not only to a customer’s experience but also to a brand’s reputation.

But back to our customer. As the company, you have a short window to make her concern a positive experience. While your response time is essential (since the average social media user expects to be assisted within an hour), your empathy and ability to troubleshoot the delay is equally important. This is where social media AI, or the use of bots, can either help or hurt your customer’s experience and your brand’s reputation. By using a bot to immediately acknowledge her message, you are maintaining lightning fast response time and ensuring your customers that they’ve been heard. But can your bot research the cause of the delay? No. That’s why a strategy that implements both bots and human interactions is the best practice for social care.

When developing your bot + agent social care strategies, consider these three points:

1. Bots are beneficial, but they’ll never replace human empathy.

It’s clear in the definition of a bot: a computer program that generates responses based on some input, usually keywords. While this is a solution that can address general inquires 24/7 with immediate responses, every computer-generated system has risks, such as being prone to hackers and being limited to human programming. Most notable, an excessive use of bots runs the risk of dehumanizing your brand.

2. Humans relate best to other humans, but we can’t work ‘round the clock’.

Effective customer support with empathy and emotional intelligence can never be replaced by bots. But depending on your brand and industry, it is probable that your social customer service volume outnumbers your care agent resources. In addition, the operation costs of a large, agent-only care team can quickly add up. The tools, training, and HR costs can become overwhelming.

3. A balance of both is best.

Carefully balancing the use of both bots and customer care agents is often the best strategy for managing social media customer care. This system would allow your company to immediately respond to your customer’s inquiry about her product delay, triage it to an agent who can troubleshoot the delay, and respond again with solutions and empathy — making for the best care experience and a positive brand reputation.

According to the Forrester Research report, The Three Customer Service Megatrends In 2019, “Great customer service is not just about cutting costs or making operations more efficient. Instead, it’s a systematic reinvention of established technology, data, and operations — leveraging automation, data and agents together to exploit each of their unique strengths and deliver experiences in line with customer expectations.”

Develop a social media customer care center by deploying the proper software, employing adequate staffing and creating workflows to deliver both AI and authentic human interactions with your customers.

Tara Jones is an award-winning marketing and communications professional, blogger, social media lecturer and speaker. With more than a decade in communications and social media, her work is focused on helping businesses cultivate meaningful connections with their communities through strategic social media efforts that make people a priority. Jones is a business consultant for Allant Group, which provides marketing technology services that help businesses effectively acquire new customers, retain and grow existing customers and win back lapsed customers. She can be reached at tjones@allantgroup.com.  

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The potential for an all-out trade war with China and a brewing one with our North American neighbors has contributed to retailers’ uncertainty in 2019. Major retailers have pointed out that they are anticipating a negative impact from the expected 25% tariffs placed on roughly $300 billion of Chinese goods, which range from apparel and footwear to sporting goods and even agricultural products. On top of that, the National Retail Federation and other trade associations have been very vocal in opposing the White House’s decision to implement the tariffs, stating that they are harmful to U.S. retailers and consumers alike.

The RTP editorial team discusses the potential impact of these tariffs, whether they are placed on China, Mexico or Canada, and shares what retailers can do to mitigate potential problems the tariffs could cause.

Adam Blair, Editor: President Trump is bothered by illegal immigration on the Southern border. Set aside for now whether this is a real problem for the U.S. or not, and let’s consider the weapon he is using to deal with it: imposing escalating tariffs on Mexican goods until their government does something (it’s never clearly defined exactly what) to stop the flow of migrants through its country. You’ve heard the expression “cutting off your nose to spite your face”? This is putting a bullet in your brain to cure a headache. This is using a sledgehammer to swat a fly — an operation that puts holes in the wall of your house while letting the fly fly free. The NRF’s SVP for Government Relations David French couldn’t be blunter, or more accurate: “The growing tariff bill paid by U.S. businesses and consumers is adding up and will raise the cost of living for American families. Forcing Americans to pay more for produce, electronics, auto parts and clothes isn’t the answer to the nation’s immigration challenges.”

Glenn Taylor, Senior Editor: Besides the actual price increases that will come as a result of the tariffs, the next major impact appears to be in supply chain costs, which will affect both the retailer and the manufacturer, according to Jason Furman, who was President Obama’s chief economic adviser. Furman told Vox that If a product is finished in Mexico and shipped to the U.S. from there, but had mostly been produced elsewhere, then the tariff becomes a larger burden on the manufacturer; if a product is 5% produced in Mexico and now faces a 5% tariff, that’s equivalent to a 100% tax on the Mexican production. This will hamper suppliers’ ability to move semi-finished products back and forth across the border, potentially altering how supply chains function between the two countries. I can’t imagine most retailers are prepared for that kind of change given how fluid (and frankly, sudden) any proposed USMCA (a.k.a. the “new NAFTA”) scenarios have been playing out.

Bryan Wassel, Associate Editor: A big problem with tariffs is that, since they can be placed by the president unilaterally, there is little recourse to fight them until the 2020 election. This means that, barring some disastrous polling or dramatic Congressional action, retailers won’t be able to expect relief for at least another year. They also will be dealing with the fact that the levies will be hitting shoppers in areas they may not expect — everyone expects avocados to rise in cost, but customers may not be prepared for a price increase for jeans. The best path for retailers may be to follow the strategy that many large companies have announced during quarterly result calls: work with suppliers the best they can to mitigate the increases, but fully acknowledge that some of the cost increase is going to fall on customers’ shoulders. Hiding from the truth isn’t going to help anyone, but coming forward and openly stating why this is happening might help generate the pressure needed to have the tariffs lifted.

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By Steve Villegas, PPRO

The world of payments is one of the most innovative and fastest growing industries across the globe. Thanks to the expansion of e-Commerce, consumers are no longer stuck with only being able to shop at stores in close proximity to them. The world is starting to feel smaller and thanks to the innovations in payments, we are entering an era of untapped potential for consumers and merchants alike.

On the other hand, one thing holding us back from reaching this potential is a lack of understanding around global consumer preferences. This void of knowledge around the various types of payments preferred worldwide, and how to properly offer these payments to global consumers, is holding back many merchants. These local payment methods, or LPMs, are the payment methods outside of traditional card and cash payments that help to meet the needs of various geographies, cultures and economies around the globe.

The Value Of Selling Cross-Border

Currently, only 36% of U.S. merchants sell cross-border. This is partially due to a fear of growing internationally, and because many merchants do not know how to effectively break into global regions. These merchants are leaving money on the table as these various global markets present a golden selling opportunity. For example, China has a $1.03 trillion B2C e-Commerce volume showcasing a major rise in spending power.

U.S. merchants should be looking to capitalize on these growth opportunities overseas. For example, the Chinese e-Commerce market is worth $1.03 trillion and is growing at a rate of 18.6% a year. There are many resources available to help point them in the right direction, like PPRO’s Payment Almanac 2.0. Having the knowledge of the right LPMs to use in the correct market can make all the difference in scaling a business globally.

Payments Are Local

Visa and Mastercard only account for 25% of global e-Commerce payments, and this figure drops even further when we look regionally. Visa and Mastercard combine to only make up 3% of China’s e-payment split. LPMs are preferred globally and U.S. merchants cannot rely on using traditional credit card payments alone.

In Germany, for example, the main methods of online payments are bank transfers. They make up 49% of online transactions, while cash is only 5% and cards make up 11%. This is a stark difference compared to payment behaviors in the U.S., where 57% of online transactions are facilitated by credit card.

These payment preferences significantly vary from region to region, making the need to cater payment methods to consumer preference so crucial. LPMs offer ease and comfort to consumers, while giving merchants the capability to expand their business and reach new markets. U.S. online merchants need to be strategic about how they scale globally, and LPMs are an essential tool to help ease this transition.

Steve Villegas, VP of Partner Management at PPRO, is a Sales, Marketing and Business Development Executive with over 20 years of experience building and managing sales, partner development and marketing teams that have delivered profitable results, built market share, and exceeded revenue goals while outperforming competition. Villegas is a natural communicator and team leader with strong motivational skills, with the ability to build, produce and succeed.

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By Ro Bhatia, LimeLight

The payments industry is transforming. Open technology and regulations mean consumers have more options for payments and banking. Upstarts are taking advantage and established players are spending to catch up. Here are four trends that are revamping how the payments industry affects retailers and consumers alike:

1. Payments Drive Digital Experiences For Brands (And Consumers)

Payments are no longer just infrastructure: they are becoming a crucial digital experience factor. Brands big and small are jumping on board. Order-ahead apps from brands like Starbucks (4% growth in sales and 14% growth in membership in Q1 2019), Kohl’s, Shake Shack and more are continuing to gain traction. Installment payments are growing in adoption, with Square providing a new Installments product to its partners in 2018. Rewards programs are being given major focus from Amazon (Prime Reload gives Prime members 2% cash back when loading money into an Amazon account) and a Visa and Uber partnership lets riders earn rewards at local merchants when they ride with Uber — all delivered seamlessly through their Visa card. P2P is taking off, driven by Gen Z and Millennial adoption of Venmo (now owned by PayPal). Digital is shifting the distribution model: payments now need to go where consumers expect them.

2. Banking, Not Banks: Payments Become More Open

Issuing and acquiring banks have been the sole providers of payments infrastructure and products for years. Digital transformation has reshaped the industry, with banks being forced to build APIs and connectors to the myriad of fintech companies and payment options that consumers now expect. Partnerships and network effects are important competitive advantages for banks in 2019. Last year, a group of banks launched Zelle, a single API-enabled network of more than 30 partners to deliver real-time payments (including P2P functionality) across thousands of banks and millions of consumers.

In Europe, the PSD2 (Revised Payment Service Directive) was implemented in 2018, which mandated that banks provide open access through APIs to their customer’s account information. This means that bank customers will be able to use third-party providers to manage their finances while still storing their money safely in their current bank account. Banks will be forced to compete with the new crop of players taking advantage of this open ecosystem.

3. More Contactless And Cardless Payments (Really, This Time)

Since Apple Pay launched in 2014, we’ve been hearing claims that the era of the card is over. But adoption was slow, especially in the U.S. where many large retailers were slow to adopt EMV and contactless tech at the POS. But now things are looking up — and not just for Apple (which saw 135% YoY growth in Apple Pay users in 2018, fueled by the launch of P2P payments early that year). Visa plans to issue more than 100 million contactless cards in 2019.

The ubiquity of smartphones, combined with the rise in other connected devices and a more democratized payments infrastructure, means consumers have more and more options to pay without swiping a card.

The trend we’re watching in 2019 is for the Chinese juggernauts (Alipay with 600 million users and WeChat Pay with 980 million) to expand substantially in the U.S. and Canada. This could have major impacts on existing EMV and POS infrastructure — because these apps use QR codes for their mobile payments.

4. B2B Payments Players Look To Expand

2018 saw a substantial increase in M&A in the payments space as existing players look to build the platforms required to compete. PayPal made four acquisitions (two fintech companies, one predictive marketing company and one fraud prevention company) in 2018. CEO Dan Schulman said PayPal plans to continue to spend more than $3 billion a year on acquisitions in pursuit of its goal of becoming a “one-stop solution for global commerce.” Adobe acquired Magento for $1.68 billion, and a host of activity is occurring in Europe as well.

Square and Stripe are expanding beyond payments to provide the financial infrastructure to help their e-Commerce and retail clients succeed. Stripe is testing a cash advance service that leverages the financial data on their platform, and Square Capital delivers next-day loans of up to $100,000. Both platforms give the ability to make paybacks using a fixed percentage of their daily sales. Stripe already has a product suite to help businesses incorporate, fight fraud and build analytics — and we can expect to see more of these holistic offerings from other players.

Ro Bhatia, VP of Marketing at LimeLight is a results-driven business leader with a diverse set of experiences working in the SMB, e-Commerce and SaaS spaces where he has led successful strategic turnarounds, acquisitions, and is known for his transformational and operational leadership. He has held leadership roles at The Home Depot and Yahoo before LimeLight as well as eBay, VMware and Google in varying capacities.

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Now that Memorial Day weekend has come and gone, retailers are in full “summer mode,” although they likely have been preparing for the season for at least a month if not more. But with the rise of Prime Day as an annual shopper extravaganza that, for many retailers,  transitions right into back-to-school season, it’s clear that traditional definitions of when “selling seasons” start and end are in flux. The required changes in preparation, planning and promotion could cause a domino effect all the way down to the Q4 holiday season, particularly now that Alibaba’s Singles Day starts off November with a bang.

To align with these changes, starting in July the Retail TouchPoints editorial team will be adapting our holiday coverage by providing readers with new and creative assets every month that give a glimpse of how retailers can prepare for the season.

In this Q&A, the RTP editors kick off the summer by sharing what retailers should be doing to prepare for this season and beyond.

Adam Blair, Editor: There’s an old (1940) movie comedy by the remarkable writer/director Preston Sturges, titled Christmas in July. Before they even entered the theater, the title would have clued in audiences of the day about the topsy-turvy, anything-can-happen tone of the movie. Christmas in July? That’s crazy! These days, however, we have a real-world Christmas in July, at least as far as Amazon is concerned, called Prime Day. And that’s just the most prominent example of the hyperextended stretching of a holiday season that had traditionally been limited to the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. (Nor should we forget Singles Day, Nov. 11, the modest little holiday that Alibaba pumped up into a worldwide selling blitz.) My point is not to lament the passing of the old days, but that retailers need to adjust their planning — in fact, their entire mindset — to the multi-month nature of the “holiday season.” Certainly it involves more work and more preparation, but it also opens up new opportunities.

Glenn Taylor, Senior Editor: Back-to-school has arguably become the biggest event impacted by the changes in summer shopping preferences, incentivizing more people to shop for school supplies earlier in the year. Last year, Amazon specifically launched “Back to School” and “Off To College” online stores ahead of its own Prime Day, showing how much the retailer has dedicated itself to both manufacturing and meeting demand — and so far, it’s worked. Competing retailers shouldn’t try to move the immovable object, but they should still do more to go where Amazon isn’t, just like any other time of the year. There’s always going to be overflow from shopper traffic on Amazon, especially on high-traffic occasions like Prime Day. This is where services like BOPIS or ship-from-store come in. Amazon can’t do that, but now many Target stores sure can. Are there specific school supplies, dorm supplies or apparel that Amazon might not have the best grip on? No one has ever confused the e-Commerce giant with having the most uniquely curated products, and its dominance of the now summer-into-back-to-school season doesn’t change that.

Bryan Wassel, Associate Editor: There’s no avoiding the fact that Prime Day dominates the summer, so the best thing competing retailers can do is lean into the sentiment and try to take advantage of that fact. Much of the hubbub around Prime Day is about expensive electronics and similarly priced goods, so merchants in other areas might try to soothe stinging wallets with sales on smaller items. Think something like, “Got a great deal on that Echo, but killed your entertainment budget for the month? Our hiking gear is on sale, so grab a new water bottle and hit the (free!) parks during the peak of summer.” That’s a very specific, niche example, but I think the idea can apply to retailing at large: accept that this is a holiday and that Amazon is going to suck all the air out of the room, but look for other areas where smaller retailers can thrive in this new environment the e-Commerce giant has created.

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By Antony Edwards, Eggplant

Every day seems to bring another headline about a web site being down or an app being unavailable — from Instagram to J.Crew to Walmart, it’s clear brands are failing their customers.

Rather than waiting for an outage — and the accompanying social media backlash from infuriated customers and potential loss of revenue — retailers must understand the warning signs that their app is a problem and make the necessary adjustments before it ends up in the ER.

Key to this is proactively tracking and monitoring a handful of key indicators. Retailers can easily become overwhelmed trying to monitor everything, but by focusing on three key areas they can better understand their app performance and take action before issues snowball into business-critical problems.

1. Ratings slip

Don’t ignore the noise and try to explain away why your rankings are slipping. If your reviews are starting to go south, that’s usually a clear indicator that you need to look into what the source of the issue is and fix the problem before it escalates. Defect, slow performance and poor usability can all be fixed, but you have to do it quickly. Don’t just assume that it is a few disgruntled customers — it’s essential that you listen and react to the feedback before the potential problem spreads.

Look to see if there is a correlation with the ratings slipping and an increase in support tickets from users, or an increase in defect/request turnaround time from your team. The upshot of it is to value feedback as a way to keep your app and your brand healthy.

2. Your app is losing its appeal as a destination

Pay close attention to the length of time users spend on your web site or app. If users do a brief fly-by rather than exploring your app, then that’s another sign that something could be wrong. If people open your app, make a very linear journey and leave, that’s a concern. Why didn’t they hang around? If they did that in your brick-and-mortar store, you’d worry. Whether the customer is in your physical store or its digital counterpart, you want them to browse and see what else is available so you can upsell and foster deeper engagement. You want to see people exploring your app looking for products and promotions.

Keep an eye on back-and-forth user journeys. People browsing is what you want but people just hitting the back button and then clicking a different button probably means they didn’t understand your app and you have a usability problem. Also, absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder, so keep an eye on the time between visits, and if it starts to significantly extend from days to weeks, this is also an indicator of a problem.

3. Conversion/revenue starts to slide

If conversion rates start to nosedive, then that’s another sign that your app is potentially failing your business. You need to look into the source of the issue and see if the number of abandoned baskets is increasing. Also, if conversion is down but usage is growing, then there is a problem that warrants immediate investigation.

If retailers keep these three red flags front of mind, they can stay ahead of potential app outages, thereby reducing any negative impact on customers and their brand. In retail the customer experience and basket conversion are key, and the performance of your app is critical to both, so it’s time to rethink your approach to delivering an app experience that continually delights.

Antony Edwards, is COO of Eggplant. He is a proven product and technology leader with extensive experience in enterprise software and mobile computing. Before Eggplant, he served as CTO of The Global Draw Group. Prior to that, he was the EVP of Ecosystem and Technical Services at mobile operating system specialist Symbian. While at Symbian, Edwards was a founder of the Symbian open-source foundation.

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The retailer-as-a-tech-company dynamic has been heavily influenced by Amazon (and Alibaba in China), and has further been prompted by Walmart’s continued investments in AI, robotics and VR, among other technologies. In the latest example, this week Lowe’s brought talent and technology under its own wing to mesh with existing operations, acquiring a retail analytics platform (and team members) from Boomerang Commerce.

As these retail industry titans spend millions of dollars figuring out how to gain additional share of wallet through their own technology advantages, how should the rest of retail go about delivering on this transformation — especially given the high costs often involved?

This week, the RTP editors share their thoughts on the continued merging of retail and tech as a way to spur innovation, and explain how retailers can effectively absorb technology into their enterprises.

Adam Blair, Editor: It’s been one of the most interesting developments of the past five to 10 years: the number of retailers that have moved from being consumers/users of technology to being acquirers-developers-and-even-resellers of technology. I doubt there’s any one “right” way for retailers to make such a transition, not least because the retail industry is so varied and technology changes so quickly. But here are three basic guidelines: 1. Make sure the data you already routinely collect in-house (sales, customer demographics, product preferences, buying patterns, etc.) empowers whatever technologies you build or acquire — and that the new tech doesn’t duplicate things you already do. 2. Particularly with an acquisition, make sure you’re getting not just the solutions but also the people whose expertise and energy make the tech valuable. Even if you don’t hire them outright, keep them on as consultants so they benefit you, not your competitors. 3. If the technology proves valuable, follow Kroger’s lead and monetize it — as long as doing so doesn’t conflict with your core business.

Glenn Taylor, Senior Editor: Maybe retailers don’t have to specifically acquire a tech business, or even invest in one, but they had better start hiring like one if they want the brains required to understand what shoppers think. It starts by looking at computer science and software engineering graduates, or recruiting those who are already employed at agencies. Many retailers already get this: “Software developer” was the third-most-common job in retail in 2017, rising from the eighth most common in 2013, according to LinkedIn data. These developers often have a handle on cloud services and customer data platforms, and they can be vital to improving both the front end (think mobile experience) and back end (think supply chain optimization) in a way less tech-driven employees cannot. The Lowe’s acquisition seems like an obvious move to go tit-for-tat with its biggest competitor and rival The Home Depot, especially given the latter’s technology investments. Overall this is good for every party involved. Last year, Home Depot hired 1,000 technology professionals at its Atlanta, Dallas and Austin tech facilities, all of whom are specifically versed in software engineering, system engineering, UX design and product management.

Bryan Wassel, Associate Editor: One possible change to retailers’ relationship with technology is that shoppers may own their own personalization tools, rather than let retailers take care of it. This possibility was raised in a Harvard Business Review article pointing out that travel booking services, which take a wide variety of criteria into account to deliver the cheapest and most efficient trips, could eventually be applied to shopping trips: rather than pick out ingredients for a meal or outfit themselves, shoppers could use outside programs that find the cheapest and easiest collection of purchases that get them what they want. Performing curation without retailers’ input could turn modern personalization trends upside-down — rather than looking at an individual shopper’s past purchases, retailers would need to look at what’s trending nationwide and what their competitors are doing to try and stock the right products at the right prices. This would require a whole new set of solutions and associated algorithms. As a result, retailers would do well to remain agile with their technology choices, and keep an eye on related industries to see how their strategies develop.

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