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February 17, 2016

5 Retail Technology Trends to Watch in 2016

Emerging Retail Technology

As experts of retail solutions, we here at ITK Solutions Group like to keep our eye on emerging retail technology trends to ensure that our clients are fully equipped with the tools necessary to meet their business objectives for 2016 (and beyond). With plenty of emerging retail technology to be excited about in 2016, it was difficult to narrow it down to just five. But the five emerging retail technology trends that we’ve selected below have all shown significant potential over the last few years, and it should come as no surprise that mobile devices are at the forefront of the discussion. We’ll start out our list with Beacon technology.

1. Beacon (BLE)

Beacon technology provides traditional brick-and-mortar retailers an opportunity to bring the power of digital marketing, in store. With nearly two-thirds of American consumers owning a smartphone, it’s easy to see the massive potential that beacon technology has for retailer’s still leveraging physical store locations to drive revenue. Especially when you take into consideration the appeal of having personalized offers sent out to consumers as they’re physically in the store location. So how does it work?

Beacons use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology, a more energy-efficient variant of other Bluetooth technology that permits two-way communication between devices, triangulating the position of each within a set perimeter. This eliminates the need for Wi-Fi, GPS and 4G, and is compatible with any Android or iOS smart device that’s Bluetooth enabled. These beacons provide valuable insight into, in-store, customer-behavioral data. Data that allows marketers to more effectively custom-tailor the offline experience customers have in their physical store locations. To be more specific, beacons send consumers (within a predetermined range) push notifications or alerts regarding their product offerings, discounts and much more. These alerts / notifications can be custom-tailored based upon the consumers previous brand interactions.

The caveat, there are more than a handful of consumers that might find this type of technology to be invasive and a violation of their privacy. Retailers that choose to leverage beacon technology will need to be up-front and clear regarding what data the beacons can collect, and how it will be used.

2. Biometrics

Traditional brick and mortar retailers have long desired a more efficient way of capturing valuable information about their customers. Specifically, information regarding their activity within physical store locations. Unfortunately for most retailers, it’s not as easy to capture consumer behavior data, in-store, as it is for online purchases. Yes, some retailers have implemented loyalty programs that have yielded some success, but that strategy still fails to measure critical KPI’s.

With Biometrics, retailers are able to view traffic flows within physical store locations, identify customers, custom-tailor offers, identify known shoplifters, view customer purchases, and the list continues to grow. More specifically, it’s a great way for retailers to capture valuable, in-store, customer behavior data. Thus allowing retailers to see which items customers were most interested in, and adjust their store layout / offers accordingly. While also making transactions more secure for their customers by using a biometric authentication process (fingerprint identification, facial recognition, hand geometry, vein recognition).

TechNavio, an independent research firm, predicts that Biometric technology will grow in the retail vertical at a 21.3% Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR), between 2016 and 2020. With security being a key driver for retailers choosing to adopt biometric technology.

3. Mobile POS Solutions*

Mobile Point of Sale (POS) solutions are already being implemented by retailers (both big and small). And every year, more and more retailers are choosing to adopt mobile Point of Sale (POS) solutions in an effort to enrich their customers’ in-store experience. 451 Research, LLC predicts that the mobile POS install base will increase at a 32% Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR), as Mobile POS technology continues to grow in existing verticals, and expands into new ones.

Implementing a mobile POS solution and integrating it into your current (ERP / CRM) solution, is much more than just a trendy way to check-out customers. It connects the dots between sales channels, and provides retailers a unified view of their customer purchase data. Mobile POS solutions not only increase sales through mobility, they also increase efficiency by allowing sales associates to check in-store / online inventory, right from their mobile device. Providing them with more information, and making it easier for them to better serve customers, in-store.

The growth of mobile POS in the retail marketplace can also be directly attributed to the shift in the way(s) consumers choose to pay for their products and services. A few great examples of emerging payment solutions include: Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Google Wallet, PayPal, and Bitcoins. Retailers that implement mobile POS solutions that are configured to handle the aforementioned emerging payment solutions, will reap in the dividends as these new forms of payment grow increasingly more popular among consumers.

*Note: Mobile POS capability is contained in one of our solution offerings: Microsoft Dynamics AX for Retail.

4. Digital Currency

Digital currency (or cryptocurrency) comes in many different forms, but for the sake of simplicity, we’re going to focus on Bitcoins for this blog post. Mainly because it’s the most popular in terms of digital currencies, and it’s already being accepted by some of the larger retailers such as Amazon, Overstock, Microsoft, Expedia, and TigerDirect.

Simply defined, Bitcoins are a form of digital currency in which encryption techniques are used to regulate the generation of currency and verify the transfer of funds; operating independently of a central bank or government (decentralized). If that definition is too cryptic, refer to this video for a more detailed explanation. 

As a retailer, it’s not imperative that you accept Bitcoins as a form payment. However, Bitcoins can be advantageous for retailers in many ways. A few of the main advantages being: reduced transaction fees, the elimination of charge back fraud, access to an entirely new customer base, and the fact that Bitcoins don’t require a middle man between the retailer and the customer (banks / government).

The growth of the Bitcoin community has seen a significant spike over the past few years. However, the value of a Bitcoin drastically dropped 67% in 2014 (from $951.39 to $309.87 per Bitcoin). The fluctuation in value is a big reason why most retailers are reluctant to accept Bitcoins as a form of payment, which is understandable. But, it’s still important that retailers pay close attention to the digital currency market, and make a plan to invest in the infrastructure that’s necessary to accept these new forms of digital payment. 

5. Social Media Platforms

While social media may not be an emerging technology, it has only recently become a place for retailers to directly sell to their customers. And over the past few years, social media has shown significant growth as a sales channel (both direct and indirect). Social media giants like Pinterest and Facebook have given retailers the option to embed “Buy now” buttons on their posts. Making these social media platforms a direct sales channel for their goods and services. Business Insider mentions that the top 500 retailers earned $3.3 billion in 2014 from social media channels alone. And that number will only continue to grow as more social media platforms start to pop-up, and as marketers learn how to more effectively leverage the strengths of each platform for their selling efforts.

Frequency is another big reason why social media is growing so rapidly as a sales channel for retailers. The majority of users will login into one (or more) social media platforms, on a daily basis, and that type of frequency allows retailers to stay top-of-mind. It’s also worth mentioning, most social media platforms provide retailers an option to create a custom sponsored post, or paid advertisement along the sidebar; targeted toward specific customer segments. Both of which have shown to directly increase the amount, and quality of referral traffic retailers see on their ecommerce sites.

When used to its full potential, social media can be an extremely powerful tool for retailers looking for new ways to sell their products /services, build brand awareness, create brand advocates, drive traffic (in-store and online), and much more.

For all your system integration and mobile POS needs, contact us at info@itksolutionsgroup.com. And to stay In The Know, connect with us via social media, and keep an eye on our Knowledge Center for new content.

January 28, 2016

These charts show just how popular Microsoft still is with big businesses

Gartner has published research that shows which companies provide the online services used by multi-billion-dollar companies. The report, titled “Microsoft Dominates Clould Email in Large Public Companies,” looks at how Office 365, the cloud services component, compares to Google’s Apps for Work. Garnter looked at over 5,000 companies in total. Read more…

January 27, 2016

How Amazon Can Reduce Fraud Loss

Reduce Fraud Loss

Recently my Amazon account was hacked, which contained my stored American Express card number. Luckily, my American Express number was not hacked. Amazon claims that this did not happen internally (via a security lapse on their side), which I have no reason to question. However, Amazon should expect that user accounts will sometimes be hacked, and ideally, should have system policies in place to detect fraud prior to a loss. So with that in mind, I’ll explain what the hacker(s) actually did, and also discuss a couple policies that Amazon (and other online retailers) could implement that would reduce the chances of this happening to anyone else.

In my case, the user that hacked my account did two things that I believe Amazon’s systems should have detected and evaluated. First, the user ordered instant gift cards; this is a common fraud sales item because the value is available immediately to a 3rd party. Secondly, the user ordered those gift cards to be delivered to an unusual email domain (a non-sensical alphanumeric domain name).

In the past, we have worked with other retail clients that have these types of evaluations in place, so I am a little surprised that this passed through at Amazon. So how could Amazon avoid this? They should be looking for order patterns regarding both of the above situations. Here’s how the fraud detection would work:

1.) When a user places an order with either instant electronic gift cards or items electronically delivered to an unusual domain address (or both), Amazon’s checkout basket should prompt that the full credit card number and CVV (3 or 4 digit extra code on the card) be entered.

2.) If the user account was hacked, the shopper would not know this information and the fraud would be averted (and would have been averted in my case).

3.) If the user was valid (if it was actually me placing the order), the user would have that information. This would make the purchase process a little less convenient, but if I were programming the system, I would provide a pop-up explanation of something like ‘Because this is an instant delivery item and we would like to protect your account from unauthorized purchase, please re-enter your full credit card and CVV number…’. Then Amazon would get some customer service points while also averting fraud losses.

No one retailer has all the answers (as the above situation shows), but we can all learn from best practices to make online shopping efficient and safe. For more information on how implementing best practices can help safeguard your company, and customers, check out ‘Poor Accounting Practices, Not the Skill of Thieves, results in Financial Losses’. Or, you can directly download the ‘Six Accounting Practices Companies Can Use to Avoid Email Fraud’.

To stay In The Know, connect with us via social media or check out more posts on our blog.

By: Susan Alvarez, VP of Consulting Services

December 10, 2015

5 Tips That Maximize the Value of Your CRM Software

Maximize the Value of Your CRM Software

At its core, CRM software provides companies a solution intended for customer data management, and the automation of certain sales, marketing, and customer service related functions. But for some companies, their CRM software has become nothing more than a glorified phone book. When CRM software is used like this, it can make it difficult for companies to see the true value of their CRM investment. If used to its fullest potential, CRM software can be a serious game-changer! So with that in mind, we have compiled a list of 5 tips that maximize the value of your CRM software.

1.) Custom fields are your friend. Use them!

Your CRM software product should allow a system administrator to create custom fields based upon your unique business needs. Implementing these custom fields will allow your company to build more meaningful reports, provide better segmentation of your customer lists, and arm your sales team with the important information they need to be successful. Make sure you get input from your sales, marketing and customer service department (basically anybody that uses the software) to ensure that all relevant custom fields are being added into your forms.

2.) Be consistent and meticulous when importing customer data into your CRM database.

Far too often, companies will obtain a spreadsheet full of potential / current customers, and import those contacts into their CRM database without running a quality check before-hand. You should ensure that the information provided in the spreadsheet contains all the pertinent details, ahead of time, and that the format of this data is consistent. Otherwise you might end up regretting it later.

For example, If you’re importing a list of customers or accounts into your CRM database and you notice that there are multiple customers that have the title ‘Chief Marketing Officer’, then you’ll want to label all the Chief Marketing Officers’ in your CRM database consistently. You don’t want to have multiple different label types for the same position (I.e. CMO, Chief Marketing Officer, cmo, Cmo, etc.). Ensuring consistency will make it easier for your sales and marketing team to slice and dice your customer data. Otherwise you’ll have to add multiple filters for all the different title variants when you segment your lists.

3.) Look into 3rd party applications that extend the functionality of your CRM software.

There are plenty of 3rd party applications on the market that can fill any gaps that your current CRM software may have. Look for products that that can potentially extend the functionality of your CRM software, and maximize the future value of your CRM investment.

For example, we use ClickDimensions to help us build, track and manage landing pages, contact forms, email campaigns, email templates, nurture programs, and much more. Adding this functionality to our own CRM software has more than proven to be worth the investment.

4.) Integrate your CRM software with your email provider.

A lot of business is conducted via email, and tracking those email activities in your CRM database will arm your sales and marketing team with the essential information they need to more effectively sell your products and services. Plus, your team will be a lot more likely to log their email activities in your CRM database if it’s as simple as pressing ‘send’.

5.) Log and track all relevant activities!

Ideally, your company should be logging any relevant interaction they have with both current and potential customers. That means every phone call, social media interaction, in-person meeting, email, and instant message. If your team is reluctant to log their activities in your CRM system because it feels like ‘Big Brother’, then your other team members could be missing out on important information about your current / potential customers. The more information you log in your CRM database the more valuable it will become.

ITK can help your company configure your system to fully optimize the sales, marketing and service processes unique to your organization. Feel free to reach out to us at info@itksolutionsgroup.com for more information. And to stay In The Know, check out more posts in our Knowledge Center and connect with us via social media.

November 17, 2015

Microsoft and Unit4: One Step Closer to “Self-Driving” ERP

At Unit4, we think ERP should be an intelligent system that pro-actively warns, predicts and advises based on historical data, trends and users’ patterns like their whereabouts and meeting agenda topics. We also think everything should be contained within the system, eliminating the need for dozens of emails, complex Excel spreadsheets and multiple add-on software solutions to perform specific tasks. Click here to read more…

November 3, 2015

Poor Accounting Practices, Not the Skill of Thieves, Results in Financial Losses

Cyber Theft

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal titled ‘Hackers Trick Email Systems into Wiring Them Large Sums’ discusses losses estimated at $1B over the last two years from email hacking schemes. The gist is that thieves get control over email accounts and then direct company employees to pay possibly legitimate invoices to fraudulent bank accounts controlled by cyber thieves. The article goes on to say that these small companies have suffered these losses because they do not have the budget of larger companies for security and investigation.

It’s always frustrating to hear about legitimate businesses that suffer losses as result of a security breach. But, I would assert that poor accounting practices, which are an affordable necessity for businesses of any size, are the primary culprit. Consider the two cases noted:

In the first case, the targeted company received an email purportedly from a vendor to give wire instructions for a shipment that was legitimate. The company then proceeded to wire $100,000 to the “vendor” which was later identified to be cyber thieves hacking into their system.

In the second case, the CFO received an email, purportedly from the CEO, instructing her to wire $169,000 to a company for an investment. In this case, the CFO happened to speak with the CEO prior to sending the wire, which saved the company from a potential loss.

Both of these scenarios could have been avoided completely if they would have had proper accounting practices in place. Let’s take a minute to discuss a couple of simple accounting practices your company could implement to avoid email hacking losses. You can also refer to our checklist, Six Accounting Practices Companies Can Use To Avoid Email Fraud.

Set up bank payment information regarding where and how to pay vendors

At setup, your accounts payable department is dealing directly with the vendor that you want to contract with (so banking information given is provided by the legitimate vendor representative). Make sure you set up the vendor routing and bank account number in your accounting software as well as the legitimate vendor contact information.

When vendors request payment for legitimate purchases, never use wire instructions from an email. Go back to your accounting software and pull the authorized banking instructions you received from the vendor at vendor setup. If you have any questions or concerns about an email request for payment, use the legitimate vendor contact information from your accounting software to contact the vendor and verify the payment request. Again, if the request is legitimate, make payment to the account recorded in your accounting software; never make changes to vendor payment information without verifying it directly with the vendor contact listed in your accounting software.

Never make a payment based upon an email (only) from a higher authority

In the example with the CFO and the CEO, the CFO should have phoned the CEO, or gone to them in person (if proximity permits), regarding the payment and supporting details required before any payment can be made. Unfortunately, executives often believe the rules do not apply at their level, but because the losses can be so much greater at the executive level (due to the higher authority limits), rules should be enforced just as stringently for executives (perhaps more so).

Final Thoughts

Proper procedures govern sending payments of any kind, especially wire payments for which there is limited recourse to get funds back. Implementing proper procedures is a cheap and easy way to safe guard your company from cyber theft. Hiring a certified accountant to review your company’s accounting processes would cost only a few thousand dollars and would have completely prevented both of the above cases. Remember, emails do not send wires. People do.

For additional information on this topic, download the ‘Six Accounting Practices Companies Can Use To Avoid Email Fraud’. And to stay In The Know, connect with us via social media or check out more posts on our blog.

October 16, 2015

Retail Merchandising Decisions: Art versus Science

ThinkstockPhotos-479303426

Choosing which products to purchase and in what quantities is one of the biggest decisions any Chief Merchandising Officer will make. These decisions can make or break a company’s seasonal sales (and, given the thin margins many retailers operate on, can make or break a company financially). Retail systems now provide a wealth of item-level data, enabling complex calculations of expected demand for an item if such demand can be based upon a known trend or comparable item.

An ability to measure the ROI of products more reliably, as transactional tracking being tied to analysis systems has been enabled in the last 10+years, has raised expectations that product performance can be completely predicted based upon data. However, remember that science will never enable us to spot a product that is at the leading edge of a trend using pure data, because the analytics to forecast the demand have not yet occurred.

Have we reached the point where science should completely replace the art of merchandising? Ironically, from a financial perspective, I would say ‘not yet’, though science should certainly be center stage.

While there are many articles on marketing as an art versus a science, a reasonable and productive approach to merchandising might be a blend of science and art, with more weight on the science side but an allowance for some art to be injected. This would give weight to all the ‘interested’ groups: the data geeks, the accountants and the pure (art-based) marketers. Here is how this might work:

  • Set demand forecasting budgets based upon science, but also allow for creativity and judgment in merchandising decisions.
  • Agree that ‘X’ amount of the merchandising decisions will be based upon data (science), not art or gut feel.
  • Allow some part of the merchandising budget, say ‘Y’, to be based upon recommendations from the merchandising team, which may not (yet) be supported by analytic data. This defined limit will force only the products outside of data that the merchandisers feel most strongly about to be selected, which would hopefully be the ones with the highest potential (assuming that the merchandiser’s gut feel has some accuracy).
  • For the finance types, the limit on the ‘art’ decisions should limit risk and down side, while also allowing some intuitive decisions, with potential for unexpected upside.

The key take-away is this: while you should arm your merchandising team with the tools to allow them to fully analyze their purchase decisions, also consider giving them the autonomy to make some decisions based upon their gut instinct. If you give them the option to use their intuition and also provide robust analytical tools to supplement the process, then your company should be able to benefit from both schools of thought.

Without a doubt, data analytics tools have made our lives much easier when it comes to making purchase decisions, but it has also hindered our ability to listen to our instincts. These instincts are important to the decision-making process and cannot be completely replicated by technology. So, finding a balance between art and science is essential when it comes to making superior business decisions in a timely manner.

To stay In The Know, connect with us via social media, or check out more posts on our blog.

October 1, 2015

Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Click Dimensions: Landing Pages

The integration between Microsoft Dynamics CRM and ClickDimensions provides a wide variety of feature-rich marketing tools. Tools that can be powerful assets for a company if they know where to find them, and more importantly, how to use them. Click Dimensions already provides outstanding training for their users, but we wanted to offer some tips & tricks for your company to leverage when using these features.

The first feature we will discuss is Landing Pages, which can be found under ‘Web Content’ (see screen shots below). Web Content records give your company the ability to create various different types of web pages such as: landing pages, contact forms, surveys, and subscription pages. However, for this post we are going to focus on Landing Pages.

You have two different options when it comes to building a landing page with Click Dimensions. You can use the ‘Block Editor’, which simplifies the building process by eliminating the need for code. Or, you can use the ‘Free Style’ editor type, which allows a bit more room for creativity. Once created, you can embed them directly on your company site, and track your results from the Microsoft Dynamics CRM interface.

ClickDimensions and Microsoft Dynamics CRM - Landing page creation

Use the navigation arrows to find ‘Web Content’.

Step 1a - LP Creation

Click Dimensions makes creating a landing page easy. However, creating an effective landing page is another story. That’s why we decided to put together some tips and tricks for your company to consider when building your own landing page(s).

Remove the main navigation pane

If you are planning to embed your landing page on your company site, then you may want to consider removing the navigation pane. It can distract from the messaging and could result in less conversions if the prospect decides to leave your page before converting. The ultimate goal is to keep them on the landing page until they convert.

Keep it simple

Try to keep your headline and body text short and to the point. Don’t overload your landing page with unnecessary images and confusing text. Make sure every sentence, every image, and every word is there for reason. Embrace the space!

Include social media sharing buttons

Click Dimensions makes it easy for you add social share buttons to your landing page, so use them! Social media share buttons don’t take up very much space, and it’s just another way for your prospects to share your offer / content with in their personal networks.

Build your lead capture form based upon your desired outcome

Typically, the less fields you have on your form, the higher your conversion rate will be. If you’re looking to grow your database, then keep it short and don’t ask for too much information. Just make sure you ask for enough information to allow your company to follow-up with them (I.e. first name, last name, email address, phone number).

On the flipside, if you’re looking to gain more qualified leads, then it’s okay to ask for a bit more information. Just make sure that everything you’re asking for is actually important to you and your marketing efforts.

If you want to find a balance between the two, you can set required fields for the most important information, and mark the additional information in your form as optional. Click Dimensions offers some great training resources on creating forms in the Microsoft Dynamics CRM interface.

Make your Call-to-Action (CTA) button obvious

You want it to be clear where they need to click to access your offer. Make the button large, bright and impossible to miss. Also, try to make the text on the button relevant to your offer. For example, if you’re offering a free whitepaper, make the button text something like “Get your free Whitepaper” or “Download Whitepaper”.

Highlight the value of your offer

It’s important to discuss the value of your offer versus the components of it. With the amount online offers people receive these days, you need to demonstrate the value of your offer as clearly and concisely as possible. Consider using bullet points or a short paragraph to get your point across.

Make your form look shorter

If you have a contact form with multiple fields, try to spread the fields horizontally instead of vertically. It makes the contact form feel shorter. You can also try A/B testing to see if it makes any difference in terms of your conversion rates.

Optimize your landing page for search engines

This one is more for long-term marketing campaigns, but it’s still worth mentioning. There are few basic SEO tactics you can look to implement when building your landing page. Make sure you’re using pre-selected long-tail keywords as much as possible without “stuffing” the landing page. It’s good to have your keywords in the URL, headline, body text etc… Encourage other sites to link back to your landing page. Link-building should be an important piece of any SEO strategy. Fill in your image alt tag(s) and meta-description with your keywords. This is one of the many ways to make it easier for search engines to crawl your page.

Tailor your content to your audience

Try not to get caught up marketing your offer to everyone. Decide which customer segment(s) you want to target with your offer, and custom-tailor the messaging around their pain points. You want make it feel like your offer is just for them.

To stay In The Know, check out more posts on our blog and connect with us via social media.