Posted by: Kevin Burns  |   Comments  No Response

It’s Official, Mastercard, not content with imposing timelines and issuing fines, has increased the cost for level 2 merchants as they now want QSAs to complete an onsite assessment as standard. 


Over recent weeks we have seen Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. First, there was a US congressional review looking unfavourably on the standard then, here in the UK, the BRC raised their concerns over fines.


And most recently, the NRF has complained about the spiralling costs of compliance and problems with compliance due to the lack of end to end encryption. As Joanna Perry at Retail Week comments, a move on end to end encryption in the US may not be good news for us in the UK as our technologies differ.



At the same time, early adopters in the US who had been certified and subsequently fined, are now taking their QSAs into the court room.


While for many retailers this may feel like the last nail in the coffin as their IT budgets strain under the burden of PCI DSS compliance, it is unlikely that the PCI DSS standard itself will “go away”. Indeed the opposite is true: given recent breaches the standard is gathering momentum as some US states have now included legislation which is directly in line with PCI DSS.


In summary, prepare to budget more for your compliance and your ongoing compliance, as for most you now need a QSA. BT Expedite customers, please see our LinkedIn group for commentary and support on PCI DSS.

Posted by: Geoffrey Barraclough  |   Comments  No Response

Like many marketing people, I’ve been scratching my head trying to make sense of the remarkable growth in Twitter.


We’ve begun blogging (as you can see) and have a couple of Twitter feeds up and running which you can find on the left hand side of our home page. We’re still finding our feet and inching toward the right tone of voice for both communications channels. In the main, we’re using Twitter to point people either towards interesting things we’ve posted – new bits of knowledge to share or business events we’re running – or towards noteworth things our customers are up to. So far, so conventional and it’s fair to say that we’re currently using Twitter as a sort of cut-down email newsletter.


But I wonder if we’re missing something big because there’s an inkling that Twitter could turn customer service upside down.


We had a fascinating chat with Graham Stoker who works in BT’s main customer service unit looking after millions of residential customers in the UK. Graham has started and is running a pilot operation scouring the net for people twittering about BT. He then replies and offers encouragement, thanks or help as appropriate. A quick perusal of BTCARE shows how impressed many of the customers have been.


It’s a commonplace that brands should be engaging about what their customers want to talk about. But most corporate Twittering is coming from the PR folks who want to sell something rather than the service desk which is at the sharper end of things. You can see this highlighted by this discussion at the e-consultancy blog between an airline passenger who had Twittered about lack of information concerning a flight delay. The airline’s PR people defend their “social media strategy”. The customer says he’s not bothered how fast or slow the response to his Twitter was. He just wanted an announcement at the airport about why the plane was late.


So, the BT initiative is particularly interesting as it’s being run out of customer service not out of marketing.


How relevant is this to retailers? There’s certainly a lot of twittering about our customers’ brands. Search for Halfords or Jane Norman and you’ll find a lot of people with a lot to say. Most of it positive. The great British public can’t resist a quick tweet of happiness when the unwrap their shopping and start to play. What a great moment for a brand to tweet back and say “thank you”.


UPDATE: An overenthusastic intern at Habitat caused a bit of a storm this week with a clever wheeze that caused its tweets about furniture promotions to be returned when people searched for the Iranian elections. The twitterarti  regarded this as a bit like spamming and got rather shirty. Habitat has handled the fall out in an exemplary fashion and hasn’t done itself any real damage. It’s a cautionary tale nonetheless; people take social media very personally.

Posted by: Geoffrey Barraclough  |   Comments  No Response

The iPhone changes everything. It really does. People’s behaviour is quantifiably different once they have one of them in their pocket or handbag. 56% of them regularly access the web compared to just 5% with a normal handset [Enders, 2008].


Riding the zeitgeist, our friends at Oasis Fashion have come up with an innovative iPhone application that takes multi-channel retailing a clear step forward. The service, built by No Need 4 Mirrors, gives daily updates on new products and collections and allows customers to browse campaign images and click to the main website to buy the items. It looks and feels great and demonstrably builds a stronger brand connection between the womenswear retailer and its customers.


Looking through the user reviews for the new service, two themes come through strongly.


  • The ease of shopping on the iPhone means that people can shop when on the move; when commuting, for example.


  • The ability to see in which branch a particular item or collection of items is in stock is very highly valued.  


This service shows that clever use of iPhone applications can extend a brands’ online presence amongst a small but influential group of customers. But I wonder what will happen when people start using their iPhone application when they’re actually in the store?


An unwary retailer could soon find that its customers are operating with better information than the staff. After all, a brands’ website frequently offers product details including user review, ratings and recommendations that exceed the knowledge of all but the most experienced sales assistant. And brands will need to pay close attention to pricing and promotional activity to ensure that it really is uniform across channels.


At our recent client conference, we asked a selection of retailers how they thought they could build the best of the online world into their in-store experience. I’ll post next week with what they told us.

Posted by: Geoffrey Barraclough  |   Comments  No Response

We had a fascinating call with our friends from Ribbit on Friday night.  Ribbit is “Silicon Valley’s First Phone Company” and one of the coolest members of the BT family.


Ribbit has got together with Best Buy to produce a new site called Consumer Choice described as a “new age social shopping” engine. What’s new is the ability to mix speech and text in a simple website; in this case to allow people to call up and leave product reviews. Ribbit told us that if people are offered the choice between typing a review directly on the site or calling up and leaving a message, the response rate goes up.

There’s loads of really cool ideas at Ribbit and many are directly applicable to retailers. And the great thing about Ribbit is that all the smart stuff is available as API’s for integration into other applications and websites.


As well as making it easier for people to post reviews, retailers that use celebrity spokespeople could use Ribbit to have them leave regular voice messages on their websites; a sort of aural Twitter but not limited to 140 characters.


This kind of idea would only strengthen the connection between brand and celebrity. For example, what if Austin Reed’s Rupert Penry-Jones didn’t just lounge languidly in a nicely tailored suits across the web page but also phoned in to give regular updates on pricing, new products and forthcoming sales? And the voice messages could be widgitised and included in banner ads right across the net adding hugely to a brands’ personality and accessibility.


Ribbit has set up a demonstration site which gives you examples of three uses of the technology. They’ve also set up a really thought-provoking virtual message board (disguised as a fridge) called the Revoicerator . The mind truly boggles.





Posted by: Geoffrey Barraclough  |   Comments  No Response

We get the CIO’s of our major clients together a couple of times a year to discuss the business outlook and how that impacts the use of technology in retailing.

The most recent session focused on managing IT through recession and took place a couple of weeks ago on the margins of our annual client conference. BT is sponsoring this year’s IT in Retail report so we invited Brian Hume from Martec to lead the discussion based on his research. We had CIO’s from twelve of the nation’s leading non-food retailers around the table and here are the highlights of the discussion.


1. Our clients report reasonable trading conditions and a number have profited directly from some of the business failures in the sector. By general consent, the economic outlook remains very uncertain and our customers are spending their spare cash on gaining market share, primarily through new store openings.


2. Overall spending on IT is expected to fall in 2009 by around 20% and will tend to include many more small, incremental projects aimed at sweating existing assets. As IT is competing with store investment for scarce funds, large re-platforming projects will be few and far between.


3. The implication for technology providers, such as ourselves, is that they will need to re-engineer their businesses to be able to profitably meet this changed pattern of demand.


Here at BT, we are acutely concious that we need to be able to match our customers for agility and speed.


Specifically, retailers want us to be much faster at estimating new projects and we’ve given this a lot of attention in the past year. We’ve made quite a lot of progress but we also know that we have further to go.


We had quite a lengthy discussion about the kind of software development projects retailers typically require around their point of sale or merchandising systems. There is always a balance to be struck between undertaking bespoke work that meets the exact requirements of a particular customer and producing more standardised solutions to general problems. The cost implication is clear.


The CIO’s round the table indicated that they would like us to push back on them when they ask for bespoke work and suggest a (lower cost) standardised option where available. We will endeavour to do this whenever we can.


Finally, we talked about how we can deliver projects “right first time” and got some pretty good advice from our customers on how they would like to see us present estimates and project plans.


It was all good food for thought and a couple of hours really well spent. We’ll run another roundtable in the autumn. Let us know if you’ve got any good ideas for topics we could cover.

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