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For a long time, whenever ‘the cloud’ was mentioned it was like it was something mystical. A platform with magic properties that would never fail. Retailers, especially those who have to run the IT, tend not to believe in magic and, being conservative in nature when it comes to stability, tend to believe in what they can see and put their hands on. It’s a shame as this has led to many retailers lagging behind in technology and spending more time being IT specialists and less time being retailers.

Then reality started to be applied. Some high profile failures in a number of cloud platforms meant that the old sell no longer worked. Service outages at Amazon, Microsoft and Google and a number of other high profile providers hit the regular press as they also underpinned key consumer services and the gloss came off the whole cloud story.

Strangely, this has been a good thing. With the mysticism removed, the cloud capabilities could be seen for what they really are. Superbly architected technical platforms with a focus on automation, scale and resilience or the same old data centre architecture wrapped up in a glossy wrapper. Underneath all of that lovely marketing is a collection of servers, cables, software, scripts, gaffa tape, engineers and blind faith that exists in every data centre (the big ones tend not to rely on the tape and faith but if you look close enough, you’ll find some). The reality is, it’s a blend of both.

The clouds are like banks, another highly relevant example. Banks are based on trust and when the trust goes, the bank will fail. Your average user cannot see what goes on inside the bank so you can only trust that if you put your money in, you will be able to get it out again. As we have seen recently, if you can’t get your money out when you need it then the trust is gone and you will move your money.

It’s the same with the cloud.

We’ve seen the recent impact on services from the Amazon cloud-based network (with NetFlix, Pinterest and Instagram very public sufferers) and the on-going threats to migrate. I suspect some companies are finding that getting out is significantly harder than getting in (just like banks) but they will all have the same problem. Who can do it better?

It all comes down to the same old question that IT has always struggled with. Do I do it myself or pay someone to do it for me?

If I do it myself I may not be the best, but at least I’ll know where the weaknesses are and I am master of my own destiny. If I let someone else do it, I trust that they have the best people, the best equipment, and the best processes that I could never afford. It’s the IT equivalent of putting your money under the bed or using a bank. Personally I think that this is good for the future of IT. It’s never sensible to get caught up in the hype of an idea without understanding what you are actually getting into. Once you understand that you are just buying a service from someone who does one thing that you need better than you could ever do it, life gets a lot easier. But the important bit about the cloud is the thing that often gets forgotten. The network.

So when considering running part of your critical systems in the cloud, make sure you put it somewhere with the best network…

Posted by Mike King, CTO, BT Expedite

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Trying to deliver a seamless omni-channel customer experience, can put a huge strain on traditional systems and processes. But by integrating things behind the scenes, you start to create a more joined up experience for everyone involved – including customers. And that’s just the beginning of the potential benefits as you streamline processes, improve efficiency and empower sales associates to sell anywhere.

Video PlatformVideo Management Video SolutionsVideo Player

See how a single view of stock and clever back-office integration can mean: more time selling – less admin; more products finding their customers – less discounting; and the ability to respond instantly to changes and trends.

For a taste of how this is working in the real world, check out the award-winning  Aurora Fashions ‘Anywhere, Everywhere’ initiative.

Posted by Mike King, CTO at BT Expedite


RIP for NFC?

Posted by: Kevin Burns  |   Comments  No Response

When the iPhone 5 was released recently, one of the big talking points was the decision not to include near field communication (NFC) capability. So is this a missed opportunity by Apple or a stark assessment of the technology’s prospects?

NFC facilitates contactless payments and data transmissions and it’s been bubbling under for quite a while. But it’s not hit the heights predicted for it just yet, with only 2 per cent of merchants globally equipped with NFC reader terminals.

In the UK its spread relies on retailers investing in new PEDs (PIN entry devices) and implementing/accrediting to the associated standards. As a result, contactless payments have yet to have their day in the sun – despite more and more card issuers now issuing cards with contactless enabled.

The biggest driver in retail at the moment is mobile. There are 1.08 billion smartphones out there, and over 38 per cent of smartphone users have completed a purchase from their device. So the phone is an obvious target for anyone seeking to bring everything – including payments – together in one place.

But in terms of in-store contactless payments, NFC may be the weak link.

 “What came out from NRF,” explains BT Expedite product director Jason Shorrock, “is that NFC is NOT proven as the way to do ‘contactless payment’. In fact, the parties interested in NFC investment are now pushing it for media transfer between devices (you can now share photos, product info etc just by touching) rather than payments. 

“The big debate was whether the e-wallet should be in the cloud (and therefore accessible to all channels) with the method of identification in the store varying between barcode, NFC, finger vein and visual recognition.”

There’s no doubt that NFC could deliver a more enriched in-store experience, but then so could QR codes or geolocation. For retailers, getting to know the consumer (CRM) and targeting them with meaningful data is of greater value at the moment.

 Mobile puts the power of the internet in the palm of your hand, giving consumers the upper hand for product information, price comparison and deals. It enables you to transact anywhere at any time. So it’s more important just now that retailers ensure their website is mobile optimised.

What is clear is that, regardless of how payment is taken, all retailers need to have an in-store strategy for both customer-owned and staff mobile devices. NFC may not be about to come of age, but m-commerce is growing fast.

It’s not RIP for NFC, but more a wait and see…

by Kevin Burns, Head of Payments and PCI, BT Expedite

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OK, let me get a confession out of the way. This blog isn’t very glamorous. It’s not going to set the world on fire in terms of innovation. It’s not going to dazzle you with new, shiny toys. It’s perhaps even the dullest topic I could have chosen to blog about after my recent trip to NRF. But it may also spark a revolution…

With a prime spot at the biggest retail showcase in the world, astoundingly some exhibitors were presenting the mundane and unattractive. In a sea of glamorous assistants, the latest innovations and multi-million pound stands, were these people super-brave or super-crazy?

For those that noticed this trend, you can say: “I was there when the revolution started.” For those who let it slip by unnoticed or didn’t make the trip across the pond, I’m prepared to let you in on the secret. Amongst all the glitz and glamour there was a tribe of at least five or six brave suppliers, big and small, all demonstrating the latest ‘innovations’ in cash management.

I’m not entirely sure if it is being led by the growth of mobile in the store, a need to make the store as efficient as possible or loss prevention improvements but a cash management revolution is coming. Automation is the name of the game – automated cash counter devices are in, in a big way.

What these devices do is take money in (and it can be directly from the customer), automatically count and issue the appropriate change and then perform all your cash management for you – so no cash lifts, no banking, no z or x reads – your new cash management friend will automatically prepare the money ready to be taken direct to the bank. No one in your store will ever have to touch cash again. All those complex processes, all those Loss Prevention worries, all the time it takes your store staff – all taken out of the equation by a machine.

For the retailer it becomes an interesting thought – as you are not touching the money, you could get agreement with your bank that when the money is in the device it’s as good as banked therefore you could start earning interest on it at that point?

That’s not all; these devices also help you with your mobile POS processes. Anyone who has a mobile POS in their store will soon realise that the first time someone wants to pay cash, you have a problem. What do you do with the cash? Do you have to take the customer to the till, bypassing your fancy new iPad in the process? Are you resorting to a bum-bag?

Many of the devices on show could help solve that challenge. When a customer wants to pay cash, you walk them to the cash device, conveniently situated within the store, pay the money in and are given the correct change.

There’s nothing new here; we’ve seen these cash management devices hang around the fringes of the mainstream for some time now but my feel from NRF is that 2013 and the changes enforced by mobile technology mean this could well be their moment.

The downside is that, in the main, these devices are big and deeply unattractive. If you had one in your store you’d be so ashamed of it that you’d want to hide it as far away from customers as possible. It would immediately distract from anything your visual merchandisers could do to make the rest of the store look uber-cool. To be truly adopted, these machines will need a makeover to become slick and sharp, matching the new mobile technology that’s being installed along the high street.

Maybe in a year’s time we’ll look back and laugh at the prospect but devices that take the pain out of potentially the most complex in-store process, eliminate store loss and enhance the Assisted Service capability can only be a good thing.

Thank you for your patience while I got that out of my system. I promise, the next time I blog we’ll be discussing something far more exciting – maybe receipt paper, innovation in scanner technology or the latest PCI policies. I bet you can’t wait.

Posted by Mark Denton, Head of Solution Consulting, BT Expedite

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Melt my wallet down into a belt for Barbie’s boyfriend? Not quite yet! While there may well be an app for my Tesco clubcard, I still need somewhere to keep my train tickets, receipts, vouchers, coupons, loyalty cards, driving license, paper clips. Oh yes, and my cash, debit and credit cards.

A complete replacement for my battered leather friend is still a long way off. I’d guess it’ll be at least five years before there’s a standard mechanism that can replace all my payment types, one that’s as easy to use as current credit cards (ideally easier) and accepted everywhere, from the largest department store to the tiniest market stall.

However, there’s something that’s happening a lot quicker and doesn’t involve me moving stuff from my wallet at all. My trusty PayPal account, that I use to buy obscure things from one man and his cat online retailers, is starting to channel hop.

While the PayPal explosion continues unabated online (18 per cent of all online transactions, 100+ million accounts), until recently it couldn’t be used in-store. That’s starting to change and there’s a few reasons why this makes sense: People feel ‘safe’ using PayPal; The ‘webification of the store’ continues unabated, with Click and Collect, Order in Store etc., so why not start taking the online payment methods into store too? Goods paid for online via PayPal can be returned through the store and refunded back onto the original PayPal account; And PayPal gives  a single view of all receipts online, one less thing to store in my wallet!

Last month across the Aurora brands (Coast, Warehouse, Oasis), BT Expedite were the first POS provider to offer ‘PayPal in Store’ functionality. You can now download the ‘PayPal in Store’ app onto your iOS or Android phone and pay for your sparkly frock in-store without ever touching your wallet (or more likely your purse). And if you’re really lucky you needn’t go anywhere near the tills, as this innovative fashion retailer is starting to replace traditional tills with in-store iPads. For customers, it’s as easy as pushing the ‘Pay’ button in the app, which pops a barcode on the phone screen for the store staff to scan to take payment. Easy as that! No expensive NFC readers in-store. Well, actually the barcode readers to scan the phone aren’t that cheap. Note to retailers replacing in-store barcode scanners –­ make sure they can read from phone screens.

Once a certain percentage of high street stores are enabled (with ‘PayPal in Store’ replacing Facebook’s ‘Like me’ stickers in shop windows) it will start to become very useful. And this could happen sooner than you may think. BT Expedite has made this a standard functionality for retailers adopting new in-store systems. I’d hazard a guess other POS providers are lining up to do the same.

So a push from PayPal and POS providers is a given. A healthy debate between PayPal and the retailers around transaction charges versus value add should then complete the jigsaw. For now the ability to pay via smartphone is through a separate ‘PayPal in Store’ app. If PayPal move this across into their standard smartphone PayPal app then overnight 15 million PayPal smartphone users have the ability to join the channel hopping brigade.

I sit in my rocking chair out on my verandah of an evening imaging a future where traditional tills pumping out smoke at the front of stores have long gone, replaced by satchel-wearing, tablet-enabled store staff wafting up to me in changing rooms the length and breadth of the country offering me the latest and greatest slim fit trousers in any colour from wherever they are in the retail estate, delivered to my door by teatime. And payment for said slim fit trousers happening in the changing room, no tedious queuing with the masses for me.

I want it. I want it soon. And I don’t want to queue. Basic needs that have existed forever, taken for granted online. And now in a store near you.

Posted by Steve Thomas, CTO, BT Expedite

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