In-store Video Analytics Solution for Retailers

by Deepak Sharma on Wednesday, October 03, 2012

This week LightHaus, a provider of Visual Customer Intelligence (VCI) solutions for retail enterprises and chain stores, announced that Foot Locker became their latest customer to deploy LightHaus VCI solution. Foot Locker  will be using the solution to measure customer traffic and sales conversion rates at all of its Champs Sports stores in the U.S. and Canada, as well as its Foot Locker Canada stores.

I reached out to Dr. Mario Palumbo, CTO of LightHaus to get answers to some of my questions on how LightHaus VCI solution fills the unmet industry need with its in-store video analytics solutions for retailers.

What is LightHaus Visual Customer Intelligence (VCI) solution and how does it impact Retailers? Can you provide few scenarios where VCI solution is a great fit?

Mario Palumbo: The LightHaus Visual Customer Intelligence system analyzes video from in-store cameras to measure customer traffic and engagement in retail brick-and-mortar stores. Retailers, like Foot Locker, user data delivered by the LightHaus VCI system to gain new insights into their store performance. For instance, by combing transaction data with customer traffic data into the store and browsing data for specific categories, displays or products, retailers can understand their conversation rate – the percentage of customers that purchase- on an hour by hour, day to day, and week over week basis. By comparing conversion rates over time, and across stores, retailers can identify high performing stores to learn from, and lower performing "opportunity" stores. With in-store shopper insights, retailers can drill down to find out why customers aren't purchasing.

LightHaus VCI is a good fit for any retailer who wants to increase their sales and wants to give their managers better tools to discover the factors driving purchases, and where problems and opportunities exist. LightHaus VCI retailers them understand what their customers are doing in their stores, and learn how to influence their customer's experience to improve sales. For example, in a retailer where service is essential to their customer's experience and ability to purchase, retailers are alerted to the need for more associates by reports comparing conversion rates to their customer to store associate ratio. A strong correlation between low conversion and high customer-to-associate ratio indicates staff are being overwhelmed and customer service and sales are suffering.

Another great fit is with retailers who want to know the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns. Because LightHaus goes beyond traditional traffic counting, which simply counts people entering the store, and goes inside the store to measure where customers go, where they stop and engage, and what they browse, retailers can measure conversion not only by store, but by category and product. With LightHaus VCI, marketers can see the impact of their campaigns not only on store traffic, but also on the number of customers that pass by the promotion and the number that stop to browse the promotion.

Using the VCI solution, can a Retailer predict the footfall and resulting sales for a future timeframe, maybe predict month over month sales increase/decrease and thus take corrective actions.

Dr. Mario Palumbo: With LightHaus VCI retailers can incorporate actual traffic data into their business processes – from workforce scheduling to sales forecasting. Instead of basing planning simply on historical transaction data, they can also use data the show the sales potential.

Also, using VCI on an ongoing basis retailers can establish traffic trends within their stores based on time-of-day, day-of-week, seasonality, and in response to promotional activities. This allows them to optimize their store layouts, merchandising, and staff scheduling to ensure they capitalize on the true sales opportunity

For a small store chain (let’s say less than 20-30 stores nationwide), how does the deployment work? What is the ROI a retailer can expect after deploying VCI?

Dr. Mario Palumbo: There are a couple of aspects to deploying the LightHaus solution. We've found it's important to think about both how the resulting insights will be used, and how the system is deployed.

The first step is establishing the business case. As LightHaus VCI is all about helping retailers increase conversion, we work with the retailer to understand their current conversion rates, the factors driving conversion, and the ways the retailer can influence them. This is where the retailer establishes a target ROI. While we can't share specifics, we can share that retailers are finding the VCI data reveals many "opportunities" and that even a small improvement in conversion rapidly pays for the system, and then adds significant dollars to their bottom line. Just some of the opportunities include matching labor to demand, increasing effectiveness of store layouts, merchandising and marketing, and increasing store staff focus on closing the sale. LightHaus Visual Customer Intelligence System diagram

Now, let's consider the in-store deployment. One of the things that's attractive to retailers, both large and small, is that LightHaus VCI is designed to be easy to deploy. The retailers deploy an IP camera for each area they want to 'SpotLight'- that is capture and analyze video from. In a typical mall format store this would include an Entrance SpotLight, and 2 to 3 In-Store SpotLights in key locations such as end-caps, promotion areas, or service areas. LightHaus works with leading system integrators who are familiar with the retail environment to install the required cameras and the LightHaus VCI appliance - a small form factor network appliance. Then LightHaus service reps remotely configure the system to ensure it is accurately measuring shopper behavior. The LightHaus VCI appliance processes video from each camera, or SpotLight, and sends the resulting data to the LightHaus VCI hosted server. No video ever leaves the store - only low bandwidth numerical customer intelligence data is sent to the hosted server, where a web-based data mining application allows the retailer to view and mine the data in near real-time from any standard web browser. Installing a typical store takes less than an hour.

How easy is it to integrate VCI with other LOB applications that a Retailer may be using?

Dr. Mario Palumbo: LightHaus is designed to allow retailers to easily access the customer intelligence data from other retail systems such as business intelligence systems and WFM through a simple and comprehensive Web Services API. Also to meet customer requests, we support standard CSV file import.

Finally, India Backs Foreign Investment in Retail Sector

by Deepak Sharma on Friday, September 14, 2012

In a big move, the Indian government on Friday cleared the proposal to allow up to 51% Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail. The government has allowed the FDI on the condition that states will be allowed to decide whether they want to opt for it.

In another big move, Indian government also permitted FDI, up to 100%, in single brand product retail trading, subject to specified conditions primary one being for FDI proposals beyond 51% in single brand retail, 30% sourcing from 'Small Industries' has been made mandatory.

India Backs Foreign Investment in Retail Sector

After years of intense debate, India’s government agreed on Friday to open the country’s retail sector to global behemoths like Wal-Mart and Ikea, pushing for a profound shift in India’s economic and political direction.

India is still mostly a nation of small shopkeepers and farmers, and its economy is heavily controlled by the government, a legacy from decades of socialist policies. But a sharp slowdown in economic growth and a sense of impending political collapse prompted the government to finally act on long-pending proposals to loosen market restrictions in hopes of luring more foreign investment and expertise.

“The time for big-bang reforms has come,” the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, said, “and if we go down, we will go down fighting.”

Retail Roundup, Aug 6, 2012

by Deepak Sharma on Monday, August 06, 2012

Big Data Analytics

Brick and Mortar sores have lagged their online counterparts in understanding what the visitors to these stores are doing. Now thanks to companies like RetailNext, brick-and-mortar retailers can take advantage of the Big Data revolution to measure and improve stores just like the e-commerce sites do.

Retail BI Analytics

Boston-area based pizza chain Papa Gino's has turned to IBM business analytics software to help better meet customer expectations for on-time, anywhere pizza deliveries in 30 minutes or less -- with food ordering capabilities now available through a new iPhone application. Analytics has given Papa Gino's increased visibility into the performance of its online customer loyalty campaign, which has recently boasted a 50 percent increase in the total of an average order.


Retailers are not above using creative gimmicks and technology to score extra points this back to school season The signs are up for back to school- and retailers are trying out some new lesson plans. The National Retail Federation expects parents with kids in Kindergarten through 12th grade will spend an average $688 dollars - up 14% from last year.

Workforce Management

Foot Locker has recently rolled out RedPrairie’s Enterprise Workforce Management (EWFM) at 2,700 retail stores throughout North America. The show and sports apparel company decided to partner with RedPrairie, a global supply chain and retail technology provider, in order to enable store associates to offer exceptional interactive customer service. Foot Locker’s implementation of RedPrairie EWFM will allow for the holistic management of its workforce through integrated applications that address time and attendance, forecasting, scheduling, labor standards, and execution management.

Store Experience

JCPenney’s plans to completely change the checkout experience at stores. Using advanced Wi-Fi networks, mobile checkout, RFID (radio-frequency identification) tracking systems for goods, and all sorts of self-checkout possibilities, JCPenney will get rid of cashiers, cash registers, and checkout counters, the staples near the exits of virtually every store, as soon as 2014.

JC Penney tweaks pricing strategy again

by Deepak Sharma on Friday, July 27, 2012

JC Penney tweaks pricing strategy again

J.C. Penney is changing its pricing - again.

Just six months after the mid-priced department store chain got rid of the hundreds of sales it offered each year in favor of everyday lower pricing, it is reversing course.

Penney on Feb. 1 began using a three-tier pricing approach that called for consistently lower daily prices, month-long sales and periodic discounts on merchandise throughout the year. But starting Aug. 1, Penney will eliminate one of the monthly sales and bring back the word "clearance." Penney also plans to tweak its advertising to better communicate the pricing plan to customers.

Retail Roundup, July 21, 2012

by Deepak Sharma on Saturday, July 21, 2012

Retail Partnerships

The luxury retail chain Neiman Marcus has partnered with discounter Target to  offer a limited collection of items from 24 American designers ranging from fashion houses including Diane Von Furstenberg, Derek Lam, Rodarte and Tory Burch and which will retail at $7.99 to $499.99 and average $60. Wharton marketing professors analyzes the deal in detail.

QR Codes

A new eMarketer report, “QR Codes: Marketers Keep Hitting 'Go,' but Consumer Adoption Still Slow” shows that QR Codes have not fulfilled their promise and connected with large audiences. The explosive growth of smartphone users in the US means that there will continue to be new consumers who try scanning a barcode at least once, “but ‘one and done’ users do not create a mass audience.”

Advanced Workforce Management

In a world where showrooming threatens the future of stores, retailers have a renewed sense of urgency to increase customer service and deliver a better shopping experience. The best way to achieve this is by incorporating data sources that measure customer satisfaction in optimization recommendations and KPIs used in BI dashboards. A new study by RISNews shows that retailers are taking an increasingly customer-centric approach to workforce management (WFM) tools in the battle to win the showrooming war.

Digital Shopper Relevancy

In a new report, titled “Digital Shopper Relevancy,” Capgemini surveyed 16,000 digital shoppers across 16 developing and mature markets about their use of different channels and devices for shopping. The study demonstrated that shoppers are not loyal to one channel but expect a seamless integration across online, social media, mobile and physical stores.

60% of respondents declared they expect the convergence of retail channels to be the norm by 2014. However, achieving this will be a challenge, as more than half of shoppers said that most retailers currently are not consistent in the way they present themselves across channels.

Retail Roundup, July 17 2012

by Deepak Sharma on Tuesday, July 17, 2012

PSFK Future of Retail

The PSFK Future of Retail Report is out which captures and contextualizes early stages of a seismic shift that is changing the face of the retail landscape. Big box retailers like Best Buy and Walmart are beginning to feel the heat as sales decline in the face of stiffer competition from e-commerce giants like Amazon. ‘Showrooming’ is the new reality. Shoppers are more educated than ever before and the ability to check prices on the fly has resulted in increased commoditization and a rethinking of how brands and retailers go about providing a differentiated offering. The pressures that companies like Amazon and are exerting on the marketplace have forced traditional retailers to contemplate a multi-channel approach to online, mobile, and bricks-and-mortar sales. A hallmark of this changing retail environment is the savvier shopper who takes advantage of technology, is prepared to offer their personal data for a better experience, and has come to expect contextually relevant recommendations. They are actively engaged, want a say in what products get made, will evangelize offerings to get a better price for themselves and their friends, and want to be rewarded for sharing their knowledge and expertise.

Big Data

Great examples of how Big Data implementations are being used by Savvy retailers for collecting and analyzing unstructured data types like the web logs that show the movements of every customer though an internet storefront and then applying the same principles for offline customers in stores as well.

Data Deluge

Oracle announced the results of its “From Overload to Impact: An Industry Scorecard on Big Data Business Challenges” report, which surveyed 333 U.S. and Canadian C-level executives from retail and 10 other industries to determine the pain points they face regarding managing the deluge of data coming into their organizations and how well they are using that information to drive profit and growth. These 94% of C-level executives say their organization is collecting and managing more business information today than two years ago, by an average of 86% more but 29% of executives give their organization a “D” or “F” in preparedness to manage the data deluge. 93% of executives believe their organization is losing revenue –  10% annually, and, on average, $50.5 million per year  – as a result of not being able to fully leverage the information they collect.

Mobile Point-of-Sale Adoption

23% of retailers had already deployed mobile point-of-sale or point-of-payment technology. And even more retailers were gearing up for such a program: More than one in 10 were in the midst of a pilot or trial program, and one-quarter of respondents planned to implement a mobile POS or POP program within a year.

Retail Weekly Roundup (1-July-2012)

by Deepak Sharma on Saturday, June 30, 2012

2012 Future of Food Retailing Report (Needs registration)

With the U.S. economy experiencing slow growth, persistent unemployment, and stagnant household incomes, consumers are moving toward extremes. Cost-conscious shoppers continue to seek extreme value and acceptable quality or better at low prices. Other shoppers less affected by the downturn have returned to upper-tier food retailers. Retailers who cater to the middle are finding their positions more challenging to maintain.  With the most recent bout of food inflation seeming to moderate, the pressure on their sales and profits is likely to continue.

This year’s edition of The Future of Food Retailing Report highlights market share figures for grocery and consumables by store format, illustrates which formats are thriving and look to continue growth in today’s challenging economy, and forecasts how these key formats will perform over the next five years, i.e., by 2016.

PODCAST: John Orr, Trends in Human Capital Management for Retailers

On this two-part podcast, we talked about trends in human capital management and what retailers need as it relates to human capital management.

On part one of the podcast, we focused on compliance among labor laws and visibility of the business. On part two, we addressed the need for speed as a big trend in retailer human capital management.

Retailers are under attack from many angles. There is scarce talent, they’re in a high turnover industry, they’re being legislated left and right, whether it’s gift card legislation in NJ, or California labor laws and class-action lawsuits. We discussed the challenges retailers face navigating through this landscape.

Concerning the challenge of visibility, more and more retailers are expressing the need for better visibility at the store level and above store. Legacy applications, however, have fallen very short in giving retailers access to the information they need. Most retailers are fraught with manual processes, inefficiencies and spreadsheets. The reporting from these systems is not timely enough for the executives to be proactive and make the decisions they need to do on a day-to-day basis. Retailers need solutions that provide intuitive real-time information, and should not be held hostage to legacy systems and interfaces and processes.

How deep are your pockets?

The internet, by allowing anonymous browsing and rapid price-comparing, was supposed to mean low, and equal, prices for all. Now, however, online retailers are being offered software that helps them detect shoppers who can afford to pay more or are in a hurry to buy, so as to present pricier options to them or simply charge more for the same stuff.

Technology Grows in Importance for Retailers, New CompTIA Research Study Reveals

Seventy-two percent of retailers surveyed rate technology as important to their business, CompTIA’s Retail Sector Technology Adoption Trends Study reveals. That figure is projected to increase to 83 percent by 2014.

A net 63 percent of retailers expect to increase IT spending in 2012 with the remaining 37 percent planning to cut back or hold the line. Large retailers expect to boost IT spending the most – 4.8 percent, on average. For all firms, the planned average increase is 4.2 percent.

Competing With Amazon on Amazon

Thousands of small merchants depend on Inc. to reach customers who otherwise wouldn't know they exist. A few of them complain, though, that Amazon sometimes eats their lunch.

According to some small retailers, the Seattle-based giant appears to be increasingly using its Marketplace—where third-party retailers sell their wares on the site—as a vast laboratory to spot new products to sell, test sales of potential new goods, and exert more control over pricing.

Retail Weekly Roundup (23-June-2012)

by Deepak Sharma on Saturday, June 23, 2012

Retailers using pent-up cash; 58% plan to increase capital spending, with IT No. 1 priority

While waiting for the recovery to take the hold, 58% plan to increase capital spending over the next year. The highest priority investment area is information technology – including data analytics and digital marketing channels – cited by 51% of the executives in the KPMG survey. Other significant areas of investment for retailers are new products or services (43%), geographic expansion (33%), and advertising and marketing (24%).

When asked about digital marketing channels, retail executives in the 2012 KPMG retail survey indicate that online shopping (59%), social media platforms (58%), and email campaigns (49%) are having the most significant impact on their businesses. Additionally, executive indicate that the incorporation of mobile technology is also having a significant impact, specifically mobile shopping (36%), mobile promotions (28%), and mobile payments (21%).

Executives also say that the use of data analytics is playing a larger role in their strategic decision making – including areas such as customer insight, brand and product management, pricing decisions and market expansion.

Why Loyalty Programs Can Be Bad for Business

In my work with companies on pricing strategies, it's common for executives to feel compelled to offer loyal customers something for free. My immediate question is: "Why?" Giving something away for free as a gesture of thanks has become almost reflexive in business. But when you examine the strategic value and underlying costs of these programs, I've found that loyalty discounts are rarely necessary to close a deal, nor are they always highly valued by customers.

Why Sephora Is Betting Big on Digital Shopping

Sephora is one of the brands that’s leading the way in shaping digital experiences for its customers. The company recently invested in an entirely new shopping experience that integrates mobile, social and in-store activity. On this episode of Revolution, Julie Bornstein, SVP Digital at Sephora, shares with us the importance of delivering a holistic digital and “IRL” experience, while also enhancing the individual path each customer takes to engage with the brand and their favorite products.

Brazilian fashion retailer displays Facebook ‘likes’ for items in its real-world stores


Through its new “Fashion Like” initiative, C&A has posted photos of a number of the clothing items it sells on a dedicated Facebook page, where it invites customers to “like” the ones that appeal to them. Special hooks on the racks in its bricks-and-mortar store, meanwhile, can then display those votes in real time, giving in-store shoppers a clear indication of each item’s online popularity. The video below (in Portuguese) outlines the premise in more detail:

Home Depot Rolls Out New Mobile Devices for Workers

Home Depot has started to roll out a scaled down, second generation mobile device for its sales associates, allowing more workers to use wireless technology to assist customers, CIO Matt Carey told CIO Journal. The 25,000 device roll-out is intended to make it possible for more store workers to help customers locate items and give information on products, even in areas for which they don’t have specialized expertise. It’s also an example of how Home Depot is attempting to use technology to increase the amount customers spend on each trip to the store, as well as sales to new customers, an area of focus as the chain has slowed the opening of new stores.

The device, called First Phone Junior, is a scaled-down version of the Motorola phone the company put in the hands of some associates two years ago, which allowed employees to better manage inventory, assist customers and speed checkout lines.

Overstored: How Retailers Can Retain a Profitable Physical Store Network in the Face of Growing Migration to Digital Channels

While the long-predicted demise of the bricks-and-mortar store has been greatly exaggerated, there is no doubt that customers are migrating to digital channels in growing numbers. Accenture looks at the issues, and identifies three steps that retailers can take to rethink the way they attract, serve and retain customers, then allocate capital and resources accordingly.

IBM Survey Reveals Marketers Face Tech Dilemma in Reaching the Connected Consumer

IBM's new survey of the marketing industry finds that chief marketing officers (CMO) and chief information officers (CIO) must join forces in order to connect with today's consumer across new channels including mobile devices and social networks. Fully 60 percent of marketers point to their lack of alignment with the company's IT department as the biggest obstacle to reaching today's consumers.

Retail Weekly Roundup

by Deepak Sharma on Saturday, June 16, 2012

Here’s what I am reading right now.

Retailers feast on free Facebook tools, shun ads

Krishan Agarwal, president of online luxury watch vendor, told a roomful of attentive Internet retailers last week how Facebook had helped his company generate about 25 percent more sales in two years.

Then he dropped a bombshell: Melrose spent less than $1,500 on Facebook ads during that time. Everything else the company did with Facebook was free.

Minimum Presentation Reduction: Inventory Optimization in the Retail Sector

Minimum Presentation Reduction is an inventory optimization technique that allows retailers to realize substantial reduction in the presentation quantities of SKUs by optimizing the Planogram Quantity per Facing (PQPFs) defined for them in their associated planograms. With this inventory optimization technique, retailers can reduce inventory costs and increase margins and total sales.

Walmart, Procter & Gamble drive mobile shopping with QR codes

Walmart and Procter & Gamble are placing QR codes on bus shelters and trucks to encourage on-the-go consumers to scan and instantly buy products from brands such as Tide, Pampers and Gillette.

Shopper Sentiment: How Consumers Feel About Shopping In-Store, Online, and via Mobile

Which do US consumers prefer: In-store, online, or mobile purchases? Among U.S. consumers surveyed by Nielsen earlier this year, the answer is a resounding, “that depends…”

Online purchasing was rated the “Overall favorite” by 59 percent of those surveyed, as well as the “Easiest” (68%) and “Most convenient” (68%). But people trust traditional stores the most when making purchases: Bricks-and-mortar stores won the highest marks for “Most reliable” (69%) and “Safest” (77%).

As the newest channel, Mobile has a long way to go before it gains broad acceptance. It was in third place across all measures except for two: It was a distant second to Online for “Most convenient” (38%) and “Easiest (27%).

A Closer Look at Mobile Enablement in Retail

The retailers that are really driving these initiatives forward have made mobility a strategic initiative to drive customer engagement. They are looking to mobility to enable new business processes across the organization, from engaging the customer, to empowering associates, to enabling management to be more responsive to business and customer needs.

JCPenney says NO to “No Sales” Promise

by Deepak Sharma on Saturday, June 09, 2012

Look at the bright side, it took all of one quarter for JCPenney to revert back.

Penney tries to clarify message on pricing change

J.C. Penney Co Inc is bringing back the word "sale" in its advertising in hopes of stemming a sharp slide in business.

The department store operator has been trying to wean shoppers off the long-used hundreds of sales events and coupons -- as part of a strategic overhaul by Chief Executive Ron Johnson. The chain blames the way it has communicated the strategy for contributing to a steep drop in sales in the first quarter.

Johnson said he recognized that shoppers did not understand the advertising of the new pricing model.

"It's just been kind of confusing," he said Tuesday at a Piper Jaffray investor conference in New York that was also webcast.

The new strategy includes some items on sale for an entire month rather than the shorter-term sales events of past.

But the retailer has avoided using the word "sale," instead calling the events "month-long values." That didn't work.

Apple turns over its inventory once every five days

by Deepak Sharma on Monday, June 04, 2012

Wow! Apple Turns Over Its Inventory Once Every 5 *Days*

Apple turns over its inventory once every five days.

That's part of why a new report from the technology research firm, Gartner, ranked Apple's supply chain the best in the world. And it's pretty amazing when you think about it. This is a company that sells hundreds of millions of hardware gadgets all over the world and yet it doesn't actually need to stockpile its goods.

The only company on Gartner's list of 25 companies that turns over its product faster is McDonald's, which is not exactly in the electronics business. Dell and Samsung rank two and three in Apple's category, turning over their inventory roughly once every 10 and 21 days respectively.

We calculated these times from the report's "Inventory Turn" metric, which estimates the number of times a company's inventory is sold in a given time period. Apple's number is 74, according to Gartner (or 76, according to Forbes). From there, it's a common practice to divide by 365 to "estimate the number of days [of] sales sitting in inventory."

Fascinatingly, if you read about that inventory turn metric, you will find things like this: "Although results vary by industry, typical manufacturing companies may have 6-8 inventory turns per year. High volume/low margin companies (like grocery stores) may have 12 or more inventory turns per year or more."

So a typical company in manufacturing might do 8 inventory turns. Samsung does 17. Dell, which practically invented hardcore electronics supply chain management, does 36. Apple is doing 74!

Some Retail Email Marketing Stats

by Deepak Sharma on Sunday, March 11, 2012

Wall Street Journal quotes research by marketing-technology company Responsys Inc on the Emails being sent by Retailers. Some great facts in there:

  1. In 2011, the nation's top 100 retailers by e-commerce revenue sent recipients an average of 177 emails apiece, up 87% from 2007
  2. Neiman Marcus Group Inc. sent each recipient more than 500 emails apiece in 2011 which is 30% more than what they sent in 2007.
  3. The rates at which recipients open retail emails and click on links have declined, in the first six months of 2007, consumers opened 19% of the retail emails they received and clicked through to the website 3.9% of the time. By the first half of 2011, those numbers shrank to 12.5% and 2.8%, respectively.
  4. Sending fewer emails have paid off for some retailers, Nicole Miller has seen the rate at which customers "unsubscribe"—or request to stop receiving emails—drop, and the percentage of recipients who open the emails has grown from 15% to 40%, according to Andrea Marron, director of digital strategy at the company. Meanwhile, the percentage of online sales that began with an email has grown to 17% from 10%.
  5. Loyalty program members tend to open more emails then general subscribers. Members of the rewards program typically open more than 30% of the Gamestop emails they get, compared with less than 10% for general subscribers.
  6. Read more: Stores Smarten Up Amid Spam Flood

2 second rule does not apply anymore

by Deepak Sharma on Sunday, March 04, 2012

Gone are the days when online shoppers would wait for 2 seconds for your website to load, now they will switch at the blink of an eye.

For Impatient Web Users, an Eye Blink Is Just Too Long to Wait

People will visit a Web site less often if it is slower than a close competitor by more than 250 milliseconds (a millisecond is a thousandth of a second).

“Two hundred fifty milliseconds, either slower or faster, is close to the magic number now for competitive advantage on the Web,” said Harry Shum, a computer scientist and speed specialist at Microsoft.

The performance of Web sites varies, and so do user expectations. A person will be more patient waiting for a video clip to load than for a search result. And Web sites constantly face trade-offs between visual richness and snappy response times. As entertainment and news sites, like The New York Times Web site, offer more video clips and interactive graphics, that can slow things down.

But speed matters in every context, research shows. Four out of five online users will click away if a video stalls while loading.

Sears Plans to Sell Stores

by Deepak Sharma on Friday, February 24, 2012

Sears is planning to sell stores to raise around $800 million this year but the problem lies in the fact, they will be forced to part ways with their most profitable stores. Tough times ahead.

In a Gamble for Cash, Sears Plans to Sell Stores

Sears Holdings moved on Thursday to allay fears that it could run low on cash this year, announcing plans to sell stores in transactions that the company says could raise nearly $800 million.

But the deals also highlight the major challenges that Sears faces as it tries to stop a multiyear slump in its operations, analysts said.

Sears may be giving up its most profitable stores in exchange for a quick cash infusion today. In one of the transactions, Sears also expects current shareholders to foot the bill, potentially leaving them more exposed to the troubled retailer.

Starbucks enters India with a 50:50 JV with Tata group

by Deepak Sharma on Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Starbucks is set to enter India with its 50:50 joint venture with Tata Global Beverages, a part of Indian conglomerate Tata Group. The plan is to open outlets in New Delhi and Mumbai by as early as August/September timeframe. It will be interesting to see how this JV fares in a country where Tea (or chai as Indians call it) rules supreme.

Tata Global Beverages and Starbucks Form Joint Venture to Open Starbucks Cafés across India

Tata Global Beverages Limited and Starbucks Coffee Company (Nasdaq: SBUX) today announced a joint venture between the iconic international coffee brand and the 2nd largest branded tea company in the world. The 50/50 joint venture, named TATA Starbucks Limited, will own and operate Starbucks cafés which will be branded as Starbucks Coffee “A Tata Alliance.”

The retail stores will be developed in cities across the country, beginning with stores in Delhi and Mumbai in calendar 2012.

In a separate sourcing and roasting agreement between Starbucks Coffee Company and Tata Coffee Limited, Tata Coffee Limited will roast coffee to supply TATA Starbucks Limited, and to export to Starbucks Coffee Company. This agreement paves the way for consumers in India to enjoy the premium Starbucks Experience, while further discovering the unique taste of high-quality Indian arabica coffee worldwide. TATA Starbucks Limited brings together two companies with a rich heritage in and passion for coffee, tea and innovative beverages. Together, the JV will enable an expanded range of beverage offerings for Indian consumers. As an example, the companies have agreed to jointly leverage assets and innovation to offer a premium tea product branded Tata Tazo.

“The joint venture with Starbucks is in line with Tata Global Beverages’ strategy of growing through strategic alliances in addition to organic and inorganic growth,” stated Mr. R K Krishnakumar, Vice Chairman, Tata Global Beverages. “It opens up exciting business opportunities and new formats for Tata Global Beverages. Starbucks brings unique retail expertise as well as a shared sense of business values. We are excited about the opportunities the alliance presents to innovate in the retail space and bring new beverage experiences to more consumers in India, leveraging the global in-home expertise of Tata Global Beverages and the global out-of-home expertise of Starbucks.”

“We’re very pleased to have found the best partner for Starbucks in Tata – a company that shares so many of the same values for conducting business in a way that earns the trust and respect of our customers and partners (employees),” said John Culver, president, Starbucks China and Asia Pacific. “We look forward to bringing the Starbucks Experience to customers in India by offering high quality arabica coffee, handcrafted beverages, locally relevant food, and legendary service.”

What JCPenney needs?

by Deepak Sharma on Sunday, January 29, 2012

There was a lot of song and dance by Ron Johnson, the new CEO of JCPenney and his crew in New York announcing the new JC Penney or JCpenney as it would be called now. Read “The 6 Ways Ron Johnson Plans To Transform JC Penney Into 'America's Favorite Store” to get a dope on what was discussed. This has generated a lot of good discussion on what Ron should do. Some of the views below:

Sucharita Mulpuru, a Forrester Analyst has the following advice for JCPenney.

So, is there anything JCPenney could do to turn around its fortunes? Sure, it could try closing down underperforming or “brand wrong” stores, it could acquire a growing, hot retailer like Francesca’s Collection, or it could spin off its new deal with Martha Stewart into smaller, Martha-branded stores. Notice that all these options are addressing the real estate albatross, which requires either unloading bad real estate or investing in new locations. It’s unclear whether the company has the appetite or resources to do either. I always thought Ron Johnson was a curious choice for JCPenney. He’s a visionary leader with a track record of success generating growth by building new stores. Target was underpenetrated in the US when he was there, and the Apple Stores didn’t exist before he launched them. He’s not a turnaround expert who has experience with tired real estate locations located in B and C quality malls. I’m reminded of an old quote from Warren Buffett: When a management team with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for bad economics, it is the reputation of the business that remains intact.

Forbes cites discussion on this move by JCPenney.

“‘Radical’ is hardly the word I’d choose to describe JCP’s plan to step back from constant price discounting,” wrote James Tenser, principal, VSN Strategies. “Even ‘innovative’ would be a stretch. If it tries to stake out a ‘we’re the cheapest’ position in the apparel/home goods market under Mr. Johnson, I think JCPenney will not fare too well. But if it uses its pricing to reinforce an image of consistently good deals on consistently good quality goods, it can win and keep some fans.”

David Slavick, a retail consultant who formerly headed up Sears Holdings’ loyalty marketing, sees potential in moving to EDLP if coupled with a frequent shopper program that rewards the chain’s best customers.

“JCP is the most aggressive coupon retailer next to Bed Bath & Beyond. Every day, the store is on sale with 20% off coupons, incremental savings for credit cardholders and ‘private’ savings events,” wrote Mr. Slavick on RetailWire. “I don’t see how EDLP will change the dynamic and help them move more apparel or make the store a more compelling place to shop than Kohl’s or Macy’s.

“Buying St. John’s Bay or other private label clothing at JCP with a strong price/value relationship is what causes me to shop the store — plus incremental savings with deep discounts exclusive to me through my credit relationship. The JCP Points program is a bore. What you get for what you spend is not compelling. Personalized benefits for best customers is what ‘should’ be next. Time will tell.”

Gene Hoffman, former president of Kroger and former president of Supervalu, quipped that Penney will be weathering the marketplace now with a “good but leaky unbrella.”

“The ‘best’ is the enemy of ‘good’ … and the best EDLP model already exists. Give me some energized excitement, JCP!” he wrote.

My 2 cents for JCPenney:

1. Think Local – Support locally owned businesses, this will give you a visibility of building local communities while on the same hand give you a differentiator over your national competitors.

2. Exclusive Brands – Look around, spend some time understanding what adults and kids are buying and make that exclusive to JCPenney.

3. Transform internally – This will be the key with all the changes being planned and the rate of transformation will have to be much faster than educating buyers of the transformation.

Microsoft's vision for intelligent systems in retail

by Deepak Sharma

In the recently concluded 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and National Retail Federation conference in New York, Microsoft demonstrated their vision for Smartstore. The demo included a socially enabled virtual dressing room application called Swivel by FaceCake which is powered by Kinect device. Swivel used Kinect camera to custom fit selected items for the person trying on and overlay them on their body. The demo also includes applications by other partners and shows great use of Microsoft Surface, Windows 7 based tablets and Windows Phone. Here’s a video.

Silicon Valley startup eliminates paper receipts and helps retailers increase customer loyalty

by Deepak Sharma on Monday, January 16, 2012

Proximiant, a provider of tap and go digital receipts, launched today, introducing a private and secure way for retailers and shoppers to track purchases and earn loyalty rewards, cash rebates and coupons without paper receipts, time-consuming signup requirements or membership cards.

Retailers of any size are now able to provide customers immediate access to a variety of programs using a phone-sized USB interface transceiver from Proximiant. The free transceiver easily plugs into a store’s computerized point-of-sale system (POS) and launches within two minutes.

The transceiver’s built-in technology allows it to communicate directly with mobile phones having a Near Field Communication (NFC) chip. When consumers shop at participating stores, they can tap their NFC-enabled phones on the transceiver devices to directly collect a digital copy of their receipt and loyalty rewards.

Much attention in the NFC space has been on mobile payment applications. Proximiant focuses on enhancing the shopping experience by providing itemized receipts for easy tracking of purchases, loyalty programs and coupons, regardless how they pay.

Until the NFC-enabled phones are widely available, Proximiant is offering a bridge solution via a small tag that can be carried in a wallet or put on a key chain to allow shoppers the same tap-and-go capability.

Customers also serve to benefit from this technology through the secure “Digital Receipts” mobile app, which records all their purchases at the time of sale, so they can manage their personal spending, collect loyalty points, cash back as well as the convenience of not having to carry around paper receipts. In addition, they won’t need to provide stores with any personal information, thereby safeguarding their privacy. All loyalty points and offers can be directly redeemed at participating stores using their mobile phones.

Other benefits for consumers include:

  • Rewards, refunds and exchanges without a special loyalty card or paper receipt since images with necessary data and bar codes show up on their app.
  • Ability to quickly access old receipts by inputting the store name or product keywords.
  • Receipts that remain completely private and secure.
  • Access to Proximiant’s Web interface for receipts on their computer when they register their Poximiant account.
  • Help the environment go green by no longer using paper receipts.

“The product is a win-win for both retailers and consumers,” said Proximiant co-founder and CEO Fang Cheng. “Proximiant is the most efficient and secure way for retailers to extend their existing point of sale to an array of mobile loyalty and marketing programs without any IT overhead or customer signup process. For consumers, it makes shopping much more enjoyable and less of a hassle. The device saves companies an overhead investment and it saves customers from the time-consuming and expensive signup process.”

Cheng and co-founders Edwin Evans and Thomas Ahn, both Vice Presidents of Engineering, gave Proximiant its name to transmit the message that merchants and customers are now in much closer proximity to one another.

To date, Proximiant has signed up a dozen stores in the San Francisco area and expects the number to increase as it rolls out more trials later this month and throughout December.

“We’ve gone with a small trial launch to ensure everything is running smoothly,” Cheng said. “We expect to have about 50 retailers by year’s end, mostly in the Bay area. By spring of 2012, we envision the device being in multiple metropolitan areas.”

Consumers can download the “Digital Receipts” app in the Apple iTunes Store or Android Market. Here’s a brief video of how Proximiant works.

Big Data and Retailers

by Deepak Sharma

Over the last few months, there has been a lot of coverage on how Retailers are using Big Data. Wal-mart with its recent acquisition of Kosmix is one Retailer which  is in the forefront of this wave. Here is a collection of articles which discusses how Wal-mart is using Big Data.

How Walmart plans to use Big Data

Kosmix stands out for its ability to search and analyze connections in real-time data streams to deliver highly personalized insights to users. The platform powers TweetBeat, a real-time social media filter for live events. By using this intelligence, Kosmix is building a giant knowledge base called the‘Social Genome.’ This giant knowledge base captures information and relationships about entities such as people, events, topics, products, locations and organizations.

By analyzing their social media activity, Social Genome can make recommendations about products, events or any other activity that the user is interested in. For example, by using publically available social media data, the Walmart product store can suggest product recommendations, based on recent tweets or Facebook wall posts.

While the idea sounds great, doing this in reality is a huge problem — especially since there are thousands of data pieces flowing in a torrent from live data sources such as tweets, Facebook posts and blogs. The data flow was so fast that Kosmix could not rely on the traditional Map-Reduce or Hadoop framework that is typically used to solve Big Data problems.

“Social Media data is the fastest growing source of Big Data today. In addition to being Big Data, social media data such as Twitter also has a real-time nature — it’s not just Big Data, but also Fast Data. With mobile devices, location data is now a new source of both Big and Fast data,” explains Rajaraman, on the technical challenges faced by his firm while building the platform.

To address this Big Data and Fast Data problem, Kosmix developed its own in-house solution called Muppet, which processes streaming fast data in a lightening fashion, over large clusters of machines. Today, Muppet can manage and track data streams with billions of updates a day.

Getting a Handle on Big Data with Hadoop

Wal-Mart Stores, struggling to translate its brick-and-mortar success to the Web, is using free software named after a stuffed elephant to help it gain an edge on in the $165.4 billion U.S. e-commerce market.

As customers flock to social media, Wal-Mart expects sites such as Facebook and Twitter to play a bigger role in online shopping. By analyzing what social network users say about products on those sites, the world’s largest retailer aims to glean insights into what consumers want.

With its online sales less than a fifth of Amazon’s last year, Wal-Mart executives have turned to software called Hadoop that helps businesses quickly and cheaply sift through terabytes or even petabytes of Twitter posts, Facebook updates, and other so-called unstructured data. Hadoop, which is customizable and available free online, was created to analyze raw information better than traditional databases like those from Oracle.

“When the amount of data in the world increases at an exponential rate, analyzing that data and producing intelligence from it becomes very important,” says Anand Rajaraman, senior vice-president of global e-commerce at Wal-Mart and head of @WalmartLabs, the retailer’s division charged with improving its use of the Web.

Big data and the disruption curve

Big data projects are aimed at revenue growth, many efforts are being funded by business units and not the IT department and money is increasingly being diverted from large enterprise vendors.

Nordstrom sees more e-commerce, mobile commerce in its future

by Deepak Sharma on Saturday, January 14, 2012

Nordstrom sees more e-commerce, mobile commerce in its future

The Internet is Nordstrom's fastest-growing channel and, with $1.5 billion in cash on hand, it's spending heavily to support that growth, meaning more jobs at its Seattle headquarters.

The 111-year-old company is working on new mobile shopping options and personalization features, so that visitors to its website might soon receive recommendations based on their online and in-store buying habits.

It's also testing a local same-day delivery service for a possible broader rollout, and it's expanding its merchandise assortment online to give customers more selection. "If you're listening to customers, they're telling you that their expectations around how they want to shop are evolving," Jamie Nordstrom, who oversees the company's website as president of its direct division, said in a recent interview at his corporate offices.

"Many customers today don't have several hours to shop like maybe previous generations did," he said. "They're looking to be efficient, and they're looking for help."