Connected Retail – Customer Centricity Meets Store

If large-scale investor Warren Buffet no longer believes in the stationary trade, then this is really spectacular. How else can we call it, when his holding company “Berkshire Hathaway” sells Walmart shares amounting to 900 million US-Dollars and instead prefers to invest in Airlines? The industrial portal Business Insider even asks, whether this would be a death knell for the entire industry.

PCs, laptops, smart phones, tablets, wearables: Whether for shopping, getting adviced or simply browsing, their options are limitless. Sophisticated product presentations and descriptions, chat bots and live chats replace more and more the seller in the stationary trade. Increasingly free and faster deliveries save time and favour the nerves. In addition, Big Data does not only help to personalize the online shop and find merchandise faster but even provides precise suggestions for something that you didn’t know you were searching for it. The online shop wins the set, one might assume.

However, for some time also an opposite trend can be observed: Going for shopping in the local store has gained again a certain importance to the customer. This, of course, only applies if they can expect an added value. For consumers it is no longer a matter of “Either / Or”. They want both – online shopping as well as shopping in the stationary trade, preferably connected in an intelligent way. This brings the stationary trade back into the game.

In doing so, the famous “Seamless Customer Journey” is, however, still not yet achieved even if the sellers in the store are equipped with tablets, or digital consulting terminals are set up to ensure the extension to the online shop. Options such as beacon installations in the shop, tracking of mobile devices or voice services such as Amazon Alexa enable to pick up the end customer where he most recently did start, pause or finish his/her journey – to wit online.

Via the intelligent evaluation of data, dealers can also finally solve another decisive disadvantage: Up to now, a retailer did not know very much about his/her customers, except for maybe the particularly good ones. Neither did he/she know what the interest of the customer was before, after or during the store visit, or whether he/she compared prices of competitors in parallel with the visit to the store. The holistic collection and recording of behaviour patterns, preferences and needs of customers in the store and in the online shop makes it possible to practically summarize this information to create a personal profile and return it to the customer in the form of real added value.

The prerequisite for this is asking the right questions. The information on the hair colour is of less importance for the multi-media store than the music taste of the customer. Not all data are relevant – all the more important is the right data strategy. In doing so, not only shop owners have the possibility to adapt themselves to the visitors, but also the stationary furniture dealer, the Hifi shop or the supermarkets down the road.

The collected data can already be read in real time and be converted into an interaction at the POS. However, all too often there is a lack of an intelligent data strategy and it fails due to outdated structures, which now need to be broken. If you then also bear in mind that in the future the shopping experience at the point of sale as well as the efficiency of a perfect advice can be raised to a whole new level thanks to Virtual and Augmented Reality, it is better not to write off the stationary trade too early. The digital transformation opens up the opportunity for future-oriented retailers to catch up and compensate one-to-one. They only have to seize their opportunity.

So why do we not finally bring together the best of Online and Offline in the interests of the end customer? If the focus is really on the customer, it is important to stop thinking one-way and to take new steps. However, this will only be possible if you exactly know both the consumer’s behaviour and where you want to go. The POS is forced to take action, and it only has chance in the future, if they do adjust their services to the needs of the customers, just as online retailers do.

Connected Retail for Real

Here is a supermarket with no queues at the checkout; no need to line up your items at the till. So you just go into the store, stick whatever you want into a shopping bag and go? With Amazon Go at the end of last year, Amazon transformed what stressed-out shoppers the world over dream of into a reality… Shopping just as it should be – simple and painless.

With this option, Amazon has in fact managed to overcome a major weakness in fixed retail shops. If the concept proves reliable, Amazon will have thus created a promising scenario for truly optimising the payment process in fixed retail trade. At present, however, there are still many questions about the practical implementation of Amazon Go. For example, there is no information to date on how reliable item-recognition is for articles selected from the display, or how well the technology performs in randomly setting aside products at points in the store. Furthermore, current reports make it clear that the tracking technology is still facing problems in its practical application, which postpones the start-up of further stores until further notice.

The above example therefore clearly shows that integrated solutions for fixed shop retail are only possible via complex systems, which must be personalised, smart and target-oriented, but also planned for the real world. Even for an industry giant like Amazon, this is not child’s play.

Complexity equals difficulty?

Customer centricity therefore plays a decisive role, because it is only if we fully understand customer requirements and behaviour patterns, placing them at the centre of our strategic efforts, that points of contact can be built with them. Offering them the urgently required added value to help them with their purchasing decisions and to enable distributors to generate revenue. This surely means that suppliers need to be aware of their opportunities for connecting with customers and more especially, how to steer them.

Various points of contact, such as fixed retail outlets, online shops and apps, amongst others, therefore require different approaches and technical concepts, in order to be able to provide, gather and meaningfully consolidate information. Moreover, in order for this to be effective, sophisticated interfaces must also be provided to bring these together.

Over recent years, various distributors have already built systems that provide their online shops, apps and fixed retail outlets with price, customer and product data. Although these systems all fulfil their respective purpose to an excellent degree and are constantly expanding in terms of their functionality and data volume, they frequently fail to offer any straightforward smart options for meaningful information exchange. However, it really does depend.

In order to take the first steps towards complex scenarios of this kind, with relatively low infrastructural investment, so-called Middleware solutions are appropriate. Their implementation ensures the existence and successive renewal of old systems, without affecting ongoing business processes. Furthermore, they permit flexibility in existing systems, so that they can expand and bring together further points of contact. However, without a comprehensive strategy for off-setting offers and content against each other through different points of contact, such solutions achieve relatively little.

How will we get it, unless we steal it?

In fact, there are already approaches to such comprehensive strategies, although there is absolutely no point whatsoever in simply seizing hold of them and imitating them. A strategy which is not individually tailored to the company or to customer expectations will not work. For this reason, it is essential to develop a vision to clarify what should actually be created. In addition, it must be defined what is technically feasible, what is not (yet) possible, and how existing versions can be deployed in an appropriate form for one’s own company.

Nevertheless, without drawing upon real practical experience, such conclusions are not possible. It rather requires an experimental approach, using prototypes or MVP tests amongst customers. How do augmented reality, location-based service approaches and voice activation work? How can these be used in one’s own retail outlet? Moreover, do they provide any added value for customers? Questions like this would thus be explored in such practical tests. Small workshops to test and understand the most diverse technical systems and applications, as well as any ideas for scenarios that may be deduced from these, form the basis of the strategic process, whereby one’s own connected retail concept is the aim.

The time is now

Technical development has already reached a point where meaningful retail scenarios can be created, which no longer differentiate between retail trade and online activities. Ultimately, Amazon Go does not represent an example of this. What are still lacking are clearly defined concepts, such as how to combine this technology with various information about products and customer preferences accumulated over time and at various touchpoints, and how to use an integrated strategy. It is also high time that physical contact points with customers were re-evaluated and a particular experience created. Therefore, anyone who has not given much thought to this had better start doing so as soon as possible.

Four tips for successful product content

Many e-commerce strategies focus on excellence in design and optimum tailoring of shops for the mobile world, exciting campaigns as well as media planning that will attract a great deal of attention and ensure extensive coverage. There is no doubting that all of this is important. Yet even the best planned marketing euro is wasted if the product detail page that customers eventually reach at the end of their journey throws up more questions than answers. What are the product features? What does the material look like exactly? Are the details correct?

The user is often just presented with the most basic information: height, width, depth, size, material. Such information would not be adequate to sell a product in brick-and-mortar retailing. We want to experience products and grasp them in the truest sense of the word. And this is precisely where a large gap exists all too often – despite all connected commerce efforts – between store-based and digital retail or between aspiration and reality. Carelessly designed product detail pages – and we are not referring here to usability or design, rather the main product information – are the final blow to the successful outcome of the user journey. No purchase is made, because the customer simply does not find adequate information about the particular product. An even more bitter pill for the online retailer is if the customer decides to purchase – despite poor or inadequate information – but then is not satisfied on receiving the goods. Expensive returns, negative reviews and dissatisfied customers are the result. We therefore recommend following the four steps outlined below to optimise the product content and thus prevent precisely these negative consequences.

1.    Address the topic of content early on

Preparing high-quality and unique product content takes time: time for coordinating internal processes, time for consulting with manufacturers and time for preparing, enriching or refining the content. Texts have to be written, attributes maintained and photos taken as well as edited. These processes have to be done and dusted before good content can be produced quickly in large quantities. In the meantime, you avoid the error of relying on a service provider just before the go-live that, despite not knowing your product range, promises to caption 100,000 products virtually overnight and enrich them with attributes. This cannot go well. You should therefore place the topic of product content among the top items on your agenda.

2.    Do not rely on the manufacturer

“We will get the product details from the manufacturer” is a widely held belief. Yet many manufacturers only have very basic product content at their disposal and sometimes not even any product photos as yet. Moreover, you have to transfer the information from the manufacturer to your system. Non-standardised interfaces and different formats often require laborious manual reworking and end up costing you time. And don’t forget: the same manufacturer will be supplying its product details to different retailers – your competitors. This is far removed from unique content.

3.    Invest in unique content

Product content is primarily intended for the visitors to your shop. It should inform and encourage the visitor to make a purchase. But getting to the product detail page is a long journey. That’s why good editorial product content has to be prepared optimally for the search engine. Search engine-optimised content promotes the right keywords, is detectable by bots and above all is unique. Duplicate content is penalised in the rankings by Google and others. An investment in unique content is therefore an investment in the performance of your shop. Regardless of whether you have product texts created in-house or by an agency, you invest time in sensible briefings, engage authors who are competent in the most important SEO requirements and familiarise the authors with your product range.

4.    Think user-centred – not in channels

The mantra of “media-neutral content” applied for years. The same product content should work in all channels. However, the quest for the smallest common denominator results in content that is then suboptimal in all channels. Print content has to be prepared differently than web content. Product detail pages accessed on mobile phones have to look different to detail pages opened on tablets or on the desktop PC. While customers perform extensive searches on the desktop at home and check every detail, they primarily want to see all key details at first glance on their smartphone when on the move. At the end of the day, what is important is to generate the ideal content in each case for the user to suit their respective usage situation. Therefore, take on board the views of your customers and answer the question as to when which product information is interesting for whom and where. “Media-neutral” content on the other hand patronises your customers.

Top-class product content is not rocket science and – admittedly – not exactly the topic the CDO or Digital Manager will tackle first. But experience shows that it is what concerns your customers. The topic has therefore deserved more attention.

This article was also published on internetworld.de.

Trends 2017

The old year is drawing to a close. It’s time, therefore, to take a look at the coming year.  The experts of the Serviceplan Group have summarised their personal communication trends for the year 2017.

Dr Peter Haller, Founder and Managing Director of the Serviceplan Group

Public discussion has adapted itself to a good dozen mega trends. They trigger business trends and these lead to consumer and communication trends. Those who want to develop faster than the economy as a whole have no choice but to follow the growth trends. But which ones?

There are hundreds of trends and counter-trends. All of this against the backdrop of an accelerating change in digitalisation. But which of these trends are relevant to which industries? Which can I embrace for my brand? And which of these in this confusing process is the reliable guidance for my brand management?

This is the theme of our 2017 Brand Roadshow together with GfK, which is once again sponsored by the German Trade Mark Association. “Dynamic brand management through the jungle of consumer and communication trends” will take place on 7 March in Munich, 9 March in Berlin, 22 March in Frankfurt, 28 March in Cologne, 30 March in Hamburg, 9 May in Vienna and 11 May in Zurich.

Jens Barczewski, Deputy Managing Director Mediaplus Strategic Insights

2017 will be the year inflationary KPIs become the measurement of success for campaign and media performance. In 2017 there will be an agreement between AGF (the television research working group in Germany) and Google/Youtube over the designation of a common video currency. The ‘Quality Initiative for Research into the Effect of Advertising’, driven by the Organisation of Brand Advertisers (OWM) in cooperation with Facebook and Google, will deepen its work and define the first indicators. The AGOF will firstly designate reach on a daily basis and therefore facilitate a continuous improvement of the booking units.

With the associations’ initiatives the individual publishers will open up their own measurement and success indicators to customers and agencies in order to obtain greater transparency in the market. The commotion over the erroneous increase in video viewing times on Facebook showed that not every KPI should be accepted without deep understanding from the customers and agencies.

Winfried Bergmann, Head of Human Resources, Serviceplan Group

Political correctness is on the retreat

Overly cautious political correctness has definitively disqualified itself as being the spiritual leader towards populism. The US presidential election was marked by dishonesty – from both sides. You did not know what was worse – the evident lies from the one side or the awkward, fearful avoidance and concealment of highly relevant issues from the other. Someone who conceals topics, about which large portions of the public worry, because of an alleged sense of decency and misunderstood consideration, must not be surprised when the sovereignty of interpretation is lost in societal discourse. This is even more so in Europe.

Therefore, dear reputable conservatives, break free from political correctness and in the coming year engage strongly in your issues. Let us argue about all of that – from the centre of society, which would then have found the courage for free debate once more. For when we do it like this, there will be nothing more for populists to do other than peep out from the right side of the screen. And it will be lonesome again and they will go back to their crossword.

Stephan Enders, Head of Mobile Marketing of the Plan.Net Group

Chatbots

With the first bot shops among messengers the subject flared up in 2016. And, as it often happens when a new trend emerges, a euphoric, partly activist test phase was swiftly launched, sometimes even when the worth and meaning of a certain discovery could not be estimated. However, chatbots are merely the cherry on top of an older idea, whose impact stretches far wider than it looks at first sight. It’s all about the perfect customer dialogue.

Chatbots, together with artificial intelligence, are (or, rather, will be) a valuable instrument, perhaps the most valuable of them all. Because the trend of 2016 will be the mega trend of 2017, meaning that it will pool together different mechanics, half trends and instruments:

01 CRM: Customer service with a chatbot, whose reaction is always quick and precise.

02 BIG DATA: Only learning chatbots, with all customer data at hand, will be able to unfold their power. The evolution of chatbots will enforce Big Data processes.

03 MOBILE FIRST: Chatbots are perfect for mobile use and, therefore, ideally fit for the future – wherever the user might decide to roll: Facebook, (mobile) web, you name it.

04 SERVICELAYER: In a world of information overload, it will be vital to deliver the right information, at the right time, in the right place. Nothing more, nothing less. A chatbot will be able to do just that.

Gerd Güldenast & Marcus Person, Managing Directors at hmmh

Voice control
Google Home and Amazon Echo open up new possibilities, however still clearly show us their limits . 2017 is the year the merits of the products and services will be demonstrated convincingly without a graphical user interface. Creative individuals and developers are asked to smarten these systems and to further develop companions for everyday life or for an intelligent touchpoint in connected commerce.

Big data aids human customer service
The topic of customer service in the online world stands to change in 2017. Today chatbots are being used more commonly. They show however shortcomings where subjective feelings and emotions play a crucial role. With new customer intelligence systems and smart chatbots based on big data analysis, customers will receive a completely new quality of service in 2017.

Oliver Grüttemeier, Managing Director of  Serviceplan Cologne

Digitalisation only succeeds with empathy.

For years, we have experienced dramatic changes in the workplace through technological developments. Although companies attempt to increasingly fuse their processes along the supply chain, the digitalisation often only comes along sluggishly. 2017 will change that, because the top management currently recognises that leadership through ‘command and control’ no longer works. In the future, executives managers of successful companies will therefore be measured less by their accomplished goals, but rather much more by their social competence—the foundation for every form of cross-departmental collaboration.

In this area, Google is already 10 years ahead. Since 2007, Google already offers its employees the opportunity for personal growth and the development of business empathy with the program ‘Search Inside Yourself’. The success of Google is not only based on the accumulation of more data, but on the knowledge that the best search engine is our spirit.

Stefanie Krebs, Managing Director of Plan.Net Technology

In 2017 a creative thinker requires analytically and technically broad shoulders. While the mega trend digitalisation advances rapidly, the majority of companies have reacted and digitalised their structures. Now, together with their associates, they are facing the challenge of building an integrated business model from the emerging digital island which can also exist in a future shaped by big data, machine learning, the internet of things and perpetual digital innovation.

Those who want to deliver creative responses and celebrate communicative success must be able to develop organisationally and technically complex systems in a short amount of time. 2017 will therefore be the year of the creative team player, where it pays to deliver elegant solutions to complex questions using the input from your multi-faceted team with specialists for tools, technology, processes and people. It is no longer about the colourful façade, but the whole package.

Andrea Malgara, Managing Director of the Mediaplus Group

TV works

According to the ARF (Advertising Research Foundation) TV is still the most important advertising medium when it comes to building a broad reach and increasing return on investment. E-commerce companies are investing more and more in TV advertising. In 2015 almost every third TV advertising spot was occupied by an e-commerce product. TV advertising is strongly increasing online shopping traffic. Digital business models require a wide reach, however, to generate significant turnover.

If the appropriate special interest channels are chosen and screen planning is optimal for an advertising campaign, the advertising recall, brand awareness and the conversion rate all significantly increase. Through brand-unique and innovative media strategy, we can achieve a 20 percent increase in turnover with a targeted media mix.

Kevin Proesel, Managing Director of Saint Elmo’s Berlin

In 2017, IOT (Internet of Things) and clever ideas are changing retail marketing.

We have observed that the classic sales funnel of companies is changing: through the technology shift and the increase in use of smartphones, customers themselves are becoming points of sales and points of information, because they are networked everywhere and can obtain information as well as provide information at any time. As a result of this, personalised and networked campaigns that are implemented close to consumers will be the most convincing in the future. In 2017, we will be seeing the first campaigns which will use networked Smart Buttons as marketing incentives in the Internet of Things.

‘Smart Button’? It sounds smart, and it is smart: in advanced retail campaigns, a branded button acts as a pivot point. It is not like the dash buttons on Amazon, which act purely as facilitators of a networked ordering process, but it is a starting point for a networked campaign storytelling, which unfolds once the customer connects their button to their smartphone—and once they press the Smart Button. Predefined processes now tell a story, which, through several chapters, leads the customer to more and more touch points of a company: always through the simple push of a button. In this way, a guided tour takes place from home to the retail department, which constantly further qualifies the customer and allows campaigns to be experienced fully networked. It is virtually engagement marketing par excellence, since it goes beyond only displaying content and includes the user directly: ‘2017? Press the button and see what happens.’

Dominik Schütte, Managing Director of Serviceplan Content Marketing

Content quality instead of quantity

In 2017, people will ultimately comprehend that the purpose of content marketing goes beyond simply selling. Therefore, companies will be more confident in finding narrative niches outside their brand. In the process, they will be astonished to find out that people actually have their own interests and that it is exactly through these interests that they can be reached and turned into customers. A win-win situation, for both companies and the people out there. Storytelling for the masses – yes, thank you. But make it qualitative, relevant and, please, don’t be annoying.

Klaus Schwab, Managing Director of the Plan.Net Group

I believe that 2017 will bring along two highlights:

First of all, it will be the year when voice command becomes widely adopted, meaning that digital services will be triggered through speech. And this will be the collapse of technical interfaces, such as displays and keyboards.

Secondly, we will witness companies developing platform strategies inside different branches. Namely, they will be more open to start-ups and work together, in order to facilitate their clients’ access to specific services within their own ecosystem.

Julian Simons, Managing Director of mediascale and PREX Programmatic Exchange

With the progressing digitalisation of the use of media, and even in most areas of life, the long known types of borders between offline and online advertising channels are beginning to blur. More and more advertising spaces are being digitalised, are therefore accessible via IP, and are going ‘online’. Subsequently, this also means that programmatic advertising will lead to an increased distribution and control of channels such as radio, out-of-home, and in the end, television. This will lead to big changes for the advertising market.

The tremendous opportunities of comprehensive control and of addressing someone individually are not without great challenges. Business models change and become more complex. Strategies and management logics that make it possible for the new complexity to be meaningful to use, have to be found to prevent campaigns from losing impact in an aimless atomisation. This change must always keep the interests of the user and their data protection concerns in mind, otherwise it will not be successful.

Klaus Weise, Managing Director of Serviceplan Public Relations

Digital enraged citizens are changing the world

Great Britain is to exit the EU, Donald Trump is moving into the White House. Who would have believed, last year, that any of it would happen? The two results are neither coincidences, nor singular political accidents. They are the beacon of a world quake that has just begun. The triggering force of that quake is the fear caused by a change in the world, brought along by digitalisation and globalisation. Similar fears have always existed, but today they are a million times amplified and multiplied through social media. Fuelled by shady hate speeches and sparkled by social bots and opinion robots, whose sole purpose is to rile up the crowds. In 2017, dealing with digital enraged citizens will be the main challenge of political parties, unions, companies and brands.

For what reason a prototype is better than the “perfect” solution

Seamless commerce, connected retail, customer centricity: these are only some of the catch phrases, which these days bombard participants uninhibited, at conferences, trade shows and in workshops. They all should explain, how a relevant, added value can actually be created. And yet, I wonder occasionally, if the concept “connected commerce” is not sometimes misunderstood.

The goal of “connected commerce” is namely not, to find solutions for imaginary problems, in order to be able to create a case of application for the latest “hot shit”. In fact, technology, services, and applications should be intertwined in a way, that smart approaches are created, to solve the actual and real (!) customer problems. With everything that you do, the following question must remain central: What do my customers really need in their specific situation, in order to be perfectly happy? If the latest trends can help with that, all the better. If not, we simply have to develop other ideas.

Know your customers like you know yourself

Therefore, the challenge is to gain a comprehensive knowledge about the own target audience, which goes beyond simple sociodemographic characteristics. Tracking and sophisticated data analysis tools are a good start for this. Often, you learn about the attitudes and needs of the customers best through a direct confrontation with them – for example through interviews, observations, or user tests.

The provided results can also be potentially surprising and present a new, completely unthought-of challenge. But that is exactly how it works with transformations and disruptive processes. They wake us up and open our eyes to the needs and requirements, which the customers actually have.

WORK, WORK, WORK

When the wishes, expectations, and concrete problems of customers become known, you can begin to work out concrete solutions for them. The best way to do so, is to test the first prototypes in a few stores.

The advantage of prototypes is obvious: short development and release periods. Furthermore, they are cheaper than extensive solutions and are still sufficient for testing approaches. They can consist of graphic click dummies or first application versions, in which the idea is implemented with basic functions. The form, as a start, does not completely matter yet. It is essential that contact with customers takes place and the first experiences with exposure to the solution are collected. For this, it is naturally important, to establish processes for the continual improvement of the solution, in which user feedback loops and corrections to the prototype are planned for.

Setbacks and a perceived failure are, incidentally, effective for work on prototypes. Even if it sounds trite: you learn more from mistakes than from successes. And with every critique, the solution is improved! Whether the prototype is expanded in the end, elaborated as a real project, or discontinued and replaced by a new solution approach – and whether the newest hot shit is actually called into action, doesn’t have to be definite at this point of time. What is important: little by little you get closer to the needs of your customers.

With the technology that is already available to us today, many actual customer problems are solvable. For that, concentrating on the hurdles in the Customer Journey is necessary, as well as the rigorous involvement of the customer.

This article was also published at lead-digital.de.

Fear not! Connected Retail in Four Steps

In a few years, commerce might look like this: since I can see online that the jeans I really want are available at the shop around the corner, I can just head out to try them on in person. Just before I go into the shop, I receive a push notification on my smartphone telling me that I can buy the shirt from my wish list immediately, with a five-euro discount. The trousers are already ready for me in the shop. The trousers and shirt both fit, but because I don’t want to take them with me right now, the shopkeeper sends them to me at no extra cost. As the shopkeeper has also looked at my purchase history and knows what I like, he also recommends a jacket to me. The jacket might not be available in-store in blue (the colour I want), but I can take a look at it on a digital signage screen. I then add the jacket to my wish list, which I can access online and in-store. I pay for the shirt and trousers with my smartphone – there’s no need for cash – and leave the shop. Everything is conveniently delivered to me at home the next day.

This is one of many scenarios currently being tested to offer clients the best possible digital and personalised customer service, even at point of sale (POS). For salespeople who haven’t yet considered the idea of connected retail, it might seem almost menacing at first glance: How are you supposed to do all of that? What aspects are relevant to me? And where should I start?

From my experience, I’d like to recommend the following steps:

1. It all starts with the CEO

The first requirement is a business leader who is completely behind the idea. Without that, it just won’t work. Developing and implementing successful connected retail solutions is a matter for the boss as this can influence the entire structure of an organization.

It’s important for all internal stakeholders to be involved in the project. A cross-channel shopping experience that combines analogue and digital elements requires a variety of skills: marketing, IT, sales, and the shopkeeper must all be brought to the table. Even the employees in the shop play a key role because only they can successfully apply the concept in practice. You therefore need to create a holistic vision from the very beginning for all participants to work toward.

2. The client is the focus of all activities

The target audience is, of course, the client. “User centricity” shouldn’t just be a buzzword, it should be self-evident. You shouldn’t begin without identifying the client’s needs and understanding their behaviours. Only by doing so can you really offer them relevant services on the appropriate POS touch points to offer interactions that create added value.

Even a simple tablet can enable added value interaction: a shopkeeper can call up additional product information for the customer and offer them additional products that aren’t currently to hand. Furthermore they can access the customer’s purchase history, which is saved on a digital customer card and offers information about the customer’s preferences.

3. Think big, but start smart

Complete your vision with an integrated view on your comprehensive touch point system, but develop new touch points step by step. Gain experience and develop it further. And, above all: avoid an off-the-rack solution that isn’t tailored to your clients.

Come up with potential solutions for small problems, develop the approaches to implementing them, and test them directly in short cycles. This iterative approach allows you to start with minor investments and safeguards against losing investments. Only when the scenario is successful as a prototype should you start with elaborate linkages of ERP-, CRM-, or till systems.

4. Don’t wait, start now

Start collecting ideas from smaller projects with your partners (retail, agency, etc.). These experiences will improve your collaboration before larger projects arise and create a uniform image for clients.

But most importantly: start now! Anyone who hesitates now will be left with nothing in the long run because, ultimately, the client will shop at the business that makes the correct information or products available at the correct time, in the correct place, and in the correct context – online and offline.

This article was also published at wuv.de.

Four Steps to a Secure E-Commerce Solution

It was possibly only a simple development error that led to a security gap at eBay in December 2015, which had the potential to intercept client passwords during the login process. The consequences of hacker attacks that take advantage of such breakdowns can be substantial – and extremely unpleasant for the user: SPAM-mail, Phishing or stolen credit cards are only a few of them.

And the eBay example shows: large players are also not spared. Up to 87 percent of all websites have medium security flaws, while 50 percent have serious security gaps. The resulting annual loss worldwide is over 400 billion US Dollars. Stores not only risk serious damage to their image with data loss. Online stores are responsible for the security of client data, and are accordingly liable for data leaks. Processes and methods that target the security of e-commerce solutions are therefore indispensable for stores. However, this is not limited to a particular phase in a project, but runs through the entire period up to the day of implementation and activation. Security is an indispensable part of the design process, part of the implementation, part of the system infrastructure and part of the operation.

Sichere E-Commerce Lösung

The following points in particular should be addressed:

Define clear requirements

It seems so mundane, but it is so important: Security begins before the project starts. And each web-store has its own requirements. In a B2B shop which charges a fee for the download of technical documents, it is of course extremely important to design very safe identification or customer registration and access protection. For a telecommunications provider that offers all of its products through a self-service portal, it is equally crucial that only the authorised user has access on the contract and invoice data. Although both examples require the implementation of access security tools, the underlying requirements are different. These must be recognised in the “Requirements-Engineering” phase, and form the basis for later implementation.

Set your standards

“Secure Coding Standards” help developers write secure codes for the web. Ideally, they fall back on safety tested frameworks. Although these preventive investments are immensely important for the security of the web application, there are still no recognised industrial standards, or a norm which defines the security of web applications. Therefore each agency or online shop must take on the responsibility itself and create its own portfolio of standards in the areas of quality assurance, security and testing.

Therefore, a few years ago we started to collect best practices or recommendations from experts, for example the Open Web Security Application Project (OWASP), so that every client does not need to search for a standard themselves, and to be able to offer truly measurable security.

Search for your security flaws

In addition, at the end of any development, we put it through a “Web Application Security Test”, which checks whether our security standards are actually adhered to. In order to do so, we work with a certified “Ethical Hacker”, a specially trained IT expert that possesses a hacker’s knowledge, but who is working for us. Additionally, this is done using various software tools (we use, for example, IBM AppScan) that simulate attacks on the application. Any suspicious reaction by the application is documented and must later be manually verified or falsified. At the end, there is a report that documents the security flaws that have been found, and provides technical assistance to help rectify the problems.

Consider each security flaw found in this phase not as an error by the programmer, but rather as a success! You’ve discovered this in the development phase. The later an error comes to light, the more expensive it is to rectify.

Conduct continuous monitoring

Factors that cannot be influenced, such as the execution environment (browser), different devices (desktop and mobile) and heterogeneous systems introduce challenges to e-commerce solutions that are not always predictable in advance. Selective security and penetration tests, in which experts (e.g., certified ethical hackers) perform targeted attack attempts, help to keep these factors in mind. Because the number of newly discovered security flaws and the ways in which software gaps can be exploited grows daily.

Moreover, there is the option to install an additional “Web Application Firewall” (WAF). This one checks every incoming request before it is passed on to the actual web application. Therefore, a WAF needs to have a complex set of rules that is customised to the particular web application. Suspicious requests are rejected immediately, and, under predefined conditions, could raise an alarm (e.g., through an email to an administrator, when 100 requests per second are sent from an IP address that contain the code for a SQL injection). As a WAF is an independent system, attack attempts do not even come close to the protected application, or the data to be protected.

Be Secure from the Beginning

The cornerstone for a secure e-commerce solution must therefore already be selected during the design – even before the software is actually used. In addition, regular testing of the software, as well as any resulting updates is unavoidable and absolutely necessary. Only then it is possible to keep the software up to date, and to ensure its safety.

This article was also published at e-commerce-magazin.de.

The Amazon Dash Button: Born in the wrong world?

The Amazon Dash Button has been hotly debated in all forms of media over the last week. Readers of Germany’s “Stern” magazine, for example, had a very clear opinion. More than 70% answered the question “What do you think about the Amazon Dash Button?” with the answer “A load of rubbish”. (Source: stern.de) Why has the response to the Amazon Dash Button, which aims to make a lot of peoples’ lives easier, been so negative?

Lots of arguments against the Dash Button

There are apparently many arguments. After its introduction on the German market, the Dash Button is being hotly debated. Data privacy advocates warn of the possible misuses of the button’s new features. Consumer advocates warn of a lack of price transparency when ordering. Usability experts raise the question of how many Dash Buttons it is sensible to have in a household and we’re wondering what actual benefits they would have for us. But where is all this aversion coming from? After all, with the Dash Button Amazon is the only company offering us a product integrated in everyday life that reflects the ideas of pervasive computing and the internet of things.

The Dash Button is currently only aimed at a specific target audience

Amazon was certainly aware that the Dash Button wouldn’t be mainstream at this stage and that it wouldn’t be every customer’s cup of tea. But we should also be clear that we are living in the world of connected commerce where the effect of the long tail is still valid because the target audience for the Dash Button may be small relatively speaking, but in absolute numbers is large enough to make the Dash Button a successful model for Amazon. Because, according to a survey by “Stern”, 10% of respondents clearly advocated the Dash Button. They said: “Great, I hate shopping in supermarkets!”

Could the real home of the Dash Button possibly be in B2B?

Another reason for the harsh criticism might be that the Dash Button was born in the “wrong world” – in the world of B2C e-commerce. Would it not actually be better suited in B2B e-commerce? Imagine a production operation. Synchronised supply chains, as well as just-in-time and just-in-sequence processes are already a reality in the area of series production. Demand impulses between manufacturers and suppliers synchronize the order and product flows here. But there are still a great number of processes that run manually.
Aside from the rigorously timed series production, there are plenty of production facilities that do not deal in large-scale production. They use machines and tools that need to be serviced at irregular intervals. Replacing and topping up auxiliary and operating materials is also performed according to need. In this scenario, the Amazon Dash Button could optimise internal logistics. If attached to the respective machines, it could be used for various materials or even maintenance services. Orders placed would go to the warehouse or requests to the servicing and maintenance service provider. Using the buttons, internal processes can be initiated and the costs allocated to the correct cost units. If equipped with NFC and the “Purchaser” code carrier, it would even be possible to assign the respective purchaser and thus ensure that only authorised individuals can submit material orders or service requests.
If we take a step back from the manufacturing industry and consider everyday office life, the Dash Button could also be of use in such environments: for example, an employee takes the last pencil or notebook from the material store and immediately orders new products by pressing a button on the shelf. Orders that have been placed can, if desired, be combined into a weekly or monthly order and the order is then automatically submitted at the specified time.
There will certainly be many scenarios like this where the Dash Button could make life a lot simpler. Without any security concerns.

The Dash Button – an exciting first evolutionary step

The Amazon Dash Button is a first mover product of its kind. However, it hasn’t necessarily been greeted with the appropriate levels of euphoria, but instead with a great deal of scepticism. “I am convinced that the Dash Button in its current form will not survive the next two years. But maybe that wasn’t even the idea behind it,” said Gerd Güldenast, Managing Director of hmmh. The Dash Button is a new generation of device that will evolve over the next few years and find new fields of application. It is a further step in the integration of connected commerce in everyday life, in order to improve and simplify life.

Maybe the Amazon Dash Button will find a wonderful home in B2B commerce.

This article was also published at internetworld.de.