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Angie’s List eyes expansion of Indy HQ

BY CSA STAFF

Online referral service provider Angie’s List plans to increase the size of its headquarters in Indianapolis and increase the workforce to 2,800 people within five years.

Angie’s List, a review drive enterprise that helps facilitate transactions between more than 2.8 million consumers and service providers in 720 categories, said it plans to grow its base of employees from 500 in 2011 to roughly 2,800 by 2019. The company said the expansion was enabled in part by an attractive incentive plan from the City of Indianapolis and State of Indiana.

"Today's announcement reflects our expectation for continued growth and expansion and highlights our commitment to the city of Indianapolis," said Bill Oesterle, Angie's List CEO. "We look forward to growing our thriving campus and continuing to attract talent to Indianapolis."

The company plans to begin hiring in 2015 for positions including information technology, sales and member services. As part of the incentive plan, Angie's List agreed to achieve certain business and financial targets including annual investment, number of employees and average wage levels. The company expects to invest more than $10 million in expansion-related capital expenditures in 2015, with cumulative investment expected to be approximately $40 million by the end of 2019.

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Smaller, More Agile Retailers are Winning Big and Here’s Why

BY CSA STAFF

By Gary Ambrosino, President and CEO of TimeTrade

Hidden in the onslaught of negative headlines about former retail heavyweights, like JC Penney and Sears, is a slew of less-publicized, good news from smaller—many formerly online-only—retailers that are not only weathering the storm but are thriving.

These retailers, including Bonobos, Michael Kors and Clarks Shoes, are designing stores and retail experiences based on what consumers want today–not what worked 20 or even 10 years ago. Smaller retailers have a tremendous advantage in comparison to their larger competitors. Smaller, newer retailers can seamlessly respond to changes in consumer demand or customer feedback, eliminating barriers that impact immediate and longer-term customer loyalty and sales, without the corporate red tape that often makes larger retailers slow to change or implement new technology,

Consumers now walk into a store expecting to save time by talking to the right sales associate who understands what the shopper is looking for, what the product options are and what the best product is based on the customer’s needs. However, most traditional retailers still structured and organized the buying experience around the seller’s business processes and systems. Too often, finding the right sales associate is left up to trial and error.

Studies have shown that 88% of in-store shoppers who fail to get the help they need, leave and make their purchase elsewhere, often online. Yet, when shoppers do get the attention and help they need, 93% are more likely to buy; 86% will buy more than they expected and nearly 90% would return again. A personalized customer experience from a knowledgeable person who understands shoppers’ needs and provides support and validation for the purchase decision is a game-changer.

Bonobos is experiencing the power of one-on-one attention with their customers, who can try on clothing and purchase the right fittings online with a rep’s help. Their physical stores are taking the guess work out of size charts, and helping their shoppers make educated choices on tailored clothing. According to a recent report, Bonobos sells twice as many suits in their physical “Guideshops” and 50% more dress shirts compared to their website. The company’s success led to their July announcement of an additional 30 store locations by the end of 2016.

Bonobos and other smaller retailers are creating selling structures that tune each customer interaction to the best time and place for the shopper, and make sure that the right person is available to help. To keep customers happy and coming back, retail brands are measuring each customer interaction, seeing what worked, what didn’t and to determine the next best action for that customer. These insights also allow retailers to tailor programs, sales processes and marketing promotions at local, regional and national levels to create competitive advantage, long-lasting customer loyalty and sales growth.

Today’s most successful retailers are refocusing on the customer. With the holiday shopping season and 2015 right around the corner, retailers have tremendous opportunities to make immediate changes that will positively impact sales and customer retention in the long run.

Gary Ambrosino is CEO of TimeTrade Systems, whose responsive customer engagement platform allows consumers to connect with a brand, anywhere, anytime—and then gives companies deeper insight than about what consumers want next. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Apple Pay: Paving the Way for Mobile Payments

BY CSA STAFF

By Dov Cohn

Behind the glitz and window dressing “wow” factor of Apple’s Sept. 9th iPhone 6/6 Plus and Apple Watch announcements, the meaty Apple Pay announcement was really the star of the show. Apple’s entry into the payment ecosystem is the catalyzing event that will finally propel mobile payments into the mainstream. Apple benefits from years of trial and error by other vendors and has put together a winning solution that will set the standard for mobile contactless payment for the next five years.

What is it?

Apple Pay, which will be launched in the US in October as an update to iOS 8, is a credit card-based payment platform that lets any iPhone user (iPhone 6 and beyond) pay for goods and services at participating retailers by simply placing their phone in front of a small point of sale (POS) terminal and pushing the phone’s fingerprint sensing home button. The key pieces of this are the phone’s fingerprint reader, a special Near Field Communication (NFC) chip, and a compatible NFC terminal at the POS. This remarkably simple and Apple-esque action–wave and press–kicks off a well-orchestrated set of technologies that ensure a secure transaction between the merchant and the customer’s chosen credit card.

Apple’s Polish

Apple is not the first company to try to deliver on the mobile wallet promise. Since the early days of mobile, the road has been paved with failed products and companies in this sector. More recently, even Google, with their own Android operating system and billions of dollars available to develop the market, has failed to make Google Wallet relevant. And Square, the darling of mobile commerce with their Square reader, shelved their consumer mobile product, Square Wallet, after just a few months. Others, including the Mobile Customer Exchange (MCX), have been at it for years with little to show for their efforts. But Apple has the upper hand in this battle for the consumer’s mobile wallet for three key reasons.

1) Simple Elegance

The Apple design ethos of simplicity is front and center in the implementation of Apple Pay. Consumers already have their credit cards on file with Apple. Changing consumer behavior is hard, but Apple has designed a system that is simple, easy to use and doesn’t require consumers to learn–or take–any new actions. In fact, it’s easier than existing payment methods–no magnetic stripe to get going one direction or the other, no coins to deal with. Just wave the phone and press the button. When offering consumers an alternative that is easier than the current method, there is no consideration by the user–the choice to use the solution is a given.

2) All the Pieces

Despite its outward simplicity, the overall system is a very complex integration of hardware, software, credit card issuers, banks and merchants. Apple, however, has managed to orchestrate all the players into a unified solution. First, by owning the entire hardware and software stack on the phone, as well as having credit card credentials for over 500 million users, Apple has full control over the user experience. Like every other Apple product, this one won’t require instructions. It will just work exactly the way the consumer expects it to. It won’t hurt that Apple Pay will come pre-installed and ready to go on every iPhone that ships going forward. And it’s a safe bet that Apple has nailed the implementation piece.

Second, Apple has put together a consortium to give consumers a complete, turnkey solution out of the gate. Visa, MasterCard and American Express are on board. Citi, Capital One, Bank of America and Chase are on board. Walgreen’s, Subway and Macy’s are on board. It’s a star-studded list of partners providing consumers plenty of opportunities to open their mobile wallets with the banks and brands they know and trust.

3) Timing is Everything

The launch of Apple Pay may have been a long time coming, but it was perfectly timed. Looking back, Apple Pay builds on several components Apple has been working on for years. First, and most importantly, over the past seven years they have built up a large and loyal user base of over 500 million iPhone users with credit cards on file. In 2012, Apple released Passbook, which now serves as the basis for your on-device wallet. In 2013 they launched the iPhone 5S with Touch ID–the fingerprint recognition solution that will serve as one of the fundamental security elements. And Apple knew 2015 would be an important transition year for POS systems in the US. Starting in Oct. 2015, US merchants will need to have new POS terminals that support more secure Europay, MasterCard and Visa (EMV) smart chip standards or risk being liable for fraud expenses. Many retailers will use the opportunity to upgrade to full NFC-compatible POS systems. Apple is betting on this change over the next few years to drastically increase the number of merchants that will accept NFC payments via Apple Pay.

It will win.

Not everyone is so bullish on Apple and their quest to own the wallet. One strong counterpoint is the potential of the Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX). Organized by major retailers in an effort to gain an upper hand on credit card networks and the charges imposed, MCX has backing from retail heavyweights Walmart, Best Buy, 7-11, Gap and others. However, MCX formed over two years ago and has little to show for their efforts amidst a rotating cast of technology partners. Apple has hit the ground running with full cooperation from all sides of the ecosystem with a solution that will be up and running in less than 45 days. MCX has had numerous false starts, and would appear to lack the support of any payment providers.

Others cite the lack of support for Android as a potential downfall. Given the competitive nature of the platforms, Apple Pay is unlikely to make the jump to Android or any other platform, and this will alienate a large segment of smartphone users. But this will not doom Apple Pay. There is still more than enough consumer demand from US iPhone users to make it successful. And in doing so, Apple will succeed in defining the business model and the implementation that Android will eventually adopt.

With the launch of Apple Pay in October, mobile payments are about to get real. Apple put together a complete, elegant solution with the support of the necessary partners and is launching the service at exactly the right time. Retailers should be excited about this new chapter in payment history and the opportunity for mobile, contactless payments to increase consumer loyalty and satisfaction, while reducing fraud and making a positive impact on their bottom line.

Dov Cohn is GM, Mobile Solutions, at Bronto Software, which provides a cloud-based marketing platform for organizations to drive revenue through their email, mobile and social campaigns. Contact him at [email protected]

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