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Digital Signage Goes Portable

BY Marianne Wilson

Portable digital displays proved the ideal solution for a temporary installation at a Gap store in Manhattan. The application takes the hassle, along with the unsightly cords and wiring, out of digital signage.

The retailer deployed tabletop digital signage displays that run on rechargeable batteries, eliminating the need for any external power. The freestanding portable displays, from BrightSign, measure 10.5 in. by 19.9 in. by 9.9 in. and feature a built-in 12.1-in. high-resolution screen and media player. They are self-contained and enclosed in a sleek steel display tower.

“There aren’t a lot of electrical outfits on the floors of most retailers, and that has dictated where digital signage displays are placed, which is often on the perimeter of the store,” said Jeff Hastings, CEO, BrightSign, Los Gatos, Calif. “But with the battery-operated portable displays, the retailer can place the signage directly on merchandise tables and check-out counters, and right where the shopper is making the buying decision.”

The batteries in the BrightSign tabletop displays provide 15 hours of life. Gap recharges the batteries overnight, similar to how a consumer would recharge a cell phone, while the store is closed.

Gap installed the displays in the small shop adjacent to its flagship on Fifth Avenue and 54th Street. The space is routinely made over to spotlight limited-time Gap partnerships and special collections. At the beginning of the summer, it was dedicated to the Gap-Threadless summer collection of graphic T-shirts. (In February, Gap entered into a partnership with the Chicago-based Threadless, which works with emerging artists to produce unique T-shirt designs.)

The chain used the digital displays — 15 in all — to draw attention to the individual artists who designed the 15 T-shirts on display and to tell the story about what inspired the design. (The displays were positioned on the top of the fixtures.) Threadless used BrightSign’s BrightAuthor PC software application to create the content (video, which plays as a slide show) that ran on the players. The software is available free to the supplier’s customers.

“This type of display takes the customer from being interested to being engaged to purchasing,” Hastings said.

The screens, which provide full-motion high-definition video, are designed with a 180-degree viewing angle, he added.

The BrightSign tabletop displays are equipped with Wi-Fi adaptors that allow for content updates through store networks or other remote locations.

“New content can be downloaded very quickly with the Wi-Fi connection,” Hastings said, “which makes the displays very dynamic in nature.”

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Leveraging Technology to Improve Business

BY CSA STAFF

Wading through retail technological innovations and deciding what options and applications should be top priority can be daunting at best. But the opportunities clearly outweigh the challenges, said Epicor Solutions’ Douglas Taylor in an interview with Chain Store Age.

What are the biggest operational challenges facing retailers today?

Today’s operational challenges are equally social, economic and technological. On the social side, technology innovation and accessibility to information have put consumers in the driver’s seat, allowing them to dictate how they want to interact with retailers and giving them the freedom to share their experiences widely online. From an economic standpoint, retailers continue to feel the squeeze — sales volume remains flat or is down, pricing pressures are tremendous, and supply chain costs are skyrocketing. With respect to technology, retailers have to step up their games to meet high consumer expectations, but some are challenged with legacy, disconnected systems and/or tight budgets — which prevent them from getting there as fast as they want and need to.

What about opportunities?

Key opportunities are to improve or change the way retailers interact and service consumers, leveraging technology and information. Providing rich customer engagement means leveraging mobility and CRM to offer a more personalized shopping experience. Tablet devices support a new style of selling, in which sales associates become “personal shoppers,” providing an engaging purchasing experience.

Also, channel unification and system integration create operational efficiencies and reduce complexity and redundancy of data, processes and business rules, allowing consumers to make purchases through a variety of channels while enjoying a rewarding and uniform brand experience.

What are some general trends you are seeing in POS software and solutions?

Today’s retail POS systems are the workhorse of the retail store, and trends are shifting POS functions to mobile and consumer devices, to additional channels and toward a more enterprise POS deployment. Aside from this, what started with the CRM database and ordering facilities is now expanding to cash and employee management, with the goal of treating “400 stores as one giant store.” These trends allow retailers to mobilize their retail enterprises, enabling store personnel to have access to information and be more available to engage with customers on the sales floor while never having to go to a cashwrap station.

There is also the explosive trend of electronic wallet payments, which are being driven by the consumer who wants to make everything as quick and easy as possible, and I’m all for it.

Do both small and large chains experience the same challenges and opportunities in terms of retail systems?

Yes, the customer experience has taken on new importance as it has become the “new marketing.” Due to the growth in use of social media channels from anywhere, it has become very easy for customers to share — with thousands of potential customers — their good or bad experiences with retail brands, and the size of the retailer doesn’t matter.

How do your solutions most impact the way a retailer does business?

Epicor has been at the forefront of expanding its POS and customer engagement capabilities to support mobility and multichannel. For examples, earlier this year we introduced the Epicor Retail Clienteling application, designed for tablet devices and optimized for the Apple iPad. The app delivers critical customer insight from the retailer’s CRM database directly into the hands of sales associates engaging with customers on the floor.

The Epicor Retail Mobile Store solution, optimized for Apple iPad/iPod, is now being deployed by a number of retail clients who want to manage all aspects of a sales transaction from any location and allow customers to shop easily on their own time and terms. And for operations, the Epicor Retail WebIM and Business Intelligence solutions update merchandising in real time and use KPI data and dashboards with alerts and notifications.

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P.Banik says:
Mar-08-2013 01:20 pm

Thanks to Chain Store Age for sharing this interview with us. Since Duncan is responsible for product management and customer transaction solutions for Epicor software and he is running it successfully, So I would like to raise a question to him. My question is pretty simple but very important for small business owners like me. Is business intelligence required to run a company successfully and if so then how it actually effect decision making process? I will be really pleased if you can place my question to him and let us all know his answer.

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Thanks to Chain Store Age for sharing this interview with us. Since Duncan is responsible for product management and customer transaction solutions for Epicor software and he is running it successfully, So I would like to raise a question to him. My question is pretty simple but very important for small business owners like me. Is business intelligence required to run a company successfully and if so then how it actually effect decision making process? I will be really pleased if you can place my question to him and let us all know his answer.

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Understanding Cloud Computing

BY Sandy Codding

The term “cloud computing” generally means anything that involves delivering hosted computing services over the Internet. Here, the word “cloud” is used to refer to the Internet, most frequently depicted in diagrams as a cloud.

Cloud computing is an activity equivalent to that already provided by computer servers or mainframes within a company. To engage in cloud computing, organizations will work with a cloud vendor and need not have expertise in or control over the technology infrastructure in the cloud supporting them. Resources such as data storage space, computer applications (e.g., customer relationship management programs), and computing (i.e., data processing) are shared by all of a particular cloud vendor’s customers.

Since the cloud vendor realizes economies of scale, it can make significant capital investment in building a large-capacity, state-of-the art data center. This makes cloud computing particularly attractive because information technology personnel are continuously struggling to increase storage capacity or add computer application capabilities without investing in new hardware, software or personnel.

Using cloud-computing services is akin to using a storage facility for short-term storage needs rather than building another warehouse: You may need the extra storage space at certain times of the year, but it is less expensive and easier to rent space than to build a new facility that will be empty for most of the time.

A “public cloud” operates outside of the company’s computer network, and it is provided by a third party. An advantage of using public cloud computing is the device and location independence that it provides. Although the network infrastructure is off-site and accessed via the Internet, users can connect from any location using a variety of electronic devices, including personal computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones.

The use of public cloud computing can also be a part of a corporate business continuity and disaster recovery plan. Since the network infrastructure is off-site, a physical event at a company location will not affect network availability, and employees will retain their ability to connect to the company’s network.

Additionally, a cloud-computing vendor is more likely to have multiple data centers that can substitute for a center that experiences an outage. Because this may not be true of all vendors, care should be taken when selecting the cloud vendor because certain cloud-computing services have suffered outages.

In contrast, a private cloud is typically within the company’s network and shared among the company’s internal user groups. A private cloud can be created with a third-party provider by segregating a part of the vendor’s cloud for the exclusive use of a customer. But this comes at a higher cost.

Typically cloud-computing customers do not own the physical computer network infrastructure. Instead, companies avoid incurring expenses by renting usage from a third-party provider. They consume computer resources as a service and pay only for resources that they use.

Generally there are two billing methods associated with cloud computing. The utility model is essentially pay-for-use (akin to paying for gas, electric or other utilities), and the other is a subscription approach, which is a fee for access over a period of time.

There are a number of risks associated with using cloud computing. Perhaps the primary concern for most companies that are using a third-party provider for cloud computing is data security.

However, data security is likely to be stronger because the cloud vendor has more resources to devote to it. But cloud computing users do relinquish control of data security. If a data breach occurs in the cloud service provider’s computer network environment, it is likely that the cloud-computing customer will still be responsible for the privacy breach response actions, including notification and provision of call center services and credit monitoring. The cloud-computing customer, however, may be able to bring a claim for negligence (in failing to protect the data) against the cloud vendor.

Sandy Codding is a managing director and U.S. Commercial Errors & Omissions Practice Leader for Marsh’s FINPRO Practice.

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