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Handling Holiday Stress

BY CSA STAFF

Retailers spend countless hours planning and executing strategies to lure shoppers to their sites during the holiday season. However, all too often websites suffer critical problems—such as system overloads and checkout page malfunctions—in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Not surprisingly, such issues can deter shoppers from making a purchase and even lead them to a competitor.

“Merchants don’t want to get everything ready for the holidays only to have their site crash on critical shopping days,” said Lauren Freedman, president of Chicago-based e-tailing group Inc. “Just as consumers should get their car checked out before the winter hits, retailers need to make sure their sites can handle the traffic flux of the holidays.”

In response, smart retailers are performing preholiday diagnostic tests to detect problems early on.

“It’s critical to test a site’s performance to make sure peak volume can be reached with no or limited impact to the customers,” said Darl Crick, chief technology officer of Santa Clara, Calif.-based CrossView, a provider of cross-channel shopping solutions. “The core issue at hand is that retailers haven’t done a good enough job keeping up with performance methodologies, and this needs to change.”

One of the most common problems seen during the highly trafficked online-shopping season is that pages start to load significantly slower. Regardless of the time of year, a page should load in less than two seconds, and order flow should take a maximum of three to five seconds, Crick said.

“The faster a customer can complete an order, the more likely [he or she is] to make a purchase,” he said. “Plus, sites that don’t load or load slowly defuse customer confidence.”

To create a more seamless experience, retailers should evaluate how many bytes of information are presented on a page, the number of images it has and how many requests are going back to the server. (The more on a page, the longer it takes to load). Performance tools like Firebug or IBM Page Detailer allow Web content providers to measure the elements that make up a Web page, Crick said.

There are many red flags retailers can be aware of that could potentially predict—and help avoid—a major site issue. For example, Crick advises to keep an eye on the central processing unit (CPU), which carries out the instructions of a computer program, after a release of new code, which is an application that the customer is running and the source code associated with it. If the system’s usage escalates outside of normal ranges when the site is only experiencing its normal volume of traffic and orders, the site could run into trouble during the peak season.

Merchants should also monitor how many customer service calls are coming in. If there are more than normal, this may mean the system could be having problems.

“If any system problems do occur, retailers need to have the right tools and processes in place to quickly debug and resolve the problems,” Crick said, adding that some tools let retailers set up alerts that inform site managers of changes that may indicate issues.

“Companies should also back up their site when preparing for peak shopping periods,” Crick said. “Plan for the unexpected. Not only does this help with minimizing risk and disaster recovery, it will also help with root-cause analysis should problems occur.”

In fact, backups should be done on a daily basis. “

This is a simple concept that is often forgotten,” Crick said. “It’s an easy and key part of the process though because it confirms it’s possible to restore systems in case of an emergency.”

However, maintaining a seamless site should not just be part of the holiday wish list. Retailers should continue to test their sites throughout the year.

“There is a direct tie between site performance and sales, so doing regular diagnostic tests will not only show a return on investment, it will also keep customers loyal and ready to buy,” Crick said.

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Five ways to reduce risk and increase efficiencies with the right service provider

BY CSA STAFF

By Monte Boyer, [email protected]

For more than two years now, retail facility managers have been hunkering down; deferring maintenance and postponing facility upgrades until the economy shows signs of improvement. Although "waiting for the dust to settle" is an understandable strategy for survival, it is not without risk. Dollars deferred today may pale in comparison to the ultimate cost of postponed maintenance. Equipment that hasn’t been properly serviced can become increasingly inefficient, unreliable or — even worse — prematurely fail.

Retail facility managers can reduce that risk, and at the same time increase efficiencies, by partnering with the right service provider. A good HVAC partner can help facility managers overcome some of the challenges posed by today’s economic environment through consolidation of efforts across both facilities and services, and by creating operational and energy efficiencies.

As a facility manager, here’s how you can reduce risk and increase efficiencies with the right service provider:

1. Select a vendor with the largest reach possible
Do yourself a favor; reduce your dependence on multiple, local vendors to perform maintenance. Instead, select a vendor that partners with you across your portfolio — preferably someone with national capabilities. Whether you’re responsible for eight facilities or 8,000, you can drive down costs through consolidation to one vendor that can meet all your needs. They’re out there. Some national service providers have thousands of technicians in place across the country. Service providers that are backed by a national or global infrastructure offer:

  • Quality control: By working with a national vendor, you can eliminate the huge variations in quality that are inevitable when contracting for service with a variety of local vendors.
  • Efficiency: Consolidation streamlines the maintenance process. Instead of dispatching calls, statusing issues and reviewing invoices of multiple vendors, one call to a single point of contact is all that is required. With the time saved, you and your staff can turn your attention to revenue-generating activities.
  • Reliability: Service calls can’t always wait. Larger service providers are available 24/7/365.

2. Select a vendor with single-source accountability
Not only should you select a vendor that can execute nationally, choose one that delivers expertise across multiple services. Here’s where the efficiencies grow exponentially. Top-tier service providers offer expertise in everything from HVAC, janitorial, lighting, refrigeration, fire and safety to energy efficiency and sustainability; a suite of expert services managed by a single point of contact. One call ensures consistent performance, value and responsive service across all sites.

3. Select a self-performing vendor
Avoid working with a vendor who will manage contractors but outsource the work. Instead, partner with a provider whose employees actually perform the facility services. Self-performing providers make you their only priority. They take ownership of the work. And with a self-performing vendor, you can avoid subcontractor markups. With a national HVAC consolidator, you may have passed along the headache of managing multiple HVAC providers but you have not eliminated it.

4. Select a single-source provider to increase operational efficiency and effectiveness
Choose one provider that can see the big picture. If you currently work with 15 different HVAC vendors, and ask them to prioritize equipment replacement, you’ll get 15 different perspectives. Conversely, a single-source provider will consider all equipment from all facilities when identifying critical needs and setting priorities. By working with one point of contact who has a greater view of your portfolio, you can be confident that priority is given to issues most critical to your business. Strategic investments made today when costs are lower can provide your organization with a competitive cost advantage for many years.

5. Select a single-source provider to increase energy efficiency
Partner with a provider that can show you how to increase energy efficiency. The key will be getting access to facility data that’s relevant, meaningful and actionable — which the right service provider can deliver. Today’s most advanced technologies allow you monitor building performance in real time; identifying trends within buildings and across portfolios, spotting areas of concern and flagging underperformers. Some commercial control systems actually monitor themselves and send notifications when there’s a noteworthy event or when it’s time for a service call.

When priorities do call for the replacement of equipment, the right providers make sure you’re choosing the most energy-efficient solutions. Ideally, they even help to identify ways to leverage federally- or utility-sponsored rebate programs.

The right service provider
Choosing the right service provider requires careful consideration. Take the time to identify vendors who have national reach and are single-source, self-performing providers with demonstrated expertise in energy and operational efficiency. By partnering with a top-tier vendor, retail facility managers can reduce risk, increase efficiency and overcome some of the challenges posed by today’s economic environment.

Monte Boyer is VP and general manager, Johnson Controls National Service. Johnson Controls is an OEM supplier with over 125 years of experience in the HVAC industry. With more than 150 local branches throughout the United States and Canada, Johnson Controls National Service provides retail customers with innovative solutions and an expertise in HVAC, refrigeration, security and fire safety, as well as lighting applications. For additional information on Johnson Controls National Service visit www.johnsoncontrols.com or contact Monte at [email protected].

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Staples puts Kindle on Christmas list

BY CSA STAFF

Beginning this fall, Staples will offer several variants of Amazon.com’s popular Kindle wireless ereader device in its nearly 1,600 U.S. stores, the company announced Tuesday. Staples will offer a base model Kindle for $139, the Kindle 3G for $189 and the large-screen Kindle DX for $379.

“As part of our efforts to offer customers a wide range of top technology products and services at amazing values, the new Kindle is a natural fit,” said Jevin Eagle, Staples EVP merchandising and marketing.

Staples is the first office superstore to offer the Kindle, however, Target became the first conventional retailer to stock the product when Kindle endcap displays hit its stores several months ago.

The Kindle is Amazon’s best-selling, most-wished-for and most-gifted product for two years running. Although, it is unclear how much demand remains for the device after such strong sales, Staples has secured distribution of the compelling item just in time for what promises to be a challenging holiday season. Kindle promises to bring some needed energy to the office products retailer with interactive displays that allow customers to experience the product before they buy and to learn more about the product. Plans also call for Staples to offer a full assortment of Kindle accessories.

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