FINANCE

Report: Bribe probe cost Wal-Mart $439 million

BY Staff Writer

New York — Wal-Mart Stores spent $439 million during the past two years to investigate the possible payment of foreign bribes, Bloomberg reported, making it ranks as one of the most expensive probes in U.S. history.

Wal-Mart spent $282 million in the fiscal year ended Jan. 31 and $157 million the previous year, and expenses will continue to rise, according to an annual report filed March 21. On Feb. 20, Wal-Mart projected FCPA probe and compliance costs would be $200 million to $240 million for fiscal 2015.

“While we believe that it is probable that we will incur a loss from these matters, given the ongoing nature and complexity of the review, inquiries and investigations, we cannot reasonably estimate any loss or range of loss that may arise from these matters,” according to the filing, Reuters reported.

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FINANCE

Merchant Warehouse acquires Opticard

BY Staff Writer

New York — Merchant Warehouse, a leading provider of payment technologies, has acquired Opticard, a provider of gift and loyalty programs.

Through this acquisition, Merchant Warehouse will offer deeper mobile and digital engagement opportunities for small and mid-sized businesses through an expanded suite of gift, loyalty and prepaid programs.

"Loyalty is truly centered around the customer experience; every customer counts, but it’s the ones that keep coming back that are vital to any business. This is where we excel — providing the right type of loyalty program or prepaid cards for businesses to better attract, engage and retain customers," said Troy Smith, GM, Opticard.

Opticard’s prepaid offerings, including both gift card and loyalty programs, are designed to meet the unique needs of every retailer, enabling them to build lasting relationships with their customers, while simultaneously encouraging them to return and spend more. Merchant Warehouse plans to continue to invest in the Opticard platform to advance the suite of service offerings to new and existing resellers and retail customers.

"Prepaid offerings shouldn’t be complicated for the merchant or the consumer. It’s really about delivering experience and value, and when done right, driving customer retention and business growth. That’s why the next step in mobile innovation is transitioning the traditional gift, loyalty and prepaid options into digital formats," said Henry Helgeson, CEO, Merchant Warehouse. "Bringing these capabilities to mobile devices ensures consumers never have to worry about leaving coupons, gift cards or even their loyalty cards at home; they’ll always be easily accessible and usable through their phones."

Opticard employees will join the Merchant Warehouse team. Opticard will continue to operate independently and will remain in its current location.

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Oracle Industry Connect: The fulfillment behind ‘Commerce Anywhere’

BY Dan Berthiaume

A central theme of the Oracle Industry Connect conference, held in Boston March 25-26, was “Commerce Anywhere,” or the new customer experience paradigm that requires enabling the consumer to purchase products how they want, when they want and to do so in a connected, nearly seamless fashion. IT also entails delivering targeted assortments, making inventory transparent and accessible to customers and employees in real-time, and integrating the systems supporting retail operations.

Commerce Anywhere is a great theoretical explanation of how successful retailers conduct 21st century commerce, but how do they actually make it happen behind the scenes? Speakers at Oracle Industry Connect on the second day of the event, March 26, explored this vital industry question.

During a morning keynote panel session conducted by Mike Webster, senior VP and general manager of Oracle’s Retail Global Business Unit, Stage Stores CIO Steven Hunter said in his organization, everyone takes ownership of customer experience. Data and metrics are key to Stage’s successful delivery of a segmented and targeted experience.

“Sixty percent of our 900 stores are in small towns of 50,000 people or less,” said Hunter. “They are a destination. The store manager needs to know customers’ names, their families, their likes and dislikes. Information helps. Then we have metro market customers who want to get in and out quickly. We use mobile devices for checkout and credit applications. We manage two different customer metrics.”

Hunter said metrics are the “needle” that has moved the company toward universal ownership of customer experience. Customers are segmented into high, medium and low value, allowing Stage Stores to determine the level of targeted customer experience to allocate to each segment.

In addition, Vinnie Mirchandani, founder of technology innovation blog Deal Architect, said retailers should begin customer experience fulfillment strategies by including design experts. He gave an example of how Home Depot integrated mobile technology into its store design to improve previously poor customer service.

“You’d walk into a store and couldn’t find anyone,” said Mirchandani. “With the Home Depot mobile app, you scan something, input the parameters and get the aisle where it’s located. It offsets the limitations of Home Depot’s customer service.”

Proper fulfillment of Commerce Anywhere also requires the right systems infrastructure. In a later session, Don Hendricks, CIO of Hot Topic, and Hussein Youssfi, VP applications of Hot Topic, picked up on the theme of basic “vanilla” implementations that had been recurring throughout the conference.

“You don’t always need to modify your platform to the specific things your brand does,” said Hendricks. “The way you handle systems does not have to be special.”

Hendricks said Hot Topic and its sister Torrid swimwear brand, despite having different customer bases and products, share a common integrated Oracle application platform that was installed in as vanilla a fashion as possible in 10 months, with three months preparation beforehand. With modification, Hendricks estimated the implementation would have taken two to four years.

Youssfi outlined some specific benefits of vanilla IT rollouts. “You have one version of the truth; a single system of record,” he said. “There is easy data access for users.”

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