News

Starbucks' First-Ever Groupon Coupon Crashes Groupon's Page

Did Starbucks' Groupon cup runneth over? The first time Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) tried Groupon (NASDAQ:GRPN), on March 22, it got a good news/bad news joke. Good news: The campaign is going over extremely well. Bad news: Groupon's page for the promotion crashed, angering a lot of customers and prospective customers.

The coffee chain's first-ever daily deal offered a $10 giftcard for $5. The site indicates that more than 100,000 people purchased the coupon, but—like every other crash—there's no way to know how many tried to purchase the coupon and couldn't. Without knowing that figure, it's hard to deal with the fundamental philosophical issue: Did the crash make the campaign do more harm than good? If 100,000 prospective shoppers saw the order, but 800,000 were frustrated by the crash and potentially alienated, the popular campaign isn't necessarily a good thing for Starbucks.

PCI DSS: The Next Generation

PCI DSS is going through a generational change. That change has nothing to do with the upcoming release of PCI DSS version 3.0 this fall, pens PCI Columnist Walter Conway. Instead, the generational change is in the security professionals he works with everyday, the people who are managing their organizations' PCI compliance. Most of these professionals are very qualified, but they are new to their job and often also new to PCI.

One result of this generational change is that Walt is being asked some of the same questions he was asked five or more years ago. The questions range from whether pre-authorization data is in scope (treat it like it is) to the feasibility of E-mailing card data (a seriously bad idea) to what constitutes effective network segmentation (think "air gap"). Fresh perspectives are always welcome, so the implications of this generational change for merchants and QSAs alike are generally positive. But with new compliance staff and assessors come fresh challenges and approaches that can impact every merchant and service provider.

Customer Service Survey Places Apple Second To Last

The vaunted customer service chops of Apple Stores may not be what they once were. A new retail survey of 10,000 U.S. shoppers placed Apple second-to-last in customer experience, just slightly better than RadioShack. Is Apple a victim of its own reputation? In other words, are its fans' expectations now so high as to be unreachable, delivering disappointment? Another surprise: Ace Hardware placed third, beating out customer service king Nordstrom by one notch. Amazon and Sam's Club were the only retailers to achieve better customer service scores.

Customer service is one of the hardest things to reliably, consistently, accurately and—here's the hardest one—meaningfully measure in retail. Other top customer service performers according to the survey are, in order: PetSmart, BJ's Wholesale, Walgreens, AutoZone and Home Depot. Weak performers include: JCPenney, Marshalls, Gamestop and 7-Eleven. (Note: JCPenney has the distinction of being the retailer that suffered the largest drop in customer service ratings from last year to this year. JCPenney dropped 6 percent. The biggest retail gain during the same period? Office Depot (NYSE:ODP), which boosted its score by 11 percent.)

eBay's New Simplified Pricing Is Not So Simple

When eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) on Tuesday (March 19) announced "simplified pricing" that was actually far more complex pricing, it made its war with Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) over third-party sellers even more direct. It marked the first time that eBay has ever publicly compared its pricing with Amazon. The enhanced eBay assault comes at a time when Amazon is feeling a lot of heat on its Marketplace third-party seller program—and as other retailers are preparing to create such marketplaces of their own.

eBay marks the second direct assault on Amazon Marketplace in as many weeks. The first came from Germany, where government officials are challenging Amazon's ability to force Marketplace merchants to always give Amazon their lowest prices. And a federal class-action lawsuit in the U.S. is saying that Amazon delays its payments to other merchants deliberately and for too long. None of these moves can slow Amazon's marketplace efforts much, but they don't have to. To the extent that it makes Amazon's third-party merchants itchy to look elsewhere—perhaps into the waiting arms of eBay or Walmart.com (NYSE:WMT)—then Amazon has reason to worry, because the advantages it gets from these merchants extend well beyond the revenue commissions.

U.S. Supreme Court Knocks Down Barrier To Cross-Border E-Tail

The U.S. Supreme Court has removed a major barricade for cross-border E-Commerce. On Tuesday (March 19), the court ruled that so long as a product isn't pirated, U.S. retailers can import it without violating copyright law. In practice, that means an online retailer can sell U.S. customers many products that are lower priced—and were never intended to be sold in the U.S.—without breaking the law.

We're not talking about pirated goods here, but what's often called the "gray market"—legitimate products that aren't authorized for U.S. sale. Those products are usually priced lower, because they're intended for less-affluent markets than the U.S. Costco (NASDAQ:COST)and Kmart (NASDAQ:SHLD) have sold those types of products in the past and gotten into legal trouble. This week's ruling says they won't have that trouble again. But there are much bigger E-Commerce implications in the court's decision to get rid of those geographical limits.

Walmart Protects Cyberthief Privacy While Choosing To Not Prosecute

When Legal Columnist Mark Rasch's wife had her credit card stolen, it was used to make bogus purchases from Walmart (NYSE:WMT) . Walmart not only chose to not prosecute—typical when the fraud falls below a threshold that thieves know very well—but it went out of its way to protect the privacy of the thief.

"All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." So said Sir Edmund Burke. But the phrase could equally apply to merchants, and their failure to adequately and aggressively investigate and prosecute online payment-card fraud. Rather than aggressively going after these carders, most retailers consider such losses a "cost of doing business." Where does that leave the honest shopper? From the shopper's perspective, whose back is Walmart seeming to protect more?

Amazon's Secret Weapon May Be A Mystery To Amazon, Too

Is Amazon Marketplace really the E-tail giant's "secret weapon"? That's reportedly how a Walmart (NTSE:WMT) executive described it at a top-management meeting in February. Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) itself may not hold its collection of third-party sellers in quite such high esteem—especially since March 15, when two of them launched a class-action lawsuit complaining that Amazon routinely holds up payments it owes to the sellers.

In fact, Amazon Marketplace now brings in almost 12 percent of Amazon's retail revenues. But it also represents more than 40 percent of the goods sold on Amazon's site, which makes the Marketplace merchants both competition and a huge market-research pool for Amazon—and, potentially, a legal time bomb.

NeimanMarcus.com's Fake Faux-Fur Fiasco Draws A Real 20-Year Consent Agreement

In what is probably a sign of the real-vs.-fake end times, Neiman Marcus agreed on Tuesday (March 19) to stop labeling real fur as "faux fur." According to a very real FTC complaint, between October 2009 and November 2012, the luxury chain's NeimanMarcus.com and BergdorfGoodman.com websites sold a Burberry jacket, a Stuart Weitzman shoe and an Alice + Olivia Kyah coat described on the sites as trimmed with faux fur, when actually the trimming was real fur.

Part of the reason Neiman Marcus got into trouble here is that it started selling the fake faux fur products less than six months after settling a previous FTC fake faux fur investigation. But the bigger problem may be the fact that physical stores have human beings who can catch some of these labeling problems before they become a federal case. Online stores don't.

Federal Appellate Panel Backs Walmart On Obscenity Case, But It Was One Malice Claim From Going In The Opposite Direction

A federal appellate panel on March 15 backed Walmart (NYSE:WMT), ruling that the chain had no need to train employees on when they should or shouldn't call police after seeing customer photographs. The test case involved a couple who had their children taken away for a month, until a judge saw the actual photographs and the results of an examination of the children and then ordered the children to be returned to their parents and no charges filed.

The decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit also flagged to retailers their Achilles heel in such cases, pointing out that the parents' case fell apart when they didn't allege that the store associates had not acted in good faith. In other words, had there been evidence that the associates acted maliciously, things might have gone very differently for Walmart. The parents certainly wouldn't have had difficulty establishing harm that resulted from the associate's actions.

Is Target Trying To Become Amazon For Cooks?

Target (NYSE:TGT) is quietly getting into the E-Commerce infrastructure business. The $68 billion chain announced last Thursday (March 14) that it is buying online cookery sites CHEFS Catalog and Cooking.com, both of which sell kitchenware and utensils. But Cooking.com also provides the backend for several high-profile celebrity cooking websites -- and Target apparently intends to keep its hands off that business as long as it keeps growing.

Keep in mind that it's barely a year and a half since Target could barely keep its own newly built E-Commerce site running, after a decade of having its E-Commerce operations run by Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN). That's fresh in the minds of Target E-Commerce execs, so if there's any chain that can see an advantage to becoming a mini-Amazon for cooking websites, it's Target.

Subway Hit By Ultimate Cyberthief Inside Job: A Double-Insider

A federal indictment unsealed on Friday (March 15) involving a Subway cyberthief attack might be an example of the ultimate insider attack. The thefts were actually double-insider attacks, in that one of the accused was a former franchisee of Subway—an employee is the typical insider attack, but an owner also qualifies—and he then ran a POS company that sold systems to Subway franchisees. A vendor using a backdoor is the other common form of insider attack. Here, the government alleges, we have both.

The case against Shahin Abdollahi, a.k.a. Sean Holdt, is that he supposedly used the systems he sold to Subways around the country to fraudulently load value onto giftcards. The indictment then claims that Abdollahi either used the giftcards himself at Subways thousands of miles away or sold them as discounted cards on eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) and Craigslist. For that added touch of chutzpah, the indictment alleges, Abdollahi and a co-conspirator "sometimes registered [the giftcards] online with Subway" and that was done "to keep track of the fraudulently loaded cards in case of loss or theft." After all that work, you certainly wouldn't want a card to be lost due to carelessness.

With POS Paper Supplies Vanishing, E-Receipts May No Longer Be Optional

Maybe digital receipts and coupons are something you need to start promoting—and fast. The second-largest supplier of POS receipt paper, Germany's Koehler, still plans to stop shipping paper to the U.S. in April, after a December ruling by the Commerce Department that will increase tariffs by more than 70 percent. That could translate into shortages and will almost certainly mean higher prices for thermal paper, which is used in most chains' POS printers.

U.S. and Chinese paper mills say they will eventually fill the shortfall from the U.S. exit of Koehler, which has been providing about 40 percent of POS paper. But in the meantime chain execs may be expecting IT to keep stores from running out of paper. Strange as it sounds, it is IT's problem—and the second-easiest option is digital receipts.

Want To Give Shoppers A Reason To Use Loyalty? How About Saving Their Lives?

Grocery—and other food selling—chains that are trying to encourage shoppers to use CRM? Nothing makes customers more loyal than saving their lives. (Yes, Bentonville, even more than saving them...

Court: Retailers Not Bound To Online Promises. Their Shoppers Are

A recent dismissal of a class-action lawsuit against the LinkedIn (NYSE:LNKD) social network raises the question of whether anyone is bound to keep the promises they make on their website at all. If taken at face value, pens Legal Columnist Mark Rasch, the court's dismissal means that companies are not bound to meet their own promised obligations but their customers are bound to comply with the Terms and Conditions of the website, whether they read them or not.

When LinkedIn premium customers Katie Szpyrka and Khalilah Wright learned that the website operator had been hacked, and that 6.5 million stolen LinkedIn passwords had been posted on the Internet (together with the user's e-mail address), they went to sue LinkedIn for failing to provide adequate security and appropriate encryption for these passwords. Because users frequently use the same passwords for multiple accounts, stealing their LinkedIn passwords and E-mail addresses might expose a host of other accounts to compromise.

Costco CFO on Item-Level RFID: "That Ain't Happening"

Item-Level RFID has its backers at Macy's (NASDAQ:M) and a lot of supporters at JCPenney (NYSE:JCP) (if the retailer only had the cash). But a warehouse chain such Costco (NASDAQ: COST)—with aisle inventory stacked dozens of feet in the air—should be a natural. Not so, Costco CFO Richard Galanti said Tuesday (March 12). In fact, not even close.

Asked about ways to cut labor costs, Galanti went out of his way to dismiss it, arguing that he's not buying item-level RFID's promises. "Everybody thought that RFID would free up the front end and reduce our biggest labor cost area. That ain't happening." (How can you not like a CFO who tells a recorded investor call "that ain't happening"?) Costco has always been the contrarian among the largest chains.

Chain Sues Visa For Breach Fines, May Actually Get Its Day In Court

Apparel chain Genesco (NYSE:GCO) has sued Visa (NYSE:V)—yes, Visa, not the acquiring banks—over the card brand's $13 million in fines due to a 2010 breach. The 2,440-store retailer, which operates the Journeys, Lids and Johnston & Murphy stores, makes the usual arguments: Visa's fines are illegal, Visa broke its own rules, Genesco didn't violate any PCI DSS requirements. (Well, except PCI's First Commandment: Thou shalt not get breached.)

What's interesting here is why Genesco thinks it will get to take Visa to court: A month before Visa notified the acquirers of the assessment, Genesco signed a separate agreement with one of the acquirers, Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC), in which the bank actually signed over its right to sue Visa to Genesco.

Walmart, Safeway, Amazon Share Same Domain Strategy: Mine, Mine, Mine

Walmart (NYSE:WMT) and Safeway (NYSE:SWY) are each trying to privatize .grocery, so no competing chains can use it. Barring an unexpected change, one of the two will lock it down. Meanwhile, the spotlight has been on Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) for attempting to get exclusive use of .books. Other retail-friendly top-level domains (TLDs), including .toys, .kids, .tools, .shoes, .fashion and .food, are also in play.

That may not be as paranoid as it first looks. Amazon filed (and paid the $185,000 per TLD application fee) for 76 separate vanity TLDs—all of which it intends to restrict to Amazon and its subsidiaries. (Yes, we looked at all 76 applications.) Some of the most obvious TLDs retailers might conceivably be interested in—.shoes, .toys, .fashion, .jewelry and .tools—have no retailer applicants. They've all been applied for by companies that actually believe they can sell domain names ending with those TLDs. There's also .food, which is the focus of a three-way competition among two domain registrars and the Food Network, which wants to take it private. Amazon, Google and a Hong Kong foundation are each fighting for .kids. How likely is it that .book—owned by Amazon or anyone else—will have an impact? Barnes & Noble (NYSE:BKS) owns both book.com and books.com, which both redirect to the chain's own site. That doesn't seem to have given B&N much of a monopoly.

Privacy Sure Isn't What It Once Was

When it comes to softening up shoppers and making them more comfortable sharing personal information with retailers, nothing has done a better job than social media sites. Mobile devices, with their...

Dick's Sporting Goods Takes A Different View Of Online Stats

In a wonderful E-Commerce example of the time-honored "different strokes for different folks," executives at both Dick's Sporting Goods (NYSE:DKS) and Macy's (NYSE:M) saw the identical trend: Online, in-store and mobile sales are becoming hopelessly tangled. Macy's solution on February 26: Stop reporting online numbers. Dick's solution on Monday (March 11): Break those numbers out even more.

Here's how similarly both chains view the problem. On February 26, Macy's CFO Karen Hoguet said: "Candidly, it's getting so hard to know what's a store sale and what's a mobile sale and what's Internet. It's getting harder to figure out the lines between them." On March 11, Dick's CEO Edward Stack said: "We are making this reporting change because, as we build out our omni-channel platform, it is becoming apparent that the traditional sales channels are overlapping with the digital space and that providing comp sales on a combined basis will be more meaningful." But by "combined" Stack means that online numbers will be explicitly broken out. "We will continue to provide the size of the E-Commerce business as a percentage of total sales," he said. Stack gave the example that E-Commerce for this quarter was 8.6 percent of total sales, which placed online sales at about $155 million for the quarter.

Judge Rules That A Large Data Breach Is Not Proof Of Inadequate Security

A federal judge ruled on March 5 that LinkedIn (NYSE: LNKD) is not obligated to compensate a pair of its customers who had sued following a LinkedIn data breach last year. Of particular interest to retailers is the customers' argument that the social networking site had promised to protect customer data "with industry standard protocols and technology." They then argued that the breach itself somehow proved such security was not delivered. The judge didn't buy it.

No security system is perfect, so the existence of a break-in—on its own—doesn't prove that security procedures were not followed nor that they were not appropriate. The case—heard in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Jose—raised several other arguments for customer seeking compensation for the breach, and the court shot them all down. To start the proceedings, the customers had to make a case for how they lost money as a result of the breach, given that it appears none of their personal information was ever used by the thieves.