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Welcome Posted on April 28, 2016 by Bruce Herrier

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Welcome to Veras Retail! New website, new brand, and new capabilities – we’ve got a lot of explaining to do, so I’ll get right to it.

First, our new name, Veras Retail. While we are retaining our legal name of Zoftec, LLC, we will be doing business as Veras Retail from this point forward. The reason for the change will become clear (if it isn’t already).

As for how we came up with the new name and new brand – we worked with the creative and talented team at Conversiv (www.conversiv.com) to understand our company’s market and culture, and build a new brand from the ground up that reflects who we are and what we aspire to be.

The name “Veras” doesn’t specifically have any meaning, though it does contain the Latin root word “ver”, meaning “truth”. That’s not a bad place for us to start – we have always prided ourselves on being transparent and forthright with customers, but the meaning of “truth” goes beyond that context – it speaks to our focus on the retail “Moment of Truth”, that point in the store where the customer decides to buy.

It’s also no accident that we’ve chosen to be “Veras Retail” and not “Veras Technologies”, “Veras Software”, or some other variation on the theme. We wanted to make sure that there was no doubt of where our focus and our passion lies.

Our tagline, “It Starts at the Store”, further reflects our mindset. I don’t like buzzwords, but there’s been a lot of talk recently about the “customer journey” in retail. While there’s no doubt that today’s shopper is an omnichannel shopper (and our solutions support and enable that truth), we firmly believe that for almost every retailer, the customer’s journey starts in the store, with those first impressions of the retailer’s brand cemented by the first greeting, the first browse down the aisles, and the first purchase at the point-of-sale.

(As for the iconography in our new logo, it’s a bit of a Rorschach test, as different people see different things – but we think that it captures the optimism and fun that we bring to our work every day).

At the risk of being accused of burying the lede, the reason we chose this time to rebrand ourselves is huge news in and of itself – our acquisition of the JDA store systems - JDA Store, Win/DSS, and JDA CRM. With this transaction, our business will fundamentally shift from the predominantly services-based model that Zoftec has had since its founding in 2008, to a product-based business as Veras. When Rohit founded the company in 2008, his vision was to build software for retailers that solved problems in unique ways. Over many coffees (and a few beers), Rohit and I would brainstorm possibilities to answer retail problems from the mundane (“how can I be sure that the promotion that goes live tomorrow will ring correctly at the POS?”) to the profound (“how can I understand the customer’s behavior in the store when they don’t make a purchase?” – the BIG question that still drives us today).

Now, with a suite of proven products and a new set of customers to accompany them, we have both the financial model that will allow us to place bets and make investments to solve those problems for a greater number of retailers, as well as having the platform components of POS, inventory, and CRM to use as the scaffolding upon which we can build new and exciting capabilities.

If you’re a current Zoftec customer, hopefully you’re excited about the news. Rest assured, our pursuit of new customers and investment in new features will not come at the expense of customer service – we wouldn’t be where we are without you, we thank you for your business and support, and we hope you look forward to growing with us in the future. If you’re new to Veras Retail, we look forward to meeting you, understanding your needs, and sharing our roadmap and vision with you. We’ll be sharing additional details about our growing company and evolving plans, both here on our website as well as direct outreach to all of our current and new customers.

Our goal is simple – for Veras Retail to be the leading provider of in-store systems to specialty retail. In our case, because we don’t answer to shareholders or outside investors, when we say “leading”, we don’t mean the biggest - we mean the best.

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JDA Alliance Posted on May 2, 2014 by Bruce Herrier

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As most of our readers probably know, Zoftec has a deep connection with JDA Software (www.jda.com) – many of us are ex-JDA’ers, and many of our projects have involved work integrating, implementing, and customizing JDA software products. That’s why we’re thrilled to announce that we have entered into an alliance with JDA.

We're excited about working more closely with JDA, and we expect that our alliance will bring tangible benefits to our mutual customers.

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Bluetooth Beacons – the “next big thing” in retail tech? Posted on October 7, 2013 by Bruce Herrier

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Over the years, if you work in technology (and retail technology in particular), you can get worn down by excitement over the “next big thing”, usually with an acronym that loses meaning the more it is repeated. The Gartner hype cycle tracks this phenomenon – as technologies emerge, the possibilities of the new technology at first seem limitless – vendors jump on the bandwagon to exploit the technology and hype it to the max. It then enters the “trough of disappointment” as implementation obstacles (cost, security) weigh down the rate of adoption.

However, I’m ready to drop my cynicism for the new “next big thing” – Bluetooth beacons.

If you’re not familiar with the technology, Ben Lovejoy from 9to5Mac has a good summary here. Basically, it involves using a low-energy variant of the Bluetooth technology (Bluetooth LE, introduced as part of the Bluetooth 4.0 spec) to send small packets of information to other Bluetooth devices in the immediate area. The beacon can be a fully-fledged smart device (Apple’s implementation of this concept is the (predictably named) iBeacon , added as part of iOS 7, so an iPad/iPhone can act as an iBeacon) or it can be a low-cost, embedded device mounted on a wall or fixture, such as the ones being marketed by Estimote. Either way, the beacon’s ability to detect and quickly communicate (no pairing required) with nearby Bluetooth LE devices (which includes the bulk of the devices made in the past year by Apple, Samsung, HTC, and Nokia) opens up a huge variety of potential uses – basically, any use case which involves an interaction with a smartphone in a large public area which has previously been hampered by infrastructure challenges (GPS inaccuracy, especially in large buildings, Wi-Fi security and opt-in) is now in play.

It’s not so much that Bluetooth LE is a revolutionary technology that brings new and unheard-of capabilities to the market – the “secret sauce” of Bluetooth LE is that it holds the potential to make existing business concepts more feasible or more open. Examples from the world of retail:

A variety of people-counting technologies from Brickstream and others have used varying camera-based technologies for years to track customer activity. Bluetooth LE holds the potential to accomplish many (but not all) of the same capabilities of those technologies with lower cost and greater potential specificity.

Shopkick built a business by creating a novel solution to the GPS inaccuracy problem by embedding an inaudible signal in the piped-in music in various stores. . Bluetooth LE beacons could certainly fulfill the “welcome to our store, here’s a coupon” mobile offer use case with accuracy – without having to subscribe to Shopkick’s service and proprietary dog-whistle approach.

Predictably, much that has been written about Bluetooth LE has been focused on payments – whether or not BLE is a viable platform for payments, is it an NFC-killer, etc. These miss the point that most have missed regarding mobile payments – the technology has not been the obstacle that has constrained adoption – the obstacle is that from the consumer’s perspective, taking 5 seconds to swipe a credit/debit card that is accepted virtually everywhere is not a problem that needs fixing.

Bluetooth LE’s potential lies in the fact that it combines a low infrastructure cost with a near-ubiquitous and non-proprietary technology platform. This opens up an array of capabilities which used to require massive investments in proprietary hardware and software. Consumer-facing use cases don’t have to be creepy or annoying – there’s a wide range of benefits to both customers and to retailers by being able to be accurately located in the store. Additionally, given the wide adoption of smartphones in the enterprise, there are a wide variety of enterprise uses (warehouses come to mind) where privacy and annoyance concerns are secondary.

We’re anxiously awaiting the arrival of our developer kit and beacons from Estimote, because we think this “next big thing” might actually be the exception to the rule and avoid the hype cycle. We’ve got some exciting plans up our sleeve, and Bluetooth LE is definitely a big part of them.

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J.C. Penney’s Cautionary Mobile POS Tale Posted on June 17, 2013 by Bruce Herrier

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This Bloomberg article about JC Penney’s re-booting of their mobile point-of-sale initiative in the aftermath of Ron Johnson’s departure sheds some light on the real-world ramifications of a mobile POS implementation. Penney’s found out there are a couple of vastly underrated factors about the customer experience which retailers should keep in mind when considering a mobile POS deployment:

1) Helping customers to identify the mobile POS “cashier”

Reading how J.C. Penney found that their customers couldn’t distinguish the store’s employees from other customers reminded me of my first retail experience at Barnes & Noble – we sneered at (and were secretly jealous of) the Teva-wearing sales associates at Borders. However, we often heard from customers that shopped both stores that the professionally dressed (at the time) B&N associates were easier to identify and were more approachable. (Just a hint for J.C. Penney – a red lanyard and a gray sash for the associates toting a mobile POS? My guess is that it’s not enough.) This is one area where Apple does have it right – the bright blue T-shirts worn by Genii at the Apple Store make it easy to identify them.

2) Designing a full-fledged checkout experience

Most retailers are not prepared to give up many of the tangible benefits of the cashwrap – be it loss prevention (fixed point for CCTV surveilance, de-activation of anti-theft tags), branding (bags are perhaps the most low-cost marketing vehicle in existence), or customer interaction (folding and bagging present an opportunity for conversation and upselling). Penney’s rolling cart approach will help mitigate some of these problems, but still seems to present a potential no-man’s land between a traditional, full-fledged cashwrap and the fluid Apple Store model.

“None of this created headaches at Apple, where tech-savvy customers typically buy one or two boxed items per visit and long ago embraced mobile checkout”.

While it’s true that Apple’s typical customer is more tech-savvy than J.C. Penney’s, this trope ignores something more fundamental – regardless of our technical aptitude or affinity, we share cultural norms about shopping that are difficult to dislodge – and in some cases, exist for very practical reasons. There are cultural obstacles to mobile checkouts that have nothing to do with the type of merchandise or the customer’s comfort with technology.

I consider myself tech-savvy (and, it must be noted, an Apple fanboy), and I shopped in the Apple Store for a new iPad cover a few months ago. This item was eligible for Apple’s EasyPay self-checkout program. So, as a dutiful geek, I made sure my Apple Store app was configured to allow EasyPay ahead of time, and when I arrived at the store, I connected to the store’s Wi-Fi, pulled the item from the shelf, scanned it with the app on my phone, checked out, and…..the request timed out.

Not wanting to risk being accused of shoplifting, I went to find a Genius to check me out. The first associate I approached told me she couldn’t help me, as she didn’t have a device capable of checkout. She pointed to one of her colleagues in the middle of the sales floor, who was intently focused on a conversation with another customer. This put me in a bind – do I barge into the conversation, demanding to be checked out? Or do I awkwardly hover nearby, waiting politely for the conversation to finish? If I were brought up in a different culture, I might have barged ahead, but as a typical American, I chose the awkward hover. (I imagine if I were English, this would have been an even more painful situation.)

In this case, I would have happily stood in a short line (which we’re taught from birth to understand and respect), rather than deal with the mobile POS “queue” where no societal norms have been established. When the Apple Store isn’t busy, the appeal of mobile POS to both Apple and the customer is clear. Increased conversions for the store, increased convenience for the customer. When things get backed up, though – the model starts to break down.

Hopefully more retailers think through the operational and cultural considerations of mobile POS rather than learning that lesson the hard way like J.C. Penney did. There are certainly huge potential benefits to mobile POS to be had, but only when every facet of the experience (physical space, device and peripherals, customer and associate training) is aligned toward a common goal.

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Google Glass – to serve consumers, not FOR consumers Posted on March 20, 2013 by Bruce Herrier

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Last week’s SXSW conference brought another round of hype to Google’s wearable Glass project. (I feel like a dinosaur for remembering this as a music event,but that’s a different story.) A lot of the tech press has been getting worked up about the ramifications of how this technology will affect us in our daily lives – will it be a boon or just a way for people to make others uncomfortable (Sign me up for the hands-free cookbook and concert recording , thanks!). However, what’s got me interested is how this technology could (and will) be used in enterprise environments, especially retail.

Transformative technology like Google Glass does (thankfully) have to clear societal hurdles before it becomes an acceptable norm. Bluetooth earpieces, while not uncommon, are something that can only be used in public if you accept a certain stigma attached to them. Video calling, while pretty much ubiquitous and as easy to use as dialing a phone number, has not come close to replacing traditional voice calling (maybe David Foster Wallace was right). Any new consumer technology that we carry with us (I’m looking at you, iWatch) has to overcome societal acceptance. As a society we’ve now accepted that everybody has a camera in their phone. We’ve accepted the fact that people become glued to their smartphones in social settings (though we reserve the right to make fun of them for doing so). But that’s no guarantee that society will accept a Glass-wearing population.

I think Google Glass is probably going to follow a similar path, at least initially. Warehouses, for example, are areas where I could see Glass being adopted very quickly. Wearable tech has been used in warehouses for a generation – but never has the technology been able to provide information to workers as efficiently as Google Glass can. Not only could the worker avoid diverting his eyes at the task at hand, but information about their picking path can be displayed graphically, or even using augmented reality to guide them to their next stop and quickly locate the proper item on a high rack. Warehouses are always looking to squeeze every drop of operational efficiency they can from their people – Glass could be a powerful tool in that regard.

As a store operations guy, though, I tend to think about how that efficiency could be translated to the store. In addition to the inventory-related tasks like restocking, where the same benefits from the warehouse would translate to the store, Glass could be the ultimate anti-showrooming weapon – product information could be at the ready for the sales associate without disrupting the customer conversation. Store managers could be alerted to long lines at the cash wrap (or even tap into a CCTV feed) while performing other tasks. And of course customer information could be at the ready for clienteling.

In fact, if Glass ramps up quickly enough, I could envision it being a “leapfrog” technology for retailers who haven’t yet adopted mobile devices for their associates. Many of the objections surrounding mobile technology – that the devices are going to be dropped or misplaced, that ruggedized shells or harnesses are not “brand appropriate” – are reduced or eliminated by wearable technology.

Of course, for consumer-facing uses, it again comes back to societal acceptance. If a customer thinks they are going to be surreptitiously photographed, they’ll avoid a Glass-wearing sales associate like the plague. It’ll be interesting to see whether, unfettered by societal acceptance, the enterprise market would lead the adoption of Glass, or whether the consumer market will drive enterprise adoption as it did with smartphones and tablets.

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The end of the store as we know it? Posted on February 24, 2013 by Bruce Herrier

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There’s been plenty of industry buzz recently about Hointer (www.hointer.com) – the jeans store in Seattle that is conspicuously sales associate and cashier-free. Aside from the unfortunate name (sorry, but to my ears it sounds like something you get removed at the dermatologist), its defining premise is to blend the somewhat sterile but cost-effective e-commerce experience with the tactile experience of traditional shopping.

I’m sure this will be a hit with the huge antisocial-guys-with-money-to-burn-on-ridiculously-expensive-jeans-who-are-tech-savvy-but-that-don’t-trust-ecommerce market. However, it’s hard to imagine that this concept will spread like wildfire and endure any more than the automat restaurant endured. (Being served by robots is hardly a new concept.)

If anything, the power of in-person selling is being recognized as more and more important. Macy’s, for example, increased sales 5.5% largely by focusing on how its associates could engage its customers (http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-02-07/what-retailers-can-learn-from-macy-s). Google is reportedly following Apple and Microsoft into branded retail outlets (http://9to5google.com/2013/02/15/to-get-products-into-more-hands-google-will-open-its-own-stores-by-the-end-of-the-year/).

So, which worldview is going to win out? My hunch is that the answer is going to be “both” – or “none of the above”. I think we’ll continue to see a fragmentation of store formats – some of which will be more showrooms for mass merchandise than stores, while others may be the polar opposite, boutiques for unique, local, or fast-moving merchandise.

As we become more and more dependent on technology to connect with our friends and relatives and make new connections, stores may very well end up providing the personal touch that we miss in our personal lives. The stereotype of the shut-in senior citizen chatting up the cashier and holding up the line is well-worn – but as technology creates further physical separation, it’s easy to imagine the shopping experience in physical stores (with human sales associates) filling more and more of a gap in our need to socialize.

What’s clear to me is that retail “winners” are going to be defined by their ability to know how their customers think and tailor a shopping experience that matches that customer’s expectations and values. It’s no longer about broad-based markets, it’s about sub-markets, niche markets, and figuring out what motivates each of those niches. For this particular customer, Dollar Shave Club (www.dollarshaveclub.com) has it figured out. I don’t need Roger Federer’s endorsement, nor do I enjoy the process of negotiating most retailers’ cumbersome anti-theft measures just to drop $20 on a month’s worth of blades. For such a mundane commodity, having them delivered to my home at a dirt-cheap price is absolutely the way to go. However, I’m sure it’s not for everybody, and there will continue to be guys (perhaps younger, more impressionable types) that will want the name brand that they associate with virility – whether they would ever admit to that motivation or not.

Maybe Hointer has tapped into a sub-market that has been misunderstood and will end up being a success. My guess is that they’ll find that their target market actually values the guidance and validation of a sales associate, even though they’d never admit to it in a survey or focus group.

Hopefully for Hointer, they’ve found that the technology is truly the best way to serve the needs of the customer they’re targeting. However, all it takes is reading their “About Us” page to get a strong suspicion that this is yet another example of “technology for technology’s sake”. And we know how that usually works out.