It’s Time to Embrace Virtual Selling

Add the personal experience, connection & excitement back to retail that your shoppers crave

October 22, 2020

Virtual selling is far more than a trend, and considerably more than sales associates interacting on Facebook or Zoom.

As consumers are anxious about their finances and health ahead of the holiday season, according to Deloitte’s September consumer report, the uncertainty in our economy is causing U.S. shoppers to spend less. Unsurprisingly, the report also reveals that 60 percent of consumers are concerned about the health of their families leaving them anxious about spending time in stores.

While the heightened safety requirements for both retail workers and their customers have accelerated to promote more contactless interactions like curbside pickup, buy online pickup in store (BOPIS), and self-checkout — but what if shoppers don’t step into the store?

When consumers were asked how they planned to get through their holiday shopping and to-do lists this season, here’s how they responded:

  • 65 percent will shop online to avoid crowds
  • 48 percent will avoid malls
  • 69 percent will shop in stores closer to home
Veras Affinity Remote Selling

Now is the time to embrace remote or virtual selling. With remote selling, your organization can double customer engagement, productivity, and speed at lower costs by enabling remote selling teams. Sure, you can continue use Facebook or Zoom, but the experiences provided on these platforms are not trackable, personalized, integrated or consistent. While they help provide a quick fix to connect with shoppers, they’re hardly retail-focused and let’s face it, your customers expect more.

Here are some compelling benefits of our in-app remote selling experience:

  • CONTROLLED ENVIRONMENT. The opportunities for abuse are greatly reduced and there is no need to worry about app downloads or platform compatibility.
  • INTEGRATED TO THE SELLING PROCESS. In addition to having visibility into past purchases, recommendations can be converted to purchases, saved to their wish lists or added to their omnichannel cart.
  • KNOW THE CUSTOMER’S INTERESTS. Whether they’re planning for an upcoming event or remodeling an entire room, keep track of their preferences and products as they build out various collections.
  • BEST OF ECOMMERCE. Take the immediacy and convenience of ecommerce combined with the high-level service and personal touch of a knowledgeable sales associate.

In this Veras Affinity Remote Selling demo, take a closer look as we step you through how the associate:

  • Initiates the remote selling conversation at the appointed time
  • Shares rich product details and available promotions
  • Builds the basket all the way through to purchase
Give your associates the tools they need to foster stronger customer relationships, increase engagement, and drive revenue.

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COVID-19 Sparks Self-Checkout Adoption

COVID-19 Sparks Self-Checkout Adoption & Other Contactless In-Store Technology

May 7, 2020

The heightened safety requirements for frontline retail workers and their customers have intensified to promote more contactless interactions like self-checkout—and other in-store technology.

The launch of self-checkout systems that initially freed shoppers from what they disliked most, long checkout lines, may soon be viewed as essential in-store technology. The evolution towards self-checkout and cashless payments has been underway for decades.

The first supermarket self-checkout system called ‘the service robot’ was installed in 1992 in the Price Chopper Supermarket in New York by inventor Dr. Howard Schneider. By 2003, self-checkout systems had become widespread across the U.S. And now with over 240,000 self-checkout devices installed around the world, the self-checkout systems market size is expected to reach 7.8 billion USD by 2027, according to Grand View Research.

A Change in Self-Checkout Sentiment

COVID-19 has only accelerated the adoption of self checkout along with clear evidence in changing consumer habits. In a December 2019 survey from Bizrate Insights conducted just prior to the pandemic taking hold:

  • 47 percent (nearly half) of respondents said they use self-service checkouts regularly
  • 31 percent said they have used it before, though not as frequently
  • Only 2 percent of respondents didn’t know what self-service checkouts were
Self-checkout survey

Fast forward to today, an astounding 87 percent of U.S. shoppers prefer to shop in stores with touchless or robust self-checkout options. The survey, shared by advanced weighing technology provider Shekel, also shows that 75 percent of shoppers now use self-checkout frequently to pay for groceries.

Retailers Expected to Do a Lot More with Less

With fewer retail support staff on hand as stores reopen, many in-store workers are likely to start performing other functions such as helping with personal styling, virtual and in-store shopping assistance, e-commerce support, home delivery and other fulfillment-related activities.

However, performing these functions without the right software and technology automation would be impossible to do well (and delight) at scale. As retailers can only address so much with reduced staff and stressed budgets, let’s take a closer look at what shoppers say are their top in-store frustrations.

A recent Capgemini survey revealed:

  • The largest share of respondents at 60 percent were irritated with long checkout lines
  • 48 percent of shoppers said they were frustrated by products being out of stock  
  • 40 percent of shoppers had difficulties physically locating what they needed
  • 26 percent of shoppers had trouble finding and getting help from an associate
  • 24 percent of customers desired more product information when selecting products
Retail pain points survey on in-store shopping

Here are some ways Veras Retail’s unified solutions can immediately help retailers remove these top in-store pain points.

Everyone Wins with Self-Checkout

As shoppers are taking every precaution to protect themselves, they want the ability to checkout using unattended shopping for their health and safety, as well as the health and safety of retail staff. In addition to never losing a sale or customer to long wait times, retailers will benefit from:

  • Maximizing personnel productivity with labor costs during surges and off-peak hours
  • Shorter queues, a quicker checkout process, and greater capacity
  • Language selection option at checkout makes it easier for multi-language support
  • Staff resources are better directed in managing the store and serving customers in ways such as virtual shopping assistance or direct fulfillment support
Provide Shoppers with Inventory Visibility

Allowing shoppers to use smartphones to know the availability and location of merchandise before heading to stores will eliminate the frustration for nearly 50 percent of shoppers looking for a specific product. In addition to speeding purchases, consumers are more likely to shop in stores when they know ‘the item is in stock’, ‘where it’s available’ and ‘the most convenient location to get the item’.

Veras Retail can help retailers achieve much of this today through real-time connectivity from the point of sale, ecommerce, and checks against real-time inventory. Check out the full details in our blog post, Delivering on New Shopping Expectations.

User Friendly, Product-Rich Kiosks

For roughly one out of every four shopper that has trouble finding an associate for help or desiring more product information, Veras Extend’s interactive experience takes in-store kiosks to the next level. Empowering shoppers to explore on their own, Veras Extend kiosks helps minimize face time with frontline associates, which today is just another layer of exposure, and adds the following powerful customer capabilities:

retail kiosk, 360 product view
  • Eliminate the frustration and cost of missing or incorrect pricing
  • Provide immediate customer service to shoppers when an associate is not available
  • Give a full 360-product view through rich product descriptions, images, and customer reviews
  • Customers will also see all applicable promotions, accessories, and complementary items

Getting back to normal routines will take time and require different shopping habits and retail solutions. As consumers look for more contactless shopping experiences whenever possible that doesn’t mean reduced service level or skimping on customer experience. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

Learn how our light-weight customer experience platform is helping retailers do more with less to keep pace with today’s demanding environment.

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COVID-19 Tax Relief and Hassle-Free Tax Holidays

COVID-19 Tax Relief and Hassle-Free Tax Holidays

April 29, 2020

Simplify the tax holidays and automate tax compliance while keeping up-to-date on COVID-19 tax relief laws. Plus, take advantage of three months of tax automation with Avalara at no cost!

Still pulling data from your ERP into spreadsheets, analyzing pivot tables, and manually filing each return on all the different state websites? What once may have been a manageable (yet painful) process, may now feel like an impossible task due to massive staff reductions, understanding the latest COVID-19 tax relief laws, and approaching tax holiday season.

Now may be the best time to remove your tax compliance burden altogether. And our trusted partner Avalara is ready to help Veras Retail customers automate the most important steps of tax compliance—while keeping up-to-date on COVID-19 tax relief laws.

Tax Response During COVID-19

As we all take steps towards COVID-19 recovery, governments worldwide are doing everything in their power to uplift an economy faltering under the weight of the pandemic. Tax relief varies widely by country, state, and industry. In many countries, including the United States, relief includes tax filing and payment extensions, and even temporary rate reductions to help offset financial burdens.

Rather than having to hunt for COVID-19-related laws and resources, Avalara keeps you informed with their COVID-19 Tax Relief Roundup that’s updated regularly as more information becomes available. From global and federal tax relief details to a comprehensive roundup of tax breaks by state and locality, the tax experts at Avalara help you navigate ongoing changes.

Tax Holidays Sees Public Stocking Up

This year more than 15 states will hold sales tax holidays over limited periods of time where specified products are exempt from sales tax. Like years before, a majority of them will be attached to back-to-school (or learn-from-home) season, energy efficiency, and severe weather preparedness. However, tax holidays are often difficult to plan for as there is no guarantee they’ll take place until they’re signed into law, and sometimes that doesn’t happen until days before they start.

For instance, from April 25 through April 27, the state of Texas offered a sales tax holiday for emergency preparation supplies. Popular gear stocked up by shoppers included weather radios, batteries, flashlights and coolers. But many local stores that carry such items did not seem to know about this new holiday, leaving them unprepared as stores in-the-know took advantage of the tax incentive and increased demand for these supplies.

Remove the following tax holiday headaches with tax automation tied to the POS:

  • Knowing when and where they are. Sales tax holidays are plentiful during the summer. They tend to take place over a weekend or can span an entire week. See the state-by-state guide to 2020 sales tax holidays.
  • Knowing what products are exempt. When tax holidays overlap, it’s important to cross-reference the products you sell with the items eligible for an exemption in each state.
  • Knowing what taxes to collect and not collect. Some states allow local taxing jurisdictions to opt out. To ensure compliance, you need to know which taxes need to be collected—or not collected—on each transaction.
  • Knowing the rules. Each state has its own rules regarding deliveries, exchanges, gift certificates, layaways, reporting, etc. The exemption may extend to delivery charges, for example, or it may not. These are the types of details you need to get right to be sales tax compliant.
  • Knowing price restrictions. Every state except South Carolina imposes price restrictions on eligible goods. For example, clothing must cost $75 or less to be eligible for the exemption in Ohio; in Oklahoma, the exemption applies to clothing and footwear priced less than $100.
Get Three Months of Tax Automation at No Cost

With pre-built connectors into Veras CheckOut and feasible integrations into Win/DSS, Veras Professional Services can help get you up and running quickly with an automated tax solution. Let Avalara’s solution take care of the heavy lifting to strengthen compliance, reduce audit risk, and ease tax complexity so you can focus on more pressing business matters. 

Tax automation at the point-of-sale can also help retailers prevent any negative customer experiences and sales loss from manual tax inputs, such as:

  • Customer and cashier frustration due to incorrect tax setup
  • Slowed checkout lines due to customer disputes on the tax amount or missed holiday tax
  • Returns or refunds processed due to incorrect tax setup

What’s even better is Avalara is offering three months of tax automation at no cost.

For a limited time, get the first three months of sales tax automation at no cost and make no payments for 90 days when you add Avalara’s premier cloud-based tax compliance suite to your financial and commerce systems. Sign up for 12 months of AvaTax or AvaTax plus Avalara Returns to receive the additional free three months. This offer is valid for new Avalara customers only and expires on June 30, 2020*.

Questions? We’re here to help.
Learn more and signup for this special offer or contact Veras Retail directly to get started.

* Avalara reserves the right to cancel, change, or suspend this promotion at any time.


Delivering on New Shopping Expectations


April 23, 2020

In a future when shoppers are likely to be uneasy about going into any store, only the tech-forward, customer-focused retailers will survive.

The world is a different place than it was just a couple of months ago. As companies hustle to maintain their business while responding to the new normal, many are considering what the long-term impact of coronavirus will be on the retail industry at large.

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed retail quickly into new directions with social distancing. According to research and consulting firm Technomic, 52 percent of consumers are avoiding crowds and 32 percent are leaving their homes less often because of coronavirus. With these new behaviors, brands across the globe are worrying about how COVID-19 will impact how (and if) consumers will come back to stores.

The News is Not All Bad

Some retailers are seeing significant traffic and sales bumps as shoppers stock up or adjust their habits to limit the number of trips they make to public spaces. And Criteo’s Coronavirus shopping trends show ecommerce and select product categories such as cleaning supplies, home office technology, pet supplies, gaming equipment, outdoor furniture, and exercise equipment are experiencing dramatic sales spikes.

Moreover, Digital Commerce 360’s 2020 omnichannel survey of 1,000 online shoppers revealed that 78 percent of online shoppers are active with the following omnichannel behaviors:

  • 54 percent of online shoppers checked inventory at nearby stores
  • 41 percent of online shoppers took advantage of BOPIS
  • 24 percent ordered online for same-day delivery from a web-only retailer

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, customers are exerting more control over how, when, and where their orders are fulfilled. So, what does this mean for retailers? It further reinforces that omnichannel is no longer optional for stores. When it comes to any good omnichannel strategy, you’ll find inventory and real-time inventory visibility at its core.

Here are some ways we are leveraging real-time inventory management to help retailers manage the new dynamics of omnichannel retail, now and in the years to come, by the coronavirus aftermath.

BOPIS and Curbside Pickup Accelerate

Buy Online Pickup In-Store (BOPIS) and curbside pickup have become increasingly popular due to COVID-19 and may present a potential survival strategy for retailers to adopt as coronavirus concerns linger.

Many of our omnichannel customers such as Kirkland’s, Floor & Decor, MEC, and Office Depot have all already implemented BOPIS to varying degrees, and some with added business customizations. In addition to flexing these capabilities during the pandemic, these retailers are far better positioned to respond as shoppers gradually adjust to new buying habits moving forward. Furthermore, through Veras CheckOut point-of-sale, these retailers gain real-time visibility of POS purchases that make online merchandise availability all the more accurate.

According to Adobe, BOPIS saw a 62 percent year-over-year increase from February 24, 2019 to March 21, 2020. In addition to limiting the time consumers spend in public areas, BOPIS provides a more immediate alternative when home delivery methods are booked to capacity.

As consumers are drawn to the convenience, safety, and speed of BOPIS, it is essential to provide store staff with the necessary tools to successfully execute.

Veras Locate does that by giving the store quick visibility to inventory position for picking the BOPIS order, as well as audible and visual alerts that let associates know they are falling behind to better prioritize orders and ensure they’re ready for pickup.

Even with BOPIS adoption increasing over recent years, the necessity of using it now may cause permanent adoption to peak and stay in retail.

Ship from Store or from Warehouse

When store hours are limited, or worse, closed when you’re not considered an essential retailer during COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, retailers can use ship from store to achieve these fundamental retail goals to maximize the impact of your stores:

  • Improve customer experience with low-cost, high-speed delivery
  • Efficient inventory management and responsive ecommerce fulfillment centers
  • Increase revenue and profit from more conversions

Ship from store provides low-cost, high-speed delivery by distributing the capabilities of warehouses closer to shoppers. By optimizing the picking process and leveraging staff at every store (or select stores) retailers can create responsive ecommerce fulfillment centers. 

Jewelry retailer Kendra Scott provides a nice industry example where they had plans to become truly omnichannel and offer shipping from stores. However, the retailer was still almost a year out from execution. With a ship from store strategy, they were able to accelerate that in just a few weeks by turning their 108 closed stores into mini-fulfillment centers. The retailer is now better able to keep up with growth of its online sales while allowing their employees to practice social distancing.

A ship-from-store fulfillment strategy may also boost revenue resulting from several retail advantages the approach provides.

More sales. Ship from store exposes on-the-shelf, brick-and-mortar inventory to a larger online market. A camping tent stored in the stockroom of a Springfield, Illinois sporting goods store at the end of November can still be sold to an online shopper in San Antonio, Texas, where the average temperature that month hovers in the mid-70s.

Efficient inventory management. Ship from store requires better inventory management. If you miscount inventory in the store, you could easily disappoint an online customer. Improved inventory management can lead to faster turns and better purchasing decisions.

Move more inventory. Rather than warehousing ecommerce inventory in a location that is isolated from stores and store inventory isolated from online markets, ship from store shares inventory across a retailer’s locations.

Veras Locate’s lightweight, easy-to-deploy architecture and efficient order picking allows retailers to meet these challenges without breaking the budget on costly, overly complex warehouse management systems. Veras Locate addresses multiple business cases to make the best use of your resources across stores, warehouses, and offices.

Provide Shoppers with Inventory Visibility

BOPIS and home delivery provides safer, and sometimes more convenient options, to get products in hand to the customer. But as today’s supply chains are constrained and delivery times range anywhere from two days to two weeks, shoppers are taking to the stores to physically search for the items they need. 

What do shoppers ask themselves before entering the store? It really comes down to the following:

  • Is the item in stock?
  • Where is it available?
  • What is the most convenient location?
  • How fast can I get it?

Now imagine allowing shoppers to use smartphones to know the availability and location of merchandise before heading to stores (and while in stores). This not only will speed purchases but could be a potential customer-experience game changer during these chaotic times.

Veras Retail can help retailers achieve much of this today through real-time connectivity from the POS, ecommerce, and checks against real-time inventory.

Ultimately, if you lack real-time connectivity from your point-of-sale to your ecommerce business, you’re either going to disappoint the customers by accepting orders that can’t be fulfilled, or lose out on sales when stock is actually available by creating buffers that err too far on the side of caution.

What this all makes clear is how essential the full integration of stores and omnichannel technology has become to retailers. While there are many unknowns, we do know that consumer shopping habits will change, and retailers need to adapt while remaining financially viable.

For retailers, focusing on customer needs and building loyalty through ideal customer experiences may never be as important as it is right now. And in a future when shoppers are likely to be uneasy about going into any store, only the tech-forward, customer-focused retailers will survive.


Introducing Veras Extend’s Mobile POS Platform

Introducing Veras Extend’s Mobile POS Platform

September 16, 2019

Extend’s Mobile POS Delivers Beyond Traditional Point-of-Sale. And with Veras CheckOut, Extend’s mPOS is Included.

At the VerasONE 2019 user conference in Las Vegas today, we announced the availability of the new generation of the Veras Extend mobile platform. This new version of Extend replaces the previous iOS and Android native framework with a new look and feel, new capabilities, and a new technology paradigm.

New Paradigm. New Customer-Facing, In-Store Capabilities.
  • Bringing Ecommerce to the Store
    The Veras Extend platform is designed from the ground up to address omnichannel shopping in the store. From save-the-sale ordering and endless aisle extended catalog lookup, to clienteling tools to ensure a personalized shopping experience, Veras Extend delivers a single customer-facing experience.
  • Flexible Enough to Work with Any Platform
    Using a hybrid web/native app framework, it can run on just about any platform – iOS and Android to start with, with Windows, Linux, and MacOS coming in January – and any form factor – desktop, tablet, or handheld.
  • Expanding to Other Store-Facing Applications
    While the initial release of the Extend platform is focused on selling and customer-service scenarios that are most commonly requested by our customers for mobile use cases, the platform will eventually encompass all the store-facing functionality provided today, as well as new capabilities like self-checkout.
  • Fast, Flexible Deployments
    Just like Veras CheckOut, Veras Extend can be deployed in a multi-site cloud model, a distributed on-premises model for maximum resiliency, or any combination in between.

As with the previous generation of Veras Extend, the new version uses battle-tested functionality from Veras CheckOut, our enterprise point-of-sale application. Proven omnichannel ordering and promotional pricing capabilities, along with built-in payment processing and other third-party integrations are accessed by Veras Extend through a RESTful API layer. This allows Veras Extend to act as ‘just another register’ in the store, working seamlessly with Veras CheckOut data, business logic, and integrations.

Giving Retailers More Options

We understand that the enterprise mobility landscape for retailers is challenging. For instance, hardware providers that provide ruggedized enterprise solutions are expensive and inflexible, and grafting enterprise mobility sleds onto consumer devices such as iPads puts the retailer at the mercy of the yearly consumer hardware refresh cycle. By making the Veras Extend application platform-agnostic, we help provide retailers with more options. We’ve taken that a step further by embedding the lightning-fast Scandit camera-based scanning capability into Veras Extend.  

Scandit’s SaaS-based model allows retailers to use their scanning software across devices and platforms. If an iPad in your store breaks, replace it with an iPad mini, or a Samsung tablet. The Scandit subscription carries across devices, to ensure that you’re paying only for the scanning used. Combined with Scandit’s scanning performance, retailers can achieve both cost savings and flexibility.

Mobile POS Included with Veras CheckOut

Finally, to bury the lede completely, we are happy to announce that Veras Extend mPOS is included for all current and future users of Veras CheckOut. While other vendors move to a model where pricing varies by platform or by transaction volume, our pricing remains on a predictable per-store basis, regardless of the number of terminals per store, regardless of the platform, and regardless of the deployment model. 

At Veras Retail, we truly believe in empowering retailers with integrated mobile solutions to provide the best in-store experience. To learn more about our you can make mPOS work in your stores, download the Extend solution brief or contact us today for personalized demo.

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4 New Countries. 4 Currencies. 3 Months. 1 Solution.

4 New Countries. 4 Currencies. 3 Months. 1 Solution.

April 11, 2019

Completing a Complex, Multi-Country Deployment On Time & Under Budget Within 3 Months

Our latest customer success story focuses on a global retailer that leveraged our solutions and experience to successfully deploy Point-of-Sale, and Advanced Promotions & Coupon technology in stores across multiple countries and multiple currencies – and all within a three-month window of time. This retailer has brought every new business acquired by its parent company onto Veras CheckOut, our flexible POS platform that allows retailers to rapidly implement new solutions and capabilities at lower total cost of ownership.

Currently, the leading retailer leverages Veras Retail’s solution to support more than 360 stores in five countries and across all companies within its brand umbrella.

In this case study, you’ll read more about the retailer’s challenge of integrating a premier, international fashion brand acquired by its parent company into its operations within a very short timeframe. For Veras Retail, that meant implementing our Veras CheckOut and Veras Activate solutions at all 45 outlet and four full-priced boutique stores in the U.S. – as well as three stores in Canada, one store in Ireland and two stores in the United Kingdom – within a three-month window of time. 

Not long after, we were tapped to provide support for the retailer’s first store opening in Germany, marking its foray into a fifth international market.

Read the full case study to learn how Veras Retail stepped up to the plate to support our client by leading an on-time, under-budget implementation that complied with each country’s individual taxation and legal requirements and payment processing needs.


Veras Retail Wows At NRF 2019

Veras Retail Wows At NRF 2019

February 22, 2019

Looking Back at NRF 2019

Despite market uncertainty and the looming, albeit empty, threat posed by a ‘retail apocalypse’, 2019 was a good year for the National Retail Federation’s annual Big Show, which attracted nearly 40,000 attendees, more than 700 exhibitors and featured a wide variety of sessions at the conference in mid-January. 

The show floor was alive. Any lingering doubts that the physical store would continue to serve a purpose in a world that increasingly embraces ecommerce were quashed, with so much of the conversation centering around ways retailers can create a seamless in-store and online shopping experience, and how new technologies are setting the stage for next-level customer personalization. 

Amid robots and drones and endless talk of AI, analytics and machine learning, other trends that emerged at this year’s conference centered around the need for advanced in-store and payment solutions that can keep pace with customer data privacy regulations like CCPA and GDPR. Fraud prevention also was top of mind and remains as pervasive as ever, accounting for up to an estimated $24 billion in losses in the U.S. each year. 

A group of people standing in front of a store

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Given all these factors, we picked a good year to ramp up our NRF exhibition game. This was only our third year exhibiting in the Expo Hall, but it was undoubtedly a major step up from last year with double the booth size. Visitors also noticed our bigger footprint, both in terms of square footage and presence. When demonstrating Veras Activate’s ability to simulate the interaction of complex promotions weeks in advance of their effective date, another prospect said, “Now you’re going to make me cry!” 

A consultant informed us, “Now that I see your booth, I know you are big enough to work with my client.” Although positive, this comment admittedly stung a bit, “Veras Retail is the best-kept secret at NRF! Why didn’t I know about you guys before?”

The booth was indeed inviting, and our products clearly resonated with brick-and-mortar retailers looking to enhance the in-store shopping experience and help drive revenue and brand loyalty. Ultimately, the feedback we received at NRF 2019 provided validation that our decision to focus on customer needs and satisfaction after we acquired the store systems suite from JDA Software in 2016 was the right one.

At NRF 2019, we showcased our re-platformed Veras Reach solution, which offers a powerful combination of CRM and customer loyalty program capabilities to help retailers think outside the box in terms of how they can reward their best customers, for a fraction of what other loyalty programs cost. 

We demonstrated the forthcoming Bluetooth beacon-driven Veras Affinity clienteling module, allowing sales associates to proactively engage customers on the sales floor as they shop. We also announced that Veras CheckOut 10.2 point-of-sale includes integration with Appriss Retail’s innovative return authorization technology, Verify®, which uses individual customer behavior data to render a fair decision to accept or deny merchandise returns. 

If we didn’t get a chance to connect with you this year, make a note to stop by our booth at NRF 2020, #1253. It’s sure to wow again!


Bluetooth Beacons: The ‘Next Big Thing’ In Retail Tech?

Bluetooth Beacons: The ‘Next Big Thing’ In Retail Tech?

October 7, 2013
By Bruce Herrier, SVP of Product & Strategy at Veras Retail

If you work in technology, and retail technology in particular, you can get worn down by the 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 like cost, regulations and 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 already familiar with the technology, 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 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 that involves an interaction with a smartphone in a large public area, which previously was 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. 

A Few Examples From The World of Retail

Camera-Based Technology
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.

Beyond GPS Triangulation
Shopkick built a business by creating a novel solution to address GPS inaccuracy 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 and 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. These miss the point that most have overlooked regarding mobile payments, technology has not been the obstacle that’s constrained adoption. The obstacle is that from the consumer’s perspective, taking five seconds to swipe a credit or debit card, 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 that 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 retailers by being able to be accurately located in the store. Additionally, given the wide adoption of mobile devices in the enterprise, there’s 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.


JCPenney’s Cautionary Mobile POS Tale

JCPenney’s Cautionary Mobile POS Tale

June 17, 2013
By Bruce Herrier, SVP of Product & Strategy at Veras Retail

The Bloomberg report on JCPenney’s re-boot of its mobile point-of-sale initiative in the aftermath of Ron Johnson’s departure sheds some light on the real-world ramifications mobile POS implementations. The retailer discovered there are a few vastly underrated factors linked to the customer experience that retailers should seriously take into consideration in a mobile POS deployment.

1. Help Shoppers Identify the Mobile POS “Cashier”

Reading how JCPenney discovered 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 B&N associates were easier to identify and were more approachable. 

So, in the case of JCPenney, a red lanyard and a gray sash for the associates toting a mobile POS, just wasn’t enough. This is one area where Apple does it right – the bright blue t-shirts worn by Genii at the Apple Store make them hard to miss.

2. Designing a Full-Service Checkout Experience

Some retailers aren’t prepared to give up many of the tangible benefits of the cashwrap, including: 

  • Loss prevention for fixed point for CCTV surveillance or de-activation of anti-theft tags
  • Branding opportunities such as retail bags 
  • Customer interaction during bagging present an opportunity for conversation and upselling

JCPenney’s rolling cart approach will help mitigate some of these problems, but there still appears to be a gap between traditional, full-service cashwrap and the fluid Apple Store model.

3. Cultural-Norm Obstacles to Mobile Checkout
A group of people performing on a counter

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While it’s true that Apple’s typical customer may be more tech-savvy than JCPenney’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 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. 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? I chose the awkward hover. 

In this case, I would have happily stood in a short line, 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. Although when things get backed up, the model starts to break down.

Through these real-world lessons, more retailers are thinking through the operational and cultural considerations of mobile POS, rather than learning that lesson the hard way like JCPenney. There are certainly huge potential benefits to mobile POS to be had, but only when every facet of the experience – like the physical space, device and peripherals, customer and associate training – is aligned toward a common goal.