Data Mining

Retailers dig past surface at NACStech conference

Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

GRAPEVINE, Texas -- Topics inclusive of how to use data now that scanning is in place, wrestling with evolving Visa and MasterCard security standards and examining the next phase in mobile payment together launched the theme of understanding "the how behind the wow" at this year's NACStech convention. Sessions targeting the needs of a retail-technology community gaining in sophistication and an opening session on the potential of user-manipulated dashboards kicked off the three-day conference near Dallas, with an expected attendance of more than 1,000.

Demonstrating a "wow" technology [image-nocss] during the general session, developer Rob Smith and colleague David Barnes of IBM did a walkthrough of a "mashup" application, which allows ordinary users to make personalized dashboards. The concept is similar to how people compose their own web pages on MySpace or Facebook, pulling a picture of a pop idol from one source, a video from another and putting it all on their own page.

Barnes clicked onto a store-locator data source and laid it over an Internet weather service, providing chain-specific weather reports. He pulled in a separate square populated with store inventory data and linked that to a third square from a Web program that turned Excel data into bar graphs.

"What does that mean for your business?" Smith asked. "It's about putting information in context to add value."

Such technologies allow for shorter, less expensive development periods. "So if people decide [the solution] isn't working for them, they just don't use it anymore because it didn't take long to create," Barnes said. "Whereas, if you spent $200,000 and realized it didn't work, you might think twice about [discarding it.]"

In another session on mobile commerce, speakers updated approximately 80 people in attendance on the growth of near-field communications (NFC) to equip cell phones for use as payment devices. Barry McCarthy, president of mobile commerce solutions for First Data Corp., Greenwood Village, Colo., and Mohammad Khan, president and founder of ViVOtech Inc., Santa Clara, Calif., spoke of pilots—one in San Francisco—that allow public transportation riders to pay with a wave of their cell phones. Equipped phones can even allow users to tap posters at train stations to redeem electronic coupons.

"The adoption rate of new technologies is condensing and all the pieces are coming together [for mobile payment]," McCarthy said.

In yet another session on payment card industry (PCI) standards, speakers noted important compliance deadlines approaching in 2009 and 2010, involving personal identification number (PIN) pads and dispensers. These mandates, backed by the major credit-card issuers, have been shifting in recent years, becoming a source of confusion and anxiety for the industry.

"If you filled out a self-assessment questionnaire last year," warned Rick Dakin, president and cofounder of Coalfire, Louisville, Colo., "the controls are getting much more specific."

The industry is steadily moving up the learning curve said NACStech organizers. For instance, "we've learned to gather the data through scanning, but these days, people are looking for ways to improve margins," Jenny Bullard, CIO for Flash Foods chain in Waycross, Ga., and this year's convention chair, told CSP Daily News. "We've got to utilize that data."

In a session on technology and category management, moderator Patti Safford, Impact 21, from Lexington, Ky., emphasized the importance of bringing key marketing people into the development of new, automated solutions. In her experience, expanding the communications loop helps key players "understand what's possible and the limits of the programs [purchased]."

"We're seeing more and more CEOs and CIOs attending, not just full-time technology people," said Jeff Lenard, vice president of communications for the Alexandria, Va.-based NACS. "When we're looking at potentially negative times, reducing expenses is critical, so companies are intent on seeing what technology can do for their chains."

Angel Abcede, CSP/Winsight By Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP
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