RETAIL LABOR STRESSHow retailers can address and alleviate employee stressors by getting creative with their benefits. By Bianca Herron

As more industries begin to take a more holistic approach to employee benefits, they are looking for offerings that solve the causes of employee stress, not just the effects.

In the retail industry, one of the biggest stressors for low wage earners is transportation, according to Edu(k)ate CEO Chris Whitlow. He adds that with employee financial wellness programs retailers can help solve this challenge.

“In addition to offering personalized resources to help employees take control of their finances, such programs can also drive home the importance of creating an in-case-of-emergency fund that ensures they’re never forced to miss work because they can’t afford to get there,” Whitlow explains.  

Financial wellness among retail employees is extremely important because it allows employees to take control over their overall financial journey, instead of simply planning for retirement, Whitlow adds.

“Financial stress has a huge impact on the overall productivity, focus and feelings of employees,” he says. “Employees who are stressed lose their ability to be present in the workplace. By offering financial wellness benefits, retailers can build a culture of healthy employees who enjoy coming to work, and providing genuine and exceptional service to customers.”

Digging Deeper

Common stressors affecting retail employees not only include transportation, but also access to emergency funds and credit, housing and childcare. “Retail employees must solve the same problems as employees in different industries nationwide, but they often do so on a smaller budget,” he says. “Therefore, they are less likely to have a reserve fund in case of emergencies.”

Without this reserve, employees that are at risk for financial stress continue a vicious cycle that leads to even more stress, Whitlow notes.

“For example, a retail employee may be driving to work one day when their car breaks down” he says. “If the employee does not have an emergency fund already in place to fix the car or find alternative modes of transport, they will not be able to work that day. And if they don’t go to work, they have even less money to pay their bills.”

Employers often don’t realize that they also suffer when their employees suffer, Whitlow says. However, there are four things retail employers can do to alleviate their employees’ stress. “First, retailers need to understand how to engage their employees,” Whitlow explains. “To do this, they should look at employee demographics and determine how their employees like to engage.”

Secondly, retailers need to deliver relevant learning opportunities and guidance to employees. “This guidance needs to be timely and targeted,” Whitlow says. “For example, many retail employees don’t want to think about saving for retirement until they’ve paid down their student loans.”

Finally, retailers should connect their employees with benefits in the way they are used to connecting, Whitlow notes. “An in-person meeting once a year during open enrollment isn’t usually enough to spark benefit engagement all year long, so retailers need to be making an active effort to constantly connect employees to their benefits,” he says.

Additionally, it is essential that retailers create a culture around “wellbeing and mindfulness of finances.” “Implementing this change also benefits employers’ bottom lines because employees are happy and confident in a culture that supports and understands them, and their individual needs and concerns,” Whitlow explains.

Ultimately, retail employees are typically less likely to participate in their benefits, according to Whitlow, so it’s up to retailers to find ways to engage them. “Financial wellness is especially important in service-based industries like retail because employees aren’t typical white-collar workers with access to computers and unbiased financial advice,” he says.

“Employers who stand out in this industry are the ones providing good benefits and a nurturing culture,” Whitlow concludes. “Retailers can’t give the best experience to a customer until they’ve given it to their employees first.”

RETAIL SOLUTIONSHere’s why brands should be thinking about languages and cultural fluency. By Bianca Herron

On its own, a translated website isn’t likely to generate meaningful growth in online global markets. Translation is a necessary first step to serving global customers, but the secret to success lies in understanding their unique buying habits and cultural nuances.

Retail Merchandiser recently caught up with Craig Witt, executive vice president at MotionPoint, to learn more about “cultural fluency,” a best practice retailers can use to serve global customers with authentic, culturally-relevant content.  

According to Witt, cultural fluency is the ability to understand and use a market’s unique worldview, shopping habits and more to serve them in the most effective and persuasive way possible. This goes deeper than linguistic fluency, he says, adding that depending on where they live, customers can have very different perspectives on key aspects of online research and commerce.

“For instance, customers in some markets crave far more security and privacy than others,” Witt explains. “Other customers are happy to provide their personal information, but expect excellent customer service, or bargain prices on shipping. Some markets are known for their adventurous customers; they don’t mind trying new brands and products. Still others lean heavily on tried-and-true brands, which create challenges for new companies entering the market.”

Armed with the right knowledge about a market, retailers can effectively communicate their company’s key messages, unique value proposition and goods or services, he notes. “Your competitors, who don’t understand the importance of cultural fluency, will appear tone-deaf and “foreign” in comparison."

Boosting Your Business Performance

For retailers who would like to go global, Witt notes there are three key best practices of cultural fluency that can boost international traffic and the business performance of retailers’ global sites. First, retailers should make it a priority to identify and correctly translate locally resonant keywords to boost their site’s rankings in regional search engines. “Incorporate these keywords into the site’s URLs, too,” Witt notes. “This optimization will improve search engine rankings. Users will have a greater understanding of where they are while navigating the site, too.”

Secondly, one of the most powerful ways, according to Witt, to streamline global shopping experiences is by supporting local payment platforms. This is a critical key to success for transactional websites, he adds.

“Most American websites generate terrific conversion rates by supporting common payment methods like Visa, MasterCard and PayPal,” he says. “But the cultural norms are different in global markets. Most countries have payment platforms unique to their markets, and often prefer to use them for online transactions.”

To provide the best-possible user experience, and maximize your conversions, Witt suggests retailer’s research and support locally preferred platforms, like PayPal. “You’ll lose big if you don’t,” he says. “In South Korea, for example, global brands usually generate only 20 percent of what they’d otherwise earn, simply because they didn’t support local payment types.

Finally, don’t forget about mobile. “Translating your traditional ‘desktop’ website is not enough, particularly if you want to move the needle in emerging markets, where mobile and smartphone use eclipses desktop PC use,” Witt explains. “The mobile, or mobile-friendly, version of your multilingual site must be in the local language, too.

It should also include in-language on-site search, or OSS, he adds. “If your OSS can anticipate and account for common in-language misspellings, you’ll save users time and increase engagement,” Witt notes.

Speaking Clearly

Minor language variations could impact online sales for better or worse, which is why retailers should take the time to learn and understand each of its customers’ to serve them effectively.

For example, U.S. Hispanics are very influenced by online ads and testimonials from celebrities – and other online influencers – more than TV or radio ads, Witt notes. They also tend to take advantage of sales events and coupons found via social media or e-mail newsletters. “Companies courting Spanish-speaking Hispanics should translate ads and promotional discounts to maximize their impact,” he says.

Online, Spaniards are generally less demanding when it comes to customer service, especially when compared to German and French consumers, according to Witt. “This more laid-back perspective can reduce costs and risk regarding returns,” Witt says. “Spaniards are also more understanding of longer delivery times, which bodes well for cross-border e-retailers.

The world’s active social media users now exceed 2.5 billion, and the business opportunities these networks facilitate “are undeniable,” Witt notes, adding that some social networks provide clever ways to manage social content across many global markets.

“Global Facebook pages can be used for this purpose,” he explains. “This functionality empowers brands to provide localized content for customers all over the world. You may also consider translating and localizing your company’s social media elements, such as Google-readable metadata, Twitter Cards and Facebook Open Graph metadata.

Before making a play for global expansion, retailers should consider the unique buying habits and cultural nuances of their audience. Launching translated websites in new markets is a great start for reaching global customers, but it’s just the first step, Witt notes.

“To create truly relevant online experiences for your audience, understand the cultural differences that will impact brand perception and buying decisions,” he says. “Arm your company with this knowledge and bake it into your regional websites for specific groups of visitors.

“Doing so will welcome and guide each customer not only in their preferred language, but with culturally relevant content that will create brand trust, loyalty and ultimately benefit your bottom line,” he concludes.

ThinkstockPhotos 502644390Educated marketers can see when their competitors’ activities establish sales tax “nexus,” and then inform the states so that they can enforce the laws to require tax collection and ensure a level competitive playing field. By Matthew Boch


Collecting sales tax is a problem when competing against noncollecting online retailers. Retailers that collect tax need to do whatever they can to level the playing field against noncollecting retailers. While the obvious approach is to lobby Congress for marketplace fairness legislation and lobby state legislatures for remote seller laws, there is another way for tax-collecting retailers to take the initiative: A retailer should monitor noncollecting competitors for nexus-creating marketing activities and then report them to state tax agencies for enforcement.

States Can’t Catch Everyone

It is no secret that state tax agencies are overstretched. Many remote retailers who do not collect sales tax go under the radar with potentially nexus-creating in-state marketing activities like promotional events, sponsorships, and referral-based marketing.

Often, a fast-growing remote seller’s tax function has not kept up with the growth, and the retailer is not well advised of nexus rules or is making calculated risks that it will not be caught. Providing nexus tips to state tax agencies ensures that they are fully informed and can require your competitors fulfill their tax obligations.

Leveling the Playing Field

Imagine this scenario: An up-and-coming online seller has been gaining market share against an established retailer. The online seller collects tax only in its home state. The established retailer’s marketing team sees the online seller sponsor a concert tour, and someone is manning booths on behalf of the online seller at each concert.

Simply copying the online seller’s social media posts yields substantial evidence of the in-state marketing activities. After the tour occurs, the retailer’s outside counsel sends letters to each state tax agency notifying them of the nexus-creating activity by the online retailer. A few months after that, the remote seller switches on the tax in each state that the tour visited. With the tax turned on, the up-and-coming online retailer’s market share plateaus.

Teaming with Tax/Legal

Going on offense in this way requires a partnership between a retailer’s marketing and tax/legal groups. Marketers are on the front lines and know what their competition is doing. They are best positioned to identify their competitors’ potential nexus-creating activities; back-office tax and legal teams just do not have the same awareness of what competitors are doing.

Marketers should understand that essentially any in-state marketing activity that goes beyond traditional media advertising could create nexus, and particularly any in-person promotion or solicitation. This can include:

* Manning a booth at an event;

* Distributing samples or freebies;

* Appearances by sponsored celebrities;

* Visits to potential customers; and

* Online referrals from persons in the state (commission-based marketing).

A retailer with a properly educated marketing team can keep an eye out for noncollecting competitors’ marketing efforts and provide that information to the retailer’s tax and legal team to evaluate.

Use Professionals to Disclose

If it appears that the competitor has established nexus but is not collecting, the retailer can engage a law firm or accounting firm to provide the relevant state tax agency with a dossier documenting the nexus-creating activity. The communication cannot be traced back to the retailer. States are highly receptive to receiving well-documented nexus information. It makes it easy for them to go after the remote seller for failing to collect sales tax.

Once the state tax agency has the information, taxpayer confidentiality means that the informer does not know what they do with it. State tax administration moves slowly, and the process will take months, if not years. You will not know whether the state found other evidence of nexus or whether the online seller will pay any back taxes. But the informing retailer can monitor the online retailer’s website and see if and when they begin collecting tax in a state, likely as a result of the effort. A small investment of time and resources can thus remove a competitor’s unfair tax advantage.

Matthew C. Boch is a nationally recognized multistate tax attorney with Dover Dixon Horne PLLC, whose practice includes advising retailers and other businesses on tax nexus issues. 

ThinkstockPhotos 654100072Retailers who move beyond traditional web shops and embrace innovation through modern technology to provide omnichannel engagement will survive today’s competitive market. By Arthur Lawida

Commerce has come a long way since it evolved into an online experience in the 1990s. Its next evolution is centering on a tailored, omnichannel model that requires retailers to intimately understand the customer buying journey, while keeping them engaged with compelling content and concierge-like services. 

This evolution has significantly impacted internal organizational behavior. In the early days of e-commerce, channel executives clashed over revenue attribution, product inventory allocation and marketing resources. Now, whole organizations embrace online as a critical part of the sales cycle. Pure online retailers and brick-and-mortars alike are considering new formulas that can help them create more dynamic and engaging relationships with customers. Channel conflict has given way to cross-channel and omnichannel strategies.

One fundamental hurdle, however, lies in relying on old approaches to commerce to address this drastically different omnichannel landscape. Some retailers are destined to be successful in this new environment while others will struggle – or worse yet – fade away. Those retailers who will evolve as winners embrace three core beliefs.  

Shop at Every Stop

Consumers are more mobile than ever. They are more social than ever. And, they are less tolerant than ever. Across every touchpoint, shoppers look for speed and convenience – from researching products and solutions to ultimately making a purchase, receiving shipments and getting support. Retailers who provide compelling, highly navigable content and make purchasing an option wherever their consumers stop along the journey – social channels, mobile sites or IoT devices – will satisfy and even delight the new digital shopper.

Technology Must be Modern

A winning retailers’ secret sauce is either a well-planned recipe or an evolved concoction of solutions they’ve bought or built over time. However, one area that is increasingly coming under fire as retailers try to meet new consumer demands is commerce platform technology.

Originally designed and written nearly 20 years ago, these monolithic software packages limit a retailer’s ability to move quickly. With millions of lines of intertwined code that require months to modify, older generation software is anchoring retailers to an old coding style that hasn’t evolved to meet the demands of modern enterprise developers.

Today’s leading-edge commerce platforms have moved into the cloud and are designed as smaller building blocks that easily connect to other enterprise technology. Modern commerce platforms allow commerce teams to make more changes and adapt quickly without reliance on the IT department and waiting months for changes.

Teams Must Be Agile

Speed and agility are must-haves for business growth and innovation when investing in a commerce platform for next-generation commerce. From launching new products to enabling custom products, to rolling out new promotional campaigns or business processes, agility must be the new mantra for commerce teams.

With modern technology, retailers can roll out, test and modify new ideas in a month. Partnering with physical storefronts has never been easier for retailers who want to enable click and collect. Teaming with other retailers – or like partners – to promote or sell in new channels can be piloted and tested quickly, providing market feedback to adjust to customer preferences.

While commerce platform technology is just one piece of what goes into retail success, increasingly it is becoming a secret weapon in the arsenal of highly successful retailers who are evolving to not only survive, but also grow and prosper in this tumultuous and ever-changing market.

Arthur Lawida is president of commercetools Inc. and has spent more than 20 years in commerce - consulting, selling and implementing a variety of software and solutions.

ThinkstockPhotos 522151935Machine learning is no longer an innovative, helpful solution, but rather a necessity in detecting and diagnosing retail data breaches. By Nir Polak

As we’ve seen with the likes of Target, Home Depot, Chipotle and most recently, Kmart, hackers have made their mark on the retail and e-commerce industry. With a wealth of customer data extremely attractive to hackers, both major chains and local retailers need to be prepared for a breach at all times. Taken a step further, retailers and e-commerce brands must begin thinking and acting as if they have already been breached in order to avoid major fallout as best as possible.

With so much sensitive data at risk, when a breach does occur, companies and IT professionals need to be able to act quickly and determine the full extent of the threat as accurately as possible. Stolen credentials are the attack vectors of choice because they enable hackers to gain fast, unfettered network access and extend the time between points of entry until security professionals ultimately detect their nefarious activity. The situation is especially bad for retailers with physical and online operations, as they must secure back office systems, e-commerce transaction systems, and thousands of in-store point-of-sale systems.

Even worse, while the back office, online, and retail networks are supposed to be walled off from each other, it is often possible for a hacker to penetrate one as a means of hopping to the other. Longtime security professionals will recall that the famous TJX credit card breach began when hackers entered an in-store network via an unsecured Wi-Fi point, and then later moved throughout other networks. Tracking activity across devices, networks, and user identities can be extremely difficult, rendering detection effectively impossible.

With user and entity behavior analytics (UEBA) and machine learning, tools become “smarter” over time, and will be able to differentiate normal activity and users from outsider threats, or uncommon behaviors. Today’s technology and the growing amounts of storable data require intelligent processing, especially when thinking about the IT skills gap. Machine learning can handle more data at higher speeds with less opportunity for human error, making it the necessary choice for retailers.

Beyond detection, UEBA solutions are able to piece together the use of compromised accounts by attackers, security alerts and asset access characteristics and behaviors. By creating an incident timeline, companies can see the full picture of a breach, which allows them to drastically shorten the time between breach detection and analysis. In the retail industry, this combination of speed and accuracy is a necessity because it can halt the attacker from stealing additional customer data, potentially mitigating some of the repercussions, including customer abandonment.

The reality is breaches happen, but there are steps that can be taken to help prevent them. Utilizing machine learning and other forms of intelligent processing can help companies monitor their network for abnormal access activities and patterns to detect breaches faster than phishing.

According to a study from KPMG, 19 percent of shoppers say they would stop shopping at a retailer that falls victim to cyber hackers, even if the company takes steps to fix the situation. With both money and customer retention on the line, retailers need to be proactive and utilize all intelligent systems available to best protect their business from cyber attacks – before it’s too late.

Nir Polak is co-founder and CEO of Exabeam. He has 13 years of experience in information security, including executive experience setting company strategy, driving execution, building new products, and bringing them to market.

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