How Can Retailers Succeed in an Unpredictable Future?

How Can Retailers Succeed in an Unpredictable Future?

We’ve heard it voiced many times that “the only thing in life that doesn’t change is change itself.” The expression seems to fit what’s currently happening in the world of retail sales. As technology continues to progress at an astonishing speed, retailers are scrambling to accommodate the changes while looking for new ways to keep present customers and attract new ones. The question is, “How can this be done?”

In an article for National Retail Federation, Kristina Stewart presents five suggestions from Trevor Hardy, CEO of The Future Laboratory. The suggestions (shown below) are based on the need for retailers to renew corporate/brand trust, which Hardy deems to be at an all-time low in the world today.

Use of radical transparency. An example would be the use of plain language on packaging, rather than marketing buzzwords, showing customers clearly what’s in a product. (What exactly does “organic” mean, anyway?)

Providing civic duty and education. Finding ways to act as a force for good in society, such as sponsoring a charity drive, or furnishing opportunities for customers to learn a new lifestyle or creative skill at their favorite store.

Supplying better service. Rather than just being facilitators to customers in a store, staff should focus on being in-store influencers, which humanizes the retail experience.

Increase localism. Customers want a connection to the brands they support with their dollars. Look to sourcing from local providers. (My community, for example, has many independent wineries)

“Explorium” retail. Technology has to a great degree taken the joy out of shopping for many. Retailers can profit by reintroducing complexity in the shopping experience, such as focusing on ways for customers to appreciate the journey more. Turning the store into a performance venue for a month or two, for example, would allow customers to enjoy the store differently.

Reestablishing consumer trust is a long-term technique that leads to greater success for businesses. Using the above guidelines will go a long way in providing that success.

Marlene

Where’s My Automatic Updates?

Where’re My Automatic Updates?

Over the years I have seen people assume that a software manufacturer, software supplier, or support vendor should be doing something automatically.

Here are some fairly standard examples of things that are most often NOT automatic:

1. Operating System and Security

  • Installation of Windows Security Service Packs – While this can be scheduled for automatic download and installation, by default this is not turned on.
  • Installation of Anti-Virus And Anti-Malware Software Updates

These items may not be configured to auto-download, auto-install, or auto-notify of success or failure. If something in this area is only partially automated, one needs to take care that these processes are not going on while end-users are on the system and using applications that would be affected, especially if a server or workstation reboot was required. As examples:

  • Scheduling windows updates to only download and install in off-hours while users are not logged into servers or workstations.
  • An anti-virus update might be prompting for a computer restart to complete the installation of a specific update. If this isn’t addressed in a timely manner, your systems could be at risk of being compromised.

2. Application Software – Application Software Security Service Packs

  • MS Office Suites
  • Adobe Acrobat Reader
  • Adobe Flash Player
  • Java

There are regular updates for the above applications that should be installed. Failure to do so could result in security holes being present with these applications. While some of these installations can be automated, others cannot be.

3. Application Software Data/Usage issues.

Care should also be taken to make sure that certain updates are not auto-applied especially in situations where there are a lot of customizations.

  • Point of Sale – Sales Tax Rates, which are typically by state, or By Taxing Jurisdictions. The rates should be updated regularly so that the proper sales tax is withheld. While there are some
  • systems that update automatically, some do not.
  • Customers – Taxable Status. If Tax Exempt, the Tax ID number, and expiration dates may need to be updated. Doing this protects you in future tax audit scenarios.
  • Items – Taxable Flags, Item-Based Tax Categories – If tax Flags and item based Tax Categories are not assigned, the result could be incorrect tax amounts being withheld.
  • Payroll – Federal Tax Tables – This includes such things and Social Security and Medicare tax rates, and FUI, 401K Maximums; State Tax Codes – This includes SUI rates; Workers Compensation Rates.

If you have some specific issues or questions, please contact the CCS Retail Systems Support Department.

– John

To Purge or not to Purge? – The data migration dilemma

To Purge or not to Purge? – The data migration dilemma

When anticipating an upcoming Data Migration, here are a few things that you should consider in making purge decisions.

  1. The Time Crunch.

Depending on the application, a typical Data Migration can take at least several days to complete, if not longer.

Depending on the amount of data that one currently has, the entire process can be artificially extended. and cause you to have extra support expense and unwanted downtime.

As the amount of data that you have increased, more disk space is used and so exponentially does the number of resources required to do various tasks. This situation puts more resource pressure on your server and increases the amount of time that it takes to complete tasks. As an example, running history reports could end up taking a considerable amount of time, which may end-up reducing overall staff productivity of people are constantly waiting for something to complete. Generally, this scenario is true whether you are doing a data migration or not.

  1. Do I really need to migrate all of the data?

Typically, most Retailers only keep about (2) two years of detailed history. I have found many instances over the years where companies have decades of detailed history on file. However, with some industries, it may be necessary to retain more history, as examples of this might be if there were extended product warranties or high-priced items with serial numbers (e.g. Water Heaters, Pool and Spa Equipment, Wood Stoves, Tools, Farm Equipment, Electronics, etc.).

  1. What kind of time constraints do I have regarding the purging operations?

Normally, it is best to schedule purging related work for times when there is no one using the application software. Generally, there are at least (3) three good reasons for this as follows:

  • Purging operations usually require a lot of CPU and memory usage. So if this should normally not be done during peak hours, as it can bog-down your server.
  • Some historical purging operations will hang and wait if it encounters records within the selected range that are in use. This artificially extends the amount of time required to complete the purging operation.
  • Smaller databases generally mean faster backup times.
  1. What is the general condition of the source data?

Most purging and data migration operations require that the data be in good shape, otherwise separate and extensive work may be required to accomplish complete removal of the data or the ability to migrate it.

Some examples of this kind of issue would be.

  • Historical sales data that references sales reps or users that are no longer on file.
  • POS ticket history that involves sales data for customer and items that are no longer on file, or that have corrupt ticket lines.
  • Set-up and supporting data for features that are no longer used, such as sales prices, discount codes, and other pricing schemas.
  • Old customers that haven’t purchased anything for many years. This could include customers with invalid or obsolete contact data.
  • Items that are obsolete/discontinued or haven’t been used for many years.

In many cases, some of this kind of data can be cleaned up ahead of your data migration date,

If you have questions about purging, file utility usage, and data migrations, please contact the CCS Retail Systems Support Department

John

What Consumers Want – 2018

What Consumers Want – 2018

With the closure of so many retail stores in recent news, we might wonder if brick and mortar stores are becoming a thing of the past. A more accurate assessment is that they are changing to accommodate current trends.

In a recent National Retail Federation article by Katie Jordan, five retail concepts to watch for this year were outlined. These are research-backed trends outlining what consumers want available to them when they shop. Below is a condensed list of the findings.

The ability to buy online, but pick up in the store. (I did this recently with a refurbished computer and found it quite convenient!)

The ability to “talk” with a virtual assistant. (Like Alexa) This helps with researching what it is you are looking to buy.

Availability of “showroom stores”. These stores provide samples but do not have inventory on hand. Interestingly, I encountered one of these showroom stores when I visited Italy a few years ago. Customers could view models with dresses and then order what they wanted to buy, without having to tote packages home.

The ability to try out products before purchasing (Experimental Retail).Already being used in many retail stores (think cosmetics), this is now being expanded, like offering cooking classes in a store that sells cookware.

Availability of food service On-Site. Many consumers enjoy eating while shopping, so retail stores with on-site cafes are becoming increasingly popular, especially among younger shoppers. It’s a form of entertainment as well as a shopping expedition!

Change is inevitable. Stores that survive are the ones that stay abreast of customer needs. Are you meeting your customers’ needs?

Marlene

Keeping Systems up-to-date

Keeping Systems up-to-date.

Everyone should know the importance of keeping your operating system, and software, up-to-date. Even with the amount of information on the subject, there are still many that allow this task to slide for excessively long periods of time. That is a very, very, bad thing to do, given the volume of malicious software that we are constantly bombarded with.

While I am not personally a fan of automatic updates, that is a far better choice than not installing updates at all. If you find that you are not taking the time to apply the patches and updates, then, by all means, configure automatic updates, and let the system do it for you.

While automatic updates involve an amount of risk, it is much less than the risk run by not having current fixes and patches applied. My preference is to periodically (and frequently) manually install the updates. Manually installing allows me to check for known issues regarding those updates, and make the decision to install a particular patch, or not. This approach does take some dedication on your part, though, and as such is not for everyone.

Whichever method you choose, be sure that your systems are updated with the current patches and fixes. Otherwise, you are running the very big risk of waking up to a nasty situation, in which your computers have been compromised, or are being held for ransom.

Dave.

Testing Updates and Changes

Testing updates and Changes.

With the recent changes in requirements for credit card processors, NCR Retail Online going away, and others, there are a large number of people going through updates and changes. Many of these changes are quite significant. With that in mind, a word about testing those changes is in order.

The most common thing that I see is a lack of sufficient testing. For example, if you are changing your web store provider, there will be changes in how orders flow in and out of your ticketing system. It is not enough to test that orders come into your system. You also need to check that you can process those orders. It does not do any good to receive orders, and then not be able to process and complete them. The testing process needs to incorporate all aspects of the workflow.

  • Does the order come in with the correct information?
  • How about taxes?
  • Are the tax amounts correct when appropriate?
  • How about when taxes do not apply so that there is a zero
  • tax amount?

Those are all important, but that is just the beginning.

If that information is importing correctly, what about going forward.

You should test printing picking tickets, generating invoices, and everything all the way through posting those invoices. When that all goes through without a hitch, there is still more to do. Test canceling orders, and partial shipments. If you ever edit orders to add or remove lines, change a line quantity, or anything else, then those functions need to be tested also.

It takes some time and needs to be included in your schedule for everything else, but the more time spent testing changes and updates ahead of time, the smoother it will be when it comes time to implement those changes in your live system.

Dave

Staying Current on Your NCR Counterpoint Software

Staying Current on Your NCR Counterpoint Software.

With all the changes to security and PCI Compliance, it is a good idea to be and stay current on your NCR Counterpoint software. One example of why has just came to light recently.

To be PCI Compliant, the gateway which helps you process credit card transactions is being updated to support the latest encryption technology. With that update, your NCT Counterpoint software will also need to be updated. Not all version will be updated, but the latest version is almost always updated with a small patch or Service Pack which take only a few minutes to install. The older version of NCR Counterpoint (except two versions) will not be updated and will need to be brought up to a currently supported version of the software.

If you are running an older version of Counterpoint, there are a few things to consider. The first is to find out if your hardware and operation system will support both the updated version of Counterpoint and the new encryption technology being implemented. Second is time. Depending on what your current version is, the time it takes to upgrade can vary from 30 minutes to a few hours depending on how many workstations you have, how big of a jump from version to version you are going, and when you will be able to get the work done.

Although it is not always recommended to be on bleeding edge of technology, being somewhat current will save you time (and in return, money) on your next update.

-Bryan

Security and Encryption Malware

Security and Encryption Malware

Despite one’s best intent, systems can be infected by viruses, hacked, or crashed due to various reasons and through various sources. Having good security programs, and redundant data/program backup functions in place should be considered a must-have. However, even with these policies and procedures in place, sometimes things can go very wrong.

As a recent example:

A company’s application server was infected with a file encryption ransomware program during the middle of the day. Most of the operating system, and various programs where encrypted.

Doing a repair installation attempt was unsuccessful in correcting the issues, and ultimately, a recovery required pulling selected programs and data from multiple backups. Because the back-ups were incomplete, this created a number of residual issues related to some operating system files/features and selected programs.

This infection was later determined to be the result of all of the following:

  • Failure to restart the server after an anti-virus software update.
  • open RDP Internet ports on the server’s firewall.
  • An un-patched known security flaw on the application server that was known to be vulnerable to remote brute force connection attempts.

In this particular case, the saving grace was…

Their core application software programs and data on at least some of the redundant back-ups were undamaged by the encryption Malware infection.

The end result here was… a recovery project that could have taken weeks or months of work to complete or that could have resulted in massive irreversible data loss, ended up causing only several days of disruption and only a couple of days’ worth of data loss

While all of this might seem like a no-brainer to some, a focused plan that has built-in redundancy should be considered a must for any business.

If you would like a review of your current system for either security or and/or backup integrity, please contact CCS Retail Systems Support Department to schedule your System Security and Recovery evaluation.

– John

Modern, reliable Hybrid Cloud backup without the cost and complexity

Modern, reliable Hybrid Cloud backup without the cost and complexity

SolarWinds® Backup is the simple, powerful, and affordable cloud-based backup service for your virtual and physical servers. Reduce the cost and complexity of backup without sacrificing speed or reliability. Enjoy a low TCO, with no hidden costs.

  • Cloud-based backups mean no need to worry about storage requirements
  • Protect physical and virtual servers and their applications across major operating systems and hypervisors, with a single product
  • Fast backup, rapid restore of even large machines and databases with built-in compression.
  • A single dashboard lets you verify the status of all your backups at a glance
  • Implementation is as easy as dropping an agent on each server.

HYBRID CLOUD BACKUP

SolarWinds® Backup is the best of both worlds, offering a hybrid cloud architecture that meets every need with one solution — and meets them fast. If a physical disaster like a fire takes down your hardware, you can restore fully from the cloud. If you need to recover a large file or data set quickly, you can access the local drive.

What does this mean for your business? Efficiency. SolarWinds® Backup’s hybrid cloud backup lets you manage all of your backups from a single system, so you can streamline your processes. 

BARE METAL RECOVERY

Bare Metal Recovery Disasters happen. If you lose entire systems, SolarWinds® Backup provides a bare metal recovery feature that lets you rebuild from the ground up.

With bare metal recovery, you can restore from the BIOS and get your systems back to work with nothing more than a simple bootable USB drive. Their worst-case scenario will become a minor blip on the radar, earning you. Don’t wait around for the worst—prepare for it and try SolarWinds® Backup.

TRUE DELTA DEDUPLICATION

Efficiency wins. That’s why SolarWinds® Backup features True Delta™ data deduplication, which captures byte-level changes instead of the full data set. This leads to shorter backup windows and allows for more efficient bandwidth usage.

After the initial system backup of your data, True Delta deduplication will back up changes only. And it does so at the byte level rather than the file level. Translation: The system backs up smaller amounts of data each time, allowing you to back up more frequently with less system drain. The result? Speed and efficiency, for you. 

LOCALSPEEDVAULT

When systems fail, recovery speed is everything. Your backup product must enable you to meet your recovery time objectives. That’s where LocalSpeedVault™ in SolarWinds® Backup comes in.

When LocalSpeedVault is enabled, MSP Backup & Recovery will automatically choose whether to restore from the LocalSpeedVault, the cloud, or both—whatever’s fastest. This gives you the quickest path to restoring continuity. Maximize uptime: with SolarWinds® Backup today.

BACKUP DOCUMENTS FOR WORKSTATIONS INEXPENSIVELY

Many organizations don’t back up more than a critical server and maybe a handful of workstations. This leaves their clients at risk of losing critical data. Foras low as $3 per workstation per month, the Backup Documents feature for SolarWinds® Backup will automatically back up your documents on their workstations twice per day. With SolarWinds global cloud network, you can easily restore from your cloud versions to any location.  Backup Documents lets you scale your backup services at an affordable price while providing greater protection against document loss from hardware failures, accidental deletions, or even ransomware.

Contact CCS Sales to see if the SolarWinds Hybrid Cloud Backup Manager is a good fit for your company.

Major credit card brands dropping signature requirement for North America

Major credit card brands dropping the signature requirement for North America

Face it, the payment world is changing. Rapidly! From cryptocurrencies to apple pay, and now there is one more change headed for small business owners in the United States. All of the major credit card brands are dropping a signature requirement for North American purchases.
 
With signature requirements already gone in many other countries, US is playing catch up with the upgrade to EMV chips. However, come April each card company is adding new rules or relaxing current rules for signatures.
 

So what does that mean for small business owners?
 

Almost every American adult is familiar with the obligatory squiggle of your name to complete a transaction. But how secure are those signatures in helping us avoid fraudulent transactions and purchases? Not very. Putting aside all of the hassles of writing your name with a dead pen, getting something that looks somewhat like your name on an electronic signature pad, or having to deal with signatures when traveling abroad in places that are used to chip and PIN, those signatures just don’t do a good job of keeping us safe, and in reality have not been effective for a long time.

If you missed the news, all of the major credit card brands are dropping a signature requirement for North American purchases. Coming on the heels of the upgrade to EMV chips, the card issuers are relying on far better security requirements today. But how does this impact you as a business owner? Let’s take a look at what the end of credit card signatures means for you.

Credit card signatures expiration date

Each of the major four card brands in the United States, Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover, is implementing a change to credit card signatures effective April 2018. Starting that day, each card company is adding new rules or relaxing current rules for signatures. They may not go away instantly or all at once, but starting in April, you can expect far fewer credit card signatures at checkout.

 

Two years later, and the chips are doing their job at point-of-sale purchases where the card is present. They can’t do much for fraud online, but for offline fraud, the chip was a great step forward. Now, it seems the time has come to say goodbye to credit card signatures as our next phase of credit card processing in the United States.

Different rules for different cards

Visa is the biggest of the card brands. To say credit card signatures are going away completely in April 2018 would be a little misleading. According to a blog post from Visa at its official Tumblr page, the signatures won’t be going away everywhere, and merchants still have some leeway to decide for themselves whether or not to make customers sign. Only merchants with an active chip reading terminal are exempt from signatures, so stores and checkouts that don’t take chips will still need to take signatures for most purchases.

This means that at grocery stores, gas stations, drug stores, and other large chains, you can expect the signature to effectively vanish on the April effective date. However, smaller businesses that have not spent the money to upgrade their card reading terminals to chip readers may still continue to ask for signatures for a while yet. New terminals run up to $1,000, so many small businesses won’t rush out to buy one, particularly if they don’t take many credit cards.

Why merchants should upgrade to EMV chip readers ASAP

While that $500-$1,000 expense isn’t exciting, a new card reader that takes chip-enabled cards is probably worth the cost. On October 1, 2015, the liability for card fraud shifted from the banks to the merchants unless the merchant is using an EMV chip reader. The liability shift is a significant occasion for any business that accepts credit cards in person. Starting on that date, any fraud caused by the business has to be paid for by the business if they don’t have the updated chip card reader. Think of the newer chip card terminals as an insurance policy against paying for the fraud that originated at your business’s card processing system.

Because Visa is still requiring signatures for some merchants that don’t have the chip reading terminals, your business is not getting the benefit of the end of credit card signatures unless you have a chip reader, which you should anyway to protect your customers from fraud and yourself from paying.

Join the next century of credit card processing

The real future of card payments likely involves no card at all and instead relies on a digital wallet with a system like Android Pay or Apple Pay, but in the meantime, customers continue to use plastic credit cards to make everyday purchases. Thankfully, starting soon, that checkout process will get a little easier thanks to the end of credit card signatures.

This article was originally published on Kredyt.com and Due.com.