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Apple App Store: Uber Where Are You?

December 5, 2015

Short honk: Navigate to the Apple iTunes app store. (Heads up! The link won’t work from this blog post.)  Plug in the query “Uber.” What do you get? No Uber app. To find the app, navigate to travel and scroll through the listings. I am not sure which giant vendors’ eCommerce search is worse: Apple’s, Amazon’s, or eBay’s. Nifty when a key word, which is the company’s name and the product name, are not in the search results listings. Very tasty.

Stephen E Arnold, December 5, 2015

A Bezos Style World Domination Video

December 4, 2015

Oh, 1999, what a year that was!  It was full of people afraid of Y2K, TV was still analog, email was still a novelty, and AOL still reigned as the supreme Web browser.  Nobody really knew what Amazon was as many people did their online shopping on individual Web sites or on eBay.  Recode takes a look at a video blast from the past in “Watch Jeff Bezos Lay Out His Grand Vision For Amazon’s Future Dominance In This 1999 Video.”

In 1999, Amazon was a four-year-old company with $1 billion in annual sales.  It started out primarily selling books, CDs, and movies.  The Jeff Bezos video is of a talk he gave at the Association of American Publishers annual meeting, it played on Book TV and nobody watches that, which it is why it probably has gone unnoticed for so long.  While it is a good retrospect about how the company has grown, it also offers some useful information for business entrepreneurs.  The entire video is fifty-five minutes long, but the article contains some of Bezos’s best quotes.  Our favorite is this one about favoring growth versus profits:

“Amazon.com is a famously unprofitable company. And the question is: Are we concerned about it? The answer is, in the short term, no; and in the long term, of course. Every company needs to be profitable at some point in time … Our strategy and we’ve consistently articulated this, is that we believe that this opportunity is so large that it would be a mistake for any management team not to invest in it very aggressively at this kind of critical category formation stage.  We don’t claim it’s the right strategy. We just claim it’s ours. But we do think it’s right. And that it would be a mistake to try to optimize for short-term profitability.”

Jeff Bezos’s advice about favoring growth versus short-term profit definitely worked for him.  Amazon is one of the world’s retailers and it is still growing.  It is set to dominate TV, software-as-a-surface, and air delivery.

 

Whitney Grace, December 4, 2015

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

 

Search and Apps: A Surprising Infographic

December 1, 2015

Let’s assume that the data in “A Survival Toolkit for the Planet of the Apps” is spot on. I draw this conclusion because the write up has a title which tickled by funny bone. Yep, I have one. One.

I did not know that 27 percent of mobile apps are located via a search engine. A surprising 52 percent are found via referrals. And the much maligned Web site pitching app? The company Web site sparks 24 percent of the app action.

The data appear in this graphic:

image

Apps are, it seems, the go to way to close deals. However, for apps which focus on selling things to consumer. The write up reports that 38 percent of the folks installing an app to buy something, uninstall the app once the product is ordered.

What does this mean for outfits like the Google? The in app search function will be useful, but the old fashioned Web site cannot be kicked to the curb yet.

Stephen E Arnold, December 1, 2015

Kmart Australia Faces Security Breach

November 30, 2015

Oracle’s Endeca and IBM’s Coremetrics were both caught up in a customer-data hack at Kmart Australia, we learn from “Customer Data Stolen in Kmart Australia Hack” at iTnews. Fortunately, it appears credit card numbers and other payment information were not compromised; just names, contact information, and purchase histories were snagged. It seems Kmart Australia’s choice to use a third party to process payments was a wise decision. The article states:

“The retailer uses ANZ Bank’s CyberSource payments gateway for credit card processing, and does not store the details internally. iTnews understands Kmart’s online ecommerce platform is built on IBM’s WebSphere Commerce software. The ecommerce solution also includes the Oracle Endeca enterprise data discovery platform and Coremetrics (also owned by IBM) digital marketing platform, iTnews understands.

The article goes on to report that Kmart Australia has created a new executive position, “head of online trading and customer experience.” Perhaps that choice will help the company avoid such problems in the future. It also notes that the retailer reported the breach voluntarily. Though such reporting is not yet mandatory in Australia, legislation to make it so is expected to be introduced before the end of the year.

Cynthia Murrell, November 30, 2015

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

MarkLogic Does Ecommerce

November 25, 2015

On their blog, MarkLogic announces they are “Eliminating Shopper Fatigue: Making Online Commerce Faster, More Accurate.” Anyone who has tried to shop online for a very particular item understands the frustration. Despite all the incentives to quickly serve up exactly what a customer is looking for, ecommerce sites still struggle with searches that get too specific. Writer (and MarkLogic chief marketing officer) Michaline Todd gives this example: A site that sells 652 different versions of a “screwdriver” returns zero results to the phrase “one-quarter-inch slotted magnetic screwdriver.” You know it must be there somewhere, but you have to comb through the 652 screwdriver entries to find it. That or give up and drive to the local hardware store, where a human will hook you up with exactly what you need. Good for local business, but bad for that ecommerce site.

Todd says the problem lies in traditional relational databases, upon which any eCommerce sites are built. These databases were not meant to handle unstructured data, like supplier-created product descriptions. She describes her company’s solution to the problem, which naturally includes MarkLogic’s NoSQL technology:

“The beauty of NoSQL is that it’s a schema-agnostic data model that ingests data in whatever its current form. Codifyd uses MarkLogic to quickly and reliably merge millions of data points from thousands of suppliers into a product catalogue for each of its clients. By gathering such fine-tuned information instantaneously, Codifyd recommends products matched to specific attributes in real time, increasing customer trust, loyalty and retention. This more precise information also allows retailers to bundle relevant product offers in a set, improving upselling and increasing the average order size. For example, a retailer can serve up the ‘one-quarter-inch slotted magnetic screwdriver’ the customers searched for as well as a toolkit that contains that particular screwdriver.”

Todd notes that Codifyd also dramatically speeds up the process of posting entries for new products, since unstructured data can be reproduced as-is. Launched in 2001, MarkLogic proudly declares that theirs is the only enterprise-level NoSQL platform in existence. The company is headquartered in San Carlos, California, and maintains offices around the world.

Cynthia Murrell, November 25, 2015

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

 

SLI H116 and Related Info Swizzles

November 13, 2015

I read an item produced by a research outfit called Edison. What’s interesting is that the “news” refers to SLI Systems, a New Zealand based outfit which sells eCommerce search software. The company has been going through some choppy water and has two new executives. One is a president, Chris Brennan. The more recent appointment is Martin Onofrio’s taking the job of Chief Revenue Officer. Prior to joining SLI, Mr. Onofrio was, according to the Edison news item, the chief revenue officer at Attensity. That’s one of the sentiment oriented content processing outfits. (Attensity has been a low profile outfit for a while.)

In that “report” from Edison which you can read at this link, I noted a reference to H116 revenue. The report did not explain what this type of revenue is. I did a quick search and learned that H116 does not seem to be a major revenue type. H116 is a type of aluminum, a motorized stepper, and a string of characters used by a number of different manufacturers.

After some thinking whilst listening to the Jive Five, I realized that Edison and SLI Systems are using H116 as a token for “revenues for the first half of fiscal 2016.” There you go.

Another write up adds this color, which I think the Edison experts could have recycled when they made clear what H116 means:

Revenue is forecast to rise to $17.3 million in the six months ending December 31 from $13.6 million a year earlier when sales accelerated at a 27% pace, the Christchurch-based company said in a statement.

Here’s the important part in my view:

The software developer missed its sales forecast for the second half of the 2015 year, and has hired Martin Onofrio as its new chief revenue officer to drive revenue growth.

A couple of quick thoughts before I go watch the mist rise from the mine drainage pond:

  1. SLI might want to make sure that its experts output “news” which is easy to understand
  2. Inclusion of revenue challenges is probably as important, if not more important, than opining about the future. The future is not yet here, so, like picking the winner of the Kentucky Derby, touts are different from which nag crosses the finish line first.
  3. Attensity, in my opinion, has faced its own revenue head winds. I wonder if a chief revenue officer can generate revenue in a world in which there are open source and low cost eCommerce search systems?

A word to Edison: Please, do not write to complain about my nagging about the H116 thing. You offer a two page report which is one page. What’s up with that? Friday the 13th bad luck or a standard work product?

Stephen E Arnold, November 13, 2015

Amazon Punches Business Intelligence

November 11, 2015

Amazon already gave technology a punch when it launched AWS, but now it is releasing a business intelligence application that will change the face of business operations or so Amazon hopes.  ZDNet describes Amazon’s newest endeavor in “AWS QuickSight Will Disrupt Business Intelligence, Analytics Markets.”  The market is already saturated with business intelligence technology vendors, but Amazon’s new AWS QuickSight will cause another market upheaval.

“This month is no exception: Amazon crashed the party by announcing QuickSight, a new BI and analytics data management platform. BI pros will need to pay close attention, because this new platform is inexpensive, highly scalable, and has the potential to disrupt the BI vendor landscape. QuickSight is based on AWS’ cloud infrastructure, so it shares AWS characteristics like elasticity, abstracted complexity, and a pay-per-use consumption model.”

Another monkey wrench for business intelligence vendors is that AWS QuickSight’s prices are not only reasonable, but are borderline scandalous: standard for $9/month per user or enterprise edition for $18/month per user.

Keep in mind, however, that AWS QuickSight is the newest shiny object on the business intelligence market, so it will have out-of-the-box problems, long-term ramifications are unknown, and reliance on database models and schemas.  Do not forget that most business intelligence solutions do not resolve all issues, including ease of use and comprehensiveness.  It might be better to wait until all the bugs are worked out of the system, unless you do not mind being a guinea pig.

Whitney Grace, November 11, 2015
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

 

Kroger IT Management and the Pain of Reality

October 12, 2015

In Harrod’s Creek, we have access to a giant store doing business here as Kroger. There is an all organic outfit down the hollow. I like that outfit. The prices are higher for some things, but the store is human scale. The Kroger warehouse requires me to walk almost 500 meters to get my dogs treats, my wife some ersatz milk product, and for me to stock up on Mountain Dew and M&Ms.

The salad bar is history, replaced with plastic boxes of pre-jigged stuff. The Fancy Dan foods cost the same and Organic City, so many folks in this area avoid the Kroger offerings. The center of our store houses Wal-Mart and Home Depot type products. I don’t think about buying red and blue non stick pans when I do a trip to the grocery for my wife.

I read with considerable interest “Kroger CIO: Four lessons for strategic IT.”

Each time I visit the Kroger in Harrod’s Creek or more accurately, Prospect, Kentucky, I fear the Hitachi based automatic check out systems. Kroger is trimming humans at check outs, presumably the Hitachi units are better, faster, and cheaper.

A trip to the local chain grocery can be an enjoyable experience. Don’t forget your customer loyalty card. Don’t complain about the difficulty of finding a product. Don’t hassle the Kroger humans about one price on the product and a different price in the Kroger database. Have a nice day.

I learned from Chris Hjelm, the CIO, of Kroger, one of the world’s largest companies, that information technology must be relevant. I wonder, “To whom, Mr. Hjelm.” Your boss, to suppliers, or to the individual customer? Mr. Hjelm is responsible for managing the company’s nationwide network of Information and Technology Systems, including systems used in retail stores, manufacturing plants, distribution centers and offices, as well as Research & Development. He also oversees 84.51°, Aviation, Corporate Travel, Indirect Sourcing, and the Check Recovery Center.” He has an honorary PhD degree and before joining Kroger in 2005, he was CIO of Cendant’s Travel Distribution Services, eBay, and Excite@Home, and a CIO at Federal Express. He “has a particular passion for food and is an aspiring amateur chef.” Cendant broke up into four companies. eBay is an online flea market. Excite@Home was a darned exciting outfit when it purchased Kendara’s personalization technology before Excite lost its excitement. FedEx, well, FedEx ships stuff.

Now what are the lessons for strategic IT. I assume this is different from making information technology actually work.

First, the lesson numero uno is to earn credibility as a reliable service provider. I think this means deal with vendors who will implement systems which meet the needs of the Kroger person or unit with an IT need. Yep, making stuff work is good.

Second, one must learn the business. This is no small task when one considers that work experience in shipping, Internet flame outs, online flea marketing, and travel may not seem to be directly related to selling groceries. No, I understand. The IT part is the fiber of these businesses. Ergo, food is just like eBay.

Third, form relationships with one superiors. Okay, that seems to be a safe statement. Due to the ultra conservative, siege mentality of most senior executives in many traditional businesses facing heat from online vendors, that’s good. Keeping one’s job is strategic.

Fourth, use experts. Nay, rely on experts. The good manager, it seems, can terminate experts or ignore them if down the hall. The strategy may reinforce self preservation like the relationships with those higher on the food chain (pun intended).

Now reality. Annoying reality.

At the local Kroger, senior management have deployed self check out units. Most of the time, about one third of the available units are operating. The reason is management’s desire to funnel customers to few self check outs and thus reduce the need for expensive humans who have to intervene frequently when customer transactions go off the rails.

Example: I bought an Ambrosia apple, number 3438. The Hitachi scanning system registered one pound of cheddar cheese. A moonlighting law enforcement officer was at the self check out and managed to clear the transaction. I got the apple for free. Ah, an annoying anomaly.

The new Kroger stores are large. They are organized according to the type of anti social thinking pioneered by Paco Underhill; to wit, make customers who want bread and fruit and milk walk from the entrance along a path of an equilateral triangle. Why put frequently purchased products in one convenient location? The strategy is to force a person to walk so the person will buy stuff not on the person’s list.

The scale of the products in our local Kroger is astounding. One employee told me that were more than 90,000 things in the story. Wow, how many red skillets sit for months without a human touching them? How much food is dumped at expiration time because no one buys the product?

Our local Kroger offers printed on paper maps, not mobile content, to help a customer find a product. Do you know where mustard is? Do you know where a mixture of mustard and relish is? Answer: in separate aisles, not together.

Kroger cannot alphabetize. Look at the signs hanging from the ceiling list products in an aisle. Are these alphabetized. Nope. Waste of time.

Everything in the Kroger—from the database which is out of sync with the product codes to the location of the products—is presented in a way that says, “Hey, go to Paul’s or Fresh Market.”

What is the information strategy at Kroger stores?

  1. Create a perception of credibility among your co workers and colleagues.
  2. Implement the routine business and learn the camp fire stories about how wonderful Kroger was and is.
  3. Get to be pals with those with more Kroger juice
  4. Use those consultants because it is easier to deflect criticism than take responsibility for tasks.

Kroger is a grocery store. Information technology should make it easier for customers. IT should make it possible for management to know when databases are not in sync. Partners can use Kroger IT to reduce waste and inefficiency.

Kroger, like any retail chain based on the build it they will come principle, will have to deal with two types of technical debt. Like credit card debt, the interest adds friction to keeping the flawed systems u9p and running. Like Walgreen’s, the interest on the real estate is not chimera.

Excitement is ahead for those living the retail dream in a world in which Amazon wants to use technology to eliminate the need to experience the pain and waste the time dribbled away at the grocery store.

Has Kroger IT entertained this statement, “When will that automated delivery arrive? I just ordered 10 minutes ago.” Amazon, are you listening?

Stephen E Arnold, October 12, 2015

The Sad eCommerce Search Realities

September 9, 2015

We love it when articles make pop cultures references as a way to get their point across.  Over at Easy Ask, an articled entitled “ ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ – The Realities of eCommerce Search” references the Keith Richards and Mick Jagger song explaining how a Web site loses a customer.  The potential customer searches for an product, fails to find using the search feature, so the person moves onto a new destination.

What happens is that a Web site search function might not understand all the query terms or it might return results that fail to meet the shopper’s need.  The worst option any eCommerce shop could show a shopper is a “no results found” page.  It might be a seem like simple feature to overcome, but search algorithms need to be fine tuned like any other coding.   The good news that decent eCommerce searches have already been designed.

“How can you avoid these misunderstandings? One approach is to employ search software that understands the words in the search and how they relate to each other and the site’s catalog. These search engines are called ‘Contextual Search’ and employ ‘Natural Language Processing’ software. Remember diagramming sentences in elementary school and identifying the nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. Knowing the role of a word in a website search helps find the right products.”

Contextual search that uses natural language processing treats queries based on a user’s true intentions, rather than giving each term the same weight.  Contextual search is more intuitive and yields more accurate results.  The article finishes by saying the customers “get what they need.” Ah, what a wise use of The Rolling Stones.

Whitney Grace, September 9, 2015
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

 

Old School Endeca Yields EneCom

August 27, 2015

I read “iBiz Software Inc.’s EneCom, a standalone Endeca eCommerce, extends powerful Endeca’s Guide search with Cart functionalities.”

The main idea is that an Oracle partner has used Endeca (a late 1990s chunk of technology) to build an “end to end eCommerce omni channel solution.”

I thought that’s what Endeca’s system did.

I learned:

EneCom is a robust, scalable and cost-effective eCommerce solution that integrates with 3rd party vendors including Shipping Carriers such as FedEx and UPS, Tax engine using Avalara and Credit Card Payment Gateways using Chase Paymentech, EpicPay, and WorldPay etc. EneCom is self-sufficient and can be standalone. Existing Oracle Endeca customers can further extend their Endeca investment by taking advantage of the integrations and omni-channel capabilities.

I concluded that iBiz stood up a ready to roll implementation of Endeca.

No information about cost. As I recall, Endeca was an expensive solution. iBiz, which empowers cloud commerce, may have found a way to make Endeca’s approach mesh with the real time, go go mobile world.

It strikes me that EneCom is Endeca without the time consuming, expensive consulting work required to make the computational intensive system deliver useful outputs.

Without pricing information, it is tough to tell if the solution is a viable alternative to the numerous low cost eCommerce systems available.

Stephen E Arnold, August 27, 2015

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