Search for Shopping: Still Room for Improvement

July 7, 2020

Targeted advertising is not the only way retailers can leverage all that personal data users have been forking over. Retail Times reports, “Findlogic Announces the Launch of AI-Powered Virtual Shopping Assistant, Lisa.” Lisa, huh? I guess Findlogic pays no heed to concerns around “female” virtual assistants. That tangent aside, the AI-powered tool is meant to reduce frustration for online shoppers and, in turn, facilitate to more completed sales. Writer Fiona Briggs tells us:

“Lisa returns on-site search based on an individual shopper’s buying intent signals in the context of a broad set of learnt user behaviors. This allows the solution to personalize results for each shopper, delivering more accurate search returns that connect customers to a desired product faster, moving them along the sales funnel and increasing conversion rates. By intelligently applying understanding to on-site search, Lisa helps shoppers better navigate product category or brand searches, which means that, rather than returning hundreds of options, the solution uses skills to refine results to bring shoppers to the exact product they are looking for quicker. Lisa also incorporates machine learning capabilities which allow it to learn and understand a shopper’s preferences and apply them to search, offering up personalized recommendations, which ranks the products the shopper is most likely to choose at the top of the list of results. Lisa also offers up intelligent ways to refine searches for generic keywords, using the application of a skill that then asks the user a set of questions to progress their search based on their individual requirements.”

Findlogic’s UK director emphasizes companies that put effort into getting shoppers to their websites in the first place are let down by traditional, keyword-based search systems that frustrate some 41% of potential customers. The company is betting this AI that can understand “intent” will change that. Based in Salzburg, Austria, Findlogic was founded in 2008.

Cynthia Murrell, July 7, 2020

Coveo Enterprise Search: A Pivot and a Double Flip from a 15 Year Old Startup

June 4, 2020

DarkCyber noted this story in a New Zealand online information service: “Xero Partners with Coveo to Empower Small Businesses with Machine Learning.” The write states:

Xero has partnered with Coveo to empower small businesses with new functionality on its app marketplace search, powered by machine learning.

Before taking a look at the direct quotes in the article, DarkCyber needs to answer two questions.

First, what’s Coveo? According to the firm’s Web site, the company:

Provide effortless tailored journeys with the Coveo Experience Intelligence Platform. Imagine the experiences you could deliver by embracing the cloud, data, and AI today.

Got that? Coveo was profiled in the first three editions of the Enterprise Search Report as a vendor of Microsoft-centric search and retrieval. Over the years, the company has evolved or at least changed. The firm offered its search system as a customer support component and now it has evolved into providing “tailored journeys”. Let’s call this enterprise search.

Second, what’s Xero? The company’s Web site explains:

Xero is the emerging global leader of online accounting software that connects small businesses to their advisors and other services. Xero provides business owners with real-time visibility of their financial position and performance in a way that’s simple, smart and secure. For accountants, Xero forges a trusted relationship with clients through online collaboration and gives accountants the opportunity to extend their services.

Okay, the company wants to offer an online “store” to sell licenses to companies looking for accounting software.

Now back to the write up. The article quotes an executive at Coveo as saying:

Coveo CEO and chairman Louis Tetu says, “Creating intelligent experiences like Xeros [sic] app marketplace and Xero Central are critical to compete in today’s experience economy. Digital leaders run on data and AI to create the relevant, unified experiences their customers expect – while adding real business value. Few companies understand that better than Xero. Whether a small business is looking to move sales online, coordinate staff or manage projects, Xero’s app marketplace features an array of third-party apps to help with their unique industry and business administration challenges.”

DarkCyber thinks that this means that Coveo will provide product search for Xero’s online store. It is easy to be mystified by words like “intelligence experiences,” “experience economy”, and AI (artificial intelligence). Yeah, jargon is one way to get around the fact that Coveo is providing search and retrieval. (SLI Systems — New Zealand eCommerce search system — is probably surprised by the lingo as well.)

How does Xero explain search? One of Xero’s managers says:

“We’ve seen a 50% increase in people searching for cash flow apps from February to April this year, so we know making it easy to access the right technology is more important than ever…. Tapping into smart insights through machine learning, not only improves the journey for time-poor small businesses, but enables us to consistently evolve our offering to provide beautiful experiences for our customers.

Okay, jargon like “machine learning,” “time poor”, and “beautiful experiences” seems to be a bit of frosting on a donut.

The Canadian company has licensed its search system to a New Zealand accounting centric company to provide search and retrieval for about 800 products.

Interesting. DarkCyber assumes that the inclusion of the buzzwords and jargon is an attempt to make a fairly straightforward ecommerce service into something with a bit more zing. Did it work? You decide because eCommerce search features established options like Elasticsearch and new solutions from vendors like Luigis Box. Coveo was founded in 2005 as a spin off from Copernic desktop search. Luigis Box, on the other hand, was founded in 2017.

Stephen E Arnold, June 4, 2020

Amazon and France: Mais Oui, Mais Non

April 16, 2020

The trusted news source Thomson Reuters published “Amazon to Close French Warehouses until Next Week after Court Order.” Like Ben Franklin, Amazon has an on-again, off-again relationship with France. In the latest installment, Amazon is willing to allow French citizens to hunt for products at the nearest supermarché. There is a soupçon of taxation. There is a virus. There are the French unions. Will Amazon and the French remain déboussolé? Amazon continues to wrestle with governments, including the one in the US. Spring and change are in the air perhaps?

Stephen E Arnold, April 16, 2020

Amazon Fear: A New Marketing Hook for Google and the Softies

January 14, 2019

With the Amazon AWS bulldozer grinding away, some animals are fleeing the crushing power of the machine. Others are adopting a different tactic. “At NRF 2019, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform Court Retailers Wary of Amazon” explains that their services offer a quiet place in the jungle.

The write up explains:

Retail is one of the few industries where AWS isn’t likely to have a huge lead. That reality means Google and Microsoft can pitch their AI and cloud wares to a receptive audience.

Will Google and Microsoft adopt the IBM FUD approach? Will retailers who want to sell to the federal government become more flexible when Amazon’s GovCloud becomes more dense?

DarkCyber anticipates changes which will pose considerable hurdles to Google and Microsoft as places to sell and relax in the Amazon rain forest.

Stephen E Arnold, January 14, 2019

Stolen Identities Affordable and Available from a Few Dark Web Vendors

January 8, 2019

This is quite the bargain for bad actors—Kodos Blog reports, “Hackers Charging £10 for Stolen UK Identities.” Writer Ali Raza tells us recent studies show packages of data required to usurp a victim’s identity can be found for as little as £10, or about 12 and a half bucks. We learn:

“On the dark web, these information packages are called fullz (full IDs), and they can be found on numerous black markets. They often contain things such as names, addresses, bank data, online passwords, and more. Researchers believe that a number of high profile hacks that occurred recently are keeping the markets filled with this type of data. Hundreds of millions of internet users have had their data stolen in 2018 alone. Some of the most famous hacks from the last few months include several Facebook incidents, the hack of British Airways, Marriott hotel, and more. Stolen information then gets posted on the hidden part of the web, known as the dark web.”

We presume in order to create more clients, vendors of such data also offer instruction in how to open loans and credit cards in the victims’ names. Not for free, of course; such a guide runs about £6. The article adds:

“[One] seller also offered a sample of stolen information, currently being in their possession. The data includes names, occupation, addresses, and even date of birth and similar information. The sample itself belongs to a Bristol-based Polish-born woman. Researchers have described this type of stolen information as ‘key to online fraud’. As the internet has become a large part of most peoples’ everyday life, demand for this type of info is constantly on the rise.”

And yet, Raza reports, most consumers have no idea how pervasive these data hacks are. In fact, says one expert, most of us already have had our data stolen and sold on the Dark Web—it’s just a question of how often. One can check whether their email address is believed to have been compromised at several websites, the most famous of which may be Have I Been Pwned. To prevent identity theft, users should follow best practices, like using separate, hard-to-guess passwords for different accounts and taking advantage of two-factor authentication where offered.

Cynthia Murrell, January 8, 2019

Microsoft and Kroger: Have These Outfits Actually Shopped at a Kroger Store in Kentucky?

January 8, 2019

The answer is, “Of course not.”

Kroger’s technological capability is modest, even by the low standards which define the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Home of the corrupt sports programs, bourbon, horse racing, river boat gambling, and other intellectual high water marks.

I read “Microsoft and Kroger to Create Data-Driven Connected Grocery Stores.” What this means is that Kroger wants to get rid of humans, keep the lights at mortuary levels, and not have to fool around with pesky customers who spend actual bank notes.

The write up takes a slightly different approach, stating:

The first fruit of the partnership is a digital shelving system, which was actually announced last year and is in the process of rolling out to dozens of Kroger stores across the U.S. Called EDGE (Enhanced Display for Grocery Environment), it bypasses paper price tags for digital shelf displays that can be changed in real time from anywhere, and it also can display promotions, dietary information, and more.

Yep, that’s an idea. But the flaw is that Kroger’s in Kentucky struggle to complete these tasks in an orderly, coherent way:

  1. Restock. Aisles are choked with people trying to cram products on shelves in aisles clogged with free standing cardboard promotions, mothers wrangling toddlers, and clueless males struggling to locate milk and bread.
  2. Functioning check outs. At the Louisville Westport Kroger, the store has a dozen next generation self check out machines. At 1225 pm Eastern exactly three of the machines were working. The hapless attendant was clueless and an even more confused “manager” was trying to calm down impatient shoppers. How many human check outs were open at this fine retail outlet? Exactly one. Yeah, Windows 10 will fix this puppy.
  3. Accurate data. I routinely locate products on shelves with prices different from what the Kroger check out systems display. The error rate seems to chug along at somewhere between 10 and 15 percent. The solution? Hide the prices so the hapless shopper will not be able to compare what one tag says with what the invisible database says. I suppose one could ask Cortana.

But the kicker is the idea that a shelf will illuminate only when a person is interfacing. It is pretty tough to buy a frozen burrito when the automatic illumination systems does not function. That assumes, of course, that one can actually locate frozen burritos which are in the frozen snack freezer two aisles away from frozen Mexican food.

Should I talk about the crazy Kroger app for wireless shopping and payment. Nope, I am heading to Whole Foods.

Stephen E Arnold, January 8, 2019

Wal-Mart Versus Amazon: Is the Game Over?

December 6, 2018

Wal-Mart likes to be on top. Wal-Mart’s sales, however, have fallen due to Amazon and other online retailers, but they will not go down without a fight. Wal-Mart has decided to fight digital sales with a bigger, better digital supply chain super structure. The Motley Fool reports on Wal-Mart’s biggest investment in, “IBM And Microsoft Are Upgrading Wal-Mart’s Digital Supply Chain.”

Wal-Mart has teamed up with Microsoft and IBM to revamp its supply chain. Azure is the official cloud infrastructure of Wal-Mart with an exclusive five year contract. All of the retailer’s Web sites will now run natively on Azure and taking advantage of Microsoft’s machine learning and data management tools. Azure’s insightful tools will also streamline Wal-Mart’s supply chain, watch energy levels, and control devices.

Wal-Mart uses IBM’s blockchain technology to monitor product origins and IBM also built an onboard system for suppliers. How does the new supply chain help Wal-Mart:

“The modernization of Wal-Mart’s supply chain with cloud, IoT, and blockchain services could improve the retailer’s operating margin, which has been weighed down by e-commerce and overseas investments, store renovations, and wage hikes in recent years. That digital foundation can also pave the way for Wal-Mart to install more robots in its warehouses and stores, thereby reducing its overall labor costs. A streamlined supply chain would also help Wal-Mart avoid food safety problems, which are becoming increasingly common across supply chains and multiple countries and states.”

The new system will also help Wal-Mart regain some of the losses from its China suppliers due to Trumps tariffs.

The team up between Wal-Mart, IBM, and Microsoft is a joint effort to counter Amazon-their common enemy. But is the game over for Wal-Mart? Police in many municipalities find that Wal-Mart is a frequent stop and not for a hot dog and a soft drink. Perhaps Wal-Mart ecommerce would be less exciting than a visit to some establishments?

Whitney Grace, December 6, 2018

An Amazon Statistic and the Word All

July 14, 2018

I read “Amazon’s Share of the US E Commerce Market Is Now 49% or 5% of All Retail Spend.” The idea of “all” is reassuring. One does not have to worry about precision. All means all, right. Cantor struggled with his view of all. That worry does not trouble the expert writing this article.

infinity symbol

Setting aside word choice, the factoid is semi interesting. Amazon has, according to this source, about half of the e commerce market in the US. Now the sample has to ask people who own a computing device, are able to get online, and who have some method for making a digital payment. If one considers what percentage of the US population checks these boxes, the “all” becomes a subset of the US population. The reason check cashing services exist pivots on the individuals who do not have a banking relationship either directly or via the mostly available prepaid credit cards. Using these prepaid credit cards can be interesting.

Let’s assume that Amazon does have a big chunk of the US e commerce market. The write up suggests that Amazon is heading toward a tipping point. The idea, I think, is that the “all” really will mean every nickel and dime spent online for “retail products.” The idea that Amazon’s growth is surprising strikes me as interesting. The key metric is the rate of change between each major financial milestone. At one time, Google was smoking along. Has Amazon’s growth been chugging along with a nifty slope between time and financial data (remember those?)

An outfit called eMarketer provides data which illustrates how Amazon is making revenue in clothing, beauty items, and groceries.

The only problem I have is that Amazon’s online success is old news. Not far from our log cabin in rural Kentucky, Wal-Mart closed three of its retail outlets. I think that Amazon’s success in e commerce was a contributing factor. In some demographic segments, Amazon’s share of the US retail market is nosing toward 80 percent. Even in rural Kentucky, our rescue French bulldog can be run over by one of the six or seven Amazon deliveries each day unless we are on our toes.

So what?

  • Amazon’s tipping point was reached a couple of years ago? Amazon is now just running plays from its 20 year old playbook. We’re into déjà vu territory.
  • Amazon’s e commerce system is part of a slightly more sophisticated online store. I think it may be helpful for some whiz kid analysts to think about Oracle’s data marketplace and ask, “What does that have in common with Amazon’s retail business?”
  • The notion of “all” is not a helpful way to explain what Amazon has achieved. eMarketer like many other professionals think about consumer products. Big market indeed. There are other ways to look at Amazon’s platform.

Why are these questions important? If Amazon is going to generate enough revenue to double or triple its revenue, it will have to do more than sell T shirts, avocados, and vinyl records.

Wal-Mart’s “Amazon disease” is now spreading to other markets. The “all” misleads when used without a more informed context.

Stephen E Arnold, July 14, 2018

Distasteful Content and Digital Currency: A Love Match

May 10, 2018

Porn Site Leads Way in Cryptocurrency Acceptance

While it sounds like a surprise at first, a partnership between pornography site PornHub and cryptocurrency upstart, Verge, is a perfect pair. Increased privacy, especially when credit card statements are sent home at the end of every month, has an indelible appeal to porn customers. We learned about this interesting development from a recent article in Digital Trends, “Want to Hide Your PornHub Subscription? Pay with Virtual Verge Currency.”

According to the story:

“History has proven that the adult entertainment industry plays a critical role in adoption for innovative technology. We saw that with VHS, Beta Max, credit card payment icons and, most recently, VR goggles. We expect to see widespread adoption of crypto and blockchain in short order.”

This is a really interesting point and one worth thinking on for a moment. However, there’s also a serious risk to being the first person to set a trend. For one, how much do most customers know about Verge? A little digging shows that they had been hacked less than a month before this Pornhub announcement. Security is probably the number one concern of anyone getting into cryptocurrency. While this partnership with Verge and Pornhub makes perfect sense, it’s still a little early in the relationship for us to give it much of a blessing.

Patrick Roland, May 10, 2018

An Interesting Use of Instagram

April 22, 2018

There is an opioid dealer nearby. In fact, this drug kingpin is not standing on the corner or lurking on college campuses, this supplier is right at your fingertips. Thanks to a recent article, the plague of drug sales through popular and public social media platforms has caught the attention of some powerful people. We learned about these developments in a recent Wired article, “One Woman Got Facebook to Police Opioid Sales on Instagram.”

While it’s a little confusing, the basic story goes that one woman who discovered opioid sales on Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) reached out to Facebook, urging them to take action, through a rival social platform, Twitter. The tactic worked, even getting the FDA involved.

According to the story:

“It shouldn’t take this much effort to get people to realize that  you have some responsibility for the stuff on your platform…A 13 year old could do this search and realize there’s bad stuff on your platform — and probably has — you don’t need the commissioner of the FDA to tell you that.”

However, the act of policing drug sales on social media platforms and the dark web is not as easy as one might think. Yes, they shut down offending accounts, but beyond that there is little that can be done. According to the story, it outlawed certain hashtags, like it had done before. “Instagram previously restricted the drug-related hashtags, #Xanax and #Xanaxbar and banned #weedforsale and #weed4sale.”

It’s a small step, but hopefully one that will lead to greater and greater progress. For more information, learn more about CyberOSINT (the Dark Web) here.

Patrick Roland, April 21, 2018


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