Tag: technology

The role of mobile technology in retail

By Sandra Wrobel-Konior for Business2Community 

Technology is changing the way most industries do business, and retail is no exception to the ever-evolving advancements. Although some are afraid technology may be hurting the retail industry by moving everything online.

If you take a more in-depth look into the situation, you’ll see that tech is actually helping retail stores to grow and expand their expertise. There’s a number of new technology systems that are being implemented, and are worth consideration to remain a top competitor in the heavily competitive retail market.

Connecting with your shopper
According to a study conducted by CMO, 54 percent of retailers put customer experience in the number one slot on their priority list.

Beacon technology made its presence felt in the retail industry in 2017 for this reason. They are small devices placed at the front of the store and throughout to allow interaction with customers as soon as they walk through the door. They connect and send a signal to a customer’s Bluetooth capable device, and send highly accurate, relevant information and in-store offers in real-time to create a greater personal shopping experience for the customer.

A study done by Swirl states that 70% of shoppers who received beacon-related content on their phones agreed it increased their likelihood of making a purchase, showing impressive sales results for companies. These small devices are similar to online shopping apps, which allow customers to digitally connect to in-store deals conveniently from their mobile device to plan their shopping experience around real-time in-store offers as they shop.

The online consumer is looking for a great deal just as much as the in-store consumer, and it’s important to provide both with a superior experience.

Retailers also often turn to online checkout tools to help streamline the online shopping experience for consumers. With online shopping becoming the main avenue for all forms of shopping, it’s important for merchants to have a safe and secure checkout system for their online customers.

Modern systems create an efficient transaction process done entirely on the product page. It is hassle-free and user-friendly (recognising various languages), and does not push customers to a third-party site or payment service.

This approach also makes it convenient for consumers to order right from their mobile devices and provides a higher level of security; an important feature in the digital age.

Sensing your customer
74 percent of firms want their operations to be data-driven, but seldom follow through, with only 29 percent applying analytics to their internal processes. If implemented properly, consumer analytics tools could improve this statistic. They prove to be a major asset for merchants to track customer behaviours and better understand relevant trends.

These tools use a sensor that recognises and tracks the number of customers that come into a store, and narrows that data by month, week, or day to give a short-term insight into foot-traffic.

Other kinds of technology within the realm of these complex tools include the ability to track online orders to measure which items are in demand, and which items can be eliminated from the stores’ stock costs. By 2021, 85 percent of retailers plan to use intelligent automation like this to further improve their supply chain plan and eliminate increased costs.

Keeping it together with tech-driven organisational tools
The Internet of Things (IoT) has created an important opportunity for retailers to integrate a major type of technology into their operational strategy. All smart devices are connected thanks to the IoT, so the integration of the online retail shopping experience is a viable strategy for companies to capitalise on a broad connection to consumers.

For example, the IoT enables a shopper to scan or search for a product to be connected to the detailed information provided by the merchant about that product. The consumer then has access to relevant reviews and feedback for the specific product to help make more informed buying decisions.

In the long run, this helps increase sales and consumer retention, by providing shoppers with helpful services and information, thereby improving their buying experience.

Tech-driven internal organisational tools also make an impact on customer experience by starting at the source and improving internal retailer functions. Resource planning cloud systems that automate manual tasks help companies zero in on the strategic initiatives that propel the business forward. They also organise financial operations and leverage real-time consumer-related data for insights that improve decision-making and performance management.

Having strong internal operations rely heavily on tech-driven tools to meet customer demands and remain future-proof, especially in the modern digital age.

Takeaways
Depending on the type of store you operate, different technological tools may be more worthwhile than others. What matters is establishing a brand that customers can connect with.

In this day and age of social media and the internet, simple tech-driven strategies can help consumers to feel connected to a brand online, prolonging company success.

Below is a summary of what we covered and how technology plays a role in retail:

  • Customer experience should always be a top priority in the retail space.
  • Technology-driven tools improve buyer experience and increase efficiency.
  • Technological advancements in retail are lucrative to future growth in the digital age.
  • Internal operations need to be streamlined in order to reflect positively on customer experience.
  • The utilization of consumer data can have a major impact on a company’s success.
  • Consumer data-driven strategies rely on tech tools to ensure relevance and accuracy before the implementation of new strategies.

Company culture trumps technology

There is no arguing the fact that technology has made our lives easier. It has also resulted in organisations being able to deliver more innovative solutions in the workplace to provide for a more compelling environment.

Nicol Myburgh, Head of the HR Business Unit at CRS Technologies, cautions that this should not happen to the detriment of the company culture.

“Technology in the workplace can create many temptations among employees. Social media is a perfect example where employees spend most of their time on their favourite networking platforms instead of working. Even more concerning is how prevalent viewing pornographic material has become in the workplace,” he says.

Myburgh believes there is a growing trend among companies to focus on technology innovation and neglect the human element.

“This is happening more today than ever before and can be partly ascribed to an increasingly intensive and regulated labour environment. Employers want to move away from staff and acquire tech-driven solutions to replace people, all in a move to alleviate having to deal with issues created by unions, employee complaints, and poor performance.”
Local examples are plentiful, but it is especially in the banking sector where this becomes apparent as leading banks look to close branches in favour of investments in digital banking solutions. It all comes down to the bottom-line – technology is cheaper to maintain than the people driving it.

Return to culture
So, how can companies still reinforce their culture without relying on technology, tools and mobile apps?
“It must always be remembered that the company culture is the personality of a company and is determined by the people who work there,” says Myburgh.

“Without it, a business cannot be expected to have employee engagement and growth potential. Moreover, management needs to be aware of how technological innovation has impacted on changes taking place in the company culture. Much of this revolves around the way people do things. For example, the office hours of a traditional business used to be from 08:00 to 17:00 but embracing a mobile workforce has resulted in more people working off site, thereby fundamentally changing the culture of the organisation.”

Technology does provide benefits and opportunities, but it should always be driven by putting the people first. Staff events and team-building activities are excellent ways to promote interaction and reinforce the company culture.

Maintaining focus
Technology and applications are just tools – a means to an end. Organisations can do more to ensure their focus remains people-centric.

“This is where company culture comes in. It revolves around making the environment a pleasant place in which to work. The technological tools merely facilitate companies being geared towards their people. Some individuals want to interact with their colleagues face-to-face, while others prefer to use an app. It all depends on the person’s perception of what it means to be people-focused. Technology can therefore be used to give voice to the individual needs of employees instead of simply being a one-size-fits-all approach,” Myburgh concludes.

More than R1-billion was lost to the South African agricultural economy in 2018 thanks to livestock theft. According to a study released by UNISA, there were more than 29, 000 cases reported over the last financial year, with thousands of animals stolen. These thefts weigh heavily on the pockets of farmers and put them under immense pressure to find sustainable solutions that don’t bypass the law but do protect their property and their livelihoods. Into this complex quagmire of loss, livelihood and legal ramification steps agri-tech, the trending term for technology designed specifically for the agricultural sector and its unique challenges. Agri-tech has the potential to mitigate the loss of livestock, to reduce financial pressure on the agricultural industry and to minimise the burdens of distance and real-time responses to livestock threats.

FarmRanger, a clever blend of technology and agricultural devices, delivers an elegantly layered platform for livestock management and security. FarmRanger uses a combination of animal collar and app. The collars are fitted to a select number of animals in the herd – for sheep it is approximately one animal per 300 – and constantly monitor the movement of the sheep and, by extension, the herd. When any abnormal movement is detected, the system alerts the relevant person, for example the foreman, the farmer or the neighbourhood watch, by sending them a ‘missed call’ from the collar as well as an app notification. They then use the app to track the animal in real-time, following the detailed information on the app to find the animal’s location and effectively prevent it from being killed or stolen.

“The rising trend of stock theft makes it essential for farmers to use technology so they can stay one step ahead,” says Marius van der Merwe, Product Manager of FarmRanger. “However, the solutions need to be simple and reliable, providing farmers with valuable insight when it is needed the most. FarmRanger is designed to be functional and effective, delivering the right information to farmers so they can mitigate the impact of stock theft on their businesses.”

In addition to providing the farmer with relevant alarms and information, the app shows daily location updates, historical animal positions, and collar data, such as battery level. Working alongside the collar, the app is a simple and effective solution designed to fit into the farmer’s life, not make it more complicated. FarmRanger uses high-end technology – smartphones, GPS, electronic collars, real-time data and application delivery – to provide farmers with a hands-on and reliable tool that anyone can pick up and use without a hefty learning curve. Farmers generally embrace technology when it adds value to their operation; ultimately, they want to focus on the business of farming, so the supporting technology needs to be effective and easy to integrate.

Agri-tech solutions offer farmers an extra layer of insurance; however, they also need to add value. This is what FarmRanger does. The platform minimises the impact of stock theft while also providing customer service, a track record that spans more than 20 years, and technology that works within existing infrastructure limitations. The collars work on the mobile phone network and don’t require that the farms then install radio networks and battery life is up to six months on a rechargeable battery.

The solution comes from the ETSE Electronics stable which forms part of the Alphawave group. It has successfully introduced more than 4500 active units to 2000 farms across South Africa and Namibia and is tailored to suit the needs of the medium and large farming enterprises. It gives them the security and peace of mind they need to lock in their livestock, ensure their livelihoods and track their herds. Implementation of the solution is growing steadily, cementing FarmRanger’s reputation and reliability.

“It is a trusted 24/7 shepherd that now forms an integral part of the agri-sector repertoire and, as such, is continuously undergoing innovation and development to ensure it remains relevant and on the edge of what agri-tech can offer,” concludes Marnus van Wyk, Director of the Alphawave Group responsible for growing the agri-tech product portfolio.

For further information visit www.alphawave.co.za

Ends

ADAM HUNTER

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Print is still growing in Africa

GroupM, WPP’s world-leading global media investment group launched the Africa Media Index: its inaugural study on the media landscape in Africa. The study aims to provide insights on trends and knowledge of the media sector and how it affects investment, governance, local business and economies.

This study comprises data from 14 African countries, namely: Ivory Coast; Ghana; Nigeria; Kenya; South Africa; Uganda; Zambia; Namibia; Zimbabwe; Tanzania; Mozambique; Botswana; Angola and Ethiopia. It identifies trends that are relevant to industry investors looking to increase their footprint and reach multiple audiences in a meaningful way across Africa. The report focuses on five key categories which are Economy & Business; Media Landscape; Media Consumers; Technology; as well as Governance & Legislation.

Federico De Nardis, CEO at GroupM Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), says, “Many companies – both those already on the continent and those wishing to reach consumers and businesses across Africa – often struggle to find consistent and reliable information which gives a clear understanding of the media landscape. The intention of the Africa Media Index is to bridge that gap.”

Africa’s media landscape is a whirlwind of change and growth in activity, and its power can be harnessed by knowledgeable investors. Sub-Saharan Africa hosts 17% of the world population today, but only represents 2% of world GDP, and even less when we look at advertising investment, which is USD 2.6 billion or 0.47% of global investments. However, due to mobile and Internet expansion, strong urbanisation and a booming middle class, the next 30 years should tell a very different story.

The media consumers and media landscape
While the African middle class population is growing impressively, so is their access to technology and media consumption. This is demonstrated through the rising sales of televisions, which now replace radio as a preferred purchase option in places where electricity supply is increasingly available.
Access to the internet also accounts for a large growth in the media landscape, however, internet use is restricted by high data prices in various regions. More than 83% of respondents believe online media is growing significantly, while 75% of them think radio, through internet broadcasting is on a high trajectory. However, the same respondents are also bullish on television, with nearly 62% of positive growth.
In addition, print media is experiencing positive growth, contrary to what is happening in the rest of the world. For example, in Kenya newspaper consumption has grown by 14% in 2018 versus the previous year and 12% in Nigeria according to ‘This Year Next Year’ report, by GroupM Global.

Governance and legislation
Media growth in Africa is beneficial and a contributing factor to deepening democratic processes. In recent years, political uncertainty dominated the business headlines where heightened political tensions saw a military coup in Zimbabwe, a widely disputed election in Kenya, and highly contested elections in South Africa and Nigeria. These might appear as isolated events but they are an amalgam of events that increased media interest in Africa.
Of the surveyed respondents, 49% of East Africans and over 36% Southern Africans think media corruption is “highly prevalent”, while 41% West Africans say the media is hopelessly corrupt. Corrupt state media, bribe taking journalists and self-censorship by the independent press were cited as examples of corruption.
As a result, the risk impact of changes in legislation and regulation has increased considerably as many African governments continue to implement laws governing information and ethical operations of businesses.

Economy and business
When investors seek media investment opportunities, a holistic knowledge of the investment environment is required, including the relevant forces at play in governance, local business and economies that affect the media sector. The sector is influenced by the society it services, and in turn the media influences the societies that hear, read and see its output.
Investment indicators, as opposed to business confidence, for Southern Africa are good overall. Leading in this is South Africa with an overall score of 65.97, which takes three of the top five positions in overall Economy and Business rankings. However Ghana (51.65), and Kenya (47.67), being in the top five, reflects a mixed regional picture. Meanwhile at the lowest of the spectrum on the continent is Mozambique, whose overall score is 34.89.

Technology advancements
One of the biggest challenges for African governments and media houses will be to close the media access gap between urban and rural areas. If this is left unattended, there is an increased risk of widening inequality between those who have access to a plethora of innovative and rich media options (TV and video in all forms: Linear, VOD, SVOD, OTT and all online platforms) and those who are not exposed to it.

Electricity is a necessity for new media expansion for all regions, and West Africa is seen prioritising urbanisation more than others. Southern Africa is viewed as prioritising fibre lines according to 17.66% of respondents, particularly with the South Atlantic Cable System arriving in the region. These respondents have however reported the highest data prices, with three quarters classifying prices as expensive and 33% say data is somewhat expensive, however 40% of them say it is very expensive.

“The 21st century new media wave has been driven by the African people as they are choosing preferred mediums and content. Investors in Africa’s media industries can be assured that African media consumers are the same as media consumers in other markets who are perpetually craving better media services that are interactive and advertising that is created to each market’s unique nuances,” concludes De Nardis.

By Jan Vermeulen for MyBroadband 

Immigration systems were offline at Terminal B at OR Tambo International Airport on Sunday, causing huge delays for passengers.

Passengers boarding international flights were all funnelled through the security and passport control queues behind the check-in desks of Terminal A. The queue stretched out of Terminal A, all the way through a door that is usually kept closed, to Terminal B.

As travellers were checking the time and nervously watching the queue, airport staff started moving up and down the line searching for passengers who didn’t have long to make their flights.

There were a few staff who were not on an official assignment, however, but hunting for opportunity.

Three passengers and I were ushered to the next terminal by an airport staff member who said she was going to help us get to our flights.

“You need to tip me for helping you,” she said as we walked, and we laughed. It turned out I was the only one who thought it was a joke.

Our helper pushed us through the massive line of passengers towards the special processing area for crew and assisted passengers. When she was well ahead of us, one of the travellers with me said that she was serious about the “tip”.

“This is South Africa,” he said with a shrug.

OR Tambo chaos due to immigration downtime zoomed

Upon arriving at the crew and assisted passengers queue, the line was so congested that our helper was directed to use a special door that gives access to the front of the queue at the standard security check.

She pushed us into the normal security queue and said that she would meet us after we cleared passport control. This struck me as strange.

I walked through Duty Free and to the gate. A different staff member then said to me: “Hey, aren’t you flying to Madrid?”

“Yes,” I said, wondering whether checked-in passengers were already being called to board.

He started calling a name – the woman who had helped us get through immigration on time to make our flights.

“I want my tip,” she said.

“Tip?” I asked.

“Did you think I was doing it out of the kindness of my heart, helping you through?”

I was incredulous. “I thought you were getting us to our planes on time. Your job. I’m a frequent traveller and no one has ever asked for money to help get me through immigration on time.”

“This was your first time? So you’re not going to give me a tip?” she asked, angry.

“No. It’s very unusual,” I said.

“Well. Good luck.” she said.

As she walked away, she dialled a number and put her phone to her ear – and I was worried she would call in a favour to inconvenience me.

I was worried for nothing, however. I was able to board my flight without incident, and it even managed to depart on time – despite the problems at passport control.

As for my “helper” – the last I saw she was pacing around the Duty Free area, talking on her phone.

Airport responds
OR Tambo has issued a statement following this report, saying it would ensure that it cracked down on employees who ask passengers and airport visitors for tips.

Six pieces of tech every office needs

Source: HackRead

Before you start buying any technology or furniture for your office, you must put in some planning and research time. There are so many options to consider and each one will have a direct impact on the functionality of your workspace and, as result, how productive you and your team are on a day to day basis.

Poorly designed and chaotic offices with substandard equipment do not make for a great working environment. What’s bad for your employees is bad for your business. The office design process doesn’t have to be complicated. In addition to your computers, here are some essential pieces of tech every office needs.

1. Electric desks

Although you may think that furniture is a weird place to start when talking about office technology, you do need to consider the long term benefits of investing in electric height adjustable desks. With the touch of a button, you can electric raise and lower your desk to change your working positions through the day. This helps to prevent bad posture, aches and strains and encouraging them to be more active.

2. Incredible Wi-Fi

Your Wi-Fi is an area where it really doesn’t pay to cut corners. Weak and slow Wi-Fi signal that keeps dropping out is going to reduce productivity and demotivate your staff. It’s best to talk to a professional IT consultant about the solutions on the market as they’ll be able to recommend the best.

3. A cloud-based network

In the past, a company would have shared and stored data on physical hard drives in the office. This not only meant that the company was vulnerable to data loss if the computers were damaged or stolen, but also that there was no remote access or flexible working. Luckily, things have changed. A cloud-based system is a virtual storage space rather than physical and enables authorized people to access the network from wherever they are in the world via a secure
login.

4. Top quality headphones

Busy workspaces are great, but sometimes you need to zone out and just focus on a task. Too much noise or even deadly silence can be a real distraction, so good quality headphones are an absolute must. Whether they’re used for listening to music, watching videos or taking calls or to dull the office buzz, you need to choose headphones which work for your business. You can easily and quickly find headphones using Choosist based on your budget and preferred features.

5. A reliable phone system

A business can live or die by its ability to communicate effectively. It’s crucial to get the best telephone network you can afford not only to ensure your staff can collaborate effectively but also to ensure any customers or affiliates get the best possible service. Consider a VoIP phone system which runs on an internet connection, rather than wires. These systems can integrate with computers so your employees will be able to make and receive calls from their desktop or laptop and there are no physical phone lines to connect your offices, employees or stores.

6. A complete security system

It’s not enough to simply lock the doors at the end of the day or even to rely on ID badges to grant or deny access. In the digital age, we live in you should be investing in multi-factor security with several stages of identification needed. In some cases, this could be as advanced as facial or fingerprint recognition for physical security, but Cybersecurity software is also essential to keep your business safe from hackers.

SA’s go-to loadshedding app

By James de Villiers for Business Insider SA

Load shedding application EskomSePush went from 2,500 active users a week ago to over 400,000 on Tuesday. This after Eskom implemented load shedding stage 4 for the first time in history.

Two friends created the application, which is currently the most downloaded South African application on iOS, as a side project in 2014.

Load shedding notification application EskomSePush went from 2,500 active users a week ago to over 400,000 users on Tuesday, co-creator Herman Maritz said.

This after embattled power utility Eskom, for the first time in history, implemented stage 4 load shedding on Monday morning, leaving up to 20% of the country without electricity. Around a third of Eskom’s 45,000 MW capacity is offline.

EskomSePush is now the most downloaded application on the South African iOS App store, and the second most downloaded application, behind WhatsApp, in the South African Google Play Store.

Maritz said the application is likely to reach 500,000 by the end of the week, when Eskom is reportedly set to suspend load shedding.

He said they’ve received some 1,400 emails every day since Monday, from three last week.

“Sorry, we’re not replying to all the emails anymore,” Maritz jokingly told Business Insider South Africa.

Maritz co-created EskomSePush with Dan Wells in 2014 while they were building banking apps.

“We wanted to know when load shedding was happening so that we could plan around it over our December holidays,” Maritz said.

“We laughed about making this simple push notification service.”

They originally used a service called PushBullet to send us notifications, and in 2015 – six weeks after launch – they had over 100,000 users.

“[We] peaked at around 250,000 active users before load shedding was suspended later that year,” Maritz said.

The app received awards at MTN’s 2015 App of the Year awards for both People’s Choice and Breakthrough Developer App.The application automatically detects and alerts users when load shedding stage changes occur. It provides detailed information of over 50,000 locations in South Africa.

“The system is 100% automated in terms of load shedding stage changes and push notifications,” Maritz said.

Maritz, who now works as a engineer for online Classifieds OLX in Germany, said the application was until recently fully funded by themselves, but they brought in a few ads to “keep the lights on”.

“I hate ads, and we’re thinking of different solutions, but Dan needs some cash flow to keep the app running,” Maritz said.

Wells added: “We enjoy keeping it running! It’s a rush!”

The duo encouraged anyone who is an experienced mobile or JavaScript developer who is keen to work on a useful side-project to contact them at iwanttohelp@sepush.co.za.

By Mark Bergen and Jennifer Surane for Bloomberg / Fin24 

For the past year, select Google advertisers have had access to a potent new tool to track whether the ads they ran online led to a sale at a physical store in the US. That insight came thanks in part to a stockpile of Mastercard transactions that Google paid for.

But most of the two billion Mastercard holders aren’t aware of this behind-the-scenes tracking. That’s because the companies never told the public about the arrangement.

Google and Mastercard brokered a business partnership during about four years of negotiations, according to four people with knowledge of the deal, three of whom worked on it directly.

The alliance gave Google an unprecedented asset for measuring retail spending, part of the search giant’s strategy to fortify its primary business against onslaughts from Amazon.com and others.

But the deal, which has not been previously reported, could raise broader privacy concerns about how much consumer data technology companies like Google quietly absorb.

“People don’t expect what they buy physically in a store to be linked to what they are buying online,” said Christine Bannan, counsel with the advocacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

“There’s just far too much burden that companies place on consumers and not enough responsibility being taken by companies to inform users what they’re doing and what rights they have.”

Google paid Mastercard millions of dollars for the data, according to two people who worked on the deal, and the companies discussed sharing a portion of the ad revenue, according to one of the people. The people asked not to be identified discussing private matters.

A spokesperson for Google said there was no revenue sharing agreement with its partners.

A Google spokesperson declined to comment on the partnership with Mastercard but addressed the ads tool. “Before we launched this beta product last year, we built a new, double-blind encryption technology that prevents both Google and our partners from viewing our respective users’ personally identifiable information,” the company said in a statement.

“We do not have access to any personal information from our partners’ credit and debit cards, nor do we share any personal information with our partners.” The company said people can opt out of ad tracking using Google’s “Web and App Activity” online console.

Inside Google, multiple people raised objections that the service did not have a more obvious way for cardholders to opt out of the tracking, one of the people said.

Seth Eisen, a Mastercard spokesperson, also declined to comment specifically on Google. But he said Mastercard shares transaction trends with merchants and their service providers to help them measure “the effectiveness of their advertising campaigns.” The information, which includes sales volumes and average size of the purchase, is shared only with permission of the merchants, Eisen added. “No individual transaction or personal data is provided,” he said in a statement.

“We do not provide insights that track, serve up ads to, or even measure ad effectiveness relating to, individual consumers.”

Last year, when Google announced the service, called “Store Sales Measurement,” the company just said it had access to “approximately 70%” of US credit and debit cards through partners, without naming them.

More possible deals

That 70% could mean that the company has deals with other credit card companies, totalling 70% of the people who use credit and debit cards. Or it could mean that the company has deals with companies that include all card users, and 70% of those are logged into Google accounts like Gmail when they click on a Google search ad.

Google has approached other payment companies about the program, according to two people familiar with the conversations, but it is not clear if they finalised similar deals. The people asked to not be identified because they were not authorised to speak about the matter.

Google confirmed that the service only applies to people who are logged in to one of its accounts and have not opted out of ad tracking. Purchases made on Mastercard-branded cards accounted for around a quarter of US volumes last year, according to the Nilson Report, a financial research firm.

Through this test programme, Google can anonymously match these existing user profiles to purchases made in physical stores. The result is powerful: Google knows that people clicked on ads and can now tell advertisers that this activity led to actual store sales.

Google is testing the data service with a “small group” of advertisers in the US, according to a spokesperson. With it, marketers see aggregate sales figures and estimates of how many they can attribute to Google ads – but they don’t see a shoppers’ personal information, how much they spend or what exactly they buy.

The tests are only available for retailers, not the companies that make the items sold inside stores, the spokesperson said. The service only applies to its search and shopping ads, she said.

For Google, the Mastercard deal fits into a broad effort to net more retail spending. Advertisers spend lavishly on Google to glean valuable insight into the link between digital ads a website visit or an online purchase.

It’s harder to tell how ads influence offline behaviour. That’s a particular frustration for companies marketing items like apparel or home goods, which people will often research online but walk into actual stores to buy.

That gap created a demand for Google to find ways for its biggest customers to gauge offline sales, and then connect them to the promotions they run on Google.

“Google needs to tie that activity back to a click,” said Joseph McConellogue, head of online retail for the ad agency Reprise Digital. “Most advertisers are champing at the bit for this kind of integration.”

Initially, Google devised its own solution, a mobile payments service first called Google Wallet. Part of the original goal was to tie clicks on ads to purchases in physical stores, according to someone who worked on the product.

But adoption never took off, so Google began looking for allies. A spokesperson said its payments service was never used for ads measurement.

So Google added more …

Since 2014, Google has flagged for advertisers when someone who clicked an ad visits a physical store, using the Location History feature in Google Maps. Still, the advertiser didn’t know if the shopper made a purchase. So, Google added more. A tool, introduced the following year, let advertisers upload email addresses of customers they’ve collected into Google’s ad-buying system, which then encrypted them.

Additionally, Google layered on inputs from third-party data brokers, such as Experian and Acxiom, which draw in demographic and financial information for marketers.

But those tactics didn’t always translate to more ad spending. Retail outlets weren’t able to connect the emails easily to their ads. And the information they received from data brokers about sales was imprecise or too late.

Marketing executives didn’t adopt these location tools en masse, said Christina Malcolm, director at the digital ad agency iProspect. “It didn’t give them what they needed to go back to their bosses and tell them, ‘We’re hitting our numbers,’” she said.

Then Google brought in card data. In May 2017, the company introduced “Store Sales Measurement.” It had two components. The first lets companies with personal information on consumers, like encrypted email addresses, upload those into Google’s system and synchronise ad buys with offline sales. The second injects card data.

It works like this: a person searches for “red lipstick” on Google, clicks on an ad, surfs the web but doesn’t buy anything. Later, she walks into a store and buys red lipstick with her Mastercard.

The advertiser who ran the ad is fed a report from Google, listing the sale along with other transactions in a column that reads “Offline Revenue” – only if the web surfer is logged into a Google account online and made the purchase within 30 days of clicking the ad. The advertisers are given a bulk report with the percentage of shoppers who clicked or viewed an ad then made a relevant purchase.

Most powerful tool

It’s not an exact match, but it’s the most powerful tool Google, the world’s largest ad seller, has offered for shopping in the real world. Marketers once had a patchwork of consumer data in their hands to triangulate who saw their ads and who was prompted to spend. Now they had far more clarity.

Google’s ad chief, Sridhar Ramaswamy, introduced the product in a blog post, writing that advertisers using it would have “no time-consuming setup or costly integrations.” Missing from the blog post was the arrangement with Mastercard.

Early signs indicate that the deal has been a boon for Google. The new feature also plugs transaction data into advertiser systems as soon as they occur, fixing the lag that existed previously and letting Google slot in better-performing ads.

Malcolm said her agency has tested the card measurement tool with a major advertiser, which she declined to name. Beforehand, the company received $5.70 in revenue for every dollar spent on marketing in the ad campaign with Google, according to an iProspect analysis. With the new transaction feature, the return nearly doubled to $10.60.

“That’s really powerful,” Malcolm said. “And it was a really good way to invest more in Google, frankly.”

But some privacy critics derided the tool as opaque. EPIC submitted a complaint about the sales measuring tack to the US Federal Trade Commission last year. A report in August that Facebook Inc. was talking with banks about accessing information for consumer service products sparked similar criticism. For years, Facebook and Google have worked to link their massive troves of user behaviour with consumer financial data.

And financial companies have plotted ways to tap into the bounty of digital advertising. The Google tie-up isn’t Mastercard’s only stab at minting the data it collects from customers. The company has built out its data and analytics capabilities in recent years through its consulting arm, Mastercard Advisors, and gives advertisers and merchants the ability to forecast consumer behaviour based on cardholder data.

Ad buyers that work with Google insist that the company is careful to maintain the walls between transaction information and web behaviour, keeping any info flowing to retailers and marketers anonymous. “Google is really strict about that,” said Malcolm.

Before launching the product, Google developed a novel encryption method, according to Jules Polonetsky, head of the Future Privacy Forum, who was briefed by Google on the product. He explained that the system ensures that neither Google nor its payments partners have access to the data that each collect.

“They’re sharing data that has been so transformed that, if put in the public, no party could do anything with it,” Polonetsky said. “It doesn’t create a privacy risk.”

Future Privacy Forum, a non-profit, receives funding from 160 companies including Google.

Google’s ad business, which hit $95.4bn in 2017 sales, has maintained an astounding growth rate of about 20% a year. But investors have worried how long that can last. Many major advertisers are starting to funnel more spending to rival Amazon, the company that hosts far more, and more granular, data on online shopping.

In response, Google has continued to push deeper into offline measurements. The company, like Facebook and Twitter, has explored the use of “beacons,” Bluetooth devices that track when shoppers enter stores.

Some ad agencies have actively talked to Google about even more ways to better size up offline behaviours. They have discussed adding features into the ads system such as what time of day people buy items and how much they spend, said John Malysiak, who runs search marketing for the Omnicom agency OMD USA.

“We’re trying to go deeper with Google,” he said. “We’d like to understand more.” Google declined to comment on the discussions.

By Veronica An for The Hub

Despite being known as the digital generation, tech-obsessed millennials are spending more money on handmade cards and letterpress stationery.

“Everyone says that paper is dying but our experience is that paper is not dying,” said Rosanna Kvernmo, who runs Iron Curtain Press and the adjacent stationery store, Shorthand, in Highland Park.

According to a report by Paper Culture, the average number of holiday cards purchased by customers has actually increased by 38 percent over the last five years.

“I don’t think this is just a flash in the pan,” Kvernmo said. “I think stationery is here to stay.”

Stationery makers and letter pressers agree that millennials are some of their biggest consumers.

“I interface with people a lot and, yes, I can say that people are sending cards again,” said Elisa Goodman, 62, owner of Curmudgeon Cards. Goodman has an online store and travels to various art fairs and open air markets in Los Angeles to sell her cards.

Goodman has been making her unique brand of handmade cards for 18 years and says her message is one that resonates with millennials as well as Baby Boomers. Goodman started making cards while dealing with a difficult time in her life and said that encouragement cards were among the first she created.

“I’m happy millennials are resonating with my brand so much. They really are appreciative of the quality and not price-resistant to the cost of handmade cards,” Goodman said.

Curmudgeon Cards retail for $10-$12 – about double the cost of digitally printed cards. Goodman sells many of her cards at craft fairs and farmers markets across L.A.

Cost still a factor
Still, other stationery-makers cite price as a sticking point with customers. Letter pressers say that the cost of paper and ink have gone up, not to mention the difficulty of working with machines that are out of production.

Adam Smith, 38, the owner of Life is Funny letterpress, got his start at Sugar Paper letterpress in 2006 and purchased his own press, a 1953 Heidelberg Windmill, in 2013. He said his cards retail at comparable prices to digitally printed cards which make them more affordable than most.

“One of my biggest clients is Alfred Coffee so the people who are buying these cards are who you’d expect …millennials with money,” Smith said.

According to customers, Smith’s sarcastic cards appeal to millennials. One card under the “Love” category tagged as #FirstDateWarnings says “I Use A Lot Of Emojis…I Hope You’re Okay With That.”

In addition to letter presses that have opened recently, older L.A.-based companies are also seeing an increase in business. Aardvark Letterpress, a family-owned letterpress in MacArthur Park, celebrated its 50th year in 2018 and owners say that not much has changed in terms of production.

“People are rediscovering [letterpress] and coming back to us…but the economic factors are still an issue,” said Cary Ocon, co-owner of Aardvark Letterpress.

Ocon said the company saw a drop in sales during and after the 2008 recession but that they are currently doing well. Although sales have not quite surpassed pre-recession numbers, Ocon said Aardvark still does solid business with many celebrities, entertainment companies, and governmental organizations, including the mayor’s office.

“I think there’s this reaction to the temporary nature of stuff – most things aren’t even printed anymore, they’re just read and shared digitally,” Ocon said. “I think people realize that this is a whole different product…so much more work goes into it than digital printing.”

Unique feel
Customers at Aardvark agree, saying that they are willing to pay extra for the uniqueness of letterpress.

“The presentation is everything,” said Darius Washington, founder of the D Hollywood Agency.

Washington was shopping for letterpress and foil printed business cards for his clients and said he had heard about Aardvark Letterpress through Instagram.

“Letterpress has that special feel to it. It’s like old cars, there’s something special about the handcrafted effort,” Washington said.

The handcrafted nature makes letterpress and handmade cards ideal for customization.

According to Entrepreneur Magazine and a report by Forbes, customization is a major selling point for millennials.

Specialization works for Goodman, who said she accepts many commissions for Curmudgeon Cards and Aardvark Letterpress has an in-house designer who can make custom designers for clients.

“People want to connect,” Kvernmo said. “There’s something about connecting with paper that’s more special than connecting through text.”

2018’s worst cyber-security breaches

By Lily Hay Newman for Wired 

Looking back at the first six months of 2018, there haven’t been as many government leaks and global ransomware attacks as there were by this time last year, but that’s pretty much where the good news ends. Corporate security isn’t getting better fast enough, critical infrastructure security hangs in the balance, and state-backed hackers from around the world are getting bolder and more sophisticated.

Here are the big digital security dramas that have played out so far this year—and it’s only half over.

Russian grid hacking
In 2017, security researchers sounded the alarm about Russian hackers infiltrating and probing United States power companies; there was even evidence that the actors had direct access to an American utility’s control systems. Combined with other high-profile Russian hacking from 2017, like the NotPetya ransomware attacks, the grid penetrations were a sobering revelation. It wasn’t until this year, though, that the US government began publicly acknowledging the Russian state’s involvement in these actions. Officials hinted at it for months, before the Trump Administration first publicly attributed the NotPetya malware to Russia in February and then blamed Russia in March for grid hacking. Though these attributions were already widely assumed, the White House’s public acknowledgement is a key step as both the government and private sector grapple with how to respond. And while the state-sponsored hacking field is getting scarier by the day, you can use WIRED’s grid-hacking guide to gauge when you should really freak out.

US universities
In March, the Department of Justice indicted nine Iranian hackers over an alleged spree of attacks on more than 300 universities in the United States and abroad. The suspects are charged with infiltrating 144 US universities, 176 universities in 21 other countries, 47 private companies, and other targets like the United Nations, the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the states of Hawaii and Indiana. The DOJ says the hackers stole 31 terabytes of data, estimated to be worth $3 billion in intellectual property. The attacks used carefully crafted spearphishing emails to trick professors and other university affiliates into clicking on malicious links and entering their network login credentials. Of 100,000 accounts hackers targeted, they were able to gain credentials for about 8,000, with 3,768 of those at US institutions. The DOJ says the campaign traces back to a Tehran-based hacker clearinghouse called the Mabna Institute, which was founded around 2013. The organization allegedly managed hackers and had ties to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Tension between Iran and the US often spills into the digital sphere, and the situation has been in a particularly delicate phase recently.

Rampant data exposures
Data breaches have continued apace in 2018, but their quiet cousin, data exposure, has been prominent this year as well. A data exposure, as the name suggests, is when data is stored and defended improperly such that it is exposed on the open internet and could be easily accessed by anyone who comes across it. This often occurs when cloud users misconfigure a database or other storage mechanism so it requires minimal or no authentication to access. This was the case with the marketing and data aggregation firm Exactis, which left about 340 million records exposed on a publicly accessible server. The trove didn’t include Social Security numbers or credit card numbers, but it did comprise 2 terabytes of very personal information about hundreds of millions of US adults—not something you want hanging out for anyone to find. The problem was discovered by security researcher Vinny Troia and reported by WIRED in June. Exactis has since protected the data, but it is now facing a class action lawsuit over the incident.

Cloud leaks pop up regularly, but data exposures can also occur when software bugs inadvertently store data in a different format or location than intended. For example, Twitter disclosed at the beginning of May that it had been unintentionally storing some user passwords unprotected in plaintext in an internal log. The company fixed the problem as soon as it found it, but wouldn’t say how long the passwords were hanging out there.

After the revelation of a data exposure, organizations often offer the classic reassurance that there is no evidence that the data was accessed improperly. And while companies can genuinely come to this conclusion based on reviewing access logs and other indicators, the most sinister thing about data exposures is that there’s no way to know for sure what exactly went down while no one was watching.

Under Armour
Hackers breached Under Armour’s MyFitnessPal app in late February, compromising usernames, email addresses, and passwords from the app’s roughly 150 million users. The company discovered the intrusion on March 25 and disclosed it in under a week—some welcome hustle from a large company. And it seems Under Armour had done a good enough job setting up its data protections that the hackers couldn’t access valuable user information like location, credit card numbers, or birth dates, even as they were swimming in login credentials. The company had even protected the passwords it was storing by hashing them, or converting them into unintelligible strings of characters. Pretty great, right? There was one crucial issue, though: Despite doing so many things well, Under Armour admitted that it had only hashed some of the passwords using the robust function called bcrypt; the rest were protected by a weaker hashing scheme called SHA-1, which has known flaws. This means that attackers likely cracked some portion of the stolen passwords without much trouble to sell or use in other online scams. The situation, while not an all-time-worst data breach, was a frustrating reminder of the unreliable state of security on corporate networks.

One to watch: VPNFilter
At the end of May, officials warned about a Russian hacking campaign that has impacted more than 500,000 routers worldwide. The attack spreads a type of malware, known as VPNFilter, which can be used to coordinate the infected devices to create a massive botnet. But it can also directly spy on and manipulate web activity on the compromised routers. These capabilities can be used for diverse purposes, from launching network manipulation or spam campaigns to stealing data and crafting targeted, localized attacks. VPNFilter can infect dozens of mainstream router models from companies like Netgear, TP-Link, Linksys, ASUS, D-Link, and Huawei. The FBI has been working to neutrallise the botnet, but researchers are still identifying the full scope and range of this attack.

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My Office News Ⓒ 2017 - Designed by A Collective


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