How to Spot a POS Vulnerability Before It Becomes a Security Breach

By Vladik Rikhter

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If you’re a restaurant operator and you haven’t heard of the blog Krebs On Security, definitely check it out. Former Washington Post journalist and self-taught computer security expert Brian Krebs is often the first to break major news about restaurant security breaches.

For instance, in February, Krebs got Arby’s to acknowledge a data breach at its fast-food restaurants. Frankly, the cause is enough to lose your lunch: malware on payment systems once again!In a 2015 interview with Eater, Krebs warned that any restaurant company that uses point-of-sale (POS) systems is vulnerable to attack. POS systems are often set up to be accessed remotely, making them vulnerable to hackers.

As identified by Krebs, other security vulnerabilities with POS systems include enabling the same password for each system and running on outdated operating systems that don’t offer security updates and are simpler to hack. It’s no coincidence that chain restaurants are being hacked with greater frequency; often, several restaurants are linked to one internal system.Now you might be asking (because I definitely did): how a guy like Krebs breaks a story. As it turns out, hacked credit cards are often sold on the black market, usually web forums, and when there’s a major breach, there’s an influx. Krebs then reaches out to banks to see if they’re seeing or hearing anything suspicious. If there’s a pattern, Krebs then reaches out to the suspected chain to confirm whether or not they had a breach. Voila! That’s what led him to Arby’s in February. The company confirmed that it had recently remediated a breach, but had not publicly revealed the incident at the request of the FBI.

Arby’s confirmed that malware was placed on payment systems inside corporate stores, but franchised locations were not affected. In other words, the Arby’s breach was evidence of the vulnerabilities Krebs warned about two years ago!

Learning the Lesson

Here at Zenput, we try to provide our customers with the mobile tools to communicate better about their POS audits as well as possible breaches. We’ve discussed measures to prevent ATM skimming, and we offer a mobile form for audits of payment terminals in stores or at the pump. See below screenshot for an example:

POS audit on mobile

But in the case of Arby’s, they were a victim of a malware attack through their central system. Of course, we’re not privy to the inner workings of Arby’s security system, but you have to hope that they regularly ran updates and that software was updated. Keeping systems updated and making sure employees understand the POS terminal and its functionalities are critical tasks for any restaurant operator. When you create a procedure to protect against physical POS breaches, you can also create a checklist for POS employee training. Security is a team effort and one that’s executed from the top down, so make sure your team is in compliance with best practices. Also make sure they know the right steps to take if a breach is detected. That kind of preparedness can go a long way when recovering from an attack. Arby’s now faces class-action litigation with strong accusations: “The Arby’s Data Breach was the inevitable result of Arby’s inadequate data security measures,” says a credit union suing on behalf of its customers. Arby’s denies those allegations and plans to offer a vigorous defense.

But one company’s struggles are a reminder that any multi-unit restaurant operator is at risk, and it begs—or rather, demands—the question: are you up to date on your security measures?

Topics: Business Operations, C-store, ATM skimming, gas stations

How to Get Your Store’s Litter Problem Under Control

By Brian Harris

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I’ve always had great respect for people in custodial services. A family friend emigrated from Europe to start cleaning offices, and another high school friend’s father had a business that cleaned gyms and clubs in New York. In fact, he was allowed to borrow his client’s Lamborghini one day, and drove it to pick up my friend from school. It’s the first and only time—and quite possibly the last—that I’ll sit in a Lamborghini (I barely had my license at the time, so no driving).And why is it that in news stories and movies, the underdogs are always the janitor or custodian? Think of the Columbia University janitor who earned his undergraduate degree after 12 years, and Will Hunting from “Good Will Hunting.” Rooting for the janitor is the American way, and so is respecting the work they do. In other words, clean up your stuff!That’s why I was glad to read this recent NACS article, where the nonprofit organization ‘Keep America Beautiful’ shared some dirt on litter at convenience stores and fast-food restaurants. It turns out that there’s a psychology behind littering - approximately 85% of littering is the result of people’s attitudes. Simply put, people who see litter are more likely to litter. Notably, food packaging from convenience stores and fast-food restaurants makes up 5% of all litter in the United States. However, it accounts for approximately 19% of the “visible” litter stream, or those items that measure more than 4 inches.Time to get the litter situation under control!

‘It’s the Small Trash After All’

Other than the cast of lovable characters, part of Walt Disney’s legacy was how to operate an amusement park with world-class efficiency. He wanted to create the ultimate customer experience—and that included taking out the trash. Trash cans in Disney World are 30 feet apart based on Walt’s personal observation of guests moving throughout the park with food. How often do you go to a store and either can’t find the trash can or you feel like you need a hazmat suit to approach it?A team effort is required to regularly pick up the trash and properly dispose of it in a larger receptacle or dumpster. There must also be a concerted effort to clean up food and beverage trails and traces, lest you attract unwelcome, pesky visitors.If your customers are like the people in my apartment building, your recycling will be overflowing, too, because taking care of the environment is very important to Millennial consumers. And there’s no butts about it—smoking is on the decline, with only about 15% of U.S. adults lighting up in 2015, according to the CDC. So sweep up those cigarette remnants before they become a turn-off to customers thinking about entering the store, especially for foodservice.

Raising the Bar on Cleanliness

Mediocrity is a dangerous place for a brand. If you’re not raising the bar, you’re either operating with a false sense of complacency or on the decline in areas you may not even realize. It’s time to give teeth to the otherwise toothless memo for stores to “clean up their act.”

Distribute mobile forms that track the compliance of basic tasks that can elevate a brand. For example, in the form below, a regional manager would have to answer a 'Yes' or 'No' question about trash being at a reasonable level. Be able to pinpoint the store that keeps getting “no” on this question, or if enough “no” responses are recorded across the region, it might be time to adjust your trash disposal methods and/or pickup schedule.

Also, take note of the option to rate trash levels on a sliding scale. Receive an alert for any store ranked “1” with overflowing garbage. Add a video (or photo) to document the problem. Senior management will be able to see these results in real-time and choose to respond in real-time if they wish. That’s how technology raises the bar - through transparency and accountability.

See more of Zenput’s mobile form examples, and explore the platform’s functionality for convenience stores and restaurants: https://www.zenput.com/mobile-forms/
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Topics: C-store, cleanliness

How Employees Can Help Prevent Costly Restaurant Repairs

By Vladik Rikhter

Restaurant repair

We recently learned about a Manhattan-based startup that aspires to be the Uber of restaurant repairs. SendaGuy Now targets independent restaurants in New York who are in need of repair and maintenance service. In a savvy move, SendaGuy Now is incentivizing small operators to develop a preventative maintenance schedules by helping restaurants locate quality contractors who can provide important services when required without a service contract.Think about it: if the grill goes out or the refrigerator suddenly stops working on a holiday weekend in the summer, this restaurant is suddenly faced with enormous monetary loss or, worse yet, a possible health risk to customers.

A same-day repair can be costly, so SendaGuy Now can help small operators establish a preventative maintenance schedule based on their specific needs. It averts disaster and ultimately saves money by prolong equipment life.It’s a manageable scenario when a single restaurant knows its specific needs and communicates them through a mobile platform. However, knowing the needs of a dozen, maybe even 100 restaurants in a region, is definitely more challenging. Whether you have on-staff maintenance personnel or have contracted those services with a third-party firm, store-level managers and senior managers need to get on the same page with preventative maintenance.

As SendaGuy Now has helped to identify, these are the common “on-demand” maintenance services:

· Grease traps and exhaust systems (crucial to employee and customer safety)· Commercial kitchen equipment· Fire extinguishers· Fire suppressions systems· Backflow preventers· Refrigeration· Ice machines

So now comes decision time for restaurant chains, and this is what they need to remember: If you don’t have the resources to have a maintenance staff member or third-party contractor doing regular prevention audits, is it possible to have your managers and/or employees pitch in?

It’s more feasible than you think: Sit down with your maintenance staff or pay a third-party contractor to come up with a list of maintenance best practices at each location. See what tasks non-maintenance employees can handle safely, develop those practices into a daily checklist or weekly checklist depending on the need, and distribute those checklists to stores. Forget fax and email which may or may not be received—send the checklist right to your managers’ mobile device and track the response. What Came First: The Preventive Maintenance or the Audit? In restaurant operations, it’s definitely the baseline audit that comes first. Like in any experiment, you need to establish the “control group” before you attempt to test new protocols and procedures.

There are three basic components of a baseline audit:

1. Safety – The health and physical well-being of employees and customers needs to be the No. 1 priority at all times. For instance, let’s find out if there’s hand soap in the kitchen, and let’s get on the same page about kitchen thermometer readings.

 

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2. General Cleanliness – What defines “clean”? There’s what’s required by law, of course, but there’s also best practices you can implement between shifts, which can be unique to your business and the type of food you serve. Your baseline audit, especially one that requires photos, is going to help you determine those needs.

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3. Staff Guidelines – You can’t hold your staff accountable on what they don’t know. It all starts with senior management developing protocols and management carrying them out at the store level. Then, the only way to know if stores are in compliance is for regional managers, or unbiased store managers, to visit locations and use a checklist/audit form to document their observations. Everyone can have an “off” day or a miscommunication with a new employee. But if a store (or region of stores) is routinely being flagged for poor practices, that’s usually a sign of a bigger management problem that needs to be addressed. For those instances, it’s helpful to have a bird’s eye view and to be able to virtually “check into” a location for better understanding and follow-up.

Zenput puts proactive and preventative maintenance procedures within reach—literally, through mobile audit forms! Learn more about Zenput for restaurants by clicking here.

Topics: Restaurants, repairs

How to Stand Out in a Gas Station Cluster

By Joe Skupinsky

Screen Shot 2017-03-01 at 1.54.15 PM.png(Image Source: Google Maps)

I always thought it was strange that there were three gas stations on a single corner down the street from my college—until I started learning more about the convenience and gas retail industry.

Around the time I saw this pattern, a game theorist in San Francisco noticed the same thing and attempted to get to the mathematical root. As Presh Talwalkar explains, this phenomenon is partially the result of population clusters, so a couple of thousand people driving to and from a college could warrant a cluster of gas stations.Here’s a brief explanation video:  

 

The basic reasoning using the hot dog stand example in the video is this: both stands move closer to the center to capture more of a competitor’s customers. If either stand moves, they’ll lose customers. So when competing on location, everyone wants the central location. This applies to gas stations, fast-food chains, and political candidates. Here at Zenput, it was important for us to understand this game theory concept, considering we work with two-thirds of these groups. (Sorry, we don’t currently have plans to enter the political realm anytime soon!)So if moving towards the center of the geographical market is a naturally occurring trend that makes sense for a brand, it also follows that convenience store operators should do everything in their power to stand out from their competitors.


In order to maintain revenue, it becomes crucial to be so in tune with your customer that you have the ability to react to changing conditions in real time.

Since Talkwar used the example of businesses on a beach, and we’re all longing for summer at this point, I’ll use the example of the first warm day of the season. the example of businesses on a beach, and we’re all longing for summer at this point, I’ll use the example of the first warm season of the day. Maybe that day sneaks up on you, and you hadn’t yet planned an in-store beverage promotion. Not only is it warm outside, but the day falls on a weekend. This is a prime opportunity to catch customers filling up for a weekend day trip. They’ll also be filling up right across the street at your competitor’s location. You decide to take action by launching an impromptu beverage promotion.

Now you don’t have signage on the drop of a dime, but you do have some well-positioned cold-cases located at the front of your store. You decide that every store should stock up those coolers with a selection of thirst-quenching beverages, from waters and sports drinks to lemonades and iced teas. Maybe you allow store managers to institute a buy-one-get-one deal on a well-stocked beverage. And while you’re managing the cold case, you make sure to stock it with the latest healthy snacks, yogurt and to-go fruit and veggie cups—everything that’s convenient to take on the road. Now you’re responding in real time to your customers’ needs!

So to recap what has happened in this example:

->The brand is responding in real time to forces (like Mother Nature) that are beyond your control.

-> The brand is taking advantage of a situation by offering a timely product assortment.

-> The brand is in tune with customer needs, which may earn a future visit.

Assuming the competitor across the street didn’t have a better executed promotion, your brand has won today!


Real-Time Response Is Within Reach

The example I used above may seem out of reach to some large-scale operators. But as a practitioner of reality, I’m here to tell you that any gas station and convenience store retailer with the right tools can execute and “think on their feet” in real time. Zenput’s real-time functionality enables that kind of response at the store level.

This is what the chain of events would look like:

-> Senior managers recognize a trend and make the executive decision that they want to promote certain items.

-> Senior managers push out a notification that, for instance, the cold case must be stocked immediately with certain items.

-> Regional and/or store-level managers receive that notification and move to arrange those items.

-> To ensure compliance, store-level managers are required to take a photo of the cold case once it’s stocked.

From Zenput’s central dashboard, senior managers would immediately be able to tell if stores were in compliance with this directive because Zenput would provide data on stores that weren’t. That’s right—you can virtually check into each store!

This isn’t utopia—it’s the power of real-time mobile technology. And it’s why Zenput is being used in more than 6,500 c-stores worldwide. In fact, more than 15,000 people will use Zenput today.  

Learn what Zenput can do to improve your store-level execution by scheduling a demo, or check out our testimonials page to learn more how our platform is helping other businesses like yours every day.

Topics: gas stations

Where Yelp Doesn't Help: How to Stop Restaurants from Failing Health Inspections

By David Mostovoy

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Once you hear a story (good or bad) about a restaurant, you never quite forget it. For instance, I still remember how my friend walked past a deli she regularly frequented—closed at that hour—to see an employee smoking a cigarette behind the counter. And then there’s my friend in another state who went to order ice cream from a small shop where the employee was a on a cigarette break. The same employee scooped the ice cream without washing her hands. And then I’ve already told you about a friend on the East Coast who was in the awkward situation of attending a company dinner knowing that the restaurant was recently cited for a health citation.

Even though I don’t live in those cities, I still remember these stories well. No city is above these kinds of problems. In fact, I recently saw an article about the 54 businesses that failed health inspections right here in San Francisco.

Now it’s no secret that we San Franciscans love our restaurants. In fact, in 2012 (if you find more current data, drop us a note) real estate website Trulia found that San Francisco is the top city for dining out, with 39.3 restaurants per 10,000 households. So in the grand scheme of things, the restaurants that failed are a small representation of our culinary empire. For those who don’t know how San Francisco’s restaurant rating system works: The city’s Department of Health rates San Francisco restaurants on a 100-point scale that’s similar to school grades. If you score 100 or in the high 90s, you’re the equivalent of an A+ student. But unlike Los Angeles and New York, letter grades aren’t posted in the windows, so it’s less apparent how restaurants scored.

And that’s where a local technology company stepped up to the plate. In 2013, restaurant review site Yelp added San Francisco’s health inspection information to its platform in an effort to improve transparency around food safety. Then, in 2015, Yelp began testing consumer alerts to warn customers about the results of recent health inspections. And in 2016, Yelp began flagging businesses that sued customers for leaving negative reviews.

Bottom line: Technology is changing how people learn about restaurant safety. Yelp brings attention to the problem, and in that way, it’s a great industry watchdog. However, it doesn’t provide the actionable insights that help restaurants fix their problems.

If you are the restaurant operator, you need to use technology to improve your operations. It’s the 21st century—there’s no reason not to! The saying “there’s an app for that,” is absolutely true. Here at Zenput, we set out to develop the app that would help remediate common problems that retailers, including foodservice operators, experience.

Take a closer look with us….

Use Technology to Help the Process of Improving Standards

In a related posted, I highlighted the 5 standards to uphold in order to maintain a clean restaurant. For every recently cited restaurant—and for other restaurants who are concerned about being named in the future—the issue comes down to staff retraining.

Develop your procedures, disseminate them to managers, train staff, start documenting progress, and follow up on progress. Then “rinse and repeat.”

Maintaining restaurant cleanliness is not only about changing behaviors, but also about making individuals accountable for their own behaviors. If you’re a restaurant operator who is concerned about the time commitment or extra manpower needed to implement these changes, you are probably not considering what’s available to you in the mobile technology space. And if you’re a restaurant operator in San Francisco, that’s where another locally-based technology company, Zenput, is here to help!

Our platform helps restaurant operators communicate better at a store level to improve their execution. Get a bird’s eye view of compliance while also having the ability to virtually check into a store to find out why benchmarks aren’t being met. You don’t need more employees or equipment to do this. You simply empower your current staff with a cloud-based, real-time technology on the mobile device of their choosing.

Whether you want all your managers to review new guidelines with employees, or want a specific location to clean up its act, Zenput allows users to issue those directives and follow up on compliance.

We’re used in 9,000 restaurants and growing… Is your business next?

Click here to see what Zenput offers to restaurant operators.

Topics: Restaurants, restaurant cleanliness, health inspections

How C-stores Can Turn Social Media Interaction into Employee Action

By David Mostovoy

 

Social media convenience stores

Chances are that your convenience store chain has an active social media presence. Considering that the “big guys” like Wawa, Sheetz and Speedway have well more than 1 million followers, you definitely want to get in on that extra brand visibility, if you haven’t already.

But being on social media is more than just posting your new products and promotions; it’s about being a good community member. And like any other aspect of your operations, it requires a good strategy.

As part of their Social Media Awards, Convenience Store Decisions recently addressed the fact that studying the data of your social media following can pay off when it comes to promotional and partnership opportunities. Data can also help you to understand where your base customer spends the most time, so you can tailor your paid media accordingly to further extend your reach. It can also help you target the social media followers known as “influencers,” the people who share posts. Inviting followers to give their feedback on promotions, offering contests on social media and asking trivia questions are all valuable ways to engage your audience and ensure that visibility.

CSD also discusses the benefits of being an “active listener” on social media. Again, using data can also help you “cut through the noise” of competing viewpoints over a product update or promotion. If you’ve made a decision to change a yearly promotion or pull a product, it could very well be that the complainers are going to be the most vocal. Not overreacting to the naysayers and taking your quieter social media followers into account is important, and data can help inform those decisions and essentially make your brand a better listener.

However, there’s another important part of being an active listener, and that’s being an active responder.

Turning Complaints into Store-Level Action  

How does a convenience store brand respond to a customer complaint? A look at any Facebook comments section for an active retailer shows you plenty of “love” (great for sharing with your audience) and “hate” (wish you could bury it). DO NOT, and I repeat DO NOT, delete negative feedback. There’s nothing worse than being accused of censoring customer feedback because it shows an unwillingness to address real concerns and improve your brand. Plus, no one likes being ignored or flat out rejected!

To that point, streamline your interactions. Most convenience store operators with a regular social media presence are in the habit of asking customers to send them a private message with their contact information. The assumption is that the convenience store operator will offer the customer a coupon or discount off their next purchase. This can turn a negative interaction into a positive outcome that reinforces customer loyalty.

So once you’ve addressed an individual customer’s concern you can close the book on this interaction, right? Not even close!

Chances are that when you’re asking the customer for their personal contact information, you’re also asking them to provide the store number from their receipt. This is a prime opportunity to follow up with the store in question. For instance, if an employee forgot the bacon on a customer’s sandwich, you don’t have to play “Big Brother” and immediately fire off a message directed at that foodservice team. However, if several complaints are being logged against one store, then that indicates a more significant operations problem that’s worth addressing.


With the right platform, you can follow up easily and, if necessary, in real time!

With Zenput, it’s possible for a senior management team to take the social media interactions log, break it down by location and assign tasks to the regional manager and/or store manager. A senior manager may choose to start with a directive to the regional manager: “Multiple customer complaints about missing sandwich components at store #14. Please visit store and report back.” The directive would appear immediately on the regional manager’s mobile device and would remain an open task until they reported back.

Upon investigation at the store level, the regional manager may find a staffing problem or an inventory problem. They could report this in their notes to senior managers, who might then ask the regional manager to address the issue and provide an update in a couple of weeks. Hopefully, in that same time, the resolution will be evident through a lack of customer complaints on social media.

Assigning tasks creates a chain of accountability and improves communication. It’s also collaborative and supports teamwork. If a customer reports that a store manager or employee made their day, be sure that message gets relayed at the store level as well!

Consider taking your social media interactions to the next level by turning comments into real action. Learn more about Zenput’s checklists, audits, forms and reports by clicking here.  

The 3-Part Call-to-Action Against Rising Convenience Store Operating Costs

By Joe Skupinsky

 

 

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We’re living in politically uncertain times. While the new Presidential administration has promised to be pro-small business, there’s no guarantee that convenience store operators will experience change at the local level. That’s the American democratic process and the power of states’ rights. It’s also part of the frustration for business owners who don’t see change—they just see rising operating costs while their gross margin dollars slow down. That was the key point of this recent article in NACS Magazine. Direct store operating expenses (DSOE), including wages, payroll taxes, health-care insurance, card fees, utilities, repairs/maintenance and supplies, are all on the rise. These rising costs jeopardize the operator’s profitability.

Those in the convenience store industry with strong political convictions and a penchant for activism know the reality: When it comes to costs that are not under your direct control, business owners are at the mercy of government action (or inaction) at the state and local levels. But this is not to say that business owners are not in control over efficiency. In these challenging times, it’s crucial to make every dollar count and to generally increase accountability in your organization.

There are the 3 areas every convenience store operator needs to focus on in 2017:  

  1. Document and be proactive about the “little things.” The so-called little things are often part of a bigger picture of efficiency. Your managers know what’s working in their stores and what’s not. They know the faulty equipment, they know when the promotional placement isn’t working, and they know their staffing needs. And if your store managers are too wrapped up in the day-to-day operations to report it, then that’s a task for regional managers. The question is: are you providing your team the tools of communication to report these issues before they become larger problems? Are you responding to these concerns in real-time?  

  2. Manage labor costs. According to NACS data, health care and wages comprise more than 48% of DSOE. More states are raising their minimum wage above the $7.25 federal wage. Leroy Kelsey, director of industry analytics at NACS, points out that convenience store operators have direct control over the decision to offer a higher hourly wage. More convenience store operators may choose this path considering that more mass retailers are bumping up their hourly wages to $10 per hour. However, the key is to retain good employees. “You’ve got to close the loop on training people, acknowledging them and presenting them with opportunities to grow. The best retailers are doing that right now,” he advises.  

You’ve probably seen these graphics floating on LinkedIn and other social networks. Employees stay when they are paid well, challenged, promoted, involved, on a mission, empowered, and trusted. Creating such an environment requires a grassroots effort that needs the support of regional managers and store managers. It will require the ability of the organization to identify and recognize talent. If you think it’s impossible, think again. The right tools make it possible for daily or weekly reporting of employee achievements at the store level.

  1. Treat each store like a microenvironment for efficiency. Speaking of a grassroots effort, convenience store operators need not wait for the next big promotion to follow up with stores. Senior managers and regional managers are likely on the same page when it comes to best practices for operations, but they need employees to comply. Standardize those best practices with checklists that become a routine part of a manager’s reporting system. Then, assign tasks based on those checklists, as needed.

If the thought of a paper checklist immediately turns you off, we don’t blame you! It’s time to go paperless with your process, especially for operators with dozens, maybe even hundreds of locations. Imagine having the ability to make a change, whether it’s the way a store is restocked or the way your foodservice team handles the afternoon rush, and then having the ability to observe and document that change over a period of time. Mobile tools like Zenput give managers that flexibility.

Zenput Helps Improve Accountability

I could happily extol the benefits of using Zenput for the next 500 words, but I don’t think that would be as effective as if you heard it from a major convenience store retailer, MAPCO, which uses our platform. Watch MAPCO’s testimonial or read about the eye-opening operational insights they have gained and acted on, and please feel free to reach out to us with questions that pertain to your specific needs.

Download the MAPCO case study

Also, while you’re visiting, please check out examples of the mobile forms retailers can customize for store-level insights. Remember: Forms are distributed in real-time to mobile devices via cloud-based technology. No Internet in the store? No problem! The information will sync online once a connection is restored.

Operating in ‘The Now’ with Mobile Technology

By Brian Harris

mobile-shopping-in-storeIn a previous blog post about Omnichannel retail, I suggested that retailers have to “start thinking mobile” because that’s where their customers are moving. However, I also explained how it doesn’t mean that every retailer suddenly has to overhaul their business model and start handing out 3D glasses. In other words, keep doing what you’re doing—but do it with your mobile customers in mind.

The results of a recent study by the National Retail Federation’s Shop.org division and Forrester, provide some data to back this up. Forrester forecasted that in 2016, direct online sales totaled 11.6% of total U.S. retail sales ($394 billion), but digital touchpoints impacted an estimated 49% of total U.S. retail sales. This is great news for many of our retailers, particularly those in the convenience and restaurant industries, who rely heavily on foot traffic.

Here are some of the study’s other key findings that support the idea of using mobile technology in “the now”:

  • Customer service topped the list of new initiatives retailers will invest in over the next year (confirming that flashy virtual and augmented reality are not the priority… for now!)

  • 45% of retailers surveyed said mobile initiatives transformed their overall digital customer experience

  • 54% of retailers say mobile is one of their top initiatives in 2017 (followed by marketing at 46%, site merchandising at 42%, and omnichannel efforts at 22%)

  • Smartphones made up 47% of online traffic among retailers surveyed

NRF Vice President Artemis Berry noted that retailers have found “that even modest investments in mobile initiatives can result in huge returns.” And I especially love this quote: “This is no longer a new way to reach customers, but it has certainly become a highly effective method and one that boosts the level of customer engagement across the brand.”

Again, there’s no need to reinvent the digital wheel, but better that you hop on the mobile train now before it’s too late.

Forrester Vice President and Research Director Fiona Swerdlow adds that today’s customers are empowered with information and technology. “To grow, retailers know they have to operate with a customer-obsessed mindset to deliver the experiences that consumers now expect at every touchpoint,” she says. “It’s about having all aspects of the business—stores, mobile, merchandising, customer service, fulfillment and more —work together to deliver total value to your customers wherever they are, at any time.”

If how to optimize the retail industry was presented as a dissertation, I think Swerdlow just gave us the thesis statement. That’s what it all comes down to -enabling the various parts of your business to work together in real-time.

Empowering Your Employees to Communicate  

Working at Zenput is interesting because I, along with many of my coworkers, also happen to be regular customers of many of the major retailers we serve. We help major retailers that collectively serve millions of people—including their own employees, past and present. That’s what I’d like retailers to take into account when they’re proactively considering technologies that are a “natural fit” for their businesses. Your customers use mobile, your employees use mobile… so why not invest in the mobile technology that can improve your business?

Think of the various components Swerdlow discusses and what you might accomplish if you had a real-time solution to address these needs:

  • Stores - from external maintenance to internal equipment, gain the ability to report store conditions as they change, in real time.

  • Merchandising and Fulfillment - From out-of-stocks to the new promotion delivery that never came, report it in real time. Take a photo and share it with your network to confirm the latest marketing execution.

  • Customer Service – On store visits, allow your managers to observe and report on customer service best practices. It could be included in a simple checklist of whether employees are dressed appropriately for work, use courteous language, and offer customer assistance. And this goes beyond playing “big brother” on managers—it allows an organization to celebrate those employees who go out of their way to make a customer’s day easier.

Are you ready to use mobile technology to improve your business?

Learn more about how Zenput helps retailers increase their execution by scheduling a demo.

Topics: Retail, Restaurants

Can an Organic Fast-Food Restaurant Play the Value Game?

By Vladik Rikhter

organix.pngDid you notice that QSR magazine upped their 9 fast-food trends for 2016 to 12 trends for 2017? They kept the descriptions more succinct and business-focused rather than about the food itself. I have a theory for why this is… because today’s customers are all over the place!  Wouldn’t the foodservice industry be much simpler if everyone just wanted a salad for lunch and a craft pizza by night? (Answer: Yes it would be, but it would also be completely boring!)


We’re living in an age of fast-food paradoxes. Let’s face it: What tastes good isn’t always good for you. What’s good for you can’t always be delivered quickly and with real ingredients.

Dashboard dining is not exactly synonymous with mindful eating…. until now. Finally! Someone brave enough to try bridging all these gaps!

Meet the Brittsans, a couple who dared to open Nic’S Organic Fast Food: the nation’s first certified-organic fast-food restaurant with a drive-thru (two trends in one description)! Like many good food ideas, it all started with a pregnant woman who craved a burger. The Brittsans, who met while enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu, know fine dining, but they’re just like the rest of us—sometimes you have a hankering. It’s why their concept features a menu of burgers, fried and grilled chicken, AND salads. Breakfast (yet another trend) will also be served and will feature freshly squeezed juices and organic coffee.


“The organic lifestyle doesn’t mean you’re eating any healthier in terms of the food,” CEO Benjamin Brittsan told Chicago Eater. “What you’re benefitting from is from what’s not in the food.” (Do you feel the sun’s warmth? I believe the clouds just parted.)


This makes so much sense for describing what appeals to today’s consumers who actually don’t know what they want on any given day—they want it all and NOW! At Nic’s, they can order a healthy or indulgent meal without feeling bad about it either way. And an indulgent meal is less guilt-inducing when we know the ingredients are free of hormones and chemicals, and that the meat was sourced from a farm that uses ethical practices.


Brittsan is confident in his concept and bold enough to forecast opening 50 locations in the next three years. In fact, he wants to take his concept west from Chicagoland to California, right to the doorstep of competitors like The Organic Coup, which is opening its eighth location after launching in late 2015. The Organic Coup was billed as the country’s first USDA-certified organic fast-food restaurant. That’s a distinction from Nic’s, which is certified organic by Quality Assurance International, but it’s an organic certification nevertheless.

The Takeaway

New concepts like Nic’s and The Organic Coup represent an exciting opportunity for foodpreneurs with big dreams. It also presents an urgency for major fast-food industry players with menus that can’t be revolutionized to this extent. What is a red-headed gal, a stately colonel, and the Golden Arches to do?


The answer is to double-down on operational efficiency. The last listed trend in QSR’s article is “fast casual embraces value.” I think they saved the most important trend for last! As one industry expert put it, quick-service in infringing on fast-casual’s space, so fast-casual will have to compete on value. This is yet another paradox—organic, fresh ingredients usually carry a premium that’s passed onto the customer. Nic’s menu isn’t available, but we know The Organic Coup Signature Sandwich is $10. Fast-food will offer you a premium, non-organic version at half the price or less.


So will these newer fast-food restaurants flourish or have the growing pains of expanding businesses finding their way?

Will traditional fast-food players continue to tweak their menus or capitalize by offering more immediately recognized value?

We’re staying tuned to see how this one plays out!

Omnichannel is Here to Stay: 3 Ways Conventional Retailers Can Adapt

By Joe Skupinsky

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Here’s a fact: Not all retailers Zenput works with are equipped to offer the online shopping experience... yet—but they also don’t have to right now.

Plenty of retailers we work with have core businesses that rely on foot traffic and/or drive-thru operations. Your customers may be just “catching up” to the technology of ordering groceries or food delivery online or through an app. But in the convenience industry, especially, as long as people have to physically stop to fill up a tank, there will be an opportunity for in-store traffic.  

So how common is omnichannel retail? It appears to be fundamentally changing the way customers approach major retail channels, and it’s starting to change retailers’ approach to how they serve customers.

Of course, we also know that in December, Amazon opened a store for employees in its hometown of Seattle that has no checkout line. Just scan in with the new Amazon Go app and the store’s computer vision and technologies tracks the items you’ve purchased. It’s pretty cool, but also a little creepy at the same time!

As referenced in this CNN Money report, the political climate may not be ready for that level of automation in the workforce. Still, the point must not be lost: brick-and-mortar retailers are incorporating more aspects of the streamlined, fast, and convenient digital experience. Retailers of consumer products must start turning their attention to digital outreach and learn how to accommodate customers who shop in a world of instant gratification.

How Retailers Can Adapt in the Short-Term

We tend to focus so much on what a giant like Amazon is doing, but just as important is the why. Why is Amazon looking at brick-and-mortar grocery stores and bookstores? Because the stores, which are experimental right now, partly serve as an advertisement for Amazon’s digital products! In this way, Amazon embodies the omnichannel approach of integrating a digital and physical shopping experience. It’s lofty “stuff” of the future, but not entirely relevant to Zenput’s customers who are just looking for ways to be more efficient and live in “the now.”

So while it’s crucial that retailers recognize the opportunities presented by digital integration, it’s equally as important that they recognize their strengths outside of the digital world. Here are 3 ways retailers can begin to adapt to the omnichannel mindset without losing sight of who they are and how they can best serve their core customers:

  1.  Personalize – Automation streamlines and makes things similar. It can also potentially remove the fun, memorable parts of shopping. I wouldn’t be able to tell you if I enjoyed scanning my grocery items at Store A over Store B. But if Store B recognized my loyalty and gave me something for it, I’m more apt to return. This is a reason why loyalty and other rewards programs are becoming increasingly important, and why well-trained staff and customer service will continue to be paramount.

  2. Curate — Very much tied to personalization, curating is more than simply knowing what customers want; it’s about quality. Don’t be just good at where you excel—be GREAT! For example, you can make certain products or foodservice items your specialty. The preparation, selection and placement of products will be crucial, as customers return for consistency and an easily navigable environment. Convenience stores already have an advantage in offering a smaller footprint store, so they should take advantage by carefully considering product placement.

Remember: Unique retail experiences drive in-person visits and thankfully, it doesn’t require a song and a dance—the basics done right will do just fine!

  1. Start thinking mobile – From social engagement to rewards programs, your customers are on their phones—and you need to be there, too! Aside from your customers, who else is on their phones constantly (at least when they have a break)? Your employees—and probably you, too! The culture towards mobile technology is slowly changing from a nuisance you lock in a break room or an office drawer to a practical tool that can be utilized appropriately during the workday.

So let’s stop cursing the fact that everyone has a computer in their pocket and embrace it instead!

What can you learn with the right mobile apps and real-time insights?

…to be discussed next time!