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Last WordPress Post

Just to let you know, this is the last post on my WordPress blog.

About a year ago I moved my main blog and bdyer.co.uk domain over to Posterous.com, I have been syndicating the posts back here for a while but that has now come to an end.

So, if you are reading this, move along. :)

Ben

Reuse, Recycle, Reinvent

How many calories does the body burn naturally? #fridayweighin

I learnt something interesting this morning that I wanted to pass onto the #Fridayweighin team

The basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the minimal amount of nutrients that the body needs to maintain the basic essential life functions. the calories required by the BMR are what the body needs at a state of complete rest. meaning that if you were to lay in bed all day your body would need the bare minimum amount of calories that the BMR requires in order for your body just to function normally. 

There are tons of BMR calculators on the Internet but a quick and dirty way to estimate the BMR is to: 

body weight in lbs gets converted to kilos so take the example bw of 150 lbs and divide that by 2.2 (2.2 kilos per pound) 

(150 / 2.2) x 24 (hours a day) = 1636 

so a 150 lbs person with average body fat would burn 68 calories per hour or 1636 calories over 24 hours in a state of complete rest.

Cool!

Augmented Reality – The Next Big Thing in Retail? I Hope Not

A lot has been said and written about Augmented Reality recently, so much so that it is now acceptable to just refer to this fledgling technology as AR. However, just in case you have been out of the loop for the past 12 months let me summarise what AR is in as few words as possible: “The solution for every problem known to man, ever.”

Seriously, that’s what I am picking up from the various blogs and articles I read as well as the conferences I attend. AR is being heralded as this messianic solution. From automotive solutions to advertising, medical to media, everybody is raving about it. However there is one sector that seems to be more excited about AR than any other… retail.

The “official” definition from Wikipedia states:

Augmented reality (AR) is a term for a live direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment whose elements are augmented by virtual computer-generated imagery. It is related to a more general concept called mediated reality in which a view of reality is modified (possibly even diminished rather than augmented) by a computer. As a result, the technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augmented_reality)

AR is clever, it really is. There are some amazing uses and applications out there. Currently the biggest use of AR is a set of smart phone applications displaying relevant information overlaid on a map or image of the real world using the phone’s camera. If you want to try this out for yourself and you have a smartphone, you can download Layer or Yelp from the respective app stores, it’s free.

Layar is a real success story; it has raised $4.4m in various funding rounds and has spawned numerous spin offs and copycats. But here is the problem, most of them are terrible. A very large furniture company recently launched a feature that allowed you to design your dream room online. You could then view it via an AR application that involved either printing or picking up a special card in store. It’s a complete gimmick. Sure it was good fun but did it really help me in my quest to home furnishing nirvana? No, not a chance. The technology was slow. It was frustrating to use and entertainment value aside, who prints things anymore?

Another example comes from an online fashion retailer that allowed you to try on various accessories, hats, sun glasses and, quite disturbingly facial hair, all via the comfort of your webcam. It was hilarious fun; we managed to turn my five year old daughter into our vision of a 20th century European dictator, with a trilby hat. Would she look anything like the image being represented on the screen if she really had the hat on? Again, no, not a chance.

Retailers need to wise up. Yes this is all great fun, but when it comes to the important point of selling product, AR is a long way away from being the panacea many industry experts are predicting. I was completely staggered to discover a huge high street brand recently advertising for an Augmented Reality expert to join its team. The same company has no basic mobile offering, a crazy ecommerce strategy and it’s being humiliated on the high street on a daily basis.

In retail, regardless of sales channel, there is one enduring truth. You will succeed if you are accessible in the right market, have the right product, at the right price with the right level of service. This is basic stuff. At the moment, AR for retailers is a complete distraction. Today it fulfils none of the above pre-requisites. If anyone tells you an investment in AR over the more traditional marketing methods will help to sell more product, they are lying.

The popularity of AR seems to be being fuelled by venture capitalist firms that have pumped in a lot of money and are now desperate to find a revenue opportunity. It’s the Virtual Reality of the 90s and the Artificial Intelligence of the 60s all over again.

I don’t mean to sound like a complete technophobe. AR will play an important part of the future as the technology matures. But for retailers it’s not here yet, not even close.

The Power of Partnerships

While travelling recently in India I read about a fantastic co-operative wine business based there. Three rural farmers had got together to build a very profitable venture with an exciting future.

The farmers, while reasonably successful in growing onions and table grapes, were individually struggling to make a real impact. Taking a gamble, one of the farmers sent off a small selection of his grapes to a wine master based in France. The feedback was encouraging but the barriers to setting up a successful wine brand in an area not known for its wine making abilities were huge. Individually the farmers didn’t have the land or the money to even contemplate it. So he got together with the others so at least they would stand a chance.
 
Today those three farmers are the founding members of Vinsura Wine Park which has now grown to 35 members with an estimated 900 acres and a monthly production of 36,000 bottles. The effect of pooling talent and resource not only reduced the initial barriers to entry but has resulted in a thriving business.
 
Going into a business partnership can be a fairly daunting process for all parties involved. In the current economic climate many companies are looking to each other for assistance in building new ventures or offering new capability, as it makes complete sense. In my opinion there are two simple pre-requisites that must be met if any partnership is to be a success. The first is obvious: your offerings need to be complementary. The second: the partnership needs to work for both parties. Parity between all involved is essential.
 
The Indian farmers individually stood no chance, but together they have found a winning formula. The problems they faced aren’t unique. I wonder whether a partnership could be the thing you need to kick start your business?

Get personal with marketing

I read with great interest this week the news that Twitter is getting into the ecommerce space.

In an idea copied from the very popular US-based service Woot, Twitter will be advertising time-sensitive deals via a dedicated account (@earlybird). In a reversal of traditional marketing norms, you will only receive the daily deals by following the account.

Sites offering time sensitive deals, vouchers or private sales clubs have rarely been off the front pages of tech or retail blogs for the past year. It seems almost every day I am reading about a Groupon clone springing up. Even the old man on the digital high street, Amazon, is in the game with their recent acquisition of Woot.

I can see the attraction. As humans we like to feel special, we like the sense of getting a good deal or “beating the man”. Sites like this play as much towards our egos as they do our budgets.

We can learn from this. Why not experiment with your online or traditional marketing or sales processes? Make things personal, spend time researching your customer base and tailor the offering. I love it when I walk into our local fishmongers and they know my name and what I normally buy. I always get offered something special that they know I would like. It may sound gimmicky, but it works.

Technology is enabling us, ironically, to become more personal. Why not give it ago?

Securing Your Online Shop – Getting Started

An article for the nice people over at IT Donut

It doesn't matter who I talk to about ecommerce; merchants, designers or even my parents, security is always something that is brought up. Identity theft, phishing and data loss are just some of the topics that can completely polarise any discussion regarding buying online. Some of it is very valid. There are genuine problems that need solving if you are selling online, but some of it is an over-reaction. Here I will look at the key elements for securing your ecommerce store.

Creating trust

The central pillar to the growth of ecommerce is based on trust. To be a successful e-tailer you need to be completely transparent about being a good company to do business with. A lot of this is down to the design of your site. Reassurances  include satisfaction guarantees, clear delivery times, a returns policy, contact details, a company history and displaying logos of industry bodies you belong to. Use your own experience as a customer to make sure your site is up to scratch and conveying the simple message that you can be trusted. 

However you must also comply with data security regulations.

The compliance challenge

In 2008 the retailer Cotton Traders suffered an attack on its online operation. It lost thousands of customers’ details including their credit card data. Cotton Traders, like many other traditional high street brands, has used the online channel to support its existing retail and mail order businesses. However when a company with a turnover of £50m suffers an attack of this magnitude, it’s easy to wonder what chance the smaller guy has.

The answer to the problem came from the banks (who are of course ultimately responsible) in the form of the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).

According to the Security Standards Council, PCI DSS is “a set of 12 requirements designed to secure and protect customer payment data”. Complying with PCI is a fairly complex procedure, the rule book is huge and understanding it correctly is no easy task. However to take online card data you have to be compliant, so how does an online merchant achieve this? Thankfully there is a simple answer: make it someone else’s problem.

The UK has a number of Payment Service Providers (PSPs). I am sure everyone has heard of PayPal and WorldPay, my company also has one, Actinic Payments. To become PCI-legal a merchant simply has to use a compliant PSP. This way, when a customer purchases from your online store they are transparently forwarded to the PSP who takes the payment. This means the all important card data is held on an ultra-secure and most importantly compliant infrastructure. None of the payment card data is held on your server. If you get hacked, at least you won’t be giving any payment data away.

Fighting fraud

Make sure that your PSP supports 3D Secure, AVS (address verification), CV2 (3 digits on back of a card), preferably one of the independent fraud checking services, as well as being PCI compliant. Once you have security in operation, mention it on your website to give extra reassurance to customers.

You can help yourself too. Look out for these fraud indicators:
  • Using the most expensive shipping method
  • Choosing the most expensive products
  • Using free email addresses such as Yahoo or Hotmail and mobile numbers.
In addition you can check whether an order is fraudulent by asking for a fax of a copy of the back strip of the credit card; asking for proof of name and address to be faxed; or you can telephone to make sure that the number is genuine. Most fraudsters give up at the first hurdle.

Summary

Cyber crime, like ecommerce, is a growing industry  And today it is the preserve of highly competent and mostly foreign criminals motivated by financial gain. Securing your online store and complying with regulation isn’t a nice to have, it’s essential.

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