Full of the Devil

Target, Neiman Marcus – what other furies have been set loose?
Posted January 15, 2014

In the 1940s, some of the scientists working on the atomic bomb stepped back from the excitement of their technological successes to say they might have let the devil out of his cage.

Seventy years later, after more such technological innovations, he’s out again.

Credit card details. Social Security numbers. Identity theft. It’s mind-numbingly difficult to judge the parameters of this security breach involving Target, and now Neiman Marcus, and who knows who else might pop up in the news tomorrow or this week or later in the month.

Target estimates upwards of 100 million consumers might have been affected! This is not some small, isolated issue.

You think about all the ways consumers innocently provide information to retailers or, for that matter, practically anyone. Every day, people toss their credit card numbers into cyberspace.

The definition of “careless” has changed. We’ve known for a decade that it’s “careless” to respond to that email plea from the Cambodian prince who had to flee the country and leave his fortune behind. But it might be just as “careless” to just click on that email.

It might be just as careless to participate in an online survey or to sign up for a computer security scan or to click on a website (as I just did) that promises “the seven most dangerous surfing practices.” Going onto a strange website is probably on that list.

Is even Googling now dangerous? It’s a world of shadows anymore and you just don’t know where the danger lurks.

Many of the things that make e-commerce convenient and attractive make it mysterious and treacherous. People with an extraordinary amount of specialized skills can find ways to access that place where information is stored and simply remove it. They don’t need a diamond-headed drill bit or special glass-cutting equipment or dynamite, they just need the time – and probably not very much of that – to access the portal and take what’s inside.

I’m embarking on my 20th year of covering this industry (And much more about that throughout the year.) In that time, we’ve always addressed the importance of creating a unique, branded store environment. First, it was to combat your competitors. Then, it was to combat online retailing. Now it’s combat with all the social media options shoppers have at the tips of their thumbs.

But this is a far bigger challenge than where you place the cashwrap or how you light the store. And even if the problem has been overblown, once consumers believe it, it becomes reality.

The devil is back out among us. We’ll never be the same.

As a journalist, writer, editor and commentator, Steve Kaufman has been watching the store design industry for 20 years, as editor of both DDI and VMSD magazines. He has seen the business cycle through retailtainment, minimalism, category killers, big boxes, pop-ups, custom stores, global roll-outs, international sourcing, interactive kiosks, the emergence of China, the various definitions of “branding” and Amazon.com. He has reported on the rise of brand concept shops, the demise of brand concept shops and the resurgence of brand concept shops. He has been an eyewitness to the reality that nothing stays the same, except the retailer-shopper relationship.