Retail solutions: Farmers net gambit slow and sure

Retail chain Farmers has been selling through the internet for the past two years. "We have a fairly rudimentary site for our size, with a very limited range of stock," says new business manager Peter Drew.

Retail chain Farmers has been selling through the internet for the past two years.

“We have a fairly rudimentary site for our size, with a very limited range of stock,” says new business manager Peter Drew.

Farmers is working on a rebuild of the site with a larger offering and other advances, scheduled for release in August.

“We are working our way in gently,” Drew says. Having started with the traditional “brochureware” approach, the company moved into online transactions with its customers initially through a manual framework, taking orders from the internet “and keying them into a standard Farmers till”. Eight months ago, it retained Direct Payment Solutions to provide a more automated facility.

Farmers’ bank, ANZ, was an impetus behind the move, according to Drew. “they were looking for a reference site to run Verified by Visa”.

DPS was selected as implementer for three prime reasons: “First, they were a local [New Zealand] company and that’s an issue for us; second, they could already handle Verified by Visa and the [ANZ chip-equipped] Zed Card, and third, they could handle our own Farmers Card, which has a uniquely formatted number string, unlike any regular credit or debit card.”

The payment system is kept physically isolated from Farmers’ core systems, Drew says. Product and price details are fed manually from those systems into a Lotus Approach database, where they are combined with the details of the order.

“There is no direct connection; we have a very manual kind of ‘firewall’. Bearing in mind the size of our mainframe system, there is no room for any route by which that system could be compromised.

“We are [currently] automating some of the processes that feed data from the mainframe to Approach, but I can’t see us ever making a direct connection [between online payment and core systems],” he says.

Farmers’ electronic interface with its suppliers is through a dedicated “EAN-compliant EDI system”. This adheres to the product identification system of the body originally called European Article Numbering, since linked with its US counterpart, UCC.

The proportion of Farmers shoppers using the internet is very small to date, says Drew, but this reflects the small range of good on offer online, “about 300 out of the 120,000 things we sell”.

Customers do still have reservations about paying online, he says, despite a thoroughly secure encrypted link. Farmers offers customers the option of phoning in their credit-card number, which some clearly feel is safer.

Verified by Visa should add to customers’ confidence as it becomes better known to them, Drew says, “and anything that does that is a positive move”.

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