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Posts Tagged ‘eCommerce’

The Importance of Data Quality for International Ecommerce

In today’s era of online ecommerce, international sales represent a huge potential market for US vendors. According to research firm eMarketer, international sales represent three-quarters of a nearly US $2 trillion retail ecommerce market, nearly half of which comes from China alone. And much of this vast market is only a click away.

On the other hand, cross-border sales remain one of the greatest risks for fraud, with a rate that was more than twice that of domestic fraud through 2012, and despite recent improvements in data quality technology this rate is still 28% higher as of 2015. And one digital commerce site notes that while retailers are making progress at managing fraudulent transaction rates, they are doing so at the expense of turning away good customers – people who, in turn, may never patronize these sites again.

So how do you exploit a rich and growing potential market while mitigating your risk for fraud? The answer might surprise you. While nearly everyone preaches the importance of a fraud protection strategy for ecommerce, and suggestions abound in areas that range from credit card verification to IP geolocation, the head of ecommerce at industry giant LexisNexis points to one area above all: address verification.

In a recent interview with Multichannel Merchant, LexisNexis ecommerce chief Aaron Press points out that the biggest problem with international addresses is a lack of addressing standards between countries. “Postal codes have different formats, where you put the number, how the street is formatted. Normalizing all of that down to a set of parameters that can be published on an API is a huge challenge.”

This means that you need robust capabilities in any third-party solution that you choose to help verify international addresses. Some of the key things to look for include:

  • How many countries does the vendor support address formats for, and does this list include all of the countries where you do business?
  • Can the application handle multiple or nested municipality formats? For example, a customer may list the same location in Brazil correctly as Rio, Rio de Janeiro, Município do Rio de Janeiro – or even the sub-municipality of Guanabara Bay.
  • Will the application handle different spellings or translations for common areas? In the address above, for example, the country may be spelled as Brazil or Brasil. Likewise, the United Kingdom may also be referred to as England, British Isles, Karalyste, Birtaniya, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or even 英国 (Chinese for the United Kingdom, literally “England Kingdom”).
  • Can these capabilities can be implemented as an API within your ordering application? Or can it process addresses externally through batch processing?

In general, cross-border fraud prevention requires a multi-pronged effort involving all of the potential stress points in an international transaction, including international address verification, email validation, credit card BIN validation, IP address verification – even name validation, so you can flag orders addressed to Vladimir Putin or Homer Simpson. These are clearly capabilities that you outsource to a vendor, unless you happen to be sitting on hundreds of millions of global addresses and their country-specific formats. The good news is that in an era of inexpensive cloud-based applications, strong fraud protection is easily implemented nowadays as part of your normal order processing strategy.

Launching a New Ecommerce Site? Don’t Forget Data Quality Tools

Online commerce is huge nowadays – to the tune of over $400 billion dollars a year in the United States alone in 2017, at a growth rate up to three times that of retail in general. Barriers to entry are lower than ever, ecommerce platforms have become simpler to use and less expensive than ever, and the convenience of e-commerce has grown to encompass businesses of every size. Above all, purchasing goods online has become ubiquitous among today’s consumers.

Whether you are looking to launch a simple shopping cart using platforms like WordPress’ WooCommerce, Shopify or Magento, or an enterprise solution like Microsoft’s Commerce Server or IBM’s WebSphere Commerce, it can still be a minefield for the uninitiated. Here are some of the risks that every online seller takes every day:

Fraud. Filling orders from fraudulent sources costs you both revenue and time – and according to Javelin Research, identity fraud alone totals over $18 billion per year in the US. And the bad guys particularly love to target novice sellers.

Fulfillment. Every online order starts a chain of activities – from billing to shipment – that depend on the quality of your contact data. Credit card processing often requires accurate address data, and one misdirected shipment can wipe out the profit margin of many other sales – not to mention the reputational damage it can do.

Marketing. According to the Harvard Business Review, the cost of acquiring a new customer ranges from 5 to 25 times the cost of selling to an existing customer. This means that your contact database is the key to follow-on sales, brand awareness and long-term profitability. Which also means that bad contact data – and the rate at which this contact data decays– cuts straight to your bottom line.

Tax issues. Did you know that tax rates can vary from one side of a street to the other? Or that some states have passed or are considering an “internet tax” out-of-state sellers? Tax compliance, and avoiding the penalties that come with incorrect sales tax rates, is a fact of life for any online business.

The common denominator between each of these issues? Data quality. And thankfully, these problems can all be mitigated inexpensively nowadays, with tools that fit right in with your current contact management strategy. Some of the solutions available today from Service Objects include:

  • A suite of tools for fraud prevention, including address, email and telephone verification, lead validation that scores prospects on a scale of 0-100, credit card validation, and IP address validation – so you know when an order for a customer in Utah is placed from Uzbekistan.
  • Shipping address validation tools that verify addresses against up-to-date real-time data from the USPS and Canada Post, to make sure your products go to the right place every time.
  • Email verification capabilities that perform over 50 tests, including auto-correcting common domain errors and yielding an overall quality score – improving your marketing effectiveness AND preventing your mail servers from being blacklisted.
  • Real-time tax rate assessment that validates your addresses, and then provides accurate sales and use tax rates at any jurisdictional level.

Each of these capabilities are available in several convenient formats, ranging from APIs for your applications to batch processing of contact lists. Whichever form you choose, automated data tools can quickly make the most common problems of online commerce a thing of the past.

Avoid the Cost of Inaccurate and Incorrect Sales and Use Tax Rates

There are two unavoidable consequences in life: death and taxes. And taxes are far and away the complex of the two, particularly if you are in ecommerce or a business making sales to others. Here are some of the issues you face:

  • Tax rates not only vary across municipalities, but by district or even address. For example, in one case in Arizona, one side of a particular street has a different tax rate than the other side!
  • Tax rates change constantly. According to CFO Magazine, there were nearly 800 changes to sales and use tax in the US in 2014.
  • Once upon a time, your concerns about collecting sales taxes ended at the state border. Not any more. In Colorado, the so-called “Amazon tax” law now compels businesses nationwide to collect sales tax from Colorado purchases. It survived a recent Supreme Court challenge, and other states are now taking similar steps: Amazon.com, for example, now collects sales taxes for deliveries to 32 US states as well as the District of Columbia.

Within a given area, the different tax rates geolocation might be using may include state, city, county, county district and/or city district taxes. The calculation of these rates can become complicated when you add ‘geography’ of the buyer/seller to the mix.  Does the seller live in an unincorporated area? What tax rate(s) do you use for ecommerce? How do you know you are using the correct/current rate?

The consequences of charging incorrect sales taxes are greater than ever. And not just from the authorities, but from John Q. Public. Nowadays anyone can check tax rates on their smartphones, which has led to expensive and embarrassing class-action lawsuits accusing major firms of overcharging on tax. Suits that have reached the court system in recent years include many high-profile plaintiffs including Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, Papa John’s Pizza and Costco.

Meanwhile, state tax authorities have always asserted their authority in the case of tax errors. Since sales and use taxes represent a large portion of state revenue, states often devote dedicated resources to enforcement efforts, and can impose substantial penalties: California, for example, levies a 40 percent penalty on failures to pay sales or use tax. There are also costs associated with preparing for an audit and administering the results of these audits. Even when businesses err on the side of over-collecting sales and use taxes, the aftermath of an audit can involve time, manpower expense and costs associated with refunding sales tax over payments to customers, not to mention the customer service issues associated with the errors.

Given the complexity of sales and use taxes, as well as the sheer volume of tax jurisdictions and annual changes to tax law, automated tools are a must for most businesses – including small business. Given the diversity of these jurisdictions, it is particularly important to use tools that compute these taxes based on geolocation, rather than just coarse metrics such as ZIP codes. This includes geocoding specific addresses, and determining unincorporated areas that may fall outside normal municipal tax boundaries.

The best tax rate tools do the work for you by maintaining and updating sales and use tax databases, and integrating with your processes to determine the geolocation to apply the correct tax rates. For example, Service Objects’ DOTS FastTax takes over the hard work of tax validation and compliance, including accurate sales and use tax computation based on geolocation derived from street addresses as well as postal code information. FastTax then uses this location data to identify tax jurisdictions and eliminate problems associated with different rates in incorporated vs. unincorporated areas.  The tax rates are synchronized with the states and updated in real-time throughout the year.

For geolocation accuracy, FastTax also incorporates Service Objects’ flagship Address Validation capabilities for US and Canadian addresses.  Addresses are accurately resolved to provide a precise tax jurisdiction and total roll-up tax rate.  DOTS FastTax is available in four ways; as a real-time API integration, PC-based list processing, automated FTP-based list processing, and web-based Quick Lookups.

We all work in a challenging and complex environment for sales tax compliance, whose rate of change continues to accelerate. By putting this task in the hands of a good automation partner, you not only reduce your own workload and labor efforts, but protect yourself from the costs, penalties and reputation issues associated with compliance problems. The end result is a process that makes an inevitable part of your sales process a little less taxing.

These New Sales Tax Laws Might Affect Your Business

Colorado is a very difficult state to accurately calculate sales tax in. We estimate there are thousands of tax rates that vary based on location. As with most states, sales tax rates in Colorado are a mix of state, county, city, and special district tax rates. Thus, someone in Denver, Colorado pays a different sales tax rate than someone in Boulder or Fort Collins. To further complicate the sales tax situation in Colorado, some communities also impose a use tax and/or a service fee — and a host of exemptions exist.

Plus, sales tax rates fluctuate all the time. Tax rate changes in several Colorado communities such as Dillon, Johnstown, Grand Lake, Steamboat Springs, and Grand County (too name just a few) will become effective January 1, 2017.

As if all of the above weren’t enough to make calculating sales taxes in Colorado challenging, the U.S. Supreme Court just upheld a controversial law in Colorado that pressures online retailers to collect sales tax in the state. New sales tax rates and the upholding of the so-called “Amazon tax” law might make sales taxes even more difficult for some retailers and/or consumers.

So, what is this Amazon tax and what does it mean to out-of-state retailers? The 2010 law gets its nickname from the online retailer because it compels out-of-state retailers such as online businesses to collect sales taxes on purchases from Colorado residents. Typically, these businesses are exempt from collecting sales taxes in states in which they do not have a sufficient physical presence or “nexus.”

For example, if you run an online business in California with a physical store and a warehouse in the state and sell goods to customers in California, you’d be required to collect sales tax from your Californian customers due to your physical presence. Meanwhile, you would not need to do the same for your customers in other states (unless you have a physical presence in those states). The Colorado law, however, complicates transactions for customers in Colorado.

According to an article in the Denver Post, Colorado’s sales tax law gives “…businesses a tough choice: either collect the sales tax or deal with more red tape, including additional paperwork and the requirement they remind Coloradans that they owe sales tax to the state.”

Colorado’s 2010 tax law was immediately challenged by the Direct Marketing Association (now the Data & Marketing Association), which filed a lawsuit. Now that the Supreme Court has upheld the law, some believe that other states may follow Colorado’s lead and impose their own “Amazon” taxes.

So, for now, Colorado is likely the most challenging sales tax state in the nation, but these challenges could spread to other states. You have a choice when selling to customers in Colorado: navigate the complexities of calculating sales tax in Colorado — a tough task made much easier with Service Objects’ FastTax real-time sales tax API — or comply with Colorado’s use tax notification requirements (for businesses with at least $100,000 in gross annual sales).

Validating Online Transactions Plays Key Role as Cyber Monday Sets US Online Sales Record

Cyber Monday shattered previous online sales records and set a new all-time high, with consumers opening their wallets and spending $3.45 billion, marking a 12.1% jump over last year’s figure and earning its place in retail history.

The data, compiled by Adobe Digital Insights, surpassed initial estimates and dismissed fears that consumer shopping during the Thanksgiving weekend would hurt sales on Cyber Monday, which is historically the busiest day of the year for internet shopping. Adobe’s data measured 80 percent of all online transactions from the top 100 U.S. retailers.

The record-breaking online shopping put retailers’ data quality at the top of their priority list. Many smart retailers turned to Service Objects to help them make informed decisions about their customers, relying on Service Objects to validate over 1 million of their online transactions on Cyber Monday.

An increase in order volume impacts everything from a store’s inventory levels to brand reputation. By implementing data quality solutions like the ones Service Objects offers allows retailers to:

  • Greatly reduce the number of fraudulent orders by validating that a consumer is really who they say they are;
  • Ensure customers’ orders are delivered to the correct location, heading off customer service nightmares and stopping harmful customer horror stories from going viral on social media;
  • Save significant money by eliminating bad or incorrect address data and increase the percentage of successful package deliveries;
  • Eliminate the headache of dealing with credit card chargebacks caused by missed shipments; and
  • Gain a competitive advantage over the competition and increase customer loyalty.

Using a data quality solution is fundamental to turning your customer data into a strategic asset. Read more about the different business challenges that data quality can solve.

5 Tips To Save Time And Money On Shipping

If you’re like most business owners, finding ways to save time and money is one of your top priorities. After all, a penny saved is a penny earned. One area you might not have paid too much attention to is shipping — and it’s prime for cutting costs and hassles. Use the tips below to save both time and money on shipping:

1. Avoid Guesstimating Your Shipping Costs

Chances are, you’ll overpay as you err on the side of caution. For example, your package may weigh less than a pound, yet you might estimate its weight at two or three pounds “just to be safe.” The same is true of a package’s dimensions. Over guesstimating a package’s weight or size could put you in a higher price range than necessary. Meanwhile, underestimating the package’s size or weight could result in time delays as the shipper returns your package for insufficient postage. This is a risky choice as shipping delays translate into unhappy customers (which is why most businesses overestimate their package sizes and shipping costs). Avoid overpaying by using a postage scale and a ruler to accurately weigh and measure your packages.

2. Do Your Research And Choose The Right Service

While one shipping company may have lower rates on smaller parcels, it may be the costlier choice for larger ones. It pays to compare prices. While you’re at it, choose the right type of service for the package. Is overnight service essential or would ground service be acceptable? Would an alternative shipping method, such as Greyhound Package Express or DHL Express, cost less?

3. Increase Sales By Offering Convenient Returns

Though offering to pay for return shipping may seem counterintuitive when you’re trying to cut your shipping costs, you may want to consider adopting such a policy. According to a Forrester Consulting study conducted for UPS, retailers that offer convenient, inexpensive returns are likely to see an increase in sales, customer loyalty, and incremental revenue. 

4. Use Address Validation Software

Are you shipping your packages to the correct address? Address validation can flag you to a potential shipping problem, allowing you to correct the issue before you ship the package and find out the hard, expensive, and time-consuming way. By validating addresses before you ship your packages, you’ll have fewer packages returned to you as undeliverable, fewer upset customers wondering where their packages are, and lower shipping costs as a result. 

5. Shop Around For Shipping Supplies And Buy In Bulk

Are you still buying your mailroom supplies at the local stationary or office supply store? Though convenient, you’re probably paying too much. Again, this comes down to doing your research and shopping around. Buying in bulk also reduces your shipping costs overall. The savings could be substantial.

Amex Express Checkout: Why ECommerce Companies Should Still Check For Fraud

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Amex Express Checkout is a new checkout option that recently went live this month, and unlike the other payment methods it is not an e-wallet in the conventional sense. Instead of creating and managing payment accounts for one or more payment methods, the Amex system leverages a user’s existing account information, so when a user is ready to check out all they need to do is enter their Amex username and password. The same credentials they would use if they were to log directly into their online Amex account. That’s because they actually are.

Like the other payment methods, the Amex system is focused on security and ease of use. The idea being that the card holder never has to enter their credit card information, instead the data is securely sent directly to the online store from American Express and so both the online merchant and the card holder can rest assured that the provided information is current. With other e-wallet systems, it is up to the card holder to update their card information if a card expires or a new card number is issued and so on.

There is Still a Potential for Fraud, Even With Fast Checkout Options

One would think that with so many secure payment options available today that an order validation service in your checkout system would be unnecessary, but that’s not the case. These payment systems may be designed to be secure and easy to use, but there is still a potential for fraud. These checkout systems primarily only fill out the billing details and have nothing to do with the shipping details or other aspects of the order. A service like DOTS Order Validation can take a look at the individual details as well as the big picture to help prevent fraud. Also, not all customers are going to use these sort of checkout systems; so an online store will almost always have an option available for a user to enter their own checkout information. Otherwise, the store risks losing a potentially large customer base.

If a fraudster has an opportunity to circumvent additional security then they are going to take it, and they will most likely not choose these checkout systems. Which means that a service like OV will play an even larger part in helping fight fraud. Overall, e-commerce shopping cart programmers would do well to make use of these e-wallet systems and use a service like DOTS Order Validation. A service like OV is not in competition with these type of systems and it will still have a place in helping prevent fraud.

5 Reasons Why Customers will Thank You for Using Contact Validation

Contact validation is commonly used to prevent fraud and build businesses. The business case for contact validation is well established, and these tools are essential to protect and build your business. However, did you know that your customers benefit from validation, too?

For example, showing your customers that they are protected reassures them, builds your credibility, and is helpful to both the sale and future visits. No one wants to be vulnerable to identity theft. No one wants their name spelled incorrectly and their packages shipped to an incorrect address.

Customer SatisfactionSo, is contact validation really a selling point? You bet it is! Below are five reasons why your customers will thank you for using contact validation:

1. Form validation protects customers and non-customers against identity theft and fraud. Most businesses first explore form validation as a means of protecting themselves from fraud. According to Javelin Strategy & Research’s 2014 Identity Fraud Report, credit and debit card fraud was an $11 billion problem for merchants in 2013. Individuals are concerned as well. After all, it’s their identities and credit and debit cards that are being stolen.

Whether someone is a customer or not, form validation protects an innocent party from identity or fraud theft should a fraudster enter your form or checkout processes. Form validation services can check the shipping and billing addresses against IP address and phone number, which can thwart criminals from placing orders.

Telling your customers and prospects that you perform contact validation can eliminate consumer fear and boost your credibility.

In addition, should your security be breached or your contact / customer information stolen, your system will not allow any customer information to be changed without sending warning flags. Form validation can serve as a second line of defense should a breach occur.

2. Address verification helps ensure faster shipping and guaranteed delivery. Fast shipping is a must in the era of mega-retailers that offer same day deliveries and free two-day shipping. Today’s customers expect to receive their packages right away and have little patience for shipping delays. At the same time, you want your package to arrive safely in order to reduce the likelihood of lost merchandise, cancellations, or additional shipping costs.

Address validation helps to ensure that your customers get their packages when promised — even if the customer inadvertently transposed a number or misspelled a street name in the shipping address. If the package doesn’t arrive, guess who the customer will blame despite their own data entry mistake?

By verifying addresses at the point of entry, you can correct incorrect address information, make sure the address conforms to US Postal Service standards, and ensure that the address is deliverable. Address verification is a valuable customer service tool that prevents unnecessary shipping delays and undeliverable packages.

Being able to accurately verify addresses, delivery dates, and delivery times from a perfectly standardized address demonstrates that you know what you are doing and are operating an efficient business. Instead of immediately blaming you when a package doesn’t arrive as expected, your customers may realize that the package may have been delivered (after all, your system verified and, even corrected, the address) and someone on their end may have forgotten to pass it along.

3. Name validation helps you to get your customers name right. A sure-fire way to offend someone is to spell his or her name wrong. Another way to offend someone is to assume you know his or her gender based on a first name.
For example, Pat, Chris, J.C, Dana, and Val could be men or women. It’s hard to tell based on names alone. Guessing could be a disastrous mistake.

If you offer gender-specific products, name verification tools can help you filter names that aren’t gender specific. Make sure you have your customer’s gender correct or neutralize your messaging, but never guess.

Getting your customers names and genders right helps to avoid offending them. It also helps them to feel valued and as if you know them. Even when doing business virtually, customers want personal service. They’ll return to businesses where they feel known and valued. Name validation can help you to build loyalty.

4. Email verification ensures timely communications via email. It’s not just about shipping packages; it’s also about communicating. Airplane flights, package delivery notifications, service notifications, event invitations, and other alerts all arrive via email. What happens if a customer accidentally forgets the dot before the “com” in their email address? What happens if a customer enters “gnail” instead of “gmail” in a gmail address? Your email messages will never arrive. Email verification checks the syntax, removes extraneous letters, and fixes common typos in level 1 domains.

Timely email notifications are as important as timely package delivery. Impress your customers with effective use of emails – they’ll thank you for it!

Email verification also helps detect possible fraud. For example, if a fraudster attempts to use a customer’s data but enters a bogus, catch-all, or disposable email address, warning flags will be raised. Your customers may never know about fraudulent attempts, but they’ll benefit nonetheless because of the extra security measures you have in place to protect them.

5. Demographic data helps customers receive customized product and service opportunities. Demographics targeting can be a valuable tool for businesses and customers alike. Using demographic data to match products and services to prospects is a fantastic way to build your business and help your customers to feel valued and known. Customers appreciate receiving relevant offers. Sending accurate, specific alerts about products and services to those who want, need, or would benefit from them isn’t just about increasing your sales; it’s also about connecting with them. Demographic targeting allows for greater personalization.

In addition to recommending products based on your customers’ interests, past purchases, location, and other demographic details, you can also promote content that speaks to your customers. If your content speaks to your customers, it probably also speaks to their friends. Thus, they may share your offers, helping to build your business through word of mouth.

Use demographics to dive deep into your customer database to spot trends that can help you focus on what your customers want and need. Look at age, gender, and income to discover what drives purchases in your sales area. Determine what to write about and what products and services to offer by evaluating news stories in conjunction with your demographic data.

Contact validation is just as important to your customers’ experiences with business as it is to internal protection and growth efforts. With the right contact validation tools in place, you’ll protect your customers from fraud, ensure prompt package and email delivery, build loyalty, and understand who your customers are. Everyone wins, and your customers will thank you for it.

Data Normalization: The Key to Verifying Online Leads & Orders

Updated from original post Why Cross Checking is Important When Using a Contact Validation Web Service, published 02/17/10

Although the Internet allows for many business benefits, it is also an effective way that fraudsters create bogus leads or orders—ultimately creating business headaches. Online fraud is a pervasive issue that costs businesses billions of dollars every year in lost merchandise, customer satisfaction, and resources. There are many data quality companies who provide services to verify your online leads and orders, but how exactly do they go about doing that? And how are you supposed to decide which service provider will best meet your fraud-prevention needs?

Given that online leads and orders consist of multiple pieces of customer data points, it is imperative that the data verification process goes beyond checking the validity of each individual piece of information. In a truly valid lead or order, all elements must not only be accurate, genuine, and up-to-date, but consistent with one another. This means that your fraud-detection software service should normalize, cross-reference and compare the contact data for consistency, and generate a score or rating of the customer’s authenticity. It should be able to flag warnings that include:

  • A mismatch between the computer’s IP address and billing/shipping addresses
  • Inputted phone number owned by a different name and address
  • Disposable or bogus email addresses
  • A fictional or bogus name
  • Bank Identification Number of credit card is from a country of high risk

If the lead or order validation service you’re using does not employ advanced cross-checking algorithms, you risk accepting accurate but not genuine data in your database and systems. Your sales team may waste time trying to qualify fake contacts, or you may send out a shipment without knowing if the credit card used is legitimate and actually belongs to the intended recipient.

Here are some other crucial data elements to look for in a strong Lead Validation or Order Validation web service:

  • US address verification that includes Delivery Point Validation and USPS CASS-certified data
  • Canadian address verification
  • Reverse phone lookup
  • Detailed phone exchange information
  • Email validation with MX record and syntax checking
  • Comprehensive IP address validation
  • Bank Identification Number (BIN) validation for issuing bank authenticity

If your business relies on ecommerce transactions for revenue, Order Validation is a must to protect your business. And if your sales team relies or accurate, genuine leads to bring in new sales, a Lead Validation tool is great for building your business. If you’d like a demo of our data validation service or a free trial, please give us a call!

Prepping For The Holidays – Read on Business 2 Community

‘Tis the season! With these three proactive tips, online retailers are sure to secure a profitable holiday shopping season. Believe it or not, Cyber Monday is only DAYS away and predictions of a record-breaking Cyber Monday have been giving the online retail community a lot to be excited about. Recently reports that 53% of U.S. adults have plans to shop on Black Friday with 72% doing it right from the convenience of their computer means online holiday shopping will actually start before Cyber Monday. So get ready Internet storefronts – get ready, and get ready now. Read Full Article Here.

Service Objects is the industry leader in real-time contact validation services.

Service Objects has verified over 2.5 billion contact records for clients from various industries including retail, technology, government, communications, leisure, utilities, and finance. Since 2001, thousands of businesses and developers have used our APIs to validate transactions to reduce fraud, increase conversions, and enhance incoming leads, Web orders, and customer lists. READ MORE