Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Facilitating Innovation Through Knowledge

A key element in the success of organisations is their ability to capture, manage and share knowledge, learning and best practice amongst the workforce. However knowledge is often confused with information, and thus organisations typically address the issue by implementing mechanisms for collating documented information and making it available for people to access. (See my earlier post on Developing Knowledge Sharing Communities for Business)

What this usually results in is some form of electronic library available through intranet or shared folder access, but little or no attempt to encourage discussion and evolution of that information for wider organisational use. People are left with the responsibility of connecting disparate bits of information into appliable knowledge. The amount of effort needed to do this is often prohibitive and the result is that people typically ignore the majority of information available to them and organisations are unable to leverage the pools of knowledge they hold.

Studies show that innovation arises at the confluence of knowledge from different fields, so in economic downturns like this, surfacing and sharing knowledge could be a crucial factor in survival.

In light of that, here's a quick look at the different avenues that people use to find and engage with information.

Mechanisms For Finding Knowledge

Thursday, 11 December 2008

5 Tools To Track Social Conversations

As more and more business begin to appreciate the value of managing and monitoring social conversations to build their brand and reputation, marketers are beginning to move away from focusing manual search, monitoring, trafficking, and tracking. Instead, many aggregation and tracking tools, in addition to stealth services not yet launched, are not only helping track keywords, but also monitor conversations across the networks and communities that you know and don't know. They effectively map, engage, and manage participation efforts allowing businesses to start to implement and benefit from CRM-style (customer relationship management) dashboards and hubs to streamline internal and outbound communications.

Here's 5 tools you should be looking at as you develop your own social marketing strategies

  1. BuzzLogic
  2. Radian6
  3. BuzzGain
  4. BrandsEye
  5. Brandwatch


(Taken from Brian Solis' post on the state of social media - http://www.briansolis.com/2008/09/state-of-social-media-2008.html)

Monday, 17 November 2008

Financial Sustainability

If you're wondering why there hasn't been much posting activity for the past week or so, it's not because I've hit writer's block. The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity, between deadlines at work and trying everything possible to ward off insolvency for one of the charities I'm involved with. I'll put up some of the things we've learnt once things ease up. Hopefully find out this week if my efforts have come to anything.

The credit crunch is playing its part here, and safe bets suddenly look like big risks when there's no margin for error. The real challenge has been trying to create viable commercial revenue streams for a charity that traditionally hasn't had any. A lot of lateral thinking later, we might be getting somewhere. The difficulties lie in financial modeling for a space that hasn't really got much else to use as reference.

Moving a charity from being grant dependent to becoming financially sustainable requires more than just identifying revenue streams. It requires a change of focus and ways of working. It requires new management skills, and new engagement skills. Dealing with corporations is a whole different exercise to dealing with government or third sector bodies. Lots of challenges but exciting nevertheless. Where there's a will there's a way... and in this case there definitely is a will!!

Watch this space for an overview of what I'm learning about the realities of financial sustainability and business remodelling in the third sector...

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Life After The Credit Crunch

Here's a presentation with some great observations on life after the credit crunch, collated by Ines Seidel.

Life After the Crunch
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: social life)


In summary, there's the things we already know like there are more fears, and people are cutting down and shopping more frugally, but what I really like is that she has drawn out some personal things like the fact that people are discovering family as they look for more free things to do, and kids are learning to accept no for an answer.

For fashion retailers however, there's a great point in here about the need for clothing that will survive trends and frequent use over the next couple of years.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Customer-centric Innovation

Great presentation on customer-centric innovation. The drivers for this are that traditional innovation is broken and the nature of competition is changing. Think left-wing rather than direct.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Your Essential Guide To Social Media

As a business you still probably don't care about Social Media. Your marketing department is still churning out brochures and adverts and telling you that this is all far future stuff. Only kids mess around with the internet. If so, they're killing your business. The UK alone has 17.1 million active internet users in the 16-54 age bracket - that's your primary consumer base. Worse still, Universal McCann research shows that 1 million of them have shared an opinion about a brand or product within their social networks. Trusted opinions are the number 1 factor in the purchasing decision-making process. Do you have any idea what they're saying about you, let alone any clue about how to manage that conversation?

Well for starters, you really need some idea about what Social Media is, and while I put together something simple that's specific to businesses, here's a decent guide.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Developing Knowledge Sharing Communities For Businesses

One of the biggest problems facing most organisations is a combination of poor internal information sharing mechanisms and a lack of a collaboration culture. Since both are key foundations of innovation, this issue has serious consequences for organisational growth and success.

In my experience I've found that this problem is tackled one of two ways...

  1. Primarily through chucking technology at it - usually some kind of intranet with out of the box functionality, and
  2. Occasionally through culture change programmes.

There is often a belief amongst those implementing culture and business change that the change is technology independent. Conversely a lot of user experience professionals believe that behavioural issues can simply be addressed by making sure the interface and functionality of systems are compelling. Fact is that in this context, neither works without the other.

Driving highly collaborative and social sharing behaviours is pointless if the mechanisms for capturing and disseminating collective knowledge do not exist satisfactorily; and it is similarly pointless providing document sharing capability without a culture that encourages and rewards participating and interaction.

My advice is to develop and evolve your technology and culture together, with technology just preceding culture change activity in order to facilitate the human journey from hoarding documents and content, to sharing, to evolving it, to interacting socially around it.

I've created a 3 step Knowledge Management maturity model to show you how you might set this up for your business by increasing the richness of technological and social interaction over time.

  1. Information Management - The journey starts with Information Management through using fixed and free tags along with decent search capability to surface content. Fixed tagging helps structure content. Encouraging free tagging begins to make people feel they can interact with the content, which sets them up nicely for the next stage.
  2. Knowledge Management - Adding rating and commenting begins to allow qualitative evolution of information, which is essentially the core of knowledge management and also embeds the rudiments of inter-personal interaction around knowledge that facilitates off-line niche or special interest interaction.
  3. Social Interaction - Finally adding presence information and real time discussion (chat) capability combined with offline community days begins to drive widespread and cross-functional social interaction around information and knowledge sharing, which is really where you want to be as an organisation.

Knowledge Management Maturity Model

Hope it helps!

Thursday, 25 September 2008

6 Deepening Consumer and Retail Industry Trends For 2008 into 2009

Let’s start with a quick look at some of the key trends in consumer behaviour and the retail industry. I’ll pick out 3 each.

3 Deepening Trends in Consumer Behaviour:

  1. Customers are becoming more demanding – the Web 2.0 revolution has provided a forum for sharing opinions to the point where consumers really do call the shots. They expect choice and convenience or will go elsewhere.
  2. Social Media online is exploding – and is becoming a key vehicle for both strategic marketing and customer engagement.
  3. Premium products and services still sell well and Green is becoming iconic – many of the less price sensitive consumers are still highly style and status conscious, and consumers are going to increasingly great lengths to boycott brands that have poor eco-credentials

Ok, so that’s 3 consumer trends. How about the Retail Industry in general?

3 Deepening Trends in the Retail Industry:

  1. The credit crunch is getting worse – and negatively impacting retailer profits
  2. The e-channel is still growing fast – online spending in July for example reached £4.8 billion, up 80% on last year to a new all-time high. Retailers are expecting a major shift to online this Christmas.
  3. The leaders are merging channels – and providing seamless brand and customer experiences across them all. Consumers in return are becoming rapidly less tolerant of pricing, availability or service differentials online and offline.

(Originally posted by me on the Charteris Business Blog)

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Cross-Channel Retailing - ARC Retail Presentation 2008

I attended the ARC Retail Conference this morning and gave a breakfast briefing with some of my Charteris colleagues on Cross-Channel Retailing - see slides below.

It covers 3 critical challenges that retailers are facing right now and how they could start to address them by developing low cost, high benefit customer propositions through leveraging the channel assets they already have. Here's the slides. If you want to know more just drop me an email and we'll be more than happy to have a chat.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Successful Cross-Channel Retailing Is All About The Experience

By merging physical and digital sales channels, retailers essentially hope that shoppers never leave without making a purchase because the experience was lacking or because items they wanted are not on the shelves. As online retail continues into its second decade, business strategies like customer relationship programmes and multichannel integration, that were once perceived as too complicated to integrate successfully, are now working in sync.

Multiple channels to market are therefore fast becoming the norm and the lines between these channels are blurring – particularly in terms of consumer expectation. Forward thinking retailers are moving towards a seamless customer experience across all channels. It is becoming less and less acceptable to have differential pricing, branding or experience across different channels, and successful retailers are rethinking both their organisational design and also their customer engagement strategies to ensure that their routes to market are cohesive.

The common perception is that the major driver for cross-channel retailing is cost saving through efficiency and effectiveness. Managing channels separately results in cost increases resulting from running separate order-management and customer service operations, multiple warehouses and fulfilment systems, and buyers and merchandisers duplicating effort across the different channels.

However, although emerging integration technology allowing cross-channel integration has been a key enabler, multi-channel growth is essentially driven by consumers. According to Shop.org, 34% of consumers today use at least three channels when shopping. Research has also found cross-channel shoppers to spend up to 10 times more, to generate 25 to 50% more profit and demonstrate greater loyalty than their single-channel counterparts.

The core driver behind channel convergence then is customer demand.

So where do you start?

Well, Recent McKinsey research shows that only 15% of loyalty is gained from perceived product quality and promotional strategies, leaving 85% to the actual purchasing and post-sales experiences of customers. Point being that whilst establishing clear and consistent products and services is essential, the experience is what makes all the difference.

So one good place to start is to get your people culturally ready to make the most of all the channels your business takes to market. Whilst optimizing content, applications, pricing and product selection across all channels is important, the basic human experience at least should be seamless across channels. The person who answers the phone at your call centre should be equally as knowledgeable about your products and services as your store staff, consumers should be able to find out when and where items are in stock, and have you deliver or let them pick up their purchases as per their convenience. The returns processes, checkout processes, and customer journeys through your store, should be synchronised with and as easy as they are on the web. All this can be successfully done through human facilitation.

In summary, we’re talking about developing a cross-channel customer-facing culture that ensures your staff are making your customer’s journey as enjoyable as possible, with a view to building loyalty through experience and thus competitive advantage.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Customer Centricity: The Basics Are Not Always Enough (Part 2)

Following on from Part 1, the principle of recognising that value-adds become basic needs in mature markets applies even if you're a big brand entering a new space. Lets use Google's new browser Chrome as an example.

Google Chrome Logo

It's simple, fast and neat and provides all the basic browsing capability that it needs to, but I bet Google didn't do any Voice of the Customer analysis around lay users before release. If they had, they would've realised that a host of conveniences they haven't included are now considered as basic functionality.

They'd have known that their early adopters outside the tech-community would be young to mid-adult. People who use Gmail and Facebook and Hotmail and Yahoo and Youtube and Del.ic.io.us, and have grown used to toolbars that connect them directly to the sites they visit often. Chrome is not yet compatible with any toolbars, so it misses all those conveniences that your average Joe is used to. Even worse, Hotmail asks you to upgrade your browser and Facebook's edit and auto update features don't work perfectly - these small things are major barriers when they affect core browsing activity. Many will also just be irrationally (?) worried about their browsing habits being monitored to learn more about them to help Google's targeted advertising, and nothing in the user experience or messaging does anything to alleviate this.

Point being that most of the people who get past the privacy issue and then bother to download the browser will find that it lacks the 'basics' and thus provides no compelling reason for learning a new interface. The hype is great. Many will download it. This could have been a fantastic opportunity for Google, but I suspect most people will go straight back to the browser they use - probably IE, resulting in Google having to come back and do a whole lot more work to drive take-up, and thus in them missing out on a golden opportunity to get the jump on Microsoft in their main domain, i.e. the desktop.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Customer Centricity: The Basics Are Not Always Enough (Part 1)

Customer-centricity at its basic is about ensuring the customer gets what they need rather than simply what you want to offer. This is still an improvement on what most companies provide, because it involves at least listening to the voice of the customer. Better however is to give the customer what they want, over and above what they need. This is usually costlier to provide because we're talking about value-adds. Getting the details right. Caring about your customer. The really successful brands and companies do this repeatedly. They get the basics right and then pile on the value-adds. Like Apple.

Fig. What The Customer Wanted...


Ref: http://www.uoregon.edu/~ftepfer/SchlFacilities/TireSwingTable.html

In emerging markets just addressing needs is enough to get ahead.

In evolving markets, effectively meeting functional needs is often enough for competitive advantage, but value-adds start to become differentiators.

In mature markets however, basic needs themselves become redefined to include what once were value-adds. This means that if you don't already have embedded market share, at the very least you have to match the value-adds that people have gotten used to or you don't even stay in the game.

In part 2 tomorrow, we'll look at Google's new browser 'Chrome' as an example.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

High Street 2.0 - Understanding The Next Generation High Street

Overview:

Online and offline channels have complementary but currently exclusive benefits. On the internet, consumers can access related products, accessories, comparative price options, product information, communities, social interaction, reviews, simplified purchase, and delivery, while also being able to feedback to others about the experience. Consumers are therefore becoming used to a richer, faster, and more socially interactive shopping experience. What they cannot do is try out products for fit, look, feel, appropriateness and ease of use before buying, or even benefit from the immediacy of collecting the item at time of purchase, which are the core benefits of buying in-store.

In-store benefits unfortunately cannot practically be transferred to the online environment, or at least not until virtual reality goes a whole lot further than secondlife.com. However, there is no reason why online benefits cannot be brought in-store today. And that in a nutshell, is what I'm talking about in terms of a vision of the High Street 2.0. To stay competitive against online competition i.e. the pure plays, retailers must start developing a new generation of information and experience rich high street stores.

Download this discussion paper in pdf as below or read on for the full article

High Street 2.0

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Contents

  1. The High Street 2.0 in a nutshell.
  2. The offline-online consumer conundrum.
  3. Why should retailers care?
  4. What is the Key to Success?
  5. How do you develop your Next-Generation Store?
  6. Summary.

The High Street 2.0 in a nutshell

Jargon aside, this is primarily a discussion around cross-channel symbiosis, and the evolution of high street stores from one-dimensional product pushers into broader experience focused outlets. Somewhat in the way that the static ‘dial-up generation’ websites are now evolving along the rich experience web 2.0 route.

Some are doing this already, but more from the web-space into the offline world, like Etsy, who have just opened a real world store in Brooklyn; or ZoZa who tried a physical store for customers to try before buying online only (and failed); or former cosmetics pure play Bluemercury.com who've now set up physical outlets for customers who want to sample before buying. This shift of bringing the online experience offline is what I believe could be the start of the next generation high street – or as we call it, the High Street 2.0

The Offline-Online Consumer Conundrum

To start with let’s look a little closer at the reasons that drive customers to browse offline, only to then buy online (usually somewhere else) instead of in-store. This is hugely relevant to retailers whose primary revenue channels are their real world high street shops, not just because of the impact on conversion rates, but because the trend implies that their offline customer experience needs to be improved to provide customers with in-store access to the benefits of buying online.

Here are 10 reasons why I believe consumers browse offline but then buy online instead of closing the sale in-store

Functional Reasons for Buying Online instead of Offline

  1. Bargains and cheaper prices (through general search and via shopping bots):
    If you just want to consider one primary driver for this trend, then I'd suggest this is it. Consumers want to know not just that they're getting the best deal, but also that they aren't being ripped off in any way. The proliferation of shopping bots (price comparison sites) like Bizrate and Kelkoo are making this so much easier that it is a real threat to any retailer whose customer goes online. It probably outweighs all the others to the point of making them little more than value-add considerations. For any product that is sold by multiple retailers, this is a major risk to consider, especially now that consumers have the internet on their mobiles and can pretty compare products while actually in-store.
  2. Validate product quality and function (via online information and reviews before buying)
    For functional products, particularly electronics, I prefer to be sure I'm not wasting my money, particularly on items I can't really test out. I want to know the realities behind the sales blurb and the knockdown price, and right now there's no way of finding this or comparing against equivalents, except online at review sites like CNET.
  3. Avoid in-store cashier queues:
    I hate queuing and unless I absolutely need the product then and there, I am very likely to just go back home and order it online from somewhere.
  4. Delivery rather than carry home on buses or trains (convenience):
    If it's a hot day, or I've already got things with me, or I'm on my way to somewhere else, or I just generally am not feeling like trekking around laden with shopping bags, I'm very likely to head home and make the order online. Ideally from somewhere with free or cheap delivery/postage, or even somewhere that lets me pick-up in store at some later more convenient time.
  5. Search for variant availability in other stores:
    If the store doesn't have my size, or the colour I want, or the specific variant of the product that's customised the way I want it, I'm most likely going to leave the store and go online to see if any other branches have it, or if another shop stocks it instead. As with all the other drivers to online browsing, the problem is that I may never actually bother with the product any further, or even bother to go that particular retailer's website instead of someone else's.
  6. Leverage online promotions / vouchers:
    I know that retailers set these up to encourage people to go online, but essentially all this does is cannibalise offline sales, because the vouchers are not redeemable in-store. Personally I feel this is a major inhibitor to developing symbiotic revenue channels.

But this is not all. There are other compelling reasons for buying online rather than in-store, related to usability and social interaction. These are the new behaviours that consumers are taking for granted as an integral part of the shopping experience and one that offline stores are completely failing to replicate

Experiential Reasons for Buying Online instead of Offline

  1. Easier payment through one-click accounts (e.g. Amazon):
    Who wants go through the whole business of queuing, waiting for someone else to scan and pack your product, handing cards over and waiting for it to register chip and pin and so on, when you can simply select the item, click once and then sit back and wait for it to turn up? Why don't stores have this facility?
  2. Accessories for product listings:
    I find this very useful online. If I buy a camera in-store at PC World, I get a camera, but absolutely no information to help me consider useful accessories. If I buy the same product on their website I get a list of accessories that supplement that product – appropriate lenses, cases, leads, cards etc.
  3. Related product listings and “Other people bought this” type information:
    Similar to above, I like shopping for things in spaces where I'm provided with ideas for complementary items. If I'm buying a badminton racket, then what about related bags, shoes, apparel, shuttles etc. I don't want to have to walk around some sports super-store to find the matching bag in the bag section, or shoes in the shoe section etc. If I'm buying jeans I want to see shoes or t-shirts that might go well – ok so I personally am not enough of a shopper to care about this on a clothes front, but I can imagine a whole bunch of people who do, and sometimes knowing what other people bought is excellent fodder for shopping ideas.
  4. Auto-history of purchases – leading to seller recommendations:
    The problem with buying in-store, even from the same store, is that there is no history of what you bought. What if you wanted the same item you bought two years ago, but can't remember what it's called? What if you don't really know what you want to buy, but just feel like a quick bit of retail therapy? Isn't it great to be able to go onto your Amazon store and see lists of items that might just be interesting based on things you've bought before? Buying on a website like this is the equivalent of walking into a shop to buy an iPod, and the shop floor assistant suggesting an iRiver because it's more compatible with the speaker system you bought last week, and then handing you a selection of music that you just might like. How convenient, and how much more of an incentive to check the product out online after seeing it in-store?

Why Should Retailers Care?

The major issue for high street retailers here, is that once the consumer leaves the store and goes online, the only reason for them to visit the same store's website would be if the product identified is completely specific to that brand, for e.g. a particular clothing item. In any other case, the user's online journey will very likely lead them elsewhere… somewhere cheaper, with a more fulfilling retail experience. So understanding and countering these drivers will be key success criteria against online competition.

By highlighting the above drivers behind the trend of customers browsing in stores but then going online to purchase their items, what I'm alluding to is the need for cross-channel symbiosis rather than revenue cannibalisation as we currently have it, achieved by improving the offline experience to provide customers with in-store access to the benefits of buying online.

In other words, a shift towards physical stores offering the customer access to the benefits of browsing and purchasing online, and vice-versa, rather than developing more avenues for making each channel independently attractive to the consumer in ways that simply result in cross-channel competition.

I believe that at some point in the near future, forward thinking retailers must recognise the fact that the existing model of shops as one-dimensional rooms for showcasing products by category is fast becoming outdated by consumer familiarity with the online shopping experience. On the internet, consumers can access related products, accessories, comparative price options, product information, reviews, simplified purchasing, delivery, and bargains, while also being able to feedback to others about the experience. What they cannot do is try out products for fit, look, appropriateness, or ease of use before buying, or even benefit from the immediacy of collecting the item at time of purchase; so it is clear that both channels are not just relevant but highly complementary, and should be treated as such.

However, as far as I'm aware no one has made this leap towards a truly symbiotic, holistic online-offline customer experience. There is absolutely no reason why customers shouldn't be able to shop in-store with the same benefits as online. It just needs a little lateral thinking, starting with recognising that while the Web started out as a separate and independent commerce stream in order that companies could minimise risk while still learning about its capabilities and user models, it is now a well established and experience-driven business and usability model that can and should be leveraged to improve customer experience across channels in the physical world.

What is the Key to Success?

The key here is customer experience. Branding online is primarily about the experience, and it is making the passive, push marketing approach we've lived with since the start of capitalism obsolete. With price and quality becoming more and more homogenous on the high street, retailers must start moving towards experience focused outlets that are built around impressing and engaging their customers, rather than the traditional model of simply cataloguing or showcasing the products or services they can offer.

I feel there is significant scope to achieve this by making the in-store customer experience richer and more fulfilling by learning from the web experience.

Like Web 2.0 web-sites, the next generation high street store must demonstrate a better appreciation of the target consumer as a person rather than a product buyer. In other words it must make the shopping experience person-centric by providing space, comfort, information and social engagement, with easy points to call for help, and valid reasons to come in and enjoy the in-store experience for browsers; whilst also providing efficient entry and exit routes for shoppers who know what they want.

Retailers must conversely also appreciate the elements of the shopping experience that make store customers uncomfortable and look for avenues to cut them out, for e.g. not enough browsing space; product overcrowding; help not unavailable at the right time and place; and lengthy purchase queues.

So what could the High Street 2.0 physically look like? Well, one route might be where large stores evolve into experience-focused social spaces with products as a backdrop, while small stores leverage user computing and web technology to shift towards becoming product information hubs where consumers use touch screens to choose what they want to see, try, and buy.

How do you develop your Next-Generation Store?

Anyway, regardless of the avenue of evolution, the following are some high-level ideas that retailers could start exploring in the battle for effective channel-independent competitive advantage.

Shop Design and Layout

  • Support the social experience. Create shops as places to relax and engage while browsing. Widen out browsing space by reducing products on display but still allowing consumers to view more items via screens and have these brought to them on request.
  • How about providing comfy sofa seats for customers to relax with built-in pull out touch screens to browse product listings, or read reviews, or order and pay for items etc. in shop? Or even free lavatory facilities with interactive product information to capture interest?
  • Why not provide changing room tickets so customers don't have to stand around with their items at busy times?
  • Provide non-product specific reasons for consumers to enter and walk around. Collaborate with social networking enablers like coffee shops or bars, and design the space around this, rather than shoe-horning a coffee point into some corner of a shop as we see with Costa.
  • For multi-brand retailers, make shopping easier by mixing brands together by product category rather than cordoning off areas by brand as is the current norm.
  • Place directly related product families together e.g. A Canon camera plus its case, plus leads, lenses, memory card and batteries displayed as a group next to each other, or via a touch screen or at least a printed card next to each major product item displaying accessories available in-store and where to find them.

Self Service Information

  • Provide self service capability through touch screens, kiosks, or even actual PCs if you want to make the experience familiar for the customer
  • Provide customisation capability for customers select size, colour etc, with order and payment capability for immediate collection or delivery, or even simply to find which store has the required version and the option to place it on hold
  • Provide review capability for consumers to browse store and/or product ratings and reviews
  • Provide browsing capability for customers to interactively scan through products available, related to an interactive map to find the item in-store
  • Allow customers to use these screens to select and request items to try, with in-store sales assistants tasked to put the selection together at changing rooms or tryout points
  • Allow customers to create visualisations of outfits, with workflow that suggests other options, and then be able to select to get the whole ensemble provided by a sales assistant for them to try on directly at the changing rooms
  • If you are really brave and/or price competitive, why not be open and allow direct in-store price comparison against competitors. Frankly this could even be a business idea in itself to set up stop off points on the high street where shoppers can pop in and run quick price comparisons or read product reviews of things they're about to buy in a nearby shop. Maybe this could be combined with a bar or sandwich space, with this service as a free value-add and supported with revenue through the advertising opportunities it would create.

Simpler Purchasing Options

  • Provide self checkout terminals
  • Allow customers to create ‘one-click' style accounts in-store using self-type pin or password verification synchronised with online services and vice-versa, i.e. recognise one-click accounts created online.
  • Incentivise buyers to go online and register one-click accounts and credit cards, like Amazon have online. Maybe provide offers or free credits that are only validated once this is complete, but which are redeemable across any channel
  • Use these accounts to create and maintain purchase histories that can be accessed in-store and leveraged to create value for the consumer.

Relevance

  • Ensure one consistent view of each registered customer with seamless multi-channel integration across both billing accounts and product history
  • Use buyer history to recommend other items worth looking at, or suggest items other people bought – maybe even provide these as a printout when handing over purchased items?
  • Recommend complementary products when making a sale – again this could automatically be printed out on item scan and handed to the buyer
  • As with the previous point, consider suggesting related accessories for products being purchased. Complementary and accessory products could alternatively be highlighted at point of display through item grouping, touch screens, flip-cards etc.

Value-Adds

  • Allow online vouchers to be used in-store and vice-versa. Avoid promotions that result in one channel cannibalising sales from another, for e.g. single channel discounts
  • Ensure that online and offline prices are consistent for the same type of purchase, for e.g. if ordering for home delivery in store, the consumer should be able to pay online prices. This could be made viable by ensuring that the item will be delivered from a warehouse with cheaper overheads allocated to it.
  • Allow customers to specify delivery, and ideally time-slots, while paying for items in-store
    Provide try and return policies with free return postage or easy access PUDOs (pick up and drop off points)

Leverage Email and the Web

  • Capture email address at point of purchase and use it to auto-create user accounts on the store website. Email log-in details straight to the user, along with purchase, receipt and product guarantee details. Auto link product details in the email to review capability.
  • Design the website to support the in-store experience, rather to compete as a separate and unique online entity
  • Collaborate/tie-up with online social networking sites and bring elements of these in-store – e.g. say Zara advertising on MySpace online, while creating a range of MySpace branded clothing for sale in-store
  • Create and develop free but branded popular culture spaces to embed brand and create new target audiences – e.g. Gap creating a free and open clothing review and discussion site that is only minimally branded to Gap, but effectively creates a new audience.

Summary

To summarise then, I see the High Street 2.0 comprising information and experience rich stores, where consumers can enjoy the benefits of both web and in-store shopping; developed by retailers with a channel-unified approach to pricing, marketing and consumer relationship management, and supported by seamlessly integrated information about target audiences across both online and offline channels.

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Download this article (pdf).

Monday, 8 September 2008

The Future Is Chrome... Or Is It?

So Google has released their new browser called Chrome (read about it in my post... Google's new browser muscles in on Microsoft) and everything I've read since then is proclaiming it as the future. Well, I'm not so sure.

Beta Problems

Let's start with the immediate stuff. The problem with releasing a beta version of course is that it doesn't yet have all the functionality of its established competitors. Chrome is in Beta and isn't functionally integrated with all the conveniences we've gotten used to. Here's an example - It is probably going to be a while before you can get toolbars for Chrome, which is very limiting. I use Del.ic.io.us, Google and Zemanta's toolbars. You probably use Yahoo or whatever. Until we can get versions of them for Chrome, there's really no sense in switching over.

Of course knowing Google they will learn very fast, but the speed at which the message about Chrome will spread means that a lot of people will download the beta, find that it is missing conveniences they're used to and give up on it right there. People hate stumbling over obstacles if they have working alternatives.

The main sell is that there's also lots of exciting tech stuff. A new javascript engine - do you know what javascript is? Runs Ajax faster. Do you care? Apparently this makes it the fastest browser ever... in microseconds for developer applications. To me it seems about the same as IE from a normal browsing perspective. I doubt you'll notice the difference.

So Is the Future Really Chrome?

Short answer is No.

Everyone's expecting this to be huge, but they're really they're all tech-savvy types, and not your average Joe. Personally I'm not so sure.

My main issue is that I don't see the mass market. The fact is that in any given space, once products, services or applications have matured enough to become fit for purpose, until the purpose fundamentally changes, there really is no gap to exploit.

In the computing space, operating systems, browsers, and office applications come free with the hardware. They are now sophisticated enough in functionality and user experience to do pretty much what any layman wants to do, and well enough to ensure complete satisfaction. Our computers don't crash often; existing browsers render text and multimedia fast and accurately; and there really isn't much else that most people need out of Word.

So what's the incentive? Brand? Google isn't Apple, and even if it was, how many people have ever downloaded Safari to their non-Apple machines? Do you even know what Safari is?

In a Nutshell

Point I'm making is that until the way we browse fundamentally changes, new entrants really have nothing to add for the majority of users. The future is touch screen and voice commands. When these start to become ubiquitous, what the mass market needs from browsers will change. At that point there will be a big gap for new entrants.

If Chrome was setting itself up to exploit that change, we'd be looking at the early rumblings of a browsing revolution. But it isn't. - The browser is not finger touch oriented in anyway, and in fact the functionality has become more mouse based, fiddly and precision oriented. There isn't even the 'alt' functionality needed for disabled access technologies.

So no, for the moment I don't really see Chrome taking over the world. I suspect it will be just another player like Firefox. I'll be keeping an eye on it anyway from the perspective of USP development, so if anything new comes to light that changes my view, I'll be sure to keep you posted!

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Everything is perfect until people get involved!

Does this sound familiar? You've had a genius vision for a service or product or campaign. Worked out the revenue streams and ROI model. Got decision maker buy-in. Planned it out. Branded it. Built it. Executed every detail perfectly. Launched it. And then found that people don't use it the way you expected!

This happens all the time. Some great examples at the failblog.org website. People either don't get what you were trying to achieve, or they use it for some other purpose, or they ignore you altogether and go right ahead doing what they always did. Sometimes even other members or departments in your own organisation don't deliver it the way you expected.

You wonder what happened. And then someone asks whether you tested any of your ideas on your audience before getting it out there?

This is a classic mistake that organisations traditionally make. As creators of products and services we think we know best. We think we understand our market because we've been in business a long time, or because we imagine our audience to fit some imaginary persona, or simply because we expect our audience to be the same as us.

Here's 3 ways of making sure you don't have any unpleasant surprises when you go to market with your new offering.

  1. Identify Target Audience
    Identify your target audiences and create focus groups that cover both the people who are the target audience and also the people who will be expected to deliver the service or product. Incentivise these groups so that they have enough reason to care about what you're trying to achieve.
  2. Create Focus Groups
    Run your generic ideas past the focus group. Remember that users can only tell you what they do or don't like. They rarely help you innovate, so you'll probably still have to craft the product or service yourself and make judgement calls. Rest assured you'll learn a lot though.
  3. User Test Your Offering
    Involve the focus group in the detailed development of the product, system or service. In other words ensure you have sufficient user testing before you go live. These are costs that most organisations skimp on, but its the best money you'll spend in terms of return on investment.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

The 3 Most Critical Trends Retailers Should Be Focusing On For 2009

  1. Credit Crunch
    The subprime mortgage crisis in 2007 has had a major ongoing global financial impact, not just on consumers but on businesses too. The effect of the global credit crunch on business and consumer spending means that retailers will have to find ways of innovating without the luxury of growing profit margins and flexible budgets in order to create / maintain competitive advantage.
  2. Social consumer behaviour
    With the ubiquity of digital technologies and associated social trends, consumers are becoming used to faster, easier and more collaborative ways of shopping. Competition in the digital space is non-local, rapidly expanding, and thus much greater than in the physical space. Firms that are not part of the social conversation or which do not go out of their way to make it easy for consumers to find, engage and purchase their products will struggle to compete.
  3. Channel convergence
    Multiple channels to market are fast becoming the norm, and the leaders are moving towards a seamless customer experience across all channels, underpinned by a single data view of their customers regardless of channel. It is no longer acceptable to have differential pricing, branding or experience across different channels, and successful retailers will be rethinking both their organisational design and also their customer engagement strategies to ensure that their routes to market are cohesive.

We've been developing an understanding of these challenges along with recommendations and solutions for addressing them at Charteris, which is the management consultancy I currently work for. If you're a retailer and want to know more, feel free to get in touch.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Trendspotting For The Next Decade: 2011 and beyond

Richard Laermer has just published a book on trendspotting called "2011: Trendspotting for the Next Decade". It's about how you can learn to pick out useful signals from all the noise around you, and what to watch out for over the next few years. One particular reason for highlighting it is that it's free. Laermer believes the future is about information openness and has convinced McGraw Hill to publish it free online.

You can download it free from www.freebabyfree.com

I'll be reading it over the next few days and will put up a review when I get a chance. In the meantime here's a video of Richard being interviewed by the guys at Mashable, discussing his ideas and future trends.


Tuesday, 29 July 2008

7 Ethical Ways To Persuade People To Buy

Persuasion is not about manipulation. Here's 7 tips based on tapping into human pyschology.

  1. Show what others are doing
  2. Show user generated reviews
  3. Show scarcity of products
  4. Persuade with pictures and videos
  5. Cross and Up Sell
  6. Show authority
  7. Allay people's fears

For more detail see the original post by Lisa Halabi on the Usability News site.

Monday, 23 June 2008

5 Key Aspects of Observational Research

I discussed in my previous post how understanding the ways in which your customers engage with your products and services is a great way to draw out improvements and opportunities for innovation. Watching them engage with your offerings in their natural environment is the key, and Dave Pollard has identified 5 things to look for when carrying out observational research; otherwise known as 'ethnography' or even 'customer anthropology'.

  1. Workarounds - things people do that the existing product, process, tool or facility was never designed to accommodate, but which helps them to get the job done that they need to do.
  2. User torture - Evidence of obvious customer discomfort, either physical or psychological
  3. Obstacles and barriers - Signs that people can't do their job because of a physical or procedural barrier.
  4. Repurposed objects - Tools designed for one thing have been appropriated to do something else.
  5. Wear patterns - Evidence of stress or overuse in the product

Friday, 20 June 2008

3 Reasons Why Ethnography Is Better Than Focus Groups

Patricia Seybold's Ethnography vs Focus Groups

Ethnography is the process of doing observational research (often involving discrete video capture) on how consumers use and engage with your products out in the real world environment (in-store and/or at home). Focus Groups, on the other hand involve getting potential customers together and then quizzing them about the product in retrospective. Ethnography is a great way of drawing out improvements and opportunities for innovation, particularly around newly launched products. The trick is to ensure that product developers and designers get personally involved in the activity.

Anyway here are 3 reasons why Ethnography is better than using Focus Groups

  1. Consumers often can't remember much about products when questioned about them in retrospective and outside the normal context.
  2. Observing consumer use the product in its normal context yields much more useful data and often unexpected behaviour
  3. Recording the behaviour gives the product development team valuable footage that they can show to senior management to justify investments in product and packaging improvements

The inspiration for this post came from the Innovation Tools blog and they recommend three useful articles around ethnography

Thursday, 19 June 2008

The Key to Success in the Next Generation High-Street

The key is customer experience. Branding online is primarily about the experience, and it is making the passive, push marketing approach we've lived with since the start of capitalism obsolete. With price and quality becoming more and more homogenous on the high street, retailers must start moving towards experience focused outlets that are built around impressing and engaging their customers, rather than the traditional model of simply cataloguing or showcasing the products or services they can offer.

I feel there is significant scope to achieve this by making the in-store customer experience richer and more fulfilling by learning from the web experience.

Like Web 2.0 web-sites, the next generation high street store must demonstrate a better appreciation of the target consumer as a person rather than a product buyer. In other words it must make the shopping experience person-centric by providing space, comfort, information and social engagement, with easy points to call for help, and valid reasons to come in and enjoy the in-store experience for browsers; whilst also providing efficient entry and exit routes for shoppers who know what they want.

Retailers must conversely also appreciate the elements of the shopping experience that make store customers uncomfortable and look for avenues to cut them out, for e.g. not enough browsing space; product overcrowding; help not unavailable at the right time and place; and lengthy purchase queues.

So what could the High Street 2.0 physically look like? Well, one route might be where large stores evolve into experience-focused social spaces with products as a backdrop, while small stores leverage user computing and web technology to shift towards becoming product information hubs where consumers use touch screens to choose what they want to see, try, and buy.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Channel Symbiosis and the Next Generation Customer Experience

I believe that at some point in the near future, forward thinking retailers must recognise the fact that the existing model of shops as one-dimensional rooms for showcasing products by category is fast becoming outdated by consumer familiarity with the online shopping experience. On the internet, consumers can access related products, accessories, comparative price options, product information, reviews, simplified purchasing, delivery, and bargains, while also being able to feedback to others about the experience. What they cannot do is try out products for fit, look, appropriateness or ease of use before buying, or even benefit from the immediacy of collecting the item at time of purchase; so it is clear that both channels are not just relevant but highly complementary, and should be treated as such.

However, as far as I'm aware no one has made this leap towards a truly symbiotic, holistic online-offline customer experience. There is absolutely no reason why customers shouldn't be able to shop in-store with the same benefits as online. It just needs a little lateral thinking, starting with recognising that while the Web started out as a separate and independent commerce stream in order that companies could minimise risk while still learning about its capabilities and user models, it is now a well established and experience-driven business and usability model that can and should be leveraged to improve customer experience across channels in the physical world.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

What is the High Street 2.0 and Why should you care?

In some of my previous posts I discussed the reasons why people browse offline and buy online. By highlighting the drivers behind the trend of customers browsing in stores but then going online to purchase their items, what I was alluding to is the need for cross-channel symbiosis rather than revenue cannibalisation as we currently have it, achieved by improving the offline experience to provide customers with in-store access to the benefits of buying online.

In other words, a shift towards physical stores offering the customer access to the benefits of browsing and purchasing online, and vice-versa, rather than developing more avenues for making each channel independently attractive to the consumer in ways that simply result in cross-channel competition.

Jargon and twee titles aside, this is primarily a focus on cross-channel symbiosis, and the evolution of high street stores from one-dimensional product pushers into broader experience focused outlets. Somewhat in the way that the static ‘dial-up generation’ websites are now evolving along the rich experience web 2.0 route.

Some are doing this already, but more from the web-space into the offline world, like Etsy, who have just opened a real world store in Brooklyn; or ZoZa who tried a physical store for customers to try before buying online only (and failed); or former cosmetics pure play Bluemercury.com who've now set up physical outlets for customers who want to sample before buying. This shift of bringing the online experience offline is what I believe could be the start of the next generation high street – or as I call it, the High Street 2.0

Monday, 16 June 2008

3 Controversial Reasons Why MySpace Dominates in America, but Facebook Rules Everywhere Else

Facebook went past MySpace in the UK last September, and has now officially equalled MySpace globally in monthly unique visitors. MySpace still dominates in the US though - their unique visitor count still doubles that of Facebook - 76m vs. 32m. This means that Facebook has way more unique hits outside America and is dominating heavily, while MySpace is struggling with the global audience.

MySpace vs Facebook Worldwide Visits

MySpace vs Facebook US visits

Here's 3 probably controversial reasons why I think MySpace is dominating America while Facebook is dominating the world, and why I think it'll probably stay that way

  1. MySpace is inclusive while Facebook is exclusive:
    MySpace is an open network. You can become friends with anyone and it's perfectly acceptable to do so. There is scope to make new friends and connections. Facebook is completely gated. Connectivity with new people over the web is more important in the US because distances are more isolating. Europeans, Asians etc don't suffer the same social or familial isolation and the social networking is more about existing friends and connections.
  2. Facebook blows MySpace away in instant gratification, but MySpace pays off in profile uniqueness:
    Americans have had ubiquitous Internet for much longer than Europe and their interactive engagement with the web started firmly in the Web 1.0 era. Putting effort into developing their web experience is something that is perfectly normal for the US audience, especially if the payoff is individuality and your goal is to showcase you. Everywhere else, broadband came much later and web interaction norms developed with Web 2.0. Ease of experience is everything and anything that isn't absolutely effortless is going nowhere. Individuality is not enough of a payoff when your goal is to know what everyone else is up to.
  3. MySpace accepts everyone... the Oldies too, while Facebook is elitist... for the hip generation only:
    It's perfectly OK for your parents to have a MySpace page but there's something so wrong about your mum or dad being on Facebook. A much broader age demographic uses the web for fun, interaction and learning in America; but in Europe social networking is only just taking off and it is really only Gen Y and a bit of Gen X that uses the web for anything other than work. Facebook has all we need, but America however needs more, and MySpace caters to the long tail of users, well beyond Gen Y.

What this means is that if you're based in the US or your primary audience is US based, stop worrying about Facebook so much and take MySpace seriously!

4 Experiential Reasons for Buying Online

Apart from the functional reasons for buying online, there are some other compelling reasons for buying online rather than in-store, related to usability and social interaction. These are the new behaviours that consumers are taking for granted as an integral part of the shopping experience and one that offline stores are completely failing to replicate
  1. Easier payment through one-click accounts (e.g. Amazon)
    Who wants go through the whole business of queuing, waiting for someone else to scan and pack your product, handing cards over and waiting for it to register chip and pin and so on, when you can simply select the item, click once and then sit back and wait for it to turn up? Why don't stores have this facility?
  2. Accessories for product listings I find this very useful online.
    If I buy a camera in-store at PC World, I get a camera, but absolutely no information to help me consider useful accessories. If I buy the same product on their website I get a list of accessories that supplement that product – appropriate lenses, cases, leads, cards etc
  3. Related product listings and “Other people bought this” type information
    Similar to above, I like shopping for things in spaces where I'm provided with ideas for complementary items. If I'm buying a badminton racket, then what about related bags, shoes, apparel, shuttles etc. I don't want to have to walk around some sports super-store to find the matching bag in the bag section, or shoes in the shoe section etc. If I'm buying jeans I want to see shoes or t-shirts that might go well – ok so I personally am not enough of a shopper to care about this on a clothes front, but I can imagine a whole bunch of people who do, and sometimes knowing what other people bought is excellent fodder for shopping ideas.
  4. Auto-history of purchases – leading to seller recommendations
    The problem with buying in-store, even from the same store, is that there is no history of what you bought. What if you wanted the same item you bought two years ago, but can't remember what it's called? What if you don't really know what you want to buy, but just feel like a quick bit of retail therapy? Isn't it great to be able to go onto your Amazon store and see lists of items that might just be interesting based on things you've bought before? Buying on website like this is like walking into a shop to buy an iPod, and the shop floor assistant suggesting an iRiver because it's more compatible with the speaker system you bought last week, and then handing you a selection of music that you just might like. How convenient, and how much more of an incentive to check the product out online after seeing it in-store.

Friday, 13 June 2008

6 Functional Reasons for Buying Online

Following on from my previous post, let’s look a little closer at the reasons that drive customers to browse offline, only to then buy online (usually somewhere else) instead of in-store. This is hugely relevant to retailers whose primary revenue channels are their real world high street shops, not just because of the impact on conversion rates, but because the trend implies that their offline customer experience needs to be improved to provide customers with in-store access to the benefits of buying online.
  1. Bargains and cheaper prices (through general search and via shopping bots): If you just want to consider one primary driver for this trend, then I'd suggest this is it. Consumers want to know not just that they're getting the best deal, but also that they aren't being ripped off in any way. The proliferation of shopping bots (price comparison sites) like Bizrate and Kelkoo are making this so much easier that it is a real threat to any retailer whose customer goes online. It probably outweighs all the others to the point of making them little more than value-add considerations. For any product that is sold by multiple retailers, this is a major risk to consider, especially now that consumers have the internet on their mobiles and can pretty compare products while actually in-store.
  2. Validate product quality and function (via online information and reviews before buying):
    For functional products, particularly electronics, I prefer to be sure I'm not wasting my money, particularly on items I can't really test out. I want to know the realities behind the sales blurb and the knockdown price, and right now there's no way of finding this or comparing against equivalents, except online at review sites like CNET.
  3. Avoid in-store cashier queues:
    I hate queuing and unless I absolutely need the product then and there, am very likely to just go back home and order it online from somewhere.
  4. Delivery rather than carry home on buses or trains (convenience):
    If it's a hot day, or I've already got things with me, or I'm on my way to somewhere else, or I just generally am not feeling like trekking around laden with shopping bags, I'm very likely to head home and make the order online. Ideally from somewhere with free or cheap delivery/postage, or even somewhere that lets me pick-up in store at some later more convenient time.
  5. Search for variant availability in other stores:
    If the store doesn't have my size, or the colour I want, or the specific variant of the product that's customised the way I want it, I'm most likely going to leave the store and go online to see if any other branches have it, or if another shop stocks it instead. As with all the other drivers to online browsing, the problem is that I may never actually bother with the product any further, or even bother to go that particular retailer's website instead of someone else's.
  6. Leverage online promotions / vouchers:
    I know that retailers set these up to encourage people to go online, but essentially all this does is cannibalise offline sales, because the vouchers are not redeemable in-store. Personally I feel this is a major inhibitor to developing symbiotic revenue channels.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

10 Reasons why we Browse Offline but Buy Online

In one of my earlier posts on The Virtual High Street, I mentioned that depending on what I'm shopping for, like many users I sometimes identify the product offline and then look for a bargain online, but as that wouldn't be limited to high street retailers I felt it was better explored in another post. Anyway to take that topic further, I'm going to look a little closer at the reasons that drive customers to browse offline without buying, only to then buy online (usually somewhere else) instead of in-store.

Here's my 10 reasons for buying online

  1. Bargains / cheaper prices (through general search and via shopping bots)
  2. Validate product/item quality and function (via online information and reviews before buying)
  3. Avoid in-store/cashier queues
  4. Delivery rather than carry home on buses / trains (convenience)
  5. Search for variant availability in other stores
  6. Leverage online promotions / vouchers
  7. Easier payment through one-click accounts (e.g. Amazon)
  8. Accessories for product listings
  9. Related product listings and "Other people bought this" type information
  10. Auto-history of purchases - leading to seller recommendations

The first 6 are more functional and the next 4 are more experiential. The functional drivers probably have greater impact at the moment, with point number 1 easily being the most important. I'll explore these further in my next few posts.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Multi-Channel Retail - White paper for download

I've collated my posts on multi-channel retailing into a white paper for you to download. Bit easier to digest or use as reference. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Social Gaming - 20 Social Networks and Online Communities for Gamers

I recently had a conversation around developing next generation interaction for leisure industry clients, and the discussion turned to the development of social networks around media and gaming in particular. I did a bit of research to see what's out there and here's a summary of what's hot in the world of social interaction around online and offline gaming.

  1. Boonty - Social Casual Gaming. Creators of Cafe.com
  2. Conduit Labs - Social networking through gaming
  3. Doof.com - Integrating casual gaming with social networks
  4. Eurogamer - Largest independent gaming website and forum in Europe
  5. Cafe.com - Casual gaming site with enhanced social networking capabilities
  6. Gamervision - Gamer Community By Gamers, For Gamers
  7. GAX - The Gamers Social Network
  8. GuildCafe - Network for online gamers
  9. Koinup - Join up your lives in different virtual worlds
  10. Mytopia - First online social gaming community
  11. Wiitube - Nintendo Wii community with videos and news
  12. Nonoba.com - Multi-player online games forum
  13. PlayerHousing - Show off your virtual self and meet others who share your interests in games and virtual worlds
  14. Rupture - Connecting gamers around the world
  15. SGN (Social Gaming Network) - Games and a social gaming platform that leverages people’s social connections
  16. Sparter - Gamer to Gamer Marketplace
  17. UGAME - Social Network for Gamers (still in closed Beta)
  18. WarcraftSocial.com - Social network for Warcraft players
  19. Steam - PC Gaming Community
  20. Zynga - Network of gaming applications built off of classic games like Poker, Battleship, and Attack! that live on social networks like Facebook and Bebo

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

10 Behavioural Trends that will affect Business in 2008

  1. Customer centricity will drive business transformation
  2. Business innovation will become more based on creativity and design - Design Thinking
  3. Disruptive innovation from other industries will continue to emerge as new competition - unexpected entrants like the iPhone and Google adsense
  4. "Peer-to-peer lending" - Facilitation of loans between complete strangers will impact banking
  5. Buyer niches – Gender, age, Generations 'Y' and ‘Z’
  6. "Premiumisation" – Particularly air travel premium and business classes
  7. "See hear buy" – eg. Music on websites, Books on kindle, Midomi (sound recognition search engine)
  8. Crowdsourcing will become normal in both decision making and purchasing behaviour
  9. Social Entrepreneurship will redefine the third sector
  10. Personal Social Responsibility will begin to supplement Corporate Social Responsibility

Monday, 2 June 2008

10 Ecommerce Trends for 2008 and beyond

  1. Leveraging social networking for business return - Oldish news, but it's going to more than just about Facebook this year
  2. Group buying - Crowdstorm, Yub.com
  3. Social Shopping - Kaboodle, Wists, ThisNext
  4. Network Analysis for marketing and customer relationship management - See my post on Natural Networks
  5. Increasing digital/internet marketing - Rapidly growing Internet advertising market is expected to rake in US$27.5 billion in 2008, according to eMarketer.
  6. Revenue sharing advertising models
  7. Virtual payments - Paypal Secure Card, Google Checkout
  8. Branded prepaid payment cards - Payoneer
  9. Revenue based social networking - Dada, MeYouWorld etc. .. yes we're talking the dreaded pyramid schemes for the web
  10. 3D shopping in virtual worlds like Secondlife

Friday, 30 May 2008

10 Mobile Trends for 2008

  1. Mobile expansion – Yes, it's stating the obvious!
  2. Open source platforms and applications - Google Android
  3. WiMax, Wifi services inflight (broadband inflight, on trains etc)
  4. Mcdonalds recent provision of free wireless could start a high street trend. Once mobile internet becomes fast and free, the mobile as a browsing and commerce medium is seriously going to kick off and Touch Screen phones will become ubiquitous
  5. Continued uptake of smart phones particularly in offices
  6. Mobile Marketing
  7. Mobile Payments - This gap is itching to be filled with a secure cost-effective payments provider. This is happening already with companies like LUUP and mCommerce will become a more serious prospect. Other more direct options like Obopay are also becoming available.
  8. (Live) videocasting from mobiles to the web
  9. Mobile social networking - Mobiluck, Migg33, Meetmoi, Loopt, SoonR, Aki-Aki are already some examples, with the standard twitter, tumblr, facebook status updaters already tapping into mobile mania
  10. Mobile Spam - Surprised it hasn't happened yet! Major security implications.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

10 Web Trends for 2008

  1. Local and Hyperlocal social networks - My Street type thing – neighbourhoods, apartments, clubs, companies etc
  2. Private social networks - More privacy in social networks
  3. Opensource social networking - OpenSocial, OpenID, OpenAds, FOAF (Friend of a Friend networks)
  4. SocialSoftware - White label social networking applications like KickApps
  5. More Virtual reality - Second Life, There.com, Kaneva, Gaia, Habbo Hotel etc
  6. DRM free music download from major players - This is pretty much done now
  7. Internet TV and Video - IPTV, Video streaming & Online Cinema
  8. Make it yourself media – Pictures, blogs, music, video
  9. eReaders and eBooks - Kindle, Sony Reader
  10. Videoblogging

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Virtual High Street - Part 3 - Who is your actual competition online and what do you do about it?

Unless you fall into the form and function categories, for the most part, users are going to explicitly visit your particular online offering primarily as a prelude to visiting your physical store. Your website therefore must be supplementary with product listing, in-store collection and return, information about location, store opening times, and return policies, but doesn’t need to be particularly clever.

Chances are that the quality of your website will only mildly affect your online return on investment, and have little real impact on your offline market share. This is unless of course you really want to make money off the web, and are looking to compete as a true online retailer; in which case you’re better off using Tesco’s model of creating a separate and independent decision making subsidiary (Tesco.com) that will create and manage your web presence unlimited by the inertia of your existing business model.

Google and shopping bots like Kelkoo have already made the web convenient to search and bargains easy to find. This is the real virtual high street where users go to browse and look for the things they want to compare and buy. If you want to compete on here you can forget about the other real world high street retailers and start recognising that your real competition is shadowy and different and not limited to the brands you normally compete against.

In terms of targeting users that are really looking to buy online, your competition is the pure plays – the companies that specialise in online channels; and you should look to benchmark against these rather than other high street brands with online presences. If you really want your web offerings to be successful, they have to become entities in their own right; un-reliant on virtual malls, and unlimited by offline branding, market labelling or real world ways of working.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Virtual High Street - Part 2 - Should you worry about it?

High street retailers generally have strong brand recognition due to their ubiquity, but little brand loyalty and/or social kudos attached to their branding. As users, we don’t use the high street because we particularly care which brands are available to us, but simply because it is convenient to have a bunch of retailers all within close walking distance to each other. I don’t really care whether my PC comes from PC World, or Currys, or Dixons, or John Lewis.

If I’m happy with the prices on offer, and if any one of them is not on my particular high street, there’s no chance at all that I’ll explicitly find another high street with that particular brand. In other words, once off the physical high street and into the world of online ordering and postal delivery, most users couldn’t care less who sells them the product they want, as long as the price and service are acceptable, and the item on arrival does what it’s supposed to do.

Products are different too. The majority are about the experience, like luxury items, fashion, jewellery, sports goods and clothing; while others are about form and functionality only like electronics or toys; or more about differentiated content like financial products, holidays, books and music; or finally, homogenously consistent like daily food stuffs.

In the offline retail world, the latter three categories form only a small part of the high street, but these are really the ones that successfully transfer online, because web browsing and delivery increases convenience without increasing risk of dissatisfaction. I wouldn’t browse for and buy clothes online – how do I know what they’re going to look like on me? I wouldn’t browse for and buy shoes online – how do I know if they’re going to fit or be comfortable? I wouldn't even browse for and buy a tennis racket online – how do I know if it will feel right in my hand? For products like this, I might like to see what’s available through online channels before heading out to visit the relevant shops, but only as a way of minimising the amount of time I spend shopping. Conversely I might identify the product offline and then look for a bargain online, but that wouldn't be limited to high street retailers and is thus another story unrelated to this post.

Of course people do use the internet to buy things, and a significant enough proportion use the web to buy luxury retail goods to make it cost-beneficial for brands to supplement their offline offering with a virtual store. But here’s the caveat. While the term is clearly here to stay, in reality I believe there is no virtual high street where web users conveniently congregate. It is actually faster for most people to simply head down to and walk around the shops, than to browse through the same number of stores online, because the online browsing experience is significantly more linear and time consuming than stepping into a store and glancing around for items of interest.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Virtual High Street - Part 1 - What is it?

With high street brands finally looking to leverage online marketing and ecommerce channels, someone somewhere looking for a neat little blanket phrase for retail on the web, and unable to stop thinking in terms of the tangible and familiar, seems to have coined the term “Virtual High Street”. So here we have it - the next big topic for discussion.

This label is great for readers of business news everywhere, and of course for all those big retail brands that are keen to think of the web like some kind of well defined, tangible place, where shoppers will conveniently head to on a Saturday to do their browsing and shopping like they always used to. The “Virtual High Street” is a clever phrase because it inherently suggests a simple transference of existing market share and branding onto the web in line with current offline positioning, but in fact has no explicit definition.

The web has a vast number of companies marketing and selling their products, from tiny, niche players to vast websites selling everything imaginable. There are companies like Amazon that exist only in the virtual world, with brand recognition that would make an offline retailer sweat; others that combine online selling with offline catalogue marketing like dabs.com; little niche players that do something unique, or market some specific product in detail; and now finally traditional real world retailers that are dipping their toes in the virtual world. This last shift is suddenly making the offline business world sit up and start analysing and categorising the online retail space, and the most convenient way to do this is to imagine that there is some kind of virtual high street – a regularly walked path that users take while browsing the web.

The reality of course is that your average web user, who is just about getting comfortable with broadband and online security, and whose experience of the web has always been driven by search engines, would be very surprised to be told that the web isn’t in fact an open, limitless, product-oriented front; but simply another branded avenue designed for visiting the shops.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Facebook unique traffic declines and Global Ad-Spend goes with it

The latest stats from Nielsen Online show a significant decline in month-over-month unique visitors to Facebook in the US. Year-over-year traffic growth decelerated from 98% to a much more modest 56%. MySpace also saw a slight decline (from 60.3M to 58.7M).

While this might be worrying to an observer, I'd suggest that this is because the majority of the audience that is likely to have joined Facebook or MySpace already have done so over the last two years... the most rapid growth was always likely to happen soon after social networking and these sites hit critical mass. There just aren't that many new users around except in the younger demographic coming of age. Personally I don't think these slow downs are worth worrying about. The audience size is the important factor from an engagement, advertising, marketing and monetisation perspective - and the size is phenomenal!

Last week, eMarketer also lowered their estimates for advertiser spending on social networks worldwide. eMarketer now sees social networking ad spend in 2011 at $3.4 billion, versus the previous estimate of $4.1 billion. Clearly this is supposed to cause business worry, but look at the size of the figures being discussed. So we can't increase the size of the market? Doesn't mean we can't reposition for market share. It's a massive market!


In any event, ad spending on social networks is still projected to outstrip online advertising on the whole by 65% to 23% in 2008; and with the speed of change in the digital space, I really wouldn't put much stock in the projections anyway.