The Fish Farm: Salmon’s favourite commerce related posts and articles – Feb 2011 edition

The Fish Farm links to the best new posts and articles, related to commerce, that Salmon have found on the internet in the past month. This is February 2011′s fresh catch.

Exciting Commerce : Bonobos, Birchbox & Others: Who Has The Stuff To Become The Next Zappos? [Jochen Krisch]
Originally posted in German by Jochen Krisch, and adapted for excitingcommerce.com by Jason Soo, we are told that US investors are seeing the next Zappos as something more like a Bonobos, Birchbox, ModCloth or Shoedazzle. Krisch explains that these ventures have business models which employ unique and difficult to copy components.

Hitwise Blog :  Which retailers are leveraging the marketing power of Facebook? [Robin Goad]
Hitwise UK’s Research Director Robin Goad analyses which merchants are making the most of Facebook’s enormous marketing potential, highlighting 10 brands doing better than most.

Practical Ecommerce : JC Penney Incurs Google SEO Action : How to Protect Your Own Company [Jill Kocher]
How far should a company trust an SEO agency to act on its behalf?  Recent stories of Google blacklisting of JC Penney and Overstock.com might make retailer’s take stock of their SEO outsourcing arrangements.

Locayta Blog : eBay launches augmented reality fashion app [André Brown]
Augmented reality technology is finally being embraced by the retail community. Whilst many merchants are still investigating its potential, Ebay is forging ahead with a fashion app that mimics (replaces? lol) a traditional offline shopping habit  i.e. trying something on, with a virtual try-before-you-buy feature for sunglasses shoppers. Nice.

Econsultancy.com : Six reasons why your brand should hop on the api bandwagon [JD Lasica]
In this JD Lasica explains how APIs can take a brand into promising new directions by harnessing the power of a community.

ReadWriteWeb : Amazon Prime includes streaming video service [Audrey Watters]
Audrey Watters examines the new benefits of Amazon’s premium service, Amazon Prime, which has been expanded beyond its initial focus of cheaper and expedited shipping.

ReadWriteWeb : Eye Tracking & User Testing Made Easy with YouEyetracking [Audrey Watters]
Audrey Watters looks at user testing and in particular ‘eye-tracking’ which ordinarily is an expensive undertaking. However startup YouEye may offer a way to simplify that process – both in terms of cost, testers and technology.

Logic + Emotion : Social Search Will Force Your Business To Recalibrate [David Armano]
As a result of Google’s latest foray into indexing social network content in its search results [Quora, Flickr and Twitter content for example], David Armano highlights how businesses might want to evolve to stand a chance of being found in the future.

Media Futurist Data is the new oil [Gerd Leonhard]
Having had the privilege of seeing Gerd Leonhard present ‘Data is the new Oil‘ at eConsultancy’s Future of Digital marketing, I was delighted to see an online version where Gerd explains the concept during a discussion on media innovations for AME Info [Dubai].

Web Strategist : Beyond social: disruptive technologies to watch [Jeremiah Owyang /Charlene Li]
Altimeter’s Charlene Li presents her viewpoints on disruptive technologies to watch –and those to ignore.  Charlene used ‘Zipcast’ a no-download video+slides technology that allows anyone to give a ‘keynote’ speech to an online audience in real time. Nice.

FutureNow / Grokdotcom : Testing: where to begin [Natalie Hart]
Natalie Hart highlights how testing can yield a great amount of insight & revenue.  But where do you start?

In No Particular Order : Growing pains etailing in the noughtweens [Ian Jindal]
Ian Jindal reflects on a trend seen in the etail sector to move to a more pan-channel, commercial set of demands from ecommerce professionals.

Wired : HTML5 will be done in 2014: What Comes Next? [Scott Gilbertson]
Scott Gilbertson says the web doesn’t move at the pace of standards bodies, but at the pace of web browsers and innovative developers. So now that the web’s governing body have announced that HTML5 will be complete by 2014, what come next?

Retail Week News : Games new strategy aims to triple digital revenue by 2013 [Nicola Harrison, Requires Retail Week Registration]
Nicola Harrison highlights how Game aims to triple its digital revenues as part of a three-year strategy to evolve into a fully multichannel business.

Guardian Newspaper : Is this the start of the second dotcom bubble? [Dominic Rushe]
Loss-making Twitter has been valued at $10bn. Facebook is said to be worth more than Ford. Now, for some investors, the alarm bells are starting to ring. Dominic Rushe investigates.

Six Revisions : Anatomy of an Effective Product Page Design [Kean Richmond]
Kean Richmond outlines that to overcome the inability to touch or try a product, pureplays have to be better than brick-and-mortar equivalents. He outlines how providing as much information , being price competitive, and providing a flawless user experience is essential.

Social Media Today :  Why Facebook Could Dominate the Next Generation of Ecommerce [Matt Ambrose]
Matt Ambrose says that day by day, Facebook’s tentacles continue to spread and pull in more of the web into its domain. We’ve already seen the announcem,ent of Facebook Deals, but what is the wider impact on the world of ecommerce. He says competitors need to be afraid. Very afraid.  Are you?

Did we miss anything important?  Please let us know.

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Back to the future of eCommerce

Back to the Future of eCommerce

Trying to keep my head above the January deluge of posts on eCommerce trends for 2011, I thought it might be interesting to look back on previous years’ forecasts.

I found a post from eCommerce Times (published in 2002) called “Five E-Commerce Trends” and have been reflecting on the issues from a 2011 perspective.

1.    Multi Channel retailing arrives

Nine years on, has Multi Channel retailing actually arrived? While it is certainly true that most retailers do now have multi(ple) channels, they are still on a journey towards offering a truly joined-up Multi Channel experience. With the ongoing proliferation of channels and technologies, retailers are having to work very hard to figure out what is right for their customers and how to prioritise the huge number of possible initiatives. One of the key challenges in 2011 is cross-channel optimisation, both at the customer facing end of things and within back office systems and processes. Legacy product, stock and warehouse systems, designed to meet the needs of ‘old-style’ retail and manual processes that cut across traditional department boundaries, are a huge inhibitor to cross-channel success.

2.    More satisfied customers

Hmm, an interesting one. It’s probably worth putting this one into the context of the time the article was written. In 2002, eCommerce was still recovering from the shake-out of companies that followed the ending of the dot com bubble and there were some high profile customer satisfaction disasters. The 2002 article refers to research showing that ‘eCommerce companies made consumers happier than offline retailers’. Interestingly, in 2010, internet pure plays again outperformed Multi Channel retailers in customer satisfaction (Christmas 2010 Online Retail Customer Satisfaction Index).

While still a key issue for all retailers, customer satisfaction is not normally headline grabbing compared to technology-related topics that typically feature in trend lists. Part of the challenge for retailers is that customer satisfaction is ‘only as good as your last order’ and it’s always relative.  The impact of their customers’ ‘hyper-connectivity’ is a key challenge in 2011. Customers now expect much more than they did in 2002 and can share poor experiences quickly and easily with large numbers of people.

3.    Consumers do their own thing

While there certainly are many sophisticated tools on the market to track and analyse online customer behaviour, it is still difficult for retailers to grapple with the vast quantity of data and translate it into meaningful insight. They are struggling with both the volume of data available and the challenges of making sense of data across channels. With the speed of technology innovation, it’s hard to predict precisely how customers are going to use each new device and how and when retailers should develop new services and offerings.

Personalisation has been talked about for a long while but still very few retailers execute successfully on this.  The holy grail of a ‘single view of the customer’ is a long way off for most Multi Channel retailers.  With the arrival of social commerce, consumers are revealing (consciously and sub-consciously) a lot more about their likes and dislikes, so this should enable retailers to make their offers more relevant. However, as humans we will always do our own thing – thank goodness !

4.    Death of the mid-size e-tailer

Well, since 2002, we’ve certainly seen large e-tailers like Amazon, eBay and Play massively grow and develop their operations. As well as organic growth, they have developed their offerings in ways no one of could have predicted – via massive range expansion, as well as business model and product innovation (e.g. Kindle and eBay’s own brand fashion).

But there’s also been significant consolidation among online only operations, notably Amazon’s recent acquisition of LoveFilm. With the availability of open source and software as a service platforms, it is still possible for small-scale businesses to operate successfully in niche areas. However, for medium sized retailers, the middle ground is a dangerous place to be; lacking the scale of the large players to compete effectively, but with a higher cost base and less differentiated offering than the smaller (more agile) niche businesses. We’ve certainly seem some of the mid-sized Multi Channel retailers struggle and go under in recent years – e.g. Woolworths, Zavvi – and there will be further challenges ahead I believe.  To be able to survive beyond 2011, it seems you need either massive scale or a distinctly niche offering.

The internet start-ups that have made it big since 2002 (Facebook, Netflix, Zappos and Nakedwines for example) have tended not to be traditional e-tailers (now there’s a phrase I never thought I’d use!) but have created brand new business models around social commerce, streaming media or a service culture.

5.    More profits

This was very much an issue in the post dot com bubble days and remains an issue for companies like Twitter and Facebook, where investment to achieve operational scale still runs ahead of profits.  However, for Multi Channel retailers it’s becoming increasingly difficult to separately measure profits from online sales.  With the eCommerce market still growing, channel usage and technology still evolving rapidly, online success needs to be considered across a range of key performance indicators, including the contribution made to the overall business.  With the growth of cross channel transactions (e.g. Reserve and Collect) this should become easier to monitor and report.  However, in the current economic climate, strategic investments with long payback periods will be difficult for mid-sized retailers to justify.

Conclusion

So, what does this all mean for merchants today?  Three thoughts stand out from my brief journey back to the future.  Firstly, while the detail may have changed the topics are still relevant nine years later.

Secondly, so many elements of 2011 eCommerce that seem important today just weren’t on the radar in 2002.

And thirdly, a question: what will happen in the next 9 years that doesn’t feature on any of the 2011 trend lists?

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Reports from a Multi Channel Retail summit

Show Guide Cover

I was lucky to squeeze in a full day at Retail Bulletin’s Multi Channel Summit 2011 on Wednesday.  In this post I thought I’d document a few take-away’s from the key presentations, and additionally high-spot a few quotes from the various speakers and panels .  All in all it was a good day, and I recommend you add it to your calendar for 2012.  Enjoy the notes.

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Jl Logo

Session: A Profitable Future Strategy in a Multi Channel World. Speaker: Simon Russell, Head of Multi Channel, John Lewis (JL)

To begin here are a few quotes from Simon’s presentation:

“Multi Channel does not mean online”
“What is key, is a seamless experience across the very many channels”
“Customer shopping habits are dramatically changing”

“How quickly can you change your business – to be able to sweat the asset – when the foundation is there to do so?”

Simon also highlighted the three typical categories of customers;

  1. Acquired
  2. Retained*
  3. Reactivated

*Simon said notably that Retained customers spendby far the most” with JL. Read more »

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How popular is Social Networking?

Here is a decent infographic (by TestKing) that illustrates just how popular social networking is.

We’ve recently blogged about how huge a role f-commerce will play in a merchants Retail Strategy, and how Android and iPhone Apps are revolutionising traditional offline buying decisions, and we’ve also discussed fully transactional mobile eCommerce payment.

But every so often it is well worth taking a step back, and looking at the broader social networking statistics. Wow.

Infographic: Everything You Need to Know About Social Networks

Everything You Need to Know About Social Networks by Tech King

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9 areas to watch at the front-end of eCommerce in 2011

Business Man Looking

Here’s 9 areas to watch (and perhaps react to) in relation to front-end eCommerce website development initiatives during 2011. It is by no means exhaustive, but reflects a few of the overriding trends and movements that will impact front-end development.

We’ve deliberately steered away from merely ‘design’ specific trends.  For those you could go here, it’s a pretty good list with a little overlap on ours.  For digital marketing trends look no further than Ashley Friedlein’s list on eConsultancy.com, and for the mega-trends out there take a look at Marian Salzman’s Euro RSC Worldwide PR report and her “11 Trends for 2011″.

*Update* 19/01/2011: Retail Week just published their “What’s hot in eTail” list, which is more generic but worth a read (requires Retail Week Subscription)
*Update* 24/01/2010: Fortune and CNN Money today discuss how smartphone growth in 2011 that could totally eclipse anything we’ve seen before

So here it is: 9 areas to watch at the front-end of eCommerce this year


  1. “f-commerce” becomes a verb Beyond mere fan pages and ‘like’ buttons, merchants will re-focus on Facebook and look to develop eCommerce websites completely within Facebook.   With more than 500 million active users (50% of active users logging onto Facebook in any given day, the average user having 130 friends and people spending over 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook, more here) the potential ROI appears to be huge. And yet developing an eCommerce solution inside Facebook is not without its potential drawbacks.  In this post, Michael Hoffman remarks (in the comments) that firstly, “Facebook provides no service level agreements. Therefore, if Facebook is down, you are down. If your app is performing poorly, there is no one you can call directly. All applications are treated equally.” Michael’s second point is equally poignant…. so let’s think about Facebook security for a moment…. it’s a fact that Facebook profiles are sometimes hacked so is there a knock-on issue in this regard towards f-commerce? And what about the .api, the PCI compliance, the optimisation of Facebook eCommerce stores for mobile devices, and payment….wow, the list goes on (and that’s not even counting the growing WhiteWalling trend as recently discussed by Drew Benvie).  What is certain is that those merchants that get to grips with any potential issues first, will also see the upside first; and already pioneers like JC Penney are putting their best foot forward already as are ASOS in Europe (n.b. ASOS link requires Retail Week subscription). On the flip side, on the merchant eCommerce websites itself, there is little doubt that exposing a shoppers social graph will unearth recommendations and reviews that an algorithm simply would not. I can’t think of many people who wouldn’t be delighted to see what their social graph (or certainly a selection of their social graph) has been buying and saying about particular products and services.
  2. The Mobile Web Explosion If last year was the year that mobile commerce finally arrived (actually it was the year before last imho), expect to hear the herd stampeding this year. Mobile internet use is going to keep rising, and along with it, so will the number of mobile versions of existing sites needing to be developed or thought through.  Think about access by phones, tablets, even eReaders plus a host of other devices – and think about it strategically would be our opinion.  Apps no doubt will continue to be developed, but they’ll find their place within retail strategy (and it will probably be less important than your average app developer will tell you today) because really it’s the mobile web that will explode.  In the short term, payment is going to be a key area to nail down in transactional eCommerce terms and those that thought about payment strategically in the first place should have little problem exploiting investments already made on their conventional eCommerce sites (which is what we were able to do for Halfords and ICI/Dulux).  And remember, where there’s payment there is also security to worry about and ‘NFC’ (near field communications) and ‘payment wallets’ and ‘mobile vouchers’ will muddy the confusing water for many.
  3. Yay. Internet Explorer 9
    We can all look forward to the release of IE9 (rumoured to be Q1), and along with it better support for CSS3 and HTML5.  It’s so easy optimising complex eCommerce sites for the myriad of browser types and versions that another big release won’t make much difference will it? Hmmmm (See point #9).
  4. Ahem. Yay.  Firefox 4
    I rest my case.  It too, is expected, to be released, this year.  The punctuation just doesn’t do this whole cross browser compatibility nightmare justice, but alas, our perspective on all this is covered in point #9.
  5. Web Standards become the standard.  All hail CSS3 and HTML5
    On the upside, with IE9 joining the list of browsers supporting CSS3 and HTML5, expect to see these standards even more widely used.  Interpretation aside, adhering to web standards in eCommerce is very important for many reasons (which we won’t go into detail about here) but two aspects that are very relevant are improved ‘Search’ and ‘Accessibility’.   Then again, add ‘Page weight’, ‘Ease of Maintenance’ and ‘Extensibility’ and benefits relating to the support for access by multiple devises – and everyone in eCommerce should get the message. Maybe grabbing more headlines during the year will be CSS3, mainly because it’s more designer-y (and designers write about this stuff a lot) but to be fair eCommerce site experience WILL become richer, deeper, with a greater sense of dimension than previously; in part (at least) due to CSS3. Whilst ‘text & box shadows’, ’rounded’ corners, ‘gradients’, ‘animations’ & ‘transitions’, a wider variety of fonts and multiple background images will get lots of design-led attention, on an eCommerce site all new design possibilities will need to be thoroughly A/B and multi-variate tested anyway (the results are always surprising) so lets not get too carried away for designs-sake without testing.
    Importantly, whilst HTML5 isn’t going to replace flash altogether, it will at least put it back where it reigns.  So for now and the foreseable future, HTML5 and Flash will simply co-exist.  Proof of that can be seen with one of our partner’s in eCommerce 10CMS, who is helping our retail clients leverage flash components on eCommerce sites in the area of interactive merchandising (with non flash alternatives also served) with stunning conversion results. Their approach in the future is that designers/merchandisers/whoever will be able to serve content in basic html, flash or HTML5. Choices.  Great.  So to say Flash will disappear in eCommerce because of HTML5 is pretty nonsense, but getting the balance right isn’t.
  6. Landing Page optimisation & cross channel optimisation
    Online marketing vs. offline marketing vs. traditional marketing vs. digital marketing.  Phew.  For many (usually vendors) it’s still a noisy battleground, but for some merchants who’ve moved away from ‘which’ tactic to pick, to establishing a genuine blend of activities, there’s big benefits to be had from measured, optimised and fully integrated activities.  A great example of where this is going to come home to roost before our very eyes in eCommerce circles during 2011 is the optimisation of (digital) landing pages from (offline) Quick Response (QR) codes on packaging, shelf labels and (whisper it) traditional direct mail. By encouraging bar code or QR code scanning a customer can be taken to an optimised page where they can read rich contextual product information, or in turn be encouraged (post purchase perhaps) to share product comments using audio, photos or video.  The real skill is of course integrating everything, everywhere – and those merchants that can get nearer to integrated marcoms across all customer touchpoints will benefit most.  So whilst we expect to see greater use of QR codes on products and adverts to send customers to (many more) product and offer landing pages in the first instance (it was just an example) – the real battle ground is going to be integrating cross channel activities and having a genuine handle on customer behaviour via cross-channel analytics.
  7. Tighter Social Network Integration
    Whilst we have already discussed Facebook in a little detail, overall there will be a surge toward tapping into established 3rd party social networks.  Clearly links (to-and-from) Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Blippy, Foursquare, Amazon, LinkedIn, Go Try It On, Shopkick and Group On and the like WILL have their merits (albeit sometimes merely volume based) but really that’s only half the social network story.  Whilst many major online shops have now realised that it is actually pretty difficult to establish their own social networks (e.g. HMV’s www.getcloser.com failed last year) many will persist; and for those that do so the rewards may well be significant.  Those that maintain their own social functionality (perhaps combined with simple hooks into established social networks as well) will tightly embed and integrate social networking directly into their main eCommerce sites using services like Pluck (which we have implemented before) or KickApps. ASOS is one retailer who is a long way down this road already within the eCommerce industry with its ASOS Life portal that combines blogs, forums, ideas as well as an online market place for clothing. But it’s not just fashion retailers getting in on the act – Sainsbury’s and ASDA have significant presence already too.
  8. Location Location Location
    First aired in May 2001, Kirstie Allsopp and Phil Spencer are going from strength to strength on their hit show….oh hang on….From Gowalla to FourSquare, to ‘check-in’s’, ‘augmented reality’ and ‘mobile vouchers’ – location based offerings are rapidly becoming the eCommerce solution de-rigour.  But beyond the hype (and there’s been a lot) and the fact that 2011 might not even be the year for mainstream adoption, in eCommerce circles ‘location’ services will rapidly become a pretty important component of a genuinely joined up multi channel retail strategy.  With the potential to optimise retail operations in areas such as Supply Chain & Logistics, Merchandising and Store Operations, “location location location” takes on an altogether more complex, and potentially rewarding, topic for eCommerce executives in 2011.  And with smart phones likely to become practically de-facto during the next few years, delivering mobile solutions that leverage both ‘location’ and ‘proximity’  to deliver a better customer experience, are simply a must.  We can certainly see ‘check-in’ promotions happening more often already in the US (e.g. the first 500 checkins instore receiving a free prize or a free voucher) but actually campaigns that focus on the ‘volume’ of followers will be less important than those that centre on the number of ‘influential’ customers a brand has; and as the commercial value of ‘influence’ and ‘trust’ in the social web begins to manifest, merchants will not only need to time their run toward the social web correctly, but also get their aligment spot on.  Look out for Facebook ‘Deals’ in the near future in the UK, and ‘local’ being the location battleground (offers around the corner from home/work, or where you are right now), and the continued rise of Google Places.  And they’ll be a return of older names in the mix like ‘Yell’ who understand locality (and advertising and SEO) pretty damn well.
  9. The end of the browser compatibility war This year the focus on browsers will shift from negativity to positivity – and looking ‘forwards’ not ‘backwards’.  The web has changed, and it is no longer a one-size-fits-all arena and nothing like an eCommerce site brings that into sharp focus.  Complex, dynamic websites are going to look different on an iPad to an Android phone to a site viewed on IE8 etc etc.  Supporting different browsers simply does not mean that every eyeball should see the exact same thing.  And if anyone in eCommerce front end design has enough time and money to spend on IE6 vs. better desktop browsers and the host of mobile browsers then I’d be frankly pretty surprised. Here’s the rub.  If it looks different in different browsers its not a bug.  And lets take it one step further: Browser capabilities are to do with the browser maker – not the designer. It really is time to look forward not backward on browser compatibility.

    What’s missing from our list? Please make some suggestions in the comments section.

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eCommerce & Facebook’s Universal “Like button”

There are plenty of rumours that Facebook may be aiming to “weave itself more tightly into the fabric of the Web” with a universal “Like” button.  This facility, it is thought, will enable users to easily share their views on any site, product or service.

I’ve been thinking about this in the context of eCommerce, and its clear that customers may benefit from this type of facility.  Have a look at  my mocked up screens. (Click to enlarge images).

Being able to see the universal number of ‘likes’ would in all likelihood be a useful gauge of overall interest in a product, and I’d be interested to see how users would contribute and be influenced by this type of information – particularly if they can see how many of their ‘friends’ have ‘liked’ the product in question.  Additionally how would this kind of service complement a series of more detailed authored reviews which are promoted by vendors such as Bazaarvoice, Power Reviews and Reevoo?

Clearly there’s an impact at the Facebook profile page too, here’s my mock up on that.  Clearly merchants would be very keen to continue there outreach into Facebook’s personal profiles.

Overall I think at face value this represents a win-win for customers and merchants, although I should imagine that there would be a degree of fear on behalf of merchants when it comes to introducing potential clicks aways from the online basket.

What is also exciting about this type of service is that it will enable Facebook to capture more and more detailed information about what customers like on the web; which may in turn lead to more intelligent targeted advertising.

All eyes will be toward Facebooks F8 Conference which takes place tommorow.

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