It’s time for brands to establish their own ecommerce sites in China

As China celebrate the new year, we look at the opportunity for global brands to launch their own B2C ecommerce sites in China. Happy New Year !

There’s a Chinese proverb that says, “I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand.” It’s a useful reminder for brands that are reviewing the burgeoning Chinese ecommerce market and considering their next move. There’s been much conjecture about both the pitfalls and merits of ecommerce in China. Brands have been able to dip their toes in the marketplace from afar, assessing ecommerce viability via established commerce platforms and online marketplaces such as Taobao, Pai Pai and Tmall. Yet to truly understand the Chinese consumer and the digital economy it’s time for brands to go further. As the proverb suggests, it’s imperative that brands “do” business in China to genuinely “understand” ecommerce in China. As such, it is time that leading brands launch their own B2C ecommerce sites.

Brands in China are still witnessing an ecommerce marketplace in its infancy. But the infant is big and growing fast. China ended 2012 with 242 million online shoppers, a year-on-year increase of almost 25 percent, according to China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), a government source. In other words, China’s ecommerce audience is larger than the population of almost every other country, but it’s less than one-fifth of China’s population of over 1.3 billion.

These are enticing numbers. However, it’s important to understand that this isn’t simply a gold rush where every brand will be successful due to a huge population and hockey stick shaped ecommerce adoption rates. A backdrop of complex cultural, political and geographic factors requires understanding. Brands can’t hope to expand (or enter) the Chinese e-commerce market without giving serious consideration to their strategy, technical infrastructure and the means by which they aim to execute effectively locally.

Beyond the hype and statistics that surround ecommerce in China, how should brands begin to exploit the ecommerce opportunity in China? Here are my tips aimed for brands looking to successfully deliver their own direct ecommerce presence in China.

1.     Be aware that existing ecommerce “rules” most likely won’t apply.

Getting the right products to the right customers at the right time and for the right price is not peculiar to ecommerce in China. But ecommerce is different in China. Around 50 percent of the country’s population lives in rural areas. It will take many years and several transitions for the economy to become consumer-led and for the income gap between rich and poor to shrink significantly. Because the ecommerce landscape is changing so rapidly in China, be super analytical in your e-commerce operations straight away. Start gathering and acting on consumer data immediately.

2.     Build trust.

Against a backdrop of fake products, fake stores and replica labels there is widespread mistrust and a fear of counterfeiting and fraud. This is in contrast to a general appetite and appreciation for prestige brands. Therefore, develop a channel strategy that embraces China’s existing and popular commerce platforms, even as you develop your own direct presence. Use every conceivable means and sales channel to build trust for your brand with potential buyers.

3.     Deliver first-class service.

Chinese mainland middle-class consumers are concerned with product and service quality rather than prices, according to a survey conducted by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. Implement interactive live help functions and integrate contact center tools with your ecommerce platform and operations from day one. Be certain to ensure that your customer services span browse, payment, shipping and post-sales support.

4.     Organize marketing, sales and logistics to reach the full market.

It’s estimated that 75 percent of China’s affluent middle class lives in so-called lower tier, smaller cities. These are places that most people outside of China haven’t heard of, but whose populations are large. There are over 175 cities in China with more than one million people. Often residents cannot gain access to the brands they crave, other than via the Internet; so they increasingly shop online. And they expect fast delivery of goods. So get your mix of logistic and fulfillment partnerships spot on, including cross-border delivery networks and local delivery partners.

5.     While thinking globally, act locally. Maximize cultural integration.

To reach a global audience, many brands are using Chinese spokespersons in their wider marketing communications; Nike’s sponsorship of champion hurdler Liu Xiang being an obvious example. But brands should ensure their technology decisions support local culture and local buying behavior as well. For instance, payment preferences are very different, with Alipay, Union Pay and also cash-on-delivery prevalent. Additionally, locate sites inside the China firewall for access and performance benefits. Lean on local service providers that have access to China’s e-commerce ecosystem and have them ensure you have the appropriate legal authorization and licensing in place. Be aware of China’s content and filtering regulations too.

6.     Develop a differentiated customer experience.

Tailor the ecommerce experience for Chinese shoppers. Adoption of multichannel and cross-channel shopping is low compared to the US and Europe, so innovative experiences should be built around mobile and social. Brands in China are experiencing rapid mobile and social ecommerce growth trajectories. China still has a relatively poor Internet infrastructure and both filtering and monitoring are widespread. Brands should seek service providers with a strong blend of technology specialists, online traders and online marketing experts.

First published in BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Chinese Brands 2014

BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Chinese Brands

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Salmon enhance Halfords customer experience with new digital platform

Salmon teams have been pedaling fast to complete the latest overhaul to Halfords existing website, which marks the next phase in the leading retailer’s strategy to drive growth online and to its portfolio of more than 460 stores nationwide.

Halfords new website

The redesign further enhances the customer experience and has been deployed across the .com and .ie websites, plus mobile and tablet optimised sites, in less than six months.

Offering 30,000 product lines, the website holds Halfords’ most comprehensive range, directs many customers into stores for service delivery and captures information used across the business.

Halfords Digital Director, Clive West said:  Our new website represents a real commitment to Halfords online offer.  More and more of our customers want to use the web as part of their purchasing trip with us.  We’ve consulted extensively with them and believe the improvements we’ve made will increase the ease and enjoyment of shopping with Halfords.com

Neil Stewart, CEO at Salmon said: “With a very tight deadline for this project, the Salmon and Halfords team have delivered a huge amount of work in a short space of time.  This has only been possible due to our innovative ways of working and the team’s commitment to delivering for the client.  I am pleased to say that this has allowed us to deliver the new site on-time, on-budget and Halfords to achieve their business objectives.”

So what’s new, and leading to a much happier shopper experience?

 

Halfords.com now features:

  • Inspirational visuals
  • A no-fuss layout and easier navigation, simplified into four key pillars: Cycling; Motoring; SatNav and Audio; Camping and Touring, with a different shopping experience across all four
  • A new streamlined checkout with fifty per cent less checkout steps
  • Integration with Google Maps
  • More products, less text and only the key features while shopping
  • A much more friendly, engaging and informative “voice”, reflected in text alerts and emails, 4,500 product description and 50 advice articles have been rewritten
  • 170 product videos and 50 new How To videos have been added and optimised for tablet viewing
  • Simplified the customer proposition so that ALL orders placed online for collection at one of Halfords stores can be paid for in-store, instead of only some of them, combining products which are stocked in-store with items coming from the distribution centre or courier deliveries

The full press release can be found here  and details of Salmon’s other work with Halfords can be found here.

Some other interesting facts about Halfords:

Online Halfords product range is in total around three times larger than their superstores with around 10,000 product lines in stores, increasing to around 30,000 lines online.

Halfords latest Half Yearly Profits, show Pre-tax profits rose 5.2% to £44.6m for the six months to 27 September, with total sales up 7.7% to £490.6m. Online Retail revenues grew by 16.9% and represented 11.5% of total Retail sales (H1 FY13: 10.5%).  A consistent 88% of online orders were collected in store during the period. More here

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The case for responsive web design

** Update 28th June 2012** Useful post from Econsultancy here on why responsive design is good for Google and for site visitors.

Change happens more quickly than perhaps we might like when it comes to the web.  But one thing remains the same, customers demand the ultimate experience when they interact with your brand, whether on the web, in store, via their mobile phone or iPad.  As a website owner, designer or developer, this has its challenges. Can we continue to support each new device, input mode and browser with its own bespoke design and experience?  Surely this will become unmanageable and impractical as the number of devices increases, requiring endless new designs and resolutions.  So what’s the answer?

Responsive web design is one approach.  It suggests that the design and development need to respond to the user’s behaviour and environment based on screen size, platform and orientation.  By designing responsively you also take into consideration what might be just around the corner and let’s face it, there are  bound to be a number of new gadgets we need to cater for over the next few years without compromising on experience.

Practice responsive web design – Although responsive web design has been around for some years it is now coming into its own as the number of devices and different browsers are on the increase.  In the next few years it will become increasingly expensive if websites aren’t designed responsively.  How many different sites are you prepared to pay for?  For those retailers that want a distinctly different experience on the website or mobile then this may still be the answer, but not everybody will be able to afford this.

So what is responsive web design? Not to be confused with “fluid” designs, it’s when the layout and design of the website “responds” to the user’s device.  Instead of tailoring disconnected designs to the web, mobile or any other device, designs are treated as facets of the same experience.  If they are designed optimally using standards-based technologies like HTML5 and CSS3 they will be flexible enough and adaptable enough to cope with any device that renders them, be that a PC, iPhone, iPad, iPod or TV.

As a case in point, Salmon have introduced Halfords to this on their mobile site.  www.halfords.com.  When you view the product details page in both landscape and portrait on an iPhone or Android phone the components move around to make use of the available space, optimising the layout to changes in window size and device resolution.

Halfords website on an iPhone

Halfords also cleverly uses HTML5 - when customers enter personal information like an email, postal address or telephone number, the keypad automatically changes to provide customers with the relevant data needed such as an @ sign, full stop, letters or numbers, without being prompted.  To really see the benefits of responsive web design you need to view the same content on different devices, another good example is the website of designer Simon Collison.

Although designing responsively has huge possibilities allowing you to target devices and serve different crisper sites to each device, it is still in its infancy and isn’t without its challenges.  Take testing as an example.  No longer will you simply test the design on Internet Explorer or Firefox, but the iPhone, iPad, TV and whatever device is next will all need to be considered.

Designers will need to write much cleaner code and retailers will need to buy into the fact that some small compromise on design when viewing the site on Internet Explorer will in fact be worthwhile as they will be getting a future-proof design across all devices.

For more information on the concept of responsive web design, Ethan Marcotte wrote an article about the approach for A List Apart and another book worth reading is Hard-boiled Web Design by Andy Clarke.

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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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10 important front-end considerations when developing mobile eCommerce solutions

Here’s a Salmon front-end authored post, that aims to highlight 10 important front-end considerations that should be made when developing mobile eCommerce solutions.

1. Make a beeline for the streamlinedWith unpredictable 3G connectivity and download speed, it’s important that pages use as little bandwidth as possible to ensure the customer is not waiting ages for a page to load. The ways this can be achieved are:

  • Use CSS3 properties instead of images - where possible use CSS3 properties instead of images, to reduce the number of images that need to be downloaded. We did this with the buttons on Halfords’ mobile optimised site. If the browser doesn’t support border-radius it gracefully degrades to square corners.
  • Use image sprites – Use image sprites to reduce the number of HTTP requests.  Reducing the number of HTTP requests can make a web page load much faster, and we all know that when it comes to enterprise eCommerce online revenue – every millisecond counts. Further to this, WDL [Web Design Ledger] has a useful how-to Sprite guide)
  • Optimize your images - Use 8-bit PNGs over GIFs to reduce the file size.
  • Avoid inline JavaScript and CSS – Developers should avoid inline JavaScript and CSS as much as possible, as this increases the size of the HTML file, and thus could prevent it from being cached by the browser. Instead, keep your JavaScript and CSS in an external file.

2. Do not rely on JavaScriptNot all mobile devices (currently) support JavaScript, so allow users to navigate your mobile site without it, and only use it to enhance the user experience. On Halfords’ mobile optimised site (more about the launch of this solution can be found here), our main use of JavaScript was for showing and hiding the product description and customer reviews on the Product Details pages – so as to reduce the amount of scrolling required to get to the bottom of the page.

Halfords Product Details

3. Keep it semanticIf your HTML is structured semantically, any users of older devices with little, if any CSS support, will still be able to use your site.

4. Get both ‘Size’ and ‘Spacing’ correctWith different mobile devices offering different ways of navigating a web page (touchscreen, trackball, directional pad, etc.), it’s essential that all users have an easy time clicking/selecting the buttons and links they want. This means ensuring click-able items are both ‘big’ enough and that there is enough ‘space’ between links to reduce the likelihood of a customer clicking on the wrong link. This can be seen in the header on Halfords’ mobile site and in the lists of products and categories.  Also bear in mind that a top / down approach to the layout (as opposed to top/down & across) is more usable.

5. Make forms as easy to fill out as possible
. Completing forms is arduous and difficult on mobile devices. This means reducing the number of fields to what is absolutely essential is worth debating. But also ensure that the customer can easily see the label of the field they are on if the mobile device automatically zooms in on the current field. We were able to achieve this on Halfords’ mobile site by placing the labels above their respective fields. We also made use of the new tel and email HTML5 input types to provide (on supporting devices) users with an onscreen keyboard specific to that type of data.

6. Liquefy your layout – With each device having its own screen resolution, some of which allow you to change orientation from portrait to landscape, it’s important that your pages not only work in the space available, but also take advantage of any extra space available after an orientation toggle.

Halfords Checkout

7. Remember ‘Designing for mobile’ isn’t the same as ‘Designing for mobile phones- Mobile phones, and in particular smart-phones, are rapidly becoming mainstream gadgets.  But that’s half the story.  Consider other mobile and pervasive devices as part of your mobile strategy. The iPad is already popular but new Android powered tablets such as the Motorola Zoom (which was hailed as 2011′s must have gadget – see Engadgets Best of CES2011 post) raise the mobility stakes considerably higher. We haven’t scratched the surface of where in-store pervasive devices are going in 2011 and beyond either.

8. Consider providing telephone assistance every step of the wayWe all make mistakes or have questions when buying items online.  As FAQ’s or very detailed searches are harder to make and drill into on a mobile device, consider a regular ‘Click-to-Call’ call-out as part of the page design, or a ‘Find your Nearest Store’ capability, in particular if you have already integrated your sales channels effectively.

9. (Re)Consider ‘font’ and ‘colour’Because phones are used in areas where laptops and PC’s are not (in highly reflective or poorly lit circumstances, perhaps), be aware that contrast is an important consideration to make. Additionally bear in mind that customers ‘scan-read’ heavily on mobile phones, so avoid upper case (WHICH, BASED ON RESEARCH FINDINGS IS HARDER TO READ) wherever possible, but particularly on product details pages or during the check-out process.

10. Think ‘Cross-Channel’Despite the fact we’d all like to close a sales immediately via mobile devices, chances are its not going to happen all of the time.  This can be for many reasons, most notably because consumer confidence in mobile payment is still low and because the mobile channel is simply a single component of a complex cross-channel engagement cycle.  As a result you should make the interaction between channels simple and seamless. We’ve already mentioned potentially adding a prominent ‘Click-to-Call’ button, but additionally make ‘Find your Nearest Store’, ‘Stock Level’ and ‘Reserve & Collect’ intrinsic aspects of appropriate page layouts to optimise overall conversion rates.

Halfords Find a Store

11. *Bonus* -> Leverage baked-in Social Networking – Bear in mind that with mobile devices comes built-in Social Networking opportunity.  Consider optimising pages to allow shoppers to ‘Share’, ‘Comment’ or ‘Like’ products as readily as possible.  

Have we missed anything? Hopefully these front-end focused points highlight the salient front-end considerations for mobile eCommerce today but please share any additional ideas; we’d love to hear your comments.

Finally, confused about the opportunity m-commerce brings? You may find this worth reading (subscription required) “Mobile Statistics – An eEconsulting Report “

*Coming soon is an Upstream post about “Hybrid Apps” – discussing specifically how Hybrid Apps can help merchants leverage their central commerce strategy, whilst also harnessing the technology inside today’s leading smart phones.

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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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JC Penney + Facebook = eCommerce $’s

I was really excited to see that JC Penney launched a Facebook store this week, a move that will be replicated by many merchants in 2011, as they clamour to increase sales as a result of the social networking sites huge popularity.

I only had time to take a quick glance, and I can’t say that I bothered to go too far through the buying process, but a few things jumped out at me immediately, both good and bad.  On the whole though, I think this type of Facebook application is a sure sign of things to come – so fair play to JC Penney being the first major US retailer to offer proper online shopping on Facebook as opposed to a simple fan page with links.

(Click on images to enlarge)

JC Penney Facebook Homepage

I’ll start with the negative stuff.  As an embedded application, the navigation is slightly ‘awkward’ feeling compared to a conventional eCommerce website.  That’s fairly understandable, plus I believe that as applications like this grow in popularity, users will learn that this is the way apps ‘work’ inside facebook on a desktop.  But the app also felt very ‘mobile-like’ and I wasn’t so keen on this.  I assume it’s this way because of the way the application needs to be served, plus the fact that Facebook is assessed so readily on mobile and smart phones already (so it’s been optimised for these users first and foremost).  But the downside is that content is pretty minimal and simple, and I have to be honest it feels a little strange when I’m on a beefy laptop as opposed to my Smart phone.

JC Penney Category Page

The JC Penney Facebook store claims to be ‘fully integrated’.  I am not sure what that means other than the application is fully ‘enclosed’, i.e. you don’t leave Facebook to browse, register, purchase or recommend or review items.  This is great – and not to be underestimated as an approach – as personally I am not so keen on the hand-off to another domain part way through a transaction and I’d guess I am not alone.

JC Penney Product Details Page

I did spot a few glitches (again possibly understandable given this is very new?) that suggest the ‘integration’ isn’t as complete as many customers might desire.  For instance, a few items I browsed and selected to purchase were not available to buy, although I wasn’t made aware of this when browsing.  That’s frustrating and doesn’t happen on decent conventional eCommerce stores.  And a few images are missing here and there, which combined with the skinny, ‘mobile-feel’ means that the experience isn’t amazing.  Plus I also noticed that with Google Chrome, a few of the alert messages appeared over the application navigation which was a little bit annoying.

But to be fair that’s all sour grapes.  On a positive note what I liked was the proposition consistency – ‘free shipping’ on overs over $69, ‘free shipping to store’, and ‘store returns’ supported.  This is a great confidence booster and possibly hints at further multi-channel integration to follow.  And I also liked the search capability and the faceted / filtered navigation facilities provided.  This gave me confidence and felt natural – a useful combination of a standard eCommerce site and a proper mobile website.   And the way you skip through pages was simple and pretty usable in my opinion (I’d much rather this approach than a page a mile long).  And furthermore a simple, but effective, solution for customer’s on the move is that it’s easy to find a traditional store with the ‘find a store’ facility.

JC Penney Shopping Bag

All in all I liked what I saw.  I’ve been waiting for Facebook to be more than a fan-page festival in terms of eCommerce – and here it is.  There is no doubt that M&S, ASOS, Arcadia Group and the like, will be following with their own facebook stores in the very near future simply because there are more than 550M facebookers out there.

Facebook is a channel that won’t be ignored.  And JC Penney is there at the forefront of it all.  Already with 1.3 million fans, they should be about to truly benefit from social commerce in the way that makes most businesses sit up and take notice.  Dollars in the cash register.  All hail f-Commerce!

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M-Retailing video interview with Halfords and Salmon

M-Retailing’s editor Paul Skeldon talks to Chris Corbin, Head of Multi-channel at Halfords and Sue Pratt, Account Director at global commerce systems integrator Salmon, about the drivers behind extending Halfords’ online presence into mobile and why mobile is the future both in and out of store.

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Salmon help Halfords.com go Mobile as smart phone access soars

***Update: 14:22 PM Aug 24th – Halfords: Mobile Site Review by eConsultancy
***Update:  2:52 PM Aug 16th - Since Friday’s launch mobile conversion has doubled!***

Today we announced the successful development and launch of Halfords’ mobile platform, enhancing the retailer’s multi-channel proposition and delivering a unique and compelling mobile shopping experience for its customers.

A staggering 5% of traffic to www.halfords.com is from internet enabled mobile phones, and Halfords have reacted by having us develop a mobile platform such that visitors to Halfords.com using a mobile device will automatically be directed to the new mobile platform.

Halfords.mobi Screengrab

The solution allows visitors to;

  • Search for products
  • Read customer reviews
  • Make product comparisons
  • Locate their nearest store that stocks the desired product
  • “Reserve and Collect” the item.

Customers benefit from the same common design elements and features that make Halfords.com so successful.  Here is what the Head of Halfords.com had to say this afternoon;

The internet enabled mobile is becoming the essential tool for shoppers. We are seeing a huge increase in customers who are researching products and making shopping decisions while on the move.  We see a huge opportunity for growth of our online business by improving the shopping experience for mobile visitors. So we are aiming to make our site more relevant to the way people want to shop.
Chris Corbin, Head of Halfords.com

Halfords.com is already growing fast, with online revenues up 70% year on year in the first quarter, with visitor numbers now running at over one million people a week.  Early results from the Halfords mobile platform show that visitors really appreciate the new lay out and easier access to essential information and conversion rates are significantly up.

We’ve been helping Halfords implement their eCommerce and multi-channel strategy since 2005, delivering “Reserve and Collect”, “Home/Work Delivery”, “Text and Reserve” and more recently “Free Delivery To Store”; all of which leverage Halfords’ existing IBM WebSphere Commerce based architecture.

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