Following on from yesterdays post (where I outlined Sue Pratt’s current mantra ‘eCommerce is Dead – Long Live Commerce‘) I wanted to highlight three macro trends that Sue additionally identified as being key influences in selecting an underlying technology platform. These trends – and the respective value that can be witnessed as a result of embracing these trends – must inform any platform selection process or research project.
But let me cut to the chase immediately. We say forget about “eCommerce” Platforms. What’s required today are “Customer Interaction Platform’s”. And here’s why.
Trend 1 : Multi Channel Commerce. Multi Channel Commerce is not going away and there is a continued proliferation in the number of channels in which consumers engage. Nowhere is this shift more obvious than in retail, for whom a physical store portfolio is complimented by the internet, catalogues, a call centre, brand web sites, kiosks, smart phones, price comparison sites, affiliates and social networking sites etc. Yet, its fair to say it’s not just a ‘one-way’ street. Businesses that were previously online-only are increasingly offering their customers additional channels to support their shopping behaviours – great examples are pop-up stores (see Lastminute.com’s) and interactive digital magazines (Boden’s Digital Magazine is great).
So what does this tell us? Well bearing in mind consumers are channel hoppers by nature, it is clear that merchants must embrace the fact that customers will shop ‘whenever’ and ‘wherever’ they choose; and this means that the underlying platforms that ‘power’ a merchants business operations need to handle multiple channels seamlessly and effortlessly. Easy? Well not if you build a website on an infrastructure that only caters for eCommerce or you think of your commerce strategy in terms of just an eCommerce silo.
Trend 2 : Cross Channel Commerce. You may think that this is just semantics, but for those of us at Salmon the key difference between “Cross Channel” and “Multi Channel” is orientation. In essence merchants are ‘Multi Channel’ (i.e. they operate across multiple channels) but consumers hop between channels making us ‘Cross Channel’ consumers…..and increasingly so. And in turn this means that merchants are increasingly focusing on providing seamless customer experiences irrespective of the channel chosen AND irrespective of where in the buying cycle a customer is.
There is no doubt that customers now expect merchants to support their particular shopping preferences; whether they prefer to research online and reserve for in store collection, or order in store for home delivery. But poor execution in any part of the overall customer experience quickly frustrates even the most loyal customer. Therefore merchants need to choose a platform that can deliver a seamless customer experience by integrating the respective components of each channel – for instance warehouse inventory with a store collection date. However, don’t underestimate the effort to do this properly. We have been delivering integrated eCommerce solutions for quite some time (we announced such a solution for Argos back in 2003) and delivering a holistic cross channel strategy can be like painting the Severn bridge: the job is never complete. How could it be when new channels are emerging rapidly and consistently?
[n.b. When we were researching for the presentation at Internet Retailing's Jumpstart Event, we estimated that many UK Retailers typically offer >1500 shopping paths when you consider the six various stages of their shopping process (research, select, purchase, receive, service, return) across their typical channels. That's complexity!]
Trend 3 : New Business Models and Technologies. New business models are continuing to disrupt the retail environment (and others) and represent in many ways a bigger threat than traditional competitors. Remember when eBay was a new business model back in the mid-nineties? Well it has moved a long way from its original focus and now over 50% of their sales are fixed-price. That’s a big threat for most merchants. And yet eBay’s innovation with disruptive business models doesn’t stop there. They are developing their own clothing ranges (they have teamed up with US fashion designer Narciso Rodriguez to launch a capsule collection exclusively on the site) and they continue to promote their platform as a online outlet for merchants’ discount sales. And lets face it, eBay aside, there are plenty of other upstarts wanted their market share – for instance private sales sites like vente-privee….oh and we haven’t even mentioned mobile commerce either….
And business models aside, there are great examples of new technologies being developed and adopted, two of which Sue highlighted in her presentation. Its clear merchants need to keep up. First are a group of technologies that play a part in what’s known as the atomisation of data (or the ‘democratisation of information’ depending on what you read). By that we mean information that was previously ‘hidden’ in corporations is now ‘available’ to leverage by everyone with a smartphone. For example, an application called Red Laser allows customers to scan a product bar code and find prices via various retailers. One of our clients calls this ‘digital shoplifting’ – a threat and a huge opportunity depending on your perspective.
The second example of technology innovation are the location based services (such as Cisco’s Mobile Concierge) which use a customer’s wireless smart phone and GPS facility to connect the consumer to the retailer’s customer facing services portal or “Mobile Concierge”. No doubt those merchants that can open up their platforms to provide electronic coupons, promotional offers, customer loyalty data, product data, product locators and store maps are going to be best placed to make the most sales.
So there you have it. Three trends that, when combined, tell us that simple tactical eCommerce infrastructures are only half the commerce story. There is no doubt in my mind that the best merchants will implement strategic Customer Interaction Platform’s to ensure their survival. What do you think?
[They'll be more about Customer Interaction Platforms in future posts!]