Tag Archives: retail

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Bye Buy: Shoppable Tweets are no more.

It’s been a while coming, but Shoppable Tweets are finally being phased out after Twitter’s commerce team have disbanded and the social platform refocuses its efforts elsewhere. Does this mark the beginning of the end of shoppable social?

Twitter is facing all sorts of challenges around securing a purpose and business model which ensures its future. As an organisation, they’re still unsure of exactly what they offer the market and where revenue should come from. At this point, functionality which is not core to their product is simply a distraction.

With that for context, it would be rash to claim this sounds the death knell for the concept of ‘Buy Now’ buttons outside of e-commerce environments, and as Twitter may be stepping away from commerce in social, other platforms invest more in to it.

Pinterest have been supporting ‘buyable pins’ for about 18 months. As a platform which is both a highly visual environment that can ‘face up’ products extremely well, and providing significant inspiration and research tool for many users – adding the ability to immediately own something that you discover whilst in this headspace feels like a very native part of the Pinterest experience. In contrast, the leap from reading to buying was often much larger with Twitter.

Instagram too have recently launched shoppable tags, with a limited number of brands such Kate Spade coming on board as launch partners. Another highly visual platform, Instagram often features products in brand channels, promoted posts and consumer posts – so again this feels like a very natural place to close the gap between inspiration, desire and purchase. Instagram’s further attraction is its high profile authors – the celebrities and influencers posting content on a regular basis. If Taylor Swift posts a selfie, featuring a tagged shoppable item to her 64 million followers, you can pretty much ensure a healthy return on a piece of non-paid media.

Others are dabbling too.

YouTube has shoppable video and Facebook has a range of shoppable formats. Brands have toyed with various types of shoppable content – Burberry’s shoppable live-streamed catwalk during the 2016 London Fashion Week is a notable example of allowing customers to buy immediately, not having to wait until product hit the shelves.

And therein lies the insight. The increasing on-demand expectation of consumers, that they be able to buy something whenever and however they see it, means brands are constantly looking for ways of making their brand as accessible as possible.

Where it fails, however, is if the moment or context is wrong.

A predominantly textual experience does not make for a good shopping experience for many brands – poor Twitter.

A visual feast, with great photography and rich video – in other words, the closest thing to holding the product in your hand (VR not withstanding) is a significant part of “new retail” – and using frictionless payment technology, smart integration of stock availability and rapid fulfilment means Inspiration and Purchase can exist within the same two swipes.

So, this is the end of the first generation of shoppable media – the blunt approach of making everything shoppable has passed. Here comes the next generation, and now it’s time to learn from early experimentation and apply it intelligently.

Slapping a Buy Now button onto every piece of media and communications is not clever. No-one wants to be sold to constantly. But enabling purchase in the most meaningful and relevant moments, and making that experience as effortless as possible? Well, that’s new retail.

Originally posted at: Retail Week

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It’s Amazon Prime Day, again.

Apparently it’s that time of year again – Amazon Prime Day returns. After last year’s celebration of Amazon’s birthday with a day to rival Black Friday, this year’s Amazon Prime Day is hotly anticipated – by consumers ready to snag a deal, and, I assume, Amazon’s accountants too.

Last year was reportedly a lacklustre affair – with many a social mention about Prime Day deals being on less than ‘premium’ or desirable products – there was the story of the $1000 oil drum of lube you’ll no doubt remember, but generally a sense of distressed inventory being flogged at yard sale prices – although I expect this is more Amazon being a victim of their own success – some products allegedly ran off the shelves in a matter of seconds, leaving the long tail of less demanded products remaining – although for the internet giant, the commercial benefit of creating an owned shopping holiday in an otherwise generally quiet time of year is probably clear – Walmart, for instance is responding by offering free shipping for the whole week.

Amazon need to now really ensure that significant availability of demanded products is maintained in order to cement Prime Day as a recurring retail event which is genuinely to be excited about as a shopper.

If I were in charge of Amazon Prime Day – I’d probably do three things for future Prime Days:

1. Prime Day currently feels a little like a giant shop floor without curation – Amazon sit on a huge wealth of personalised behaviour and commerce data which could be used to personalise the experience for each consumer – and naturally manage stock levels and expectation. I’d love to see an Amazon Prime Day store for Matthew (probably containing a brand new coffee grinder, an Amazon Echo and lots of discounted LEGO).

2. Go beyond boxed product – maybe Amazon Prime Day could be so much more than just shopping, but an entire experience – live music, content premieres, surprise Prime Now deliveries, local events that pick up on the local cultural nuances.

3. Let Alexa order for you – for just one day, your Amazon Echo will just order anything it hears you mention, regardless of what it is. You talk about a caravan, it’ll arrive at 5pm. You mention Alexander Skarsgard, he’ll come around for dinner. Hand your shopping decisions over to the ‘bots.

Maybe we’re not ready for the last suggestion just yet – but as Amazon continue to grow their offering, beyond physical product, in to content, in to fresh foods, into on-demand deliveries, into connected home services, it’s not a stretch to imagine Amazon playing a larger role in our lives beyond retail, and that we’ll increasingly trust the platform with making decisions for us (i.e. subscriptions to products based upon price not brand; artificial intelligence informed recommendations; automated replenishment services), and if there is one thing which is absolutely true about Amazon, they learn from their innovation (whether successful or not) and iterate smarter services to move forward – so I expect this year’s Amazon Prime to be a doozy.

And I’m still holding out for an Amazon Echo.

(This article was originally posted on Campaign)

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Amazon Echo

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m generally quite cynical about new technology launches.

As someone with years of being in roles where it’s my job to get people excited about the future – I’ve always had to temper people’s excitement about new technology, and get them thinking about what it means for people and our lives, rather than the hardware itself – but with the most recent product launch from the commerce giant, I’m genuinely excited. I want an Amazon Echo – the sleek cylindrical love child of Siri (Apple’s voice controlled assistant) and Sonos (the wireless music player).

At it’s heart, Amazon Echo is a device which sits on your shelf in the corner of your living room, office or kitchen, and then listens and reacts. You shout ‘Hey Alexa, play some classical music’, and the device fetches from music and fires up some tunes. You call ‘Hey Alexa, buy more Ambrosia Custard’, and it adds previously purchased items back into your shopping basket. You holler ‘Hey Alexa, what time is the next Eurostar to Paris’ and it’ll tell you how long you’ve got to dash to the station. You whisper ‘Hey Alexa, turn the lights on please’, and your house illuminates. Or at least, that’s the picture being painted by Amazon and its consumers in the US, as the device isn’t yet available to us in the UK. I’ve had a brief play with one of the few units over here at a recent demonstration by the Amazon team, and I’ve been reading through some of the toolkits which Amazon are releasing to help developers and businesses add support for voice interfaces, and I’m still excited.

As I’ve written before, Amazon realised a long time ago that ecommerce is an incredibly hard design challenge – you’ll never be able to mimick or match real-world retail environments, so they’ve stopped trying, and instead are adding layers of shoppability to the real-world. Amazon Firefly, their object recognition app, allows you to shoot a photo of anything, have it recognised, and add it to your basket. Amazon Dash Buttons are branded physical buttons which sit on your washing machine or fridge to reorder goods at the touch of a button. And Amazon Echo builds on that thought, to make purchase frictionless, effortless, nothing more than a passing comment.

It heightens the importance of brand recall and preference – as you’ll shout out the name of a brand you remember, rather than having a shelf of products competing for your attention with discounts and POS techniques which they can rely upon. This potentially also cements the role of Amazon Echo in partnership with other media, especially TV – the ability to prompt purchase even if the audience isn’t second screening.

Retailers will need to actively think the role that this more passive interaction with services that voice and in-home IOT interfaces offer them. Amazon celebrated their 20th anniversary this month – and as an organisation they’re sitting on decades of insight and knowledge about shopping habits and behaviours. What additional insights they’ll gather through having a new foothold in the front-room with the ability to capture more passing comments from consumers, rather active ‘sit and search’ type behaviours, will be of great interest to advertisers and brands.

But whilst yes, it’s a direct opportunity to add products to baskets, thinking of voice as just another way of clicking ‘buy now’ is short-sighted. In the same way Google search data shows the interests and questions that audiences have around certain key words, and perhaps the content which could be developed to answer that search – voice opens a new space in which to offer true value to consumers in their home. Will Vanish offer the answer of how to remove a stain within seconds of spilling a glass of red wine on the carpet? Can British Airways keep a wishlist of places that the family are mulling over for their next holiday? Can Lurpak make a suggestion of a meal for tonight based upon the contents of the fridge? – and that’s just playing with the idea of voice based search, the most obvious first step using the platform.

I’m also excited because we’re starting to pass into the next generation of interface and internet of things, where devices become more hidden and flow into a more natural way of interacting, helping us lift our heads from our screens, and the integration of many more IOT devices together, Amazon Echo, for instance, already connects to Philips and Belkin home automation technology, like lighting systems.

This constant overwatch from our technology doesn’t come without its concerns. Whilst Echo doesn’t listen to what you say until you prompt with her wake-word ‘Alexa’, your voice is still being transmitted to third parties, and as we saw in a recent advertising innovation, voice is potentially easy to abuse – with Toyota running a radio ad prompting in-car iPhones to switch to Airplane mode via Siri. Also, the type of data being collected would be far more passive than ever before, every little search, every little thought, every comment you make through the Echo system would and could be aggregated to build a very rich picture of what a person is doing and ‘offline’, rather than when actively engaging with a device. Each small interaction, the specific time when someone adds an item to their basket, or asks for the time, or switches music on, or turns off their lights, builds up a unique view of someone in a more offline state at home, which isn’t yet captured accurately – a huge potential wealth of data for advertisers and brands. In addition, what impact does this ‘on-demand’ capability have on our planet? Being able to order a single item with a passing mention, and have it shipped to you within an hour by connecting Amazon Echo and Amazon Prime Now (the recent immediate shipping functionality launched in London) doesn’t help reduction of packaging waste or carbon emissions, and points towards a worrying culture of impatience.

But for every concern, there are bright stars of positivity too. Nest’s connected smoke alarm alerting you at work that there’s a problem. Microsoft Research Lab’s work on mood tracking to help children with Autism and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder prompting ways of calming the wearer down. Amazon’s Echo could even be used to alert family or friends at the calls for help from an elderly relative.

This is the first outing for Amazon Echo – it may well be that we see a number of variations on its form, its use and its best place in our lives. Early comments from the beta release in the US have already started shifting how it is designed and thought about, and now it has gone on mainstream release, we’ll start to see many more uses of its technology that haven’t yet been thought about.

A modified version of this article was first published in The Grocer.

Convergence is Redefining Retail.

Innovation is disrupting and redefining retail as never before.

A convergent media landscape, created by fast-changing technologies, has increasingly blurred the boundaries between media, social networks and retail.

The combination of advances in technology and shifting consumer’ expectations has resulted in e-commerce increasingly meaning “everywhere-commerce”.

Tech innovation has led to the emergence of the always-on consumer, who expects goods to be just a single tap away, and to be able to effortlessly shop across a multitude of channels, at the right time and in the most convenient place – a phenomenon accelerated by the rise of mobile commerce, which is set to exceed £15bn in the UK this year.

To address this consumer need, tech and social media companies are looking into new methods of shortening the path to purchase, laying the foundations for the creation of an everywhere commerce ecosystem.

In recent weeks several media / tech companies have made a foray into this space, evolving from pure media players into digital commerce game changers. For example, YouTube has recently launched click-and-buy video adverts, allowing consumers to buy products directly from the video ads they are watching.

As part of its attempt to take on Amazon and eBay, Google has revealed plans to embed a “buy button” to its search results, enabling consumers to make purchases without needing to visit an alternative site.

Pinterest is planning to introduce a “buy button” on its platform too, whilst Twitter and Facebook have been testing one since last year.

For brands existing in the retail space, it’s clear that e-commerce, mobile commerce or ‘everywhere commerce’ is critical to the successful growth of their business. Take Mondelez, Diageo, and AB InBev, for example, which as businesses generally don’t sell directly to consumers, but they are now looking into how all forms of digital commerce can deliver growth, and it’s here that the role of media has never been clearer in driving direct business value.

Mondelez has recently embedded a ‘buy it now’ button into the brand’s online media, allowing customers to buy their favourite snacks directly from online video advertising, online promotions and social media.

Retailers looking to harness the power of convergent commerce need to follow five principles:

Brilliant basics: retailers must focus on accessibility. Search, marketing and addressing any failings in mobile optimisation are crucial. This has become even more important since the introduction of the new Google’s search algorithm, which will show only ‘mobile friendly’ websites on its search results.

Smarter media: retailers must deploy data to ensure effective targeting strategies. These will help retailers engage with the right people with the right message, and then create the opportunity for consumers to buy within media rather than just driving them to point-of-sale. Mobile technology has added a shoppable layer to most media channels, such as digital out-of-home or television, allowing us to add a shopping basket within ad units, tweet to purchase, support micropayments, pre-ordering, group purchases, and many other forms of sale. With technologies like Sky AdSmart, programmatic buying and second-screening, we’re reaching a point where we can personalise TV advertising as never before, enabling consumers to purchase the products they are watching on the screen without even entering credit card details, and have them in their hands within the hour.

Constant innovation: retailers must constantly test and learn, experimenting with new channels, technologies, distribution models, partnerships, content and creative thinking. Insights from testing new approaches are always valuable.

Holistic evaluation: in an everywhere-commerce environment, retailers need to have a strong understanding of which touch-points within their ecosystem are delivering against which KPIs, and how the network is performing holistically. A data-led evaluation framework enables retailers to optimise the entire operation around channels that truly work.

Internal collaboration: existing barriers between internal departments need to be broken down. There is a lot of crossover between product, trading, commerce and marketing, and integrated thinking and shared objectives have become a must for retailers wanting to meet expectations and needs of a consumer with an on-demand mindset.

Opinion originally posted on http://www.retailgazette.co.uk/blog/2015/06/how-retailers-can-harness-the-power-of-media

Retail

Facebook Buy – frictionless innovation

Facebook’s recent introduction of a ‘buy’ button, allowing users on desktop and mobile to buy advertised products with just one click, and without leaving the social network, is yet another demonstration of social platforms looking towards monetization beyond display advertising.

The new feature, which so far has only been tested by a few small and medium-sized businesses in the US, is Facebook’s most recent innovation in the realm of frictionless commerce and will help the social network be less reliant on advertising.

It isn’t just Facebook exploring direct and affiliate revenue. Twitter has just announced the acquisition of CardSpring, a payment infrastructure, that enables retailers to connect to publishers to create online-to-offline promotions; Pinterest, meanwhile, has teamed up with Shopify, an e-commerce platform for more than 100,000 merchants, which ensures that all pins of their products include valuable information such as pricing and stock availability.

These approaches enable platforms to become more insular experiences, almost like shopping malls – allowing users to socialise with their friends, grab a coffee, find and share new content, search and purchase products, all without leaving their space. Whilst Amazon has huge capabilities in commerce and fulfillment, they lack the social dynamic – and social platforms integrating commerce means you can have a more enjoyable ‘browsing’ experience, without having to leave the space.

The rise of media convergence, driven not least by the unprecedented growth of mobile device usage, is increasingly bringing commerce and content closer together. The constant assault of new technologies, whether Facebook’s ‘buy’ button, Amazon’s FireFly or examples like PowaTag, which allows consumers to instantly purchase products via QR codes, are continuing to break down the old models of what, where and how retail is defined – e-commerce is now becoming ‘everywhere’ commerce.

The biggest threat to retailers now comes from standing still.

Not exploring and experimenting with new distribution channels will open up opportunities for new forms of competitors, enabling them to steal ‘share of time’ and even poach customers – a dangerous scenario that retailers can no longer ignore. Now is the time for retailers and brands who exist in retail spaces to work with their partners, and understand how they can use these technologies to redefine their retail experience, and redefine how media can deliver business value.

(Originally posted on Retail Week)

Used under a CC licence from https://www.flickr.com/photos/87913776@N00/2540266946/

The future of price tags

Imagine a world without price tags.

This world already exists in the high-priced, high-end markets: crazy 24 bedroom houses with their own cinemas, moats and swimming pools list ‘Price on Application’; fancy jewellery stores or performance motor cars choose not to be as vulgar as to talk about price, reminding shoppers of the saying ‘If you have to ask, you can’t afford it’.

But ignore the wealth-gap for a moment, and think about what prices are – they’re offers to a consumer of what the retailer is willing to exchange the object for, made up of the current value of the product along with a mark-up which includes profit and overheads, translated in to your local currency, at a snapshot in time.

The reality is that the actual cost of a product varies, in real time. The cost of cotton rises and falls. Inflation is constantly eating away at the value of the pound. Fuel prices change. Currency markets fluctuate every microsecond. The value of a product is not fixed, but the offer to sell the product to a consumer rarely does. Once the tag is printed, it is static until manually intervened with a sharpie or a sale.

However, with the advent of volatile cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, the massive penetration of mobile devices, and the speed of real-time data – fixed price tags are set to be a thing of the past.

Imagine an internet connected price tag, which sources real-time information about commodity prices, currency rates and stock performance, to present an offer to the consumer based upon these inputs. Visit the store in the morning, and your latte could be 39p cheaper than the afternoon where milk prices have soared after a collapse in the dairy farming industry. Rehabstudio has built such a device which takes the real-time value of Bitcoin to show the price of an object in that currency.

Go further, and allow individuals to see their own price on an object. Use mobile devices to read a product, perhaps with an NFC or QR code, and retailers can use personally tailored information to vary the price to help increase the likelihood of a sale. Perhaps you know they’ve scanned the same product in three other stores, and you don’t want to lose them to the next merchant. Perhaps the shopper is a loyal customer, and you want to give them 20% off. Perhaps they’re such a loyal customer so you know you don’t need to give them a discount because they’ll buy it anyway.

Pricing becomes as fluid in physical stores as it can be online, and the concept of showrooming (visiting stores to test products and then buying them cheaper online) erodes, because the price they’re getting in store right now might be better than they’ll get later today somewhere else.

It’s not a too-distant future.

Online travel service Orbitz already started tailoring its pricing based upon a user’s choice of computing platform, after discovering that Apple users generally will pay $20-$30 more for hotels than PC users, and modified their pricing accordingly and physical retailers in the US are trialling personalised pricing through online, and clearly offers and discounts through programmes like Boots Advantage Card, Nectar Card and Clubcard are all based upon huge amounts of personal behavioural data from not only shopping but a range of product lines in the case of Tesco.

In the main, consumers benefit from the use of personalisation. Better targeted advertising, discounts on products which are relevant to you, and retailers find it easy to discount products through data, but as we move to a more blended world where online and offline become one, where price-tags are electronic, and shopping online becomes the norm, the opportunity to increase pricing based upon knowledge of what a consumer is willing to accept, or market demands putting pressure on the profit margin becomes more and more likely, and again transparency becomes key.

Retailers will have to be clear and transparent about pricing, and how it is driven, else there is likely to be regulatory intervention. The Office of Fair Trading is already considering how these practises could have an impact, and what their role is.

In any respect, things which we’ve expected to be relatively static are becoming increasingly fluid, and both consumers and retailers are likely to have some interesting challenges and changes on their hands in the next three years.

Article originally posted in Retail Week

Unnovations.

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(Image courtesy of the US Patent Office. Thanks guys, you’re legends)

Unnovation – the digitisation of a non-digital experience without additional thought around whether simple transfer from physical to digital really works. Using new technology either for the sake of technology or not using the technology to any potential..

Digital fridges are unnovation. Putting a screen on the fridge to display a to-do list, digitally replicating the photos, magnets and notes.

Digital signage is unnovation. Being able to replace paper with screens that do nothing more than being able to swap the bit of paper slightly faster.

It sits within the ‘Adjacent Possible’ concept that Steven B Johnson eloquently describes, where ideas are only possible by taking the next logical step from the current behaviours and technologies we have.

Unnovation, however, is fascinating for me.

In a recent research project for a client, I was exploring current and upcoming techniques in retail (offline and online) especially around new technology and emergent behaviours. What was striking was the amount of duplication and replication of ideas. Square, for instance, has inspired a dozen other mobile POS devices, and I lost count of the number of Shopping List applications for smart phones.

The shopping list apps are generally unnovation – digital versions of scraps of paper. Sure, you might be able share your list (although who cares that I need a can of tomatoes and a new bra?), you might want to find them for the cheapest price, but they’re all the same model: find a scrap of paper, itemise your list, purchase your items. Disconnected, and not smart.

Yet, the vast number of apps which display Shopping List functionality is encouraging.
We still need to remember stuff to purchase, and purchase it.

Innovation can often focus too much on external directions, moving from your passion centre and exploring new spaces for your business, when sometimes it can be far better to look inwards and identify the problems and opportunities right in front of you or that people are demanding. Asking people what they want can lead to a recommendation of a faster horse, but as Russell Davies puts it:

“Imagine what horses might be like now if science/industry had devoted as much attention to improving them as we’ve devoted to the internal combustion engine and industrial production. Horses would be INCREDIBLE.”

That there are many many many clones and examples of unnovation suggests there is an itch which is not being adequately scratched. It suggests no-one has provided a strong enough solution to address the process. When looking at a busy area of supposed innovation, such as retail, disregarding ideas like Shopping Apps simply because there are already 100 in the app store is not always a good idea. Sure, you need to do more to stand out, but that’s the opportunity, asking why a shopping list on a digital device needs to replicate its physical counterpart.

Understanding users’ demands, existing behaviours and looking at popular areas of development are massively valuable to innovation.
You might not start with a radically different product, but if there is a demand for something, it could help you fund the more visionary work you hope to continue investing in.

Update: There’s a really great article at Fast Co which expands upon the idea of spotting the value in popular suggestions.