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As online and offline commerce are getting closer to each other and customers schedules are getting more and more crowded, pick up lockers seem to become more useful and popular.
They are versatile, easy to use and something customers need from omnichannel retailers. So let’s dig in and see how they work and who should use them.
First off – what is a pick up locker? Simply put it is an area of lockers where retailers can drop off merchandise and customers can pick it up. Amazon has been a pioneer in this field, with Amazon Lockers opening up the gates to a new type of fulfillment.
The pick up lockers work by assigning a specific location to packages and sending pick up codes to customers. The customers can than go to their designated pick up location, enter the security code and grab their packages.
After Amazon has built their first experimental pick up lockers, others soon followed.
Some of those that developed their own systems of pick up (and ship) lockers are 3PL companies. For example FedEx and UPS have developed quite advanced pick up and drop off locations. UPS has named theirs “Access Points” and they’re building a network able to sustain growing demand.
FedEx has developed a network of “Ship&Get Self Service Lockers“. With their lockers one can drop off items for shipment or receive packages.
Both are growing really fast and soon others will follow suit. Even startups have ventured in this area with some highlights being Swapbox, an Y Combinator startup and Bufferbox, a company that was recently acquired by Google.
So yes, they are popular but how do they work, especially from a retailer point of view?
One very specific use case for the pick-up locker system would be large retail chains. For example Walmart announced last year their Grab & Go lockers following their Site to Store Self Service Lockers experiment.
Apart from the internal fulfillment challenges, retailers need to focus on some key aspects regarding the development and implementation of such pick up locker systems:
For obvious reasons there needs to be a secure access to shipped goods. To do so each drop off will have to issue a security code that can be decrypted and accessed with the private code the customer will receive.
The systems will also have to have fall-back security systems such as video surveillance and locking systems in case of hacking attempts (there will be some).
Security code should work online but also have a fall-back local solution that can work in case internet connection is off.
The pick-up locker system works with other fulfillment operations and will have to input status data directly into TMS (transport management systems) so shipping personnel could be directed to the correct pick up locker area and the specific pick up locker.
As packages differ in size, specific information regarding the type of lockers that are available should be available in real time so packages are stored correctly.
So far most pick up lockers use alphanumeric codes to help users get accustomed to picking up their packages without any hassle. But these codes pose threats in terms of security. While these codes can always be an option and can be easily sent to any device, with smartphones and smartphone apps on the rise, some other solutions may work even better.
One such option would be QR codes embedded in the retailer’s mobile application. The codes can be generated on the fly based on a secured algorithm that neither exposes the code and can also work within the application the customer already uses, thus improving loyalty.
With so many developing their own pick-up locker systems, a connectivity protocol should become the norm. With such a protocol FedEx could ship to either Amazon, Walmart or even UPS lockers for example, improving cross-retailer experience and creating economies of scale.
That being said, the development of pick-up locker systems is obviously a bit more complex than these few paragraphs but I wanted to give you a starting point and explore some of the challenges.
We are at the peak of our civilization in terms of economic development, social cooperation and global communication. Though conflicts still arise and will probably exist for the foreseeable future, we are witnessing a historic moment: for good and for bad we are on top of our game.
This change has been made possible by a lot of factors including recent destructive conflicts and potential conflicts (nuclear destruction), improvements in communication technology, improvements in transportation and more.
But if we were to point out a specific factor in the emergence of this globalized society, that must be the fast evolution of organizational management tools and techniques.
Whether we are talking about multinational corporations, governmental or military organizations, they have all evolved due to technological and know-how management advancements.
Companies can now grow bigger than ever and governments extend their influence farther. Military organizations are now stronger and can perform better than ever in terms of logistics and operational management. According to prof. J. Bradford DeLong from UC Berkley, the estimated GWP (Gross World Product) is at its highest and growing the fastest:
So basically we are working better, faster, more productive and yet it seems the world stumbles from one financial crisis to another. Many theories have been put forward regarding as why this happens. These theories range from pure economic theory to sociology, psychology, geopolitics and more. Don’t be fooled – we don’t for sure know why this happens. It’s a paradox that we are more productive, fare better in terms of conflicts and have a more connected world and still we deal with inequity and financial strains in the form of huge debt.
But there is hope. Whenever humankind dealt with seemingly insurmountably issues, we appealed to metaphors to change our perspective. The metaphor I’m proposing today is the computer hardware – software ensemble as a way of thinking of human organizations.
In this metaphor we have the human nature and human nature as the hardware and management acting as the software. With a combination of these two we were able to reach our present position.
Most of management theory and lingo are adapted from military procedures. As the military has been the single most enduring form of human organization throughout history (seconded only by religious organizations), it seemed logical to approach civil management in a similar way. The largest companies known are organized and behave just like armies. Top down command with intel going upstream and orders going downstream. The multinational companies “conquer” markets, “target” customers and “secure” market share.
As companies need effectiveness to stay profitable, strategy is designed by a small group of people (the board of directors) and implemented top-down by an executive staff. To do so – the executive staff uses company process design and procedures that are followed by those lower on the hierarchy.
This same principle was also used in the beginnings of computer programming. Programs were fed into computers to compute differential equations for things such as the trajectory of a shell, a blast radius or weather predictions. These programs were fed into a general purpose machinery (the computer) and based on these instructions computations would be made.
But as the computer industry grew, so did the computers’ capacity to run programs. With the digital revolution computers became more than simplistic machinery built to output specific data. Programs could be now written to answer mathematical questions but also to output imagery, sounds, allow users to play games and more.
To make this possible, a new paradigm in computer programming changed the way programs were written. Instead of the previous functional (procedural) programming, the concept of building a program started working with the concept of “objects”.
Technically, objects are a collection of data and functions. Conceptually they are the bridge between machine processing and human conceptual thinking. We are able to tell a fork from a spoon and still see the resemblance between those because we think in terms of “objects”. Previously programs were working mostly on concepts of functions. Simply put: If this, than that.
That made writing complex programs extremely hard. It also made maintenance even harder. Without becoming too technical, OOP (object oriented programming) allowed for even more complex programs to appear and made it easier for software teams to build, update and maintain these programs.
The difference, if you will, for those programs is the difference between the old DOS versions and today’s Windows OS or Apple’s iOS. It’s worlds apart and today we are in a DOS world trying to build video games.
Though it may seem strange to use software development lingo when it comes to managing organizations – it makes sense in the metaphor proposed earlier. Human organizations (the hardware) may yield a lot more than they do today. As robotics may soon take over menial jobs, they have to.
The problem does not lie in the hardware (human intellect, creativity and production) but rather in software (the ability to manage this creativity and productivity).
We are not fit to deal with this level of complexity in the way we do today. Think about the basic organizational challenges. They are not production or infrastructure related, but rather human complexity related. Someone from the headquarters of Uber may devise an absolutely brilliant software and business model, but they still have to deal in terms of organizational management with the fact that Paris taxi drivers hate competition. And the fact that the french government will not allow the company to function without the right permits.
To make such a global organization work, there have to be some type of new management technique in place. One that can use the managerial basics but still be able to develop specific procedures to handle cultural differences.
That’s exactly what OOP (object oriented programming) works for. Handling complexity through object manipulation.
So how would such an organization look like?
To help you glimpse into the structure of a potential OOO (Object Oriented Organization) I will use the basic characteristics of a software object and translate those into organizational concepts:
The term (data) encapsulation points to objects being self-contained in terms of both data and functions. The object keeps the data and functions protected from outside (potentially harmful) interventions.
If you’d like to think of objects in terms of organizational objects I’d advise you to look beyond the usual “department” paradigm and rather into specific teams. Think of the product design team at Apple. That is an organizational object, that stores both specific data (things such as product specifications and test results) and functions (builds product demos, designs usable products etc.).
The organizational object could, in theory be self sufficient and usable in any part of the organization or even within external organizations.
The idea of polymorphism may seem complicated but it actually solves a lot of complexity issues. Simply put, it allows for contextual responses.
Take the previous Apple design team for example. If the iPhone development team were to ask it for a design it would probably forward the team the specs they are working on and receive a few sets of product designs. If the iMac team would ask for a new design, they would also forward the iMac specs. They will however, receive another type of design, one fit for their product.
The idea of polymorphism, in the organizational sense is that decisions based on context would happen within the design team object. Both the iPhone and the iMac team, or any other product design team could ask for a product design and receive something that’s fit for that specific product.
But let’s take that a little further: what happens if the marketing team needs a specific page covering the new iPhone. Wouldn’t the product design team be the one best fit to output such a page? Probably so, but some upgrades may be needed and this is where the third object oriented organization principle comes in:
This term shows that one object can be the prototype for another object. In our example we need Apple’s product design team “upgraded”. So far they have been doing product design so they may not be able to output iPhone’s webpage so well.
By building on their expertise, we may assign a new member to the team, a member that is specialized in designing web pages. By working with his or her team peers we will have built a new organizational object on top of the previous one. The marketing team will request a specific design, by forwarding some specifications. At this point all three external teams (iPhone product development, iMac product development and marketing) have basically done the same thing: asked for design-related work, by forwarding specifications to the the design organizational object. The work was done within the object and results were output successfully.
Notice also that there is no absolute need for management. Objects interact with one another thus leaving management in charge of developing these organizational objects and the overall purpose of the company.
The one big reason is complexity management. We have not put a man on the moon using the abacus. We have upgraded our tools to reach further. Object oriented organizations can be a new breed of organizations in different sectors where effectiveness rather than hierarchy is important. These areas can range from business to NGO’s to governmental agencies to banking and more.
Basically each organization that deals in large numbers of either employees or “customers” can benefit from a networked object oriented organization approach.
Why do that? Think about how today’s concept of having a job feels. Most employees report their bosses are awful. But it’s not that simple – it’s not that the boss just wakes up one day and thinks … “hey, I’m going to act terrible to my fellow colleagues”. Today’s managerial concepts and techniques are outdated and provide managers with poor tools.
This results in “less than perfect” working conditions, poor performance, organizational ineffectiveness and overall social tensions. With our current management system the world has grown more productive yet more indebted. Productivity has risen yet poverty stayed the same or increased.
The fact is we need a new type of leadership and chances are this too is a human problem with a software solution.
Today marks the start of the 10th annual edition of GPeC Summit, one of the most important ecommerce events in Central and Eastern Europe.
With a strong focus on growth, the region sees fast innovation and lots of opportunity.
(Photos courtesy of GPeC Summit / Resp. owners)
The event is held in Bucharest, Romania, a country with a 55% internet penetration and a high ecommerce growth potential. The ecommerce market in Romania grew from EUR 600 million in 2013 (~$668.7 million) to approximately EUR 1.1 billion (~$1.22 billion) in 2014.
With such high growth rate, the event was bound to attract regional and international market leaders and speakers.
Among the speakers at the GPeC Summit you’ll find regional and international entrepreneurs, digital marketing experts and ecommerce professionals.
Among the highlighted conference panels, the audience can tap into insights provided by the likes of:
The full list of speakers on the summit’s website, alongside other data regarding the event.
Whisbi is a tool for the omnichannel customer support. It bridges online, offline and phone-call experiences to provide a type of support fit for today’s and tomorrow’s merchants.
What Whisbi does is create a rich connection with the customer. It does that by streaming a live interactive screen from the sales support and at the same time it synchronizes this screen with a live phone call.
The great thing about the technology is that customers can effectively be “teleported” within the store or a specially designed sales support space. For example, if a retailer were to provide support for big-ticket products, such as cars, high-end electronics or maybe a designer items, the customer should effectively “feel” these products. For now, the general consensus among consumers is that such a feeling can only be attained in a real store. Two of the most important factors for in deciding to visit a brick and mortar store are the sensory experience and human touch.
Whisbi fulfills these two needs quite admirable. First of all it provides a smooth connection between the sales person and the potential customer. This is done either through a “click to call” function where the customer requests a call, or through a direct call to an inbound number. While the phone connection is established, customers also start a digital interaction with the sales consultant. This stream of information can be in the form of co-browsing, assisting in data-filling, showcasing product videos and photos, but most importantly, it can come in the form of a live product demo, from the store.
The sales consultant effectively streams live video to the customer through a mobile app, a laptop camera or even … wait for this … Google Glasses.
So while the two discuss on the phone, the customer can experience touching and discovering the product, as if he or she were in the store. This type of assisted purchases are the perfect fit for omnichannel retail.
The customer sees the sales assistant while they discuss but to insure the customer’s privacy, it doesn’t work the other way around.
The fact that the video stream and the phone call are synchronized may seem trivial but keep in mind that data is streamed through two very different infrastructures. The fact that the customer can see and hear the sales assistant at the same time gives a pleasant sense of human interaction, mimicking the experience one would have in a real store, with a trained store assistant. In fact, one of Whisbi’s four patents, and in my opinion the most important, is a patent to synchronize phone calls to online experiences.
The feeling you get by using Whisbi as a customer is quite impressive. By synchronizing multiple sensorial experiences, the solution works far better than either the phone-call option or the live chat.
In fact, the company claims a 15-30% conversion rate for customers interacting with the brand through this technology. While this might seem outrageously high, I think this might be an accurate figure. The feeling of (almost) complete immersion may be an even better experience than the one customers would get in a real store. The reason is “whisbi-ing” is an experience brought up by the customer’s demand, in the safety and comfort of a familiar place. By taking out stressful elements that brick-and-mortar stores sometimes have (crowds, un-involved sales reps), this omnichannel experiences works as a type of “concierge” service.
If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably noticed that Whisbi sounds too good to be true. The fact is that it actually IS too good to be true. The usage of Whisbi is limited by the potentially high cost of hiring qualified personnel to handle incoming customer demands.
Indeed, forms and chat have a low conversion rate. However they are great for low to median cost products where margins are low and the cost of specially trained sales reps is not justifiable.
But there are some cases where Whisbi can be a great fit:
1. Big Ticket omnichannel sales: Think of cars. A car should be seen, experienced and felt. It is an expensive purchase, one that has a lot to do with the rational but more to do with our emotional decisions. While purchasing and paying for a car is far from mainstream, a sales rep using Whisbi can offer a great display of the car’s features and teleport the customer to the dealership, before a visit is made. One of those using Whisbi is Fiat, and the ad below showcases a potential customer journey:
Its not just cars, either. I think Whisbi can work great as an omnichannel support for other big ticket items such as designer fashion, jewelry or maybe art.
2. High customer acquisition cost: Several industries have high customer acquisition costs. Telco is one of such industries. Voice and data subscriptions, especially for customers switching from one operator to another, as well as those that decide on their first subscription, have a high customer acquisition cost. This is due to increasing competition, large marketing budgets and extensive offers from competitors.
But such high-acquisition cost industries also tend to be profitable because of a certain aspect. That is the large lifetime customer value.
3. High lifetime customer value: The lifetime customer value expresses the long-term value a customer has for the company. Simply put – it means how much will the customer spend on the company products during his lifetime as a customer. For example, due to a high lifetime customer value, Goldman Sachs estimates that Apple’s customer’s base value at $295 billion. The point is that retailers estimating high customer lifetime value should use omnichannel customer service to acquire customers. Even if costs are high.
4. Personalized service for the loyal customers: Maybe not all customers can be served through an Whisbi experience. But such great support can be a great incentive for your loyal pack. Concierge support for loyal customers and high-spenders can go a long way in keeping your friends close.
5. Address to impress: Let’s face it. Whisbi’s technology is awesome. The experience of a live demo convinced me to write this review. The experience is great. Google Glass, mobile apps, live streaming and phone calls – arent these impressive? More so – teleporting users and showcasing products in real time directly in the store and letting customers purchase online and receive at home? This is impressive and impressive is an asset on its own.
In conclusion Whisbi may not be perfect for all ecommerce or omnichannel operations but for some – it is an impressive and must-have technology. The results in conversion rate improvement shows the need for better customer support within omnichannel operations. And Whisbi delivers.
Ever thought what happens behind the curtains before a new product hits the shelf? Or what makes customers decide they love product A but definitely hate product B, although they are almost identical? Or what makes great products … well … great?
Many have and there is no clear answer to these questions. What works when Apple launches a music player may not work when Microsoft does it (Remember Zune?). There are many variables involved and no matter the size of your R&D budget, sometimes things are not going to go right.
But there’s only one way to see if the product is really fit for the market. That way used to be simple and a bit risky. Teams including marketing, product development, engineering and manufacturing experts would dream, design and build products. They would test the products on selected customer groups and if the results would look good, they would push the product to the market.
However even involving budgets, experts, consumer insights and marketing bucks, sometimes products flop.
Two things changed this: crowd-sourcing and crowd-founding. Together they’ve formed a type of customer experience previously unknown: the pretail.
In the past, teams were involved in trying to guess what customers would want. Now we can just go ahead and ask the them.
Pretailing is a term describing any activity introducing customers to brands or products, before the retail process. It assumes that using crowd-founding sites such as Kickstarter, inventors and innovators can test their concept before involving big budgets. Essentially they are asking potential buyers to invest their dollar-power in their product.
This, in turn, creates an experience previously unknown to the consumer. The consumer is effectively buying into a vision. Pretailing creates a new type of sales channel that works before the product is even manufactured. Unlike traditional retail, this type of commerce can shed light on what the market wants at any given time.
Online stores such as Quirky, Threadless or Japan-based Muji have one thing in common. They use their communities to find the right ideas and products to design and develop. Quirky is focused on inventing cool gadgets, Threadless leverages its designer community to create t-shirts and Muji sells home&deco products designed by the consumers.
They all engage in pretailing. By tapping into the collective minds of their communities they can ask for the type of products most customers would purchase. Before they manufacture and sell, they ask what to manufacture and sell. This in turn creates a sense of belonging to the community for the customer. For the retailer, it decreases the risk of manufacturing and stocking up on lousy products.
Crowd-founding is another way of tapping into the market and pretailing. We all know Kickstarter but other, more product-oriented crowd founding platforms fare even better for this concept.
CrowdSupply and OutGrow.me are just two places where you can see what customers have backed before manufacturing. The products we can see there range from open source toothbrushes to one-wheel skateboards.
The results are amazing. With unlimited creativity comes an unlimited supply of innovation. And by tapping into a large market of early-adopters, only the products that are really fit for distribution get funded and survive.
Big retailers have picked up on the trend and are now using pretailing to test new products and improve their logistics to fit the estimated demand. Apple, for example is one of the companies that showcases products before they are available in retail stores, interacting with developers and customers to improve the experience.
Beyond the crowd-founding and crowd-sourcing, pretailing can come from anything involving large numbers of potential customers. By tapping into online traces, retailers can get insights on potentially succesful products.
Pretailing can start with a simple research with Google Trends. It can be an analysis on the search trends on your own web store.
It can just as well be an overview of the most popular trends on Instagram. For example Crane & Canopy releases new high quality duvets basing their decisions on Pinterest and social media trends.
The conclusion is that in this highly competitive market, retailers need to engage their customers before they start the retail process. Pretailing means tapping into the wisdom of the crowds and extracting the perfect products before competitors do. It is not only a matter of product development but a matter of understanding the customer and providing the best experience on the market.
We expect historic changes to be a bit dramatic. We think of “Evrika!” moments when inventors discover new technologies that make our lives better.
The reality, however, seems to sneak up on us. We now know how important the Internet is but few would have guessed it when it was used to exchange short bits of information between academics. Same for Google – it is now easy to see how important having the global stream of information at your fingertips actually is. But it was a lot harder when the concept was still in its infancy.
Not even Steve Jobs could have predicted the impact the iPhone would have on the world. And I believe Elon Musk will look back on these days and be surprised by the changes Tesla brought to the world.
When Elon Musk announced the Powerwall, the world shook a little bit. Its beautiful design and promise of energy independence seemed almost dreamlike. But the Powerwall shows a far larger vision than just making the home energy independent.
It is a promise that we could harness the virtually unlimited energy of the Sun and store it. Storage, you see, is the real problem. The complex systems we use are powered by energy that is consumed almost instantly. Our cars, our electronics, our planes – they feed on streams of energy as it is formed. Even the best energy storage systems fail after a short while.
The promise that one day a company (could it be Tesla?) can find a way to harness and store the sun’s energy (or any type of green energy for that matter) has an impact we can hardly predict.
The implications range from pollution reduction to geopolitics to economics. Especially economics. To understand how much we could save by switching to green energy, have a look at this estimate for an average Tesla car compared to one running on fossil fuel:
Think that’s a lot? That car “only” logs 120 000 miles. Compare that to the 397.8 billion miles logged by all trucks used for business purposes (excluding government and farm). In the US alone.
Now mix the numbers and add the savings Tesla’s technology can bring.
Add something else: sun-powered electricity. Think of trucks and ships that can move goods around without any need for refueling.
Because that’s where the real change comes in. When products are manufactured and shipped at a tiny fraction of what they are today, everything changes.
When we take out the distribution costs, the energy costs and any other costs associated with energy from our current commerce paradigm, everything changes in the world.
The products we buy would have costs that would be driven to the ground. Without costs associated with energy consumption and storage, goods would be manufactured cheaper and faster (instant energy), shipped cheaper and faster and consumed by more. We could have cheaper products, consumed by more and believe it or not, more profitable to sell.
There is only one thing stopping this: the current transportation and energy system. Musk’s vision has already stirred things a bit with car dealers. What happens when the company will go against the global leaders in energy and transport companies, the ones still relying on fossil fuels? These companies would have to change or fight the change. The former is what one might expect.
That’s where the Uber concept comes in. Uber connects, as you know, smaller professionals that provide transportation services. Right now this is limited to personal transportation. Uber, today’s Uber, acts as a glorified cab dispatcher.
But tomorrow’s Uber may have bigger ambitions. Somewhere behind the scenes, investors know that there’s more to Uber than meets the eye. The reason the company landed a $41 billion valuation is that it has the potential to change the global transportation system. Not just personal transportation but all kinds of transportation.
That includes making sure goods are quickly moved from manufacturing to storage to the consumer. Don’t take my word for it. Uber has been experimenting time and again with logistics. And if Uber won’t, there are other companies that will.
So you have virtually unlimited power. You have storage. You have the a system that makes sure goods are sent to the right destination by the optimum freight. This means the kind of change we now can’t fully comprehend.
It means that good is now in motion.
The term “robot” essentially means “worker”. It was coined by Czech author Karel Čapek in his science fiction work R.U.R. and since then it has become the standard term to define semi-autonomous machines.
It really is hard to define what we actually think of when we say robot. It may be an anthropomorphic fun figure such as Honda’s Asimo or a somewhat creepier animal version of it, such as Boston Dynamics’ Big Dog.
But it can also be a simpler and more applied machinery. Robots can be built to handle some of the most menial and repetitive tasks, including those that have to do with ecommerce fulfillment.
In terms of operations, fulfillment means everything that has to do with getting ordered merchandise to the customer. It includes picking and packing and let’s face it – it’s boring and repetitive. The robots below do just these things. Robots, unlike people, require no pay and are available 24/7. Whether using robots is effective or not, moral or not, it’s up to you to decide. But no matter your view on the subject, you have to admit they look awesome.
Not longer than two months ago, Fetch Robotics was non-existent as a company. Than they’ve got $3 million in founding and started working on a mysterious warehouse robotics project.
Today they’ve unveiled not one, but two robots aimed at helping warehouse staff make it through the long corridors. Their names are Fetch and Freight. Below is Freight, my favorite, a little guy following around picking staff and going back to base when orders are finished picking:
You would think that farming and ecommerce fulfillment don’t have too much in common. Maybe they don’t but they do have the Omniveyor robots from Harvest. The company was founded by former iRobot executives, the company that brought you house cleaning wonder-robot Rumba.
The company developed a fulfillment robot, called TM-100, which will be available spring 2016. Here’s TM-100 in action:
In 2012 Amazon paid $775 million for Kiva Systems, a Seattle based company manufacturing warehouse robots.
In just two years Amazon has fully digested the technology and now has 15 000 Kiva robots doing the picking and packing job twice as fast as humans could. Inventory moves twice as fast and products are delivered to packing stations in just under 15 minutes, faster than any human could.
Here are the little Kiva robots plotting to take over the world, while picking orders:
With the launch of its first digital edition of the annual report, L'Oreal steps into a new era.
The report is an impressive tool on its own, aimed at investors, shareholders and journalists. But the real change comes with the overall shift to digital as a tool to engage consumers.
For example, the "Digital" section of the annual report states just how important naming the first Chief Digital Officer actually is. This move shows L'Oreal as an up and coming major digital player. The company will probably focus on ecommerce, data technologies as well as engaging consumers both online and offline.
An example in the digital report shows just how promising ecommerce is, especially in China:
"In China – the world’s number one online-purchasing market(1) – e-commerce already accounts for 10% of L’Oréal sales, and more than 15% for brands like VICHY, LA ROCHE-POSAY and MAGIC(2). These promising results are underpinned by partnerships with online distributors like Alibaba and Tmall. On Singles’ Day, a very important day of special offers, L’Oréal’s brands performed well, particularly MAYBELLINE NEW YORK – the number 1 make-up brand in the country(3) – and MAGIC, which sold over 11 million face masks in 24 hours"
The shift towards omnichannel marketing AND ecommerce is spectacular. L'Oreal has traditionally relied on third parties to distribute products to consumers through retail shops. Could this shift be a change in strategy with a direct-to-consumer approach or will it be an improvement in dealing with online and omnichannel retailers? Nevertheless, the move will probably ripple trough and be adopted by others.
It may be a tectonic shift in manufacturers switching from traditional models to new digital models, engaging their customers, as well as providing them with the opportunity to purchase. How will this affect traditional partners remains to be seen.
Here we are. The fifth and final part of the guide to starting your online store. It's been a fun ride for me and I hope it hase been fun and informative for you. Before we dive right in, let's take a moment and go through a quick recap of the steps we've covered so far.
As you remember, Part 1 covered planning and finding the right business model. Part 2 was focused on registering your business, finding and negotiating with suppliers. Fulfillment operations and making your back office work were the main subject of our third part and last week we've covered branding, ecommerce software and content in part 4.
Now … it's marketing and sales time!
During this section of the guide you'll discover how to expand your reach through additional sales channels, market your brand and products and finally – how to test the main areas in your online store.
So let's go ahead and have a look at…
First of all – what is a sales channel? The answer is quite simple: any method of getting products to the market so customers can purchase them. For example, your online store (the actual web store) is a sales channel. It showcases products, it tells their price and allows customers to purchase these products.
Let's assume that by now you have already started your online shop. The web store is up and running and customers start showing up. But the web store should not be your only sales channel. Your customers are complex and their habits diverse. One day they're browsing your store, the next they're hanging out on Facebook and meanwhile they search product info on their mobile phone. You should be there also.
You could have your products lined up in a Facebook store. You could build a mobile app that engages customers outside your store and collects orders.
It's not just online, either. Offline engagement shouldn't be a taboo either. Maybe a brick and mortar showroom for your main products is not cost – effective. But you could set up a pop-up shop occasionally.
There are numerous ways you can add sales channels to increase your market reach and some are really easy to set up. Others are a bit more complicated but in the end it's mostly about your product, your brand and of course your budget. Let's see which are the most popular sales channels and how you could benefit from them.
Out of all the sales channels you may choose, one really complements the online store. The call center can be a simple line you for customers to demand information on products.
(Zappos' call center is legendary and effective. It's both a sales and suppor channel.)
It can just as well be a full fledged call center with operators answering calls and helping customer choose the right product, handling orders and managing complaints. It can also mean people calling prospects or indecisive potential customers or just plain cold calling sales leads. No matter the choices you will be making, the phone is a great connection to the customer and you should build a smooth phone support operation.
You could ask – isn't social media more about marketing and communication, connecting and understanding your customer? Yes it is but it can work just as great as a sales channel.
For example – Twitter is testing purchase options (right now with just a few high profile retailers such as Amazon) and ways to drive targeted traffic to stores through offers. Pinterest is also testing options to drive targeted customers to your online store and they do that through their ads. That is great news as Pinterest is more efficient into turning views to sales than any other social network. It works awesome for industries such as travel, home-deco and fashion.
And let's not forget Facebook. Being the largest social network in the world it is a place you should be digging into. For a while, the network was so popular with retailers that a term was coined to split Facebook commerce from everything else: f-commerce. Recently, the company lead by Mark Zuckerberg has focused more on advertising revenues than helping retailers get close to their customers but it is a great channel to study, nevertheless.
There are some companies that will make selling on Facebook as easy as it gets. And if a Facebook store may look like a great option for your store, this involves apps connecting your store to Facebook.
(Shopify, among others, built options for users to connect their stores to their fan pages and sell directly on Facebook.)
On the previous chapter we've discussed the most popular ecommerce software choices. Turns out most of them get some sort of support for a Facebook store by third party apps. Here are some of them:
There you have it – these applications are easy to set up and you can start selling directly on Facebook thus adding a new sales channel. And once you start adding sales channels, you now you have to look into …
What is the device you think customers use the most throughout the day? It's the smartphone. Mobile usage has gone through the roof lately and its bound to continue.
(Number of smartphone users in the US (millions). Source)
So you want to be close to your customers. Mobile apps provide a special sales channel, one that's personal and it makes impulse buying all the more attractive.
How do you add a mobile sales channel?
There's an app for that. Actually more:
Give mobile apps for your store a try. The more smartphones become a part of our daily lives, the more we will use them. Your store can benefit from users that are not strapped to their desktop or notebook. And speaking of that, a great way to interact with customers are the …
Pop up shops are temporarily stores, in the real world, where online store owners can showcase their products and interact with their customers. The pop-up shop sales channel has really taken off recently and store owners have started adopting this online-offline connection.
(Adidas pop-up shop. Not exactly low-budget but hey – one can dream, right?)
Setting up a pop-up shop is a personal choice but works great if it's posted either in a high-traffic area (such as a popular shopping center) or at an industry event. For example you could set up a pop-up shop at a home-deco event if you are a store selling home decorations. It is a great way to interact with customers and get feedback on your merchandise.
Companies such as Storefront help shop owners find retail space temporarily by connecting them with retail space owners. To help online stores they've put together an ebook that is free for download. I encourage you to have a look at it as it explains the main steps in setting up (pup-up) shop.
Last but definitely not least – the marketplaces. Amazon, Ebay, Etsy, Sears, Buy.Com, NewEgg.com and more. You name them. They provide lots of options to lots of users and chances are your next customers are there shopping right now.
( Ebay – the original online marketplace )
The reason marketplaces are the last on potential sales channels is because I want to emphasize just how important they are. Just like the "old" shopping centers, customers go to marketplaces because diversity means options and options mean they can find what they are looking for.
Diversity drives customers. It drives sales. So you want to be there but plan ahead before you dive in.
As an online store start-up you should be looking for as much exposure as you can get but still try to focus on the right marketplace. Amazon and Ebay are the obvious choice but before you join them you have to ask yourself:
Listing your products on all marketplaces can seem like the right choice but it's usually not. Each marketplace is a sales channel itself. You should be sticking to those that work for you and improve your experience there. Until your business is large enough to allow you to handle orders from more marketplaces, focus on fulfilling orders effective and quickly.
Most marketplaces offer some form of integration with your existing store and you should use those. Product information should be going out of your online store and orders should be synced with your order management system. This way, the order management team can have a single point of entry for orders instead of getting lost in a dozen of order management systems scattered throughout the marketplaces you are using.
Marketplace orders will continue to be a large part of your business. So large that they will, in the future, dwarf those from your online store. The reason is people tend to gather and shop where they will find diverse products and retailers. Just like in the real world. Online is even more so – marketplaces get even more traffic from search engines, have more money to spend on ads and are better at keeping customers returning.
Each sales channel you will be adding will bring you more exposure and more sales if handled correctly. The sales channels I've described so far are the most popular ones right now. But they are not the only ones. As technology evolves, so will commerce. New channels will pop-up and some I haven't mentioned here will probably increase in importance.
Think about the impact Internet of Things will have. Maybe in the future the greatest sales channel for groceries will be smart appliances. Think of a refrigerator than can place orders for customers when it's depleted. It sure is going to be an interesting challenge to integrate those in a sales channels mix.
( Omnichannel means connecting all sales channels in a way the customer finds natural )
By adding sales channels you wil turn from an online retailer to an multichannel retailer and if all channels work seamless together you will become an omnichannel retailer. If you want to know what that means – have a look at Macy's omnichannel strategy. And if that is not enough dive into this omnichannel report I've wrote to help retailers integrate their sales channels.
Marketing is one of those concepts that's so hard to understand and yet so overused. Most of the times its meaning is so cluttered by useless acronyms and buzzwords that people have trouble understanding what it actually is.
I am not saying that marketing is easy. It's not. Yet is not the Holy Grail of human knowledge either. It's just communication. Talking, showing, describing products to the people most likely to buy it.
It's that simple. The basics need to be simple.
If you are going to survive as an online store owner, you need to keep your marketing basics simple. You have a product. Hopefully a great one. There are people who want to buy that product. Most don't know they want to buy it from you. You need to show them why they should buy the product you're selling. You need to show them why they should buy it from you. And then, if everything I've shown you so far has been decently implemented, just let them buy it.
Everything else is gimmicks. If you've got the basics right, everything else will fall into place.
To get people to buy your product, you need to know who these people are, what they want and how they act. Most likely not everybody will want your product. But if you've done your planning right, you pretty much have know a lot about your market.
Yup, your customers are "the target". Why is it called that you ask? Well, because your communication targets them. Until the internet became the norm and we've started gathering more data than we can handle on customers, we used to define them through demographics. That means basic info on consumers. Age, sex, marital status, location, education … this kind of data.
( Pictured here: advertising in the 60s. Not pictured here: Google algorythms and tabacco advertising ban )
These targeting methods were made popular when mass marketing was just blooming, in the days of TV, print and outdoor ads made by the likes of Mad Men. When you ran your ad in the magazine or on national TV, you needed to know who's going to use your product, make sure you understand their psychology and shout from the top of your lungs how cool the product is. Once the ad was approved, there was no going back. Advertising agencies would research, create and test the ad before the campaign was launched because there was no way you could change, tweak or even pull back a campaign in real time.
So demographics were the bread and butter when you would push your message to the market. But the Internet changed that into …
Basically, if you were a mid-class urban wife with no college education in the 60's there were slim chances you would receive ads trying to sell you repair tools for your car. Even if you were actually a mechanic. The same would hold true if you were a man and would be looking for a sewing machine to fulfill your lifelong passion of becoming a fashion designer.
You would have to find those products yourself. We've come a long way and thanks God, we now have the freedom to fix our own cars and sew our pants, no matter the gender
That happened when contextual marketing (the ads you might see when searching on Google), interactive marketing (information instantly delivered when interacting with say an website) or behavioral marketing hit the shelves.
The last one, behavioral marketing, is probably the single most important aspect in online retailing. Technology now personalizes marketing and responds to customer behavior.
For example Amazon's recommended products ("See what others have purchased") is a form of behavioral marketing that is based on a complex research on previous customers behavior before they purchased something. Simply put, when people would purchase something, their interaction trail (the products they've seen so far) becomes an indication that people taking the same or similar steps would most likely purchase similar products.
The ads you see on Google feature a similar concept. They are shown as to answer your needs. Some ads respond better than others at what you are looking for and thus have a better chance of getting clicked. Google trusts this system so much that they invoice advertising on clicks, rather than how many people have viewed the ad.
So basically we went from effectively targeting people to targeting people's behavior. Still, demographics and customer profiles are very important and a lot of what you will be doing is to try to guess customer responses based on demographics assumptions. Such assumptions might mean you will favor ladies over men if you are selling women's clothing (doh!) or rather more complex assumptions such as "Men over 32, employed and married are more likely to buy a family car".
Indifferently of your assumptions, test them and always quantify your results with …
Here you go … numbers. Charts. Estimates. Hope Miss N., your math teacher, was your favorite back in school, because this is going to be damn complex. Nah, just kidding. Most analytics software is pretty much plug and play and the numbers and charts I mentioned are usually generated on the fly and in such a manner you can easily understand.
You can't have marketing without analytics and research. Fortunately, it is a lot easier now for a small online store than it was 40 years ago for the largest companies in the world. What is not so fortunate is that it's easier for everybody so you'll have to dive deep and understand what your analytics are saying. So will the competition.
Once you have installed Google Analytics or one of these other ecommerce analytics software, you will probably dive in and see what your customers are doing. What you will want to look for is patterns that lead to increased sales. Special products, a certain type of copy, products featuring media versus those that don't have media. Look for what makes your sales increase.
So you know the target, you have the analytics figures, now it's time for the actual marketing. The web is full of resources to fine tune your online marketing understanding. I will show you which are the most effective ways of marketing so you will have a bird's eye view on what makes an online store sell.
As a startup there are really little things you can do better with smaller budgets than writing quality content and optimizing for search engines. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a really large concept and many people earn their living through SEO services. You will probably ask a SEO expert to help you find the perfect balance so your store will show up in search engine results. But before you do that, have a look at the basics. These are the things you will need to keep in check so Google will bring the right customers to your store:
Ask your customers to leave you their email address so you can update them on news and offers. This is a great way to get people right back on your store.
But don't annoy them and don't do spam! Everybody hates unsolicited email. Make sure your customers give you their permission to send them emails. You can use apps such as Mailchimp or CampaignMonitor to save customers' emails and then send them newsletters.
Where would you go if you were to market a product? The answer is fairly simple: where people gather and interact. Social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest are now used by billions of people. That's where your online store should be.
Just like interacting with friends, some things work better than others. Here are some tips on how to use social media to interact with potential and existing customers:
If your social media strategy is not going the way you'd want it to, there are always the ads. Most social networks provide ways for you to get closer to your potential customers, faster. Most people call them ads . Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest – they all provide advertiser with the possibility of engaging fans through ads.
And speaking of ads, one of the most effective way of advertising your store and products is …
Remember those Google ads I've mentioned earlier? That is Google AdWords, a very effective form of advertising that places ads on search results, ads that are directly related to your search.
For example, if you were to search for "cars", you will be shown the natural search results AND special search ads. These ads are fueled by advertisers that pay each time someone clicks one of their ads.
You can be one of those advertisers. By carefully analyzing traffic and allocating search ad budget, you can determine with high accuracy the number of clicks you need to convert visitors to buyers. Because search ads are contextual, this means you can optimize your ads in such a way that only those interested in purchasing your product might click it.
However, paid search campaigns are usually better managed by professionals. Even though you might spend a little extra for someone to handle your ads, just leave it to the professional.
Performance – well that sounds nice. What is it?
Performance marketing is a broad term that means advertisers pay a fee depending on how well an action is performed. This action can mean showing an ad a certain number of times or making that ad transform into a special action. The standard actions you might want to encourage are:
And because marketing people happen to love acronyms, you might find the info above coded in three-letter words:
Performance marketing is sometimes used interchangeably with affiliate marketing. That is more of a misconception, as affiliate marketing, though popular, is a subset of performance marketing. It works as a shared revenue deal, where the retailer shares a portion of the revenue with the publisher (the one displaying the ad), whenever advertising turns into purchases.
Affiliate marketing is ran through affiliate marketing services, that cover three very important aspects: they connect advertisers to publishers, they make sure all sales are registered and attributed to the right publisher and they handle transactions between advertisers and publishers.
If you decide to go along the affiliate marketing path, here are the most important affiliate networks that can help you sell your products:
A great way to get your product out there is place it in comparison shopping engines. These applications gather information from more online stores and show potential customers what is the best way to shop in terms of pricing.
It basically works for those that are price competitive so before you join such a program, make sure your prices are aligned with the market.
(Shopzilla is one of the most popular comparison shopping engines)
Most comparison shopping engines are CPC based and you will pay anytime people click your products, arriving at your web store. The top four most popular are Google Shopping, Shopzilla, Shopping.com and Pricegrabber. Getting listed can draw targeted traffic and can mean a very scalable way of converting traffic to sales.
So there you have it – these are the most effective ways you can market your new online store. But don't stop here, don't settle. Marketing in the digital world is usually a matter of imagination. Be curious and try new things that might be fit for your online store.
For example you can attract relevant bloggers to mention your store and review the products. You can put out press releases and talk to the media. You can run contests and sweepstakes to increase reach and turn fans into loyal customers. Once you have the basics up and running, you will be ready to add more and more marketing options to your online store.
Remember: your work is never done. If you want to keep your customers happy and sales growing, you need to constantly optimize and tweak your store. To do so you can run tests that determine what works and what does not. When testing you will be looking for either errors, bottlenecks or usability issues. Do so through:
A great way to see how customers interact with your company is drawing customer journey maps. These "maps" show your existing sales channels and how customers interact with them. Customers may find you on social media, browse products on the web store and place orders through the phone. This is a customer journey map.
When these journey maps get too complex you have to constantly test and look for signs of problems of sources of frustrations for your customers. It may be a poorly designed checkout cart or the voice of your phone operators. By understanding your target customers and their journey maps you can have a guide to testing what works and what doesn't on your store.
( A blank example of potential sales channels. By connecting the channels you can draw journey maps )
Testing means improving and you should strive to make your store better and better. Little improvements and constant focus on making the customer experience better turns your store into a success. So keep testing :).
We've got this far. Wow! Testing is the last section in our guide to starting an online store. It's been a great ride and I hope these posts will help you build the store of your dreams. If you've managed to get this far I believe you are ready to start your own store. Give yourself a pat on the back for having the patience to get through all this data. It's not easy, I know, but it is a lot easier than just starting a store and then figuring it all out along the way.
I am more than happy if I've managed to help you on your path to becoming an ecommerce entrepreneur. If this guide was useful to you, please refer it to someone else who may be in the need for know-how.
You've taken a large step ahead to running your own business and online store. You may be anxious and a bit scared but rest assured. So was Jeff Bezos when he started Amazon. Knowledge, hard work, innovation and persistence will get you far. Have a safe trip in reaching out for your dream!
Featured image source. Modifications made to the photo.
What does it take to turn a store visitor into a loyal customer? Any retailer that can answer this question is surely a leader in its respective niche but it is not a simple question.
There are a multitude of factors at play and we thought we might ask the experts. We’ve reached out to George Skaff, CMO of TouchCommerce, the leading company in omnichannel engagement. George has over 25 years of marketing leadership experience in the computer industry. Prior to joining TouchCommerce, he has held marketing leadership positions with SGI, DigitalPersona, Wyse Technology and NEC Computers.
George Skaff: TouchCommerce is the innovative leader in omni-channel engagement solutions. We have been in business since 1999. Our company was built with a results-driven retail perspective to replicate and enhance the in-store customer experience online, with chat technology. We have award-winning technology platform and mobile solution with an emphasis on data, self-service and automation. We are focused on Enterprise Global F1000 eCommerce companies. TouchCommerce real-time customer targeting engine leverages “BIG DATA” to target and engage customers in a personalized digital assistance experience on desktops, tablets and smart phones across the omni-channel environment. TouchCommerce operates in 16 countries across North America, EMEA, and Japan.
With mobile revolution happening right now, the way customers want to interact with retailers is changing fundamentally. There is a shift in customer behavior underway. You can no longer rely on them dialing your number when they have a problem and talking to a customer service agent. There are hundreds of ways they could contact you and they may well try several different ways to get the information they want. However, make no mistake: your customers are not aware that by clicking out of a webchat session and picking up the phone that they are ‘changing contact channel’. They do not care. All they are concerned with is getting their query answered in the easiest, quickest way possible. And they want their experience to be consistent across all these channels.
Combined or stand-alone, the fully-integrated custom solutions we create for customer acquisition and customer care and retention contribute to an enhanced online, mobile or in-store customer experience and increase self-service in the omni-channel environment.
George Skaff: To maintain consistent consumer experience, it’s vital that retailers start thinking in terms of the customer journey and the conversation you are having with them, rather than the platform for that conversation. In order to have a cohesive, joined-up omni-channel offering, it’s essential that the different channels are integrated at the back-end. There should be one view of each individual customer, no matter which channel they have chosen to contact you. Ideally, this view should be presented to the agent in one, single desktop application too, so when a customer calls, the agent has a clear idea of their previous interactions and account details, and can quickly access information to help solve their query.
When choosing a software provider, retailers should consider if the solution:
George Skaff: The Dynamic Targeting Engine is the core of the entire RightTouch platform and underlying technology. It tracks all user behavior and website variables to identify optimal engagement opportunities. This highly flexible tool can be configured in limitless ways to identify any group of users and target their specific needs. All direct consumer engagement activities are managed via this robust engine.
By using Our Dynamic Targeting Engine, you can focus your energy and resources on the customers by presenting them with the products they want most. This targeting tool allows us to identify consumer behavioral attributes in order to launch any one of our products with the right context, including chat, guides, offers, survey invitations or any other rich content offering a targeted engagement experience online.
The Targeting Engine enables:
George Skaff: The retailers should be very specific in selecting the metrics to measure their omni-channel marketing performance, and not to focus on metrics for each individual channel. Engagement metrics should include consumer visits, consumer interactions, conversion ratios, LTV, incrementality in all of the above measurements, as well as customer satisfaction.
George Skaff: Several innovations are happening as we speak, among them ability for the consumer to effortlessly move across the channels, as well as the ability for the retailer to follow consumer journey across the channels. Retailers are starting to pay close attention to consumer’s shopping journey online and offline (in-store.) Products like TouchStore from TouchCommerce are a good indication of the future entails.
George Skaff: Apple Pay improves the ability of the consumer to effortlessly complete the purchase, but it does not change the purchase paradigm in principle. While there has been other payments method (Google, Amazon, etc.), Apple massive outreach in promoting this is helping the fast adoption.
George Skaff: The store of the future will be like a country without borders, where consumer moves effortlessly across different channels executing their intent to purchase. The thing to remember is that customers do not generally have a preferred channel. They will just pick whichever one they think will get them the result they need most quickly with least effort.
Consumers want choice – they will want to use different channels depending on their needs – and the ease with which they can contact a company increasingly forms part of the criteria for choosing one brand over another.
For example, a customer might call their mobile provider to find out if they were on the best price plan, but they will go online to see their current balance – and then turn to Twitter to chat with an agent about data limits abroad.
Another example is when a customer is doing their research online on their laptop looking to purchase a new TV, they check with their friends on social media regarding their friends recommendations on their tablet while sitting on the couch at home, then search for best prices using Amazon mobile app, and still will end up in a physical store to touch the product before they buy, and they might get engaged with the brand chat agent while in the store, ending up purchasing the TV of their choice in the store but using the coupon pushed by the chat agent to their mobile device.