Book review: Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh

In Delivering Happiness we get a glimpse of how a promising startup becomes a multi-billion company and the life events that shaped its leaders. Tony Hsieh, author of Delivering Happiness, is CEO of Zappos.com, one of the largest online retailers in the US. The company he built, alongside other co-founders, was acquired by Amazon in 2009, in a deal valued at over $1.2 billion.

delivering-happiness

You can also get more resources on building your startup at deliveringhappiness.com

If you’re planing on buying the book you’re definitely not wasting money. It is a great insight in the mind and life of the man that drove Zappos from a great idea to a company worth billions. But Tony Hsieh is an entrepreneur, a story teller and probably a great leader for his company. There’s plenty to learn from him. But he’s no writer. At least not yet.

From a literary perspective – don’t expect too much. „Delivering Happiness” is fun and easy to read, it’s packed with practical advice and real-life stories to get the point across. But Tony is no Hemingway.  The writing sometimes rushes through some really important events and sometimes lags behind boring details. For example there is a bit more info on how Tony decided he should build a worm farm when he was nine years old than there is on how actually did Amazon decide on acquiring Zappos.

Literary style aside, Tony Hsieh’s life story and Zappos growth is nothing less than amazing. The book cycles through three very important areas on building a business, overlayed on top of Tony’s life story: Profits, Passion and Purpose.

It seems as if the book is less about Zappos and more about Tony’s search for purpose. From an individual point of view I believe anyone can relate to striving for purpose. Just as the title hints, Tony Hsieh’s purpose was ultimately delivering happiness to the people around him: employees, vendors, customers.

You’ll get a feeling of just how entrepreneurial Tony is from the first chapter, Profits. He shares funny stories that show his drive for profits. Be it an worm farm, a newspaper delivery operation or the pizza delivery business he created in college, we see a clear drive for profits that ultimately leads Tony to cofound LinkExchange, a media business ultimately sold to Microsoft for $265 million.

But it wasn’t all great. Building LinkExchange, Tony felt the initial energy and culture in the company ultimately faded away. In the days leading to the company being acquired by Microsoft, many employees became unexpectedly greedy, trying to squeeze as much as possible from the transaction. This fact left a bitter taste with Tony. However, the patient took the bitter medicine and applied the lesson to Zappos.

One of the most important aspects to Zappos is clearly the focus on customer service, something impossible to build without a spotless company culture. It was the bitter taste Tony felt in the days leading to closing the LinkExchange transaction that set the tone for Zappos „fun and a bit weird” culture, one of the assets that helped the company reach more than 1 billion in sales in less than 10 years.

It was the culture that helped the company evolve, kept its employees with the company when the going got tough and it was the culture that drew attention of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

It was the culture that showed Tony and other executives that they have to steer away the company from previous investors, which wanted more profits and less customer focus. This ultimately lead to what Tony calls a „marriage” between Zappos and Amazon – the transaction that tied the knot on two of the largest online retailers, two companies that take pride on being customer centric.

„Delivering Happiness” is a great  book for any entrepreneur. It outlines the struggles and hard times that are usually invisible in the media. It shows how painful and energy draining it is to build an world class company. It also shows how important passion and purpose are when trying to scale beyond the startup phase.

Delivering Happiness shows Tony Hsieh’s struggle to go beyond being an one-shot entrepreneur. It shows the struggle to go beyond profits and build an organisation that brings together passionate people that ultimately share a common purpose. It is the story of how this purpose came to improve the lives of those inside and outside the company.

What does Apple Pay mean for Retailers?

Apple announced its newest products and everybody focused on the much awaited iWatch or the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. The real news, however, both business-wise and from a consumer point of view is the launch of Apple Pay, an NFC (Near Field Communications) ready payment system. Simply put, Apple’s payment system allows customers to store credit card data on their iPhones and when the time comes, just tap to pay.

apple-paymentThe product launch was not unexpected. With the previous operating system launch, Apple packed several features that would allow for better mobile commerce. The iCloud Keychain was introduced to Safari in order to allow both faster logins to known websites as well as, in the future, a faster checkout.

With Apple Pay, the Cupertino company joins the omnichannel payment war as was predicted in this previous post. Google, Amazon, Ebay (through PayPal), AliBaba and even Facebook are trying to get a piece of the $15 trillion payments market. As banks and established financial institutions have failed to meet customer expectations in mobile payments, the gap between needs and available options will probably be filled by one of the tech titans.

Google tried its luck with the Google Wallet, Ebay’s PayPal is now crossing the bridge into offline teritorry and Facebook recruited Paypal’s former CEO David Marcus.  Marcus is the man that helped Paypal grow from $750 million in 2010 to $27 billion in 2013, so one can only assume Facebook is also serious about payments.

To help the product take off, Apple signed 220 000 merchants onboard its Apple Pay project. Among them: Mc Donald’s, Babies R Us, Macy’s, Staples, Sephora and of course, all Apple retail stores. The 220 k merchants are just 2.4% of the total 7 to 9 million merchants in the US but it is a great start given the fact that Apple has a habit on pulling seemingly impossible feats, starting with close to nothing.

For example the iTunes Store launched with not more than 200 000 songs and only Mac Users could move the purchased songs to their iPods By September 2012, it was home to more than 37 million songs, 700,000 apps, 190,000 TV episodes and 45,000 films. By February 2013, the iTunes store had sold more than 25 billion songs worldwide.

So yes, there is a pattern here and there is probably a whole lot of room for improvement in the payments area.

Apple Pay’s security

Although recent iCloud security issues clouded the product launch, the security behind the payment technology looks great. First of all it allows customers to save credit card data on their phone without exposing sensible details to potential hackers. It also features the Touch ID identification technique where users sign payments with their biometric input (the fingerprint).

The credit card information is not beemed online but rather stored in a special chip, on the iPhone, a hardware – software combination that Apple named Secure Element. When a transaction is processed, credit card details are not sent to Apple’s servers and the retailer can’t see the data. Instead, a proxy account number is issued that the retailers charges. Each transaction is secured by an unique security code that authenticates it. Apple has laid more layers of security then we came to expect and that should work just great. But take it with a pinch of salt because everything is secure untill it is not anymore.

The company states that it does not store transaction data regarding location, products purchased or the amount the customer has spent. That certainly leaves room to question why exactly would Apple choose not to store these valuable data. The answer lies with data from Bloomberg sources. According to these anonymous sources, Apple has partnered with banks in the system to receive a percentage from each transaction.

The banks involved are JP Morgan Chase & Co, Bank of America and Citigroup Inc. They agreed to integrate their cards into the system and alongside came three of the biggest card networks – Visa Inc., Mastercard Inc. And American Express Co.

So we have a great lineup for Apply Pay and although NFC payments where slow to take off, it seems that Apple’s incredible effort to bring every important player on board will be the push mobile payments needs right now.

As the company promissed it won’t charge users, merchants or developers, one of the biggest issues (the cost issue) seems to be out of the way. With customers using their mobiles more and more, retailers will be forced to adopt some form of omnichannel payment system.

How does Apple Pay benefit retailers?

Retailers and merchants in general receive several incentives to adopt NFC payment compliant technology.

First of all, the Apple Pay system allows a greater connectivity between online and offline sales channels. Customers can order products on the web store, in the brick and mortar stores or within a mobile app. The security and speed allow for greater ease of use.

The second big advantage is payment speed. By just tapping the phone, customers can pay within a 10 second timeframe, improving sales speed. This allows merchants to move customers through almost instantly.

Third big advantage Apple brings is an improvement in mobile purchases and payments. Although customers are so far browsing for products, they rather pay on the web store or order and pick up in a physical store. The biggest bottleneck is the mobile payment experience, one that is just awful for most retailers.

Famously Amazon has solved this issue with its One-Click Payments, where registered customers can use previously stored credit card data to move as fast as possible through the checkout process. Amazon’s patent sits at the heart of Apple’s payment system within iTunes, an extraordinarely usable example of mobile payments.

Actually that’s one of Apple’s strong points when implementing Apple Pay. The company will leverage almost 800 million iTunes accounts, most of them having their cards linked to the account. The magic of paying with a tap will now probably become mainstream.

Europe’s Largest Online Retailer Shows 30% Growth

Zalando, a company based in Berlin, is Europe’s largest web-only retailer. Its main focus are shoes and clothing. Right now they’re selling more than 1500 brands and have opened country-specific online stores in 15 markets.

The clothing and footwear retailer has outgrown its European rivals and posted 50% growth in 2013, reaching sales of  €1.8 billion ($2.36 billion). Now for the first half of 2014, sales reached €1.05 billion ($1.38 billion), up 29.5% from the same quarter last year.

zalando

To get a sense of size, the main competitor, London-based ASOS.com, sold “just” €959 million ($1.26 billion) in 2013.

Not bad for a company that launched in 2008, in the “cellar of the office building”, as legend has it. The company was founded by Robert Gentz and David Schneider. Initially, it was named Ifansho, but the name didn’t stick. Zalando started as a shoe-sales business and later diversified into fashion and sports.

Among the company’s shareholders you’ll find Swedish investment bank AB Kinnevik, that specializes, among others, with ecommerce investments. The investment banker, as well as other shareholders may be in for a treat as Zalando is said to reach for an IPO later this year.

A sign towards such plans is the fact that for the first time in its history, Zalando has posted a quarterly profit. A somewhat stronger sign, some might argue, is the fact that CEO Rubin Ritter mentioned “an IPO could be an interesting option in the future”.

So there you have it – although Europe lags behind China and the US in terms of ecommerce growth, it does have some champions. Zalando is probably THE name to keep an eye on when it comes to Europe.

 

Amazon vs AliBaba – Comparison Infographic

Amazon – the biggest online retailer in the world has recently turned 20, and my, has it grown. In these short 20 years, the American wonder has managed to reach more than $70 billion in revenue. In its path to world dominance it began selling everything from books, to ebooks, to apps and recently even groceries.

Under Jeff Bezos’ leadership, Amazon went from a small start-up in 1994 to a company challenging the biggest retail companies and even conventional retail itself.

From across the globe, Amazon’s hegemony itself has been challenged by AliBaba, a company founded in 1999 by former English teacher Jack Ma. Just like China’s economy and ecommerce spending, AliBaba has grown to match its mightiest competitor.

The Chinese company is the product of a splendid growth in China’s eCommerce, a market that is expected to reach $655 billion by 2020. Encouraged by these developments and pushed forward by global ambitions, AliBaba will take its IPO to the US, later this year.

Now how would these two companies look side-by-side? The good folks at SmartIntern decided the world was ready for a comparison between the two behemoths. Have a look at the infographic below. The full version opens in a new window.

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Conversion Rate Optimization – an Infographic

For most online retailers, conversion rate is THE performance indicator. While many things can be said about conversion rate optimization, a picture is still worth a thousand words. Mixing facts and expertise, digital marketing company DPFOC have put together the infographic below.

Here you will first get a sense of what works and what does not work. You will understand the basics of conversion rate optimization, get tips and tricks, and see what online marketing experts have to say about CRO.

Click the image below to open the full-size infographic, in a new window.

DPFOC-Infographic-Global_900px

Is Mobile Commerce Taking Over Ecommerce?

A chart based on US Census Bureau and Comscore data was published by Business Insider. It shows Mobile Commerce growing three times faster than Ecommerce overall.

Is Mobile Commerce taking on "classic" Ecommerce?

Is Mobile Commerce taking on “classic” Ecommerce? Source.

The numbers behind it are very interesting:

  1. mobile commerce is on the rise and has registered a 48% YoY growth, in the second quarter. It now accounts for $8 billion in online spending.
  2. overall ecommerce (including mobile commerce) grew “only” 15.9% year over year in the second quarter and totals $70.1 billion in online sales.

However…

Stop betting on (just) mobile. We’re not there yet.

Smartphones and tablets have brought forth a revolution in computing and social interaction. Unfortunately for overenthusiastic mobile-only fans, mcommerce usage is lagging behind mobile device adoption.

If you look at the chart above you’ll see there’s a  linear growth in mobile commerce. Not a hockey puck growth. Not even an accelerated growth.

Even more – ecommerce accounts for only 5.9% of all retail. Mobile commerce itself is just 11.4% of ecommerce. This means mobile commerce, however ambitious is pretty much insignifiant. It accounts for just 0.67% of total US retail.

Smartphones and tablets are extremely popular. Mobile commerce – not so much.

And hey – it’s not the fact that people don’t like smartphones. Oh no. People love smartphones:

Growth in smartphone penetration in the US.

Growth in smartphone penetration in the US. Source.

 

 

They also love tablets. Almost 42% of all US adults own at least a tablet. Remember – this is a product that went on sale only 4 years ago, when Apple introduced the iPad. In just 4 short years, the tablet has become a virtually ubiquitous computing item for US adults.

Tablet penetration among US adults. Source.

Tablet penetration among US adults. Source.

So – people are buying mobile devices like crazy. PC sales are dropping yet the mobile commerce is just 0.67% .Why?

The short answer - there is no mobile commerce. 

Mobile is the bridge. It helps connect the physical world to the virtual world. The act of purchasing happens on multiple channels. Mobile is not “the future”. It is the present yet the present comes in a form we have not met before – a bridge across channels.

If we take the time to see matters from the consumer’s point of view things are not as black and white as we expect them to be. Few if any consumers think in terms of mobile OR desktop OR brick and mortar. The consumer will spend time in a B&M store, browse the web to search for the right products, do a little showrooming to find the be best pricing. In the end, the whole purchasing experience stretches across channels and some are more popular than others.

But the customer has only one perspective where channels blend in. The omnichannel perspective. To provide the ecosystem for this perspective, the new retailers will try to understand and implement omnichannel retail because mobile, however massive, is just a piece of the puzzle.

Online Grocery Market is about explode. Uber wants in.

Top 5 groceries markets in the world. Source.

Top 5 groceries markets in the world. Source.

Quickly – think of one market you know is a sure bet for growth. If you guessed the groceries market, awesome! You’ve spotted the subtle hint in the title. The groceries market in the US is expected to reach $1.1 trillion in 2016. China, the largest groceries market, is expected to peak at almost $1.6 trillion in 2016. India, Brazil and Russia are growing at a fast pace and are expected to overtake Japan within the same threshold.

All in all – the US and BRIC states groceries market is expected to total $4.2 trillion within the next two years.

That’s a big market. Obviously, some of those groceries will be purchased online. For the online groceries market to take off, some disruption has to happen. Although not yet mainstream, we can see signs that consumers will be purchasing at least some of their groceries online.

Amazon is going Fresh

If there is one thing that online retailers need to get right in the groceries market – that is the logistics. From a consumer point of view, a reliable fulfillment and a guaranteed product freshness is a must. To do that, online and omnichannel retailers need to set new logistics policies to allow for a quick order delivery, without loss in product quality. Do we know a company that is really good at online retailing logistics? Of course we do:

Amazon is clearly the leader in online retailing so it was expected to move into this market. It did so 5 years ago. Its Amazon Fresh grocery service was first tested in Seattle. Now the company unleashed the grocery service in San Diego. Customers in Northern and Southern California can pick from 500.000 products, ranging from vegetables and milk to batteries and hair care products.

Jeff Bezos previously mentioned that in order to become a $200 billion company, Amazon has to learn to sell food and clothes. The obvious target was Walmart, a company with revenue north of $475 billion.

To do so, the company will continue to improve its service and increase the number of cities Amazon Fresh is available in. “We’ll continue our methodical approach – measuring and refining AmazonFresh – with the goal of bringing this incredible service to more cities over time” mentioned Bezos, addressing Amazon’s shareholders.

The methodical approach Jeff Bezos is talking about might reach New York soon enough. Re/Code mentioned the company has already prepared an warehouse in the area, instructed suppliers to ship frozen products to it and is hiring workforce for the service.

In New York, Amazon will have to face competition from online groceries retailers such as FreshDirect or popular startup Instacart.

Online Groceries in Europe are growing fast

It’s not just the US, though. Online supermarket Ocado now covers 73% of UK’s population, more than any other supermarket chain. It’s plans are outrageously ambitious: take the world by storm through a global marketplace, similar to Amazon’s. Only for groceries.

Whatever it is they’re doing – it must be right because the company jumped from being evaluated at less than £300 million to a £2.3bn valuation in less than 13 months.

Uber rides into ecommerce, brings groceries

Uber's Groceries Order interface

Uber’s Groceries Order interface

You’ve probably heard a bit about Uber. It’s that company that’s turning the cab industry on its head, enraging french cab drivers and linking riders with drivers.

Now it’s testing a new service, called Corner Store, in Washington. Customers can order from a limited inventory right now, 100 products only, ranging from “drinks” to “feminine care” to “first aid”. Not in that particular order.

And it’s not just Uber. Just like with omnichannel payments, it seems all the big boys want in. Google carefully nurtures Shopping Express, Ebay promises 1-2 hours delivery from local shops with Ebay Now and Walmart has Walmart ToGo ready for orders.

Now if anyone can actually make online groceries profitable …