Ruble Trouble: Apple Shuts Down Online Sales in Russia, Before it’s Forced to Do So

Apple announced online sales in Russia will stop due to the ruble’s volatility. Indeed, the Russian currency has taken a blow recently as it plummeted to an all-time low against the dollar.

The Russian Apple online store has been taken offline while prices are reviewed and commercial activity on iPhones, iPads and other Apple products has been halted.

But how did Apple went from more than $1 billion in sales in Russia in 2013 to pulling out in 2014?

Tim Cook, 2013: “Our activations in Russia for iPhone set a record last quarter — our highest quarter ever. We’re really happy.”

The Gold Putin iPhone, a really shinny gadget.

The Gold Putin iPhone, an object of desire for any oligarch. Source.

In 2013 Apple failed to reach an agreement to local mobile operators so it went straight to retail chains and selling online. It didn’t go too bad. iPhone sales doubled to 1.57 million units. After seeing huge spikes in demand, the local operators finally gave in and agreed to Apple’s terms. Nevertheless, almost 80% of all sales came directly from retail, skipping carriers.

So basically Apple sold $800 million worth of unsubsidized products without any help from local carriers, a surprisingly good result for the Russian market. “We’re really happy“, said Tim Cook in 2013.

Yes, the ruble drop may be a problem for Apple. But why close the store? Why block sales? Why not just switch to foreign currencies only? Why leave such a huge market? Sure, Russia is struggling with an economic a crisis but on a smaller scale – so is Europe. You don’t see Apple stopping sales there.

It may be that Apple was bound to leave Russia anyway and it figured this is the best moment to do so without worrying investors.

What happens in Russia, stays in Russia

Starting January 2015, Russia will pass a law forcing tech companies to keep Russian users’ data in Russia. That means Apple will have to move some of its servers to Russia and keep them there.

Now this is obviously an unacceptable situation. With tensions between Russia and the US, privacy and data security concerns will force the company outside anyway.

It may be that the ruble collapse is the best Apple can go about a bad situation: leaving a billion dollar market and still look like its saving the day.

The Top 5 Solution Vendors in Omnichannel Retail

Achieving clarity in Omnichannel Retail is no easy task. Retailers, especially large ones, need to get all departments, all sales channels, suppliers and fulfillment operations on the same page.

And that’s just the first step. Then comes the IT integration where legacy systems are connected to a central management tool that handles at least inventory transparency, CRM and order management across channels.

Omnichannel Retail is not mainstream right now. It is still in its infancy. Sure, some are more advanced than others and some companies are building the future faster than others. But the truth is omnichannel is a need to be fulfilled for most retailers.

And here come the knights in shiny digital armor to rescue the day. The following 5 vendors have built omnichannel retail capabilities ready to be plugged into existing retail ecosystems. They are now the go-to elite for large retailers in need of upgrading their IT infrastructure.

5. Shopatron

Shopatron was founded in September 2000 by Ed Stevens and Sean Collier. Since then, it has evolved into an integrated SaaS platform that connects offline and online orders management, making it easier for customers to purchase from retailers.

shopatron

The company offers specific omnichannel solutions, most important being:

  1. in-store pick-up
  2. ship from store
  3. inventory lookup
  4. vendor dropship

Shopatron targets midsize retailers and its main benefit is the advanced order routing. The platform combines online and offline sales and claims inventory visibility across channels.

Pros:

  • great fit for midsize companies
  • regular updates without setup costs (the platform runs as SaaS)
  • good fit for larger retailers that look for a quick roll-out for the solutions listed above
  • can connect multiple sales channels and direct orders to the right fulfillment point
  • works with both retailers and brand manufacturers
  • reduced costs and quick roll out

Cons:

  • the company is not known for its transparency in terms of product road map
  • smallest entry on this list, making it a target for future acquisitions
  • no clear option of on-premise setup

4. NetSuite

NetSuite was already rocking a great SaaS ERP product and a fully flavored ecommerce solution when it acquired OrderMotion in 2013. Now the company can provide inventory management across channels, a single customer view, business intelligence data and omnichannel order management.

netsuite

The company, among the first to bet on SaaS platforms, is now one of the fastest growing companies in the field, closing 2013 with $414 million in revenue. The revenue is up 34%, which is a big win for the company initially backed by Larry Ellison.

NetSuite started as NetLedger, envisioned as an online accounting tool, that later turned to an wider array of company management tools.

The past two years have been very active for NetSuite in terms of omnichannel related acquisitions. In 2013 it acquired Retail Anywhere, a POS solutions company. In 2014 it acquired both Venda, an ecommerce SaaS company, and eBizNet Solutions, a company focused on WMS (warehouse management system) solutions.

Netsuite has decided omnichannel is a perfect mix when it connects companies focused o separate blocks in the retail chain.

Pros:

  • extensive know how of retail operations management
  • integrated SaaS solutions
  • great record of acquisitions
  • single view of customer
  • cross channel inventory view and order management
  • extensive list of customers
  • great uptime

Cons:

  • NetSuite is “broadly focused”: its solutions work with healthcare, finance, manufacturing and many, many others. That leaves little room for actual retail innovation
  • the recent acquisition will probably work together but many steps have to be taken until full integration is achieved
  • implementations aren’t always all that seamless
  • complex pricing and licensing structure

3. eBay Enterprise

PayPal is not the only jewel in eBay’s pocket as it seems. eBay Enterprise (formerly known as GSI Commerce) is one of the fastest growing and biggest companies providing technology and consultancy for omnichannel retail.

ebay-enterprise

eBay Enterprise interfaces and tools

eBay Enterprise interfaces and tools

The company delivers four big solutions to its customer base:

  • commerce technologies
  • retail order management
  • operations
  • marketing solutions

Unlike the other companies on the list, eBay Enterprise goes beyond software integration and into marketing and operations. In terms of retail solutions, eBay Enterprise provides support for commerce integration across channels. The company integrates the main sales touch points, with the help of its omnichannel tools:

  1. web
  2. smartphones and tablets
  3. store associates
  4. interactive kiosks
  5. customer service

The omnichannel operations tools cover a lot of ground and can be used in fulfillment operations, customer care and store based fulfillment.

Pros:

  • provides great tools for online retail, offline retail, fulfillment as well as cross-channel operations
  • best-of-breed order management solutions
  • strong fulfillment and customer care solutions
  • multiple sales interfaces to channels
  • wide array of large retailers and vast experience
  • flexible pricing structure, based on sales commission

Cons:

  • eBay Enterprise is pretty picky when it comes to customers. So unless you’re not a large retailer, chances are you won’t be working with their tools

2. IBM

ibm-commerce

IBM stands for a lot of things and among them it had to be omnichannel retail also. The tech giant offers technology to retailers in need of:

  • content management,
  • supply chain management,
  • order management,
  • inventory management,
  • business intelligence,
  • CRM and
  • interactive kiosks.

Its Websphere Commerce solution connects both online and offline sales through its different versions. It handles cross-channels inventory visibility, distributed order management and scales as you would expect from IBM.

At the core of IBM’s order management and inventory tools you’ll find components IBM acquired in 2010, when it purchased Sterling commerce. The transaction cost IBM $1.4 billion but brought in 18.000 global customers.

The Websphere commerce is a great fit for large companies and powers some very well known brands, but it is somewhat a not so great fit or  midsize retailers.

Pros

  • scalable solution
  • works across channels
  • integrates all retail chain components
  • great omnichannel inventory and order management
  • large user base

Cons

  • expensive setup
  • complex setup process
  • outdated interface controls and architecture
  • hard to implement by midsize retailers

1. Hybris

Hybris, now a part of SAP, is probably the best fit for omnichannel retailing. Hybris is a dynamic company focused on growth and delivers constantly on market needs.

hybris

The omnichannel solution is scalable and built on a modern and flexible architecture, that allows interaction with all interfaces. Its order management solution, inventory and commerce application are built to work together seamless and easily connect with other systems.

Hybris’ solutions work both B2B and B2C and can handle inputs from multiple inventory sources and outputs on multiple sales channels. Moreover, the solution features a central content management system that enables retailers to push content across a multitude of interfaces.

As of 2013, Hybris is a part of SAP, making it a global powerhouse connected to the world’s most popular (well, at least used) ERP.

Pros

  • scalable solution
  • feature packed
  • fully integrated solutions
  • works B2B and B2C
  • modern architecture
  • supports multiple interfaces
  • works online, offline and on multiple other channels
  • flexible enough to work with open source technologies

Cons

  • training may be expensive
  • professionals able to implement and train are hard to find, due to an increase of platform demand
  • customization and setup can be time and resource consuming

So that’s it – these are the best of breed. Of course, there are more out there that deliver great products and I could name Intershop, Demandware or even Oracle. They, however are less inclined to omnichannel or have a really new found love for omnichannel retail. The vendors mentioned above are leading the pack in omnichannel retail implementation, especially for large customers.

Twitter launches “Twitter Offers”, A Way to Drive Social Media Traffic Offline

Twitter seems bullish about its place in the omnichannel retail arena. After hiring Nathan Hubbard, former Ticketmaster president, the company started seriously developing ecommerce features for its users.

It all started with rumors leaked online about Twitter dipping its toes in ecommerce. The news were soon followed by a “buy now” button tested for a while and a few months back the “#AmazonCart” partnership was announced. The Amazon Cart project allowed customers to add Amazon products to their carts by linking their accounts and adding them to their carts via Twitter.

Twitter now launched Twitter Offers, a way for advertisers to drive social media traffic directly to brick and mortar stores. The process is pretty straight forward or Twitter users: they link their credit cards to Twitter, claim rewards from advertisers and then redeem said offers in store.

Twitter offers

Twitter offers

As it seems Twitter sees commerce not just online but offline as well. The vision includes online and offline shopping, social media, Amazon accounts linked to Twitter and … payments.

Long story short: everything Twitter has done so far is outlining a strategy where the company targets more than social media. It’s targeting omnichannel retail as a way to increase its revenue. It has the user base and it’s building the payment infrastructure. Its focus and drive may lead it where Facebook failed – setting foot in commerce land.

 

4 Companies That are Disrupting Logistics

There is no shortage of logistics needs in the world. As the world gets smaller, more products have to be moved. Recent changes in consumer behavior helped increase the volume of moved goods. Almost $19 trillion worth of goods were imported and exported in 2013, 5 times as much as in 1990.

This 19 trillion market is stuck for the moment with two very big problems leading to ineffectiveness. The first one is technology infrastructure. As goods move to and from very different countries and cultures, there is no unified backbone for making shipments happen. As such, logistics are somewhat slow, compared to other areas in the commerce landscape.

The second big problem is the last-mile delivery. The likes of FedEx and UPS are great at moving goods from New York to Shanghai and the other way around. They’re not really that great at building local delivery networks, able to ship goods fast and cheap. As you might notice, this is a bit of a problem for ambitious retail companies such as Amazon, Walmart or Alibaba, aiming for global dominance.

But worry not.

Investors have picked up on the opportunity to disrupt the $19 trillion market and have turned their investments to logistics companies. According to Crunchbase, investments in logistics startups went from 0.1% of total investments in 2012, to 1.37% in 2014. The total amount invested in 2014 in logistics startups ($1.8 billions) means an increase of 1370%. That is a sure sign that something big is really just around the corner.

As the market is ripe for disruption and investors are generously tapping into logistics, a lot of companies will be showing up on the logistics radar.

Among all these, here are 5 companies that might be the model these investors are looking for:

No.4: Amazon is trying to ship goods with drones

Amazon Fresh, one of the companies logistics challenges.

Amazon Fresh, one of the companies logistics challenges.

After Jeff Bezos announced Amazon is building a drone-delivery service, a lot of people (me included) were questioning whether this could be real or just a PR stunt. It seems that not only is Amazon serious about the drones, but it is also very focused on building the model for the next generation of logistics operations. It has invested more than $14 billions since 2010 in its warehouses.

It has invested in robotic fulfillment operations, purchasing and integrating Kiva Systems. Becoming one of the most automated fulfillment and shipping company, it leads the way in large scale ecommerce logistics. As a result, the company is improved its operations vastly. In 2012 it managed to ship 10 million products per day, leading to 1.05 billion products shipped in the last quarter of 2012.

No. 3: Freightos takes a shot at a trillion dollar market: the cargo industry

The Freightos network

The Freightos network

It may come a shock to those reading this but the cargo industry is really in need of some technology updating. A lot of work in the freight (cargo) industry is done with the help of emails, spreadsheets and … fax machines.

Freightos aims to change all that with a SaaS product that connects those in need and those offering freight services. Unlike the previous way of managing shipping costs, Freightos provides a cloud application that can allow for real-time responses.

No.2: GoGoVan connects vans, delivers the last mile

gogovan

Remember the thing about the last mile the likes of FedEx just can’t handle? It turns out they really don’t want to handle that last mile. Large logistics companies in Hong Kong outsource 70% of their local operations, estimates Gabriel Fong, CEO of Hong Kong GoGoVan.

The company employs Uber’s taxi-hailing model to connect van drivers and those in need of moving goods. They basically replace the old and ineffective call center with a mobile app.

GoGoVan estimated that 35 000 of Hong Kong’s vans are owned by freelancers. These freelancers usually subscribe to a call center which can forward requests and lease radio communication equipment. It’s usually ineffective for both the van-driver and the customer so GoGoVan decided there is a market there.

Right now GoGoVan has 18 000 vans registered with their service so things are going great.

No.1: Uber has transformed the cab industry, it can go further

uber

Uber started as a car-sharing service but soon turned into a multi-billion company, available in 45 countries and 200 cities. It has done that by allowing those with an acceptable vehicle play cab-driver for anyone willing to pay.

The company so far successfully dodged cab regulations and managed to change the way people move in the urban environment.

Lately they have figured out that if they can move people from point A to point B they can also do that with merchandise. After experimenting with a fast delivery service called UberRUSH, trying on a Corner Store service and shipping Christmas Trees, Uber got it: It can do logistics.

Specifically – urban logistics. After all – it really is not that hard to adapt the model to minivans (see GoGoVan above).

I can’t wait to get my online orders delivered in a black luxury sedan. Hear that, Uber?

 

 

 

I, Robot, Will Take Your Job

robot

Isaac Asimov was among the first to ponder the implications of robotics. In his “I, Robot” collection of science fiction stories, he debates the theme of humans, robots and morality. Asimov wonders how humans would interact with robots, how robots would be treated and why using robots merely as tools could or could not be moral.

The term “robot” was first coined by czech author Karel Čapek, in one of his plays. His “robots” were merely simplified human beings, capable of work but not capable of thoughts or able to express emotions. They did not care for self-preservation and were used for only the most menial of jobs. The absolutely brilliant but rarely quoted play that coined the term “robots” is called “R.U.R.” (Rossum’s Universal Robots) and it’s a must read.

In this play, the robots eventually rebel against human beings, kill them all and eventually restart the cycle of evolution as replacements for humans.

As interesting as both works are, they miss an important part in the trans-humanist evolution – the point where machines and humans have to coexist in symbiosis. While you’re picturing these machines we will once have to coexist with, you should drop the anthropomorphic image. The robots don’t necessarily have to have two legs, two hands and do our simple jobs in the way we would do it.

Picture them as a combination of hardware and software that creates abstract versions of us. Picture screens and buttons. Picture programs and applications.

Picture the mechanical hands that wield automobiles together and the software that controls it.

Picture planes with all their mechanics and the software that manages most of the jobs the pilot doesn’t have to.

Picture automated trading systems that move trillions in capital across the globe each day.

Picture systems that handle most companies’ management.

The fact is that although we have (probably) not yet built Artificial Intelligence, we have built the machine to host it. Still, our lives are not those envisioned by Asimov or Capek. Not completely. Yes, we do manufacture more. Yes, we do work less to produce it. Our lives, however, are not easier. The robots don’t serve humanity. The robots serve a tiny fraction of us humans and technology has not made life far better.

Wealth disparity has increased and it will continue to do so. Technology is unaffordable for most.

Time seems to move faster but this is only because we are now competing against faster and faster machines. Each job is getting transformed. The jobs that were here yesterday are now programmed and sent to automated workers, software or hardware machines that request little pay and offer increased returns.

If you believe your job is safe, you are wrong. The great change the industrial revolution has brought to the world is the assembly line. This assembly line works just as good when building cars or selling banking services. Each uncreative job is but a small piece in a very large mechanism. Ultimately, everything gets abstracted, simplified and robotized.

Industry after industry has fallen victim to the automata. The media, construction, automotive, telecommunications, manufacturing and of course commerce. All have something in common. They need to get better, more productive, yield more results but humans, we are not scalable.

This will continue to go on. We have first built the steam engine, then the assembly line, then electrical and pneumatic robots, then computers, software and eventually the Internet to tie it all together. Each time a new technology comes – it is widely accepted. We live better for a few years and then we need something else as it is never enough.

Now it is time for the robots to take our jobs and mark my words – they will take them.

But…

Do we really need jobs? Is mankind’s purpose to place all its individuals in small cubicles or large factories? After all, these robots that are taking our jobs, they are here to solve problems. The are here for a life of drudgery and they do not care about that. The word “robot” comes from the czech term “robota” – hard work. And hard work they do.

Taking away our hard labor we are left with nothing but the choice to be what we were meant to be – creators, explorers and artists.

But to do this, humanity has to change its ways. It has to lay away the habit of humans enslaving other humans. The disparity in wealth and increased tension in the world stands as proof that some change is about to happen. This change can mean awful things and in our history it always has.

But it can also mean that we could now make free men of all of us, discover the skies and let our spirit roam throughout the stars. Meanwhile – let the robots have our jobs.

Why is Apple Pay such a Big Deal?

Apple Pay is Apple’s take on mobile payments. It works by storing credit card data and then charging consumers with a simple tap to NFC payment devices. Most important: it’s a huge game changer in payments.

apple-pay-cook

Tim Cook presents Apple Pay

With this product, Apple unveiled its grand vision of a simple, secure payment process. It can store multiple credit cards, it’s linked to the biggest card processors AND big banks such as JP Morgan & Chase or Citigroup. For now, not all Apple devices support Apple Pay but just give Apple a little time. The iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus come equipped with NFC technology. So will future products.

The big news: Apple is betting big on this product and you know what this means…

The retail industry hates it.

That’s right, even though Apple Pay registered 1 million credit cards in the first week and users love it, some retailers decided they know better.

Retail chains such as Walmart, Rite Aid, Target and many more chose to bet on a different technology, called MCX. The acronym stands for Merchant Customer Exchange and it is a network of retailers offering mobile checkout options through a product called CurrentC.

Seems a bit complicated? Well the short story is that even before Apple Pay was nothing but a rumor, some retailers thought – “hey, why let Apple have so much influence on our sales? Let’s build our very own mobile payment system!” (not an actual quote)

Pictured here: Not Apple Pay

Pictured here: Not Apple Pay

So the MCX people built CurrentC. And by built I mean they have been struggling for years to come up with something that says Mobile Payments. When Apple Pay was announced, they went on and announced their own product.

The product is sliiightlty different from Apple Pay: it works only in the MCX network and works with QR codes. Plus it stores consumer personal info and connects DIRECTLY to the consumer’s bank account. No way that storing consumer data in the cloud and accessing consumer bank accounts could ever go wrong. Just ask Target (among those in the MCX) and Home Depot.

As the public decided they are not going to wait for CurrentC to show up, retailers such as Walmart and Rite Aid went on and blocked the technology that made using Apple Pay possible.

Now why would they do that? Why is Apple Pay such a big thing and why are these retailers so afraid of it?

1. Apple Pay links online and offline shopping

Amazon vs Walmart - 17 years revenue comparison

Amazon vs Walmart – 17 years revenue comparison

Ever thought of buying online and picking up in store? Or searching for an item in a physical store and asking store associates if it is available at another store? If you have you’ve probably noticed that service is lousy when it comes to connecting channels. Omnichannel retail is still in its infancy. To make things work companies have to rewire their IT infrastructure and get ready for a future where it doesn’t matter if orders are placed online, offline, in the mobile app or on the phone.

And that’s hard.

Big retailers have a problem adapting to this new landscape where the consumer is at the center of every transaction and operation. Everything is moving faster and the giants are not really that agile. For example have a look at how much faster Amazon is growing when compared to Walmart.

A large part of this change has to do with payments. Consumers now have to pay one way in the Brick-and-Mortar store. Another way in the online shop. Mobile shopping has yet another payment process. It’s frustrating and the challenge to connect all payment systems is a really rewarding area.

The mobile payments market is estimated at $90 billion and expected to grow. That’s why Google, Apple, Amazon, PayPal and even AliBaba want a piece of it.

So far Apple has managed to connect online and offline channels best. Apple Pay’s ease of use, integrated payment in Safari through the Keychain and many others make it a reasonable bet for the future.

2. Mobile Payments are happening, whether you like it or not

29% of Millennials would be willing to bank with Apple.

29% of Millennials would be willing to bank with Apple. Source

Mobile Payments may seem like a no-go right now. After all PayPal is available for quite some time on the mobile and Google has already launched and failed once with its Google Wallet. What change the future holds as to make Mobile Payments such a big thing?

The answer is Millennials.

The up and coming generation is now just beginning to earn and spend their cash but soon they will be a driving force in the economy. Unlike elder consumers, they have no problem bridging the gap between sales channels and they definitely don’t have a problem paying with their smartphones. IF it’s easy and secure.

In a recent Accenture study millennials were found to be ready to accept mobile payments. They were, in fact, driving the adoption in mobile payments. Among those surveyed, 60% did NOT use their mobile phones to pay. Their main worries: privacy (45%) and security issues (57%). Apple Pay solves both.

3. Everyone expects a revolution

The player that revolutionized the music industry.

The player that revolutionized the music industry.

Remember the iPod, the iPhone and iTunes? They are just three of the most disrupting technologies from the past decade. And they were all introduced by Apple.

The scenario is always the same: a large market in need of change. Market leaders were stuck in exploiting existing technologies. Everyone from label records to Nokia and RIM learned a hard lesson. When Apple goes after a large market, it will revolutionize it.

Apple Pay is a revolution and the MCX retailers know it. Right now they are negotiating their place in the future of retail.

4. It’s not just about the payments, it’s about the consumer

APPLE-PAY-COMIC

Apple, Pay!

Omnichannel payments is all about the consumer. Everything happens around his or her habits. The retailer doesn’t get to dictate what the consumer wants, when it wants it and how the product should be bought.

If you look at Amazon you’ll find that it’s just a very very large store. But is it? In fact, Amazon is a marketplace. An instrument for the consumer to choose from lots and lots of products (240 million in Amazon US), sold by lots of merchants.

At the core you’ll find the consumer account. The preferences, the brand loyalty to Amazon, the saved shipping addresses and others. For each Amazon user, Amazon is a PERSONAL deal.

But for now, those products can only by accessed through Amazon’s infrastructure. The big thing that Apple Pay does is putting your personal account for millions of products and hundreds of merchants where it should be: in your pocket.

By doing this Apple will take out Amazon’s and the likes most precious asset and liberalize it: The personal account. Walmart and the likes have misinterpreted Apple’s message. Their product is not an enemy: it’s the best tool they have right now against Amazon.

5. It actually works

Consumers love the fact that Apple Pay feels easy to use and most important – secure. It works online, offline, on the iPhone and on the Apple Watch.

Unlike Apple Pay, previous products were introduced as standalone products, not as part of an ecosystem and seemingly without any clear strategy and vision for the future.

Google failed and now it’s trying again with a new Google Wallet.

PayPal has maybe missed its opportunity to become what Apple Pay will probably be. Internal company battles and unclear strategy made the company lose sight of how the market is shifting.

Amazon too launched Amazon Payments but its focus on online payments makes it a NOW product. It really isn’t future proof.

Apple Pay works great and it works great for a large audience. Apple has a huge user base and this user base trusts Apple. They use the company products and are willing to allow the company to store their credit cards. In turn, Apple has not let them down: Apple Pay just works.