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The marketplace has been a very influential social and economic construct for a very, very long time.
It has been a central concept to commerce all over the world since the dawn of man kind. In time, the marketplace has been refined and evolved to include ever more complex structures. During the past century it morphed from temporarily trade gatherings to large permanent structures such as shopping malls and eventually it evolved into what we now know as the online marketplace.
Ebay, Alibaba, Etsy, Amazon and others have one thing in common – they get sellers and buyers in one place. These online marketplaces are fueled by a business model that has seen a steep increase and proved excellent in the past years. But now, it's time for the next step:
I believe the times they are a-changin', like Dylan would chant. The Online Marketplace is not enough any more. The markets demand something more.
That something is the Functional Online Marketplace, a virtual hub that combines the features of a marketplace (buyers and sellers, reputation management, transaction handling) with functions that improve the lives of either sellers or buyers.
The Functional Online Marketplace goes beyond just letting sellers and buyers trade. It helps the seller run its business better and the buyer benefit more from the product purchased.
And some of the biggest tech companies we know have created this type of Functional Marketplaces. We've used them and most customers love them. We just didn't put a name on it. Have a look at some examples:
Steve Jobs envisioned the PC as a digital hub, a central unit that connects the user's digital activity. From email to web surfing, from music to pictures and more. It than proceeded to create this vision and along the way he built much more.
By launching the iPod and than the iPhone, Apple moved the digital hub inside the consumer's pocket. With such a valuable real-estate in the reach they've had to build a system that shipped music, video and applications from third parties to these devices.
The iTunes Store and the AppStore were born. Apple built the platform to consume apps, the place where customers could download these apps, empowered developers to build these apps but did something else too.
It built Xcode (the development tool for iOS developers), it launched Objective C and than Swift (the programming languages used to build apps) and helped developers create useful apps.
Apple went beyond the marketplace paradigm. Yes, it allowed media and software consumers to meet developers but it also created the platform where they could be consumed and the tools to build them. It built an extraordinarily effective Functional Marketplace.
But Apple is not the only one …
Uber is an extraordinary successful company that connects freelance drivers to those in need of their services. It connects buyers to sellers. It is technically a digital marketplace. And more.
First of all Uber empowered a set of freelancers that didn't know they've actually had a market. The driver app allows drivers to see potential riders and provides GPS-linked functionality inside a simple mobile device.
The functional side of Uber not only improves the way sellers (drivers) provide their services but actually it makes it possible.
For customers, the app makes hailing a driver an easy task, it allows direct payment on mobile phone and brings the comfort previously unattainable. The functional marketplace at its best.
Google is many things. Search giant, mail provider, mobile os developer and robot builder among others. But at its core, the business model is quite simple: Get people to pay for ads. Show ads to customers. Make people click on said ads.
Google ads revenue (billion $). Source
Advertising accounts for 89.5% of Google's total revenue so it's safe to say that ads are its bread and butter.
To achieve these levels of revenue Google has to place together "The Sellers" (Advertisers) and "The Buyers" (Customers clicking on ads). Though customers don't technically buy on Google, those that generate the company's revenue end up as leads or buyers on advertisers' websites.
To do this, Google built its ad market on top of its primarily function: Search. Users searching for information of interest are effectively buyers in the Google functional marketplace.
The marketplace, therefore provides functional support to buyers. The search, Gmail, Android – are all basically functions that lock in the ad-clicker and in turn generate revenue through these types of transactions.
These are just three functional marketplaces examples but they illustrate the concept. To be successful, a newly established marketplace has to provide more than just a connection between buyers and sellers. It needs to provide function beyond the commercial. By improving the lives of buyers and sellers beyond the commercial, Functional Marketplaces provide the type of lock-in and effectiveness previous models don't.
Ben Horowitz tells it like it is: starting and running a tech company is hard. Really hard. But not for the reasons you would think.
Founding and running a tech company is generally viewed as the thing anyone should aspire too. The fame, the riches and everything that goes with it is the dream of our generation. Silicon Valley is just as attractive as a career in Hollywood or being a rock star. With poster boys such as Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk, young men and women grow up believing that all you need is a great idea and the guts to start it.
But that dream fades when your bright idea and optimistic vision have to face the hard truths of running the company you’ve just founded. Ben Horowitz has a reputation of being a no-bullshit kind of guy and you can actually feel his straightforward words telling you that your dream will be squashed by reality.
Unlike the glamorous and relaxed articles you’re reading about the likes of Facebook, Google or PayPal, Ben’s book is a clear indication of what you can expect when running a company and what to do about it.
It’s definitely not a perfect guide to running a company but it is a great start to understanding what to expect. Being a CEO is a tough place to be in. It’s a lonely place. It’s full of doubt and decisions that may or may not be right.
One of the greatest idea I’ve found in the book is telling it like it is. Yes, telling it like it is when things fall apart. Because they constantly do and someone has to constantly put them together.
Sometimes CEO’s start trusting their PR too much. They start living the persona they need to project to customers, investors and the media. Of course, no one can just go and tell the world that they don’t have enough data to make a decision. Or tell investors that the company may or may not exist in the next 6 months or the product development is stalling. Or tell customers that the product they’ve just purchased may be out of the market in the next year.
No. The CEO’s job is to project confidence and show the world that everything works just smooth. Right? But what do you do when things are the opposite of smooth? What should the CEO do when they fall apart and everything starts running amok. How can you tell the engineers that the customers hate the new features and they just have to rewrite everything so it can be spotless. How can you tell the marketing team that the last campaign they’ve pulled is bringing in no results.
Ben’s answer is simple:
“[…] give the problem to the people who could not only fix it, but who would also be personally excited and motivated to do so”
There are three big reasons to do so:
Take care of the People, the Products, and the Profits – in that order.
Throughout the book Ben Horowitz deals with hiring, managing and retaining employees best fit for the company. And he stresses the “fit” part. People that cannot work in a team should not be part of the team. Egos and politics can destroy companies if not properly managed.
The people themselves have to build products that the market needs and wants and there’s plenty of advice on this topic also. Concise, clear and to the point advice.
Ben shows that innovative products and successful companies are built by CEO’s that lead without knowing where the path would lead to. They lead their teams and they try and try. Sometimes they get the right answers. Sometimes they don’t. That’s because there is no formula for building the equivalent of Facebook or Google or Apple. If it were – more people would be doing it right.
The hard things are things all responsible entrepreneurs and CEO’s have faced. It’s the worrying, the lack of direction or know how, the lack of guidance and the loneliness. It’s keeping your emotions in check and being stronger because of it. It’s finding answers without showing weakness. It’s the struggle you have to embrace so you can continue when things get rough.
In the end I would highly recommend this book to anyone starting or running a tech-related business. My only regret is not having read it five years earlier but then again – it was not written then.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
The company offers specific omnichannel solutions, most important being:
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.
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.
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.
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.
The company delivers four big solutions to its customer base:
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:
The omnichannel operations tools cover a lot of ground and can be used in fulfillment operations, customer care and store based fulfillment.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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)
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fab.com is dying.
The ex-gay Yelp, ex-gay Social Network, ex-gay Amazon, ex-Design Flash Sales site struggles on its death bed. The company’s spectacular rise and fall is a lesson in how to go from rags to riches and back to rags again. It is a story on how growth can sometimes make investors, founders and management oblivious to threats.
I was never a big fan of the concept of flash sales. I covered it, I studied it but I didn’t like it. It is short-sighted way of running online retail operations. It is a great way to create market demand. It may even be a good way to develop customer base. But it will not handle growth forever.
Flash sales need three things to function: good-to-great products, relatively low prices and consumers willing to try overpriced merchandise at a discount. All of these factors come at the expense of two very “un-scalable” variables:
None of these variables scale very well, because they are human-based. Fab and especially founder Jason Goldberg, the one taking most of the heat have learned this the hard way.
Of course, it easy for me and other bloggers to watch events unfold and point fingers at who done what and why the business model was wrong. It was a bit harder when Fab.com was getting millions and millions in financing and customers were anxious to find new products and buy on Fab in 2012.
But this post is not about pointing fingers. It’s about looking beyond the failure, at what lies ahead for Fab.
Fab started as a gay community service that reviewed local business. In 2011 it pivoted and went on to offer daily discounts to its users, later on connecting users in a form of social network. As the model didn’t really took off, founders Jason Goldberg and Bradford Shellhammer decided they need to pivot yet again and rethink their market.
As it seems, the duo thought the company was great at a very specific thing and decided to focus on that: design. Specifically: interior design. They re-positioned Fab.com as a source for inspiration and sales of design-related products.
One can of course notice the stereotypical positioning (being a former gay community) but it nevertheless worked. The response to this new pivot was great. The number of registered users went form 175 000 in June 2011 to 350 000 in just a month. In just 12 days the company sold more than $600k worth of merchandise.
The new Fab.com was available by invite only and when it opened more than 125 000 had already registered to receive offers. The reviews were awesome and in just a short month after the Fab relaunched, Menlo Ventures invested $8 million in the company.
Fab’s usage of social networking and social-shopping features further increased the number of users and sales for the company. In just 5 months since launch (nov. 2011) the company boasted over 1 million registered members. Then came the holiday shopping season and sales skyrocketed. As a result of fabulous sales and increasing media traction, Andreessen Horowitz invested … wait for it … $40 million.
After just 7 months since relaunch, on Dec. 7, legendary Andreessen Horowitz VC’s are chosen by Fab.com founders from 15 willing investors.
At the end of 2012 numbers are in and they show a spectacular growth fueled what went from a 4 people company to a 140 employee design force.
CEO Jason Goldberg then posted on its now gone blog “Betashop” a slideshow detailing the successful year his company had. It shows the brave startup growing from a small yet promising group of passionate people to a company selling in 26 countries, with 10 million members.
In 2012 Fab sold over 4.3 million products. During the holidays that meant a rate of 17 products sold per minute. While other companies still try to cope with the idea of mobile commerce, Fab’s sales in 2012 had 33% of all sales coming from mobile. During holidays, 56% of sales came from smartphones and tablets.
The customer lifetime was great and two out of three purchases came from repeat customers. In 2012 sales grew 600% over 2011 and Goldberg boasted that Fab’s 15.000 products were 33% more than IKEA’s. Fab was the largest design store.
In hindsight, past the astonishing numbers, some statements showed something was not exactly right. There was a sense of too much pride: everything Fab was doing was absolutely great and everybody else was just the loser left behind. Jason felt like Fab was the only company with the right attitude and operations. Even Amazon and IKEA didn’t seem like a match for them.
The company was so incredibly self-assuring that it was doing everything internally. In 2012 it employed more than 600 people across the world, it built and operated its IT systems in-house, it even built its own warehouse. How ’bout renting, man?
The 2012 presentation goes on and on about the greatness of Fab, about superstar employees, about the huge vision ahead, about how Fab has to beat IKEA and Amazon at design and deliver more than $30 billion in sales. In the end Jason shows a 6 point plan on how they’ll achieve that:
These 6 points up there - these are the reason Fab failed. What they leave untapped is just what matters. They are all great for rallying the troops but they lack substance. Amazon and IKEA’s steady growth happens from the ground up. The infrastructure these companies rely on to build, handle, ship and sell products – these are their secret weapons.
Marketing is just the illusory panacea startups reach for when hoping it would suffice in their struggle against the big guys. It doesn’t. That’s where they get their smaller competitors.
Retail, even if it happens online, is a logistics game. Walmart, IKEA and Amazon manage to stay on top with a lot of help from their supply chain. Everything moves smoothly behind the scenes and that’s what Fab failed to acknowledge. By spending too much time on social media, mobile and interviews, the management failed to see the large logistic wall that suddenly halted their growth.
In 2013 things got from great to bad and then to awful. The company did raise an additional $150 million in venture capital in July 2013 but as CEO Jason Goldberg these were definitely not great news:
“What a lot people don’t know is that we set out to raise $300 million. […] And when you set out to raise $300 million, and you raise $150 million, you have to change your business plan. And that’s what we did.”
The change of business plan meant a lot of things that hurt the company’s credibility. Layoffs throughout its offices left employees unhappy. The company had to reconsider its position. At the turning point it was burning through $14 million each month and still not reaching sales projections.
The job cuts took Fab from more than 750 employees to less than 380 at the end of 2013. It started in Europe and than spread through its offices. Every office was restructured to help the company reach a balance point. It didn’t. Even C-level executives had to take a hit. It’s unclear if they left willingly or have been laid off but Co-founder Bradford Shellhammer and COO Beth Ferreira left the company.
Meanwhile traffic came down abruptly and so did sales. The company was heavily relying on ad spending to reach customers. Its 2012 marketing costs were $40 million. In 2013, the figure dropped to $30 million. But as the chart on the right shows – that was not the only factor that lead to the drop in traffic and sales. People were just not interested in Fab’s products anymore. Buzzwords and social media didn’t cut it anymore.
All these bad news took the company by storm. A lot of people took shots directly at Goldberg for shifting focus, delaying layoffs and generally the could-be death of Fab.com. It was not surprising: he was the one taking the spotlight when Fab was growing, he would be the one taking the heat for the fall.
The media took turns at hitting Fab.com whenever it could and it was obviously an easy task. There were plenty of laid-off employees out there to leak inside info about how bad the company was being ran. They were jobless, pissed-off and needed someone to take the blame.
How could a company with $336 million in funding fail so bad? Where did the company on everyone’s lips go? What happened with all that value investors just … lost?
All these questions left out some seemingly uninteresting investments Fab was running in Europe. While dealing with layoffs, decreased sales, management layoffs and media hits, Fab acquired custom furniture companies MassivKonzept and One Nordic Furniture Co..
By doing so the company combined the MassivKonzept’s mass customization tools and One Nordic Furniture Co.’s talent and technology. The new company took over Fab’s sales in Europe and now leverages Fab’s customer base, experience and of course – cash.
Fab’s European venture received the name Hem (Swedish for “Home”) and now employs 150 employees in Berlin, Helsinki, Warsaw and Stockholm. Some of them are previous Fab employees, some are new hires.
Hem is a designer, manufacturer and retailer and it is an integrated company. It is the technology company that Jason Goldberg wanted to build for a long time.
But most importantly, Hem is something Fab never was: its own company. An unique organization that goes beyond comparing itself to others. It is not the Amazon of Europe or the IKEA of online. It is Hem. It allows its customers to build custom, beautiful furniture and products for the home and it can now deliver on this promise. It seems to be a company that may lack sales and the buzz Fab had but it has something more important: purpose and substance.
It seems that a more mature Jason Goldberg has finally decided to leave marketing and PR aside and focus on building a real company. An unique company that goes beyond buzzwords and solves real problems, in a real environment, where the team is not made of superstars but rather a group of passionate people that put the product ahead of their own egos. And it started with its leader.
I believe Hem has a bright future, unlike Fab. It is built to last, just like its products. I must say that when I set out to write this post, it was going to be yet another bashful take on Fab’s fall. But the more I read about it, the more I found about Jason and his company and the more personal it felt. And a lot of it resonated through this interview he gave at TC Disrupt. A sense of grit and humility echoed through this talk. As an entrepreneur I know what it feels to fail. I too made mistakes and I too delayed laying off people. I too mistook marketing for product and company development. I too believed sky was no limit and failed. So there is a lot of Jason’s actions that I get from being in a similar, yet smaller scale, place.
Yes, Fab is dying and it’s a great thing. Hem now takes its place and it has the potential to be a far better company. In the end this might be not a cautionary tale of entrepreneurship gone bad but a lesson in resilience and willingness to adapt.
Jason Goldberg took some courageous steps into transforming the company he’s built and it will probably pay off in the future. After all, he runs a company that is pretty close to break even, with $120 million in the bank and a large customer base. And now it has a real business model. How hard can it be?
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