Beyond the Store: Drop-shops and Pop-up Stores

There is ongoing change in the retail landscape. Both offline and online retailers now migrate towards hybrid solutions. Just as brick and mortar retailers have shifted towards online retailing, so did online pure-plays started engaging customers offline.

Retailers now need to combine the in-store pick-up options (which most online pure plays don’t have), an offline presence for information and branding purposes, as well as a way of pushing best-sellers into the market. At the lowest cost possible.

Bellow you’ll find two of the most promising directions, especially for online-first retailers:

The Drop-Shop

Not to be confused with the term “drop shipping”, the drop shop is an offline facility that handles first and foremost package pick-up from customers. Such a need arises when customers do not want to subjected to shipping schedule but rather decide when and where to pick up ordered products. When dealing with such customer requests, offline-first retailers have the upper hand, as the existing store network provides support for customer pick-up options.

Slowly moving into the brick and mortar territory, online retailers discover innovative ways to handle customer offline interaction. One such example is the Amazon Locker. Its function is to allow customers to order  products online and then pick-up the package from a near-by Locker.

Amazon Locker

Amazon Locker

As seen above, most Amazon Lockers are not exactly located in the most glamorous locations (here pictured near the lady’s room) but it does the job.

Customers could select the closest Amazon Locker, had their orders delivered there and then receive an email announcing the order is now available. To pick up orders, clients can either enter the pickup code in the central-unit computer or scan the mailed barcode.

So far Amazon tried its luck with the likes of Staples (second largest online retailer in the US),  Radioshack and 7-Eleven. The promise to these companies was that Amazon has many customers and those that will want to pick up their packages from the Amazon Locker will probably buy something else from the store. The practice was not exactly successful as both Staples and Radioshack eventually dropped the project.

However, Amazon and the likes will probably not stop here, to increase sales they need to provide the customer with an way to experience product, as well as return and buy other products from their B&M operations. So far they didn’t need to, as others catered to the showrooming need. Soon enough, however, retailers able to price match will either become serious competitors and improve their online operations and then online retailers will have to battle on unknown land.

The drop shop will be a type of small to medium shop, probably affiliated with larger retail operations, providing customers for:

  • package pick-up
  • merchandise experience and testing
  • returns and customer service

The pop-up store

The concept behind the pop-up store is a temporary location that exists for a short term, to provide marketing exposure or sell limited inventory items. It is not something that online retailers brought to the market but there are a lot using it right now.

Fleur de Mal online retailer uses Pop-Up Shops to engage customers in real life.

Fleur de Mal online retailer uses Pop-Up Shops to engage customers in real life.

Online stores that don’t operate B&M operations found the pop-up store an useful way to attract attention. It’s also a great way to provide sales outlets to customers during high sales periods, such as the holidays.

New brands, focused on retail online increasingly find that using pop-up stores is a great way to attract new customers. These customer acquisition tactic allows potential buyers to experience the brand, as well as its products.

For online retailer Fleur de Mal, setting up pop-up shops has been a great way to appeal to their fashion savvy target customers. Company representatives use pop-up shops to showcase their organic fiber fashion items to potential consumers throughout the US.

BAUBLEBAR, a fresh and innovative ecommerce startup focused on jewelry has seen brand recognition increase as soon as they started opening pop-up shops. Katherin Hill, director of offline at BAUBLEBAR outlined the main incentive to open a pop-up shop: We see about half of the people who walk in to our pop-up shops have never heard of our brand before” [Source].

There are, however, several obstacles that need to be overcome, such as offline channel connectivity to the central server, as well as store design. The biggest challenge is to find the right spot to place the pop-up shops. As most online pure plays have a hard time navigating and understanding the complex offline retail rent environment, a new startup decided to step in and help small and medium retailers find the right store spot.

Storefront is a company connecting landlords to retailers. It works as a marketplace between the two types of users. As pop-up shop demand has been on the rise, the company launched a Pop-Up Shop blog and an eBook detailing the inner workings of setting up a pop-up shop.

Both the drop shop and the pop-up shop are hybrid solutions that point to the fact that online retailers feel the need to set foot in offline retail. The pressure to reach omnichannel retailing efficiency is, thus, equally felt by offline, as well as online pure plays.

This post is an excerpt from “Understanding Omnichannel Retail – A Detailed Report”.

 

 

 

Amazon Turns 20. An Illustrated History.

Amazon turns 20 this month. Founded in July 1994 by Jeff Bezos, it has now grown into the largest online retailer.

As a sign of their appreciation, the folks at DPFOC, an online marketing company, created the infographic below. The company has also created an interactive timeline, showing the most important milestones in Amazon’s 20 year history. You can enjoy it here.

Amazon turns 20. Company history infographic

Amazon turns 20. Company history infographic

Omnichannel Payments – Battle Between Giants

What comes to mind when you think digital payments? That would probably be PayPal. We all know Ebay subsidiary PayPal leads the game in digital Payments but now the game is set to change.

Paypal bets big on POS integration

Paypal bets big on POS integration

Although it does have the first mover advantage and has been going strong into omnichannel retail, PayPal is threatened by the largest tech companies in the world:

  1. First of all, company president David Marcus has resigned (or has been fired as rumor has it) to join Facebook. His mission – building a new type of … messaging tool. And by that I mean Facebook Payments.
  2. Google is pushing hard on its Google Wallet, a mobile bridge between online and offline sales. It is a fully NFC compatible payment system, which now accepts all major credit and debit cards, loyalty cards and discount cards. It also allows customers to save offers and buy using touch-to-pay systems.
  3. Everyone raved about the Amazon phone but the actual big news is … Amazon Payments. With over 200 million credit cards stored and the ability to pay with one click (for a very long time Amazon held the patent on that), Amazon is probably the biggest competitor to Ebay’s PayPal.
  4. Apple also has a huge database of credit cards stored on its server. It also has a massive database of customer options, customer history and a fully featured Keychain app built into Safari, ready to help customers do a quick checkout. Its wide device adoption allows it to become one of the most important players in the omnichannel payments area.
  5. Let’s not forget Ali Baba Group, the organization that controls over 84% of the fastest growing and biggest ecommerce market: China. AliPay is the group’s payment system, fully featured with the Yue Bao savings account. And now the company is set to have its IPO in the US.

Now this is the real Game of Thrones in the omnichannel world. Five tech monarchies are reaching for our wallets.

 

 

Amazon vs Walmart Comparison in one Essential Chart

Two companies have redefined retail in the past 50 years. One is a company founded by Sam Walton in 1962. Mr. Walton opened the first Walmart in Rogers, Arkansas. The other is an Internet company, founded by Jeff Bezos in his small garage in Bellevue, Washington. This second company is Amazon, the largest Internet Retailer.

Both companies went on to be huge successes but in terms of revenue, Walmart has the upper hand. With $469 billion in 2013 revenue and 10700 stores opened worldwide, Walmart beats by far Amazon’s $74 billion 2013 revenue. If you look at the raw data Amazon is no match for Walmart. But pull back just a bit and the picture is changes. By comparing the track records for the two companies an interesting insight becomes clear:

Amazon vs Walmart - 17 years revenue comparison

Amazon vs Walmart – 17 years revenue comparison

The chart above is a comparison in terms of historic revenue. On one hand you have Walmart – the biggest and most successful retailer in recorded history. Employer of 2.2 million people, crusher of markets and destroyer of mom and pop shops. On the other hand you have Amazon, the brave new world of online retail. Both redefined their markets and both are leaders in their respective fields.

But one is unlike the other. See – I couldn’t even put together figures from the first years in Walmart’s history. Walmart’s revenues starts 6 years after the first Walmart opened, in 1968. That’s when the company reached a figure ($12.6 million) comparable to Amazon’s first year with recorded revenue (1996 – $15.7 million). 17 year after the company launch, Amazon registered $74.4 billion in revenue, while Walmart registered “just” $6.4 billion.

Both the trend and evolution show one thing - Amazon is on its way to become the biggest retailer in the world, a type of retailer the world has never seen. This might probably be a good time to reconsider your stock choices.

Top Three Most Influential Persons in Online Retail

Online retail is a fast moving sector and there are lots of outstanding business leaders out there. Among the best of the best, some really stand out. The way they’ve founded their companies and directed their investments have placed them in the higher echelon of influence in online retail.

Let’s have a look at them and their stories:

No.3 Jack Ma

Net Worth: $9.6 billion
Company: AliBaba Group

Jack Ma - founder of Alibaba.com

Jack Ma – founder of Alibaba.com

Jack Ma, a former English teacher in China, got his first taste of internet entrepreneurship in 1995, when he founded China Pages, a directory of Chinese businesses. He previously worked as a lecturer in English and International trade in the Hangzhou Dianzi University.

After founding and running China pages he briefly worked for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation, between 1998 and 1999. In 1999 he founded Alibaba, a B2B marketplace connecting Chinese manufacturers to the world.

Alibaba’s spectacular growth pushed Ma and his associates to add new companies to the group. AliBaba Group now owns Alibaba.com, Taobao Marketplace, Tmall, eTao, Alibaba Cloud Computing, Juhuasuan, 1688.com, AliExpress.com and Alipay.

The company is now only outmatched by Walmart in terms of revenue. Recent developments and an increase in online retail spending have made the Chinese market the largest online retail market in the world. The big winner: Alibaba Group. Through its subsidiaries, the AliBaba Group now handles $248 billion in transactions, 84% of the total online retail market in China.

But Jack Ma is not to be stopped. He is preparing one of the largest IPO’s in American history, after failing to reach an agreement with the Hong Kong exchange. His ambition is fueled by a sense of mission to run his company as an army conquering the world:

“I had always wished that I was born in a period of war. I could have been a general, I thought about what I could have achieved in war.” – Jack Ma, AliBaba Group

All signs point to Jack Ma building the hyper company he dreamed of. He is an effective leader, running the monopoly on online retail, in the world’s future largest economy.

No.2 Larry Ellison

Net Worth: $51.7 billion
Company: Oracle, NetSuite, Salesforce, etc.

Larry Ellison

Larry Ellison

You wouldn’t think of the fifth wealthiest man in the world as one of the most influential persons in online retail. But he is. Through it’s flagship company and different personal investments, he is in control when it comes to online retail infrastructure and software.

For once, Larry Ellison is Oracle and Oracle means, first and foremost, databases. Ellison started his career working for the Ampex Corporation in 1970, on a relational database for the CIA. His designs were based on a paper written by Edgar F. Codd, called “A Relational Model of Data for Large Shared Data Banks”. The same design was implemented by IBM, but the company didn’t have time to solidify its dominance on the market. Challengers soon began to emerge.

Database deployement - Oracle leads the pack

Database deployment – Oracle leads the pack

One of those challengers was Larry Ellison’s Software Development Laboratories (SDL), founded with two partners and later renamed Oracle, based on the database Ellison developed when he was working for the CIA database.

After a long struggle against the largest competitor, IBM (which would push its DB2 and SQL/DS products) and other challengers (Informix, Sybase, Microsoft) – Oracle eventually took lead in the database war. In 2010 the European Union approved Oracle’s acquisition of Sun Microsystems. One of the most important assets Oracle got was the wide-spread, popular MySQL database.

So for one - Oracle now dominates the database market, the underlying infrastructure of connected systems and retailers worldwide.

And that’s just the begging – Oracle is currently on a purchase streak, aiming to build a strong multichannel retail presence. It is second only to Adobe Systems, with its customers registering over $200 billion in revenue in 2013.

It’s presence is split between Social marketing, ecommerce platform software, site search, customer service, personalized content and transportation management.

To give you a glimpse on how serious Oracle is about its investments in multichannel retail – they paid $1.5 billion in 2011 for Right Now Technologies, a company providing customer service software and services to the likes of Overstock.com.

Larry Ellison is also one of the major shareholders in Netsuite and Salesforce, two companies shaping the global B2B and B2C commerce future.

1. Jeff Bezos

Net Worth: $30.1 billion
Company: Amazon

Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos is the one man we all picture when we think about ecommerce. He is a Princeton graduate with a degree in Computer Science. After graduating from college he pursued a career in investment banking in Wall Street, which he left to found Amazon, after noticing the fast growth in Internet usage.

He set up his company in the proverbial garage with few employees and in 1995 launched the beta version for 300 friends. Days after the launch the book selling eshop managed to ship books across US and 45 foreign countries. Yearly sales in the first year reached $510 000, much more than Bezos envisioned. The company grew and grew, survived the dot com and went on to register $74.5 billion in 2013 revenue.

By expanding the initial book selling operations into CD’s, videos and later clothing, toys, electronics, home & garden, jewelry and even art, Amazon essentially became the “everything store”. Amazon is now the biggest online retailer and a disrupting force in retail.

Everything from the ecommerce revolution to online payments, shipping and marketing has been heavily influenced by Amazon and guided by Jeff Bezos, both a star-gazing visionary and a focused micromanager.

kindle dx

The Kindle DX

In 2007 Amazon launched the Kindle which soon became a revolutionary device that changed the way we think of books and digital content. In 2013 the company hinted at the idea of using aerial drones to enable faster shipping and in 2014 it announced that it’s now testing its 7 and 8 generation aerial vehicles.

But beyond his influence in online retail and retail at large, Bezos is a special human being. A libertarian, he invested in projects most of us would consider unreal and unattainable. He was one of the first investors in Google, financed a clock that would run 10 000 years and a company that’s working on lowering space flight costs, to allow humanity to explore the great unknown.

This short list, headed by Jeff Bezos, is prone to change. The world around can change as well, partly due to these people’s and efforts. To get a deeper glimpse on how they did it and what motivates them, have a look at Jeff Bezos’ Princeton graduation address, “What matters more than your talents”:

Tweet to Buy From Amazon. #AmazonCart – a Partnership Between Amazon and Twitter.

amazon-twitter-cartTwitter keeps getting closer to social commerce. The social network just announced a partnership with Amazon where users can add products to their Amazon cart with a tweet.

The process is fairly simple. Amazon customers who are also Twitter users can add products by following three simple steps:

  1. Connect their Amazon and Twitter account
  2. Watch for tweets containing an Amazon link
  3. Reply to above mentioned tweets and adding “#AmazonCart”

After users follow through these steps products are automatically added to their Amazon Cart and they can buy later. If Twitter users didn’t connect the accounts or the service is not yet available in their area, they get an automated message from @MyAmazon guiding them to a specific Amazon web page describing the service:

amazon-twitter-cart-not-working

Most avid users – the Amazon affiliates

tweets-amazoncartAfter quickly connecting my accounts I was expecting to see a public stream of Amazon shoppers announcing their purchases.

Not even close. Right now most of those tweeting the hashtag are Amazon Affiliates asking their followers to reply to tweets containing  their affiliate links.

Apparently this is somewhat of a feature, as Julie Law, Amazon spokeswoman states: We have a significant number of customers who use Twitter, and a significant number of affiliates who use Twitter, too.

Twitter is serious about eCommerce

The #AmazonCart partnership is probably just a first step for the two companies. Amazon is interested in social commerce and as Facebook is probably harder to steer, Twitter seems the right choice.

Twitter on the other hand, showed interest in developing ecommerce abilities by hiring ex Ticketmaster CEO Nathan Hubbard. Moreover, this year information was leaked about a potential partnership with Fancy.com and mobile payments company Stripe, involving a three way solution allowing Twitter to leverage potential customers.

Why Do Online Retailers Fail?

A couple of weeks ago someone asked me a great question. It came from an entrepreneur interested in opening an online store. She had a brick and mortar shop, some experience in offline retail, great merchandise. Previously she’d noticed her customers were asking why can’t they order online, so she decided to give it a try.

So there we are – discussing the necessary steps to open the online channel and integrate it with the offline store. As she previously noticed that success in online retail is seemingly random, she asked a question I was not accustomed to:

Why do online retailers fail?

See – most people want to know what makes Amazon, Staples and other large online retailers successful. They figure that if they study these companies carefully they will get to be successful also. It seems intuitive – see who the leaders are and than copy them.

Companies such as Shopify or BigCommerce thrive on the idea that anyone can start a shop online and be successful. If Jeff Bezos can – why can’t I?

amazonjeff-bezos

Jeff Bezos – Amazon

Browse the internet and you’ll find dozens of blogs (this one included) on this particular subject. “How to be successful when selling online”? You’ll get thousands of posts on what makes online retailers succeed. The harsh truth, however, is that most online retailers fail.

You should know that …

Amazon is an exception.

Staples is an exception.

AliBaba is an exception.

Ebay is an exception.

Multi-billion online retailers are exceptions. They are market anomalies. They are not the norm. The harsh truth is that beyond logistics, most of these companies have done totally different things on their way to becoming successful online. They will continue to do so. And they probably won’t share their plans and strategies online.

Even if these strategic plans and key performance indicators were available online – what good would it do? Say you had all the information on how Amazon works. What good will it do? There already is an Amazon on the market. You’ll be a challenger at best.

So there is really no way of making sure your store will succeed. But there is something you could do: minimize the chances of failure.

There are patterns in online retail failure

There is a saying that goes something like: Tell me where I’ll die so I will never go there.

While successful online retail business models are really different from retailer to retailer, failures, I’ve noticed, have common traits. Companies ignoring basic product management, employees not engaged in client service, poor merchandise – they are all things easy to spot when retailers close shops.

Before going online and browsing around for the latest marketing gimmick, have a look at six of the most common things that lead to failure:

1. Lousy and/or not enough products

Commerce hasn’t changed much in the past … umm … thousand of years. The basic concept is simple: you buy a product from the manufacturer, bring it to the customer, get something in return. Of course – the customer needs / wants to be provided with the best merchandise he or she can afford.

Failing to put the product first is the one biggest mistake retailers make. It’s easy to believe that it’s all marketing and you can sell anything. You can’t. At least you can’t do it for a prolonged period of time. Eventually people will start asking for their money back. They will post bad reviews. Your store will fail.

So focus on the product. Find manufacturers that will deliver upon high standards.

Having great products is not enough, though – they have to be plenty. Customers need choices. Of course – you might think Apple does not need variety but the industry Apple is in does. There are plenty of PC’s, laptops and smartphones out there. All at the right price.

2. The wrong price

Pricing is one of the areas most sensitive to error because it can swing both ways. You can either charge too much or not enough.

You can be charging too much and there is nothing wrong with selling expensive products but make sure they’re worth it. Remember – online, anyone can track prices. Customers can feel cheated if your markup is too large.

You can also be charging too little – remember, prices are not weapons, unless you’re the market leader. Even then – prices should be used as a last resort. A cheap product remains a cheap product. Do the math – see if your supply chain and procurement can handle low prices. If not – differentiate with services, a curated selection of products and great customer service.

3. Not paying attention to customer care

Actual Zappos Call-Center

Actual Zappos Call-Center

As an online store there aren’t too many points of contact between you and your customer. Probably the most important is the customer care team. Operators answering the phone are one of online retail’s biggest assets. Or liabilities.

For every Zappos-like company that thrives on great customer care, there are thousands of online retailers ignoring it.

Having a customer satisfaction – oriented team can work wonders for online retailers.

4. Ignoring logistics

Quick – do you know what makes Walmart the largest retailer in the world (both online and offline)? Prices? Sure, but that’s just part of it.

The answer is logistics. Walmart was not always the company we know today. Between 1980 and 1990 the company started a quick expansion program to enable it to match its competitors. In 1981 they tied their stores through a satellite communications system that would enable real-time reporting, as soon as products were purchased. By 1988 90%  of all stores were using barcode readers to handle inventory tracking. It doesn’t seem like much now but back then there was no internet to connect the stores and barcode reading was only just taking off.

Now, Walmart is an astonishing logistics company. This is the key to keeping the company well supplied and one of the most important factors in keeping the prices down.

Amazon, too, is much more than meets the eye. Between the print on demand options, huge warehouses, robotic warehouse management and integrated supply and demand – Amazon means logistics. Retailers failing to improve their logistics will have problems staying afloat.

5. Outdated or limited technology

You wouldn’t be expecting technology to be an issue when it comes to online retailers. After all – online stores are … well … technology based – right? Indeed, but there is much more than a front end when it comes to online retail technology.

Here are a few things retailers need to invest in, if they are to expect to stand a chance:

  • CRM software – you need to know as much as possible about customers and make sure they are satisfied with your service
  • Inventory management – this is a combination between hardware, software and know-how. Online retailers need to know in real time what’s in stock, what is expected to go out-of-stock and where are the slow movers. For starters.
  • Supply chain management – dealing with suppliers is not always easy. Technology can help streamline the relationship between suppliers, retailers and end-consumers. Automated order placement and processing, barcodes, RFID readers and tags to help track packages, inventory inflow and outflow management – these things sound boring and complicated. They are, however, necessary for any online retailer.

6. Bad management

No technology will save a company lead by bad management. And as you might expect this is a combination of factors. There is no single individual usually guilty of sabotaging the company.

One can notice in failing online retailers some patterns – a combination between managers focusing too much on marketing or PR, a rigid organizational structure and the lack of senior expertise.

There is little data on the impact of rigid and poorly prepared management when it comes to online retail. This is due to the fact that online retail is still in it infancy and performance indicators can be  misguiding. It is, nevertheless, one of the most important factors in failing online retail companies.

6 things that can lead to failure for online retailers

So there you have it – the 6 big things that you need to focus on. Notice there are no tips on marketing, website design, search engine positioning and such. These are not critical problems. Marketing, design, accessibility – they can all be easily spotted and fixed.

Unfortunately – it is harder to understand and improve the product range, prices, logistics, customer care and of course – management. But this is where you need to look for a chance at building a successful retail company.

 

Is Mass Customization the Future of Ecommerce?

Henry Ford said “People can have the Model T in any color – as long as it’s black”, in the early 20th century. That’s when Ford’s innovation, the assembly line, vastly improved productivity thus reducing production costs. Lower costs meant companies could manufacture cheaper products and still be profitable.

The assembly line made possible the mass production of goods. Things that were previously custom-made and unique soon became available to the now emerging middle class. Clothing, food, even cars and houses became accessible to the mass market.

More than 100 years after Ford launched the "one color" Model T, Ford buyers can customize their cars online

More than 100 years after Ford launched the “one color” Model T, Ford buyers can customize their cars online

Industries were built around product manufacturing. The customer was no longer the center of the universe. Companies focused on the product. Products were manufactured in large quantities, distributed and sold, with a lot of help from advertising companies. Even though advertising was around, it wasn’t the type of organized industry we now know until the television set became a part of consumers’ daily lives. By borrowing some concepts used in WWII propaganda, experimenting a lot and innovating, advertising quickly evolved in a mature tool to push mass – manufactured products to the market, globally.

Mass manufacturing becomes the standard

After 1970 two trends started to emerge. First one – the mass-manufactured product becomes the norm. Faster assembly lines, improved productivity with better management and companies going global – it all lead to bigger manufacturing facilities and more money poured into advertising. In the western world people were spending earned and borrowed money faster than ever before to buy mass-market products.

The second trend was improving production with help from computers and networks. It all started small and kept growing. Innovation in the IT industry allowed companies to improve manufacturing productivity further. Soon cars stopped being built by people and robots took over. They were faster, better, less prone to error and cheaper in the long run. They also learned new things a lot better. With automated assembly lines, the mass produced goods could be reprogrammed to build new products fast.

The product development cycle was shortened. The fact that now BMW or Mercedes are able to launch a new model every month is possible because of advancements in management and IT. These companies can now target customer groups. Ford’s Model T was a “One Size Fits All” product but now everything’s changed. The auto companies can split their customers and they can build products for increasingly smaller niches.

Mass customization becomes a reality

The internet changed everything. When Michael Dell decided he would create a special PC for anyone willing to pay for it, he probably had no idea what his actions meant. Now Dell is a global company and one of the largest online retailers. When the company decided it was going to offer mass market customization features, it seemed like a really risky move. At that time, computer manufacturers were already engaged in a price war to market accessible computers.  It didn’t seem like a good idea to turn a mass produced, mass marketed product in a customizable one.

Dell offered their customers what they wanted: the ability to choose between different options in terms of design, software and hardware. The order, assembly and shipment processes were streamlined using software designed to minimize human input and error. Today’s devices (be it desktop computers, laptops, tablets or smartphones) are available in many formats. Most of them are a hybrid between mass produced and customized products.

The future of mass customization is already here and the company that helped most with making it a reality is the largest online retailer in the world: Amazon.

Amazon lead the way in mass customization with Print-On-Demand

amazon logoFirst off, Amazon made possible a type of personalized experience for customers by providing personal recommendations and notifications based on purchase history. Its second biggest innovation was print on demand. With Amazon, books were no longer published en-masse for long-tail items. Rather, for a small amount of extra cost, they were made available as items printed on demand.

This innovation spawned a new breed of self-published authors, leveling the field for publishing. In turn, readers were now able to read books otherwise unavailable and writers could skip pitching to publishing houses. The effect was so dramatic that some large book retailers had to close their brick and mortar stores.

Top ecommerce companies selling mass customized merchandise

From shoes to t-shirts to art-prints it seems like anything is game when it comes to online-powered mass-customization. Many companies jumped the customization wagon, but few stand out. Have a look below at these companies:

zazzle

 

Zazzle.com

One of the most popular platforms in the world for Built-To-Order, customized products is Zazzle. Its mission: “To Enable Every Custom, On-Demand Product in the World On Our Platform.” It is a mix between self-curated product designs that can be customized by customers, and a wide variety of products submitted by designers and entrepreneurs in the marketplace.

The company partnered with large brands to provide customizable products for companies such as Disney, Hallmark, DC Comics or even Google. It is growing fast, outpacing its competitors and bringing mass customization for the wide market.

Zazzle’s success is based on two main factors. The first is its ability to customize products that are manufactured separately and customized at the end, with input from the end consumer. This allows for a minimum slowdown in manufacturing capabilities.

The second factor helping Zazzle tackle its competitors is a patented color print technology that allows it to manufacture multicolored items, without signifiant increase in costs and manufacturing time.

It does also help that Klein Perkins Caufield & Byers, a well known Silicon Valley VC firm, backed Zazzle with $48 million. The VC’s have also backed up a couple of companies you might have heard of, such as Google, Amazon, AOL or Electronic Arts.

chikoshoes

Chiko Shoes

Ladies – ever felt like you could be the world’s best shoe designer? Felt like you’ve hadn’t had the chance to show what you’ve capable of? It turns out you are not alone. Founders Rumbert Kolkman and Judy Chin believed they could make shoe design a mass-customizable market. In 1999 they’ve built a B2B company that would allow shoe retailers and designers to access a rich supply chain with ease.

In 2013 they’ve opened this option to the public, unleashing the power of mass-customization to end buyers world wide. Prices are ranging from $230 to $1200 and Chiko Shoes allows customers to chose between 1300 material swatches.

The shop goes against luxury heavyweights dealing with customization, such as Louis Vuitton Mon Monogram or Prada’s Lettering Project.

shapeways

Shapeways

We’ve previously listed 3D printing as one of the technologies that are disrupting online retail. Among many other companies providing 3D printing technology, Shapeways stands out as a potential market leader for 3D printed custom items.

The company was founded in 2007 in the Netherlands. It moved to NY, where it received a $5million founding from VC’s including Andressen Horowitz. It now runs a fully operational marketplace where designers can sell their 3D designs and customers can create their own.

As of June 2012 is sold over 1 million user-created objects. Production was provided by its Queens, NY 3D Printing factory that uses  50 industrial printers to manufacture millions of user designed custom projects.

threadless

Threadless

Threadless started as a marketplace for t-shirt designers and quickly evolved into providing other customized merchandise. Users can purchase clothing items (such as t-shirts, hoodies or tank tops), art prints or phone cases.

Although Threadless does not allow mass customization per se it does allow users to submit designs. These designs can be featured and sold to consumers afterwards. What makes Threadless different is the fact that not all designs are accepted and marketed yet those who do are chosen by the community.

ethreads

Ethreads

Ethreads allows customers to create their very own bags, starting with a blank model and adding options using the online design tool. The shop also offers options to see what others have designed and the ability to buy directly on Amazon.

fab.com

Fab.com

Fab started as a flash sales online store. Its approach proved very lucrative for a while. The company decided to take another path by providing customized design options for furniture and home deco buyers. Although the change affected only its european operations, it seems the company is heavily interested in developing its customization options. It completely stopped marketing its products and flash sales options in the EU and is fully engaged in providing customized furniture.

A preview of furniture designed on Fab.com

A preview of furniture designed on Fab.com

The furniture is made-to-measure according to users’ needs. It allows customers to design their own products in 5 main categories: shelving systems, tables, sofas, beds and wall shelves. A complex yet easy to use configuration system allows potential customers-turned-designers to create the perfect match for the home. Inputs allow customization of size, materials, colors, finishing and others. A 3D visualization engine allows customers to view their newly created product before ordering.

This new pivot in the company was made possible after Fab purchased Massivkonzept, a company founders declared was already profitable and growing. It seems Germany is a great place to look for companies focused on customized furniture design. Woonio, a german ecommerce startup, offers customized furniture like tables, beds, lounge stairs.

The future of retail is mass customization

Examples above show any industry can allow mass customization and is prone to change. Individuals need to feel empowered when purchasing and technology has made this possible. Whether is next year or 10 years from now, mass customization will become massively popular.

 

 

Ad-Supported Mac OS? It could have happened.

steve-jobsIt was 1999. Only three years have passed since Steve Jobs returned to Apple. Britney Spears was climbing the charts with “Baby one more time” and engineers at Apple were a few months into launching the Mac OS 9. They would dub it “The Best Internet Operating System Ever”. It was a visionary product and an awesome precursor to today’s Internet-enabled operating systems.

Unlike its direct competitor, Microsoft, Apple had a simpler way of shipping its operating systems. They would either come pre-installed on purchased computers or subjected to a standard $99 upgrade fee.

Steve Jobs thought he can get more users aboard if he somehow reached out to those yet unwilling to pay for the OS. Ken Segall, the man credited with naming the iMac , recalls how this happened, in his book Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success:

“[...] Steve provided some details about how the advertising would work. At systems start-up, the user would see a sixty-second commercial. This ad could be regularly changed via updates from Apple’s servers. Throughout the rest of the OS, ads would appear in places where they had the most relevance. For example, if the print dialogue box indicated that you were running low on printer ink, you might see an ad from Epson with a link to its store – so you could buy some ink right then and there”. 

The consensus was the main ad, the one running at systems start, would be a premium spot for top-knotch companies. Those Steve admired, say BMW and Nike. Once the ad started running , some system functions would be suspended so the user had to see the whole ad.

Apple engineers and staff were psyched about the idea and they loved the fact that such a new interface could let users try the OS and buy it whenever they felt like upgrading. Apple even registered the patent for this, listing Steve Jobs as the main inventor. Fortunately this system never went public and Apple went on to build its success and later on give out the Maverick OS upgrade for free, but that’s a story for another post.

Apple thought about it, Google and Amazon did it.

Apple was not the only company that thought about the ad-supported OS, but it was the first to seriously consider it.

For starters – like most smartphone users you’ve heard about Android. It’s the most popular mobile OS (or at least the most used). It’s free and it helps Google leverage on mobile ads. So much that it Google now takes in about half of all mobile ads revenue.

Google’s other venture into ad-supported OS is Chrome OS / Chromium OS – the web OS that has Google at its center. And Google’s Ads.

Yeah, both Google and Apple thought about an ad-supported OS. The time-frame, however, is pretty important. Apple thought about the ad-supported OS, it nearly implemented it and ditched it. An year later (2000) Google launches AdWords. After yet another 5 years (2005) Google buys Android. 6 more years passed until Google launched its Chromebooks in 2011.

Amazon, the king of online retail, thought this is a great idea also.It started using it on its Kindle readers in 2011. Later on the Kindle Fire was subsidized through ads. The ad-supported device / OS seemed so good that Amazon didn’t actually bothered to built no-ads versions. Or talk about it.

Apple’s “say no” culture lead to dumping the ad-supported Mac OS

Fortunately Apple scraped the idea and later on figured out an way to give the Mac OS for free (it’s doing pretty well selling apps and music). Its focus on delivering a great user experience finally won. It was Probably Steve Jobs who remembered his own words, spoken at the 1997 Apple World Developers Conference:

“Innovation is saying no to a thousand things”

Anti-Amazon Law passed in France, Banning Free Shipping.

France surely is a culturally rich country. Unfortunately, when it comes to the economy – things are not really blooming. Part of that issue is the state’s ever-increasing interventionism. The country now has a  project aimed at slashing development of web libraries. And by web libraries I mean Amazon.

amazon-france

The french Senate has voted a ban on Amazon’s free shipping on books. The free-shipping is frowned upon in France, as the policy is contravening the Lang Law. Simply put the law, named after Jack Lang, states that publishers set a fixed price to any book. Retailers can afterwards discount the book up to 5%, but no more. The reason for this policy to be so deeply ingrained is that it supports the 3500 bookstores in France. It is a  “part of our cultural heritage“, as conservative lawmaker and law sponsor Christian Kert states.

So what is Amazon guilty of? Apparently the company is using the 5% discount AND offers free shipping. Isn’t this absolutely terrifying? The good people of France can’t let that happen, now can they?

The bill passed, Amazon is forced to stop offering free shipping

Put forward by the centre-right opposition UMP party, the bill passed by the senate this month. A near-universal pro vote assured the bill will stand and soon Amazon and others will be forced to drop the free shipping. 

The “Anti-Amazon Law” as it is informally referred to, is rumoured to be a payback for the company’s decision of setting up its fiscal headquarter in Luxembourg, to avoid french taxes. It is also part of an increasing wave of what some might call “discrimination” against american companies. Both Amazon and Google have been having their fair share of legal issues with France and they are constantly under fiscal audit.

The Anti-Amazon law is but a symptom of a state incapable of holding onto talent and encouraging innovation

While this particular law has drawn a lot of attention, it’s but a symptom of a growing problem in France – the socialist / interventionist state. Things seem pretty grim there. Taxes under socialist leader Francois Hollande grew to upwards 75% for high earners. This caused the mass emigration of talented high earners and companies historically providing for the state’s lavish expenses.

This article in Newsweek quickly went viral as it shows the people’s distaste with the way the country is managed. Business are forced to pay taxes, rather than being encouraged to innovate and develop. Talented entrepreneurs and professionals are driven abroad, rather than being encouraged to stay and help the country recover. Still a large group of people, heavily relying on social care, heavily resisting change, do support the government’s actions.

A deeply iconic example of France’s resistance happened january the 13th. Some of the cabbies in Paris attacked an Uber car, breaking the glass and slashing the tyres. The reason – cabbies were not happy with the new taxes and the Uber-like apps that caused unwanted competition. Inside the cab – Eventbrite founder and one of those talented professionals leaving the country to find success, Renaud Visage. The old France meets the new France. Violence ensues.

The country is also pushing for increasing regulations in the EU against internet companies such as Google, Amazon and Facebook, instead of pushing for increasing regulation to foster innovation and economic development. The country’s inability to adapt and evolve in this new age can pose serious threats to the EU itself. As France still has plenty of negotiation power, it might push further for a rigid European Union, an inward looking, scared empire that might not make it very well into the next century.