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Previously, the company used Commercehub’s marketplace technology to connect its vendors to its Ecommerce sales channels. With this new development there are two big things happening:
The first and most important, Staples moves technology development in house. This is a clear sign the company is shifting from a brick-and-mortar centric strategy to a technology centric strategy.
With its legacy store network already in place, growing online sales and the new marketplace, Staples can compete with Amazon on an omnichannel level. Its vendors can now access its online sales channels but with future improvements, their products will be probably ordered offline as well.
The second biggest change is in Staples’ logistics strategy. So far the company relied heavily on its own fulfillment centers. Now orders are increasingly shipped by vendors through drop shipping. This is the most efficient way for Staples to increase its product count and it seems to be working: Staples increased its product count from 30 000 in 2012 to 200 000 in 2013 to a whooping 1.5 million SKUs in 2014, according to Internet Retailer.
As Internet Retailer reports, Staples is still curating the vendors’ offers but it will soon switch to a fully integrated platform in 2015. Even now the new tool allows vendors to receive orders, see real-time alerts, access analytics data and manage inventory, without the cost Commercehub’s technology implied.
Could waiting for online orders to arrive actually be a pleasant experience? What about all those next day delivery and in-store pick-up features retailers brag about? What is the point in that?
Apparently not only is it pleasant but it may sometimes be more fun than buying products in store. The anticipation of orders arriving at our doors keep us on our toes. As a recent Razorfish report mentions, 76% of American consumers and 72% of UK consumers are more excited when their order is delivered at home than when they buy it in store.
Let’s stop for a moment and really look at these numbers: 3 out of 4 customers in the US, UK, Brazil and China would rather wait for purchases than receiving them right away.
This are amazing findings. It shows that instant gratification may no longer be the optimum trigger in marketing messages. It also means that what we thought was a liability for online sales is actually an asset, if used properly.
Building anticipation and delivering items on time is making customers happier than receiving it right away.
But don’t think that customers have lost their interest for offline OR online purchases. The channels have started blending with the help of smartphones. The same study reveals that:
1. Digital has a major impact on the retailer’s brand: Almost all those interviewed responded that a bad web store negatively impacts their opinion on the brand. 84% of consumers in Brazil, 92% in China, 73% in US and 79% in the UK are turned off by lousy digital experiences.
2. Customer journeys are not delivering what the customer wants: a cross-channel experience that works. Retailers are not yet delivering on the omnichannel promise. This leads to frustration and a growing gap between what the consumer wants and what the retailer delivers.
3. There is a huge difference between Gen Xers and Millennials, in terms of shopping. That difference lies in how much they rely on their smartphones. Millennials use their phones at least twice as much as Gen Xers when shopping offline (see figure above).
Apple announced its newest products and everybody focused on the much awaited iWatch or the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. The real news, however, both business-wise and from a consumer point of view is the launch of Apple Pay, an NFC (Near Field Communications) ready payment system. Simply put, Apple’s payment system allows customers to store credit card data on their iPhones and when the time comes, just tap to pay.
The product launch was not unexpected. With the previous operating system launch, Apple packed several features that would allow for better mobile commerce. The iCloud Keychain was introduced to Safari in order to allow both faster logins to known websites as well as, in the future, a faster checkout.
With Apple Pay, the Cupertino company joins the omnichannel payment war as was predicted in this previous post. Google, Amazon, Ebay (through PayPal), AliBaba and even Facebook are trying to get a piece of the $15 trillion payments market. As banks and established financial institutions have failed to meet customer expectations in mobile payments, the gap between needs and available options will probably be filled by one of the tech titans.
Google tried its luck with the Google Wallet, Ebay’s PayPal is now crossing the bridge into offline teritorry and Facebook recruited Paypal’s former CEO David Marcus. Marcus is the man that helped Paypal grow from $750 million in 2010 to $27 billion in 2013, so one can only assume Facebook is also serious about payments.
To help the product take off, Apple signed 220 000 merchants onboard its Apple Pay project. Among them: Mc Donald’s, Babies R Us, Macy’s, Staples, Sephora and of course, all Apple retail stores. The 220 k merchants are just 2.4% of the total 7 to 9 million merchants in the US but it is a great start given the fact that Apple has a habit on pulling seemingly impossible feats, starting with close to nothing.
For example the iTunes Store launched with not more than 200 000 songs and only Mac Users could move the purchased songs to their iPods By September 2012, it was home to more than 37 million songs, 700,000 apps, 190,000 TV episodes and 45,000 films. By February 2013, the iTunes store had sold more than 25 billion songs worldwide.
So yes, there is a pattern here and there is probably a whole lot of room for improvement in the payments area.
Apple Pay’s security
Although recent iCloud security issues clouded the product launch, the security behind the payment technology looks great. First of all it allows customers to save credit card data on their phone without exposing sensible details to potential hackers. It also features the Touch ID identification technique where users sign payments with their biometric input (the fingerprint).
The credit card information is not beemed online but rather stored in a special chip, on the iPhone, a hardware – software combination that Apple named Secure Element. When a transaction is processed, credit card details are not sent to Apple’s servers and the retailer can’t see the data. Instead, a proxy account number is issued that the retailers charges. Each transaction is secured by an unique security code that authenticates it. Apple has laid more layers of security then we came to expect and that should work just great. But take it with a pinch of salt because everything is secure untill it is not anymore.
The company states that it does not store transaction data regarding location, products purchased or the amount the customer has spent. That certainly leaves room to question why exactly would Apple choose not to store these valuable data. The answer lies with data from Bloomberg sources. According to these anonymous sources, Apple has partnered with banks in the system to receive a percentage from each transaction.
The banks involved are JP Morgan Chase & Co, Bank of America and Citigroup Inc. They agreed to integrate their cards into the system and alongside came three of the biggest card networks – Visa Inc., Mastercard Inc. And American Express Co.
So we have a great lineup for Apply Pay and although NFC payments where slow to take off, it seems that Apple’s incredible effort to bring every important player on board will be the push mobile payments needs right now.
As the company promissed it won’t charge users, merchants or developers, one of the biggest issues (the cost issue) seems to be out of the way. With customers using their mobiles more and more, retailers will be forced to adopt some form of omnichannel payment system.
How does Apple Pay benefit retailers?
Retailers and merchants in general receive several incentives to adopt NFC payment compliant technology.
First of all, the Apple Pay system allows a greater connectivity between online and offline sales channels. Customers can order products on the web store, in the brick and mortar stores or within a mobile app. The security and speed allow for greater ease of use.
The second big advantage is payment speed. By just tapping the phone, customers can pay within a 10 second timeframe, improving sales speed. This allows merchants to move customers through almost instantly.
Third big advantage Apple brings is an improvement in mobile purchases and payments. Although customers are so far browsing for products, they rather pay on the web store or order and pick up in a physical store. The biggest bottleneck is the mobile payment experience, one that is just awful for most retailers.
Famously Amazon has solved this issue with its One-Click Payments, where registered customers can use previously stored credit card data to move as fast as possible through the checkout process. Amazon’s patent sits at the heart of Apple’s payment system within iTunes, an extraordinarely usable example of mobile payments.
Actually that’s one of Apple’s strong points when implementing Apple Pay. The company will leverage almost 800 million iTunes accounts, most of them having their cards linked to the account. The magic of paying with a tap will now probably become mainstream.
A chart based on US Census Bureau and Comscore data was published by Business Insider. It shows Mobile Commerce growing three times faster than Ecommerce overall.
The numbers behind it are very interesting:
Smartphones and tablets have brought forth a revolution in computing and social interaction. Unfortunately for overenthusiastic mobile-only fans, mcommerce usage is lagging behind mobile device adoption.
If you look at the chart above you’ll see there’s a linear growth in mobile commerce. Not a hockey puck growth. Not even an accelerated growth.
Even more – ecommerce accounts for only 5.9% of all retail. Mobile commerce itself is just 11.4% of ecommerce. This means mobile commerce, however ambitious is pretty much insignifiant. It accounts for just 0.67% of total US retail.
And hey – it’s not the fact that people don’t like smartphones. Oh no. People love smartphones:
They also love tablets. Almost 42% of all US adults own at least a tablet. Remember – this is a product that went on sale only 4 years ago, when Apple introduced the iPad. In just 4 short years, the tablet has become a virtually ubiquitous computing item for US adults.
So – people are buying mobile devices like crazy. PC sales are dropping yet the mobile commerce is just 0.67% .Why?
The short answer - there is no mobile commerce.
Mobile is the bridge. It helps connect the physical world to the virtual world. The act of purchasing happens on multiple channels. Mobile is not “the future”. It is the present yet the present comes in a form we have not met before – a bridge across channels.
If we take the time to see matters from the consumer’s point of view things are not as black and white as we expect them to be. Few if any consumers think in terms of mobile OR desktop OR brick and mortar. The consumer will spend time in a B&M store, browse the web to search for the right products, do a little showrooming to find the be best pricing. In the end, the whole purchasing experience stretches across channels and some are more popular than others.
But the customer has only one perspective where channels blend in. The omnichannel perspective. To provide the ecosystem for this perspective, the new retailers will try to understand and implement omnichannel retail because mobile, however massive, is just a piece of the puzzle.
A very select group of companies lead the way when it comes to omnichannel retail solutions. Intershop is one of these companies. Having unveiled its first online shop in 1994, it’s also one of the most experienced and innovative. Now more than 500 mid-sized and large companies benefit from its solutions. Among these you can find Hewlett-Packard, BMW, Bosch, Otto, Deutsche Telekom, and Mexx.
We’ve reached out to mr. Jochen Wiechen, Intershop’s CTO, for a few thoughts on the future of retail. Previously a VP of ERP powerhouse SAP, mr. Wiechen holds a PhD in Physics and has a very interesting view on the future of retail.
Jochen Wiechen: Clearly online is the main disruptive technology that has fundamentally reshaped the entire industry, not only retail by the way. Ubiquitous bandwidth availability, multi-media developments and mobile technologies allow for completely new business models and customer experiences.
The customer journey nowadays starts in the Internet, around the clock and everywhere. Sophisticated online marketing activities trigger more and more personalized buying processes that start with extensive research and lead to process innovations such as click and reserve or collect.
Rising online stars such as Amazon, Zalando and Alibaba grow extremely fast and challenge classical retailers who simply cannot ignore these developments and start embracing those concepts by embodying online into their cross-channel concepts. The winners in this game will be the ones who understand the changing customer profiles and associated behaviors as well as the potential of integrating online into an optimized omni-channel system instead of shying away and sticking to the old offline world.
J.W.: Out of the blue Amazon has developed to the leading global online pure play as well as a relevant player in the retail industry. By consequently embracing the online concept into their channel strategy Walmart is currently showing an even faster growth rate of their online channel than Amazon and is a perfect example of a winner in the overall online transformation. Other relevant players in this game are Nordstrom, John Lewis or House of Fraser, for example.
J.W.: Alibaba is projected to pass by Walmart in overall sales this year, the latter being the largest retailer worldwide. In the US alone, Alibaba is expected to grow 30% this year and although its development in Europe is still in its infancy, also here surprises will have to be expected.
J.W.:As stated above, nowadays most customers start their journeys in the Internet which is a profound change compared to classical retail. Already at this stage they are able to browse for any categories and products from anywhere at any time with any device, to compare prices, select within huge collections, take advantage of intelligent recommendations and potentially use fitting engines before they buy either online or in the store where they might collect the selected product.
In order to provide large target groups with these services a highly complex, highly scalable, and highly available IT-infrastructure is a prerequisite. Viewed from the other way around, technology is simply key in the paradigm shift that is currently taking place in the retail industry.
“[…]technology is simply key in the paradigm shift that is currently taking place in the retail industry.”
J.W.:Based on the speed of the disruptiveness that the combination of high Internet bandwidth availability and the development of multi-media capabilities on a plethora of end-user devices has caused in the retail industry it is expected that the evolution of further technologies will continue to reshape the industry.
While Big Data has already gained substantial market share in order to analyze and predict consumer behavior we also see a rapidly growing demand for indoor proximity systems in order to support omni-channel transformations. In general, we agree with analysts that the Internet of Things is the next big thing in not only this industry. Devices, gadgets and sensors of all sorts interact amongst each other as well as with human beings in order to reach a new level of communications and interactions. The winners in the upcoming retail industry battle will be the ones who take advantage of this technology development that will lead to today possibly unimaginable customer journey innovations.
J.W.:On the one hand, mobile devices allow for ubiquitous browsing and shopping which removes any local stickiness of the consumer, who can even choose the best offer while walking through a mall. Recent search engine analytics reveal astonishing portions of regional references in search requests.
On the other hand, this is an opportunity for retailers thereby taking advantage of location-based services by sending ads or promotions to consumers walking by a store, in which a sales person might then use a mobile shop assistant app in order to lure the customer into a well-educated sales pitch that is not only consisting of more or less good guesses based on gut feelings or superficial conversations that help shying away the customer.
J.W.:While the usage of the technology on the consumer side is still in its infancy, Amazon just recently already opened a shop for products coming out of 3D printers and has again proven its leading role in the industry. It is hard to say how far the technology will be able to be pushed in terms of product complexity which then will determine the extent to which it will be used in supply chains.
J.W.:Based on a research project we have been carrying out together with local Universities we are currently rolling out a commerce simulation engine (SIMCOMMERCE) that falls into the category Predictive Analytics and that allows for outstanding optimization capabilities for commerce operators.
Apart from that, we are closely working together with our customers and partners to explore various process innovations by integrating new technologies, devices and gadgets with our platform. With our SEED initiative, with which we scan the market for commerce-relevant leading edge technologies that we can incorporate into our offering we are looking for ways to help our customers to substantially improve their traffic, conversion rates as well as sales and delivery processes. We agree with leading analysts that the Internet of Things will play a dominant role in those developments.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
Showrooming is a trend more and more retailers recognize. Most online retailers piggyback on consumers trying on merchandise in physical stores, only to search for the best price and then purchase the product online.
Although hard to fight, the trend might be actually beneficial for larger retailers that need to attract customers to their online stores and can afford price matching.
On one hand we have large retailers fighting to keep customers purchasing. Walmart for example, rolled out Savings Catcher in 2014 and now its pushing it across US. The tool allows users to compare prices on Walmart.com to those of its comepetitors. Any difference found is stored as store credit for the customer.
The likes of Amazon are trying to allow showroomers even more space to find the best prices online. Its recently launched Fire Phone has a built in mechanism that allows users to scan products (not just barcodes) and find the best deals online.
In this battle the ones that suffer most are the small retailers or retailers unadapted to omnichannel operations. This companies cannot afford customers trying on merchandise only to buy it some place else, while still keeping the shop open. It’s not just a passing thing either. 33% of customers worldwide report being showroomers, with 21% using their mobile phones to do it ( Source ).
Even more, markets that are earlier adopters of this trend seem to be even more into it. 71% of shoppers in developed Asia, 60% in North America and 54% of European consumers report showrooming practices.
As probably small to medium retailers won’t just roll over and disappear a new type of partner will probably appear in the near future
Traditionally, retailers evolved to outsource everything that didn’t make sense handling within the company. Things as manufacturing or logistics are now commonly outsourced to reliable partners, companies that handle more than one retailers.
It’s not just manufacturing or logistics. If you think about it, most retailers outsource vital areas of their operations. Financial reporting, IT services and sometimes even human resources are outsourced to partners providing reliable service and economies of scale. Globalization has helped push this trend as companies can find cheaper, reliable work offshore.
But so far stores were pretty much left untouched. Retailers still feel the need to control and manage stores as they see fit, even if sometimes it is not the most economically reliable thing to do. As showrooming decreases the need and efficiency for the self-managed store, as online retail becomes increasingly popular and outsourcing gains traction in the future product display in store will also be outsourced.
Millennials as well as older demographics still favor B&M stores. They also like to see and touch the products they are buying. But they don’t always buy from the shop displaying the product. There is a solution that will probably become commonplace in the future, especially for small and medium retailers.
As retailers need to optimize their pricing in order to compete to only pure plays and online retailers need to establish a physical presence, a new type of company will emerge. The showrooming market.
The showrooming market is a place that aims to provide customers with extended information on the product, as well as the full product experience. The concept is already available online, with markets such as Ebay providing product display space for smaller retailers, as well as online pure plays willing to try an additional sales channel.
The primary function for the showrooming market is product display, rather than sale. Its revenue sources would be retailers paying and competing for shelf space, but generally paying less than they would displaying the products on their on. Retailers, on the other hand, would benefit from an affordable B&M space, as well as a logistic point in product delivery, outsourced to companies that can do it better, due to economies of scale and process optimization.
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.
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:
Now this is the real Game of Thrones in the omnichannel world. Five tech monarchies are reaching for our wallets.
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