Digital Influence in Online and In-store Commerce

Is Brick and Mortar commerce dead? Absolutely not. Is eCommerce the most important sales channel in the future? Irrelevant. Neither online or offline sales really matter in the big picture. What matters is how customers shop and how much has digital changed the way retailers do business.

In 2013 36% of overall sales in US were influenced by digital. As social media influencers gained more and more … well … influence, this trend continued and now 49% of the total number of consumers in the US depend on influencers when purchasing, with 60% of teens depending on recommendations from celebrities and people they follow on social media.

So what does this mean for you and your commerce business?

1. Sales are now lead by (social media) influencers

This is not new by any means. Influent people will drive sales.

What’s new is the media they use to do this and their profiles. In the past we were influenced by celebrities smiling at us from glossy magazines and the TV.

Now the influencers that drive sales are people with access to a mobile phone, an internet connection, a channel on one of the social media outlets and a care for their following.

Reaching out to these new influencers is now a key factor in building your brand, your community and your sales.

2. Influencers are now an actual sales channel

A growing trend in emerging social networks is to build their business models on something outside of advertising. One such business model is commerce based revenue rather than advertising. As Facebook and YouTube have hyper-optimized their advertising models, newer social media outlets needed to innovate.

Enter live stream shopping. With this model, influencers can sell directly to their followers, charge a certain commission fee or even build their own product lines.

3. Brick and mortar shopping is definitely not dying. Unless it has to.

89% of all retail sales still happen in the confines of a physical store. Wait, what?

It seems that what’s causing retailers problems is failure to engage customers on all channels. Customers are pre-buying (shopping) on ecommerce sites but they pick-up, try on and eventually buy a lot of things in the physical store.

With Covid changing this in 2020, ecommerce stores have received more traffic and sales and brick and mortar stores need to join digital sales somehow. Some use live stream shopping to do that.

The trick here is getting the big picture right. To thrive – use different customer journey points and engage digitally in a relevant way. Customers may shop online and get an assortment ready but they want to enjoy the experience. Either in-store when possible or digitally through live videos. Just placing discounts in the mobile app doesn’t work. Each part in the shopping experience has to be personalised to that particular medium and need.

How to sell cars online with live stream shopping

The Renault Group used a special approach to selling cars, as car sales have dropped in 2020, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. What’s the secret sauce? Live stream shopping and online car sales.

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New car sales have dropped by 20% in 2020

According to a study by JD Power and Motor Intelligence, new car sales have seen a 20% decrease in sales in 2020, with a low point of -46% YOY new car sales in April.

This means the auto industry and especially auto dealerships have taken quite a hit. The main culprits: restrictions, Covid-19 related health worries, uncertainty about future income.

Decrease in car sales in 2020

As such consumers have postponed planned purchases. However, the desire for purchasing new cars shows a quick rebound. However, the Covid numbers are still high. Automotive companies needed to find a way to replicate the in-dealership car sales experience, without endangering their staff and customers.

Car sales through live stream shopping

Some companies have taken bold approaches to selling their cars in times of trouble. One such company is the Renault Group. The company launched their new Dacia models (Stepway and Logan) in a live stream shopping session. For three days (2nd to 4th of December 2020), they’ve streamed a real-life presentation of the cars, using hired actors that were briefed on the car features.

Selling cars online
Using a virtual showroom, the company was able to replicate the real life shopping experience for their customers.

The company used a live commerce solution to manage their live showroom and allow customers to ask questions. The flow of information was interactive, from the presenters to the audience, with the audience asking questions that were answered in real-time.

This is one of the first online campaigns for car sales that involves a direct to consumer sales channel. Traditionally, consumers were unlikely to buy through the usual ecommerce sites, given obvious lack in experience features that would convert visitors so prospects or directly buyers.

What does this mean for the automotive industry?

Covid has accelerated the digitalisation of many industries and marketing approaches. Big ticket item sales, such as cars, jewellery or real estate have resisted using digital channels to reach their customers.

What Renault has proven in their Dacia sales is that anything can be sold online, with the right experience. We just didn’t had the right tools. Until now.

Top 8 Online Beauty Ecommerce Stores in 2021 – How do they sell online?

The Beauty and Cosmetics category is one of the fastest moving digital commerce areas. It is a highly competitive and innovative market with large brands quickly adopting digital models and challengers innovating their way to the top.

The emergence of the ecommerce sales channel for beauty brands has seen a long wait. The time has come for beauty retailers to align with the customer’s demand and specific requests. For example, a recent AT Kearney study showed 28 percent of online shoppers use the digital media to get informed on products. They carry this information in stores where they are sometimes more knowledgeable than the store assistants, which may pose a real challenge for beauty brands.

The AT Kearney study shows that only 16% of all online shoppers are online enthusiasts. The rest either use the digital media for information or for shopping for products they are already familiar with:

Beauty shoppers split

Online shoppers are more inclined to shop for particular products, such as skin, personal and hair care. Products such as beauty tools and nail care are less likely to be purchased online, unless is a very specific product, one the customer is already familiar with:

In this post we’ll get a glimpse of the eight most important type of beauty brands that engage their users through digital commerce (also). We’ll have a look at a selection of global champions with different backgrounds and different models. From digital pure-plays to established brick and mortar brands, let’s have a look at some of the most interesting approaches to beauty and cosmetics digital retailing:

1. Amazon Beauty

As expected, Amazon leads the way when it comes to online beauty retailing also. Customers are delighted to almost 2 million products, including luxury brands.

Its Beauty category is the go-to place for most of online enthusiastic shoppers, where Amazon is available. And with Amazon’s shipment policies, that’s basically everywhere.

Amazon’s secret weapon lies in its free-shipping policy (for orders above 25$), a great motivator for online shoppers and a better threshold than challengers Sephora and Beauty.com.

Another great asset Amazon will use to gather shoppers around its beauty retailing section is the fact that more customers use Amazon (30%) than Google when doing online product research.

2. Sephora.com

Sephora is generally seen as the actual leader in the digital beauty commerce. Though it lacks Amazon’s ecommerce strength, the company is part of the largest luxury high quality goods (ahem…ahem) group, LVMH, packing a lot of beauty retailing know-how.

The company has developed a great omnichannel model that focuses on mobile as a bridge between online and offline.

One of the best things Sephora.com has implemented in its web store is the content marketing and digital assistance features. I’ve previously covered the subject and praised Sephora’s efforts to offer quality content, as praised are due.

The curated content customers find is a great choice to build loyalty. So is the Community where customers can browse among the knowledge base or post questions and interact with professionals.

As mentioned, one of the greatest assets Sephora has is its focus on digital rich content. Users are treated to:

  1. Sephora TV, the go-to area for video advice, how-to’s and trends
  2. Sephora Glossy – a fashion, beauty and style blog that offers great advice from beauty professionals in a great, visual format.
  3. The Beauty Board – an user generated gallery from customers that upload pictures to showcase how and which products they use.

Some other touches make Sephora a great choice for beauty products customers, not the least of which are the three free samples with each order (a great way to drive future orders) and the mobile apps that make us of barcode scanning to offer price info and customer reviews.

3. Beauty.com

Beauty.com is an online retailer so it has no apparent need or intention to leverage offline or omnichannel sales. It has developed specific filters and features to cater to customers that either know what they want and want the best price or they can quickly decide.

The auto-reorder option seems to be a great first step to a subscription program.

Customers can set an auto-reorder flag for certain products, which can be shipped each 30, 60 or 90 days. Before the order is shipped, customers receive an email notifying them and they can pause, skip or cancel the auto-orders. The customer incentives are savings and free shipping.One of the features that really stands out (they have a pop-up to insure it stands out) is “Auto reorder and save” option. Simply put, the online retailer has noticed the habitual purchase beauty customers take and leveraged it.

Another great feature that lets customers reach the right product is the filtering option which is set not only for product features but also customer concerns and specific needs. In the Make-up section, the eye category, one can find brand and ingredients options, but also filters such as concerns (acne, dryness or oiliness), benefits (curling, hold or smooth) and skin type. Unfortunately, the filters are not usable on the smartphone version of the web store.

Just like its direct online competitor (Sephora.com), Beauty.com offers free samples, free shipping for orders $35 and above, free returns and 5% back through its loyalty program. It also features great content areas, such as its Beauty Blog, with Romy Soleimani, The Latest Trends section reviewing product news and a Beauty Videos section, ranked according to customer reviews. A great no-no on the video section is the fact that videos embedding is restricted to affiliates only, leaving a lot of marketing potential untapped.

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What is Demand Sensing? It’s a $1.1 Trillion Opportunity for Online and In-Store Retailers

Consumer demand is the one thing that can decide whether a retailer is successful or not. Of course, there is a whole field of marketing studies to determine how we can influence consumers to purchase. But a really important aspect of how good retailers fare in the market is their ability to “sense” demand, not just influence it.

In a recent study, IHL Group claims Overstocks and Out-of-Stocks cost retailers almost $1.1 trillion world-wide. To put it in perspective, that figure is the size of Australia’s GDP.

What that means is that Overstocks and Out-of-stocks, collectively defined as Inventory Distortion, are a problem that cost retailers world-wide 7.5% of their gross revenue.

The most important overstock causes

The figures translate into poor performance, decreased customer satisfaction, decreased sales and increased costs of inventory warehousing and inventory spoilage. Basically there are two really simple outcomes:

  • Either retailers stock up on too much inventory which turns to increased warehousing costs and spoiled products.
  • …Or they don’t and they miss on sales opportunities

Either way, one thing is for sure: Inventory Distortion leads to poor commerce performance.

How do you solve Inventory Distortion? (Not exactly) Simple: Demand Sensing

Demand Sensing is a concept and set of technologies that make use of analytical and prediction models to estimate … well … demand. Imagine a retailer that runs a network of 10 stores, one online store and has a mobile app that drives sales also, along side a call center. Maybe they engage in some sort of live shopping to improve their performance.

Said retailer probably has an inventory management system, an warehouse management system, a sales reporting tool and probably some type of integration with suppliers and manufacturers.

Let’s imagine this retailer selling a type of red shirts that is available in one of the 10 stores and that inventory is not available online. If a customer will visit 3 of the stores in search of that particular red shirt and then search for it online and still not find it, it will probably consider it to be out of stock and the retailer would lose a sale opportunity.

You probably see where the problem lies: even though the product was available, it was not available to the customer and opportunities were lost. The same thing goes for products that are not exposed to the customers, or they are, say, unreachable on the shelf or unfindable on the web store if the search engine is not fit for the job.

The opposite situation, where demand is not correctly estimated and out-of-stocks become a reality, are just as bad as sales opportunities are lost.

The solution lies in gathering enough data across all sales channels, compiling this data and using models to predict demand. That easier said than done because …

To make demand sensing a reality, inventory transparency has to be achieved

As you are reading a blog on omnichannel retail, the term was bound to appear somewhere along the line. So here it is. You can’t have Demand Sensing without a connected sales operation and inventory transparency. All inventory sources have to be connected and data should be generally available. So should sales data across channels.

The picture below shows an example of omnichannel supply chain, one where all the operational pieces work together and share data. When such a structure is implemented, demand is easily “sensed” and estimated and thus inventory distortion can decrease.

So now we have the data. Implementing omnichannel retail can lead do a better demand sensing and therefore improve inventory distortion, a small glitch in the global retail system costing “only” $1.1 trillion.

3 Factors that are Slowing Down Multichannel Commerce. And one that accelerated it in 2020.

Across the globe, retailers have picked up on the omnichannel trend and try to give the customers what they want: the same level of service across all sales channels.

Some are doing better than others but everyone’s trying. Especially for multi-channel retailers, the switch is essential in keeping up with an increasing competition from online pure-plays.

The switch is not easy and certain bottlenecks stand out:

1. Multichannel commerce (ecommerce + in-store) is sometimes treated as a marketing or tech buzzword. Hint: it’s not

When you say omnichannel you say “all channels”. When you say multi-channel – pretty much the same thing as most channels are in-store or ecommerce. You have to think of all the sales and distribution channels you manage. Hence the “omni”. That certainly looks like a marketing area and to a certain degree, it is.

But to make omnichannel a reality instead of long consultative talks, you have to go beyond marketing and into the dark woods of technology systems and process management. That’s the hard part. The change comes when companies and especially executives leave aside their differences and interact to connect cross-department processes.

Yes, omnichannel is marketing driven but it needs inventory transparency, it needs technology investment and updating and it needs a change in internal processes and culture.

Yes, culture because…

2. There’s a lot of sales cannibalization between channels

Mid to large retailers that switched from brick and mortar to multi-channel did this by adding silo-ed sales structures one after another. First came the brick and mortar operation, then came the online store, the call-center, the mobile sales and so on.

Each of these channels eventually developed into a full-fledged sub-organization. It is not uncommon to see, for example, ecommerce departments with full operational structures from purchasing, warehouse management, picking and packing, sales, marketing and others.

When such structures emerge, a certain type of independence emerges also and this can lead to channel cannibalisation. Simply put it’s one channel stealing sales from another, instead of working together for the customer and the common (company) good.

That’s why a change in culture is much needed when striving to implement omnichannel retail policies. Any customer should be encouraged to buy from any channel, as long as it stays within the retailer’s domain.

3. BAGA is a lot more complicated than it seems

BAGA stands for “Buy Anywhere, Get Anywhere“. Buy online, pick up in store. Or at home. Buy in the physical store and receive at home. Place an order on the phone and pick up in store.

It’s complicated just working with two or three of these scenarios. When you add general inventory transparency, cross-store orders and supplier availability it gets a lot more complicated.

That’s why a BAGA policy should be built after implementing:

  1. inventory transparency policy and technology. This should spread across the full inventory spectrum including warehouses, stores, in-movement goods and suppliers.
  2. customer master-data management. The customer is the same across all channels and should be recognized and its treatment personalized on demand. Think of this area as a CRM on steroids that spreads across all channels.
  3. product master-data management. Product information should be available on all channels, when needed and in the right format.
  4. cross-channel marketing policies. Think marketing independent of channel and at the same time available on all.

These are just three of the most important factors that slow down omnichannel adoption. The fourth is probably the fact that some companies are just so tired of working their way through ecommerce adoption that they are unwilling to move forward.

It takes willingness to discover the benefits and what omnichannel is. For many, the switch is rather simple in terms of technology. It does bare costs in willingness to learn new concepts and implement these concepts within the company.

4. Coronavirus made all stores go warp-speed on multichannel adoption

In 2020 all businesses had to go all digital and all channels, in order to survive. Most affected were the brick and mortar chains, with 15000 stores closed and roughly 2 million employees laid off.

As the economy shows signs of rebounding, even in the midst of the pandemic, most of the re-growth has been based on the response companies have had into improving their experiences across channels.

Omnichannel retail presentation on Slideshare.

I’ve put together a slideshare presentation regarding omnichannel retail. It focuses on the events that lead to the adoption of omnichannel, the challenges and several ideas that will help you understand the concept.

How do pickup lockers work?

As online and offline commerce are getting closer to each other and customers schedules are getting more and more crowded, pick up lockers seem to become more useful and popular. Ever asked yourself – how do pickup lockers work? 

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They are versatile, easy to use and something customers need from online and in-store retailers. So let’s dig in and see how they work and who should use them.

What is a Pick Up Locker?

First off – what is a pick up locker? Simply put it is an area of lockers where retailers can drop off merchandise and customers can pick it up. Amazon has been a pioneer in this field, with Amazon Lockers opening up the gates to a new type of fulfilment.

The pick up lockers work by assigning a specific location to packages and sending pick up codes to customers. The customers can then go to their designated pick up location, enter the security code and grab their packages.

After Amazon has built their first experimental pick up lockers, others soon followed.

Some of those that developed their own systems of pick up (and ship) lockers are 3PL companies. For example FedEx and UPS have developed quite advanced pick up and drop off locations. UPS has named theirs “Access Points” and they’re building a network able to sustain growing demand.

FedEx has developed a network of “Ship&Get Self Service Lockers“. With their lockers one can drop off items for shipment or receive packages.

Both are growing really fast and soon others will follow suit. Even startups have ventured in this area with some highlights being Swapbox, an Y Combinator startup and Bufferbox, a company that was recently acquired by Google. However, due to the fact that this is a very competitive, capital intensive niche, both startups are now dead.

So yes, they are popular but how do pickup lockers work, especially from a retailer point of view?

How do pickup lockers work for large retailers?

One very specific use case for the pick-up locker system would be large retail chains. For example Walmart announced their Grab & Go lockers following their Site to Store Self Service Lockers experiment.

Apart from the internal fulfilment challenges, retailers need to focus on some key aspects regarding the development and implementation of such pick up locker systems:

1. How can pickup lockers be secured?

For obvious reasons there needs to be a secure access to shipped goods. To do so each drop off will have to issue a security code that can be decrypted and accessed with the private code the customer will receive.

The systems will also have to have fall-back security systems such as video surveillance and locking systems in case of hacking attempts (there will be some).

Security code should work online but also have a fall-back local solution that can work in case internet connection is off.

2. Connecting the lockers with logistics

The pick-up locker system works with other fulfilment operations and will have to input status data directly into TMS (transport management systems) so shipping personnel could be directed to the correct pick up locker area and the specific pick up locker.

As packages differ in size, specific information regarding the type of lockers that are available should be available in real time so packages are stored correctly.

3. How do pickup lockers communicate?

So far most pick up lockers use alphanumeric codes to help users get accustomed to picking up their packages without any hassle. But these codes pose threats in terms of security. While these codes can always be an option and can be easily sent to any device, with smartphones and smartphone apps on the rise, some other solutions may work even better.

One such option would be QR codes embedded in the retailer’s mobile application. The codes can be generated on the fly based on a secured algorithm that neither exposes the code and can also work within the application the customer already uses, thus improving loyalty.

4. What is the future of connectivity for pickup lockers?

With so many developing their own pick-up locker systems, a connectivity protocol should become the norm. With such a protocol FedEx could ship to either Amazon, Walmart or even UPS lockers for example, improving cross-retailer experience and creating economies of scale.

That being said, the development of pick-up locker systems is obviously a bit more complex than these few paragraphs but I wanted to give you a starting point and explore some of the challenges.

Covid killed the Retail Star. Will Live Video Shopping revive it?

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused many stores to close temporarily or permanently. The trend is consistent across Europe and US. While the US retailers have been hit first and hardest, with over 14 000 stores closed and almost 2 million retailer workers being laid off, this wave of store closures will reach the EU soon. Initially store chains and SMB retail companies have been partly protected by government intervention and job supporting measures but this is unlikely to continue indefinitely.

The retail market at large has been transformed by ecommerce retailers in the past 20 years. With the recent Covid-19 pandemic, this trend has increased. Brick and mortar retailers are seeing their unit economics being displaced by challenger brands, mostly focused on online shopping and fast fulfilment. Traditional retailers are forced to carefully consider store space, employees headcount and their online operations.

First it took the brick and mortar stores

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused many stores to close temporarily or permanently. The trend is consistent across Europe and US.  While the US retailers have been hit first and hardest, with over 14 000 stores closed and almost 2 million retailer workers being laid off, this wave of store closures will reach the EU soon. Initially store chains and SMB retail companies have been partly protected by government intervention and job supporting measures but this is unlikely to continue indefinitely. 

Retail chains such as H&M are starting closing operations as they saw their operations already in the read with 50% decreases in sales.

While ecommerce stores have saw initial surges in sales due to consumers ordering online this will probably see a backlash in the future. The increase in online sales was caused primarily by existing online purchasing trends and partly by consumers’ fear of Covid-19 infections. These increases in sales have been limited to products with repeated purchase habits. 

But online retail won’t be too good for too long

Many customers are unable to experience products like they did before and this in time will surely affect online retailers. After surge in sales many of them are able to return to the slow and steady rate of increase. However, this rate has not passed 20% in Europe historically .

This means that without a way to bridge the gap between online and in-store experiences, total retail sales are likely to decrease, stores will close and many retail workers will eventually be laid off. In this scenario a paradox of increased retail demand and decreased retail offering will result in an increase in prices, inflation and job losses.

Unless…

The store of the future is live

Quick question: what makes Instagram, Snapchat and Tik-Tok a good choice for Gen-Z? Is it the social networking features? Nope, many apps have that. Is it the video and rich media? Closer but not quite there. It’s the live interaction, one on one and one to many. In some cases, such as Fortnite – it’s many to many.

And retailers are tapping into this.

We noticed that both online and in-store retailers consider live stream shopping a viable model for existing operations.

Brick and mortar retailers see live stream shopping a way for them to decrease costs with retail spaces while at the same time retaining their strengths. They see live streaming as a way to quickly and seamlessly connect digital-savvy consumers to their in-store experiences.

Online retailers see live streaming as a way for them to quickly solve problems in terms of their customers experiencing products. In the past they have experienced with experience-only stores, open-on-delivery processes and return logistics. All of these have improved conversion rates but at the same time have increased unit economics and operational costs.

So what is next? Probably – live shopping operations. Taobao has been promoting this for quite some time with high success. Amazon has jumped on board and even Google has launched ShopLoop, a video shopping app. Live shopping software will probably continue to gain traction as the retailers need a way to reach their customers in an immersive way and consumers need better experiences than two-dimensional ecommerce stores or closed stores might offer.

Top 5 Virtual Event Platforms – Pros and Cons

As the world is increasingly consuming more and more streamed content, events have shifted towards the virtual world as well. To make virtual events happen, professionals need virtual event platforms. Here’s the top 5.

As the world is increasingly consuming more and more streamed content, events have shifted towards the virtual world as well. To make virtual events happen, professionals need virtual event platforms.

As demand has increased – so has the supply. With so many solutions out there, we’ve tested the most popular ones and came up with a short list of 5 that we recommend. Below you’ll find the top 5 recommendations, with a brief intro, pros and cons.

Let’s start with…

1. Zoom

With many of us working from home, there is no wonder why Zoom became such a popular video conferencing tool. It is one of the leading video conferencing software apps on the market. It allows employees to virtually interact with their colleagues when in-person meetings are limited or restricted. It has an integrated live chat feature and it allows users to record video and audio sessions to view later. Zoom is considered the most popular video conferencing solution for companies with 500 employees or fewer, and the second-most popular solution for businesses with over 500 employees.

Advantages

  • Unlimited one-on-one meetings – Users can spend as much time as they want, without any costs involved when conducting one-on-one meetings
  • Screen sharing feature – This built in function enables users to share their own screen during live calls. This way, participants can easily understand what is presented.
  • Participants don’t have to create an account – In order to join a meeting, a Zoom account isn’t required. The only person that needs an account is the one sending the invitation links to other participants. However, it’s still important to have your own account in order to keep track of appointments and begin to host your own meetings.

 Disadvantages

  • Unpredictable video quality – According to many users, at times, the video quality on Zoom can be blurry and pixelated.
  • 40 Minute free video chat limit on group meetings – If you plan to host a meeting with more than two participants, the duration of the call is limited to 40 minutes. To avoid that, users need to subscribe and pay a monthly fee.
  • Security vulnerabilities – Even if Zoom employees are currently doing their best to solve this issue, it still seems to be disturbing for many users. It seems that random people would show up during video conferences, disrupting attendees with offensive content. Users with free Zoom accounts can avoid this by using a password for all meetings.

2. Streams.live

Streams.Live video intro

Streams.live is an innovative video-streaming platform designed to transform social distancing into an opportunity. it works great as a virtual event platform. It brings in features of traditional event management software and it enables content creators and entrepreneurs to easily monetize their work in a virtual environment. The cross-platform functionality enables hosts and viewers to access their passions from any device. The video stream can be fully customized from a simple logo detail to full background customization and viewers can participate in two-way conversations, thanks to the available engagement tools (claps, live chat, live polls and direct messaging).

Advantages

  • Paid access to streams – This feature might be the key differentiation between other streaming solutions. Content creators can simply monetize their hard work virtually. By purchasing a ticket, virtual attendees can simply input the ticket code and get instant access to paid content.
  • Live Stream Shopping – This feature is designed for businesses that seek to sell their list of offerings in a fun and interactive manner. Viewers can purchase presented products, without leaving the streamed event. Also, the chat room enables viewers to ask product related questions in real time.
  • Instant payments – With more than 135 currencies and 57 cryptocurrencies accepted, content creators don’t need to wait for their money. Streams.live has well-established partnerships with Stripe, PayPal and Crypto.com.

 Disadvantages

  • Only the host can stream video – Since this is a solution designed for content creators, as a viewer, streaming your own video is not an option. However, the engagement features (live chat, polls, direct message) allow viewers to interact with one another.
  • Onboarding process – Some users might need to go through an onboarding process to fully understand the variety of features available. However, online and phone support is available 24/7.

3. Adobe Connect

Part of the Adobe Acrobat family, Adobe Connect is a web conferencing software used for organizing virtual meetings, webinars and training sessions. Meeting rooms are organized into ‘pods’ and each pod is designed to perform a specific role (chat, whiteboard, note, etc.). Adobe Connect is meant for Learning, Webinars and for Meetings.

Advantages

  • Audience engagement tools – During conferences or online meetings, participants have several features that allow them to interact with one another. Among these features, this solution come with things such as live chat, integrated survey/quiz tool, a digital whiteboard and viewers can also share files during a call.
  • Participants can record calls – This build in function enables viewers to record calls (audio/video sync is lost if exported to MP4) with the host’s permission.
  • Virtual room design – This feature enables organizers to design their own virtual room for a more realistic experience. It can be customized with layouts, pods and content and it can be saved for further meetings.

 Disadvantages

  • Complex software with no personality – Some users consider that further support is needed to use the software at its maximum capacity. Besides that, the interface feels very corporate and impersonal, with white and grey colors.
  • It’s a bit pricey – Pricing information is limited on their website, but users seem to consider this solution a bit overpriced.

4. Cisco Webex

Cisco Webex products deliver collaboration tools, such as online meetings with integrated chat and file sharing features. This cloud-based suite of productivity tools consists of WebEx Teams, WebEx Meetings and WebEx devices. It is used for both small group collaborations and enterprise-wide deployments. For a clearer idea, here are the key offerings provided by WebEx: video conferencing, webinars (up to 3000 attendees), training sessions (instruct through a digital whiteboard and charge for your training), remote support (real-time service for customers in need) and cloud calling.

Advantages

  • Cross-platform functionality – Users can attend meetings from any device. Being a laptop, a tablet or a smartphone, participants can connect from anywhere as long as internet connection is not an issue.
  • Branded devices – The Webex devices are optional and include tools designed for a more efficient team collaboration. For example, the Cisco Webex Board is an all-in-one conference device capable of sharing live presentations with a broad audience.
  • Large-scale virtual events – This feature enables users to host large-scale virtual events for geographically dispersed audiences. It supports up to 3000 attendees in a single event and up to 1000 on video.

 Disadvantages

  • Limited customer support – For the free and starter plans, customer support is limited. The free plan only provides online customer service options, while the Starter plan requires users to call a representative during regular business hours for support.
  • Internet Explorer as default browser – Webex is designed to work at its maximum capacity on Internet Explorer as a browser. For those that would rather use Firefox or Chrome, additional setting are required before clicking on a link shared through their software.

5. WorkCast

WorkCast is a platform that provides solutions for webinars, webcasts, and virtual events. This cloud-based technology enables organizers to accommodate up to 50,000 attendees. It has a good reputation for its branding capabilities, designed to have an end-to-end event experience that looks just as good as a website. Since its foundation in 2008, WorkCast has run over 8,000 events for more than 1 million attendees across 20 countries.

Advantages

  • Excellent support – Users are very pleased with the responsiveness of the WorkCast team and their innovative solutions to accommodate special request.
  • Easy to customize and onboard sponsors – The branding and customization features are user friendly and enable sponsors to get the right amount of exposure in a virtual environment.
  • Virtual open days – This feature enables educational institutions to present their university grounds to prospective students.

 Disadvantages

  • Regular updates – Even if these updates are made to deliver better experiences, users need to get in touch with a representative to find out how new features work.
  • Test events before going live – Users testify that they were better off with a couple test events in advance.

What is Pretail and How Does It Impact Ecommerce?

Ever thought what happens behind the curtains before a new product hits the shelf? Or what makes customers decide they love product A but definitely hate product B, although they are almost identical? Or what makes great products … well … great?

Many have and there is no clear answer to these questions. What works when Apple launches a music player may not work when Microsoft does it (Remember Zune?). There are many variables involved and no matter the size of your R&D budget, sometimes things are not going to go right.

But there’s only one way to see if the product is really fit for the market. That way used to be simple and a bit risky. Teams including marketing, product development, engineering and manufacturing experts would dream, design and build products. They would test the products on selected customer groups and if the results would look good, they would push the product to the market.

However even involving budgets, experts, consumer insights and marketing bucks, sometimes products flop.

Jamstick is a “portable guitar that teaches you to play”. It asked for $50.000 in crowd-funding. It received $792.000. Jamstick is a pretail success.

Two things changed this: crowd-sourcing and crowd-founding. Together they’ve formed a type of customer experience previously unknown: the pretail.

Testing the waters with crowd-sourcing and crowd-founding

In the past, teams were involved in trying to guess what customers would want. Now we can just go ahead and ask the them.

Pretailing is a term describing any activity introducing customers to brands or products, before the retail process. It assumes that using crowd-founding sites such as Kickstarter, inventors and innovators can test their concept before involving big budgets. Essentially they are asking potential buyers to invest their dollar-power in their product.

This, in turn, creates an experience previously unknown to the consumer. The consumer is effectively buying into a vision. Pretailing creates a new type of sales channel that works before the product is even manufactured. Unlike traditional retail, this type of commerce can shed light on what the market wants at any given time.

Pluck is a simple egg-separator and it was invented by Mark Fusco, a Quirky member.

Online stores such as Quirky, Threadless or Japan-based Muji have one thing in common. They use their communities to find the right ideas and products to design and develop. Quirky is focused on inventing cool gadgets, Threadless leverages its designer community to create t-shirts and Muji sells home&deco products designed by the consumers.

They all engage in pretailing. By tapping into the collective minds of their communities they can ask for the type of products most customers would purchase. Before they manufacture and sell, they ask what to manufacture and sell. This in turn creates a sense of belonging to the community for the customer. For the retailer, it decreases the risk of manufacturing and stocking up on lousy products.

Crowd-founding is another way of tapping into the market and pretailing. We all know Kickstarter but other, more product-oriented crowd founding platforms fare even better for this concept.

CrowdSupply is just one of the places where you can see what customers have backed before manufacturing. The products we can see there range from open source toothbrushes to one-wheel skateboards.

The results are amazing. With unlimited creativity comes an unlimited supply of innovation. And by tapping into a large market of early-adopters, only the products that are really fit for distribution get funded and survive.

Crowdfunding is set tor reach more than $1 billion in 2021. Source

Big retailers have picked up on the trend and are now using pretailing to test new products and improve their logistics to fit the estimated demand. Apple, for example is one of the companies that showcases products before they are available in retail stores, interacting with developers and customers to improve the experience.

Pretailing is a thing of the crowds

Beyond the crowd-founding and crowd-sourcing, pretailing can come from anything involving large numbers of potential customers. By tapping into online traces, retailers can get insights on potentially succesful products.

Pretailing can start with a simple research with Google Trends. It can be an analysis on the search trends on your own web store.

Seems like speed drone racing might be … speeding up

It can just as well be an overview of the most popular trends on Instagram. For example Crane & Canopy releases new high quality duvets basing their decisions on Pinterest and social media trends.

The conclusion is that in this highly competitive market, retailers need to engage their customers before they start the retail process. Pretailing means tapping into the wisdom of the crowds and extracting the perfect products before competitors do. It is not only a matter of product development but a matter of understanding the customer and providing the best experience on the market.