Three Robots that will Change Ecommerce

The term “robot” essentially means “worker”. It was coined by Czech author Karel Čapek in his science fiction work R.U.R. and since then it has become the standard term to define semi-autonomous machines.

It really is hard to define what we actually think of when we say robot. It may be an anthropomorphic fun figure such as Honda’s Asimo or a somewhat creepier animal version of it, such as Boston Dynamics’ Big Dog.

Fetch Robotics. Now reporting to Skynet.

But it can also be a simpler and more applied machinery. Robots can be built to handle some of the most menial and repetitive tasks, including those that have to do with ecommerce fulfillment.

In terms of operations, fulfillment means everything that has to do with getting ordered merchandise to the customer. It includes picking and packing and let’s face it – it’s boring and repetitive. The robots below do just these things. Robots, unlike people, require no pay and are available 24/7. Whether using robots is effective or not, moral or not, it’s up to you to decide. But no matter your view on the subject, you have to admit they look awesome.

1. Fetch and Freight from Fetch Robotics

Not longer than two months ago, Fetch Robotics was non-existent as a company. Than they’ve got $3 million in founding and started working on a mysterious warehouse robotics project.

Today they’ve unveiled not one, but two robots aimed at helping warehouse staff make it through the long corridors. Their names are Fetch and Freight. Below is Freight, my favorite, a little guy following around picking staff and going back to base when orders are finished picking:

Fetch & Freight from Fetch Robotics on Vimeo.

2. Omniveyor from Harvest Automation

You would think that farming and ecommerce fulfillment don’t have too much in common. Maybe they don’t but they do have the Omniveyor robots from Harvest. The company was founded by former iRobot executives, the company that brought you house cleaning wonder-robot Rumba.

The company developed a fulfillment robot, called TM-100, which will be available spring 2016. Here’s TM-100 in action:

3. 15 000 Kiva Robots fulfill Amazon orders

In 2012 Amazon paid $775 million for Kiva Systems, a Seattle based company manufacturing warehouse robots.

In just two years Amazon has fully digested the technology and now has 15 000 Kiva robots doing the picking and packing job twice as fast as humans could. Inventory moves twice as fast and products are delivered to packing stations in just under 15 minutes, faster than any human could.

Here are the little Kiva robots plotting to take over the world, while picking orders:

Do Consumers Like Waiting for Online Purchases to Arrive?

Maybe drones are not such a great idea
Maybe drones are not such a great idea

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.

The distinction between online and offline is already irrelevant thanks to the smartphone

The smartphone is increasingly important in omnichannel retail. Source.
The smartphone is increasingly important in omnichannel retail. Source.

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).

 

Europe’s Largest Online Retailer Shows 30% Growth

Zalando, a company based in Berlin, is Europe’s largest web-only retailer. Its main focus are shoes and clothing. Right now they’re selling more than 1500 brands and have opened country-specific online stores in 15 markets.

The clothing and footwear retailer has outgrown its European rivals and posted 50% growth in 2013, reaching sales of  €1.8 billion ($2.36 billion). Now for the first half of 2014, sales reached €1.05 billion ($1.38 billion), up 29.5% from the same quarter last year.

zalando

To get a sense of size, the main competitor, London-based ASOS.com, sold “just” €959 million ($1.26 billion) in 2013.

Not bad for a company that launched in 2008, in the “cellar of the office building”, as legend has it. The company was founded by Robert Gentz and David Schneider. Initially, it was named Ifansho, but the name didn’t stick. Zalando started as a shoe-sales business and later diversified into fashion and sports.

Among the company’s shareholders you’ll find Swedish investment bank AB Kinnevik, that specializes, among others, with ecommerce investments. The investment banker, as well as other shareholders may be in for a treat as Zalando is said to reach for an IPO later this year.

A sign towards such plans is the fact that for the first time in its history, Zalando has posted a quarterly profit. A somewhat stronger sign, some might argue, is the fact that CEO Rubin Ritter mentioned “an IPO could be an interesting option in the future”.

So there you have it – although Europe lags behind China and the US in terms of ecommerce growth, it does have some champions. Zalando is probably THE name to keep an eye on when it comes to Europe.

 

5 Reasons Customers Will Shop Online (Other than Price)

When it comes to online retail conventional wisdom states that customers will choose the virtual over brick-and-mortar store mainly because of the price. While this may be true , it’s only partially true. Price is a big factor and probably the most rational factor when it comes to shopping online. However, choosing online shopping takes more than the rational.

why people buy online graph
According to this PWC study, while still being important, price is not the only factor favoring the decision to purchase online

Above you can see a chart on a recent study by PWC, that shows some of the reasons driving customers to shop online. Lower prices and better offers is the second most important reason people will buy online followed by the speed factor and things like better variety and better product information.

[See more about what customers expect from Omnichannel Retail]

So – if you are managing, owning or part of an online retail operation, you should know your customers motivations.

Here are the top 5 reasons, other than price, that drive people to buy online:

1. Shopping online is convenient for anyone, anytime.

The usual trouble with business hours is that they are the same for pretty much everyone. Both shoppers and retailers. While movies portrait people as care-free, on-the-go individuals, the reality is that much of the time people are either stuck in an office, stuck in traffic or just at home, spending time with the family. Say customer X remembers he needs to buy a new pair of shoes at 2 PM, while still at work. Will it be possible for him to drive to the closest store? Will he just go online and buy his favorite pair of shoes, from a wide selection of brands and offers. Of course it’s the latter which brings us to …

2. Shopping online is easier and less stressing

Think about shopping centers. Picture the people, the crowd, the options. Hear the noise. Now think about looking for a parking space, walking to the mall, walking some more from store to store. Trying on. Maybe going home empty handed.

Now picture doing all that in front of the computer, listening to your favorite music, comparing the best deals, without anyone trying to convince you what is the perfect fit. Shopping online is just easier. Customers choose it because it’s stress-free, it’s rational and you can get the best deal without spending a whole afternoon looking for a pair of pants.

3. Shopping for products unavailable in the near area

Not longer than 10 years ago, most shoppers would have had to choose between the products available in the nearest store or not buy anything at all. There was no “shopping for that special bottle of wine I saw last year in Paris”. If the local wine store was not selling it, well … it simply wasn’t worth the hassle to look for it anymore. Now consumers can just “google” a particular brand or product and someone, somewhere, will be ready to sell it and ship it.

4. It’s easier to compare offers

To be fair, this one has a lot to do with price but than again comparison and especially easy comparison is a matter of convenience rather than pricing. Comparing prices online is way easier than any of the options offline stores have.

5. It’s just so much better to talk about

Remember the last time you talked about visiting a store while chatting with your best friend? Probably a long time ago. Truth is conventional retail stores are just so … available to anyone. Uninteresting. Common. You cannot brag about a new, indie, never before heard store that still offers a lot of products. Shopping online is just much more conversation-worthy.

Conclusion: if you are selling online – please don’t focus solely on price. It is so yesterday.

Bridging the gap in multichannel shopping

Online retail is the wonder kid of retail – it is young, energetic, it is growing fast yet it is still in its infancy. Based on 2010 estimates online retail amounted for no more than 7% of total retail purchases, as seen below.

Evolution of online rtail share
Evolution of online retail share

The figure may not be exact as it amounts for purchases that happen exclusively online. Users tend to mix retail channels in their quest for a better shopping experience. They might know the brick-and-mortar store brand and order online because it is more convenient. They might also discover the online store, find the product best suited and than “feel” it in the physical store.

Multichannel tracking has not changed that much since the days consumers would receive coupons in magazines and advertisers would track these coupons to get a better view on what’s efficient and what is not in their marketing efforts.

What is Multichannel Shopping?

First and foremost – what is Multichannel Shopping? As you probably have noticed or done so yourself, shoppers tend to use multiple ways of combining online and offline activities. Here are the most important:

  1. Shopping across multiple channels (brick-and-mortar stores, online shops, mobile apps, phone order etc.). Consumers will try to use the best channel available at the time. Say you are a avid online shopper but this evening your brother celebrates his anniversary and you forgot to buy him a present. You will rush over to the closest store and buy something from there, after you have searched for that store and the gift online.
  2. Using more channels to purchase goods from a single retailer. Users that are accustomed to a certain brand will try to buy as often as possible from that particular brand. They will mix offline and online purchases, depending on the specific occasion, while staying loyal that brand.
  3. Using multiple channels to complete a purchase. Users will use multiple channels sometimes, to get the best deal / the easiest way to get the goods. They might browse the online store, order the product on the phone and purchase / pay for it in the brick and mortar store.

How can we track Multichannel Shoppers?

As retailers increasingly look for new ways of tracking consumers and increasing sales they use a combination of old(er) and new(er) strategies, such as:

  1. Multichannel loyalty programs – this programs are usually extended CRM programs, using identifiers such as member cards, phone numbers, unique ID’s or others. Consumers are encouraged through loyalty points incentives to use their ID’s on the different channels
  2. Multichannel consumer life cycle – tracking the consumer through different channels by combining online and offline purchase steps (Ex.:buy online, pay offline, support on the phone)
  3. Track users through wi-fi and mobile use – a rather cutting edge yet extremely promising strategy of trading free on-location internet (everybody wants some), combining it with personal online data (such as Facebook user accounts) and seeking trends in collected data, in order to increase sales and understand the consumer life-cycle better.

What is your take on multichannel shopping?

How is Facebook changing the Internet Economy?

By now you have probably heard of this little thingie called Facebook. You have also heard it has a bunch of users and these users are spending a lot of time on the platform sharing thoughts, news, photos, playing games or interacting with each other.

The Influence of Facebook on the Internet Economy

Right now Facebook accounts for roughly 30% of all internet users and is estimated that 20% of all pageviews on the Internet are on Facebook.

Facebook is big. It is so big that Internet World Stats added a special Facebook usage indicator to each country. As you can see there is no Google usage, no Yahoo usage, no Twitter usage indicator but there is a Facebook usage indicator. For good reasons too …

Using Facebook to increase online sales

In just 8 years from the 2004 launch, Facebook is expected to reach 1 billion users in 2012. That number is more than impressive. It is fastest adoption of any communication related technology.

Facebook related sales are a huge part of what lures giants such as Amazon, Apple, Ebay on the platform. From my experience Facebook seems to be the most profitable refferal for small and mid-size ecommerce companies and accounts for a large part of sales generated by larger online retailers.

While Facebook stores may not yet be the best choice (JC Penney, Gap and Nordstrom have opened and than closed their Facebook stores) there is a clear opportunity to be harnessed with Facebook related ecommerce.

Facebook creates jobs, has a  7.3 Billion Euro economic impact on Europe

A recent study by Deloitte states that Facebook accounts for a 7.3bn Euro economic impact and has so far, through the creation of Facebook pages and advertising , created more than 110.000 jobs in the EU.

Just like Europe many other regions benefit from the impact Facebook has had in the recent years. In the EU the country with the heaviest Internet Economy, the UK, has also the largest Facebook user base. Although merely a correlation and not a cause for the heavy impact the internet has on the UK economy it is easy to see that Facebook usage increases internet economy impact and many small and mid-sized companies can benefit from it.

Where is Facebook headed?

With such extraordinary growth and impact on our lives, both socially and economically, Facebook is sure to develop even more. Facebook is more than an website or application. It is a communication framework, a market that has already changed the life of its users. It will continue to do so. It will reach beyond extending the Internet.

I expect Facebook to cycle through some inherent changes but in the end it will probably be the biggest internet – based business in the world.