Agile Commerce: Three Questions For John Federman, President And CEO, Searchandise Commerce

 

I recently had the chance to catch up with John Federman, president and CEO at Searchandise Commerce, to understand what impact the transition to agile commerce is having on Searchandise, its business strategy, and its organizational structure.

Searchandise is a retail search network with an interesting model combining pay-for-performance tactics of search marketing with in-store merchandising practices. Its product marketers leverage cost-per-click bids to enhance product position within search listings across a network of retail sites, similar to co-op marketing models -- like a wholesale brand purchasing premium shelf space in a brick-and-mortar retailer. Retailers monetize these search listings, generating an incremental revenue stream.

Forrester: John, thanks for taking some time out to talk to us about agile commerce. We have been talking to clients about the evolution of their business from channels to touchpoints that span mobile devices, social networks, advertising, marketing, traditional channels, and various places online. How are you looking at this, and what does it mean for your business?

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Agile Commerce In 2011

With a big splash, we recently launched a significant idea and theme for eBusiness & Channel Strategy professionals for 2011 and beyond called agile commerce. In the report "Welcome To The Era Of Agile Commerce," we highlight how customers no longer interact with companies from a "channel" perspective; instead, they interact through touchpoints. As a result, eBusiness & Channel Strategy professionals have to leave their channel-oriented ways behind them and enter the era of agile commerce -- optimizing their people, processes, and technology to serve today's empowered, ever-connected customers across touchpoints.

Since its launch, we've received some excellent feedback from clients and thought-leaders, validating agile commerce. We've also interviewed three executives in our ongoing series about how agile commerce is affecting their clients and how they are positioning themselves to support the transition to agile commerce. Please continue to visit our community and our blog to share with us your perspective on how agile commerce is affecting your business. Do you see the signs of this disruption in your business? Is your organization evolving to sell and service customers seamlessly across touchpoints? What organizational models and technology decisions are you making to optimize your commerce efforts across touchpoints?

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The ‘New Marketing’ For Market Insights

Tick, tick. Only two weeks left until Forrester’s Marketing Forum, and turnout is high for this strategic view into the next digital decade. Personally, I’m ecstatic that the Forum is in San Francisco. I lived here decades ago and can honestly say that I left part of my heart here (am I the only one old enough to actually remember this song?). You’ll come for the great presentations and, if you’re not careful, you’ll wind up staying for the amazing culture, cuisine and climate!

And speaking of great presentations, the team is pulling out all the stops to make sure that market insights (MI) professionals are ready for the next digital decade. Tamara Barber will set the stage with an overview of the challenges and opportunities facing MI professionals in the era of the Splinternet. Jackie Anderson has put together a great panel to give you a 360-degree understanding of doing research in the high-growth youth market and Roxana Strohmenger will take you to the cutting edge of emerging and innovative research methods.

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Differentiate Digital Experiences By Building A Strong Brand Personality

Ever wonder why most digital interactions fail to engage users? In part, it’s because users can’t easily decipher who they’re dealing with. Instead of actively developing unique experiences that support how they want their brands to be perceived, companies chase features and functions that others have implemented. At best, the result is bland cookie-cutter experiences that leave users uninspired. At worst, brands can seem downright schizophrenic to users who get unpredictable experiences as they move from channel to channel.

It’s not easy to create a strong emotional bond through an interface because it’s difficult for users to see the people behind digital interaction points. Instead, they see a mere screen or a system. But people are far more predisposed to creating connections with other people than they are with an interface. That’s why firms need to pay attention to the brand personality they’re trying to convey and make their digital experiences feel more human. Of course, the solution isn’t just to plaster your website with happy faces or buzzwords. Instead, firms can take a more systematic approach and follow the principles of Forrester’s Emotional Experience Design framework. Here are a couple of ways for firms to establish brand personality:

  • Match visual designs across channels so that users can easily recognize the brand as they cross interaction points.
  • Keep in sync with the brand attributes that they want people to associate with them by creating content that conveys brand messages and by crafting the right voice to further convey those messages. 
  • Adopt a human tone that lands in the right place in between robotic, just-the-facts approaches and overdone marketing speak that comes off as fake.
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Can an Old Dog Learn New Tricks ?

Hot off the press from last week’s Retail Week conference, “HMV will still have a portfolio of hundreds of stores on the high street in five years, HMV CEO Simon Fox told delegates”

And so they should.

But in my opinion, some careful thought is needed to position the store chain alongside HMV’s evolving digital persona.  HMVDigital, launched last July, is their take on iTunes. As a digital destination for downloading music it seems to stand on its own two feet. Product scope is a little limited in that it’s music only (no videos), but I can only assume that they have a roadmap to open up new product categories over time.

They are clearly set on taking on iTunes at their own game, a fact that is evident from the site’s logo when you link to it from HMV.com – the old familiar, faithful HMV hound listening to a gramophone, sat right in the middle of a now familiar iPod control wheel.  An interesting choice.

It would be a shame if all HMV did here was attempt to mimic iTunes, as they have one ace up their sleeve that iTunes can’t (yet) mimic; a nationwide chain of high street stores staffed with music loving store colleagues. Although the products may become digital, I believe that there is a place for human interaction that multichannel retailers such as HMV can capitalise on. And interestingly, from the tone of his Retail Week address, Fox believes this too.

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Voice Of The Customer Programs Need A Better Business Story

More than half of companies say that they have voice of the customer (VoC) programs in place today, and many others say that they’re planning to establish programs within the next year. That’s a good thing, because collecting, analyzing, and acting on customer feedback is a recipe for success in financial as well as customer experience terms. The firms recognized in Forrester’s 2010 Voice Of The Customer Awards attributed impressive business results to their VoC efforts, ranging from increases in customer retention to increases in revenue per customer.

Unfortunately, most companies still aren’t feeling the business value of their VoC programs. We recently surveyed members of our Customer Experience Peer Research Panel Survey. The vast majority of respondents said that their VoC programs were extremely or very valuable in improving customers’ experiences. But fewer than half said that they got the same financial value from their programs. This might not be a huge shocker, but it is a problem.

Companies that see gaps between the customer experience and financial benefits delivered by their VoC programs are likely:

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Agile Commerce Heralds Agile Customer Service

In a newly published report called “Welcome To The Era Of Agile Commerce,” my colleague Brian Walker asserts that multichannel is dead and we are shifting into a metamorphosis called agile commerce. Forrester defines agile commerce as:

An approach to commerce that enables businesses to optimize their people, processes, and technology to serve customers across all touchpoints.”

Brian writes, “Today's multichannel organizational approaches do not reflect the new reality of engaging and serving the customer across touchpoints — from online search to affiliates to marketplaces to branches and stores to websites to mobile sites to call centers to Facebook.”

Agile customer service is the only way forward in a world of agile commerce.

Agile customer service requires fundamentally re-evaluating how customers are engaged and assisted across a growing number of touchpoints. Customers don’t consider the technical or operational complexity behind resolving their issues. They simply want to contact you on the device of their choice and get what they want when they want it. And they expect you to know who they are at every point along the way. To do this successfully, eBusiness & Channel Strategy professionals must evaluate challenging questions about key business areas including:

  • Organization and operation: Has a sales versus support structure created silos that your customers cannot break through? Do your success metrics drive behavior that compromises a positive customer experience? Have you empowered your employees to provide exceptional service?
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Time for a local focus. Well, local if you live in Europe, that is

My first Blog post as a Forrester Analyst and I was going to go little further than saying “hey, hello!” but I figure why not take a few minutes to dig into a couple of subjects that I’m looking at.

Forrester have a large and growing body of research and a dedicated team of Analysts and Researchers serving eBusiness and Channel strategy professionals, and our research plan for the next year covers some bold topics like Agile Commerce, the future of Mobile as a channel and the growing power of Social Media.  While I’ll be looking at these topics and more, I’ve joined Forrester with a specific brief, and that is to bring some focus to the European Retail arena. 

I’ve come to Forrester from Boots, where I worked for the last 4 years in the Enterprise Architecture group leading the architecture strategy across both on-line and stores, and my move to Forrester is, in my opinion, a sign of Forrester’s commitment to do what we repeatedly tell you to do with your Retail efforts. 

Make them Relevant and Contextual.

So that’s my primary mission, at least to begin with.  Making what we do here at Forrester relevant and contextual to the challenges and opportunities of the European market.  That isn’t to say I won’t be looking at broader global eCommerce trends, and in fact one of the first pieces of work I’m doing is on the evolution of video in eCommerce (more on that soon).  But to support those of you who are either focusing on or are looking to move into the European market, I’m working on a broader piece looking into the state of Multichannel Retail in Europe.

If there is anything I can help you with, or if there are any burning topics you would like to see us focus on, then please reach out to me at mgill@forrester.com or get engaged in our community.

Friday Afternoon Brainstorm: What's The Best Digital Branding Effort You've Ever Seen?

I've been talking a lot lately about how to build great digital branding programs, and it's gotten me thinking about the best ones I've ever seen. Remember the Ford Explorer home page takeover on Yahoo from years ago, that actually shook the browser window as the truck drove across the screen? (It's so old I can't even find a screen shot of it online.) Apple reprised the idea for an iPod program about 18 months ago — as have many others — but the Ford one was both more amazing (I mean, the browser shook) and one of the first that really got people talking. It was incredibly bold in its creative execution but also in its media buy (while there's nothing special about buying home page advertising on the then-biggest website, just think about the monetary bet they put on that buy! It must've cost a fortune).

The Audi program that won a Forrester Groundswell Award last year was fantastic too — using a combination of online content and social media to raise awareness of the automaker's new A1 model. Why? It gave users a customized impression of the new brand (by letting them customize the car) and it was intelligently distributed through a huge number of social channels.

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The Data Digest: Consumer Interest In Mobile Marketing

Mobile marketing spend is forecast to hit around 750 million by the end of 2011 and more than 1,250 million by 2014. However, the number of consumers exposed to mobile advertising is still low. In fact, Forrester Technographics surveys shows that two-thirds of online mobile consumers don't remember being exposed to any mobile ads. Of those who had been exposed, the majority (52%) didn't take any actions. For those who did respond, calling a local business or storing a number as a new contact were the most popular activities.

But just because many consumers haven't engaged with mobile marketing yet doesn't mean they don't want to. In fact, 13% of online mobile consumers say that they would like to receive coupons to be used while shopping and 10% would like to be able to look up product information. About one-fifth of online mobile consumers are open to receiving SMS messages from companies in return for promotions, discounts, or free downloads(and this number jumps to more than one-third of Gen Yers).

But to be successful at their mobile efforts, companies need to determine which type of engagement will work best with their target audience and what key objectives resonate most. For example, are you trying to drive awareness, foot traffic, or campaign involvement? Understanding these objectives will help determine whether your organization should engage consumers through an SMS campaign offering a reward or whether it should try to intercept consumers while they are searching.

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