2D Bar Codes Are Everywhere, But Are They Having An Impact?

2D bar codes  are on buses, in newspapers and magazines, storefronts, product packaging, store shelves, bus stops, mailings from political candidates, and subways. Retail stores like Best Buy, Home Depot and Lowe’s have corporate programs for 2D codes. Honestly, it is hard to name a place that I haven’t seen a 2D bar code. Hard to say if there are more codes — or more consumers scanning the codes. I think it is the former. As with many things mobile, this is more of a supply-side-driven phenomenon than demand-side.

Why are there so many codes? They are one of many mobile technologies that facilitate the connection of consumers to relevant content when they need it. Scanning bar codes simplifies the experience of discovering content or initiating an action on a cell phone like sending a message or adding a contact to a phone. Brands are doing all they can to educate consumers about what codes are and how to use them. Budweiser, for example, has designed an entire TV commercial around tags from Spyderlink on its Bud Light cartons. See the video.

Plastering codes everywhere, however, is working —  adoption among US adults has increased from only 1% last year to 5% this year. Adoption among smartphone owners is three times that. While adoption is relatively low today, the strong growth in usage of the codes by brands and consumers alike indicates a bright future for brands looking to deepen their engagement with consumers. Bar codes don’t facilitate just marketing —  they will be used 360 degrees around a customer’s journey —  from branding or consideration through to purchase and replenishment.

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Microsoft Folds Its Hand And Abandons Commerce Server: What It Means

With other enterprise players such as IBM, Oracle, hybris, eBay and others at the table betting heavy on commerce solutions, Microsoft announced today that it is folding Commerce Server and leaving its shrinking pile of chips behind. While others have invested heavily through acquisitions, product investment, partner recruiting, and have been increasing their focus on commerce, Microsoft will walk away and hand over the product to a third party –Ascentium. Oh how much the game has changed; in 1999 Microsoft was the one with the tall chips.

Ascentium, a Bellevue, WA based digital agency and commerce services provider, will be taking over all the intellectual property rights, future product development, marketing, and support of Commerce Server from Microsoft.

What it means for Microsoft Commerce Server clients:

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US Online Holiday Sales To Avoid a Double-Dip Recession

Forrester’s “US Online Holiday Retail Forecast, 2011” launches today, revealing strong growth despite a shaky economy.  November and December alone are expected to pull in nearly 60 billion dollars in online revenue, a 15% increase over 2010 and about one-third of overall online sales volume for the year.  Much of the growth comes as a result of web shoppers doing more of their holiday shopping online and is enhanced by:

  • Customers hunting down deals.  The web has always been the channel for finding value, but as shoppers are more likely to have their smartphones in hand, and as the US unemployment rates continues to approach a double-digit percent, expect even more browsing online for great values.  Deal-related keyword searches spike around the holidays and many opportunistic customers actually look to load up on products from their own personal wishlists given the ubiquitous availability of offers. 
  • Key dates getting bigger.   The trend for the last several years has been that Cybermonday is the biggest shopping day of the year for web retailers.  This has become a self-fulfilling prophecy as retailers now provide rich sales and offers on those dates, further driving customers to expect fabulous values at the same time.
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Have Yourself A Multi-Touchpoint Christmas

 With 43 shopping days left until Christmas 2011, eCommerce operations across Europe are gearing up for what looks like being a strong growth year for online retail.

With the economic climate across Europe looking increasingly bleak as Italy considers austerity measures and Greece’s future in the Eurozone uncertain, it is no surprise that European shoppers are more price conscious than ever as they go about their Christmas shopping. Increasingly savvy shoppers will not only find and purchase Christmas bargains online but are turning to a growing range of retailer touchpoints to inform their offline purchases as they hunt for the perfect gift at the perfect price.

While the Internet continues to deliver healthy double-digit growth for most retailers, lackluster summer sales and autumn clearance efforts have led to a shaky start to some Christmas campaigns. But while some retailers lurch from sale to sale, leading eBusiness executives are driving increasingly sophisticated multi-touchpoint strategies that aim to offer shoppers flexibility in how, where, and when they shop.

Mobile will undoubtedly play a much more critical role in assisting shoppers to find the perfect gift this Christmas, with innovative retailers such as John Lewis pushing the envelope by offering free in-store WiFi to its shoppers. But a multi-touchpoint approach does bring more complexity than ever, and managing a consistent experience and message across multiple touchpoints such as Facebook, mobile, the Web and stores is a challenge that busy eBusiness executives must face into.

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The Data Digest: Ads That American Youth Trust The Most — And The Least

Although data nowadays shows that young consumers in particular are moving away from traditional media in their daily media consumption, our Forrester data also shows that traditional media are still powerful means for advertising/promotion. In Roxana Strohmenger’s recent report, “Young Hispanics Lead In Mobile Activity But Don't Trust Mobile Ads Very Much,” she discovers that the two top channels are TV and magazines; American youth trust them twice as much as other online or mobile channels, and ads on mobile phone are being trusted the least. No wonder TV spending continues to top other forms of media in America and continues to grow, according to Nielsen; even search engine giant Google is getting into the TV advertising business by offering unique targeting and measurement capabilities.

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Facebook Matters To Customer Service

A couple of years ago, most of my conversations with eBusiness leaders about the future role of Facebook and customer service concluded with cautious skepticism: “Why would customers go to our Facebook page for customer service when we have plenty of other channels for them?”   The most frequent verdict was that Facebook might become important to customer service but it wasn’t a priority.

The verdict is now coming in.

And Facebook is important.

The Facebook UK team ran a number of polls recently asking consumers about why they talk about brands and what they talk about.  They found that 23% of Facebook users want customer service and expert advice when they become a fan of a company’s page.

Savvy eBusiness leaders now understand: you need to go to where your customers are.

And if your customers are on Facebook, then Facebook needs to become a higher profile in your overall cusotmer service strategy.

Audio brand Shure recognized an opportunity to go to where its customers are: Facebook. With RightNow CX for Facebook, Shure extended  its customer service reach to Facebook. Customers can find answers directly from a customer support tab on the company’s Facebook page and pose questions privately to an agent via Facebook.

Live chat is beginning to appear Facebook. Nykredit,the largest provider of mortgage lending in Denmark, offers chat via their Facebook page through vendor Netop.

Earlier this year, virtual agent vendor NoHold launched a virtual agent on Facebook for consumer electronics company View Sonic.

 

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Product Strategists At Telcos Shouldn't Obsess About "Bit Pipe Syndrome"

Product strategists in various industries tend to dismiss telcos' role in service innovation, focusing instead on disruptors such as Google and Apple. It is true that new entrants and over-the-top (OTT) players have bypassed carriers, reducing their role to providing bit pipes.

Product strategists at telcos are suffering from what we are calling “bit pipe syndrome.” Didier Lombard, the former CEO of France Telecom, summed this up well when he declared back in 2007, "I am not building freeways for Californian cars."

Since then, many observers have claimed that telcos will die if they do not reinvent their business models, leveraging their networks as a service. This case is overstated: Reports of operators' deaths are exaggerated.

No doubt telcos are increasingly being commoditized to the point that they will become utilities, but there is no shame in monetizing networks — carriers' bread and butter for a few more years. Fundamental connectivity remains a valuable service — all the more if product strategists focus on gaining more pricing power and delivering more segmented offerings, either on their own or with new strategic partners.

When it comes to product innovation, operators still have key assets to leverage — particularly their billing capabilities — to become trusted partners for consumers and third parties. Some global carriers have a strong presence in emerging countries, and they will have more sway in shaping the types of content services that the world consumes.

Product strategists at operators have the assets to continue to differentiate their offerings and innovate in a disrupted telecom ecosystem. I am not saying this is not challenging and extremely difficult, but here are some approaches that could work:

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Join Our Global Mobile Survey And Get Free Aggregated Results

A year ago, Forrester fielded our Q3 2010 Global Mobile Maturity Online Survey. We interviewed more than 200 executives in charge of their companies’ mobile strategies around the globe (40% in the US, 40% in Europe, and 20% in the rest of the world). You can see the results from last year’s survey here.

To help consumer product strategists and executives benchmark and mature their mobile consumer strategies, we’re updating this survey.

Planning and organizing for the use of mobile technologies is a complex task. Some players are laggards and think they still need to get the basics of their online presence right, while others are clearly ahead of the curve. Yet two questions we consistently hear are: “Where is my organization compared with others in the use of mobile?” and “How can we mature our mobile consumer approach?”

Here’s how you can help:

If you’re in charge of your company's mobile consumer initiative or if you’re familiar with it, then please take this survey.

Click here to start the questionnaire. 

If you’re not familiar with your company’s mobile consumer approach, please forward this survey to the relevant colleagues who are in charge of defining or implementing your mobile consumer approach. 

  • The survey takes less than 20 minutes to complete.
  • The survey will be live until November 20.
  • Responses will be kept strictly confidential and published only in an aggregated and anonymous manner.
  • For your efforts, we will share a free copy of the survey results.
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Apple's Retail Self-Checkout Is No iPhone 4S, This Really Is An Upgrade

For the next 2 minutes as you read this blog post, please try to forget about Apple the product company and instead focus on Apple the retailer. Two years ago, Apple undertook a worldwide roll out of iPod Touches to its store associates. These devices came wrapped in a sled adding a 2D bar code scanner and credit card swipe capabilities to the hardware lineup and enabled store associates to perform mobile POS transactions anywhere in the store. Ever since the retail industry has been playing catch-up with retailers like Lowes, Gap, and Home Depot recently following suit with respective rollouts of mobile POS functionality to their store associates.

Today Apple raised the bar. Customers in the US can now use their own iPhone 4 or 4S in conjunction with the Apple Store app (one of my favorite mobile shopping experiences and complete with a fresh update) to scan the bar code of most in-store products and perform a self-checkout. The feature, called EasyPay uses the iPhone’s rear-facing camera to scan a product bar code with payment occurring via a simple authentication to iTunes, just like any other in-app purchase. The core difference is that Apple is now allowing in-app purchases of physical merchandise, albeit restricted to Apple at this time. Once payment is complete, the customer simply strolls out of the shop showing their digital EasyPay receipt to a member of staff as they exit. Time will tell if EasyPay results in any increase of in-store fraud for Apple, but for the consumer that knows what they want the convenience of EasyPay is crystal clear.  
 
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Do You Need Retail Stores? Best Buy Thinks Not.

 

Disappointing news for UK shoppers today – Best Buy has announced that it will close its UK stores by the end of the year.

Best Buy was a bit of a breath of fresh air in a multichannel consumer electronics market in the UK that is struggling to find its identity as sales shift rapidly to the web. In a Website Functionality Benchmark we conducted earlier this year, we found that Best Buy stood out in a number of areas against its European competition, and its approach to multichannel retailing was similarly refreshing. While UK traditionalists DSGI have been struggling to find a multichannel model that works for them, Best Buy seemed to embrace the concept of agile commerce quite neatly. It understood that shoppers want flexibility to research, transact, purchase, and return products across multiple touchpoints, be that the web, the store or mobile.

And mobile is definitely where Best Buy and many other retailers clearly see the future.

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