Get ready for the barrage of bad speculation about Twitter and its imminent dominance of online retail. If you didn’t hear already, Twitter hired Nathan Hubbard, a former Ticketmaster exec, to figure out its commerce revenue stream. Interesting yes, but game-changing, no. Here’s why: startups tend to look for smart people first and figure out their jobs later. The mentality often goes like this: “We need to figure out what we’re going to do in X, this guy has a rock star background in it, let him build a team and see what happens.” And even if the person doesn't succeed, it's OK. They move on. These people have great resumes. That said, here are the biggest reasons for my question marks around Twitter’s success in commerce:
What works best in commerce is something Twitter already gives away for free, which is its tweets. For example, some of the most successful users of Twitter in a retail context are companies looking to liquidate inventory or send notes about limited supply of promotions, like the Dell Outlet or Groupon — all done effectively via a tweet. In many ways, a tweet is like an email title — it draws people into a click with a few sexy words. The challenge is that tweets have the same problem as emails: they don’t make their technology parents any money because everyone gets to use the tools for free.
The insurance industry is in the midst of a mobile gold rush. Carriers across all business lines have jumped on the mobile bandwagon, rolling out mobile functionality to their policyholders and agents. Many carriers have relied on a single, basic metric to quantify mobile success: app downloads. But as insurers’ mobile strategies are maturing, so too is the demand for more sophisticated proof of mobile’s business impact. But few digital insurance teams possess more than the basics. In our latest Mobile Insurance playbook report, we explore the numbers that can make mobile insurance business plans hum.
Earlier this year, we talked to a number of insurance mobile strategists so we could better understand why so many insurers were behind when it came to mobile measurement. We learned that mobile initiatives have been:
Random. Early mobile apps were cheap to build, meaning that business process owners like marketing, sales, agency management, claims, and others rushed to get them into iTunes and Google Play without always considering what they wanted the functionality to do for the business.
Complicated.The business of insurance is messy. Multiline carriers want customers to buy bundles, but haphazard mobile execution often means that mobile functionality is uneven across products lines and processes. Add in an expansive ecosystem of agents, brokers, and service providers ranging from body shops to physicians, and carriers could be drowning in mobile data, but still be thirsty for the one mobile metric that could justify a critical investment.
A few weeks ago I visited a new prototype store from a major U.S. retailer in order to learn more about their omnichannel strategy. Expecting a customer-centric experience that seamlessly connects the digital and physical stores, I was disappointed to see what appeared to be a misguided omnichannel deployment, with an experience that was actually inferior to one without enhanced technology. Here’s why:
New layout but broken technology. Upon entering the store, I noticed a different layout with a lounge area on the right and an inoperable digital kiosk staring right at me. While the layout did appear to be more welcoming, the dark interactive display indicated a lack of commitment to execution
No in-store inventory or location-based awareness. I found a smaller kiosk near the front of the store and searched for an item online. I chose the 'pick up in store' feature, expecting the kiosk to recognize I'm already in the store and show what's in stock. Instead, this retailer decided to fulfill the order from their distribution center rather than direct me a few feet away to their colorful display showcasing the item. There was no in-store inventory information or any type of store mapping application within the kiosk.
Kiosks do not provide utility. Another department also had a kiosk, but only provided the ability to find and buy the product online. Again I was expecting the retailer to recommend the appropriate product based upon my specific needs, and show me that the product I need is just a few aisles away.
During grad school, I spent a summer teaching economics to university students in Uzbekistan – our summer campus was up in the mountains a few hours outside the capital city of Tashkent. To receive packages, we would have to request that the sender ship them to the university’s main office in the capital. When enough packages had arrived, the office staff would scramble to find someone to drive up to the summer campus to deliver them. The wait was often 2-3 weeks.
Last-mile deliveries are still a huge challenge. Years later, last-mile delivery to less urban areas continues to confound businesses around the globe. In almost every emerging market in the world, delivery times are still far quicker for consumers living in the big cities than those in more rural areas. A laptop ordered from a major online retailer in Brazil, for example, takes almost three weeks to get to the Amazonian capital of Manaus versus approximately one week to Rio or São Paulo. In Russia, the difference in shipping times between Moscow and Vladivostok is similar. Many online retailers piece together a variety of different courier networks or are forced to rely on local postal services to reach the most far-flung customers.
Today marks the first 90 days for me as Principal Analyst within the eBusiness and Channel Strategy role at Forrester, and I could not be happier with my decision to join this great team and organization. Along with working with extremely smart industry analysts in both business and technology roles, I have the opportunity to help participate in the growth and evolution of eBusiness leaders throughout the world. The benefits of being a Forrester analyst typically don’t involve complimentary champagne and caviar, but they do involve realizing a tremendous amount of enjoyment from helping eBusiness leaders and their companies succeed. Here’s how I’m adding value:
Gaining and providing insight by perpetually studying the business landscape. The role of an Analyst at Forrester is akin to attending your favorite college class, minus the exams and tuition expense. I’m rewarded for being curious and for having a point of view. This aspect of my role is very satisfying as I'm able to apply this insight and help our clients solve real problems.
Helping businesses solve issues through Inquiry calls. These client engagements allow me to provide tactical guidance and help solve urgent challenges. I’m often pulling from my experience running eBusinesses as well as leveraging the knowledge I’ve learned from my peers. Our clients love our Inquiry process because they get answers fast. These meetings often lead to stronger working relationships, allowing me to become a trusted adviser with our clients.
They commemorate the founding of the Royal Marine Commandos in 1942, and these windswept, bronze statues (almost as cold as the poor trainees were at the time) overlook the glens and lochs where the original commandos trained.
So what’s significant about the commandos in the context of eBusiness? Well, it isn’t that they were uber-cool special forces dudes. It isn’t even that they were pioneers of irregular warfare (i.e. innovators). The concept of Commandos pre-dated World War 2. In fact, in commanding the foundation of the commando units, Sir Winston Churchill took inspiration from his experiences in the Boer War and looked to the raiding tactics of the Boers for a model. So it's not even like us Brits invented the term.
What’s important about the commandos is that they were cross-functional. They were expert at collaborating across organizational boundaries. And in this they were pioneers.
Traditionally, the Army, Royal Navy and RAF were silos. Massive, traditional, centuries old silos who went further than just having incompatible processes and disjointed command structures. In many cases there was outright rivalry between service arms of the kind that would be intolerable in business. Troops fighting in bars. Intelligence actively hoarded by officers. Functional rivalry like nothing you have to deal with in eBusiness (hopefully).
Beginning on October 1st, US health insurance plans will be facing a big enrollment event when millions of Americans will be required to purchase health insurance. Where will many go to do research and shop? Health plan websites.
Forrester Research recently conducted an online wellness check to see just how prepared plan websites are to meet the crush of insurance plan shoppers. Through the second quarter of 2013, Forrester assessed the sales and service prowess reflected the public websites of seven US health plans. What did we learn?
Research help is hard to find or missing entirely. Product information, research help, and site search are weaknesses that needed to be addressed by all the plans we evaluated. What did we have in mind? Content that answered questions about plan features, plan comparison tools, and especially guided plan advisors. Two that caught our attention were David, Aetna’s Virtual Benefit Advisor and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois’s plan helper. But while these were incredibly valuable aids, even these two stand-outs were hard to find on the websites.
As brands eye a growing number of eCommerce markets around the globe, it’s important to understand the trends that mark early-stage markets and how these trends often evolve with time. The following factors suggest that an eCommerce market is still in an early phase:
Purchase decisions are made largely based on price. It is common to hear about consumers in early-stage eCommerce markets using the Internet to seek the lowest prices available on products. In markets like China and Russia, conventional wisdom shows that consumers go online to bargain hunt. However, over time, this dynamic gives way to consumers electing to buy from trusted retailers and those that provide a superior customer experience.
Online purchases are dominated by consumers in tier one cities. As eCommerce starts to take off in new markets, it tends to be the consumers in the largest, wealthiest cities that comprise the bulk of eCommerce markets. Whether it’s São Paulo and Rio in Brazil, Beijing and Shanghai in China, or Moscow and St. Petersburg in Russia, the top few cities tend to represent the lion’s share of early eCommerce revenues. Within the first few years, however, revenue growth starts to shift to smaller cities where offline product selection is more limited and the online channel helps fill the void.
Two months ago, SAP announced their intention to acquire Hybris and back then I blogged about the potential implications for Forrester’s clients. Today, SAP has formally completed the acquisition, which brings further clarity for the road ahead:
Hybris will operate as an independent business unit. Hybris will operate as an "SAP Company" rather than a "Product of SAP” and will retain its existing sales and development teams. This is a positive move for existing and future Hybris customers and ensures that the Hybris solution will continue to remain agnostic of other SAP products and technology. For now there will be no bundling of products, Hybris will not become part of the ERP or CRM suites or vice versa, however on the SAP side of the house there will be development in building lightweight ‘connector’ integrations for those customers that want to run Hybris alongside an existing SAP ERP or CRM infrastructure.
Customers will be able to buy from SAP or Hybris. In the near future, the on-premise edition of Hybris will become available on the SAP price list. For existing SAP customers looking at Hybris, this will give them the flexibility to contract directly with SAP and leverage their existing master service agreement. Given that Hybris will be available through both the SAP and Hybris sales channel, customers should expect price parity - it is unlikely that SAP reps will have much leeway to apply deep corporate discounting when selling Hybris.
With growth comes investment, so given that eBusinesses across the globe continue to experience double-digit compound annual online sales growth, it should come as little surprise that 66% of these same firms are planning to increase their investment in commerce technology in 2014. In my latest research report “Commerce Technology Investment And Platform Trends — 2013”, Forrester polled 49 eBusiness leaders to understand their investment and technology implementation plans for the next 12 months. Here’s what the top of the investment priority list looks like:
Omnichannel Execution. Omnichannel initiatives have become a major focus for every retailer and brand with a physical brick-and-mortar presence. eBusiness teams (and their counterparts in store operations) are rushing to implement the following programs among others: pickup-in/ship-to store, store inventory visibility, ship from store, and associate enablement.
eCommerce Replatforming. eCommerce platforms are the backbone of any digital channel, and replacing legacy home-grown systems or outdated (and often unsupported) platforms remains a top priority. With these platforms now supporting omnichannel programs such as “buy-online, pick-up in-store”, having a scalable and flexible platform that can support future growth is an imperative.