I had the pleasure of presenting an evolution of our Agile Commerce research last week at the Internet Retailing conference in London. It was an interesting event on a number of fronts, but my key take-away from the event was a very positive one.
eBusiness executives in Europe have definitely woken up to the Agile Commerce message.
We can’t claim all the credit at Forrester, but I definitely got the feeling from listening to my fellow panelists on the Customer track present their stories that they were in the same place as we are now, at least in terms of strategic intent, if not yet in execution:
Simon Smith, Head of Multichannel Experience at O2 Telefonica described how he is bringing a service design ethos to delivering both consumer and employee experiences. Telefonica aims to design service experiences that are Individual, Relevant, Thoughtful, Reassuring and Amazing (SUPER, anyone?), and what was the most interesting piece about their story was that these experiences are designed from an outside in, customer first perspective before any of the individual touchpoints are designed. By basing these experiences on common personas and a wealth of analytical data, Telefonica then overlay touchpoints as appropriate, enabling them to step out of the discussion about “should we or shouldn’t we develop this or that functionality on this or that platform?” and into the more relevant discussion about “what touchpoints and experiences most make sense for our customers?”
Mao Zedong is quoted as having said that: “A revolution is not a dinner party . . . A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.”
However, history also shows us that violence is not the only way to lead transformational change in a society that is locked into a traditional way of being. Some iconic campaigners for peaceful change, such as Gandhi or Leo Tolstoy, come from relatively privileged backgrounds and were well positioned to take a front seat in leading change. However, others have risen from very humble beginnings. Martin Luther King. Sophie Scholl. Emmeline Pankhurst. All people from ordinary backgrounds who rose to prominence through their single-minded vision of a better world, their ability to communicate their passion, and the courage of their convictions in the face of overwhelming opposition to their way of thinking.
So why is this relevant to a blog that’s normally about eBusiness?
Here at Forrester, we’ve been evangelizing the concept of agile commerce for a while now, and we are working on a stream of research building on the concept and digging into exactly how leading organizations are transforming themselves to embrace the era of agile commerce. One of the questions I personally get asked is what exactly does an agile business look like? How do you recognize one?
In speaking to a number of leading practitioners in this space, I have found that there are four things that agile businesses have in common. They:
Architect the experience. Agile organizations don’t allow touchpoints to emerge randomly or operate independently from one another. They design compelling cross-touchpoint experiences that are meaningful to their customers and add value to the brand, like “Click and Collect” for a retailer or mobile-driven online check-in for an airline.
Are customer-obsessed. Agile commerce means putting the customer at the heart of every decision, bringing quantitative and qualitative customer insight to every decision, and even reorganizing around the customer life cycle to focus teams on what the customer needs, not what the channel thinks.
Enable with technology. Agility demands some key underpinning enterprise technology components, such as a commerce platform that can serve the Web, mobile, and stores. But it also requires that touchpoints are unshackled from back-end systems by a common set of commerce APIs.
Here at Forrester we have been talking about the concept of "agile commerce" for some time now, but it's not always easy to point to live examples of “agile”businesses. What is agile commerce? How do I become agile? Both are very valid questions that we are in the process of building out a series of research documents and case studies in order to answer.
But there is a live example happening right now that encapsulates what agile is all about for me.
For those of you who are yet to become completely addicted to Pinterest (and you will), it's basically an image sharing site that allows you to group together images from around the web into categories and pin them to a virtual pin board. It creates highly visual mood boards, wish lists, galleries, and collections of images that link back through to the original source (which is where Pinterest makes its money). And since so many Pinterest boards are all about style — fashion and home in particular — it has the potential to be a bit of a retail gold mine.
We know that customers don’t choose to interact with you on a single communication channel from start to finish. They interact with you on whatever the most suitable channel for them at that point in time is — which could be via their mobile device, a chat session, a phone call, email, or web self-service from their iPad. This agile behavior is not limited to customer service; it extends to everything that we do, from buying to receiving marketing offers to getting service. Saying this another way, customers don’t make a distinction between a sales transaction and a customer service transaction. All they expect is to be able to receive the same customer experience every time they interact with a company, over any communication channel that they use. This point is very well illustrated in fellow Forrester analyst Brian Walker's report “Welcome To The Age Of Agile Commerce.”
More than that, customers expect personalized service targeted to their situation at hand. Customers expect you to know who they are, what products and services they have purchased, what issues they have had, over what channels they have used to contact you in the past, and what offers they have been presented with and either accepted or rejected. In addition, they would like to know whether you have read and responded to the feedback that they have given you.
Marketing planning has changed little in the past century. It's essentially a linear process built on the development of rigid 12-month plans built around brand and channel metrics. This approach is coming increasingly under strain as the combined effects of the growth of digital marketing platforms and a volatile economy demand marketing plans that deliver clear business outcomes and can adapt and improve to meet evolving market dynamics.
Over the past 12-18 months, we have come across several marketing organizations that have decided to do something about this situation and look for new ways to improve their approach to marketing planning by adopting some principles borrowed from a relatively new methodology originally conceived for software development efforts: agile development.
From the interviews that we did with marketers that are experimenting with this new approach, several of the key principles of "agile" development looked particularly relevant to innovating their approach to marketing planning:
A clear definition of business outcomes and associated business metrics
Have you been sitting on the mobile commerce fence? Ready to make the jump? Good for you, but you may not be prepared for the maze of solutions and vendors at hand to help you implement your mCommerce strategy. The number of vendors and diversity of solutions in the market is quite staggering, and the search for the right solution may feel like shopping in a busy Moroccan market, with an overwhelming choice of wares and vendors bargaining hard for your dollars. Leaving with the right purchase is a daunting task.
However, before you rush into evaluating solutions and signing contracts, eBusiness professionals must take a step back and look at the different implementation paths open to them for mobile commerce. These are:
Using technology from your existing eCommerce platform vendor.
Outsourcing to your interactive agency or systems integration firm.
Building it all in-house.
Leveraging a mobile commerce point solution.
In my latest report, a market overview of mobile commerce solutions for retail, I look at 14 established mobile commerce point solutions that have particular strengths and a proven record of accomplishment in the retail sector. These vendors between them empower the mobile commerce sites and apps for an exhaustive list of who’s who in US and European retail. The report focuses on the respective strengths of the solutions with respect to the needs of retailers. The vendors we looked at were:
For the past couple of months, we have been working on identifying best practices for application development and delivery teams executing on multichannel strategy. The related report will get published soon. We found that application development and delivery teams need to be successful in the magic triangle of delivering a multichannel solution: 1) tactically; 2) in a strategic way; and 3) fast.
I’ve known it was coming for a while, but now that it’s here it’s not quite what I expected. However in a way it’s actually a lot better.
KnowHow.com is, for want of a better description, the customer service portal for the DSGI chain of consumer electronics stores in the UK: Dixons.co.uk, Currys, and PC World. These stores operate in a fiercely competitive but large and lucrative market in the UK and extend their reach into Europe through sister company Pixmania. In recent years wallet share in the CE sector has been moving increasingly online, with brick-and-mortar stores facing the challenge of competing on price with their leaner, lower-cost online rivals. But despite this off-to-online swing, the group is reporting that Internet sales are down.
I was expecting KnowHow to be its revamped eCommerce operation, its response to lackluster digital sales. But interestingly it has done something different. It appears to be trying to step out of the race to the bottom from a price perspective and is positioning itself to begin to compete on a new axis. Service. An interesting play in what could be considered a commodity market.
However, when you learn that its multichannel sales are up 12%, this may not be such a strange move.