I spent last week in Tokyo, Japan. Given that an increasing number of our clients are eyeing Japan’s eCommerce market, I thought it would be interesting to share some observations from my trip. Local business perception is that the economy is struggling and will persist to struggle, but robust activity on the street and our most recent Asia Pacific Forecast belie that. There is clearly potential for growth in the market, but changes need to be made before that can happen. Based on my observations, the key inhibitors are:
Low adoption of English in the business world. Japanese is the primary language used to conduct business in Japan. Understandable in the world’s third-largest economy. Many understand English, few are comfortable using it in a professional setting. This issue makes it hard for broader penetration globally across eBusiness. A notable exception is maverick Rakuten where employees are required to have strong English language skills.
Retail is aggressive but mostly single channel in focus. Companies I talked to are trying to understand cross-touchpoint attribution, but there is little evidence of multichannel sales in those stores. BIC Camera, one of the largest consumer electronics chains in Tokyo, for example, offers an enormous selection without the option to purchase across different channels.
To conduct our global eBusiness research at Forrester, we rely heavily on support from our multilingual group of Research Associates and Researchers. Recently, one of our Research Associates, Lily Varon — whose family originates from Peru — spent two weeks in the country and emailed us with her take on the state of eCommerce. Given that an increasing number of our clients are eyeing the online retail markets of Latin America, I thought it would be interesting to hear Lily’s observations of what’s happening in the region’s sixth-largest economy.
“Here are a few high-level findings from my travels:
Consumer adoption of online shopping in Peru remains low. The lack of online shopping is largely due to the fact that it’s just not customary, but also due slightly to the fear of putting personal financial information on the web. Retailers are encouraging consumers to overcome these barriers by prominently displaying payment and security information on the website, as well as educational information such as FAQs, step-by-step shopping, and payment instructions or YouTube videos explaining the shopping and checkout processes.
Last Sunday my washing machine broke down. And for a family with young children, a washing machine is right up there with shelter and food in Maslow's hierarchy of needs.
As the shops are closed on Sundays in the Netherlands, I turned to the Internet to look for a new one. And because I wasn't very satisfied with my old brand, I was looking for another with similar features but (hopefully) better quality. Within minutes I was completely lost in washing cycles, special programs, and all the other fancy features washing machines have nowadays. I clicked picture after picture, trying to enlarge to see the controls, with little success. But I was saved by video. I came across a site that shows a video of each of the products they sell — how they work, what they do, the control panel, explaining what the fancy features mean, and so on. This information, together with the price, helped me decide which washing machine to buy (at that site, of course).
I was thrilled to be back in São Paulo last week visiting with different companies in the eCommerce space. I met with over a half dozen online retailers, as well as other players in the industry including payment providers and market entry specialists. It was also great to have the opportunity to speak at Rakuten’s event on April 24th announcing their official launch in the country.
Below are a handful of takeaways from the trip:
Online momentum is building in categories such as apparel and beauty. In markets like the US and the UK, apparel represents a significant percentage of total online sales. In Brazil, by contrast, this category is just starting to take off, with online sales currently representing a very small percentage of the total market. As issues such as inconsistent sizing are increasingly addressed, however, and new entrants boost the market, the online apparel sector is set to grow substantially. Likewise, there’s much talk of growing beauty sales in Brazil (the country is set to surpass Japan to become the world’s second largest beauty market) – as with apparel, online beauty sales are a tiny fraction of the total today, suggesting substantial growth opportunities going forward.
I’m constantly searching for great examples of agile commerce practitioners. These are hard to find, and it’s rare to come across any one organization that exemplifies everything that we believe an agile business needs to be.
Dynamic. Willing to take calculated risks. Organized for cross-touchpoint customer engagement. A clear vision for the future with the customer firmly at the center.
In the various interviews I do, I frequently find that I end up talking about a British retail icon.
So what’s so special about M&S, you may ask. Well, not only is M&S a digital innovator in the space of video and its use of social media, but under the leadership of its Chief Executive Mark Bolland it is transforming itself into a truly multichannel organization. With a clear ambition to be the “UK’s leading multichannel retailer,” M&S has set itself a stretching target.
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.
Online retailers are rapidly adding emerging markets to their list of new global opportunities to explore, as these markets are set to take a growing percentage of global eCommerce sales going forward. However, it’s important to remember that Europe still ranks as at the most popular region outside of North America for US online retailers expanding internationally. The market is set to grow at a healthy pace over the next five years: Clients can read my colleague Martin Gill’s recently published forecast of online retail sales in key markets across Europe.
Some takeaways from recent conversations with online retailers expanding into and within Europe:
FiftyOne, the company that provides globalization and international logistics services to US-based online retailers such as Gap, Pottery Barn, and Crate & Barrel, announced today that it is acquiring Canada Post’s Borderfree unit. Borderfree, one of the first organizations to play a role in driving cross-border eCommerce, carved out a niche for itself helping US online retailers target online shoppers in Canada.
A few observations:
The acquisition does not disrupt the landscape of solution providers. With this acquisition, FiftyOne boosts its Canadian offerings and takes a small competitor out of the market, but the acquisition does not counter any direct threat from another solution provider in the space. Other providers tend to focus on different market segments, for example, International Checkout counts hundreds of clients in the SMB space, while BorderJump focuses on Latin America and the Caribbean (For an outline of different vendors, clients can read our 2011 report on Using International Shipping To Reach Online Shoppers Around The Globe). Today FiftyOne does not face another rival with the same roster of large clients.
Nearly 50% of web shoppers start their research process on Amazon or Google. Over 40% of the world’s Internet traffic constitutes daily visits to Facebook and Google. Twenty-one percent and 49% of iPhone and iPad owners respectively purchasing products via these devices. Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook not only absorb consumer time but are quickly becoming gateways for other eBusiness traffic. This makes the Big Four critical in the product research and sales funnel. In our recently published report, “Google, Amazon, Apple, And Facebook: What eBusiness Executives Need To Know For 2012” we help eBusiness professionals identify what’s on the horizon for these companies and what it means for them. Some key findings of the report include the following:
Google has broad ambitions to support (or displace) incumbent eBusinesses. While Google struggles to move beyond its paid search roots, eBusiness professionals will need to keep the company top of mind because it maintains a majority share of online marketing spend but promises to transform every industry from financial services to travel to health care and retail.
Amazon is disrupting retail economics. While Amazon has the smallest market cap of the four players, it is completely changing the dynamics of manufacturers and distributors.
Apps can be powerful tools to support eBusiness objectives. Companies that see apps as just extensions of web content are missing the many opportunities to enrich experiences with cameras, microphones, speakers, accelerometers, and location-sensing capabilities.
Hotcakes, you've got some competition: the phrase "selling like tablets" might soon enter the global lexicon. And it's not all hype — though there is a fair bit of that as well. Tablet users in the US are estimated to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 51% from 2010 to 2015. That’s a fast-growing market for firms of all stripes.
As such, the tablet as a touchpoint is becoming a critical consideration for eBusiness & Channel strategists. This is especially true for executives at banks, as financial transactions benefit from the immediacy of the mobile channel, but users often struggle to make these transactions on smaller smartphone screens.
In my new report, I outline the process Citibank went through in building its own tablet banking strategy, developing an iPad app, rolling it out to customers, and continually improving the service. We outline how Citi: