Successfully reaching online shoppers during the critical holiday season is crucial to the Q4 success of eCommerce businesses. Forrester recently published its “US Online Holiday Retail Forecast, 2011”; it predicts strong growth despite the current economy. My colleague Sucharita Mulpuru shared in her blog that November and December alone are expected to pull in nearly $60 billion in online revenues in the US, a 15% increase over 2010 and about one-third of the overall volume of online sales for the year.
But what are the drivers for purchasing? How do consumers discover a good deal? Forrester collaborated earlier this year with the eCommerce company GSI Commerce to answer these and other questions and to create a picture of online buyers’ purchase journey in various categories during key periods of the Q4 2010 holiday season across 15 eCommerce sites.
We found in this study that search and email were the most effective tactics in driving sales, and shoppers were heavily influenced by retailers’ marketing efforts during key dates such as Cyber Monday and the Thanksgiving weekend. But in many cases, it's a combination of marketing tactics that makes people buy: More than half of US consumers purchasing products online in the soft goods category experienced two or more marketing touchpoints prior to the completion of their transaction.*
Back in September, I wrote up a few of my findings from meetings with companies in the eCommerce space in Rio and São Paulo. We’re fielding an increasing number of questions about Brazil, and indeed, while eCommerce in Brazil today is still heavily dominated by local companies, the landscape is starting to include more international players:
With the holidays rapidly approaching, eBusiness executives face many a sleepless night as their eCommerce infrastructure comes under attack from hordes of festive online shoppers. These customers are buying online to avoid the crowds, queues and stress of the mall and they demand nothing short of an exemplary online experience. Slow pages, site outages, and checkout problems will at best cause frustration as loyal customers switch channel to the call center or brick and mortar stores, however most customers will simply take their business elsewhere. These customers will end up buying online from your competitors, but before they do, you can bet they will express their dismay on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and even through your own online reviews. The damage will extend beyond the online channel and the impact on brand reputation will be widespread and long lasting.
No more aware of this than anyone are eBusiness executives. Q4 sales will either make or break entire annual revenue goals and the c-suite have zero tolerance whatsoever for site outages or transactional problems online during the holidays. Jobs are on the line.
Only last week Targets head of online retailing, Steve Eastman left the company after a high profile site outage back in September left shoppers staring at this screen all day long as they frantically tried to get their hands on an exclusive and limited range of luggage, clothes and house wares from Italian designer Missoni.
Last week I joined a few of my colleagues in China to meet with a variety of eBusinesses in both Beijing and Shanghai. We met with online retailers, technology companies, and other players in industry. For those used to selling online in countries other than China, some of the takeaways included:
Multichannel remains in its infancy. With the leading online retailers in China being pureplays, multichannel remains at very early stages. In-store pickup or returns are not widespread – however, there are emerging multichannel initiatives. In a recent, high-profile online-to-offline expansion, for example, Taobao opened a new furniture showroom in Beijing to enable consumers to experience different furniture brands sold on the site. The furniture sellers rent out space in the showroom to display their products. We had an opportunity to visit the huge showroom, which was somewhat quiet when we were there – terminals stationed throughout the showroom (see below) enabled consumers to insert a card and select products online, then proceed to checkout to pay.
One of the findings that struck me most during our research was the growing popularity of PayPal. That PayPal is used by many online shoppers across Europe is well known, and partly explained by the success of eBay. What struck me as new is how many big European online merchants now accept PayPal, among them leading fashion retailers and airlines. Perhaps I didn't spot that sooner because the British merchants have been much slower to adopt than those in Italy, Germany, France and Spain.
The growing acceptance of PayPal raises questions for two groups of eBusiness executives:
If you work at a retailer or other merchant, is it time you accepted PayPal payments online?
If you work at a bank or card issuer, what does the growing use of PayPal mean for your relationships with your customers?
For both groups, what payment methods are customers likely to want as they start buying from tablets and mobile phones?
What do you think?
If you are a Forrester client, you can read the full report here.
Videos are definitely one of the strongest forms of media in our society nowadays, and there are 48 hours of video uploaded on YouTube per minute: from consumers sharing their creative expressions to companies uploading how-to videos about their products and brands.
These videos help many people in their purchasing process. My colleague recently had to shop for a car, and it’s been interesting to hear about her car shopping journey and how online videos helped her make the ultimate decision. She was interested in one specific car — the 2012 Ford Focus with the Sync with MyFord Touch comes as standard package. The challenge she, and Ford for that matter, encountered was that the majority of car salespeople aren’t that tech-savvy. While they are familiar with the horsepower and the smart-key entry feature, they really struggle to explain how to turn the car into a Wi-Fi hub or how the Sync system can read incoming text messages.
Trying to learn about every available optional feature, my colleague had to turn to the Internet for help. She was able to find demo videos on the Ford Focus website, on YouTube, as well as on her cable TV widgets. These online videos, produced by Ford, auto review sites, as well as tech-savvy online peers, really helped her understand how the optional features of this new product will enhance her ultimate driving experience. Forrester’s Technographics® data shows that videos created by other people are the most watched online type of video:
Following my blog post from a couple of weeks ago where I wrote about the need to take a local approach in Europe, I’d like to take a few minutes to say something about the first of our country-specific reports.
It was natural to start with the UK Online Retail Overview, 2011, for two reasons. The first is that I live in the UK, so it’s the market and retail environment that I’m most familiar with, but secondly and more importantly, it’s the largest online market in Europe. Based on the figures in our European Online Retail Forecast, the UK online retail market will be worth £28.6 billion in 2011; this represents 9.4% of the overall national retail market, almost double the online penetration of any other European country.
So there are some big numbers but also some interesting trends to examine.
The UK market is increasingly dominated by multichannel retailers. While there are a range of notable online pure play success stories (Amazon.com, Asos, Net a Porter, and Play, to name a few), we are seeing an increasing level of sophistication in how the major high-street retailers are integrating their on- and offline properties. Initiatives like Click and Collect are now commonplace, and the pace of innovation isn’t slowing, with new initiatives such as Argos’ 90 minute Shutl delivery service being a prime example. So there are plenty of examples here to be inspired by.
Recently, my colleague Jackie Anderson published a report, Understanding Online Shopper Behaviors, US 2011, and she indicated that 2010 online retail spending in the US had reached $175.2 billion and will grow at double-digit rates at least for another few years.
But among all the items that can be purchased online, some are more popular than others. We have extracted the top three and bottom three items that consumers research online and purchase online based on data from our North American Technographics® Retail Online Survey, Q3 2010 (US). The data shows that while online consumers are generally comfortable with both researching and purchasing books, hotel reservations, and airline tickets online, they still prefer to purchase footwear, consumer electronics, and household products from traditional channels.
About one-third of US Internet users aren't shopping online yet. The majority of them do use the Internet to research products but don't feel comfortable making the purchases online. The biggest barrier people mention for not buying online is their need to see things in person.
That’s amazing. How can I get a piece of that pie?
Call it what you will -- V-Tail, vCommerce, or just plain online video -- we are seeing some pretty bold claims around the use of video in eCommerce. Claims from platform vendors, press, and even some case studies and success stories from large retailers who are seeing some significant successes when they integrate video content into the online shopping experience.
But there’s the key. Integrate. Of course it isn’t as simple as sticking a few videos on your existing dot-com site and hey presto, conversion rates skyrocket. Video needs to support the sales process in a way that makes sense to your customers, that supports your brand values, and that enhances the shopping experience.
There are a growing number of ways to source video content, and an increasing number of players in the market who will all tell you that they have the answer. From user-generated content to automatically generated video. From content delivery networks to social media. There are a bewildering number of options out there.
Video absolutely can deliver firm benefits :
It can increase page views by driving traffic to your site.
It can enhance the time people spend lingering on your site, giving you more opportunity to market to them.
Intrigued by a lot of what I’ve been reading recently, I’ve started looking for evidence of QR codes transforming how shoppers are interacting with retailers. The thing is all the evidence I see with my own eyes doesn’t back up this proclaimed uptake. I’ve never noticed a single one in a shop. Now, that could be because I’ve not been looking and if I’m honest, I’ve only had a phone capable of reading them for a few months.
Time for a quick bit of ad-hoc analysis (Health Warning: NOT OFFICIAL FORRESTER RESEARCH !!!)
In order to give this mini research project some vague semblance of credibility, I have adopted the rigorous scientific approach that Mr. Featonby, my A-level physics teacher drilled into me many years ago . . .
My hypothesis is that retailers aren’t using QR codes in the UK, and furthermore, the average shopper hasn’t a clue what one is.
I went to the local Tesco Metro and browsed the aisles, looking at every product I could find.
I’ve looked through every store magazine and free paper and at every poster I pass in London, on the Midlands Mainline train service, and in Nottingham (where I live) for two weeks.
I posted a picture of a QR code on my Facebook page and asked my friends (average shoppers one and all!) if they knew what it was.