Today is, apparently, Cyber Monday in the UK. But there's a more interesting story in the UK's eCommerce market. It's about tax.
The debate is about the tax policies of a number of prominent multi-national businesses that operate in the UK, including Amazon, eBay, Google, Starbucks and Vodafone, most of which pay little or no Corporation Tax, which is levied as a percentage of profits. (It's relatively easy and perfectly legal for a subsidiary of a multi-national company to avoid taxes on profits in one country by buying services from a sister company in another country so that it makes no profit in the first country.)
Today, the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons published a scathing report on tax avoidance by multi-national companies operating in the UK. As the report puts it about Starbucks, which has made no profits in the UK for 14 of the past 15 years: "We found it difficult to believe that a commercial company with a 31% market share by turnover, with a responsibility to its shareholders and investors to make a decent return, was trading with apparent losses for nearly every year of its operation in the UK." What the committee says about Amazon is, if anything, worse.
What's the relevance to eBusiness? While it's uncomfortable for Google and Starbucks to be in the limelight for the wrong reasons, demand for both information and coffee is (presumably) fairly constant through the year. But for retailers Amazon and eBay, the timing couldn't be worse, because this debate is taking place in the run-up to Christmas, the crucial sales period for all retailers in the UK.
Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) leads all of North America.RBC again took the top spot in the 2012 Canadian Bank Digital Sales Rankings, scoring 77 out of a possible 100. It continues to tweak and improve an already good design; the bank started a major redesign in 2009. RBC continues to excel in areas big and small: For example, the firm presents fulfillment options in an easy-to-read format (see screenshot below). In 2012, Royal Bank of Canada improved its navigation, content, and online application functionality, and its score for 2012 reflects that improvement.
Citi and Wells Fargo top the US banks.Citi and Wells Fargo topped Forrester’s 2012 US Bank Digital Sales Rankings by delivering on multiple levels. Both banks combine good usability with exceptional account-opening processes. For example, Wells Fargo uses presentation best practices to make its checking account fees clear to customers and prospects (see screenshot below).
There are a number of firms that we watch closely at Forrester because they stand out for sustained innovation. Behind the technology giants like Google and Apple, there are a number of established firms that are using technology to adapt rapidly and successfully to changing customer behaviour and needs. One of them is Commonwealth Bank of Australia. Over the past four to five years CommBank has introduced a series of digital innovations to serve its customers better including:
Finest Online. In the course of its "Finest Online" project from 2007 to 2009, CommonwealthBank of Australia redesigned its NetBank Internet banking service with the objectives of building an excellent customer experience and driving online sales. The bank implemented new content and functionality to support the customer journey and integrated new secure site sales processes with in-person channels and the bank's multichannel customer relationship management (CRM) system. The two-year, cross-organizational project boosted online sales, increased customer satisfaction, and improved the bank's image. (Forrester clients can read our case study.)
A few months ago I wrote here about our benchmark of the sales content and functionality of UK banks' sales sites. My colleague Vanessa Niemeyer has just published a benchmark of the big four Australian banks' sales sites. Crushingly for an Englishman, the Australians beat us. The four Australian banks achieved an average score of 56 (out of 100), compared with an average of 48 for the British banks.*
National Australia Bank (NAB) came top, just ahead of Westpac in second place, with Commonwealth Bank of Australia not far behind. The Australian banks demonstrate a series of good practices in their application processes, such as cross-selling during the application and automated confirmations. We highlight many of the good practices that the eBusiness teams at the Australian banks have developed in the report which is available for Forrester clients here.
I am intrigued by last week's announcement from UK payment processor VocaLink and Australian financial software vendor eWise that they are collaborating to build an online banking transfer payment system for the UK. Online banking transfer systems make it (fairly) easy for online shoppers to authorize payments through online banking by integrating the payment details into their bank's secure online banking site. The customer is routed directly from the merchant's site to the bank to authorize the payment and back again.
In the Netherlands, the iDEAL online banking transfer system has been highly successful. It's now used by some 10 million Dutch online shoppers for about 5 million transactions a month. But the UK's online shopping market is different to the Dutch one in a couple of important ways. Firstly, debit cards can be used to pay online in the UK. Since almost all adults have a debit card, paying online is not a big problem in the UK, unlike many other European markets. Secondly, UK Net users have always been relatively complacent about online security compared with other Europeans. That means that one of the primary attributes of an online banking transfer system -- more robust security -- may not cut that much ice with British online shoppers.
Forrester has long argued that any new payment system needs to overcome three hurdles to succeed: providing a clear improvement over the existing alternatives, driving consumer and merchant adoption, and developing a viable business model for all parties.
One of the most common questions banking eBusiness executives ask Forrester analysts is: "What do you think of my Web site?". That's always a tough question to answer because what I think of a Web site depends on who I am and what I'm trying to use it for. To help UK bank eBusiness executives answer that question, my colleague Vanessa Niemeyer has just published a benchmark of the sales content and functionality on the Web sites of 10 of the UK's biggest banking brands, from the perspective of a typical customer trying to switch current account provider.
Some background: UK Net users are among the most likely anywhere in the world to use the Net to research and buy financial products. According to our Consumer Technographics® surveys, almost 60% of UK Net users have researched a financial product online in the past 12 months, more than in any other European country. Two out of five UK Net users have applied for a financial product online in the past year, which is double the Western European average. So you might think that UK bank Web sites are all highly effective sales sites.