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.
Consumers are now in control, especially when it comes time to buy. Ubiquitous connectivity allows consumers to easily check prices and buy on the go, which should worry (not terrify) traditional retailers in competitive categories. This “showrooming effect,” which has been encouraged by Amazon, would enable web retailers to snatch some sales from the hands of their brick-and-mortar competition. A majority of sales are still happening offline, so the fear of showrooming — that most people are finding screaming deals online — is largely exaggerated. In fact, the majority of transactions still happen in stores, even when shoppers research online (yes, even when they’ve got their mobile devices in hand in a store). Forrester’s US Cross-Channel Retail Forecast, 2011 To 2016, which launches today makes it clear just how influential and critical the web channel will be to eBusiness professionals in retail. By 2016 Forrester predicts that more than half of the dollars spent in US retail will be influenced by the Web. Already in 2011, $1.3 billion dollars in the US fall into this category.
It is imperative for eBusiness professionals in retail to adopt cross-channel best practices, including:
Pricing more consistently to reduce vulnerability to showrooming. The ability of shoppers to comparison-price shop and demand price matches requires retailers (and manufacturers) to reduce price discrepancies across all channels. With comparable pricing in place, this forecast suggests that many consumers may in fact nonetheless choose to purchase products in stores because of the immediate availability, service levels, or simply because products online do not have significant benefit over those in stores.
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.
“While significant media and investor interest in daily deals has fueled the hype around this business model, data from consumers indicates that daily deals are significantly challenged models.”
The daily deals concept is receiving just as much press coverage in Europe as it is in the US, so with that in mind we have taken a similar look at the state of the market of deals, flash sales and coupons and found that while there is a great deal in common, there are some notable differences.
Much of the differences stem from a combination of the local players and the geographical complexity of operating across Europe. Many of the big players like Grouponand Living Socialare present in Europe, with significant market presence in many countries, though a range of other national companies like DailyDeal.deand SecretSales.comoperate in only one country. So while at a national level the situation is reasonably easy to understand, eBusiness executives operating in a pan-European company have a maze of different options to navigate through.
As we look back on the year 2011, eCommerce organizations continued to expand their global reach. A growing number of US and European retailers started shipping internationally. Brands enabled eCommerce on their own websites in new markets and launched online stores on marketplaces in multiple countries. Other companies with an interest in global eCommerce used the year to gain insights into new markets, determining which ones to prioritize in the years ahead. Rumors swirled about Amazon preparing to enter India. Or Brazil.
For many companies, however, the globalization process is still just beginning. Aside from a handful of companies that operate eCommerce sites around the world, few companies have a truly global online footprint. The growing number of US- and European-based companies that ship internationally will see revenues increase from these markets, but will start to hit a language ceiling: Close to two-thirds of online consumers in both France and Germany, for example, agreed with the statement, “I only shop from websites in my native language.” In the UK, the percentage is close to three-quarters.
2012 will not be the year that eCommerce organizations blanket the globe with localized offerings – they will, however, continue stepping into international waters. Next year we expect to see :
Do you ever wonder which IT investments really drive competitiveness or comparative advantage for your firm and which are there simply to support mundane processes that are identical to those of all your competitors? Do you ever wonder if it might make sense to standardize on "best practices" for non-differentiating processes and supporting application implementation?
Received wisdom is that accounting processes are not differentiating and so it makes the most sense to support them with packaged apps or maybe with software-as-a-service solutions. Larger firms often implement shared services for financial management across all their business units or even outsource altogether apparently dull processes such as invoice settlement or collections.
But does that really stand up to scrutiny?
One retailer, with which Forrester worked, confessed to having 17 definitions of margin depending on which types of supplier rebates and volume discounts were included. We asked how they calculate markdown and they grinned.
The more I thought about it, the more this fact disturbed me. In some types of specialty retail, inspired opportunity buying is the key to competing with the bulk buying muscle and supply chain scale economies of global discount retail chains.
Many retailers import merchandise and have to calculate "landed cost" based on customs and freight invoices that arrive long after the goods in question have been sold. What price weighted average actual cost accounting, or margin calculation, in such a scenario?
Where is the scope for creative dealmaking in standardized accounting applications that deliver lowest common denominator functionality across verticals as diverse as local government, with its focus on fund or commitment accounting, engineer to order manufacturing with a focus on multi-period project costs and retail with a focus on margin measurement and management?
Over the past couple of years I have been intrigued by the concept of a 'digital wallet' that will combine mobile payments with a variety of other benefits for customers. The more people I talk to, the more convinced I am that mobile digital wallets will mark a big shift in retail payments. A mobile digital wallet is more than just a mobile payment system because it combines:
Mobile payment. Digital wallets are likely combine several different payments systems into a single service, including mobile contactless payments, online (i.e. web) payments, and over-the-network mobile payments, making it easy for customers to make a variety of different types of payment from a mobile device.
Barcode scanning. Scanning barcodes or QR codes will let customers get more information about products, and let them pay for items on their phones before showing an on-screen receipt to leave the store.
Loyalty rewards. Instead of carrying (and sometimes forgetting) a separate loyalty card, digital wallets will track customers’ spending and offer merchant-funded rewards, either on the phone or at the point of sale.
Coupons and offers. Digital wallets are likely to offer customers coupons and location-based offers.
I'm thrilled that Sona Chawla will be a keynote speaker at Forrester's Consumer Forum in just over three weeks! As the President of e-Commerce, Sona oversees operations and leads the team responsible for building the sales, service and customer experience of Walgreens.com and drugstore.com (acquired in June 2011). This includes driving store traffic through the Web, growing online profitability, and the development of new product and service offerings via emerging digital touchpoints such as mobile.
Earlier today, Sona provided me with a sneak peek of her upcoming presentation for our forum "110 Years Of Agility: Continuing Our Evolution To Meet Customer Demands" and all I can say is that it's not to be missed! I don't want to reveal too much and spoil it, but Sona will touch on the dynamic forces at play within healthcare and retail that are driving Walgreens' digital transformation, the framework they are utilizing to enable that transformation, and finally what Walgreens sees for the future. And of course throughout the discussion Sona will have key lessons learned and advice for firms across industries going through similar transformations.
I do however want to share with you Sona's responses to some questions we asked her in advance of the event. Her thoughts demonstrate the growing importance (and let's not forget the financial benefits) of serving customers across touchpoints with innovative, digital products and services.