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.
I attended a briefing from Visa Europe yesterday, about its V.me digital wallet. Here’s what Visa said:
V.me is more than a mobile digital wallet. Customers will be able to use V.me to make online payments too. It lets users check out at online stores using a one-click solution that remembers card details from multiple providers (including MasterCard and American Express cards) as well as billing details and postal addresses.
V.me is not just about mobile contactless payments. V.me will support a variety of ways to initiate payments including bar codes and QR codes, as well as NFC.
Visa intends to distribute V.me through its member banks, much as Visa cards are distributed today. BBVA will be the first issuer in Spain.
V.me is already in extended pilots in the UK and Spain to test the system and will launch formally in both countries soon. France will be next. V.me will start rolling out into stores in the UK next spring. Officially V.me will be available in France, Spain and the UK by next summer. (Visa Inc has already launched V.me in the US).
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?”
The other day, Smile*, one of the banks I have an account with, sent me a new contactless card.
The striking thing about this otherwise ordinary event was that the bank didn’t mention that it was a contactless card. I know it’s a contactless card because it has the contactless symbol on it. But nothing in the letter the bank sent with the card so much as mentioned the new contactless functionality. Logically, one of the following must be true:
Uncharitably, it could just be that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, and the product team forgot to tell the marketing team it was doing anything new.**
Possibly, some slip meant that my envelope didn’t contain any marketing. But there’s no mention of contactless cards on the bank’s website either.
Alternatively, the bank simply reckons that the benefits of promoting the contactless functionality are so marginal that it’s not even worth the effort of changing its standard letter (which promotes card protection insurance in extensive detail).
There are a few firms that I regularly point to as agile commerce exemplars, and one of them is Burberry.
This always makes me smile because being from the north of England and growing up in a culture dominated by shipbuilding and football (and Newcastle Brown Ale), Burberry has long been the iconic garb of the “chav.” Since many of the people who read this blog aren’t from the UK, a quick cultural diversion is probably needed here. But don’t worry - it's relevant to the Burberry story. Honest.
Over the last three months I’ve presented at 4 different European events on the subject of Mobile Commerce in retail, and in every other speech I’m called on to do, mobile is increasingly at the heart of what I talk about when I discuss the key trends impacting European eCommerce. Its unavoidable.
The growth assumptions are based on the existing Forrester Research Online Retail Forecast, 2011 To 2016 (Western Europe), with simplified category groupings to reflect mobile characteristics. Mobile purchasing behavior and mobile Technographics sophistication are overlaid onto the country-by-country eCommerce growth forecasts to reflect the way in which mobile commerce will grow differently from online commerce across Europe. What this gives us is a picture of how we believe that mobile commerce will evolve for some of the key European markets.
So what are we forecasting?
· Mobile Growth Will Be Rapid, But Adoption Will Be Niche For Some Time Yet. Mobile commerce will represent 6.8% of all online eCommerce sales across Europe by 2017 (mobile only – we exclude Tablets from this figure). This is a significant portion of online sales, with the most rapid growth in the south of Europe.
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.