Retail is experiencing substantial change because consumers are now empowered by the web with information about price, availability, and merchandise features.
The retail industry is still served by solutions that are too fragmented to adequately balance the asymmetry introduced by radical price transparency. There are solutions for transactions, web site, stores, and so on but little to empower the cross-channel retailer to really meet the consumer’s needs.
I’ve recently been looking at IBM’s Smarter Commerce initiative and its portfolio that integrates:
1) Store applications. IBM has well-established high-volume store apps appropriate to high-volume, low-touch retailing but correctly identifies these as inappropriate for fast-growing specialty retail with low-volume “high touch.” This is why it acquired the “asset” of Open Genius.
2) Web metrics. IBM acquired Coremetrics in order to bring the discipline of measuring traffic, conversion, and average order to cross-channel retailing. It’s only by monitoring such metrics that retail can understand which marketing strategies are really successful and which market segments are most receptive.
3) Direct-to-consumer initiatives. IBM acquired Unica as a platform for integrating automated direct-to-consumer marketing with its cross-channel offering.
Forrester has just released its US Online Retail Forecast, 2010 to 2015, and EU Online Retail Forecast, 2010 to 2015. It is clear from our forecast data that online sales in the US and EU will continue to rise as users become increasingly comfortable buying in the online space. In 2010, US online retail sales grew 12.6% to a total of $176 billion. Similarly, EU online retails sales grew 18% in 2010 to a total of $81 billion. The US and EU markets are projected to grow 12% and 13%, respectively, in 2011.
Why is retail eCommerce continuing to grow?
There is an increase in overall web buyers. There were 5.5 million new US online shoppers who accounted for 30% of the total eCommerce sales. The EU online population grew by 13.4 million users in 2010.
Web buyers are spending more online. 70% of growth in US retail eCommerce sales came from existing shoppers spending more. Similarly, EU average online spend has increased 8% from 2010.
There is an increased level of penetration for online retail. Mobile devices and the proliferation of touchpoints have contributed to the US online retail penetration growing to 8% in 2010. The EU is also seeing steady growth; Forrester is estimating 10% penetration in the UK by 2012.
Microsoft began opening its own retail stores in 2009 and recently began a push into more US cities. A recent post by George Anderson on Forbes.com about Microsoft's new store format prompted me into some late-night analysis. It appears Microsoft's store format strategy is to ride in the draft of Apple by building larger-format stores very near, if not adjacent to, Apple's own stores. As a retail analyst and both an Apple and Microsoft customer for over 25 years, I feel compelled to weigh Microsoft's retail strategy against Apple's (and since I cover retail strategy from a CIO perspective, it feels appropriate to publish here).
Comparing eight success factors
Location: I'll start here, as it was the subject of the original post. Across from Apple may be the only sensible choice for MS, but the challenge MS has is that Apple is a destination store, i.e. people plan to go there for the experience. This makes it less likely they will decide to browse the MS store because it is close. On the other hand, assuming MS does some promotions to attract traffic to its stores, they are likely to also drive additional traffic to Apple. Predicted winner = Apple.
Store architecture: Size isn't everything! Sure Microsoft can copy Apple and go for outstanding store designs and even build them bigger, but Apple architecture is designed to reinforce a consistent brand image: minimalist, clean lines, designer. Microsoft's designs can reinforce many things about its brand, but it's hard to see the consistency in a way that's possible with Apple. Predicted winner = Apple.