A few weeks ago I visited a new prototype store from a major U.S. retailer in order to learn more about their omnichannel strategy. Expecting a customer-centric experience that seamlessly connects the digital and physical stores, I was disappointed to see what appeared to be a misguided omnichannel deployment, with an experience that was actually inferior to one without enhanced technology. Here’s why:
New layout but broken technology. Upon entering the store, I noticed a different layout with a lounge area on the right and an inoperable digital kiosk staring right at me. While the layout did appear to be more welcoming, the dark interactive display indicated a lack of commitment to execution
No in-store inventory or location-based awareness. I found a smaller kiosk near the front of the store and searched for an item online. I chose the 'pick up in store' feature, expecting the kiosk to recognize I'm already in the store and show what's in stock. Instead, this retailer decided to fulfill the order from their distribution center rather than direct me a few feet away to their colorful display showcasing the item. There was no in-store inventory information or any type of store mapping application within the kiosk.
Kiosks do not provide utility. Another department also had a kiosk, but only provided the ability to find and buy the product online. Again I was expecting the retailer to recommend the appropriate product based upon my specific needs, and show me that the product I need is just a few aisles away.
During grad school, I spent a summer teaching economics to university students in Uzbekistan – our summer campus was up in the mountains a few hours outside the capital city of Tashkent. To receive packages, we would have to request that the sender ship them to the university’s main office in the capital. When enough packages had arrived, the office staff would scramble to find someone to drive up to the summer campus to deliver them. The wait was often 2-3 weeks.
Last-mile deliveries are still a huge challenge. Years later, last-mile delivery to less urban areas continues to confound businesses around the globe. In almost every emerging market in the world, delivery times are still far quicker for consumers living in the big cities than those in more rural areas. A laptop ordered from a major online retailer in Brazil, for example, takes almost three weeks to get to the Amazonian capital of Manaus versus approximately one week to Rio or São Paulo. In Russia, the difference in shipping times between Moscow and Vladivostok is similar. Many online retailers piece together a variety of different courier networks or are forced to rely on local postal services to reach the most far-flung customers.
Today marks the first 90 days for me as Principal Analyst within the eBusiness and Channel Strategy role at Forrester, and I could not be happier with my decision to join this great team and organization. Along with working with extremely smart industry analysts in both business and technology roles, I have the opportunity to help participate in the growth and evolution of eBusiness leaders throughout the world. The benefits of being a Forrester analyst typically don’t involve complimentary champagne and caviar, but they do involve realizing a tremendous amount of enjoyment from helping eBusiness leaders and their companies succeed. Here’s how I’m adding value:
Gaining and providing insight by perpetually studying the business landscape. The role of an Analyst at Forrester is akin to attending your favorite college class, minus the exams and tuition expense. I’m rewarded for being curious and for having a point of view. This aspect of my role is very satisfying as I'm able to apply this insight and help our clients solve real problems.
Helping businesses solve issues through Inquiry calls. These client engagements allow me to provide tactical guidance and help solve urgent challenges. I’m often pulling from my experience running eBusinesses as well as leveraging the knowledge I’ve learned from my peers. Our clients love our Inquiry process because they get answers fast. These meetings often lead to stronger working relationships, allowing me to become a trusted adviser with our clients.
They commemorate the founding of the Royal Marine Commandos in 1942, and these windswept, bronze statues (almost as cold as the poor trainees were at the time) overlook the glens and lochs where the original commandos trained.
So what’s significant about the commandos in the context of eBusiness? Well, it isn’t that they were uber-cool special forces dudes. It isn’t even that they were pioneers of irregular warfare (i.e. innovators). The concept of Commandos pre-dated World War 2. In fact, in commanding the foundation of the commando units, Sir Winston Churchill took inspiration from his experiences in the Boer War and looked to the raiding tactics of the Boers for a model. So it's not even like us Brits invented the term.
What’s important about the commandos is that they were cross-functional. They were expert at collaborating across organizational boundaries. And in this they were pioneers.
Traditionally, the Army, Royal Navy and RAF were silos. Massive, traditional, centuries old silos who went further than just having incompatible processes and disjointed command structures. In many cases there was outright rivalry between service arms of the kind that would be intolerable in business. Troops fighting in bars. Intelligence actively hoarded by officers. Functional rivalry like nothing you have to deal with in eBusiness (hopefully).
Beginning on October 1st, US health insurance plans will be facing a big enrollment event when millions of Americans will be required to purchase health insurance. Where will many go to do research and shop? Health plan websites.
Forrester Research recently conducted an online wellness check to see just how prepared plan websites are to meet the crush of insurance plan shoppers. Through the second quarter of 2013, Forrester assessed the sales and service prowess reflected the public websites of seven US health plans. What did we learn?
Research help is hard to find or missing entirely. Product information, research help, and site search are weaknesses that needed to be addressed by all the plans we evaluated. What did we have in mind? Content that answered questions about plan features, plan comparison tools, and especially guided plan advisors. Two that caught our attention were David, Aetna’s Virtual Benefit Advisor and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois’s plan helper. But while these were incredibly valuable aids, even these two stand-outs were hard to find on the websites.
As brands eye a growing number of eCommerce markets around the globe, it’s important to understand the trends that mark early-stage markets and how these trends often evolve with time. The following factors suggest that an eCommerce market is still in an early phase:
Purchase decisions are made largely based on price. It is common to hear about consumers in early-stage eCommerce markets using the Internet to seek the lowest prices available on products. In markets like China and Russia, conventional wisdom shows that consumers go online to bargain hunt. However, over time, this dynamic gives way to consumers electing to buy from trusted retailers and those that provide a superior customer experience.
Online purchases are dominated by consumers in tier one cities. As eCommerce starts to take off in new markets, it tends to be the consumers in the largest, wealthiest cities that comprise the bulk of eCommerce markets. Whether it’s São Paulo and Rio in Brazil, Beijing and Shanghai in China, or Moscow and St. Petersburg in Russia, the top few cities tend to represent the lion’s share of early eCommerce revenues. Within the first few years, however, revenue growth starts to shift to smaller cities where offline product selection is more limited and the online channel helps fill the void.
Two months ago, SAP announced their intention to acquire Hybris and back then I blogged about the potential implications for Forrester’s clients. Today, SAP has formally completed the acquisition, which brings further clarity for the road ahead:
Hybris will operate as an independent business unit. Hybris will operate as an "SAP Company" rather than a "Product of SAP” and will retain its existing sales and development teams. This is a positive move for existing and future Hybris customers and ensures that the Hybris solution will continue to remain agnostic of other SAP products and technology. For now there will be no bundling of products, Hybris will not become part of the ERP or CRM suites or vice versa, however on the SAP side of the house there will be development in building lightweight ‘connector’ integrations for those customers that want to run Hybris alongside an existing SAP ERP or CRM infrastructure.
Customers will be able to buy from SAP or Hybris. In the near future, the on-premise edition of Hybris will become available on the SAP price list. For existing SAP customers looking at Hybris, this will give them the flexibility to contract directly with SAP and leverage their existing master service agreement. Given that Hybris will be available through both the SAP and Hybris sales channel, customers should expect price parity - it is unlikely that SAP reps will have much leeway to apply deep corporate discounting when selling Hybris.
With growth comes investment, so given that eBusinesses across the globe continue to experience double-digit compound annual online sales growth, it should come as little surprise that 66% of these same firms are planning to increase their investment in commerce technology in 2014. In my latest research report “Commerce Technology Investment And Platform Trends — 2013”, Forrester polled 49 eBusiness leaders to understand their investment and technology implementation plans for the next 12 months. Here’s what the top of the investment priority list looks like:
Omnichannel Execution. Omnichannel initiatives have become a major focus for every retailer and brand with a physical brick-and-mortar presence. eBusiness teams (and their counterparts in store operations) are rushing to implement the following programs among others: pickup-in/ship-to store, store inventory visibility, ship from store, and associate enablement.
eCommerce Replatforming. eCommerce platforms are the backbone of any digital channel, and replacing legacy home-grown systems or outdated (and often unsupported) platforms remains a top priority. With these platforms now supporting omnichannel programs such as “buy-online, pick-up in-store”, having a scalable and flexible platform that can support future growth is an imperative.
In the face of the biggest industry disruption in memory, health plans are gearing up for big changes in their business models. From the implementation of healthcare reform teams, public and private exchange initiatives, dramatically different underwriting, and new user experiences modeled after Apple and Amazon, health care payers — and providers — are looking for answers and a view into the future of healthcare. So Forrester is looking for a Senior Analyst to help us expand our coverage of this incredibly dynamic area.
Here’s the important stuff in the job description:
The successful candidate will write for, present to, and advise eBusiness & Channel Strategy Professionals in the healthcare industry (including payers and providers) to help guide their direct-to-consumer strategies, through innovative research and advice delivered through written reports, consulting, client inquiries, and speeches. The ideal candidate possesses a strong understanding of the business and technology issues facing both healthcare and online and mobile commerce markets, plus an appetite for conducting and writing research to help clients stay abreast of the issues.
I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have the job I do: Every year, I get to explore new markets around the globe and meet people who are equally passionate about building eCommerce businesses.
It's sometimes challenging to try and balance the fact that at Forrester, we are often brought to new places specifically to share our expertise — at the same time, our goal is to learn as much as possible while we're there. Many professionals looking to launch new offerings or pursue new partnerships outside of their own country face similar issues: They aim to both provide insights based on their experiences as well as to absorb knowledge that will help inform corporate strategies.
Having had some great meetings over the years and others where I’ve regretted my approach, I now try to adhere to three rules whenever I start a conversation with executives in a new market:
1. Come with a hypothesis, but prepare for it to evolve. Conversations flow much more easily if you have a framework or hypothesis for what trends you're likely to see in a market — just be ready for holes to be poked in different parts of your theory. In a recent conversation with the CEO of an online retailer in Russia, for example, I indicated that online travel sales often paved the way for retail eCommerce to take off, and asked if the situation was similar there. The CEO explained that in Russia, consumers' reliance on package tours — which are not generally sold online — meant that online travel hadn't flourished to the same degree as it had elsewhere in the world. Finding these exceptions is essential to understanding the nuances of each market.