Is Your eBusiness Prepared For The Arrival Of .Brand Domains?

Peter Sheldon

A fundamental transformation of the way brands and consumers connect on the Internet is amid us. Icann, the authority responsible for Internet domains, has approved a plan to expand the 22 currently available domains (.com, .net, etc.) to allow trusted brands and organizations to apply to own and operate their own gTLDs (generic top-level domains). In just a few years, new brand gTLDs will impact the way consumers search for and find products online as recognized brands switch away from .com to their own .brand top-level domains. URL paths used today for categories, products, and marketing campaign landing pages (e.g., www.apple.com/iphone) will be replaced by new shorter, catchier URLs (e.g., iphone.apple).
 
eBusiness professionals must carefully evaluate this change and start the process of mapping out how owning their .brand domain will impact their eCommerce sites. I recommend that Forrester clients read our latest research report written by my colleague Jeff Ernst and myself, .Brand And The Impact For eBusiness, which outlines the reasons why eBusiness leaders and their marketing counterparts must carefully evaluate the significant opportunity that owning gTLDs for the their brand or brands presents.
 
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Beware The Tales Of The Social Commerce Loch Ness Monster

Sucharita  Mulpuru

In my ongoing-yet-fruitless quest to find the great social commerce success story, I’ll talk to anyone who will talk to me  about the topic.  I talked this week to a "venture capitalist" who shall remain nameless, and we had the following conversation:

VC: I’ve seen social commerce success. I have. I’ve seen commerce success on Facebook.

Me: Really? Are you referring to maybe one of the marketplaces on Facebook? Or ShopSocially?

VC: No, no one’s heard of this company. No one in the Valley has heard of this company. Only I know about this company.

Me: And this is a business that can scale?

VC: It’s sooooo scalable.  I’ve seen it scale. 

Me:  Really?

VC: They make millions and millions of dollars. I’ve seen it. 

Me: Can you tell me who you’re talking about?

VC: I . . . I’m not at liberty to say the name. They want to stay under the radar. They don’t want anyone to know about their secret sauce. 

Me: Really?  They’ve discovered something that no one, not Silicon Valley, not Facebook’s army of developers, not any retailer in the world has yet to discover?

VC: Hey, I don’t need YOU to believe me! I’m happy to just make my money. 

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Mobile Commerce, There's An App For That

Peter Sheldon

Mobile apps are undoubtedly cool, and executives at leading online retailers have been mandating a presence of their brand in the Apple and Android app stores, but eBusiness professionals must focus on building a cohesive mobile strategy that clearly identifies the case and role for apps within their organizations. Apps are great ways to engage with your customers, but will they deliver incremental revenue above and beyond what the mobile Web is already doing? In her recent mobile commerce forecast, Sucharita Mulpuru explains that mobile commerce is set to transform retail, despite only accounting for 2% of online web sales today. In my new report The State Of Mobile Commerce Apps, I peel back the covers on the hype and take a serious look at why, when, and how eBusiness professionals should approach their mobile app strategy. Some of the issues I explore include:

  • The mobile web versus app debate. The debate is irrelevant, consumers are using both in equal measures; however, developing an app for apps' sake is missing the point and will only disappoint your customers. eBusiness professionals must develop unique app experiences that deliver multichannel innovations and raise the engagement of the consumer with your brand.
  • Keeping up with the explosion of consumer touchpoints. Having an iPhone app was the priority back in 2010, but in 2011 many eBusinesses are adding Android, iPad, and Windows Phone 7 apps. The opportunity for apps also extends beyond the consumer. Retailers are investing in apps for store associates empowered with mobile devices, in-store kiosks, and interactive TV.
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The Mobile Commerce Train: Coming But Not Here Yet

Sucharita  Mulpuru

After social commerce, mobile commerce is the most heavily debated topic-du-jour among retailers these days. One thing that both social and mobile commerce have in common is that they are both small. Teeny in fact. Forrester’s Mobile Commerce Forecast, 2011 To 2016, which launched today, shows that retailers can expect 2% of their online web sales (yes, I said web sales which means a minuscule percent of overall retail) to be transacted through mobile devices in 2011.  While we also expect mobile commerce sales to grow 40% each year for the next five years, we’re still talking small numbers overall (7% of web sales penetration by 2016).  Why so small you may ask.  After all, aren’t smartphones changing the way we consume web content?  Some things to consider:

  • Tablets. We don’t include tablet shopping in our definition of mobile shopping, but the creation (and subsequent explosion in sales) of this device is probably the single biggest inhibitor to the growth of “mobile commerce.”  Data that we gathered with Bizrate Insights (to be released separately and soon) indicates that most tablet owners also own smartphones, and many of those people naturally prefer to shop on the device that has the larger screen when given the choice.
  • Shopping never leads web behavior. In any list of activities that people do on the Internet, shopping nearly always ranks below things like “reading news” or “using social networks.” Even those activities are not universal among the smartphone set, so it would be premature to expect that shopping would rank high on the list (which it, of course, doesn’t). 
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Mobile Insurance Seeding New (And Surprising) Business Alliances

Ellen Carney

In the interviews we just wrapped up with insurance thought leaders, one thing’s certain: Mobile is going to play a BIG role in the future of insurance. Alongside another topic (about which you’ll hear more later), mobile, and its role in enabling policyholders along with underwriters, agents, commercial underwriters, and the claim supply chain, animated virtually every conversation we had. One area in particular — mobile partnerships — spurred some great discussion on the outlook for new mobile products and collaborations that might be in the offing.

Alongside Tokio Marine’s intriguing mobile one-time insurance for sporting events and travel, we uncovered a unique life insurance purchasing model in South Africa. What was it that caught our attention? Econet Wireless and First Mutual Life in South Africa have teamed up to produce Ecolife, a life insurance product purchased by prepaid subscribers using mobile airtime. The customer only has to purchase US$3 to receive coverage, and the amount of coverage increases with every additional dollar (up to $10,000 coverage). First Mutual Life’s attempt to reach the sizable population of South Africans without a traditional bank account has seen rampant successthus far.

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Online Video Retail Success Stories

Martin Gill

Increase your conversion rates overnight!

Really?

That’s amazing. How can I get a piece of that pie? 

Call it what you will -- V-Tail, vCommerce, or just plain online video -- we are seeing some pretty bold claims around the use of video in eCommerce. Claims from platform vendors, press, and even some case studies and success stories from large retailers who are seeing some significant successes when they integrate video content into the online shopping experience.

But there’s the key. Integrate. Of course it isn’t as simple as sticking a few videos on your existing dot-com site and hey presto, conversion rates skyrocket. Video needs to support the sales process in a way that makes sense to your customers, that supports your brand values, and that enhances the shopping experience.

There are a growing number of ways to source video content, and an increasing number of players in the market who will all tell you that they have the answer. From user-generated content to automatically generated video. From content delivery networks to social media. There are a bewildering number of options out there.

Video absolutely can deliver firm benefits :

  • It can increase page views by driving traffic to your site.
  • It can enhance the time people spend lingering on your site, giving you more opportunity to market to them.
  • It can help to increase conversion.
  • It can reduce your returns.
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Magnificent Mile - Yes. Multichannel Mile…Still A Work in Progress

Andy Hoar

Recently two colleagues of mine, Patti Freeman Evans and Martin Gill, put their respective cities’ shopping meccas to the multichannel test.  The question: To what extent were bricks and mortar retailers on Fifth Ave in New York and Oxford Street in London using their physical stores to advertise and promote their digital channels?  

Eager not to be left out...and curious to see how my city of Chicago would fare…I paid a visit to our world famous “Magnificent Mile” to see if/how bricks and mortar retailers promoted a connection to their own digital channels.

As I walked both sides of Michigan Ave (home to retailers such as Northface, Macys and Gap…as well as high-end retailers such as Tiffanys, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel)…I thought to myself, would Chicago be different from London and New York?  Would America’s heartland have a better feel for a large and growing number of shoppers today who may physically “be” in stores but whose shopping “attention” may reside elsewhere?

Some findings:

  • Traditional Brands Disappointed.  Count among this grouphigh-end/luxury brands and more established brands (e.g. Louis Vuitton, Macys).  Which is not to say that all youth-oriented brands excelled (e.g. Zara, Disney)…in fact, a surprising number of them failed to show their multichannel chops (e.g. no URLS in store, no discernable mobile presence). For example, The Disney Store was heavily promoting the “Cars 2” movie on monitors in its store, but I could not find any links anywhere to their content-rich website.
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An Open Letter To Anyone Planning To Buy Into Groupon’s IPO

Sucharita  Mulpuru

Dear Potential Investor,

I have mixed feelings about the Groupon IPO. On one hand, we’ve just come out of a horrible economic period where there was a real fear of wealth destruction. But now just a few months after the near-collapse of our financial institutions, we actually have an extraordinary opportunity for wealth creation — how great is that! On the other hand, there is no rational math that could possibly get anyone to the valuation Groupon thinks it deserves. Yes, Groupon grew from $30 million in sales to more than $700 million between 2009 and 2010, but most of that growth was artificial. (The lack of profitability is another issue, but let's not even go there.) Here’s why:

  • $265 million came from its international markets, which were acquisitions.
  • It spent a quarter-billion dollars (!) on marketing. To put that into context, the average large eCommerce retailer spends $11 million on interactive marketing. Back of the envelope calculations from the SEC filing get us to $31 spent to acquire a customer, who then probably spends a little more than that on Groupon. That means it spent about $250 million to make another $300 million.
  • It launched in more than 100 new markets in 2010. I’ll conjecture that in any market in America, you can sell $500,000 of half-off manicures and teeth whitening procedures in a year just by hanging a shingle. That gets us to another $50 million in revenue. 
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Do We Still Need SMS?

Julie Ask

Apple's announcement today on the "Notification Center" triggered my comments. Other than the fact that I no longer need to tether all of my devices to a computer (finally!), I think this was my favorite announcement. My top "negative" re notifications to date has been the inability to save or file them. Do I want to save a FB update? No, not really. But I do want to save and file coupons, promotions, news alerts, etc. Will be interesting to watch the effectiveness of notifications now that they DON'T interrupt . . . in some ways, that's the point. Less intrusiveness may attract more uses of those afraid of annoying their customers. Re 100B notifications to date . . . wow.

"Do we need SMS?" I think the answer is "absolutely, yes." I've had more than one of my colleagues suggest to me that SMS no longer holds any relevance for commercial businesses hoping to reach their customer base. I disagree. Here's why:

  • For the forseeable future, a very small percentage of any company's customers will have downloaded its application. A few companies like eBay or Amazon.com may be the exception. Relying only on push-based notifications does not offer enough reach. Apple's announcement today, however, makes push-based notifications a lot more interesting.
  • Push-based notifications on smartphones are more of a US-centric phenom. If you are targeting customers in Asia, Africa, India, Latin America, etc., you need SMS -- SMS is the primary application/transport medium on most phones in many countries.
  • Tracking calls-to-action. When does a message drive an action? Clicking through to a URL? Using a coupon? Visiting a store? Calls-to-action can be digital, physical, or calls.
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Get Customer Obsessed Or Perish: Welcome To The Age Of The Customer

Carrie Johnson

Today Forrester released a piece of must-read research for every organization that markets and sells to customers. In Josh Bernoff's report "Competitive Strategy In The Age Of The Customer," he illustrates how customer-led disruption forces firms to throw away old models of competitive differentiation. Competitive barriers like manufacturing strength, distribution power, and information mastery won't save anyone. The report concludes that the only sustainable competitive advantage is knowledge of and engagement with customers. In the age of the customer, firms must become customer obsessed.

eBusiness and channel strategy professionals are no strangers to customer-led disruption. Many firms' web strategies are just now finally catching up to the sneak attack of Amazon.com and E-Trade, if they survived at all. What happened in the early '90s will continue to happen again and again. In a companion document that I also released today, I argue that to survive, eBusiness and channel strategy professionals must embrace the principles of agile commerce -- optimizing people, processes, and technology to serve customers across all touchpoints. Specifically, eBusiness and channel strategy professionals must shift from:

  • Customer acquisition to retention.
  • Siloed channels to touchpoints.
  • Reactive to actionable use of customer data.

I encourage you and everyone in your organzation to read this critical document about surviving and thriving in the age of the customer.