eCommerce Acquisition Fever

Sucharita  Mulpuru

I cover the recommendation engines space for online retail and got a call recently that one of the better-known players in the space Rich Relevance acquired a smaller but specialized player in the space CNET Intelligent Cross-Sell. It’s a bold move and one that strengthens Rich Relevance in the consumer electronics vertical, and it also seems to be a trend. We’ve received a lot of these kinds of calls recently — eBay acquiring GSI Commerce, Nordstrom acquiring HauteLook, Shutterfly acquiring Tiny Prints, and Walgreen’s acquiring drugstore.com. And this follows a slew of acquisitions over the past few years by players like IBM, Oracle, and Adobe trying to enrich their retail suites. Rich Relevance didn’t tell me specifics like deal terms, but it seems to point to bigger factors affecting eCommerce these days:

  • Wicked competition. There have just been too many point solutions in eCommerce. Walk the exhibition floor at Shop.org or Internet Retailer, and it’s dizzying to see how many niche needs that eCommerce platforms don’t serve are delivered by third-party players. It’s overwhelming for anyone tasked with managing an RFP to make sense of it all. On top of that, there are all sorts of inexpensive (even free) solutions that promise a good-enough solution for everything from analytics to recommendations, so the need to partner up and go to market as a united front just makes sense for so many smaller players.  As for traditional (and even established web retailers), they struggle with being nimble. As the expression goes, “When you can’t beat ‘em . . .” 
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Allstate’s Acquisition Of esurance: The Start Of Something Bigger For Ebiz Teams?

Ellen Carney

I got jolt this morning, and it wasn’t from my coffee.  The headlines in my morning insurance news push were all about  last night's announcement that Allstate was acquiring esurance and an agency sibling, Answer Financial for $1 billion (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-05-18/allstate-to-buy-esurance-in-1-b...).  Along with the fact that esurance itself has gone to market with what every ebusiness executive has stated as the big strategy over the near-term—giving the customer the choice in how they want to engage with its new “Technology When You Want It, People When You Don’t”  tagline—this deal could well be the start of a more interesting trend:  a bigger wave of M&A among Tier 1 carriers.

This news was especially tantalizing because we just wrapped up a series of interviews with insurance thought leaders to get a perspective for how the insurance industry was going to look in 2020.   We wanted to understand how these changes were going to impact the jobs of ebiz executives in insurance.  This is what we heard: 

Enabled by “big data”, carriers are going to:

  • Shed and acquire business lines to be more specialized and obviously more profitable
  • Make some splashy acquisitions (like this one),
  • Launch new and innovative business models (like a “lights out” insurer that, in exchange for low premiums, policyholders would have to do more for themselves)
  • Challenged by new market entrants who “get” data

All of which have big implications for what insurance ebusiness teams will be challenged to do.  Look for our thoughts on what 2020 is going to mean later this quarter.

Mobile Services - Failure To Focus On Customer Needs Will Result In a "Miss"

Julie Ask

I saw a story this morning on Mobile Commerce Daily: "Fontainbleau targets upscale, on-the-go consumers via mobile presence." I've been a guest at the hotel for the past day so I can't resist joining this conversation. I also happened to download this application while waiting in line for a smoothie at a restaurant yesterday -- between meetings, of course. Here's a quote from the article:

“Fontainebleau chose to launch this app to enhance the overall customer experience while giving them insight on the resort as well as the surrounding Miami Beach area,” said Philip Goldfarb, president and chief operating officer of Fontainebleau Miami Beach, Miami. “It is an extension of the brand’s commitment to providing its guests with the latest advances in the mobile marketplace.”

First, I'll offer -- I'm just a guest or customer here -- I haven't studied the business, but there are a few disconnects.  

Here's what is working well:

  • Fontainbleau does seem to have a tech-savvy customer base. As I walked through the pool area yesterday, I noticed quite a few iPads, Kindles, and smartphones -- guests definitely have their technology at the pool. And Wi-Fi works at the pool -- well done.
  • The application is promoted well. I noticed advertisements several places throughout the property. It uses a sweepstakes to promote the application with the prizes clearly listed.
  • Beautiful photographs -- this resort is amazing and is well represented by the media in the application.
  • There is a solid balance of content -- eat, shop, play, etc.
  • There was a lot of content re "what to do" nearby.
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What The Education Industry Should Learn From Retailers

Sucharita  Mulpuru

I did two things recently:  I saw Waiting for Superman, and I looked online for educational content/tools for my daughters. In both cases, I was appalled by how difficult it was to find teaching supplements online (and in general). I’m not an expert on education, but I am a parent, and being part of an industry (i.e., retail) that has been transformed by the Internet and has fundamentally shifted how it engaged with its consumers, I think that educators could learn a few things from retailers:

  • The Web can give good teachers scale. One of the challenges of good schools is that there are a finite number of slots, just like there’s finite shelf space in a store. Sites like Amazon.com solved that problem by making the Web their storefront.  This enabled them to sell OPM (other people’s merchandise) and not incur the most expensive investments of stores — real estate and inventory. Why can’t the Web be our schoolhouse, or at least a new one? That way, there needn’t be a cap on the number of people who can, for instance, view a video of an award-winning teacher teaching. Why don’t we use the power of the Web to make talented teachers available to more students like web retailers have managed to make more products available to more people? Why are questionable for-profit universities the only ones doing this?
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Retailers Push The Envelope With Ratings & Reviews

Patti Freeman Evans

Forrester recently released a document entitled “Ratings & Reviews: Q1 2011 Snapshot.” In it, we discuss how eBusiness professionals continue to create value for customers via user-generated product review content.  The next evolution of ratings and reviews should prove to be:

  • More flexible, as a multidimensional approach takes over.
  • More exposed, as social networks connect brands and consumers.
  • More pervasive, as retailers use multiple touchpoints to create coordination and consistency.
  • More strategic, as the information derived from ratings and reviews is utilized across the organization.

Of course, this research document is meant to serve as a snapshot, meant to launch a dialogue about what is happening in the space. With that in mind, what are you seeing in the world of ratings and reviews that wasn’t mentioned here? How are those technologies helping eBusiness professionals succeed? And of what we did highlight in the report, what are some examples you have seen of those being used to their fullest effect?

Read the full report here, and then comment on this post.

Patti Freeman Evans

DSGI Know How. Do you?

Martin Gill

I’m intrigued by the recent launch of KnowHow.com.

I’ve known it was coming for a while, but now that it’s here it’s not quite what I expected. However in a way it’s actually a lot better. 

KnowHow.com is, for want of a better description, the customer service portal for the DSGI chain of consumer electronics stores in the UK:  Dixons.co.uk, Currys, and PC World. These stores operate in a fiercely competitive but large and lucrative market in the UK and extend their reach into Europe through sister company Pixmania.  In recent years wallet share in the CE sector has been moving increasingly online, with brick-and-mortar stores facing the challenge of competing on price with their leaner, lower-cost online rivals. But despite this off-to-online swing, the group is reporting that Internet sales are down.

I was expecting KnowHow to be its revamped eCommerce operation, its response to lackluster digital sales. But interestingly it has done something different. It appears to be trying to step out of the race to the bottom from a price perspective and is positioning itself to begin to compete on a new axis. Service. An interesting play in what could be considered a commodity market.

However, when you learn that its multichannel sales are up 12%, this may not be such a strange move.

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Categories:

New “State Of Retailing Online” Doc Released On Shop.org

Sucharita  Mulpuru

Forrester recently published the “State Of Retailing Online 2011: Marketing, Social, and Mobile” report in conjunction with our friends at Shop.org. It is available on Shop.org (with a subscription) now.

Some highlights include:

  •  Understanding which marketing tactics are still leading to growth.
  • Examining the investment in social and the returns retailers are seeing.
  • Analyzing mobile and tablet adoption and strategy.

Look for the full report on Forrester.com in early June.

Apple Is Tracking Us! Oh No! Who Cares, Really?

Julie Ask

Apple has been storing our location. (See article) Sounds bad, but really, is it? My colleague Joe Stanhope forwarded the article to me with the line, “kinda scary.” Is it? Our credit cards track where we are and what we spend. The carriers know where we are all the time — they aren’t storing the information as far as we know, but they could be. Our cars can be tracked. We buy plane tickets and make flight reservations online. What’s a bit different is that many different entities have our information, but not necessarily one.

Your phone will know everything about you going forward. My phone already knows where I go (ok, and Apple is recording), who I call, what sports teams I follow, what games I play, where I bank, how often I visit Starbucks, where I shop, what books I’m reading (Kindle), what music I listen to . . . and the list goes on. What else is my phone going to know about me? It’s going to know:

  • What I eat because I want help tracking calories
  • How often I run because I track my workouts
  • What I watch on TV because my phone is my remote control
  • Who I fly . . . because I use mobile boarding passes
  • How healthy I am b/c it will track my cholesterol
  • Who my friends are from phone, texting, and Facebook
  • Where I’m eating b/c it tracks my Yelp searches and OpenTable bookings
  • Whether I’m traveling on foot or by car b/c it tracks my speed
  • How fast I drive . . .
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Is Anyone In The UK Actually Using QR Codes?

Martin Gill

Intrigued by a lot of what I’ve been reading recently, I’ve started looking for evidence of QR codes transforming how shoppers are interacting with retailers. The thing is all the evidence I see with my own eyes doesn’t back up this proclaimed uptake. I’ve never noticed a single one in a shop. Now, that could be because I’ve not been looking and if I’m honest, I’ve only had a phone capable of reading them for a few months.

Time for a quick bit of ad-hoc analysis (Health Warning: NOT OFFICIAL FORRESTER RESEARCH !!!)

In order to give this mini research project some vague semblance of credibility, I have adopted the rigorous scientific approach that Mr. Featonby, my A-level physics teacher drilled into me many years ago . . . 

Hypothesis

My hypothesis is that retailers aren’t using QR codes in the UK, and furthermore, the average shopper hasn’t a clue what one is.

Methodology

  1. I went to the local Tesco Metro and browsed the aisles, looking at every product I could find.
  2. I’ve looked through every store magazine and free paper and at every poster I pass in London, on the Midlands Mainline train service, and in Nottingham (where I live) for two weeks.
  3. I posted a picture of a QR code on my Facebook page and asked my friends (average shoppers one and all!) if they knew what it was.
  4. I never said this was a robust survey.
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Notes From The Bazaarvoice Social Summit, April 5-6, Austin, TX

Patti Freeman Evans

After two days of very well done presentations from the Bazaarvoice team, observers of the social space and some business leaders, I come away from the Bazaarvoice Social Summit with a few thoughts:

  • Generally, the big theme was that use of ratings and reviews by eBusiness pros continues to deepen and add value to overall business success. We heard from Argos, Urban Outfitters, J&J, Xerox, Adobe, Best Buy, Rubbermaid, P&G, LL Bean, 3M and Estee Lauder. All of these businesses showed how they have fully embedded the use of ratings and reviews content throughout their businesses. For example, improved product data gained from ratings and reviews content is sent to all customer touchpoints such as the call center, POS, etc., at Argos; Rubbermaid realized from review content that people don’t read packaging and found that products didn’t perform well when consumers didn’t use the product as directed, so it changed the packaging and the product collateral and thus set expectations more in line with the intended use of the product and now have highly satisfied customers. And the examples like this continued throughout the conference. Look for our coming snapshot report showing some other examples of how eBusinesses continue to mine this valuable content to drive business results.
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