As the online holiday shopping season comes to a close, we’re in the process of pulling together our final thoughts on this season. Last month, we predicted that the season would grow 15% over the previous year and by all accounts, that number should more or less be in the ballpark of what actually happened.
I worked with the great team at Bizrate Insights again this holiday season to survey online holiday shoppers and their attitudes and here were some of the highlights from that research:
The web is cannibalizing Black Friday sales; 80% of online buyers we surveyed agreed with the statement “I prefer to shop online rather than go to crowded stores during the Thanksgiving weekend.”
Email is very much alive; shoppers said they find out about holiday deals through email more than any other marketing channel including search, social networks and mobile texts combined.
Approximately 12% of web buyers now say they belong to shipping clubs (e.g. Amazon Prime); that is up from 9% last year.
Sixteen percent of online buyers said they shopped with their mobile devices over the Thanksgiving weekend this year, up from 9% last year.
While mobile shopping is the most notable difference this year, retailers that mastered the basics of great values, extensive assortments and effective marketing campaigns should have fared best. We’ll be releasing a holiday post-mortem in January as well as our 2012-2017 online retail forecast in early Q1; stay tuned for final figures.
It's me. I was in Macy's last Saturday morning checking out the augmented reality (AR) app, "Believe Magic." I got a lot of stares. At one point, I had a small audience as I danced about and took photos with Macy holiday characters ("Yes, Virginia" characters) that only I could see on my phone. What I liked about this app is that Macy's and Metaio didn't push the technology too far - they created an experience well within the bounds of the technology. It worked without long delays or instructions.
There were TWO red mailboxes in the Macy's in downtown SF. When I asked for help ("Where's the red mailbox with the AR app?") from the nice Macy's executive in a black suit, her jaw dropped a bit with the realization she had no idea what I had just said or wanted. Another sales associate helped me out and took me over to a full-blown display that allows people to interact with the characters even if they don't have a phone. The app allows you to take pictures with the characters, share them with friends (usual FB and Twitter plus email), make cards, etc. It's fun. The small crowd of people pointing and staring . . . also fun. :)
This app is more about marketing, but it will give you a sense of the potential of AR for commerce purposes. We've just finished up research due out this week that speaks to the uses of AR in the purchase funnel or commerce track. AR will allow consumers to experience products pre-purchase. AR will simplify the discovery and consumption of content (e.g., pricing). AR will improve the owners' experience with "how to" guides.
With consumers increasingly looking for discounts online and flocking to horizontal coupon sites (e.g. ShopatHome and RetailMeNot), vertical coupon sites (e.g. TechBargains), and cashback sites (e.g. Ebates), eBusiness professionals face a new “coupon-driven” shopping normal. As a result, eBusiness professionals are increasingly considering, and reconsidering, the affiliate deal space as a channel for both acquiring and retaining online shoppers.
As stated in my new report, “Optimizing the Affiliate Channel for Deal-Driven Customers,” while some historical questions persist around measuring incrementality, sales crediting, and brand association, affiliate deal sites today now help eBusiness professionals address a growing number of “deal-insistent” customers by offering:
Advanced targeting capabilities. Today’s affiliate deal sites have modernized to accommodate eBusiness professionals’ higher targeting, tracking, and geographic coverage standards. They now offer sort and search functionality, rich editorial content, exclusive deals, and reach into international markets.
New means to optimize offers and commission payments. Advanced technology now enables eBusiness professionals to more accurately align commissions with affiliate deal site performance. Affiliate deal sites operating within a broader affiliate network can tie commissions to the quality of the sale and the quantity of margin available.
The insurance industry is in the midst of some big changes. Those changes introduce very new pressures, priorities, and uncertainties into an industry whose business depends on stability. In these dynamic times, carriers hang their hat on what they do for their customers, even if how it gets done and who does it might be changing. Our report, "Tech Opportunities In The North American Insurance Industry", outlines the top business priorities and supporting technology investment plans of North American insurers. In this year's study (our fourth) it turns out that:
Industry’s business outlook turns strongly positive with select IT spending following along. Even with a record number of disasters that have translated into record economic losses, more US and Canadian insurers have positive outlooks when compared with last year. What’s behind these buoyant outlooks? By all indications, it looks like insurers will be competing on something other than price, as the market condition changes to “firm” and even “hard” for some lines. This year’s top initiative remains growing the business, with ebusiness teams playing a starring role.
Technology’s value shifts to sales, service, and support, not simply cost-savings. Five years ago, the IT’s fundamental value proposition was as a means to take cost out of the insurance equation. While still important, virtually all the insurers we surveyed told us that technology was critical to how they serviced and supported their customers, and 80% told us that technology was essential in the insurance distribution and sales model.
Forrester’s two recent reports — 2011 US Bank Secure Website Rankings and 2011 Canadian Bank Secure Website Rankings — highlight the incremental improvements banking providers have made over the past year. Overall, scores among US and Canadian banks rose by an average of five points. The biggest gains can be seen in the improved usability of the websites, with big advances in users’ ability to navigate banks’ secure websites. Canada’s six largest banks gained more ground than their counterparts south of the border, with firms such as Bank of Montreal and Scotiabank rolling out completely overhauled secure sites. In terms of individual banks, we found that:
· Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Chase take the top three spots overall. Wells Fargo’s secure website is the only one we evaluated that scored above a 90 (out of 100) in the category of transactional content and functionality. In addition, it ranked first or second across all four categories of usability we evaluated. Bank of America earned an overall score of 81 by offering best-in-class alerts and self-service functionality. Chase, meanwhile, had a strong showing with convenient secure website functionality such as multiple bill payment options and solid mobile banking features.
When we think about the Thanksgiving weekend and online sales, we’re conditioned to think "Cyber Monday." But now there’s another online sales story to report -- Black Friday.
While Cyber Monday saw a record $1.25B in online sales this year, a somewhat underreported story was that Black Friday also set a record by bringing in $816MM– or nearly the same amount spent on Cyber Monday just two years ago.
Increased Black Friday online sales are being driven by:
A behavioral shift among consumers. In 2010, 49% of consumers surveyed after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend said that they shopped less in stores on Thanksgiving weekend because they were shopping online instead. In addition, an increasing number of online shoppers report that they are now pre-shopping online for Black Friday deals.
High traffic throughout the weekend. This year, Thanksgiving Day took the top spot for holiday weekend online traffic, but Black Friday finished second -- edging out Cyber Monday by a nose. Data from Experian Hitwise shows that traffic to the top 500 online retailers increased by 2% YOY on Black Friday to more than 170 million unique visits.
The consumer perception that better deals can be found online. 58% of US online adults say that they are more price-conscious today than they were a year ago. 48% maintained that they found better values and deals online.
As the debate around mandating an online sales tax rages on, Forrester remains convinced that 2012 will see no significant national change to the current tax structure. As stated in my new report, “What You Need To Know About The Online Sales Tax” and a previous blog post around the issue, some are framing the debate in such a way that online-only companies like Amazon and eBay are tax-shirking delinquents; they’re not. Not only are they in compliance with current law, Amazon, who was at one point resolutely opposed to any new legislation, has made concessions to voluntarily start collecting tax and in fact, physical retailers may soon regret their staunch stances as the balancing act that Amazon avoided around nexus kept them squarely away from physical stores to date. Now, that may change and create yet another headache for retailers as Amazon reportedly ponders stores.
So what does this all mean? There is likely to be a few more years of heated debate around the issue followed by a number of possible outcomes. eBusiness professionals should stay abreast of situation, but realize that this is not likely to be a game changer for the following reasons:
Tax has a negligible impact on online shopping behavior. In a survey that was conducted in partnership with Bizrate Insights, we found only 8% of consumers said that tax was a priority consideration. Furthermore, only around one quarter of buyers said that the introduction of a sales tax would cause them to switch retailers.
But before we get too excited about what that could mean for 2011 holiday spending, consider this: The reason the unemployment rate dropped from 9.0% to 8.6% in the household survey was as much due to the fact that 315,000 people gave up looking for work as that 120,000 people actually found work. It’s a big flaw in the way the US unemployment rate is calculated that the rate can actually go down (so appear to improve) when people just stop looking for work.
The reality is we won’t know the true unemployment rate until those who’ve given up looking for work re-engage in the job hunt and fill out that total workforce denominator (at which time the unemployment rate will actually go up temporarily before then finally coming down as we start seeing that recovery). But we’re not there yet.
The co-reported payroll employment number is a better indicator of job growth because it comes from a much broader and deeper survey called the payroll survey. But for November that number (120K new jobs created) only matched expectations and is actually below the minimum number (approximately 150K) needed to keep pace with population growth in America. So, unfortunately, not much real gain there. And sadly, there’s probably not much to say about a jolt to the 2011 holiday shopping season either.
I've written a lot about the notion that the "Future Of Mobile Is Context" this year at Forrester. Since publishing this research this spring, I've been searching for examples and case studies of innovative uses of context. (See how marketers and eBusiness pros can leverage context.)
Coca-Cola is allowing consumers in Hong Kong to enter a sweepstakes by virtually collecting bottle caps from a 3rd screen (TV, movie theather). The audio signal from the commercial triggers the application/ syncs the user's motion with the video. The acclerometer is used to assess the quality of the motion of the user's mobile phone — the device that is used to catch the bottle tops virtually. See video.
Why is their use of context sophisticated?
In the research, I describe the four phases of evolution.
Phase 1: the basics — leveraging location, time of day, etc.
Phase 2: layering intelligence — so, not just time of day, but time of day relative to an event
Phase 3: using new technology in phones (e.g., sensors, two cameras, etc.)
Phase 4: more sophisticated use of the sensors and technology to control the device
Coke's campaign is what I would call a v 2.0 use of mobile (they are enhancing another touchpoint - see research) with some Phase 3/4 context. They enhance the video/commercial experience by getting the consumer to be active. The act of collecting the bottle tops gets the consumer off the couch and to interact with the ad directly. I think it's very cool.
EBay is now the latest entrant into the field of retail experimenters that are trialing the concept of a “virtual store.”
EBay joins Occado and Tesco in embracing the increasing number of Multidevice Buyers in the UK who use their smartphones not only to inform their offline shopping journeys, but to buy products as well. EBay’s pop-up store in the heart of London promises to allow shoppers to browse products in person and purchase via a QR-code-driven mobile shopping experience.
While eBay's store is very deliberately designed as a temporary pop-up, others are approaching the same challenge in a completely different way. House of Fraser recently launched a concept store in Aberdeen that carries no stock but offers shoppers the opportunity to sip a free cappuccino while they browse House of Fraser’s website on dedicated Internet stations.