Samsung Shakes Up North American Retail. Microsoft Should Take Note.

Infrastructure & Operations (I&O) professionals, in the age of Bring-Your-Own (BYO) technology, are keeping closer tabs on the comings and goings of the consumer market. Most of the devices they find their companies’ employees using come from consumer retail, whether from physical retail locations like the Apple Store or Best Buy, or online venues like Amazon or Dell.com.

Samsung announced yesterday that it will be opening “Samsung Experience Shops -- based on a store-within-a-store concept -- in 1,400+ Best Buy locations in the US in coming weeks and months. By the second half of the year, Samsung will possess a significant retail presence tailored to its own devices and staffed with sales associates with greater knowledge of its products. CNET reports: “The shops in large-format Best Buy stores will include blue-shirted consultants who are employed and trained by Samsung, as well as Best Buy staffers who receive special instruction.”

Apple, of course, has enjoyed incredible success with its Apple Stores since they opened in North America in 2001. The Apple Store has been a powerful pillar of Apple’s overall consumer strategy because of:

  • The quality and effectiveness of its sales associates. Apple has been able to attract, train, and retain high quality staff for its stores. In an era when cost-cutting affects retail experiences across all categories, Apple’s associates create a high-quality customer experience for Apple's customers and prospects.
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Tablets Hold Their Own – And Then Some – In Work-Related Application Usage

Tablets drive worker productivity in part due to their hyper-portability, as I argued in a recent blog post. Workers can (and, we showed with data, do) use tablets in more places, places where they wouldn’t (and don’t) take their PCs.

The top question I’ve received about tablet hyper-portability is this one: “Tablets are very portable, sure, but are people using them as creation devices or as (mere) consumption devices?” The general assumption behind this question tends to be that “creation” activities are equal to “productivity,” while “consumption” activities are not. I believe this is a false dichotomy, however. Consuming the right information at the right time can increase worker productivity in and of itself. Let me offer a few examples showing how that can work:

  • Retail sales associates using tablets with customers. Retailers are equipping sales associates with tablets to use on the retail floor, creating richer interactions with customers – and driving higher sales.
  • Physicians conducting patient rounds with tablets. Physicians can gain rich, immediate insight into their patients’ health records – saving time and driving more accurate diagnoses in less time. They also use the tablets to show patients results (like x-ray images), creating a better patient experience.
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The Hyper-Portability Of Tablets Drives Worker Productivity

Technology’s value to a business derives at least in part from its ability to increase productivity. The 1987 Nobel Prize winning economist Robert Solow demonstrated that technology increases the productivity of both capital and labor to create economic growth.

Some technologies radically reshape productivity. Take, for example, the cotton gin (1792), which fundamentally transformed labor. A quote from Wikipedia claims: “With a cotton gin, in one day a man could remove seed from as much upland cotton as would have previously taken a woman working two months to process at one pound a day.” By profoundly increasing worker productivity, the cotton gin revolutionized both the textile and agricultural industries.

We’re living through several technological revolutions of our own right now – in, for example, cloud services, mobility, and big data. One technology that leverages all three to some extent is the tablet, a device I follow very closely.

Tablets drive worker productivity through a variety of vectors. One of those vectors is portability. In our Forrsights Hardware Survey, we asked IT decision-makers who either support tablets today or plan to support them soon why they would do so. IT decision-makers’ #1 answer, at 62%? Because tablets are a “more portable form factor than the traditional laptop.” This response eclipsed end user preferences, ease of use considerations, and other possible answers.

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Microsoft’s European Fine Comes In An Era Of Browser Diversity

Today the European Commission fined Microsoft €561 million ($732 million) for failing to live up to a previous legal agreement. As the New York Times reported it, “the penalty Wednesday stemmed from an antitrust settlement in 2009 that called on Microsoft to give Windows users in Europe a choice of Web browsers, instead of pushing them to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.” The original agreement stipulated that Microsoft would provide PC users a Browser Choice Screen (BCS) that would easily allow them to choose from a multitude of browsers.

Without commenting on the legalities involved (I’m not a lawyer), I think there are at least two interesting dimensions to this case. First, the transgression itself could have been avoided. Microsoft admitted this itself in a statement issued on July 17, 2012: “Due to a technical error, we missed delivering the BCS software to PCs that came with the service pack 1 update to Windows 7.” The company’s statement went on to say that “while we believed when we filed our most recent compliance report in December 2011 that we were distributing the BCS software to all relevant PCs as required, we learned recently that we’ve missed serving the BCS software to the roughly 28 million PCs running Windows 7 SP1.” Subsequently, today Microsoft took responsibility for the error. Clearly some execution issues around SP1 created a needless violation.

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Marissa Mayer’s Move To End Working From Home At Yahoo! Isn't Completely Unusual

Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer made a splash in the news by changing the company’s policy on working from home. In a memo leaked to All Things D, Yahoo! told its employees:

“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. […] Beginning in June, we’re asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices. If this impacts you, your management has already been in touch with next steps. And, for the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration.”

Observers have pilloried the move. Forbes.com asked the question “Back To the Stone Age? New Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer Bans Working From Home.” TheAtlantic.com quickly chimed in with “Marissa Mayer Is Wrong: Working From Home Can Make You More Productive.”

I’m certainly sympathetic to the questions being raised by these observers: This is 2013, isn’t working from home critical to information workers in most industries? Certainly that’s my gut inclination.

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I’m Back To End User Client Computing… With A New Role Focus!

 

 

“Hello, I’m J. P. Gownder, and I serve Infrastructure and Operations professionals!” That’s my new greeting to Forrester’s clients. (I borrowed – aka “stole” – this opening line from my excellent colleague, Laura Ramos, who recently rejoined the Forrester analyst ranks herself).

After eight years in a variety of roles at Forrester, I’ve joined the Infrastructure and Operations (I&O) team as a Vice President and Principal Analyst. I’ll be collaborating with analyst colleagues (please see below) on I&O’s forthcoming Workforce Enablement Playbook. I&O pros face the constant challenge of empowering their companies’ workers with devices and services to make them successful in their jobs… as well as navigating the growing challenge of employees who choose to bring their own technology to work instead.

More specifically, I’ll be researching at least five issues pertinent to I&O pros:

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Enterprises Are About To Get Tablet Fever. How Can Tech Vendor Marketers Reach Them?

 

Marketers and strategists at tech vendors who sell tablets won’t want to miss a webinar co-hosted by Simon Yates and me this Friday, September 28th. Aimed at a CIO audience, our webinar leverages a great deal of data from Forrsights and Tech Marketing Navigator on the opportunity for tablets, how to engage enterprise tablet buyers, on the effects of bring-your-own (BYO), and other, related topics. Tech marketers and strategists won’t want to miss our presentation: You'll gain insights into the challenges tablets present for CIOs, and you'll also see hard data on both the opportunity for selling tablets and on how best to engage potential buyers.

When: Friday, September 28, 2012, 1:00 p.m. -- 2:00 p.m. Eastern time (17:00--18:00 GMT)

Overview: It’s safe to say that the early adopters of Apple’s iPad didn’t go out and buy the device because they wanted a new gadget for work. They purchased the iPad because of what they could do in their everyday lives. But it didn’t take long for employees to bring their iPads to the office. If we mark the modern tablet era by Apple’s 2010 iPad launch, then an astounding 84 million iPads and as many as 120 million tablets in total have flown off the shelves. Forrester’s global workforce and decision-maker surveys and client conversations show just how fast tablets are being adopted:

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Microsoft's Shrinking Window For Tablets: Its Fifth-Mover Product Strategy Is Late

Forrester is bullish on Windows 8 as a product for consumers. With Windows 8, Microsoft is adapting Windows in key ways that make it better suited to compete in the post-PC era, including a touch-first UI, an app marketplace, and the ability to run natively on SoC/ARM processors. This pivot in product strategy and product design makes sense as we move deeper into an era when computing form factors reach far beyond traditional desktops and laptops.

But in a new reportSarah Rotman Epps and I look at Windows 8 tablets, specifically, through our product strategy lens. What do we see? On tablets, Windows 8 is going to be very late to the party. Product strategists often look to be “fast followers” in their product markets. Perhaps the most famous example is the original browser war of the 1990s: Microsoft’s fast-following Internet Explorer drove incumbent Netscape out of the market altogether.

For tablets, though, Windows really isn’t a fast follower. Rather it’s (at best) a fifth-mover after iPad, Android tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab, HP’s now-defunct webOS tablet, and the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet. While Windows’ product strategists can learn from these products, other players have come a long way in executing and refining their products — Apple, Samsung, and others have already launched second-generation products and will likely be into their third generation by the time Windows 8 launches.

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The Nook Boutique: How Channel Matters To Product Strategists

The link between product strategy and channel is often overlooked, but strong: In our most recent survey of product strategy professionals, 33% say that they, personally, define the channel strategy for the products they sell. In other organizations, product strategists must work with more specialized channel strategists. Either way, channel is a determinant of success in any product strategy.

In the consumer electronics industry – and more specifically, the rapidly changing tablet market – channel presents a major challenge to product strategists. Most product strategists sell their tablets at Best Buy, a retailer that receives high foot traffic from engaged buyers, but which contains a lot of competing models. It’s easy for any individual tablet product to get lost at Best Buy, particularly when the retailer is offering plenty of Android tablets with limited meaningful differentiation among them. Buying end caps (which are expensive, if differentiating) can help, but it’s not always clear that the Blue Shirts can explain every tablet’s value equally.

Apple has this quandary beaten: Its Apple Stores form the core of its retail channel, and after a product like the iPad has been popularized, Apple also sells via mass-market retailers like Wal-Mart and Target. Competitors haven’t been able to match Apple’s winning formula, though Microsoft is starting to roll out its own stores.

Barnes & Noble offers the most interesting test case: As Sarah Rotman Epps has written, the brick-and-mortar stores play a very central role in the product strategy of the Nook Tablet. The new Nook Boutique has finally launched (see photo below); how is it stacking up?

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Christmas 2011: The First Mass Customized Holiday Season

Ah, Black Friday: What would the post-Thanksgiving shopping bonanza be without a visit to the local mall? This year, I was keen to perform some gumshoe research on a theme I've been talking about all year long: mass customization, a product strategy that's ready for prime time across multiple industries.

A trip to the Natick Mall (yes, "Mall," no longer "Collection," New Englanders) reveals that mass customization isn't just the future; it's the present. In fact, it's hiding in plain sight. Build-a-Bear Workshop, Hallmark, Lego, and LensCrafters are all stores in the Natick Mall that offer significant customization for consumer products. Burberry is the latest Natick Mall vendor to offer mass customization; I am quoted in Time magazine this week (here, but subscription required to view the link; page 82 in the December 5 paper edition) discussing how luxury clothing and customization fit together well. As I've written before, one of the benefits of employing mass customization is that it empowers consumers to create products that express their personalities -- a particularly relevant feature for clothing and apparel products.

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