As part of Forrester’s ongoing initiative to provide annual industry benchmarks of online customer experiences, we recently evaluated the Brand Experience of four hotel brands’ Web sites (Crowne Plaza, Hilton, Marriott, and Sheraton). Using our Web Site Brand Experience Review methodology, we set out to test 1) how well the sites supported their key brand attributes in a manner consistent with other channels (Brand Image), and 2) how well the site supported user goals (Brand Action).
The results were disappointing. None of the sites passed our Brand Action Review. Actually, that's not terribly surprising since our data show just how challenging the online booking experience is for travelers. Our review found that most sites suffered from common problems that plague sites across all industries, such as missing or misplaced content and illegible text. Again, not surprising. But what was surprising was that only one site, Sheraton, passed our Brand Image Review. After all, hotels (at least those on the nicer end of the spectrum like those we reviewed) take great pains to keep their lobbies clean, their grounds manicured, and their rooms inviting. But the underperforming sites suffered from poor quality in their visual designs, bland imagery, and just-the-facts content that failed to hit on key brand attributes. In contrast, Sheraton stood out for its high-quality visual design and messaging that's consistent with how the brand is presented in other channels.
The findings from part two of Forrester’s annual survey conducted in conjunction with Shop.org will be available on the Shop.org site next week. This installment of the "State Of Retailing Online" series will delve into the world of key metrics as well as multichannel and global strategies.
Some highlights include:
Identifying improvements in performance and customer retention
Developing strategies for successful global expansion
Avoiding the pitfalls that many multichannel organizations face
We look forward to sharing the full version on Forrester.com near the end of October.
Despite the early success of the Apple App Store, the market for mobile applications is still in its infancy. Many players haven't really launched or marketed their offerings yet, but the market is already crowded, with around 80 would-be application stores available worldwide as of June 2010. On the other side there's the consumer interest. Last week Nielsen published its State of the Mobile Apps 2010 report that showed that as of June 2010, 59% of smartphone owners report having downloaded a mobile app in the last 30 days. But a recent study of the Pew Internet and American Life Project shows that “Having apps and using apps are not synonymous.”
However, companies that want to develop a mobile strategy should begin with a data-based understanding of how mobile-advanced their brand's consumers are and will be. Mobile Technographics® places consumers into groups based on their mobile phone usage. The groups are defined by the extent to which the mobile phone user has adopted mobile data services, the frequency of use of these services, and the level of sophistication in the mobile applications he or she uses.
Technology vendors are disconnected from their customers. If the problem were simple, such as changing message themes, tech vendors could easily adapt.
When looking at tech vendors, the "problem" is long-standing, entrenched behaviors about how products and solutions go to market. The "problem" includes customers that now want to buy "business outcomes" rather than traditional products. The "problem" includes sales organizations that fail to learn about the customer's business or requirements. The "problem" includes marketing organizations that fail to recognize that while they get to aim the gun, only sales can pull the trigger. Across these three processes, companies are trying to shoot faster, shoot bigger bullets, or even aim at different targets when the real problem is eye-hand coordination - or aligning methods and messages.
Selling technology requires three processes to align: (1) the customer problem solving process; (2) the vendor selling process; and (3) the marketing processes for communicating solutions. Gaps in these processes will cause finger-pointing within the vendor, raise the average cost of sales, lengthen the sales cycle, increase turnover of sales and marketing employees, confuse customers, etc. Few tech vendors are changing their internal methodologies to align these processes.
How are these gaps in your organization? How is your company addressing these gaps? We'd love to hear your experience!
(Next in this series, Forrester will introduce "portfolio management" as framework to help sales enablement professionals align these silos.)
Social shopping -- and service -- has become a reality: The percent of US online consumers opting out of social media -- Inactives -- has fallen dramatically, from 52% in 2006 to just 17% in 2009 while all of the categories of social media usage have increased. In response, eBusiness executives are doing the best they can -- as fast as they can -- to experiment with social media and create solid strategies.
The challenge? Most social initiatives originate in interactive marketing departments with marketing goals like awareness and branding, while eBusiness executives must tie their efforts to increased sales and decreased service costs.
Social then tends to raise more questions than it answers: Who owns social? What is the role of eBusiness in setting the social strategy? How do we create a strategy that helps our online sales while coordinating with other departments? Our new report The Building Blocks For Social Success in eBusiness explores how some firms are dipping their toes in the water -- we call them “experimenting” eBusiness groups -- and how others are in the “directing and governing” phases with social -- owning not just the templates and process for social, but the execution as well, for their entire companies.
Where are you on the social spectrum? Does your company host a Facebook fan page? Do you offer customer ratings and reviews? Are your social efforts focused on increasing sales or increasing brand awareness? Is social integrated into your online sales experiences? I told you social raises more questions than answers! I’d love to hear your thoughts on the role that social can play in driving online sales.
The past couple of months have seen a number of new initiatives and shifts on the global online retail front: Zara went live with a series of eCommerce sites (in five languages in Spain alone) while Gap started selling to an international online audience. At the same time, eBay conceded the market in China and looked to partner with market leader Alibaba. More companies have started coming to us asking about eCommerce in less traditional markets, with markets like Russia and Saudi Arabia being brought up with increasing frequency in our calls with clients.
When I was kid, when we thought someone was overreacting, we used to say “don’t make a Federal case out of it!” Maybe people still say this, but I haven’t heard it in a while. I suspect that it went into the Museum of Way-Historical Sayings. Still, I’m sure you get the idea: If the Federal Government is involved, it’s a big deal.
I thought of this expression this morning when I read an article in The Wall Street Journal. There is quite a battle going on over an attempt to make mortgage-disclosure documents easier to understand. On the one side, we find our Federal Government in the persons of Elizabeth Warren and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. On the other side, you find the mortgage industry (or at least a big chunk of it — the article could have offered some more details IMHO).
Now if you’ve ever taken out a mortgage, you know that the documentation you received was close to the polar opposite of “easy to understand.” You may have thought (as I did) that the difficulty stemmed from a failed attempt by lawyers and bankers to communicate effectively. But apparently not! (Or at least that’s not the only reason — I’m pretty sure that most lawyers don’t have John Grisham potential).
Forrester just kicked-off our 2010 Retail Executive Survey, and we want your input. We partnered with Pricegrabber, PayPal, Commission Junction, and StoreFrontBackTalk to create a survey which looks at multichannel retailers' organizations and topics relevant to the challenges currently facing their roles including:
eBusiness technology decisions
Social media and mobile trends
Online customer service
Customer loyalty programs
The survey takes just about 15 minutes to complete and all of the data will be used anonymously and in aggregate. As a thank you for completing this survey and once it is closed, you will be able to access the data to help benchmark against your peers.
The results from the survey will serve Forrester's eBusiness and retail research agenda; we look forward to gaining insight from your responses.
Okay, so it’s no Brown v. Board of Education, but for those in retail, the 1992 U.S. Supreme Court case of Quill v. North Dakota could be considered just as landmark. For the uninitiated, it spelled out the regulations surrounding collecting sales tax for states in which they have no physical presence – in short, that they weren’t allowed to do it.
With elections around the corner, many politicians and associations are stumping on this very issue. They believe that many retailers are exempting themselves from paying the sales tax that the state ultimately deserves. After all, 45 states in total collect sales tax from brick and mortar stores, which end up accounting for roughly 25 percent of their total income. Sensationalism abounds in the discussion of this lost revenue: "Some of the things that have gone on in this recession would not have happened if sales taxes had not gone uncollected," said Scott Peterson, executive director of Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board.
Since 2003, a majority of the remaining retailers have followed suit in collecting tax, leaving pureplays, many of whom are mom and pops who in this economy are at least earning income. Assessing taxes on these businesses won’t really help anyone except Walmart. And let’s be realistic here: Even studies like the one by the University of Tennessee say only 25% of eCommerce sales taxes that are “due” go uncollected. And we know from our surveys that 65% of people say that Web sales taxes (if increased) would cause them to decrease their online spend. With these facts that chip away at the supposed billions that supposedly go uncollected, this appears to be a much less pervasive issue than once put forth.
To understand how consumers migrate across channels, we analyzed Forrester's European Technographics® Benchmark Survey to determine where they start their purchasing journey and where they end up buying the product. In general, shoppers tend to ultimately purchase in the channel in which they started their research. This inclination is stronger among shoppers who began their research offline: 91% of European shoppers who began their research offline also purchased offline. Meanwhile, 58% of those who started to look for information on the Internet eventually made the purchase online.
However, this purchasing journey differs by product. For example, when we look at leisure travel, about two-thirds of European consumers start researching online. And only one-fifth don’t involve the Internet at all in the researching phase. However, about one-third of consumers who start their research online purchase their travel offline.
Summarizing, European online adults use a mix of channels to research and buy products, and the Internet is a key channel in the purchasing path. Yet deals are still mostly closed in the store. A seamless customer experience in which consumers can achieve goals like returning products across channels is key to driving multichannel success.