What The Online Sales Tax Debate Misses

Sucharita  Mulpuru

As the election year approaches, we can bet that the cries to impose tax on online retailers will get even more pronounced as politicians look for ways to close our budget deficit and make villains of small but seemingly rich segments that can afford to bear the burden (e.g., private jet owners, Amazon.com). While some journalists are framing companies like Amazon as enabling tax shirkers at the expense of impoverished local school districts, the reality is, the debate is really about big box retailers and physical stores fighting to stop the wallet share war that companies like Amazon are winning online. The NRF has been one of the biggest proponents of making web merchants collect taxes, and it's not surprising that its board is composed of many of the country's largest retailers. Some critical facts:

  • A significant portion of transactions online already collect sales tax because people purchase from online stores like BestBuy.com or Walmart.com, so the real amount that is being “lost” is less than the numbers being bandied around would have you believe, and not enough to make up anyone’s deficit, maybe a small city somewhere but probably not much more.
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The Data Digest: Online Shopping — Researching Versus Purchasing

Reineke Reitsma

Recently, my colleague Jackie Anderson published a report, Understanding Online Shopper Behaviors, US 2011, and she indicated that 2010 online retail spending in the US had reached $175.2 billion and will grow at double-digit rates at least for another few years.

But among all the items that can be purchased online, some are more popular than others. We have extracted the top three and bottom three items that consumers research online and purchase online based on data from our North American Technographics® Retail Online Survey, Q3 2010 (US). The data shows that while online consumers are generally comfortable with both researching and purchasing books, hotel reservations, and airline tickets online, they still prefer to purchase footwear, consumer electronics, and household products from traditional channels.
 

About one-third of US Internet users aren't shopping online yet. The majority of them do use the Internet to research products but don't feel comfortable making the purchases online. The biggest barrier people mention for not buying online is their need to see things in person.

Your Guide To Video Highlights Of Forrester’s Customer Experience Forum, 2011

Harley Manning

Over the past few weeks, Paul Hagen, Kerry Bodine, and I have been posting our takes on Forrester’s Customer Experience Forum, 2011. We’ve included video of moments we like from 10 out of the 11 main-stage sessions (sadly, we don’t have video of the Voice Of The Customer Awards, but at least we have a list of the winners!).

To give attendees and others an easy way to find the moments that matter to them, I’ve assembled this guide to our posts about the event. If you find these posts interesting, you can jump into the discussions that started at the forum in our online Forrester Community For Customer Experience Professionals.

DAY ONE, TUESDAY, JUNE 21, 2011

“Customer Experience Is Personal”

Harley Manning, Vice President, Research Director, Forrester Research

Here’s the man-on-the-street video I used in my opening remarks. We took a camera crew to Harvard Square and asked people to describe their best and worst customer experiences. Yikes!
 

 “What Is the Right Customer Experience Strategy For Your Company?”

Paul Hagen, Principal Analyst, Forrester Research

What is a customer experience strategy? What is it good for? How can you recognize a good one? Hear Paul’s answer, which sets the theme for the rest of the event.
 

“A Relentless Focus On Members”

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Customer Experience Is Personal

Harley Manning

Late last year, I attended a workshop at a small but quite interesting conference in London. The two guys running the workshop separated the attendees into small groups where each of us took turns describing the worst customer experience we’d had, and then the best customer experience we’d had.

I thought it was a remarkably effective exercise, and I would have liked to try something like it at Forrester’s Customer Experience Forum, 2011. Of course with roughly 1,200 attendees, we couldn’t do that so instead we did the next best thing. A few weeks before our event we took a camera crew out to Harvard Square and asked some people on the street to tell us about their experiences.

Let me tell you a little bit about Harvard Square. It’s right in the heart of the Harvard University campus, which is right in the heart of Cambridge, Mass. — a town that Amazon.com recently ranked as the country's most well-read city.

The day we were there, it was graduation week. So in addition to the usual students and tourists from around the world, we met parents there for their kids’ graduation and alumni there for reunions.

We heard some fascinating stories, which led us to a few conclusions. For example, it’s very hard to satisfy every customer, every time — even for a customer experience icon like Apple.

Hopefully that first segment scared you just a little because when companies get the customer experience wrong, it makes a big impact.

But of course, there’s good news, too. When companies get the customer experience right, that also makes a big impact.

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It’s Time To Develop Your Digital Customer Experience Strategy

Ron Rogowski

Today’s digital landscape is complex. As companies use digital interfaces to engage with customers and foster long-term relationships, customer interactions are spanning an increasing array of touchpoints, with customers often crossing multiple channels in the pursuit of a single goal. While this new reality is riddled with challenges, it’s also ripe with opportunities for companies that have a strategic plan for digital customer experience.  

In a recent report, and subsequent Mashable article, I made the case that companies need to develop and execute digital customer experience strategies. As opposed to digital marketing strategies that focus mostly on what a company will provide and where, a digital customer experience strategy determines the “what” and the “where” based on the “who” and the “how.” That is, a digital customer experience strategy balances company goals and strategy with user expectations (the “who”) and describes the intended experience (the “how”). This, in turn, guides specific investments based on what customers need and a well-thought-out way of delivering on those needs that leaves a lasting positive impression.  

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Can Data Visualization Tools Improve The Communication Of Market Research Findings?

Reineke Reitsma

Recently, I've posted a question on our Market Insight Community about data visualization. Why? Because infographics are hot. Follow the infographic (#infographic) topic on Twitter and you’ll see a constant stream of new graphics. A recent example of a market-research-related one is this one from The New York Times that shows you how many households in the US have a similar set-up. And this week I tweeted a link to an interview with a company called Tableau Software that helps organizations visualize big data and works with organizations like The Wall Street Journal and CNN Money to create interactive graphics like this one on foreclosure filings.

But what is the role of data visualization in market research? There are numerous posts and contributions about the importance of storytelling for market insights professionals. Will data visualization tools help in engaging our audience with data? Can it be our way of telling a story? David McCandless talked about the beauty of visualization last year at a TED event. Good design, he suggests, is the best way to navigate information glut — and it may just change the way we see the world.

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Would You Trust Your Son's Customer Experience To This Man?

Harley Manning

Although he just turned 10, my son is very serious about his finances. And his entire life savings (such as it is — he only gets $3 per week for his allowance) is at Citizens Bank. 

Personally I'm more interested in how my kid gets treated by his bank than I am about his account balance. So I was quite keen to hear from Nick Primola from Citizens Financial Group, one of the speakers at Forrester's Customer Experience Forum, 2011.

Nick is senior vice president of direct marketing at Citizens Financial Group, where he’s responsible for enterprisewide direct marketing efforts supporting all of the bank’s business lines. As a self-confessed "data guy," that could have put us at odds. Was he going to be the driving force behind a spam attack on my kid? But as it turns out, Nick has a very enlightened view of how data gets used.

Check him out.

The Nikon Customer Experience Acid Test

Harley Manning

You all know Nikon, which has more than $8 billion in annual revenue and 26,000 employees worldwide. At Forrester’s Customer Experience Forum, 2011, we also got to know David Dentry, general manager of customer relations for Nikon.

David’s a lucky guy. He’s been interested in photography since he was a small child, so working at Nikon is a dream job for him. He was a photographer and photo teacher in the US Navy for eight years, which had him shooting (in a way that’s different from the way most military personnel shoot) everything from aerial reconnaissance photos to cake-cutting events. In fact, he joined the Navy based on his recruiter’s assurance that if he signed up he’d get to be a photographer.

Today David’s responsible for all aspects of customer support for Nikon in the Americas. His team manages Nikon’s call center operations and the nikonusa.com website. That’s quite an interesting challenge because he gets the customer service experience challenge in stereo from two very different types of channels. Not to worry, though, because he has a technique he uses to suss out the lowest common denominator when it comes to customer experience challenges: ask Grandma.

Here's how he describes his approach.

The Future Of Mobile Is User Context

Thomas Husson

I have had the opportunity to contribute to a brand-new piece of research led by my colleague Julie A. Ask, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester.

We both believe mobile has the potential to be even bigger and more disruptive than the Internet.

That’s a bold statement! Today, few of the numerous professionals we interviewed are developing digital strategies that leverage context and make the most of the phenomenal technology packed inside mobile devices. Even fewer are anticipating the opportunities that will emerge tomorrow, with technology innovation driving capabilities around the user’s context.

Indeed, the fancy features, such as GPS and NFC, embedded in mobile phones will become common, while new sensors like barometers will reveal more about the user’s environment. The phones will also act as modems, relaying or interpreting information from other machines or from attachments with sensors. In a few years, mobile will be divorced from the PC. While a mobile device may have the ability to act like a PC, it has the potential to do much, much more. Product strategists must step into the leadership role, driving the development of user-context-based products. Increasingly, voice and motion will control devices and applications. There will be an entirely new generation of products and services delivered on mobile platforms that will not originate online.

At the end of the day, who knows you best? Your mobile phone! Why?

Because it will become the device you use to interact with the world around you — your hotel room, your shopping cart, your TV, your bank, your parking meter, your car, your running shoes, and many other aspects of your life. You won’t be able to keep anything secret from your mobile phone.

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The Future Of Mobile Is Context

Julie Ask

Delivering highly contextual mobile services is an expectation. Mobile phones are personal devices. Consumers expect personal and relevant experiences. 

What is context?

Forrester defines “context” as

“the sum total of what your customer has told you and is experiencing at his moment of engagement.”

Context includes:

Situation: the current location, altitude, and speed the customer is experiencing.

Preferences: the history or personal decisions the customer has shared with you.

Attitudes: the feelings or emotions implied by the customer’s actions or logistics.

eBusiness professionals make limited or very basic use of context today. Mostly, they use an individual’s location to tell her where the nearest store or hotel is. The use of location is a minimum requirement today to meet consumer expectations of “decent” mobile services. The bar is rising quickly though. eBusiness professionals need to layer intelligence on top of contextual information and plan how they will use new contextual information such as temperature or altitude.

Here are a few scenarios that simply leverage intelligence with location:

  • Banks. Should a user require the same depth of authentication at home, at work, or in a foreign country?
  • Hotels. How much should you quote a prospective customer for a room tonight if she is 5 miles or 500 miles away?
  • Airlines. What home page services should you show a passenger whose flight leaves in 2 hours? In 10 minutes?
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