Agile Commerce – that’s Forrester’s word for “Omnichannel,” right?

You’ve all heard the term “Omnichannel.” And since you are reading this blog I’m going to assume you’ve also all heard the term “Agile Commerce.” If not, then stop reading now and check out Welcome to the Era of Agile Commerce and Agile Commerce: Know it When You See It.

So either you are back, or you were with me all along. But now you are wondering “Ok, so what is the difference?” Let’s look at what the two terms really mean. Omnichannel doesn’t have a formal definition, though here’s what the oracle that is Wikipedia says…

Omni-Channel Retailing is very similar to, and an evolution of, multi-channel retailing, but is concentrated more on a seamless approach to the consumer experience through all available shopping channels, i.e. mobile internet devices, computers, bricks-and-mortar, television, catalog, and so on.”

On the other hand, Forrester defines agile commerce as…

“An approach to commerce that enables businesses to optimize their people, processes, and technology to serve customers across all touchpoints.”

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European Brands are Embracing the Cross-Touchpoint Reality

I had the pleasure of presenting an evolution of our Agile Commerce research last week at the Internet Retailing conference in London. It was an interesting event on a number of fronts, but my key take-away from the event was a very positive one.

eBusiness executives in Europe have definitely woken up to the Agile Commerce message.

We can’t claim all the credit at Forrester, but I definitely got the feeling from listening to my fellow panelists on the Customer track present their stories that they were in the same place as we are now, at least in terms of strategic intent, if not yet in execution:

  • Simon Smith, Head of Multichannel Experience at O2 Telefonica described how he is bringing a service design ethos to delivering both consumer and employee experiences. Telefonica aims to design service experiences that are Individual, Relevant, Thoughtful, Reassuring and Amazing (SUPER, anyone?), and what was the most interesting piece about their story was that these experiences are designed from an outside in, customer first perspective before any of the individual touchpoints are designed. By basing these experiences on common personas and a wealth of analytical data, Telefonica then overlay touchpoints as appropriate, enabling them to step out of the discussion about “should we or shouldn’t we develop this or that functionality on this or that platform?” and into the more relevant discussion about “what touchpoints and experiences most make sense for our customers?”
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Burberry's Digitally Enabled Store Is Seductive, But Is It Really "Agile Commerce"?

There are a few firms that I regularly point to as agile commerce exemplars, and one of them is Burberry.

This always makes me smile because being from the north of England and growing up in a  culture dominated by shipbuilding and football (and Newcastle Brown Ale), Burberry has long been the iconic garb of the “chav.” Since many of the people who read this blog aren’t from the UK, a quick cultural diversion is probably needed here. But don’t worry - it's relevant to the Burberry story. Honest.

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Shooting Arrows At Eagles

Mao Zedong is quoted as having said that: “A revolution is not a dinner party . . . A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.”

However, history also shows us that violence is not the only way to lead transformational change in a society that is locked into a traditional way of being. Some iconic campaigners for peaceful change, such as Gandhi or Leo Tolstoy, come from relatively privileged backgrounds and were well positioned to take a front seat in leading change. However, others have risen from very humble beginnings. Martin Luther King. Sophie Scholl. Emmeline Pankhurst. All people from ordinary backgrounds who rose to prominence through their single-minded vision of a better world, their ability to communicate their passion, and the courage of their convictions in the face of overwhelming opposition to their way of thinking.

So why is this relevant to a blog that’s normally about eBusiness?

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Agile Commerce: Know It When You See It

 

Here at Forrester, we’ve been evangelizing the concept of agile commerce for a while now, and we are working on a stream of research building on the concept and digging into exactly how leading organizations are transforming themselves to embrace the era of agile commerce. One of the questions I personally get asked is what exactly does an agile business look like? How do you recognize one?

In speaking to a number of leading practitioners in this space, I have found that there are four things that agile businesses have in common. They:

  • Architect the experience. Agile organizations don’t allow touchpoints to emerge randomly or operate independently from one another. They design compelling cross-touchpoint experiences that are meaningful to their customers and add value to the brand, like “Click and Collect” for a retailer or mobile-driven online check-in for an airline.
  • Are customer-obsessed. Agile commerce means putting the customer at the heart of every decision, bringing quantitative and qualitative customer insight to every decision, and even reorganizing around the customer life cycle to focus teams on what the customer needs, not what the channel thinks.
  • Enable with technology. Agility demands some key underpinning enterprise technology components, such as a commerce platform that can serve the Web, mobile, and stores. But it also requires that touchpoints are unshackled from back-end systems by a common set of commerce APIs.
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Forrester's first European Mobile Commerce Forecast

 

Mobile commerce is a HOT topic!

Over the last three months I’ve presented at 4 different European events on the subject of Mobile Commerce in retail, and in every other speech I’m called on to do, mobile is increasingly at the heart of what I talk about when I discuss the key trends impacting European eCommerce. Its unavoidable.

So I’m delighted to say that Forrester has launched its first European Mobile Commerce forecast.

The growth assumptions are based on the existing Forrester Research Online Retail Forecast, 2011 To 2016 (Western Europe), with simplified category groupings to reflect mobile characteristics. Mobile purchasing behavior and mobile Technographics sophistication are overlaid onto the country-by-country eCommerce growth forecasts to reflect the way in which mobile commerce will grow differently from online commerce across Europe. What this gives us is a picture of how we believe that mobile commerce will evolve for some of the key European markets.

So what are we forecasting?

·         Mobile Growth Will Be Rapid, But Adoption Will Be Niche For Some Time Yet. Mobile commerce will represent 6.8% of all online eCommerce sales across Europe by 2017 (mobile only – we exclude Tablets from this figure). This is a significant portion of online sales, with the most rapid growth in the south of Europe.

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European eCommerce Gets A Collective Voice. Can It Grow Teeth?

I've written about the European Union's grand plans for eCommerce in the past. Much of what the European Commission wants to achieve is laudable and would be fantastic to see. After all, who amongst us doesn't want to see eCommerce thrive? However, recent initiatives such as the much debated "Cookie Law" suggests that the good intent is often diluted by the time directives become in-country legislation. So there is a very real risk that further plans to tinker with national laws regarding things like tax, delivery charges, and returns could wind up making the world more, not less complex.

Each country in Europe has an eCommerce industry body. The IMRG in the UK, Fevad in France, BVH in Germany. The list goes on. But the challenge with these bodies is that they are all country-specific, and as such don't really think too deeply about cross-border issues and also lack the power to effectively lobby the EC when it comes to influencing legislation.

One of the things that Europe really needs to help drive a more effective cross-border e-economy is an effective cross-border "user group." A group that can operate in the way that shop.org does in the US.

We have EMOTA, which is essentially an umbrella organization for the various industry groups, but feels a little detached from the actual retailers.

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ePrivacy Legislation Gets (Marginally) Clearer

 

The  May 26th UK deadline for compliance to the EU ePrivacy Directive has come and gone.

The result? Confusion among eBusiness executives. Some action. Some sites are informing us of what they are doing. Many aren’t. And a last minute refresh of compliance guidance from the Information Commissioners Office.

The ICO has been steering UK organizations toward compliance for a while, though this steering has been frustratingly vague. But to give credit where credit is due, it released a last-minute guide, which is actually very helpful. Rather than reproduce the content here, I encourage you to read this blog post and download the PDF linked on the page.

The ICO has been taking an admirably pragmatic approach to compliance. The latest document sets out definitions of "implied consent," "session," and "persistent" cookies (among other things) as well as delivering some useful tips on how to inform consumers, even looking at the style of language needed.  It's a real shame for UK sites that this guidance was issued at literally the eleventh hour. But as many UK sites have still yet to take any action, this guidance will still be helpful.

The situation in the rest of Europe is also beginning to become clearer.

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Marks And Spencer's "Plan A" Doesn't Specifically Mean "Agile." But It Could.

 I’m constantly searching for great examples of agile commerce practitioners. These are hard to find, and it’s rare to come across any one organization that exemplifies everything that we believe an agile business needs to be.

Dynamic. Willing to take calculated risks. Organized for cross-touchpoint customer engagement. A clear vision for the future with the customer firmly at the center.

In the various interviews I do, I frequently find that I end up talking about a British retail icon.

Marks and Spencer.

So what’s so special about M&S, you may ask. Well, not only is M&S a digital innovator in the space of video and its use of social media, but under the leadership of its Chief Executive Mark Bolland it is transforming itself into a truly multichannel organization. With a clear ambition to be the “UK’s leading multichannel retailer,” M&S has set itself a stretching target.

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How Quickly Can You Add A New Touchpoint?

Here at Forrester we have been talking about the concept of "agile commerce" for some time now, but it's not always easy to point to live examples of “agile”businesses. What is agile commerce? How do I become agile? Both are very valid questions that we are in the process of building out a series of research documents and case studies in order to answer.

But there is a live example happening right now that encapsulates what agile is all about for me.

 Pinterest.

For those of you who are yet to become completely addicted to Pinterest (and you will), it's basically an image sharing site that allows you to group together images from around the web into categories and pin them to a virtual pin board. It creates highly visual mood boards, wish lists, galleries, and collections of images that link back through to the original source (which is where Pinterest makes its money). And since so many Pinterest boards are all about style — fashion and home in particular — it has the potential to be a bit of a retail gold mine.

 

Unlike Facebook, which is much more about social connections, it looks like Pinterest users are more in a discovery and pre-shopping mode when they are pinning and are pre-inclined to buy if they click through to a retail website. With an ever-expanding network of users, Pinterest has the potential to bring some much needed serendipity to web shopping.

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