Do You Need Retail Stores? Best Buy Thinks Not.

 

Disappointing news for UK shoppers today – Best Buy has announced that it will close its UK stores by the end of the year.

Best Buy was a bit of a breath of fresh air in a multichannel consumer electronics market in the UK that is struggling to find its identity as sales shift rapidly to the web. In a Website Functionality Benchmark we conducted earlier this year, we found that Best Buy stood out in a number of areas against its European competition, and its approach to multichannel retailing was similarly refreshing. While UK traditionalists DSGI have been struggling to find a multichannel model that works for them, Best Buy seemed to embrace the concept of agile commerce quite neatly. It understood that shoppers want flexibility to research, transact, purchase, and return products across multiple touchpoints, be that the web, the store or mobile.

And mobile is definitely where Best Buy and many other retailers clearly see the future.

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How Agile Are You Feeling?

 

Here at Forrester we’ve spend a lot of time this year evangelizing a new approach to multichannel commerce – one that we call agile commerce. The fundamentals are outlined here in Brian Walker’s excellent doc, “Welcome to the Era of Agile Commerce.” But in short, and to quote Brian . . .

“Traditional ways of describing multichannel commerce no longer work because customers don't interact with companies from a 'channel' perspective. Customers now use a rapidly evolving set of devices as a means of engaging across touchpoints, which they don't distinguish from the brand or business.”

What this means to most eBusiness execs across Europe is an explosion in the number of touchpoints they now have to consider in their customer interactions. It’s no longer just about managing a store chain and a website as two separate entities. Increasingly shoppers are turning to social networks, mobile price comparison applications, tablets, and more and they are demanding an increasing level of cross touchpoint flexibility as they browse, choose, shop, and even return products.

Alongside our latest eBusiness Maturity Model, I’ve been speaking to eBusiness executives across Europe to gauge where their organizations are in the evolution toward agile commerce.

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Online Retail In Germany -- Isn't It Time For A Multichannel Approach?

 

Following on from my European eCommerce overview a couple of months ago, I’m continuing to build a deeper view of how the online retail markets are evolving in the major European markets. 

This month I turn to Germany, the second-largest online retail market in Europe, and one with a number of interesting characteristics. When we compare Germany to other European markets we see that:

·         eBay and Amazon.de are hugely influential. While eBay and Amazon see strong sales in Germany, their influence extends beyond their direct sales as many German web shoppers turn to these sites ahead of search engines to research products. Major retailers such as Conrad are trying to leverage this consumer behavior.

·         Consumer electronics is hotly contested. We looked at Redcoon.de in some detail in our recent Website Functionality Benchmark of European Consumer Electronics Retailers, but with consumer electronics  the number one online category in Germany, other specialist retailers such as ComputerUniverse are looking at new ways of influencing online shoppers with rich product information and ratings and reviews.

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Ever Buy Your Cornflakes Online? If You Live In The UK You Might.

Following my blog post from a couple of weeks ago where I wrote about the need to take a local approach in Europe, I’d like to take a few minutes to say something about the first of our country-specific reports.

It was natural to start with the UK Online Retail Overview, 2011, for two reasons. The first is that I live in the UK, so it’s the market and retail environment that I’m most familiar with, but secondly and more importantly, it’s the largest online market in Europe. Based on the figures in our European Online Retail Forecast, the UK online retail market will be worth £28.6 billion in 2011; this represents 9.4% of the overall national retail market, almost double the online penetration of any other European country.

So there are some big numbers but also some interesting trends to examine.

The UK market is increasingly dominated by multichannel retailers. While there are a range of notable online pure play success stories (Amazon.com, Asos, Net a Porter, and Play, to name a few), we are seeing an increasing level of sophistication in how the major high-street retailers are integrating their on- and offline properties. Initiatives like Click and Collect are now commonplace, and the pace of innovation isn’t slowing, with new initiatives such as Argos’ 90 minute Shutl delivery service being a prime example. So there are plenty of examples here to be inspired by.

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Fake Apple Stores - Is This The Tip Of A Counterfeit Iceberg?

Last week a lone blogger broke the news that not one but three fake Apple stores had sprung up in the city of Kunming in China, though it appears the problem is fast becoming a worldwide one for Apple to deal with.

It’s no secret that counterfeit goods are commonplace in China, and there are moves afoot to attempt to tackle this issue, at least online. However, this is a very different beast. There has been an explosion of commentary in the press about these fake stores, mostly focusing on the fact that they exist, and mostly failing to draw any comment for Apple.

Action has been taken. According to China Daily, “A local authority had previously said that two of the stores were suspended for not having business licenses. But the local industrial and commercial bureau confirmed to the Shanghai Morning Post on Tuesday that one of them had in fact obtained a license on June 22 and thus could stay open.”

The general tone of the various reports is that the stores are selling genuine Apple products bought wholesale through genuine channels, and that the only reason they would be closed down is because they didn’t follow local laws to obtain a retail license. Not because of any IPR infringement. This will be an interesting story to watch play out -- because if that turns out to be true, it sets a gloomy precedent for other retailers who may be suffering the same challenge.

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European Online Retail : Adopt A Local Approach

I have a great interest in history. I always have.

I grew up in the North of England very close to Hadrian’s Wall. In fact, the remains of the Vallum (the defensive ditch dug behind the wall to keep out marauding Pictish warbands) ran through the playing fields of my high school. I grew up wondering what far-flung Legionaries had stood on that wall on cold northern nights. Imperial citizens from Rome itself. Germanic mercenaries from the Rhine. Gaulish Auxiliaries from France. A constant reminder of the diversity of people, cultures, and beliefs that made up the Roman Empire.

So history has wound on, through war and peace, trade and intrigue, to bring us to 21st century Europe. We have a European Union. A single currency. We even have a flag. So Europe is well, Europe, right?

Erm…no.

If history has taught us one thing, it is that a massive diversity of language, currency, habits, attitudes, and beliefs thrives in Europe, and this directly affects the way in which Europeans (or rather British, German, French, Italian people, etc. -- because we are all different) use the Internet to shop. What they buy online, how they pay for it, how it’s delivered, and what their service expectations are, are to some extent shaped by the eCommerce offerings of retailers within their respective countries, but in a large part are led by national culture and behavioral norms.

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Online Video Retail Success Stories

Increase your conversion rates overnight!

Really?

That’s amazing. How can I get a piece of that pie? 

Call it what you will -- V-Tail, vCommerce, or just plain online video -- we are seeing some pretty bold claims around the use of video in eCommerce. Claims from platform vendors, press, and even some case studies and success stories from large retailers who are seeing some significant successes when they integrate video content into the online shopping experience.

But there’s the key. Integrate. Of course it isn’t as simple as sticking a few videos on your existing dot-com site and hey presto, conversion rates skyrocket. Video needs to support the sales process in a way that makes sense to your customers, that supports your brand values, and that enhances the shopping experience.

There are a growing number of ways to source video content, and an increasing number of players in the market who will all tell you that they have the answer. From user-generated content to automatically generated video. From content delivery networks to social media. There are a bewildering number of options out there.

Video absolutely can deliver firm benefits :

  • It can increase page views by driving traffic to your site.
  • It can enhance the time people spend lingering on your site, giving you more opportunity to market to them.
  • It can help to increase conversion.
  • It can reduce your returns.
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DSGI Know How. Do you?

I’m intrigued by the recent launch of KnowHow.com.

I’ve known it was coming for a while, but now that it’s here it’s not quite what I expected. However in a way it’s actually a lot better. 

KnowHow.com is, for want of a better description, the customer service portal for the DSGI chain of consumer electronics stores in the UK:  Dixons.co.uk, Currys, and PC World. These stores operate in a fiercely competitive but large and lucrative market in the UK and extend their reach into Europe through sister company Pixmania.  In recent years wallet share in the CE sector has been moving increasingly online, with brick-and-mortar stores facing the challenge of competing on price with their leaner, lower-cost online rivals. But despite this off-to-online swing, the group is reporting that Internet sales are down.

I was expecting KnowHow to be its revamped eCommerce operation, its response to lackluster digital sales. But interestingly it has done something different. It appears to be trying to step out of the race to the bottom from a price perspective and is positioning itself to begin to compete on a new axis. Service. An interesting play in what could be considered a commodity market.

However, when you learn that its multichannel sales are up 12%, this may not be such a strange move.

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Is Anyone In The UK Actually Using QR Codes?

Intrigued by a lot of what I’ve been reading recently, I’ve started looking for evidence of QR codes transforming how shoppers are interacting with retailers. The thing is all the evidence I see with my own eyes doesn’t back up this proclaimed uptake. I’ve never noticed a single one in a shop. Now, that could be because I’ve not been looking and if I’m honest, I’ve only had a phone capable of reading them for a few months.

Time for a quick bit of ad-hoc analysis (Health Warning: NOT OFFICIAL FORRESTER RESEARCH !!!)

In order to give this mini research project some vague semblance of credibility, I have adopted the rigorous scientific approach that Mr. Featonby, my A-level physics teacher drilled into me many years ago . . . 

Hypothesis

My hypothesis is that retailers aren’t using QR codes in the UK, and furthermore, the average shopper hasn’t a clue what one is.

Methodology

  1. I went to the local Tesco Metro and browsed the aisles, looking at every product I could find.
  2. I’ve looked through every store magazine and free paper and at every poster I pass in London, on the Midlands Mainline train service, and in Nottingham (where I live) for two weeks.
  3. I posted a picture of a QR code on my Facebook page and asked my friends (average shoppers one and all!) if they knew what it was.
  4. I never said this was a robust survey.
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The Lost Art Of Serendipity

ser·en·dip·i·ty  /ˌsɛr ənˈdɪp ɪ ti/ –noun

1. an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.

2. good fortune; luck: the serendipity of getting the first job she applied for.

Internet retailers have been struggling with a challenge since the first time a shopper clicked “Add to Cart,” and so far I don’t think anyone has really cracked it.

Recently we’ve had a number of discussions in our office (and more in the pub) about the difference between the online and offline shopping experiences, and the subject of online product discovery is one we can’t seem to get to the bottom of.  It appears that many retailers are in the same place, and despite their best efforts, online retailers just can’t duplicate what we’ve termed serendipity.

That feeling of walking into your favorite bookshop and picking something up in a section you don’t normally go into just because the cover leaps out at you.

The moment when you stumble across some unutterably stylish, drop dead gorgeous dress in the store you don’t normally go into, but your friend dragged you protesting into.

That magic moment where you discover something.

Amazon has had a good go at it, and I confess I’m a huge fan of its “people like you buy stuff like this” functionality, but it does suffer from a major flaw. Like many of my Forrester colleagues, I use Amazon to buy a lot of gifts that I don’t ask to have wrapped. So Amazon thinks I’m crazily into books on vintage fashion and Waybuloo toys. Well I’m not. But my wife and 2-year-old niece are. Go figure which one likes which. So I regularly receive invites to buy more books and toys I really don’t want.

Anyone spot the odd one out on here ?

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