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.
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.
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.
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.
Concerns over crumbling economies, the collapse of the euro, and enforced austerity measures can’t have escaped your attention if you live in Europe. It’s easy to believe that consumers aren’t spending, that business growth is almost impossible and as retail giants like Tesco post gloomy results, hard times are ahead.
But the news is considerably more positive for eBusiness professionals.
The European Commission has high hopes for online growth. Its “Single Digital Market” strategy aims to double online sales by 2015. While its initiative may have some positive impact, it’s simply too short a timescale for such a radical shift.
That said, online retail in Europe is on a firm growth trajectory. Online retail sales will continue to outperform overall retail sales figures in terms of percentage growth for many years to come in Europe. In times of austerity, more and more shoppers are turning to the web to find deals and offers and to save money. As the web becomes an increasingly mainstream part of the lives of many Europeans, eBusiness professionals must adapt their strategies to accommodate consumers who are finding information about products and services and increasingly transacting across multiple touchpoints.
Every year at Forrester we take a look ahead at the driving forces behind online retail and make some predictions about how we think things will evolve and we try and identify the key trends to watch or even act upon. This year we’ve done things a little differently.
Broadly we find similar themes – multichannel, mobile and changing consumer behavior in light of the continually depressing economic condition. But there are some notable differences in Europe. I’ve said this before, but I will continue repeating it – the national, cultural, language and regulatory differences that persist across Europe make European eBusiness a complex beast. 2012 will bring us more in the way of EU strategy papers and directives as the European Commission begins to formulate what their “Single Digital Market” looks like in reality. While we are unlikely to see many changes immediately, the EC’s vision for the future will begin to crystallize. Add to that changes to the e-privacy and distance selling directives that must be acted upon, European eBusiness executives are going to have a busy time in 2012 just keeping abreast of legislation.
“While significant media and investor interest in daily deals has fueled the hype around this business model, data from consumers indicates that daily deals are significantly challenged models.”
The daily deals concept is receiving just as much press coverage in Europe as it is in the US, so with that in mind we have taken a similar look at the state of the market of deals, flash sales and coupons and found that while there is a great deal in common, there are some notable differences.
Much of the differences stem from a combination of the local players and the geographical complexity of operating across Europe. Many of the big players like Grouponand Living Socialare present in Europe, with significant market presence in many countries, though a range of other national companies like DailyDeal.deand SecretSales.comoperate in only one country. So while at a national level the situation is reasonably easy to understand, eBusiness executives operating in a pan-European company have a maze of different options to navigate through.
EBay is now the latest entrant into the field of retail experimenters that are trialing the concept of a “virtual store.”
EBay joins Occado and Tesco in embracing the increasing number of Multidevice Buyers in the UK who use their smartphones not only to inform their offline shopping journeys, but to buy products as well. EBay’s pop-up store in the heart of London promises to allow shoppers to browse products in person and purchase via a QR-code-driven mobile shopping experience.
While eBay's store is very deliberately designed as a temporary pop-up, others are approaching the same challenge in a completely different way. House of Fraser recently launched a concept store in Aberdeen that carries no stock but offers shoppers the opportunity to sip a free cappuccino while they browse House of Fraser’s website on dedicated Internet stations.
With 43 shopping days left until Christmas 2011, eCommerce operations across Europe are gearing up for what looks like being a strong growth year for online retail.
With the economic climate across Europe looking increasingly bleak as Italy considers austerity measures and Greece’s future in the Eurozone uncertain, it is no surprise that European shoppers are more price conscious than ever as they go about their Christmas shopping. Increasingly savvy shoppers will not only find and purchase Christmas bargains online but are turning to a growing range of retailer touchpoints to inform their offline purchases as they hunt for the perfect gift at the perfect price.
While the Internet continues to deliver healthy double-digit growth for most retailers, lackluster summer sales and autumn clearance efforts have led to a shaky start to some Christmas campaigns. But while some retailers lurch from sale to sale, leading eBusiness executives are driving increasingly sophisticated multi-touchpoint strategies that aim to offer shoppers flexibility in how, where, and when they shop.
Mobile will undoubtedly play a much more critical role in assisting shoppers to find the perfect gift this Christmas, with innovative retailers such as John Lewis pushing the envelope by offering free in-store WiFi to its shoppers. But a multi-touchpoint approach does bring more complexity than ever, and managing a consistent experience and message across multiple touchpoints such as Facebook, mobile, the Web and stores is a challenge that busy eBusiness executives must face into.
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.
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.