Why eCommerce Needs A United eBay

One of the biggest recent stories in the eCommerce media has been the talk of splitting eBay and PayPal, which was driven by activist investor Carl Icahn.  eBay maintains Mr. Icahn’s idea is not new, and that eBay’s board has rejected the notion based on its own previous evaluations of the best strategic paths for PayPal and eBay, saying now is not the time for separation.  Icahn has backed off his proposal for a full spin-off, now agreeing that a relatively small public offering of PayPal shares, say 20% would be sufficient after all. (eBay’s shareholders will vote on the proposal themselves on May 13.)  

For those of us in the eCommerce industry, there was largely a sense of head-scratching and general befuddlement as to why Mr. Icahn was targeting eBay and PayPal in the first place. Everyone in our industry knows that eBay’s purchase of PayPal back in 2002 is largely regarded as a categorical homerun and a textbook example of synergy executed right.  At its heart, PayPal gives eBay buyers a frictionless and trustworthy way to complete a transaction (perhaps THE single most important moment of truth in ecommerce) and eBay remains PayPal’s most important retail partner, a source of continued customer acquisition around the world, insight into the world’s most engaged shoppers and a funding source for innovation in payments. Those are the arguments on behalf of eBay shareholders, but the entire eCommerce industry in the US has an equally vested interest in keeping these two businesses together as the long-term impact on online retailers of a separate PayPal would be disastrous. Here are three reasons why: 

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US Online Holiday Sales Grow At A Double-Digit Pace For The Third Consecutive Year

Forrester’s "US Online Holiday Retail Forecast, 2013" launches today. In it, we predict that for the third consecutive year, online holiday sales (November and December) are expected to grow at a double-digit pace and pull in over $78 billion. This represents about one-third of the overall retail sales volume for the year. This optimism is largely due to ever-increasing numbers of consumers choosing the Web over physical stores and the rise in mobile commerce. Despite unknowns such as the effects of a truncated holiday season and lingering consumer uncertainty around the federal government shutdown, online retailers can expect that consumers will be out in droves. The most successful retailers this holiday season will cater to consumers who:

  • Expect free shipping in some form. Consumers have come to expect free shipping, especially during the holidays, and many will actually leave a site if it's not offered. It’s the second most common reason why US online buyers abandon purchases and go to another retailer, behind price.
  • Research via all channels to find the best deals. Forrester expects that, not unlike in holidays past, price and saving money will be key considerations this holiday season. As the Web channel has become synonymous with value, retailers should expect consumers to be avidly searching for deals through a variety of touchpoints, at home and in-store on mobile devices. Availability of web content across devices will be critical: Forrester estimates that cross-channel sales (transactions that are influenced by the Web in some way but are completed in stores) will account for $247 billion this holiday season.
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The Art of Awesome Curation: Lessons from Gilt and Houzz

One of the most common questions I get is “Who does personalization really well?” And at its heart, great personalization is about effectively deciding which products (or offers) from a deep product catalog to showcase when and to whom. Ever since Gilt Groupe founder Alexis Maybank spoke at one of Forrester’s eBusiness Forums and talked about the scores of email iterations her company executes with every email drop, Gilt is usually at the top of my list of answers. It’s particularly impressive because anyone in luxury knows that scaling digital content and creating personalized experiences is incredibly difficult because of luxury’s especially cumbersome creative processes.

Well, now they’re taking it even further, going beyond the company’s implicit personalization (subtly varying content and layout on the Gilt homepage or emails, largely unbeknownst to shoppers) to the company’s first ever explicit personalization efforts. CIO Steve Jacobs walked me through the new feature last week: a new box titled “Your Personal Sale” (for most users that Gilt has data about), which links to a special page of curated items that varies for every customer. Gilt Personal Sale Screenshot

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Twitter Commerce: A Wow Or An Eh?

Get ready for the barrage of bad speculation about Twitter and its imminent dominance of online retail. If you didn’t hear already, Twitter hired Nathan Hubbard, a former Ticketmaster exec, to figure out its commerce revenue stream. Interesting yes, but game-changing, no. Here’s why: startups tend to look for smart people first and figure out their jobs later. The mentality often goes like this: “We need to figure out what we’re going to do in X, this guy has a rock star background in it, let him build a team and see what happens.” And even if the person doesn't succeed, it's OK. They move on. These people have great resumes. That said, here are the biggest reasons for my question marks around Twitter’s success in commerce:

  • What works best in commerce is something Twitter already gives away for free, which is its tweets. For example, some of the most successful users of Twitter in a retail context are companies looking to liquidate inventory or send notes about limited supply of promotions, like the Dell Outlet or Groupon — all done effectively via a tweet. In many ways, a tweet is like an email title — it draws people into a click with a few sexy words. The challenge is that tweets have the same problem as emails: they don’t make their technology parents any money because everyone gets to use the tools for free.
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US eCommerce 2013-2017: Still On Fire (And A Jobs Engine To Boot!)

We have just finalized our projections for US eCommerce for 2013 and not surprisingly, the numbers are strong — excluding auctions, we expect that figure to be $262B, 13% higher than the total in 2012. A few highlights of note:

  • Three categories capture over one-third of that total. Yes, only three! Apparel and accessories alone are a $40B-plus sector (which probably explains the heavy investment of players like Amazon in the space), followed by consumer electronics and computer hardware. 
  • Overall web penetration is 8%. That may not seem very remarkable, but that figure is deceptive because it’s weighed down by the grocery/food and beverage category, which is one of the largest overall but least penetrated online. In fact, if we exclude grocery from the mix, overall eCommerce penetration in the US jumps to 11% of overall retail. 
  • eCommerce is a jobs creator in the retail sector. For the first time, we have estimated the total employment in the US that results from the online retail sector. Our estimate is that over 400,000 individuals are employed in some web retailing function, of which more than half are salaried professionals (i.e., all non-fulfillment and call center employees). Furthermore, many of these salaried positions have promising long-term career growth trajectories. Given that there are probably about 750,000 such salaried jobs overall in retail (my estimate, approximately 10% of the 7.3M people employed in retail overall), the fact that the eCommerce sector has nearly 200,000 of them is a remarkable testament to the employment impact of this sector.
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Introducing The Retail eCommerce Playbook

In a recent blog post of mine, I mentioned that Forrester had launched the Retail eCommerce Playbook. This playbook provides a structured framework to guide eBusiness professionals through their most strategic initiatives in eCommerce – from creating a vision to benchmarking results against peers.

It’s not a secret that consumers are constantly connected to the Web and it’s having a huge impact on how they research and buy products in every sector. As such, it is imperative that eBusiness executives have the appropriate tools and knowledge to execute a strong web presence that not only showcases their brand but also enables shoppers and store associates to research and buy. We crafted this playbook to address all the key elements of success. This playbook will help you:

  • Discover the importance of a best-in-class eCommerce business by providing eBusiness executives with insight into the opportunity for eCommerce, its growth trajectory, and the current landscape that retailers face as they continue to navigate this channel.
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Stay Tuned For More Of The Retail eCommerce Playbook

You may have noticed that over the last several months, Forrester analysts have been writing “playbooks,” which are holistic overviews of various aspects of our respective coverage areas. In the retail eCommerce world, we’ve released a few chapters:

Landscape: The eCommerce Juggarnaut Dominates Retail, which reviews the growth and current size of web retail.

Vision: The New Paradigm Of Retail, which discusses how we expect retail to evolve in the years to come. 

Assessment: Rank Yourself With The eBusiness Maturity Model, which discusses different opportunities for different types of companies.

In the months to come, we will fill out the rest of the playbook with overviews of tactics, technologies, and metrics to support different organizations, whether they are just beginning their eCommerce journey and looking to build a business case or whether they are advanced sophisticates looking to improve their businesses even further. 

We’re open to feedback and look forward to hearing your thoughts on questions you may like to see addressed in this playbook.  

US Mobile Retail Sales To Top $12 Billion In 2013

The rapid growth and ubiquity of smartphones has led many to conclude that a significant portion of Internet activity, including shopping, will migrate to these mobile devices. To help eBusiness professionals in retail get a better sense of the real size and opportunity that exists, Forrester has released its “US Mobile Retail Forecast, 2012 To 2017.” Retailers beware: while mobile commerce is growing and undeniably shifting how some consumers buy, the pertinent facts are that:

  • Total US mobile retail is still small. Forrester estimates that of the 132 million US mobile Internet users in 2012, only a quarter of those users have ever made purchases via their phones. While we expect the retail mCommerce penetration rate to double by 2017, it’s still a tiny portion of eCommerce — and, consequently, a minuscule share of overall retail.
  • Significant impediments exist for mobile retail. The main road block to mobile sales is the checkout experience; it’s the single most important feature when it comes to driving conversions on mobile devices. Adding an easy checkout experience, like PayPal Express, will enable users to more easily convert – even with the smaller screen – but how much that moves the needle remains to be seen.
  • Consumers prefer the mobile Web to apps, despite retailer investment. Consumer awareness of and/or interest in retail apps is low: Only a tiny share of any given retailer’s shoppers appears to download their app. Most shoppers who access a retailer’s mobile presence get there by clicking on links from mobile search engines or from mobile emails.
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"State Of Retailing Online 2013" launches on Shop.org today

Forrester recently completed the “State Of Retailing Online 2013: Key Metrics And Initiatives” report in conjunction with our friends at Shop.org. It is available on Shop.org (with a subscription) now.

Some of the reports highlights include the following facts:

  • Web sales continue to grow (duh!). Retailers we surveyed experienced 28% growth on average in 2012 over 2011. Furthermore, 72% of those retailers are experiencing double digit growth.
  • Key eCommerce metrics are improving. The retailers we surveyed generally responded that site conversion rates, average order values and the percentage of repeat shopper sales all grew in 2012.
  • Mobile growth rates are strong.  Mobile commerce grew at a triple digit pace last year for the retailers we surveyed, but off a teeny base. Furthermore, the debate remains on whether mobile traffic with its anemic conversion rates, actually hurts “the mother ship.” Retailers were split on that assessment.
  • 2013 initiatives will focus on site optimization. Of the retailers we interviewed, site conversion rate and redesigning the web experience – in other words, optimizing the overall online experience -- topped the list, yes, more than even investing in mobile. Many retailers specifically called out plans to focus on the checkout experience and to adjust their site to accommodate a responsive design framework.

Shop.org members can access the document here and Forrester clients will be able to access the document on January 28, 2013.

The Mobile Imperative During The Holidays

It’s no longer a question of whether or not consumers will adopt mobile as an interaction and transaction channel this holiday shopping season. Over the last year, mobile has proven itself to be a viable channel that will play an increasingly prevalent role this year and in future years.

Case in point: mobile retail set records this holiday shopping season with 16 percent of all online sales being conducted through a mobile device -- compared to 9.8 percent last year. In addition, 24 percent of consumers use a mobile device to visit a retailer’s site, up from 14.3 percent in 2011. Whether it’s a tablet, an iPhone, or an Android, consumers are researching more products and making more purchases than ever before through their mobile devices. A full overview of the IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark Cyber Monday data, which is a cloud-based web analytics platform that tracks more than a million e-commerce transactions a day, analyzing terabytes of raw data from 500 retailers nationwide, can be found here.

Why the mobile push? For consumers, it’s about convenience, efficiency, and accessibility, whether shopping online or in-store. Some traditional brick-and-mortar retailers, however, are still wary of mobile and hesitant to bridge ecommerce mobile initiatives with the in-store experience. That attitude has to change in order for these retailers to keep pace with the multiscreen, digital consumer. Today, four in 10 smartphone users search for an item and research prices while they’re right in the store.

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