Who Does Mobile Commerce Well?

As mobile becomes a critical component of your digital strategy and overall business, eBusiness professionals should have an answer when their executive teams ask, “Who does mobile commerce well?” Forrester has answered that question for you in our new report published today.  Using a proprietary framework, we analyzed top retailers’ mobile experiences (sites and apps) and measured how well they addressed key challenges to mobile commerce sales and supported mobile-enabled commerce in other channels. We selected the best of the best for our review to highlight the strongest functionality and uncover cross-category best practices.

Our framework evaluates the strengths of these mobile phone websites and their corresponding apps across six elements:

  • Findability. The ease of finding a mobile site or app altogether.
  • Utility. How useful the site or app is for shoppers.
  • Searchability. How well search and search functionality like predictive text works on mobile phones.
  • Browsability. How easy it is to browse the retailer’s mobile site or app.
  • Buyability. How easy and frictionless the buying process is on the mobile site or app.
  • Overall design. The ease of navigating content on mobile sites and apps, as well as other mobile content that shoppers engage with including email and text messages.
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What Will - And Won't - Happen In US eCommerce In 2015

2015 is upon us: in Forrester’s just-released “Predictions 2015: US B2C And B2B eCommerce Players Will Struggle To Keep Up With Customers” report, we predict a number of key issues will challenge B2C eBusiness & Channel Strategy professionals in the coming year, while a number of new and exciting—but not pressing—topics will circulate. B2C eBusiness & channel strategy professionals ought to know which key issues to watch and which over-hyped trends to ignore.
 
What Will Happen: Flexible Fulfillment is the new term for omnichannel
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US Online Holiday Sales Will Be Higher Than Ever, Despite Noticeable Challenges

Forrester predicts that US online retail sales will reach $89 billion during the 2014 holiday shopping season. Shoppers turn to the Web during the time-pressed period between November and December to avoid crowds, lines, and, in many cases, higher prices. This holiday season, eCommerce will experience a boom in the number of online buyers, as the holiday season is a strong opportunity for new customer acquisition, and online wallet share, as seasoned online consumers are growing more comfortable and reliant on the practice. 

However, the expected growth is not as high as it could be due to a few unique constraints. A shorter than average holiday selling season, defined by the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, limits shoppers in the time during which they can take advantage of the deep discounts they expect. Further, the expected increase in volume of online sales will push the already constrained carrier networks. Forrester estimates that nearly seven times more eCommerce packages are shipped daily in the two weeks before Christmas than daily between the months of January and October. Last year, FedEx and more notably UPS had a high number of late deliveries due to unprecedented package volume and poor weather that caused buildups at critical times. With the expected 13% increase in eCommerce sales in 2014 for the months of November and December as compared to the same period in 2013, retailers and consumers must recognize the risk of shipping delays.

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US Cross-Channel Sales To Grow As More Consumers Use Their Phones For Research In Retail Stores

Cross-channel sales -- also known as web-influenced sales or transactions that touch a digital medium, but are not completed on the Internet -- are now more than four times larger than online sales alone and will reach $1.8 trillion by 2018. This is according to Forrester's just released five-year US cross-channel retail sales forecast. Offline sales -- primarily web-influenced offline sales -- will comprise nearly 75% of the $475 billion in US retail growth anticipated between 2014 and 2018. This growth in cross-channel sales can be attributed to US online consumers increasingly using their phones in retail stores to research products online. Retailers would be wise to see this growing trend as the new normal; if this is the first you’ve heard about your customers’ in-store mobile behavior, you’re already late to the game.

Despite frequent in-store research on the mobile device, the number of actual mobile transactions remains low. Consumers are more interested in using their phone in the “pre-shop” phase, be it searching for a product’s location, comparing prices, or checking online inventory. Many retailers, such as Target, have found it worthwhile to invest more in mobile services that meet customers’ needs in their pre-shop context rather than at the point of sale. Target has helped customers find specific items in its stores via its mobile app: A customer can create a shopping list within the app, which then maps that list onto the floor map of the customer’s Target store location, guiding them through the aisles from one item to the next.

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eCommerce Grows But Physical Stores Will Live On

If I had a dime for every time I heard the question “Isn’t eCommerce taking over retail?”,  it wouldn’t make me wealthy, but I’d certainly have a few hundred dollars more than I do now. Nonetheless, it’s a question that is unfortunately misguided and has permeated our zeitgeist. The truth is that yes, eCommerce is growing - but physical retail is far from doomed. Let me take the two parts of that last sentence and address them each separately. 

First, the fact that eCommerce is growing. Forrester just released the latest five-year online retail forecast and to no one’s surprise, the numbers are big. We’re projecting $294B in eCommerce sales across 30 retail categories in 2014, expected to grow to $414B by 2018. The web keeps doing what it has always done well: it provides huge assortments of products, at comparable, often lower, prices than physical stores, with 24/7 access and often free shipping. For many categories like media products or electronics, we’ve already observed a heavy shift to the web channel away from physical stores. Add to that the ubiquity of mobile devices and that drives even more shopping in more instances and places. In fact, we’re projecting that $87B of that $294B will happen on phones and tablets in 2014, and that doesn’t even include another $28B in additional mobile transactions on sites and apps like Uber and Domino’s Pizza that aren’t even in that aforementioned mobile commerce number. 

But all this growth certainly doesn’t mean that stores are dying. Here’s why:

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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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