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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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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