Why Tablet Commerce May Trump Mobile Commerce

While all eyes in the online retail space seem to be on social networks and smartphones these days, we’re seeing an emerging trend with tablets that could be the most interesting of all. Only 9% of web shoppers now have tablet devices, but here’s the big deal — most of those people already own smartphones (as well as PCs, of course), and they are saying that they actually prefer to use their tablets for shopping. Not only that, but the ownership of the tablet device itself actually increases the amount of time that people spend online. And we’re anticipating a hockey stick in tablet adoption in the next five years on top of all that. You can read more about these findings in the report my colleague Sarah Rotman Epps and I just wrote titled, “Why Tablet Commerce May Trump Mobile Commerce,” which is based on findings from our joint research on online shoppers with Bizrate Insights. Some of the most compelling aspects that are helping to drive the shopping experience on the device:

  • The larger screen. Not surprising, given the choice between a smartphone and a tablet, consumers find it a lot easier to use the latter to surf the net, click on links, and type in the critical biodata to purchase something online, especially since PayPal Express doesn’t seem to be integrated onto most mobile commerce sites yet.
  • The portability. Consumers love taking their tablets around the house and on the go. The living room is the most common room where the tablet is used, but out of the home is also popular, particularly at restaurants and in airports.
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What The Online Sales Tax Debate Misses

As the election year approaches, we can bet that the cries to impose tax on online retailers will get even more pronounced as politicians look for ways to close our budget deficit and make villains of small but seemingly rich segments that can afford to bear the burden (e.g., private jet owners, Amazon.com). While some journalists are framing companies like Amazon as enabling tax shirkers at the expense of impoverished local school districts, the reality is, the debate is really about big box retailers and physical stores fighting to stop the wallet share war that companies like Amazon are winning online. The NRF has been one of the biggest proponents of making web merchants collect taxes, and it's not surprising that its board is composed of many of the country's largest retailers. Some critical facts:

  • A significant portion of transactions online already collect sales tax because people purchase from online stores like BestBuy.com or Walmart.com, so the real amount that is being “lost” is less than the numbers being bandied around would have you believe, and not enough to make up anyone’s deficit, maybe a small city somewhere but probably not much more.
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Beware The Tales Of The Social Commerce Loch Ness Monster

In my ongoing-yet-fruitless quest to find the great social commerce success story, I’ll talk to anyone who will talk to me  about the topic.  I talked this week to a "venture capitalist" who shall remain nameless, and we had the following conversation:

VC: I’ve seen social commerce success. I have. I’ve seen commerce success on Facebook.

Me: Really? Are you referring to maybe one of the marketplaces on Facebook? Or ShopSocially?

VC: No, no one’s heard of this company. No one in the Valley has heard of this company. Only I know about this company.

Me: And this is a business that can scale?

VC: It’s sooooo scalable.  I’ve seen it scale. 

Me:  Really?

VC: They make millions and millions of dollars. I’ve seen it. 

Me: Can you tell me who you’re talking about?

VC: I . . . I’m not at liberty to say the name. They want to stay under the radar. They don’t want anyone to know about their secret sauce. 

Me: Really?  They’ve discovered something that no one, not Silicon Valley, not Facebook’s army of developers, not any retailer in the world has yet to discover?

VC: Hey, I don’t need YOU to believe me! I’m happy to just make my money. 

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The Mobile Commerce Train: Coming But Not Here Yet

After social commerce, mobile commerce is the most heavily debated topic-du-jour among retailers these days. One thing that both social and mobile commerce have in common is that they are both small. Teeny in fact. Forrester’s Mobile Commerce Forecast, 2011 To 2016, which launched today, shows that retailers can expect 2% of their online web sales (yes, I said web sales which means a minuscule percent of overall retail) to be transacted through mobile devices in 2011.  While we also expect mobile commerce sales to grow 40% each year for the next five years, we’re still talking small numbers overall (7% of web sales penetration by 2016).  Why so small you may ask.  After all, aren’t smartphones changing the way we consume web content?  Some things to consider:

  • Tablets. We don’t include tablet shopping in our definition of mobile shopping, but the creation (and subsequent explosion in sales) of this device is probably the single biggest inhibitor to the growth of “mobile commerce.”  Data that we gathered with Bizrate Insights (to be released separately and soon) indicates that most tablet owners also own smartphones, and many of those people naturally prefer to shop on the device that has the larger screen when given the choice.
  • Shopping never leads web behavior. In any list of activities that people do on the Internet, shopping nearly always ranks below things like “reading news” or “using social networks.” Even those activities are not universal among the smartphone set, so it would be premature to expect that shopping would rank high on the list (which it, of course, doesn’t). 
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An Open Letter To Anyone Planning To Buy Into Groupon’s IPO

Dear Potential Investor,

I have mixed feelings about the Groupon IPO. On one hand, we’ve just come out of a horrible economic period where there was a real fear of wealth destruction. But now just a few months after the near-collapse of our financial institutions, we actually have an extraordinary opportunity for wealth creation — how great is that! On the other hand, there is no rational math that could possibly get anyone to the valuation Groupon thinks it deserves. Yes, Groupon grew from $30 million in sales to more than $700 million between 2009 and 2010, but most of that growth was artificial. (The lack of profitability is another issue, but let's not even go there.) Here’s why:

  • $265 million came from its international markets, which were acquisitions.
  • It spent a quarter-billion dollars (!) on marketing. To put that into context, the average large eCommerce retailer spends $11 million on interactive marketing. Back of the envelope calculations from the SEC filing get us to $31 spent to acquire a customer, who then probably spends a little more than that on Groupon. That means it spent about $250 million to make another $300 million.
  • It launched in more than 100 new markets in 2010. I’ll conjecture that in any market in America, you can sell $500,000 of half-off manicures and teeth whitening procedures in a year just by hanging a shingle. That gets us to another $50 million in revenue. 
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eCommerce Acquisition Fever

I cover the recommendation engines space for online retail and got a call recently that one of the better-known players in the space Rich Relevance acquired a smaller but specialized player in the space CNET Intelligent Cross-Sell. It’s a bold move and one that strengthens Rich Relevance in the consumer electronics vertical, and it also seems to be a trend. We’ve received a lot of these kinds of calls recently — eBay acquiring GSI Commerce, Nordstrom acquiring HauteLook, Shutterfly acquiring Tiny Prints, and Walgreen’s acquiring drugstore.com. And this follows a slew of acquisitions over the past few years by players like IBM, Oracle, and Adobe trying to enrich their retail suites. Rich Relevance didn’t tell me specifics like deal terms, but it seems to point to bigger factors affecting eCommerce these days:

  • Wicked competition. There have just been too many point solutions in eCommerce. Walk the exhibition floor at Shop.org or Internet Retailer, and it’s dizzying to see how many niche needs that eCommerce platforms don’t serve are delivered by third-party players. It’s overwhelming for anyone tasked with managing an RFP to make sense of it all. On top of that, there are all sorts of inexpensive (even free) solutions that promise a good-enough solution for everything from analytics to recommendations, so the need to partner up and go to market as a united front just makes sense for so many smaller players.  As for traditional (and even established web retailers), they struggle with being nimble. As the expression goes, “When you can’t beat ‘em . . .” 
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What The Education Industry Should Learn From Retailers

I did two things recently:  I saw Waiting for Superman, and I looked online for educational content/tools for my daughters. In both cases, I was appalled by how difficult it was to find teaching supplements online (and in general). I’m not an expert on education, but I am a parent, and being part of an industry (i.e., retail) that has been transformed by the Internet and has fundamentally shifted how it engaged with its consumers, I think that educators could learn a few things from retailers:

  • The Web can give good teachers scale. One of the challenges of good schools is that there are a finite number of slots, just like there’s finite shelf space in a store. Sites like Amazon.com solved that problem by making the Web their storefront.  This enabled them to sell OPM (other people’s merchandise) and not incur the most expensive investments of stores — real estate and inventory. Why can’t the Web be our schoolhouse, or at least a new one? That way, there needn’t be a cap on the number of people who can, for instance, view a video of an award-winning teacher teaching. Why don’t we use the power of the Web to make talented teachers available to more students like web retailers have managed to make more products available to more people? Why are questionable for-profit universities the only ones doing this?
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New “State Of Retailing Online” Doc Released On Shop.org

Forrester recently published the “State Of Retailing Online 2011: Marketing, Social, and Mobile” report in conjunction with our friends at Shop.org. It is available on Shop.org (with a subscription) now.

Some highlights include:

  •  Understanding which marketing tactics are still leading to growth.
  • Examining the investment in social and the returns retailers are seeing.
  • Analyzing mobile and tablet adoption and strategy.

Look for the full report on Forrester.com in early June.

Will Facebook Ever Drive Commerce?

My bearishness on F-commerce is no secret, so I may have been a little biased when I dove into my most recent research, Will Facebook Ever Drive eCommerce? Fortunately, the findings were nuanced among different types of retailers, which gave a lot to write about. Some highlights:

  • There are retailers (albeit small ones) seeing a double-digit percent of their sales coming through their Facebook stores. These companies often have unique demographics or marketing models (e.g., flash sales) that drive this behavior.
  • Facebook’s “data layer” is probably one of the most underleveraged assets that exists with respect to F-commerce. There is myriad information about fans, what products consumers are liking, and competitive insights that can be gleaned from merchant and consumer activity on and off Facebook.
  • Facebook Credits is a non-starter for most retailers. This is the “currency” that consumers can use to buy, say, potatoes on Farmville. Facebook, however, has little to no credibility with respect to financial services among consumers, and the same retailers reluctant to implement PayPal (which so many large merchants are) will be 10 times more resistant to a less-tried, less-reliable, newer payment mark. 
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Forrester’s US Online Retail Forecast Reports 12.6% Growth In 2010

Forrester’s US Online Retail Forecast, 2010 To 2015, launches today, reporting strong growth in the last year. “The Great Recession” appears to have ended as sales charge ahead, driven by ubiquitous connectivity and an increasing familiarity with the Web. Growth was driven by a few key factors:

  • Several million new web buyers. In 2010, 5.5 million shopped online for the first time.
  • Greater spend per buyer online. 70% of the overall growth came from existing shoppers simply buying more.
  • Online penetration of total retail sales. This rose to 8% during 2010.

According to our forecast, the web channel will grow steadily through 2015, with an emphasis on customer empowerment. Bricks-and-mortar stores will continue to be hampered by this web growth as people become more in tune with the Web and less interested in traffic and long lines. We’ll be continuing our online retail research with our long-standing partnership with Shop.org this year. Next up: The State of Retailing Online report in Q2.  If you’re an online retailer, contact me at smulpuru@forrester.com to participate in the survey and receive the report. 

 Want more details? US Online Retail Forecast, 2010 To 2015

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