A number of us from Forrester offices inside and outside of China converged on Shanghai for a few days last week for our annual Marketing & Strategy event. The trip proved to be especially timely given the extensive media focus on China’s eCommerce market with the recent news on Alibaba's US IPO.
On March 19th, I’ll be joining several of my colleagues in Shanghai, China for our Summit for Marketing & Strategy Professionals. One of the themes we’ve been exploring recently is how the age of the customer translates in the Chinese market. During my session at the summit, I will discuss some of the following things that the most customer-obsessed businesses, and savviest eBusiness leaders, are doing to effectively compete in China. These leaders:
Understand their customers and use this information to be as relevant as possible. In China, a growing number of eCommerce players are using customer data to help drive sales online, for example, by providing detailed product recommendations. As in other parts of the world, however, many eBusiness executives in China are at the early stages of truly understanding their customers and using this information to be relevant in their daily lives. We’ll look at how some brands use customer data effectively today, and what some of the more innovative use case scenarios look like in eBusiness.
In our research, we’ve talked about some of the trends that mark early-stage eCommerce markets. This year I’ve been to a few events to talk about how different eCommerce markets are evolving – today we see that:
Retailers’ ownership of logistics networks is now widespread. The model of online retailers owning and operating logistics networks in emerging markets is well established. While there used to be a handful of examples to point to, it’s becoming increasingly common for a number of the top eCommerce players to operate their own logistics networks - Amazon in India is just one recent headline-maker in this area. Indeed, in the BRIC countries today, only Brazil does not currently see many of the leading online retailers operating their own networks.
Today, we published our new online retail forecast for Latin America, covering Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico (clients can read the report here). Driven by online retail revenues in Brazil, where the market is forecast to reach $35 billion by 2018, the region’s eCommerce markets will continue to surge. We see the following trends in Latin America:
eCommerce will continue its upward path despite slowed economic growth in the region. There has been significant coverage of the slowing economies in markets like Mexico and Brazil. However, as we saw in markets like the US and the UK during the recent global recession, eCommerce remains a bright spot even during challenging economic times. We expect to see online sales continue to increase at a rapid pace across Latin America, even though many countries are no longer seeing the high economic growth rates of recent years.
We just published our new online retail forecast report for Asia Pacific (clients can read the report here). In our forecast, we look at top-line growth in five markets across Asia Pacific: China, Japan, South Korea, India, and Australia. China will be responsible for the lion’s share of growth in these markets, which, combined, will reach some $854 billion by 2018.
In the report, we note a number of trends across the region, including the following:
The heavy dominance of web-only retailers in many countries. In many markets in Asia Pacific, traditional retailers do not play as strong a role in eCommerce as they do in the US, UK, or even Latin America. Internet Retailer’s Asia 500 list, for example, includes just one traditional retailer among the top 10 retail websites in the region (China’s Suning). And while some markets like Australia see traditional retailers now playing a bigger role in eCommerce, in fast-growing eCommerce markets like India as well as China, web-only retailers are very much dominant today.
The increased focus on omnichannel functionality. The strong role that many traditional retailers play in eCommerce in the US and Europe often translates into robust omnichannel initiatives. By contrast, it’s taken a while for many retailers across Asia Pacific to launch offerings that link their online and offline channels. Increasingly, however, digitally savvy retailers in the region are focused on developing new offerings. In Australia, for example, where traditional domestic retailers were long notably lagging (or absent) when it came to eCommerce, there is renewed interest not just in the online channel but also in building out key omnichannel features.
We’ve been having a series of conversations with brands and retailers recently about how to effectively plan for global online expansion. While approaches vary, eBusiness leaders cite similar challenges. In particular, two hurdles to successful international expansion tend to come up repeatedly in conversations:
“Our ROI scenarios are unrealistic.” In a survey of eBusiness professionals in the B2C space, we asked how quickly they expected to see a return on their investments in new global online initiatives. Over three-quarters said either in less than one year or in one to two years. By contrast, leaders of successful global eBusinesses frequently highlight the fact that payback on new initiatives takes at least two years, with many citing three years and up. As a result of this disconnect, eBusiness professionals overseeing new global businesses often find themselves falling short of expectations and struggling to secure the funds needed to succeed. Today, the mismatch between ROI expectations and performance is one of the leading reasons why new global initiatives fail.
I returned yesterday from a short trip to Brazil - I spoke at eTail in São Paulo on Monday and spent a few days meeting with retailers, vendors and agencies. Some of the takeaways from our conversations:
Omnichannel initiatives are gaining momentum. Omnichannel integration has been a topic of conversation among retailers in Brazil for several years, but it’s now slowly starting to happen. Today, most of the large Brazilian online retailers have established mobile sites or apps; by contrast, initiatives that integrate the online and offline channels are more nascent. Tactics like click-and-collect or ship-from-store, for example, are early stage but being explored by the more innovative players in the market. And while some forward-thinking Brazilian retailers have been quite advanced in terms of understanding cross-channel behavior, most have not taken major steps in this direction. Interestingly, retailers in Brazil have a particularly big opportunity in this area given that Brazilian consumers frequently supply a CPF (roughly the equivalent of a social security number) when they purchase online or offline – the savviest retailers are leveraging this customer data to identify and target omnichannel shoppers.
Last week, Forrester published an updated version of our report on The Age of the Customer (the author, David Cooperstein, blogs about it here). The report discusses the fact that competitive differentiation has been based upon the power of manufacturing, distribution and subsequently information. We’ve now entered an era in which “the only sustainable competitive advantage is knowledge of and engagement with customers.”
The report gives great examples of brands that have used both digital and traditional channels to become customer obsessed and the benefits they’ve realized as a result. Yet for a large number of brands, the journey is just beginning. This early stage is often reflected in brands’ eCommerce offerings around the globe, many of which still reflect a product-centric rather than a customer-centric approach. Today we find that:
Over the past few years, extensive media coverage has been dedicated to the billions of dollars that tourists spend while shopping in the US and what retailers are doing to cater to these foreign buyers. Coverage of this trend has often focused on Brazilian and Chinese shoppers in major US cities (with travelers from both Brazil and China having been dubbed “walking stimulus packages”), but tourist shopping is not just relegated to large urban centers. Retailers in a variety of areas are looking to tap into the rising middle class of consumers abroad, many of whom are taking advantage of relaxed visa restrictions or circumventing sky-high prices in their home countries.
Increasingly, retailers are looking at ways to engage these shoppers, with some turning to the online channel: