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Retail rules the social media game. But our research has shown that not all sectors are equal in the social media world – and some have a much harder job than retailers to get engagement from their customers on social.

Part of it is down to different audiences. Retailers have the brands that we like to talk about – but we rarely share the intimate details of our finances in the pub (not to mention the fact that banks face a legal and regulatory minefield around giving financial advice in public).

Travel companies come a close second to retailers and have been doing it the longest – via well established forums like Trip Advisor – and they also need to cope with disgruntled travellers taking to Twitter via their smart phone.

Social media’s good for retail

Our recent white paper on social media found no other sector uses it more than retail. And of the interactions we looked at (2,986 of them), over half were complimentary or general comments. Only 25 per cent were negative (13 per cent criticism, 12 per cent complaints).

But even retailers could do better

Even so, only 25 to 45 per cent of retailers are actually engaging with their customers. A big chunk of them are still missing a trick.

In comparison, finance and central government have a lot harder job – in the research sample, they had the least amount of interaction and none of the organisations sampled had ventured onto Facebook. Even if it is difficult to engage on social, it doesn’t give organisations permission to ignore it. However rushing into social media without a strategy beyond “everyone else is doing it” is also unwise.

So what’s the answer?

  1. Set out clearly how and why you want to engage on social media – do you want a conversation or simply listen and learn?  Who in the organization needs to be engaged?
  2. For the compliance heavy banks – the best are engaging customers by talking about something other than banking. What or who do you sponsor? Say it’s a golf tournament; make golf ‘your thing’. Make your social media channels the place to go to get the inside track on everything golfing. But keep it relevant to your brand.
  3. Focus on fixing problems. You could turn your social media channels into an extended helpline. From our sample, most customer interactions were common grumbles about being on hold, ignored emails, or broken links on websites. These are valuable operational cues that can be used to increase contact centre resources, deflect calls or fast track technical fixes. Channels like webchat can also be used effectively alongside social to take conversations out of a public channel and engage in a more one-to-one dialogue.
  4. Be human – social media is about people rather than reeling out scripted answers. Use your front line people well and ensure that you engage the right experts to sort issues out rather than simply apologizing (although even an acknowledgement can help).

 Posted by Dr Nicola Millard, BT Futurologist

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Online shopping stats from our e-commerce platform, FrescaCommerce have revealed a new trend. It seems more and more of us are tuning in, switching on, and checking out with a significant number of ‘Downton Abbey shoppers’ buying items on mobile devices between the hours of 9pm and 10pm – while watching TV.

These multitasking second screeners are part of a general mobile commerce revolution in the UK, which resulted in orders placed on mobile devices (including tablets) increasing by 125 per cent during the Christmas shopping period.

This was just one of a number of record breaking figures achieved during the festive period. In fact, the Platform’s busiest shopping day, ‘Mega Monday’ (3 December), saw a 25% increase in orders compared to the busiest day for Christmas 2011 (5 December).

The overall figures for 2012 also highlight another trend when compared to the year before:

2012 Year on Year summary

  • order volume +17%
  • order value +14%
  • average value of each order -3%

Christmas 2012 Year on Year comparison


So it seems the modern shopper is getting more and more comfortable ordering on a mobile device – and has an eye for a bargain.

As these trends mature and the stats reveal more about shopping habits, it’ll be interesting to see if we have to sub-divide the mobile channel and its marketing strategy between those who are truly mobile (out and about) and the “immobile mobiles” logging on to a wi-fi connection at home.

And with smart TVs hooked up to the wi-fi network in more and more homes, how far away are we from genuine TV-commerce, with personalised, interactive advertising and programming? It’ll give multi-channel shopping a whole new meaning. In the meantime, we just have to hope that the spring TV schedule is full of repeats.

Posted by Richard Vining, Head of QA & Performance, BT Expedite


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It’s in New York and it’s billed as Retail’s Big Show, so I didn’t need to be asked twice! And along with more than 27,000 other delegates at the 102nd National Retail Federation conference, we helped to make Retail’s Big Show the biggest ever.

Because we get caught up in the day-to-day so much at home, getting away to NRF is a great opportunity to have a look around and gauge what’s happening now – and what’s coming in the near future. With such a large event, it’s impossible to see everything, but there were some things that really caught my eye:

Omnipresent omni-channel

One curious feature of the event was that omni-channel was everywhere – and no-one mentioned it. It seems that it’s now a given that we’re all working in an omni-channel world. The recent Christmas results, building on a record-breaking ‘Mega Monday’ showed quite a stark two-speed market – split by those who offer a credible omni-channel offer and those that don’t. (Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule and Primark are a shining example!)

But we wouldn’t be retail technology geeks if we didn’t conjure up a few new buzzwords. This year it was all about ‘frictionless transaction’ and ‘reduced effort’ (explained by BT’s futurologist, Nicola Millard as covering emotional, physical and intellectual effort as well as the time it takes to complete a shopping journey for the consumer). 

Your future journey starts here

The eBay stand had the best demonstration of what this might look like – with stories to illustrate an effortless shopping journey across mobile, store, web and TV, all wrapped by a completely frictionless e-wallet managing loyalty, e-vouchers, gift cards and traditional cards and bank accounts.  

Combining what’s here now with what’s coming soon, the demo incorporated geo-location/geo-fencing (as I walk past the mall), personal location-based vouchers (in the mall), clienteling to provide better assisted selling (in the store), seamless anywhere, everywhere stock availability, context-relevant recommendations (on my mobile) and a smart e-wallet to ensure I clock up loyalty points when I pay. We’ll definitely be working on something like this with eBay/PayPal to bring it to our customers as soon as it’s available in the UK.

E-wallets: taking the pain out of payments

There was a lot of debate in the breakouts about e-wallets and the future of payments – with card providers, banks, payment service providers and retailers all proposing very different approaches. 

As using cards is fairly frictionless already, my view is that the e-wallet has to add value for the customer if it’s to challenge the current card process. That means it needs to work across all channels and bring payment, loyalty, vouchers and gift cards together in one place – rather than the current jumble of bank cards, gift cards, loyalty cards and vouchers. 

But the debate about whether an e-wallet is best delivered through NFC (via a mobile) or the cloud (available across all channels) is set to rage for some time yet, while retailers sniff out ways to bypass intermediary service providers and reduce costs.

If you go down to 5th Avenue today

On our last day in NYC, we visited the Build-A-Bear Workshop flagship store on Fifth Avenue. We were officially there on business, although one or two (who’ll remain nameless) couldn’t resist trying out the full build-a-bear experience (aimed primarily at the 4-14 age group).

Build-A-Bear has just sold its 100 millionth bear – and shows no sign of slowing down. During the tour, the store manager gave us a glimpse of the company’s ‘store of the future’ which has been trialled in a number of sites with impressive results. 

The technology they are introducing includes virtual fitting rooms, Microsoft surfaces for 3D interaction, Epicor advanced CRM to build ongoing relationships with customers and a seamless blending of the real and virtual worlds. 

Customer feedback was that the children loved the virtual and digital interaction and often preferred it to the ‘old hat’ physical world – a scary example of the next generation absorbing new technology as soon as it appears.

All in all it was a really invigorating event. We had the chance to spend some quality time with our customers away from the pressures of the day-to-day environment; we caught up with Epicor, our software partner; we tapped into some of the latest trends and thinking; and we rounded things off with a glimpse of what’s coming next from our BT technology scout and futurologists. Oh, and the office has a new bear.

Useful links

Watch a video showing the Epicor technology in action at Build-A-Bear>

See some of the BIG Show Videos from NRF>

Posted by Jason Shorrock, Product Director, BT Expedite

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Last night, at about 3am, I was awoken by a strange noise. Climbing out of bed I was approached by a ghostly figure. “Who are you?” I asked. “And what are you doing in a retail technology blog-related dream?”

“I’m the Ghost of Christmas Past,” came the reply. “You might remember me, I’m the one everyone remembers from the film.”

“You’ve been focussed on retail technology all year, I’m here to take you on a journey to show you the effect some of your work has. You’ll need this.” He handed me a Gift Card; the familiar bit of plastic so many of us have received, often from relatives who don’t know what else to get us or bought as a panic buy at 3pm on Christmas Eve.

“Of course in my day,” said the spirit, “it was all paper-based, fixed values, printed on till rolls, faded in the sun.”

I explained to the spirit that life and technology moved on, paper-based is great but with no real-time authorisation and a lack of flexibility around topping up they don’t quite conform to today’s real-time world.

“And look what happened last year…” The spirit transported me to a room full of gold coins. “In this room there is £250,000,000. I’ve counted the lot”

Last year, £2 billion was added onto gift cards and this was the money that was never redeemed – the unused change languishing on the nation’s  Gift Cards, with people too embarrassed to ask the store to take the last 47p off the card. Or the gift card you got for that shop you never go in, or the one you lost behind the sofa or the one you forgot you had….

As I listed these situations, the spirit vanished.

Turning around, I saw another spirit. “I’m the Ghost of Christmas Present.” Suddenly I was presented with a whole load of data – my shopping habits, my Christmas list, my e-commerce and store transactional history, loyalty points information and a multi-brand, omnichannel solution.

“By buying a  Gift Card this year,” said the spirit “you are providing the smart retailers out there with the perfect way to capture additional customer information; from a few simple  Gift Card transactions you could be telling the retailer who you are, who you like enough to buy a present for and what they like to buy – you’re effectively signing your relative up for a loyalty scheme as an extra Christmas present. The really smart retailers will of course have a combined loyalty and  Gift Card – why have two cards in your wallet when one will suffice, meaning the  Gift Card remains in your relative’s wallet long beyond the January sales.”

“Blimey,” I thought, “this spirit knows his stuff. The Ghost of Christmas Present is right. Throughout this year we’ve seen a number of customers doing exactly that, by bringing their  Gift Card capabilities in-house and stitching the solution into their CRM, loss prevention, POS and e-commerce systems they can really build up a picture of the customer from a single purchase. The Ghost of Christmas Past was right too. That unspent money, previously sitting with a third party supplier, is now sitting with the retailer, no longer paying a percentage of each transaction used on their  Gift Card scheme.” Online authorisation of balance, liability tracking and management and web service integration means a  Gift Card is a tender that can be used anywhere these days.

And I waited for the third spirit that tradition dictates would be along. But he never came.

The next morning however I noticed something strange on my phone. Of course! A mobile voucher – with a personalised greeting from the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. He had obviously learned from the other two ghosts how to do things properly, removing even the plastic from the mix, collating more CRM data (e-mail addresses and phone numbers) and suddenly having the ability to target those customers with unspent vouchers to drive them into his shop. And integration into an electronic mall scheme (linked to my e-wallet) means that if I don’t approve of the choice of shop for my mobile voucher, I can easily transfer it to a brand of my choice.

So am I a changed man following my experience with the three ghosts?

Well yes, I’ve seen the light;  Gift Cards aren’t just for those relatives you don’t know what else to buy for. They provide a key to an omnichannel shopping experience with benefits for both the customer and the retailer alike. It’s a win-win situation. 
And that’s what I’ll be telling my wife on Christmas morning.

Merry Christmas!

Posted by Mark Denton, Head of Solution Consulting, BT Expedite 

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It doesn’t matter how good you think your product is – research shows that online shoppers trust other people’s opinions more than any marketing claims. So the ideal way of promoting your goods is to get your customers to do the selling for you – by using a ratings and reviews and customer recommendations engine on your site.

The e-commerce landscape is forever changing. What once seemed like super-whiz-bang functionality is now just table stakes. Two perfect examples of this phenomenon are ratings and reviews and product recommendations. There are some exceptions, undoubtedly, but the vast majority of e-commerce sites will benefit from allowing their customers to review the products they have purchased and dynamically recommend other products for up-sell and cross-sell.


Ratings and reviews
BT Expedite & Fresca’s in-house Ratings & Reviews service lets you show customer comments and ratings on a product details page, while an average star rating shows customers the most popular items in a category or search result. You can restrict reviews to registered customers, and send feedback reminders to people who have bought something from the site. Administration screens let you find all the reviews that have been placed using the same email address and you can require approval for reviews or remove any that are inappropriate.


Ratings & Reviews


The FrescaCommerce Platform Recommendations service allows retailers to cross-sell and up-sell by providing dynamic recommendations. It comes with a fully-featured administration console enabling retailers to modify recommendation rules on the fly so that they can achieve the highest possible conversion rate. Rules can be based on product attributes – for example products in the same category or with the same colour– or based on previous sales data – “customer who bought this, also bought that”. The rules engine allows retailers to refine the basic rules so that only products over a certain price or with stock above a certain level are displayed. Rules can be A/B tested against each other on an ongoing basis to ensure that the highest-performing rules are enabled.



Recommendations are typically shown on a product detail page, but the BT Fresca Recommendations service supports recommendations across the website, with the ability to use different rules in different places. Want to cross-sell on your basket page where the recommendations take account of what’s already in your basket? No problem. How about a recommendations spot on your homepage that takes account of the product categories that your visitors looked at on their previous visit. We’ve got that covered too. And much more!
The Ratings & Reviews and Recommendations services are fully hosted by BT Fresca, and share the same administration console. They will work together or independently and, although each integrates fully with websites built on the FrescaCommerce Platform, they can also be used as standalone services on any e-commerce site.

 Posted by Jonathan Bowen, Head of Client Services, BT Expedite & Fresca

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