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OK the economy is coming right… but the real problem is the pack of velociraptors in your back garden. If you don’t fix them…forget the economy!

As the country slowly limps out of recession, we find ourselves in a very different retail landscape. The downturn obviously had an effect on the high street, but were the casualties really just victims of a credit-dependent business model, and an economy pumped to bursting point? Maybe. Maybe not.

For nearly a decade, “The Economy” has been paraded as the reason for the retail sector’s woes. But the new reality we’re all adjusting to has been shaped much more by the pervasive, here to stay, and I would argue massively more dramatic influence of the e-retailers who have spent the last fifteen years or more sharpening their e-commerce teeth – becoming a devastating weapon in the jaws of what is now a savage pack of predators…

I suggest this is really what is causing the challenges today and this is far more dangerous than an economic cycle.

The seismic change that they’ve learned to ride on has been driven by the massive social trends we’re all very well aware of. The way people and businesses interact is different now – social media has mushroomed, e-commerce is the norm, everyone has a mobile and wi-fi is the invisible link, and it’s going everywhere.

In this e-xx world the e-tailers are thriving by offering instant access to endless aisles, one-click buying, peer reviews, smart suggestions, no queuing, no parking hassles, low prices and home delivery so fast it’s almost instant gratification. It’s easy and time efficient.

Amazon is setting the benchmark here. It’s a genuine marketplace where browsing and buying is made easy.

For retailers with a more traditional set-up, that’s the real challenge, and it needs to be urgently addressed. With a voracious predator muscling in on your hunting ground, economic growth will not necessarily save you… so how do you respond?

First you need to adapt to your new environment. That means tapping into the expectations and demands of the e-xx world and making better use of the resources you have; take what people like about Amazon and incorporate into your own business model, while playing up the differences to your advantage. You have two weapons:

1. Omnichannel

We‘ve all been working on this. There are some startlingly good examples (as one demonstration of this working) of retailers getting store stock as part of e-commerce orders for same day delivery… Boom! One raptor down.

The learning here is that, although e-commerce looks like it all, suddenly the store has a role again… and e-tailers don’t have any!

2. The Store

It’s time to really leverage the store, from a stock point for e-commerce into something far more powerful. The store has two massive advantages:

  • an emotional buying experience that allows touch/see/feel. This builds a connection with the customer
  • staff – the customers’ hosts – helping, guiding, offering alternatives, adding a warm layer of human interaction to the experience… we’re all suckers for a good salesperson especially, as I’ve learnt, if you are one. People buy from people.

The key is to make it easy.

Bring the easy, visual, virtual world together with the exciting, tactile, almost visceral world of interacting with a product and a service wrap with human warmth, and value starts.

Make your store people a dramatic part of the virtual, visceral experience… provide them with the e-xx world and shape it around the customer and you may be able to fend off the rest of those blighters in your back yard…

The time is now. You urgently need to unleash your stores… if not, the economy may not save you. Now, where’s that copy of Jurassic Park?

Posted by Alan Townsend, Sales Director, BT Expedite

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Accessories retailer Claire’s uses next generation technology to reach next generation consumers

by David Devany, European eCommerce and Digital Director, Claire’s

We’ve just launched an e-commerce site for the UK and Europe that’s going to help bring us closer to our customers. It’s a real step forward for us, in terms of our online presence, but we think the real benefits will be felt in our stores.

We’re obviously well aware of our target market – and three things stick out about a Claire’s girl.

She’s very sociable – and will connect through a number of social media sites, including Twitter and Facebook. She’s mobile – out and about and as comfortable on a smartphone as any Apple geek. And she’s probably too young to have her own credit card, one of the main reasons we’d shied away from establishing a transactional site before.

So an e-commerce site was never primarily about sales for Claire’s. We’re obviously happy if parents get pestered into buying online from us, but the site is more of a social gathering area and trend influencer than it is strictly business.

That’s not to say we’ve not taken advantage of the very latest technology to help make it easy to buy online. Our new platform supports delivery to over 180 countries and includes the option to buy in £ sterling or Euros. There’s also an intuitive gift finder feature and clever merchandising tools that enable customers to shop by themes, looks or moods.

But the really clever stuff come with the social and mobile aspects. We’ve put Facebook and Twitter front and centre of the site as well as integrating a Spotify plug-in to pump out the latest hits (so I’m told…). And a ton of ‘how to’ video content with style ideas featuring real Claire’s consumers creating the latest hair and fashion look.

That’s because our customers are comfortable in their virtual social circles. Almost 73% of teens are active on social media and two-thirds of 14-23 year olds own a smartphone. So our site is very much an extension of our customers’ lifestyles – an engaging destination to explore the latest trends and share ideas.

The mobile optimised site makes using the features on a smartphone an absolute breeze. We’ve thought long and hard about the needs and motivations of people while out and about and so we’ve made that level of interaction very simple – making it easy to find stores and buy from us.

The off-the-shelf e-commerce platform, FrescaCommerce, from BT Expedite & Fresca makes it possible to easily support free returns and exchanges in store, taking some of the hassle out of online shopping and again driving that all-important footfall. It’s helped create a genuine 360 degree shopping experience for customers – connecting online, mobile and store.

We’re already discussing with the BT team how best to implement new features, such as the virtual piggy bank and e-gift cards. But for now we’re celebrating what we’ve got. We’ve an official VIP launch party next week – when I’ll find myself being entertained by the sounds of Conor Maynard, Delilah, DJ Burn and Bip Ling among others.

Posted by David Devany, European eCommerce and Digital Director, Claire’s

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A new research paper on the future of mobile commerce, published by Strategy Analytics, reveals that 67% of smartphone owners use their phones to find deals and compare prices. But the actual point of purchase is the least popular activity on all mobile devices. Mobile clearly can’t be ignored as a channel to attract and interact with customers, but what should retailers be doing about mobile payments?

Many retailers are wrestling with the challenges set by increasingly mobile customers. But “mobile” itself may be a bit of a red herring. “Mobile” shoppers will most likely fall into one of three camps:

1. at home
2. in store
3. out and about

And that’s the key: creating a mobile strategy that meets the needs of customers at a particular time and place – putting things into context.

On location

There’s a general trend among people browsing at home, away from desktop computers and towards tablets. It’s easy to understand why, as tablets are both more convenient and more engaging than PCs, while having bigger screens than smartphones.

But once these “Downton Abbey shoppers” leave the house, they’re more likely to resort to a mobile phone. It’ll be this device that your customers carry into your store – and that changes the dynamic.

It’s all about identifying opportunities to add value and improve the experience at each stage.

Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Why are they using a smartphone? While they’re out and about they’ll expect quick and easy access to information about your nearest store and available stock. In the store they might benefit from store layout help, easy access to further product information or current offers – through things such as QR codes, which make jumping off to sites easier and quicker on a mobile.

Special effects

Of course, retail is all about securing the sale. But one thing that came through loud and clear at NRF this year was the fact that new payments technologies have to make the consumer’s life simpler and easier. So, while there’s a lot of noise about mobile payments, technologies such as NFC – one of the main contenders for linking mobile phones and payments – aren’t necessarily putting the interests of the customer first.

However they choose to pay, customers want a frictionless process wherever they are – and that’s one of the stumbling blocks with mobile at the moment.

The fact is, retailers can take money quite easily in-store just now. NFC for payments in store is not a problem that needs to be solved. That doesn’t mean NFC has no role to play in store, but its strength may lie elsewhere, for example, as a way to provide easy access to information and offers through in-store contact points.

Big budget production

So how do you solve the problem of mobile payments? There were three main approaches put forward at NRF:

1. The ‘wallet in the cloud’ – led by PayPal and Google
2. The mobile device – championed by NFC technology suppliers
3. Direct transfer exchanges – run by retailers fed up paying the middle men

Strategy Analytics’ research into NFC reveals: “The ramp up is extremely slow and even years from now we are expecting only a minority of consumers will use mobile payments; 158M users, or 2.9% of total cellular users in 2017.”

If we once again put ourselves in the shoes of the consumer and ask what’s best for them, the wallet in the cloud seems to be the most convenient. It promises a frictionless payment experience regardless of channel, and customers can bundle loyalty cards and e-vouchers. But this still doesn’t help with the here and now.

Out now!

There’s no future proof answer to mobile payments as the dance between the different technologies and approaches plays out. But what is clear from these latest findings is that it’s vital that you take mobile seriously and build a solid foundation for your mobile channel.

Just now, that means ensuring your mobile channels provide a brand experience consistent with your other channels. And creating a mobile friendly site that’s designed to meet the needs of mobile users – so that it works on a smaller screen, with the most appropriate information brought to the fore and easy to access (through bigger buttons and simpler buying steps).

Like most other aspects of retail, it’s all about having the right things in the right place, at the right time.

Video: Watch a BBC report on NFC, mobiles and e-wallets

Posted by Jason Shorrock, Product Director, 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

 

Recommendations
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

 

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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You’d be forgiven for thinking that a certain Mr S Claus was buying his presents online this Monday, as the number of e-commerce orders broke all records for the busiest shopping day ever! It’s been reported in the media that over £320m was spent online by UK shoppers on 3 December alone; that’s a whopping £3,700 per second. Imagine the amount of carrots and mince pies that could buy!

Our own analytics show that on Monday 3 December – or Mega Monday as it has been coined in the UK – we saw a 24% increase in orders through the FrescaCommerce Platform, compared to the busiest day last Christmas (30 November), and a 25% increase when compared to the first Monday in December last year.

To put it into perspective, between 1 December and 3 December the number of online orders increased by an amazing 70% – making it the largest number of orders ever seen through our platform, which is behind many of the world’s fastest growing and most successful e-commerce web sites – including the Aurora Fashion brands (Coast, Oasis, Warehouse), Get The Label, Karen Millen, Matalan, The Perfume Shop, and Thomas Pink.

Drilling into the shopping habits of Mega Monday shows that most people filled their e-stockings after dinner – as the hour between 21:00-22.00 was the busiest with almost twice the number of orders being placed than the typical lunchtime peak.

It’s also interesting to note just how consumers purchased their presents in 2012. IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark (which analyses e-commerce data from 150 retailers in the UK) shows that the number of people buying through a mobile device almost doubled compared to last year (21.7% vs 12.6%). The most impressive increase in this area was the percentage of online sales made on iPads which saw a monumental 194.4% increase on 2011! So instead of Mega Monday – and to pay homage to what was the most talked about topic by retailers this year – maybe it should be renamed Multichannel Monday?

Christmas Sales

Posted by Richard Vining, Head of FCP Performance, BT Fresca

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