Thursday, May 7, 2009

Charlotte Russe Takes Social Shopping A Step Further with ShopTogether App

Written by Amanda Ferrante

Social media has emerged as a must-have for retailers. While many retailers are cultivating a presence on social networking sites, like MySpace and Facebook, Charlotte Russe has created in-store signage directing customers to their MySpace page for the latest fashion, accessories and even the option to shop. Taking it a step further, the retailer has added a component to its e-commerce site giving visitors the option to ShopTogether. Created by DecisionStep, the technology is designed to allow online customers to share synchronized shopping sessions with friends and family. The integration allows shoppers to share and compare items as well as communicate via a chat feature. GNC and Lillian Vernon are currently using this technology.

Consumers trust friends above experts when it comes to product recommendations (65% trust friends; 27% trust experts), according to Yankelovich Research. Social or collaborative shopping is not only helping retailers boost sales, but it has many short and long term benefits for online retailers, creating the opportunity to impact the shopper mindset and increase lifetime value:
  • Influence consumers at the point of decision. Customer reviews and recommendations are widely regarded as one of the biggest elements of a shopper’s decision.
  • Increased Web traffic- One of the selling points for retailers of collaborative shopping is just that—it’s collaborative. Shoppers can invite one or more friends, increasing the number of site visitors. The more time people spend—the more likely they are to buy.
  • Driving Immediate Purchases- While some online shoppers may only research products but not necessarily buy, positive reinforcement from a friend or family member could convince them to make the purchase at that moment.
  • Increased Conversion Rates/Multiple Purchases- Friends often share common denominators and preferences. If a shopper shares their prospective purchase with another, both may be likely to buy the product.
Come Together…And Shop!
While technologies like ShopTogether seem like a perfect fit for teen and young adult shoppers, a similar application is helping Art e-retailer Novica gives its more sophisticated customers the ability to share their artistic insight and preferences. Novica has partnered with Sesh, a technology providing group Web browsing and visual communication. Novica Sesh enables customers to view the same Web page, at the same time, from different computers. “Offering some sort of discount to current shoppers for bringing friends to shop with them online makes a lot of sense,” says Jarrod Rogers, CEO, Sesh. “Shoppers are likely to spend more time and while doing so they will share their excitement firsthand about the products, turning their friends into buyers.”

Customers can share and discuss products with each other by drawing or chatting on the page. From a prompt directly below a shopper’s name on the upper left of the home page, the technology launches a system through that frames the web site, allowing a shopper to invite another registered Novica shopper to discuss products in a chat box, write notes on top of any section of a web page, and use pen tools to draw on the site. Co-browsing functionality also enables shoppers to navigate the site together, each taking turns guiding one another to different pages.

Sesh is in the early stages of creating a Facebook application that users can download to their accounts. The application will enable a user to invite a Facebook friend (within the walls of the closed social network) to a “sesh.” If the friend accepts, the application will then take both users out of through to the retailer’s home page for co-browsing. Further, the company foresees tying this functionality to retailers’ social network display advertising. Recent research indicates that women over 55 are the fastest growing group of users on Facebook, with a 550% increase in the past six months alone, according to Andy Lloyd, CEO of Fluid, Inc.

Fluid developed an innovative, user-friendly social shopping platform, Fluid Social, with real time chat and the ability to solicit the opinions of friends in the buying process. Fluid Social is used by Vans, Jansport and Chaparral Motor Sports, who reported a 15% increase in online sales and an increase in conversion rates since replacing their previous interactive imaging solution with Fluid Experience.

Give Customers Something to Shop About
Although Charlotte Russe has adopted the ShopTogether platform, it is not widely promoted. For optimal results, these efforts should be paraded in-store, and most importantly, on the homepage. “Email the user lists and feature it on Facebook fan pages,” suggests Lloyd. “We also expect in the future that Fluid Social will be a mechanism where brands push promotions to users, to reward their most dedicated consumers. For example, when someone invites their friends to comment on a product using Fluid Social, which draws new shoppers to the site. It makes sense for retailers to reward this behavior with special promotions such as offering 10% off to both shoppers when one arrives via Fluid Social.”

Lloyd says there is great value in friend-based merchandising. “Using the Facebook integration, it is trivial to invite specific friends to comment on a product,” he says. “This is much easier than the current standard, which is email to a friend, since you can simply click on a friend's picture and invite them to comment without needing to manually enter their email address. Further, unlike email to a friend, those comments are stored and available on the site forever.”

Click here to view Fluid’s recent white paper sizing up the opportunity for retailers in social shopping.

Solution Spotlight: Paymo Brings Mobile Payment To Consumers Sans Credit Card

Written by Amanda Ferrante,

Founded in 2007, Paymo is a mobile payment system designed to allow consumers anywhere in the world to buy online and pay with their mobile phone. Tending to the online population without credit cards, Paymo is designed to give customers an alternative payment method, ultimately helping online retailers expand their customer base.

The Team:
Headquartered in San Francisco, CA, Paymo was founded in 2007. The company provides an international mobile payment network for merchants designed to simplify and streamline the e-commerce process for virtual goods, online games and applications for social networking allowing consumers to buy online and pay with their mobile phone. With 20+ years of senior management experience, CEO Paul McGuire, along with CFO/COO Margaret Mackenzie, envisioned mobile payment systems transforming the market for digital content and services. Before founding Paymo, both Paul and Margaret had senior roles at mBlox—a leading mobile transaction network. Jon Prideaux, a former VISA executive who helped develop many of Visa’s Internet products—including the Verified by Visa program for securing Internet transactions—serves as a senior advisor to the company.

Market Relevance:
“In today’s challenging global economic environment we can’t afford to exclude 70% of consumers from participating in the online marketplace,” says McGuire. There are more than four billion mobile phones worldwide, but only one billion bank accounts. By giving anyone with a mobile phone the opportunity to buy online, Paymo hopes to dramatically increase the customer pool for online retailers. The global network that Paymo has built currently touches 50 markets with one million customers. McGuire anticipates the company will expand to 2 billion consumers later this year.

If an online merchant is set up to accept mobile payments via Paymo, the customer can simply click on a Paymo icon at checkout, and enter his or her cell phone number. A text message asking for verification of the payment is sent to the number, and after the customer replies to the message, the purchase is complete. The amount will either be deducted from the customer's prepaid account or charged on their next phone bill. Paymo eliminates the need for log-ins and passwords, remembering credit card numbers or setting up separate accounts to facilitate online transactions that are linked to a bank account or credit card. Consumers only need a mobile phone to shop online and add purchases directly to their mobile phone bill.

Because Paymo won't work without the user confirming the receipt of a text message, the application is more secure than traditional methods for online shopping. Paymo's cut of each transaction is going to be about 3% to 5%. The transaction amounts are typically small, under $30, and the carriers set the limits for individual users—for example, at $100 per month.

Proof Points:
Juniper Research predicts that North American mobile payments will grow from $5.3 million in 2008 to $54.9 million by 2013, and that global mobile payments will exceed $300 billion by 2013. Infiltrating the social media scene, Paymo and social network hi5 have partnered to enable members in 24 countries to use their mobile phones to purchase the social network’s virtual currency, hi5 Coins. The U.S., Canada, France, Hong Kong, Thailand, Russia and Colombia are among the countries where Paymo will be made available to hi5 users.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Strategies For Adjusting To New Shopping Patterns Of Cross Channel Buyers

Though cross channel retailing has become a priority retailers cannot ignore, implementing the cutting edge technology and tactical measures seems to leave companies at the starting gate. To address these and other business challenges, several new research studies were presented as part of a recent Retail TouchPoints webinar titled “Cross Channel Retailing for the Anytime/Anywhere Consumer.

Fusing together the latest cross channel trends and challenges, thought leaders from IBM, RSR Research and Manhattan Associates shared insights and data on how retailers must understand the shopping patterns of the cross channel consumer.

“When we talk about cross channel retailing, we really need to start with the customer first and what the customer expectations are as they interact with retailers via any touch point: the Web site, the retail store,” said Craig Stevenson, Global Portfolio Leader, Consumer Experience Solutions, IBM Global Retail Industry. “In the future it will be mobile devices, along with call centers and digital worlds.”

Stevenson suggested mobile devices will emerge as a fourth channel, pointing out that 1 billion users globally will use their mobile phone to browse the internet by 2011. “What we’ve seen in the 90s with the internet is what’s happening with the mobile phone,” Stevenson says. “This will be the dominant channel to interact with consumers both in-store and outside the store.”

Because the mobile phone has infiltrated the retail environment, consumers are increasingly informed, empowered and demanding. Stevenson referred to “super shoppers” as more informed and knowledgeable when entering the sales cycle. Their desires and expectations of value have been increased as a result of the information at their fingertips. “Consumers are really expecting more and we have to provide more to them if we want to have a loyal customer over time,” he says.

Consumer Insight
Stevenon shared the findings from IBM’s Cross Channel Shopping Study which found that 78% of consumers are engaged in online research and in store transaction. The study, which surveyed over 4,000 consumers in the US and UK, indicates that 34% of US shoppers say the reason they move from online to in-store to shop is because they wanted to see, touch/ smell and experience items before purchasing—while 17% wanted the product immediately.The study found that the features most frequently valued were:
  • 46% say the ability to check if an item is available at a local store while browsing online is a must have
  • 45% say an online store locator feature is a must have
Top reasons shoppers move from store to online are related to price, convenience and assortment. 30% of US consumers said “I could buy the item for less online than in store, compared to 46% in the UK. “If you can keep a customer within a given channel so they don’t have to change the channel, that’s probably ideal,” noted Stevenson. “The way to do that is to figure out why they changed channels.”

While most retailers realize the need to better address the needs of cross channel shoppers, Paula Rosenblum, Managing Partner with RSR Research, pointed out organizational inhibitors are often keeping them from taking advantage of opportunities.

Retail Winner Insight
According to recent RSR data shared by Rosenblum, retail winners are seeing year-over-year comparable store sales outperform the market. They not only sell more “stuff;” they also think and act differently than their competitors, like working multiple channels, according to RSR Research.

The RSR Research also found there is a significant difference when you institute and implement enterprise buying along with channel forecasting. 31% of laggards do their planning and forecasting enterprise wise but they don’t actually pull the trigger on buying, whereas 64% of retail winners do enterprise wide planning, forecasting and buying, which, Rosenblum notes is one way to gain efficiency and ultimately, gain more sales. “In this economic climate, operational efficiencies have eclipsed customer considerations,” noted Rosenblum. “We need to improve operational efficiencies.”

Rosenblum said it is imperative for cross channel retailers to create a single brand identify across channels. 85% or retail winners understand the value of a consistent and clear explanation of product features and benefits, cross channel delivery and product returns. Winners are starting to move more toward customized, unique product offering based on customer segments—not necessarily one to one marketing, but segmentized offerings, which is a critical difference between winners and laggards. These efforts have found winners enjoying stunning quantifiable benefits:

  • 85% reported improved customer satisfaction from ensuring product information and pricing is up to date and consistent across channel.
  • 40% report a 3-5% increase in ecommerce profitability
  • 29% report a 5-10% increase in overall return on inventory investment
Like Stevenson, Rosenblum emphasized the mobile phone’s role in retail. “Clearly our industry is under investing in mobile commerce,” she says. “Companies like Amazon are taking that opportunity and they will just lengthen their lead.” She also noted that smart phones are really disruptive technologies and retailers can expect customers to be walking stores like a show room if retailers don’t have some kind of mobile commerce enabled offering.

Order Lifecycle Management
To illustrate how leading retailers are benefitting from aligning their cross channel capabilities, Brian Kinsella, Senior Director at Manhattan Associates shared examples from David’s Bridal and other successful cross channel retailers.

Addressing one of retailer’s biggest cross channel challenges -- inventory segmentation—Kinsella said Manhattan Associates partnered with the IBM WebSphere team to proide retailers with a complete end to end solution from the time a customer wants to research a product online, through building a shopping cart, and picking up in store. “We know those are the problems retailers are trying to understand,” Kinsella said. “So we have built the integration to offer the best in class capabilities in the WebSphere commerce application for order acquisition and cart conversion, as well as the best in class fulfillment inventory visibility and fulfillment capability of warehouse management and supplier enablement.”

Manhattan recently worked with David’s Bridal to expand their sales channels. Saddled with older systems which were not scalable or configurable, Kinsella said David’s Bridal utilized the WebSpere Commerce solution and Manhattan’s Distributed Order Management application to eliminate seven legacy order management/allocation/visibility systems. The consolidation accelerated new business processes by automating store to store transfers. Because of the nature of bridal retailing, the need for real-time automated processing of special order is critical.

“It’s not enough just to be able to pull up the inventory in one place,” said Kinsella. “You have to understand that at any given time, at each stage, or lifecycle of the inventory, how much has been allocated and how much is net available.”

Monday, April 13, 2009

New Studies Validate Wins From Retailers Who Synch Cross-Channel Strategies

By Debbie Hauss

Multi-Channel is a hot topic among retail research firms who note that best-in-class retailers are pumping up their efforts to reach today’s consumers in the most comprehensive manner. Aberdeen and Retail Systems Research have each published recent studies on Multi-Channel Retailing and both analyst firms agree that the successful retailers of tomorrow will be those that have implemented multi-faceted multi-channel strategies.

New-Age Of Retailing
Aberdeen surveyed more than 120 retailers between December 2008 and January 2009, revealing that 58% of retailers surveyed have had a multi-channel initiative in place for at least one year. Best-in-class companies are 1.5x as likely as the industry average and laggard companies to have implemented multi-channel strategies. There is a direct relationship between the implementation of multi-channel initiatives and success: 53% of top 20% of retailers launched multi-channel initiatives in the last two years, versus 28% of the bottom 30% of retailers.

Although the shift in economic challenges also has shifted retailer priorities, multi-channel remains an important aspect of successful retailing. 25% of retailers surveyed site “customer need for instant gratification through a channel of their choice” as the top pressure facing their business. With this knowledge, smart retailers will focus more efforts on digital and mobile media in the years to come.

The two most effective initiatives implemented by best-in-class marketers, in their effort to achieve cross-channel success are: 1) executing unified marketing plans between channels and 2) offering adequate inventory visibility across channels. Most best-in-class mutli-channel retailers also have a top-down approach to the strategy: 96% possess an executive mandate to develop new channels. Laggards are wise to take notice and move forward to adopt these strategies.

Integrated multi-channel operations are key to future retail success, according to the Aberdeen study Best-in-class retailers are implementing a number of new initiatives including the following:

  • Create product offers and services for all channels of operations (52%). This action enables the multi-channel retailers to coordinate the brand look and feel for customers across all channels.
  • Create new programs for new channels (33%). Implementing mobile programs will introduce retailers to previously untapped consumers.
  • Improve operational excellence across all channels (54%)
  • Create single brand identity across all channels (48%)

Digital and mobile efforts
Through the use of digital retailing consumers can now conduct their entire shopping experience online and through mobile devices, including researching products and receiving coupons and other discount offers. Retailers are responding with strategic initiatives including:

  • Implement mobile marketing applications within the next 24 months (65%)
  • Use online analytics in the next 12 months to improves sales and service (63%)
  • Use online customer rating and feedback within the next 12 months to improve customer product selection and comparison shopping (45%)

Cross-Channel Retailing for the Anytime, Anywhere Consumer
Retail Systems Research (RSR) conducted an online survey from November 2008 through January 2009 and received responses from 88 retailers. According to RSR’s respondents, a satisfied multi-channel shopper is a retailer’s best customer. With challenging economic times ahead for the coming year, though, retailers must pick and choose their new initiatives wisely. While working to increase customer satisfaction, retailers must balance improving business efficiencies to save costs. RSR’s retail “winners” plan to continue investing in new multi-channel initiatives to prepare them for future successful following economic recovery.

First and foremost, a coordinated multi-channel company strategy must be in place for future multi-channel success. A majority of retailer winners (55%) are offering shared services for all channels, but laggards continue to be challenged with single-channel organizational structures (60%).

In addition to implementing a multi-channel strategy, some of retailers’ top business challenges include:

  • Improve operational efficiencies (38% winners, 50% average performers, 38% laggards)
  • Have difficulty managing inventory across channels (38% winners, 31% average performers, 38% laggards)
  • Must fulfill customer expectation of seamless purchase and delivery across channels (38% winners, 38% average performers, 25% laggards)

Focus on inventory visibility
RSR’s report focuses on the “anytime, anywhere consumer,” specifically noting that successful multi-channel retailers will provide products and services whenever and wherever consumers’ demand dictates. To that end, retailers report significant success when they move toward achieving these goals:

  • 85% report improved customer satisfaction when product information and pricing are consistent across channels
  • 40% report a 2-5% increase in eCommerce profitability
  • 29% report a 5-10% increase in overall return on inventory investment
  • 25% report a 2-5% decrease in warehouse space requirements

Technology enablers
Coordinating information between and among channels is consistently seen as a key to multi-channel success. Retail winners are moving toward electronic distribution of product and customer data, while laggards continue to enter data in a single-channel format.

Other technology improvements retailers are focusing on for multi-channel advancement are:

  • Real-time inventory and customer updates (93% very or somewhat important)
  • Cross-channel content management (89% very or somewhat important)
  • Modern eCommerce platform (90% very or somewhat important)
  • Central, customer-facing order management system across all channels (86% very or somewhat important)

Although retailers agree that they should be doing a better job of collecting consumer data, they often are unsure of what to do with that data. Real-time analytics and customer order management are priorities of fewer retailers.

Both RSR and Aberdeen concur that mobile technology is vital to future retail success. Even if budgeting for mobile commerce is not a viable possibility, retailers should be planning their mobile strategies now.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Forrester Report Finds Retail Leads Loyalty Pack, But Channel Connections Still Missing

Retail was the clear winner in last week’s Forrester customer experience report, but its author sees a lot of room for improvement. Although the retail industry performed the highest out of 12 categories in using customer experience to stimulate loyalty, Forrester Senior Analyst Bruce Temkin said cross-channel touch points could make retailers better at loyalty marketing, if the customer experience was made a higher priority.

“Retailers have been operating with customer needs in mind for longer than any other business,” says Temkin. “But no one is really doing well across channels. Retailers still tend to set their web operations up in complete isolation from the other business units.”

The Forrester report “Customer Experience and Loyalty” examined the correlation between customer experience and loyalty across 12 industries: airlines, banks, cell phone service providers, credit card providers, hotels, insurance firms, Internet service providers, investment firms, medical insurance companies, PC manufacturers, retailers, and TV service providers. It looked at how three elements of customer experience (meeting needs, being easy to work with, and enjoyability) correlate with three components of loyalty (repurchase plans, reluctance to switch, and likelihood to recommend).

The report found the most direct connections between repurchasing and enjoyability as well as a clear link the most with the likelihood to recommend. It also turns out that industries have different loyalty profiles. For instance, retailers and health insurers can influence loyalty the most by meeting customer needs while banks and hotels can affect customer repurchase plans from all elements of customer experience.

Retailers scored the highest correlation between customer experience and loyalty in almost every category. The retail industry’s overall score was 81, with useful at 86, easy to use at 85 end enjoyable at 75.

Meeting customer needs were found to be the strongest link to repurchasing. For every industry except airlines, meeting needs had the highest (or was tied for the highest) correlation with consumers’ plans to make another purchase. The “easy to work with” category also has a strong link to repurchasing and recommendations.

“One of the things retail as a category has always done well is set customer expectations,” says Temkin, “and expectations have a lot to do with customer experience and loyalty. When you go to Costco you know you’re not going to run into a Rainforest CafĂ© or take a latte break. But you expect a huge parking lot, pounds of beef and pallets of soap products. It doesn’t disappoint.”

Temkin’s report urges retailers to continue to tie experience to loyalty. “In this environment where companies need to cherish every dollar from
their customers, it’s critical that they develop customer experience strategies for increasing (or minimizing the decrease in) loyalty,” he states. “How? It all starts with a better understanding of key customers. Companies should develop a robust voice of the customer program. Use this platform to target improvements in the experiences you deliver to your most important customer segments — eliminating barriers to meeting their needs, making it easier for them to do business with you, and injecting enjoyability into some interactions.”

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Inbox Battle: Studies Show Paybacks Retailers See From Personalized Emails

Written by Debbie Hauss
Today’s email-savvy consumers appreciate a personalized, well-targeted email promotion, but many abandon a retailer if they have a negative email experience. Smart retailers know their best customers and provide them the best deals at the best times via opt-in permission-based email. Two recent research studies confirm this assertion.

The average consumer has opted-in to email communication from nearly four retail companies, according to Epsilon’s 2008 email branding study, conducted in October 2008 by ROI Research of Lancaster, PA. Of the sample that receive permission-based emails from retailers 56% say that they are “more likely to buy from companies that send (them) email.” Furthermore, 61% of the same group report that “the email (they) receive from retail companies has a direct impact on offline activities like shopping and making purchases.”

Email users also are spending more time with permission email, reports Merkle Interactive Services in its sixth annual “View from the Inbox” study. 69% of permission email users spend 20 minutes or more reading their email on a weekly basis in 2007, up significantly from the previous year. The study reports that 50% of survey respondents made an online purchase in the past year as a result of PEM – up 3% from the previous year. 50% of respondents also claim that a company that does a good job with email influenced their decision to do business with it, either online or offline.

Bad Email Practices Lose Customers
An email practice can be considered “bad” when it results in a decrease in sales or lost customers. Email recipients may respond negatively to too many emails sent too frequently or emails that are too general (not personalized or relevant to the recipient). Nearly 75% of Merkle respondents ranked irrelevancy as their top reason for unsubscribing from a company’s email program and 66% of email users list mail frequency as a reason to unsubscribe. Approximately 32% say they stopped doing business with at least one company as a result of their poor email marketing practices.

To reach the best balance of email frequency and relevancy, retailers must know their customers, particularly their best customers. Nearly 67% of respondents that receive email communications from retailers want to receive personalized content from companies, according to Epsilon. Specifically, consumers want content and offers based on their personal online behavior such as website and browsing activity and past purchases. Data from loyalty programs can help marketers target their best customers.

Another way to evaluate the effectiveness of current and future email campaigns, marketers should incorporate feedback mechanisms into the emails. Customers who are able to communicate their individual preferences have been shown to have 50% higher levels of engagement compared to those who don’t, Merkle reports.

Type of Email Determines Open Rate
Consumers appreciate relevant information. Approximately 41% of consumers ranked transaction confirmations as the number-one type of email they are likely to open, Merkle reports. Armed with that knowledge, retailers should consider adding promotional offers to those transaction summaries. Consumers also are likely to open account summaries (18% ranked #1).

But retailers should be careful about the type and frequency of promotional messages packed into transaction or account summary emails. A full 26% of customers do not react positively to promotions combined with informational emails. Marketers should be careful not to obstruct the main message of the email.

Other Key Findings
Epsilon reports that survey respondents said they took the following actions as a result of receiving permission-based email from a retailer:

  • 88% downloaded/printed a coupon;
  • 79% clicked a link in an email to learn more;
  • 75% purchased a product online;
  • 69% researched retail locations that carry a product;
  • 67% purchased a product offline;
  • 60% tried a new product for the first time;
  • 55% shared a coupon or forward the email;
  • 33% typed/copied the URL into their browser.
For more information on the Merkle study, go to:
For more information on the Epsilon study, go to:

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Timex Makes Time to Upgrade Cross-Channel Presence, Dials In Social Commerce

If ever there was an American brand that represented the past and present of marketing its Timex. After its legendary days of “takes a licking and keeps on ticking” the watch company now has to focus on the future and that means some creative budget management and cross-channel innovation. Its new marketing team is moving toward both goals.
“We did a fair amount of brand research last year and found that there was a very high unaided and positive awareness of Timex as a brand,” says Online VP Calvin Crouch. “But people did not see us a very exciting or stylish brand. We felt like we were in a very similar spot to Oldsmobile a few years ago where it needed to prove that ‘we’re not your father’s Oldsmobile.’”

With a limited budget and marketing staff, Crouch set out in May 2008 to define the brand’s customer base, business goals, branding targets and ecommerce mission. Timex matched its three sub-brands to its most active customer segments. TimexStyle is the mid-priced women’s oriented brand. It has recently scored a few public relations wins, placing one of its models in People’s Magazine’s “hot and not” issues. It also makes use of style guru and Timex spokesperson Amy Goodman on its website. Timex Ironman is the closest thing to a traditional brand the company has, creating mid-priced digital watches for casual and style conscious athletes. TimexExpedition is where Crouch wants to break out. It is a higher-priced more extreme sports focused brand.
Crouch has implemented distinct images and web presences for each separate brand, but would like to move toward funneling all traffic to the site. That site generated a 15% traffic boost from 2007 to 2008. So far this year, traffic is up another 10%.

Its ecommerce effort is in its nascent stages. Crouch says Timex doesn’t currently have a large customer database. One of his goals is to increase it and the corresponding voice of the customer that comes with it. Toward that end Timex recently added BazaarVoice’s online review software. He believes it will create a wealth of user-generated content that the brand will leverage in its quality assurance efforts, as well as its new product development.

“We run our site on the Amazon platform, but we chose to work with Bazaarvoice on our social commerce initiatives because they are on the cutting edge of the market, and we appreciate their culture and focus on innovation,” Crouch says. “By adding Bazaarvoice, we are ensuring that our customers can share their authentic opinions about our products and make the best purchase decisions possible.”

Timex worked with the Bazaarvoice team to integrate into its Amazon eCommerce platform. That included hosted technology, advanced analytics, and syndication. Tag-based social navigation allows Timex shoppers to immediately surface the most relevant reviews from their peers.

Timex’s ecommerce effort may be starting to find its legs but its retail partners lack nothing. WalMart, JC Penney, Target and many sporting goods chains have been in its corner for years. Crouch says the customer data and website traffic data are shared with key accounts by sales teams on an “informal” basis.

“We know that traffic is up, our ecommerce numbers are improving and we’re finding out more about our customers,” he says. “We’re going to look to paid search and organic search to drive down our costs per lead, and keep our eye on the goal of driving more traffic.”

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sears Adds Appliances, In-Store Pickup Features To Sears2go Mobile App

Written by Amanda Ferrante
Two months after unveiling its Sears2go mobile commerce website, Sears has added the capability for customers to browse, purchase and schedule delivery or pickup for major home appliances like refrigerators or washing machines, all on their mobile devices.

Powered by Usablenet, the Sears2Go mobile commerce web site is the first on-the-go technology offered by a U.S. retailer which pairs mobile commerce with services such as in-store pickup. The new application is designed to cater to consumers who use their mobile devices to browse the web for convenience while they are out of the home.

"There is an increasing population of "people on the go" that have smart phones and Internet plans," said Ravi Acharya, director, online business unit at Sears. "Daily commuters, for example, are a sample demographic where users can find and buy products on the go and pick up their purchases in stores on their way home."

The full appliance product line available at Sears2go joins a variety of other product categories, including apparel, electronics and computers, fitness and sports, jewelry, tools, toys and games. All categories support purchase and scheduling home delivery or in-store pickup through the mobile site. After purchasing an item on Sears2go, shoppers picking up their order in store will receive a text message alert when their merchandise is ready for pick-up. Sears2go is the first on-the-go mobile e-commerce site offered by a US retailer that pairs mobile commerce with Sears' best-in-class in-store pickup or delivery.

The new mobile component is part of Sears' overall strategy developed from witnessing the buzz and interest around mobile commerce. "We have been watching industry trends and testing various mobile capabilities for the past 2 years, launching various SMS based alerts, deals and marketing campaigns," says Acharya. "Therefore, moving into the mobile commerce space was a natural evolution as we noticed significant customer interests. Our key value proposition is to provide another convenient mechanism for customers to interact with us and the mobile phone is a very personal device that customers can use at any time of their choice to engage with us."

"The comprehensive catalog of products that Sears now offers on its mobile site delivers huge value in convenience to customers on-the-go," said Nick Taylor, President of Usablenet. Usablenet Mobile is a fully managed service that leverages the features and functionality of a company's existing Web site and extends it to all mobile devices worldwide in less than six weeks, requiring no client IT or Web design resources.

After purchasing an item on Sears2go, shoppers picking up their order in store will receive a text message alert when their merchandise is ready for pick-up. The mobile application also allows consumers to mix and match orders, choose different fulfillment options for different products. For example, if one item from a shopping list is available for delivery, but another is not currently in-stock, a text message will alert when the store has the product available.

Forrester: Shopper’s Show Cross-Channel Eagerness, But Satisfaction Levels Slump

Written by John Gaffney
Consumers continue to migrate toward cross-channel purchase behavior, but most are not too happy about the experience. That’s the conclusion of a Forrester Research report on cross-channel customer satisfaction, which defines channel migration behavior of more than 5,400 consumers during 2008.
The report, “How Satisfied Are Shoppers When Moving Across Channels?,” shows that $630 million worth (or 24%) of offline retail sales were influenced by Internet research in 2008, but shoppers also research products in the store and then purchase online. Overall, two-thirds of online consumers engage in some form of cross-channel shopping behavior when purchasing apparel, wireless products, consumer electronics, personal computers, and large appliances. That’s the good news. Forrester found the following areas that clearly need attention:
  • Cross-channel experiences fell short of single-channel satisfaction. 82% of online consumers report satisfaction with buying experiences that begin and end in a store. However, among consumers who started their shopping experience online before going to the store to buy, satisfaction rates drop to 61%. Similarly, while 61% of online consumers report satisfaction with Web-only purchases, only 56% of consumers are satisfied with their buying experience when whey research in-store and then buy online.
  • Consumers are more satisfied with online-to-store than other channel transitions. All three types of cross-channel experiences leave room for improving consumer satisfaction, but consumers rated some cross-channel experiences higher than others. Satisfaction for researching online and purchasing in a store was highest at 61%, followed by 56% for store-to-Web and 49% for Web-to-phone. Researching in a store and purchasing online produced the largest discrepancies across purchase categories — a 12% point gap from apparel (58% satisfied) to large appliances (46% satisfied).
  • Large appliance shopping experiences left consumers the most dissatisfied. Cross-channel shoppers were the least satisfied when researching and purchasing large appliances across channels. This held true whether the shoppers moved from Web to store, store to Web, or Web to phone. Conversely, PC purchase transitions were among the most satisfactory across the board.

The report also found significant differences among age groups. Across all product categories except wireless, Older Boomers were the most satisfied Web-to-store shoppers. The most satisfied in wireless were Seniors, who were also pleased with consumer electronics and PC experiences.

Forrester analyst Adele Sage, author of the report, interpreted that data to mean that seniors have lower expectations because, for most of their lives, using the Web to research considered purchases wasn’t an option. Gen Y consumers’ satisfaction with Web-to-store is low. Their satisfaction scores averaged 13 percentage points lower than Older Boomers across all categories — except apparel. Gen Y consumers take the Web for granted and so expect the Web to be woven as seamlessly into their shopping experiences as it is into their daily lives.

The report recommends three strategies to improve cross-channel customer satisfaction:

  1. Design experiences that support users’ goals. Make sure that you ask and answer the three questions: Who are your users? What are their goals? And how can you help them achieve those goals? The answers to those questions guide the design of interactions that provide users with the content and functionality they need in the channel(s) they use to complete their goals.
  2. Use design personas to guide decision-making. Design personas — user archetypes that represent key user behaviors —contain detailed information on the motivations, goals, and behaviors of target customers. To help support the design of multichannel experiences, some firms create cross-channel scenario maps for personas that show customer paths as they move among channels.
  3. Apply Review Methodology. An important step on the way to improving multichannel experiences is to diagnose usability problems that prevent users from accomplishing their goals. To get started, the report recommends retailers develop a description of their target user, write down a few goals that the user would have, and then try to accomplish those goals using the channels — both individually and in pairs — the way the user would.

This is Forrester’s first look at cross-channel satisfaction. It’s 2007 customer satisfaction study came up big for retailers, who comprised with four of the top five rated companies.

Friday, January 16, 2009

By John Gaffney, Senior Analyst
Already a competitive advantage, cross channel capabilities are about to become an even more distinct differentiator with the arrival of mobile commerce. While both consumer and marketers have been slow to embrace mobile commerce in the U.S., several sources point to the channel arriving in a significant way over the next two years.

A new study from Foresee Results titled “Mobile Apps: The Next Big Thing” shows mobile applications will be impacting retail sales sooner than may executives expect, and those merchants already prepared for cross-channel commerce will have a distinct advantage. The study from Foresee shows a 91% penetration rate for mobile phone ownership, but only about a third of respondents have used them while shopping. Foresee CEO Larry Freed expects that usage to double by the end of 2009.

“And I would also say that the retailers who can merge channels have a definite advantage as that adoption rate continues,” Freed says. “As the situation has developed consumers see definite advantages to the web experience in terms of information and inventory choices. And they see an advantage to the in-store experience, because it’s more personal and tangible. Mobile is the bridge between the two experiences.

Freed is so bullish on the rapid acceleration of mobile usage for three reasons. First, he sees retailers making a priority of bringing the web experience into stores. Second, he believes competitive pressure will force their hand. And third, he expects the iPhone applications that started to appear in 2008 to become more commerce-oriented and less gimmicky.

During the 2008 season the vast majority of shoppers who did use a mobile phone as part of their shopping experience did not use retailer-originated mobile apps or Internet-based product information. Most used their phone to get a simple opinion about a purchase. Freed says this may indicate that mobile apps are very much on the “bleeding edge,” rather than the leading edge, of technology.

How mobile phone was used as part of retail shopping experience % of respondents
One in four shoppers who used a mobile phone during a shopping trip used the device to compare prices, while 15% used a mobile device to go online to check product reviews. Freed says this is a insignificant number, considering the small but growing use of smart phones and the fact that many retailer mobile apps were new this holiday or still in beta testing.

One surprising fact that Freed uncovered from the Foresee study was that the emergence of mobile as a fourth channel could ultimately have more of an impact on brick and mortar shopping than online. “In fact, of all the behaviors we study, only one was different for this group: greater likelihood to purchase offline. All the other scores are identical for those who shop with or without a mobile phone. Given the indications that people are using phones more often to actually call someone to get an opinion or to send a picture of an item (and less for price comparison shopping or store-initiated mobile apps), it would seem that, more often than not, the opinion they get encourages them to buy the item. Perhaps stores should consider ‘phone-a-friend’ promotions to encourage this kind of shopping behavior.”

Freed councils retailers to encourage smart phone users to adopt retailer-generated mobile apps, not only to ask about a product or send a picture of a product to a friend, but to compare online prices, remember specs of something they were researching online, and identify the proper model or version of a wish list item.

In a separate report on the emergence of mobile commerce, a team of executives from Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG for Retail presented their findings at the NRF Show in a Big Ideas Session titled, “Mobile as the Next Channel: Hype or Reality?” Jon Stine, IBSG, argued that retailers can no longer afford to ignore the internal and external benefits mobile devices bring.

“The productivity revolution that mobility represents has just begun,” said Stine. “The smart devices we have, like the iPhone will bring this to its height. When consumers walk into a store and they are going to mobile applications to check prices and SKUs at other retailers, that other competitor has entered your store. In the past, retailers asked the consumer to come to their brand. Then we asked them to find our website. Now it is possible for a brand to go along with the consumer as a shopping buddy. Mobility changes the paradigm. The numbers mobile can produce can and will be meaningful for those who prepare.”

Arguing that mobile commerce is at a tipping point, Cisco’s Lindsay Parker suggested retailers work closely with their customers on finding the most appropriate uses for mobile applications. By creating a collaborative experience out of the mobile channel, Parker pointed out that retailers have an opportunity to significantly increase margins.

Parker also reminded retailers that mobility is no longer limited to consumers; but some smart phone devices can increase store associate productivity for a two-way optimization of the device. “The mobile phone as a new channel is giving retailers a new way to position your brand to your shoppers. Previously it was about getting consumers in your store, but now it's about being with them 24/7 via their mobile devices. The mobile device enables information deliverability and harbors loyalty,” Parker said.

Cisco’s IBSG Director Lisa Fretwell pointed to three main opportunities for retailers to focus on in using the mobile channel:

  • Productivity: By providing store employees access to information on a mobile device that they would have had to find manually, there are opportunities bottom line savings.
  • Shopper productivity: Giving consumers access to tasks that previously could only be completed by store associates, such as self scanning for price checks provides convenience and reduces labor costs.
  • Transforming the customer experience: New messaging channels provided by mobile devices are expected to have a dramatic impact on customer retention, and also provide new paths to increase basket size.
In order to get started tapping into the power of mobile devices, Fretwell suggested retailers focus on using mobility as an additional content source. “Be prepared to sell, but also be prepared to inform. The opportunity to inform consumers on the spot at point of purchase has just exponentially risen,” Fretwell said.