Author Archives: Douw G Steyn

Douw G Steyn

About Douw G Steyn

Always a student with a passion for digital business and -marketing…

The Dawn of Autonomous Cars, and the Demise of the Car Driving Experience

The phenomenon of fully autonomous cars has begun. “Self-driving cars without a human behind the wheel could run freely on UK roads from 2021, the chancellor is set to announce”, according to AutoCar. Unfortunately, by replacing human drivers with robot drivers, the end of a rather emotional relationship that we are having with cars, will begin.

Cars, for many people, are more than a just means to an end. “The type of car you drive tells a story about your personality. It may not be obvious, but people do share a lot of things in common with the cars they drive, and will choose a vehicle that represents their own particular talents and interests and reflect their values in life” suggests Joel Wong in TOC.

I wonder what autonomous cars can reveal about my personality?

Autonomous cars

Wikipedia defines an autonomous car (also known as a driver-less car, self-driving car, robotic car, autos) and unmanned ground vehicle, as a vehicle that is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input.

Just like us, self-driving cars need to have sensors to understand the world around them and a brain that collects, processes and chooses specific actions based on information gathered. Therefore, autonomous cars are fitted with advanced tools to gather information, including long-range radar, LIDAR, cameras, short/medium-range radar, and ultrasound (Chris Giarratana, ReadWrite.com).

The data collected are analysed and by using complex algorithms and digital maps, the autonomous car is steered clear of mishaps and hopefully reach the destination it was programmed for.

The use of autonomous cars can have the following advantages and disadvantages (Paul Goodman, AxleAddict):

ADVANTAGES

DISADVANTAGES

  •  No driver means more space and more entertainment;
  • No bad drivers, thus less road accidents;
  • Traffic could be coordinated more easily in urban areas to prevent long tailbacks at busy times;
  • Sensory technology could potentially perceive the environment better than human senses, seeing farther ahead, better in poor visibility, detecting smaller and more subtle obstacles, more reasons for less traffic accidents;
  • Speed limits could be increased to reflect the safer driving, shortening journey times;
  • There would be no need for drivers’ licenses or driving tests;
  • Autonomous cars could bring about a massive reduction in insurance premiums for car owners;
  • Efficient travel also means fuel savings, cutting costs.
  •  Driver-less cars would likely be out of the price range of most ordinary people;
  • Truck drivers and taxi drivers will lose their jobs, as autonomous vehicles take over;
  • A computer malfunction, even just a minor glitch, could cause worse crashes than anything that human error might bring about;
  • If the car crashes, without a driver, whose fault is it: Google/the software designer, or the owner of the vehicle?
  • Hackers getting into the vehicle’s software and controlling or affecting its operation would be a major security worry;
  • Reading human road signs is challenging for a robot;
  • How would the police interact with driver-less vehicles, especially in the case of accidents or crimes?

So, there are many pros and cons that we have to consider when we decide to buy autonomous cars. But sadly, there’s a lot that we will leave behind, like the feeling of driving a car…

Real cars and the joy of driving them

The ribbon of shimmering asphalt curved between the mountains of the Peloponnese and the azure Aegean, which glittered in the late afternoon sun. The engine of the Audi A3 growled – a satisfying, syrupy growl – as I pressed the accelerator. As the car started to shift, I realized in a moment of clarity that I was very, very happy

Pirelli & C


The nice feeling that you get when driving a car, as the narrative above of Pirelli & C suggests, may soon only be a faint memory because of autonomous cars. “Where’s the thrill?” asks Giancarlo Perlas in BenzInsider. He later proposes: “Self-driving systems will likely be optional at first, and mandatory later. By that time, the only way to feel the thrill of driving will be through VR simulators (that will become mainstream by the time) and casual games like the AllSlots’ Racing for Pinks.”

That’s scary – we’ll lose the sensation of driving a car because of robots doing it. And, wait for it – we then have to rely on robots to simulate the feeling of driving a car that we are craving for. It’s a strange place, this digitize world.

Cars and humans – like men and their horses…

A very long time ago, before cars and trains even, people had horses to get them from A to B. There were horses of all shape and sizes, most with an owner and many with a name. But it was how humans bonded with horses. “Both the horse and the human become attuned to each other’s physical and mental ways, thus developing the state of co-being” according to Horsetalk.co.nz. Then cars started replacing the horses.

“Car consumption is never simply about rational economic choices, but is as much about aesthetic, emotional and sensory responses to driving, as well as patterns of kinship, sociability, habitation and work” suggests Sheller, (2004). Sheller, in explaining the “feeling of cars” proposes that pleasure, fear, frustration, euphoria, pain, envy (i.e. emotional responses), to cars and feelings about driving are crucial to the personal investments people have in buying, driving, and dwelling with cars.

So, as previously with horses, humans did found a willing emotional partner in the form of their cars. And now the robot is starting to replace the car, and it is impacting on business. Viereckl, Ahlemann, Koster and Jursch (2015) had this to say about the ‘promise of autonomous driving’: “It’s a disruptive technology that will upend traditional auto industry structures, usher in new business models, and change the nature of the business. “

Concluding

It’s not easy to comprehend an emotional bond between robots and humans. Maybe it’s because robots can be learned to predict your behaviour. After all, who better than to ask Jeremy Clarkson for an opinion on autonomous cars: “I drove a car the other day which has a claim of autonomous capability and twice in the space of 50 miles on the M4 it made a mistake, a huge mistake, which could have resulted in death”, reported Holly Christodoulou, The Sun.

Like horses had to make way for cars, so will cars have to make way for autonomous cars. What a pity…

Read also: Retail and the Internet of Things

Notes:

Sheller, M., 2004. Automotive emotions: feeling the car, Theory, culture & society, 21(4-5):221-242.

Viereckl, R., Ahlemann, D., Koster, A. and Jursch, S. 2015. Connected Car Study 2015: Racing ahead with autonomous cars and digital innovation. Strategy& http://www. strategyand. pwc. com/reports/connected-car-2015-study

Image:

  1. Wikimedia

 

The State of Retail 2017 – The Unstoppable Force of Change

What is the state of retail in 2017? What are the movers and shakers doing? And are there any retail stores left to close?

You can hardly keep up lately with all the news, good and bad, about the state of retail. News about customers shopping more online, and using mobile phones to do so. The expansion of Amazon.com to the physical retail channel and Walmart’s effort to mimic Amazon’s online business are also headlines.

Reports of thousands of retail stores closing in the US and elsewhere keep industry commentators and opinionists busy. Many suggest that retail technology may help to stop the rot…

Let’s look further at the matters that influenced the state of retail during 2017.

Retail customers continue to shop more online

There is no doubt that more retail customers are shopping online. The U.S. online sales are expected to reach more than $459 billion in 2017, rising 14% from last year and accounting for 12.9% of the anticipated $3.56 trillion in total retail sales, according to Forrester Research.

And retailer customers shop more online using mobile devices. In fact, according to Justin Smith, CEO of OuterBox,. He said that significantly more people are accessing the web from a tablet or smartphone than a desktop, and they’re doing it with more eCommerce intent than ever before.

The online shopping experience clearly has a major effect on eCommerce sales: The Forrester 2016 Customer Experience Index found that digital retailers delivered 17 positive experiences for every negative one, compared with just 13 among traditional retailers.

Amazon.com is making big moves while Walmart is trying to stay relevant

Amazon.com has made huge progress towards establishing Bricks and Mortar businesses during 2017. According to Dennis Green, writing in the Business Insider, Amazon.com has opened bookstores in major cities like Seattle, Chicago, and New York. He says that the stores operate exactly the same as Amazon’s online bookstore, since they allow visitors to browse a curated selection similar to how it appears on the site. There are currently 11 stores open, with two more on the way.

Even more significant was Amazon.com’s acquisition of natural foods store Whole Foods. Whole Foods was already a national chain with more than 450 stores, but with the power of Amazon behind it, it has the potential to be something even larger (Business Insider).  By the way, Amazon.com paid $13.7 Billion for Whole Foods (Bloomberg). However, with the acquisition of Whole Foods, Amazon.com was entering Walmart’s territory.

So what was Walmart doing during 2017? “Walmart has an annual turnover of $170 Billion and has largest share of US grocery retail sector by far” writes Phil Whaba in Fortune. That means that they really needn’t have to worry about Amazon.com, or do they? Walmart is worrying, and doing something about it…

Walmart is taking the battle with Amazon.com on the latter’s own soil – ecommerce.  “The e-commerce competition between Walmart Stores Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. is heating up, and Walmart executives are saying “bring it,” with plans to continue investment in its online and multi-platform capabilities” reported Tonya Garcia in Market Watch.  For the second quarter, e-commerce sales, which include purchases that are shipped to customers’ homes as well as transactions that are fulfilled in stores, such as the online grocery service, were up 60%, conclude Tonya.

But what was happening with the other retailers during 2017?

The apocalypse of retailers

The apocalypse of retailers refers to the closing of a large number of American retail stores since beginning in 2016, according Wikipedia. There was no respite for the industry as the apocalypse of retailers kept going on during 2017. Derick Thompson (The Atlantic) suggested that there are three explanations for the demise of America’s storefronts:

  1. People are buying more stuff online than they used to.
  2. The USA built way too many malls.
  3. Americans are shifting their spending from materialism to meals out with friends.

However, there are different opinions about the severity of the apocalypse of retailers. Glenn Taylor in Retail Touch Points writes that the retail apocalypse is more like a retail transformation. He suggests that while many retailers remain in flux, it appears more brands are getting the right tools in place to engineer a turnaround. Some commentators recognize that retailers shouldn’t seek the answers for the problems outside their organisations…

Matt Townsend, Jenny Surane, Emma Orr and Christopher Cannon suggested in Bloomberg that the problems with US retailers are of their own making: “The reason isn’t as simple as Amazon.com Inc. taking market share or twenty-somethings spending more on experiences than things. The root cause is that many of these long-standing chains are overloaded with debt—often from leveraged buyouts led by private equity firms. There are billions in borrowings on the balance sheets of troubled retailers, and sustaining that load is only going to become harder—even for healthy chains.”

If the retail apocalypse can be countered by turning your company around, which usually involve spending more money, but there is no money, well then…

So, will retail technology keep the retail apocalypse in check?

How did retail technology affected the state of retail during 2017?

The adoption of the latest retail technology is proposed as one way to stop the demise of retail stores. Especially is the use of learned machines, data, and virtual- and augmented reality seen to make the in-store shopping experience of customers more pleasant. That, some says, will bring the feet back in the stores.

“With shoppers’ expectations rising, the proliferation of data and new touch points, and increasing competitive pressures, retailers must focus on delivering the most relevant customer experiences possible in order to succeed”, concurred Jeff Barret in Inc. That’s where the problem is with retailers – they have the data, but they don’t know how best to use it…

“Many businesses are failing to make the most of the technology available to them, gathering only a tiny fraction of the available data. They are using valuable manual resources to process and analyze the data they do get and presenting the findings in an incomplete or unnecessarily complicated way”, writes Patrick Reynolds in his blog eTech.

Thus, although retail technology was around during 2017, it seems that most retailers missed the opportunity to use it effectively.

Concluding

Now you might be asking: “What will the state of retail be in 2018?” It may be ‘same old, same old’ or a barrage of new pleasant (or unpleasant) surprises. I don’t know. May it is time that we go back to our customers and ask them. I’m sure they will know the answer…

Happy 2018!

Images:

  1. Georaph.org.uk
  2. Pixabay.com; Pixabay.com
  3. StaticFlickr.com

Read also: Crossing the digital threshold – adding Clicks to Bricks for sustainable retail outcomes

My Avatar and Me – Coping in the Virtual World

I got it when I discovered the virtual world, my avatar. It’s like jumping into an uncomfortable spacesuit and then free-falling from the physical world into the digital world. This is a world full of zeros and ones, to which they answer only yes or no, which should be only right or wrong. How on earth can we ever comprehend this abstract environment? We need to digitize ourselves. Hence may avatar and me…

What is an avatar?

Your Dictionary defines an avatar as something visual used to represent non-visual concepts or ideas. Or it may be an image that is used to represent a person in the virtual world of the internet and computers. Peachey and Childs, (2011)1 suggest that taking on the form of an avatar within a virtual world is resembling a literacy of crossing down from the real into the digital. Consequently, many of us created our first avatars when we start playing games online.

With online gaming, virtual worlds are three dimensional environments in which you can interact with others and create objects as part of that interaction. How do you do that? You appear as an avatar in the virtual world: an avatar is a virtual representation of you (a ‘virtual ego’) which can take on any shape or form as you so wish (Virtual Reality Society). Just like my avatar and me…

My avatar and me going shopping

Now we move from gaming to shopping. How will my avatar help me shopping in the virtual world? It can be done with the help of your online retailer… According to De Mesa, (2009) 2 brands can, by being three-dimensional and interactive, move past the ‘show me’ paradigm of other media and get into the ’touch me’ world of true interaction.

Take for example shopping online for clothing. From the start this was a potential minefield. “The issue of getting the correct size remains a serious drawback for buying clothing and footwear online. Sizes vary from brand to brand, and since you can’t try out the products before buying them, selecting the size is always a gamble”, says Tarun Mittal, YourStory.com.

However, the industry is pouring millions of dollars into developing and trying technological solutions. Augmented reality, avatars and algorithms that approximate your size based on measurements you provide are already in the marketplace (CBC News).

So, my avatar (and me) can now click on an app to select my body shape and click on a piece of clothing I want to try. My avatar will appear in a 3D image wearing the item in the comfort of my own home. That’s really cool, isn’t it!

How can using avatars help retailers?

Just as we are using avatars to ease into the virtual world, so retailers use avatars to target their audience better. They call these avatars personas. Retailers, for example, create personas to help them understand their customers better. “It’s not who comes to your website that is important it is how they behave when they get there that is key to your success”, say Jackson (2009) 3.

Jackson (2009) 3 also suggests when designing personas, retailers should look at a number of different sources of data to define how to get to their role models. These are:

  1. Demographic data – age, gender, geography (data acquired from customer surveys, CRM data or other sources).
  2. Customer psychographics – what the customer does in the pre-purchase phase found by looking at a number of different sources in addition to the demographic data, such as web analytics keyword data.
  3. Market data – such as how the branding and market place effects the decisions of the persona. Web analytics keyword data, Google Trends and data from doing a competitor analyses are good sources of information.

Once a retailer has all the data about her customers, she can create an avatar or persona for customers that are interested in a specific product or product line. Below is an example of a completed buyer persona.

Concluding

The advent of the internet and technological advances thereafter have plunged us all in a new world. It’s a new world with a new economy and new rules – for most an exciting though scary space. By creating avatars and personas, machines and humans can meet on common ground – each wearing a spacesuit to make sense of one another.

Notes:

1Peachey, A. and Childs, M. 2011. Virtual worlds and identity, In: Reinventing ourselves: contemporary concepts of identity in virtual Worlds, 1-12, Springer London.

2De Mesa, A. 2009. Brand Avatar: Translating virtual world branding into real world success, Springer.

3Jackson, S. 2009. Chapter 6: Developing and Measuring Motivational and Behavioural Personas, In: Cult of Analytics: Driving online marketing strategies using web analytics, Routledge.

Images:

  1. slidesharecdn.com
  2. Pixabay

Read also: Chatbots in Retailing – a Fact or a Fad?

Are Websites Obsolete? Not so fast, some says…

Websites obsolete, really? Think about it – the 1.2 billion websites are becoming outdated and out of fashion? And who is to blame? The smart phones and mobile technology? Of course; according to Damle, Aslekar and Yadavalli, (2016) 1, people are beginning to use mobile applications (apps) more than ‘traditional’ websites.

Indeed, Connie Hwong reported that data from Verto Analytics showed that there’s a correlation between the number of distinct apps that consumers use and the total amount of time they spend using their smartphone on a daily basis. That’s no real surprise.

Pappachan, Yus, Das, Mehrotra, Finin and Joshi (2015) 2 suggested that today’s internet users have an array of choices while installing apps of any kind for entertainment, utility, or education. As a result, smart phones started to replace other devices as de facto medium for online browsing, social networking, and other activities. Even more, mobile apps are replacing traditional desktop applications and websites, said Pappachan et al (2015) 2.

So, it this the end of websites? Let’s first compare websites with apps – what are their functions and where do they fit in?

Websites versus Apps

For some, there is no question that the websites are obsolete. The transition from an internet of websites to an internet of mobile apps is no longer coming — it is here, writes John Herrman recently in The New York Times.

Dan Cristo, announced (quite dramatically) in Search Engine Watch: “I’ve been preaching the death of the web in favor of native mobile apps for a while now, but many don’t see it. They can’t imagine a day when their beloved .com will go away, disregarded as a relic of the early Internet.”

But can we do without a website? Are apps making websites obsolete?

Anderson and Rainie, (2012) 3 predicted five years ago that the experience when you visit a webpage and the experience when using an app will converge, possibly to the point where there is little practical difference. They listed points for and against apps.

Points for apps:

  • The convenience – of using apps as a gateway to getting what you want meets human needs.
  • Apps are are easier to control and turn into commodities for sale.
  • The apps approach to accessing information on the Internet is perceived as “closed,” while the traditional Web paradigm is seen as “open.”
  • Apps’ ability to meet specific needs becomes a double-edged sword; they simplify life and they create “walled gardens” and a lack of serendipity.

Point against the domination of apps:

  • The rapid global adoption of narrowly targeted software applications—increasingly popular because of their ease of use on mobile devices—is negatively impacting creativity, innovation, and individuality on the World Wide Web.

websites obsolete

So, are websites obsolete?

Before you get rid of your websites and fall heads over heels for apps, read the 5 reasons Evan Rose (Business2Community) suggests keeping your websites:

  1. There is no SEO for mobile apps. For the moment, there is no way of getting more search results for your business through the mobile app. SEO is still restricted to websites when it comes to on-page keyword strategies.
  2. You cannot incorporate too many features in an app. Imagine every type of content included in your website squeezed into a mobile app. It would be a huge app which would take up a lot of storage space and it would be difficult to use.
  3. You still rely on website landing pages. Coming back to those people who are still browsing social media from their computers (there are a lot of them, and for certain niches they are the typical potential customers), your social media campaigns, ads and offers would not be effective if you send people to a mobile app instead of a web landing page.
  4. Web pages are better for blogging. Although they are very busy, people still enjoy reading a good article or blog post, even if it is longer. It is quite annoying to do that in an app, with endless scrolling on the screen.
  5. Maintaining and updating websites is less expensive. If you focus all your marketing, promotion, presentation and blogging efforts in a mobile app, you will have to apply frequent updates. This is not only annoying for the users, but it is also costly for your organization.

Concluding

I suppose the website will never become obsolete. However, it may become a niche application.  It won’t be long before we can do everything with apps that we can do now with websites. More intriguing may be an application, on a different platform, that will make apps obsolete…

Notes

1 Damle, M., Aslekar, A. and Yadavalli, V.S. 2016. Comparative Study of Online Shopping Experience With Specific Reference to Mobile Apps Based Shopping, International Journal of Scientific & Engineering Research, 7(4):1238-1246.

2 Pappachan, P., Yus, R., Das, P.K., Mehrotra, S., Finin, T. and Joshi, A. 2015. Building a Mobile Applications Knowledge Base for the Linked Data Cloud, In MoDeST@ ISWC, 14-25.

3 Anderson, J.Q. and Rainie, L. 2012. The Web Is Dead? No. Experts expect apps and the Web to converge in the cloud; but many worry that simplicity for users will come at a price, Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

Video:

Images

  1. Pexels.com
  2. StaticFlickr.com

Read also: The Big Challenge: How to Increase your Website Traffic

Retail and Climate Change – A Devastating Reality

Tuesday, October 10, 2017 in Durban. It was a lovely spring morning…; then suddenly, all hell broke loose. More than 140 mm (5 and a half inches) rain fell in a couple of hours. With that, strong winds uprooted trees and demolished roofs and sheds. For me, retail and climate change met when the massive container ship MSC Ines disengage from her mooring to block the entrance of the Durban harbor channel to shipping.

What if the entrance of the harbor remains blocked for a long period of time?  That may simply means that most retailers in South Africa may soon run out of merchandise. But that’s not all. Most of the warehouses were flooded and damaged in the storm, also not helping. Can you imagine grocery stores with empty shelves and frustrated customers?

This is an extraordinary scenario where retail and climate change have met. But where else do they meet…

Retail and climate change are meeting in the stores

Remember the good old days when we still had seasons? I mean like summer, winter, fall and spring? Maybe the days are gone when winter clothing fashion shows caused a stir late summer and visa verse with summer fashions.

I suppose that’s way Arthur Zaczkiewicz asked in WDD: “Is Climate Change Killing the Seasonality of Fashion Apparel Retailing?” According to Arthur, one easily noticeable effect of the impact of climate change on fashion apparel and retail are sales of outerwear. Last year’s lack of “sweater weather” caused by record warmth during October, November and December, resulted in excess inventory of sweaters, jackets and coats.

In fact, results from a doctoral study done by Islam Molla (2016) 1 in the US revealed that change in temperature affects the impact of wholesale sales on retail sales during the months of June, July, and August. Therefore retailers need to implement some strategic managerial decisions to reduce their inventory as well as their cost, suggested Molla.

But climate change is not only affecting the fashion retail.

Retail and climate change – a challenge to keep food on the table

An even bigger threat of climate change concerns food security. Most of us has probably experienced shortages of certain food groceries because of a severe drought or flooding. In South Africa, for example, the recent drought had caused the price of meat to rise with about 17% since January 2016 (Colleen Goko, Business Live).

Some foodstuffs can become scarcer or disappear altogether. This may be because climate change makes it more difficult to grow crops, raise animals, and catch fish in the same ways and same places as we have done in the past (EPA). Should we get used to grocery stores displaying half empty shelves?

What about the effect that climate change has on infrastructure?

Infrastructure, retail and climate change

Retailers are heavily depended on workable infrastructure to get customers into the stores and to fulfill orders. Storms and temperature extremes can damage or destroy infrastructure. Indeed, that’s what happened in Durban recently.

Apart from the harbor entrance that was blocked, roofs were blown off warehouses and factories. As result thereof, merchandise were damaged and production at several factories ceased. Roads were destroyed and power lines were swept away. Moreover, the signal towers of mobile phone networks were damaged.

Indeed, retail and climate change met in a devastating dance that day…

Regulating climate change

So, climate change can’t just carry on disrupting our lives forever one should think? No, we all have a government to make laws to contain the beast. But how will the regulations and laws affect us?

To begin with, the laws and regulations to reduce the effect of climate change were introduced halfheartedly and not globally. Even the USA recently backtracked on the Paris accord. The Paris accord is a voluntary treaty that allows signatories to set their own pace of decarburization, so long as it is consistent with limiting global warming to 2 ᵒC.

If the leading nations don’t care about climate change, then not only retail but the existence of humankind is in danger…

Concluding

It seems that much had been said about climate change, but little has been done. I suppose it had do with egos and politics. Should we as retailers not start introducing steps to minimize the effects of our businesses on the climate? Maybe then retail and climate change can dance to a different tune…

Note:

1 Islam Molla, M. 2016. Impact of weather on US apparel retail and wholesale sales, Doctoral dissertation, University of Missouri–Columbia.

Images:

  1. Maritime Executive
  2. Flickr.com
  3. Wikimedia

Customer Centricity – Now is the Opportunity to know your Customers Better

Customer centricity means that retailers should align products and services with the needs of their most valuable customers 1. Said Peter Drucker more than 50 years ago: “it is the customer who determines what a business is, what it produces, and whether it will prosper.”

Although Drucker’s rationale was spot-on, until recently, adopting customer centricity was a step too far for most companies.  Historically, firms have tended to be product-centric.  As a result, firms were more internally oriented, with their attention focused on selling superior products rather than on being oriented toward the purchasers and users of those products 3.

However, the advent of the internet and Web 2.0 all changed that.

The digital disruption provides an opportunity to focus on  customer centricity

The impact that digitization has on the retail industry is recognized by most commentators as “disrupting”. In fact, retailers have to reconsider the impact of technology on their usual business strategy and aim at implementing digital transformation; otherwise, chances to succeed are miserable, according to ELEKS writing in Medium.com.

The digital disruption is however not always bad news for the retail industry. Digital technology has made it easier to remove the friction points customers have with your business. As a result, the processes are more seamless, straight-through transaction path agnostic of the engagement medium, says Grant Pattison, Senior Manager, Marketing & Sales Technology, IAG.

Retail shoppers are treated with digital surprises when visiting their favorite stores. They ‘re overwhelmed by all the new gadgets and retail technologies such as touch screens, smart fitting rooms and augmented reality that make their shopping experience better. Indeed, data collected via IoT devices and sensors inside the store will help retailers track shopper movement, predict behavior and develop more interactive experiences that appeal to all the senses, concurs Alison Wiltshire, guest author in Internet Retailing.

However, the customers are paying for their experiences. Every time they enjoy the technology, they give something away about themselves to the retailer. The data that the retailer gathers is like gold dust. In fact, retailers are now using predictive analytics and other technologies, along with new organizational structures, to both anticipate and influence customer behavior 4.

So retailers that adopted digital technology have all the means to achieve customer centricity. Not really…

Moving from a culture of product centricity to one of customer centricity

It doesn’t make sense for retailers to use the latest technology to improve their customer’s shopping experiences when everything they are doing is centered round their products. It’s not the products that are important; it’s the customers that are most important!

The true essence of the customer centricity paradigm lies not in how to sell products but rather on creating value for the customer and, in the process, creating value for the firm 3. In other words, customer centricity is concerned with the process of dual value creation.

Your customers rather want to learn that your products add value for them instead of being suffocated about the benefits of the products. Therefore retailers need to communicate their value proposition in the omnichannel; through their websites and in social media networks and in store, suggests Douw G Steyn, Bricks2Clicks.co.za.

So how do you get your company to focus on customer centricity? Ehssan Abdallah article in Heidrick & Struggles’ blog mentioned five essentials of customer centric cultures:

  1. A customer-centric talent agenda. Executives need to determine how to build and sustain their company’s capacity to deliver customer service aligned with the company’s purpose.
  2. Meaningful customer service values. Retailers should ask the following questions to frame and define the organization’s customer service values but also better ensure that employees at all levels can understand and articulate how their actions contribute to success:
    1. What are our customers telling us they need?
    2. How can we harness analytics to drive day-to-day behaviors and processes?
    3. How can we connect customer service values to our organization’s purpose?
  3. Empowered employees. Employees should be encouraged to use their authority wisely, and thereby sending a strong signal to all the stakeholders of the company’s “whatever-it-takes” philosophy to delight its customers.
  4. A strong sense of accountability. In moving toward an empowered customer-centric culture that leverages talent effectively, leaders must select indicators to gauge performance and track progress for both behaviors and outcomes.
  5. Leaders who “walk the talk”. When executives promote customer service values, it sends a strong signal throughout the organization that management recognizes the customer as central to its existence.

Strong, customer-centric cultures offer organizations an organic, and sustainable, avenue to better results. Not according to some commentators.

Reasons why customer centricity may not be working (a different opinion…)

Jack Springman, a director at Digital Springboard didn’t make customer centricity part of his objectives this year. Here are his reasons:

  1. Customer-centricity is too vague a term to be useful. What does customer-centricity mean, specifically? How do you define it? How do you know when an organization is genuinely customer-centric?
  2. Customer-centricity is not measurable. If you can’t measure it, you can’t deliver it. So how do you measure centricity? You can’t.
  3. It’s a means, not an end (and one that could be counterproductive). Improving the customer experience is an end; customer-centricity is a means. So even if you could measure centricity, which should be subsidiary to what you are trying to achieve.
  4. Staff-centricity versus customer-centricity. There is a relationship between staff satisfaction and customer satisfaction. Unhappy employees may battle to be customer centric.
  5. Customer value requires all stakeholders to be looked after. Of course, no business can exist without customers, but nor can any but the very smallest survive without staff or suppliers or perhaps partners.
  6. Reduced prioritization in the strategic agenda. Think about the impact in other parts of the organization, especially as customer centricity is supposed to be an organization-wide commitment.

Jack suggests that in place of customer centricity, firms should create value for customers in a way that also creates value for the business.

Concluding

After all of this, it’s not about the company. It’s about the customer. Jack Springman rightfully said that no company can exist without customers. So, if you want to keep your customers and get some more, you must know what their needs, wants and demands are. Of course, if you add value for your customers, then they will return the complement.

And yes, with aid of digital technology unsurmountable bits of data are collected from our customers for us to utilize.  After all, customer’s first point of interaction is mostly nowadays a machine or robot…

Shouldn’t we rather have a customer/ robot focus from now on?

Read also: The Value Proposition for Bricks and Clicks Retailers

Image: Flickr.com

 

Notes:

1 Lemon, K.N. and Verhoef, P.C., 2016, Understanding customer experience throughout the customer journey, Journal of Marketing: AMA/MSI Special Issue, 80:69–96.

2 Drucker, P.F, 1954. The practice of management: A study of the most important function in America society, Harper & Brothers.

3 Shah, D., Rust, R.T., Parasuraman, A., Staelin, R. and Day, G.S. 2006. The path to customer centricity. Journal of service research, 9(2):113-124.

4 Van den Driest, F., Sthanunathan, S. and Weed, K. 2016. Building an insights engine, Harvard Business Review, 94(9):64-74.

Content Marketing – Stories that Add Value to Your Target Audience

Content marketing is the only marketing left. Teaching your customers and giving your customers the resources to believe you are new marketing, said Seth Godin, renowned marketing author. Seth was right in 1999, and he is still spot on.

The internet provides numerous opportunities for retailers to share information about their brand and products. And this is what customers want. According to the Content Marketing Institute 1, 70% of people would rather learn about a company via an article than an ad.

In fact, “Nine out of ten organizations are now marketing with content – that is, going beyond the traditional sales pitches and instead enhancing brands by publishing (or passing along) relevant information, ideas, and entertainment that customers will value” confirmed Alexander Jutkowitz 2 back in 2014.

What is Content?

Before discussing the “content marketing’ construct, we must first understand what ‘content’ is. Content is everything that a web user reads, hears or experience when he/she visits and interacts with a digital communication.

Dr Dave Chaffey 3 refers to content as the combination of static content forming web pages, but also dynamic rich-media content which encourages interaction such as videos, podcasts, user-generated content and interactive product selectors. But what is the best content for retailers to use?

James Yankey identified the following as best content for retailers to use:

  • Reviews – customer reviews ensure that shoppers feel confident in their purchases. It also let retailers know where they can improve or respond to negativity.
  • Personalized recommendations – knowing your shoppers’ purchase history and what they’re currently in the market for is the best way to offer personalized recommendations.
  • How-to articles and videos – retailers can capture more traffic by providing in-depth how-to’s on their website to help customers get the most out of a new purchase.
  • User generated content – is the fastest growing content type. It helps you create emotional connections with your shoppers and shows that you value your customers’ experience with your products.
  • In-store remarketing – Display ads: similar to ads used by digital marketers, however they’re designed for customers who have browsed in-store rather than browsed online. Email campaigns: to remind shoppers of the products they saw and loved during and instore visit.
  • Loyalty offers – loyalty programs are the second most prominent driver of repeat business (AccessDevelopment.com). Things like offering 10% off a next purchase or creating a loyalty points system helps to establish loyal customers.

All content needs to be marketed…

Content Marketing

What is content marketing? The concept of content marketing can be defined as a marketing approach, which aims to find products produced according to customers’ needs and create customer satisfaction and fulfilment in this way 4.  Conveniently, we live and work  in the digital age…

Digital media allow retailers to target prospects with a defined need. With content marketing, which is proactive and self-selecting, little advertising is wasted 3. Jayson DeMers, contributing in Forbes mentioned three key advantages of content marketing:

Key advantages of content marketing:

  1. Customer relationships. Retailers have the opportunity to build and solidify a customer relationship. The customers, on the other hand, experience a sense of empowerment when digesting the content of retailers. They feel the retailer knows what they want and speaks directly to them. In return, retailers gain satisfied, loyal customers with higher retention rates.
  2. Cost efficiency. It is far less costly to communicate with your customers via content marketing. Creating a valuable blog post might only take a few hours of your time, and it will continue to create value for your brand indefinitely. A paid ad campaign, on the other hand, can be expensive, and its long-term value is comparatively fleeting.
  3. Long-term returns. Content marketing has a higher potential for long-term returns as well. Because paid ads disappear the moment you stop paying for them, there’s a finite and linear value to your investment. Content, on the other hand, offers compounding returns over time.

However, for retailers to enjoy the benefits of content marketing, they should do it the right way.

How to make content marketing work

Important for retailers is that the content they and their users create is managed properly. Therefore a strategic approach is needed…

When you develop a content strategy, there are some key things to consider according to Justin McGill:

  • Who you’re creating it for
  • The problem it’s going to solve for that audience
  • How it will be unique
  • The formats you’ll focus on
  • The channels where it will be published
  • How you will schedule and manage creation and publication

Ok, you’ve tried your best, but are getting nowhere with content marketing. What on earth could be the problem?

Neil Patel, a lifelong evangelist of Kissmetrics proposed the following 10 reasons way your content marketing effort may have failed:

  1. You haven’t refined your strategy. Like any other form of marketing, you need a strategy if you expect to be successful.
  2. You don’t spend much on content marketing. Retailers who spend a lot on marketing are able to grow their markets faster than companies who don’t spend as much.
  3. You aren’t promoting your content. The quickest way to kill your content marketing is to do nothing after you create your content.
  4. Your content sucks. Sometimes, the content just plain sucks.
  5. You’re in a tough niche. The content marketers who are struggling the most are those that are in really hard industries.
  6. You’re up against a goliath of a competitor. There are times when you’re simply facing a dominating competitive landscape.
  7. You haven’t waited long enough. Content marketing takes time. Don’t expect results in a matter of a few weeks or even a few months.
  8. You have horrible SEO. If you’re doing content marketing, but have poor SEO, you might as well not even be creating content. No one is going to find it.
  9. Your expectations are too high. Take a step back and get realistic about content marketing. You might not double your traffic or triple your revenue.
  10. You’re not having any fun with it. Have some fun with content marketing. It’s not supposed to be a painful, awful and dark journey through despondency.

If you’re still battling with content marketing in spite of trying everything, best is to consult a digital marketing expert. Now let’s conclude…

Concluding

Everyone has a story to tell, so they say. Your story, however, may be a good one – a story that your customers value and enjoy. With billions of stories on the web you should take care that it’s your story that is read, hear or seen. Hence the necessity of content marketing.

Read also: Content Marketing Tips for Retailers

Notes

1 Walters, T. and Rose, R. 2015. Is native advertising the new black? Content Marketing Institute, Northeast Ohio Media Group.

2 Jutkowitz, A. 2014. The Content Marketing Revolution, Harvard Business Review.

3 Chaffey, D. 2015. Digital business and E-commerce management, Pearson Education Limited.

4 Köse, U. and Sert, S. 2016. Intelligent Content Marketing with Artificial Intelligence, In International Conference of Scientific Cooperation for Future.

Image:

Photo Credit: <a href=https://howtostartablogonline.net/>via Richard Goodwin</a>
Video

Fast Adapting Customers Leave Inert Retailers Behind

Fast adapting customers are leaving obstinate retailers in droves. Hence the headlines dominating retail news portals are about thousands of retail stores closing their doors. That’s happening because retail customers are adapting quickly and easily to the digital world of today.

Many retailers, on the other hand, aren’t keeping up with the changing buying habits of their customers. Indeed, they are ignorant at best and stubborn to keep on doing what they did for decades…

The sad result is that retail brands are disappearing. The Centre of Retail Research reports that during the first eight months of 2017, 35 companies failed in the UK, closing 1,194 stores and affecting 10,611 workers.

There may be many reasons for retailers closing down. However, it may be because the retailers fail to react to the opportunities and threats of the digitized world…

How fast adapting customers are on top of the world

Tech savvy retail customers have never had it better. It doesn’t matter whether they are shopping online or at their favourite Bricks and Mortar store. They can do either shopping effortlessly. In fact, retail customers can shop how and wherever they want in the omni-retail channel. The benefits for adapting retail customers in the omni-retail channel are:

  • Omni-channel retail is customer focused. It is a powerful strategy adopted by retailers for improving customer experience, says Brad Arsenault (FithQuadrant).
  • Retail customers expect the same basic brand experience across all channels. Omni-channel retail allows customers to buy from any channel.
  • The fast adapting customers feel more valued. They have a seamless journey from online to offline and is more likely to return to the brand who they feel gives them a fully personalised experience.

Retail customers in the digital world expect every retailer to offer them the greatest shopping experience they’ve ever had. If retailers can’t achieve that, they’ll probably soon close their doors (if they haven’t already done so). As result thereof, retailers should change the way they’re doing business to keep up with their fast adapting customers, or perish…

How can retailers keep up with their fast adapting customers?

Start right now to change the direction of your business, a turnaround – 180 degrees. Yes, you should get out of that box (the one you’ve been hiding in for decades…), and think out of the box! More importantly, you should be the revolutionary leader (or at least appoint one). Disrupt and destroy the old culture of your business. Burn your vision and mission statements. Therefore, appoint leaders that are humble, adaptable, visionary and engaged. Let go of the rest…

Then, find out what shopping experience your customers most want. And give it to them!

Concluding

Do what you have to do now! Oh, and good luck!

Read also:

  1. Success in the Digital Age Requires Extraordinary Retail Leaders
  2. How successful are Retailers in the Omnichannel?

Image:

Bricks2Clicks

 

Voice-Activated Shopping an Effortless Customer Experience

Is voice-activated shopping the digital outcome that retailers need to offer their customers an effortless shopping experience? Or is it taking AI and machine learning a step too far?

Humans are what we are because of our ability to speak with one another, to listen what’s said, to comprehend the info and to react on what we perceive. We also like to be part of a group, to socialize. Said MacFarlane 2, (2014): “Because our evolutionary heritage provides us with genetic material open to forces and influences from the physical environment, we also require a social environment for brain development and for the acquisition of skills such as speech and written communication.”

So we learn from others and learn others by using our voices. But that is now changing. Now, after millions of years of being humans, we’re learning machines how to listen to voices, to recognize and analyze the message and then to respond in a ‘sensible’ way.

So, if you’re still able to speak, say Hallo! to voice-activated shopping. Because, according to Hailee Sosnowski’s post in DigitalCommerce, voice search is projected to account for half of online searches by 2020.

What is Voice-Activated Shopping?

Voice-activated shopping (VAS) means that a customer can use his or her natural voice to control technology whilst shopping. There is no need to touch anything and the customers can do voice-activated shopping by using their smartphones. VAS is already adopted by some retailers.

Laura Agadoni (JLL) remarked the following about voice-activated shopping: “Right now it’s being used for ordering groceries, pizza or coffee. For consumers there’s no driving to stores, logging onto a computer, or pulling out smartphones to open an app. They simply say what they want to one of the new voice activated devices coming onto the market from the likes of Google and Amazon.”

Take the example of Alexa, the AI-based personal assistant from Amazon. With Alexa in your kitchen, adding an item to your Ocado order is a breeze, says Holly Godwin (OcadoTechnology). Run out of biscuits and have a friend coming for tea? – Just tell Alexa “Alexa, ask Ocado to add biscuits”.

Alexa converts the audio stream into a command (for example, “add to trolley”) and a search term (such as “biscuits”). Alexa most probably will find exactly what you want, because Ocado has ‘trained’ Alexa to recognize the top 15,000 commonly search terms from Ocado.com.

How will Voice-Activated Shopping affect the retail market?

In today’s age of digital driven technology, it’s no shame to ask how voice-activated shopping may further disrupt the retail market. However, there is no consensus about what the opportunities or challenges of VAS are for retailers.

Opportunities using VAS (OnlyRetail.com)

  • More sales. Amazon found that sales of its Echo devices increased nine fold compared to 2015. Also, they also spend 10% more and their buying frequency went up by 6%.
  • Shopping for customers is now effortless. VAS allows householders to buy groceries just by talking to the fridge.
  • Gathering data for an omnichannel approach. Voice-enablement could be the unifying force omnichannel has been missing.
  • Investing for the future. It’s been reported that 55% of 13- to 18-year-olds use voice search every day, so clearly there is an appetite (Emma Lyons, Campaign US).
  • Speed of ordering. The ability to immediately order household essentials is the most obvious use for voice-enabled retail.

Challenges using VAS

  • “It’s still quite a new market and quite complex, so it requires advice and people will want to come talk to someone who can explain how it works, so we see it as an opportunity in that respect,” according to Grace Bowen, RetailWeek.com.
  • Tailoring search algorithms for Voice-enablement. “We know that shoppers will not go past the second or third page of a Google search result – voice will be like that on steroids” (Luke Tugby Retail Week).
  • Acceptance of VAS. Older generations may take a bit more convincing to adopt voice-activated technology.
  • Universal use of VAS in retail. A big question is whether voice recognition technology can work for all retail. What about fashion? Consumers can’t very well order a “black dress,” for example, and get exactly what they want, wonders Laura Agadoni (JJL).

Concluding

Speech has been argued to be the most natural and comfortable way to communicate 1. So it came as no surprise that it is now integrated in AI technology. So, what do commentators say about voice-activated shopping technology?

“Voice recognition technology is the next iteration of online shopping as consumers increasingly prize ways to complete chores or get the information they need easily and quickly,” Laura Agadoni (JJL).

“The convenience of voice search makes it instantly attractive to consumers, but it also introduces new complexities that retailers who want to survive the age of voice must fully understand,” Hailee Sosnowski, paid search planner, BKV (DigitalCommerce360.com).

My advice? Are your business performing as planned? If not, revisit your business’s digital marketing plan and identify the problem areas. If the most important reason why your business is losing sales is that your customers seeks VAS, then do VAS!

Read also: Artificial Intelligence – Digital Outcomes or Digital Disruptions for Retailers?

Notes:

1 Kääriä, A.  2017. Technology acceptance of voice assistants: anthropomorphism as factor, Master’s Thesis, University of Jyväskylä.

2 MacFarlane, A.E. 2014. Voice activated: exploring the effects of voices on behaviours., PhD Thesis, University of Canterbury.

Image:

Flickr.com

Website Analytics Helps You to See How Your Online Business is Performing

Website Analytics is there for retailers to use. You’ve just decided to start an online retail business. Why not? It’s relatively easy and cheap to do. You can start a Drop Shipping business, or join Shopify or trade your own goods online with a Woocommerce site. According to Quora, there are between 12 and 24 million ecommerce websites on the net. However, only about 650,000 ecommerce websites generate annual sales of more than $1,000. That’s a miserable 2.7% generating very modest turnovers.

Is your online business not performing as planned? Are your paid search adverting and social media marketing campaigns not resulting in sales? Then you’re probably targeting the wrong customers at the wrong place with the wrong products. So how will you know that you’re doing things wrong? You can do the right thing by using a Website Analytics tool such as Google Analytics.

What is Website Analytics?

Web analytics is the process of analyzing the behavior of visitors to a Web site. Indeed, the use of Web analytics is said to enable a business to attract more visitors, retain or attract new customers for goods or services, or to increase the dollar volume each customer spends, says Margaret Rouse in Techtarget.com.

Web Analytics is not just a process for measuring web traffic but can be used as a tool for business and market research, and to assess and improve the effectiveness of a website, according to Salini, Malavolta and Rossi (2016).

Salini et al (2016) mentioned that the four essential stages of Website Analytics are:

  1. Collection of data,
  2. Processing data into information,
  3. Developing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and
  4. Formulating an online strategy.

Each of these stages impacts or can impact the stage preceding or following it; in other words they are sequentially connected and not isolated from each other.

  1. Collecting data for Web Analytics

The simplest, cheapest and most used Web Analytics tool is Google Analytics (GA). Indeed, Google analytics offers a free service to its users. But before you can use GA, you need to create a new account. GA will create a tracking code that you can copy into the memory of your website. Your website should now be connected with Google Analytics.

However, your site needs traffic in order for GA to do its algorithms and results. Therefore you need to write a post or promote products to start attracting visitors.

  1. Processing data into information

Google Analytics can track a visitor’s location, device, landing page, and behavior while he or she is using your website. In addition, you can see where the visitor came from (Google, Bing, Yelp, etc.). This can help you to spend those pay-per-click marketing dollars wisely.

Kristi Hines suggests in his blog Kissmetrics.com that Google Analytics help you as follows:

  • Find out which online campaigns bring the most traffic and conversions.
  • Determine where your best visitors are located.
  • Learn what people are searching for on your site.
  • Visualize what people click on the most.
  • Uncover your top content.
  • Identify your worst performing pages.
  • Determine where people abandon the shopping cart.
  • Discover if you need a mobile site.

Before you start perusing the pie charts, line graphs, and spreadsheets available in the user interface of Google Analytics, it’s important to figure out what to monitor.

  1. Developing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Since you’ve identified what works and what does not work with your website, you need to develop KPIs. A KPI, or Key Performance Indicator, is a metric used to measure performance. Drew Strojny of The Theme Foundry advised that SMEs and bloggers using WordPress to keep the following ideas in mind when identifying website-related KPIs:

  • KPIs should align with business goals. The KPIs related to your website should align with a specific action you want website visitors to take. In many cases, this will be a revenue-impacting action, like contacting you for a quote if you’re a service provider.
  • KPIs should correspond to trackable metrics in Google Analytics. Therefore, when you know what your KPIs are, you should connect each one to a specific tool or tool in Google Analytics.

The top 8 metrics and KPIs that online retailers should take into account with website analytics are according to Natalie Pavlovskaya writing in InstantShift:

  1. Average Order Value (AOV). AOV is considered a key metric by many online retailers, because the higher you can encourage AOV to be, the more income your store will get. The basic calculation is: (Sum of Revenue Generated)/(# of Orders) = Average Order Value
  2. Conversion Rate. The conversion rate tells how effective your store is at closing deals. The basic calculation is: (Number of Sales) / (Number of Visits) = Conversion Rate.
  3. Bounce Rate. Bounce Rate is a percentage of visitors who leave your site immediately, probably because they didn’t find what they were looking or the website was too complicated or annoying to use. The basic calculation is: (Number of visitors who leave immediately) / (Total number of visitors) = Bounce Rate.
  4. Shopping Cart Abandonment Rate. According to the Baymard Institute, the average shopping cart abandonment rate is 69% (2017). The basic calculation is: (#of people who don’t complete checkout) / (# of people who start checkout) = Shopping Cart Abandonment Rate.
  5. Cost per Acquisition. Cost per Acquisition is a critical marketing metric. It can tell you which campaigns can drive your sales and which will become a costly pile. The basic calculation is: (Total Cost of Marketing Activities) / (# of Conversions) = Cost per Acquisition.
  6. Traffic. Where does your audience come from? Which channels produce the most customers? What social networks, keywords work best for your business?
  7. Net Profit. Net Profit is the actual amount of profit a business generates after all expenses. It tells you the profitability of your ecommerce business after taking all costs into account. The basic calculation is: (Total Revenue) – (Total Expenses) = Net Profit.
  8. Customer Lifetime Value (LTV). Customer Lifetime Value measures the total amount of money a customer spends in a store during his relationship with it. The basic LTV equation: (Average Order Value) x (# of Repeat Sales) x (Average Retention Time).

Once you’ve got the overall picture of your online store’s performance, you’ll need to formulate or change your online business strategy.

  1. Formulating an online strategy

Formulating an actionable online strategy for your business may be your biggest challenge. Sarah Williams Founder & CEO of 816 New York proposed the following steps to develop a Google Analytics Measurement Plan:

  • Step 1. Document your business’s objectives. Ask yourself as a company: Why do we exist? What is the Core Purpose and Vision of the brand itself?
  • Step 2: Identify strategies and tactics. One Strategy you would adopt is to sell products. The tactics that support that strategy, then, might be to sell online through the website, sell items in stores, or sell via a mobile shopping app.
  • Step 3: Choose KPIs. For an e-commerce site, the KPIs (measurements of strategies and tactics) might include monitoring how much revenue has been generated, and the average order value from online and mobile app sales.
  • Step 4: Choose segments. It’s important to segment your data to drill down to its essence. Not all customers are the same, and it’s often helpful to segment your reporting to identify distinct market segments.
  • Step 5: Choose targets. You must define the targets for each KPI. What indicates success? Where can you do better? Isn’t that what you want to find out, after all?
  • Step 6: Implement and control. Monitor the data regularly to adjust your tactics with the trends.

A Google Analytics result page

Concluding

Lastly, one of the greatest advantages having an ecommerce website is that you can measure the activity and the behaviour of users. However, there is no advantage if you don’t measure the performance of your website and marketing strategies. Therefore, make sure that you target the right customers with the right products at the right places, and, o yes – the right prices. For that reason mastering website analytics tools such as Google Analytics may bring you close to achieve all your KPI goals. Good luck with your website analytics!

A last word from Albert Einstein “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

Read also:

  1. Predictive Analytics helps Retailers to make sense of Big Data
  2. Marketing Automation is enabled by Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and Chatbots

Note

Salini, A., Malavolta, I. and Rossi, F. 2016. Leveraging web analytics for automatically generating mobile navigation models, In Mobile Services (MS), 2016 IEEE International Conference, 103-110.

Images

Pixabay.com

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