Thursday Oct 01, 2015

Why Millennials Don't Buy Black Friday

Millennials are killing the one-day holiday shopping event. It won’t be this year or the next, but it’s coming. 

The fact is, Black Friday and Cyber Monday aren’t really even one-day events anymore. “Holiday” has evolved in to a season of rolling discounts and events, with Amazon and other major retailers setting the pace by publishing their entire promotion schedule and lowest set seasonal prices right after Halloween.

The holiday season will always bring an element of shopping craziness, but the path to win the sales holiday sales war is changing. It’s no longer rock-bottom prices and doorbuster sales. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are great tools for retailers to get shoppers in their stores and not their competitors, but this model won’t hold up as millennials take center stage.

Millennials have shopped online their entire adult lives. In their eyes, Black Friday incentives rarely outweigh the hassle and frustration of setting foot in a crowded store, rolling the dice with limited options and inventory. They may take in the decorations with a gingerbread latte, and want a hands-on experience for select gifts, but the reality is they steer clear of the mall for holiday shopping.

Cyber Monday is more appealing to millennials, but it is still a one-day event that doesn’t excite them as much as it does older generations. Managing Cyber Monday sales and sitting at the computer in the early morning hours is becoming the new, stressful Black Friday sidewalk campground. Outside of being part of the competition and excitement, Millennials know they can get deals after Black Friday and Cyber Monday. They don’t want to be pressured to make buying decisions with certain retailers and certain products on specific days. Most of the population doesn’t have their act together in the days after Thanksgiving – and frankly, they don’t need to. In 2014, more shopping was done December 20th – 24th than during the hyped-up shopping days, and the deals continued to come right up until Christmas Eve.

As more and more Boomers gravitate to online shopping and Cyber Monday numbers continue to climb, retailers need to think three steps ahead to how they will address the next wave of shoppers - millennials (and it goes way beyond price).

The Millennial Shopper: Super Efficient, Lots of Expectations

What do millennials want during the holiday shopping season? Fewer of them are braving the stores to shop, so they take to screens. Millennials are mobile research experts/addicts. They get lots of targeted emails (an incredibly effective way to reach them) and know they can get deals on an ongoing basis. They’ll wait for sales. They’ll research all of their options. They’re not in a rush.

Millennials expect a deal. They expect free and fast shipping, which takes the pressure off to get gifts early in the season; they can screech in to the curb waiting for the right products and prices. 7-10 day standard shipping may as well be an eternity (or a non-starter if they’re shopping the week before Christmas), so shipping options must be fast, and pick up in store (if applicable) should be available. They also expect free returns. Many millennial shoppers over-buy with the intention of returning much of it. Managing this along with shipping is a major challenge and roadblock to innovation for many in retail ecommerce – but it’s critical to compete.

Millennials use technology to do their legwork. If they are price-conscious, they’ll use an app like Shopsavvy to crawl the Web.

They also tend to purchase large amounts of holiday gifts from a smaller number of retailers to simplify things and to get cleared for free shipping thresholds or tiered discounts.

Millennials love to discover new brands and new products through social media like Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook and word-of-mouth. As creative gifts and niche brands become widely available through sites like Etsy, hitting the perfect gift bull’s-eye with something unique can be more appealing than getting a deal.

These demanding shoppers will spend the most in the coming years. Standard retail tactics like discounts, sales, and events won’t guarantee success. It will become more about building relationships with brands that are easy to do business with.

Engaging Millennial Shoppers During Holiday (and Year Round)

How can retailers start selling to the millennial shopper now to get a jump-start on competitors? While discounts and coupons excite shoppers of all ages, think outside of pricing alone.

Be fast. If you can get the products shoppers want the fastest (at a fair price) – you win. Shoppers will spend more to get something the next day (or even same day in some markets) with a hard stop like December 25th. Checkout is still a huge barrier to conversion, so make the process painless – one page, few steps, limited questions (especially on mobile).

Over communicate. Email reaches a fever pitch in December, and while inboxes get flooded with noise, use this influential tool to differentiate your brand. You don’t need to extend rock-bottom prices, but keep an active email conversation to stay top of mind. Offer deals of the day. Integrate with social media. Extend exclusive VIP offers. Experiment with opt-in texts. Retailers like Target, Best Buy and JCPenney are have been collecting emails and phone numbers to send exclusive alerts.

Give options. Get ahold of your supply chain and make the digital customer experience frictionless. Millennials expect flexible fulfillment options (buy online pick up in store, fast shipping). Make returns simple (and free if you can). Be present on social media with an authentic brand message that allows shoppers to discover products.

To win millennial business, retailers must be easy to do business with during holiday and year round. Retailers must deliver a painless customer experience and lots of options. The days of retailers setting up their holiday Web sites and freezing code in the summer won’t be around forever. Brands should invest in solutions that grant them the agility to adapt versus curating static experiences. Experiment. Tell your brand story in an authentic way in an engaging, efficient shopping experience. Millennials expect it.

Monday Sep 14, 2015

Coming Soon: Collaboration is Commercial Norm

Has anyone else noticed that the peer-to-peer commerce space is really taking off?

Also known as P2P, ‘the sharing economy’, ‘the collaborative economy’, and probably many other terms I’ve not yet come across, peer-to-peer commerce is where individuals are directly connected to each other to trade goods or services.

Ok, so the concept is not new. People have been trading and bartering for centuries. Even online, peer-to-peer is not a new concept. Napster pioneered P2P file sharing in the late 90s, and eBay is now in its twentieth year.

Still, it’s only in recent years that P2P has been really disrupting traditional commercial business models.

Two of the more familiar P2P businesses - Airbnb, a website for people to list and rent out their accommodation; and Uber an app that connects people with taxis, private car drivers and rideshares, have both faced controversy and lawsuits, mainly because competitors are uncomfortable with P2P becoming the new normal.

But the P2P commercial model is gradually becoming the new normal. Some of the more established companies are seeing huge growth. Airbnb for example, has more than 15 million users worldwide, while Uber is available in more than 300 cities. Plus, the start-up space is scattered with hundreds of new collaborative economy businesses.

Here’s a quick overview of some of the P2P companies on my EMEA watch list:

[Read More]

Wednesday Sep 02, 2015

Bringing Brand Ambassadorship to the Front Lines - A Tale of Past Interactions

This is a follow up to my first post on customer success.

One of my first jobs was as a bus boy at a New York Deli Restaurant. I was 14 years old and the gentleman who hired me made it very clear that my job was to make sure that customers had a great time—more than just good food, people were buying the whole experience of eating in a deli (like the Stage or Carnegie in New York). Greeting guests, bringing them sour pickles, answering questions about what I liked to eat and offering up some free cookies towards the end of the meal didn’t seem like much in the grand scheme of things but in the context of this restaurant, it drove their business with hour long wait times.

In hindsight, the general manager of this restaurant clearly understood what many businesses are still figuring out today—that people buy experiences, be it in restaurants, online, brick & mortar stores, etc. Even more so, he understood that the people on the front line needed to represent the brand and needed to be enabled to deliver on it. So even as a 14 year old (I actually looked older), I had eaten just about everything on the menu and could speak to it with confidence. Management actually encouraged me to run to the counter and grab some cookies for people to try.

Fast forward many years later and I come across blog posts such as this (Seth Godin, “Learning from the State Department”) 

We invented ambassadors because nothing can replace face-to-face interaction, particularly when messages travel sometimes quite slowly through complex organizations. Just like now.

This seems obvious, and it is, until you realize that organizations make two huge mistakes:

A. They don't hire brand ambassadors, they hire clerks and bureaucrats, and treat them and pay them accordingly.


B. They don't manage and lead brand ambassadors, don't measure and reward and create a cadre of people who can listen for the brand and speak for the brand.

Would you send the clerk on aisle 7 to speak to a head of state or vital partner on behalf of your company? Because that's what he's doing right now.

After reading this, I have adopted this phrase of ‘brand ambassador’ and judge most of my experiences in terms of whether or not businesses are enabling their staff to act as these brand ambassadors. On a regular basis I come across businesses where it appears to me that management has enabled their front line staff to be true ambassadors. In my opinion, companies like Zappos and Starbucks have really nailed it. Their staff has both the customer-centric mindset and the tools at their disposal to drive positive customer experiences. On the flip side, I have plenty of experiences online and in stores where the end result is that I either leave the store or cancel my order. Customers shouldn’t be confronted with confusing online order flows that seem particularly spammy. Simple questions about product availability and new shipments shouldn’t be answered with the shrug of the shoulders or an IDK.

Here are a few things to think about as you evaluate your own businesses in terms of bringing brand ambassadorship to the front lines, be it in call centers or physical stores. Each business is unique so there is not necessarily one prescriptive solution. If you are just getting started with a transactional online site, here are a few other good articles about storytelling through visual commerce and branded manufacturers extending their identity in the direct to consumer channel.

Brand and company philosophy: Does your staff know what your brand stands for and the company philosophy and expectations towards customer loyalty and customer service? How do managers and leadership reinforce and demonstrate these philosophies and expectations? Leading by example truly helps fuel the creation of a staff of brand advocates.

Product & Process Knowledge: Does your staff know the product line? Do they have insights into what products are coming, what is in inventory, what has been discontinued, when the sales are going to happen? What training programs have you developed to help new employees learn about the products and procedures as well as continually update all employees on a regular basis? Can your staff effectively manage the “buy online, pick up in store” process? Front line staff need to have superior knowledge to level the playing field against the highly educated customer of today.

Decision Making: Have you evaluated if your staff is enabled to make the day-to-day and on-the-fly decisions to impact both profitable sales and customer loyalty? Are the guidelines clear and are the internal channels there to educate? The inability to act efficiently and effectively in any of the channels (online chat, phone, in store) is a deal killer on so many levels.

Technology: Are you empowering your staff with the right tools and technology to drive customer loyalty and superior customer service? Do you have agent / assisted selling applications that can not only provide insights into inventory, order history, customer profiles but also transact? Much like the need for product knowledge, the right technology tools are needed to enable sales staff to be seen as a consultant and a brand ambassador, not just the order taker.

Measuring Results and Rewards:  How do you measure the success of your front line staff? Can you identify your peak sales performers? Can you measure how effective your staff is with customer service/brand advocacy? Can you measure your staff’s knowledge of products? Do you offer any incentives on an individual level for sales, successful customer interactions? Measuring results and providing rewards can be difficult to implement but this is counterbalanced by the fact that we are currently experiencing a transformational shift in expectations towards customer experience.

I would love to hear about your experiences in creating brand ambassadors within your organizations. What is and isn’t working, obstacles you have had to overcome, tools and technologies that are helping you?

Thursday Aug 27, 2015

Bigger Than Ever - Oracle’s Commerce Solutions at OpenWorld 2015

There are a lot of great reasons for Oracle Commerce customers to attend OpenWorld at the end of October including in-depth product updates, many customer success stories, hands-on labs, and networking events.  Attendees will walk away with a better understanding of how Oracle’s commerce solutions can help them stay competitive in today’s rapidly changing commerce market. 

What’s New and Different?

Meet Oracle Commerce CloudThe Newest Addition to Oracle’s CX Applications Portfolio – See demos, learn about the roadmap, and hear directly from our first customers leveraging this new product

Hands-on Labs – Attendees will see how they can quickly stand up an online storefront with Oracle Commerce Cloud

Interactive Customer Showcases in the CX Commerce Demo Zone featuring Oracle Commerce and Commerce Cloud Customers

All sessions and the demo zone for commerce will be located on 2nd floor of Moscone West in San Francisco.

Conference Sessions

Commerce attendees can explore best practices and share knowledge with over 20 commerce focused sessions including:

  • Roadmap and release updates
  • An in-depth look at Oracle Commerce Cloud
  • Thought-leadership sessions featuring Oracle Strategy Experts
  • Customer Panels featuring both Oracle Commerce and Commerce Cloud Customers
  • Experience Manager and Business Control Center Best Practice Sessions
  • Customer and Partner Case Studies
  • Take part in more than just commerce-focused sessions and explore all that CX Central @ OpenWorld has to offer
[Read More]

Thursday Aug 06, 2015

The Dos and Don’ts of Visual Commerce – It’s all about balance.

After my last post on what visual commerce actually means, I decided to start a list of some do’s and don’ts when working with visual content on commerce sites. With global B2C ecommerce sales expected to reach $1.7 trillion in 2015 the stakes are high for companies to out-pace their competition. Visual commerce is one area that companies are betting on to help get them to the front of the pack. I plan to keep updating this list but here is a start – feel free to add to the discussion in the comments!


Mix social + product content

Mixing in imagery and reviews from social media sites can help consumers see your product(s) in a different light, but don’t rely solely on social content. Consumers still want to see your product up close through product imagery and need to know the specifics that only you can provide – what colors/sizes are available? What are the dimensions? Etc. Mixing these types of content on your site will allow consumers to discover everything they need to know all in one spot.

Use video and interactive content when possible

Beyond imagery, consumers want to see products in action. In fact, according to TV Page, brands are seeing a 79% increase in conversion rates after [consumers] watch a video. And, while videos are able to help your customers visualize how your product works or how it will look – remember to make conversions easy by embedding links directly to your product so consumers can purchase. At the very least, lead them to your home page or a category page if you are worried about managing inventory or having to frequently update your videos.

[Read More]

Thursday Jul 30, 2015

Branded manufacturers ready for next-gen direct to consumer eCommerce sites

The last couple of years brought a crop of first-generation websites from manufacturers going direct to consumer. After some initial hesitancy, big names in apparel, electronics, footwear, and cosmetics launched branded sites that were fairly basic compared to their retail predecessors (and anxious channel partners). During their short online evolution, these brands have narrowed in on how their eCommerce site fits in to their overall company strategy – and are seeing great results.

In recent conversations with brand manufacturers, there are consistent themes across verticals when it comes to direct-to-consumer eCommerce:

  • The vast majority of brands with transactional sites have met or exceeded revenue targets.
  • While it can still be touchy, many have discovered ways to alleviate channel conflict with omnichannel capabilities.
  • To most brands, it simply doesn’t matter how consumers choose to buy their products (although nothing beats direct to consumer margins). Many are in the process of aligning their organizations to measure overall revenue, rather than dissecting who gets sales credit.

Brands are looking back with some relief that direct to consumer eCommerce is paying off across channels, and are energized to figure out how the next rev of their site can drive more results company-wide. Even luxury brands (the last eCommerce holdouts) are realizing the opportunity, with Chanel, Tom Ford and Fendi announcing that they are going transactional this year.

So where should brands focus their next-generation eCommerce sites?

1. Remember the role of the site in the overall business

The site should serve as the brand’s authentic voice, with the goal to get consumers to fall in love with the brand experience and it’s products. Brands selling online are realizing the nuances of research, shopping, and ongoing engagement. Those having the most success understand that the site must cater to various goals, and that shoppers may choose to purchase their products anywhere.

2. Unite storytelling and selling

Creating a destination site where visitors can research, buy, or engage with the brand is all about unifying content and commerce to support sales in all channels.

The site must be optimized for the most common task: consuming content. The ability to purchase products should be woven in to editorial content. Investing in product content will inspire shoppers to make informed purchases in any channel. Cultivating amazing product content like glossy images, videos, downloads, and optimizing site content for scannability should be a core focus of the site.

One of the greatest benefits of a branded site is the direct relationship the manufacturer gets with end users. Brands must include social elements to engage consumers in active dialogue, allowing shoppers to serve as an advocate loving their products. Burberry does this incredibly well. Email and social marketing are other major areas of investment, channeling users to the website as the hub of activity. Mining the data social and marketing brings will improve experiences on-site and company-wide.

3. Elements of exclusivity.

Why would a consumer come to a branded website versus shopping with a retailer? There needs to be a draw – whether that’s amazing content, exclusive products, or interactivity.

Where’s the only place you can design your own custom Jordans? Nike has figured out how to create an online experience that attracts loyal brand advocates with unique experiences and exclusive products.

Personally, I go to branded sites to see the full range of product, whether it’s jeans or car seats. A manufacturer’s eCommerce site is usually the only place to research and purchase from the entire product line (versus a subset of SKUs in retail).

Selling products on a branded site that are not sold in retail helps to alleviate channel competition, and also serves as a platform to test new products, sell limited edition goods, and reduce inventory with special sales.

4. Simplify buying anywhere

No matter when and how they want to buy, invest in features that make it seamless for shoppers.

  • Mobile: Many retailers prioritize mobile and tablet experiences over desktop, and for manufacturers, this is an absolute must. These site visitors are deep in to product research, want inspiration, or want to purchase an item easily. Make sure the site is Responsive, search is optimized, and checkout is streamlined.
  • Omnichannel: Allow shoppers to transact however they please and fulfill in a variety of ways. Let them buy online, buy online and pick up in store, and provide a Store Locator to use retailers as a fulfillment channel (making them happy). Brands can also automatically redirect to retailer sites if their merchandise is out of stock. Make it easy for shoppers with orchestration between order, fulfillment, and inventory systems.
  • Market expansion: Expansion in to new markets is a big growth area for brands in the next year. Making eCommerce storefronts available in regions without retail stores is an opportunity to quickly experiment with new products, markets, and pricing.

Direct to consumer eCommerce will continue to be a disruptive force. Consumers increasingly want to know who’s behind the products they’re buying. Meanwhile, brands need to band together with their channel partners to create stellar customer experiences that drive positive company-wide results. Brands who come out on top will make it incredibly easy (and enjoyable) for consumers to get to know them and buy their products. 

Wednesday Jul 22, 2015

(De)Constructing Customer Success for Consumer Brands – Is it More Than a Buzzword and does it Really Apply to Us?

Customer Success…is this just another buzzword, the new must have, a simple checkbox, or does it actually mean something?   I think we all know that big buzzwords (big data anyone?) can lose their impact and meaning but I am here to tell you that when you strip everything away, ‘customer success’ is really at the cornerstone of creating successful consumer businesses. 

Let’s look at the two words separately. Customers—every business wants to maximize the number of customers they have to grow revenues and spread out revenue risk. Success—achieving or exceeding ones goals, can be measured in revenues and metrics around growth, retention and adoption.

It’s interesting that when we put the words together, they take on a variety of meanings:

Customer Success = Superior Customer Experience = Part Process / Part Relationship = Doing whatever it takes to make the customer successful/happy. A few well-known examples: Zappos, Nordstroms, Chick-fil-A.

Customer Success = Helping the Customer Achieve their Goals = Driving their Success = Pro-active Engagement. A few examples: free nutrition classes at Whole Foods, the Genius Bar inside Apple Stores, pool maintenance courses at my local pool store, coffee shops offering lessons on coffee and brewing techniques, outdoor retailers such as Rock Creek utilizing ambassadors to introduce people to particular sports.

These two definitions are very distinct and have varying levels of adoption. The interesting part is that when one combines them, something really magical starts to occur. From the eyes of the business, they clearly want their customers to have a great experience and feel like they receive superior service, be it when they walk into a store, order something online or when they call. The reality is that, unless you are a monopoly, if your customer is not happy because of how they are treated, at some point they will leave you (about 68% of customers leave for this reason). On top of that, Forrester Research has conducted studies across 13 different industries and has shown that perceptions of customer experience are highly correlated to considerations of future purchases, willingness to recommend to a friend and defection rates to competitors (“The Business Impact Of Customer Experience, 2014, Forrester Research, March 2014”). For some businesses, shifts in customer perception equates to multiple, sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars, gained or lost.

But rather than just delighting them with great experiences, what if all businesses also started to say to their customers—we recognize that the experience doesn’t stop when you buy our product, we want to help you achieve your goals, help you succeed. The reality is, up until recently, few and far between would ever say such a thing to a consumer. At a very high level, telling someone is much easier than showing and helping someone. As an example, a health food store might say that eating xyz food will make you feel healthier but not everyone would show their customers how to make a food plan to actually make you healthier.

When one thinks about it, superior customer experiences + engagement is really a double whammy, a value proposition that is nearly impossible to beat. Let me put it this way—how many consumer businesses can you think of that focus both on delivering superior customer experiences and proactively help the customer achieve their goals? Those that do clearly know that underneath this catchall phrase of customer success is the pathway to creating successful businesses. Going back to the individual definition of each word, businesses obtain and keep servicing their customers to ensure their own long-term success.

So, where does this leave all of us? Great question. As you can guess, I am a big believer in customer success, from both an experience and engagement perspective. I also recognize that saying you have a consumer focused customer success program and actually implementing one (hint: sometimes simple actions go a long way) are two very different things. A first step forward is the recognition that customer success is not just a checklist item but also a way to grow your business, perhaps even developing into a viable competitive differentiator.

I plan to write more about the topic, using my professional and personal experiences to highlight ways to bring the various components of customer success to consumer businesses. Next up: A Tale of Two Interactions, Enabling the Customer Experience.

Tuesday Jul 14, 2015

Three “In-the-trenches” design observations to help keep your eCommerce competitive

I was at a trends conference in January of 1997 and the keynote speaker said something that I will never forget, The culture of the World Wide Web will never grow beyond an environment of sharing information."

Back then, there was a commonly understood respect for the Internet and the purists would never consider making it into a marketplace. It was a place where mankind shares knowledge for the common good. To use the Internet to buy or sell would have been to insult the Cyber gods.

2015 Coffee Purchase

Eighteen years later we hold our fingerprint smartphone in near proximity to a contactless reader and it vibrates to confirm the purchase of a $4 cup of over-roasted coffee. Trends can be subjective and misleading. Projected eCommerce US sales for 2016 may reach $316B and $98B* made with a mobile device.
*Statistic source…
Research date: 10.9.2014.

[Read More]

Thursday Jul 09, 2015

It’s Time to Get Omni-Geo: Applying Omnichannel CX Rules to International Selling

eCommerce growth in the more mature European markets has plateaued and many brands are looking to new country markets to achieve continued sales growth. But dealing with customer expectations becomes trickier as brands expand internationally. The headaches around offering shoppers a seamless, omnichannel experience on home territory simply multiply with each new country market.

Shoppers won’t understand if a product isn’t available to them when it’s available to customers in another country. The same is true of promotions, and delivery options.  Shoppers may expect to place an order using a money-off coupon in one country and collect from a store in another country, while adding points to their loyalty card. They won’t understand why that’s not possible – it’s all through the same brand after all.

Some brands try to tackle this issue by not allowing customers to see other country websites at all by geo-blocking, i.e. blocking access to websites based on location, or diverting the page back to a local browser - a practice which only further frustrates consumers.

So why don’t all the rules that apply to omnichannel – such as brand consistency, service offerings and stock consistency – also apply across geographical borders too?

[Read More]

Thursday Jun 25, 2015

Visual Commerce – Content + Commerce Evolved

Unlike a lot of folks around my age who are migrating toward city living and fighting a move to the suburbs, my husband and I recently took the opposite approach.  With a toddler, a massive dog, and a baby on the way, we made the decision to pick up our life in Boston and move to a more laid-back (read: less expensive) place to call home - Montana.   There have been many positives to the move, but one major downside is the lack of local retail options I’d become accustomed to in Boston.  I’ve always been a big fan of shopping online for items such as clothes and make-up but I was use to being able to go into a store to touch and feel bigger purchases – like furniture, sporting equipment, etc.

As if the move wasn’t complex enough, we purchased a home that needs a complete renovation.  If you’ve ever gone down the renovation path, you know it requires lots of imagination, creativity, and of course new, big purchases – everything from cabinets to light fixtures to furniture.  How was I going to do this with the limited options of physical retailers in my area?  Luckily, a lot of brands are taking the next step with their online sites to improve the experience, but I was surprised by how many brands still don’t incorporate anything more than standard product shots to help shoppers make decisions.    

In my quest for the perfect new purchases for my house I started thinking a lot about the types of experiences brands are offering to bring their products to their customers so they can visualize how the product looks, feels, and functions while shopping online.   I want to see what that new couch will look like in my living room, know how the motion activated on/off feature of the facet works…you get the picture.   The term visual commerce is used often to describe this type of content or experience but what does that actually mean?

[Read More]

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