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!

Do:

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. 

Monday Jul 27, 2015

Analysts, Customers, Partners Discuss New Commerce Cloud

It’s been a big month of media and glory for Oracle Commerce Cloud.

Just one month ago, in a press release on June 29, 2015, Oracle unveiled its new flexible, scalable SaaS solution -- Cloud Commerce -- built for the Oracle Public Cloud. This announcement came one week after Larry Ellison revealed that the company was launching 24 new cloud services.

We believe that analysts, customers, and partners are already touting the strength of Commerce Cloud and its competitive differentiation against other offerings on the market -- as well as a core differentiator in Oracle’s customer experience cloud applications offering.

Analysis From Forrester Research Report

For Oracle, the biggest highlight of the launch has been the July 2015 Forrester Research report, Brief: Oracle Commerce Gets the Cloud Treatment, written by Forrester Analyst Peter Sheldon. In his freshly released report, Sheldon states: “[T]he new platform has a high degree of commonality with the long-standing on-premises version in regard to features and capability.  However, there are many all-new capabilities that differentiate the cloud version that include:

  • The Oracle cloud itself.
  • Oracle Cloud marketplace for extensions.
  • Web-based administrative tools.
  • A new REST API architecture.
  • A new responsive starter store.
  • New “cloud”-exclusive features.
  • A new pricing model.

    Sheldon continues by outlining Oracle Commerce Cloud’s product strategy and target market. Read the full complimentary Forrester report here.
[Read More]

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]

Tuesday Jun 23, 2015

It's Cloudy. While SaaS and The Cloud create confusion in commerce, opportunity calls

SaaS. Cloud. On-demand. On-premise. Managed Services. Hosted. Multitenant. Single tenant. Public cloud. Private cloud. Hybrid cloud.

We are surrounded by these terms, but if you really know the differences, you are part of a seriously small minority. So when half of retailers say they want to go cloud in the next year – in commerce, what do they mean? And from a product perspective, what’s the right fit?

Software has been eating the world for years now, and Software as a Service (SaaS), hosted in The Cloud makes it all easier, faster, cheaper.

In an effort to be ready for the SaaS boom, “SaaS” and “cloud” in the commerce space have become interchangeable. But good messaging and subscription-like finance terms does not define a SaaS product.

And software doesn’t just live a singular “Cloud,” there are many clouds, and not all clouds are created equal. Public clouds, private clouds, hybrid clouds all vary in security, scale, performance, capabilities, and hardware depending on provider.  

From a product perspective, here’s what "cloud" can mean today:

SaaS (multitenant) delivers upon the promise of commerce in The Cloud: zero infrastructure or upgrade management, housed in a public cloud/data center on a server with other storefronts (multitenancy) to take advantage of automatic push upgrades, elastic scaling, and shared cost. True SaaS is appealing as it requires no CapEx budget, implementations are typically less expensive, and customers are typically billed via monthly subscription. Today’s SaaS commerce solutions offer slick tooling and beautiful templates, but not the brand control, features, or proven scale for growth needed by marquee brands (or those aspiring to be). For these vendors, in order to push a single release of software without breaking sites, the ability to customize each storefront is limited – leaving many sites looking the same. Questions about infrastructure and scalability raise concerns with performance and security.

On-demand / hosted solutions (single tenant / “private cloud”) can simply be an on-premise technology (or an on-premise platform re-architected for the cloud) deployed on a private server on or off site. It can also be a hosted in a private or hybrid cloud at a commerce vendor or hosting provider, and may feature a full or limited feature set of on-premise software that can be customized. On-demand / hosted deployments typically require moderate CapEx budget, and billing models vary. While these solutions offer benefits of multi and single tenancy, they are not SaaS products. An IT staff may not be maintaining the deployment on-site – but someone somewhere is still maintaining it, and someone is paying for that maintenance.  Longer custom deployments and upgrade management still leave much to be desired in terms of true agility with on-demand / hosted cloud solutions.

Then, there's:

On-premise (single tenant, on-site, private) ensures total customization – and everything that comes with ownership from a cost perspective. Many merchants welcome this approach, as it is the only option that can meet their requirements. They may look to the cloud – or move elements of their deployment to the cloud – but they see no other realistic option for their core site. Requires more substantial CapEx budget, billing models vary.

Today, the reality is that there is no perfect SaaS or cloud solution. Many merchants happily compromise because they have to – whether it’s scale, growth, control, customization, or cost. Some are left with a dilemma: do I lower my management and infrastructure costs, or do I make sacrifices with the customer experience?

Complex commerce organizations craving total control and customization won’t get what they need from a SaaS or on-demand solution. Growing organizations with limited resources kick the can down the road until their SaaS solution becomes restrictive to the brand experience, and cost prohibitive.  On-demand users can say they are cloud, but are still left wanting more in terms of agility and cost savings.

What if there was an opportunity in the market to marry the agility and cost-savings of a true multitenant SaaS solution, with the brand control and experience customization you’d get with an on-premise platform?

In a landscape peppered with cookie-cutter sites and environments that can’t scale, it’s time for a shake up. Online businesses have been waiting!

Stay tuned to hear how we are solving these challenges…

Monday Jun 15, 2015

Hacking Growth: eCommerce Innovators Re-Imagining Familiar Consumer Markets

I distinctly remember the evening I learned about Uber from a work colleague in 2012. It was a moment that forever changed my level of work-travel-stress forever – it seared into my memory.

We finished dinner at a restaurant just outside of Philadelphia – a location just exterior enough to the city that it would be a pain to call and then wait for a taxi. Probably a wait of “only” 20 mins – but just long enough to become irritating when you desperately just need some shuteye before the next long day.

So if you can travel back in time to the olden days of 2012 – still a moment in time before we did everything (well, everything mundane at least) on your mobiles – Uber seemed truly magical. My colleague pulled up her phone, showed me the little ant-like cars nearby, ordered one – and we were at the hotel in less than 10 mins … exiting the car without worrying about having enough cash, giving directions to the lost driver, or tipping. We pulled up to the lobby. Jumped out. Done. Done!

Problem solved. New loyal customer gained.

In the 3 short years since that evening, terms like “just Uber it”, “it’s an Uber-like” business – have entered the daily lexicon. And not just for companies like Uber – Airbnb, Amazon Prime, Instacart, Warby Parker are all changing the way companies sell online forever. 

More importantly – for us consumers -- the most innovative ecommerce startups are revolutionizing the mundane parts of our day-to-day lives. Saving us precious time! Making things easier for us – so we can use those collective saved minutes to become more interesting, read more books, travel the world, have more mind-space. At least that is what I’m using my extra time for … ;)

Just take a look at the list of top ecommerce startups for 2014-2015. They are all applying innovation to industries / services where shopping experiences haven’t changed in decades.

They are all about creating an “x” experience that looks nothing like the “x” experience of the olden days – a disruptive re-imagining consumer experiences in established industries.

[Read More]
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