Online Christmas Shopping for 2014 has been marred by a series of failures in delivery, which has given an unexpected boon to the high street. Date-wise - it is at that time of year for me, when I no longer risk shopping online - even as an Amazon Prime Member. I’ve noted this year with Amazon Prime, that with the inclusive delivery service I am getting diminishing returns. Used to be when Prime first started, I pretty much received everything the day after I ordered, now it’s often 2-3 days after order, with some of the Christmas gifts taking more than a week to arrive. I’m not exactly sure what has happened here, but mostly it’s no more than a 50:50 guarantee of next day delivery for Amazon Prime, which is a significant drop in service for me. A few years ago I had a Christmas gift or two go missing in the post from Amazon, nowadays at least they typically do turn up, but they seem to be taking significantly longer to arrive.
I pop into Central London and Westfield most weekends, and happened to be in town at one of the busiest times of year - the weekend after Black Friday. I’ve often levelled criticism at the not long recently renewed trimmer HMV at 363 Oxford Street, which - with its low ceilings and too many squeezed-in display-stands was a tight fit at the best of times. On the weekend in question, the queues on the ground floor / entry level very pretty much out the door and you were quite unable to navigate through the aisles - one of those moments which makes you run home to shop online.
From the comfort of your lounge chair, there is none of the hustle and bustle which typifies an in-store Christmas shopping experience, you do have the haunting spectre of uncertainty though - both in terms of availability and delivery. Amazon for instance has seen a huge increase in Marketplace products - many of which are now coming from the continent, so that unless you read the fine-print very carefully, you are frequently not aware where the product is coming from, both my brother and I have been caught out by this. I mentioned in an earlier blog post this year, how a significant challenge for high street retailers was the task of consolidating their online and in-store inventories, to give customers a better idea of stock availability. As a prime example of this - for the past couple of weeks nearly all the
Following on from Spain’s recent introduction of a ’Google Tax’ - compelling Google to pay Spanish publishers for any references included within their wholly advertising-free Google News listings, Google has decided to pull that service from its Spanish offerings.
The only thing that Spanish publishers have achieved by these actions is to punish their own consumers and deny themselves revenues by cutting off the most obvious discovery and referral route available to their content. Had they but heeded the lessons from their German counterparts - where similar actions caused web traffic to leading publications to plummet. One of the main instigators in Germany - ’Axel Springer Group’ was quick to backtrack when they realised the obvious and foolish consequences of their actions - hitting them square on their bottom line.
It’s so obvious who’s behind the latest EU motions to attempt to curtail Google activity. Google has every justification in pulling its services from countries which are that short-sighted and are outweighing the benefits of the many for the sake of the financial interests of a few leading industry lobby groups. As I have posted recently, publishers who invested too little and too late in the new technologies cannot rightly be seeking to penalise those who had the good judgement and foresight to see where the market was heading. Will the EU next introduce first-mover-advantage-tax to penalise those pioneering companies - the whole thing smacks of protectionism to me?
Those countries most active against Google and Amazon are the ones who have typically migrated the slowest towards new Internet-enabled technologies - these recent activities are looking more and more like a tax on innovation...
A recent BBC article once again tries to cast aspersions on the creative impact of Lego, as the majority of sales now come from pre-packaged sets with detailed instructions. As any kid will tell you though, you likely only build to the instructions the first time around - before you go off and customise / re-build and even combine sets to create something entirely new and different. You also have all those original bucket brick sets anyway for freestyle building - so you can build whatever you like in any case - all that old fashioned traditional stuff is still there fully intact - you just have lots more choice nowadays.
For the past few years we have treated everyone at our company Christmas dinner with some mini Lego kit or other - usually Lego Technic, and what you learn is at the very least the following:
An Eye for detail - careful consideration that everything goes in exactly the right place
Spatial Awareness - appreciation for engineered structures and their relative placement / integration
Hand-to-Eye Coordination - the ease and deftness with which you assemble your kit - something our CEO Markus in particular excels at
Problem Solving - figuring out what went wrong when final pieces don’t fit - several pieces look very similar but may have very slight variances in depth or colour!
Cause-and-Effect - Lego Technic sets are based on sound engineering principles, you genuinely learn how certain engineered structures / components really work
The last few years’ Christmas gifts have not been short of a Lego set or two, and this year looks like they are more prevalent than ever. A quick glance on the John Lewis website this weekend showed near enough every Lego Technic set ’out of stock’. I happen to know that John Lewis prioritise in-store inventory, so I dashed into Oxford Street to get what I needed. In the queue for the tills, pretty much every other person was holding one or more items of Lego. Lego itself
There has been much talk of the Single Customer View these last 18 months - about providing a seamless and uniform experience for customers across all devices, platforms and touchpoints (OmniChannel)- and how it’s an essential part of any successful modern business. The Single Customer View is best illustrated by Netflix - where you initiate your customer journey on one device and then continue on a variety of devices - starting a film on your smartphone on the commute, then continuing on your tablet or laptop when you get home, and finally finishing it off on your big screen TV. For retailers this process can be even more involved, taking in various in-store kiosks and other point-of-sale devices. The key principle throughout though is to provide the customer with the same uniform experience and same recognisable interface - at every point in the customer journey.
The truth is that there are actually three types of ’Single Customer View’, as follows:
Single Customer View for End User: Uniform, seamless customer experience - as described above
Single Customer View for Business Owner: Uniform, seamless overview of All of an individual customer’s activities - the main focus of this article
Single Customer View per Digital Business Discipline: Single, uniform overview of all key customer data-points relating to a specific admin job function - e.g. Marketing or Retail / Commercial Manager
Currently, most businesses rely on a plethora of disparate solutions to provide them with their required functionality. Using as their starting point a CMS, Ecommerce system or even Blogging platform like WordPress. To deliver their complete solution, these companies are overly reliant on 3rd party plugins or bolt-ons which are integrated on top of the core solution. There are significant financial and operational overheads in running a digital business in this manner. A key problem with plugins is that you are never really in control of them - they get updated on their own schedule and your integrations and use thereof frequently breaks therfore. Another major consideration is the data and databases, as when you use disparate systems, you typically need additional processes and resources to streamline the data - and most importantly - streamline the User Account Databases.
Those dastardly Eurocrats are now threatening to break up Google, not that they really have any jurisdiction over the make-up of an American Company - but German MEP Andreas Schwab is sponsoring a draft motion for the European Parliament to consider ways to unbundle Google’s principal parts.
For me, this follows hotly on from the ’unbundling’ of Lloyds Bank - another great EU initiative, which bundled me into a bank where I had no say in the process - I was unceremoniously dumped out of Lloyds into TSB, despite long-standing Lloyds VIP Platinum account status (25 years) and vehement protestations from myself.
In fact this is another gauche attempt by the German media barons to punish Google after their pathetic ’Leistungsschutzrecht’ initiative failed - you can read about that in my previous ’Germany vs Google’ post. This time around though, Germany is looking to gain support from France and Spain - whose media barons also bear grudges against Google.
This is all about Google’s dominant position as Search Engine provider really, where Bing is the second placed competitor and looks to be making the most significant recent headway since it started powering Yahoo Search back in 2009. Firefox, just last week, announced that they would be switching to Yahoo Search as their default browser search option (therefore Bing!).
Like most others way back in the early days of the Internet I used to use Yahoo (powered by Inktomi). When Google first arrived with its simple search box layout I thought it overly simple and elected to stay with Yahoo for several months, until I realised that Google provided a far better, more intuitive level of service. Over the years I have tried all the different offerings of Search Engines, but continually return to Google as my first choice of preference. The vast majority of web users really only consider Google and Bing, just like the majority of smartphone users only consider Apple and Samsung even though there are an enormous variety of other competitors available.
Germany in particular, with its very traditional industrial heritage, has been very slow to invest in Internet innovation. In all of Europe, the UK easily leads the pace in innovating clever web technologies and developing smart Internet services - retail and otherwise. No other
Taylor Swift is not the first to remove her entire catalogue from Spotify and nor will she be the last. Following on from her disingenuous pretense at offering better service to UK fans by forcing them to buy her whole pre-release album instead of being able to download individual promo tracks like the rest of the world could do. It’s not a surprise that she’s taken these latest extreme measures, but the reasons she gives are nothing more than record label bulls**t spin - in an attempt to divert attention away from a pretty blatant act of profiteering - which is to say that she removed all her music from Spotify so that the only way her fans could access it legitimately was via fully purchasing / owning the album and thus ensuring higher sales revenues... of course her less fastidious fans can still listen to her back-catalogue via Vevo, YouTube, Dailymotion, and a million other video and mp3 serving websites - the vast majority of which pass on absolutely no revenues to Taylor or her record label.
I myself am a huge music fan, not particularly of Taylor Swift, but I buy on average 2-3 albums worth of music each week - via iTunes, Amazon, Beatport and Juno Download etc., I am also a premium subscriber to Spotify whose services I really love - I still live in hope for proper full-range ’Spotify’ -like services for Films, for TV and for Books. Long have we heard the music industry and particularly certain old-fashioned (backward looking?) echelons within it bemoaning the diminishing fortunes of the industry - compared with its heyday in the 70’s and 80’s - seemingly totally oblivious to ever evolving changes in society and in technology.
Let’s then not forget to review the entire history and evolution of popular music, and how mainstream American radio is still very much influenced by payola-like dynamics - or pay-for-play. Bob Stanley (Saint Etienne + Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop) traced the origins of modern pop back to the 50’s and the start of the 45rpm vinyl records which fuelled the earliest pop charts. Records were initially seen as promotional tools to ensure radio-play in order to get more members of the public to attend concerts. The peak of record-buying was reached in the late 70’s / early 80’s - where the records became an artist’s main source of
Throughout this year I’ve been talking about the key challenges High Street Retailers face with trying to consolidate their online / offline inventories - so that shoppers can be sure of the likelihood of their obtaining what they seek when they venture into town. In numerous posts over the years I have highlighted my disappointment about making the usual weekend pilgrimage into town - only to find that most of what I was after is either not stocked by the particular branch I happen to end up in, or is recently out-of-stock.
I have cited Phonica and Forbidden Planet before - whose inventories are somewhat in sync with their websites, and I can check with some surety before I set off. Neither one has a same-day reservation facility yet, but if I set off early enough, I can usually guarantee a favourable result.
This is also the second time I have secured a new iPhone by reserving one for in-store collection the night before. Admittedly I was compelled to venture a little further afield this time to get my first choice of model (Apple Store at Watford Mall), but the fact that I could reserve and knew that my phone was waiting for me, more than offset the extra miles I needed to go to obtain satisfaction.
As shared previously too, I still vividly recall two particularly vexing examples of poor customer service - both happened on Regent Street - in the pursuit of shoes at Hugo Boss and a jacket from Banana Republic. In the first instance my size was out-of-stock at Regent street, but I had to forcibly cajole the shop assistant to ring each of the other London branches in turn - until we secured a pair at Brentwood. I then had to plead and negotiate to have those shoes conveyed to said branch for easy pick-up the following week. At Banana Republic it was more a case of ’missing stock’ in that the computer said they had 2 in stock at Regent Street, but the assistant could not find either anywhere. I was sent to the Long Acre branch where a similar scenario played out in unusual déjà-vu fashion. I eventually secured said jacket when returning to the Regent Street store later in the day, and finding the mystery jackets now featuring prominently on display.
It is quite a common scenario thought that I venture into town in high spirits and return at the end of the day wholly empty-handed and deflated
Circa 10 minute video interview of Graeme Howe, Joint Managing Director of IMRG by Phil Clark, Director of Fillip Media.
Phil Clark questions Graeme on IMRG’s Member Services, the state of the e-Retailing Industry, and the background to the e-Retail Benchmarking System, its benefits to retailers, and the 9 month collaboration with Affino to develop this new service.
"Since 2009 e-retailing has achieved double digit growth every year, this year we are forecasting a growth of just over 14%"
"Our e-Retail Sales Index now collects over 44 KPIs"
"A retailer might think they are doing extremely well, but how does that compare to their competitors"
"Affino, one of IMRG’s supply members, came up with the idea of sampling, and suddenly the lightbulb went on"
"We needed the dashboard to work across all platforms, wherever that retailer was located..."
We at Affino are very proud to share the culmination of a 9 month collaboration with IMRG. The fruits of our labours have brought forth a truly smart, automated web-enabled service for retailers, powered by our own Affino Social Commerce Platform. The full details are set out in the following recently minted press release:
The first of its kind, this automated system allows online retailers to measure their performance against a quorum of similar retailers (for example, young fast fashion retailers) on a daily basis (the day after the data has been submitted) from a PC, tablet or smartphone.
Offering instant access to business critical KPIs such as average basket value, unique visitors, checkout abandonment and conversion rates on a unique personalised dashboard, the IMRG e-Retail Benchmarking System makes it easy for online retailers to measure up to 12 months’ user behaviour, traffic and overall performance and then make a comparison against the rest of the e-retail market. Benchmarks can be filtered to suit the company and each KPI is displayed as an interactive and user-friendly graph.
With over 1,000 retail members, IMRG feel they are well-placed to launch the e-Retail Benchmarking System as an addition to the series of monthly and quarterly Indexes (e-Retail, m-Retail, Quarterly Benchmarking and Delivery) for the e-retail industry. Having handled data securely for over 14 years, IMRG has ensured that all information provided by online retailers who join the IMRG e-Retail Benchmarking System is completely anonymous and totally secure.
Graeme Howe, Managing Director of IMRG, comments: “IMRG have been providing the e-Retail Industry with benchmarking information for over 14 years and this new system represents a significant leap in the service we can provide to our retail members. Retailers will be
Staggered releasing is back in the news again following Taylor Swift’s decision to withhold the second promo track from her new ’1989’ album from UK fans only. The single ’Out of the Woods’ was made available for individual download on iTunes, unless of course you happened to live in the UK. As a UK citizen, the only way to get hold of said track was then to pre-order the whole new album.
Taylor Swift then added insult to injury by claiming that this was an effort to create ’a better experience for you, the fans’. Seriously? The UK fans alone singled out for a special experience!? One which was enforced in limiting fashion by the record company. This is obvious and blatant profiteering and anything but a ’service’ to the fans.
I still fail to see the appeal in ’pre-ordering’ digital content, you usually don’t get any tangible benefit, bar the occasional taster single. There are a number of tracks on iTunes which are ’Album Only’, meaning that you need to download every single track just to get your hands on the one you want. A case in point is Taylor Swift as per above, and another example is Annie Mac’s new ’Presents’ compilation, whose standout track is ’Rhymes’ by Hannah Wants and Chris Lorenzo. I already have the majority of tracks on the album, but to get my hands on this single, I am forced to buy a very large number of tracks for a second time!
The upshot of all of this is that most people will seek alternate means of getting their hands on new material from their favourite artists. In trying to control or limit access in any way, artists and record labels are undoubtedly encouraging piracy. For this very same reason, International artists like Beyoncé and Madonna know to release their output simultaneously to all territories, as a fan is still a fan regardless of their geographic origin, and they will want to get their hands on the new material immediately. If for some reason the album or single is not available in that region by legitimate means, the fans will use illicit means to gain access to what they want. Trying to withhold materials in any way, simply results in less revenues for the record label and the artist. Why anyone still engages in this policy is far beyond my level of comprehension -