Speaking at the Buy.at “Speakeasy”

Bafta

Last Wednesday I was pleased to give the keynote at the Buy.at 5th annual “Speakeasy” event, held at 195 Piccadilly, home of the BAFTAs.

It was an eclectic gathering of a couple of hundred people: merchants, affiliates, programme managers and entrepreneurs in a very open, engaged forum.

I spend a lot of time talking to and writing about retailers and the need to engage fully with the digital, demanding customer, and so it was interesting to have an opportunity to examine the role that affiliates play in connecting products and brands with customers’ wallets.

The blend of large-traffic sites, aggregators (like MyDeco or HousetoHome who put a very professional experience design onto the feeds they receive) and very, very niche affiliates (whether MobileShop.co.uk or perfectlyshapedworld) who put retailers to shame in their focus on customers) covered the gamut of retailing.

Given that we had people from the commercial and operational sides of affiliate marketing it was also an opportunity to examine the drivers for profitability, areas of collaboration and the developing needs that affiliates will have from merchants as they seek to remain relevant to customers in an evermore-demanding marketplace.

Following some good questions (both directly, over coffee and then on the subsequent panel discussions) I met some fascinating affiliates and niche businesses who I’m sure we’ll be seeing in upcoming issues of Internet Retailing.

My thanks to the team at Buy.at for their welcome and hospitality. The event was an examplar of stakeholder communication and networking.

It’s also about the only time I’ll ever get to stand on the stage at the BAFTAs… 😉

Update: Ian Jindal’s slides from Speakesy, May 2008 – contents and images are all copyright, but you’re welcome to use with attribution.


Quilter Street Olives: part the final – the eating

Since deciding to try and “make olives” from my meagre harvest last year I’ve had some fun with the daily-then-weekly brine changing. The olives have survives forgetfulness, over-zealous cleaners who though something was “going off” and curious children ‘helping’ with washing up…

Now that the buds are showing for this year’s crop it was time to eat the olives…

Olives ready to eat.

I removed them from the brine, rinsed and soaked in fresh water and then covered in oil.

I tried a couple and, tbh, they were a bit bland and the flesh was soft. I think I’d left them too long in the brine. Still, they were palatable, if not entirely more-ish.

Manon went first with the tasting… then Alice… and the overall result was:

Heh.

So – the result is that Manon liked them, Alice hated them. Vicky and I were indifferent.

This coming year, apart from hoping I get more than a few dozen, I think I’ll be more attentive to the water changing, take them out more promptly and consider seasoning them for a period.

If you’ve any suggestions I’d love to hear them in the comments.

Photoset is here: the Quilter Street Olives.

A day in Amsterdam with Mr Worley

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Just over a week ago I managed to spend a day in Amsterdam, having extended my stay at the inaugural European eCommerce Forum (of which, more anon).

After what seemed like weeks of rain and hail the Saturday was a glorious, warm Spring day.

Ian Worley had spoken at the conference – a really good session on ethnographic research aka watching your customers and responding to their needs – and he’d stayed over too. We therefore hit the streets for a 7-hour walk, with the focus on architecture (as you’d expect, given that Ian’s an architect by training and Amsterdam is a design/architecture dream city: dense, varied, compact and photogenic). I was still suffering from my “all manhole covers are ART” affliction, so spent most of my time peering floor-wards or fiddling with the exposure control to try and capture the first feeling of hot, bright sun on these winter-wearied eyes.

The photos are in the Amsterdam 2008 photoset on my Flickr account.

Conversation went from the Founding Fathers and their true intentions, to London Mayoral campaigns, raising kids, ecommerce, gadgets and bbq techniques – interrupted only by cravings for beer and peering at maps.

Amsterdam must surely be one of the most civilised and livable capital city centres in the world.

A discovery on this visit was the FOAM photo gallery. What a wonderful place. A lateral conversion over four floors, facing onto the canal, garden gallery, compact but selective bookshop plus print sales. Saw a great exhibition by Daniel and Geo Fuchs on “Secret Rooms” of the STASI. Jessica Dimmock’s “The Ninth Floor” [book] was a moving and rounded documentary of drug users in New York, taken with integrity and a rounded engagement with her subjects. It avoided most of the sunday-supplement heroine chic images and the exhibition ended – as she describes in the accompanying text – as she lost documentary objectivity at the plight of her (now) friends. Thought-provoking, and a reminder both of the power of photography and the value of a good showing space.

FOAM gallery in Amsterdam.

“€Tail – the ins and outs of Europe” [Editorial comment from the May issue of Internet Retailing Magazine]

A combination of carbon awareness, recessionary trends and a non-existent expenses budget have kept our Editor in Chief’s focus firmly on Europe this month – just a well, since the rest of the world’s focusing upon Europe too…

The European bloc is the third most attractive global market – after the US and China – and, despite the differences in culture, language and infrastructure, this agglomeration of consumers is at least held together by the twin factors of relative affluence and a consistent legal system – the pre-requisites for trade.

The UK is well-positioned to be at the heart of international moves into Europe: the relatively well-advanced broadband and computing infrastructure, the credit card penetration levels, the enjoyment of shopping (online and off) and the ready acceptance of brand imports from across the pond makes the UK a natural ‘beach-head’ for US aspirations in Europe (or “rest of world” as our cousins so often term it).

The well-developed markets in France and German also hold attractions but outside the big three markets – each with its own idiosyncrasies – any hope of an homogeneous, easily-addressable marketplace evaporates.

Leaving aside language and culture (which of course one can’t) the plain sailing of the ecommerce front-end so often comes to grief on the jagged rocks of logistics and distribution. While it’s easy to present an ecommerce front-end to any market (indeed, we often scour the websites of US-only retailers and ponder the costs of delivery and import duty) it’s a totally different matter to get the goods to the customers. Legacy national carrier networks, cross-border delivery issues, the siting of warehousing, management of credit cards and returns… Ah – all of the problems of real ecommerce, but with a combinatorial level of complexity. Software alone cannot solve this, nor can marketing. Hence we see GSI’s European team investing in local logistics companies and partnerships, and the growth of ‘end to end’ commerce offerings that can provide a complete ‘click to doorstep’ service in-country.

What is the cause of this sudden interest? At a high level there’s a combination of a search for new growth outside the US and UK, a feeling that the technology allows a foray into Europe, and the growth of the indigenous etail markets growing to a critical, attractive mass.

Within this there are five main categories of activity (based unscientifically on my conversations last month):

  1. existing master of the large-scale play who look to extend their efficient supply chain and volume retailing to other territories
  2. niche or specialist etailers for whom a global market might exist and who now look to replace lost domestic volumes
  3. Global manufacturer, facing demand for their products in many territories, and juggling global marketing/brand ownership with a variable quality of local distributorships
  4. a domestic power-house looking for “near-shore” opportunities to support growth.
  5. companies who form the local part of a global group coming under pressure to operate in a unified, global fashion.

We will be tracking these developments with interest in these pages in the coming months.

The challenge of Europe is not just one of plugs, pipes and trucks: there’s a ‘selling’ challenge too. While it’s trite to note that customer behaviour may differ in regions and markets, what can we learn from this? Furthermore how can etail professionals move beyond obvious promotional mechanisms and enhance profitability? These questions will be occupying Europe’s leading multichannel retailers in Amsterdam this month for the inaugural European eCommerce Forum (ECF).

ecf-logo-smallThe Forum is an invite-only, expert peer group for etailers with €70million+ in etail sales, and will provide a confidential space for discussion, experimentation, benchmarking and networking. A joint initiative of Internet Retailing and Joris Beckers (CEO of FredHopper), we aspire to improve in-country selling capabilities as well as a broader European view.

ACSEL logoA fortnight later our colleagues at ACSEL, the French association for eCommerce, will be launching their book – “Europe – an Opportunity for eCommerce ” by Jean-Christophe Defline – at a conference in Paris where I’ll be expanding on the European view from the ECF and the UK perspective on eCommerce.

Most etailers will not welcome further complexity when the focus is upon the likely consumer downturn in the UK, so “Europe” may appear an untimely distraction. However, this syzygy of interest in Europe highlights topics of interest to us all: improved brand and customer communications; dealing flexibly with multiple partners and carriers; learning responsiveness to smaller, niche markets and, of course, driving for growth in a tough economic climate.

The Cans Festival – street “stencil art” festival in SE1

Stumped for what to do with the kids on a bank holiday weekend I was saved by the not-your-grandfather’s-exhibition offering from The Cans Festival – “a street party of stencil art”. It was a case of SE1 channels Nelly Duff.

The event was in a tunnel/underpass under Waterloo Station approach, Leake St. Many years ago I used to park the car there when I worked at Ernst & Young and it was a pretty fruity-smelling, dingy and blade-runneresque bit of London. “Ripe for Redevelopment”, as an estate agent might say. Ironically, much of the work adorning the walls is very much anti-development and anti-gentrification. Still, it’s difficult to be permanently ironic or anti-establishment when “one” has an audience, a following, and collectors of books and prints: Banksy, Eine… Or maybe it’s ironic that the audience lapping up the bitter irony is the audience being attacked? Or maybe it’s not?

Who knows – all I recall is the humour and artistry. Made me wonder why this was any different to the (cleaner) contemporary art seen in established galleries. Social commentary, irony, punning, juxtapositioning to challenge us to see anew… All that plus the smell of solvents.

The kids loved it – Manon really liked touching the (dried) paint and feeling the different textures, Aneirin enjoyed rolling in the dust and brownfield reminders, while Alice was taking it very seriously and pondering the meaning (“why is there a tree growing out of that car Daddy?”) .

The event was well-organised, marshalled clearly and had a friendly feel. I hope it’ll be a regular thing.

You know the target market is middle class, however, when the big signs at the entrance emphasise that there’s nothing for sale 😉

My Flickr photoset is has the rest of the images I took during our visit.

Finally, thinking of puns, I missed the Banksy ‘Tagger’ (a Tiger composed of graffiti ‘tags’, geddit?). Luckily, we have Flickr and the excellent efforts of artofthestate:

Banksy's

I mentioned Nelly Duff (excellent gallery on Columbia Road, E2, that’s a wonderful source of prints by graffiti, stencil, poster and graphical artists. The people who run it are knowledgeable, connected and just lovely – they helped me secure an Eine poster for Valentine’s Day for Vicky – and then helped me keep the secret as Vicky kept on and on about buying it…). Anyway, one of our neighbours has recently launched a publishing company and his latest book is on “Street Art Chile”. The launch party is most appropriately happening at the Duff and very much looking forward to that.

All that remains now is to hone the argument to the kids about how painting on walls at home is naughty, how painting on walls outside is ‘vandalism’ EXCEPT if it’s in a planned, sanctioned space with the support of the art market… in which case it’s Art.