Category eCommerce

“Purchandising” – my editorial from the November 2010 edition of Internet Retailing Magazine

This in my Editorial from the November issue of Internet Retailing Magazine. Also available as ‘digital print’ via the November digital edition.


Searchandising (ugh) and merchandising relate to retailers’ promotion of sales of products to customers. Ian Jindal wonders whether we oughtn’t also consider how the relationship between our customers and our suppliers might be improved, and ponders whether the English language can survive the word “Purchandising”…

Merchandising – the art of promoting goods for sale by their presentation in retail outlets – spawned the non-word “Searchandising”: promotion of products on-site by means of search tools, faceted navigation and browse, increasing the relevance of products shown to customers.

Relevant, coherent product presentation increases the likelihood of a sale, may not increase overall profits. We may sell more of our great products and somewhat more of our (now well-presented) mediocre products, but we may not sell the ‘dogs’ or purchasing mistakes, destined for land-fill or recycling.

Searchandising attempts to square a resolutely-round circle – the tension between extending product ranges (category authority, dominant range, long-tail SEO) and the desire to minimise ranges (to conserve cash, increase the yield on stock). Despite the science, however, there’s a sneaking feeling that there’s something fundamentally flawed in a retailing approach that is so focused on persuasion and manipulation to push sales. Indeed, promotionally-led retailing could be seen as the practice of selling the unnecessary and unwanted to the unwilling. Could we not find approaches that increase the ‘inherent desirability’ or relevance of products?

“Purchandising” would be the practice of improving the specification and procurement of products and services so that they better match the needs, desires, interests and aspirations of customers (thereby reducing the marketing and promotional demands to convert customers’ interest into cash). This is different to ‘normal procurement’ since it would be based upon insight to customers’ behaviour, a high level of collaboration and ultimately co-creation. Let’s consider each in turn.

Customer insight blends qualitative and quantitive data on preferences and choices to inform buyers as to the products to buy. Null on-site search results (ie where a customer searches for products on your site that you don’t stock) is an indicator of unfulfilled interest or demand, for example, while “On Site Not Seen” metrics (products stocked but never viewed by customers) might indicate stock ready for liquidation. Equally, verbatim comments in user reviews will help improve the quality of products stocked.

So far, though, so normal. This is simply improving the standard procurement cycle.

In our feature on NakedWines later in this issue we have an example of collaboration between the business, the customers and the suppliers to create new products of increased relevance to the customers. NakedWines introduce new wines to their knowledgeable and enthusiastic Wine ‘Angels’, while those angels in turn support those winemakers identified as prospects by the company. It’s open, radical and interesting: but there is a further possible step: co-creation.

Consider that a product is specified in isolation, produced in bulk, promoted ‘at’ people to persuade them that they wanted it in the first place, and a numbers game ensues in which we hope to pulp a sufficiently small percentage to remain in business. Far better, then, would be to co-develop products with customers, and release a better-rounded ‘version 3′ product at scale. As retail outlets become ‘experience stores’ to understand and interact with a brand’s products for later purchase, we’ll see manufacturers sharing prototypes with customers. Phone manufacturers may hand out maquettes and prototypes for feedback in store, and designers assess short runs prior to fuller production. This approach is already visible at http://www.sample-central.com/ (formerly SampleLab) where customers get to try products, take them home and assess them – in return for surveys and insights that improve the products for a mass market. The founders coined the term “Tryvertisting” – trying and experiencing and precursors to great products, rather than advertising post-manufacture to make up for deficiencies…

Whether we’re able to make the move immediately from procurement to co-creation or not, surely it’s time for professionals in buying in the digital age to come to the fore and engage fully with customers to increase relevance, coherence and profit? Developing our tools, KPIs and approaches to seek customer input, create products alongside them which will satisfy need (at least) and delight (at best) must be the aim. This would be the art of “Purchandising” – a full partner with the digital marketing, social media and searchandising skills of our colleagues. While our new word may assault our ears, it may also release some ideas and action – to the benefit of customers and our profitability alike.


“No more eCommerce – it’s Total Retail” – Editorial from September 2010′s issue of Internet Retailing magazine

Here’s my editorial from the September 2010 edition of Internet Retailing magazine. You can see this article in the digital edition here:

http://viewer.zmags.com/publication/bd0ff4ae#/bd0ff4ae/6

We’ve long predicted that multiple channels will give way to an integrated commercial approach, but inspired by the World Cup – and not allowing his utter ignorance of football to stand in his way – Ian Jindal reflects on the lessons from the Beautiful Game’s radical transformation in the 1970s, drawing parallels with today’s changes: welcome to the age of Total Retail.

In January’s column, we looked forward to a year in which Boards would place ever-increasing demands on the eCommerce teams, and that eCommerce leaders will need to become rounded, commercial leaders in order to secure their role on the Board. Since January we’ve also seen the rise of mobile and m-commerce and this has increased the pace of innovation and digital development, further eroding channel boundaries. M-Retailing.net, our new title, charts the increased pace of change, but there remains a nagging feeling that the game has changed.

In our businesses we expect our teams to combine deep functional expertise, with a non-trivial appreciation of other disciplines, and finally an ability to assimilate and master change situations, new skills and the changes in customer behaviour and demands. Admittedly there’ll be training – both corporate and self-directed – but there is also a need to reconsider the way we manage and lead our digital teams, as well as the wider business, to achieve against these demands.

In the 1970s there was a similar need to change the approach to football. With faster balls and pitches, increased professionalism and training demands, the static tactical approaches that ranged lines of offence and defence against each other had become turgid. The insight was to create a system where any player could take over the role of any other player – fluidly, autonomously and to great effect. A multitalented player would be expected to be an attacker, a midfield play-maker and a defender – seamlessly and without pause. A jack of all trades and master of most.

Central to the tactical approach of Total Football were the notions of creating space, flexibility and collaboration, founded upon rigorous and demanding training and a proactive attitude, always seeking opportunity and taking initiative.

Likewise the modern eCommerce team. For ‘creating space’ we have the need to create commercial opportunity – even amidst the mayhem and turmoil of minute-by-minute trading. Members of a Total Retail team are expected to act commercially, create opportunities, despite the pressures of daily activity.

The notion of multitalented team-members is also vital. Not only must there be an appreciation and understanding of other people’s skills, but team members must also be able to make a credible contribution in other areas. No more “I am a marketeer” or “I am a technologist” – eCommerce professionals must be both (as well as operationally savvy and commercially astute). Indeed, we created the MSc in Internet Retailing as a programme to assist the development of multi-talented leaders for our industry.

One aspect not present in the 1970s was “fan power”, or ‘customer power’. Our colleagues in store have the most intimate human contact with some customers, but across the whole business it’s the multi-touch, extensive digital contacts that give eCommerce professionals a privileged insight to the customer’s activities. With social media we have an enviable view of the customer’s attitudes and activities beyond the shopping experience in our domains. Further, considering m-commerce and mobile interaction, we’re increasingly able to gain more insight into customers’ behaviour even when they’re not “online” and explicitly shopping or researching.

Total Retail is the opportunity for us to progress from a simple injunction to ‘be more skilled and commercial’ to an approach of being more engaged with customers – at every stage of consideration, socialising, learning, buying and sharing. Being of service to a demanding, knowledgeable and social customer, at all times, places and points of attention. It’s a fully committed approach. To deliver upon this demand we need both to hone our individual skills as players, and to develop a ‘game play’ that is open, flexible and enterprising. The tenets are skills, flexibility, collaboration and creating opportunity.

This shift will be uncomfortable and demanding, even upon those who believe it to be a necessity (and an opportunity). However, it’s likely that our customers will come to expect this sooner than the majority of retailers will respond – meaning significant spoils for those who can bring sparkle to the retail game, much as the Dutch shook up football 40 years ago. Time for us all to embrace Total Retail, and we’ll return to this theme again over the coming year.

New Nudes

Spotted at a client: so nude, it’s invisible.

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“Growing Pains: Etailing in the Noughtweens” – Editorial from Internet Retailing’s January 2010 issue.

Here’ the text version of my editorial from January 2010′s Internet Retailing magazine (you can see the digital version here: http://viewer.zmags.com/publication/ec228fee#/ec228fee/1)

In this piece I’m building on a previous editorial, pondering the role of the eCommerce Director (compared with the ‘chief electricity officer’ – see this article: http://innoparticularorder.com/2007/11/chief-electricity-officers-editorial-from-internet-retailing-magazine/). Going beyond the simple question of ‘whither ecommerce directors’ I reflect on a trend seen in the sector to move to a more pan-channel, commercial set of demands from ecommerce professionals.

As the Naughties recede and the Naughteens approach, retailers are caught in the uncomfortable transition zone – the ‘Naughtweens’, if you will. Ian Jindal ponders an appropriate bearing for retailers in these turbulent times.

The Naughties were rollercoaster years. From the exuberance of the dot com bubble, crashing in 2001 alongside the global shock of the 9/11 attach, rising from 2005 on asset-backed consumer euphoria and hitting a wall at the end of 2008 in the reverberations from the global financial crisis.

The steady growth of the ecommerce channel in 2009 signals both its maturing as a valid option in the customer’s eyes and the growing capability and professionalism of the channel within retailers. We have an increased understanding of the channel’s role: it’s an orthodoxy that cross-channel customers are worth more and that the web acts to set preferences and aid in-store purchasing. It is more than a price-led, acquisition-oriented place for wham-bam rapid conversion.

For the last decade, however, we in eCommerce have had (speak it quietly) a relatively easy time. Within established retailers we’ve been able to emulate our elders, as it were, in store and appropriate from the digital pure-players at the same time. Our stock’s been bought for us, the brand’s been created for us, the logistics and operations largely existed. Our job was to assemble these components, jam on a more or less functional web interface and sprinkle some design magic, PPC and a touch of promotional carrot. Kapow!

In 2010 the world’s much less simple. One of the traumas of the teen years is realisation that childhood’s receding while adulthood is neither as easy nor as attractive as once it seemed. This, in the Naughtweens, is where ecommerce stands. Our easy growth is not quite over, but – as a result of our success – we’re no longer marginal, precocious and separate. We have to play a full part within the multichannel business – maintaining our own contribution while contributing actively to the success of the overall business.

If our Boards and colleagues are making demands, then so too are customers. No longer willing to stick within our channels, they insist on cross-shopping (in-store collection, expanded product information in-store, extended ranges, more phone-based support and contact, evermore demanding research and information – and on top of that they want us to engage via social media and quasi-publishing activities). Our early mastery of ‘analytics’ now bites us since we’re a natural home for the onerous “single view of the customer” projects, aggregating in-store baskets with newer behavioural metrics and satisfaction measures… Our colleagues expect the same level of expertise and innovation we’ve shown over the last decade to be applied to brand engagement, customer development, supplier development, new commercial sales approaches – not to mention the KPIs, metrics and business operating models to support these changes. We are expected to lead across the whole of our business.

In parallel we need to understand and emulate the bravery and conviction of our buyers and sourcing colleagues who take risks to create trends and products for our future customers; the daring of our Estate planning colleagues who invest in new stores and centres through market turmoil; the care and skills of our front-line colleagues serving customers directly and exposed while we twiddle an algorithm in the comfort of Head Office.

In the Naughtweens we’ll see major restructuring to align the rhetoric with new cross-channel organisation. eCommerce teams will be under pressure to be multichannel and to maintain margin. Customers become more demanding, and staff demand career development beyond just ‘being in ecommerce’. Finally, there’ll be no sympathy for underperformance of our activity since our Boards increasingly see core eCommerce operations as a ‘solved problem’.

My previous Chairman’s commented to me that there’s only ever a ‘gap in the market’ for “those with sharp elbows – and the willingness to use them”. In the Naughtweens eCommerce leaders will emerge, over and above eCommerce professionals, who will establish a new place for eCommerce within multichannel retail – synthesising learning from traditional retailing while extending new skills beyond their own teams into the business as a whole. The process is certain to be difficult and no doubt unpleasant in parts, but by the time we emerge from the ‘Tweens and Teens we’ll have laid the basis for future performance.

Internet Retailing will be reporting, provoking and helping along the way, and to all of our readers (leaders, professionals, colleagues, all) we wish every success and happiness in 2010.

Speaking at a BIMA/Netimperative dinner

Last night I spoke at a BIMA dinner, since I’d been asked by Justin Cooke, the new Chair of BIMA and CEO of Fortune Cookie.

The format was a nice, intimate one: a couple of dozen digital and ecommerce folk, cosy restaurant on Piccadily and, er, me.

It was only after I’d accepted (and the first Netimperative email landed) that it dawned on me that I’d never done a ‘speech’ before. Much as I hate powerpoint, all of my public speaking to date had involved a projector, a script and some pictures. I suddenly felt very nervous indeed!

Turned out OK though – the time passed very quickly and the questions were lively. I spoke on some themes I’m keen on:

  • the role of ecommerce – taking some of the points from my musings on the Chief Electricity Officer (blog post)
  • data (trying to cover the notions of epiphenomenology without pictures…) (see my presentation at the Future of Digital Marketing conference)
  • the Obama-Preedy Pricing Principle – yes, there’s a well-overdue editorial on this that’s notable by its absence… ;)

Thanks to Justin, Davina, Danny and all of the guests for breaking me in gently!

Danny took notes, but I’m not sure what’ll be left after he’s edited for language, career-limiting comments, confidential asides etc. Maybe a photo? :)

Google’s Retail Summit

I was really pleased to be invited to moderate a discussion at the Google Retail Summit – on “eCommerce Excellent – winning this Christmas”.

The event brought the great and good together to hear from Google and each other and followed the successful and enjoyable inaugural event last year (Google’s site, my blog post).

On my panel I was joined – with great humour and good will – by Steve Robinson, CEO, M&M Direct, Nick Lansley, Head of Innovation and R&D, Tesco and John Hinchcliffe, CMO, N Brown Group. We’d decided beforehand that we’d avoid the blander approaches one sometimes gets at industry events and try to deal head on with some of the hard choices and real differences this Christmas. I was really pleased that they entered into this and can’t remember chuckling so much during a panel before ;) Hats off to Steve, Nick and John.

Here’s the eminent Peter Fitzgerald of Google opening proceedings: note the Lolo colours, courtesy of ToyCamera iPhone app

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The next panel was on KPIs and featured Michael Ross of eCommera (@manross) in fine form on his pet topic – KPIs. I won’t quote some of his excellent one-liners since not only would that be ‘goal-poaching’, but because Michael’s doing an article for November’s Internet Retailing magazine and I don’t want to scoop ourselves. Watch this space.

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Finally on the photo front, here’s the lab squad (or some other name) of Google engineers around to answer questions. All good fun.

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I understand that the event was filmed and so – if our panel session makes it past the censor’s cuts for language, sarcasm and career-limited comments – I’ll post the link.

Future of Digital Marketing: Keynote

I was really honoured to be asked to keynote at Econsultancy’s 2009 FODM in June 2009.  I’d spoken before and found the audience to be tough but receptive. It’s one of the more difficult speaking gigs of the year, I find, and there’s always a pressure to perform well (and Ashley commenting that there’s “no pressure” of course just makes it worse… ;) ). At least this year he didn’t promise I’d be “funny” (a throwaway remark that gave me my first night of lost sleep in 10 years as I imagined that I’d been forced to perform a standup routine at the Comedy Club without a script! Wah).

Anyway, the event was held at the rather spectacular Congress Hall and upon entering I realised both that is was a great presentation venue, and that 350 marketers is quite some audience ;)

FODM audience at Congress Hall, 2009

There were some spectacular and energetic speakers (Jonathan MacDonald in particular), and two sessions that interested me in particular on digital publishing and ecommerce in retail.

The presentation went well and I used the time to reprise themes from previous FODM presentations, wander into the realms of Augmented Reality, build on some KPI discussions I’d been having with Michael “KPI” Ross and finally introduce the “Obama-Preedy Pricing Principle” (the result of a beer-supported discussion with Tony Preedy on how discounts and promotions should be related to a specific place, time and – increasingly – appropriate behaviours). Maybe it should have been the Pavlov-Preedy Principle??

You can see all of the presentations on the Econsultancy page (you need to be a subscriber), or you can see my presentation via the Slideshare link:

Inspiration Index – MyDeco takes the top spot in the “Customer Experience” dimension of IRII

Inspiration Index – MyDeco takes the top spot in the “Customer Engagement” dimension – Internet Retailing

So – it’s not official: MyDeco.com has grabbed the top spot.

 

You can read the full results and analysis of the second ‘dimension’ of the Internet Retailing Inspiration Index (IRII) at the post above.

The next dimension is open for voting NOW and for a week, just a week, until 8 June…

Vote here:

https://ecustomeropinions.com/survey/survey.php?sid=349531418

Vote now. Tell your friends.

This time, it’s “Operations and IT”: who do you envy? admire? copy? Tell all – the gloves are off!

Google’s “Survival of the Fastest”: my video contribution on YouTube

A couple of months ago the folk at Google asked if I’d contribute to a YouTube channel they were creating, soliciting input from a range of practitioners, thinkers and leaders in eCommerce on the subject of how best to survive the economic downturn.

I agreed (very pleased to have been asked) and then immediately regretted it (a combination of _hating_ being filmed and a bit of a panic attack that I’d have nothing to say in such august company).

Both of these concerns were well founded and the first attempt was utterly awful. Google kindly allowed me to hit the virtual ‘delete’ button and re-shoot. I (and all viewers) owe them a debt of gratitude ;)

The format was a difficult one: a straight-to-camera piece on a topic. This requires more skill and preparation that I had understood. I generally prefer a ‘Q&A’ approach – being interviewed by someone else makes it easier to keep on topic and respond to a lead.

That said, I’m really pleased that I’ve had this experience. At InternetRetailing we’re starting our video podcasting programme in June and going through this experience has been a timely shock that I hope will improve our approach.

In the meantime you can find me burbling and only loosely in charge of a Welsh accent here:

In fact, this piece was a ‘version’ of my ‘profit per pixel second‘ metric provocation that I’ve been covering in print. It’s an area in which I’m interested, but I think it suffers here from being too long (maybe I’m too used to giving this as part of a presentation?).

All of this goes to prove Mark Twain’s (well, Blaise Pascal) thought: “I have only made this [letter] longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter”. The same seems true of videos ;)

You’ll see in the linked videos some very impressive (and more succinct!) contributions from a great range of people – from Boris Johnson, Mayor of London and Martin Sorrell of WPP to numerous leading academics and practitioners.

I’m pleased to be in illustrious company (even if as the slight splotch on the otherwise immaculate canvas) and I’ve learned some good lessons about video presentation.

You can see the whole channel here:

http://www.youtube.com/user/survivalofthefastest