“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.

“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.pencil.wpengine.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.

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

Internet Retailing – first results from the Inspiration Index

The March issue of InternetRetailing’s hitting desks around Europe and we’re able to release the standings after the first ‘dimension’ of the Inspiration Index voting – on “Moments of Brilliance and Delight”.

irii-results-dimension1

To recap for those who missed the IRII announcement, the InternetRetailing Inspiration Index focuses upon:

those moments of admiration, enjoyment and – frankly – envy: when we look at another retailer’s activities and wish we’d thought of that first, had implemented as well, or have an open regard for a difficult problem elegantly overcome

You can see the full article from InternetRetailing Magazine here:

IRII Article (pdf) – download

The next dimension – Customer Experience – is now available and awaiting your comments. Please follow this link to the eDigital Research survey page:

https://ecustomeropinions.com/survey/survey.php?sid=473664927

Results and the site review will be published in the May issue of InternetRetailing Magazine.

Other links

InternetRetailing launches its “Inspiration Index”

I posted this on Internet Retailing – please do vote if you’re in retail or ecommerce

Vote now! Internet Retailing’s “Inspiration Index”

We’re pleased to launch today our “Inspiration Index“. Speaking with senior etailers we’re struck by the attention they pay to competitor and peer activity, continually seeking new ideas, better ways and cunning angles to improve their multichannel activity.

What do we mean by ‘inspiration’?

We’re focusing on those moments of admiration, enjoyment and – frankly – envy: when we look at another retailer’s activities and wish we’d thought of that first, had implemented as well, or have an open regard for a difficult problem elegantly overcome.

We decided not to go down a company or ‘awards’ approach since these tend to favour the established large players or the shiny new ones – in reality we’ve found that people covet the delivery capabilities of one, the design elements of another and the promotional campaigns of yet others.

There are six ‘dimensions’ to the Inspiration Index:

  1. Moments of brilliance and delight
  2. Customer experience
  3. Operations and IT
  4. Merchandising
  5. Marketing
  6. Strategy

How will it work?

Every other month we’ll ask our readers and members of the LinkedIn group to undertake a short survey on ONE of the dimensions. We’ll then cover the results in the coming edition of the magazine.

Over time we’ll build a picture of inspiration in internet retailing.

Best of all the winners will know that they’ve been nominated and rated by their professional peers — this is not a PR-led or sponsorship-driven activity: you can’t buy or promote prominence — it’s a question of whether you inspire others!

We’re really pleased to be partnering with eDigital Research on this. We’ve worked with them a great deal in the past and we welcome their support as a research partner on this project, helping shape the questionnaire and analysing the results.

I hope that you’ll make the time to take the survey and we’re really excited to see the results!

More in the March issue of Internet Retailing, and of course on the portal.

Here’s the link to the survey: https://ecustomeropinions.com/survey/survey.php?sid=986312169

Vote Now!

About eDigitalResearch

eDigitalResearch is a leading provider of digital market research, enabling customers’ to make critical business decisions with the benefit of comprehensive consumer insight and informed direction. eDigitalResearch possesses a unique combination of research expertise, marketing background, web technology and knowledge of the cross-channel consumer. As well as providing invaluable research data, the modules of its fully integrated research system — ratings, surveys, panels and forums — can combine to provide holistic analytics and essential market-leading insight. This gives our clients the power, confidence and backup to make crucial decisions on key aspects of their business including product range, marketing, customer service, supply chain, even basic positioning.

zapposinsights.com – monetising the lessons of success

zapposinsights.com

Well well – this is a fun idea. Zappos, a US$ 1 billion etailer that’s done for shoes what Amazon did for books, has created a ‘club’ for the “Fortune One Million” group.

The club, c$40 a month membership, is a mix of video content, happy-clappy employee indoctrination videos and general bigging-up of the company culture. It’s all very ‘can do’ (and more importantly ‘have done’).

In addition there’re knowledge base articles, interviews with key staff and execs, and opportunities to post questions.

Although a little ‘American’ at times, it’s an interesting approach from a company that clearly believes in values of staff and customer engagement, delivering great service and in sharing insights. After all, it’s one thing to be given an insight, but an entirely more difficult thing to interpret and then implement the requirements of that insight.

Having worked for years in best practice publishing, training and indeed the structured, state-supported business development sector (with Business Link for London, formerly Europe’s largest enterprise support agency) this initiative is to be welcomed.

That they’re clearly going to monetise the One Million is simply an elegant example of that commercial spirit 😉

Please let me know your experiences if you join.

Interviewed on SkyNews about “Mega Monday” or Cyber Monday

So, then, to 4 Millbank to be interviewed on the 7pm SkyNews bulletin about CyberMonday (or, being British, “Mega Monday”).

Appearing on SkyNews at 7pm

Appearing on SkyNews at 7pm

I was called this afternoon to ask if I’d be willing to appear and comment and of course the answer was ‘yes’. Then I started to feel nervous!

I don’t recall much about the interview itself – I was in a dark room, staring at a focus point and desperately listening to the question so that I didn’t burble. Intentionally, anyway.

Up earlier had been David Walmsley, Head of Direct at John Lewis, and as I’d arrived in the studio I’d thought how composed and fluid he was on TV. I decided to become more nervous immediately 😉

The studio was intriguing: not quite a ‘radio car’, but certainly a compact and lean operation, mainly focused on political happenings at nearby Parliament.

The Millbank studio for Sky News

The Millbank studio for Sky News

I’ve not been able to track down a ‘recording’ of what I said, but my intention was to cover off how the predictions for Mega Monday were tending toward the blindingly obvious, and how even a scrooge-like consumer was now running out of shopping days to Christmas. Behind the headline figures of revenues (predicted, btw, by IMRG to be £320m today, with Retail Decisions predicting that Mega Minute will be 1.31pm today, with an expected near £1m in transactions that minute), the real issue is that revenues this year will have been bought by discounting. In order to have a higher cash value of transactions than last year, therefore, retailers will need to ship proportionally more boxes – creating an additional strain on their logistics operations as well as reducing their margins even further.

Pressed on the reason for the success of the web I recall mentioning that the web was now a mature component within multichannel retail. The web is used by some 90% of people questioned in an IMRG survey to help decide on purchases made in-store. Interestingly, only 68% of those questioned said the reverse – that they needed to see goods in-store to inform their internet purchasing.

I was asked whether there was anything fundamental to the web that would make it an inherently ‘cheap’ channel, but of course there’s a need to have a capable infrastructure as well, ideally, as a traditional retail channel in order to maximise sales. I challenged the draw of the web as being “cheapness” alone, noting that customers now required service as much as price. In the US on CyberMonday, for example, nearly 11% of all shopping traffic went to Amazon.com – a combination of breadth of product, excellent pricing and exemplary, proven service.

In what seemed like an age or a second it was over and, with a polite ‘thank you’ from the producer, I was back on the scooter heading home.

The kids were pleased to see me on telly (ahh) and I’ve already had abusive texts about being fat/nervous/bearded etc – to which I just say “thanks” 😉

This is a picture of me on the telly taken with Vicky's iPhone - I'm just blinking, not falling into a trance. Honest.

This is a picture of me on the telly taken by Vicky with her iPhone - I'm just blinking, not falling into a trance. Honest.

It was an interesting experience and something out of the comfort zone. It was also a chance to get some key messages to a new audience and finally whet my appetite to enliven our plans for InternetRetailing TV. We did some experiments at our conference – see the embed below –  but I think that it’s time to be a bit more active on this front.