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February 21 2013

Commerce Weekly: Best Buy wants to end showrooming, Google wants to start

Google takes on brick-and-mortar; Best Buy takes on ecommerce

GoogleLogoGoogleLogoThe Google retail store rumor ignited again this week. Seth Weintraub reported at 9to5Google that “[a]n extremely reliable source has confirmed to us that Google is in the process of building stand-alone retail stores in the U.S.” to be opened in time for the 2013 holiday season. The Wall Street Journal’s Amir Efrati followed with confirmation from “people familiar with the matter,” though one of those people said it wouldn’t happen this year.

Across the board, analysts seem to think it’s a good idea. Alyson Shontell at Business Insider noted that as Google becomes more of a hardware company — with its Android devices, Google Glass, and self-driving cars — analysts say it’s time for Google to work on its brand image, which will require consumer interaction, something the company hasn’t done much of up to this point. Google executives seem to agree — Weintraub reported that retail store plans started to solidify along with plans to offer Google Glass to mainstream consumers. “The leadership thought consumers would need to try Google Glass first hand to make a purchase,” Weintraub wrote. “Without being able to use them first hand, few non-techies would be interested in buying Google’s glasses (which will retail from between $500 to $1,000).”

On the other end of the retail spectrum, brick-and-mortar big box retailer Best Buy is looking to strengthen its competitive edge against online retailers. The company announced this week that in its efforts to “end showrooming,” it will make its holiday price-matching policy permanent. Beginning March 3, the store will “price match all local retail competitors and 19 major online competitors in all product categories and on nearly all in-stock products, whenever asked by a customer,” according to a Best Buy press release. The release also stated that price matching will extend “post purchase” to include price reductions Best Buy makes within 15 days of a purchase. The company slipped in a change to its return and exchange policy as well — Kim Bhasin at Business Insider reported the new return/exchange period will drop to 15 days from 30, though Reward Zone Premier Silver members will retain their 60-day return eligibility.

A faberNovel study delves into the strategies behind Amazon’s success

This week, faberNovel released an update to its study “Amazon.com: The Hidden Empire.” John Geraci, faberNovel’s head of marketing, noted in a post at TechCrunch that since the first study was published in 2011, “a steady, ever-growing buzz has developed around Amazon as it becomes increasingly clear that they are really in for the kill with the retail industry, intending to spare no prisoners along the way.” Geraci outlined a few highlights from the study, including the fact that Amazon initially took aim at the B2B space with Amazon Supply, “but they clearly also want corporate-accounts domination — and they might succeed in getting it. He also noted Amazon’s continued willingness to experiment with disruptive business models, specifically highlighting textbook rentals for students.

The study, presented in a Slideshare (embedded below), offers a deep look into the paths behind the success of Amazon. Looking ahead, the study covers plans for the cloud, noting that “[e]ven though [Amazon Web Services] AWS is primarily a B2B offer, the Amazon cloud will ultimately be geared toward end-users.” It also looks at the company’s long-term goals to grow the Kindle ecosystem, achieve the same-day delivery holy grail, and lock itself in as a small and medium business supplier. You can view the complete study in the following Slideshare presentation:

Square further simplifies POS for merchants

In its continued efforts to democratize mobile payments for consumers and merchants, Square this week launched Business in a Box for Square Register. According to the press release, the package includes two Square Readers, an iPad stand, a cash drawer, and an optional receipt printer, all of which connect wirelessly to Square Register. The release noted the mobile payment obstacle Business in a Box aims to solve:

“Historically, business owners were forced to piece together multiple hardware components from various manufacturers, manage complicated contracts and pricing structures, and pay for expensive software licensing and service plans. Now, they can be up and running with Square Register in minutes.”

The price point is democratizing as well — the release stated that customizable hardware packages start at $299. Jordan Kahn at 9to5Mac did some digging into the customizations and associated costs. On top of the basic package, which Kahn noted includes a Heckler Design WindFall iPad Stand and an APG Vasario 1616 Cash Drawer, Square will provide a Star Micronics TSP143L Receipt Printer for an additional $300, for a total cost of $599. “We were able to find all the pieces of the package online (minus the free Square readers) for around $480,” Kahn wrote, “although that’s before any taxes or shipping costs.”

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October 04 2012

Commerce Weekly: More brands throw in with Merchant Customer Exchange

Here are the commerce stories that caught my eye this week.

MCX’s mobile payment vision draws in more big names

The Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX) got a boost this week as several more big brands joined the mobile payments network. Nivedita Bhattacharjee reports at Reuters that the new members include Gap, Bed Bath & Beyond, Dillard’s and Dunkin’ Brands, bringing the total to 21 publicly traded members to date.

James Wester at Mobile Payments Today notes that a merchants mobile payment solution doesn’t yet exist and no launch date has been announced. Wester reports:

“MCX said its platform is under development and the company is trying to focus on integrating payments with offers and promotions delivered to a smartphone. But a source familiar with MCX’s effort said the consortium is still working through an RFP process to find technology vendors to help bring its solution to market.”

Wester says MCX officials described the vision for the payment solution as including discounts and promotions, and requiring little involvement from merchants in terms of equipment and technology investments. The platform also reportedly will “take a ‘hands-off’ approach to retailer’s transaction and customer data,” which is a major factor in some retailers choosing MCX over other payment options, such as Google Wallet. Mike Cook, vice president and assistant treasurer at Wal-Mart, one of the MCX partners, made it clear this week that Wal-Mart is not interested in sharing consumer and transaction data and that that played a role in the company choosing to back MCX over Google or Isis.

X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at x.com.

Lemon opens its API, but is it aiming at Passbook?

Mobile wallet startup Lemon stepped up its game in the mobile payment arena this week, launching its developer platform “Lemonade,” or “Lemon Application Development Engine.” Sarah Perez reports at TechCrunch that third-party developers now will be able to create branded interactive “smart cards” to better connect with consumers. She writes:

“Using the SmartCard Wizard, developers can customize their cards in terms of design as well as functionality. … A gift card could display the current balance, which is updated as the money is spent. Cards can also be used as mechanisms to allow the card providers to communicate with users, letting users send messages, respond to surveys, receive offers, discounts, and more. Other card add-ons might include integrated loyalty programs, coupon tracking tools, or price comparison tools. Support for tickets is also possible, and these can now be made interactive as well, alerting users to venue or time changes for the event, among other things.”

Ryan Kim at GigaOm says that opening the API “will pit Lemon against Passbook and perhaps Google’s larger vision for Google Wallet,” though he also reports that Lemon founder and CEO Wences Casares told him there are plans to integrate with Passbook. Perez reports that Lemon sees itself more as a complement than a competitor to Passbook and that the planned integration is about two months out.

QR codes breathe new life

While NFC technology continues to take hits in the payment space, it looks like QR codes might be enjoying a comeback. Apple employs the codes in its new Passbook service, and this week Target announced a new holiday shopping campaign using the codes; the idea is to steer “showrooming” consumers to Target’s website in hopes of retaining the sale.

Leena Rao at TechCrunch reports that Target will add the codes to the top 20 selling toys this holiday season. Consumers can scan the codes to purchase the toys with their mobile phones — even if they’re out of stock in the physical store — and then ship them anywhere in the U.S. for free. Rao notes this may be a preemptive strike against any holiday campaign plans Amazon may have up its sleeve — last year, the Internet retailer gave consumers a discount for “showrooming” at physical stores and then buying the products from its own retail platform.

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June 21 2012

Commerce Weekly: Streamlining Facebook's ads

Here are a few of the stories that caught my eye in the commerce space this week.

Facebook's ad future is looking up

FB_logo.pngThere was a flurry of commerce news in the Facebook camp this week. Payvment, the largest ecommerce platform on Facebook, launched an ad building service, allowing merchants to build auto-targeted Facebook ad campaigns. Focused on smaller merchants, the service is designed to create ads with a single click; the ads are automatically targeted toward customers based on their Facebook shopping and browsing histories.

"Merchants select a product they want to advertise, and Payvment grabs one of the already-uploaded photos, the product description, and ... creates a Facebook ad complete with image, headline, and copy," writes Josh Constine at TechCrunch. "It analyzes the merchant's store and who have Liked, bought, browsed that product, finds people who've interacted with similar products on its other stores, and shows them the ad."

The official press release points to a recent survey of Payvment's merchant customers that found 60% hadn't bought a Facebook ad, of which 25% stated "they haven't tried them because they don't understand how to use them." In his post, Constine highlights the bottom line of streamlining Facebook ad building and buying:

"While hundreds of big brands spend millions on ad campaigns, hundreds of thousands of small businesses buying thousand-dollar campaigns can add up. Facebook needs the sum to grow its revenue and satisfy investors ..."

There was news this week on Facebook's mobile advertising front as well. Carolyn Everson, Facebook's VP of global marketing solutions, indicated to AdAge that Facebook's newly launched mobile advertising product may soon be expanded to offer location-based advertising. The AdAge post notes that advertisers already can target ads by ZIP code, but using location-specific data from mobile phones will allow advertisers to better target ads using real-time data.

And the timing looks to be ripe — AdAge also reported this week on an early survey of Facebook's new mobile-only ads that points to a promising future: "The click-through rate for mobile ads amounted to 0.79%, compared to the 0.148% average across all five placements studied ... The click-through rate for desktop-only news-feed ads falls roughly in the middle at 0.327%."

X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at x.com.

PayPal improves its UI, UX

PayPal gave itself a face lift this week, overhauling its website to improve its user interface and the user experience. The PayPal blog says the new design cuts down on the number of site pages and simplifies menus and labels.

Computer use in general is turning more and more toward mobile, and the PayPal's site design seems to be keeping this firmly in mind as well. As Ingrid Lunden notes at TechCrunch, the "redesign also happens to look a lot more touch-friendly, perhaps a sign of how much tablets, smartphones and the mobile web figure today in the company's strategy." As you can see in the screenshot below, the personal site page now has just three tabs — Buy, Sell and Transfer — and an Explore button that takes visitors to the company's new offerings.

PayPal Redesign

The new site is rolling out in the U.S. over the next couple of weeks and will launch globally at a later date.

If you want to scale, you have to educate the masses

With all the talk of strategies to battle showrooming and ideas whirling about on tying mobile into brick-and-mortar retail to better engage — and sell to — customers, it was interesting to read how some of those techniques are playing out in practice. Mobile Commerce Daily reported this week on a panel at the 2012 MMA Forum called "How Mobile Can Bridge the Gap in the Multi-Channel Commerce Landscape," during which Don Wortley, the senior digital marketing manager at Best Buy, commented on the company's strategies to integrate mobile into the physical shopping experience.

Wortley said during the panel that the mobile pilot programs do very well, but problems arise as they try to scale them. He attributes the issues mainly to customers not knowing how to use — or simply not using — their smartphone features. Mobile Commerce Daily reports:

"'When we think of all these super streamlined experiences, we still have to educate the masses,' Mr. Wortley said. ... 'We have not done a good job educating consumers on the tools we have ... We've had a beta culture where we stick stuff out there and haven't wanted to advertise until it is polished, but that is never going to happen. We are currently making plans to drive usage of tools, to put some resources behind that.'"

You can read more of Wortley's comments as well as comments from other panel members regarding the effect corporate silos are having on the success of in-store mobile here.

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May 24 2012

Commerce Weekly: Facebook continues its mobile acquisition spree

Here are the commerce stories that caught my attention this week.

Facebook acquires social gift-giving app Karma

Karma iPhone ScreenshotThe media focus on Facebook's IPO might be missing the point — as Michael V. Copeland points out in a post at Wired, the IPO is really about the cash Facebook now has on hand to continue its acquisition spree. And that's just what it did. On the heels of the market's closing bell last Friday (May 18), Facebook announced its acquisition of Karma, a mobile ecommerce app that facilitates social gift giving — what some analysts are calling the next big mobile commerce boom.

IDG News' Cameron Scott points out in a post at PCWorld that mobile is where Facebook needs to focus now, as "it currently generates less revenue per user [in mobile] than it does on the desktop." He notes that Karma already is integrated with Facebook and describes how the app works:

"Karma allows users to buy gifts from its catalogue from their mobile phones. Recipients receive a text message notifying them of the gift and directing them to a website where they can exchange it if they want to and enter their shipping address."

Chris Preimesberger over at eWeek.com reiterates Facebook's need to "monetize interaction with its subscribers in better fashion on mobile devices" and provides a nice roundup of Facebook's mobile-related acquisitions to date.

X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at x.com.

If you can't beat "showrooming" ...

Raise your hand if you've showroomed. I'm certainly guilty, and much to retailers' dismay, this type of shopping behavior is becoming more common. Mobile Commerce Daily reports this week on a new study from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) that shows "53 percent of mobile commerce users have stopped an in-store purchase as a result of using their mobile phone." Joe Lazlo, senior director of the Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence at the IAB told Mobile Commerce Daily the practice of showrooming isn't likely to go away:

"Mobile shoppers today use their mobiles to save them time or money or both — mobile shopping helps make them more efficient. And since we all love to make the best use of our time and money, these kinds of behaviors are likely to spread and become mainstream really quickly.

"Fighting this trend is certainly going to be a losing strategy, so I predict that savvy marketers will learn to live with, and even court, these newly empowered consumers, who can and do leave a store if they discover a better deal somewhere else."

Staff contributors from McKinsey & Company call this situation a "retail store apocalypse" in a post over at Forbes. The group says, however, that "showrooming shouldn't be a show stopper. These digital shoppers are ready to buy. Excelling at multichannel sales is today's must-have capability, and retailers must adapt if they want to survive." They offer seven practical strategies to avoid succumbing to the apocalypse. Some highlights include establishing your store as an authority on your products, making use of data — or learning to — to better target consumers on an individual level, and re-imagining the role of your retail store as more of a service hub. You can read more on these ideas and their other suggestions here.

Mobile disrupts the grocery store checkout line

Stop & Shop iPhone ScreenshotMore and more, consumers are incorporating mobile into retail shopping, but what about grocery shopping? According to Kunur Patel in a post at AdAge Digital, the focus of mobile in grocery stores has more to do with in-store shopping behavior and convenience rather than online grocery competition. She points to loyalty program company Catalina Mobile and describes how it's testing the mobile grocery shopping waters, in part by targeting the big grocery store dice roll — choosing the fastest checkout line. Patel writes:

"[Catalina Mobile] is behind mobile apps in 110 of Ahold USA's Stop & Shop stores in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Here's how it works: A shopper walks into the store, opens the store-branded app and receives offers based on their shopping history. To skip the line at checkout, shoppers can scan barcodes of items they put into the cart to buy the haul right on the phone. Catalina says the app will be available in 200 more Stop & Shops this summer."

Patel also highlights Coupons.com's app Grocery iQ:

"Shoppers create lists in the app by scanning barcodes or typing in entries, then the app organizes those items by aisle. The most recent [app] update ports coupons into the search tool so that, say, a shopper may add one brand of yogurt to the list over another because Coupons.com offers 50¢ off."

Unless the consumer is shopping at a participating store with a loyalty card that syncs with the app, the coupons will need to be emailed and printed.

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