Category Writing

Article on ‘Silos’ in Brand Quarterly

Thanks to Brand Quarterly for publishing my article on the challenge of ‘silos’ in retail. Charged with being simultaneously agile/flexible and stable/optimised, organisational silos were an answer to the latter, yet create a barrier to the former. In this article I discuss the balance that retail leaders must strike in order to benefit from flexibility as well as efficiency.

The Eternal Battle In Multichannel Retail: Flexibility Vs Efficiency

 

Staff over robots – an editorial

I’ve just had an editorial published in the Raconteur supplement in The Times, in which I argue the role of ‘carbon-based life-forms’ over and above robots. This piece was a counterpoint to the ‘store staff have no future’ debate that’s frankly ignoring the point: as retail becomes increasingly about stories and experience, it takes wonderful staff (not just wonderful robots) to bring this to life…

https://www.raconteur.net/business/people-our-staff-standing-on-the-shoulders-of-robots-and-digital-capabilities-are-the-future-of-e-commerce

Beyond Brexit: Building Retail in a new epoch

The ramifications of the British vote to leave the European Union are barely understood, but the radical implications cannot be underestimated. There are some challenging lessons, and more-challenging opportunities, to be seized as we move from bemoaning or celebrating to the realities of building a new future.

THAT THE world had qualitatively changed was clear as I addressed our inauguralEuropean Summit in Berlin the week following the Brexit vote. The overwhelming messages from the gathering of the IREU Top500 retailers was that the UK’s skills and expertise were valued, and that there is a bond between multichannel professionals that bridges national boundaries. This is clearly shown too in the first ranking of Europe’s Top500 multichannel retailers, the IREU Top500 2016, which we’re pleased to release this month. Europe and trade are certainly the issue of our time.

Epochal change

We are witnessing an epochal change – of radical disruption. While the digital revolution caused disruption, there are few events in our time that have recast social relationships, rewritten the rules of politics, recast national relations, rejected the underpinning legal settlement of nationhood, trade and personal freedoms, while resetting people’s expectations of the course of their families’ lives. Short of war, this is the most wholesale disruption we may see in our lives and from this we need to create and seize opportunity. The manner in which we act post-Brexit will test and set the character of the UK and Europe for the next generation.

Our industry could be characterised by a customer-focus, a bias for innovation and change, and a global perspective. All of these are fundamentally, radically challenged by the Brexit vote. The questions to consider are broader than retail alone, but as a major employer and generator of economic value we have to engage more broadly than solely our own bailiwicks. Areas of engagement include:

  • How better to connect with our customers, many of whom have expressed an anti-urban, anti-establishment, anti-globalisation sentiment? If our customers are never wrong then we need to find a better narrative of inclusion and relevance, even as they seek out global brands at discounted prices… We need to consider how we communicate and live our values, not just our pricing and promotion policies.
  • Our staff are simultaneously an asset to our business, our own customers, and the disaffected or disenfranchised voters. Skills development is needed both for our own performance and for our employees to have a stake in society and confidence about an improving future of employment, mobility and affluence. How can we connect with our staff to align our commercial progress with their lives and hopes?
  • What needs to be done to retain competitive, open market access? Both for sales of our own goods and the purchase of goods for resale, consumables and infrastructure?
  • As we have a chance to look afresh at our regulatory frameworks, what is necessary to ensure a level playing field? What regulation do we want to retain, remove, introduce?

Over the coming months we will be seeking, listening to and synthesising the voices in our industry as we look to create positive outcomes from this disruption. Our editorial approach at IR is to reflect the board-level, cross-disciplinary, commercial conversation and so we’ll look at all areas in which we can make an impact.

What questions do you think need to be addressed? Where should our focus lie? Please let me know your thoughts. Over the coming year we will hold informal discussions across the UK and in key European cities, under the Chatham House Rule. The aim is to have an agenda, an approach and consideration points in time for the next European Summit in Berlin in June 2017. We have invites to Liverpool, Edinburgh, Manchester, London, Paris and Amsterdam, but we’ll go where the conversation leads. If you have an office or venue that could host us, please do let me know. While the focus of the discussion will be amidst multichannel retailers, key suppliers to the sector have an important voice and we invite their contribution too.

Please drop me a note at ian@internetretailing.net if you’d like to contribute.

This article was first published in InternetRetailing Magazine in July 2016 and on Linkedin as a post.

“Capability and Maturity” – editorial from the May 2011 edition of InternetRetailing Magazine

I’ve just published the web version of my Editorial for the May 2011 issue of our Magazine, “Capability and Maturity”.

You can see it on Internet Retailing’s site here:

http://www.internetretailing.net/2011/05/editorial-capability-and-maturity/

There’s also a link to the May 2011 Digital Edition of Internet Retailing Magazine (‘page turner’), also available online.

In the article I mention the MSc in Internet Retailing – a commercial qualification, academically assessed and accredited.

Applications for the MSc are now being accepted for September 2011 start: information at http://econsultancy.com/uk/training/qualifications/retailing. Open evenings on 26 May (Manchester) and 14 June (London) can be booked online . You will have a chance to chat with us, the academic staff from MMU and the Econsultancy trainers, as well as speaking with current students from the first and second intakes.

“Planes, Trains and Automobiles” – Editorial from the January 2011 edition of InternetRetailing Magazine

I’ve just published the web version of my Editorial for the January 2011 issue of our Magazine. You can see it on Internet Retailing’s site here:

http://www.internetretailing.net/2011/05/editorial-planes-trains-and-automobiles/

There’s also a link to the digital ‘page turner’ edition, also now published online.

“Purchandising” – Editorial from November 2010’s issue of Internet Retailing Magazine

I’ve just published the web version of my Editorial for the November 2010 issue of our Magazine. You can see it on Internet Retailing’s site here:

http://www.internetretailing.net/2010/12/editorial-purchandising/

There’s also a link to the digital ‘page turner’ edition, also now published online.

“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.

The Walpole Yearbook – article on Social Media

I recently contributed a piece to The Walpole Yearbook on Social Media. This is a publication reviewing the British luxury brands and the wider luxury market and I was pleased to be able to make a contribution. I’ve reproduced my article below since the original is in print only (and rather sumptuous, glossy print at that – as one would expect 😉 ).

Here’s a copy of the article text:

Luxury retail is at the heart of a conversation, connecting products and service with a discerning clientele. Digital developments allow customers to initiate and sustain conversations amongst themselves without the permission, support or mediation of the brand.  Ian Jindal considers how and why the luxury sector might better engage with customers online and finds that the options have little to do with technology – rather a return to core values.

Social networks have always existed in luxury – just not in a digital form. Trunk shows and champagne evenings fêted select customers, and these exclusive events gained a wider circulation via key media titles.

‘Feedback’ outside these circles was limited to “letters to the editor”. Current web technology allows customers and readers (now interchangeable) to air their views directly– via comments, ratings and reviews, click-through sales or by creating their own blogs. This is the ‘social web’ – where customers can talk to each outside of the direct control of the brands they’re discussing.

It’s tempting to dismiss such customer feedback as irrelevant for the luxury sector: while it may be appropriate for commodities, surely a luxury brand needs no plebiscite!  As Tyler Brûlé, Editor in Chief of Monocle comments: “strong brands don’t win by consensus”. Brûlé’s challenge to brands is to lead, but not to ignore customers: feedback can improve a design, and early input (say on a prototype) from key influencers can improve a production model. For services in particular no amount of marketing hype can compare with sincere feedback from users.

Brûlé’s insight is resoundingly supported by recent research, specifically for the luxury sector. 71% of shoppers use reviews (Forrester), 91% of millionaires always or often check reviews before purchase (Advertising Age) and 84% of those earning $150k+ use  sites where customers review and rate products and services (Luxury Institute). Tellingly, 78% rank recommendation as the most credible form of advertising (Nielsen).

None of these findings will surprise luxury brands who will recognise in these findings the key components of “reputation” – favourable experienced amplified through repetition. The issue is that in 2009 many of the mechanisms used for amplification are tarnished or jaded – hence the interest in new tools.

Not your father’s old social media

It’s an easy misconception that to engage in social media a brand needs to have forums, ratings and blogs all enabled on their sites already. In reality, expert and experienced practitioners advocate a range of approaches, depending upon the brand’s position and their target customers’ behaviour.

One important tools is of course ‘Ratings and Reviews’, where customers can post their review of a product or service, along with a ‘star rating’. Justin Crandall, UK Managing Director of Bazaarvoice, the review system provider, notes that ratings are not a universal panacea. How can one be sure that customers are qualified to comment? How relevant are ‘star ratings’ to a complex luxury experience? Crandall cites their research into brand empathy as inspiring their new offering – “Stories”. These allow customers to relate a narrative experience with a brand or service. This echoes the use of editorial in magazines, allied to the power of the personal and specific. A trial last year with an upmarket, niche cosmetics brand found that 39% of all site visits started at a story, page views increased 81% and average order values increased 20%.

For luxury services in particular an amplified, inspiring experience is extremely powerful and resonates more than boilerplate marketing patter.
Crandall mentions other benefits of Stories, including improving Google ranking, understanding how your brand’s perceived, and identifying pockets of interest that might support a new store or retail operation. Relevant content can assist customers at every stage of the purchase consideration cycle.

DIY is not the only way

One does not have to manage social media tools oneself to benefit. Indeed, there’s a new category of retailers who are becoming ‘social intermediaries’. Companies like ThisNext.com have placed social network at the very heart of their business, rather than a bolt-on. In addition to the now-expected rating systems, ThisNext goes further by promoting style-setters and recommenders on their service, identifying them as “Mavens”, their place being secured by page views and click-throughs. Theirs is an empirical, modern take on a brand advocate or style-setter. Brands – whether on not sold via ThisNext – would do well to monitor the activities and recommendations of these Mavens. Asked about the importance of the ‘social’ aspects to their business, Jessyca Frederick, Director of Product Management at ThisNext comments that “social media, like every other marketing tool, has a purpose and a place within a well-balanced marketing campaign”.

All Customers Are Not Created Equal

As David Ogilvy noted some years ago, not all customers are equally profitable. Both Bazaarvoice and ThisNext offer brands, albeit in different ways, mechanisms to identify the segments or profiles of contributors and so respond appropriately.
Further selectivity comes from focusing one’s ‘social attention’ in places that chime with your brand’s values and form an ‘oasis’ at which your target customers congregate. One example is Suzanne Aaronson’s “Spire.com” which offers a distinctive, savvy perspective on luxury consumption with a surprising level of user-contributed insights and tips. Spire is in the tradition of insider, style-leading publications and so offers an opportunity to benefit from social media while remaining on familiar territory.

Rules of engagement

There’s no magic wand for social media – any more than there’s an instant answer to customer engagement in more traditional media. The key requirement is to develop and understanding an engage appropriately. Neither a blanket adoption nor wholesale rejection are likely to be successful.

The modes of engagement to consider are:

  • Awareness: monitor the more social activity of your retail channel or customer advocates and dedicate staff time to consider the implications for your brand and opportunities. Even though your responses may be via traditional publishing, marketing or retail channels you will at least be learning and gaining insights.
  • Engagement: use the platforms that others have built and contribute appropriately – whether adding information, posting comments or answering questions. If you’re minded to try direct social media tools then consider using them on a subset of your base as a trial – for example supporting a ‘VVIP’ group or around an event. Again, learning and experience are important outcomes.
  • Defensive: even if you choose to be inactive, do not ignore social media activity. Existing brand monitoring techniques and services should be used (from Google Alerts on key brand terms, to “buzz monitoring” services across all media). Social Media channels open new areas for protection, however, with many brands not in control of their terms on Twitter and as usernames. Consider the users “Prada” or “Chanel” on Twitter – not exactly as one might expect. Usernamecheck.com offers a free, instant check on 68 social media sites – if your brand is not registered yet then do so quickly. If it it, either congratulations or time to look up the name dispute resolution procedures!

Whether an advocate or sceptic, there’s no escaping the fact that our customers’ behaviour and expectations have changed as a result of new digital media. Commercial brand-owners will see these changes as an opportunity to connect afresh with consumers in the spirit of service and quality synonymous with the luxury market.

Do stars shine brighter against a dark sky? [Editorial comment from November 2008’s Internet Retailing Magazine]

This article appeared in November 2008’s edition of Internet Retailing Magazine.

After the buzz and positive atmosphere at the InternetRetailing 2008 Conference, Ian Jindal considers the role of ecommerce in a hostile and uncertain period for retailers: can etail’s star shine undimmed?

There’s a stunned and bruised feeling in retail. Not so much as a result of the downturn/recession/depression (delete according to pessimism) but  at the effect of the unintended consequences.

The speed and extent of the seizure of short-term lending markets has caused significant trouble to businesses who depend upon flexible working capital: growing businesses, seasonal businesses, leveraged businesses with liquidity covenants and suppliers whose working capital needs to be with retailers are all suffering. The amplified impact of retail and manufacturing workers losing confidence, buying power or even jobs will be, for the retail sector, like hitting a wall.

In retail Boardrooms across the land, all eyes are now on eCommerce. While offline like-for-like performance is down across sectors, eCommerce is still growing or at least ‘holding up’. As drowning men cleave to passing logs, so do CEOs view the online channel as an opportunity to save the financial year. Many in eCommerce, myself included, remember the nuclear winter of 2001-3: the question is what lessons have we learned and do we have the strength to apply them?

The key lesson is that this is a time for brave people to be ruthless and focused. In a rising market there’s always a “mañana” in which to implement gentlemanly improvements in segmentation, stock control, processes, addressing margin… However, there is no “tomorrow”. I know that Christmas is busy, but we must all fear that January post-sale will be even tougher. Putting off decisive action until December 31st is folly.

While each business is different, in general we can concentrate upon pace, focus, agility and responsiveness – attributes that should be a fundamental part of ecommerce.

Pace is vital since we need to trade our sites daily, not weekly or monthly. Learn lessons quickly and implement immediately. This is no time for a ‘to do’ list – you need a ‘just done’ list!

Focus must be upon customer-facing activity – help them part with their cash. Simplicity is a function of this: in merchandising, marketing and projects.

Agility is needed to move quickly and with confidence: make the changes now, not next week!

Responsiveness should be to the customer or emergent opportunities. The origin of the word ‘retail’ is from the French word “retailler” or ‘re-tailor’ – creating something anew for each customer, focused on serving them. The web’s ability to segment, personalise, algorithmically optimise and merchandise should come to the fore. Now, today – not tomorrow.

These are simple requirements, but take backbone to implement. Wibbling, waffling and waiting should be reserved for those on the sidelines.

Even with this bold, brave approach we etailers are dependent upon our colleagues in logistics for service levels, buying and merchandising to have the right goods to sell and our stores and contact centres for cross-channel leverage. The temptation is to try and forge ahead online but now more than ever is the time to work closely with colleagues to burnish a consistent service to customers across all channels. While your colleagues see ecommerce as an opportunity to rescue trading performance you have an opening to cement cross-channel working… not to show that you’re separatist, selfish and narrowly focused!

eCommerce continues to perform well, and it’s said that stars shine more brightly against a dark sky. However, our aim cannot be simply to be valued in comparison with the decline of others. eCommerce professionals have an opportunity in the coming months to demonstrate a robust and agile commercialism and to lift the whole business by customer focus, modern inclusive working practices and delivering the multichannel leverage of which we speak so often.

In these dark times it takes bravery to be brilliant and simplicity to sparkle. eCommerce should be a constellation, not a lone star: this Christmas,  don’t twinkle alone.

Going for Gold [Editorial comment from the August 2008 Internet Retailing Magazine]

Having won a temporary pass from IR Towers to a seaside retreat with cable TV, Ian Jindal is watching Olympic synchronised diving as the rain beats against the windows and thinking of peak season…

The Olympics are an extraordinary event. Not solely for the obvious (and barely-understood) commitment and expertise of the athletes but for the emergence of a new form of human being: Homo Potatum Sofum Expertatis, sometimes known by its common name, the ‘couch potato’.

Being inactive while watching telly is not that remarkable. Rather, it’s the peculiar quadrennial transformation into a sporting expert that defies accepted ideas of evolution. I’d never seen synchronised diving before, but I can note with great accuracy the differences in body line, the perfection of the piked position and the miniscule timing differences in breaking the surface… Humans have evolved to be able to identify tiny differences in patterns, even if most of us lack the ability to make our bodies work to those fine tolerances.

My mind slipped back to thinking about retail, and I realised that the armchair critic is no match for the uncaring, critical, always-right customer!

In the battle to extract cash from the recession-constricted wallets of our visitors etailers are resorting to a near-permanent sale, free delivery, deeper additional discounts… and all the while Christmas is coming and we need to gear up for peak.

Is this our Olympic relay race? We have the highly-honed and much practised disciplines of logistics, buying, marketing and technology, all at peak form after over 4 years of “working” ecommerce. However, if the team play and baton-passing is not the equal of the individuals then the customer notices. “98% performance”” gains no credit for the hard work and expertise: rather, the ‘2% deficit’ is noticed and punished.

Characteristic of the ‘mature stage of ecommerce’ is that customers have now experienced expertise – either from you or (painfully) from your competitors. Unfortunately, the expert etailer gets little explicit praise, save for an increased retention and net promoter [tm] ranking. That retailer’s competitors however suffer silently – the silence of being shunned. Customer may still come to your site, from habit, curiosity or expensive CPA tactics but upon arrival your site suddenly seems to lack lustre, that certain Gold Medal je ne sais quoi, the allure of the champion. Second division. Vauxhall Conference. Amateur.

The first symptom of underperformance is a perplexing drop in conversion rates. Blame the recession, blame holidays, wait for the new season’s stock, fire up another affiliate… Somehow, though, the medal positions are always filled by your competitors… While we all clap politely and are pleased with ecommerce’s resilience – the ‘rise in popularity of our sport’, if you will – it’s of zero consolation to the true competitor, for whom it’s medals or nothing.

With peak season imminent, what are our options? The first point is not to start anything new or risky: this is a time for a perfect drill rather than a  practice match. The next is to coach each of your skilled players in working to their maximum capabilities – practice at peak enables performance at peak. Finally, make sure that your training camp includes cross-discipline practice and communication. With high pressure and high stakes it’s all too easy for people to fall back into their own areas and leave the overall problem to ‘someone else’. But as Potatus Expertatis knows, it’s the tiny cracks and flaws that mark the teams down from gold, rather than the the flashes of isolated brilliance moving them up.

Peak success will be from Gold-standard teams, working flawlessly and consistently together to deliver under pressure against the etailing elite. No amount of free delivery and empty promises can win the Christmas Olympics.

To the victor the spoils.