“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.

InCirculation – Issue Archive

<img src="http://www.incirculation.co.uk/_images/archive/23.jpg" alt="" width="85"

I was pleased to be asked to write a column for InCirculation Magazine on the “monetisation model” that I’d developed with Craig Hanna of e-consultancy. We’d been engaged by one of the UK’s leading publishers to work with their senior teams to incorporate digital revenue streams into their daily activities. This model was the result – a workshop-based approach that takes a structured approach together with brainstorming, forming and evaluative techniques.

Here’s the pdf archive of the article.