Breakfast Briefing: Clearwater Corporate Finance

I was invited to speak at a breakfast briefing hosted by Clearwater Corporate Finance by Jackie Naghten on “What makes a successful online business”. The presentation was to a group of Clearwater’s clients and contacts in the private equity space – either investors, investment managers or entrepreneurs (pre- and post-funding). Given the short time and the knowledge of the audience I focused on what I see to be the fundamentals involved in appraising a business for investment or in running an online business with a ruthless focus on value and growth (or, in today’s challenging climate, value and surviving long enough to be able to realise that value!).

The presentation covered:

  • The retail context – continued growth in online, but no longer ‘free growth’ nor a ‘rising tide floating all boats’. We discussed changes in consumer buying patterns.
  • “There’s no middle in eCommerce” – average, “OK” and ‘sufficient’ businesses have no place online
  • Sustainable competitive positions: customer insight (if you know viscerally what your consumers want, you have a chance to survive where other companies would flounder); product (whether exclusive access or unique knowledge, presentation or pricing); and Operations (the best sausage machine). Unfortunately, there are now companies who excel in all areas, so the ‘no middle’ comment above is reinforced
  • We considered the origin of ‘retail’ – slicing and dicing, retailoring and fitting to the customer, and draw from this an origin founded in service and closeness to the customer
  • I emphasised that ecommerce lives as part of a multichannel world: even pure-play businesses have contact centres, logistics, sometimes print and increasingly consider shops…
  • Service is fundamental to customer retention and profitability. We considered at a high level service issues from contact centres through delivery and returns and how failure in these areas is costly – and unnecessary.

It was a great session and my thanks again to Jackie and Clearwater for the invitation.

Chairing: IAB ‘Ask the Experts’ event on Loyalty and Cashback

I was invited by the IAB to chair their ATE session on “Affiliate Marketing: Loyalty and Cashback” on Wednesday 24th.

I know from my recent speaking on Affiliates that the changing landscape as a result of the rise of cashback sites has created some controversy and concern, and equally from a retail perspective there’re questions as to the relative tactical versus strategic aspects of cashback. There’s no denying the responsive, even pavlovian, effects on sales that cashback promotion can achieve – but the question is about brand value, who has the relationship with the customer and whether there’s “loyalty” to anything or anyone other than getting cash back and therefore habitually cheaper prices.

To put perspectives we had:

  • Richard Yendall, Chairman, The Loyalty Association (speaking as a cashback affiliate, as well as for that association)
  • Helen Southgate, Head of Affiliates, DGM (looking from an agency/network perspective at issues and considerations)
  • Peter Wakim, Head of Business Development, Quidco (speaking for one of the most well-known and powerful of the cashback sites)
  • Matt Bailey, Head of Affiliates, iLevel (asking questions from a merchant’s perspective, but also sharing research showing that cashback vs ‘normal’ affiliates’ performances are not as generally accepted).

Beer afterwards ensured that the questions continued well after the close of formal proceedings.

The IAB’s venue is a handy, well-appointed and nicely-sized one for these 50-person events and I hope that they’ll be doing more of them in future.

Details of the event, along with speaker presentations, are on the event page, while you can see their events programme here.

Presentation to the London College of Fashion’s faculty

I was pleased to accept an invitation from Dr Julia Gaimster to address the Faculty at the London College of Fashion on the topic of the impact of ecommerce and recent internet developments in customers’ approaches to buying fashion. In an hour’s session on 19 September 2008 we covered competitive positioning in a digital age, rich media and aspects of customer behaviour.

On an enrolment day, with the newer of the LCF’s 5000 students thronging the hallways and staircases, it was a visible and pertinent reminder of the ever-changing trends and faces in fashion and the need for the business, production, teaching, logistical and technological aspects of such an important industry to keep up with behaviour – as well as setting future trends.

It was a lively and fun session and I’m looking forward to future sessions with the wider team at LCF.