Category Archives: IT Distribution

B2B – a risk for the channel or a missed opportunity for tech retailers?

The recent news about Amazon launching its B2B activity in Europe, starting in Germany, has generated a lot of press coverage. In the US it is reported that in the last two years the number of business customers shopping at Amazon has increased from 200,000 to 400,000, so resellers in Europe are concerned. “Amazon’s B2B challenge is a danger for the Channel,” was the headline on CRN UK’s front page.

So is this news a risk to the channel or in fact a missed opportunity for retailers?

Three years ago CONTEXT ran a conference which highlighted the opportunity of what we named “R2B” short for “Retail-to-Business”. Many retailers from across Europe attended this conference, but very few had the real commitment to make it happen. So will the news of Amazon’s arrival in this space make them wonder if they missed an opportunity? Surely if Amazon, with no stores, no experience of providing human-to-human customer service, and no expertise in business IT, can go for this sector, then the tech retailers can do so also.

Successful retailers in B2B are those who have invested in a service capability. Best Buy and the Geek Squad, DixonsCarphone and Knowhow, the Darty van with “le contrat de confiance” emblazoned on it – these are the retailers that have invested in service. Sebastian James, CEO of DixonsCarphone, said at Retail Week Live in March 2015 “if we don’t invest in the whole chain we risk to become irrelevant”. Some etailers have also managed to create a space in this area – an example is LDLC in France which has set up a nationwide network of resellers who help their business customers to install and maintain their IT equipment.

If a retailer is keen to take on Amazon in the B2B area here are the 5 key steps to follow:

  1. Identification and targeting of business customers through the use of CRM and intelligent sales activity – for example, every time a customer asks for a VAT invoice, this is a sure sign that they are a business; or when they purchase more than 2 of any machine, this should be a sign. Human interaction with the customer is important, as well as the posing of key questions online. On Staples website, the very first action is to identify yourself as a business or as a normal customer
  2. Curation of business SKU’s – with the support of vendors, retail is a way of targeting incremental sales from small businesses of less than 25 seats. But it is necessary to have the right products, which are not always made available to retailers. You can buy a Lenovo Thinkpad for a B2B customer on PCWorldbusinessonline, at Amazon.co.uk, at LDLC but not at Fnac, Darty, El Corte Ingles or even Media Saturn.
  3. Category management to drive out the optimal product mix – the business SKU is part of an ecosystem – understanding the upselling opportunities to meet the full needs of the business customer is a key element of success. R2B market data is a vital support for retailers by showing top selling products and typical market baskets.
  4. Service at every stage – the business customer needs service in store, online, at the point of installation and support in maintaining equipment in a functioning state. This is the most demanding element of the proposition in terms of investment. Recently, I asked the CEO of a retailer in the Middle East if he was concerned about Amazon’s purchase of Souk.com, and he said “No! We will differentiate ourselves through our service offering.”
  5. Financing of small businesses – this is a key activity which helps SMB to survive and grow. Healthy credit terms and even loans help small and medium businesses to expand without fear of cashflow shortage.

It is not too late for retailers to enter into this space, and capture a market which is at risk from the ever-innovative and expanding Leviathan which is Amazon.

by AS

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2017 Tech Retail Trends – Omnichannel Transformation

 

Omnichannel is critical, but 40% of retailers say that they are not yet getting an ROI on their omnichannel investments

At its CES breakfast in Las Vegas, two retail CEOs presented their view of omnichannel transformation in Europe, and CONTEXT delivered the highlights of the Omnichannel Retail Survey it conducted in December 2016. The responses from 31 European technology retailers, two-thirds of them in the C-suite, illustrate dramatically the transformation of retail to omnichannel.

While the focus last week in Las Vegas was on new products, CONTEXT hosted a CES breakfast on selling technology products in an omnichannel world. Retailers clearly recognise the critical importance of omnichannel transformation – 90.3% of responses to the CONTEXT survey said that omnichannel is critical or very important to their business, but 40% also said that they are not yet getting an ROI.

“Consumers are already omnichannel, but very few retailers are, because it is really hard and expensive to become truly omnichannel,” said Oliver Meakin, CEO of Maplin, as he opened the session. “Service and advice will be the key areas of differentiation in technology retailing in the future, coupled with good old retail-tainment – people like going shopping, and, therefore, omnichannel – rather than pure clicks – will ultimately win through.”

While the investments are substantial, they appear to be worthwhile. Retailers responded that they know they have to do it. 96.8% responded that they are transforming themselves to adapt to customer behaviour. The expectation is that omnichannel customers will engage more often, purchase more, and potentially add more items to their market basket. And yet, when CONTEXT asked the top tech retailers if omnichannel customers were more profitable, the verdict was not clear:
• 40% of tech retailers said yes, omnichannel customers are more profitable
• 30% said no, omnichannel customers are not more profitable
• 30% said they do not know

This mixed set of responses is indicative of two factors. Major omnichannel investments are relatively recent, so perhaps there has not been time to measure results. Additionally, it can be challenging for retailers to measure total customer relationships across time and channels.

“Do the consultants on omnichannel realise how difficult it is?” asked Hans Carpels, President of Euronics International, Europe’s second-largest tech retailer. Mr Carpels highlighted as an example the difficulty of setting up an omnichannel returns process with stores who are not the beneficiaries of that particular online sales.

There are no end of processes which need to be addressed in order to make omnichannel work. As Dr Chris Petersen, keynote speaker and retail expert said, “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. You may have a great click-and-collect experience online, but if you wait for ten minutes to collect your goods, or the wrong product has been picked, that one piece breaks the whole experience.”

The reality is that is that transformation to omnichannel is happening in retail. It is significant that 19.4% said that they are well prepared for omnichannel, 74.2% said that they are making considerable progress and only 6.4% owned up to being not ready.

Clearly, other than sales from social media, the majority of retailers are now offering enormous variety in how they fulfil customer orders, whatever this may cost them.

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The level of complexity is evident from the different areas of investment which retailers have made. Systems integration tops the list, as it is essential to develop the web interface and link the POS system with logistics and CRM. Only returns management scored low, with just over 20% of retailers having added new internal or external resources in that area.

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Our key takeaways

It is clear that omnichannel is not just the new normal for customers, but for retailers as well. There are some clear trends and calls to action for 2017. In the retailer transformation to omnichannel:
• Retailers will continue to invest in omnichannel but will have to manage programmes closely to ensure that they get the ROI on it, or they risk seriously weakening their financial position.
• We expect that omnichannel retailers will gain competitive advantage by increasing the number of categories and SKUs held online – in the survey, 80% said that they have already significantly increased the number of SKUs.
• Retailers will manage the inventory implications of omnichannel fulfilment by partnering with third parties such as distributors.
• Omnichannel success will be not based on one thing, but rather a collective enterprise approach involving merchandising, systems, technology, and logistics.
• Consumers do not think in terms of channels: they view their path to purchase as a seamless experience across their customer journey. As a consequence, the term omnichannel itself is no longer accurate. In 2017 omnichannel will become omniretailing.
It is a great time to be an omni-consumer and a very challenging time to transform to become an omni-retailer!

For more information about the CONTEXT Retailer Omnichannel Survey please email asimon@contextworld.com

oliver-meakin-2Oliver Meakin, CEO of Maplin speaks at CONTEXT Retail CEO Breakfast at CES, 6 January 2017

By AS

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Tech Predictions: 2017

Untitled.pngPC’s in 2017
In 2017 European PC sales in the business segment are likely to benefit from a gradual pick up of Windows 10 refreshes. In Western Europe in particular, the commercial PC segment is expected to also benefit from the need for enterprise mobility solutions which will be a co-driver in sales of both notebooks and mobile 2-in-1 products.

The consumer PC segment is expected to remain more challenged across Western Europe. There is a possibility that component shortages, which impacted product availability in 2H 2016, will lead to price increases in the first half of 2017which could affect demand. However, on a positive note, the market is likely to benefit from continuing high demand for gaming PCs. While this segment remains small in terms of volume, new technologies – including virtual reality – will also drive growth that will have a positive effect on revenue and margins.

From a wider, macroeconomic perspective, PC sales in a number of EMEA countries are likely to continue to be affected by uncertainties including currency fluctuations and political instability.
Marie-Christine Pygott, Senior Analyst, PCs

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View on Apple
Although you never know what Apple will pull out of the hat when launching new products, the last few years have been quite staid. The last “new” new Apple product was the Watch: but this was heavily trailered so, when it finally arrived, it wasn’t a surprise. We have waited in vain over the years for an Apple TV, and recently yawned when the new MacBook’s Touchbar was announced. In 2017 we have the prospect of yet another phone, the iPhone 8, and not much else.

Except, after much speculation, Apple has acknowledged for the first time that it is investing in autonomous car technology. In a letter to US transport regulators, Apple said the company was “excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation”. Apple was first rumoured to be working on an autonomous vehicle in early 2015, when reports suggested that the company already had 600 employees working on an electric car design. Later that year, more rumours suggested that the company hoped to launch an electric car to the public by 2019.

So maybe Apple can surprise us next year. The race for electric vehicles is hotting up, and with the word being that Apple has been in talks to buy luxury-supercar maker McLaren, we may just see a prototype iCar roll onto the stage in 2017 after hearing those words, “one more thing”.
Jeremy Davies, CEO & Co-founder

Enterprise
CONTEXT will be closely tracking the evolution of storage systems and converged architecture: as cloud-managed wireless network service companies slowly but surely replace in-house wireless LAN appliances, we expect continued strong growth on these two fronts. Companies to watch: Cisco Meraki, Open-Mesh, Zebra (part of Extreme Networks), Ruckus.

Sales of solid-state drives (SSDs) have increased throughout 2016 and, for the first time, surpassed those of hard disk drives. As the price of SSDs fall and their capacity increases, 2017 will see this trend continue. In 2014, we predicted that 90% of storage components would be SSDs by 2020, and the industry is well on track to achieve this.
Gurvan Meyer, Senior Research Analyst, Enterprise Team

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Displays
Large Format Display sales in 2017 are expected to continue to grow strongly with demand being driven by the education and corporate sectors. For AV providers, the corporate business market continues to be a huge growth opportunity, with a big shift towards interactive products for meetings rooms, as corporates increasingly collaborate over multiple sites, with numerous remote attendees.  The education market is also expected to be a key driver of growth in the LFD segment with educational institutions increasingly adopting display solutions to change and enhance the ways they communicate with students, staff and visitors.
Lachlan Welsh, Senior Analyst, Displays

Imaging
Printer hardware sales will continue to contract overall, though some segments are expected to register growth in 2017, such as business inkjets with higher end products due to be released in 2017 to compete with laser devices. The shift from hardware to contract sales continues, therefore, the importance of partnerships and focus on channel partners will prevail. HP’s acquisition of Samsung printer business is expected to complete in the second half of 2017, as companies join their efforts aiming to disrupt the A3 copier market business.
Zivile Brazdziunaite, Senior Market Analyst, Imaging

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3D Printing
2017 will continue to see the two sides of 3D printing – the personal/desktop side (those under $5,000) and the industrial/professional side – evolve separately.  Desktop 3D printers will become even more affordable (some already cost as little as $300!) while the some of the world’s biggest brands will increase their presence in the Industrial/Professional market where technology will continue to advance and improve.

Desktop market leader XYZprinting has already expanded its brick-and-mortar retail presence – at Best Buy, Toys-R-Us, and Barnes and Noble in the US, and Darty, Dixons and Media Saturn in Europe – and it is expected to continue with aggressive price points in to promote further retail expansion around the globe. Next year will see HP fully enter the 3D printing world with the first shipments of their professional Multi-Jet Fusion 3D Printers, and a new business is to emerge from GE after their acquisition of two of the top five metal 3D printing companies in 2016.  HP and others will champion a change of focus in the plastics 3D printing market from rapid prototyping to mid-range production.
Chris Connery, Vice President Global Analysis and Research

VR & Gaming
The world of eSports will continue to grow in both popularity and recognition, as a movie is planned starring Will Ferrell on the burgeoning phenomenon. Vendors and retailers will pay more attention to PC gaming as the category offers them the chance to make up for losses in a sector which has been declining in the last few years. High average selling prices for gaming products, excellent attach rates and margins for gaming accessories, and the availability of unsecured consumer borrowing will be major drivers. Virtual reality will also continue to grow in the consumer space, although still at a modest pace. However we expect to see more HMDs going into the B2B and corporate reseller channels for which products such as the Hololens are a gift.
Jonathan Wagstaff, Country Manager UK & Ireland

Smart Home – Battle of the Giants
Back in October 2015 we predicted that new forms of control for smart home devices would stimulate growth in the market. We highlighted three: voice activation, gesture recognition and mind control. The first two are already here: voice control has exploded since Amazon launched the Echo in 2016 and 5 million devices have already been sold. We predict that this trend will grow quickly in 2017 with the Amazon Echo continuing to sell and the launch of Google Home in 2017. Google will apply a massive marketing budget – in the US they are already paying for end-of-gondola slots for Google Home devices.

With this in mind, we see four, and potentially five, giants battling for the smart home in 2017: Amazon, Google, Apple (with Homekit), Samsung (with Smart Things) and Microsoft. The ace up their sleeve for Amazon is entertainment (access to Prime Music), for Google it is search, for Apple and Samsung it is interoperability (potentially using the TV), and for Microsoft it is building out from the PC. We are optimistic that consumers will benefit: with a more coherent offer, small start-ups will no longer be able to create proprietary systems and existing systems will make themselves linkable to the big five in order to survive. It is too early to place bets on a winner, but Amazon has rapidly taken advantage of being first-mover. Gesture control will grow and develop in 2017, but mind control will need to wait for another year!
Adam Simon, Head of Retail

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Is Black Friday dead? A US perspective

Guest blog by Chris Petersen, CEO of IMS, Inc.

Is Black Friday dead, or just rapidly waning? Data indicates the demise of the premier kickoff to holiday shopping in the US. It’s not just about the economy and consumer confidence, although those are key factors. The retail phenomena unfolding right now is about universal changes in consumer behaviour, regardless of socio-economic status.

Black Friday has declined in US retail … will the same trend happen in Europe?
In the not too distant past, stores were the premier focal point of holiday shopping. Black Friday was an event created by bricks and mortar retailers to entice consumers to come shopping on the Friday after US Thanksgiving, which always falls on the 4th Thursday of November. Since many US customers take off from work on Black Friday, it became the quintessential retailer marketing event to lure shoppers to the stores with “best deals” of the season. The theory was that if shoppers came early to find a deal, they would come back to stores for the rest of their shopping.

Not surprising, the UK and other European retailers adopted Black Friday as a promotional event to kick off the holiday selling season and draw traffic to stores. CONTEXT’s analysis of distribution trends in 2015 was very predictive for UK retail sales spiking for Black Friday. Will the trend continue in 2016?

Black “Friday” — death by a thousand clicks
Increasingly retail stores have been jumping the gun on Black Friday by offering Black Friday sales before the actual Friday. The result in the US is that there is no longer a singular event. Black Friday has suffered scope creep, and it literally has become a “Black Week” of promotions and deals.

More importantly, consumers don’t see Black Friday as just “stores” any more. Amazon and other online retailers have creatively capitalised on “Black Friday” by offering daily online deals across an entire week, or more. This has created a new trend for “Cyber Monday” which is the first Monday after the traditional Black Friday. In the US, workplace productivity actually drops on Cyber Monday as people at work scramble to get better deals on stuff they didn’t buy or couldn’t get on Black Friday. Cyber Monday is projected to be the single largest volume day of the entire holiday shopping season.

Did the same trend happen in the UK and other countries? Compared to the US, the UK has a higher % of sales occurring online, especially for technology. Many of the UK promotional ads in 2016 now in fact show the Black 5 days of deals: Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Cyber Monday.

The net result is that today’s consumer is an empowered consumer. They are not bound by place or time of event. This translates into a much diminished effect of single retailer store events like Black Friday.

Large retailers have privately confided that Black Friday needed to “die”. The traditional approach of cramming all deals into a single day dramatically lowers prices and margin. It would be healthier for both if retailers and consumers could evaluate offers and spread shopping over a period of time. In fact, that is how today’s omnichannel shoppers are already behaving – shopping multiple days in multiple ways.

So what happened in the UK for 2016?
Were Black Friday sales up again this year? Or, did consumers shift more of their shopping purchases to Cyber Monday? How much of their Christmas budget have they spent? The final store sales numbers won’t be tallied for a couple of weeks.

However, CONTEXT is conducting consumer pulse survey right now. We are asking consumers when they shopped, and how much they purchased on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It will be interesting to see how much they expect yet to spend in the rest of holiday season.

 

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Q&A with Keith Henry, SVP Sales and Marketing at CONTEXT

What is your role at CONTEXT?
Head of Sales & Marketing – to support structure and process development for CONTEXT sales and marketing to drive top-line growth and scale. After all, sales represent the engine of growth!

What attracted you to CONTEXT?
I  re-connected with Jeremy Davies, CEO, after 30 years which is exciting. The opportunity to join a rich data-asset driven firm that is on a growth path and developing added-value solutions represents a very attractive proposition. The selling environment has radically changed since 2009, so this is a wonderful challenge. In addition to that I had heard that Context has a special, warm, ethical, culture which has great appeal.

Where were you working before?
I have spent over 30 years with a number of great firms in the ICT space – Xerox, DataQuest/Gartner, IDC – and most recently Outsell. Outsell is a specialised agency that serves the intersection of Information and Technology domains. I was head of Global Sales and supported their CEO Leadership program: a problem-solving forum for leaders across the Information industry. Significantly – single biggest CEO headache? Sales optimisation and sustainability!

What do you think the main challenges are in the technology industry today? 
Well, to be certain, digital transformation will continue to re-shape the tech landscape creating opportunities for innovators and disrupters alike. That said, I strongly believe “millennials” are set to change many things about our industry, although old-fashioned values such as brand power, sensible profitable growth and customer-centric strategies will continue to be the foundation drivers of the industry.

What is the best business advice you have ever received?
Be hard on issues but soft on people!

What never fails to make you laugh?
Playing tennis in the rain in England– no one seems to notice!

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I’m a fan of horse-racing. There are 59 tracks in the UK and I have only been to 27, so the journey continues.

What are you reading at the moment?
“The Culture Map” by Erin Meyer. It provides insight into better understanding of protocols and behaviours of different cultures,- a never ending educational journey in my view.

If you had your time again, what would be your next choice of career?
I have always been intrigued by diplomatic services. I doubt I have the right attributes, probably the illusionary way it is portrayed in films is the appeal!

What do you think are the key ingredients to success in Business Development?
Three crucial ingredients:
Firstly, planning and organising a call
Then, managing an outcome, next steps
Finally, learning to talk the buyer’s language – after all, its all about them!

 

 

 

 

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Mobile security represents untapped growth opportunity for ICT channel players

According to results of the recent CONTEXT ChannelWatch survey, the majority of resellers across EMEA believe there are increased opportunities in selling mobile products.

The CONTEXT ChannelWatch report, which surveys close to 7000 resellers in EMEA, highlights that 88% of resellers backed this fast-growing sector. Tablets (67%), notebooks (56%) and smartphones (49%) were singled out as driving distribution sales.

As the annual Infosecurity Show in London gets underway today, the ChannelWatch results show that more specifically, mobile security was highlighted as representing a potentially large untapped growth opportunity for many channel players. Half of all respondents from Western Europe said they currently don’t address security projects for mobiles for their business customers. Of those that do, the vast majority (69%) focus on small and medium sized businesses (SMBs).

In Eastern Europe, nearly two-thirds of channel players (64%) are currently not involved in mobile security projects for business customers – a much higher figure than in the West (50%). Of those that do, the vast majority (76%) focus on SMBs.

While half of the resellers polled said they weren’t engaged in security projects yet, this represents a huge opportunity for them going forward. With security top of mind in many businesses we expect to see growth in this area going forward.

CONTEXT ChannelWatch is an annual research study that provides the most detailed insight into reseller behaviour, opinions and attitudes from across EMEA. With 6799 responding to the 2014 review making it the largest study of its kind.

Working closely with our distribution Panel, we achieve the maximum response in each market and region by inviting our participating distributors to send to their entire database. The online survey is then completed by the reseller response aggregated to ensure that confidentiality remains. More on CONTEXT ChannelWatch here.

 

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Why this year will be an interesting ride for IT distribution

by Alex Mesguich, VP of Enterprise Research

Last year saw a number of major strategic changes in vendors such as Lenovo, Dell and HP, the impact of which is yet to be felt by the IT channel. Let’s take a closer look at some of the changes and what opportunities and challenges these might bring for the channel.

Dell
In the past, resellers had only one way of doing business with Dell, and that was direct. But that’s all changing as the privately-held computing giant continues successfully to build and adapt its channel model. Today, over 40% of Dell’s European sales come through the indirect channel, with distribution taking an ever-increasing proportion. Dell will continue to work on educating its channel partner community about its range of products and solutions via dedicated training programmes.

Lenovo
Lenovo’s purchase of IBM’s x86 server business is a positive move for the channel, as it gives Lenovo partners more opportunities to upsell to enterprise customers on the back of the ThinkPad. As long as Lenovo emulates its PC strategy, the channel should reap the benefits. The key for Lenovo is to make sure that the merging of IBM channel programs and tools will not paralyse the execution of their plans for growth.

HP
HP announced plans to separate into two new publicly traded companies in October of last year: Hewlett Packard Enterprise, selling infrastructure software and services, and HP Inc for printers and PCs. The next 12 months will be an extremely important time for the firm as it has to reassure its customers and channel partners that the split has made it a more energised company, and that it understands its customers’ pain points and its partners’ too.

Some of these changes in the vendor landscape will present challenges for the channel this year. While much of this is still unknown, some things are clear:

  1. Dell needs to continue to make it easy for the channel to do business, and increases channel profits by offering standardised bundles.
  2. Lenovo could re-energise the channel server business by doing for servers what they did for ThinkPad.
  3. HP, still with over 20% of European Channel sales, could be a disaster in the waiting if the company split turns out to have been misguided.

 

 

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