Category Archives: Retail

Window Shopping and Shopping on Windows

A running theme over the last few years in business news in the US and elsewhere is the terminal decline of the physical retail store. Many of the big name chains once thought of as bastions of the high street have fallen victim to the online juggernauts, on what seems like a weekly basis. The finger of blame is most often pointed at Amazon, whose profits continue to soar to such extents that some financial analysts are now claiming that their share price is overvalued and based upon forecasted earnings of massive proportions.

It is possible that President Trump may attempt to curtail Amazon’s growth through trust-busting legislation – something which could be motivated by his feud with The Washington Post and its owner/Amazon exec Jeff Bezos – however there is little legal ground to challenge the etailer simply because their business model and disruptive technology offers a better deal for consumers as things currently stand. It’s true that few retailers can take on Amazon based on pure pricing, however there are still assets which Amazon does not yet have: a large high-street presence and refined customer service.

I was speaking to a colleague recently whose wife works as a beauty consultant in London’s West End. She was upset that although their footfall was good and plenty of customers wanted to try out products, very few actually bought anything, and many could be seen price-checking and purchasing on Amazon before they even left the store. Let’s be honest: many of us do this every time we shop. Her general feeling was that they shouldn’t even bother stocking anything in-store. This remark was borne of bitter resignation, but some retailers have done exactly that, using a sophisticated omnichannel model to remove the need for significant store inventory.

There are certain categories where consumers will always want to try products in person, and which if prove unsatisfactory can result in a glut of expensive return logistics. Clothing and fashion is an obvious candidate; US brand Bonobos recently posted a $60m increase in revenue over the past five years, driven by their Guideshop setup. Consumers visit physical stores to see the new lines, try on clothing, then pay to have clothes delivered when and where they wish. The store itself does not hold large stock or inventory. Bonobos’ system challenges the assumption that most consumers want to leave with the product in hand, and has allowed them to reinvest logistical savings in staff training and a high service-level.

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This phenomenon is also seeing green shoots for technology sales, with showroom setups such as London’s Sandbox offering hands-on experience with new categories including VR. Like Bonobos, Sandbox’s function is to give consumers the chance to try room-scale VR, something Context’s 2016 VR consumer survey showed to be a key factor in purchasing VR. At this stage in the category’s lifecycle relatively few consumers have tried room-scale VR, and would therefore be unwilling to part with the daunting initial upfront cost.

These kinds of demonstrations are arguably more important for VR marketing than traditional advertising. VR can be a revelatory experience, but selling it to someone who has never tried it is an uphill struggle. It is also fair to say that many consumers shop online to avoid feeling pressured by a salesperson, and at present very few retailers can offer truly excellent face-to-face customer service. By removing the onus of making the purchase then and there, and potentially allowing for price reductions to compete with Amazon, Bonobos’ solution, or a modified omnichannel setup could be the saviour of the high street, not to mention a huge boom time for the distribution channel and drop shipments.

The art of window-dressing has a long and proud history, once a place of hubris for serious-minded shop attendants and source of satire for comedians, but now the whole store offers a window into (Microsoft) Windows.

by JW

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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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TCG Retail Summit – Top Themes for Future Retail Success

Guest blog by Chris Petersen, IMS

The TCG Summit represents a very unique gathering of top European Executives from across Europe. This year’s TCG summit, which was held at the end of March in Berlin, was particularly noteworthy in terms of the dominant recurring themes for future retail success, not only for technology, but all categories of retail. Even though the audience was primarily technology retailer and vendor leaders, innovations highlighted were less about the application of technology in the retail store, and much more about adapting to the most disruptive force in retail today – the omnichannel consumer.

Omnichannel is the New Normal
The underlying theme present in most of the presentations and panel discussions was omnichannel.   The TCG Summit in fact kicked off with Christophe Biget’s presentation focused on “innovation throughout the customer’s journey”.   From “walking in the customers shoes” to “customer centricity”, thought leaders were squarely focused on today’s consumer as a driving force of change in today’s retail.

If anyone had any doubts about omnichannel, it was key topic in almost every presentation and follow up panel discussion. The consensus in many discussions seemed to be that retailing is now moving beyond “omnichannel”.

“Experience is your product”
A top theme of both the presentations and panel discussions was focus on the customer experience as a key differentiator.   Jeffrey Sears from the Modernist group perhaps captured it best with his concept that “your [retailer] experience is your product”.   For traditional bricks and mortar retailers, the DNA now required is creating exceptional store experience as the new differentiator producing disruptive results. Despite all of the disruption from omnichannel, no one was predicting the demise of the retail store anytime soon. Many of the discussion panelists called out the need for new levels of partnership between vendors and retailers to “bring products to life”, particularly in stores.

Indeed, smart home products were frequently mentioned as the “poster child” for requiring hands on customer experience in store.   Smart home products are the growth category of the future that technology retailers are poised to lose … IF retailers don’t deliver an exceptional experience that connects products to the consumer’s life style.

Engagement – Yes we can!
The other underlying theme for future retail success is that retailers must develop internal DNA focused on customer engagement.   In the product centric past, it was enough to build stores, run ads and wait for consumers to come shop.   In today’s omnichannel world, consumers are very proactive and in control of their journey.   To be successful, retailers must focus on innovative ways to move from a passive display to proactive ways to engage customers where they are and how they want to purchase.

Perhaps the highlight presentation of the TCG 2017 Summit was from Nilesh Khalkho, CEO of Sharaf DG. Khalkho provided an amazing visual journey of Sharaf DG’s mantra of “Growing through Differentiation” in an omnichannel environment.   This journey included numerous examples of how retailers, especially technology retailers, will survive and prosper by truly differentiating on customer experience, engagement, and service.   The Sharaf DG story was a highlight that became a “Yes we Can!” rallying cry for what is possible in transforming technology retailing.

The Bottom Line – Results still Count
It is one thing for an executive team to say they are transforming to omnichannel, it is quite another to be able to execute omni-presence, experience and service 24/7/365.   There were a number of speakers and commentaries on the tremendous investments required to be able to create the experience and engagement demanded by today’s consumers.ETCG-Flashback-2017-43-2

As Adam Simon from CONTEXT highlighted, investors in tech retail are still looking for a return on their investment.   But achieving that return will require more than fiscal, operational expertise.   The successes, and the future of technology retail will require innovation on how to leverage talent in new ways that generate connected, customer relationships based upon a differentiated customer experience.

The bottom line for the future retail success – future success will not depend upon the sales transactions made today, but rather upon the customer relationships earned through engagement and services that will generate customer lifetime value.

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Filed under Connectivity, Home automation, IoT, Market Analysis, Mobile technology, Retail, Retail in CONTEXT, Smart Technology

CeBIT 2017 Points the Way to VR and Smart Device Growth

With 200,000 participants flocking to Hanover this year, the week-long CeBIT show can be an intimidating prospect. Over 3,000 exhibitors set up shop at the world’s biggest technology expo. And while this is not a show for big name product launches, it still provides a very useful snapshot of what’s hot in the tech industry from one year to the next.

This year, as we predicted, there was plenty of buzz around smart devices, the Internet of Things and Virtual Reality (VR)/ Augmented Reality (AR). These, after all, will be the technologies that in years to come delight consumers and power the next generation of European businesses.

VR/AR catches the eye
CeBIT 2017 had a bigger focus on VR/AR than ever before, highlighting the growing maturity of this burgeoning technology. If you were in any doubt of the scale of interest in this space, half of Hall 17 – one of the show’s aircraft hangar-sized expo spaces – was devoted entirely to firms exhibiting VR-related tech. As we predicted at the end of 2016, gaming will continue to drive forward interest in VR on the consumer side. But, as evidenced by its exposure at the business-centric CeBIT show, more and more companies are exploring corporate applications.

Examples included the “Virtofy” VR presentation system, which offers companies an opportunity to demo products and showcase projects to prospective clients/customers. Another interesting use case developed by engineers at the Zwickau University of Applied Sciences incorporates integrated data goggles into the helmets worn by steel workers – designed to flash up safety warnings and the like.

In Hall 2 Intel, in cooperation with Microsoft, presented the dataflow the companies expect in the near future. Based on the BMW i8, Intel presented with the Microsoft AR Hololens how cameras and sensors scan the environment of a future car in order to drive autonomously. Intel predicts that approximately 4000 GB of data will be tracked, processed and uploaded from cars in the future, which creates brand new business scenarios in this market.

IoT everywhere
As we mentioned in December, the Smart Home market is really heating up, with Apple, Google, Amazon, Samsung and Microsoft set to battle it out for hearts and minds in 2017 and beyond. True to form, the Internet of Things formed a major part of CeBIT 2017, with over 270 exhibitors from 29 countries participating. The IoT also had its own spin-off summit at the conference – a first for the organisers and again illustrative of the growing interest in smart products.

The IoT, of course, extends far beyond the smart home. In fact, attendees were treated to demos of everything from smart shirts and dog collars from Telefonica Deutschland, to Toshiba’s industrial applications for the energy sector.

Drones are taking off
The smart device revolution also increasingly extends up into the sky. As evidenced by the buzz at CeBIT, drones are fast carving out an IoT niche of their own. A large outdoor area sponsored by Intel drew many of the crowds, with much attention drawn to the bright orange H520 hexacopter from Chinese firm Yuneec. When combined with an on-board camera and Intel RealSense tech, it’s able to detect movements and distances like the human eye – enabling it to avoid obstacles in flight.

The Drone Park even drew the interest of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

by AD

 

 

 

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Filed under Connectivity, gaming, Home automation, IoT, Mobile technology, Retail, Smart Home, Smart Technology, virtual reality, Wearables

Reflections on DISTREE EMEA 2017

When the IT channel gathers in Monaco for DISTREE in February it is always good to get some winter sunshine, not just from the balmy Cote d’Azur weather, but also the opportunity to meet up with panellists, clients and new tech companies.

This year there was a strong distributor focus, and the keynote, delivered by Chris Petersen , our strategic partner, was a look at what distributors need to do to benefit from the omnichannel revolution. Chris challenged the audience provocatively with a tombstone showing that on 14th February 2017, traditional retail died. What is the significance of this date? It was on this day that Warren Buffett, the legendary investor, sold almost all of his WalMart stocks. The WalMart stock has been languishing for years now, as the company is incapable of catching up with Amazon on ecommerce. Their total of $13bn online sales is equivalent to the growth which Amazon puts on every year.

Chris elaborated on 5 areas where distributors can contribute. Here are two key ones:

  • The last mile represents 40% of costs – how can distributors help with logistics support such as drop shipment, and inventory management.
  • The long tail is the chosen strategy of ecommerce and particularly online marketplaces, which are big competition for distributors. What can distributors do to help retailers increase the breadth and depth of categories which they hold.

In addition, CONTEXT had a workshop slot, and presented a deep dive on three emerging technology areas – Smart Home, VR and PC Gaming. There is a thirst for understanding all these areas, as evidenced by the full house of those attending the talk. Of all of them, the theme which cropped up throughout the three days was PC Gaming. In the CONTEXT presentation there was a very visual presentation of the need for deep analysis in this area, with a slide showing two Asus models. One was a Republic of Gaming model, evidently a gaming machine.

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Adam Simon, Global MD – Retail, CONTEXT

The other was a “business” laptop, but when you dig into the specifications you can see that it is also gaming capable. The channel needs to understand the total market if it is to develop the gaming category, and that is where the CONTEXT categorisation is very useful.

Finally, we were asked to take part in a panel on Brexit. All 4 UK participants had been pro-Remain and are all now pragmatic if concerned about the future. We are delighted to see additional investments recently announced by tech companies in the UK, and look for an interesting competition between the hardware strong France and the software strong UK.

by AS

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Filed under Connectivity, Home automation, omnichannel, Retail, Retail in CONTEXT, Smart Home, Smart Technology

Why isn’t IT market intelligence obsessed with optimising the multibillion-dollar mature industries?

I’ll level with you, I‘m confused.

When I look at recent premier IT events such as Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona and CES in Las Vegas, I see an industry that is almost entirely focused on the future. Obviously, technology players want to accelerate innovation – the event programme at this year’s MWC for example includes a session called the “4th Industrial Revolution”.

But what about optimising the performance of the mature €650 billion[1] European IT market? Compare the MWC and CES programmes with the Consumer Goods Forum, the premier gathering of the food and drink sector, at €1,048 billion[2] making it the largest manufacturing industry in Europe, and you’ll see a programme in which innovation is there, but sitting alongside good stewardship of their well-established sectors.

In a mature industry, performance parameters are well known, top line growth is small, big players that can’t keep up get acquired by nimbler competitors, and optimisation is key. As well as innovating in emerging technologies, the IT industry should be innovating in its core businesses to optimise performance in the mature sectors. One example – in an area I know well – is how companies see the role of sales tracking in the new world of established technologies, grown up now after 30 years. The over-complication of market intelligence (MI) offerings here is causing a raft of issues, and users of this data should be demanding better. To paraphrase a few people, I’ve heard:

“We are drowning in data, we just don’t know what to do with it …”

“We spend so much time compiling different sources that the real analytics come as a second thought”, and

“We don’t fully understand what each dataset actually represents, or how to act on it.”

In the IT sectors, this sentiment isn’t exclusive to vendors – it is shared in their channel by distribution and reseller partners –it being generally accepted that MI data is sub-par as delivered today.

This problem has been around for quite some time. In a previous role at one of the largest and oldest technology firms in the world, I worked with one of the most sophisticated MI solutions I’ve ever seen. “Well done them”, you might think. In reality, it wasn’t without strife. It took the company over three years to design and implement that solution and, to this day, it still requires many people across the globe to combine multiple data sources into ‘one version of the truth’. The company implemented this solution at the tail end of what was generally considered the ‘maturation’ of the PC industry. Any other company thinking of undertaking a similar task today in the printing, display, PC, or other flat or declining mature industry, would need to be resource-rich and highly committed to the cause.

Whilst it is imperative to stay abreast of shifts in consumer and business trends, managing the at-risk 1% of a multi-billion-dollar established industry is as important, if not more so in some cases, as getting established in multi-million-dollar upcoming categories. Indeed, the frustration voiced by the industry would suggest that this is the case. Is it possible that many participants in these mature-technology industries are struggling to monitor and protect their cash-generating business, and that this impacts their ability to invest in new technology in the future?

What is needed to fulfill the requirements of such companies? At CONTEXT, we are working with our customers and partners to address this issue, and have designed a number of new services that provide both broad and specific analyses of mature IT product categories. The key focus areas for this new breed of deliverables are reliability, cost-effectiveness and simple implementation, so that instead of drowning in data and wasting time trying to bring together multiple data sources, the user is able to integrate information easily into existing operations and spend time more productively in improving their business. In essence, that’s our aim at CONTEXT: to help our customers and partners Optimise Today, and Accelerate Tomorrow.

by TP

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[1] EITO Report Western Europe 2013/14

[2] Food Drink Europe 2014

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Filed under Enterprise IT, Market Analysis, Mobile technology, Networking, Retail

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.

omnichannel-graphs-04

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.

omnichannel-graphs-03

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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Filed under IT Distribution, omnichannel, Retail, Retail in CONTEXT