Tag 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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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

Latin American Consumers Ready for Smart Home

Over three quarters of consumers surveyed in Latin America’s leading economies say they want to know more about Smart Home products, according to CONTEXT’s new survey. With no one retailer dominating the Smart Home market in the countries surveyed, this potential demand for the new global wave in technology products and services presents significant opportunities for the IT channel in Latin America.

Carried out in January 2017, the CONTEXT Survey was announced at the Global Technology Distribution Council Latin American IT Distribution Summit in Miami, USA, and covered 2,000 consumers in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Chile.

The general picture for Smart Homes in these countries with a combined GDP of $USD4.4TN is good, with an encouraging level of awareness. However, it is clear that this awareness is not rooted in a deep understanding of the concept. This is partly down to limited exposure to Smart Home products or ideas, with very few people seeing or hearing things about Smart Home on a regular basis.

Such limited exposure is hardly surprising, given that no one channel is doing a good job of explaining or showcasing the concept. Where people have picked up on Smart Home, it tends to be from online sites – both retailers’ and manufacturers’ – rather than from in-person contact via things like store displays. This limits the degree to which consumers can interact and engage with Smart Home products.

As well as highlighting the opportunities, the CONTEXT Survey found that worries surrounding the idea of the Smart Home are prevalent, with 9 out of 10 people having at least one concern. Some of these are serious, including views that products may malfunction, causing harm or damage to the home. Privacy concerns and a fear of identity theft are also high on the list of worries.

When asked what user scenarios were encouraging them to buy Smart Home products, the top three responses were “arriving home”, “waking up”, and “advanced security”. In terms of the Smart Home hubs people would be most likely to trust, the Survey found that while there are variations across different countries, Apple, Amazon and Google dominate. Amazon has a clear lead in Brazil, while Apple leads in Mexico and Chile. Google is in the lead in Argentina.

In summary, despite the lack of deep knowledge and the barriers this creates, the good news is that across all countries there is an appetite to learn more. This is especially in terms of how they can save money, and how they can make home living more enjoyable, easier and better.

by JD

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Eagle Flight Over Paris

On November 29th, CONTEXT hosted a special VR breakfast in cooperation with Exertis France, AMD, MSI, Oculus, and Ubisoft in the Musée de l’Armée in les Invalides in Paris. Retailers, distributors and vendors gathered for the morning to hear the results of the latest CONTEXT European VR survey.

The VR survey was designed by members of the CONTEXT Virtual Reality Research group which includes companies such as Exertis, AMD, Oculus, John Lewis, Dell, CONTEXT, Retail Week and the University of Reading.  The research highlighted the expectations of European consumers towards VR and the potential barriers to purchase of VR products. It also showed in which channel the consumer were expecting to find VR products and how much they were ready to spend. The survey gave to the various industry players a clear understanding of what concerns they should address and what they should communicate in order to allow the technology to gain greater penetration of the market. A representative of FNAC, Laura Gaztambide, eCommerce Coordinator of Video Gaming, shared FNAC’s own experience on VR products and future plans to develop this market further.

Prior to hearing the results of the VR research, attendees watched a briefing on the European gaming market presented by Jonathan Wagstaff, UK & Ireland country manager at CONTEXT, and a detailed presentation on Ancient Rome made by university professor Matthew Nicholls who has made a full virtual reconstruction of the Eternal City, the outcome of 8 years of work. This helped the attendees to assess the educational potential and usage that VR is opening up.

Guests also had a chance to try Ubisoft’s Eagle Flight VR game flying over a virtual Paris, and were welcomed by a kind note of support for the VR industry from President Francois Hollande who was proceeding to an Army review in the Invalides on the same morning.

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by SA

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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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