As Chief Operating Office for Blueport Commerce, Morgan Woodruff is responsible for growth, business development and client management as Blueport Commerce continues to expand its big-ticket retail client base.
In this blog, you'll learn how big-ticket e-commerce is unique and how Blueport helps its clients succeed in the space.
In a recent report on the State of the Internet, Akamai Technologies, Inc. provides data gathered through its Akamai Intelligent Platform on security, internet and broadband adoption and mobile connectivity. While the report covers data across the world, Blueport focuses on the areas most important to its furniture retailers in the United States and Canada.
Attack traffic is still a threat for businesses, with China remaining the top source of observed attack traffic with 34% of Q1 ’13 traffic. Indonesia followed China as a new entrant to attack traffic with 21% in Q1 ’13, up from 0.7% in Q4 ’12, potentially indicating aggressive botnet activity. In general, all other companies in the top 10 saw nominal declines in attack traffic, including the United States, Turkey and Russia.
The types of attacks are important to note as much as traffic volume. The most targeted port remains port 445 used by Microsoft DS, representing 23% of Q1 ’13 traffic and accounts for 70 times as much traffic as the second most targeted port (135) in Romania. Attack traffic to port 445 is followed by port 80 and 443 used by WWW (HTTP) and SSL (HTTPS) respectively.
Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks reported by Akamai customers are most prevalent among enterprise customers, most principally financial companies and commerce customers, especially in retail. There were 208 total DDoS attacks reported in Q1 ’13, a 4% increase since Q4 ’12. Despite a slight increase in attack traffic, those targeting the commerce sector remained relatively stable in comparison with 2012. “Account Checker” attacks targeting e-commerce sites also maintain a threat of attempted account takeover behavior for a number of merchants resulting from reuse of credentials obtained from other sites. Retailers can and should continue to take steps in combating attacks on traffic, DDoS and “Account Checkers,” and stay ahead of new types of attacks and data to remain protected.
Internet and Broadband Adoption
Over 733 million unique IPv4 addresses from 243 unique countries and regions were measured on the Akamai Intelligent Platform. Akamai also believes it sees over one billion web users. The number of available IPv4 addresses continues to decline into 2013 as Regional Internet Registries continue to allocate and assign blocks of IPv4 address space to organizations within their respective territories. The United States remains in the lead with nearly 150 million IPv4 addresses, followed by China, representing just over 110 million. IPv6 adoption is also growing, albeit a bit more slowly.
Internet connectivity and connection speeds continue to be strong on average in the United States. Vermont remained the fastest state, at 12.7 Mbps, with a quarterly increase of 18%. Average peak connection speeds are highest in the District of Columbia representing 47.2 Mbps, or a 9.4% quarter over quarter change, up 37% since Q1 ’12. Broadband connectivity is also growing in adoption, with New Hampshire leading with 48% of traffic above 10Mbps.
Canada remains in close second behind the United States in average Mbps, with 7.8 Mbps on average, compared to 8.6 Mbps on average in the US. The percentage of change quarter over quarter is slightly higher in Canada, with 7.8% change over 7.4% in the US. The United States collectively experienced 36.6 peak in Mbps traffic followed by 34.2 Mbps in Canada. While broadband adoption will continue to increase, retailers should note the decrease in IPv4 addresses and planning for a contingency for IPv6 adoption.
In Q1 ’13, average connection speeds on surveyed mobile network providers ranged from a high of 8.6 Mbps down to a low of 0.4 Mbps. These numbers collectively included usage not only from smartphones but also laptops, tablets and other devices that connect to the internet through mobile networks. Average peak connection speeds ranged from 45.6 Mbps down to 2.8 Mbps. Globally, Russia leads the charge in highest peak connection speeds and average Mbps. In addition, retailers take note: mobile data traffic increased 19% between Q4 ’12 and Q1 ’13, according to Ericsson.
In addition, the largest percentage of requests came from Android Webkit (41-44%) ahead of Apple Mobile Safari (30-38%). Mobile is expected to continue to increase both in usage and performance, and retailers should pay attention to its ever increasing prominence and its opportunities for e-commerce.
Stay tuned for the next quarterly State of the Internet Report from Akamai Technologies, Inc.
About Blueport Commerce
Leading furniture companies work with Blueport Commerce to capture the billion dollar furniture e-commerce opportunity. We marry our clients’ bricks-and-mortar infrastructure and expertise with our decade of online furniture experience, innovative technology, and customized marketing services. For some retailers, the Blueport e-commerce platform powers their branded omni-channel websites, driving sales online and in their stores. For other retailers, we drive online sales through Furniture.com, our e-commerce website. For many, we do both. Learn more here. And, if you’re interested in working for Blueport, check out our e-commerce jobs on our careers page.
According to a recent report from Forrester Research, 2013 will be a trendsetting year for consumer payments. Blueport Commerce examines how furniture retailers can take advantage and the implications of three key trends: innovative versus existing payment options, the digital wallet battle for supremacy, and alternative financial services for underserved customers.
Emerging Payment Models Will Disrupt Existing Payment Structures Among Merchants
Forrester predicts that emerging payment models are expected to disrupt traditional payment economics. For example, “merchants have a growing set of payment options that do not adhere to the traditional interchange or processing fee model.” A handful of these new options could come at a lower cost than old-school payment options and at a bigger ROI for both consumers and retailers. The new emerging payment technologies include mobile digital wallets and startups offering free or low cost payment processing. Furthermore, Forrester states that merchants will reset their expectations for lower costs and greater value from incumbent payment service providers.
Customers Require Differentiation Among Digital Wallets
Forrester’s second trend involves the need for digital wallet providers to stand out from the crowd. In January 2013, Juniper Research predicted that more than 1 billion mobile phone users will have used their mobile devices for banking purposes by the end of 2017, compared to just over 590 million this year. This forecast represents around 15 percent of the mobile subscriber base.
And as digital wallet wars continue (players include Square, PayPal, Google Wallet, Isis, and MasterPass, among others), the contenders who truly solve a user pain point, especially through mobile, will emerge on top. For example, MasterPass simply requires consumers to download an app, and scan the barcode, which adds their product to a shopping cart. At checkout, the consumer just taps the “BUY WITH MasterPass” button on the touchscreen. Soon enough, gone will be the days of waiting in line, carrying multiple credit cards, and consumers are in control of how and when they pay.
Emerging Alternative Financial Services Will Help the Underserved Consumers
The third trend Forrester sees is that emerging alternative financial services will appeal to a broad base of consumers. More plentiful payment options for e-commerce retailers start to become attractive to a set base of underserved consumers who might be “unbanked, underbanked and debanked.” Merchants who look to create fast and simple conversion of cash for digital payments will be able to appeal to other sectors of the population, and compete head-to-head with checking accounts and debit cards.
Advantages for Furniture Retailers: In Store & Online
Brick and mortar furniture retailers can take advantage of offering new payment methods to satisfy their customers’ needs for speed and ease – taking the pain out of “waiting in line” and paying automatically with the click of a button. The convenience of these new payment methods to the online channel is that they help integrate omnichannel store to online efforts and offer a competitive difference among other online retailers. The combination of providing easy and fast ways for customers to shop, whether in store or online, can positively impact conversion.
In addition, for e-commerce furniture retailers these emerging payment options offer an enhanced level of security. Sensitive information, like a MasterCard through MasterPass, is stored online through smartphones, tablets or desktops, eliminating concerns about physical card security, complete with fraud checking and other online security methods. By taking security concerns out of the equation, “We want to let consumers choose their own device, and we’ve built the platform to enable that,” says Ed Olebe, SVP & group head at MasterCard Worldwide.
So no matter what payment method is offered – emerging trends in consumer payments are here to stay and furniture merchants and consumers alike can take advantage of innovative payment methods.
#1 Prediction: Amazon Buys UPS
They already bought Kiva. And even after a clearly bruised U.S. Postal Service reduces its service to 4 days a week, they refuse to sell out. So Amazon approaches UPS with an offer they can’t refuse, as it continues its quest to own commerce from cradle to grave. Analysts joke the only thing missing now is the perfect country in which to manufacture product.
Takeaway: Logistics are key, and often it’s easier to buy than build.
#2 Prediction: Facebook Delisted from NASDAQ
Businesses realize that their most engaged users on Facebook are crazy cat ladies in the Midwest, and their ads only serve to decrease brand reputation. Marketers reallocate their social budgets to improving the customer experience across all channels. The result? A flood of new loyal fans of the sort previously seen only with luxury brands. Smart mass market brands reap the rewards. Facebook stock plummets, resulting in it being delisted.
Takeaway: Social sites accounted for less than one half of one percent of all sales on Black Friday 2012, which (believably) was WORSE than 2011.
Reference: Search Engine Watch
#3 Prediction: Gilt Rocks its First Showrooms
Gilt Groupe has been slowly expanding from its flash sale origin with the launch of its full-priced men’s line Park & Bond and recent television ad campaigns. The natural next step: Manhattan and L.A. showrooms. With weekly fashion shows, a top shelf bar called dubstep (run by Calvin Harris) – it’s club meets commerce. Boom.
Takeaway: 90% of sales still happen in stores, and other online-only retailers have already started opening showrooms to reach new customers.
Reference: New York Times
#4 Prediction: Megamerger! Sears + J.C. Penney + Best Buy + RadioShack = What?
Having struggled separately for years, the four retailers join forces in hopes of vanquishing their two main enemies – Walmart and Amazon. The whole family now enjoys shopping at the new Woolworth’s (market research said taking a historical retailer’s name would attract nostalgic Baby Boomers and Gen Y’ers alike). Everything under one roof is the motto – clothing, electronics, home goods, and tools – and their new stores start to revitalize aging downtowns and shopping malls.
Takeaway: It’s do or die for these four retailers. Even the power of the Kardashian Kollection can’t save them.
Reference: Wall Street Journal
#5 Prediction: Google Buys Starbucks
Google Fiber turns into the top global ISP with its acquisition of Starbucks Corporation. Booting out AT&T, Google Fiber is now available in the nearly 18,000 locations worldwide. And, it’s cheaper to buy Starbucks than continue to buy the coffees needed to power the 30,000+ live-in Google employees.
Takeaway: Google ISP launches in Kansas City, people over the world rejoice that they can finally kick Comcast/Time Warner/DIRECTV to the curb and pay off their mortgages within months.
What do you see ahead for e-commerce in 2013? What crazy things do you think will happen? Let us know in the comments, or join the discussion on Facebook (yes, we’re really still on Facebook).
It is inevitable that any retailer in the e-commerce space will aspire to be the success story that is Amazon, no matter how unrealistic that dream may be. As an e-commerce site that was born in 1994 as a seller of used books, Amazon has morphed into a Goliath in the industry, becoming the dominant retailing marketplace for products ranging from books to electronics to food. With its low prices, rapid delivery and huge inventory, Amazon poses a threat to retailers in all industries.
“It is coming down to convenience, assortment and price,” said the operator of a Los Angeles area consumer electronics retailer to HFN. “And Amazon is beating us on all three fronts.”
However, there are steps furniture retailers can take to counteract Amazon.com before they find themselves floundering like former retail giant Best Buy. We at Blueport Commerce, the only e-commerce technology and services company that localizes furniture online, have our retailers place an emphasis on service, product knowledge and convenience to ensure customer loyalty and retention.
While Amazon is known for their accommodating customer service, our clients can actually benefit from showrooming, which extends a personalized touch that Amazon itself can't offer. Shoppers in a brick-and-mortar store may be tempted to see, touch and feel a piece of furniture they like, and then immediately try to find it for less online on their mobile device. With the help of experienced, knowledgeable salespeople in the brick-and-mortar store, as well as an e-commerce website optimized for mobile, plus a mobile app, furniture retailers can turn showrooming from a lost opportunity into a closed sale by keeping the buyer on their brand's site. Additionally, offering iPad and touch tablets loaded with inventory information as well as allowing store consumers to experience online checkout while in their store, can reach more connected consumers.
Kathee Tesija, Target’s executive vice president of merchandising and supply chain, said it best when she said, “Do we love being a showroom? Yes, when we can book the sale.”
And we at Blueport Commerce are confident that in this case, our clients can book the sale.
2. Product Knowledge
Currently, Bed, Bath & Beyond is one retailer most at risk of losing out to Amazon. “Our work suggests there is 89 percent direct product overlap with Amazon in kitchen electrics, 83 percent in cookware and 83 percent in cutlery, all key traffic-driving categories,” said Matt Nemer, retail analyst with Wells Fargo.
Bed, Bath & Beyond is responding by changing its merchandise mix toward more exclusive products, mirroring that of Williams-Sonoma, Crate & Barrel and Pier 1 Imports, who are less vulnerable to Amazon due to name cachet and exclusive products. Bed, Bath & Beyond now has its own specialty food, as well as home textiles. In a similar vein, by offering a strong range of one-of-a-kind, name-brand products, as well as having a plethora of information about each product available both online and in-store, furniture retailers can benefit from consumers who aren't just price shopping, but are looking for durable and stylish furniture and appliances that last.
Bed, Bath & Beyond, which currently receives only 3 percent of their total sales from e-commerce, has invested heavily in improving their website and opening an 800,000-square-foot e-commerce fulfillment center in Georgia. Convenience-based improvements they are exploring include in-store pickups and returns on e-commerce purchases, identical pricing on merchandise between stores and online, more exclusives and increased private label. Like Bed, Bath & Beyond, furniture retailers who can most successfully merge the in-store and online e-commerce experiences to result in the most seamless, customer-centric experience possible will succeed.
“Having a unique product mix, backed by a strong knowledge of the products and consumer needs, will definitely help smaller brick and mortar retailers hold off Amazon,” said Alan Mendelson, a business reporter based in Los Angeles.
Our retailers who offer quality service, a deep product knowledge and convenient ways for customers to shift between digital and physical channels are the stores who will survive as Amazon continues its rapid growth.
In the mid-1990s, it was inconceivable that people would want to buy shoes online. Yet in 1999, Zappos was born, became a giant in the e-commerce industry and now brings in a cool $1 billion in revenue just 13 years later. Blueport Commerce saw a similar opportunity in 2001 around selling big-ticket items online such as furniture and appliances, and launched the industry's only e-commerce technology and services company that localizes big-ticket retail online. With higher price points and slower buying cycles, big-ticket retail can take longer to reap rewards. However when a world-renowned company like BMW decides to sell cars online, it makes us feel like we're onto something big.
On June 13 in London, Ian Robertson, head of global sales at BMW, spoke with Bloomberg about online retailing and sales strategy for the new BMW i electric car. Two topics Robertson touched on are particularly relevant to big-ticket retail: pricing for big-ticket items and channel optimization.
Pricing for Big-Ticket Retail
Ian Robertson revealed that BMW will be selling the new electric icars over the internet, in addition to their traditional physical dealerships around the world. "It's clear in my mind that the actual experience that a customer has with a dealer, with a point of sale, is still the backbone of what we're going to do."
When asked if the price of the cars would be discounted online, Robertson responded, "Absolutely not. We have a very clear policy – our dealers ultimately will do the deals for vehicles. What we are not going to do is have different channels offering different price points. Our dealers are responsible for this around the world - this is not new, this is our normal business."
Although deep discounting has come to be associated with e-commerce, for example in the world of online marketplaces such as Amazon, BMW recognizes that price-slashing is not an effective technique for big-ticket retail. Or, in the words of Robertson, "This is not something that people are likely to just look on the internet...and say 'yes, that's for me....this is expensive product, and in many cases, is the most expensive product people buy. And that experience of the product, both in the physical sense and the driving sense, is a fundamental part of that actual decision."
With this insight, it is clear BMW agrees with Blueport's assessment that having two disparate buying channels, with physical stores and a branded e-commerce website competing with each other on price, is not a model for success. Blueport firmly believes that BMW is on the right track by keeping the dealers in control of setting the prices of the cars and the website being a connected and cohesive channel for optimized buying. Blueport frequently advises our big-ticket retail clients to think of their e-commerce website as a branded hub, while also being a tool to help their showrooms compete in local markets. By keeping prices consistent, bi-directional web and physical traffic allows for greater lead generation, as well as increased sales.
From Channel Conflict to Omnichannel Optimization
On the topic of potential channel conflict, between traditional dealers and online stores, Robertson stated, "It's no secret today that a very large percentage of all the customers that buy BMW have done research on the internet so when they arrive at a dealership they've almost made their decision. And we want to actually make sure that the customers have the option to do whatever they so desire."
"The worldwide dealer body remains the backbone of what we're doing with all the products for BMW....the actual availability to experience the car, to sit behind the wheel, to drive it, is a very important part. But we will have multichannel approaches which will be useable for the i products and, in time, other products as well."
Robertson mentioned the dealers in this equation as the equivalent of local heroes, with higher knowledge than any website could provide, able to interface in real time with the customer as needed and close the deal with their rapport and experience. This sets up the online and physical stores to combine for greater total sales, appealing to consumers who do internet research before arriving at a dealership, as well as those willing to pull the trigger without setting foot in a physical showroom.
Like BMW, Blueport recognizes the need for brick-and-mortar stores to work in harmony with an e-commerce presence. Blueport long ago realized that physical stores were the heart and soul of the big-ticket retail experience, with the online stores acting as an additional channel that allowed for both research, comparison shopping and added purchasing convenience. By coordinating both prices and discounting online and offline, the stores benefit from increased foot traffic of people who have researched online, but want to touch and feel the furniture or appliances in store. The web benefits from being available as a channel for people who are confident in their internet research and are ready to buy immediately, without needing to travel to a physical location or talk to a salesperson. And while it may be awhile before all cars are available online for immediate purchase, it's nice to see a world leader in the automotive industry like BMW taking that step into big-ticket e-commerce retail.
- Omni-Channel Retailing 2012: Marrying the Best of the Digital and Physical Channels
- E-Commerce Leads to Smarter Brick and Mortar Retail
- With E-Commerce, How Many Physical Stores Do Retailers Really Need?
- Demandware: A Cloud E-Commerce Solution for a Category That ‘Will Never Go Online’ -- Sound Familiar?
Mobile users spend 144 minutes a day — 26% of the nine hours they use various media — with their mobile devices. For the first time, television came in second with 141 minutes. This is according to this Business Insider article, where people were asked how much time they spend interacting with all forms of media.
In fact, a survey by InMobi, a mobile ad company, found that people now spend more time watching their phones than watching TV.
Interesting findings include:
- 55% of those surveyed used their mobile device to shop.
- 59% said mobile advertising impacts their purchasing decisions, compared to 57% who said television advertising did.
- 24% of users said their mobile influenced their in-store purchase.
- 69% of people used their mobile to find local resources.
Retail chains, take note.
It is clear mobile's popularity (both tablet and phones) is steadily increasing, and the influence of traditional channels like television, desktop, radio and newspapers is declining. But how can you reach your audience if your current multichannel marketing mix isn't working? What should omnichannel retailers do? The answer: Go where your audience is.
How Big-Ticket Retail Can Succeed with a Refined Mobile Strategy
Adapting to a world that embraces mobile can seem daunting even for those who have already taken their retail stores online. But via a multichannel analysis, there are some quick and easy steps that you can take so that your mobile viewers can convert into mobile purchasers. Following the best practices of SoLoMo (Social Local Mobile), you can ensure shopping experience that is optimized for anyone on the go. At Blueport Commerce, we help our big-ticket retail clients not only transition to e-commerce, but provide their customers with an optimized mobile shopping experience.
1. So (Social Media): Include social sharing buttons. Many mobile users spend hours on social media sites such as Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Twitter. Often, if they are following their favorite e-commerce stores, this can be their first source of information about an upcoming sale or in-store event. By including these buttons, all it takes is one quick click by the consumer to share his favorite sectional on his Facebook wall for all of his Facebook friends to see in their newsfeeds. Congratulations, you've just advanced your multichannel marketing strategy, and better yet, have had others do it for you.
2. Lo (Local): Get found – both online and in person. Because 69% of people use their mobile devices to find local stores, having a store locator app (which automatically finds the user's current location with GPS or allows them to plug in a preferred zip or postal code) can be the difference between making or breaking an in-store sale. In many instances, buyers feel the desire to see, touch and feel big-ticket items in person. By leading them to your brick-and-mortar store, they feel more confident completing their big-ticket purchases. Additionally, offering localized content for big-ticket items, such as less expensive delivery or shorter wait times, can help close a sale.
3. Mo (Mobile): Make your e-commerce website mobile-friendly. Shoppers on mobile devices tend to be on the move and cannot wait for slow-loading, complicated graphics or a disorganized site that renders strangely on a portable device. You can either reevaluate the mobile version of your website or create a unique mobile experience.
The Big-Ticket Retail Takeaway
Big-ticket items, such as furniture and appliances, often have long purchase cycles and require more research before potential buyers will pull the trigger on purchasing. By including social sharing buttons, offering localized content and a store locator app, and optimizing your e-commerce site for mobile, you're leading your mobile customers to what they're really seeking: more information. And as you lead them further down the funnel, closer to purchase, you are creating engaged, informed online shoppers who are interacting with you through their chosen medium.
Right about now, retailers -- whether large or small; online, offline or every line -- are gearing up for their busiest quarter of the year. The quarter that, in itself, can define the health of the business. And in a year when Pinterest went full force and tablets became affordable, the sky will be the limit for social media and mobile promotions.
But hold it right there! Don’t miss out on the point of the season for retailers: Sales. And how do you get sales? Of course, pricing is a major component, but customer service and branding can be equally important.
A recent iMedia Connection article implores retailers and their marketers to breathe new life into omni-channel retailing by reigniting the one-on-one connections with customers. The author calls it soul retailing, “stirring an emotional response that gets people to talk, share and love your company or product.” He says every retailer can get there by:
- Go back to basics: Worry more about letting your customers shop than driving them to one of your channels.
- Bring back one-to-one engagement with targeted offers rather than batch sends you hope will sometimes stick.
- Use all the technology out there to create well-aligned experiences that drive sales over playing games.
- Keep it all simple – customers do not want to have to work to find and buy your merchandise.
The point is that all these different channels and technologies can only help you move your retail business forward if you use them correctly, and before you grab the most cutting edge technology, you need to figure out how it will improve the experience for your customers. For example, Neiman Marcus’s NM Service app lets customers use their mobile devices to create a uniquely personalized experience in-store by alerting sales associates to the individual’s presence in the store, shopping history and merchandise scanned for more information that day.
Of course, the goal is for the channel to match the message. In social media, a hard sell just won’t work. We work closely with our furniture retail clients to help them focus their brands and refine their messaging for online. Design information and even content on entertaining and recipes, for example, is a great alignment for a Facebook page. One of our clients, Leon’s Furniture in Canada, has a rich history that the company has documented. Part of their strategy is to resurface the information and old photos, building up interest and their timeline at once. And then on sites like Pinterest, where everything is so visual, announcing the newest items with great artwork is a great win.
To keep the buying process personal, we help our clients craft blogs that extend their thought leadership within their subject matter expertise. We also use the blog platform to connect with customers by answering their questions in this longer format. Additionally, we work hard to create targeted email campaigns to boost the bottom line in-store and online.
Are there other ways you use modern technology to create good, old-fashioned meaningful connections with your customers? We want to hear about them! Please share in the comments below.
New York may be the city that never sleeps, but perhaps if its tech workers got a little more rest, then the Big Apple would be declaring itself home to the most IPOs in the East over the last 18 months. Instead that title goes to the city Blueport Commerce calls home, Boston.
Flybridge Capital general partner Jeff Bussgang recently wrote a piece comparing the two cities’ scorecards for IPOS as a follow-up to a two-part blog he had done a year earlier on the state of East Coast IPOs. At the time, he believed NYC had a stronger pipeline of pre-IPO companies. But now, 18 months later, he sees Boston has had nine IPOs compared to New York’s, um, zero. None. Zip. Bupkis.
First, I’d like to take a moment to congratulate my Boston brethren; here is the list of Boston-based tech IPOs: Brightcove, Carbonite, Demandware, EXA, Kayak, Tesaro, TripAdvisor, Verastem and Zipcar. I don’t care what you doing for a living, you’ve heard of at least four of those.
Second, as someone who has had the pleasure to live in both of these cities, I believe they both have a lot to offer on personal and professional levels. But note which one I chose as my home, the one I chose to use before it used me. While I have my reasons for that decision, Bussgang theorized a few of his own as to why Boston has been better for technology IPOs as of late. They include:
- New York City doesn’t have the IPO culture. One Tweeter seemed to agree with this sentiment, posting: “Hipsters don’t build companies…operators do. NY is full of Hipsters.”
- New York’s strong sectors aren’t in favor right now. Although, Bussgang disproves this one himself as some of Boston’s IPOs were consumer-focused.
- New York gets more media play, making it seem like those companies being mentioned may have progressed their businesses more than they really have. This is the theory that seems to have the most meat. New York has more presence from TechCrunch and Business Insider than Boston does, so the stories do not hit the mainstream in the same way.
“E-commerce companies like Etsy, Gilt Group and Rent the Runway get a lot of ink compared to, say, Boston-based Wayfair and RueLaLa,” he writes. “But if you objectively examined their financials in terms of actual revenue and scale and profitability, who is really closer to being ready to file their S-1?”
Of course, we at Blueport have a few additional theories as to why Boston is attractive to these emerging technology companies:
- Boston is a fantastic city with a deep history in innovation and sparking change.
- Relative affordability -- Boston doesn’t even appear as one of the top 10 most expensive US cities, which surprises me, but it is a hard fact.
- With centers of innovation and all the area colleges producing top-notch folks who stay in the area, Boston has a very attractive talent pool and new ideas to match.
- And of course, the Red Sox, Pats, B’s and Celts.
Yes, we definitely feel in good company here in Boston, especially as we see some bigger players, like Amazon and Paypal, increasing their own footprints in the area. If Boston sounds like a great place to work to you, or you are already here and ready for a change, let me know, because we’re always looking for the best talent to help move Blueport forward.
This month, Retail Systems Research (RSR), released its report “Omni-Channel 2012: Cross-Channel Comes of Age.” This benchmark report has a number of interesting findings, including:
- Retailers now understand that consumers use multiple channels to complete a single purchase.
- All the retailers surveyed believe a single brand identity across all channels is important.
- Retailers believe consolidating customer data all channels is the most important requirement and biggest hurdle to creating a seamless customer experience.
- RSR recommends retailers focus on understanding their customers, and then a singular cross-channel strategy will come out of that.
It’s Not Just E-Commerce, It’s Digital
At Blueport Commerce, we help our big-ticket retail clients not just with e-commerce, but with their entire digital channel, which has evolved to encompass social media and mobile commerce as well. And with these clients, our ultimate goal is to help them provide customers with the best of both the digital and physical shopping experiences (or the closest approximation of the physical experience online).
The RSR report credits physical stores’ biggest advantage as being able to provide instant fulfillment. But with big-ticket items like furniture, that is often not the case. For sofas, dinettes and similar items, consumers like to be able to see and feel their items. We work with our clients to offer rich, detailed information and spectacular imagery to make the customer feel as close as they can to shopping in the store. And this in-depth content is available to shoppers using their mobile devices in-store and even to salespeople, arming them with the information they need to close sales.
We also have solutions for our retail clients that struggle with legacy systems, allowing them to offer customers up-to-date inventory and delivery information – the same they would get in-store. We plug right into their own inventory and pricing systems, so we can display real-time local information to customers for pricing, inventory and delivery.
The Future of Retail – Online and Offline
The RSR report addresses the current shift going on in retail today. Retailing today is not just about selling the right products at the right price, but it’s about selling solutions. This requires understanding customers and their paths to purchase so you can deliver the information and product when they need it, while also allowing customers to access the information and items when and where they would like to.
At Blueport, we believe the only way to meet customers’ expectations is to complete a seamless cross-channel experience that leverages the best of each channel.
We know consumers like to research their purchases on the Web, and it seems like a natural extension for this to extend to mobile usage.
According to a report from Mojiva, as mentioned in this eMarketer piece, when shopping for big-ticket items like cars, 69% of US consumers researched their pending purchase or lease on their mobile phones. And data also shows that these poised shoppers are receptive to mobile ads while fact finding. More than half of respondents said that related deals and offers were of most interest to them, and 57% said they would browse an advertiser’s website after seeing an ad on their smartphone.
Mobile Research and Big-Ticket Goods
Here at Blueport, we believe that these trends don’t just apply to the auto industry and are likely relevant to a number of big-ticket items, including furniture. Even though merchandise like sofas and bedroom sets are not easily cross-shopped, consumers find values in the research, looking up additional information and online reviews, sometimes while right in the store.
That is why we work with our clients to be sure they are providing consumers with rich, detailed information no matter how they decide to access it. For every product, we think it is essential to include dynamic imagery (sometimes with alternate views), in-depth descriptions and information, and customer reviews. And then, beyond the e-commerce website, retailers need to cultivate a positive social media presence and respond to customer issues that pop up all over the web, on places like Facebook and Yelp.
For big-ticket retailers that put resources into their digital presence, the results can be an invaluable complement to what their salespeople can offer. The end result is that these retailers are providing consumers with the information and products they want, -- wherever, whenever and however they want it.
As exciting a time this is for e-commerce, this is also an extraordinary time for the business of paying for goods. From Square, which converts smartphones into credit card-processors, to mobile payment regulations, there’s a lot going on in payments.
When it comes to mobile payments, do you have a pulse on customers’ needs, retailers’ goals and the big technology players? We’ve gathered a roundup of some of the hottest headlines to help you keep up with this fast-moving field:
NFCNews – Survey Shows 66% of Retailers Want Mobile POS
A new survey from Motorola Solutions shows there is increasing interest from retail, hospitality and field service industries for mobile Point of Sale (mPOS) solutions, such as NFC payments and mobile loyalty programs, as a core strategy for improving customer service. According to the survey, which was comprised of 541 retail, hospitality and field service employees from North America, UK, France and Germany, 66% of respondents are interested in mPOS, while 42% of respondents are currently piloting or starting trials within the next 36 months.
U.S. News & World Report – How Safe Are Mobile Payments?
For some consumers, paying at the checkout line becomes a lot simpler when they can forgo the plastic card and pay with their phone. Mobile payment applications like the Isis Mobile Wallet, Google Wallet, Square, and LevelUp turn your cell phone into a payment source: Just store your debit card or credit card information on the phone and scan the device at checkout. "Consumers like the convenience factor," says Sarah Jane Hughes, a commercial law professor at Indiana University. But is this new form of payment safe?
Mobile Payments Today – PayNearMe Gives Unbanked a New Mobile Payment Option
One of the problems for "cash-preferred" consumers is that some transactions, for instance, airline tickets or online purchases, require an electronic payment method. Now U.S. consumers who choose to use cash have another mobile option to make electronic payments. PayNearMe, a cash transaction network that markets to the under- and unbanked, announced its new mobile cash payment system, a product that lets those without credit or debit cards use their cash to make loan payments, pay bills or buy tickets.
Seeking Alpha – Apple: Sleeping Giant Within the Mobile Payment Industry
The mobile payment industry is still in its infancy. I believe the mobile payment industry is a multi-billion dollar, multi-year secular growth market which will have a huge impact to the bottom line of key mobile payment players. Aite Group states the volume of mobile payments will grow to over $200 billion by 2015. In 2010 mobile payment revenue was approximately $16 billion. That is an over 12-fold increase in just five years. Apple is a dominant leader in the smart phone market with over 35 million in smartphone sales last quarter alone. They have not entered the mobile payment market yet, but I expect them to arrive on the scene very soon and disrupt the current mobile payment landscape.
Wall Street Daily – Google Could “Wrapp” Up the Mobile Wallet Race for Good
Wall Street Daily readers know that point-of-sale Near-Field Communication (NFC) technology is one of my top trends to watch this year. And although a recent study by Pew Research found that the technology likely won’t be a dominant form of payment until at least 2020, that’s not stopping players from jockeying for position now. After all, whoever lays claim to the biggest share of the NFC market should have an easier go of dominating the industry as the technology gains popularity down the road.
By now you’ve seen it -- the 94-second hilarious spot that introduced a new player to the $13 billion men’s shaving industry. Online-only Dollar Shave Club shaved away 12,000 customers from its competitors within two days of opening its e-commerce site. It didn’t take them millions in advertising -- just this really funny video.
There’s much the likes of Gillette, Schick and Bic, and in fact any retailer looking to sell online can learn from this little e-commerce company that could, as Fast Company offered its own recent list. Big or small, retailers need to realize the landscape is changing, and how you relate to customers deserves to be reexamined.
Consumers can see through your marketing speak. And if they can’t, they likely have a network of friends and family who can validate whether your brand lives up to its promises, your products are worth their prices and your customer service is up to par.
2. Social Tactics Done Right
Why did this video go viral? It’s darn entertaining!
CEO Michael Dubin delivers the message simply and honestly. He’s witty and smart -- forget just buying his razors; this guy is fun! I’d go for a beer with him. He is the brand. And customers met the brand and liked him.
The danger with some companies’ ventures into viral video and other social tactics is they try to be viral, which too often delivers in an overthought and overengineered result that falls flat for the public. Humor is hard. And so is having a distinctive voice.
Consider tapping your passionate customers who are already your advocates. See how they are spreading the word about you and similar products. Harness their love of your brand. Their voices will be more authentic and will help you develop the reach you need, and in an appropriate manner.
3. When a Dollar Makes Sense
With Dollar Shave Club, customers know they’re not going to get frills, but for a small amount of money, the video promises decent shave with one of their razors. It’s believable, and consumers can test it out for the fraction of what their regular razors cost.
In this economy, consumers are poised to shop, but they want to know they are getting the best deal possible. That is why some brick-and-mortar stores have been losing sales to in-store shoppers who can find a better price online. Our clients, which sell big-ticket items that are not easily commoditized, are not in the clear just because their merchandise cannot be cross-shopped. They still need to demonstrate the value of their products, whether it comes down to the items themselves or the customer service that comes with it.
So for retailers selling online, examine how you can harness some of the honesty, social tactics and value that has helped Dollar Shave club off to an impressive start.
The answer to that question depends on what you’re selling. For instance, if you sell electronics and video games or other commodities, like Best Buy does, then you need 50 less physical stores than you currently have.
Last week, a day after Best Buy’s e-commerce site was down for 17 hours’ worth of upgrades, the company announced it would close 50 big-box stores as a cost-reducing measure. Similarly, big-box commodity seller Wal-Mart is losing ground to Amazon and is working to beef up its own e-commerce offering.
We’re seeing this trend, because commodities can be easily searched online and via mobile devices, and consumers can easily shop the lowest bidder. After all, a Canon Powershot is a Canon Powershot and has the same features and feel no matter where or how it is purchased. E-commerce operations with lower overhead can underprice physical stores and win the business away from them.
However, if you’re a retailer selling big-ticket or other non-commoditized items, your e-commerce presence can be a vital customer touch point that drives the overall business. When executed correctly, the e-commerce site becomes a full brand extension that drives in-store traffic and vice versa. This is what Blueport Commerce helps its clients do.
For the merchandise our clients sell, like furniture and flooring, the store behind the products matter.
Consumers often begin their searches online, researching selections and offers from various retailers, but for some, they will need to move on to the store to make their final decision. As a retailer, you want to give customers the choice so they can buy in the way that best suits their needs. Even if sofas from two different retailers look the same, they likely come from different manufacturers and may be constructed differently. Given that this is a larger, more expensive purchase, consumers are also looking for trusted retailers that can provide quick, inexpensive delivery, as well as service, if ever required.
Our clients are fortunate -- they can truly harness the power of multichannel retailing, because all channels play important roles in the buying cycle. And consumers win as well, because they’ll still have a place to go test drive a sofa.
- Amazon's '$5 to Leave the Store' Promotion: Reactions Mixed, But a Sign of Things to Come
- Big Ticket vs. Small Ticket: Why Disaggregating E-Commerce Matters
- New Insights on How Consumers Research Products and Shop Online
- E-Commerce Is About More Than Online Shopping: Think Digital Marketing
Copyright 2010, Official Blog of Blueport Commerce
In February, when TJX announced its plan to nearly double its annual sales, we here at Blueport took notice, especially since e-commerce is a crucial part of the plan to get there.
For the fiscal year ending January 28, 2012, TJX, parent company of T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods in the US, had $23.3 billion in net sales. The goal is to reach $40 billion by investing in technology and e-commerce. While the company has a web presence with a combined 4 million visitors per month for all of its properties, they do not sell merchandise online in the US and have not since their last attempt at e-commerce in 2006.
“E-commerce is clearly in our future,” said TJX CEO Carol Meyrowitz in a recent conference call as reported by RIS News, Internet Retailer and others. “We believe e-commerce will open up a greater landscape for categories. Just think about the potential for us to carry categories online that we wouldn’t carry in our stores.”
At this point, TJX is building a team of e-commerce experts with a focus on developing the new initiative.
My Advice for TJX
Working at a company with more than 10 years of e-commerce experience, I have some thoughts on the possible tact TJX could take in growing its online retail business.
As I understand the retailer’s overall business, much of the merchandise it sells comes from opportunistic buys, like when a distributor liquidates 900 name-brand sweaters or 500 sofas in a discontinued upholstery pattern, or from program buys, when items are manufactured specifically to be sold by discount chains. Most, shall we say, Maxxinistas, go to the stores to land the opportunistic merchandise, which is harder to find because of the limited supply. So not every store carries the same merchandise, and much of the more sought-after stock moves very quickly. How does this translate to an online retail business?
Option 1: The Gilt Model
TJX and all of its properties could follow in the paths of Gilt Groupe, Fab.com and the like, selling the best stuff online, perhaps even following the invite-only model. Then, items could be shipped from a central location, which tends to work best for smaller items that can be packed in a Fed Ex box.
The challenge here is that their retail websites would directly compete with their stores rather than creating a beneficial and seamless multichannel retail experience for consumers. (Hint: Don’t do this.)
Option 2: Localized Cross-Channel Commerce
TJX could go for a truly localized e-commerce solution that ties into real-time inventory data would provide the best results for their overall bottom line. Customers would be able to get their purchases inexpensively and quickly or even see items in a nearby store. The web presence would continue to improve the overall bottom line without jeopardizing any individual location’s own fiscal health. (Hint: Do this!)
Based on the e-commerce solution we’ve created for our own clients, we think the second option and offering customers a localized cross-channel e-commerce experience would be the best for any retailers’ long-term growth. After all, we’ve already proven this model in the home furnishing industry for stores just like HomeGoods.
- When Charging Online Customers for Shipping, Localized E-Commerce Helps Make the Price Right
- Hyperlocal Beyond Marketing -- Think Localized E-Commerce
- Online Advertising: Now Delivering Local Shoppers -- Is Your Website Ready for Them?
- Consistency Is Key in This Multichannel Retail World
Copyright 2010, Official Blog of Blueport Commerce
Would you spend $300 on shipping an item you’re buying online for $100? If you’re like many of today’s consumers, you might think that’s just not fair. But that is the type of shipping charge Ikea customers are facing.
According to this Stylelist Home blog post, Ikea has established a flat shipping rate for customers further from their store locations. This likely lowers the cost for customers buying roomfuls of furniture, but the customer who is buying a single item appears to lose out. Statistics show that people who purchase furniture on the web are, in fact, often buying single pieces -- it's the guy who’s jumping online at lunch to snag that $899 leather couch he has in his cart that is now on sale for $629 (you know, the one with the brushed stainless legs). But what is the abandonment rate when a customer sees the shipping rate is higher than the money he’s saving? I'll save you the thinking on this one: The abandonment rate is huge, and that's a problem for billion-dollar retailers like Ikea.
Shipping is an expensive part of the retail business, especially for big-ticket retailers. But not getting this part of the pricing right can be detrimental to the bottom line. Implementing a local e-commerce strategy can keep shipping costs down for your customers.
Our e-commerce solution here at Blueport takes the customer’s location into account. We tie into our retail clients’ real-time inventory data and display the merchandise that is available in the physical stores closest to the customer. This allows customers to get the merchandise they want as quickly and inexpensively as possible. After all, happy customers equal happy retailers!
- Hyperlocal Beyond Marketing -- Think Localized E-Commerce
- E-Commerce Logistics and the Element of Localization
- 5 Tips for Handling Inventory Stock Information on E-Commerce Sites
- E-Commerce 2.0 -- the Next Wave
Copyright 2010, Official Blog of Blueport Commerce
Internet Retailer recently wrote about the results of a Zmags survey conducted by Equation Research on who the people are who are making purchases via their tablets. Here are some of the results:
The Typical Tablet Owner
- Age 40
- Average annual household income: $63,000
- 52% are women
- 81% use Facebook
- 14% of consumers who own tablets consider themselves to be spontaneous shoppers
- 9% classify themselves as “addicted to shopping”
- 24% window-shop on their devices
- 13% go shopping with a specific product in mind
- 11% are moved to action based on advertisements
- During the survey, on average spent $325 on their tablets
- 29% of tablet shoppers say it’s convenient since they are on the device so much
- 14% like the ease of making a purchase on their tablets
- 9% enjoy the simplicity of being able to share shopping-related information on their social networks
- 3 Key E-Commerce Trends to Watch in 2012
- Why E-Commerce Should Be Fired Uo About Kindle Fire
- 'T-Commerce' Reinvented as iPads Shape Multichannel Retail
- Arhaus Furniture's Custom iPad App Aims to Drive Cross-Channel Sales
Copyright 2010, Official Blog of Blueport Commerce
Trend #1: Online or Offline, Customer Experience Counts
Customers expect to be able to shop wherever and whenever they want. To facilitate this, retailers need to create a seamless experience so that there is no difference for consumers, whether they are shopping online or in-store. IMediaConnection used the term “phygital” to refer to the engagement between brands and their customers and how the relationship needs to be consistent regardless of the medium. The consistency builds the relationships, the relevancy and sales.
In this regard, beyond marketing message, online retailers need to make their products as relevant online as they are in person. Consumers expect to have a rich online experience that will stand in for the offline experience they would otherwise have. Expect to see richer product descriptions and imagery, product videos and even user-generated content that is detailed and visual to give fellow consumers additional product information.
Trend #2 Mobile Commerce and Tablet Commerce Will Continue to Grow
If you didn’t believe it before, certainly the 2011 holiday shopping’s couch commerce tells you that consumers are buying via mobile devices, whether smartphones or tablets. Experts predict that mobile transactions will grow to make up 20 percent or more of all e-commerce transactions. Online retailers need to continue to brush up on their mobile presentation, as well as get ready to leverage the geo-location information provided by such devices to reach consumers when they are nearby and to close the gap on closing sales.
Trend #3: Increased Social Integrations with Increased Options for Customers and E-Retailers
While it is doubtful f-commerce will truly take off any time soon, Facebook and social networks are not going anywhere, and nearly half of consumers who are on e-commerce websites will simultaneously be on a social network. E-retailers will integrate more with Facebook, beyond the “like.” Perhaps following online content sites’ “recently read” features, e-commerce sites will adopt “recently bought” or “recently browsed” to encourage relevant social sharing.
Additionally, brands will further use social networks to develop those ever-important relationships with their consumers. Strong bonds through such networks will help online merchants close the sale and keep the customers coming back.
What do you think of our 2012 trends? Do you agree or have more of your own? Share your thoughts in the comments.
According to a recent study by PM Digital, 81% of the luxury websites surveyed now have e-commerce, and the sites with e-commerce get 98% of the traffic that goes to these luxury sites. About a third of this traffic comes from search engines, and there is very little cross traffic, since luxury shoppers are very loyal to their brands. Surprisingly, only a very small amount of luxury brands’ traffic (0.29%) comes from luxury daily deals sites, like Gilt Groupe, ideeli and RueLaLa.
What Makes Luxury E-Commerce Successful?
When selling big-ticket luxury items online, however, it’s not as simple as using a plug-and-play e-commerce solution. Luxury brand customers expect a high-end boutique experience whether in-person or online. Here are some aspects to consider when selling luxury via e-commerce:
- You need to provide rich product descriptions. The more expensive an item is, the more information the consumer will want you to provide.
- Offer exceptional customer service, getting as close to what you offer in-store with a personal shopper. On the Web, that translates to online chat.
- The entire online shopping experience should be like going into one of your boutiques. Craft a strong welcome message on your home page. And then as customers drill down into products, allow them to zoom in on the images or even watch product videos – the goal is for them to handle the product, virtually.
We spent quite some time finding our new space, all told about 16 months. We wanted a mix of everything: a beautiful space where we could continue to grow, a building that could meet our technical needs, amenities for our staff and an exciting place for clients and partners to visit. After much searching, we found the space. We were able to get all we wanted and more. The time is right, and we’re making the move.
These types of changes often get you thinking about your past as much as your future. How did we get here?
Remember when people were hesitant to buy anything online? That’s when we started selling furniture on the Web as Furniture.com. We have evolved from a Web portal selling furniture to a technology and services provider for big-ticket retailers who want to sell and brand their hard-to-ship items online. We’ve already extended to markets adjacent to the furniture industry, such as appliances, electronics, flooring, carpet and more. We’ve been helping clients navigate their ways through social networks, daily deals and more. As a business, we have evolved, and now it’s time our office space catches up.
The future for Blueport Commerce is forecasted to be even brighter. As the market focuses on local e-commerce (something we’ve done for quite some time), we are poised to continue to be a leader. Come visit us, and see for yourself.
Copyright 2010, Official Blog of Blueport Commerce
The sun crested over the mountains at 5:29 a.m. and breakfast began at 6. Pacific Cresters fluttered around, effectively lining up 48 hours of ducks. You had to caffeine it up -- you needed it.
The summit had three modules -- two unique. At most tech summits, you end up in a room with Google or Gilt listening to egos roar as Sergey or Susan talk about how killer things are in ecommerce, search, social commerce and more. At Pacific Crest, these more generic types of corporate briefings were done throughout the two days and you slot them in as best you can. But most of the fun comes from the two more unique tracks of this conference: One portion is the roundtable discussions where industry focus meets opinion. Our CEO, Carl sat on the Internet Digital Media panel this year with Don the Tool King and the CEO of Beyond the Rack. The discussion is led by bankers and analysts who cover the e-commerce space. This year, logistics and inventory (Do you job it out? CAPEX it?) was among the hotter topics. Our market validation vis-a-vis panel discussions with these high-caliber attendees is flattering. When someone who runs a $17 billion fund nods in agreement -- well, nothing is quite like it.
This year, I spent most of my time differently than in the past. I focused on briefing investors interested in e-commerce platforms and, hopefully, Blueport.
Meetings were 25 minutes each (with 5 minutes for travel time to the next meeting lovingly factored in -- very 503, you know 917 wouldn't do that). They’re like those goofy Hollywood junket interviews for movie premieres. I did my best to not pull a Christian Bale, while sitting in a hotel room stripped of its beds (because THAT would be awkward), saying roughly the same thing over and over, changing it slightly for the audience and its reactions. They went something like this:
Them: Are you profitable?
Us: What's your average check size?
Them: Year-over-year growth?
Us: What are you looking for in your next portfolio company?
Them: We typically would invest $25 to $50 million, but we did a round with Facebook at $200.
Us: OK, we want $5. Can we make that work?
Before you can imagine, there's a knock on the door. It's over and on to the next. It's a blast, and it’s exactly what I love about my career; that it's not a job or work per se, but it's fun. I'm insanely lucky. Events like this remind me of that.
- E-Commerce 2.0 -- the Next Wave
- The Next Big Thing in Big-Ticket E-Commerce
- Does Your Business Need a Franchise Commerce Solution for the Web?
- Creating an Immersive Online Shopping Experience