Tag Archives: eCommerce

When we all become a market place, it is up to your supply chain network protect the brand

In a recent article, Crate & Barrel, announced that it would start selling other brands on their website. Click here for article. This is not a new concept. Companies such as Lord & Taylor, Saks, Macy’s, Walmart and JCrew are already selling other brands on their ecommerce platform. In the case of JCrew you can even purchase products such as New Balance sneakers in their brick and mortar stores as well. According to the WSJ article, there are more than 250 retailers already offering this functionality. This begs the question, are retailers and more specifically their eCommerce activities gravitating towards become more of a market place?crateandbarrelicon_400x400

Are we seeing another influence on retail from the likes of Amazon and Ebay, two online pioneers that made their businesses through offering their clients almost unlimited selection of products from a wide swath of brands. For the likes of Crate & Barrel it makes sense for their customers. For obvious reasons, they want customers who come to their web site to have access to the widest array of goods for the home. However, they cannot grow their inventory offered as fast as if they allow others to join their marketplace. Rather than spend time scouring for new products, niche vendors and the latest trend, Crate & Barrel can open up their platform and incentivize these brands to come to them. Makes sense, right? Yes, but there are some key issues these brands have to consider:

  • Transforming their eCommerce assets into a marketplace places greater pressure on the brand’s supply chain. The value that an Amazon offers when it allows vendors to sell their products via the marketplace is the massive supply chain and fulfillment engine that goes behind that front end web site. Retailers like Crate & Barrel and other traditional brick and mortar brands have struggled to seamlessly and easily bring eCommerce to their offerings. If they now take on a greater array of product through their site, product that falls outside their control, can their supply chains keep pace?
  • It’s the brand stupid. One appealing factor for brands to associate with the likes of Crate & Barrel is to ride on their brand presence and reach. For Crate & Barrel the positive is being able to offer their customers a deeper and wider product assortment. The risk for Crate & Barrel is that it is their brand that is on the mast head. What happens if one of the vendors they allow onto their online asset sells defective or subpar products? The real issue is that it is the brand, Crate & Barrel that will suffer.

So what does this mean? As more of these brands begin to explore the strategy of creating mini-marketplaces on their web site, they have the opportunity to expand their offerings to their customers (don’t forget as we have stated many times, the customer has now gained the power in the retail relationship) but they will have to rely upon their supply chain network at a more intimate level. These brands must be able to have absolute clarity with regards to which suppliers are being allowed onto the marketplace. There must be absolute understanding into the product offering, what happens post sale and how will disputes be handled by the entities involved. They must also have clarity as to the impact these relationships have on their financial supply chains. This requires a supply chain network that has a deep degree of insights and visibility, but also the capacity to have the flexibility to manage a marketplace that itself needs to be nimble enough in order to truly achieve the aspirations of the medium.

This is yet another example of the continuous evolution of retail. I wonder when I can start buying my groceries with that Basque Honey dining table on the Crate & Barrel site?

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Filed under Current Events, Retail, Supply Chain

Your supply chain – not simply about cost control

I recently attending the WWD CEO apparel summit in New York City. The event brought together a number of executives from the fashion world from the likes of Dior to Neiman Marcus, as well as fashion superstars such as Ralph Lauren, Vera 1477496755713Wang, Joseph Abboud and Diane von Furstenberg. Other than a fabulous two days at the Pierre Hotel, I took away some key themes to the event. The main talking points:

  • Supply chains are for more than simply cost control. Supply chains have long been seen as centers to control cost, but they are finally starting to be recognized as tools of differentiation, tools that need to be leveraged to gain opportunities within the space. The CEO from Neiman Marcus highlighted as his top initiative the supply chain. Without an efficient and robust supply chain, all the efforts Neiman Marcus are making to redefine their stores and customer interactions will fall short. The supply chains must be increasingly nimble to meet the shifts within the retail world. As we pass through the omni channel stage of retail and evolve to a state of constant retail, or ambient commerce, the supply chain has to be nimbler and more flexible.
  • Stores aren’t dead, just being redefined. As mentioned above, the store is not dead. Far from it. Brands such as Neiman Marcus recognize that the physical store remains an essential cog in the retail universe. However, it is undergoing a transformation and will continue to undergo changes. From bringing beauty salons, restaurants or coffee shops the real estate footprint for fashion and retail. The question for these brands is how do they better manage their ability to fulfill. As stores change dynamics, what are the repercussions of the overall network’s strategy? Brands and retailers must become even more sensitive to how they manage their inventory positioning and fulfillment as their distribution footprint constantly shifts. The retail footprint is evolving, the store is being redefined and driving the overall retail experience. As was often stated at the conference – retail and fashion cannot view physical stores as separate from web commerce, but both must go hand in hand. All one had to do was listen to Hudson Bay and why they acquired mobile eCommerce darling, Gilt. Truly creating a full retail footprint.
  • Consumers are the queens and kings of fashion and retail. The consumer runs the show, according to the numbers presented by MasterCard, close to 70% of the purchases are made by a female buyer. That buyer is also becoming increasingly driven by experiences and driving the relationship. Clearly the consumer continues to grow in strength. She expects to have unique products available, experiences but does not necessarily want everything immediately. Consumers want to have visibility into when they can expect product, but do not necessarily expect it always right now. Retailers and the brands need to keep this in mind, while they need to be sensitive to their consumers’ wants and desires, they must balance the importance between experience, available inventory and meeting consumer needs.

Hearing the presentations from main stage as well as the hallway conversation reinforce the notions that retail continues to evolve, and at an unprecedented pace. While these changes are happening at a breath taking pace, the fundamentals around inventory, supply chains and the consumer must be kept in focus.

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Back to School: the second happiest time of the year for retailers…but not necessarily for kids!

As the last days of summer come to lazy close—sigh—retailers and parents of school children should all be squealing with glee.  Okay maybe that’s an exaggeration, but the end of summer does mark the beginning of the retail race to the black. They are looking to beginning to build up their holiday season inventories while ensuring they capture as much back to school revenue as possible. However the back to school season is a microcosm of the shifting sands in the retail world.

Back to school is the second largest sales driver, right behind the end of year holidays – accounting for over $27b worth of sales.[1] But while this time of the year is a boon for retail, there are signs this rosy picture is cracking because of the usual disruptors.  Their disruptions come primarily in the form of growth in consumerization,[2] and the pressures from ecommerce giants such as Amazon.

Let’s dig into some NRF numbers:

  • 97% of online sites visited are either super centers or office supply sites.
  • 84% of parents will only purchase online if free shipping is offered.
  • Over a third of parents will make purchases online.

Retailers that are in this space are probably selling commodity items – a heavy percentage of office supplies. (Click here for an example list.)

These items are difficult to differentiate through value-added services, customization, or contextual experiences. They are often based on convenience and price, and are usually not overly bulky but can be heavy. Why is this important?

Consumers are going to shop for these products and look for value and cost to be the biggest drivers. This is in the sweet spot for the likes of Amazon and Jet.com. But could some of the items – like paper and books – place an additional strain on fulfillment for retailers? Possibly. What is the opportunity for retailers to thwart being overwhelmed by Amazon’s ecommerce prowess?

Here are some strategies:

  • Focus on an in-depth understanding of your network. Where can you hold back inventory? Can you fulfill from different nodes, and are there parts of your network that can push inventory out earlier in the process? Bring more flexibility to your distribution and fulfillment capacities to control your costs, but most importantly, retain customers through profitable fulfillment. As the data from NRF reminds retailers, consumers want and expect free shipping, how can retailers better leverage a network view of their inventory to address this trend.
  • Leverage the digital supply chain to focus on creating a user profile. Can retailers follow their customers as they progress from pre-K to college and beyond? This insight may open up opportunities to provide location-based value-added services. If a child is about to be a junior in high school, inform them of a local college prep program. Create some contextual wrappers around your inventory. Leverage the digital mirror to your supply chain to create stickiness to your brand. Hopefully this not allows for a degree of brand loyalty, but allows the retailer to do a better job with demand sensing and shaping.

Back to school can be stressful enough – as retailers let’s not have the added stress of how to continue to drive and capture revenue in a world of omnichannel and consumer-driven supply chains. There are opportunities to protect revenue but also uncover new opportunities; the retailers that start to think network and digital are pointed in the right direction.

[1] Data from NRF – https://nrf.com/news/infographic-look-back-school-supplies-lists-and-online-shopping

[2] Consumerization of the retail supply chain is the shift in dynamic towards the consumer. The consumer has become the focal point in the retail supply chain.

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Filed under Current Events, eCommerce, Supply Chain

Aptos one year in and the future is bright

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Around this time last year Aptos and their leadership team were still under the Epicor banner, after close to a year as an independent firm Aptos hosted their first user conference. Fortunately for me I was able to head back to Las Vegas for the fourth time in 6 weeks – this time I didn’t test my luck at the blackjack tables. Being in Las Vegas seemed to be appropriate as the investment firm Apax Partners is gambling on Aptos and their leadership team to be successful in a very competitive retail landscape. Time will tell if the gamble will pay off…but first some reactions to the conference:

  • It is about the people – at the end of the day, regardless of what business you are in, people buy from people. Maybe one day when bots have taken over they will purchase from each other and we will be left to fend off Skynet. Not only do we buy from other people, but the biggest driver for happy employees are the people we work with and for. Aptos is taking a refreshing take on this, emphasizing the importance of culture and people. The investors in Aptos took to main stage to reinforce this, stating that they were making an investment in the business but also the leaders, from CEO Noel Goggin on down. Noel also emphasized the importance in the team he has built to manage the growth and opportunity for Aptos. This focus on the people is refreshing…and at the end of the day business is about people working with and dealing with other people.
  • Leaning on a legacy of cloud – the cloud is no longer an enigma but is firmly entrenched as the preferred vehicle to deliver software. Not simply because it lowers the total cost of ownership (TCO) but today it is starting to show its true business value. Allowing for retailers and others to quickly scale whether in terms of product growth of geographical expansion. A number of the customers we visited such as Tory Burch, Michael Kors and Nike were looking to Aptos to help empower their global expansions – this was made easier due to the cloud-based solution. Other retailers such as Tumi were looking to lean on the cloud-based solution to have a much more dynamic and flexible inventory system. Truly tying together their inventory whether in the store, storage room or distribution center. The cloud is here, the cloud is the preferred vehicle for product and the cloud allows greater business value.
  • Further up to the customer or further back into supply chain? So where can Aptos go from here? Granted they have plenty of opportunity within their existing client base as well as closing net new opportunities. But is there a play for Aptos to push further back into the stack and provide their customers with greater views in the sourcing and manufacturing portion of their supply chain? Or move even deeper to the omni-channel needs of the consumer, building on their acquisition of ShopVisible, placing a bigger bet on eCommerce world where the likes of Demandware are present? They have shown an ability to build out the necessary assets, for example QuantiSense brining more powerful analytics to their portfolio. This will provide even greater insights into the customer demands. For Aptos to truly reach its potential we feel they will need to think through some of these strategies, whether they partner or develop their own solutions that is up to Noel and his team to figure out.

Thankfully what happens in Vegas isn’t staying in Vegas for Aptos. They come of out of a successful user event with the wind at their backs. Noel and the team have carved out a nice space to play in. However there are many fierce competitors out there, their honeymoon period is long over. The team is in place and with some strong customer stories it is up to Aptos to step up and really push their story.

If you were to place a bet, Aptos seems to have some favorable odds. But as we all know, nothing in Las Vegas is a sure thing!

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Salesforce Evolves Communities From Forums To E-Commerce

Today Salesforce launched the ability to embed a Buy Button into sites built upon their Community Cloud platform. Click here for press release. This new feature will bring the power of commerce to the world of social: enabling brands to leverage the activity that takes place in social channels and convert it into financial transactions. The following is Constellation Research’s reaction to the news, co-authored by Principal Analysts Alan Lepofsky and Guy Courtin.

Below you can see an example, in this case labeled Cart, which allows community members to add an item for purchase.

salesforce.com
Shopping Meets Social

From the press release: “The new e-commerce capabilities enable communities of customers to discover, research, discuss and buy products in a single location while introducing a new sales channel for companies.”

Alan’s POV: This is significant because it enables companies to blend together 1) their community forums; where current and future customers can ask questions, post reviews and share feedback with 2) their e-commerce platform for purchasing. Today many companies separate these two functions, relying heavily on popular social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for customer engagement, then shifting those customers to another location for purchasing transactions.  The integration of community (social) and commerce (shopping) will allow for a much more seamless, hence more desirable customer experience.

Guy’s POV: Retail and CPG have long been aware of the growing power and influence social channels have on their brands and products. One only had to look as far as Twitter to see how brands such as @BestBuy or @USAir are acutely aware of any possible issue voiced by their customers. This announcement is looking to take advantage of the positive that comes of out social media – converting sales. Retail and CPG are also both acutely aware that their best sales people are existing customers. Enabling transactions to take place in these forums builds on the aspect of community influence.

Commerce Without Coding

From the press release: “With new e-commerce Lightning Components from Salesforce partners like CloudCraze, Demandware and Bigcommerce, companies will be able to seamlessly incorporate e-commerce into their communities. Lightning Components are reusable building blocks that enable companies to quickly add rich new capabilities into their communities without programming.”

Alan’s POV: While the idea of making it easy for “citizen developers” (line of business workers who are not trained coders) to simply drag and drop components into applications sounds appealing, organizations need to be weary, as there is more to application development than just writing lines of code. Successful applications rely on compelling user interfaces (the look) and user experiences (the interactions). Commerce is a complicated process, involving complex workflows between inventory, purchasing and shipping.  These things require professionals with training and experience. That said, there is nothing wrong with Salesforce making it easier for professional developers to add these new e-commerce functions to their applications. The addition of the Buy Button and other components from their business partner eco-system, help make the Salesforce1 a compelling platform.

Complexity Of Supply Chain Meets Ease Of One Click Commerce

From the press release: “Community Cloud customers are already deploying custom e-commerce solutions, demonstrating the power of combining transactions with communities.”

Guy’s POV: The addition of a transaction function to the communities is not as simple as adding some code to a web site. The supply chain aspects of order management, fulfillment and payment are all aspects of the supply chain that have to be in sync for the promise of a “buy” button to come to fruition. This is no simple task; many e-Commerce players have failed at this step. It will be an interesting play for the software giant if it can integrate some of the efforts it is making with Salesforce retail as well as the partnerships it announced to truly take this to then next level. As the examples given for this new offering revolve around digital assets, the challenge of moving physical goods is much more complex.

Summary: From Forums To E-Commerce

The announcement hold much promise when it comes to the integration of retail and communities. The addition of e-commerce provides Salesforce an edge over many rival social community platforms. However there remains much to be seen as to how Salesforce can fulfill some of the promises, especially when it comes to moving physical goods. What will they build themselves, what will customers need to build and what gaps will be filled by business partners and 3rd party vendors? Constellation supports this first step in integrating shopping and social and recommends customers speak with Salesforce to see if it will work with their specific e-commerce systems and suppliers. This is a space to watch, hopefully with more details and examples being presented at Dreamforce.

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Filed under Current Events, Online Community, Retail, Supply Chain

Digital disruption on verge of taking out historic retailer

The 94 year old retailer, Radio Shack, is on the verge of no longer being in existence. Sad, but another example of digital disruption in the retail supply chain. Radio Shack was one of the leading retailers when it came to cutting edge electronics. I remember as a kid going there to get a new tape recorder (yup I played my first Van Halen cassette, 1984, on a tape recorder from Radio Shack) or when cordless phones came out, Radio Shack was the go to place to acquire such technological marvels. There is a picture circulating around social media about all the technologies you could have at Radio Shack in the 1990s…that are all now contained in that device we carry in our pockets – the smart phone (see below). Talk about digital disruption.

As the rise of Amazon took place in the 1990s, electronics being sold more widely and consumers becoming more digitally savvy, Radio Shack found itself in a difficult situation. The store’s footprint was too small to carry the wide array of SKUs that a Best Buy or Circuit City could (not that is necessarily a long term advantage as the latter is out of business and the former struggling) and it could not compete with the online force that Amazon had become nor the discounting that the likes of Target and WalMart offered. Not a great place to be for Radio Shack.

Everything on this page is now in your smart phone...talk about digital disruption

Everything on this page is now in your smart phone…talk about digital disruption

So now the stories are that Sprint may take on or co-brand some locations. Makes sense for the telecom giant as they look to increase their reach with their brick and mortar stores. Unlike Radio Shack, Sprint only needs to carry a very focused and smaller inventory – just mobile phones and tablets. Wireless providers like Sprint and AT&T benefit from having some brick and mortar for sales but also lean on them for service and customer support. The more intriguing option is the one where Amazon would swoop in and purchase some locations. Interesting.

This comes on the heels of Amazon opening their first brick and mortar store, something I wrote about a while back, click here for post. Does this make sense for Amazon? Some are pointing out that Amazon could use these stores to showcase products. Not sure I agree with that. Amazon already has that…it is called Barnes and Nobles, Target, Best Buy, REI, Toys R Us, Dicks Sporting Goods, Home Depot etc…why would they add a cost layer to get something they already have? They could use the locations for pick up and returns. Hmmm, that I might see as a more viable option. Radio Shack stores have an average of 2,426 square feet, a little bigger but similar footprint to UPS stores. UPS stores range from 800 to 1800 square feet. The Amazon/Radio Shack stores could provide similar services: receiving and holding orders or processing returns. With this level of service, Amazon would not have to worry about carrying SKUs at these locations nor having a large staff to manage need to manage the retail aspect. Could they also act as smaller distribution centers (DCs)? Why not. As Amazon is also looking to expand their own transportation fleet – in such deliveries as grocery – these smaller outlets could also be staging areas for some inventory. They may even have their own drone delivery assets at each physical location. Don’t laugh too loud, this might be closer then we think!

One topic we are covering in 2015 is the transformation of the consumers’ home into an extension of the retailer. Amazon moving into Radio Shack locations would allow the online giant to move in this direction. It could give users of such services as Zappos who are used to getting multiple sizes and colors delivered to their home to try on and then return, an alternative channel from which they can return their items. This move might allow Amazon to get a little bit closer to their consumers.

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Filed under Current Events, Drones, eCommerce, Retail, Supply Chain

Bitcoin coming to an ATM by you…

Bitcoin, the leading P2P currency, is coming to an ATM near you. There is an ATM right here in Boston now! At least Boston keeps its place as a high tech center…barely. Anyways, first what really is Bitcoin, other than being linked to the infamous Winklevoss twins? Click here for a good crash video on what it is.

Coming to an ATM near you...better get your digital wallet ready

Coming to an ATM near you…better get your digital wallet ready

Basically it is an online generated form of currency, no banks, no physical currency is created. It allows the online community to have a form of money to empower eCommerce – not that your credit cards doesn’t still work. Online commerce could function and not have to pay some of the fees associated with credit cards and other forms of traditional brick and mortar payment methods. So what does it mean that you can now go to the ATM machine and “get” Bitcoins?

For the most part it feels like a marketing scheme, to make the every day user comfortable with this form of currency. Consumers are becoming more comfortable with eCommerce both via their smart phones, tablets or computers. They have become comfortable using their credit cards online. Bitcoin has to hope they start feeling comfortable seeing Bitcoin as a viable payment option. Showing consumers how to leverage Bitcoin in a format they are used to – aka the ATM machine – should allow for an ease of association with the medium. I get that the ATM gives me $20 bills (in New York sometimes $100 bills!), I get how to use my phone for more than phone calls….now I can somewhat better grasp how this all mixes together with Bitcoin. From a marketing and education perspective this makes a lot of sense. It is also interesting when it comes to the timing – with many highly publicized credit card theft issues from Target to Neiman Marcus could Bitcoin find away to offer a “safer” alternative for online commerce?

It will be interesting to see what the reaction is to these Bitcoin ATMs, will it uptick the usage of the currency? Will the curiosity fade after a few days? Regardless it will be interesting to watch and I believe the impact will reach further than we might expect today…think supply chain. A discussion for another post!

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Filed under Current Events, eCommerce, Online payment, Technology