Tag Archives: retail

Fujitsu’s New Tactile Sensation Tablet Screen Could Be A Game Changer For Online Retail

Late in February, Fujitsu unveiled a prototype of a tablet that has the ability to allow the user to feel the texture of what he/she sees on the screen.  Therefore, if you are seeing a rough object, you could feel the coarseness of that object; if you’re seeing a smooth object, you could feel the silky smoothness of that object.

Think of the implications this could provide for online retail. Many people aren’t fond of purchasing clothing online because they can’t touch it, can’t try it on, etc.  While they may not be able to try it on (virtual reality and/or sophisticated online diagrams may solve that issue), with this technology, they certainly can get a feel of what the fabric feels like, increasing online clothing conversion rates.

This could encourage more people to shop for clothing online and help to pick up that segment of the online retail industry, as other categories sell much more via online channels, including technology, books, and even food (none of which rely on touch to help convince prospects to make a purchase).   With the tablet commerce (a.k.a. “tcommerce”) industry already picking up in terms of higher-priced purchases, this technology would fit in perfectly to encourage even more apparel purchases via tablets.

Most people (particularly women) like to feel the fabric and get an idea of how it would feel on their skin.  One part of that puzzle may be solved with this new tactile sensation technology; I definitely can see this technology revolutionizing the online retail and ecommerce industry in the coming years and make it as natural for people to purchase clothing online as they do technology, books, and food.

What do you think? Do you think this will be a game-changer, or is this just a technology that won’t leave any lasting impact on online retail? Let me know in the comments box below.

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Why Apple Has Gotten Rotten In The Tech Industry – Part 4 (Other Competitors & Challenges)

This is Part 4 of the 5-Part Series, “Why Apple Has Gotten Rotten In The Tech Industry” – Other Competitors and Challenges.

To read Part 1 (Google)

To read Part 2 (Samsung)

To read Part 3 (Amazon)

As has been discussed in the three posts above, Apple is facing stiffer competition on many different technological fronts from companies such as Google, Samsung, and Amazon.  This is especially true when it comes to the smartphone and tablet market, where Apple made waves years ago with the original iPhone and iPad.

The problem is that Apple hasn’t been very innovative since that point.  Yes, they’ve updated the iPhone and iPad numerous times, some revisions with nice enhancements (such as the iPad 2), but the revisions of late have been of the “ho-hum” variety, which hasn’t impressed customers or investors.  In fact, I know more Apple fans often wait a version or two to upgrade, knowing some who are still on iPhone 4s who haven’t upgraded to the iPhone 5 or iPhone 5s (or 5c).  In the past, it was quite common for Apple fans who would go grab every new version, but with the prices and the constant “rebooting” of the iPhone every year, but few notable upgrades, most Apple fans think they can wait a version or two before upgrading.  This is another notable shift in how people are viewing Apple.

Many people, including noted CNBC commentator Jim Cramer, think that Apple must be more innovative – this is because the technology field has become much more competitive and that the main rivals for Apple have caught up and even surpassed them in technology, as I’ve noted in earlier posts of this series.

Some are excited by the fact that Apple is purported to be introducing a new smartwatch this year, a type of watch that can be programmed in order to answer calls on your smartphone, hold those calls, surf the Internet, and more.  While it’s certainly different for Apple to be doing that, what some might even call “innovative,” personally, I think it will take much more than that for Apple to really regain some momentum in the tech industry.

“Why?” you ask.

Well, for starters, Apple was rumored to be releasing a smartwatch last year, but that obviously didn’t happen.  In the past, that might have been acceptable, but as I said above, the competition has become much better at matching and outdoing Apple in technology.  Samsung already released the “Galaxy Gear,” a type of smartwatch that works with their Samsung smartphones (though it’s purported to work with other Android phones as well).  Now, the “Galaxy Gear” didn’t come out to the most favorable reviews, which is why Samsung plans to release a second version of the “Galaxy Gear” in 2014.  Early indications seem to suggest that Samsung may release that second version before Apple even releases its initial smartwatch.  This certainly doesn’t help Apple’s image of being an innovator of technology when one of its main rivals will likely come out with a second version before Apple even comes out with a first.

However, the bigger problem for Apple in the growing smartwatch industry is not so much Samsung, but by a relatively new company that came out with a smartwatch that has received rave reviews: Pebble.  Pebble Technology developed this smartwatch thanks to the help of the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, and began shipping the Pebble Smartwatch in January 2013, over a year ago.  This competitor is not going away anytime soon; besides the fact that most would consider it the leader in the smartwatch industry, apps are being developed for it.  In fact, it can communicate with both Apple and Android phones via many different third-party apps.

Thus, Apple (and Samsung, for that matter) has its work cut out for it.  Therefore, I don’t think releasing a smartwatch, no matter how favorable the reviews are, is really going to give the company the impetus of being the tech leader again.  Certainly, it may raise its standing a bit, could even boost the valuation of the company for a short period of time, but as for that “grand slam” that’s going to put it back out in front of the competition, that’s highly unlikely.  At best, it may put itself up there with Pebble and show that it, too, can come up with a solid smartwatch on its first try (something Samsung largely was unable to do), but as for being out in front in the smartwatch industry, that honor has to go to the rising upstart, Pebble.

Other avenues for Apple seem to have a bit more promise for the company in terms of it being considered an innovator again.  Two, in particular, come to mind: Its “iBeacon” technology, and rumors of entering the health-monitoring industry.  The latter is pretty interesting, and we’ll explore this in Part 5.  I bring up the former here because, while it is interesting in its own right, there’s one hurdle that could torpedo much of the momentum from such a technology.

The “iBeacon” technology is one of the technologies that retailers hope to use to learn more about their customer while in-store, and then use that information to provide relevant ads and offers on their mobile devices (usually smartphones) while they’re in certain areas of the store.  So, for instance, if you’re in a Target store near the clothing area, you may get a special offer for a new pair of jeans.  If you’re in a local grocery store and you’re nearing the frozen food section, you might get a special offer for Van de Kamp fish sticks, etc.  Essentially, it relies on push notifications when a person is in a specific area of a store. It runs on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), also known as Bluetooth Smart.  Certainly, this technology shows a lot of promise for retailers to provide real-time marketing offers to their customers while they are in-store.  And, to my knowledge, Apple is the first one to offer such a technology.

The problem that I think will torpedo much of the momentum from this technology was highlighted in this Mobile Marketer article from February 11.  There is an upcoming Federal Trade Commission workshop on geolocation to address such technologies as the iBeacon, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and others that can track customers while in-store in an effort to learn more about what areas of the store they visit and stay in most often and provide relevant offers based on what’s near-by to them.

The problem comes in where some privacy advocacy groups are claiming that too much information is being revealed because of this technology.  One privacy advocacy group even claims that some marketers are even tracking in-store users in order to make stocking decisions based on income and/or race.  If true, obviously, this will cause the FTC to “raise an eyebrow” and greatly hinder the information that retailers can gather from this technology, thus negating much of the benefits retailers can get from it, and torpedoing much of the benefits for Apple.

Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA certainly did not help Apple when it came to the iBeacon.  Nor did the recent revelation that Nordstrom was tracking its customers’ every movement (without their knowledge) when they used the company’s Wi-Fi in-store networks.  Nordstrom immediately stopped that practice when it was revealed, thus putting an onus on the collection of too much data.

Thus, it would seem likely that the information the iBeacon system can collect will be limited in scope.  While it may still help retailers to some extent, the chances of that information being regulated is likely, and this will limit how much positive benefit Apple will receive from such a technology.  Whereas the iBeacon could have been a saving grace for Apple in terms of it regaining much of its former “tech leader” status, the fact that the technology will likely be limited and regulated due to privacy concerns and even racial/ethnic issues, the iBeacon technology will likely only benefit Apple slightly in terms of innovation and ingenuity.

So, again, Apple’s best efforts will likely not provide the “grand slam” it really needs to get back out in front of its competitors in the tech industry.  Can Apple even get back out in front of them?  And, if they can, what would do it?  These questions we will explore in the fifth and final part of this series, “Why Apple Has Gotten Rotten In The Tech Industry.”  That post will appear early next week – keep an eye out for it.

UPS’ Shipping Mishap: Damage To Retailers’ Future Holiday Seasons?

A further update from yesterday’s post, http://wp.me/p47TSP-o: UPS says that “most packages will be delivered today.”  Two questions come to mind:

1. Why weren’t all of those packages delivered yesterday, as yesterday was a normal shipping day?

2. Why is it “most packages” and not “all packages”?

This goes to show that there was a much bigger backlog and much underestimation of how many online orders there would be late in the season than was previously thought.  As I mentioned yesterday, this oversight and system backlog really needs to be corrected and updated for next season, as the season is only one day longer than this year.  And, I think it’s safe to say that not only will people be ordering online late again (as they do virtually every season), but that there will likely be more online orders overall next year.

I read somewhere (can’t remember or find the source at the moment) that mobile orders are up 15% from 2012, quite a substantial jump.  While expecting a 15% increase Y/Y in 2014 is probably unlikely, expecting a mid-single digit to even around a 10% increase in 2014 is likely not out of the question, especially since all-time commerce is going to become even more prevalent in 2014.

All-time commerce is where a retailer (offline or online) can reach you from virtually anywhere because the retailers have sales channels across all devices, including television, desktop/laptop, and mobile (including both smartphone and tablet).  In addition, there will be different points of the sales funnel across all devices, whether that’s the consumer looking for information about a specific product, looking at reviews of that product, comparing prices across different retailers, or looking to purchase the product.

Tablet commerce, especially, is really ready to start exploding in 2014, further increasing the likelihood that mobile orders should see another sizable rise next year.  We’ve already seen signs of this in 2013, being that the average purchase price of transactions on tablets was higher than it was on smartphones.

This is all the more reason why retailers (offline and online) and shippers need to get this mishap fixed and the systems updated right away, as this trend of online shopping late in the season is only likely to increase in the coming years, especially since it’s so convenient for people to shop from virtually anywhere so long as they have an Internet connection.  It’s really in the best interests of retailers, shippers, and consumers that the problems that caused this shipping mishap to occur are correctly identified and addressed so that such a shipping scenario does not occur in 2014.

Otherwise, retailers may suffer the sting of not having as many orders coming through late in the season because, many people can’t do much late-season in-store shopping, and they won’t trust the online ordering process, which would result in fewer overall sales, and thus, a greater likelihood of retailers falling short of expected sales marks for the whole season.

What Retailers and Etailers Can Learn From The Christmas Delivery Mishap!

Hope you all had a Merry Christmas and are getting ready to say good-bye to 2013 and say hello to 2014!

Hopefully, you were not one of those who had a delivery not arrive by Christmas.  As you may have heard, there was an overload of deliveries on both UPS’ and FedEx’s systems, thus causing some packages that were ordered well in advance and even with priority shipping that were not delivered by Christmas.  You can read more about that here.  Talk about a “bah humbug!”

UPS and FedEx are blaming it on not anticipating as many orders due to projections that were off-target.  They also blamed it on poor weather.  As the article referenced above shows, there were people in at least 11 states (including my home state of Ohio) that did not receive presents in time for Christmas.

There was an interesting dichotomy in how these two main shippers approached this.  UPS had considered calling in drivers and having them ship to customers on Christmas Day, but decided against it.  It’s understandable in the sense that they did not want to call in workers who were expecting to get a scheduled day off, and likely a rare day off at that.  UPS did call in workers to their Louisville, Kentucky hub to sort packages for Thursday and Friday delivery.

FedEx didn’t call in drivers either, but some customers were able to pick up their packages on Christmas Day at their local FedEx Express centers, so FedEx was able to come through to some extent for some customers, whereas UPS (to my knowledge) did not.

In addition to the overloaded systems and poor weather, some analysts placed some blame on consumers who waited until the last minute to order gifts, though as mentioned above, most who had their packages delayed ordered in plenty of time under normal circumstances, so most customers were not very forgiving and understanding about not having their packages delivered by Christmas, especially those who paid for upgraded shipping.

Thus, what can we learn from this mishap, and what can retailers and online retailers learn?

We can learn that waiting until the latter stages of the shopping season may not always be the best choice if we’re shopping online, even though many of us like to do it either because we’re too busy and/or we feel we can get better bargains later in the season.  With that said, hopefully retailers and online retailers (along with their shipping partners) have learned to have enough capacity and capability to handle large-volume orders late in the season.  They will need to prepare quickly, as the 2014 Christmas shopping season is only 1 day longer, as Thanksgiving 2014 is on November 27 (versus 2013’s being November 28).

Some analysts think that this mishap could help offline retailers make more sales late in the season because more people could be willing to enter stores and malls later in the season to avoid this type of potential mishap from happening again.  Conversely, however, online sales could be higher earlier in the season (including during the Gray Thursday-Black Friday weekend) to ensure that such packages from online retailers and retailers’ websites are delivered in plenty of time for Christmas, so I think both retailers ane etailers could benefit long-term over this mishap, especially if they make the necessary adjustments to avoid this situation next year.  It’s certainly vital that they do so, as the Christmas shopping season will be relatively short in 2014 as well.

It is a little surprising to me that retailers and shippers were not better-prepared in terms of their ordering and delivery systems; after all, online shopping and delivery continue to rise with each passing season, and this trend will continue into the foreseeable future.  People’s lives are busier than ever, and with “all-time commerce” becoming a more prominent capability in people’s everyday lives, it’s become even easier for people to do their holiday shopping from virtually anywhere, whether that’s waiting for a business call or eating in the cafeteria at work to watching the children or even while watching a movie on the sofa at home.

Certainly, the weather didn’t help, and that’s something that can’t be predicted, but this mishap really has to be a wake-up call for retailers and etailers (along with their delivery partners) to be better-prepared for late-season online orders, as this trend will only continue, and the 2014 shopping season will not be much longer than this season.  We can only hope that there are no lumps of coal and “bah humbugs” for people on Christmas Day 2014.

Why Retailers’ Thanksgiving Day Plan Should Be Digital, NOT Physical

Editor’s Note: I thought I had published this before Thanksgiving, but something went awry (whether it was human error, technological error, or a combination of both, I can’t say for certain – my apologies for its tardiness.  I hope this article still proves useful and insightful to all who read it, despite its later than intended date – thanks for your understanding).

There has been much debate over whether retailers should open on Thanksgiving Day.  Employees, at first, didn’t want to work on this day, which started to cause a backlash amongst the population.  This resulted in retailers providing extra pay (from overtime to time-and-a-half to even more), a free traditional holiday meal, and even discounts off of purchases in an attempt to smooth things over so that people would not boycott their stores.  Retailers’ main reason for opening on Thanksgiving is because they want to get customers into their stores right away and get them to spend their limited discretionary income in a cautious economic environment with them.

The thing is, in this day and age, retailers don’t have to incur the costs of paying their employees extra, providing holiday meals, and offering discounts, not to mention incurring utility costs for opening the stores.  Retailers should be focusing on their websites and mobile apps to help drive sales on Thanksgiving.

According to a USA Today article, a recent email survey by RetailMeNot.com reported that 64% of people plan on shopping from home on Thanksgiving, while 37% of people will use mobile apps to scan or purchase items on Thanksgiving.  Let’s assume that half of the mobile apps group, about 18.5%, will be those who use mobile apps to purchase items and not to scan items in-store.

Retailers don’t have to force employees to come to work, causing them to lose time with their loved ones and paying them greater amounts for missing that precious time.  They don’t have to incur additional costs of full electricity or heating.  Yet, they can still gain the sales and brand loyalty that they want from customers by utilizing technology and digital marketing tactics.

The future will only get more digital over time. In fact, I could see the following scenario being a more likely event on Thanksgiving than people heading out after Thanksgiving dinner.

While the guys are in one room watching the end of the second football game (on CBS or Fox) and the beginning of the third one (on NFL Network), the women are in another room, sitting on the sofa and in chairs around a coffee table. They put down their drinks and begin talking. One of them mentions about shopping for her husband and pulls out her tablet from her purse, describing what she found online as she heads to the website on her tablet. The other ladies immediately start pulling out their tablets, following suit to see what their family member or friend had found out about a particular sale that was occurring right then and there. Then, another of the ladies mentions another sale, and the ladies begin checking out that site and the deals it’s offering on Thanksgiving.

I see this type of scenario being much more likely of occurring on Thanksgiving than people rushing out to stores to pick up deals for the following reasons:

1. Most people get tired from eating turkey due to the tryptophan; as a result, they won’t be as eager to go out.

2. Many families will enjoy alcohol on Thanksgiving. Most will not want to risk going out on the road after having one or more drinks.

3. Especially in northern cities or where there is bad weather, people will be much more likely to stay in and shop via mobile sites and apps than racing to get “DoorBusters” (that they’ll have to wait in line for, hoping they can get them). How ironic that a major snowstorm is expected to hit parts of the Northeast (including my area in Cleveland), while New York City, Boston, and the East Coast could get around 3 inches of rain, certainly enough to cause flooding issues and travel delays.

4. I see the above scenario being similar to Tupperware parties from earlier decades. Women, especially, will be eager to talk with each other and determine what they are going to purchase for their loved ones. A recent eMarketer article reported that an Adroit Digital poll said that 7/10 moms are responsible for 75+% of the gift purchasing. Talking with each other will help them learn more about the sales on various websites, with the ability to even purchase right then and there.

5. People are busier than ever in our increasing technologically advanced age. People are working more hours, have less down time, and have less time to spend with their families. This is all the more reason why retailers would be wise to start focusing more on a digital marketing plan utilizing their mobile sites and apps for future Thanksgivings than focusing on opening stores for a relatively small portion of the U.S. population and being lucky to break even or gain a tiny profit. They also risk alienating some people from shopping at their stores for the entire season because they disapprove of retailers that open on Thanksgiving.

The world will only become more digital over time, with more advanced mobile sites and apps that will save more time and make purchasing even easier from the comforts of our homes. Retailers can accomplish the goals and profits they want to achieve and be likelier to do so by employing more of a digital plan than a physical plan on Thanksgiving.