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Breaking News: Multi-channel consumers are good in the music industry, too

January 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Sorry for the ironic title.

Music Ally published an interesting piece Sony Entertainment Network talks Music Unlimited at Midem where  Sony Music’s brand new President of Global Digital Business and Sales, Dennis Kooker, had some interesting comments regarding Streaming services and so called Cannibalization.

If you’re new to the concept – it means that sales in one channel is hurting another channels sale, having a total negative impact. Not sure why that would be called cannibalization, I never heard of cannibals eating themselves, but then again I am not an expert on cannibals.

Some key quotes from Dennis Kooker:

“We are constantly watching our business very closely and looking at how different channels are affecting and impacting each other,” he said.

At this point we don’t see any evidence that any one area is significantly cannibalistic to any other. Is there substitution? There is always going to be some as people move around and have choice. At this point there is no evidence that any one model is seriously danaging any other model.”

Ultimately, what we see is that our business is growing in the areas where subscription services are the predominant player in the market, and as a result we’re very convinced that consumers ultimately want to experience music in different ways. Sometimes they want to own, other times they want to experience and listen. As a result of that consumer behavior, we are looking at growing the business overall.”

Happy to see a guy talking about consumer needs first. The thing with these quotes are that they completely mirror the discussions I’ve had a number of times on multichannel consumers for other industries. Retail consumers that are multi-channel are simply worth more than the traditional offline-only consumers. There are tons of research available on this, e.g.1 minute googling gave this here. Depending on industry, the consumer value differs, but typical numbers I’ve seen range from 30% to 100% higher spend by consumers. This is one of the foundations behind a business case for investing in good content online. Customer Lifetime Value is another (details of course depending on industry)
The question is why multi-channel consumers spend more? I don’t think there is a simple one-size-fits-all truth. There are probably many contributing factors, e.g. increased engagement & trust in a brand and many things that sums up to that the consumer feels well informed before making a purchase. (Knowing options, well met rational needs, etc etc)
Now, why would this differ in the music industry? It seems to be a reasonable hypothesis to start with, that consumers that get access to streaming services, builds playlists etc will have a higher propensity to go to a concert, buy a physical copy, buy a digital copy and synch to her iPod etc. The same digital consumer that spends 2x as much in a retail store, would all of a sudden show a completely different behavior when purchasing entertainment? I find that hard to believe without being presented with hard data. It seems by Kooker’s argument that the hard data is supporting the hypothesis.
Any argument against? Hmm. I’d expect some short to medium-term channel shift transients, but the long term trend should be total growth. And the artists / brands grabbing the opportunity now will come out better in the end.
Even if it was just a channel shift scenario, improving access to the content is a good thing. And for a product with a fixed one-time production cost and continuous eternal incremental revenue, revoking access to the product does not make sense to me.

Connecting Store pick-up with Web sales

April 14, 2011 1 comment

Wanted to write down a great multi-channel customer journey I had the other day, and elaborate a bit on the brick-and-mortar companies challenges with online pure play competition. I’ve previously written a bit on channel strengths focusing on call centre vs web, but not much about the brick-and mortar stores. One key strength is the delivery without the middleman, the freedom for the customer with an urgent need to pick up the goods (caveat for opening hours & location of course). Another is the superior ability for skilled salespeople to up- & cross-sell compared to the web.

Snail Mail

Picture of a middle man working hard to deliver the goods bought online quickly and efficiently to the waiting customer

So our vacuum cleaner broke down after 13 years of good service (thank you Electrolux). Panic! This is Saturday afternoon, having guests on Sunday and in a desperate need to clean. Given that regular mail is not delivered on Sundays in this country, I realized I had to visit a store.  I was unhappy with that.

My customer journey: Like most people nowadays I started doing online research to understand the options and what it would cost me. I used sites such as Prisjakt to compare options. I found a best-in-test site and decided to go for the test winner.

I eventually ended up at Elgigantens product page for the vacuum cleaner, wanting to see if it was in stock and where I could go to buy it. Lucky me, just next to the Buy button I see two key things.

  1. It is in stock
  2. I can collect it in store. Within one hour! Great!
Screenshot from Elgigantens product page

Screenshot from Elgigantens product page

At this point, I am so focused on completing my task that I don’t even bother to check other stores. The convenience and certainty I feel that I will get a good product at a decent price, within my time constraint, is enough to convert me into a customer. An hour later I pick up my purchase, the salesperson upsells me on accessories (another 10% revenue probably at good margins), and I’m going home happy. And now the customer journey ends with a positive blogpost about the product & customer experience. Good work online Elgiganten!
Switching focus to the business side, there is some good reading on how Nordstrom is connecting stores inventory to online.
Inventory was a big issue, too. If Nordstrom.com did not have the item someone wanted, it was not as if the customer would wait for the company to restock it, Mr. Nordstrom said. “If we don’t have it, you’re going to go back to Google and say, ‘Who else has it?’ ” he said. “We have 115 full-line stores out there — chances are one of them has it.”
I am not sure if Elgiganten is doing that already.
More good information from the article – apparently an impact on Nordstrom’s call center load as well:
Nordstrom began overhauling its online approach two years ago, adding the option to shop and buy online and pick up the item in a store. “It was the first thing that we did, because the No. 1 call we got at our call center was, ‘Hey, I’m looking at this item online, can I look at it at my store?’ ” Mr. Nordstrom said.

In addition to the great customer experience this creates, note that the time constraint I was under ruled out the somewhat cheaper online pure players from the competition. Price was not my main driver, completing the task was.

To summarize the key things that created a great customer experience and persuaded me

  • Pick up within one hour, great benchmark for others going this route
  • Visible placement, next to the buy button before entering the checkout process
  • Clear information on the website about the feature
  • Inventory status visible – I knew it would be there
  • I could choose where to pick it up
Not bad.

What could Elgiganten have done better with this feature? I think they could improve three main things.

  • The in-store experience. It was unclear to me where to pick up my goods in the store, I felt confused and stood in the wrong line waiting for 10 minutes. The information on the web & in the order email was clear, but when arriving at the store I could not recall the details. I had just noted down the order number on my iPhone.
  • Post-purchase communication. I should have received an email thanking me for using the website and directing me to their online customer service for the product I bought, FAQs for the product or similar. Check out this example (in Swedish)
  • Advertising the feature of Collect@Store in the store was lacking. Visible in-store advertising would also raise awareness for their offline customers on what the website can offer.
As discussed above, it is also probably possible to try out for example tactical campaigns around weekends to compete with online stores for customers in a hurry.

Guest post over at Wolber.se

February 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Picture of me looking for guest blogging opportunities

Today I am writing a guest post about how companies can increase sales and improve customer service by connecting phone and web. It’s in Swedish over at Wolber.se … Will translate and publish in English here later, if you cant wait then Google Translate is your friend.

Oh, and let me know what you think!

Future sales tactics for e-commerce

January 18, 2011 4 comments

In a previous post I described the brief but vivid history of eCommerce. What will the future look like? Something that  I find interesting to watch is the increasing professionalism in the industry and how it manifests itself in new great features, site structures and designs. There are tons of landing page optimization experts, great designers and information architects out there that make our online experiences better and better and helps channel shift to the web. However, most of the work is made based on the current concepts and not really addressing the weaknesses of the web channel compared to e.g. in-store experiences or call centers.

Example of converging shopping experiences

Picture of me building a converged multi-channel shopping experience

If we think about the differences and strengths and weaknesses between typical channels, traditional web, (mobile – although some don’t treat that as a specific channel), call center and in-store, a few major things comes to mind.

A few key weaknesses I see in a traditional web channel:

  • Lack of personalization, ability to consult and understand true needs and motives compared to a face to face or over phone situation. Algorithms rarely beat a “what’s most important to you?” or similar question a salesperson in a store would ask to present just the right product for you
  • Unable to answer “long-tail questions”, those millions of minor objections and uncertainties that can block a sale. There just isn’t room to display or a business case to create all that content that a savvy call center agent could answer within seconds
  • Hard to meet other emotional needs, such as lack of trust for online financial transactions in certain demographics, ability to touch and feel before purchase or just the plain old need to get your choice confirmed as a good choice by another human
  • Lacking ability, processes and budgets to try out what works from a store managers perspective. Sure A/B testing is great, everyone talks about that they should, but many don’t do it (yet)
  • etc etc

A few key strengths:

  • Overview, overview, overview. Try to get an overview of hotels locations and rates for any brand in London over the phone, and then compare to getting that displayed as a map. It’s like the difference between the weather forecast on the radio and on TV.

    Example of overview of hotels in London

    Example of overview of hotels in London from octopustravel.co.uk, try explaining that over phone

  • Ability to quantitatively and continuously measure the objective “in-store experience”, time spent, exits, click maps, browsing patterns etc etc. Quite hard to do in-store. Call centers sometimes have ok logging but not near the granularity you can get on the web
  • Meeting rational needs, every detail of every product or process can be shown. Real people rarely know if that wardrobe is 236 or 237 cm (but they can help you measure)
  • Always there for the user, no opening hours
  • Perceived price (belief in good deals online)
  • etc

So what can we make of this? I think the future tactics will be based on addressing the weaknesses and leveraging from strengths by three main means.

First the increased professionalism of online sales will put requirements on platforms from an internal perspective. The product or sales managers will be forced to work more actively and learn from their retail counterparts on experimenting with layouts – main difference being that online is much better equipped to monitor and adapt in real time. So in short much more flexible systems, with more or less built in A/B testing capabilities and bigger organizational investments in working actively with the content, offers, pricing and site structures.

Second I believe that the web will facilitate the interactions with humans, cross channel initiatives will be key to take the experience to the next level. Good examples of that are click to chat and click to call with immediate responses (no lame “we’ll call you back within 48h”, it should take seconds to respond). This is not unusual although not yet common practice. There are a bunch of products out there offering call and chat, check out e.g. ATGs Live Help, Talisma, eGain.

However the next step within live help might be to give the online sales staff ability to approach online visitors proactively, the same way a salesman in store can approach you to ask if you need help. If so you can initiate co-browsing and get more consultative service and personalized selling. There are some cool new products out there that look promising e.g. check out Vergic. (Swedish press release with a pilot client here) Will be interesting to see what will happen, and how fast it will happen.

Third i believe that the social features is key to give that human touch. Companies such as bazaarvoice can show stunning numbers on how much those reviews and ratings actually helps persuade.

What did I miss? Mobile?

Fun: Shopping carts and conversion killers

January 11, 2011 Leave a comment

There are some good examples and some bad examples out there.

If you haven’t seen this hilarious post by The Oatmeal listing many common mistakes, then check it out.

I’ll do a more qualitative analysis in a bit…

Categories: Conversion, Online Sales Tags:

A Customer Experience Model and On-site Searching

January 11, 2011 2 comments

In this post I’ll try to introduce a few of the tools I use when thinking about customers behavior and needs and how they apply to onsite searching (note I’m not discussing e.g google searches).

The importance of search as a complement to navigation are thoroughly researched, since early days of the internet (see e.g.  http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20010513.html from 2001) I personally think the search function on a website is particularly interesting as customers intent are shown, and poor search can really frustrate users. A significant amount of websites have poor search, and few have great search. Given the importance I hope that will change.

One of the things at the center of my thinking when looking at websites or cross-channel sales processes is how well the online experience caters for the different modes or mindsets a customer/user can be in. Since I’ll come back to it more in later (intended) posts about channel strategies & tactics, I’ll quickly introduce a Customer Experience Model. If you think about the process of purchasing a product or a service, a number of natural steps occur. In a simple generic case it could look something like this:

  • Pre-discovery
  • Discovery
  • Planning
  • Order placement (*)
  • Waiting for the product
  • Getting the product
  • Using the product
  • Telling the world about the experience

Especially in the last few years, the final step has significantly influenced the top 3 through social media. Also in reality the process is not linear, and it often goes across channels with e.g. research online and purchase in store. The key message is that it can be used as a mental tool to think about users intent and therefore help to create a good experience that matches that intent. The key with search is that it shows that the customer has an intent – so what is that and how can we best meet it?

This is my position: you shouldn’t primarily have search to surface your cool content, deflect calls, or to cross- or upsell. You should have search to meet the users needs and intent and thereby creating a great customer experience. Let’s keep the thinking from the outside and in. The rest will follow if you design for the users.

So after this somewhat theoretical start lets check out a few examples of searches today. I picked the telco sector and decided to check out the big 4 in the Swedish market: Telia, Tre, Tele2 and Telenor, and then compare with Sprint which I think is doing a great job from a customer experience perspective.

I’m thinking that I am a user in the planning phase, I am fairly decided on a smartphone and interested in a Blackberry or iPhone and researching online. I intend to use it both for business and privately. Let’s explore how these different sites helps me progress the customer experience if I end up using their search.

Tre.se

Searching for Blackberry on Tre.se

Search on tre.se for Blackberry

Click on the link for larger image. URL to try yourself is http://tre.se/Privat/Sok/?q=blackberry&qform=global

What I like about this is that it categorizes the results for me, with Products, post-paid offers & services and other pages. What I think is missing is information about prices, calls to action (why not a “buy” or “help me choose” in case of many products). For me as a potential customer this should be treated as the start of a sales funnel. Some room for improvement here I think.

Tele2.se

Tele 2 search

Search on tele2.se for blackberry

Click on the link for larger image, URL to try for yourself is http://www.tele2.se/sokresultat.html?page=&query=F%C3%B6retag+-+Blackberry&search=privat&doctype=0#

So the main problem I have here is that there is actually a nice drop down as I start to type blackberry that says that Företag – Blackberry is a valid search term. But I get zero results. If I choose Företag (company) I’ll get 1 result. But why (thinking as a user) do I have to choose that? I am sure there are tons of technical reasons with different content repositories, different organisations internally etc, but as a user I dont appreciate this approach as it a) doesnt support my intent to learn more so I can make a decision and b) it hands over internal issues on me as a user.

If you try the tele2 search for iPhone instead http://www.tele2.se/sokresultat.html?page=&query=iphone&search=privat&doctype=0#, you’ll get better results and you can use the categories to make sense of it. As a user I’m not overly impressed with this display and the experience, no images or overview. It is not helping me progress, I feel frustrated.

Telenor.se

Search on telenor.se for blackberry

Search on telenor.se for blackberry

Click on the image for larger size, to try it yourself the URL is http://www.telenor.se/privat/sok.html?q=blackberry

There are several things here, the list is only results from their newsroom, comes in an irrelevant order and cant be filtered or sorted. It doesn’t recognize the string “blackberry” as a product. Why? Because apparently blackberry’s are only sold for corporate customers. In this case, Tele2s solution that makes me aware that there are differences between searching as a consumer or as a corporate customer is more clarifying. I got to this page from the main search box on the homepage – I have not indicated that I am a B2C customer, it is assumed by the system. The same search as a corporate customer is available here http://www.telenor.se/foretag/sok.html?x=0&y=0&q=blackberry and is better, although the listing is not managed.

On the other hand, if you look at the http://www.telenor.se/privat/sok.html?q=iPhone the search recognizes the string as a product and presents a listing including price indications and product images. Much better! I am now being taken through the start of a sales process.

Telia.se

Search on telia.se for iPhone

Search on telia.se for iPhone

Telia doesnt seem to sell blackberries so the search is for iPhone. Click for larger image, to try yourself the url is http://www.telia.se/privat/sok/sok.page?q=iphone

What I like here is that they have incorporated results from forum posts to the right that immediately drew my attention, great even though I’m in purchase mode I know I can go here for help later! What I don’t like is that the relevance of the list is not great, the top hit is linking to a headset. Why is that? An actual phone ends up on place 5. Again not an optimal customer experience for someone set out to buy a smartphone. So I tried to be even clearer, and asked the system “How much is an iPhone with a post-paid agreement”? (*evil grin*) URL: http://www.telia.se/privat/sok/sok.page?q=vad+kostar+en+iphone+med+abbonnemang%3F

Note that I intentionally misspelled abbonnemang. What happens is that HTC desire comes up, nothing about iPhones… Looking back at the Nielsen article referenced on top, these kind of misspellings needs to be handled better.

So lets check out what I believe is a really good example.

Sprint.com

 

Search on sprint.com for Blackberry Curve

Search on sprint.com for Blackberry Curve

Click the image for larger size, or the URL to try yourself is http://search.sprint.com/inquiraapp/ui.jsp?question_box=blackberry+curve&ui_mode=question

As you can see from the URL they are using a product called InQuira. Quite impressive.

A number of things to note. I started with just writing “blackberry” – the system gave me a similar view but clearly helped me to qualify my search so I added Blackberry Curve. That made me feel good. There are several interesting features here.

  • A promoted area up top – what is coming up
  • Clear support links depending on model
  • Very clear and ordered list of products, including prices with clear calls to actions (including a see more option to not clutter the experience and drown me in information)
  • Below the fold are a good and clean answer section with videos

In short a mix of service and sales messages without overloading me. I can easily scan and find what is suitable to me. To the right are two key cross-channel functions.

  • Click to chat & email support  that connects me with customer service
  • Find a store – so I can figure out where I can go and touch and feel the product

The importance of these two functions should not be underestimated especially for complex purchases where many customers want to have human interaction. Making it easy for users to connect the online experience with the retail and call center will keep the prospect from wandering in to the competitions stores on the lunch break to make the purchase, after researching the product on your site. 😉

Summary

As I’ve tried to show in this quite lengthy post, it is quite common that the search experience is not what it should be and definitely not what it could be. Getting it right is hard and there are many challenges, but there is also good examples to be inspired from out there. Most sites will rely on their navigation and users ending up in the search area are not likely to have a great customer experience. I’d say The telco industry is not special in this regard, try searching for e.g. bolån (home loans) on any of the major Swedish bank sites.

Comments? Thoughts? Let me know what you think about the importance of onsite search for a good customer experience, is it worth the hassle or is a great navigation enough…?

(*) Traditionally most websites emerging from the “low cost of acquisition channel” thinking are focusing on the planning and order placement steps too much which I’ll probably get back to in future posts