Monthly Archives: June 2014

Spring 2014 Final – Part 2

As I mentioned in a previous post, there are several big trends in E-commerce to keep an eye on in 2014 (and the coming years). Three of the biggest, and in my opinion, most important ones, are Mobile Optimization, Personalization, and Same Day Delivery. These trends all go hand-in-hand due to the fact that E-commerce is evolving to better serve consumers across the world. With this evolution comes many improvements to the current system, and these changes are all connected to one another. Let’s take a look at these three trends, and see how they interact!

Mobile Optimization is perhaps one of the more noticeable trends you’ll see this coming year. In the past, businesses spent a lot of time and money on their websites, figuring that consumers were going to make the majority of their purchases using their computers. Nowadays, the average person owns a smartphone or a tablet, and is able to make those same purchases on the go. It is vital for businesses to have their websites be mobile friendly, and for them to streamline their original sites to make a more cohesive virtual storefront for shoppers. You’ll begin to see more mobile sites that are very user-friendly, instead of the slow to load, full of extra content, and badly sized mobile sites of the past. Additionally, these new mobile sites will be the first priority for businesses. Instead of getting their main website up first, companies will be focusing first on launching a fully-loaded app or site, optimized for mobile devices. This takes us straight to the next trend.

Personalization means several things in the E-commerce world. It means that consumers will more frequently have the ability to customize their merchandise before purchasing it. For instance, Coca-Cola now gives you the ability to order Coke cans with your name on them. You can pick the exact color of your new bicycle, change the handlebars to fit your hand size, and buy tire caps in the exact color of your choice, all at Heritage General Store, based in Chicago.

Personalization also means that the world of E-commerce is beginning to recognize the consumer base as individuals, not just one mass of buyers who all want the same thing. This is very important, because it ties in with marketing trends that are also changing. Based on customer’s purchasing history, businesses can now use data they’ve collected to more effectively target people with specific ads. The more efficient these advertising methods become, the higher the percentage of return shoppers. Personalization is key to the success of E-commerce businesses.

Finally, Same Day Delivery  (or next day)is going to become standard in the next couple  of years. With it becoming increasingly important for businesses to have an E-commerce presence, everyone is suddenly online trying to sell their products. This mass influx of business is creating stiff competition for retailers, and they are now looking for ways to one-up their competitors. Along with offering improved mobile sites and personalized products, they have realized the importance of prompt delivery services as well. In light of Amazon’s recent declaration to begin Drone Deliveries (after the FAA changes some airspace regulations), IBM has been looking for a way to compete with this new standard. They announced on June 11, 2014 that they will now be offering same-day delivery services through a partnership with a start-up called Deliv.  I predict we’ll be seeing a lot more similar announcements in the coming months.

In conclusion, the world we are familiar with is rapidly changing to incorporate new technologies (3D Printers!) and social trends. We are in for one heck of a ride in the next couple of decades! It is very exciting to see so much focus on individual consumers finally, and these trends I’ve mentioned are just the beginning of what I believe is going to be a future brimming with endless possibilities. E-commerce will be around until the end of civilization, so we can expect to continue to see a lot more customization, excellent service, and user-friendly formats.

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Spring 2014 Final – Part 1

Defining Social Networks and Online Communities:

1. General Communities

This refers to websites that encourage users to share interesting content, make plans, create events, and just socialize.  A good example is Bolt.com, one of the first social networking sites to pop up in the late 90s. In the case of Bolt.com, the site used corporate sponsorship to generate revenue. They featured ads from Verizon, Sony, and Gilette, to name a few.

2. Practice Networks

These sites are similar to general communities, in the sense that many of them offer the same features. However, they are specifically tailored for certain professional interests, such as art, music, or career networking. Deviantart is a fabulous example of a practice network. Here, a collection of professional and amateur artists gather to share their artwork, give feedback to one another, and even shop for prints of your favorite work. This is how the site produces revenue, by C2C transactions which they then receive a percentage of.

3. Interest Based Communities

An Interest Based Community differs only slightly from a Practice Network. While a practice network is for professionals, an Interest based community is for anyone with a specific interest in a certain subject. It could be about DIY crafts, home-brewed beer, or cooking (can you tell I’m hungry?). The site 4chan is a decent example. It was created initially for users to share images of their favorite anime and manga (Japanese cartoons), and to comment on each other’s posts. According to the founder of the 4chan, it is an income generating site but he was very vague on the specifics.

4. Affinity Communities

Affinity Communities are based on demographic information. There are communities for men, women, immigrants, people of very specific ethnic heritages, the list goes on. If you belong to a particular group, say you’re Jewish – there’s an affinity community site out there for your social networking needs. For example, Schtik is a site just for Jews who want to meet other Jews from around the world. You can share videos and pictures, create a blog, and chat with your fellow Jews. It’s kind of awesome. As for generating income, the site has a few banner ads from Adidas, so my guess is they make a little money off sponsorship ads from several companies.

5. Sponsored Communities

Sponsored Communities are sites created by businesses, political organizations, and sometimes even for not-for profit entities, for multiple purposes. Usually, the goal seems to be to keep consumers feeling involved in the brand, talking to each other about the product, and generating more interest in the company. In the case of a non-profit organization creating a sponsored community, the site is likely built to keep interested parties in the loop with events, and to give them a forum to discuss issues related to the cause. An example of a sponsored community is Coca Cola. They are a giant company, and I’m sure they generate a lot of revenue from their website. You can order their products directly from the website.

Defining Portals:

6. Enterprise Portals

The best way to explain an Enterprise portal is to think of it like this: A private corporation or organization’s general purpose portal. You come to work, log in, and go to your company’s enterprise portal. This site will help you access HR, maybe view your previous paychecks, see what’s new with the company, and provide some of the same features as a general purpose portal (see below). The site is tailored for the specific organization and the people affiliated with it. For instance, when I worked for Grange Insurance, we had an enterprise portal for employees. It was pretty helpful and had all sorts of cool features to make work interesting, educational, and fun. They had a few apps and games, which I’m sure they made some profit from, as well as subscription services if you wanted to upgrade the content of the site.

7. General Purpose Portals

These portals are designed to take care of your every need. They don’t want you to navigate away from the site, so they give you every possibly feature available: email, blogging, chatting, social networking, news, videos, music, stock market ticker, you name it. Google is working on becoming one of these General Purpose portals. They offer all sorts of options to customize your homepage to include your Gmail inbox, keep track of your interests (or your friend’s comings and goings) and yada yada. A general purpose portal can make money several different ways. They can offer free services, but have you pay subscription fees to use others. They also feature advertisements both on the main site and within apps and games featured on the site.

8. Vertical Market Portals

This type of portal is much more focused than general content portals. Lately, vertical market portals have been adding some of the same typical features of general content portals, such as weather and news, in an attempt to retain a larger audience. However, these portals are created for specific interests. They usually fall into one of two categories: Affinity groups or Focused content groups.  For example, WebMD is a great place to self-diagnose your health problems, learn about new medical breakthroughs, and read up on all things health-related. They feature some banner ads here and there, and offer services that you can only access after signing up.

9. Affinity Groups

Affinity groups refer to portal sites that cater to communities of people who all have certain demographic/interest based similarities (see Affinity Communities above for clarification). An example would be JBC.org (The Journal of Biological Chemistry) which is a site that caters to the scientific community. You can access all sorts of interesting information in this website. They generate revenue using banner ads.

10. Focused Content Groups

A focused content group is a portal for much more specific interest groups. For example, the World Cup is going on this month and milllions of people are checking Fifa.com daily to see updated scores and watch replays. You can access ticket information, purchase fan memorabilia, and play games. All of these features are part of how the site earns money from visitors.

 

3 Trends in E-Commerce to Keep An Eye On in 2014

This is an exciting time for E-Commerce. Each year, online sales are increasing by leaps and bounds. In the first business Quarter of 2014, E-Commerce made up 6.2% of retail sales in the U.S. (roughly $67 Million), compared to 5.5% in the first Quarter of 2013. Globally, online sales are projected to pass the $1.5 Trillion mark this year. Like I said, exciting times!

Because of the earning potential in this market, retailers worldwide are keeping a close eye on several up-and-coming trends in E-Commerce. They are:

1. Using Mobile as a primary touch point, rather than a second option, as they have in the past. This change of focus reflects the fact that more and more consumers have access to mobile devices, such as smart phones and tablets, and purchasing trends are changing swiftly. “[In] 2013 during Black Friday, it has been reported that 40% of all the online shopping were done through smartphones and tablets. In 2012, that number was much lower with mobile sales on ecommerce websites coming in at 6%. If there was a 36% increase in just one year, you can expect that number to be even higher when Black Friday comes around again this 2014 holiday season.” (http://merchantbusinessacademy.com/ecommerce-2/3-ecommerce-trends-for-2014-that-you-need-to-know). Once retailers get with the program, we’ll be seeing more purchasing options via mobile, rather than being redirected to a website for the final sale transaction.

2. Personalization and Targeting will improve greatly. Businesses are figuring out that using every little bit of data they can get from consumers is incredibly helpful with targeted marketing approaches. As the consumer base becomes more and more focused on a personalized shopping experience where they get to specify their preferences and have a hand in designing custom-made items, it is imperative that businesses use a more personalized marketing approach as well. With analytic programs improving every quarter, companies can now take all the small data they collect (or buy from other companies) and use this to narrow down which customer is interested in what product, at what time, in what location, and which advertising method works best with each individual. It’s rather incredible really. As this trend continues to grow, so too shall the analytic software and other advertising tools improve rapidly.

3. Same Day Delivery.
Now that Amazon has thrown down the gauntlet and promised to begin using drones (when the FAA adjusts certain regulations) to deliver certain eligible products within 30 minutes of purchase, the race has begun to increase delivery speeds. Consumers have begun to expect immediate fulfillment of goods and services, and we can now look forward to a time when ordering shoes online means seeing them appear at our doorstep an hour later. These growing expectations mean that other retailers will have to keep up or be left behind in the Amazonian dust. Why would anyone bother with a site that sells fabulous products for cheap, but takes 3-5 business days to ship (with additional charges), when Amazon has all but eradicated that old fashioned “the longer they make me wait, the more excited I’ll be for my new product” mentality?

Welcome to the future of E-Commerce.

3 Reasons We Shouldn’t Tax E-Commerce

Reason Number One: According to a recent survey, 61% of participants disagreed with the proposed Marketplace Fairness Act. That’s over half of our country’s population. If the bill goes through, 44% of voters say they will buy less online. Imagine the potential consequences! If people start refusing to buy online because they’ll have to pay sales tax, we’ll start seeing a serious decline in our recovering economy. Sure, they can spend that same money in a brick-and-mortar store, but they can also choose to go make their purchases in a state with no sales tax! It’s kind of a no-brainer for me, at least. Why pay sales tax if you can avoid it altogether? Nobody likes taxes, especially in our current economic situation.

Reason Number Two: Giant retailers such as Ebay and Etsy, with private seller communities, fear the MFA will hurt these smaller entities. The MFA requires online companies with annual sales over $1 million to collect state and sales tax on all purchases. Some of these sellers have net profits well below that $1 million mark (or no profit at all), yet on paper have surpassed it with their gross sales and they will still be required to collect those taxes (http://marketingland.com/online-sales-tax-whyecommerce-companies-are-on-both-sides-of-the-debate-43395). Ultimately, this could have a very negative impact on their financial well-being. Regardless of the MFA’s good intentions, it will still be hurting the little people.

Reason Number Three: One argument for the MFA is that it will level the economic playing field, giving smaller brick-and-mortar businesses a better chance at competing with the online companies which haven’t been charging sales tax. However, technically the playing field is already level. Brick-and-mortar businesses and E-commerce businesses each pay state and sales tax (as long as they have a Nexus), according to state and federal tax laws. The MFA will just impose more regulations and further complicate already complicated tax procedures and requirements. Additionally, The MFA requires all online retailers use specific software to assist with the new tax collecting requirements, which means hiring more specially trained employees – yet another drain on finances and human resources.