Two's a Queue

Retail, eCommerce, usability, customer experience, service, technology...

Monday, 23 May 2011

A Delicate Balance

Did anyone make it to Internet World at Earls Court a couple of weeks ago? I went along with colleague D hoping for some interesting keynotes, chats with useful suppliers and a barrage of free tat. Unfortunately I was disappointed on all three counts, however what I did get was an interesting anecdote which illustrates an issue I’ve been wanting to talk about for a while.

Picture the scene-its 10:30 am on day 1 of Internet World, you're searching fruitlessly for the coffee bar, walking the gauntlet of cheesy sales people in cheap suits (and in some cases tutus and cocktails dresses – what was that about? Anyone think it was 1987 and it’s OK to have promo girls?? No me either). Oops your badge showing the name of your company has given you away, a recent VC investment (plus let’s be honest probably because you’re a girl) has made you easy prey...he approaches, he pounces, he goes for the opener 'hi there, do you work in marketing?’ so far so classic sales.

The poor man almost had a heart attack when he realised that the potential prey in front of him-shock!horror! works in tech (well project management but same difference). His little face fell, he asked again 'you don’t work in marketing?', second time round it still wasn’t happening for him. Newsflash Mr-Cheap-Suit -neither me nor D work in marketing. He couldn’t have looked more like a dog whose favourite chew toy has been taken away. Luckily his confusion ensured a quick getaway. (though the coffee was not worth it – instant coffee for £1.90 - it really was 1987 inside Earls Court)

So why is it so surprising that someone at an internet conference who works for a transactional website - isn’t in marketing? In my view-it shouldn't be, though I’ve seen this kind of thinking time and time again in my consultancy days.

Traditionally retailers started their forays into online from one of two places. Their marketing team or their trading team. For a marketing team this was another way to advertise product. A giant billboard to the world. Plus they had the budgets. For trading departments the website was yet another store- this time a direct way to sell product skipping the operational hassles of the store estate. In lots of cases ecommerce departments haven’t shaken off these humble beginnings and you’ll find many an ecommerce team which started in marketing is still in marketing, led by someone with a marketing background and reporting to the CMO.

Last Thursday I attended an event organised by eCommerce UK (the LinkedIn group) - The Great Social Media Debate at County Hall. The format of the event focused on a debate about whether customers were aware of social media. It was a great all round evening but one of the key things I took away was the fantastic arguments offered by David Walmsley – director of ecommerce at Dixons. Apologies for the no doubt misquote but he said something along the lines of ‘I’m not a commie, I want to sell stuff’. Ah a man after my own heart, D and I had a little retail-chuckle to ourselves. It’s a rare thing these days that you get someone admitting that ecommerce is about making money and selling more stuff. (Though funnily enough Internet Retailing this month has an article on Debenhams which says very much the same thing).

So does that leave you with two sides? (or three if you count the techies). The stereotypes speak for themselves – the creative, airy fairy marketers with their long wine soaked lunches, old school retailers (usually northern on everyone’s minds) who graft their way up from the shopfloor and could sell ice to Eskimos? Techies who don’t see daylight and exist only as an avatar in some role playing online game? How can these disparate personality types join together in the perfect org chart to produce a profitable, innovative and popular online retail experience? Who is right? The marketing based business? The trade based business? The digital based business?

None of them is.

Modern ecommerce is about leaving behind the roles of the past and forming new roles, new departments, and new standpoints. These groups can meet and they meet in one place – the customer. Marketers know the customer – they look at data, demographics, personas and brand values, they rely on data to back up their arguments and ROI to prove marketing spend. Traders know the customer because they know what they buy, they know when they buy it, how they buy it and what with. They look at a product and know when their customer would buy it and how much of it, they know what price it should be and when to mark it down to maximise throughput of lines. Your tech team built what your customer needs to make their purchase; they work to make things simple and clean and about all - fast. The customer is the point of common ground here and we should build on it. Doubtless - everyone is a product of their experiences – (I will always be tempted to look at problems from a store perspective – while colleagues will go for a press/PR or acquisition angle) and that’s not something we should move away from. What we should move towards is this idea of the customer centric business – and everyone having a role in it.

Successful businesses will surely be those who can blend the ‘e’ with the ‘commerce’.

The first step? Stop asking me if I’m in marketing.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Excellent Errors #1

I love error messages. I do. I think it stems from the endless testing, copywriting and full stop checking I've done in the past, or maybe I just find them to be a notoriously unloved part of most websites and I feel sorry for them. Either way I just love them. Here's my current favourite from twitter:

Thursday, 19 May 2011

The Dark Side - 10 crimes against online

Thus far on this blog I have attempted to be balanced in content - and tried not to be too negative and critical (haha-yes this is me being positive!), but meh - sometimes you just have to indulge your dark's been a tough week....

A list of my top 10 online crimes

Everyone is guilty, multichannel retailers, pureplays, content sites...we all fall into the dark side every now and again. Here's how:

This doesn't really deserve to be at number one because it's hardly original but it's SO annoying- auto-play music - yes yes I know  - not exactly a novel choice but just because it's a cliche doesn't mean it ain't true. Twice in the last day this has happened to me. It's 2011 people.....

Slideshows which refresh the entire page when you click the next image. I'm looking at you.

Homepages with too much going on - described by @lostferret as being like 'an explosion in a catalogue factory' the uniqlo homepage is a prime example of this. It is exactly like that and it hurts my eyes. Office make this same mistake. It's like trying to fit an entire store onto one page. Eek.


Homepages with nothing going on. You can almost see the execs sitting round discussing how they should be more minimal, 'more like ASOS' and 'more like John Lewis'...yawn. So bored of the white - it works for ASOS, it works for JL - everyone else please find another style.

Newsletter sign ups with more than one question. I actually had a nightmare about this last night. All you need to know is my email address so please just ask for my email address.

'How did you hear about us?' dropdowns Do I care enough to select the real option or will I select the top one because I'd just like to checkout? Hmmm now let me think.....

Not telling me how much delivery will be until I sign in at checkout - It's so old school but people still manage to get away with this

Blatant copying-  This comes back to the whole 'let's make it WHITE' thing, but as a consultant I sat in so many meetings where senior management would not even consider their customer or their brand, they'd shoot straight to the 'let's do what Amazon/Tesco/ASOS do'. I've nothing against conforming to best practice and getting ideas from sites you admire but many of these sites are popular because they know their customer, if you don't know yours and you try to copy their approach. Well that's just not going to work is it?

Overindulging your creative department - sliding, whizzy, multiple bevelled edges, drop shadow on everything. Looks pretty but can I find anything? Who cares I'm distracted by the flashy video on the Homepage, have I bought anything? Nope.

Not being able to find the contact number - this is a whole other post. And econsultancy have a great one today on poor customer service practices which just about sums up what I was going to say here. Hunting fruitlessly through your footer pages just looking for someone to complain to basically means I'm even more annoyed when I finally do get hold of you., oh yes this is so you. Massively frustrating.

That's it then. The sad fact is that so many of us know all of these things and we still persist on keeping them/introducing them on our sites. It's like they're the 3am burger of the online world - you know it's dirty, you know it's wrong..but sometimes in the circumstances you just can't help yourself. Be strong onliners, it's time to bring ourselves and our sites, back from the dark side.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Don't you just love a well targeted email...

Thanks uniqlo for sending me an email with a discount I can't use. If you looked at your database you'd realise I have an account and I have ordered before which renders your use of my email address in this campaign totally pointless. *sigh*

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

e-Books and My Guilty Kindle Secret

Internet Retailing ( reported today on the rise of the e-book (sales reached 16m in 2010). According to the article despite this impressive growth recent research suggests "49% of consumers would rather read a real book".

Funny that - because a 'real' book and an e-book are exactly the same  - reading it - as in the words, and the enjoyment of those words - should be no different whatever the medium. I'd suggest what consumers are actually talking about is a couple of other things:

1. The concept of purchasing/wanting/needing an e-Reader - "odd to read!", "can you take it in the bath?", "Does it run out of battery?", "Carrying around £200 of e-Reader in my bag is much more risky than a paperback" (Sorry I can't help with this I'm already a total convert to the Kindle)

And more interestingly to me....

2. The concept of the buying of an e-book - I have to wonder if the Mintel research had been done only on consumers who owned e-Readers already they would get a percentage of users who would say they would rather 'buy a real book'.

The reason this rings tiny little bells in the geeky part of my brain is because this is something which is different when you own an e-Reader. I'm a Kindle owner/user/convert and it's time to admit, to come clean, to share my guilty secret  - I sometimes buy 'real' books!

The major reason for this is perversely also my favourite thing about the Kindle - it's the Kindle Store - or rather my inability to deal with (therefore the poor usability of) the Kindle Store when browsing from the Kindle itself. I can hear you take a sharp intake of breath - don't think I can't. I mean really? This is Amazon - are you mad woman? Well er yes I think I might be; few points.....

The colour thing really is a barrier - I'm not sure how far away coloured e-ink is for the Kindle (The Nook has colour therefore not long I'm guessing) but it so needs it. Sure a book is happy being read in black and white and shades of grey but I can't buy a book (or rather enjoy the experience of buying) if I can't see the cover properly. Colour says a lot about a book, garish fluorescents=chick lit, black background, chunky text=thriller. There is a reason these trends have developed and I think it's because people have come to recognise a book's genre by it's cover - and it's colours. Without it I find it the purchase decision just isn't

The other thing that really bothers me is the whole 'Top 100' thing. Admittedly this is getting more useful as people are reading and reviewing the free books more and more so you can find some real gems which have gained a kind of Kindle cult status. However - the fact that 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo' is at number 5 (not necessarily 5 - could be 3, I haven't checked but I bet it's in there) in the paid list STILL really doesn't make me want to buy - I'm a keano reader and I read it when it only came in paper form. MOVE ON!

So (Mr Cornish) solutions:

Amazon is the undisputed king of ecommerce recommendations  - targeted recommendations for Kindle purchases would be well received. The reason the Kindle store is so hard to buy from can be it's sheer size and the volume on offer. An email to my Kindle which recommended some Kindle books based on what I've read before would make sense and probably make for lots of direct conversions. I get emails from Amazon showing me what I've clicked on before but no targeted marketing at my Kindle. And I feel it's lacking.

The colour thing is a technical challenge but the thrill of spotting your favourite author's new book because you recognise the style, the typeface, the cover style..and also finding new authors because they kight mimic this style.....this needs to be replicated in the Kindle Store somehow. Yes the reviews by other users are great but reading is incredibly personal and I also know which writers I already like, I just can't find their stuff because I can't see it.

Bring me the new. Hardbacks? Possibly worth spending 15 quid on because you get - you know -  a hard cover and stuff. 15 quid for a newly released e-book? Not the same. I want to know what new books are out all the time (I'm a fast reader) so show me -and don't make me pay a premium for the privelege. I'd probably buy a hell of a lot more.

Stop telling me what everyone else is doing. Bestsellers is a concept as old as time in the book world but these days the turnover of new titles is so much higher. So is the amount of people who have still not read the flamin' 'Girl With The Dragon Tattoo'. I'd hazard a guess that the early e-book adopters are big travellers, big readers and well big readers. Targeting navigation at what your users want can't be a bad thing.

That's it for now. Though I'm sure next time I'm book shopping I'll think of some more - and if you're reading this Mr Amazon - waterproofing for reading in the bath? Thanks.