Friday, 25 September 2015

A Nation of Shopkeepers? A Guide to International and Cross-Border e-Commerce

On Thursday last week, I presented at IMRG's excellent cross-border ecommerce event.

IMRG, sponsored by Borderfree, commissioned me to write a detailed "how to do it" guide to trading internationally via ecommerce especially for the event (and made a lovely job of the graphic design too!):

The output is this 48-page in-depth guide to using e-commerce to sell your products to international customers. It's available to download by clicking on the picture.

The emphasis of the paper is on being a detailed, practical, "how to do it" guide. As well as being packed with facts and data, it also includes a dozen detailed checklists for developing a project plan, as well as many essential frameworks to help decide how, when, where, and of course whether international e-commerce could be a successful route-to-market for your brand.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Brands Abused on Retailers’ Websites

"I am afraid, Watson, that I shall have to go," said Holmes, as we sat down together to our breakfast one morning.

“Go! Where to?”

 “To Dartmoor; to King's Pyland.”

“Then you will certainly need a new suitcase,” I replied.

“By Jove, Watson, you’re right. Here, take my tablet and search online for one. I have some small tasks I need to do in town before we depart for Dartmoor”.

And so I began my research. It soon seemed to me, however, that this was no easy matter. It was straightforward enough to locate the suitcase category on some retailers’ websites. But beyond there, the suitcases started to spin in front of me. No sooner had I focussed on one, than another, often apparently unrelated to the first, was suggested to me. In short, I was little further forward when Holmes burst back in through the door.

“I have solved the suitcase, Watson!” he cried. “Samsonite, red, 55cm, 4 wheels. The problem was a simple one.”

I was forced to confess that my surfing had not been so fruitful. As I stated to Holmes, I began my browsing on the John Lewis site.

“But the brand you chose yourself was not even proposed to me on this website,” I asserted firmly.

“Ah, Watson,” chuckled Holmes indulgently. “You see, but you do not observe! Surely it must have been obvious to you that you should have used this very small scroll bar lurking in the brand filter, scrolled down to those brands hidden beneath the filter mini-fold, and then, deducing that those small numbers in brackets represented the size of the range and remembering all the similar bracketed numbers higher up the list but now invisible after you scrolled down, observed that Samsonite, although ranked only as the 13th brand on the overall list due to alphabetic ordering, had the largest number of products on offer?”

I admitted that it had not, and that finding the brand-selection on this site somewhat dispiriting, I had instead proceeded to House of Fraser. There, however, I encountered a quite different problem.

“No sooner had I focussed on one brand,” I complained, “then the website tried to steer me to another.”

The smile faded from Holmes’ face. He took back the tablet, and tapped the screen repeatedly. His countenance took on a grim aspect.

“Here, Watson”, he said, showing me some photographs he had taken earlier, “is how the brands are displayed in the House of Fraser store.”

“Observe how every brand has its own display area in the store, with the product attractively merchandised to attract potential shoppers.”

 “See here, for example, how even a quite minor brand can win a place in the sun by being well-presented in the store.”

“And yet on these websites, any customer who pauses to look at one of their products is immediately steered towards a competitor.”

I felt a thrill of horror pass through me. “What is it, Holmes? What terrible monster is merchandising so beautifully in store, and yet abusing these respected brands online in this fashion?” I whispered.

“Indeed, in the age of the ROPO customer, it is doubly dreadful!” he responded.


“Research Online Purchase Offline. Some estimates put the percentage of in-store customers who behave this way as high as 87%,” he replied.

“There is one final test to perform,” he resumed. “Let us undertake this merchandising benchmarking scorecard.”

We entered our details into it, answered some few dozen multiple-choice questions, and studied the results together. My eye was immediately drawn to the headline percentage score, which did not seem so bad to me, but Holmes’ quicker intelligence was already scrutinising the detailed results further down the page.

“It’s as I thought,” he cried. “This benchmark is the final proof I was seeking.”

“What then is it, Holmes? What is the monster?”

“It is a feral recommendation-engine,” he replied sombrely. “When trained and regularly monitored, they help retailers to drive sales. But if allowed to run wild and unchecked, they become abusive and dangerous, obsessed with cross-selling brands over to their competitors.”

I must have look confused, for he continued, “the brand on retailer merchandising benchmark enumerates 16 different ways in which merchandising on retailers’ websites can be harmful to brands. Wild recommendation-engines are merely one such, albeit one of the most dangerous. Others include weak search-indexing, low category ranking, unmoderated reviews, inaccurate product descriptions, lousy photography…”

“What, then, would you advise brands to do?” I interrupted, as an understanding of the problem began to dawn on me.

“Elementary, my dear Watson! Just take as much interest in the merchandising of their products on retailers’ websites as they do of the merchandising in brick-and-mortar stores. The benchmark is merely a starting point of course, but it can help direct their initial review into the right areas. It’s part of understanding that Digital Transformation for brands needs to go far beyond just online marketing and social networking activities.”

So ended one of the darkest cases of Sherlock Holmes’ illustrious career. And yet, as he said, it proved to be only a beginning, and a long digital transformation struggle lies ahead for many brands to optimise their online partnership with their retailers as well as they have previously done so in-store so many years before. Fortunately, help is at hand.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Visualising how fast is online retail in China *really* growing?

I've been doing some onsite engagements with a client in China in the last few months. Last time I visited, I managed to forget the power cable for my laptop. So my client very kindly ordered me a replacement online from, which arrived within 3 hours of the order being placed... OK Shanghai probably isn't representative of China as a whole (although JD says this service is available in 30 cities, total population > 300 million people!), but the impression you get of ecommerce while you're out there is fairly staggering. Certainly I've never seen so many people browsing their mobiles in one place as on the Shanghai metro, and every other advertising hoarding seemed to be for a retail website of some kind.

I've seen lots of graphs showing ecommerce growth in China, and separate graphs showing ecommerce growth in western countries, but I haven't really seen anything that puts the two in some sort of context. As I'm doing some research for the next edition of The Multichannel Retail Handbook at the moment, I happen to have been able to take the opportunity to set UK and Chinese official statistics side by side.

And here's the picture:

Roughly summarised:

1. Chinese retail as a whole is growing roughly as quickly as online retail in the UK. (CAGR of ~15%)

2. Chinese online retail is growing 4x faster than UK online retail (CAGR of ~60%)

Impressive stuff, a nice to see the on-the-ground impression confirmed in a side-by-side comparison. You can draw your own conclusions about whether China, despite its apparent recent economic wobble, is an interesting place to target online for retailers.

Data sources: UK Office of National Statistics, National Bureau of Statistics of China

Incidentally since the graph is inevitably a bit squeezed out for the slower growing lines, here's the same data with a logarithmic scale:

Back on stream

This blog has been neglected for a while, for the basic reason that I seem to have picked up more than my fair share of assignments that have required the creation of lengthy documents of various kinds. I've discovered that I appear to have a maximum quota for the quantity of reasonably intelligent words I can write in given period.

Oh yes, plus I've been moving house: you've probably done it, and you probably know that even a straightforward house-move (which ours certainly was not!) is impossibly energy draining.

Anyway, hopefully I'm back on stream with something at least moderately interesting to say. In the meantime, my post about UK click-and-collect penetration seems to have got picked up by several sites and I've even had a request to include the graph in a textbook. That particular post accounts for well over half the visitors to this blog, so I must have found something interesting to say at least once before...