Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Consumer trends for 2012

Every year, Trendwatching.com releases its list of 12 crucial consumer trends for the forthcoming year. These are creative and innovative ideas for brands to market and engage with its consumers.

The top 12 for 2012 are:

1. Red carpet
2. DIY health
3. Dealer-chic
4. Eco-cycology
5. Cash-less
6. Bottom of the urban pyramid
7. Idle sourcing
8. Flawsome
9. Screen culture
10. Recommerce
11. Emerging maturialism
12. Point & know

Clearly you'll have to read the article to understand what they all mean in more detail and they won't all be relevant to online marketers. However they can be adapted or used as a basis for some innovative campaigns.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Ebuyer.com's Cyber Monday turns to into a Black Monday

Today is known as Cyber Monday, the first Monday after Thanksgiving, and a day in which e-tailors offer discounts and promotions to persuade people to shop online. Ebuyer.com had lined up a day of £1 deals, which included laptops, however with the site going down for several hours, their day didn't turn out quite as they had hoped.

The Register sums up their lack of planning, with a failure to manage their load in advance of the promotion:

Ebuyer failed to shore up its web systems ahead of the customer rush and the site was offline for several hours even before the offers officially opened at 11am today.

One mistake many marketing teams make is not to inform developers, or the web team about forthcoming campaigns that may (they hope) increase traffic to the site in peaks over a short period of time. I know because I've been there myself.

It's difficult to believe that a site as large and experienced as ebuyer would have these problems. However a quick look around the (now online) site suggests that load management isn't the only schoolboy error with their site.

I took a look at their Christmas promotions page, which details the campaign as follows:

The out-of-date copy suggests lack of attention to detail, but this isn't my primary bugbear. The following is a screenshot from the home page of this promotion. 

I was interested in what the Most Wanted section of the site included, so I clicked it and got to this page:

It's exactly the same. I thought I was waiting for the page to load, given their earlier problems, but no, it was the same page but the content that had changed was below the fold. A few scrolls down the page and I get to the Most Wanted content. It's just a really poorly thought through design. 

One might say that today became something of a Black Monday for ebuyer... 

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Google's half-hearted attempt at selling eBooks

After much fanfare and many delays, Google finally opened its eBookstore in the UK earlier this month. When it was announced way back in 2009 that Google Editions was to be launched, many were expecting an Amazon killer; however in that time the Kindle has come and conquered and even the iBookstore has opened. So now that its been renamed and launched, what exactly does the eBookstore offer?

Well, nothing out of the ordinary really. It comes across as almost being half-hearted; something that's very difficult to level at Google normally.

The site itself is a very Google looking, clean and simple ecommerce store. There are some nice features, but nothing that would justify such a delay. This may suggest that it wasn't the store that held Google back but negotiations with publishers.

Let's take a closer look at how Google has gone about the business of selling eBooks.

The homepage is unmistakably Google. It carries the company's clean, unfussy and accessible approach to the web and this theme continues throughout the site. Above the fold is dominated by a central banner that advertises featured eBooks as well as the different ways that you can consume Google's eBooks.

The site is split into two main columns, the largest of which advertises new and notable eBooks in JavaScript carousels. The left hand column is the primary navigation with your personalised account block, a list of top-selling titles and then the primary list of eBook categories.

It's all pretty unremarkable really.

Google practically owns the web and so launching any new product, app or site will be a relatively painless affair for them. However Google Wave and Buzz are fresh enough in the memory to prove that this isn't enough to guarantee success. With Amazon dominating the eBook market I had expected Google's approach to its eBookstore be more, well, considered.

With many of Amazon's Kindle editions being cheaper, why should you buy from the eBookstore? There is no value proposition on the homepage or product pages and ultimately nothing to entice me away from Amazon. Compare this to Kobo, which is taking a more aggressive approach to its positioning. On its homepage you're greeted with:

Over 1 million FREE eBooks available. Search for your FREE read today!

Immediately there is at least one reason to choose Kobo over Google or Amazon.

This almost hubristic approach from Google is one reason why Wave and Buzz failed to take off. The only remarkable thing about these initiatives was just how unremarkable they were.

When Google+ launched, it was faced with staring down the behemoth that is Facebook and the company's approach changed accordingly. Circles and Hangouts were truly innovative and before Facebook retaliated, it gave users a genuine reason to sign up. It's a shame this attitude wasn't extended to its eBookstore.

The eBook pages continue this underwhelming theme, although there are some nice features. The layout is similar to Amazon's but includes much more information above the fold.

At Packt, we continually survey customers and website visitors to understand what it is they want from our product pages and what it is that convinces them to buy from us. The number one feature that users want is actually quite simple and obvious: a detailed product description. Google is obviously asking the same questions as this description sits right at the top of the page:

Compare this to Amazon's approach, which treats customers almost as if they've made the decision to purchase before reaching the product page:

The second most popular factor that our customers highlight as convincing them to buy is customer reviews and again, Google has made this a key feature of its page. These appear above the fold and are clearly an important factor in its conversion strategy. 

Interestingly, Google has positioned the +1 button underneath the star rating at the top of the page. This acts not only as Google's own rating system for users but perhaps reinforces its importance as a key element in search ranking. Note that there are no links or widgets for Twitter or Facebook anywhere on this page; how significant is that?

What I found frustrating about Google's product pages is the lack of navigation away from it. This tactic is often taken to focus conversion from that page, however I see this as a bit of an oversight. Amazon, and most ecommerce websites, enable users to view other categories from its product pages. Not Google though. While a related titles carousel enables users to view similar eBooks, the only links to a category are right at the bottom of the page; and that takes you to the categories the book is listed under, not a full listing. Google seems to have prioritised navigation among its other apps and websites over categories in its store. 

Let's take a look at some of the positives.

When users hover over an eBook in a carousel or category, a pop-up appears detailing all the important things customers look for when deciding whether or not to buy. Buy now buttons enable users to add to cart without visiting the product page.

One thing that Google could introduce to improve this, and their average order value, is to enable users to continue shopping in the store when the buy button has been clicked. Instead, the default behaviour is to take you straight to the cart. While this is standard on product pages, buying from a category page should give users an option. 

The absence of being able to buy from category pages or search results has long been one of my criticisms of Amazon's website, actually, perhaps my only criticism. I would expect to see this feature being added by Amazon before Christmas 2011 comes around. 

At the bottom of product pages is bibliographic information, which includes the aforementioned category links. To the right of this is a QR code and perhaps the first time I've seen this used on an ecommerce product page. I spent some time thinking through why Google would add this, especially when two thirds of consumers don't know what a QR code is

Scanning this takes you to exactly the same page and this actually makes some sense. Google is selling eBooks, which are primarily read on mobile devices. Providing users with the opportunity to scan from their PC or laptop onto their mobile device, enabling them to download direct, is well thought out. 

Despite these features, on this evidence, I'm not convinced that the eBookstore will compete with Amazon any time soon. There are simply not enough reasons for consumers to switch right now. 

With Amazon stocking more eBooks and having locked Kindle users into buying direct, I can't see Google competing. This is why I'm surprised that Google isn't pushing its eBookstore more to Android users. Here they have a captive and locked-in audience and the ability to establish a market share more quickly. Maybe this is part two of its strategy and if that's the case, it needs to be rolled out sooner rather than later. 

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Will Google block websites that host copyrighted material?

The FT is reporting that Google will being approached by the British Government and urged to block websites from its search results that host copyrighted material for free download.

The attention will focus on advertisers and credit card companies to take, what the Government call "reasonable steps" to make life more difficult for websites that flout copyright.

We intend to take measures to make it more and more difficult to access sites that deliberately facilitate infringement, misleading consumers and depriving creators of a fair reward for their creativity.

This is welcomed news for publishers, especially with the continued rise in eBook sales. But will it do any good?

For Packt, the majority, and if not all, of the websites that illegally host copies of our eBooks for free download, are based outside of the UK. So will the Government put pressure on Google to roll this out across all of its search engines and sites that profit from AdWords across all territories?

I hope that this announcement will act as the start of a movement towards an agreement with hosting companies and search engines that should apply to all domains, regardless of where they're hosted and what countries they serve.

Full article here.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Ikea announces the death of paper books

I'm really going all out on these sensationalist headlines lately. This is actually in response to a TechCrunch article, which suggests that Ikea's BILLY bookshelf is:

...becoming deeper and more of a curio cabinet. Why? Because Ikea is noticing that customers no longer buy them for books.

I think I've been out-sensationalised by TechCrunch with that suggestion, although to some extent they do have a point. The data suggests that Amazon is selling more eBooks than print and so Ikea is just rolling with the times. However what 'curio' items would people keep on these thin bookshelves instead? Not CDs, clearly...

So is this just an elaborate publicity stunt designed to generate mass protest among disgruntled shoppers who want their full-size, put-it-together-yourself bookshelves back? Will Ikea announce, to much fan-fare, that due to overwhelming feedback they are to reintroduce the original sized bookshelf because there are so many customers that require shelving for their ever-growing collections of books, and in fact this demonstrates that the print book isn't dying at all?

Probably not, but it's a nice thought.  

Economist article on the digital revolution in publishing

The Economist has published a short but balanced article on how digital editions are affecting the publishing industry. Whereas many thought pieces suggest that Amazon's grip on the eBook market presents authors with the opportunity to bypass publishers, The Economist identifies the role publishing companies play in bringing books to market.

Yet there are still two important jobs for publishers. They act as the venture capitalists of the words business, advancing money to authors of worthwhile books that might not be written otherwise. And they are editors, picking good books and improving them. So it would be good, not just for their shareholders but also for intellectual life, if they survived.

This backs up my thoughts on the modernisation of publishing, with the article going on to outline that, despite this, publishers need to modernise to stay relevant:

They also need to become more efficient. Digital books can be distributed globally, but publishers persist in dividing the world into territories with separate editorial staffs. In the digital age it is daft to take months or even years to get a book to market. And if they are to distinguish their wares from self-published dross, they must get better at choosing books, honing ideas and polishing copy. If publishers are to hold readers’ attention they must tell a better story—and edit out all the spelling mistakes as well.

I agree that agility in publishing is a problem and this is something that we have addressed at Packt. Our Read as we Write (RAW) program enables customers to buy a book up-front as it's being written. When the author finishes a chapter it gets added to the eBook and customers can download and read straight away. It's not fully edited or proofed but that's part of the appeal in many ways because these early adopted customers then contribute to the book's development with errata and suggestions. It's not quite community publishing, but it's close.

You can read the full article here: www.Economist.com/node/21528628. As a side note, I was surprised that The Economist hasn't used keyword rich URLs for its articles. Surely that's rule one in site design these days?

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Has Google search peaked?

The launch of Google+ has been reported as another attempt to grab a share of the social market and create another platform for its AdWords business. Whether or not it is successful is for another debate, I'm more interested in the reason for its launch.

With Facebook growing to 750m accounts and a newly announced partnership with Skype, any attempt to launch a competitor is a bold, bold move. I wonder whether it's because they don't see their long-term future in search?

Does Google see the web, and search with it, moving away from search engines? In fact, is it already moving this way? If they were standalone search engines, YouTube would be the second biggest in the world, with Facebook in third and also Amazon and eBay featuring in the top ten. Admittedly this highlights how Bing, Yahoo et al have failed to make a dent into Google’s dominance, however it also illustrates how people are visiting a circle of trusted sites and using them as their search engines.

So does this mean the web is getting smaller? We’re using YouTube to search for videos, Amazon for products and its Kindle for books, eBay for auctions, Facebook to search for people and even brands.  Has Google been marginalised as a website that provides answers to broad questions? And what does this mean for start up websites? How do they break into this group of trusted websites? Is niche, specific ecommerce or truly innovative unique websites the way forward?

Monday, 6 June 2011

McDonald's interactive billboard campaign

McDonald's isn't the first name on my lips when I think about innovative digital campaigns. However their creative ad agency DDB has come up trumps for them with an interactive billboard that enables passers by to play a game controlled by their smart phone and without downloading an app. Winners get a McDonald's voucher.

Full story and video on The Next Web.

It turns out that this isn't the first time McDonald's has gone creative with a traditional billboard, with this one launched in 2010:

Customer engagement, advertising and innovation all in one campaign - you have to take your hat off to them.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Treating customers like they're your girlfriend (or boyfriend)

Closing the stable door after the horse has bolted is not a phrase you want associated with your marketing strategy but it came to mind today after receiving an e-mail. I had allowed a subscription to an online content provider to end without renewing and although I had used the service, there were few reasons for me to renew immediately. It was then that the horse bolted.

In the week since my subscription ended, I received three e-mails reminding me about renewing and then a further three e-mails about the quality of content on the site and why I should come back. All very efficient except I hadn't received any such e-mails over the previous 12 months.

I was subscribed to the newsletter, so would have weekly updates, however I received nothing to remind me about why I was subscribed - nothing targeted and no reminders about why I'm paying money for their service.

I actually felt like my ex-girlfriend was reminding me about how great we were together. If only she had put the effort into the relationship, maybe we would never have split up.

In reality that's not a bad analogy because we are in a relationship with our customers, particularly for subscription and direct marketers. Ignore them and they'll leave, show them too much love and they'll feel smothered and leave. It's about finding a balance and reminding them why you're together and what you offer each other without forgetting your anniversary.

And needless to say that the old saying 'treat them mean, keep them keen, doesn't apply here. 

Sunday, 22 May 2011

5 reasons why Amazon's Kindle books outsell print by 2 to 1

Amazon released further stats this week to underline the success of its Kindle adoption with the headline news that its .co.uk site is outselling print copies by more than 2 to 1. The site now sells 242 Kindle books for every 100 print books sold.

According to Jeff Bezos, Amazon's CEO, they "never imagined it would happen this quickly." So what has led to this juggernaut of adoption? Here are five reasons to help explain how they did it.

1. The aggressive Christmas campaign

Launched in the UK in August 2010 to much fanfare, Amazon backed the Kindle aggressively. It reserved the prime advertising slot on the homepage to promote its availability and price, as it had done with previous success on its .com site. 

Direct emails promoted Kindle editions and their immediate availability against print, searches produced Kindle editions next to print - both in the drop-down search box and on the results page. Amazon was committed to making the Kindle its number one selling gadget and format and this top-down backing resulted in success from these integrated campaigns. 

Availability is also an important factor that encouraged Christmas sales. If the weather behaves itself, December is the traditional month for media stories about the shortage of that year's top-selling presents. The Nintendo Wii, Sony's PlayStation 3, Nintendo DS and others have all been blighted by speed of production and distribution issues. While the Kindle wasn't immune to this, it managed to handle the volume of sales in a more efficient manner.

2. Clever advertising

Amazon's UK launch was backed with the company's first television campaign. This featured a couple sitting on a beach, positioning the Kindle not only as your ideal travel companion but firmly against the iPad and other mobile devices. Its E Ink screen enables you to read in direct sunlight, something the iPad can't compete with. 

3. In-device purchasing

The Kindle's easy in-device purchasing with one-click checkout has pushed sales much in the same way that Apple grew its app sales. It's just as easy to buy your books through the Kindle as it is on Amazon's website - and importantly, personalistion and upselling make it just as tempting. 

4. The Kindle App

Even if you don't own a Kindle, you can buy Kindle editions from its app. Enabling and encouraging iPad as well as laptop, netbook and PC users to buy and read Kindle editions meant sales weren't restricted to Kindle reader owners.  

5. Cheap pricing of Kindle books

With Amazon pushing the Kindle as the number one selling present for Christmas 2010, many publishers took advantage by dropping prices. Amazon also took a loss on many titles by increasing the consumer discount, making many book purchases an easy decision. This stimulated sales and encouraged consumer migration from print. 

Despite many Kindle editions now being more expensive than the paperback version, the convenience of in-device purchasing, and its convenient masking of print price, means that many consumers have found it difficult to go back to print. This is Amazon's real achievement. 

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Competitions don't help sell your products

We often receive requests from websites for some of our books to give away to their visitors. If the target audience is right and the site big enough, we often agree - after all, they can be a good branding exercise and great publicity for the book. However we seldom hold competitions on PacktPub.com for our own books. Why? Because they stop people from buying.

I first came to this conclusion almost ten years ago as a naive young graduate fresh out of Uni. I was working for Wrox Press and had organised a competition on its website to give away a new book written by one of our more higher-profile authors. My goals were to lift visits into the site and sales of the book. I surpassed expectations with the first but failed miserably with the second. From memory, we sold one copy of that book during the course of the promotion.

The results were marked down as great publicity if anything else, but I couldn't stop thinking about why this didn't convert. After discussions with a colleague (thank you Linda Taylor!) we came to the conclusion that competitions stop people from buying.

If you think you're going to win something, why would you buy it?

Pretty simple really, but wouldn't the losers from the competition come back and buy the book once the results have been announced? Like a dog chasing its tail, I've run separate competitions over a number of years to continue testing this theory and on each occasion I got the same result. Sales go down and the when the competitions end, sales don't surge with losers buying a copy. We had lost that initial impulse to buy.

I even tested sending the losers a consolation email including discounts to go on and buy the book that they didn't win. This didn't turn around sales either. The consolation prize only exaggerated the disappointment of losing.

This is why, on Packt's website, we rarely give away our own books as prizes. We've given away Kindles, iPads, iPods, cameras and most commonly, discount codes, but we'll never go back to using our books.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Apple pips Google to world's most powerful brand... but where's Nokia?

Millward Brown has recently announced its annual list of the world's top 100 brands, with Apple pipping Google to the number one spot. However it's the continued fall down the list for Nokia that makes for more interesting reading.

This is the first time in four years that Google hasn't topped the rankings with Apple moving up to first from third. Seven of the eleven newcomers in the top 100 are from the BRIC countries (Brasil, Russia, India and China) and while these are all significant and important changes in the list, it's Nokia's fall from being one of the world's most powerful brands that represents the biggest talking point for me.

This is the sixth year that the list has been published and Nokia has featured in each one. At it's current rate of descent, it won't be for much longer. This highlights how steep the fall has been:

Nokia's results in the top 100 most powerful brand's list:

Year    Rank
2006    14
2007    12
2008    9
2009    13
2010    43
2011    81

Contrast these with Blackberry's results, one of it's close competitors, and the picture is looking less than rosy for Nokia:

Blackberry's results in the top 100 most powerful brand's list:

Year    Rank
2006    DNF
2007    DNF
2008    51
2009    16
2010    14
2011    25

So where has it all gone wrong for Nokia? What has driven this descent down the list? Let's take a look at the formula Millward Brown used to calculate it's top 100. This is how they describe the list:

"The BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands is the most comprehensive annual ranking of brand value. Developed by Millward Brown Optimor, the ranking analyzes the world’s leading brands and the economic and competitive dynamics that influence value fluctuations."

The methodology is neatly outlined in this simple formula:

Okay so it's not all that simple. Many of these factors are pretty difficult to determine and calculate. However it's relatively easy to pinpoint that Nokia's brand growth potential has weakened over the last two years.

Nokia actually remains the number one manufacturer of mobile phones with a global market share of 29%, although this is down over 5% on 2010. New entrants have made the market more competitive and that has squeezed Nokia's share somewhat. Added to that Apple's ubiquity and the emergence of the Android Operating System (OS) and you can begin to understand why this potential for growth has diminished.

Consumers had always been loyal towards handsets, however as phones got smarter so loyalty shifted towards the Operating System. Apple understood this and locked consumers into both. The open source release of the Android OS in 2008 gave manufacturers the opportunity to exploit this change in behaviour, making for a much more competitive marketplace.

Nokia had a similar plan in mind for its Symbian Operating System, releasing its codebase on an Open Source license in early 2010. Two years after Android did the same thing. It soon emerged that some of its important components had been licensed from third parties, which prevented the source code to be released fully. These delays and limitations prevented mass adoption, which is where Android stole its march.

This isn't the only time that delays blighted the adoption of a Nokia product. The launch of its Booklet 3G in August 2009, six months before Apple launched its iPad, only highlighted its lack of forward thinking. Nokia was reinventing the wheel while Apple was shaping the future.

In fact it's this lack of true innovation that has eroded much of Nokia's brand value. The mobile phone market has always been fast and constantly changing, from smaller and even smaller handsets to smarter and powerful portable computers. Nokia were always at the forefront of these changes, however not any more.

In fact Nokia's 'connecting people' slogan is further evidence of a lack of forward thinking. Mobile phones are not simply about connecting people anymore, they have become personal computers with communication between people being only one feature.

While the iPhone introduced a touch screen and apps, Nokia focused on improving existing features. Its phones introduced high spec cameras and a handset that 'comes with music', which didn't prove to be the features that encouraged the anticipated migration.

So it would appear that Nokia has been left behind and is playing catch up. So where does this leave them and how do they stop their falling market share and subsequent descent down the list of powerful brands?

In September last year, Nokia appointed Stephen Elop, the then Head of Business at Microsoft, as its new Chairman. Less than six months later, the company announced a new alliance with Microsoft to replace its Symbian OS with Microsoft Windows 7. This is an interesting partnership and will position the OS as the closest competitor to Android and iOS. Despite this, Nokia's share price dropped 14% on the announcement. Too little too late?

With Android and iOS taking up so much of the smart phone market, and the attention of developers to work with them, it will take a hugely innovative handset from Nokia or a OS from Microsoft to make any significant dent. However I believe the biggest opportunity actually lies in the one thing that neither Android nor Apple will be able to compete with and that's Office.

Through this link up Nokia could be the first to offer the Office suite on their handsets, immediately encouraging business user migration from Blackberry. If I was Microsoft, I would be inclined to go against the established model and make it a free feature on the mobile OS for an introductory offer. This would do more to encourage its adoption than anything else, giving Microsoft the opportunity to reach mobile users and Nokia an opportunity to grow again.

Whatever is decided, it's clear that this alliance with Microsoft and their next release together is crucial for Nokia. With 4,000 redundancies announced at the company recently, it feels like they're hitting last chance saloon time.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Google's Panda update reduces traffic but raises its quality?

I've noticed this week that our daily visits to PacktPub.com have dropped by around 12%, which reverses the longer-term trend of growth. I've looked through Google Analytics to see why this could be and the only referrer of traffic that has had much change is search and in particular, Google.

It would appear that we've been affected by Google's roll out of its Panda Update in the UK this week, which has hit many content based websites and in particular, those that publish articles and information on technology related subjects. This update comes not long after it was revealed how Google's results were easily being spammed by sites such as JCPenney, with the perception that this was lowering its overall quality and variety. Google says that the update was designed to hit content farms the most, however it is also affecting legitimate websites. You can see the impact of this update quite vividly in this article.

Looking closer at the stats is interesting, however. The screenshot below is from Google Analytics and compares Sunday to Thursday this week with the same period last week. Note that Google's update was rolled out on April 11, which is when the gap starts to appear.

This suggests that visits from search are down by almost 21% on the previous week; quite a drop. However it also looks as though the traffic that is being directed from search has improved in quality. The number of pages viewed per visit has increased by 5% and the visitors referred by search are on the site for 12 seconds longer. Tellingly, the bounce rate, which measures the number of people who leave the site after viewing only one page is down.

So how is this affecting revenue from search? If we look at the ecommerce value of these search referrals, we've generated more revenue from fewer referrals. Revenue is up 22%, conversion up 25% and the value per visit from search is up over 50%.

Therefore it would appear that despite taking a hit from Google's update, it seems to have achieved what it intended: to help people find better search results. Our traffic, despite being lower, is bringing in more quality visits who are more likely to buy. It's still early days since Panda was launched and only time will tell if this trend will continue.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

H&M launches new website

H&M, one of Europe's leading high street fashion brands, launched an update to its website today, a little over six months after going live with its first ecommerce site. Today's launch is hardly a surprise. Their opening attempt at entering the world of online retailing was largely a disappointment with the site unintuitive and difficult to navigate, with a poor checkout system and featuring only a small number of products. So what's changed?

Gone is a homepage that made you click to enter the ecommerce store and in its place is extensive product navigation and quick links to view various items and collections. They have packed in three levels of navigation at the top of the page, which, despite looking a bit cluttered, gives quick access and a route to more frequently asked questions.

Category pages, linked from the main navigation, aren't much different to the homepage, only showing products specific to that category. The huge image that takes up the whole of the screen is advertising one of H&M's collections, however it's missing an opportunity to offer variety and showcase all of their products above the fold.

Product categories are a major improvement. There are more products to select from than were available on the first version of the site, which is an important step forward. Products are clearly displayed and organised with secondary image on mouse-over, pricing and colour options for each product. These lead through to specific product pages, instead of in a pop-up window, which the old site inexplicably featured. Having said that, the pop-up is still available through a quick shop link on products. 

Images, sizing, detail, pricing etc. is nicely laid out, all above the fold, and the add to cart button, despite being light grey with dark grey text (that turns black when you have selected a size), is well placed, though I would definitely A/B test its design. The absence of delivery information and shipping prices remains a disappointment. 

What I like most about the updated site is a new Dressing Room feature. This enables users to virtually try on combinations of clothes to see how they look together and then easily add the selected items to their cart. This is simple, effective and fun. I'm surprised they're not pushing this more on the site - the link to Try On is underneath the main image on the product page and on the top navigation - why not ditch that huge image on product pages (as above) and push the idea there instead?  

It may be my connection, however the site feels a little slow still. When you click add to cart, it takes a few seconds before your shopping bag is updated, keeping you on the same page rather than directing you to the cart. When you click to checkout, the process has been slimmed down and instead of having poorly chosen related products, I'm offered more looks that show me various other items that go with the trousers that are in my cart. This is a major improvement.

The size of the text in the checkout is pretty small and there's no option to increase its size. Perhaps this is a nod to the age of the average H&M customer... Despite my eyesight, I managed to change the colour, size and quantity of the product all from the cart, rather than having to go back to the product page, which is a neat feature, just wish they'd make it a bit bigger, my mouse pointer almost covers the drop-down box!

Checking out is quicker and now you're not presented with silly cart upsells, which was a poor feature of the original site. Entering credit card details is now on a separate page and doesn't offer users with opportunities to navigate away. Weirdly, the 'Valid To' date is called 'Valid Through' on this page, which confused me a bit and possibly a translation error that wasn't picked up in testing.

H&M's first ecommerce website was something of a car crash and it would be difficult to make things worse. Fortunately for them, this is a much improved offering and the speed with which they launched version two is impressive. As well as fixing some of the poor navigation, product listings and checkout, some of the added features are a real step forward and represents the brand online as it is perceived offline - contemporary and up-to-date. 

Take a look for yourselves: www.hm.com

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Ecommerce in situ, the affiliate scheme for modern retailers

<Insert predictable ecommerce image here>
The affiliate scheme is a simple and massively successful marketing tactic that encourages third parties to, essentially, promote your products on their website and to only pay them when you make a sale. The affiliate scheme was popularised by Amazon.com but actually pre-dated the internet. It was brought online by PC Flowers and Gifts as far back as 1989.

Amazon's innovative and widespread approach put the choice of advertising into the hands of the third party and coupled with aggressive marketing, moved the affiliate scheme to the forefront of most organisation's ecommerce marketing strategies.

While affiliate schemes remain successful, I can't help but feel that it is a Web 1.0 tactic that needs updating. The affiliate scheme pushes visitors to your website for you to convert into customers, why can't we convert them on their website?

The relationship between the customer and the retailer would remain throughout with the transaction being fulfilled and customer details stored by the retailer. This would be achieved by ecommerce in situ - placing your own ecommerce and registration widget on third party sites.

As retailers, if we are careful and selective with these third parties, ensuring that they have committed communities and a reputation that doesn't detract from the brand, then this is a concept that should work. If visitors have a trusting relationship with the third party, who is open about the in situ relationship, then we're half way to a conversion. 

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Is moving away from product page standards a good tactic?

I have invested a huge amount of time and tests on our website's product pages in order to optimise it to maximise usability and conversion. However in reality, these pages look very similar to many other product pages. Product image with a buy button to the right, followed by product description, reviews etc. underneath. This is mainly because these are the online standards and crucially, what users expect. It's the same reason why car designers don't move the brake to the right hand side.

I was surprised then to see that Uniqlo.co.uk, the hugely successful fashion retailor, had moved its product pages away from this standard. This is an example of their product page:

The navigation from item price through colour and size selections is intuitive and nicely structured. The add to shopping bag area (it's not a button!) is greyed out, which turns black and becomes active when colour, size and quantity has been selected. 

This is a nice idea; does it work though? The progression down through the options to the add to bag button is natural but being placed far down the screen, and not even looking like a button, is a move quite far away from the web standard. 

I'm very much in favour of innovation and not following norms for norms sake, however websites have moved to standards for a reason - usability. When designing and optimising websites, the questions we have to answer are: what do users know and expect and and what do they need to know? It would be interesting to run behavioural tests on this product page to see how users navigate and find the add to bag button. 

One of the most influential tests that has informed website design revealed the f-shaped pattern for reading web content. Through eye tracking software, this research found that users read web pages in the shape of the letter F. Two horizontal stripes, followed by a vertical stripe:

The middle image above is a product page from an ecommerce website. The red box in the top right hand corner is the add to cart button. If you placed this F pattern over the Uniqlo product page, the chances are that users would miss the add to bag button.

To take the F-shape behaviour further, my own research suggests that users expect to scroll down through a product page in the F-shape and then back up before adding to cart. This is all part of the user's product research and decision making process. To then have to look for the add to cart button or scroll back down the page, like Uniqlo makes you do, isn't particularly usable. This is why add to cart buttons are almost always at the top of the product page.

When you do click add to cart, you stay on the page with a message at the top of the screen that it's in the bag. From here, there's no checkout button, just a link to your bag, which isn't highlighted. Again, there's optimisation work for Uniqlo here that could improve its conversion.

I don't know what Uniqlo's website conversion is like, so it's difficult to make judgements, however my recommendation would be to revisit its product pages and add to cart button, include a checkout button and revert back to standards - they're called standards for a reason.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Dynamic logo design

Following on from my post about why I like the London 2012 Olympics logo, I read this article about the new MIT Media Lab's brilliant new logo design. It outlines why the new design is so clever, and a large part of this is down to its dynamism.

The London Olympics logo has the same concept in mind and this is the reason why I like it so much. It can easily change and adapt while maintaining brand identity, with MIT having different variations of its logo in mind for different people in its lab. Check out the designs below and what FastCodeDesign.com says about dynamism:

“dynamism” is a embryonic concept in identity design nowadays, with a few brave souls like Comedy Central and the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art testing the waters. See it at the Media Lab, though, and you know it’s the future.

Monday, 14 March 2011

What can online learn from Hollister stores?

In a previous post, I wrote about three things high street stores could learn from ecommerce websites. What I didn't explain was that in the early days, online borrowed heavily from the stores and I think there are things that websites can still learn from them.

One store that sticks out in my mind above others is Hollister, the US fashion brand from the same people that brought us Abercrombie & Fitch.

I first came across Hollister when I saw a queue outside their shop in the Westfield Centre in Shepherds Bush, London. The only queues I had ever seen outside any shop were at the Next January sale, Waterstones on the night one of the new Harry Potter books was published and HMV when Ocean Colour Scene did an in-store signing. How I wish it was 1995 again. I couldn't believe people (young people) would queue up outside a store when there was no sale or special guests signing CDs.

I had the opportunity to visit a Hollister store recently, without queueing, so I went in to understand what the fuss was all about. I was immediately greeted by his 'n' her models, him wearing nothing but shorts and her wearing a bikini. Bearing in mind this was February in New York and -9 outside, you'll begin to appreciate what type of brand experience Hollister stores create. Not surprisingly, Hollister is aimed at teenagers as a laid-back Californian surf and beach lifestyle brand. Their stores are reminiscent of a surf shack and take on a casual and reasonably informal vibe.

Inside, the store was pretty dark and I became engulfed by a sweet smell, which was pumped throughout the two levels I visited. Everyone that worked in the store appeared to be the most attractive person in New York City. Behind my wife of course. And me. I walked past pretty girl after handsome guy and each one, clad in Hollister branded clothing, smiled and asked me how I was doing.

In the store are lounge chairs that don't match and large green plants that bring the outside in. The store itself felt quite cramped with low ceilings and not much space in the aisles. This meant that regardless of how many people were in there, it always looked busy. 

It's clear that the company has put a huge amount of thought into creating a unique experience for its customers. A visit to Hollister certainly is an experience and I can now appreciate why teenagers want to wear the brand and queue up outside its stores. So what can online learn from Hollister?

Hollister has created a level of exclusivity for the company. You're not just buying a t-shirt, you are buying into that exclusive club. Making customers queue up and operating a one-in-one-out policy furthers the exclusivity and interest and makes for a wonderful, free marketing tactic.

How many people walk past a queue without asking what the people are queuing for? I did when I first walked past the Hollister queue. Many shops use January sales queues as a PR opportunity, building it up as an event in itself. Next and Harrods do this every year. Hollister has taken this once-in-a-year opportunity and turned it into a once-every-Saturday event.

In many ways, some websites have used this concept and translated it for the web. Voyage Prive and Cocosa are examples of websites that only allow registered members to view their deals and offers, which are time limited. In truth, its quite easy to register on these sites for free, however not only does this give these new websites an instant opportunity to build a database of e-mail addresses, it generates this feeling of exclusivity.

Can other ecommerce stores translate this feeling of exclusivity elsewhere? Frequent flyer schemes have managed to do this by offering membership benefits that aren't afforded to people outside of the club. Membership sections and benefits for repeat customers can easily become a part of a website's strategy to begin creating this feeling of exclusivity.

The experience that Hollister creates in its stores is difficult to simulate online, however not impossible.

The online industry has invested a huge amount of resources researching how visitors interact with websites. This has made them easier to use and much more intuitive. This means we've got largely standardised ecommerce sites so that visitors know exactly what to do once they first arrive. Nothing is left to chance.

What this means is that little thought is given to creating something memorable and unique for the people who come to visit. Think about the last time you visited an ecommerce website and came away with these feelings? There is an opportunity to translate Hollister's in-store experience online and deliver something memorable for visitors and this has to be a challenge for brands. 

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Why I like the 2012 London Olympics logo

Among all the euphoria that flowed from winning the right and honour of hosting the 2012 Olympic Games, it was the one thing that brought the country crashing down to earth with a bump.

Launched in June 2007 and designed by Wolff Olins at a cost of £400,000, the logo was greeted with derision and embarrassment from press and public alike. The recent claims by the head of Iran's National Olympic Committee that the logo spells out the word 'Zion' and was therefore a subtle, pro-Israel emblem, has provided further criticism and pushed it firmly back into the spotlight.

After launch, the general consensus was that the logo was nothing more than art school standard, lacking any real imagination or flair. When put into context with previous Olympics logos, the design is very different and goes against the standard. Neon colours, white Olympic rings and no emblem to associate the games with the host country. It's no surprise then that the recently launched Rio 2016 logo is a return to form.

However amidst all the criticism, I am going to stand up for the logo. I like it.

I think it's a very clever design that has achieved its brief, which was to create a different and exciting logo that reaches out to young people, defines London as a city, Great Britain as a country and the Olympic Committee as an Organisation.

Perhaps this emphasis on youth was the instigator for the media backlash and in some ways is affirming the success of the design. However, successful branding should appeal to more than one demographic. Even more so for an Olympic Games that the British Public is ostensibly paying for.

One of the main reasons why I like it is its versatility. From a purely marketing point of view, it has enabled the Games' partners, like EDF Energy and Lloyds TSB, to use it with their own branding, while retaining its identity as the Olympic logo.

There aren't many brands that can achieve this and certainly the designs from Sydney, Athens, Beijing and Rio would find it difficult to incorporate sponsor's branding. I can almost sense the collective sighs at the thought of me backing multinationals highjacking an amateur sports event's logo to boost their profile. Is there nothing left that's sacred?

The reality is that sponsorship is a necessity for staging global events. The London 2012 Organising Committee will receive an estimated 40% of its operating budget from this sponsorship. This reduces the pressure on the Government's resources and provides opportunities for the Committee to claw back some of the costs of running the Games.

What's also important with the logo is that it has got people talking; a huge amount of column inches have been dedicated to it, providing it with the perfect launch. Everyone knows what it looks like and everyone has an opinion on it. And that's what's important.

It has instantly provided the London Olympics with a recognisable symbol and something to associate with the Games. If we're being honest, how many of us remembered any of the previous logos for the Olympic Games? I don't even remember the logo for South African Football World Cup and that was barely six months ago. I'll remember the 2012 Olympics logo for some time to come.

I actually think that if people are questioned about the logo again, almost four years after it was first revealed, most opinions will have softened. Time is a great healer. Coupled with this, the Iranian ire has enabled the British public to do what it does best; stand up for itself in the face of adversity. These comments have switched focus from attacking our own to supporting it and with the games a little over 500 days away, this will only amplify as excitement builds. 

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

3 things high street stores can learn from their online cousins

In a previous post, I wrote about how bookstores are closing down and that competition from online and supermarkets had squeezed the market. It's not just bookstores that are closing down either. Across Britain, town centre vacancy rates rose to 14.5% at the end of 2010, up almost 10% on 2008. There are myriad reasons for this, including businesses running on credit for too long and a store rental system that massively favours landlords; however one factor that has resulted in a permanent cultural shift, is the move to buying online.

Britain leads the way when it comes to ecommerce in Europe, with online representing 10% of UK total sales. So what can high street stores learn from online? I've listed three ideas below that could be adopted by physical stores and whereas they won't alter any shift to online they should improve the customer experience and the shop's chances of survival.

Tell me what I want, what I really, really want
One of the things that online does really well is that it offers you the personal touch. Most stores know who returning customers are and what they've bought before and so they tailor content and related products that best suit their interests and tastes. This enables online to effortlessly up-sell and cross-sell, tempting us to buy more.

Online we're individuals and we're treated to a personal and highly enriched experience. However as soon as you walk through the front door of a shop you're just a face in the crowd, presented with the same static products that everyone else sees. But that needn't be the case.

Stores will strategically place products in aisles or sections of the shop that they know sell well together. The tea is generally in the same aisle as the biscuits, for example. However I don't think they go far enough.

How many times have you gone to buy some shoes in a department store and been presented with suggestions for jeans or a handbag that will go well with them? Small flat-screen TVs with footage of models wearing clothes or accessories that go well with the items I'm looking at would encourage me to shop further. How many times have you picked up some flour at a supermarket and next to it seen a leaflet for a kick-ass cake recipe that demands you buy eggs, sugar, chocolate etc.? Not many in my experience and these are all lost opportunities.

Capturing customer data
Cos, the exceptional older brother (with a higher disposable income of H&M) is the only shop I have been in that has asked me for my e-mail address. As I waited for the store assistant to bag up my extremely tasteful shirt, I wrote my name and e-mail address on a card. It took me less than a minute. They now send me regular updates and special offers, including invites to events where they launch sale items to people on their list before the general public.

Why don't all stores do this?

They do! What about the Nectar card and Boots Advantage card?

Okay, so maybe the trend of storing customer data started offline, however in my experience it's not caught on. Other than the sign up at Cos and the leaflets for loyalty cards, I have not come across one example of a store asking me for data so that they can keep in touch.

I would also push for the supermarkets and even Boots to simplify their sign up, lock you in quickly and easily in-store and then hit you online for more information. At home and online is the point where you have more time and are happy to fill out an application form. It would also be less labour intensive as systems would capture your data, rather than requiring people to input it into a system.

Dynamic changes
Ecommerce is continuing to grow thanks in part to its dynamism and ability to make changes on the fly. Data can be analysed and changes made on the same day with results monitored to understand their effect. This has resulted in new products and different ways of presenting them, new ways of paying and the ability to implement offers and promotions at the click of a mouse. Physical stores can't be as dynamic. But why?

Shops often work to seasons and plan in advance for promotions and sales. In-store advertising and displays are difficult to change and managers have to maintain consistency across different stores. So what can be dynamic in a shop? I think it comes down to people.

Store assistants are the most intelligent and flexible resources available to managers and they can be empowered to act and behave in a more dynamic way. This happens to some extent in stores that have salespeople working on a commission basis. They can give away a percentage of their commission in order to secure a sale. Would this work across all stores? Maybe managers can create promotions or discounts that they pass down to store assistants who can then give them out to customers at their own discretion, rather than advertising them widely?

There are many other things that I've not included here but also many things that online can learn from high street stores. I think the thing to always hold in mind is that although different, on and offline strategies can be interchangeable and consistency among the two is paramount.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

The modernisation of publishing and the challenges it brings

This week it was announced that Borders is preparing to go into administration, which comes all too soon after the HMV group announced a number of Waterstones branches would be closing. The now familiar story of online competition and increased sales at supermarkets have squeezed the retail market and this time, the bookstore is the fall guy.

Not long before Borders' announcement, The Bookseller reported that the e-reader market doubled over Christmas 2010 and that quite astonishingly, 13% of British adults now own an eBook reading device.

The growth of the mainstream eBook market took off at the same time and shows no signs of stopping. Amazon sells more eBooks than print, as does our very own PacktPub.com, with our 2010 digital sales up 33% on the previous year. The launch of the iPad and Amazon's aggressive marketing and pricing strategy of its Kindle gave e-reader adoption the kind of kickstart few earlier adopters had the power to achieve.

It's relatively easy to re-read the above paragraph and for every mention of e-reader and eBook substitute iPod and and music download. For Amazon use iTunes. The two stories are very similar. Back in 2006, US music downloads had increased by 77% on the previous year, while Apple sold 88 iPods a minute.

What the publishing industry is going through currently, the music industry has already experienced and this shift to electronic and death of the bookstore is evidence of the modernisation of publishing.

Surely great news for publishers?

Unfortunately for the music industry the digital revolution hasn't all been great. CD sales continue to plummet and aren't being propped up by download sales. Writing in The Guardian, Dan Sabbagh notes that while music is thriving, the industry itself is dying and makes the following observation:

"It has been a decade since piracy and the arrival of iTunes – which destroyed the notion of an album in favour of single, downloadable tracks – but the music business has found nothing to repair lost CD sales." 

This one sentence neatly sums up a key problem in the industry and how the introduction of digital changed the way that we consumed music. Luckily for publishing, breaking up a book and selling it chapter-by-chapter isn't as viable. Despite this the move to electronic book delivery presents publishing with other challenges.

Universal eBook pricing
Amazon has set the price for the majority of its eBooks at $9.99, a move many publishers were unhappy with. Amazon relented, however this price point has stuck and Apple are now using it as a standard on its iBookstore. Whereas this may make sense for your top ten bestseller list it doesn't take into account the specialised books from the independent publishers, who price up the cost based on fewer sales expectations and the niche element of the market.

Self publishing cutting out the publisher
Not a week goes by without the story of an author making it as a self-publisher. In fact, I only read this morning on the always excellent Econsultancy.com of the threat to publishers that amateur authors pose. The article references Alice Hocking and her success with self-publishing. I felt compelled to comment and note that for every Amanda Hocking there's a million and one self-published authors with under 100 sales to their name. Self-publishing website Lulu.com would probably back this up.

In reality, the majority of these self-published success stories have had a profile and fan base before going it alone. Hocking may be an exception to this. When Radiohead self-released In Rainbows in 2007 people said it would open up amateurs bands and musicians to bypassing record labels and breaking the charts. As amateurs have no existing fan base and no means to reach the masses, this hasn't happened.

It's also easy to underestimate the other services that publishers provide; it's not just about getting a book to market and exploiting contacts. Whereas most authors can take on marketing, it's the professional editing, proofreading, layout and other production services that would be beyond most, especially those without prior publishing experience.

Delivering multi-platform content
First there was slate, then paper, then muuuuch later eBook, then browser, then app - what next? Wikipedia suggests that there are 18 different eBook formats! There are so many ways to consume content now that it's difficult for some publishers to stay relevant. Staying ahead of the adoption curve and delivering content to demand is a serious challenge for publishers. eBook formats will narrow with two or three becoming dominant, however the innovations with consuming content will continue.

The music industry knows all about this. So does Hollywood. As eBook adoption grows, so will piracy and this is something that all publishers are nervous about. It's actually affecting us now with torrents full and links regularly showing up in search results. There are companies developing software to combat the pirates who are serving the eBooks and seeding the links. Publishers need to work closer with these companies to help develop and refine the software; this is a common problem and should be tackled by the industry together.

Developing a direct sales model
Whether through subscription or consumers buying individual copies from their website, this is the holy grail for publishers. Bypassing bookstores and Amazon enables publishers to talk to the people who are buying their books and ultimately, get them to buy more. The problems is that this isn't something publishers have prioritised in the past.

However eBooks present a new opportunity.

There is no printing and shipping, which makes logistics and set up easier and cheaper. Through their website, fulfillment can be immediate with the publisher catching customer data. More importantly publishers aren't giving up a percentage of sales to a third party retailer. With bookstores closing and sales moving online, now is the perfect time for publishers to start doing it themselves.

Despite the demise of the bookstore this is an exciting time for publishing and the opportunities for publishers