A Business Technology Place

Microsoft’s bold new move with Windows 8

My home is an equal opportunity technology zone.
I use an Ubuntu Linux netbook. My wife uses a Chromebook. The kids have a Mac and an iPad. Then there is the older family PC that provides service for some school jobs and printing. It was using Windows XP until this past weekend when I upgraded it to the pre-release of Windows 8 (didn’t we use to call this Beta?). I had resisted upgrading the machine in the past due to the cost and because the machine is not the primary computing device for any family member.

But this past weekend I decided to upgrade the Windows XP machine to the Windows 8 preview release. Why now? As a technologist I need to stay in-the-know on new technology and I as mentioned, we provide an equal opportunity technology home. So it didn’t seem fair to pick-on Microsoft when the Windows machine was running an OS that is about to be retired from support.

The start page of Windows 8. Tiled application blocks.

The upgrade process.
I downloaded a ISO file from the Microsoft site and then found a free utility to expand the image file onto a thumb drive. At this point I ran the setup file from the thumb drive and followed the prompts. I chose to keep my personal files rather than wiping all files. The upgrade process started and while I didn’t time it, I believe it was around an hour and a half.

(I should note that on my first time through I kicked the power plug out of the back of the PC during the last step of the upgrade. The process didn’t recover, but it did a successful rollback to Windows XP. I had to start over. Doh!)

Windows 8, a bold new move.
My initial thoughts:

First – The OS was built with tablets and touch-screen PCs in mind. As a reminder, I converted an old Windows XP tower to Windows 8, so I recognize this limited me from experiencing the full breadth of features the new OS has to offer. But the move from Microsoft makes sense. Touch screen computing devices are fast becoming the new norm and they should be designing and developing to this.

Second – The start page of Windows 8 is radically different than what Windows users have seen in the past. People resist change and I expect there will be an initial outcry of critics as they adjust to the new look. (Change is hard on people!) The UX of the screen basically follows the growing popularity of application based tiles. Consumers will be used to this because they use it on their phones. But it’s a bold move to change the paradigm of the most used operating system in the world.

The UI of IE 10 included with Windows 8.

Third – Internet Explorer 10 is accessible from the start screen but the UX is again different. I think consumers will welcome this change because the interface is cleaner and free of the clutter of the navigation bars. The address bar is at the bottom of the screen and will auto-hide to give maximum screen real-estate for content.

Fourth – Navigation to different applications was not at first apparent to me. It seems all the magic happens in the lower left and lower right corners of the screen with hidden menus. Again, I recognize the UX was designed with touch-screen in mind. So I know my experience was not the ideal. But I also know that I’m bit more tech savvy than most and many people may struggle with the basic navigation of the new UX.

The good news with this is that the updated design, as with IE 10, removes clutter from the screen and allows more space for the primary application. But I found myself continually dragging to the screen corners to bounce back-and-forth between applications. I sense there is an easier way to navigate, even with the mouse, so it will take time to get use to the new paradigm.

Will Microsoft succeed with this strategy?
Microsoft is fighting a classic battle. On the one hand, they have the most popular OS in the world (by volume). So they get all the things that come with this such as a user base trained in a certain way. On the other hand, the company needs to show some innovative moves or they’ll become less relevant with each passing day.

Ultimately, Microsoft has to make this move. It’s a move to stay relevant with new consumer behaviors encouraged by computing devices that are smaller and more mobile than a traditional PC. It’s not the 1990s any longer and Microsoft is attempting to change to keep up. I like it. It keeps competition strong, which benefits consumers with more choices.

Embrace Showrooming

Showrooming doesn’t sound like an eCommerce term.
I’m fascinated by the concept of showrooming, because it blends traditional retail with eCommerce and mobile commerce. I’ll be honest though, I’m not a big retail shopper. I fit in that category of men that make a list before I enter the store. With a list, my shopping experience becomes like an exercise in pick-and-pack. Easy is as easy does.

Wikipedia defines showrooming as “the act of examining merchandise in a brick and mortar retail store without purchasing it there, then shopping online to find a lower price for the same item.“ While I’m well versed at online shopping, I thought it would be best if I turned to my wife for a more educated opinion on showrooming.

A research group of one turned into a smaller group.
The great thing about interviewing my wife, is that I immediately gained access to the thought patterns and behaviours of her friends (Because women talk about shopping). That’s good, because it helped to give a more rounded opinion on this subject. I captured a few key thoughts from her:

1. “When I’m in a store I need the object right then.” – My wife doesn’t really get the showrooming mentality. She’s in a store to make a purchase at that moment. She generally shops a store based on past association with the brand, convenience of location, and pricing.

2. “I don’t have time to go and research all of the prices and make purchases at different retailers.” – Similar to her first thought, she said that her schedule with multiple kids at home just doesn’t allow the luxury of this level of research. To me, seeing all competing prices for a product in one place is the beauty of a price grabber program. But in her mind, she allocates time to shop and then moves on to the next commitment of the week. She doesn’t want to repeat shop.

3. “Some people will do anything to get the lowest price they can find, regardless of the time and steps to get it.” – She’s right about this. It describes the price conscious customer segment that will work a little harder to find the lowest price when price is the biggest factor in the decision purchase. Coupons and Showrooming are great examples of this.

4. “People take pictures of products for different reasons. I have friends that pictures for patterns and then will make it at home. One time I took a picture of three dresses and sent them to our daughter to see which one she liked best.” – In other words, not everyone takes pictures of items to then go home and try to find the product online.

My take-away from the interview was that showrooming isn’t used by everyone and isn’t always used to purchase a product elsewhere. But it is a consumer behavior that is enabled by technology and will get the attention of retailers.

Retailers need to embrace the practice, not trick consumers.
A behavior I found disturbing was in the report from Samuel Greengard, of CMO.com which discusses the threats that retailers feel from the practice.  Greengard writes about some of the techniques retailers have used to combat issue such as trying to get unique UPC codes and blocking access programs from within their store space.  Come-on, really?

Just like Brands can’t control the conversation about their products and services on social sites, retailers won’t be able to control consumer behavior like showrooming, nor should they. That’s a point that Greengard makes as well. My thought is why can’t retailers spend all of that intellectual and project time time creating ways to embrace the consumer behavior?

One idea is to show competitive pricing on some common products right in the store. I’ve seen this at Grocery stores and automobile service shops.  They’ll save you the time and it’s good for the store owner because they know where they stand in market pricing.

Another idea is to promote the benefits of buying in the store. I’m thinking of things like no hassle returns, take it home today, shopping rewards cards, etc. Alternatively promote an online sale from the online store of the retailer.

Consumers will only get more versed in using technology to help them with everyday tasks. Retailers should embrace showrooming and find ways to benefit themselves and the customer.

Daily Deals. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

The first daily deal site I remember is woot.com. I loved the fun name and approach the company put on their sales process in the early days. Woot! Since then daily deal sites have taken-off with hundreds of players and variations. But now we read reports that daily deal site usage is declining.

I’ve never purchased anything from a daily deal, but I have some observations. I’ll call it the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Thumbs up for daily deals?

The Good

There is an opportunity for marketers to serve relevant deals based on the recent browsing history of the customer. You may see this already today on sites that use advertising cookies to determine the content of banner ads. Daily deal sites could advertise on properties like these and the rules engine would serve links to their content. The idea is create a more relevant experience by bringing interested buyers to the site.

Here’s a good example. Let’s say I purchase airline tickets for a summer vacation. If I see a daily deal ad for airport parking there is a good chance I’ll click through and explore the details of that deal.

Then again, maybe part of the magic of the daily deal is getting consumers who had no intention of buying a product to purchase it because the deal is just too good to let pass.

The Bad

Traditionally though, daily deals don’t really target to a specific audience. They work by offering a deal to the end customer that is determined by the buyers and business participants. The expiration or maximum number of coupons available works as a boundary but also serves to create urgency in the buying process of the customer. Personally, I hate pressure deals. It gives me visions of the automobile purchasing process and a used car salesman in front of a camera shouting “Sunday, Sunday, Sunday…..”

Another problem is the type of customers attracted presents problems to businesses that offer the deals. Does the practice really drive new customer growth? Or does it create a one-time customer that are only there for the deal and will not come back without another coupon? That doesn’t sound like building customer loyalty to me.

The Ugly

Maybe it’s the novelty of the idea has ended. Maybe the market is over saturated with daily deal sites and offers. We all know that once something is hot marketers jump in to pound advertising and offers. These are contributing factors to what is now called Daily Deal Fatigue.

So maybe true daily deal sites don’t survive without morphing to include more traditional attributes of retail sales. That sounds more like a sale of the day or sale of the week for a group of products. What’s special about that?

Woot!

Social commerce is gaining momentum

I love the idea of social commerce.
I’ve worked for years in and around eCommerce operations and expect to continue to do so for the remainder of my working days. eCommerce is an engine that drives revenue for a business while providing a touch point for customers to a brand and a set of products and services. The technology, platforms, and interaction styles will change over time. But with each change eCommerce blends into different variations of electronic commerce that center around marketing, media, and operations.The Social Commerce Blend

One such area that is starting, and I expect will grow as well, for retailers is social commerce. The big idea behind social commerce is to get consumers to collaborate while shopping online. The consumer becomes part of the eCommerce engine by helping with product creation, marketing, and even sales. All of this is the result of blending social media, digital media, and eCommerce.

In many ways the growing influence of social commerce for retailers is similar to the impact social media is having on the news media.  Media outlets are now using consumers to spread viewership to articles, videos, polls, etc. by sharing the links with their friends and family. Retailers will try to follow this trend by allowing consumers to be brand advocates, designers, and sales engines within their own spaces.

Would you buy a hip Converse shoe designed by your kids?
Paul Chaney of Social Commerce Today discusses a good example of all this with the article  Converse Facebook app for designing a Converse tennis shoe. The test is to allow the customer to design the tennis shoe and then open a store within Facebook to sell it to their friends.  Can’t you see this working with middle school aged kids where everyone wants to be the same and not stick out in the crowd? It also opens the door for thousands of more ideas and expands the reach of what the existing designers and sales group within the company could do.

Reality catalogs?
Another example is from online fashion retailer Zara called People!. The idea is to create your own look by posing with items from the Zara catalog and then submit your picture back to them. If the contributors photo is selected it is published online and the contributor is paid.  People like reality TV because it shows more everyday people in situations that might be real. I can see the catalog photos acting like this as well. Show me someone that looks like me rather than a fully staged model.

This is a healthy evolution of digital social media.
I realize brand advocates and referrals are not new to a marketing strategy for a business.  The difference here is the use of interactive digital media to scale the reach of the customer. In the past word-of-mouth referrals happened one-to-one based on conversations. With social media sites, the customer can get a message reach to hundreds/thousands of connections all at once.

Does this get us closer to answering the discourse about the ROI and financial contribution of social media? It certainly helps when there are activities that are trackable and revenue that is measurable. Expect more brands and marketers to try find the right combination of getting their customers to be a revenue producing connection with social media.

What do you think about the growth potential of social commerce?

Tablets are changing eCommerce and consumer behavior

This isn’t your tablet of old.
A study by eMarketer reports that tablet penetration will reach 29.1 percent of Internet users by the end of this year. I don’t think that’s a surprise to anyone. Tablets are everywhere you look and it’s not just consumers. Businesses are are finding ways to get tablets in the hands of their in-store and floor employees to help them better serve customers.

Tudor alphabet tablet

I have not yet started using a tablet for a couple of reasons. The first is that much of my time is spent creating content rather than consumer content and I believe a laptop/netbook is still a better choice for creating content. Sure I could buy a portable keyboard to go with a tablet. But if most of my time is spent creating content then why not just keep a more suitable device? I’m sure I’ll purchase a Google Nexus at some point. But I’m fine for the moment and a few other household members are using a tablet if I need to test something.

My son is like many consumers.  The tablet is almost a complete replacement for the computer because he uses it for consumption activities such as browsing, viewing, watching video. The unexpected twist was that it has not replaced the TV but it has become an accompaniment to content consumption. He loves live sports. So while the TV provides live programming, the tablet provides apps and real time stats.

What’s it mean for eCommerce operators?
An adoption rate of 30% of internet users is pretty stout and it will only continue to grow. So eCommerce operators should be, if not already, designing web experiences with tablet devices in mind. That could mean an app or an adaptive web design to fit the screen dimensions of the device. The tablets will display websites that were designed for PCs with larger screens. But it’s not the ideal interactive experience. If you are looking to create a remarkable experience then design with the device in mind.

Search engines and analytics sites already separate tablets into distinct device segments. This is good news, because it allows eCommerce teams to measure the impact of the device on their individual site. This also allows the marketers and developers to justify budget for creation and improvement of tablet experiences.

Opportunities will continue to grow as individuals and companies innovate. I expect to see tablets splash big in the education industry, banking, and even retail sales. It’s not just with people walking around either. These devices will be used as cash registers, in kiosks, or as part of interactive stations to provide product specs for customers. They are mobile and highly interactive.

I recently suggested that my daughter’s cross country booster club use a mobile device such as a tablet to help with tee shirt and concession sales during meets. The basis of the idea was to start taking debit or credit cards because a few times when I worked the booth last year people might have paid but did not have cash or a checkbook with them. The new swipe devices such as Square make this possible. I expect it to be a big hit with the booster club this season. (Go team!)