Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"Is Microsoft Nuts or What?"

If you can't say something nice, you shouldn't really say anything, especially in my business, but sometimes it's just too easy.

I think Microsoft has wonderful solutions that are important to the retail industry, but this...


This is nuts.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Forget everything you know about strategic planning

I just saw a presentation that reviewed a methodology for how to identify the right mobile channel opportunities for your company. The methodology followed a pretty straight up strategic planning model, when it comes to driving IT decisions: you can either grow revenue or reduce costs. If you're focusing on growing revenue, then what objectives are you setting for that revenue growth? And what activities will you undergo in order to achieve that revenue?

This is all wrong! Have we learned nothing from customer centricity? Especially when looking at mobile, where the odds of any kind of mobile activity actually driving revenue are slim. Very slim. You have to flip this kind of planning on its head: what does the customer try to achieve as part of their shopping experience? What are the pain points in that experience? What parts of the experience do we not get our chance to shine at? What parts of the experience could be differentiators, and what parts are ante nowadays? Through that kind of analysis, you'll identify hopefully lots of opportunities to help out your customers through the mobile experience.
THEN you look at those and analyze them to identify which opportunities offer the most bang for the buck. THAT helps you prioritize which opportunities to pursue (by the way, this presumes that you have identified the opportunities that you have for reaching consumers via mobile - for example, that they are big users of SMS, for example, or that they tend to download a lot of free content. Obviously, you want your opportunities to be constrained by the context of your customers' willingness to use certain mobile capabilities).

Only by starting with the customer first do you have a chance at matching up initiatives or innovations that will make you money (or save you money) with initiatives or innovations that customers will actually use. You can get there from the "revenue vs. cost" planning, but it's going to be a much rougher road.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Is it really as cliche as Web 3.0?

I have been thinking for the last month about "Connected Commerce" - in my head, I was thinking about it in the context of eCommerce evolved in a world of Web 2.0 (a term I dislike, but get - and it doesn't seem to have wandered too far from its original meaning, but does seem rather broad). When the actual transaction piece of buying something online becomes unbounded by the website - so, available via mobile, or plugged into a social networking site, or even pulled into someone else's blog - then how do you define "eCommerce" in that context? Coming at it from the retailer point of view, I saw that as "Connected Commerce," but find the term lacking something (something even more than just the "e").

Then I encountered Optaros, who approached it more from the Content side of the web. They call it "W3CM" which is a play on Web Content Management, except the C is actually 3 C's: content, commerce, and community. They see a convergence across all three of these dimensions, and see brands and retailers struggling with this convergence - brands, who have content and are trying to figure out how it integrates with community and commerce, and retailers, who have commerce and are trying to figure out content and community.

In some ways, retailers especially have been looking at Optaros' 3 dimensions from a 2-D perspective. Retailers tend to discount content, either because they don't take it seriously enough, or because they tend to view it as an offshoot of products and thus wrapped into eCommerce. And those that do take on content, for example with their own blogs, often do it independently of the commerce function, almost as if they don't want consumers to consider the content to be tainted by introducing a commerce aspect to it.

But just as retailers are living in a plane with dimensions of commerce and community, and Optaros sees the world in three dimensions, with Content being the third, I think there is a fourth dimension at play as well, which is the physical world. The "real" world, which encompasses both product and brand location, as well as an individual's physical relationship to those things at a point in time. Maybe this can be summed up as "physical context."

The natural analogy would be, just as Web 2.0 in many ways freed the "Web" of the constraint of an individual site or even an internet browser, what we're groping towards in retail is a kind of Web 3.0 - where, thanks to increasingly ubiquitous hardware like mobile phones or kiosks, the virtual world and the physical world are continuously co-located. So while we have been thinking about the Web in all of its complexity as a 3-D object, it is an object that exists in relation to a fourth dimension: physical context, in all its glory and complexity. (By the way, TrendWatching just put out a fantastic piece about "Transparency", which touches on this topic and has some great examples.

As much as I dislike the term "Web 3.0" or even the more aspirational "Web Unbound," I cannot for the life of me think of something better. I've tried getting geeky: The Web/Context Continuum (analogous to the Space/Time Continuum). Contextual Commerce? ECommerce Unbound? Blech!

What do I call this thing? The closest I've come to is "Not Your Father's Internet"...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The impact of changing shift times in WFM

I just told a group of retailers at RedPrairie's user conference that you can't under-estimate the impact of changing shift times on retail front-line workers. And while I wholeheartedly believe it, I think having said it, it still gets under-estimated. Here's the thing: It's been a long time since I've had an hourly job. And I'm guessing that it's been a long time since you had an hourly job too. My job hours haven't changed in 15 years.

But I just recently got a taste of what it feels like when your start time changes on you. My children's school is changing its start time from 8:30am to 9am. Not that much of a change, right? someone who works from home, that's a big change. That means another half hour of my children at home during prime meeting times. It means a later day pickup, which means more coordination between that, dinner, afternoon activities and even homework time.

Now, play a very small fiddle for my woes. The school is changing its hours because my school district is facing a huge budget crunch and they have decided one of the ways to address their shortfall will be by co-bussing middle school and high school students. Whether that is a good idea or not is a whole 'nother discussion, but it means that the middle school and the high school have to start their day closer together, and in order to accommodate, the elementary school times are being pushed back. That's all reasonable. Makes sense.

What didn't make sense was how they communicated it. I have a child already attending the elementary school, and another starting Kindergarten this summer. I found out about the time change through my Kindie's enrollment confirmation. I have yet to hear it officially for my older child. For a change that impacts my childcare arrangements, my business, my family's whole schedule - the communication has been remarkably blasé, and mostly through indirect channels.

So, I think some of the challenge in implementing workforce management, and some of the resistance that retailers are encountering has as much to do with people who have forgotten what it's like to work an hourly job - our jobs' hours don't change, whether we work way more than we should or way less. But having experienced the movement of a major item that my family schedules our lives around, I can say that the disruption to employees' lives should not be under-estimated. That's not to say you can't get away with the changes. But you do need to be far more sensitive to both the message and the advance warning of that message that you give.

People will accept almost any change - as long as you can sell them on the need and acknowledge the degree of disruption you're introducing into their lives.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Coolest RFID Tag Ever

OK, that may be a bit over the top, but Ed Holcomb from VRF Holdings sent me an ePaper hang tag, and I have to say, it looks really good. Mine doesn't have the antenna in it, but the whole shebang is real, and it takes your average RFID handheld reader to get it going.

Price changes at the shelf are the last manual step in a pricing process that is increasingly sophisticated. It's problematic enough for grocery, with promotional price changes that run in the hundreds every week, but as I can personally attest with my near-bouts of carpal tunnel after pricing entire racks of apparel for markdown, it's at least as bad, if not worse for apparel.

If the industry is going to get smarter about pricing, we're going to need to get smarter about our price tags. This is a pretty cool step in the right direction.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

You Can Too Use Loyalty Card Info to Help Consumers

I just got an automated phone call from Costco, alerting me to the fact that the Detour energy bars in my cupboard have been impacted by the peanut recall/salmonella alert. We had actually already scoured our pantry for peanut things, but for some reason it just didn't compute that those bars might be impacted - we were looking mostly for kid snacks with peanut butter in them.

Not only was it great that Costco actually used my purchase history to do something useful for me, but they did it literally just in time - I called my husband to let him know, and he had one of those bars in his briefcase. Costco even gave me the website info I needed to get replacements from Detour (since those things are pretty pricey).

So, don't tell me you can't do useful things for consumers with the information you collect on them. Do you know how much I appreciate Costco right now? That call was worth at least another year on the membership...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I like Michael Arrington

Yeah, I haven't been writing on here for nearly forever. We'll get back to that later.

In the meantime, I saw this post by Michael Arrington of TechCrunch, and since the comments are closed, I thought I'd get my say right here.

It really made me sad. People talk about a decline in civility, and we've seen it in politics. I've seen a few comments about my work that have made me lose a few nights sleep, and I don't flatter myself that I have anything near the reach that Michael has. But even so, it's amazing, in a very bad way, that these kinds of things can happen.

I just want to say, I love TechCrunch. I try to model certain elements of our business after TechCrunch's model, and I firmly agree with several of the trends that Michael and his colleagues have written about - particularly as they pertain to my own content business.

It's so very hard to put up the good fight and defend what you believe in when it's your family at stake. I can't bring myself to say "don't let them win!" when I don't know that I could put my own family at risk for the same thing. As Michael says in his post, it's just a writer expressing an opinion. About technology, for heaven's sake, not life and death.

Chill, people!

And Michael, you've never met me, probably never will. But heartfelt wishes. I really admire what you've done. Keep in mind, for every negative comment or person out there, there are 10 positives that never made the effort to show it. I've definitely been one of those.