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AI Amazon CX E-commerce Non-food retail Quick commerce Retail trends Supermarkets Technology

It’s a Density Game, with Deliveroo’s Paul Wilkinson

Paul Wilkinson, Product Director at Deliveroo and former Tesco and Amazon exec, joins Natalie to discuss:

•    Quick commerce: what went wrong and how will it evolve?
•    Why Deliveroo won’t chase 15-minute delivery.
•    Learnings from the restaurant sector.
•    Why retail partners are more open to collaboration in 2024. 
•    Deliveroo’s move into non-food: “bringing the whole high street to the customer”.
•    Voice commerce: why hasn’t it taken off and is there a place for it in the future?
•    Frictionless checkout: are checkout-free stores the future or are there too many barriers to making it viable?

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E-commerce Economy Inflation Retail leadership Supermarkets Technology

Ken Towle on Supermarket Trends, Shrinkflation, International Retail

Former Tesco director and Nisa CEO Ken Towle joins Natalie on the podcast to discuss:


•    The retail and consumer outlook.
•    Why shrinkflation is not always a bad thing.
•    His experience running Nisa during the pandemic.
•    From self-checkouts to generative AI – how technology is changing the way we shop for food.
•    Grocery e-commerce and the importance of collaboration.
•    Lessons from his time as Tesco China CEO.

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CX E-commerce Technology Unified Commerce

How Do You Actually Achieve Unified Commerce?

Paid partnership with Manhattan Associates


What do you call a retailer with a relentless drive to enhance the customer experience? This may sound like the start of a geeky retail joke but it’s a serious question. We used to brand these more nimble businesses as “disruptors”. They were the ones ripping up the rulebook, defying the status quo and continuously elevating the shopper experience.

Today, I’d argue that all retailers need to adopt a mentality of perpetual disruption. In the fast-moving world of retail, today’s innovations quickly become tomorrow’s norms. You’ve got to keep evolving and experimenting. Failing fast has become a prerequisite. 

This was evidenced in a new study from Manhattan Associates. The inaugural Unified Commerce Benchmark for Specialty Retail in Europe assessed 50 retailers across three verticals (apparel and footwear, home and DIY, luxury) in five European markets (France, Germany, Italy, UK, the Netherlands).

Retailers were categorised as Leaders, Challengers, Followers and Laggards. The study then revealed common attributes of successful retailers across four categories: Search and Discovery; Cart and Checkout; Promising and Fulfilment; Service and Support. So what have we learned?

Firstly, the study called out four participating retailers as true leaders in Unified Commerce: Adidas, H&M, Leroy Merlin and M&S. These businesses aren’t just ticking boxes by offering capabilities such as real-time inventory statistics and product recommendation tools; they are actively embracing technologies that enable them to deliver more nuanced, and increasingly personalised, customer experiences.

And it’s paying off. The study found that Unified Commerce leaders’ revenue growth outperforms non-leaders by at least twofold.

Guided Inspiration, Rich Findability and Immersive StoryTelling

Leaders in ‘Search and Discovery’ help shoppers discover meaningful products, whether they are looking to fulfil an immediate need or are looking for inspiration. Most leaders in this space already bundle product offerings (offer suggestions to ‘buy the look’ or ‘buy the set’), and I imagine this will become the norm in the very near future as more retailers embrace the power of AI.

There is always room for improvement and Manhattan specifically calls out capabilities like offering real-time visibility on product description pages (PDP), inventory status callouts for low/out-of-stock items, and personalised recommendations on home page. Retailers should also strive for greater visibility of delivery times, for example by allowing shoppers to filter by fulfilment method.

Most leaders offer back-in-stock notifications and 100% of them provide product sourcing information and detailed content on sustainability practices. This is an important point – retailers must go beyond product features and really immerse the shopper in the brand’s ethos. Transparency is going to be key going forward. 

Unified Basket, Payment Flexibility, Frictionless Checkout

The biggest point of friction in today’s retail customer experience is due to the loss of context when transiting between the physical and the digital. Those retailers leading the way in ‘Cart and Checkout’ understand that a unified cart or basket is a foundational capability when it comes to that all-important connection across channels: 40% of leaders show personalised promotions and offers on PDPs and cart, compared to 6% of non-leaders. Most leaders also allow shoppers to view promo codes in cart and check product availability status by store in cart.

Given the proliferation of payment options today, most leaders also offer checkout with buy now, pay later (100%), Apple Pay or PayPal (70%), as well as the ability to use mixed payment methods for the same order (40%).

In-store and online cart abandonment is still far too regular of an occurrence in retail. In fact, more than one-third (35%) of shoppers said that they abandon their shopping cart because of lengthy checkout process and a whopping 37% said they will not retry if asked to re-enter payment or delivery details. It’s essential that retailers provide seamless checkout experiences that reduce unnecessary friction at the point of conversion.

Flawless Fulfilment

I’ve often said that the post-purchase experience tends to be more of an afterthought than a strategic priority. Well, that is finally changing as retailers recognise that a shopper’s product pick-up or delivery experience must be as seamless as their shopping journey. Not only do leaders in ‘Promising and Fulfilment’ make sure retailers meet or beat their delivery promises consistently, they do also so while being more environmentally friendly too.

Offering shoppers greater post-order flexibility, including complete or partial cancellations, and greater delivery/pick-up options are all areas leaders excel in. Sixty percent of leaders offer shoppers the ability to cancel orders post-purchase compared to 28% of non-leaders.

And shoppers are crying out for this: more than two-thirds of shoppers want a self-service option to be able to edit order after placing them. Meanwhile, nearly three quarters (73%) of shoppers value expedited deliver (same business day) but are only willing to pay less than €5 for the service.

Manhattan calls out the ability to highlight the carbon footprint / impact of fulfilment choice as an area for improvement. Shoppers are hyper-informed when it comes to pricing and product information, but too often they are fumbling in the dark when it comes to sustainability. I believe this will change considerably over the next decade and retailers must prioritise transparency to drive greener purchasing decisions.

360 Degree Service

Leaders in the ‘Service and Support’ segment offer shoppers a wide variety of service options from call centres to in-store assistance, social media support and live agents available via their website and mobile app. What is most important, however, isn’t the breadth of support options but the fact that they offer seamless continuity, consistent quality and always-on availability.

Leaders empower shoppers to self-serve most of their needs. Nearly all (92%) offer support on order modifications, returns and exchanges via chat/call and 75% offer their customers the ability to return purchases to drop-off locations.

In addition to problem solving, leaders also offer value-added services such as customisations, style/fit guidance and in-store hospitality to turn service interactions into a secret sauce of brand stickiness. Most leaders empower their store associates to check a shopper’s online purchase history while in-store (75% compared to 48% of non-leaders). They should also be striving for in-store appointment scheduling via their digital channels, product personalisation and allowing store associates to create or manage a shopper’s wishlist.

As I have said on numerous occasions, we are witnessing a democratisation of white-glove service within the retail industry. Don’t get left behind.

Download the full report.

Categories
Consumer CX E-commerce Fashion High Streets Non-food retail Podcast Retail leadership Retail trends

Retail Veteran Nigel Oddy on Treating Shoppers as VIPs

Natalie speaks to Nigel Oddy, currently CEO of the UK and Europe’s leading golf retailer American Golf, and previously CEO of House of Fraser, New Look, Matalan and The Range.

The video version of this episode is available on YouTube and is part of a special collaboration with the Richmond Retail & E-commerce Directors’ Forum. Nigel will be speaking at the event alongside leaders from across the industry – Tesco, Charlotte Tilbury, TikTok, N Brown and more. 

In this episode, Nigel gives us a sneak preview of what we’ll be discussing at the event. He shares what it was like running New Look during the pandemic, his biggest successes, what motivates him, the importance of spending time on the shop floor and why you must treat your shoppers as VIPs.

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E-commerce Podcast Quick commerce Supermarkets

Quick Commerce: Collaborate or Die?

George Nott, Technology Editor at The Grocer, joins Natalie to discuss the evolution of quick commerce. They examine the latest Uber Eats / Getir collaboration, how traditional supermarkets are responding to the quick commerce trend and whether the world is ready for AI-powered conversational shopping experiences.

Fun Fact: Did you know ‘getir’ means ‘bring’ in Turkish?

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Amazon E-commerce Podcast Supermarkets

Enemy to Frenemy: Amazon & Iceland

“We hate Amazon. They’ll bully us and do horrible things to us. They’ll use us, we don’t want anything to do with them.” -Iceland Managing Director, 2018

Fast forward five years…

This morning Amazon UK announced that frozen food specialist Iceland will begin selling groceries on its platform. In this episode, Natalie explores the rationale behind Iceland’s shift in strategy and why Amazon is expanding its relationship with third party supermarkets like Morrisons, Co-op and now Iceland.

Amazon may need the grocery industry but does the grocery industry need Amazon? Let’s explore.

 

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Amazon E-commerce

Amazon: From Pandemic Power Grab to Pandemic Hangover

We often think of Amazon as one of those invincible brands. A bulletproof business. But like a lot of tech companies they thrived during the pandemic and now they’re finding life difficult.

Why?

1) General volatility. Like all retailers, Amazon is grappling with unprecedented cost inflation at a time when consumer demand remains sluggish. That’s a dangerous combo for any business but in Amazon’s case it’s exacerbated by the fact that during the pandemic they OVER-HIRED (added half a million workers in 2020 alone – not even Walmart, the largest private employer in the US, has ever added so many employees in a given year) and OVER-EXPANDED (essentially doubled their fulfilment network) to help cope with the huge surge in demand for online shopping and cloud computing.

natalie berg amazon bbc

2) Recalibration: return to IRL shopping. We’ve now had a year of relative normality. The world is far more hybrid than we could have ever imagined pre-2020 but the pandemic has taught us the value of stores in this digital era. Shoppers are abandoning e-commerce and returning to bricks & mortar. They’re looking for value over convenience and delaying those discretionary buys. Important to bear in mind here that e-com penetration rates are still higher vs pre-pandemic levels (both US and UK). But the pandemic has reaffirmed that the future of retail is NOT e-commerce – it’s a blended mix of physical and digital commerce.

As a result, Amazon is looking unusually vulnerable.

And, longer term, I believe Amazon will go from disruptor to disrupted. More on that next time.

Categories
Consumer E-commerce Retail trends Technology

2023 Predictions: A UK Retail Rollercoaster

‘Permacrisis’ was declared the word of 2022, so what might 2023 bring?

There are reasons for cautious optimism, but first retailers are going to have to buckle up and brace themselves for more turbulence.

Spending more to buy less

Let’s briefly recap on retail’s Golden Quarter. Christmas was not the wipe-out that many of us had expected. After a bumpy couple of years with Covid cancelling Christmas, consumers were determined not to let illness, inflationary pressures or industrial action hamper their celebrations.

There are some caveats here: soft comparatives (remember Omicron?); supermarket success came at the expense of the hospitality sector; and perhaps most importantly much of the growth we saw was fuelled by inflation – in December retail sales were up in value terms but volumes continued to fall. In other words, consumers are spending more to buy less.

Inflation might be starting to ease, but consumers are still a long way from feeling the benefit. This ongoing erosion of spending power makes for a pretty gloomy outlook: consumer confidence tanked again in January, returning to a near 50-year low. Looking ahead, the deterioration in consumer sentiment is likely to persist throughout the first half of the year, at least. A reminder to retailers that value will remain firmly top of mind, purchases will continue to be incredibly considered, and big-ticket discretionary buys will be delayed.

Trimming the fat

The spending hangover is here and while there’s never a good time for subdued consumer demand, it’s especially painful when retailers are simultaneously grappling with their own cost inflation. No one is immune: this dangerous combination of soft demand and rising costs is impacting even the most bulletproof retailers. Amazon, for example, is laying off 6% of its global workforce, closing warehouses and putting the brakes on bricks & mortar expansion. 2023 will be a year of operational efficiencies for retailers, in many ways mirroring their own customers’ behaviour by trying to do more with less.

The other immediate challenge for retailers will be shifting excess stock, the result of over-ordering during the supply chain crisis and exacerbated by the current consumer weakness. With a glut of inventory and sluggish demand, retailers are left with little choice but to slash prices. But wait, haven’t they been doing that for the past four months? Aside from the obvious margin implications here, there is also the risk that shoppers are becoming desensitised as promotion fatigue sets in – or even worse, that they forget what it’s like to buy at full price.   

2023 opportunities: bricks & mortar resurgence and immersive digital experiences

There’s no sugarcoating it: 2023 is going to be another year of instability and uncertainty. But the retail industry is nothing if not resilient and I believe there are reasons to be optimistic. Stores are back, they’re repurposed and better than ever. We’ve been thrust into the future thanks to the pandemic-induced digitization of bricks & mortar retail, levelling the playing field and shifting the industry’s perception. Stores were once considered liabilities in this digital era, but they’ve been reconfigured for 21st century shopping and are now essential assets.

When it comes to customer experience, I believe that ‘tech-enabled human touch’ will be the next battleground, as retailers recognise the many opportunities that come with equipping your staff with the right digital tools. Mediocre experiences have become a thing of the past. Meanwhile, automation will climb higher up the agenda as retailers look to achieve operational efficiencies, despite the initial outlay, while simultaneously addressing the current labour shortage. In 2023, we’ll see more trials of autonomous vehicles delivering our goods and robots working alongside humans in warehouses.

Shoppers will continue to abandon e-commerce in droves now that we have returned to some semblance of normality. Some categories like food, fashion and furniture will never transition online like the rest of retail has, but it’s clear that as an industry we have been propelled towards a more digital world. And over the next decade, new, immersive digital experiences will redefine our perception of e-commerce – this is going to be the next big thing in retail. I’m still a bit of a metaverse sceptic. I know barriers can be knocked down but right now how many of us really have a VR headset kicking around at home? However, it’s clear that e-commerce is ready to evolve. Sure, all of the friction has been sucked out and today the experience is wildly accessible, slick, effortless. But is it any fun? Not really. It’s still far too transactional, too one-dimensional. This will change.

The next stage of e-commerce is all about immersion, discovery, curation, hyper-personalisation and escapism. And it’s already happening with augmented reality, virtual showrooms, live shopping, social commerce, 3D product views/virtual try-ons, video shopping consultations, among others. In the future, we won’t know where the physical world ends and the digital one begins.

Our hybrid way of living is here to stay and while businesses may still be acclimatising to the consequent shifts in demand patterns, longer term this will present new and exciting customer engagement opportunities. Despite tight budgets, investment in sustainability will remain high on the agenda in 2023, while opportunities to tackle the often-neglected post-purchase experience and explore new revenue streams such as retail media and third-party marketplaces will accelerate. In summary, short-term volatility will persist while consumers batten down the hatches, but as always the future of retail is bright for those who are willing to evolve.

Categories
Consumer E-commerce Fulfilment Retail trends Technology

Recalibrating for the Next Normal

Paid partnership with Manhattan Associates


Greetings from Germany! I’m here at the Manhattan Exchange in Berlin and am super excited to share with you a new report that I’ve authored for Manhattan Associates: Recalibrating for the Next Normal.

The pandemic may have accelerated digital transformation strategies, but what comes next? We spoke to 3,500 consumers and 700 leading retailers across the US and Europe to get a better sense of the consumer landscape and the capabilities required as retailers recalibrate for this next stage.

The findings of this international research study highlight the need for retailers to continue to keep up with the pace of evolving consumer expectations. It also revealed a retail landscape where the lines between physical and digital commerce are becoming increasingly opaque and complicated. 

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Download the full report.

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Amazon E-commerce

When Do We Stop Calling Amazon a Retailer?

A question I often get asked is what is Amazon? Amazon sells everything from nappies to treadmills, but it also produces hit television shows and provides cloud computing services to clients ranging from McDonald’s to NASA. Amazon is also a hardware manufacturer, payment processor, technology provider, advertising platform, virtual tour operator, ocean freight business, publisher, wi-fi system, delivery network, fashion designer, private label business and an airline.

Portland, Oregon, USA – September 2, 2019: An Amazon Air Boeing 737 landing at Portland International Airport on a sunny summer day.

It doesn’t stop there. Amazon is a supermarket (and now officially designated one here in the UK by the Competition and Markets Authority). It also operates America’s largest civilian surveillance network. Amazon is a pharmacy and healthcare provider and has dabbled in restaurant delivery, luxury goods and hair salons. It has even tried to cure the common cold (yes, really).

So, going back to the original question – what is Amazon? Certainly not just a retailer.

In fact, as Amazon continues to diversify its revenue streams, its retail division – as a percentage of sales – becomes less significant. In 2021, Amazon’s global net product sales amounted to $242 billion, representing 51% of Amazon’s total net sales (versus 87% a decade ago). 2022 will be the tipping point when most of Amazon’s sales come from services, not from shifting goods. Amazon is rapidly transitioning from merchant to infrastructure.

So let’s break that down a bit because, with the exception of Amazon Web Services (AWS), its services are heavily intertwined with its core retail operation. Remember, Amazon doesn’t own the majority of stuff that is sold on its marketplace, but instead takes commission on third-party sales and, in many cases, charges for shipping and fulfilment. This is by far its biggest “service” revenue stream: globally, sales from third-party seller services nearly doubled over the past two years to become a $104 billion business.

As third-party sales continue to grow as a percentage of total paid units, Amazon’s stated sales become less reflective of the gross merchandise volume moving through Amazon.

The pandemic has clearly cemented Amazon’s status as the indispensable route to market, as we’ve witnessed a swathe of shoppers, retailers and brands flocking to its platform. And, of course, as Amazon’s marketplace becomes more crowded, the need for visibility becomes more urgent. This has catapulted one of Amazon’s more nascent, but hugely promising businesses – advertising. For the first time ever, Amazon disclosed the size of its advertising business – at $31 billion it is bigger than the online advertising revenues of Microsoft, Snap and Pinterest combined.

It’s also worth comparing advertising to Amazon’s other revenue streams. Advertising, which is growing at around 60% annually, generates more sales than Amazon’s physical stores and it’s even bigger than Amazon’s Prime subscription business.

Prime, which is very much the glue of Amazon’s ecosystem, is a service that is about to get more expensive for shoppers, at least in the US. Amazon recently announced a fee hike of $20 annually, which should help to achieve two things. Firstly, it will soften the blow of rising shipping and labour costs that Amazon and the rest of the industry is grappling with. Secondly, Amazon has been in major spending mode recently, and in relation to Prime, the fees will help to offset Amazon’s extra investment in digital content in addition to some of the more logistically complex promises such as “free” same-day grocery delivery.

Prime fee hikes were inevitable and, in my opinion, are we are likely to see a similar hike here in the UK later this year. It’s a delicate balance at a time when household budgets are being so severely squeezed, but Prime has become a way of life for many. The nature of its bundle proposition has become wildly relevant for today’s shopper – Amazon added over 50 million new Prime members globally throughout the pandemic. We’ll see some attrition of those newly acquired, perhaps more hard-pressed Prime subscribers, but I imagine the vast majority of members are far too wedded to the brand and broader ecosystem to even blink an eye.

Of course, it’s not just the revenues generated from services linked to the success of its core retail division – third-party seller fees, advertising and Prime subscriptions – that are poised for solid future growth. But we have to remember that Amazon is a technology company at heart. AWS may only account for 13% of global sales but it remains the cash cow of the business. Its remarkable growth has been fuelled by the pandemic-driven acceleration of cloud adoption, and there is no sign of this slowing down with further expansion planned in the Asia-Pacific region and Canada.

With Amazon, things are not always what they seem. Amazon is quietly becoming the rails that the retail and many other sectors run on. Its moves are designed to strengthen other aspects of the business. For example, Amazon continues to explore the lucrative world of licensing its Just Walk Out technology to other retailers, such as Sainsbury’s. But its checkout-free systems are naturally underpinned by AWS so an increase in demand for Just Walk Out technology also bolsters Amazon’s most profitable business segment. 

So, no, Amazon is not a retailer but a tech company that is becoming increasingly reliant on services as a means of driving topline growth. It just happens to sell a lot of stuff in the process.