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  • Posted by: Frank Vrtar on Monday, May 6 2013 04:53 PM | Comments (0)

    ebay eBay is synonymous with online auctions. It created the category, so it’s an understandable perception of the brand that will be difficult to escape.

    Recently it has been making a big push to be relevant in the bricks-and-mortar offline retail world through initiatives like the Here point-of-sale system, so the announcement it is partnering with an unnamed retailer to create a “pop-up” shop with a touchscreen window-front is not surprising. Late last week, eBay CEO John Donahoe said that retailers needed to “go to where your consumers are shopping.”

    Where do you go to find shoppers? You go to the store, of course!

    Human beings have been participating in commerce by going to the market for thousands of years. A couple of decades of technological advancement are not going to eliminate such a deeply ingrained social interaction. Most purchases are made in-store, and that is not changing any time soon.

    The technology winners in retail are not going to be those that try to fundamentally change the shopping experience. They are going to be the ones that best enhance the real-world interactions a shopper is already using.

    Grocery Shopping

    Online grocery shopping has continually failed because it removes the immediate, spontaneous, sensory and social components integral to grocery shopping while delivering little in the way of convenience or selection enhancement. Essentially it has been unable to find a model that fits into how people shop. Grocery retailers have had much more success with technologies like self-checkout and in-store mobile applications, which add value to the existing customer experience.

    Shoppers are less likely to look at the retail experience in terms of online versus offline. To them, purchasing is about satisfying a need, and they will use the tools that best help them find the product that does so. The winning technologies will be those that enhance the retail experience by delivering one or more of six key enhancement opportunities:

    • Extending Product Selection 
    • Recommending Products 
    • Comparing Products and Prices 
    • Extending Purchase Opportunities 
    • Simplifying or Enhancing Payment 
    • Enhancing Post-Purchase Care

    The success of online retail is largely because of its ability to deliver against these opportunities, and the logical extension is to bring the online tools to the physical store. eBay is setting itself up for success, keeping its focus within these opportunity areas, and it has “bet hard on mobile” to make it happen.

    Donahoe said, “It’s not just to shop or make payments, but the whole flow.” Donahoe suggested a shopping experience that has the shopper using not only their mobile phone, but many digital touchpoints at different points in the experience.

    Shoppers are already using the web pre-store to research product selections and are using their smartphones to compare price and product while in-store. A Deloitte study of consumers who used apps/websites in-store during their most recent shopping trip showed that 85 percent of shoppers surveyed actually made a purchase that day, compared to only 64 percent who used a third-party app or site.

    ebay mobileThe large touchscreen window-front may create the most buzz because of its novelty and flashy nature. It may very well be successful because it can be used to extend the product selection and provide purchase opportunities at times beyond the store hours. But the real hero will be the mobile device.

    Shoppers are comfortable with their smartphones. They feel safe and in control with them. Most importantly they have already integrated them into their shopping experience. The more ways eBay can find to enable mobile devices to hit on the enhancement opportunities, the more successful it will be.

    Beyond online auctions, eBay has been an innovator in the way people buy, sell and pay for products online. With the “pop-up” store it will have a showpiece that blurs the lines between the online and offline, creating a true unified shopping experience. It has the opportunity to break the perception of the brand as an online auction site and become known as a true retail innovator.

    Frank Vrtar is Senior Designer, User Experience for Interbrand Design Forum.

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  • Posted by: Jaiye Elias on Thursday, June 23 2011 01:01 PM | Comments (0)

    Last month, Beautycard, Superdrug's new loyalty card scheme, finally arrived on the UK high street. Superdrug is the second largest health and beauty retailer, behind Boots, operating 900 stores across the UK and Ireland, 200 of which also house pharmacies.

    As a self-confessed beauty junkie, I'd always wondered why Superdrug had been so slow to launch a loyalty card for its shoppers. After all, its competitor, Boots, whose loyalty card scheme launched in 1997 and now has well over 16 million users, has left it well and truly behind. Boots’ reward scheme enables it to collect customer data to actively target shoppers with promotions and products that they are more interested in. It’s this valuable customer data that the Beautycard (with its mirror on the back) is trying to capture in order to market and sell Superdrug products to consumers.

    I can't help but hope that Superdrug's delay to bring out its own loyalty card was because it wanted to own a scheme that truly differentiated it on something other than price. Perhaps it wanted to take customer loyalty to the next level, harnessing the technology of the digital age to bring its shoppers a rewards scheme that was intelligent, personal, and human. The initial signs are good.

    Superdrug turned up the heat on Boots with the redesign of its in-store magazine in February. The magazine now uses digital watermarking technology to allow shoppers to buy products straight from the magazine using their smartphones; readers can also view video content and access exclusive news, tips, and offers by scanning barcodes embedded in the mag. Beautycard is also trying to drive customers to shop online, offering 10 points for every £1 spent on Superdrug.com versus 1 point per £1 in store. Boots has 2,500 stores across the UK so perhaps it’s online that Superdrug feels able to quickly beef up its size. I’d like to see Superdrug using gamification techniques to get consumers to "join" the brand rather than sending out an email into consumers’ already overloaded inboxes. Innovative ways of getting shoppers to engage with the Superdrug brand is how they can really set themselves apart from rivals.

    However, with the launch of Boots extended Advantage Card offer, Treat Street, last autumn, cardholders can also collect advantage points at a range of other online retailers such as Lastminute.com, ASOS, eBay and notonthehighstreet.com. It seems that the battle for pounds in the UK beauty industry is going to get ugly.

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  • Posted by: Helen Gould on Monday, May 23 2011 12:59 PM | Comments (0)

    It’s easy to scoff at Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype as a woeful attempt to buy loyalty. A medieval marriage, if you will, intended to make the duke beloved through alliance with a pious wife. And it is true that, generally speaking, Skype users *love* Skype where as Microsoft users merely tolerate the brand, or, best case, adopt a love-to-hate-it attitude.

    It’s superficial assessment and misses the point.

    The point is, ownership of Skype gives Microsoft the opportunity to deeply alter its DNA and to fundamentally change the very nature of the Microsoft brand through an open, can-do, user-focused attitude. Imagine:

    • Seamless integration of Skype throughout Office. Easy accessibility to anyone and their data from virtually anywhere. We could launch a videoconference on the fly from within Word, or get instant feedback in the midst of making a PowerPoint deck.
    • In-your-face xBox sparring. Live video interaction leads to a fundamental reconsideration of what massive multiplayer online gaming really is. Graphics merged with live footage morphed into a game. More realistic avatars. Trashtalk taken to a new level. Sweet!
    • Widespread corporate adoption of Skype as telecommunications infrastructure. IT is already intimate with Microsoft. If Microsoft does it right, transitioning to Skype will be a no-brainer for many CIOs. Systems will be easier to manage and users will have an improved overall experience.

    Maybe Microsoft will be able to start living up to its 2006 tagline, “Your potential. Our passion.” Heads will turn. Opinions will change. Grudging Microsoft users may become enthusiasts. It’s not too much to expect, if you lengthen the timeline a bit – if Microsoft adopts the user-centric Skype approach and if Skype influences Microsoft more than Microsoft influences Skype. What started as another way to beat the system could help Microsoft, the system itself, truly blossom.

    Perhaps this is why Microsoft will succeed where eBay didn’t. Both companies bought Skype for its user base, functionality, and to play keep-away from Google. But while eBay saw Skype come and go with nary a scratch, Microsoft really needs this to work.

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  • Posted by: Helen Gould on Wednesday, February 23 2011 10:44 AM | Comments (0)

    The latest cycle of employee pre-IPO migration is in full swing in the Bay Area. Seven years ago, workers flocked to Google. Before that, eBay and Yahoo! were the favorites. LinkedIn and Twitter held some interest recently, but now Facebook is the new land of plenty, with its signal that going public in 2012 is a real possibility.

    With news like this, it’s easy to take the view that Silicon Valley is full of a bunch of opportunists who care little about what they do, and care more about retiring early. True, there is some of that. But what many people don’t fully understand is it’s the company cultures that make this place tick.

    I landed at eBay in 2004, well past the stock option boom. Yes, the first week there, I met a woman who was retiring to the south of France, but she was in the minority. I had many more co-workers who had been there for years, or for just six months, and were charged up about what eBay had done and could still do—how it could continue to change the economic lives of millions. It was intoxicating. Why would I want to work anywhere else? But many have since left (including me) for the next great thing. And I am sure they are ready to move again, this time to Facebook. Certainly many companies are looking at the Facebook hiring tsunami and are worried about losing employees. They are right to be concerned, but before they start handing out huge bonuses and throwing employee appreciation parties, it is important to keep the following in mind:

      1. Don’t lose sight of what you stand for. Employees came to you for reasons much richer than just stock options. Google is fiercely intellectual and values independent thinkers. Yahoo!, once a revolutionary, is still Fighting the Good Fight. These are the kinds of core values that will continue to attract and retain employees long after the stock price spikes.
      2. Don’t try to be someone else. When eBay leadership was stressed that we weren’t enough like Amazon, my connection to the brand started to slip. I didn’t drive an hour each way to work for just any e-commerce company. I did it to work someplace special with amazing colleagues.
      3. Respect the Silicon Valley way. Employee movement is a fact of life, and our comfort with that is what helps fuel the start-up culture. It’s about taking chances and trying new things. Try to hang onto employees too tightly, and you’ll just help them reach the door that much faster. It’s a fluid workforce, and you will see them again.

      I know two people who have recently taken jobs at Google. When asked about their new positions, both brought up the incredible sushi bar in the cafeteria. The sushi bar!?!? When is a sushi bar not just a sushi bar? When it is used to signal that a brand cares about what its employees care about—and that is the key to creating a loyal workforce.

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    1. Posted by: Fred Gerantabee on Friday, June 4 2010 10:40 AM | Comments (0)

      Over the past decade, there have been some excellent examples of how big brands have redefined themselves beyond the brick and mortar box by creating cutting edge online experiences. Whether it’s the Nike shoe configurator, Volkswagen’s “Build your VW” or an entire online playground delivered by Disney’s Imagineering group, many top brands have learned how to leverage the latest web technologies to build a virtual experience that mirrors or deviates (in a positive way) from the store, dealership, theme park or whatever real world venue has been a part of that brand’s evolution.

      However, what about those household names that never had a store? What about those brands that are built in the depths of cyberspace without doors, store hours, a product on the shelf or a slew of TV commercials? The next generation of “brands” have built their bones on the intangible: experiences, mouse interaction, features and full exploitation of eye-catching and tactile technologies that are transparent to the average user, but active on the mind of every web developer and digital designer in the marketplace today.

      Amazon was an experience before it was a brand
      I’ve used this phrase a couple of times when addressing brick and mortar and traditional businesses that are concerned with redefining or merging their brands online, or even just rolling out an existing brand into a viable web experience. The sentiment is that if you can create or mirror a great experience online, the brand (even an unfamiliar one) can evolve, in part, from its success. After all, in the web world, competitors can originate from very different places, whether it’s traditional retail dynasties or pure cyber-businesses that have grown from venture capital and a series of unusual ideas.

      Amazon is a great example of the new kid who could run marathons before it even learned how to speak its own name. Is it possible that without many of the key elements of brand identity (such as carefully developed visuals, verbal identity and a concrete business strategy) that a bunch of pages and code files can become the next household name?

      It’s all in the tabs
      When Amazon launched in 1995 as an online bookstore, the web was in its infancy. E-commerce was finding its feet, and many traditional businesses that had managed to roll out hundreds of stores across the country couldn’t manage to get a proper shopping cart up and running. Most e-commerce sites from established brand names were clunky and unpredictable, and most of all, did no justice to the excellent customer service and in-store experiences that their retail equivalents had achieved.



      Source: The History of Amazon’s Tab Navigation (LukeW Ideation & Design)

      With easy to use manila folder styled top tabs, a Spartan design and useful features galore, the Amazon experience (as well as those infamous tabs) became one of the most copied designs on the web. Most of all, as Amazon continued to grow, it paid special attention to how it re-organized its offerings, and expanded to include features such as recommended buys, one-click shopping and wish lists. All of this came from a company that didn’t see a net profit until January of 2002 (which by our own Best Global Brands standards, would have put Amazon in the waste bin before that year). The moral of the story, is that Amazon defined itself as an experience before it became a viable brand, complete with profit, projections and a clear strategy. The Amazon logo is easily recognizable from yards away – not because you’ve seen it on the face of retail shops or milk cartons, but because that logo emerged from one of the most notable online experiences ever developed.

      Ebay also holds a similar honor; not only did the online marketplace giant redefine how we shop (our parents never had to put in a “bid” to buy designer shoes), but created a series of shopping and user experience mechanisms around a very basic, almost child-like design and little to no verbal identity or supporting imagery. Those defining brand elements, by our standards, may not have been there – but the experience itself compensated for it…and well. It too, like Amazon, has become one of the most recognized brands in the world–so recognizable, that you may feel like it’s always been there.

      Now, the next generation of experiences is coming fast and furious. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, all with no evident or clearly defined long-term profit model, have redefined the way we expect the web (and everything else) to work. Cutting-edge, clever and transparent uses of technology (Flash, Flash & H.264 Video, HTML/CSS and JavaScript, iPod OS) have redefined our expectations for what a service should do. Like the things we grew up with (Tropicana, Kellogg’s, Barnes & Noble, the Walkman, to name a few) we associate these services with our own lifestyles—with our daily activities and with our social interactions with others. The experience in all of these cases has far outrun the viability of the brand, but in many cases is instrumental in carrying that company to brand stardom.

      User experiences and functionality, shaped by today’s technologies, can make or break the next big brand in cyberspace. These intangibles don’t replace the core aspects of what defines a brand, but they most certainly have become an additional factor in an already complex formula for success.

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