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22 Jul
Last week we reported on Amazon’s Prime Day, which was met with mixed opinions across Twitter, with many Tweeters using the hashtag #AmazonPrimeDay to show off the most obscure sale items they could find.
 
Some may argue it was more like a ‘garage sale’ than the Black Friday challenger Amazon promised to its Prime Customers, with discounted items including chef hats, multi pack knuckle dusters, amongst other random offerings. Not that there weren’t some fantastic offers available, it just seemed that these were selling out faster than the excited buyers were expecting.
 
Perhaps not what consumers were expecting then, especially considering the online retailer’s claims that items in the sale had been carefully selected; Abode has reported that half of the overall social sentiment about Prime Day expressed disappointment.
Bigger Than Black Friday?
Despite the negativity directed to the flash sale, Amazon Prime Day gained the e-commerce giant a 40% boost in sales across Europe, plus a further 80% increase in the US. According to the company, the event broke sales records and exceeded Black Friday 2014 sales, which had been the biggest to date.
 
Here at Competitor Monitor, we’ve had a look at the breakdown of statistics released from Amazon in terms of its ‘success’:
 
  • Worldwide order growth increased by 266% year over year
  • Customers ordered 34.4 million items across eligible countries, breaking all Black Friday records with 398 items ordered per second
  • Order growth was 18% higher worldwide than Black Friday 2014
  • Unit sales were up by 300%
  • US daily sales were up 93% year over year
  • Amazon’s EU daily sales were up by 53% year over year
Popular Products
We managed to find out just how many units of some of the best sellers were sold:
  • 56,000 Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy sets
  • 51,000 Bose headphones
  • 47,000 TVs (an increase of 1,300% year over year)
  • 28,000 Rubbermaid container sets
  • 24,000 pressure cookers
  • 14,000 iRobot Roomba 595 vacuum robots
  • 12,000 Fifty Shades of Grey Blu-Rays
  • 10,000 Meguiar’s X2020 Supreme Shine microfiber towels
So, was Prime Day A Success?
It is worth remembering that the brand’s sales event was only available to subscribers who pay £79 a year for the Amazon Prime service.
 
However, the initial goal of Prime Day was to convert shoppers to subscription customers, rather than just simply selling more merchandise. Revealing that more new members tried Amazon Prime than on any other day in Amazon’s history, we see this as an indication of a promotion day working pretty well for Amazon!
 
In fact, the e-commerce giant has confirmed that it will host a Prime Day again: “Going into this, we weren’t sure whether Prime Day would be a one-time thing or if it would become an annual event. After yesterday’s results, we’ll definitely be doing this again,” said Greg Greeley, VP at Amazon Prime in a statement.
 
At Competitor Monitor, we think it will be interesting to see how the contagious nature of sales events like Amazon’s Prime Day will impact on the e-commerce space. While this might be welcomed by consumers looking for cheaper deals, for manufacturers, this could mean being forced to offer unrealistic prices in order to compete.
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16 Jul
From its humble beginnings as the original online bookstore to international tech giant, the company is claiming that Prime Day will be its biggest sales day in its history, even overtaking Black Friday. That’s both a milestone and a bold statement as the global ecommerce business celebrates its 20th birthday.
 
Here’s how the stats compare: While Amazon said it sold more that 5.5 million items (64 per second) on Black Friday, it expects Prime Day, taking place from midnight on Wednesday 15th July for 24 hours, to be bigger as a result of offering thousands more deals.
 
The catch is that Prime Day is only open to Amazon Prime subscribers in the UK, US, Canada, Spain, Germany, Italy, and France. A priority delivery service launched in 2007, subscribers pay £79 a year for unlimited next-day delivery and have access to the company’s own services, including its TV streaming facility, Prime Instant Video.
Slashing Prices To Benefit Customers
Amazon will be running six Deals of the Day, running throughout the time period, subject to availability, as well as Lightning Deals, running every 10 minutes.
 
The retailer already runs this type of promotion every day but says there will be thousands on Prime Day.
 
These will run for a fixed period of time, with a finite number of products available.
 
Categorised products on offer:
  • Amazon merchandise
  • Laptops and PCs
  • Gaming
  • Smartwatches/wearables
  • Cameras
  • TVs/monitors
  • Books/DVDs
  • Headphones/HiFi
Alongside Prime Day festivities, Amazon will also include multiple sweepstakes and giveaways; for instance, users have the chance to win prizes while listening to any song on Prime Music during the event.
 
Prime Day makes an interesting offering as a benefit of being a Prime member, with further features expected to be added to this service over time, according to Christopher North, Amazon’s UK managing director.
Long Lasting Amazon Prime Loyalty?
What about for those who only want to get a cheap deal? Amazon lets new members try the service for 30 days, for free, meaning you can get immediate access to Prime Day discounts. If they decide against the service, they can easily cancel their subscription during the trial for no extra cost. This could affect the level of new subscribers Amazon is expecting to get on board, but loyalty could override that issue.
 
Although Amazon has dominated the ecommerce industry since its public launch in 2007, analysts have expressed their concern that it will struggle to improve its earnings outlook for the remainder of the year. However, considering that shoppers can immerse themselves within Amazon’s offerings, from listening to music to food shopping, Prime could potentially attract and forge stronger ties with advertisers in order to survive.
 
Whatever the outcome, at Competitor Monitor we are interested to see the results following the launch of Prime Day and whether it is as successful as the company hopes, and if the promotional event significantly expands its base of Prime subscribers.
 
Look out for our follow-up feature, focusing on the outcome of the promotion and our own price comparison analysis on some of the key products.
 
At Competitor Monitor, every day we monitor millions of products across the world for our clients, improving price competitiveness and profits. Get in touch today to find out how we can help YOU to outsmart the market.
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03 Apr
In the run up to Easter, the price wars between supermarkets have already began - to the point where shops are running out. Selling from as little as 99p, this means they are cheaper on a pound-to-weight ratio than normal chocolate bars, and retailers have been quick to jump in and capitalise on this.
 
A time when chocoholics can spoil themselves and indulge their sweet tooth, the competition to offer the cheapest price for Easter eggs is so strong that discounts have encouraged an unexpected level demand. The result? A potential nationwide shortage. Asda have stopped selling eggs to online shoppers due to a shortage of stock, while Tesco ran out of several brands of chocolate eggs, including Cadbury’s, Nestlé and Lindt.
How Prices Compare
We at Competitor Monitor have had a closer look at some of the costs and the effects this is having on the availability of the confectionery.
 
The average price for Easter eggs across the top four supermarkets have been reduced by an average of 9.7%, from £4.40 in 2014 to £3.97 this year, according to The Grocer:
  • On average, Morrisons cut the price of branded eggs by 7.3%, forcing the other supermarkets to take its lead.
  • Prices rose at Tesco and Sainsbury’s by 2.6% and 3.3.% on average respectively
  • Costs decreased by 0.4% for Asda.
Further statistics and price changes include:
  • Cadbury’s, the major driver of growth across Easter last year, are 4.4% cheaper in supermarket chains.
  • Kitkat and Smarties (both Nestlé) are down by 4.2%.
  • Own-brand eggs are 6% cheaper on average.
  • The Co-Operative has launched its own line of Easter eggs, available at £5 each.
  • Thorntons is selling Easter hampers for half price online.
We found it interesting at Competitor Monitor that even food brands you wouldn’t think would give Easter much thought are jumping on the bandwagon. Marmite and Pot Noodle eggs have hit the shelves at the major supermarkets and luxury retailer Fortnum and Mason even created a dark chocolate scotch egg with venison inside, a nod to their invention of the iconic snack. 
Knock-on Effect For Other Industries
We predict that prices won’t stay low for long. Cocoa prices have continued to rise over the last few years due to demand for confectionery increasing in emerging markets. Not only that, but the supermarket price wars also resulted in the price of milk to be pushed below the cost of bottled water.
 
As a result this has angered dairy farmers who blame supermarkets for pressuring them to reduce their income. As we know very well at Competitor Monitor when keeping track of prices across various industries; when one is in favour of customer’s wallets, another one has to suffer.
 
Wondering how price monitoring can help YOU to outsmart the market? We monitor thousands of sites across the globe and over 20 million unique products. Get in touch with Competitor Monitor today!
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11 Feb
Valentine’s Day has become an occasion not just about love and romance, but a lucrative opportunity for retailers to take advantage of. People are expected to spend; shops are expected to offer deals and promote here, there and everywhere.
 
Although only 38% of customers said they were actually planning on getting involved in Valentine’s Day celebrations, those who do celebrate the occasion go all out, with a third of those involved intending to spend more by trading up to pricier products, according to shopper marketing agency, Savvy.
Polarised Spending Behaviours
At Competitor Monitor, we found it interesting that this annual celebration isn’t just about splashing cash; customers are spending at polarised ends of the scale, choosing either the top or bottom end, but remember – it’s the thought that counts! For budget retailers this is excellent news.
 
As well as increasing their offering of products, providing more choice for the customer when competing against other brands and products, they are also focusing more on execution of in-store events, with the aim of enticing shoppers to buy and spend more.
 
Those who don’t take the day too seriously, or can’t (or won’t) splash the cash, are turning to the budget supermarkets where they can pick up essentially the same products at a fraction of the price.
 
On the other end of the scale, high-end retailers don’t need to worry. Many customers are seeking luxury goods and intend to dig deep to impress their other half. Sales of premium chocolate at Selfridges have been up by 30%, while sales of Pierre Herme Macarons have seen a 463% increase year on year.
 
In fact, MasterCard’s annual trend index has shown that spending on premium products has increased 13% year on year.
Battle of the Brands
A dozen roses has caused a supermarket price war to break out, which sees Interflora offering a bunch ranging from a pricey £139.99 to £44.99 compared to £3 from Lidl - an offer even undercutting its rival Aldi, charging £5 for its cheapest bunch. Meanwhile Tesco, Asda and Morrisons have slashed the price of their cheapest red roses to £5 for 12, while Sainsbury’s is offering a dozen Fairtrade ones for £7.
 
While this offers shoppers a fantastic price range, from the lowest to the more extortionate, this price war isn’t good new for the independent florists, who can’t compete within the market. According to the British Florist Association, events like Valentine’s Day and the focus on flowers could mean that 8,000 florists across the country could disappear as a result of competition.
Impact of Day on Sales
We think it’s worth noting that this year Valentine’s Day falls on a Saturday. What affect could this have on spending? Mastercard UK and Ireland president, Mark Barnett has said, “This will mean shoppers have more time on their hands to cook at home - that will undoubtedly benefit supermarkets.
 
“We know from our research that shoppers’ biggest expectation of their supermarket will be the availability of Valentine’s Day meal deals, mentioned by 39%.”
 
Perhaps consumers are intending to stay in and dine at home this year, as opposed to spending large amounts on a posh meal out with their other half. In terms of what’s available for those planning to stay in, Morrisons are offering a deal of one main, two sides, one dessert and either a bottle of wine or box of chocolates for £15 and M&S have included a box of chocolates to their regular ‘Dine in for Two’ but increased the price from £10 to £20.
A Lucrative Occasion
Whichever way shoppers decide to go when it comes to spending for Valentine’s Day this year, Competitor Monitor predicts that the surge of last minute, in-store purchases will be made as shoppers jump on the novelty bandwagon.
 
Did you know we monitor millions of products across the world for our clients across various industries? Get your free trial to find out how we can help improve price competitiveness and profits.
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12 Dec
 
We’re always excited to discover new trends in retailer discounting. Usually there are similarities year-on-year, but an increasing number of websites we monitor have had unexpected discounting in 2014.  
 
As the festive season approaches, it seems that everywhere you look, food and decorations are on offer. Not only are these products discounted, most have a considerable amount of money knocked off, or a promotion such as ‘buy one, get one free’ running.  
 
But has full price ever existed, or are these offers a way of trapping the consumer into thinking they’ve got themselves a bargain?
 
Here at Competitor Monitor, we’ve tracked festive products such as Christmas trees, gift-wrap, cards, food and decorations over time, to offer insight into pricing changes during the run up to Christmas. Here are our findings:
 
  • Artificial trees are currently reduced by 50%, some even less than half price. By launching price history reports for several monitored websites, we can see that artificial trees were only sold at full price during August this year. The best time to buy is during November and December – pricing trends have shown that 50% offers only exist during these months.
  • We’ve tracked prices of Christmas cards on several monitored sites. Our data shows that there are currently discounts of up to 50% available, will full prices offered up until October.
  •  Christmas-specific gift wraps currently have a 30-50% saving depending on where you buy – most only stayed at full price until September.
  • Foods such as chocolate biscuits and Christmas puddings have had their prices slashed by 50% – research shows these items were sold at full price in August.
 
From the research above, it appears that the most cost-effective time to prepare for Christmas is later rather than sooner.
 
However, based on past indicators, prices will increase around 19th December, when people have less time to bargain hunt and are less conscious of how much they spend, giving retailers an opportunity to increase their prices. 
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08 Dec

 

At Competitor Monitor we always find some interesting insight in our data. This week we decided to dig into this data in a slightly different way, combining our existing information with some desk research. We thought we would share some results about the Holiday season.

As we all know, the holidays are a time of significant spending for parents and therefore a great opportunity for retailers. But what about the hidden costs in addition to the obvious?

Here are some findings from our research:

·      Food and gifts take up a large portion of a parent’s budget, with up to 80% spent on these alone in the run up to Christmas.

·    Despite Black Friday discounting and Cyber Monday deals, we have found that many of our monitored retailers have increased their pricing over the past few weeks on key items, toys being an obvious but significant one.

·    Tied in with the above, there is a lack of discounting across the board at the moment with very few retailers offering reductions in their lines.

·   Although fuel prices have lowered recently, due to the lower price of oil, our bespoke price monitoring for one customer has shown that train ticket prices remain high and there are no low-cost deals for travel until the New Year.

·     Visits to attractions such as a trip to see Santa Claus, are often unbudgeted expenses which are becoming more expensive year-on-year with the average attraction now costing £60 for a family of four, before factoring in food. Most families can only visit these festive attractions at weekends when prices are usually higher than during the week. An adult fee is even more expensive than a child’s – usually turning a fun family day trip into a pricey affair.

·     According to a survey conducted by a large supermarket chain, on average, parents will spend £312 per child this Christmas – and that’s only on gifts. From our own research, comparing prices of identical products on several of our monitored retail websites could lead to a saving of up to 60%.

 

We will be monitoring the products above to see how they change in price and availability into January. Feel free to reach out of you have any comments on this article.

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02 Dec

 

Although still a relatively new concept in the UK, Black Friday was anticipated to be the biggest and most successful shopping day in the British retail calendar this year.

According to reports, Boxing Day will be outperformed by Black Friday, as discounts and product quality have been higher due to a poor autumn, where retail sales slumped due to mild weather. Supermarket giant Tesco already expects that its Boxing Day sale will be beaten due to huge 70% discounts that were available in-store and online on Black Friday.

Fortunately, after a disappointing autumn, there has been a pre-Christmas boost to sales figures in the UK, where an estimated £810 million was spent by shoppers on Black Friday - £300 million more than projected.

In the USA however, shoppers spent 11% less than during the same period in 2013 and sales dropped from $57.4 to $50.9 billion. Earlier discounts during October, savvier sales shoppers and the money-worries of many consumers are possible contributions to this decline.

Traditionally, Boxing Day is one of the most successful sales in the UK. Yet as more and more retailers offer more permanent and frequent discounts, shoppers are no longer waiting post-Christmas to grab a bargain, potentially killing off the Boxing Day sale.

With that said, it becomes much harder for retailers to gain insight into competitor activity. Promotions are more sporadic and not all retailers offer their most competitive prices at the same time. By monitoring retailers and their competitors, Competitor Monitor can help companies understand more about pricing and promotional trends, whether during a sales period or on a day-to-day basis, offering full visibility and the opportunity to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

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21 Oct
High-end retailers are famous for being intimidating and supercilious. Whether it's a cultural artifact or an actual reality, the perception exists that high-end stores tend to treat customers poorly, especially if they are not immediately wealthy. Conventional marketing wisdom would say that this is a terribly negative strategy, and that the better customer service a retailer provides, the happier the customer will be, and the more likely they are to purchase from you again. Surprisingly, a new study that will be published in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Consumer Research by Darren Dahl has found that when it comes to the highest of the high-end retailers, the opposite is true.
 
Yes, you read that correctly - as long as a brand is perceived to be a luxury high-end brand, customers actually respond more positively to being treated poorly by the sales staff. At least, it's 'positive' when it comes to the bottom line of the retailer's books.  According to the paper, "Rejection by a brand increases consumers' desire to affiliate with it, and they do so by increasing their willingness to purchase, pay for and wear or display items from the rejecting brand." This is incredibly counterintuitive, but it seems to only apply to high-end brands. If the brand or retailer is considered to be cheap or budget, then the effect of poor service is completely different.
 
Additionally, the effect doesn't seem to apply equally to everyone. Dahl was quoted as saying, “Our study shows you’ve got to be the right kind of snob in the right kind of store for the effect to work." In other words, the more you idealise a certain brand, the more likely you are to respond favourably to being rejected by it, which is completely counterintuitive to traditional marketing wisdom.  

In the no-holds-barred world of retail, where a tiny competitive advantage can be the difference between success and failure, it will be interesting to see how various retailers attempt to capitalise on the results of this study. Even more interesting will be possible applications in the world of e-commerce. When it's impossible to assess a customer's potential net worth and spending habits  simply by looking at them as they walk through the front door of a shop, we may find that the 'big data' on our shopping habits being compiled by various retailers is sold and consolidated to form a sort of digital buying power scale. But will customers allow it? Only time will tell.
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13 Oct

When Online Goes Offline

Posted by Toni
The e-commerce revolution has sparked a number of major changes in the way customers interact with businesses. Massive changes in the way they browse, in the way they shop, and in the way they expect their entire transaction experience to go. One of the unintended side effects of these changes has been the shuttering of brick and mortar stores in favour of investing more resources in the digital side of the sales and fulfillment process. As we discussed in a recent post, brick and mortar stores are closing left and right as pressures on margins, overhead and bottom lines become even greater than they have been in the past. Recently, as in the aftermath of most sets of chaotic circumstances, a new pattern has begun to emerge. Instead of offline businesses moving online, a reverse trend has finally begun to establish itself, as traditionally online only companies begin to see advantages of having physical locations.

Arguably, Apple began to pave the way for this when they first took their successful online store offline, and opened the very first Apple Store location in the brick and mortar world. It was a runaway hit, and proved that there was possibility for online stores to make successful forays into the material world. Admittedly, Apple has some of the most fanatical customers of any brand in the world, and those customers tend to have relatively high incomes (or at least the willingness to spend their disposable income at said Apple Store), however the mold was broken and the floodgates may now open. Amazon is apparently gearing up for a pilot test of an offline brand to be known as 'Pantry', in an effort to compete with so-called 'big-box' stores like Walmart and Costco in the United States, and if they can also make it work, then the model has definitely been proven.

North America isn't the only region where online giants are eagerly eyeing the offline sector, however. In China, the popular competitor to Amazon.com known as Alibaba, which has been making headlines all around the world with rumours of a Western IPO and a renewed North American sales focus, is also seriously expanding its ability to conquer offline markets. One of the largest Chinese department store companies, Intime Retail, has recently accepted an investment from Alibaba of over £415 million, giving them a significant advantage over their rivals. As often as Alibaba and Amazon are spoken of as direct rivals, it's interesting to see how much more quickly Alibaba appears to move on its projects - Intime had already inked a deal with Alibaba to use their mobile payment affiliate system, Alipay Wallet, something that Amazon has only spoken of deploying as of yet. It will be interesting to see in the coming years how the two go head to head, as a clash of the e-commerce titans seems more and more inevitable.
 
To learn more about business intelligence and competitor monitoring, whether you're Amazon-sized or just starting out your online business, visit us for a free demo of how we can help you stay ahead of your competition.
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30 Sep
It's an almost unavoidable fact that the e-commerce world moves at the speed of light - thanks to fiberoptic global communications, this is literally true. But even figuratively, the e-commerce world is a constantly shifting landscape of innovation as retailers large and small move to counter the advantages gained by others, while increasing their own competitive ability and marketing position. Competitor tracking is one of the most essential elements of the online retail world, and allows even the smallest businesses to stay abreast of the latest retail tactics.

The latest concept that's taking the retail world by storm is presented as a solution to the competition between online and offline markets: omnichannel retailing. Channels, as most retailers are aware, is simply another way of describing ways of interacting with customers, whether it be via email, websites, mobile browsing, or brick and mortar store foot traffic. In a world that was struggling to adapt to the sudden rise of e-commerce, channels were becoming increasingly fragmented, with the left hand not knowing what the right was doing, so to speak, more often than not, as websites and stores offered different deals, different prices, and in some cases even different products. Needless to say, this was a growing hassle for both retailers and customers alike.

Omnichannel retail solves all those discrepancies by stressing the essential nature of a consistent experience for customers, no matter how they choose to interact with a business. Unlike many buzzwords, this one appears to have gained real traction in the business community, as evidenced by the recent "First Annual Symposium on Omni Retailing", held in New York City at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

While the focus of the symposium was on fashion retail and how it can be enhanced by using omnichannel retail strategies, it makes perfect sense that fashion retailers would be at the forefront of a distributed but consistent retail experience, as many shoppers who browse fashion online are still unwilling to purchase without actually trying the final product. Lending some serious weight to the event was the speaker list, which included representatives from Microsoft, Birchbox, and The Boston Consulting Group, as well as a keynote address by Peter Nordstrom, from the retailer of the same name, a real coup for the event organizers as he rarely speaks at any sort of event.

In a world dominated by multiple channels, the true competitive advantage will be held by those who can deliver consistently excellent experiences to customers, no matter how they choose to interact. Getting in on the ground floor can ensure your business stays ahead of the curve, instead of behind the eight ball.
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27 Sep
Much comment has been made about the recently booming Chinese online retail market, which is forecasted to double in size each year for all the years that projections have currently been made. The potential of the market is truly incredible, and it shows every sign of meeting or exceeding the forecasts that treat it so glowingly. It should come as no surprise, then, that Chinese consumers are embracing the e-commerce experience with such open arms, as they're an integral part of the engine that's driving the retail boom.

According to a recent report that was released by the Shanghai branch of PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Chinese consumer turns to online shopping at a much higher rate than the average global consumer does. One in seven people buy something online every single day, and 60% of the population buys something online at least once a week.

While this is quite impressive in and of itself, there are some other habits of the Chinese consumer that differ somewhat from the Western perspective we've come to have on e-commerce. For instance, their near-ubiquitous adoption of mobile devices is on par with the West, but they use their devices for shopping at a far greater rate than the rest of the world, with nearly 25% of all those polled shopping using their mobile device to shop at least once a week, more than double the global average which clocked in just shy of 9%.

The typical Chinese consumer also seems far more likely to use a social network or company-hosted review site to leave feedback and reviews of their purchases than the global average, whether positive or negative, which creates a much more complete perspective for other potential customers on which to base their purchasing decisions. More than 90% of the polled Chinese customers in the PwC study indicated that they leave feedback online about their purchases, compared to the global average of just 55%.

Even as omnichannel shopping is growing as a common phrase in boardrooms and planning offices in Europe and North America, so too does is it become crucial in China, as the traditional brick and mortar store is forced to adapt to the incredible pace of the online markets. Considering the incredible success of m-commerce in China, it will be very interesting to see how offline retailers deal with the problems of showrooming and omnichannel solutions, and may provide a testing ground for successful strategies to be implemented elsewhere around the world.
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19 Sep
The e-commerce world has always been a rapidly changing one. As little as 10 years ago, it was still a relatively new thing to many people in the Western world, and not necessarily entirely trusted by many who were yet to adapt to the technology. But as the ease of use and availability of items increased, so too did the general public's desire to embrace the new phenomenon, and naturally retailers followed suit. Fortunately, the entire backbone of internet access was well-established in the West by this point, and when coupled with the credit card systems that had been in use for decades, the stage was set for e-commerce to take the retail world by storm. But what about the rest of the world?
 
As the idea of globalized e-commerce begins to become a viable reality, any number of hiccups are being encountered by retailers hoping to reach emerging markets. Global logistics and supply chain issues have been dramatically improved over the last decade, but they're still not guaranteed, and the same type of issue often applies to payment processors. In many nations around the world with comparatively wealthy populations such as Russia, credit cards are still not widely embraced (though with the sheer amount of credit card fraud going on in the world, it's not too difficult to understand why).
 
This presents a fairly serious problem to retailers, however. Some have worked out clever ways around this problem, including the Russian competitor to Amazon's localized shipping depots where customers can pick up items and pay cash, or in some African nations, cash-on-delivery systems have been implemented. Both of these put all the risk in the hands of the retailer, however, and while that may reassure the customers somewhat, it doesn't always encourage foreign investment in online merchants.

In many parts of the world, however, an interesting march of technology has taken place. Throughout Africa and many parts of Asia, landlines and hardwired access has been leapfrogged by mobile phone technology. Enterprising payment processors, recognizing the possibilities of leveraging the already established mobile phone payment systems, have begun to partner with retailers to build an entirely different model of e-commerce that takes advantage of the ubiquity of mobile phones. As this trend expands and more and more customers grow comfortable with the safety and security of these methods, expect to see a sudden and rapid growth in the e-commerce markets of every nation around the globe.
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16 Sep
One of the most celebrated trends recent in online retail websites has been the functionality that allows customers to post reviews of the products being sold, as well as reviews of the retailer itself. All sorts of hassles and unexpected problems have been avoided just by allowing customers to post comment and interact with each other, and by allowing the retailer's customer service team into the conversation, customer confidence and satisfaction has skyrocketed. However, auction sites like the ubiquitous eBay that started so much of the online shopping revolution, coupled with the growing popularity of market-bazaar sites like Alibaba that simply act as platforms to connect merchants and customers, the question must be asked: should retailers be able to start reviewing customers?
 
At first, it may seem like a ludicrous idea - nearly impossible to keep track of and ensure there is no potential for abuse. But these same issues were raised during the introduction of the buyer's ability to rate sellers, and of the entire online customer review concept, and now those elements are staples of almost all e-commerce sites. eBay in particular has a problem with this, given the nature of the system. If a user wins an auction and then simply doesn't pay, the seller has absolutely no recourse when it comes to alerting other sellers to this problem customer. Curiously enough, sellers are able to leave positive feedback about transactions that went smoothly, but don't have the option to mention anything negative if the customer fails to send money or causes some other type of problem.

There is much to be said for the idea of protecting customers from the wrath of an angry merchant. At first glance, the power dynamic appears to automatically favour the merchant. After all, they have a business to run and seem to gain trust simply by virtue of the fact that they are merchants - but as the line between sellers and "trustworthy brands" continues to blur thanks to the digital empowerment of a single individual to run a fairly large business online, and as fraud and abuse seem like daily facts of life in the digital world, it only seems fair that protections for merchants evolve at the same time as protections for customers. This is especially true in the emerging online markets that often have higher instances of fraud and other dubious transactions, and that element is likely going to become more and more apparent as these markets mature.
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13 Sep
When talking about online retail, the news is generally positive. After all, most markets around the world are posting incredible growth numbers that vastly outpace the statistics in comparable offline sectors, and in business news (unlike most news), the tendency is towards positive reports that keep everyone upbeat about the stability of the economy. It's impossible to ignore the fact that there is a bit of a dark side to all this growth - many brands are closing a huge number of brick and mortar stores, which throws a number of other connected markets (real estate, for example) for quite a loop.
 
The trend in brick and mortar closings isn't exactly new. Back at the beginning of the e-commerce era, when people still used the phrase 'dot coms', highly successful book shop Barnes & Noble was already beginning to feel the pressure from Amazon's initial forays into the book market. Eventually, Barnes & Noble got its act together and invested in a serious online presence, but not before they had closed an astonishing number of stores in a remarkably short time, including their New York City-based flagship location. The element that makes this continued phenomenon strange is now the types of stores that are closing.
 
24/7 Wall St. reports that of the brands closing the most stores in the United States, 3 of the 5 are clothing retailers, which perfectly highlights the growing success of fashion retailers who have moved towards online shopping in recent years. The retailer closing the second-highest number of stores is the aforementioned and beleaguered Barnes & Noble, and the other is Office Depot, although this last is largely due to a merger than any sudden shifts in online sales success.

Interestingly enough, across the Atlantic in the United Kingdom, it appears that this American trend isn't holding true. In 2012, nearly 1800 shops closed on high streets throughout the UK, which is a staggering 20 closings per day. Last year's numbers, however, had shrunk so dramatically as to be considered 'normal', down 80% to only 371 closings for the whole year. However, this is still the third year straight that has posted decreases in the number of brick and mortar stores overall, which indicates that even though the initial shock of the online retail switch may have passed, it's not likely reverse itself unless retailers can come up with better reasons for customers to visit brick and mortar locations.
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10 Sep
Mobile commerce, or 'm-commerce', has long been a sort of holy grail for e-commerce retailers - tantalizing, but nearly impossible to find successfully. A number of different approaches have been tested to solve the problem, but there haven't been many runaway successes as of yet. However, as the market begins to mature, we are finally reaching a point where there is actually enough data to begin a data-driven analysis of what is working and what isn't, over larger product areas than a single company can provide.
 
A recently released Experian Marketing Services analysis report took a look at the online purchasing trends among Americans in 2013, but subdivided this fairly typical question by the specific type of device those customers used to make their purchase, and the results were fairly interesting. Perhaps unsurprisingly, over 50% of Americans bought books, clothing, or electronics online last year - although on reflection, perhaps that is a bit surprising after all, simply for being somewhat lower than one might expect in such a hyper-connected era.
 
Among the most interesting tidbits was the fact that nearly the same number of users (roughly half of those polled) purchased clothing and fashion accessories on a tablet as those who did their shopping computers, compared to just over a quarter of those who owned smartphones. This is likely a testament to the much larger screen sizes afforded by tables, but the intuitive possibilities of gesture and swipe controls for creating interactive catalogs that just feel clunky on a computer can't be ignored. Tablets haven't quite caught up to desktop computers when it comes to purchasing electronics, with only 41% of tablet owners making such purchases via their tablets. Naturally, books are one of the areas that tablets completely dominate the market, thanks to devices such as the Kindle Fire and the iPad. The same is true of music, games and other apps that have long been the province of the mobile market.

The most interesting thing about tablets and their emerging popularity is the way they start to blur the lines between mobile devices and traditional computers. As tablets grow more and more powerful, the lines will blur even further - except in one major respect. Many customers bring their smartphones with them everywhere, and frequently use them to find store locations and use price comparison tools in store, which is a difficult thing to do easily with a tablet, as they tend not to fit comfortably into pockets. Fortunately, brick and mortar retailers aren't likely to ever have to worry about tablet showrooming - but who knows what the future may bring?
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