Does Virtual Reality Have A Place In eCommerce?

Does Virtual Reality Have A Place In eCommerce?

Back to the Future

My first encounter with Virtual Reality (VR) was in 1992 in the Trocadero off Piccadilly Circus, London. The Virtuality 1000CS arcade machine they had was pretty much the state of the art at the time and I duly paid over the exorbitant asking price so I could have a go.

The few minutes I survived in “Grid Busters” was an experience like no other. I left feeling, maybe a little short changed, but excited to see how the technology would develop over the coming years.

Roll forward to 2018 and the “Actual Reality” of VR was a pretty slow burn and it’s taken the best part of a quarter of a century for the technology to get here. But here it is and it’s gathering pace in a way that deserves our attention.

“Virtual Reality is here and it’s gathering pace in a way that deserves our attention.”

VR Technology Bandwagon

Over the past 12 months alone, investors have put more than $1.7 billion into VR technologies according to Entrepreneur.com and numerous devices have been launched onto the market.

Samsung Gear VR and Oculus Rift & Go, PlayStation VR, HTC Vive, HP Mixed Reality, LG 360 VR are some of the main players – and the technology has advanced dramatically.

High resolution, fast refresh rates, a wide field of view and 3-axis tracking is where we’re at; which all translates to a truly immersive experience.

And the market is growing. According to CCS Insight, by 2018 it’s estimated that 24 million VR devices will be sold globally, with hundreds of new start-ups and hundreds of smaller players flooding into the market.

Augment your Virtual Reality?

Alongside VR, and often mentioned in the same breath, is Augmented Reality (AR). Augmented Reality is an interactive computer-generated experience of a real-world environment that has elements “augmented” in various ways.

Augmented Reality can be experienced on your phone, tablet or laptop and has some possible advantages over VR in that simple payment mechanisms are built into the device you’re using for the experience, for example, Apple Pay or Google Pay.

Virtually Useless?

Our interest here is retail and e-commerce and how this technology could be useful in extending reach, driving conversion/sale and providing actionable data. Also, what’s the cost of all this and can ROI be achieved for a mid-sized retailer? Let’s take a look at some examples of what people are doing today with the technology today.

 

Ikea’s Place (AR)

Ikea’s “Place” AR app lets you browse their catalogue and place items in your living room to their scale size, helping you to not buy a sofa and get it home to find out it doesn’t fit.

The app also allows you to take a photo of an item and then it will look up similar items from the Ikea catalogue.

The app gets 4.6 out of 5 on Apple’s App Store and our quick play with it here showed it was easy to use and get going. There were some odd looking sizing issues and surely Ikea is missing a trick by not building any checkout functionality into the app?

Avametric (AR)

As many as 35% of consumers say they would shop more online if they were able to try on products virtually before they pressed the buy button (Walker Sands retail report).

Avemtic’s technology allows consumers to try on clothes within their app. Their technology advances on previous efforts in this area by accounting more accurately for body type, size and the fitting of the garment.

GAP are one of the first consumer brands to leverage the technology allowing their customers to see how clothes will look on them in an augmented reality environment.

 

ShelfZone (VR)

Invrsion’s ShelfZone system, pushes the boundary even further by entering the world of Virtual Reality. In this space Invrsion offer solutions for retailers looking to develop and test new concepts in point of sale as well as test category and brand communication and shopper behaviour analysis. And this perhaps is getting to the heart of where VR can start to provide ROI – the rich data that retailers can gain from consumers interaction with these virtual worlds.

On top of this Invrsion offer “v-commerce”, allowing consumers to browse and shop in a completely virtual environment.

Virtually Unaffordable?

Undoubtedly there are some interesting innovations in the field of Augmented and Virtual Reality, but what of the cost of producing these virtual worlds and is there any chance of ROI?

Costs are difficult to pin down, but anecdotally we are talking about several hundred thousand pounds to get in the game. That’s a lot of gross profit to pull back in for a mid-sized retailer. AR will also require different versions for different devices and the VR market is still much fractured with some standards starting to form but even then the user base is primarily interested in playing games and not shopping… at least for now.

So in summary, if you’re a higher tier retailer with a full optimised omnichannel strategy there probably is a business case split across data capture, press opportunities and who knows – even sales; but our advice for mid-tier retailers, for now, is “watch this space” – there is almost certainly lower hanging fruit to pick before you pop your virtual cherry.

Chris Maule
19th Sep 2018

10 Tips On Clearing Surplus Sale Stock

10 Tips On Clearing Surplus Sale Stock

Are your stockrooms and warehouses getting more and more jam-packed by the day? Are you struggling to shift your surplus summer stock and still make a profit? Fear not! Our top 10 tips for clearing sale stock will have you freeing up storage space for your new autumn product ranges in no time at all.

1. Summer isn’t over yet!

Autumn stock may have started to land in stores and online but the summer has only just begun, especially for families who are planning to go away during the school holidays. This is great news if you’ve still got lots of summer stock left. Make sure that you aren’t focusing too heavily on autumn stock when planning your marketing activities and merchandising your landing pages. Your customers may not be ready to start shopping for wooly jumpers and coats just yet, so show them all the beachwear and sunglasses you still have in stock.

2. Short of sizes

This tip stands for both full price and reduced items. One of the most frustrating things about browsing a website is seeing something you want on the category page, clicking into the product page and realising that they don’t have the size you need. To prevent your users from experiencing this negative feeling (and associating it with your site), if you don’t have full size ranges then display available sizes clearly on the category listing page so that the user can see whether or not you have what they are looking for before clicking through. You can also provide size filters on large category listing pages so that customers can easily identify the products that meet their requirements.

Many users browse sale sections of websites without a specific item in mind. Depending on the size of your sale section, it’s unlikely they will go through every single item. Therefore the quicker you can get suitable items in front of them, the more likely they are to buy.

3. Be clear on delivery charges

Many retailers exclude sale items from counting towards their free delivery thresholds. If you are one of those retailers, make sure you are displaying the delivery pricing clearly on sale items. Delivery charges are a big cause of basket abandonment so make sure you are clear from the outset.

4. Make it as easy as possible for users to find what they are looking for

We see many retailers adding all of their sale items (sometimes hundreds) to a single listing page. Some don’t even offer category or product type filters! This is a nightmare for users in this time-poor age of impatience. Why make your customers work to find what they are looking for? A few additional landing pages will save them time and improve your chances of ranking organically for sale-related search queries. Break your sale into sensible categories but don’t go overboard – make sure you have enough product to fill each of the sub-categories.

5. Create a sense of urgency

It’s likely that you’ll only have few units per size/colour left by the time you go into sale. Use this to your advantage and highlight when there are only one or two left. This will create a sense of urgency and encourage the user to order now so they don’t miss out.

Source: http://www.topshop.com/

6. Marketplaces and comparison engines

As you’re in a hurry to sell your stock, make sure that it can be found in as many places as possible. Lots of users visit sites like Amazon, eBay and Google Shopping when looking to find the lowest price for an item. If you aren’t already, get your products listed and make sure that the feeds to sites like these – and any other third party sites – contain up-to-date pricing.

7. Highlight your returns policy

Let your users know that it is within their rights to change their mind and make sure that the returns process is as simple as possible. Offer a collection service and the ability to return to a local store, for instance. This will encourage them to act on impulse and not put too much thought into completing their purchase. Offering this kind of customer service may increase returns in the short term but it is likely to give you a competitive edge and increase lifetime value through repeat custom.

8. Cross selling

Don’t exclude sale items from the related/complementary items displayed on your basket and product pages. Their lower prices make them ideal as ‘add ons’ as users are far more likely to purchase discounted items on a whim. So long as you have your targeting set up right, this feature could be a great way to increase your average basket value during sale time.

9. Checkout optimisation for devices

As the purchases of many sale items are completed with less thought and consideration, the customer is also less likely to have a real need for these items. This means that if they have any problems completing their journey through the checkout they are more likely to drop out than persist.

Make sure you know which devices your visitors are using and ensure the checkout is optimised accordingly. Many retailers make their checkouts responsive but fail to optimise them for touchscreen users. Typing on a touchscreen can be painful so avoid making the user type where possible. Add placeholders to your fields and add validation ticks as confirmation that they’ve been filled out correctly – this will prevent them from having to go back and re-enter their details if they get them wrong. Offering options like PayPal, postcode look-up and saved card details all make the process much easier for a touchscreen user.

10. Highlight the saving

Make sure that your users know exactly how good your offer is. If you believe that you are selling at a competitive price then be clear and display the amount the customer is saving. Highlight this in red along with the sale price so that it stands out on the page.

To discuss unified commerce for one great customer experience, why not give John or Chris a call on 0845 521 0444 to see if we can help!

Stephanie Fenton
6th August 2018

Battle of the Buzzwords: Why ‘Omnichannel’ Beats ‘Multi-Channel’ eCommerce

Battle of the Buzzwords: Why ‘Omnichannel’ Beats ‘Multi-Channel’ eCommerce

Believe it or not, there’s a gulf between ‘multi-channel’ and ‘omnichannel’ eCommerce.

Yes, they’re both buzzwords. Yes, they were both born out of the ongoing explosion in different sales channels. And yes, they’ve both been said so many times and for so long that we’re tired of hearing them…

But there’s also a vital difference here.

It’s a difference you can measure in your marketing ROI, in your creeping operation costs, and in your long term business growth. In short, it’s a difference every e-tailer should care about.

So here’s our guide to these two elusive terms, and exactly why they matter…

Multi-channel: the choice is yours

A ‘multi-channel’ approach means tackling the explosion of sales channels head on. It’s about meeting consumers wherever they prefer to be.

Simply put, multi-channel strategy means getting out there onto ‘multiple’ channels—the more the merrier…

Part of the shopping boom that’s doubled mobile commerce since 2010? Have a favourite marketplace in mind? Or are you like the 37% of consumers whose main shopping inspiration is social media? (PwC, Consumer Insights Survey 2018)

Whatever a consumer chooses, a switched on multi-channel retailer will have them covered, with a well-optimised platform ready at hand.

Being multi-channel is pretty much a given in modern eCommerce, and for good reason.
When 73% of shoppers use multiple channels to make retail purchases (McKinsey), more channels means more ways to drive sales, boost revenue and ultimately grow your business.

At least, that’s the theory…

73% of shoppers use multiple channels to make retail puchases

– McKinsey

Friction burns

The reality of shopping across channels is a little more complicated. Because consumers don’t just live their whole shopping lives in one channel—they move around.

“A consumer might get inspired to make a purchase on social media,” explains our own Chris Maule, “but that doesn’t necessarily mean they want to buy then and there.

“For example, they might flick over to their preferred marketplace instead—maybe Amazon, maybe a price comparison site—so they can compare a few options. And when they do find an option they like, that consumer might head over to your desktop site and do some in-depth research, before buying a few days later from their phone, and expect to collect it in store at a time that suits them.”

A purely multi-channel retail strategy can’t cope with this kind of consumer. Multi-channel gives you a presence on all the right channels, sure, but it can’t link them together. Instead each channel operates in a silo, making sales and running operations in isolation.

The result is all too often a fragmented customer experience.

Enter the omnichannel

These days ‘omnichannel’ sounds like old news, another well-worn buzzword with plenty of years behind it. But it’s still achingly relevant for achieving growth in eCommerce.

Omnichannel strategy is a more sophisticated response to the growing range of shopping channels. It’s not just about meeting the consumer on multiple channels; it’s about making sure that they have a single, seamless experience across them.

“Simply put, omnichannel is multi-channel done properly!”
John Bowden, Senior VP of Customer Care, Time Warner Cable

Being omnichannel is a far more ambitious goal than multi-channel. It also offers far, far greater rewards. But is it really worth the extra time and investment to turn your multi-channel approach into a genuinely omnichannel eCommerce experience?

4 reasons to go omnichannel:

1. Popular demand

‘Omnichannel’ certainly isn’t a niche concept for consumers. Over 77% of shoppers want a more unified multi-channel experience—but just 20% of retail businesses say providing one is a strategic priority for 2018 (Manhattan Associates).

There’s an obvious gap between what consumers want, and what retail businesses are providing. This is a ripe opportunity to simultaneously delight your consumers, and stand out in a landscape where even the biggest eCommerce players struggle.

Over 77% of shoppers want a more unified multi-channel experience – but just 20% of retail business say providing one is a strategic priority for 2018.

– Manhattan Associates
2. Smarter use of staff time

The few extra seconds it takes for your warehouse team to manually log and chase stock can quickly add up, especially in peak season. That effect is multiplied tenfold when you’ve got different teams juggling different channels.

Omnichannel operations achieve a single inventory view across all channels, keeping teams across your entire business on track and on time—slashing costs while getting more from your back end operations.

3. Reduced stock holding

Managing stock can end up being a serious headache for retailers: either pay the price for larger reserves, or face the possibility of that dreaded ‘out of stock’ notice on your website…

The good news is that an omnichannel system sidesteps this conundrum. When you can see where your stock is across all of your channels, locations and suppliers—and see when you’re projected to sell-through—you’re primed to take swift action to maintain the precise level of stock needed.

The result is a smoother shopping experience for your customers, and warehouse investment freed up to start generating real ROI elsewhere.

4. Better marketing

Omnichannel operations are built on a ‘single customer view’, tracking customers across every channel they interact with—whether that’s in-store, online, mail order, events, or another channel altogether.

That gives omnichannel e-tailers a wealth of data to work with, and the ability to really get under their customers’ skin to learn what’s working, what isn’t, and where and how the business can move for maximum returns and future growth.

The hard work starts here

Getting omnichannel right is an immense opportunity for mid-sized retail businesses. Do the hard work—line up a genuinely seamless experience—and you might be stealing a march on even your biggest competitors.

But achieving omnichannel is easier said than done.

To get omnichannel tactics in action and working for your business, and slot them into your broader game plan for eCommerce growth, download our free eBook Beyond the Hype: Four Fundamentals For Sustainable eCommerce Growth.

Stephanie Fenton
16th May 2018

The Cost of Convenience: Can Your Business Afford Free Delivery?

The Cost of Convenience: Can Your Business Afford Free Delivery?

Consumer demands for delivery are blowing through the roof. Today’s online shoppers don’t just want hyper-convenient delivery and returns—they expect your business to provide them…

“The Amazon effect has raised everyone’s expectations about how fast products should arrive at our doorstep.” – PWC, Total Retail Survey 2017.

There’s no escaping it. E-Commerce businesses have to nail delivery.

Better delivery options are now the second biggest factor why consumers choose one online retailer over their competitors (KPMG). And high delivery costs are now the single biggest cause of basket abandonment at over 50% (MetaPack)…

What was once accepted as ordinary delivery times, now seems like a lifetime of unbearable delays.

But there’s a flipside. With convenient delivery in such high demand, getting it right can be a potent way to attract and convert consumers.

Fortunately, offering outstanding delivery isn’t as hard as it sounds…

Find your loophole

Too many e-tailers end up seeing decisions on delivery policy as a Catch-22—either you burn your margins trying to keep up with Amazon, or you refuse to play the game and lose all your sales to speedier competitors. It’s a tough one.

But there is a middle ground…

“A lot of the most effective strategies are far simpler than you’d expect. What retailers really need for competitive delivery isn’t just resources: it’s commitment too.”

– John Coyne, Venditan

Instead of committing to funding free delivery no matter the cost, smart retailers need to remember that details, partners and sheer work ethic go a very long way in this industry.

So here are 3 surprisingly simple strategies that will help you offer truly competitive delivery options, all while reducing costs and protecting margins.

1. Pick your partners

Outstanding delivery starts with the right partners.

Invest the time to take a hard look at your current suppliers. Are you really getting the best rates? Are you using their different service categories to full effect?

The key is to negotiate.

Remember, better rates from your courier usually comes down to the volume of shipments you’re processing. So if you’ve enjoyed recent revenue growth—and hence more shipments—pick up the phone, and check out the deals your current partners can offer.

If there’s nothing they can do, then it’s time to shop around and weigh up your options. Spending time and effort hunting for suppliers may feel like a distraction, but it’ll replay itself over and over if you can nail a better deal.

That said, we always recommend the Goldilocks principle in negotiations: look for a reasonable deal, not extremes. After all, the goal is getting a long-term partner.

The goal is getting a long term partner

2. Watch those margins

Don’t lose yourself in what other businesses are doing.

Amazon may be leading lights in consumers’ eyes, but the E-Commerce goliath also lost a colossal $7.2 billion on shipping in 2016, according to GeekWire analysis. Amazon, of course, have done their maths and know they can lean on their other services to make up the difference.

The example for other retailers is easy to spot. Get your calculations right, and if your business can’t afford to offer free delivery, don’t. Simple as that.

For example, we did work with Saltrock Surfwear to provide free standard delivery and collect+ for their customers—but only after making a serious and ongoing commitment to track and monitor their volumes and margins.

While the approach has drawn in major sales for their business, there are tightly specific cut off points: huge effort went into calculating margins and the right threshold for consumer spending before orders qualify.

The trick is once again commitment. First up, to getting your margin calculations right from the off. Second, putting aside time to keep tracking and adjusting on an ongoing basis.

Focus on what your business can offer, and you might just be surprised at how achievable some of those demanding delivery times may be.

3. Keep one eye on the clock

Offering a late cut off point for free next day delivery is simpler than most retailers expect.

The reality is many distribution centres are happy to take stock right up until 10pm if you take the time to ask them. You just have to make sure your staff can get down there and hand the stock over…

Instead of staffing your warehouse 8am till 2pm, staff it 4pm till 10pm. Recruiting staff for a later shift could equal a major customer convenience, helping to keep those demanding customers coming back.

Commit to convenience

Providing convenient delivery isn’t always exciting. Putting in tougher hours, keeping an eye on the margins, and spending time building smart relationships with suppliers all take time, effort and investment.

But get it right, and the rewards are yours to reap.

When consumers crave better delivery, handing it over is a sure fire way to beat out competitors and keep customers coming back for more.

Stephanie Fenton
2nd May 2018

How To Make Your Clearance Sale Work Harder

How To Make Your Clearance Sale Work Harder

Are your stock rooms overflowing but January sales losing momentum by the day?

If you feel like you’re struggling to clear last season’s stock to make way for your new arrivals then here are our five tips on how to make your clearance sale work harder.

1. Upselling at the basket/cash desk

This trick works especially well in bricks-and-mortar stores but also translates to the web: entice users into making impulse purchases by adding small, low-value items on the basket page or near your cash desk. By the point the customer has decided to buy from you they are more likely to think “why not” to spending a small additional amount. Be careful not to add products that require consideration to your basket page – you don’t want to distract the user from their original purchase. And always provide the user with an add-to-basket button from the basket page so that they aren’t taken out of the purchase funnel.

2. Multi-buy offers

Setting up BOGOF or 3 for 2 offers when you have lots of similar items can get stock moving really fast – everyone likes to feel like they’ve got a great deal and most people snap up the chance to get something for free. The customer may have only needed a single item, but with the chance of getting the third for free they are much more likely to purchase a second on impulse. Similarly with buy-one-get-one-free, a customer might not need the product right now but they will be far more tempted if they feel like they’re getting it at half the normal price.

Examples of multi-buy offers that work well:

  • Buy one get one free
  • 3 For 2 (or similar)
  • 2 For £20 (or similar)
  • Free gift per order
  • Free gift when buying certain products
  • Percentage off certain products when bought with other products

3. Size filters and overlays

Hopefully by mid-January you’ll have cleared a good chunk of last season’s stock. This means that you’re likely to be short of certain sizes or product variants. Customers are likely to become frustrated and leave your site if they click onto several product pages only to realise the size/model they want is out of stock. To prevent this poor experience always offer size or variant filters and provide overlays to show which variants are still available.

4. Take advantage of the weather 

Your pre-spring stock may be landing but it’s still freezing outside – this is great news if you’ve still got lots of winter stock. Use social, email and PPC to push this winter stock on particularly cold days. It’s also worth having emotive artwork/adverts ready so that they can be put live as soon as it becomes particularly cold. In your adverts be careful not to focus too heavily on the negatives of cold weather and highlight better aspects such as snuggling up in warm clothing, spending time indoors with friends, winter walks with the family, etc.

5. Retargeting

Use dynamic remarketing to retarget users who visited your product pages during the Christmas shopping period but didn’t make a purchase. These people may be more likely to purchase the products they were unsure about at their new discounted price. To ensure your remarketing campaign works well;

  • Break down your audience by the time since they last visited your site. You can then experiment with bids to find out which time period provides the best ROAS.
  • Maximise your reach by making sure that you are using all available ad sizes and formats.
  • Set up frequency caps so that visitors don’t become annoyed by being served the same advert too many times.

Stephanie Fenton
11th Jan 2018

Reducing Online Returns – What Can Fashion Retailers Do?

Reducing Online Returns – What Can Fashion Retailers Do?

In a competitive online market, how you handle online returns can be a key differentiator between you and the competition, but still it remains one of the more difficult areas of eCommerce customer service to get right.

How helpful, quick, simple and flexible your returns policy is can be the difference between gaining repeat customers and sending them into the arms of a competitor. Making the returns process as painless as possible is one thing, but what if you could actually reduce the number of goods sent back to you in the first place? Surely this is the ideal situation?

One sector with a high number of returns compared to others is fashion retail. There are now solutions on the market that enable retailers to help their customers choose the right fit, saving them the hassle of trial and error online ordering and the potential frustration of purchasing the wrong size.

Some examples from across the industry are:

ASOS – Virtusize

US retailers report return rates of between 20 and 40 percent for online sales*, with wrong size and poor fit being cited as the number one reason for returning goods. On top of that, nearly 75% of retailers cover the cost of delivery and/or returns – an expensive exercise if return rates are high.

ASOS offer customers free shipping and free returns, allowing them to give customers the ‘changing room experience’ at home – essentially ‘buy and try’. But it all costs money.

The online fashion giant has reduced fit-related returns by almost 50% with the introduction of a virtual fitting solution, Virtusize. This allows customers to compare measurements of an item they are looking to buy with an item they already own – displaying 2D silhouettes of both garments so customers can accurately compare and contrast sizes. Although many people are still taking advantage of the free shipping and returns, integrating a tool such as Virtusize helps to inspire confidence during the purchasing process.

One extra selling point for Virtusize is that once a user has an account and uploads garment templates, they can use the saved images on any retail site that has the tool.

Running Warehouse – Shoefitr

Running Warehouse, has managed to reduce fit-related returns by up to 23% with the introduction of an app which allows customers to find out more accurate information about shoe sizes. They are already seeing a high percentage of orders coming from customers who have utilised the Shoefitr app, using a database of internal shoe measurements acquired using 3D imaging.

The app compares the size and shape of a shoe a shopper is currently wearing with the one they want to purchase. It then recommends the best size and offers the customer more details about the shoe fit, comparing it with other sizes.

House Of Fraser – True Fit

One of the UK’s leading department stores now uses a sizing tool, True Fit, as part of a redesigned touch-screen optimised site. With a significant volume of traffic coming from mobile devices, House of Fraser adapted its strategy to a ‘mobile-first’ approach, including the addition of True Fit in order to help decrease fit-related returns and issues.

Once True Fit was integrated into the House of Fraser site, customers filled in the details of their size, weight, body shape and other measurements. True Fit then uses that data to make a recommendation of the size that’s best suited to that individual. Importantly, from a customer UX perspective, this size then appears on subsequent product pages meaning customers are directed to the right fit as they shop.

Sojeans – Soselect

 

Sojeans integrated sizing tool, Soselect, offers customers a size profiling interface that produces personalised product recommendations.

In just four clicks, users of the site are able to find a perfect pair of jeans in terms of shape and style. Soselect asks for basic details of height and weight and then some more specific body shape questions. A smart addition to the tool then asks users to select what type of shoes they wear, further helping the site to give an informed and targeted product search result.

Some experts have noted that the tool is great for customers who have a ‘price is no object’ approach to online shopping. If the 100% shape and style fit is too expensive but a less suitable pair is in the right price range, then Soselect essentially becomes obsolete. However, if free delivery/returns is offered in conjunction, then it may be the case that customers purchase two or three different styles and sizes across a range of prices to find the best option.

With competition in the online fashion sector at a very high level, it’s important that customers have a simple and cheap way of returning goods that don’t quite match their expectations from a fit perspective. But the importance of repeat business is obvious and assisting customers with regards to sizing and fit during their purchasing journey can only help in reducing returns and increasing customer satisfaction. ‘Getting it right’ for customers is key to ensuring they continue to spend money on your site and with high expectations in terms of site performance and post-purchase customer service, user experience in fashion retail now includes making it simpler and easier to find a product that’s the right size and shape.

*Econsultancy – https://econsultancy.com/blog/65026-how-fashion-ecommerce-retailers-can-reduce-online-returns/

Stephanie Fenton
22nd May 2017