One of the great parts of a trade show is being able to quickly see trends. Monetate is a single company represents new trends multivariate ecommerce platform optimization.
At IRCE 2012 (Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition) at Chicago’s McCormick Place this week, I was able to how the cost of computing continually dropping is affecting how we merchandise (1st on line, but you know the wisdom will be carried to bricks and mortar stores as well).
One of the booths I got to see was monetate. What stood out for me was how much computing is being done in real time and in an anticipatory fashion. In essence they are taking your shopping cart system (which may, well is probably, very large) and creating variations of it for all sorts of testing. They can test by what city you come from, or if it is raining today. They can test or present based on your past history with you or how close you are to a Walmart. They can compound testing if you are a repeat customer on a rainy day in a media market that is inexpensive.
Watching the monetate’s demo, and remembering their presentation, I am reminded of when I used to run scenarios on large multimillion dollar data centers, and forget to limit the sample size to ‘reasonable number’. I would get my manager bringing my report the next day (reports only printed a few times a day, but when you busy the machine all night it takes a while) showing me the chargeback of the mainframe’s cost that exceeded both my and my manager’s cost for a year. Monetate’s system lets me create those scenario experimentation on an ongoing basis either as test or production – in real time.
What I see here is the magic of being able to move as much computing power to SaaS before the web customer shows up. It also is able to quickly identify what the identity of each visitor is. This allows responding much more like a human store clerk would. Making many decisions with ease because once you know the ‘rules’ they are easy and ‘obvious’. A store clerk seeing a visitor show up on a long skateboard is probably more interested in snowboarding then ski’s or toboggans. A customer wearing a $2,000 watch is probably not looking at the costume jewelry in the corner of the store. These snap judgements are what allow us to determine which of the thousands of cars we pass on our way to work will be a problem, and which are just going along. It is a wondrous marvel of evolution to survive in the complex world we live in. And computers can just do a fraction of it.
We have been trying to get computers to have this same ‘artificial intelligence’ for decades. And we are still a long way from it. But increasingly, we are able to in small domains define experiments that let us test and tweak what is the best way to present information or experiences for website visitors that meet their needs on their terms. Monetate is helping that become incredibly easier for online shopping.
One of the other keys I see in monetate (and similar tools), is the ability embrace Lean Startup methodology. The concept of iteration. The key is understanding that now that it your cost of experimentation is lower then analysis, the approach that is lowest cost in optimizing is different. When each computer batch run cost thousands of dollars and days of time, it was far more effective to spend more time ‘bench testing’ ideas. Sitting around and using human power to determine the best approach. But when a computer can now not only check your theory, but create a method to retest against different data (be it Texas visitor over Oregon visitor, or this months customers over last quarters customers), it is poor use of resources (especially human) to think about what the results are and ‘just do it’. Let the system or computer or software do the testing and provide the results.
The challenge will be not in saving the last CPU cycles to run one more test, but how to let our creative juices loose again to see how to continually improve the solutions we are trying to build. One of the big challenges for many in ‘corporate’ is to understand that website visitors are individuals. They need to as much as possible be treated as individuals. As we learn to look at our visitors has having different mindsets, often determined by factors we can identify, we will be able to create better experiences for our customers.
There is a whole other dimension of visitor privacy that enters into this, but I am not going to tackle that one today.
As usual, monetate’s solutions are an incredible toolset that lifts one burden from the ecommerce manager allowing a much larger responsibility to rise to the top – Looking at the world from the customer’s perspective. It was never not the top, but now there are a whole fewer number of excuses as to why we cannot focus on the customer’s view point.
One of the great parts of a trade show is being able to quickly do the ‘who are you and why should I share my secrets’ dance. On the phone, it seems to take forever. In email it feels like you never get real trust and open communication. And websites always feel distorted from the reality of what really happens at a company.
At IRCE 2012 (Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition) at Chicago’s McCormick Place this week, I met Brian Gibbs of Refund Retriever. One of the many logistics services company looking to assist businesses in the ecommerce channel. As you may guess Refund Retriever audits your shipping bills with FedEx and UPS.
One of the takeaways for me at trade shows is learning what you should be concerned about in your business. If there is a business performing a function, there is a good chance it is an issue that should be looked at. If you are shipping and don’t know your costs, it seems logical that you are not paying attention to a major cost center. While UPS and FedEx have incredible world class IT systems, there are still incredible number of hands in the system that can make mistakes. The amount of speed means that mistakes can and do happen. That is OK is there a need to audit?
What does become clear is that all businesses need to spend at least a few minutes looking to see what if they could improve their shipping costs, or reduce their error rate, or improve on time delivery. All of these can be improved by improving correct addressing. So while not the core of Refund Retriever, it is an idea to consider. So here are the different ways Refund Retriever will look at your invoices:
- LATE DELIVERIES (GSR)
- BOGUS ADDRESS CORRECTIONS
- RESIDENTIAL vs. COMMERCIAL SURCHARGE MISTAKES
- INCORRECTLY WEIGHED PACKAGES
- UN-SHIPPED/UNINVOICED PACKAGES
- DUPLICATE INVOICES or CHARGES.
But there is also the question of auditing your bills in the 1st place. Most services do it on a split of the refund, so the cost to your business to keep UPS and FedEx ‘honest’ is not a cost to you but a savings. Typically the auditors will use your account information to review your information online to perform the audit. Refund Retrievers is different from other auditors in that they are more focused on the low hanging fruit of just these two vendors. As a result they are better able to work with smaller ecommerce concerns. There is no minimum, since their model uses a simple account set up. Other auditors have a lot more effort in getting set up for each company that affects overall price. I have not had a chance to use them yet, but will be curious to see how they actually perform. Additionally, they have helped me in understanding what I should be doing on my shipping auditing by who ever I use internally or externally to manage my customers satisfaction.
Another perspective to look at for every business, is how would a service affect the customer. In this case, I would suggest that for every error caught, to pass on the savings directly to the customer. Lets face it, you really did not loose anything, your customer did. I would send a gift and or a refund to every customer that did not end up with the excellent service you intended when you shipped your product. Even if the customer did not complain. It is a way to show your customer that you care about them, not their money and orders. When you care about your customers, they will be far more likely to care about you.
So what do you think, is there value in auditing your vendors to keep them on the straight and narrow?
IRCE 2012 – BoldChat from LogMeIn (review from Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition tradeshow)
Another review from what I discovered at IRCE (Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition) tradeshow in Chicago, IL.
One of the more interesting solutions I found for eCommerce sites was from one of my favorite SaaS providers – LogMeIn. They have been providing great remote access for my remote support needs, as well as for many clients. LogMeIn is an easy solution to implement – a quick client based program, and you have the ability to access your (or your clients) computer from any current browser. It handles multiple monitors and has multiple layers of security. They have different levels of product from Free (really free) to enterprise.
LogMeIn has introduced BoldChat (they may well rename or at least redo the logo which looks like 3 different words) as a low cost chat solution, a midrange solution and an enterprise solution to go up against LivePerson.
The low cost option is Free - http://boldchat.com/free-live-chat-software.asp. Can’t beat that cost, the limitations seem to be reasonable. The biggest limitations are how many chats per month, and how many concurrent sessions are running. This is enough to get most small ecommerce sites up and going, allow them to build those FAQ answers, and design how to organize your resources for prompt response. By the time the number of chats (750 per month) is becomes limiting, the next level should be a no brainer for your organization to fund at less then a fast food lunch is these days.
The basic level is $99 per seat per year or $9 per month. So for less then a Vonnage account, or RingCentral or any other telephony solutions (well maybe Skype can be less) you have a great way to be able to have chat. Complete with a self documenting solution for building your business into a repeatable solution.
The enterprise level has more features, and does cost less then your typical rent for the desk space and share of a break room for your agent. This level will integrate into SalesForce.com, have predictive messaging, better integration across team members and more reporting. At the enterprise level the mindset is to work more collaboratively as a team across your chat team.
Chat is quickly becoming the expected norm in ecommerce to assist in providing excellent quality service to visitors who want to learn about your product. If you don’t provide enough service on the site, they will take there business elsewhere with the click of a mouse or often with a quick jump in the car. Chat is also an opportunity to see into the customers real needs and questions, rather then having to guess what they are looking for. This tools allows you to collect real questions (in the way real visitors ask them, not how you think they ask them), and allow you to sculpt your most appropriate answers for re-use.
If you are planning on having relationships with your clients and will be using the Internet, plan on experimenting and testing with chat as soon as possible. It’s useful not just in answering a few questions while juggling another voice call, but also in having a self documenting way to collect answers for your next agents, and sales team members. These can be collected and put into a FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions (a whole other post). That is one of the easier ways to implement the systems approach of Michael Gerber’s E-Myth Revisited of working ON your business, rather then IN your business.
IRCE (Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition) is over for 2012.
To all who came to IRCE2012, THANKS for visiting Chicago, the local economy appreciated your visit. I appreciated your ideas and the opportunity for networking in my backyard.
Even after all these years in technology, it still amazes me to see how technology continues to move quickly in a few different directions. So while I will be highlighting some different companies I met or got reaquanted with in the near future here at SEODamian in future posts, let me share what I see were some major trends here from the show.
One of the big values I find in going to trade shows is the ability to compare and contrast different vendors in the same hour. The challenge with other solutions for comparing (trade journals, industry reviews, analyst reports) is that they often span data that makes comparisons irrelevant. They are X’s last quarter’s version compared to Y’s next quarter’s beta version. You still get the same issue at a tradeshow, but you can typically sniff out the game and get the real scoop on what the 2 companies are at today, and compare to 3 other similar solutions. Some of the key trends I saw in Internet retailing are:
- Prices are dropping. No big change there, except the rate they continue to drop. Typically not the same product at the same company, but by a new competitor creating most of the functionality of an existing solution and more for a lower price. Be it Chat and chat management (LivePerson look out, LogMeIn and others are looking to eat your lunch), survey tools, Addon’s to Magento (shopping cart platform), shipping auditing (no minimums needed here), affiiliate management, flash sales tools (keep it all in house or partner) and more.
- SaaS is the trend. The cost to distribute code to customers, and deal with your internal data center/stack complexities is too expensive for most tool creators. It is far easier for them to increase staff to keep 1 (or 2) data center up and going, then trying to guess how you (the customer) tried to make your data center secure and how you dealt with your specific legacy issues. The test bed is far easier to set up (if they are using AWS-Amazon Web Services, it is about 3 command lines to generate ‘another’ test bed). If you as a retailer can’t deal with SaaS or it’s API, look for adding at least one 0 (zero) to your cost in purchase price, and far more in TCO.
- Big data is here. Small startups need a credit card with a few dollars open on it to get a billion dollar data center (Amazon Web Services) to build ‘rock hard’ services. The cost of AWS is low enough that the ability to deal with incredible amounts of data in real-time changes what is being deployed as solutions. This shows up at the consumer level as presorted and pretargeted for their needs, not brood strokes. No longer is confirmation that a card number may be valid a real number good enough. It has to be validated that it belongs as a charge, not reported stolen and has the proper credit limit.
- The is no one stop shopping. The amount of tools to run a successful ecommerce site continues to grow. From the need to change pricing rapidly on one or all your SKU’s, to deploying across multiple channels (store, Amazon, eBay, Affiliate, traditional site, Facebook, ShopEngines) you need a collection of tools that is reminiscent of the stacks of apps in the 70′s and 80′s. The big difference, they are best not home developed, and often hosted in and out of house.
- Change is now often measured in weeks and months rather then years for software deployment. If you don’t like what you see today, what a quarter and redo your RFP (Request for Proposal). But monitor the products and community reaction in the meantime.
There was a lot more I saw, but 500 booths is hard to summarize in a few lines, so more to follow in the next posts.