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April 26, 2011

The Integrated Social Commerce Revolution is NOW

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As a retailer, is there any part of you that feels all this talk of “social” is overblown?  A passing fad?  Something you don’t need to worry about? No? Good. You're part of the revolution. Read on.

The fact that social is such a juggernaut and is starting to make serious inroads into B2C commerce shouldn’t come as a surprise.  It addresses our basic human need to commune with like minds, share ideas and opinions, kvetch and commiserate, in short, socialize.  Bringing it to commerce is a natural fit because unlike groups of friends who may or may not have unified interests, commerce channels invite true communities to form; groups of people with a common interest or shared goal; to purchase something. So how do you truly embrace and leverage social online and across your channels?   Start by designing for the social experience. 

If you have a Facebook page with lots of fans, or a Twitter feed with lots of followers, that’s fantastic, but why push all that traffic and allow all those very valuable customer interactions to occur on a site that isn't yours?  It’s time to take the next step by integrating social into your brand's commerce channels by practicing what I’ve been calling Integrated Social Commerce.

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Integrated social commerce is simply an idea that plays off Social Design concepts in that when you think about how to use social to your brand's advantage, instead of shoe-horning in a social component to what you are doing, start with the question "How will customers interact with this?"  "How do we, as a brand, want to interact with our customers?"  "How will this enable customer-to-customer conversation?" In short, make the social experience the centerpiece of whatever experience/platform/channel/feature you are designing.  

Several brands are ahead of the curve when it comes to integrated social commerce.  I've highlighted a few examples below to demonstrate how starting with social can help your brand garner invaluable insights and customer intelligence across channels, as well as provide a more meaningful, engaging experience to your customers. 

TripAdvisor

  Trip3

TripAdvisor uses a "log in with Facebook" method to display Friends' activities on any given city, hotel, or restaurant detail page. Am I more likely to book a hotel room in New York if I see my friend Sam rated the hotel highly?  You betcha. In addition, once I realize TripAdvisor lets me see ALL the places my friends have been and reviewed, why would I go to any travel site that doesn't offer me that same insight?  The nice thing about the TripAdvisor implementation is that it is both authentic to the brand voice (in that it's absent) and encourages the customer-to-customer conversation to drive engagement and loyalty.  

 

Giant Nerd

Image 5

Giant Nerd also uses a "log in with Facebook" approach to capture and display friends' social graph information on the site, but they take social further but creating their own 'social language' for tagging products and sharing those tags.  They allow customers to "love,"  "dislike,"  "want," or "own" any given item, and share that tag with friends on the site and across social networks.  They also play off our human drive for competition by rewarding site contributors with points and status levels the more they give feedback and interact with the social components of the site. (Alas, I'm only a Nanonerd at this point.)

But what about other channels for your brand?  How can you put the social experience in the center of Customer Service? Catalog? In-store?  A few examples:

TwelpForce  - Call Center and Customer Support

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Yes, it's an example that's gotten a lot of attention when it comes to customer service, but it's a great example of how call center and customer service can use social to address customer issues and questions, and even reduce volume while increasing customer satisfaction by enabling customer-to-customer conversations. 

L.L. Bean - Catalog

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L.L. Bean has been so successful gathering reviews and customer feedback on their site they decided to turn around and use that content in their catalog and collateral.  The compelling point about using user generated content in printed material is it could help drive customers back to the site to learn more about the product as well as contribute their own feedback, yet again enabling that customer-to-customer conversation.

The Future - In-Store

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Just as "multi-channel" terminology gave way to plain and simple "commerce,"  the word "mobile" is quickly becoming antiquated because "mobile" is just what everyone happens to be regardless of the device they use to send and retrieve information when they are out and about. 

In the concept above, we are picturing an in-store social experience that happens to be supported by an iPad (but could be any mobile device really).  A store associate could be on the floor with the device, showing a customer outfitting ideas, taking pictures of her modeling an outfit, and then helping the customer post the picture for friend feedback, or even using an app like FaceTime to let a customer call up a friend while in the store!  Literal 'shop together' functionality.  Or, perhaps the customer is given the device when they walk into a store and are free to truly engage with the brand and their social network on a level field.

So if you answered "yes" to any of my opening questions and are still not believing integrated social commerce is a direction in which your brand should start moving,  give me a call and join the revolution. 

Kim WIlliams-Czopek is the Director of User Experience Design at Fry.

For other thoughts on social, integrated commerce, user experience and design, follow us on Twitter @fryinsights

April 18, 2011

How to Explain Project Management to a Six-Year-Old

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My daughter's first grade class is doing a unit on 'Community Helpers.' The teacher wants parents to visit the classroom and talk about what they do at their job, and how they help the community.

Ok, so...a project manager?? Hmmmm... where to start.
When I was in first grade I didn't exactly walk around saying "I really REALLY want to be a project manager when I grow up!" If I did I'm sure my parents would have been just a little nervous.

So, we should probably assume that no 6-year-old even knows what project management is, much less dreams about being one. The other parents who have visited are doctors, a teacher, and a clothing store owner. Those jobs are more tangible for the 6-year-old mind, because the kids are already interacting with teachers, doctors, etc. But a project manager? Not likely.

So, what things does a project manager do that kids can relate to? Well, a project manager focuses on finishing things on time, within the budget planned, and meeting the requirements. Included in that is making sure that everyone has all of the information they need, and any risks are considered and dealt with appropriately. Oh boy, this is either going to put them to sleep or totally confuse them!

So maybe I'll give the kids a little project, with a budget and a timeline. And then present them with some challenges and see how they react. I'll come up with ways to teach the importance of good communication, managing risks, and adjusting when schedule/resources change.

Part II  (What Really Happened)
So, rather than go through all of my initial brainstorming, I'll describe how it actually went:

I introduced myself and asked the group if they new what a project manager does. One kid said "You boss people around," which is true I guess. I asked them if they could give some examples of projects. We started small, with arts & craft projects and then I explained how building the school that they go to every day was once someone's project (and probably still is quite a project to maintain). So, they seemed to get it (or maybe they just nodded while in a haze).

Next, I divided them into 4 groups, and asked for volunteers to be project managers for each group. Of course all of the kids wanted to volunteer, but I picked one for each group of 5-6 kids. Then I handed each project manager a bag of Legos and told them that they needed to make a building out of the supplies in their bag and they had 5 minutes to do it. The project manager had to make sure each person in the group was involved in some way. The kids started working and seemed to enjoy their little project.

Then, about 1 minute in I went to each group and grabbed a handful of Legos from their supply. The kids were surprised and upset, and I said "Well, sometimes the resources change and you just have to find a way to adjust and keep going!" So they did, with a little grumbling of course. Then, one boy showed me his Lego pieces and said that some of them won't be useful in making the building and the other group has better pieces. So, I told him that he needs to be more creative with his resources and see how to make them work as best he can.

Another minute passed and then I said to them, "I've decided that I want you to finish the building in 3 minutes, not 5. So, you have another 30 seconds left." Screams were heard all over the room, the kids panicked! Some who had almost completed the building were adding the final touches, but some were having trouble keeping the walls stable and losing pieces, and the lack of time didn't help.

When the time ran out, some of the groups were very proud of their completed building and others were feverishly finishing off theirs. I asked the kids what it felt like when I changed the schedule at the last minute. Some answered that they were excited, some were scared, some nervous and angry. I told them that this is why I enjoy being a project manager; I am constantly faced with challenges and even though some of them might be frustrating in the end it's exciting and very satisfying when the job is done.

And to end on a sweet note, I spent a little time explaining how project managers can work in any type of field, from bridge construction to eCommerce website implementation and maintenance. I showed them the website of one my clients and explained how important it is to make sure that the site is running smoothly and that anyone can go to the website and buy chocolate at any time of day. And that's when I walked around the room and gave chocolate to all of the young project teams.

So, even though they might just remember me as the lady who gave out chocolate, I think they got a good sample of what project management is all about, and seemed to have fun doing it!

 

Dina Garfinkel is a Project Manager in Fry's New York office.

April 12, 2011

Stop Downplaying Startups: Why You Should Give The New Kid In Town A Chance

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It is human nature to be suspicious of someone or something new. That’s why it’s hard to move to a new school. Or be a substitute teacher. Or develop a new technology and get 45 million dollars in venture capital. That is sure to raise some eyebrows and disparaging remarks. Nobody likes the new kid; especially if they arrive in a fancy car.

Hours after the announcement that Color Labs had received 45 million in funding for its mobile app, "Color," experts and cubicle commentators alike were panning the technology. Some of the criticisms have been fair concerns about UI and hackability issues. The bulk of commentary, however, has followed the typical path of startup bashing: people questioning the rationale of the investors (in this instance, Sequoia and Bain Capital) and the marketability of the app. A few comments have gone as far as to suggest that Color’s funding is a sure sign of another .com bubble.

 

Figure 1: A Demo of Color on Vimeo 

It should be noted that some industry experts, like John Batelle and David Berkowitz, believe “Color” could have great potential. DIGIDAY has outline “Four Ways Color Can Make Money.”  However, every article about Color seems to engender a long trail of snarky comments and jabs from readers.

Screen shot 2011-04-10 at 11.59.33 PM
Figure 2:  From "Take A Tour Of Color," Business Insider

Who knows if Color will become something we simply can’t live without in a year or if it will fade into oblivion. The outcome is almost irrelevant. The process is what concerns me. While predicting the fall of Silicon Valley millionaires can be fun sport, knee-jerk reactions to startups are actually counter-productive to the evolution of our industry and stifle our own creative thinking potential.

Below are the four most common negative (and wrong) reactions to startups.

“It’s Never Going To Take Off”

Probably not. In its current iteration, that is. Remember Ludicorp's “Game Neverending,” a web-based multiplayer game? No? The game had a great photo sharing feature that evolved to become what we all know of today as Flickr.

Or maybe it will take off, just not how you ever pictured it. In 2007, several tech bloggers doomed the iPhone. They argued it was too expensive, not “businessy” enough, and had a short battery life. These criticisms are actually fair. But they didn’t account for how our culture was going to evolve around the smartphone. I don’t think any of us could have foreseen how we would become a society that immediately Googles facts at the diner table, compares products while shopping, checks Facebook and Twitter at stoplights, and plays Angry Birds on the train. All on our smartphones. These habits have helped sell over 100 Million iPhones.

The truth is we just don’t know how technologies and cultural habits are going to evolve. Why not be part of the group willing to experiment rather than the group casting stones from their manual typewriters?

“I Can’t Imagine Using This”

This is what I said about Twitter in 2009. Well, I said something more “clever” like “I hardly care that I am eating a sandwich. Why will anybody else care if I tweet about it?” By mid 2010, Twitter had evolved to a powerful tool for sharing news and professional insights. It became a place to follow people who shared your interests. I use Twitter daily to keep current in my field and have never tweeted about what I am eating.

But let's say I still didn’t use Twitter.  One’s personal use of a company or technology is hardly an indicator of that venture's economic success. Somehow, Dell, Wal-Mart, Xbox and The Dave Matthews Band manage to succeed without my personal use and support.

Before discounting a startup because it doesn’t appeal to you, remember not to confuse your personal interest  & habits with what “will play in Peoria” (or Pretoria for that matter).

“This Won’t Be Relevant To Our Business”

This is what most retailers said about Facebook in 2007. By 2008, 1/3 of retailers had Facebook pages. Today over 2/3 of retailers not only have Facebook pages but many conduct commerce on Facebook, integrate Facebook feeds into their sites and conduct social marketing campaigns.

Instead of writing something off in the early stages, determine the point at which your company would try a new technology or service. For example, determine if you are a “first ten percent” company that will adopt new technologies early or the “final ten percent” that waits it out until all of the kinks are fixed. Chances are, your company is somewhere in the middle.

“How Are They Going To Monetize This?”

I suspect people raise this objection either because they like to sound like they know more than the VC firm that just pumped millions into Company X or because they still have not recovered from the dot com bust.

Does it really matter to you or your business if Twitter is not profitable yet? Should it stop you from tweeting about new products and deals? Is there any reason not to use the Color App any way you can right now even if it fizzles in a few years?  Our industry produces the ephemeral. Companies rise and fall. If it makes sense for now, and does not require a significant investment, work with a startup on the rise and move on if they fail. I am not suggesting online retailers adopt fly-by-night platforms and analytic packages that are core to their operations. However, I think it is OK to try a new app or social media service before it is profitable if it makes sense for your brand. Worry about your business model, not theirs.

Screen shot 2011-04-11 at 10.48.20 AM

Figure 3:  Worth The Wait

The next time you hear about a new startup that is receiving buzz, resist the urge to immediately find the holes in their business. It is too easy to knock down something that is not solid yet. Instead, start thinking about how this new company could benefit your company. Replace the “Four No’s” with these “Three Yeses”:

  1. “I wonder what this could evolve to”
  2. “How might our current or future customers use this?”
  3. “What would be the upside of us being an early adopter of this new technology/trend”?

At the very least, these types of questions help a team partake in more creative and constructive thinking. At the very most, your answers will inspire some new marketing tactics. Or even prompt a call to your broker. 

Bridget Fahrland is Director of Creative Strategy at Fry.

 


 

April 04, 2011

OCP: The Next Generation

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“The impact of a poor customer experience is significant. Seventy-six percent of consumers who have a poor online shopping experience with a company report that they will be unlikely to shop that company again online, but 26% of consumers are unlikely to shop with a company in any channel once they have a bad experience online. Our models of customer experience improvement reveal that a 10% increase in a firm’s Customer Experience Index score can result in annual revenue growth from $6 million for retailers…”

Forrester Research, Inc. Welcome to the Era of Agile Commerce, March 11, 2011


We all know the importance of a strong customer experience online and our latest release of OCP takes that to heart.

A large part of our latest release is the implementation of a streamlined (single screen) checkout that is now an innate part of the platform. Through the redesigned checkout, we anticipate OCP clients will achieve higher conversions and lower cart abandonment.

The checkout flow went from what could have been a seven-step process with separate pages to a single-screen interface with minimal page refreshes focused on the core steps of checkout, using layers to expose secondary tasks.

Our User Experience Design team set the following objectives as part of this effort:

  • Get any customer through checkout faster.
  • Design for the perception of fewer steps.
  • Provide shortcuts for customers wherever possible.
  • Meet expectations customers have through use of other eCommerce websites that have already adopted a streamlined checkout.
  • Respond to our clients’ requests for an updated, more streamlined checkout flow.
  • Leverage findings and research Fry and others have conducted on checkout design and conversion. 

They completed four phases of usability testing on updated prototypes with various audiences to come to the following conclusions which were incorporated into the final design:

  • Use ‘labeless’ field design and inline validation techniques to create the perception of clean, easy and fast.
  • Allow editing of the order at any time, from any step in checkout, updating Order Total whenever appropriate without a page refresh.
  • Use aggregated data from Fry OCP sites to design around an average order value of 2.5 items per order. 
  • Include flexibility in front-end coding approach allowing for less complicated customizations such as the addition of payment types, in-store pickup, and localization. 

Checkout
In addition, thorough quality assurance testing was conducted to make sure all scenarios, including edge cases and accessibility, worked as planned.

At the same time as we completed this latest release of OCP, our User Experience, Creative Design and Consulting groups launched a Twitter account to share relevant topics and trends. Follow them @FryInsights to learn more.

Our recent release also added iPad support to enable better viewing of our client’s websites on the iPad. This includes confirming all radio button and checkbox text is clickable and addressing visibility of content which on the website only appears when a mouse is hovered over, which does not work on the iPad. We will continue to monitor tablet usage, which is greatly expanding, and future releases will expand our tablet support.

As part of a family of products that provides end-to-end commerce capabilities, we are invested in making sure OCP’s integration to our sibling products is constantly being enhanced. In this release we strenghtened the process of submitting an order in OCP and accesssing it in the CWSerenade Order Management system.  

Open Commerce Platform (Streamlined Checkout) Order Confirmation:

Order_confirmation

Immediate access to the submitted order in the Serenade Order Management System:

Serenade

We are very excited about this latest release. Contact us for a demonstration and stay tuned for more details on what we have planned in future releases.

 

Monica Schrager is a Product Manager in the Product Development group at Fry.