15 August 2017

Software-as-a-Service is Not Just Your Software Running on Someone Else's Server

I recently published a blog post about the benefits of using subscription-based business models called "What bike rental and the future of software have in common." Many industries are going through a shift of revenue streams from traditional one-time sales to products being provided “as a service” and paid via subscriptions. In the software industry this is referred to as Software-as-a-Service or SaaS. However, there is much more to this than just switching from a perpetual license model to a subscription model.

The “false cloud”

Back in 2010, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff warned attendees at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco to beware of what they called ‘false clouds.’ Benioff said “Companies hosting private cloud architectures do not benefit from economies of scale that ‘real’ cloud offers.” Back then, Salesforce.com's 77,000 customers were running on 3,000 servers spread over three global data centers. Theoretically, 77,000 companies of varying sizes would require at least 100,000 servers to independently run their CRM platforms on-premises or in a hosted solution. This translates to an equivalent output at only 3 percent of the infrastructure needed because of economies of scale and more efficient hardware utilization.

Many software companies are touting that they can deliver their software in the SaaS delivery model. However, what they are offering is often not a modern multi-tenant cloud solution where all customers are running the same software using shared resources and receiving software updates continuously without costly upgrade projects. In addition, these are not true SaaS offerings, where business users can configure functionality that would otherwise require expensive and time-consuming development using conventional single tenant software. These ‘false cloud’ solutions are often marketed as a ‘Private SaaS’ or a SIP (Secure Isolation Platform), but, in reality, are often just another way of selling an on-premise software package as a hosted solution.

SaaS is much more than cost savings

The biggest drawback with the false cloud is not that the customers are missing out on the economies of scale by not sharing resources, but that they will not have a speedy deployment, a future-proof and configurable solution, and the business agility that comes with a modern SaaS platform. 75% of enterprise software decisionmakers surveyed by Forrester rated ‘business agility’ as the top benefit of a SaaS platform, while another 72% rated ‘speed of deployment’ as a key benefit. Saving money, getting better uptime, and higher security are, of course, still relevant arguments for SaaS, but being agile and fast is of even greater importance. This is especially true for software that supports the rapidly changing processes in sales and marketing that can really reap the benefits of the SaaS model.

Software-as-a-Service is not just your software running on someone else's server. It is much bigger than that and should be an important factor when you choose your software vendors going forward.

11 August 2017

Three Reasons “Brand” is No Longer a Key to Success

Not long ago, a major focus of marketers was on brand—brand loyalty, brand positioning, the “brand promise.” Numerous books were written on the subject—each claiming to be the “brand bible” for communicating effectively to target markets.

We would argue that brand loyalty and the importance of brand, in general, is diminishing. According to McKinsey Research only 13% of customers are “loyalists” who do not shop around.

Sure, there are Apple aficionados who will never buy a Windows PC. There are folks who continue to drive the same brand of car for decades. And there are businesses with brand preferences due to corporate policy or hardware and software compatibility challenge. However, with the ubiquity of online shopping and buying, brand-based selection is falling, time and again, by the wayside.
Why is this?

User-Generated Content

When seeking a new product—especially a product with which a buyer has had little previous experience—buyers most often rely on the opinions of family and friends, or complete strangers. In fact, in one study by Signpost, they found that 90% of people consult online reviews when making purchase decisions. With the anonymity afforded by the Internet, purchasers of a product can be completely frank about their opinions and experiences with a product. As a result, buyers frequently trust those opinions more than corporate advertising or “brand communications.”

Third-party Reviews

Not only is UGC an influential factor, but so are third-party reviews. How frequently do you make a major product purchase without consulting Consumer Reports, Edmunds, CNET, or the like? Buyers are relying more and more on the expert evaluations of third-party reviewers for three main reasons: 1) they can be accessed from our desk or mobile phone; and 2) these folks do this for a living and are experts; and 3) it speeds our research and decision processes.

What is also common is for buyers to be surprised by what they read. According to the same McKinsey Research study, nearly 60% of customers switched brands once they began “shopping around.”  

Ability to Compare Products

Now that consumers and business buyers can easily shop around and compare products—on price, features, and form factor—at the click of a button, they are not restricted by brand. Online users can find the product that most closely meets their needs—whether the purchase transaction occurs online or in-store. Again, this may mean that they consider or purchase a brand that was not originally top of mind. However, after validating their purchase through user and third-party reviews, this previously unknown brand or product may indeed end up the winner!

What Can You Do?

As a manufacturer or distributor, the most impactful thing that you can do is portray your individual products in the best possible light. If you are no longer able to attract customers based solely on your brand, then you need your products to be able to speak for themselves and tell their own unique stories. This requires compelling, well-crafted product descriptions, accurate and interesting imagery, and insightful product testimonials and reviews. Let inRiver and our extensive PRIME Partner Community help!

Kathryn Zwack, Sr. Content Marketing Manager, inRiver

Make the Most of Back-to-School “Holiday” Shopping

The other evening, as I was heading home from my mountain bike ride, I felt a little nip of fall in the air. Granted, I live in a mountain town and with the sun rapidly sinking behind a hill, the air was cooling off.

However, that sense of fall reminded me that soon our kids will be heading back to school. Indeed, many districts start as early as the first week of August and many schools are in full swing before September hits.

What does this mean?  Back-to-School sales! We are getting flyers in the mail already and many stores have their signs and displays front and center.

Did you know that Back-to-School retail sales are second only to December holiday sales? Indeed, Back-to-School spending was a whopping $75 billion in 2016, according to the National Retail Federation. That equates to more than $500 per shopper, 20% to 25% of which will be transacted  online. Walmart, Amazon, and Target are the winners here.

What is exciting for both retailers and manufacturers alike is that the spending flows across many categories—clothing, electronics, computer software and hardware, office supplies, and home furnishings.

How can you take advantage of the “holiday” shopping extravaganza?

Get Your Demographics and Personas Right

When we think of the school year, it is not surprising we think of adorable grade-school students in plaid jumpers and khakis heading out the door. It is true that this is one key target market—to the tune of 50 million students. However, last fall, more than 20 million students were heading back to colleges and universities in the US. In addition to these Millennials, Generation Z students—today’s teenagers—have a greater say in product purchases and more money to spend. Make sure that you are marketing to all these groups, as well as their parents, and are aware of the lengthy local school supply lists that are distributed each year for all these groups.

Be Prepared—Online and Offline

As we noted above, Back-to-School shopping occurs both online and offline. The key is to be prepared, and well-stocked, with everything that students and parents need. Get a hold of the supply lists of local school districts and college dorms and ensure that those items are easy to locate—both in-store or online. Nothing is more frustrating to a parent than spending an afternoon at the local Walmart, Staples, or Target or on Amazon.com—with supply list in hand—and still having a plethora of items that need to be sourced elsewhere. Creating a “store within a store” will help shoppers move through their list quickly and efficiently. Make sure shoppers can check off every single item on the list at one venue.

Start Early

Although it is already August, keep in mind that Back-to-School shopping, like Winter Holiday shopping, is starting earlier and earlier each year. This may be due to parents’ desire for deals that occur throughout the summer, or due to the known inevitability of Back-to-School shopping. This means that decreasing your time-to-market is as important in summer as it is later in the year. A comprehensive workflow, which includes a product content review and approval process, can help you execute faster and more efficiently.

Remember, too, that improving your product content and keeping it consistent across channels will help to create that “endless aisle” experience and improve the customer experience for all of your target customers. inRiver can help with both these important objectives. Contact us for a demo!

Kathryn Zwack, Sr. Content Marketing Manager, inRiver

28 July 2017

Three Ways to Counteract the “Retail Apocalypse”

In May 1897, Mark Twain was on a world speaking tour. While in London, he heard that an American newspaper had printed his obituary. When told about this, Twain remarked, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

The retail industry could say the same.

Despite ongoing reports of store closings and retail bankruptcies in publications ranging from The Motley Fool to CNN to The Wall Street Journal, the “Retail Apocalypse” may be exaggerated.

It is true that we have seen the likes of Sports Authority, Rue21, The Limited, Wet Seal, and BCBG Max Azria file for bankruptcy protection. In addition, many department stores, such as Sears, Macy’s and JC Penney have closed locations. However, the so-called “Retail Bloodbath” may not mean an end to brick-and-mortar stores.

In fact, the US Census Bureau recently reported that retail sales were up nearly 4% in the first six months of 2017, compared with the same period last year.

These data suggest that multi-channel retail—including brick-and-mortar stores—is not going away. So, how can retailers stay afloat and even excel at both traditional and digital shopping? The key is to bridge the online and offline gap. You need to re-create the offline experience online. And, in turn, generate an “endless aisle” experience in the store.

Help customers move smoothly between channels

Use your online experience and interactions to drive foot traffic to brick-and-mortar stores. Email, push notifications, and social media all provide you with opportunities to promote local discounts, products, and events that can drive shoppers to stores. Store locators, product reservation tools, and ship-to-store options can boost revenue, while increasing convenience for the shopper. And there is that added benefit: while the customer is in your store to pick up that special item, it is likely that they will acquire additional items on impulse.

This can also apply in the other direction. If a product is out of stock in your store, “endless aisle” technology can allow your customer to order the item online while standing next to the shelf. Integrated IT systems mean that customers can return online orders in-store instead of having to mail them back and wait for a replacement or refund.

Use online interactions to enrich your customers’ in-store experiences

Successful retailers are using information from online channels in their offline marketing. For example, Best Buy displays product reviews and ratings on the shelf next to the product. Providing consistent product data across channels ensures that customers who found a great product online can find that same item in-store. By improving SEO and enriching product information, Primeau Velo was able to decrease customer online search time and increase in-store sales simply because shoppers could more easily find products they were seeking.

Another tactic is to personalize catalogs, adverts, and mailers based on online data. When retailers can draw insights from online interactions, printed materials can extend the digital experience and provide a seamless customer journey—from e-commerce to catalog to conversion.

Integrate your online and offline product information

Regardless of your retail industry, all your markets and channels need to tell the same story. This way, your customers will encounter a consistent brand and product experience no matter where they start their journey.

But to accomplish this, you need a single source of accurate product information.

When your catalog production in Europe can draw from the same information as your e-commerce engine in the U.S., you can go to market more quickly with new seasons or assortments. You have the means to enrich your product content so you are relevant to customers no matter which channel they are using. You can also more easily align offline experiences and online interactions, creating a consistent and satisfying customer experience.

The result? You build stronger relationships with your customers and realize higher sales and greater customer loyalty.

 - Kathryn Zwack, Sr. Content Marketing Manager, inRiver

18 July 2017

How to Pop-up Successfully

Just because retail stores are experiencing some hard times does not mean that shoppers aren’t making purchases. It is true that US retail sales fell again in June 2017 (by 0.2%) after a small decline in May (by 0.1%). However, two months of small declines after 16 months of increases may not yet be a “trend.” Let’s wait and see. Summer vacations may spur some impulse vacation shopping and spending in restaurants and at summer resorts.

In the meantime, let’s look at a trend that does seem to have some upward momentum—pop-up shops. Vogue calls pop-up shops the future of shopping. With some retailers leaving malls and store-fronts due to a myriad of reasons—downsizing, bankruptcy, and changes in marketing and sales strategy—pop-up shops are taking advantage of these vacancies. Some retailers are now hesitant to sign long-term leases, leaving more locations available for pop-up shops.

Goals of Pop-up Shops
Constructing a pop-up shop can provide you with many benefits. For retailers who are selling only online, having a popup shop can provide that “touch and feel” opportunity for customers to interact with their products. The increase in foot traffic can raise visibility and brand awareness. Pop-up shops can help you to create a deeper relationship with your customers—building loyalty or showing your appreciation for their business. You can test a new market and educate prospective customers on your product line. In addition, you may be striving for “Boundaryless Retail”—a notion introduced by Mindy Grossman of HSNi—the expansion of products into more and more channels.

Location of Your Pop-up Shop
How do you decide where and when to erect your Pop-up Shop? Economics, such as the cost of rent, marketing, and inventory, will likely have a huge impact on your decision. However, store-fronts and malls with high foot traffic that are close to your target demographic should be considered.

Products That Work Well for Pop-up Retail
When we think of pop-up shops, we invariably think of temporary Hallowe’en and Christmas stores. It is true that seasonal products are a good option for pop-up shops. However, other products are also conducive to this format. Products that are an impulse buy, have a lower price point, or offer the shopper a taste of affordable luxury are good possibilities for pop-up shop success. In addition, products that support the urgency to buy are also promising. After all, the pop-up shop is only there for a limited time!

Get Started with Your Pop-up Shop
inRiver PRIME Partner, Sophelle, recently published their latest Focus Report, entitled “Boundaryless Commerce: Pop-up Retail.” We invite you to learn more about the strategies, tactics, and technologies that are available to support you in this effort. Don’t miss this trend and opportunity! Download the report today.

13 July 2017

5 Absolute musts for taking your products to market successfully: 5. Refine your product stories with inRiver insights


Must nr 5: Refine your product stories with inRiver insights

Having a central product information management system makes it easy to bring products to market quickly, individually and in large volumes. The system is home to the agreed product story along with all the detail and imagery, tagged and categorized based on its place in the assortment.

This means product marketers and marketing managers have a single source of the truth and don’t have to waste time compiling inaccurate, inconsistent information from disparate sources. They simply share information and export what they need.  This means that you can also refine your product stories based on how consumers react to them and go from insight to action, or even enter a new market in weeks instead of months, new products can be live on a website and ready to be ordered in hours – and you can scale based on demand.

Consortio Fashion Group sells well-known brands like Halens, Cellbes and Bubbleroom in over 10 European markets and through 31 e-commerce sites. The product information management system gives Consortio full control over all assortments, significantly reducing time to market and marketing production costs.

Think big……start small……scale fast

Jimmy Ekbäck, Executive Vice President Product & Services, inRiver

5 Absolute musts for taking your products to market successfully: 4. Publish & Syndicate


Must nr 4: Publish & Syndicate

In a digital and distributed commerce age, the sales process is moving from the physical stores and traditional marketplaces to the Internet. The digital markets - where people go to seek information and shop for products -  are available 24/7 in different forms and shapes. Some are small and niched. Others, like Amazon, are simply huge and omni-present.

In this digital reality, the consumer oversees how, when, and where they purchase products.  Thus, Product Marketers in the digital commerce era are urged to provide quality product information in a mix of attracting and converting channels. These channels can be eCommerce sites, marketplaces, printed catalogs, social media, or any other touch point where the consumers are seeking to educate themselves about the products they want to buy.

To meet the increasing demand for product information, you need a system for helping you facilitate the process of getting the information published in a variety of sales channels. This process is often referred to as syndication. Syndication ensures that product content gets exported in the right format, at the right time, to the right place, and in an automated fashion.

Jimmy Ekbäck, Executive Vice President Product & Services, inRiver