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Pitney Bowes: The top five e-commerce drivers for 2016 are …

BY Dan Berthiaume

In the coming year, seamless technologies that blend physical and digital channels will have a major impact on e-commerce.

According to Pitney Bowes, five key developments will primarily drive e-commerce in 2016. These are:

1. Internet of Things (IoT) technologies will drive better business outcomes
Machine-to-machine and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies allow retailers to extract and analyze data from industrial machines to drive better business outcomes. Business benefits include lower cost of operations, greater productivity and output and higher service levels. Businesses also need the flexibility to reach customers across their preferred physical and digital channels.

2. Small and medium businesses will greatly benefit from the digitization of physical communications
New technologies and cloud-based solutions are becoming available to integrate physical and digital experiences and simplify processes on one platform. For example, small and medium retailers can now complement physical mail pieces with digital experiences through QR codes, create more interactive and targeted direct mail, and deliver messages across multiple channels to boost impact.

3. Personalization and hyper-localization will drive explosive growth in global commerce
The e-commerce challenge facing global retailers is to create deeper, more personalized and localized experiences that resonate with consumers from varying countries and regions. To enable international purchases, retailers must use personalization and localization solutions to deliver what their global consumers want, while also taking into account differences in how they like to shop.

4. Data analytics will play a key role in fraud detection and prevention
Personal identities, which are captured in the databases of retailers, are almost always variable. Data quality solutions reconcile these variables and connect different personas to the same record, matched by a common address, in a simple, single view. This technology combats many varieties of fraud, while protecting against financial vulnerabilities and ensuring greater compliance.

Physical and digital technologies must be aligned to protect consumers and their personally identifiable information. Integrated solutions that streamline regulatory compliance can help, as can address cleansing and database cleansing software.

5. Omnichannel marketing will increasingly use data analytics and optimize physical and digital technologies to deliver a seamless experience for the customer
There are more opportunities for prospective and existing customers to communicate with a brand. Interactive and personalized video offers human-like communications that improve customer satisfaction, lower call center volumes and deliver higher customer retention rates.

“At Pitney Bowes, we are increasingly seeing clients of all sizes reexamine how physical and digital technologies converge to power commerce,” said Roger Pilc, chief innovation officer for Pitney Bowes. “Clients are already demanding a more seamless way of integrating their physical and digital worlds. Businesses will need to transform their competencies to seamlessly serve customers across the physical and digital worlds of commerce.”

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Tech Bytes: Looking Ahead: Top Three Customer Engagement Trends of 2016

BY Dan Berthiaume

Last week, I looked at the top three trends that disrupted how retailers engage their customers during 2015. This week, I predict the top three trends that will set the course for customer engagement in 2016.

As Seen on TV
TV has long served as a channel supporting phone- and mail-based sales. More recently, multiplatform retailers like QVC have been turning TV into a connection point in the digital customer experience. However, 2016 will see a significant expansion of TV being used as a platform for interactive customer engagement and transaction execution.

Late in 2015, Apple enabled direct TV-based commerce with an upgraded version of its Apple TV set-top device. Retailers such as Gilt are already offering Apple TV e-commerce apps. A number of retailers have also experimented with interactive TV episodes and commercials that enable direct purchases.

In addition, earlier this year Amazon released its own interactive TV device called Fire TV. While Fire TV currently does not offer direct e-commerce functionality, presumably Amazon will add it at some point.

The days of TV viewing being a passive experience are over. Consumers now have control over what they watch and when they watch it. In 2016, expect TV screens to start rivaling PC and mobile screens when it comes to generating e-commerce traffic and sales.

If the Device Fits…
Wearable devices are catching on with consumers, and retailers in 2016 will increasingly take advantage of the highly personalized engagement opportunity they represent. Apple jump-started the nascent smartwatch market with the release of Apple Watch in April, and has sold more than 7 million units since.

Throughout 2015, retailers released a continuing slew of e-commerce apps for Apple Watch. While smartwatch-based digital commerce is not yet a major market, look for substantial growth in 2016. This may well include increased presence from competing smartwatch providers such as Samsung.

In addition, retailers in 2016 will likely continue building on the customer engagement opportunities represented by personal fitness devices. Retailers of health- and nutrition-based products are in an especially good position to link their CRM and loyalty programs to these devices. This allows retailers to directly tie promotions of relevant products to customers’ efforts at exercise and health.

Blending promotional activities with consumers’ everyday lives leads to a third broader customer engagement trend on the horizon.

Life Partners
By delivering personalized, multimedia promotions and experiences via intimate means such as social media and connected devices, retailers can become a part of consumers’ everyday lives as never before. This includes allowing influencers (consumers with large social media followings) and celebrities to directly engage digital consumers.

It also means offering consumers a truly omnichannel promotional experience that seamlessly brings one-to-one messaging and interactions into stores. In-store tools such as beacons that recognize and deliver targeted messages to consumer mobile devices; interactive signage, shelf labels and kiosks; and personal devices that turn store employees into omnichannel touch-points all help create an immersive promotional environment.
Becoming “life partners” with consumers also means actively using video content, encouraging shoppers to actively participate in campaigns with social media postings, and offering interactive contests and games.

In 2016, retailers will be increasingly taking part in consumers’ daily lives. Of course, they must offer an experience compelling enough to be invited in.

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Holiday surprise for retailers: Sales look better than expected

BY Marianne Wilson

Did a last-minute rush make for stronger holiday sales than many — including the National Retail Federation — had expected?

That’s the way it looks based on the MasterCard Spending Pulse report, which found that sales (excluding auto and gas) increased 7.9% during the holiday season, led by double-digit gains in e-commerce, women’s apparel and furniture.

The SpendingPulse report, released on Monday, December 28, looked at U.S. sales trends across cards, cash and checks from Black Friday to Christmas Eve.

“After a slow start, I’m very happy to see that the holiday season was hot for retailers,” said Sarah Quinlan, senior VP, Market Insights for MasterCard Advisors. “We saw some very promising trends. The double-digit growth in furniture sales, for instance, shows that consumers are willing and able to splurge on big ticket items.”

According to SpendingPulse, e-commerce, furniture and women’s apparel were all big winners with double-digit gains (e-commerce growing roughly 20% compared to last year).

The report also found that for all of November and December, sales were up 4.6%, also slightly better than expected.

In specific findings:

• Overall retail sales (excluding auto and gas grew 4.6% from November through December compared to last year, slightly better than expected. Including gas, growth was just 2.7%, reflecting the lower gas prices and reinforcing the fact that consumers are spending the money they’re saving at the pump.

• Apparel saw high single-digit growth during the Black Friday to Christmas Eve window, with women’s apparel sales rising double-digits. Men’s apparel, on the other hand, declined. The delayed cold weather pushed back apparel buying this fall, so there was pent up demand that played out following Black Friday, according to MasterCard.

The NRF has forecast a 3.7% rise in holiday sales.

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