Making Commerce Better – Recapping a talk by Shopify’s Satish Kanwar at AndroidTO

I meant to start writing this post earlier today when I found myself browsing Facebook instead. It happens… But my Facebook feed pointed  me right back to the topic by presenting me with a funny image that made me think of Satish Kanwar’s talk at AndroidTO.

The caption read, “Best Buy: Try it out before buying it on Amazon.” Funny but true, though “Amazon: Read about it before buying it at Best Buy” would be just as true. 

There’s a reason Kanwar didn’t use the terms “e-commerce” or “online shopping” in his title. One of his core points was that it’s all just commerce and shopping. If you research the product in store then purchase online, is that online shopping?

If you research it online then buy in store, is that bricks and mortar or just self-service 1-hour delivery?

Kanwar made the case for moving past the ideas of online and offline commerce to just “commerce”. He showed how online transactions are just a fraction of the pie, and how online shopping  influences offline purchasing.  Buyers don’t align their behaviour to the constructs of “online” vs. “offline”, they mix and match their shopping related activities according to their preferences. And millennials, he pointed out, expect a seamless experience across mediums. Gone are the days when it was accepted that the online and bricks & mortar versions of a store would be very different.

An interesting study he referenced said that if a retailer’s store is closed when customers want to shop there,  36% will buy it online from that retailer’s website and 22% will shop online for the best price. That 22% represents a great opportunity for small businesses.

The opportunity for small retail businesses was another theme of Kanwar’s talk. Opening large or numerous retail stores is a very costly proposition, and in the past, online buying was generally considered risky. So small businesses had a limited market to work with. Now that online shopping is more prevalent, small businesses – especially those with a solid mobile experience – can expand their market without a huge investment.

Kanwar listed 5 ways online businesses are democratizing the value chain, one of which not surprisingly his own company enables:

1. Get an idea (e.g. Google)
2. Build a prototype (e.g. Makerbot)
3. Raise funds (e.g. Kickstarter)
4. Sell orders (e.g. Shopify)
5. Ship products (e.g. Shipwire)

To demonstrate, he talked about an experiment he conducted, quickly creating and promoting (Twitter, Facebook) an online sock business. With the store up and running (via Shopify, of course) they sold $500 of socks in 24 hours. That experiment provides another lesson, too. There are lots of online and offline stores selling socks already but there was still clearly room for another. If your value proposition is unique or the market is big enough, there is opportunity.

His final premise was a bit less convincing, for me. He talked about the death of the department store. His premise was that department stores optimize for distribution and not necessarily for value or experience. With distribution becoming a commodity (home delivery options), he hypothesizes that department stores will die out in favour of online and experiential stores. (Experiences like the Apple store where customers get hands on with experts, or Lulu Lemon where customers might come in for a yoga class.)

He might be right, but I’m not quite convinced department stores will die. There’s a lot to be said for knowing the item you want is likely in stock and you can see and touch it before ordering. Innovative online retailers like Frank & Oak with home try-on and return options for clothing are definitely taking a bite out of traditional retailers but I have a feeling there will always be a place for shopping in store. Only time will tell.

Meanwhile what is clear is that the blending of mobile, online and in store shopping presents an opportunity for small businesses who can deliver value to customers. Kanwar referenced Andy Dunn’s “E-Commerce is a Bear” essay, summarizing four ways a retail business can differentiate:

1) Proprietary pricing (e.g. scarcity, time limited)

2) Proprietary selection (e.g. curated, narrow & deep for an audience)

3) Proprietary experience (e.g. subscription)

4) Proprietary merchandise (unique product)

Enabled by technology, small businesses can differentiate on any of these.

Lots of food for thought for anyone considering a retail business.

So where does Android fit into all of this? Android, Kanwar pointed out, is the fastest growing mobile platform so businesses wanting to take advantage of this new world of commerce need to make sure they have a solid Android experience.  And yes, he assured us, Shopify is on top of that.

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“MVP: Minimum Viable vs Maximum Value” – my recap of Adam RT Smith’s FITC Screens Talk

Pie-chart-for-Adam-Smith-blog-post-300x224FITC has posted my latest guest blog on their site, a recap of a talk where Adam RT Smith points out the pitfalls of the Minimum Viable Product methodology.

Let me know what you think once you’ve read it on FITC’s Blog
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Is Your App Really Solving a Problem? Recap of a talk by Anthony Ilukwe at FITC Screens 2013

ilukwe-2-smI recently guest blogged again for FITC, this time at their Screens 2013 mobile and tablet development conference. Anthony Ilukwe gave an interesting talk to the developer attendees on how to decide which apps to devote time to and which ones to set aside.

Check it out on FITC’s blog.

“Content Marketing is BS!”

At a recent series of workshops aimed at startups, 5 of the 8 companies represented were directly in the content marketing space. So imagine our surprise with the PR expert began his talk by informing us loudly that, “Content Marketing is bullsh*t!”

We waited for the punchline that would indicate he was being ironic but no, that really was the premise of his talk. This was an old-school media relations guy who came to pitch a bunch of content marketers on why he thinks what we do has no value and we should focus solely on getting positive reviews of our products in “reputable” publications instead. But I’m glad I stayed, because the end of his talk was priceless.

He explained that “content marketing is just companies posting things saying how great our products are”, tipping us off that he wasn’t really opposed to content marketing, he just didn’t understand what CM is. A few in the audience tried to explain that CM is more about delivering relevant content that your customers will value than directly promoting your product, but PR Guy would have none of it. He kept going despite the obvious chill in the room, until he stated flatly that CM has no impact on customer behaviour, only “reputable publications” with “unbiased journalists” do because that’s all customers trust. I couldn’t keep quiet any longer. My time at SqueezeCMM had showed me how wrong he is.

“Excuse me,” I said, “I work with a company whose product measures the impact of content marketing on lead generation and conversions. The data clearly show that content marketing done well increases leads and conversions.”

The group held their collective breath waiting to see how this played out. PR Guy sputtered a few more comments, each one countered by someone in the room then finally read the room and saw that he was alone. “I was really just trying to be controversial,” he offered. “Mission Accomplished!” I replied with a smile and a thumbs up, which got a relieved laugh from the room. With the tension diffused, PR Guy launched back into his talk with a less hostile audience – but not an engaged one.

From that point on there were more people answering email on their phones than even pretending to pay attention. PR Guy shifted his focus to why traditional media relations are still necessary but it was too late. He’d lost the audience. The useful content in the rest of his talk was ignored by most because he’d forgotten PR 101 – know your audience.

So little attention was being paid that most missed his unintentionally ironic finish.

As he wrapped up his talk, PR Guy – Mr. Content Marketing is BS – said this:

“I hope you’ll all sign up for my company’s newsletter. It’s full of good tips on PR and dealing with the media. I think you’ll find it useful.”

It was all I could do not to giggle out loud. When he left, my peers said it was obvious from the twinkle in my eye that I found something funny but they didn’t know what, so I told them.

“Did you catch his suggestion that we sign up for his newsletter?”, I asked?

Now they got it. Mr. Content Marketing is BS really had closed his talk by promoting his company’s content!

PR 201 – If you’re going to take a stance against something, it’s probably good to know what it is.