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As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads and more national governments order shutdowns, people are moving online for their daily purchases. According to research by Microsoft Advertising,[i] search volume for Buy Online Pick Up in Store queries increased by more than 1,200% between January 1st and March 18th, 2020. From logistics and IT infrastructure to advertising and customer support, the pandemic represents a real test for commerce. In 2019, iProspect introduced the Commerce Success Framework (CSF) to help marketers drive their commerce strategy across four key areas: Availability, Findability, Buyability and Repeatability. In these challenging times, wherein it is important for brands to help consumers easily find and order what they need, the CSF can provide marketers with a useful lens to prioritise the key actions necessary to build or maintain a robust commerce presence. This article covers some actions that brands can look into for each dimension of the model, and is intended to encourage marketers to think about what initiatives they can activate for their business. Availability Availability is all about getting the right products to the right people in the right places, and this is particularly critical in this time of crisis. At the moment, supply chains are severely stretched. Manufacturers and factories are shutting down, many shipping companies are over strained, and retail inventory is stretched thin, if not completely sold out. As a consequence, people are desperate to find certain products, and, conversely, they don’t want to hear about other products. It is important for brands to communicate with empathy and honesty by giving as much information about their product availability as they can, as soon as possible. This is even more true for those companies that have items that are in high demand right now. If your supplier is closed, let people know. If you expect shipping delays, let people know. Don’t hide your business disruption in fine print on your website and instead, update all the places where people can find information about your business (e.g., update your Google My Business listings to mark your locations “Temporarily closed”). For the brands selling through third parties like Amazon or Lazada, it is also important to work with these platforms to stop unacceptable behaviours. For instance, set purchase limits on necessary products to avoid people hoarding and trying to resell with a huge mark-up to profit off this situation. This is the last kind of association marketers want for their products. Technology can be of great help to deliver fast and accurate information to consumers. For instance, as people are looking for the most up-to-date information, a direct feed into your product information and your inventory catalogue enables you to deliver information in real time. When people know that what they're seeing online is accurate, they're able to purchase what they need without additional frustration in an already stressful context. However, technology can be a double-edged sword for your operations, if not optimized properly. Marketers need to work hand-in-hand with their IT departments to ensure they have the infrastructure in place to absorb increased server loads and make sure their load times are not surging, as this could frustrate consumers and discourage them from buying what they need. Research from Google has demonstrated that increasing load times can strongly augment the probability of users bouncing away from the website. The pandemic and its consequences are a critical test for online commerce operations. For some brands, it will simply challenge their capacity to communicate fast enough. For others, it may start a full reconsideration of their supplier relationships, maybe through more diversification, or accelerate their transformation to online commerce in order to compensate the falling foot traffic. In the US, foot traffic dropped 75% for shopping malls between week of March 9th and week of March 16th, according to research by NinthDecimal. Findability Once brands have taken the necessary measures to be in the right places and have their inventory ready and available, they need to be discovered, which can be challenging when many other brands are also shifting their focus and budgets to increase their online presence. Again, the golden rule is first and foremost to avoid appearing to be insensitive. Make sure to use negative keywords in your campaigns to avoid any sensitive searches that could be misconstrued to be tone deaf. You also want to make sure that your consumers are protected from harmful options from third party sellers, which is why close monitoring is critical to combat fake products and people trying to take advantage of shoppers when they are vulnerable. Digital shelf analytics tools such as Stackline, Profitero, or Edge allow marketers to monitor third-party sellers on platforms like Amazon, to then be able to take the appropriate actions to discourage or take down profiteers and fraudsters. These actions not only help consumers favour official sales channels, but they also ensure that negative associations with your products will not have a long-lasting impact on your brand. It is important for brands to continue their paid media and to keep promoting their products to be found by consumers. People go on commerce platforms to shop, so relevant product ads in these environments have very little chance to be seen as inappropriate, especially if you put in place the safeguards described previously. By making sure you are easy to find, you will provide helpful support to consumers, so make sure you are keeping up with your organic search and paid search activities. Feeds can also be used for Findability, enabling advertisements to synchronize with your offering evolution in real time. Keep in mind that not everyone necessarily knows all of the benefits of your products. There could be a certain product that is sold out everywhere, and you may have an alternative product that is not as well known. By keeping people informed of your product benefits, you may help them to find a new solution to meet their needs. Buyability Once brands are easily available to consumers and easily discoverable, they need to focus on Buyability, which means providing the right information for people to proceed with purchase. As for the two previous steps, the most important aspect is ensuring that your actions are aligned with the current context. One of the measures you can take is updating product information. For instance, we have seen false rumours going around that drinking isopropyl alcohol could destroy the virus. A company selling this product could revise their product information to debunk the rumours. This requires being aware of the noise surrounding the pandemic, your brand and your industry. Rigorous social listening (e.g., emerging and trending news, mentions, keywords evolution) is a recommended practice in order to be able to quickly counter or encourage what's being said about you. In these times when people cannot look at products in stores or shop in familiar ways, content has a critical role to provide reassurance, offer solutions and be uplifting. Video content is an excellent way to achieve these objectives. Live streaming commerce, which combines a live stream and some checkout options for products featured in the video, is a well-developed practice in Asia-Pacific that has been getting traction across regions and is now proposed by platforms such as Amazon. Social commerce should also be a key consideration to help people purchase what they want and what they need. As people are turning to social platforms, brands can make the most of the platforms’ shopping capabilities to simplify purchases. Native solutions such as Instagram Checkout or third-party solutions such as Jumper.AI can help people easily order the product they need without leaving the platform they’re on, saving stress and time. Another consideration of Buyability is pricing. Pricing has become such a critical facet of e-commerce that many brands have set up dynamic pricing algorithms. These algorithms look at various data signals (e.g., margin, competitors’ prices, demand level) and automatically adjust prices. In times like these when people are purchasing a lot to stock up, you need to tread carefully because your dynamic pricing algorithm could get out of control and you could be seen as profiteering or trying to price gouge. So, make sure that is in check, and maybe even turn it off and revert to static pricing for now. Also, look at possibilities to offer promotional bundles where they could bring value to consumers, such as the initiative of Woolworths, which introduced a $80 Basics Box to support vulnerable families in Australia. Repeatability Repeatability is about building a relationship with the consumer beyond the first sale. In light of COVID-19, it means looking after your customers and exploring ways to help them out as much as possible. The first consideration should be looking at and adjusting the conditions of your loyalty programme. If you have a loyalty programme that's based on how often people do something and there is a time limit, consider freezing those requirements or dramatically lowering them. A good example is the one of airlines. Obviously, people are not flying nearly as much as normal, so adjusting frequent flyer miles programmes makes sense. The last thing you want is to alienate customers who really enjoy your product and services by making them feel punished for something that is out of their control. A good example of a sensible approach is the one of Hilton, which recognised that earning and using points is not possible for many of its customers at the moment and extended its 2020 Hilton Honors Status through March 31, 2022. You should also proactively communicate the actions you take to help the community and minimise disruption. For instance, you could send an email to your customers to show how your brand is ensuring the highest levels of cleanliness in the production chain, or to let them know about new delivery options. However, it doesn’t mean you should mass-email every single person who has bought your products once, which could have the opposite effect and appear as opportunistic. Focus on the engaged and regular customers to show them how you can help them. As people are trying to adjust their daily lives to the new normal, they might want to cancel subscriptions, might want to return orders, might have additional questions about delivery… and customer support will become even more important. Ensure your customer support team receives clear guidelines on how to handle consumer requests with empathy and honesty, both in one-on-one communications (e.g., chat) and in public user reviews. Monitoring tools can alert the support team when negative reviews are posted so that they can quickly address them. Additionally, check-in with the support team more frequently than usual to identify recurrent concerns. It can help you continuously improve the information you provide upfront, as seen in the Availability section (e.g., communicating a bigger shipping window). Support bots can also relieve stress on customer service by providing useful information to users. Brands with chat bots or voice activated digital assistants must ensure they are updated as well in terms of content and tone. Brands that do not have a bot should look into this opportunity. The main platforms have a lot of templates available for building actions and skills very quickly. For instance, an FAQ is one of the easiest things to program and you can build and launch a simple and efficient bot in a few hours. You can then progressively add more information, for instance product feeds, to turn the bot into its own shopping channel over time. Using the Commerce Success Framework as a Lens The examples described above provide a glimpse of what brands can do to build or maintain a strong online commerce presence in these challenging times. As each business is going to be affected differently by the consequences of the pandemic, we believe that the Commerce Success Framework will provide marketers a useful lens to focus on the main areas (Availability, Findability, Buyability, Repeatability) and to prioritise the actions that make the most sense for their customers. Above all, remember to protect yourself and your relatives by following the World Health Organisation or your local authorities’ guidelines. We will get through this together. iProspect constantly monitor the impact on COVID-19 on brands and work with partners to support clients with the most up-to-date actions to ensure business continuity. ---------------- [1] Microsoft Advertising, How COVID-19 is affecting in-store pickup interest, March 20th, 2020 0

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Before the COVID-19 crisis, Dentsu Aegis Network's survey of 1,000 CMOs found that 79% believed they must transform, not just optimise, their businesses through digital technologies. A new report by Dentsu Aegis Network, The Reality of Recovery: A Post COVID-19 World, based on the responses of 700+ clients across 36 markets, shows that if we are to derive one truth from the current events, it is that the pandemic accelerates brands’ transformation, especially regarding their digital capabilities.     1.  Content is king in times of crisis, and investment in content is likely to stick    When the crisis amplified and lockdown measures spread, many brands made theirs the ‘First, do no harm’ adage, by quickly adapting their content to not appear out of touch with the current events. More than half (55%) of respondents have adapted their creatives and content to respond to the consequences of the pandemic. It is by far the measure the most frequently taken by marketers (it ranks #1 across all regions), and 50% declare they will need to invest more in content over the long term.     What does it mean for brands?        To generate a consistent consumer response, brands must have a clear understanding of the content created across the organisation, even when it is not under the direct responsibility of the marketing department. The buck doesn’t stop with rolling out an emotional hero TV commercial, and brands should not neglect the other types of content that serve consumers from either an emotional, informational or transactional perspective. A successful content strategy encompasses many facets such as delivering accurate information about logistics (e.g., up-to-date store hours in maps), temporary customer practices (e.g., clear return policies), product information (e.g., stock levels in search ads), etc. Making sure the content is consistent from the first interaction to the product page is fundamental.    In the midst of the pandemic, brands should consider the following when reviewing their content strategy:    Culture and process: How resilient is the creative process in the new ways of working? While working from home can provide more focus to creative teams, how does the organisation compensate for the missing energy of the office?  Content optimisation: How is the existing content optimised for performance? Is the information easily accessible when people go to search engines or land on the brand’s website? SEO, UX and CRO should not be afterthoughts.   Technology: Is the business equipped to update content fast while minimising the risk of mistakes? Solutions like Product Information Management platforms can help brands centralise information so that each environment can be updated at once.  2.  The pandemic acts as an e-commerce catalyst    It is clear the current crisis will accelerate the adoption of e-commerce, both in terms of consumer usage and in terms of investment from brands. A third of respondents (33%) have already expanded their e-commerce presence amid the crisis. The push for e-commerce has been particularly strong for offline-driven businesses (37% vs. 17% for online-driven businesses) and for industries relying heavily on retailers (49% of FMCG and 53% of F&B respondents expanded their e-commerce presence) in an attempt to partially offset their lost offline sales. As many people still don’t feel comfortable leaving home (e.g., 48% in the US according to the Dentsu Crisis Navigator) and are still relying on online channels for their daily purchases (e.g., +74% online demand YOY for fashion collections in the NL according to iProspect), this e-commerce arms race shows no signs of slowing down in the immediate future. It should also continue beyond the pandemic, with six respondents out of ten (59%) declaring they need to invest in their e-commerce capabilities on the long term.         What does it mean for brands?  Growing online sales to be both profitable on the short term and viable on the long term is no easy feat. What worked for traditional retail isn’t guaranteed to work online, and the volume of parameters to consider, from logistics and technical infrastructure to advertising and customer support, can be overwhelming for brands, especially for the ones playing catch up. How can we make the most of marketplaces in a limited time? How can we quickly optimise our existing tech stack to optimise sales? How can feed management provide flexibility to adapt media efforts to real-time inventory? All these questions are all the more difficult when the company doesn’t have e-commerce specialists among its ranks.     In 2019, we introduced the Commerce Success Framework (CSF) to help marketers drive their commerce strategy across four key areas: Availability, Findability, Buyability and Repeatability. In these challenging times, the CSF can provide marketers with a useful lens to prioritise the key actions necessary to build or maintain a robust commerce presence.       3.  The pressure to get closer to customers has increased    With media budgets under pressure, many marketers have paid particular attention to their existing customers: 32% of respondents increased their CRM activity, and 45% believe they will need to invest in CRM long term. Online-driven businesses, which typically have more direct relationships with their consumers, have been leveraging CRM more than their offline-driven counterparts. We can see clear differences between categories with stronger CRM programmes and the ones that don’t have access to a lot of customer data due to intermediation: while more than 40% of respondents in the Finance & Insurance, Travel & Tourism and Automotive categories have increased their CRM activity, only around 20% in the FMCG and F&B categories have done so. This deficit in direct access to customers is not news for categories depending on retailers, and many have started Direct-To-Consumer initiatives and tried new models (e.g., subscriptions) over the last few years to regain control over customer relationships (and data). By shutting down many points of sale, the COVID-19 crisis has exposed remaining disparities in CRM maturity.    What does it mean for brands?    Upgrading CRM capabilities is not an investment that proves useful only in times of crisis, it is a winning strategy in the long term. New depth of customer data can help the product development team adapt the product portfolio to address emerging consumer needs. It can help marketing and creative teams tap into new insights to build messages more aligned with customer priorities. It can be leveraged to build new services (e.g., customer frequent questions can help build a simple support chatbot in a few hours). First-party data can also power media targeting and help customer acquisition (e.g., modelling of similar audiences), and becomes all the more important as browsers are cracking down on third-party cookies and as legislators around the world are promoting more restrictive policies around data practices. All these applications for CRM enable stronger customer experiences, which are critical in a period where big life changes push consumers to reconsider their routines and purchase habits.    It is particularly important for brands to have a clear strategy according to the engagement levels of their clients, and to avoid alienating customers and draining their existing customer base. Too many brands fell into the trap of suddenly mass emailing every single person who bought their products once, taking the risk of appearing opportunistic and damaging customer relationship. Additionally, brands need to have the technical infrastructure in place to support their long-term CRM ambition, and should avoid panic buying oversized solutions that are not be adaptable to their future growth needs or are inconsistent with their data strategy.    Download your copy of the The Reality of Recovery: A Post COVID-19 World report today.    0

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Google is reinvigorating their marketplace product Buy on Google (formerly called Shopping Actions) by removing commission fees and giving control of the brand experience back to the hands of merchants. These updates represent a direct effort to compete with Amazon and evolve Google’s online shopping experience at a time when people are shopping online more than ever due to COVID-19 closing down physical stores and altering consumer habits.   The announcement made last week highlighted several major changes. Google showcased new payment service platform partnerships with PayPal and Shopify and also expanded data feed integrations within Merchant Center. Google also passed back responsibility to brands for managing customer support, shipping, and returns. Finally, Google has even created a solution which builds feeds directly from Google’s own database.   Buy on Google will disrupt small and large retailers.  A streamlined checkout process has several highlights that are covered in a bit more detail below. 0% commission fees: This is a major change which will encourage all retailers to rethink their Buy on Google strategy.  A comparison that highlights the magnitude of this change:  Previous commission rates on Shopping Actions for apparel product categories was 12%! Updated merchant and financial requirements: The requirements to sell on Shopping Actions are now gone and Google is pulling out all the stops to remove excuses for brands to not onboard. Marketers no longer need a US bank account after linking to GMC with an approved payment service platform account (PayPal and Shopify, to start with). Barriers of entry have been removed: Google has relinquished complete control of payment transactions, managing customer support, as well as returns & shipping. Returning ownership of important brand-owned processes back to the retailer shows that Google is confident in brands meeting customer expectations for purchases made on Google Shopping. Product feed integrations: Google Merchant Center is supporting non-Google product feed uploads, by their greatest ecommerce and marketplace competitor - Amazon. Focus on supporting small businesses: Consumers will soon be able to filter and view products sold by small business merchants specifically.   What was missing in the announcement Google has been slowly rolling out new features and updates over the past several months around other organic and unpaid feed-powered listings. Retailers activating on the Buy on Google program can also opt-in at the same time to these free Google products listings called Surfaces Across Google. The same product feed powers both programs so merchants not only have commissions removed for Google’s marketplace but their catalog will now serve across multiple shopping experiences without paid media.  We predict that in the near future to see Buy on Google checkout options begin to show on organic search results, such as on the Knowledge Graph - a previously paid ad listing placement. While this experience is what we expect next, the details still follow suit on aggregating paid and free product listings to their specific ad placements across Google properties. Shopping Actions:  A solution in search of a problem...until now The Google marketplace (Shopping Actions) has struggled to burst through the bubble of mass adoption by merchants with spending the last seven years expanding and rebranding the program. The removal of commission fees is a unique value proposition and explicit advantage against marketplace rivals like Walmart and Amazon, but also a deep benefit for small businesses that started digital ecommerce on eBay and Etsy. The payment system partnerships have made up for years of minimal merchant integrations. To compensate and attempt to counter Amazon’s two million+ small businesses already selling on that marketplace, Google chose to integrate the Amazon catalog into Google Merchant Center. This has never happened in the history of Google and is unprecedented. What Google now has is a data set of product information far more robust than their own catalog. Shopify has a small business customer base of one million (and growing) on the platform which now brings a larger assortment of products, and new small businesses that have minimal reason to not now sell on Google marketplace. What does this mean for your business? Brands who have refused to launch on marketplaces like Amazon now have minimal hesitation to begin selling on Google. Nike has refused to sell on Amazon for some time due to not being able to own the customer experience. Brands should focus on evaluating their media plan and product feed strategy. This would entail identifying product lines, seasonality SKUs, and less profitable products to be specifically assigned as eligible to serve in a marketplace, organic/unpaid listings or paid campaigns. This granular setup is especially important due to limited reporting features and forecasting features within the Google Merchant Center--feature gaps which will hopefully be addressed by Google in the future. Google is placing a strategic bet on small businesses to lean into their marketplace by removing commission fees and reducing barriers to entry. These changes were driven by Google’s Bill Ready, a former PayPal executive, executive leader at Braintree & Venmo, and supporter of small business commerce for over a decade. When it comes to steering a ship such as Google marketplace in a new direction, his vision shows the understanding of how small businesses are driving the future of marketplace commerce. However, even if the primary focus of these changes appears to be small businesses, if large brands don’t take the time to review their current Google Shopping approach and leverage these new features, they will be the ones missing out on a major commerce opportunity during this coming holiday season. 0