Remember the blue light special?

It’s official – consumers love their convenience (with a caveat).

On Thursday Macy’s announced that it will close down another 68 stores and cut an additional 6,200 jobs, Kohl’s announced holiday sales were down 2.1% while holiday sales overall were up 3.6%, and Sears sold its iconic Craftsman brand to Stanley and announced it would close 109 Kmart and 41 Sears stores.  This is a continuation of a trend a long time coming.  Macy’s, Nordstrom, JCPenney, Sears and other department stores have seen in-store sales per square foot decline 24 percent since 2006.

This news came on the same day Amazon announced its Fulfillment by Amazon service delivered more than 2 billion items around the globe in 2016, grew more than 50 percent during the holiday season, and is in talks to purchase American Apparel.

Why are physical stores struggling to draw in shoppers and earn sales? Clearly the popularity of digital commerce is rising.  But it’s not just the convenience of shopping at home, it’s about giving shoppers options – allowing consumers to buy products however, whenever and wherever they want. It’s also about personalization and creating a seamless, engaging and memorable shopping experience regardless of what channel customers are using.

Another factor is the high cost of maintaining a retail space in a shopping mall, particularly for anchor department stores.  Department stores need to close hundreds of locations if they want to regain the productivity they had a decade ago. Research from Green Street Advisors estimates that the closures could include roughly 800 department stores, or about a fifth of all anchor space in U.S. malls.

Mall owners are also proactively seeking retailers that do a better job of driving shoppers to the centers and lifting overall mall sales.  Landlords are nudging out big box chains in favor of sporting-goods retailers, fast-fashion chains, supermarkets, gyms, restaurants, movies theaters and other types of entertainment as they seek to keep their properties relevant in an age increasingly dominated by online shopping.

Finally, the type of retailers occupying malls today is vastly different than just 10 years ago.  Exclusive specialty retailers that offer luxury items find malls very attractive because shoppers still want to try on the ring, sit on the loveseat, or feel the heft of the copper pot before buying it and bringing it home.  So while for most consumer goods such as clothing, if you know your size, shopping for the best price and free 2-day delivery is the way to go.  When shopping for that expensive gift, we still want the service provided by specialty retailers.

Note that regardless of what they’re buying, consumers want service, it’s just that services means something different based on the good.

Does this make me look fat?

Augmented reality (AR), an enhanced version of reality created by the use of technology to overlay digital information on an image of something being viewed through a device (as a smartphone camera) in real time, is quickly becoming a powerful tool in retailers’ marketing toolkit.

As virtual and augmented reality technology rapidly improves, analysts predict the retail industry may be one the biggest beneficiaries. IDC estimates the market for the technologies will explode from about $5.2 billion in 2015 to $162 billion in 2020.

2016 saw the hype of AR explode with Pokemon Go! yet the more sustainable use cases for this technology may come from changing the way consumers browse and select their products.  The promise of AR when shopping is that through platforms such as Google’s Tango platform, users can select images of furniture or décor from a retailer such as Wayfair’s online catalogue and use the touch screen on their phone or tablet to position the objects on their room’s floor, walls, or ceiling.  Not only can they see how the piece would look in their room they can see if and how well it will fit with the existing decor.  

Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs division believes this usefulness will extent to their living space. “This technology is an important step forward in our vision for how AR and VR will shape the way our customers design, build, and enjoy their homes.” Nel thinks contractors, architects, and designers will buy the phone to help their clients conceptualize projects and he hopes that consumers will buy it, too.

Microsoft Corp., Facebook Inc. and Snap Inc. have joined Google in investing heavily in augmented and virtual reality. Apple Inc. hasn’t revealed any plans for AR, but Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook has touted the technology publicly multiple times. Amazon.is thinking about virtual reality shopping too, according to IDC.  Though the promise is enticing, companies, however, must grapple with the dual challenge of mastering the necessary tech and finding an actual market.

It turns out that shoppers like the idea of using AR to explore and learn more about their prospective purchases, based on a new survey of 1,100 adult U.S. adult shoppers conducted by Interactions Consumer Experience Marketing.  The study found that most people would shop at a retailer more often if they offered augmented reality.  Here are the most popular, according to the survey:

60% — Furniture

55% — Clothing

39% — Grocery

35% — Shoes

25% — Makeup

25% — Jewelry

22% — Toys

The survey found that more than a third (34%) of shoppers already use augmented reality while shopping and nearly half (47%) of those like to use it both online and in a store.  Most (77%) of those who have used AR want to use it to see product differences, such as change in color or style, while more than half (65%) want to use it to get more product information.  Most (71%) shoppers said they would shop at a retailer more often if they used augmented reality and 61% said they prefer to shop at stores with AR over those without it.

AR also may have some influence on impulse purchasing, since 72% of those who have used AR said they purchased items they weren’t planning to because of augmented reality. Almost half (45%) said it save them time and 68% said they spend more time at a retailer if they can shop with augmented reality.

The fine print

Policymakers have a tough job trying to keep up with the advances made possible by technology. An area they’ve been active in lately is the online advertising industry.  It’s booming. Digital-ad revenues in America in the first half of the year reached a record $32.7billion according to the latest figures from the Interactive Advertising Bureau. 

The Economist recent reported that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced a new rule to protect personal privacy online. Internet-service providers, such as AT&T and Comcast, must now ask consumers for permission if they want to gather and share data deemed to be sensitive, including financial information and users’ browsing history.

Marketers and digital-ad firms insist that they already police themselves well. They consider data on browsing and apps, in particular, to be essential for targeted advertising. Under the FCC’s rule consumers can “opt in” to share this information, but firms fear that many will not.

There is a limit to the FCC’s order, which perversely makes it only more controversial. It will restrict data collection by internet providers, but have little impact on broader online tracking. Notably, it does not affect so-called “edge-providers” such as Google and Facebook, which have operated under a separate privacy framework from another agency, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The order further tilts the advantage to Google and Facebook while the consumer has less clarity than before because now limits for gathering data depend on the identity of the gatherer.  The question now is whether regulators will look at this mishmash and apply stricter limits to Google and Facebook, too. 

I believe it’s time for policymakers and regulators to adopt an approach used by scenario planners for years – the futures wheel, in order to identify 2nd, 3rd, and 4th order implications of proposed rules before they’re enacted.  It will make policymaking more complex in the short run, but would highlight areas key leverage points that would ensure the policy or rule matches the intent.

Back to work

The holidays have officially wrapped up, as evidenced by all of my co-workers reporting back to their desks this morning.  Stories, funny and tragic were shared and now it’s back to the matter at hand, which for me is, “What is the future of payments?”

Consumer expectations around the shopping experience continue to favor more convenience and for years consumers have told us they want their payments to be “fast, secure, and convenient”.  The response was the launch of “The Pays” – ApplePay, Samsung Pay and Android Pay, along with a multitude of mobile wallets that fulfill on what consumers told us they wanted.  

The trouble is, after the initial hype and uptake my bleeding edge types, the new adoption rates have been falling.  Why?

As I see it, there is a struggle in the minds of consumer between convenience and trust.  Trust goes beyond security in that while I believe Google (for example) will hold me information secure, I don’t know that I trust it will not use my information in ways I either don’t know or don’t approve of.  

Financial institutions have built this trust up over centuries sine the days of the Medici’s.  I believe consumers feel their data is another asset, just like the car or house title, or the stock certificates.  It’s clear to me retailers are applying technology to make the shopping experience very convenient and secure.  It’s a matter of time before they build trust among their customers.  

The implications for financial institutions isn’t that payments will move to retailers – financial institutions will do this for the foreseeable future.  It’s a battle of brand influence and who is perceived to deliver value.  This is important because those who deliver value will be those who can charge a premium.

The boy in the (internet) bubble

The more time I spend researching on the internet, the more aware I’ve become of a “bubble” that surrounds my internet experience.  My searches for specific products launches a barrage of ads on a sidebar for that which I just researched and a search of a different facet of an issue returns virtually the same sources I’ve already visited.  

The area where it is most noticeable to me is when I’m researching recent news.  It appears my bookmarks to the NY Times and Washington Post influence what site I see when I search.  I feel as though I get a list of sources that are biased toward my point of view.  I want to understand and consider possibilities, not be comforted in my views.  

Don’t believe me?  Check out Wall Street Journal’s Blue Feed, Red Feed, which lets readers see exactly how divergent social media feeds have become, depending on someone’s media diet. How did we get here and what are the implications?

Before the internet, We got our news from the major television networks and national, regional, and local newspapers who employed journalists and reporters who competed on scooping each other on the facts of a matter.  The facts weren’t in question, but opinions surrounding these facts were largely limited to the editorial pages.  These editorials formed the mainstream thinking.

With the internet came tools for individuals to democratize this traditional monopoly on the facts and social media sites that built the news feed.  It quickly changed from a fairly simple way to read posts from friends to one based on an algorithm that optimized for ‘engagement.’

This shift from information to engagement is significant because it shifted the purpose of presenting content from pure relevance to keeping people happy and on that site (to present to advertisers).

This strategy by social media sites is effective. 62% of Americans with internet access consume a big portion of their news through Social Media . Facebook’s news feed is now the primary driver of traffic to news sites.

Most of the events that people read about will come through this feed. The danger is that most opinions will be shaped by a stream of information that is curated and limited by the things that will not make people uncomfortable — and certainly will not provide equal airtime to opposing viewpoints.

I don’t want the internet to console and comfort me.  I want to connect to other cultures, other viewpoints, other ways of seeing the world.  I want the sites I rely on to fulfill the promise of the internet, which is to connect with virtually anyone else on earth.   

2017’s gonna be different…let me count the ways

The end of the year most often finds me reflecting on the year that’s ending and planning for the year ahead.  I can’t help it.  It’s just the way I’m wired.  Over the past ten years or so my year end reflection considers what I’ve accomplished and how I handled (or not) situations and people that used to have me baffled, frustrated or both.

I love Producthunt.com for the work they to do track new apps.  I subscribe to their Daily Digest and one this week caught my eye because it calls out the trend of Quantified Self: the ability to collect data on yourself for the purpose of tracking aspects of your life you feel need tracking.  Believe me when I tell you that you can track almost any aspect of yourself.  A sample from the site include:

Capsule.ai – the app that helps you remember everywhere.

8,760 Hours 2.0 – How to get the most out of next year.

Forksy – А chat bot for tracking calories and eating healthy.

JoyTrack and improve your mental health.

FitmealKeep track of what you eat via Messenger.

Instant 4.0Google Analytics for your life, now with a chatbot coach.

The Gyroscope AppSee the complete story of your life.

GratefulnessLearning to be grateful, one text reminder at a time.

Exist for iOSPersonal analytics to help you understand your life.

DreampireThe first audiovisual dream-sharing network.

Releaf – a thoughtful approach to cannabis treatment.  Mindful management of your medical marijuana.

On one hand I see the attractiveness of having an app track a piece of yourself or your whole self, however it begs the question: Now that you have all that data, what are you going to do with it?  

I see the same thing in the small business realm – the tools and means are available for most small businesses to capture relevant data about their operation and their customers, but once they capture it the data sits on a hard drive with no one to review it, analyze it, think about the implications of the analysis, and take steps to improve the business as a result of the analysis.

I’m not knocking the apps above or any app that can provide a person data on an aspect of their life they find important, however if the individual isn’t prepared to review the data, analyze it objectively, develop conclusions and take steps to improve their life, maybe resolutions are the easier, quicker way to go.  For me, I’ll grab another cup of tea and finish my reflection and begin my plan for 2017.  

Happy New Year.

Anyclip anyone?

Have you heard about Anyclip?  I had not until I read a recent brief about the company.  According to their website, AnyClip is the world’s first personalized, content-driven video advertising platform.

Our team is on a bold mission to personalize video ads by blending them with relevant content. We identify consumers and their preferences on the most relevant digital media and deliver them a personalized video ad experience.

From a single video ad, the company is able to recreate anywhere from 10 to 30 new versions that stay true to the tone and messaging of the brand. Each version is catered and customized for different target audiences and publisher sites.

Companies like Anyclip will contribute to the high-growth slice of advertising.  Digital video ad revenue is forecast to rise from $8.5 billion in 2016 to $23 billion in 2021, according to BI Intelligence estimates. 

It’s not assumed that consumers will embrace video ads.  By 2020, the number of people in the US using ad blockers is expected to more than double from 44 million in 2016 to over 100 million, causing a loss of as much as $12 billion in ad revenue, according to analytics firm Optimal.

For those consumers who are open to receiving video ads, they abandon non-relevant videos at alarming rates.  According to Wistia, 3% of people abandon a 30 second video within the first second, over 50% abandon after the first second but before the wrap-up and less then 1% abandon at the video’s close.  For a video lasting between 30 seconds and a minute, the abandon rates are 5%, 56%, and 5%.  

Even if the video is seen as relevant the first time, abandon rates approach those above for repeated showings.

The amount of advertising in its various formats clamoring for our attention are fighting an uphill battle.  Relevancy, repeat impressions, timing, ad blocking and avoidance all conspire against the advertising efforts of retailers and service providers.  

Anyclip hopes to answer the relevancy question with artificial Intelligence-assisted content in a video format.