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Blog: Toby Cruse: Amazon’s ‘Death Star’ to Take the Skies

Currently, if you want a package delivered from the Amazon’s airborne courier system in the UK, you need to have a large garden live near an Amazon delivery depot and want a very light package, but that’s looking to change.

The service, known as Prime Air, made its first successful touchdown in December, taking just 13 minutes between placing the order and arriving in the user’s back garden just outside of Cambridge.

While the online commercial giant has barely left the ground yet, plans have already been put forward to take the company to greater heights.

Discovered by CB Insight’s Zoe Leavitt, the new patents reveal ‘airborne warehouses’ designed to hang in the sky at 45,000 ft.

Described by Leavitt as Amazon’s very own “Death Star,” the patents also seemingly show designs of multi-purpose docking stations that could be built onto lamp posts, as well as buildings and other structures.

Using communication links known as a ‘Mesh Network,’ the drones will be able to transmit data between each other to send alerts of their environments.

Factors from how clear the weather is to the distance of a customer are hoped to be tackled by these airships, or “airborne fulfilment centres,” which would be able to travel to calmer climates as well as to hotspots where the service is in more greater demand.

The UK laws on drone piloting are continuing to evolve as they become more and more popular, but they currently do not allow for flying over or within 150m of congested areas, or within 50m of any vessel, structure or vehicle not controlled by the pilot.

However, even with these laws the UK is considered much more lenient than many countries. American drone users, for example, required a licence and a special waiver from the Federal Aviation Authority until August last year.

So far the Prime Air sounds very compelling for the 2 customers close enough to an Amazon warehouse to be viable, especially since the service doesn’t cost any more than the customers are already paying, but whether or not your orders are going to be sent to you gift-wrapped from the clouds in the near future is still up in the air.

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Amazon Go store concept could enter the UK market…

Amazon’s “revolutionary” checkout-free stores are set to make an introduction to the UK market after reports claim the company registered for a trademark on December 5.

The eCommerce giant has already opened its first brick and mortar concept grocery store in Seattle earlier this month, where Amazon employees are able to use the Amazon Go app to shop for goods without engaging in a paying process while in-store.

Now, according to industry reports, the concept may be making its way to the UK market, and British shoppers with an Amazon Prime account will soon be able to see the “ground-breaking” shopping experience for themselves.  

Although the retailer is yet to officially confirm these plans, a number of retail analysts have predicted that this concept could jeopardise three quarters of grocery store jobs. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) have also suggested that a third of the UK’s three million shop jobs could disappear within a decade.

It comes after the e-tailer was criticised by Scotland’s leader of the Liberal Democrats, Willie Rennie, claiming the company has maintained “intolerable working conditions” at its Dunfermline warehouse.

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Guest Blog, Milana Saric: The retailer’s guide to last minute Christmas social advertising…

The Christmas holiday season is often far from the most wonderful time of year for retail marketers. Sales success can seem as elusive as finding the perfect gift for the pickiest person on your gift list.

Pressure around holiday marketing builds for good reasons. Many retailers make more than half of their sales and profits in the three months leading up to Christmas. In 2015, UK holiday sales rose by 2.3 per cent from £74.26 billion to £75.96 billion, buoyed by the growth of events such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

With consumers facing seasonal messages and advertisements from all directions, it takes careful planning to execute campaigns that will break through the noise. It’s important to provide a seamless cross-channel experience because, in the UK, 70 per cent of social media time is spent on smartphones. And you’ll have to spend. The days of relying on organic social media to deliver your message are long gone. To convert specific audiences into buyers you will need paid social media: the vastness of its reach, its finely tuned targeting and array of compelling ad units.

To boost your social advertising for the final weeks, here are some tips on making your social Christmas campaigns sing like the King’s College Choir:

Timing

Even though we’re close to Christmas, online is at its peak, and is still a key time for driving awareness and increasing product consideration. With the extra time off, consumers are in a much more relaxed state-of-mind; and will spend more time browsing and shopping online.

Pinterest is an important tool during this phase of the season, with audiences using the platform to plan their holiday activities, as well as to research and bookmark gifts for themselves, family, and friends. Facebook and Instagram are additional platforms to reach audiences at scale and drive them to your site to browse.

Pre-Test

In the final run-up to Christmas there’s a huge opportunity to test. See which products and messaging audiences respond to in order to focus on top-performers when sales start. Leverage the audiences you have already driven to your site and dynamically retarget users based on product pages they have viewed. Put the right items in front of shoppers at the right time.

Messaging

Throughout, focus on driving awareness and engagement by promoting valuable content that’s shareable. Then move people further down the funnel with consideration and conversion-led content with strong calls-to-action that will prompt them to act on their purchase intent. From Black Friday onwards, an important sales period – and a lot of retailers are still continuing the discounts, messaging should be much more conversion-focused.

On Pinterest, build content that is helpful and informative. Focus on how your brand’s products and services solve challenges for consumers. For instance, you could have Pins with themes such as ‘6 office party outfits’, ‘Tips for buying wearables for your loved one’, or ‘Party planning guide.’

For Twitter, create infographics that include valuable sale shopping tips. This kind of shareable content will increase engagement as well as organic reach. Capitalise on the season’s buzz by using tweets to tap into live conversations about the holidays.

Snapchat’s Snap Ads, completely viewable, full-screen video, provide an extremely powerful video experience. Capture attention with short, concise video (3-7 seconds) that showcases your key holiday brand story.

Don’t be afraid to run experiments. Splashes of colour can have thumb-stopping power so play around with various options without compromising your brand identity. A/B test ad types against one another depending on your goals.

Targeting

Target users based on their online and offline purchase behaviour with third-party audiences from data providers such as Datalogix and Acxiom. These audiences can be synched to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts and activated across your campaigns.

Start with broad targeting and narrow down the audiences once you’ve gathered sufficient learning. Use CRM data to re-engage lapsed customers and ensure they are aware of your latest offering and/or promotions.

Develop a retargeting strategy to leverage audiences that have recently visited or purchased from your website or engaged with your brand’s content on social media.

Tap into custom audience segments offered by social platforms and third-party data providers for targeting. Snapchat is one platform that has released audience categories – Snap Lifestyle Categories – to reach users based on how they engage on the platform. These include fashion and style gurus, film and TV fans, foodies, sports fans, and more.

Ad Formats

Video is the most powerful way to drive awareness for products/services and is no longer just a landscape experience. Snapchat led the way with vertical video, a format that allows a brand to take up 100 per cent screen share-of-voice. Facebook has also begun to offer a vertical video unit.

For online sales, use Facebook’s lead ad and Twitter’s lead generation unit to grow awareness for a sale and incentivise users to subscribe to receive information.

In terms of increasing product consideration, ad formats such as Carousel Ads on Facebook and Instagram and multi-product tweets on Twitter are very effective in showcasing multiple products and enabling storytelling. Promoted Pins are powerful because so many users actively save Pins to come back to the content later. They’re also a huge traffic-driver, so use keyword targeting to ensure users searching and planning on Pinterest find your products.

 

Milana Saric is the client strategy director, EMEA at Adaptly and has a wealth of experience helping advertisers to execute digital marketing strategies and drive brand awareness on social media. She is responsible for clients across the entertainment, fashion and retail sectors.

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Big-name UK retailers still baffled by eCommerce basics…

Research published on eCommerce performance has revealed that UK retailers are missing out on £2 billion in online revenue every year due to the running of slow websites and failing to introduce ‘guest checkouts’.

Based on four key factors: technology, marketing, trading, and service and logistics, the Scorecard analysis conducted by Summit found Argos and Sainsbury’s to be the top performers across the board, closely followed by John Lewis, Screwfix and Tesco.

Dorothy Perkins, Evans, Topshop and Superdrug all hold the bottom position with an overall score of 56 per cent, and as a result of limited contact options and slow response times for customers, Topshop scored just 13 per cent for online customer service.

The report also found that 38 per cent of the top 50 retailers do not have a guest checkout option, costing an estimated £1 billion per year as over a quarter of shoppers abandon their baskets without this option.

Hedley Aylott, co-founder and CEO at Summit said: “The Summit Scorecard provides us with an understanding of what the top 50 UK retailers are really like to shop with online. “While retailers have made huge strides, with most now getting mobile right, many are still struggling to offer delivery options that meet shoppers’ needs.

While this will not be an easy fix, no-one in retail needs further convincing or evidence of the importance of the online experience on overall profitability. These results are confirmation that there is still a lot of room for improvement, highlighting the real opportunity for retailers to fix some of the basics.”

Despite the imperfections, when looking at eCommerce technology and mobile compatibility, Scorecard discovered that 92 per cent of the top 50 retailers have websites built for mobile.
To download the full report, click here

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Black Friday shoppers took six days to complete online purchases…

Shoppers in the UK, US and Australia took a total of six days to complete their online Black Friday purchases, according to analysis compiled by Rakuten Marketing.

Analysing display, attribution and affiliate data factors, the research found the purchase journey generally commenced on the previous Saturday and, although Black Friday tends to cause a 20 hour cut in the total time taken to convert compared to an average weekend, shoppers still took an average of 142 hours to finalise transactions; from their first online interaction with a brand to the checkout stage.

Furthermore, shoppers took to discount publishers with their searches for the best deals, even when brands offered discounts on their websites directly. Rakuten Marketing saw 42 per cent of its conversions on Black Friday through cashback sites such as TopCashBack and discount sites including VoucherCodes.co.uk. 

Megan Dado, regional senior director of Rakuten Affiliate Europe at Rakuten Marketing said: “Although there’s certainly a shorter journey to purchase, shoppers are less impulsive on Black Friday than brands might think. Like every other day of the year, they are still researching products and where they’re going to find the best deals in advance. Shopping sites like ShopStyle perform well because publishers optimise the consumer experience in accordance with these key dates.

“Black Friday only means big sales if brands have a complete view of a customer’s journey. Armed with insights about where shoppers are discovering their brand and where they eventually purchase, marketers can work out how to distribute their marketing spend effectively.”

A shortened customer journey around Black Friday is most apparent in the number of online advertisements consumers viewed before making a purchase. Whilst the average number of impressions across retail sectors including fashion, technology and beauty is just over 22 during an average weekend, Black Friday consumers view less than five ads before transacting.

The biggest difference can be seen in electronics and jewellery. Although it usually takes the average consumer as many as 54 ad impressions before making a technology purchase, the number of ads they need to see on Black Friday drops by a staggering 90 per cent to six impressions. For the jewellery sector, the drop is 86 per cent from 30 impressions to only four.

On average, consumers in the UK took 16 per cent less time in reaching the point of sale during Black Friday week, whereas this is only a 14 per cent drop for the US.

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Shop Direct ‘first UK retailer to launch WhatsApp-style service platform’…

Shop Direct has become the first UK-based retailer to apply conversational user interface (CUI) technology for customer service, launching ‘Very Assistant’ for customers to find answers to their questions in a WhatsApp–style chat environment.  

The owner of Very.co.uk, Littlewoods.com, VeryExclusive.co.uk and LittlewoodsIreland.ie has initially made the automated platform available via the Very.co.uk iOS app, and claims the technology makes the user journey even simpler for customer service questions, allowing people to easily interact with Very.co.uk representatives in a format that they are adept at using on a day-to-day basis. 

Developed in-house by Shop Direct’s multi-award-winning eCommerce team, Very Assistant works by asking the app user if they need any help. The customer is then presented with a sequence of questions and multiple action options, which the customer taps within the chat environment. The customer’s answers enable the platform to instantly serve up the information they are looking for. 

Jonathan Wall, eCommerce director at Shop Direct said: “This fully native platform is squarely focused on what our customers need. It’s delivered through our app because that’s where they want to have questions answered. It’s also the best place for us to collect feedback and constantly improve Very Assistant. 

“We think this new technology will simplify our user journey, improve satisfaction, and help to boost efficiency in our customer service operation. It’s also the first step towards ‘natural language’, AI-driven CUI – which is something we’re hugely excited about.” 

Customers can use Very Assistant to make a payment on their Very.co.uk account, check their payment dates, track an order, confirm that recent payments have been processed and request a reminder of their account number. 

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Retailers that shun technology risk major dip in consumer confidence…

Three quarters (75 per cent) of UK shoppers say they have more confidence in retailers that use up-to-date technology, with Londoners and the under-35s considered the most judgmental. 

Conducted to support the launch of Worldpay’s My Business Hub till system – an all-in one, tablet based point-of-sale (POS) created to help independent retailers transition into the digital age – the payment company’s research found that 80 per cent of respondents in these demographic groups said they are more likely to trust retailers that utilise up-to-date technology than those that do not. Many state tech-savvy retailers come across as more professional and committed to improving the overall experience. 

Among the 2,000 consumers surveyed, only seven per cent said they had concerns that technology could get in the way of delivering the type of experience they were looking for in-store. 

Retailers that refuse debit and credit card payments provoked a particularly strong reaction within the research, as one in five under-35s said they would be concerned about the quality of products in stores that only took cash, and a further 22 per cent have abandoned purchases when their preferred payment option is not available.  

Dave Hobday, UK managing director at Worldpay, said: “Consumers still have a strong connection to the high street, but technology has transformed their expectations. Today’s digitally driven shoppers want to be able to research their purchases online, seek advice from staff in-store, pay in any way that they choose, and return items at the click of a button. Businesses that fail to offer that level of service are increasingly viewed with suspicion. 

“80 per cent of consumers think retailers could be making better use of technology to improve the instore experience, so it’s reassuring that similar proportions of high street businesses see technology as holding the key to their future survival. Innovations like My Business Hub ensure that great technology is easily accessible to all business. Small businesses need to embrace change and digitally evolve in order to thrive as part of a modern and diverse high street.”   

Cash only payments, handwritten receipts and the lack of a website were among the main ‘technology triggers’ which led consumers to think twice about whether or not to part with their money. 41 per cent of consumers said trustworthy retailers make it easy to pay by card as well as cash; while 39 per cent said they trusted retailers who offered digital receipts to make returns easier.  

Learn more about ‘MyBusinessHub’ here 

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eCommerce Christmas sales expected to hit over £16bn in the UK…

The data and market research company, eMarketer, has predicted that UK retail eCommerce sales will reach an estimated £16.9 billion during the ‘core’ season shopping period of November and December; an increase from the £14.65 billion recorded in 2015 and the rising use of consumers making purchases via their smartphones considered a major contributor to eMarketer’s predictions.

According to analysis, the smartphone medium will account for 36.4 per cent of total retail mCommerce (mobile commerce) sales for the whole of 2016, and by the year 2020, total mCommerce sales is estimated to reach 52 per cent.

Senior analyst at eMarketer, Bill Fisher said: “Retail ecommerce sales during the festive season look set to shine this year, despite the wider economic conditions in the UK. This is in no small part due to a digitally advanced consumer, who has been quick to embrace digital buying and particularly smartphone buying. And during the Christmas shopping period, these digital habits become even more accentuated.”

 

Read more from eMarketer here

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BRC: Footfall declines but shoppers still spending…

According to the British Retail Consortium‘s (BRC) latest ‘BRC-Springboard Footfall and Vacancies Monitor’ for the five weeks between August 28 and October 1, total footfall for the month of September fell by 0.9 per cent compared to the previous 12 months; a return to the decline in footfall seen before the 0.1 per cent increase experienced in August.

The research found that footfall in retail park locations was also ‘broadly flat’ in September, worse than the 0.4 per cent rise in August, and footfall in shopping centres fell 2.5 per cent in September, a further fall from the 1.9 per cent drop in August and is below the three-month average of -2.1 per cent.

Chief executive at BRC, Helen Dickinson OBE said: “Total footfall was fractionally down this month with almost one per cent fewer people heading out to shopping locations across the UK. At the same time as both footfall and shop prices have fallen year-on-year, retail spending grew in September by 1.3 per cent. This is a function of the changing face of retail and the hard work and innovation of British retail businesses who are responding brilliantly to technological advances and changing consumer habits.” 

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Profits at Hamleys dive after Chinese sale…

Reports have revealed that profits at Hamleys, which is considered to be the oldest and largest toy shop in the world, have plunged in the aftermath of its new Chinese owners, C.Banner International acquiring the retailer in a £100 million deal in October 2015. 

Documents recently filed affirm sales fell from £68 million to £56.6 million and pre-tax profits tumbled from £1.7 million to £761,000 last year; meanwhile the retailer introduced a four-storey, 7000 sq m shop in Beijing on October 1.

According to The Telegraph, the chief executive at Hamleys, Gudjon Reynisson, claims that the perfect opportunity for a Chinese expansion was presented after the end of China’s one-child policy.