Stuart O'Brien - eCommerce Forum | Forum Events Ltd
Posts By :

Stuart O'Brien

Amazon add robotics centre to Czech operations

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

Amazon’s first robotics centre in the Czech Republic has officially launched its operations in more signs of things to come in terms of automation.

The facility spans four stories, with a total area just shy of 190,000 square metres, and is outfitted with cutting-edge robotic technology. Situated in the Olomouc Region, near the town of Kojetín, Amazon says it stands as one of the Czech Republic’s most state-of-the-art logistics hubs.

Designated as “BRQ2,” the centre officially commenced operations in June of this year, marking a significant milestone. It heralds the introduction of the latest technologies aimed at simplifying daily tasks for Amazon employees, while prioritising the safety of operations and offering high-quality working conditions for staff.

To showcase the cutting-edge facility to the public, Amazon organised a special guided tour of the centre for members of the media, local politicians, and other interested parties. As part of the tour, BRQ2’s team prepared a robot performance for those in attendance, synchronising several robotic units to create the BRQ2 inscription on the ground.

Amazon says it’s committed to being a ‘good neighbour’ in every region where it operates, so it’s donated €10,000 towards establishing a rescue service station near Kojetín, with the cheque received by the Governor of the Olomouc Region from the hands of Michal Šmíd, General Manager at BRQ2.

“Amazon’s investment in Kojetin is another demonstration of our commitment to the Czech Republic, creating up to 2,000 good new permanent roles when fully operational,” said Michal Šmíd. “Amazon provides some of the most advanced workplaces of their kind in the world, with competitive pay, processes, and systems to ensure the wellbeing and safety of all employees, and I am delighted to launch this new building.”

eCommerce Forum: Everything you need to know about February’s essential event

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

The eCommerce Forum is designed to bring together competitive solution providers and industry professionals, offering delegates the opportunity to build key business relationships, through a bespoke itinerary of pre-qualified 1-2-1 meetings, with suppliers that match your current project/business requirements.

There is no hard sell, just a chance to meet and explore your options.

6th February 2024

Hilton London Canary Wharf

Click Here To Register

Your complimentary invitation includes;

🤝 Your own bespoke itinerary of 1-2-1 meetings with leading supplier

☕ Full hospitality including lunch and refreshments

💭 A seat at our insightful seminar sessions, led by industry thought leaders

👋 Multiple networking opportunities with fellow eCommerce professionals

⌚ Personalised attendance options to suit your schedule

Confirm your FREE place here to ensure you don’t miss out, or contact us for more information or to nominate a colleague to attend.

The Golden Quarter: Perfect promotions through intelligent merchandising

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

Retail Express General Manager – Retail Lead Europe Ed Betts explains why this year’s Golden Quarter will be even tougher than the last and how AI-driven merchandising can help retailers thrive as inflation and interest rates bite hard…

The 100-day countdown to Christmas – a period which also includes key dates such as Halloween, Black Friday and Cyber Monday in quick succession – is the busiest period in the retail calendar, and unquestionably the most challenging. This year’s Golden Quarter will likely be one of the most difficult in recent memory.

Retailers will well know how incredibly difficult the 2022 Golden Quarter was. The cost-of-living crisis hamstrung customers’ appetite for spending, strike action disrupted supply chains, and international incidents negatively affected global trade and freight costs. Retailers are approaching 2023’s key period still reeling from the last, and though the economic balance has shifted slightly, inflation and interest rates prove it has not necessarily changed for the better.

2022’s prohibitive energy prices forced many retailers to hedge those costs, meaning their delayed bite is now being felt across the industry. Inflation has been volatile, and while the Bank of England expects it to fall to 5% by the year’s end[1], its 2023 peaks have hurt retailers’ razor-thin bottom line. And the Bank of England’s solution to inflation, a dramatic rise in interest rates, leaves consumers squeezed, and even less willing (or able) to spend.

Worse, retailers are not the only ones under pressure. The wholesale market has not yet adjusted to a more manageable level. Supplier prices remain high due to poor worldwide harvests, the impact on commodity supplies such as grain and sunflower oil due to the Ukraine war, and the lingering effect of the energy price crisis. These costs will fall over time, but there is no time to waste. Positioning one’s business to succeed despite a potentially painful Golden Quarter demands a new approach, and the agility to make key decisions quickly and with confidence.

The power of promotion

Focusing on the Everyday Low Price (EDLP) strategy which typified last year’s Golden Quarter is not, in the current circumstances, necessarily a tactic that will suit many retailers. With food price inflation peaking around 17%, GlobalData[2] research suggests that 48% of shoppers have begun to trade down, shifting to discount retailers. For most, immediately matching the prices of such retailers is unfeasible but retailers can deliver value and attract customers to return through promotions and loyalty card pricing. In a time where many customers’ allegiance is in flux and competition is high, promotions such as loyalty card pricing on the products they desire may be the key to keeping them on board.

Pivoting to create new promotions, though, must be done with the utmost precision and care. Communicating the best promotions to consumers is surrounded by stringent regulations, meaning any promotion’s advertising must be consistent and clear, and they must be planned to be considerate of price establishment periods; the wrong promotional price at Halloween, for instance, could prevent a crucial discount from happening at Christmas.

Suppliers must also be in agreement. Given that most Joint Business Plans were ratified far in advance of the Golden Quarter, a late adjustment could leave them unable to meet proposed stock levels or require a renegotiation of terms. Inside a retailer’s walls, an error made under pressure or a failure to negotiate properly could lead to key lines being miscalculated, loss-leading ‘stunt’ offers falling flat, or the wrong levels of stock being ordered, leaving excess stock in warehouses or disappointing the customers that such promotions were designed to delight.

A new era of algorithmic retailing

Meticulous planning, next-level agility and precise co-ordination are key, then, but these are incredibly difficult to achieve under a traditional retailing model. Aligning every department, supply line, advertisement and product is a time-consuming and labour-heavy task, one which must often be performed at the expense of other functions. A chaotic mix of emails, phone calls, spreadsheets, and hurried meetings between multiple departments does not lend itself to the kind of precision that the Golden Quarter demands.

Intelligent merchandising is the modern alternative. By consolidating every data point of a business and then applying artificial intelligence (AI) models to that data, an intelligent approach can replace disparate and loose planning procedures with powerful central planning tools. These help to align all business departments by default, and generate AI-driven insights which can help retail businesses discover new opportunities and spot (or automatically stop) promotion errors before they happen. Such an approach ensures that every decision made is based on a shared single version of the truth, one which avoids siloed information and conflicting practices by presenting a transparent plan that everyone in the business can get behind.

Success through simulation models

Intelligent merchandising relieves much of the intense pressure of the Golden Quarter and offers room to breathe. Making the most of algorithmic retailing, which employs AI to automate and drive recommendation systems, allows key staff to take a more holistic view. The process is taken care of – management can focus instead on the broad view of planning and performance during the Golden Quarter, and on improving relationships with partners and suppliers to get the best deal.

Such software can be put to work simulating plans prior to their release to market, taking current, historic and predicted trading data into account to model the potential outcome and requirements of any proposed promotional activity. It can aid in planning the full path of a promotion, from supply to advertising to deployment, and a view of historical data allows every promotion to be considered around price establishment restrictions and highlight hot-ticket items at a time when the purchasing profile of many consumers switches away from the regular basket to ancillary, once-a-year items.

Boosting profits beyond the Golden Quarter

The need to act quickly does not stop at planning promotions in the Golden Quarter, or indeed at adopting a new retail model to keep pace with others which are doing the same. The drastic market fluctuations of the past few years prove that retailers must move on from legacy models and employ the agility and insight of intelligent merchandising. With today’s ever-tightening margins, the ability to react quickly is the path to profit.

Embracing digital transformation today allows retailers to benefit from improved pricing, stronger promotional planning and execution, enhanced supplier relationships, and every other key process improvement that comes along with algorithmic retailing. It is the key which unlocks not only clean passage through the Golden Quarter but year-round efficiencies.

About The Author

Ed has worked in the retail industry for over 20 years and joined Retail Express in 2019 where he is General Manager for the UK and Ireland. Ed has extensive and specialty knowledge of retail category management, pricing and buying requirements having worked with several UK retailers, including 8 years at Asda where he developed and launched a standalone online wine service. Following this, he worked for Distell, a large international drinks manufacturer, where he managed strategic accounts across several major UK grocers including Morrisons, Asda and Marks & Spencer. Ed is also Retail Express’ Head Consultant helping clients make more effective use of the products and services as well as providing consultancy on the effective use of pricing and category management.



Alternative payments keeps China on top of the global e-commerce tree

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

China is set to retain its dominant position in the global e-Commerce landscape, boasting 9.9% growth to surge to CNY 15.2 trillion ($2.2 trillion) in 2023, driven by the ongoing shift of consumer preferences from offline to online shopping.

According to GlobalData’s E-Commerce Analytics, e-Commerce sales in China grew at a CAGR of 11.2% between 2018 and 2022 to reach a value of CNY13.8 trillion ($2.0 trillion) in 2022.

China accounted for 33.9% share in the global e-Commerce market in terms of payments value in 2022. China was followed by the US with $1.8 trillion while the UK stood at a distant third with $ 287.4 billion in 2022. The global e-Commerce landscape is unlikely to change in 2023 with China expected to retain its position at the top.

Ravi Sharma, Lead Banking and Payments Analyst at GlobalData, said: “The Chinese e-Commerce market evolved rapidly during the last five years, supported by the rapid adoption of smartphones, growing internet penetration, increasing number of online shoppers, and the availability of alternative payment solutions such as Alipay and WeChat Pay.

“The COVID-19 pandemic further accelerated e-Commerce activities in China, as wary consumers are increasingly using online channels for purchases to avoid getting exposed to disease vectors, a trend that is set to continue.”

The growth in the e-Commerce market is also supported by the improving e-Commerce activities in rural areas. According to the China’s Ministry of Commerce, online retail sales in rural areas increased by 12.5% during the first half 2023 compared to the same period in 2022.

Livestream shopping has been a trend in the country. Livestream shopping allows customers to view and buy products via online video streams hosted on e-Commerce platforms. In addition, social commerce is growing in popularity thanks to the efforts of messaging platforms such as WeChat. Sub-apps offered by WeChat run within the WeChat app, allowing users to buy products without having to download other mobile apps or be redirected to another website.

Sharma concluded: “The Chinese e-Commerce market will continue to grow supported by the rise in consumer preference for online shopping, improved payment infrastructure, and proliferation of payment tools. The e-Commerce market is expected to grow at a robust CAGR of 11.6% between 2023 and 2027 to reach CNY23.5 trillion ($3.4 trillion) in 2027.”

Image by BC Y from Pixabay

Only 41% of UK shoppers believe that AI is having a positive impact on their retail experiences

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

Less than half (41%) of UK shoppers believe that AI is having a positive impact on their retail experiences. Despite this, more than two-thirds (70%) prefer brands that offer personalised recommendations – a common use case for AI in retail.

That’s according to a new study by SAP Emarsys, which surveyed over 2,000 UK shoppers. The research suggests a clear conflict between consumer concerns about AI and their desire to reap the real-world benefits of its use – highlighting an opportunity for retailers to educate and convert loyal customers.

According to the research, a quarter of consumers (25%) are worried that AI will negatively impact their shopping experiences, while 91% say they’d rather interact with humans than AI. Interestingly however, less than 1 in 3 (31%) can tell the difference between a human and an AI chatbot online.

According to Emarsys’ analysis, this negativity is often because consumers don’t see that AI is behind their best experiences. While shoppers value personalised content, custom recommendations, and speedy checkouts, few realise that AI is behind these advancements.

The research also highlights that many consumers are concerned about the use of data collection for AI, with 60% wanting retailers to strike a better balance between collecting their data and improving their shopping experiences.

Emarsys advises that retailers must educate their customers on the value of their data to elevate their experiences across websites, apps, and even mobile wallets.

Kelsey Jones, Global Head of Product Marketing at SAP Emarsys explained: “The benefits of AI in retail can’t be overstated: not just for brands but, for customers as well. It’s clear that, at present, shoppers aren’t entirely convinced on AI’s value – but when used responsibly, AI can truly enhance user experience in everything from receiving the right recommendations to easy purchasing processes.

“The personalised experiences that drive business growth and establish long-term customer loyalty aren’t realistic without data, so it’s essential that retailers educate shoppers and strike a mutually beneficial balance for data sharing. In order to do that, transparency is critical; brands need to explain how data is being used, and the direct value it offers to consumers in terms of driving the personalisation that they so desire at every touchpoint.

“This education will be essential for the widespread adoption of AI and the consumer benefits it brings, with leading retailers able to meet – and even anticipate – their customer’s expectations through the relevant, reliable, responsible use of embedded AI. That’s the real benefit of AI, making better, smarter decisions, faster.”

Expanding on this, Ritu Bhargava, President and Chief Product Officer, SAP Industry & Customer Experience, said: “Without data — the right data, and enough of it — all the AI in the world won’t amount to one single meaningful insight that can help brands create the personalized experiences needed to drive business growth, provide value to consumers, and build customer loyalty.

“We typically see that people are more amenable to sharing their data when it provides direct value – in savings, efficiency, and stronger connections with brands. But transparency is critical to building the much-needed trust between a customer and a brand. Sharing how data is being used anytime a customer creates an account, signs up for marketing communications, or agrees to data sharing reassures customers that their data is being treated securely and compliantly.

“Retailers who can provide this transparency and direct value will enjoy the kind of widespread brand loyalty that comes from more personalized, value-oriented interactions, which can be the key to giving customers the brand experiences they truly want, when they want it, and where they want it.”

Rick Van Esch, Managing Director, Sinch Engage (an SAP Emarsys partner) added: “Today’s consumers demand personalised experiences with their brands and at the same time they expect to buy their product or services at the best-value possible. To satisfy these expectations, we see brands adopting AI-powered interactions with customers on channels like SMS, WhatsApp and Instagram. The recent (Chat)GPT hype is also increasing customers’ trust in AI as they’ve now hands-on experienced the benefits of AI outweighing the previously held distrust before (Chat)GPT. The trend is clear that more and more consumers are opening themselves up to AI and like the increased User Experience it creates.”

Starting points for personalisation for e-commerce stores

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

In a digital age defined by an abundance of choice, personalisation has become a key differentiator for e-commerce stores. Personalisation refers to the tailoring of a service or product to accommodate specific individuals, sometimes tied to groups or segments of individuals. Here are some starting points for optimising your offering…

  1. Understand Your Customer: This is the first and most crucial step in the personalisation process. Use data analytics to understand your customers’ preferences, purchase history, and browsing behaviour. This will allow you to create a personalised experience that resonates with them.
  2. Segment Your Audience: Not all customers are the same, so it’s important to segment your audience based on certain criteria like demographics, behaviour, or purchase history. This will allow you to target specific segments with personalised content, offers, and recommendations.
  3. Use Personalised Recommendations: Leverage recommendation engines to provide personalised product recommendations to your customers. By analysing past behaviour and purchase history, you can recommend products that are likely to be of interest to your customers.
  4. Personalise Email Marketing: Personalised emails have a higher open and click-through rate than generic emails. Use your customer’s name, recommend products based on their browsing history, or send personalised offers to make your emails more engaging.
  5. Optimise for Mobile: With the increase in mobile shopping, it is important to ensure that your personalisation efforts are optimised for mobile devices. Make sure that your website is mobile-friendly and that your personalised content displays correctly on all devices.
  6. Utilise Social Media: Social media platforms provide a wealth of information about your customers’ preferences and behaviours. Use this information to create personalised content and offers that will resonate with your audience.
  7. Create Personalised Landing Pages: Personalised landing pages can help increase conversion rates. Use dynamic content to change the text, images, or offers on the landing page based on the visitor’s past behaviour, location, or source of traffic.
  8. Leverage User-Generated Content: User-generated content, like reviews and social media posts, can be used to create a more personalised shopping experience. Showcase reviews and photos from customers who have purchased similar products to build trust and encourage purchases.
  9. Respect Privacy: While personalisation is important, it is crucial to respect your customers’ privacy. Be transparent about the data you collect and how it will be used. Allow your customers to opt-out of personalised marketing if they wish.
  10. Test and Optimise: Personalisation is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It is important to continuously test different strategies and optimise based on the results. Use A/B testing to determine what type of personalisation works best for your audience.

By considering these key factors, e-commerce stores can create a more personalised and engaging shopping experience for their customers, ultimately leading to increased loyalty, conversion rates, and revenue.

Are you sourcing personalisation solutions for your e-commerce operations? The E-Commerce Forum can help!

Image by Firmbee from Pixabay

Everything you need to know about Chargeback Systems

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

E-commerce transactions fly at lightning speed, and the potential for discrepancies grows in parallel. For online businesses, it’s crucial to have protective mechanisms in place, and one such essential tool is the chargeback system. Here, we outline the primary uses of chargeback systems and how they can benefit e-commerce operations…

Chargebacks are designed as a consumer protection mechanism. When a cardholder disputes a transaction, for reasons such as unauthorised purchases or dissatisfaction with a product or service, they can request their bank to reverse the charge. This puts the onus on the merchant to prove the transaction’s legitimacy or rectify the issue.

Uses of Chargeback Systems

  • Fraud Protection: In cases where unauthorised transactions occur due to stolen card details, chargeback systems act as a safety net, allowing consumers to reclaim their funds.
  • Resolving Transaction Errors: Mistakes happen – be it double-billing or incorrect amounts charged. Chargebacks facilitate the rectification of such errors.
  • Guaranteeing Service or Product Quality: If a product arrives damaged or vastly different from its description, or if a service isn’t rendered as promised, chargebacks serve as a means for consumers to recover their money.

Benefits of Chargeback Systems

  • Enhanced Consumer Trust: Knowing that there’s a system in place to address financial discrepancies, customers are more likely to trust an e-commerce platform and make a purchase.
  • Improved Vendor Accountability: Merchants are encouraged to maintain high-quality products, accurate descriptions, and exemplary customer service to reduce chargeback instances.
  • Financial Clarity: For businesses, a robust chargeback system, when combined with regular audits, can spotlight recurrent issues or patterns, highlighting areas that need improvement.
  • Lowering Fraud: Regular analysis of chargeback reasons can help e-commerce businesses spot and rectify vulnerabilities in their payment systems, reducing the scope for fraudulent transactions.
  • Efficient Dispute Resolution: Rather than prolonged email chains or phone calls, the structured nature of chargeback systems can expedite the resolution process.

A Note on Chargeback Abuse

While chargebacks are a boon for genuine disputes, they can be a bane when abused. Some consumers, known as “friendly fraudsters”, initiate chargebacks despite the transaction being valid, putting undue pressure on merchants. To counteract this, businesses must maintain meticulous records, use fraud detection tools, and implement transparent return and refund policies.

A well-implemented chargeback system in the e-commerce landscape is a win-win for both consumers and businesses. While consumers enjoy an added layer of financial protection, businesses benefit from increased trust, heightened accountability, and valuable insights into their transaction ecosystem.

However, it’s essential for businesses to stay vigilant against chargeback abuses and strike a balance that safeguards both their interests and those of their customers.

Are you researching Chargeback solutions for your business? The eCommerce Forum can help!

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay