Check out my new by-line article in Chain Store Age

My new article in Chain Store Age describes how retail analytics can mean the difference between success and failure for embattled retailers.  It builds on ideas articulated earlier in one of my posts on the RetailNext company blog and explains how, with analytics accounting for measured sales increases of up to 20%, these insights can be enough to take stores from the red to the black.

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Why Amazon would want to become a brick-and-mortar retailer

Amazon’s recent decision to open a physical pilot store in Seattle garnered a lot of attention, including confused head scratching from those who feel that being purely internet-based in a better model.  In response to this head scratching recently wrote this comment in a discussion in RetailWire:
It’s pretty clear that the e-reader market is going to transform pleasure reading in a fundamental way and that whoever owns the reader has a massive advantage in this new book marketplace. And suddenly Amazon’s virtual-only advantage becomes a disadvantage. Apple and Barnes & Noble are out there putting their e-readers in stores where people can hold them and play with them. That’s the fundamental strategy behind Apple stores with all the company’s products, and Apple stores outperform any other retailer on a profit per square foot basis by a factor of two to one. And Barnes & Noble gives big air time to Nook, putting the Nook store in the best place in the establishment. The Android tablet gets a lot of attention in the thousands of Verizon and AT&T locations across the nation and similar treatment from other carriers in other markets worldwide.  And even Windows Mobile appears in the twenty or so Microsoft stores operating across the nation today (with surely more on the way).

These examples show Amazon the power of brick-and-mortar retail in winning that e-reader computing platform which will keep earning and earning for years to come. I believe with the company’s deep pockets and the amount of revenue that’s at stake, that it’s well worth Amazon’s while to figure this one out.

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Despite hiccups, successful Facebook commerce is just a matter of time

I recently posted this comment on RetailWire in a discussion of e-commerce sites on Facebook:

Any discussion of Facebook’s affect on retail commerce needs to include the social marketing site’s possible future as an actual locus of bona fide online shopping. Today Facebook serves as a marketing and customer service vehicle for most brands and retailers. But the company has made no secret of its desire to become a computing platform, an operating system essentially, just the same way that the web did. To realize this vision, one of the main things Facebook needs to conquer is to handle truly sensitive interactions entirely in its environment in a secure and trustworthy way. Online financial interactions (banking, securities trading, managing your retirement account, filing your taxes, etc.) and online retail are the two most obvious examples.

This isn’t a small matter. Think about the truly transformative effect that the web had on retailing and related services. Remember travel agents? The internet killed them. Remember Tower Records? The internet killed it, too. And every consumer-facing retail segment in the world has been completely transformed by the world wide web. Facebook is going to throw its massive resources at this problem, and forward-thinking retailers will eagerly create storefronts to try and service the 850 million of us who visit Facebook every single day (although sometimes I suspect that 800 million of us are only there to play Words with Friends… ;-)

It’s already started. There is a whole cohort of startups trying to provide robust online shopping and purchasing experiences in the Facebook environment. Surely they’ll have their stumbling points, but just as surely they’ll ultimately get it right. And when they do, Facebook will become that much more important to those who wish to sell their goods and services to the masses.

Shortly later I commented on a different discussion about some retailers closing their Facebook stores:

Don’t confuse the tactical moves of specific retailers with the long term trend. Facebook as a platform is used by more than one sixth of the planet’s population. That figure dwarfs the percentage of us who were internet-enabled back in 1995. Yet, at that time we didn’t doubt the strength of e-commerce as a business model. The same will be true for Facebook storefronts.

There were winners and losers in the internet world as well. Remember when Yahoo supposedly had the search engine market all sewn up? That was before Google was even founded. Remember when Half.com was one of the biggest online retailers in the world? When’s the last time you bought something on Half.com? But just because some companies did better and some companies did worse, we don’t doubt the trend.

The same will happen with commerce on Facebook. Big business there, waiting to happen. Maybe not for these individual companies, but that’s not the point.

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The disadvantage to customer surveys

I recently posted this comment (slightly modified) in response to a RetailWire discussion on the use of satisfaction surveys:

While the instinct to learn from customers and the market is a good one (otherwise we’re just sitting around making things up), there are some definite disadvantages to customer surveys. Not only the irritation factor, but also surveys have sample bias (those choosing to take them are either super involved and therefore biased or pissed off about something and therefore biased) and suffer from the distortion that always accompanies self-reported information. That’s one reason that more and more retailers are going out of their way to gather and learn from the huge quantity of performance data that stores inevitably generate. These data are not just sales at the register but also information about traffic to the store and behavior within the store. By correlating these data back to such factors as marketing and promotions, staffing, cyclicality, and even the weather, retailers have actionable intelligence they can use to improve performance without irritating their customers or suffering from the other disadvantages listed here.

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Redbox as a video streaming contender

I recently wrote this post on an online discussion about Redbox and Verizon teaming up to go into the streaming market:

I’m bullish on Redbox. It’s a new paradigm that makes movie rental easier for lots and lots of people. It indulges impulse shopping for movie rentals, and it’s friendly to the segment of the populace that views online streaming as a frighteningly technical form of entertainment. The other neat thing about Redbox is that the company already is internet savvy and thinking of using online to augment its experience. You can go online to Redbox, choose your film, and find out which boxes in which locations have this film available for you right now. It’s an incredibly useful and customer-centric bit of functionality, and it makes Redbox an interesting clicks-and-mortar case study akin to how big box retailers are fusing their physical and online shopping experiences.

I’ll be interested to see how this venture comes together. These cooperative joint things are always hard, and many of them have failed dismally over the years. But if they can make this one work, they could do very well.

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Learning more about in-store behavior using RFID tags

I recently posted this comment on RetailWire in a discussion about RFID tags and their use in retailers like American Apparel:
American Apparel’s experience is a case study in the power of greater visibility inside the store and the benefits retailers can get out of it. Now only can visibility on what’s happening inside stores reduce shrinkage, but it also becomes a powerful tool in understanding how to optimize the in-store shopping experience to generate more sales at the register.

RFID can deepen that information. Imagine what you could do with a detailed view on how your products move around the store. Which items travel to the register or to the dressing room. Which items leave their hangers and then return later. This information, correlated with sales data, becomes a deeper insight into the sales drivers inside the store. And that is how retailers learn the lessons they need to improve the bottom line.

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Where Tim has been

Sorry, everyone.  My bad.

On December 19 2011, I started my new job as Chief Marketing Officer of a super exciting venture-funded startup called RetailNext.  RetailNext is like Omniture for brick-and-mortar stores.  Which is to say, RetailNext makes it possible to measure and analyze a retail environment to build an optimized shopping experience in the exact same way that an online retailer does.  We’ve had customers see store sales go up as much as 20%, at which point the ROI on a RetailNext installation is ridiculously high.

As you can imagine, it all has been very distracting.  But I am committed to this blog, and so I’m going to try to be a better poster.  Don’t be surprised if my new retail-oriented world winds up giving me new background and opinions and thoughts than I had in the past.  And you’ll probably wind up seeing some of them right here.

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Another ClickZ article and a WebmasterRadio podcast

Hi folks,

If you enjoyed my ClickZ by-line article on the SEO potential for private gTLDs, be sure to read part two in the series, detailing new SEO techniques that become possible using your own gTLD.

And here’s a podcast in which I give an overview of new gTLDs and their potential marketing benefits.  I recorded this podcast last week while I was at SES Chicago to present on SEO and new gTLDs.

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Tim Callan in the BBC and ClickZ

Last week I had some nice press activity.  See multiple quotes from (and a picture of) Tim Callan in this BBC article about new gTLDS.  And here’s the Tim Callan by-line about gTLDs and search engine ranking in ClickZ.

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A few timely things

Hey folks, today I have a few short, unrelated things to say.

1.  Sorry I haven’t posted much for the past month.  I’ve been insanely busy with the new job and all.  In the past seven weeks I’ve set foot on four continents and have been to the East Coast four times.

2.  Speaking of setting foot on various continents, later today I’ll be presenting on the marketing opportunities for new gTLDs at the BrandMAX conference in London.  Last week I gave a similar presentation at iStrategy in Atlanta, and it was very well received.

3.  And speaking of new jobs, here’s my first ever vanity release.

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