Over 60 Million People In The U.S. Will Use Voice-Enabled Assistants On A Monthly Basis This Year

Approximately 60.5 million of U.S. consumers will use voice-enabled assistants monthly or more often this year, according to an eMarketer forecast — and the heaviest usage occurs on voice-enabled speakers powered by these intelligent assistants, such as Amazon Echo and Google Home.

The fact that 65 percent of smart speaker owners use their smart speaker’s assistant daily or multiple times weekly isn’t surprising — and marketers are beginning to understand the importance of ensuring that their brand is represented when users ask their assistants to carry out tasks from “order dish soap on Amazon” to “call me a car.”

But more “novel” uses for the technology has yet to catch up to adoption as a whole, according to eMarketer’s research: Most of the skills and apps for smart speakers downloaded by consumers are not used again after two weeks.

Do Skills Work At All?

This isn’t to say that brands should explore the idea of creating skills for these devices: For example, to promote its year-old Patrón Cocktail Lab, Patron enabled its “Patrón skill” in the Alexa app on Amazon Alexa voice-enabled devices, allowing users can ask for cocktail recommendations, recipes and tips — everything from the perfect brunch recipe to the proper way to shake and strain a cocktail.

The liquor marketer launched the effort concurrently with turning to Foursquare for targeted ads — and while execs wouldn’t reveal sales figures, VP of marketing Adrian Parker said that Patrón’s business saw “double-digit growth.”

Additionally, even if such a skill isn’t widely used after two weeks, it can still generates value for the brand loyalists who stick with it — as well as showing that the brand has a presence on a platform that consumers are relying on to power more and more aspects of their daily lives.

That said, given current usage trends, marketers may do well to first focus their energy instead on improving their listings and data such that they show up in the knowledge graph. As consumers make more searches by voice expecting these kind of structured answers, the importance is only growing — and brands who prepare now will be ready for the next phase of connected intelligence.

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The Omnichannel Challenge: When It Comes To ‘Click-And-Collect,’ US Retail Lags

As Amazon continues to open fulfillment centers to get orders to customers even faster, the offer of shop online and in-store/curbside pickup by U.S. retailers is far behind their global peers.

Only 29 percent of  major U.S. retailers offer click-and-collect services — a significant gap from the 67 percent of their UK counterparts, citing an OrderDynamics study of more than 1,000 retail websites.

The retail brands with at least 10 brick-and-mortar stores in the U.S., the UK, Australia, Canada and the three Nordic countries of Sweden, Finland and Norway. US retailers represented about a third of the sample.

Even more troubling than the comparative lack shop online, pick-up in-store offerings, the retailers that do have that capability aren’t doing a lot to let customers know about it.

Just 38.5 percent highlight shop online/in-store pickup on their homepage, versus more than half to two-thirds of retailers in each of the six other countries in the study.

“This means that the American retail environment is still in the early phase of omnichannel adoption,” the report said. Despite the US being a world leader in marketing, it said, it is the worst at advertising in-store pickup offerings.

One of the issues retailers appear to have is the disconnect between online and brick-and-mortar sales. Too often, retailers’ departments remain “siloed” into two areas.

For example, the study found that when it comes to free-shipping offers, the U.S. actually leads: 67 percent of US retailers offer free-shipping, compared to 55 percent in the Nordics region.

Walmart is even making free-shipping a big part of its e-commerce marketing effort.

Walmart SVP and CMO Tony Rogers speaking at at the ANA’s Masters of Marketing conference this week, discussed the retail giant’s forthcoming holiday advertising which highlights its free-shipping.

“Free shipping two-day for orders over $35,” said Rogers, Adweek reported, adding a dig at Amazon Prime’s subscription delivery program. “No membership fee because, you know, we just don’t think you should have to pay $99 a year for the privilege of free shipping.”

 

 

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Voice-Activated Intelligent Assistants Are Already Influencing Holiday Shopping

While the temperature is still in the 80s across most of the U.S., it’s not too early for retailers to think about the holiday season: Over a third of customers will start their shopping for the December holidays in October or earlier — and voice-activated intelligent assistants are already influencing consumers’ gift choices as a search tool, according to a new report from eMarketer.

As students head back to school and shoppers turn their attention to the fall and winter holidays, several trends from last year will hold true: Customers will start research early; they will look to their mobile and connected devices for guidance throughout the shopping journey both in-store and out; and retail sales — both physical and ecommerce — will grow. The key shift is in how customers looking for gifts are making their searches — and what kind of digital options they expect from the retailers they will patronize.

What does this mean for marketers?  Well, “consumers expect variable fulfillment options,” eMarketer‘s report states. “Half now buy online and pick up in-store.”

As such, implementing in-store pickup programs should be of great importance to retailers as they begin now to prepare for the holiday season. Several have seen the writing on the wall: Target, for its part, offers in-store pickup and also recently rolled out same-day delivery in advance of the holiday sales push.

Secondly, as voice-searches continue to surge — especially those made via voice-activated intelligent assistants — they will continue to impact the way that customers discover and choose products across the board. This is a trend for retailers to be mindful of now, considering that eMarketer reports that the technology is already assisting users with searches related to the holiday season.

“The way to participate [here] is for a business to develop a ‘skill,’” said Bing Ads’s Purna Virji in a panel discussion on the topic last month. “To use a travel example, if Expedia had a skill that it creates for Cortana, I could talk to Cortana to book me a flight. I could say, ‘I’m going to Boston next week, can you get me a hotel?’” This works for retailers as well.

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, brands can begin the process of listing or correcting their digital location information, products/offerings, and more such voice-activated assistants may see them as the best option to recommend when a consumer makes a branded or unbranded search.

As J. Walter Thompson’s Elizabeth Cherin explained in a conversation with GeoMarketing at Cannes Lions this year, “This idea of algorithm optimization [is] like the new SEO: Brands [need to get their] underlying data layer ready for consumption by these devices.”

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Department Stores’ Pains Eased In Q2, But Challenges Are Digging In

This past week’s earnings results for Macy’s and Kohl’s were brighter than expected, but that doesn’t mean troubles afflicting major retailers are fading.

As eMarketer pointed out on Thursday, Macy’s same-store sales slipped 2.8 percent — the 10th consecutive quarterly drop.

Meanwhile, Kohl’s same-store sales were essentially flat, falling 0.4 percent year-over-year, continuing a dynamic that was seen for the past five quarters.

Even Nordstrom’s reversal was fairly meager, as it delivered a same-store sales gain of 1.7 percent.

On Friday, JCPenney posted a 1.3 percent declines in same-store sales, a bit worse than the expected fall of 1.2 percent.

The retailer, like its rivals, have been aggressively pursuing in-store omnichannel strategies designed to combat online showrooming, even as it and other major store brands shrink the number of locations they have.

For JCPenney, it did point to some bright spots in its home, fine jewelry, footwear and handbag, and Sephora beauty units.

“The company has gained customers across these segments — including younger shoppers who might previously have shunned JCP,” GlobalData Retail’s Saunders told CNBC about JCPenney’s focus on the home, footwear, and fashion categories.

Looking at how broader shifts away from malls and other big boxes have seen a retreat in foot traffic, eMarketer, citing RetailNext data, says that through July, sales and traffic at US brick-and-mortar stores have declined each month since at least January 2014. Both Macy’s sand Kohl’s, for instance, said on Thursday Q2 traffic declined.

“Department stores themselves also have failed to keep up with fast fashion rivals like Zara,” eMarketer says. “They also have shot themselves in the foot with frequent promotions and one-day sales.”

Some observers find that omnichannel moves, such as advancement of mobile-based loyalty programs, are unlikely to reverse the trajectory of department stores’ dwindling fortunes.

“It’s all band-aid stuff, said Mark Cohen of Columbia Business School in an interview with eMarketer. “The slope of the curve of their performance continues to point downward. The slope may be abating a bit, but not turning up. Macy’s is the poster child of the whole sector. The department store genre is in decline.”

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Over 80 Percent Of Millennials Want In-App, In-Store Payments

Approximately 80 percent of Millennials are interested in taking checkout into their own hands with scan-and-go payments, scanning products in-store and then paying via an app, according to an eMarketer report based on research from Acosta — but only three percent of retailers have up-to-date “checkout and payment for a customer’s own device” in place.

Millennial and Gen-Z shoppers haven’t completely turned their backs on “traditional” in-store commerce. But this growing disconnect could prove a serious issue for retailers at a time when many long-standing brick-and-mortars are struggling to drive foot traffic.

After all, smartphones “increasingly factor into the retail experience, and younger people are leading in usage,” the report states. “The Acosta data is consistent with findings that the majority of millennials would pay for purchases in-store using an app.”

POS Investment

Approximately 82 percent of Millennials believe it’s important for a brand to have physical stores, and statistics like this indicate that younger shoppers still desire the unique experience that brick-and-mortars can offer. But the friction caused by long checkout lines or understaffed retail flagships is more of a turn off than ever; after all, with same-day on-demand delivery expectations, it’s a rare consumer who will put up with an excessive wait.

As such, it pays for retailers to invest in updated POS checkout lane technologies now — whether that means accepting a wider range of mobile payments and/or enabling scan-and-go in app payment.

Plenty have wondered if the “tipping point” for contactless pay has actually arrived, but Acosta’s research indicates that the appetite is certainly there — and that 80 percent of Millennials interested in scan-and-go payments could represent up to $160 billion in purchasing power.

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Back-To-School Retail Sales Will Reach $857.18 Billion This Year

Too soon to think about back-to-school? Not for U.S. retailers: In the months of July and August, back-to-school shopping season sales will reach $857.18 billion — a 4 percent increase over 2016’s record-setting year, according to a report from eMarketer.

Five key categories will see a significant spending uptick this summer, per eMarketers analysis: Apparel and accessories, books and music, computers/consumer electronics, office equipment, and toys/sporting goods. In other words, it’s time for marketers in these categories to start thinking about promotions and experiences that will drive back-to-school related sales — even though September is still three months away.

However, as estimated back-to-school spending has grown since last year, the retail footprint has shrunk — meaning that online (both desktop and mobile) will play an even more critical role in driving both e-commerce and the physical sales that still occur.

This trend became clear in 2016, when approximately 85 percent of 1,000 parents told Retale said they use a smartphone to aid back-to-school shopping.

“The use of mobile to help with back-to-school shopping has risen nearly 10 percentage points year-over-year, according to our data,” Pat Dermody, President of Retale, told GeoMarketing at the time. “It’s clear that the omnichannel customer journey continues to define the way most people approach their purchases, and people continue to discover the advantages of leveraging mobile in their shopping.”

As such, marketers would do well to keep in mind three major factors influencing the mobile parents who are actually paying for the bulk of back-to-school purchases:

  • YouTube Matters: It’s not just for Gen-Z — both Millennial moms and dads are heavy users of the platform. In fact, 86 percent of all Millennial dads watch YouTube videos for guidance on parenting topics from cooking a meal to finding back-to-school products for their kids.
  • Video Ad Uptick: Whether on YouTube or not, video ad consumption is on the rise for both kids and parents. As such, “video is not a nice-to-have — it is a must-have,” Facebook’s Irene Chen explained in a panel discussion earlier this year. Just make sure that the video makes sense without sound or uses subtitles; plenty of users watch on the go in situations where it isn’t appropriate to have the volume up.
  • Intelligent Search Changes Everything: For every online purchase resulting from a search, Google sees multi-channel retailers receive an additional 400 in-store visits — a statistic that reinforces how crucial search is to brick-and-mortar businesses. But search has changed since the (relatively recent) days in which a query would result in a list of webpages. As such, to show up in the “knowledge graph,” businesses need to think about the entities fundamental to their category — like how to rank for unbranded search terms (“notebooks for back-to-school” as opposed to “Office Max,” for example), and where their customers are. Do they search on Google? Do they use Snapchat, or are they more likely to be on Instagram — or both? Alexa? Are they using Uber? Businesses today need to push their information to all of these digital services; it’s not enough to just put it on the web.

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