Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The benefits & pitfalls of Scottish companies selling online

As a specialist digital consultant, I speak with a lot of Scottish businesses of all sizes about the opportunities that eCommerce can bring. Most agree that using the Internet to open up new markets and sell a greater amount of products is of commercial interest to them – who wouldn't want more customers and more revenue?

However a lot of businesses have still to venture into eCommerce and time after time the same key reasons for not doing so keep cropping up:

  • Concerns about the cost of setting up and running an online business
  • Concerns that “you need to be technical” 
  • Concerns about online payments and security
  • Concerns about distance selling and the appropriate regulations
  • Concerns about delivery, returns, etc.
  • Concerns about getting & keeping customers
However, help is on-hand from Scottish Enterprise for those organisations who want to learn more about how to go about setting up an online store and grow their business via electronic means. Courses, workshops and dedicated digital and eCommerce expertise via specialist consultants are all available.

Plus it is important to remember is not just about selling to the home Scottish market, eCommerce opportunities also lie abroad. In fact, back in 2013 a report on Scotland’s Digital Future stated that more than 90% of eCommerce in Scotland was already being conducted with other UK or overseas customers. It is therefore unsurprising that in the last few years a Scottish Enterprise workshop on the topic of International eCommerce has been run in many locations across the country. I sometimes help take this popular workshop and it covers topics such as: researching new markets, translating content, global payment methods and international digital marketing techniques.

So what are you waiting for?

What’s in store for digital retailing and Scottish companies?

There’s been a consistent growth in UK one retailing for over a decade now. In fact, the number of UK citizens ordering goods electronically has increased significantly from an already impressive 44% in 2005 to a huge 79% in 2014. This means that nearly everyone with an Internet connection in the UK has now bought something online and actually makes us the biggest adopters of eCommerce in the EU.

This increase also shows no signs of stopping any time soon. All predictions are that more & more products of increasing complexity will be purchased via a browser or app in the future. You only have look back at the types of products bought online just a few years ago… cheap, simple, off-the-shelf, branded and easily packaged- such as books and CD’s (which is how Amazon started off). But now practically everything gets bought online including: complex, expensive, bespoke and considered products – from cruise packages thought to tailored fashion clothing and hand-made furniture if you so wish.

So in my view, the eCommerce future for Scottish companies is very bright and Scottish companies should be no different to any other in the UK when it comes to online selling. There’s still huge opportunities to sell products (and even services) to customers in the UK, Europe, North America and even further afield. Whether you come from the suburbs of London or the shores of Loch Ness, it is possible to sell to the global village of 3.2 Billion online users (which is about 40% of the world’s population).

Unsure what will sell? Well tastes and trends change across the globe, so you shouldn’t necessarily restrict the products that you offer online. There’s also no physical limits on space, so why not put everything online and see what gets bought?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

A Digital Product or Proposition

Are you struggling with the difference between a Digital Product or a Digital Proposition? I was for a while, but think I've now found the best way of explaining each:

A product is an item, idea or service for sale that satisfies a need (or want)

A proposition (or value proposition) is an explanation of why your customer should purchase your product. It should answer the question “what’s in it for me?”.
It should therefore ideally:

  • Be relevant - answer the question "why me?"
  • Communicate key benefits -  - answer the question "what will it help solve?"
  • Provide differentiation -  answer the question "why not buy something else?"
  • And.... It is NOT a slogan or a positioning statement

Friday, January 29, 2016

Will One Line Of Code Help Your SEO?

There's been quite a lot of discussion online (and a little offline) about a recent blog article called: How I Sped Up My Site 68.35% With One Line of Code

I think the biggest buzz about this article has been in the SEO community, who suddenly got all excited about a magical way to speed up web pages. Mentioned by Moz (the organic optimisation industry's catnip) you could be fooled into thinking that one person had suddenly found a way to massively boost a site to the top of the results pages.
Note: For those who don't know, the speed a page downloads is cited as one of the numerous factors taken into consideration when search engines such as Google rank (judge) your site... having a much faster page load speed with just one little line of code would be fabulous.
But alas, that's not the case.

You see, I think this article is misleading as it explains how to use an HTML tag called "rel-prerender".

For those who don't know, the rel-prerender tag is used on a website to place into computer memory the next page the site developer expects the users to click on. For example, Google sometimes use it in their search engine results pages (SERPs) to make the experience of clicking on the first result much quicker.

To explain how this works on your own website, let's imagine you are on page 1 and want to automatically call-up page 2 behind the scenes (so that it appears very quickly). You therefore insert the "rel-prerender" tag in page 1 to call up page 2 before it is clicked on.

Where might you use this?
Well you might us it on a login-page (page 1) where the logged-in page (page 2) is usually the next step. You can even use it in an eCommerce site to pre-render the shopping cart I guess.... BTW: DO NOT DO THIS!

But as you would expect, there's a catch. Pre-rendering page 2 is the act of requesting a view of it in advance. So people arriving on page 1 can trigger a page 2 view without ever seeing it and in many cases they won't. This means that in some analytic packages this is recorded as a page impression (not in GA, it's clever like that) and ads on that page may be triggered even when nobody's there to see them. Plus it also adds load onto your servers whenever a page is requested, so don't tell your tech support person you're adding further load onto the system that may never be used.

So does it have an effect on SEO? Well I may be wrong.... but I really can't see how it helps organic site optimisation as you are not speeding up the render of the page you want to appear in the SERPs (Page 1). What you are actually doing is speeding up the potential delivery of the next page (page 2) you expect the user to see.  And that's not SEO, that's a caching strategy.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Forget Agile Development - You Need Agile Marketing

The term agile development is now pretty much established as the way to get web functionality built and launch. Focused on delivery of a minimum viable product it aims to build 'something but not everything' in a given time frame. It is so successful now, that marketing and commercial types have come to expect that their technical team or web agency can create nearly all of what they want in record time.

So now its time for a new term. So forget Agile Development for now, your business needs to adopt the practice of Agile Marketing!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Digital Dinosaurs Will Die Out

At a recent presentation I talked about how it was still sometimes hard to get senior stakeholder buy-in on digital projects. You'd have thought by now that most senior managers or executive teams would have read the odd press article on digital transformation or listened just enough to an industry consultant on where the future of communications, technology and innovation are taking us.

But no, there are still the digital luddites who want to dig their heads into the analogue sand and fail to grasp that there's a revolution happening in most organisations.

Luckily, like the dinosaurs, these digital deniers will become fewer and fewer until they not just become the minority... but they become virtually extinct. Hopefully!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Disrupt Or Get Disrupted

There's a couple of phases that have been going around in my head for the last week or so.

These are:
- If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem
- Change is the only constant

Both reflect my feelings about the current progress of digital transformation across a range of industries. From taxi services through to financial institutions, new models of working based upon technology and data, have now disrupted existing companies and sometimes entire markets.

So if change is happening all the time....

Who is leading your disruption?
You probably have at least one person in your organisation who is the advocate of digital change. They may be a lonely voice shouting about the need to 'embrace change', 'test and learn', ' fail forward' or 'adapt agile'. Or they may be a senior manager with the drive, staff and responsibility to push digital to the top of the agenda. either way, these people need the support of the exec team and remit (including budget) to trial new things that could mean the difference between your organisation being a Blockbuster or the next Netflix.

When will the change happen?
Most of us are among the disrupted rather than the disruptors - Only 7% of companies surveyed by Gartner in 2014 felt they were truly digital and of the remainder, only 83% felt they would be digital by 2017.

An inability or resistance to transform and adapt in an ever-changing world is a big failure these days. Nothing stays the same for very long in business and This Shit is Gonna Get Faster.

Don't be complacent
Larry Page and Sergey Brin once said "Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one." Does your organisation run on apathy and complacency? If so... change get it or stand a significant chance of disruption!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Will better distribution help eCommerce in Scotland?

If you live in Scotland, and in particular the West Coast of Scotland from the Clyde Estuary up to the Hebrides, you will no-doubt have seen the Oban Express van as it whizzed past.*

However last week logistics group John Menzies acquired Oban Express with the wonderful claim that it could “transform e-commerce in remote parts of Scotland”.

The aim is that this take-over should give this large facilities and distribution company a greater geographical reach, by including the 45-strong vehicle fleet that typically runs between Glasgow and the West. This acquisition, driven by online retailing, also follows the purchase in June of this year of AJG Parcels of Inverness.The integration of both companies into the group should apparently "help keep down the cost of deliveries on behalf of national carriers to more isolated areas".

However, in my opinion, there can only be a truly better ecommerce delivery approach in Scotland if:
  1. Companies such as Menzies invest in these recent purchases and grow the capacity of their operations in remote areas.
  2. Travel networks (e.g. roads) are improved
    E.g. it doesn't matter how far or fast the van goes, if it is stuck behind a slow driver on the single-carriage all the way up to Fort William or waiting for a land-slide to be cleared on the Inveraray road.
  3. Big and small ecommerce companies alike stop charging unfair amounts for deliveries to the Scottish Highlands and Islands.
    E.g. I live 12 miles from Glasgow and was recently charged a premium by one company for shipping a small parcel (a mobile phone)!
  4. This is accompanied by the roll-out of decent broadband internet, which is still incredibly patchy across a lot of the land north of the English border.

* Dear Top Gear, here's an idea. Stop featuring bloody Italian supercars or unobtainable Aston Martins on your programme and do a piece on the amazing handling & performance characteristics of the Ford Transit and Iveco vans driven by the courier services to the North of Glasgow!