The momentum of mobile has made showrooming a growing threat to brick-and-mortar retailers. A new study, however, reveals that some retailers are at higher risk than others.
The Aisle to Amazon study from location analytics company Placed unsurprisingly identified Best Buy and Target as high-risk retailers when it comes to consumers viewing products offline and then making purchases online. That being said, Best Buy and Target are actually not the most at risk when it comes to showrooming. In fact, Bed Bath & Beyond, PetSmart and Toys ‘R’ Us all face greater risk, with Amazon shoppers being 27 percent more likely to visit Bed Bath & Beyond, 25 percent more likely to visit PetSmart and 21 percent more likely to visit Toys ‘R’ Us before making a purchase online.
“Amazon was the clear winner in e-commerce 1.0, and unless brick-and-mortar retailers shift from reactive to proactive, Amazon will win e-commerce 2.0 on the backs of offline retailers,” said David Shim, Founder and CEO at Placed. "All the attention to date has been on Target and Best Buy as the early victims of showrooming, but significantly more retailers are at risk. Retailers need to know that it’s not a question of if or when showrooming will impact their business, as an aisle to Amazon is already in their store.”
In an attempt to combat showrooming, both Best Buy and Target recently announced Amazon price-matching policies, but this isn’t the only way that brick-and-mortar retailers can combat Amazon shoppers. Other strategies include:
1. Selling exclusive products – retailers can take Amazon out of the equation by selling customizable products or products that are exclusive to their brand or a brick-and-mortar location.
2. Integrating online features offline – If consumers are already shopping in-stores with their mobile phones, why not make the process easier? One way merchants can do this is by posting QR codes next to items that will take consumers to product reviews when scanned. Moreover, merchants can launch location-based promotions on platforms like Foursquare, such as a coupon for 25 percent off an in-store purchase when someone checks-in. This allows consumers to participate with mobile, while also giving them an incentive to make an immediate purchase.
3. Maintaining great service – One of the biggest advantages brick-and-mortar merchants have over online retailers is their ability to provide excellent service to any customer that walks through the door. This is why merchants should make sure that every member on their staff has a good attitude and is educated about the products and services that are being sold.
With the 2012 holiday comfortably behind Web retailers now is the perfect time to begin the process of moving a digital storefront to a brand new e-commerce platform. If you’re actively involved in a retail platform switch (or are only considering it), Website Magazine has put together a three-part series to guide digital merchants through this immensely challenging project.
In this, the first part of Website Magazine’s guide to e-commerce re-platforming, the focus is on auditing the numerous features that are required and in demand by retail-centered enterprises in 2013. The next two installments will focus on the specifics of making the technology transition to a new platform, and, on developing a post-transition strategy for moving forward.
For many the interest in finding a new online store software provider will ultimately relate to their performance - in the most recent holiday shopping season as well as throughout the rest of the year.
While those that had a “good” 2012 and improved results (e.g. sales) are unlikely to make the transition to a new platform, it remains important for successful merchants to routinely explore the solution vendor landscape in order to understand the variances in licensing, maintenance and support costs offered by other providers as well as the features currently in use by their retail competitors (so as not to fall too far behind in their efforts to meet or exceed customer expectations).
Those that performed poorly however will first need to explore what’s preventing greater sales performance. That’s not always easy but with a data-driven understanding of performance it is possible to eventually choose a platform which meets your enterprises expectations and can correct the virtual ills plaguing any retail Web presence.
There are dozens of reasons why a digital retail enterprise may consider switching ecommerce platforms - from a lack of organic traffic due to poor SEO controls, to a failure to integrate with other essential ecommerce-friendly software solutions/platforms like robust CRM systems. To find out what’s preventing your e-commerce storefront, dive into the analytics.
Analytics solutions contain lots of actionable information on performance and those insights should not be ignored by retailers switching to a new e-commerce platform. For example, how often are products posted to social networks? Are support requests increasing? Did conversions fall off after a new feature integration? Are there water-cooler complaints circulating internally within your enterprise about the complexity of the system you’re currently using?
Ideally, there should be some available mechanism in place to track and regularly perform audits that can be used to indicate the right time to consider a formal switch. In order to do that, conversion goals (e.g. for support tickets generated, or social shares initiated) and performance benchmarks must be in place. Moving to a new platform without empirical evidence that a move is required is a dangerous game that the savviest merchants avoid at all costs.
In the first part of Website Magazine’s Ecommerce Re-platforming Project Guide, let’s explore five essential, high-level features that should be audited – on your existing site and in any new shopping cart being considered.
Marketing Features: The features that enable an ecommerce enterprise to promote its’ products effectively to prospective and returning customers – both on and off the website (or application) itself – should be an area of immense interest for retailers. Areas of discovery should be site search capabilities, recommendation, and merchandising controls – as well as how these features impact conversion.
Technical Features: It’s often what happens behind the scenes that most impacts what occurs in the front. While a well-staffed and smart team of developers can ultimately make anything functional, a well-documented code base and supportive developer community, not to mention a reliable infrastructure, are of immense importance.
Administrative Features: It might be the least “sexy” of all the features, but they are undeniably the most important – features for those that make formal business decisions. Administrative requirements such as the ability to run performance reports and export data are often one-off line items are the feature request list but their importance is critical.
Support Features: Merchants are demanding in their requests for support features. Ticket-based support systems, while still in regular use among top merchants, aren’t the only way to provide assistance to product buyers and site visitors. For example, it’s not uncommon today for merchants to buy into third-party software providers of support technologies such as live chat. Are these and other integrations available through modules, plugins or add-ons?
Design Features: Most ecommerce platforms today offer their e-commerce customers a great deal of control over the visual elements of their websites. “Fully-customizable” however doesn’t necessarily mean that designers shouldn’t be involved in decisions made related to an online ecommerce presence. If there’s a trend toward going mobile within your enterprise, know whether the solution you’re evaluating can keep pace.
So how should you approach your re-platforming project? Can what you learn from an audit influence which ecommerce solution is chosen? Ultimately, the features listed above need far more exploration and discovery on a merchant-by-merchant basis. They do serve as a good starter guide for making a platform switch.
Digital product retailers, perk up your virtual ears! Omni-channel commerce software provider hybris has announced new features that enable publishers of books, magazines, games and software to sell digital goods, content and services online.
“Digital products are different from physical products. They’re alive,” said Ariel Ludi, CEO of hybris. “Using the internet to stay connected after the initial sale, offering related or next-in-series products in context, gives publishers of any digital goods or content the ability to have high-value perpetual digital relationships with their customers. hybris helps them create – and grow – those relationships.”
The new features at hybris enable sellers to offer a variety of flexible pricing models, construct complex bundles of products, and set up sophisticated rule-based discounts. By giving customers the ability to create their own “packages” with a guided-selling user-experience, higher conversion rates, average order values and lifetime value may result. Book and magazine publishers for example can sell individual chapters or articles, while software and game publishers can use the system to sell add-ons, upgrades and subscription renewals as well as downloadable content.
“As the shift from paper and CDs to downloaded or streaming content accelerates, companies are increasingly experimenting with innovative selling models,” said Moritz Zimmerman, chief technology officer at hybris. “hybris supports these initiatives with an agile selling platform that is engineered for extension, expansion, and innovation. With these new capabilities, publishers selling to consumers, professionals, academics or industry will get much faster time to innovation and a much better total cost of ownership.”
A new study from e-commerce solutions provider Shopatron has found that 73 percent of brands increased their overall sales – both online and in stores – through retail-integrated e-commerce.
A retail-integrated e-commerce model allows branded manufacturers to sell directly to consumers on their websites and then pass those orders to their authorized, local retailers for delivery to the customer. According to the survey results, the model strengthens retailer relationships, boosts retailer stocking and increases sales.
Over half of the 200 surveyed branded manufacturers said their online sales increased since launching retail-integrated e-commerce, with 10 percent stating that their online sales more than doubled.
The benefits of the model are also mutual, as over 65 percent of the 1,300 retailers surveyed noted improved profit numbers and customer acquisition, and 23 percent of them said that the model actually increased both statistics.
Furthermore, 59 percent said that they now stock more brands that send them sales using retail-integrated e-commerce, and 70 percent are prepared to or have already stopped buying from brands that continue to sell direct-to-consumer.
The full results of the survey can be found here.
The Internet was buzzing last week at the beta launch of Google’s latest service, Google Shopping. As always, the most recognizable name on the ‘Net is trying to wedge its way into another industry, but what will this mean for the e-commerce industry?
First of all, it’s important to understand exactly what Google is up to here, in case you haven’t heard. Essentially, Google is re-branding its Google Product Search services with a whole new business model. Soon, only merchants that pay to advertise with Google will be listed in the company’s product search.
In other words, Google has created a secondary retail-focused search engine that exclusively features paid advertisers.
However, as far as anyone can tell right now, this will definitely also play a role in regular search engine results, at least when users are searching for a specific product (or when a search can be construed as product-related). When Google presumes that the user has a potential intent to purchase, they’ll offer up paid (sponsored) listings next to the Web search results, so that they’re actually the first thing users see. Although the organic results will remain the same, they will not necessarily be the focal point of the SERPs any longer.
Of course, these product listings are more than just text ads, as they feature images, descriptions, links to the retailer’s sites and the current price. All of this is presented as a single, separate experience from the rest of the search results.
Either multiple product listings partitioned off in their own “sponsored” box, or a single product can appear on the right side of the page that includes a more detailed description. The former is typically designated for more general product searches, while the latter is reserved for very specific product queries (see examples below).
This practice combines product ads and Google Product Search, and helps to ensure that the paid listings don’t actually affect the organic search results – if we’re still calling Google Search organic. While this is all currently in a very experimental beta period, it's clearly an idea to which Google appears committed.
So, what does this mean for online retail, Google ads and product search?
Well, for one, it will force merchants to keep their ads up-to-date and accurate, since they are going to be charged as advertising partners just for the opportunity to list their products. This will be easy for them, as Google Shopping ads will come complete with an API that merchants can use to update their listings.
Bidding will be different, as now merchants will no longer be competing for keywords, but rather bidding how much they’d be willing to pay, if their listings appear and get clicks or generate conversions. Higher rankings will then depend on a combination of perceived relevance and the price of the bid.
Theoretically, these Google Shopping listings will help weed out redundant or irrelevant results for searchers, making them more enticing to consumers and, thus, more profitable (or worth the investment) for retailers.
Most of all, this whole scheme seems to be Google’s attempt to combat major e-commerce retailers, specifically Amazon. Whereas before Amazon was something of a one-stop shop for consumers looking to buy online, Google has now presented itself as an (arguably more efficient) alternative, allowing users to base their purchasing decisions on more product options from a wider variety of retailers.
This could drastically alter the e-commerce landscape and give smaller online retailers a much better chance at competing with the big boys.
Of course, it also runs the risk of shutting out those same smaller businesses that don't have the budget to afford buying product listings. Those companies that survive on the Web largely through the existence of free product search listings could also see some negative effects from this change.
Details are slim at the moment, and there is no official word on when Google will do away with free product listings, but the company did state in a blog post that it would like to have Google Shopping up-and-running by the fall of 2012.
Merchants have two incentives for transitioning to the new format, a 10-percent monthly credit through 2012 for ads created by August 15, or a $100 AdWords credit for existing Product Search merchants who fill out a form by the same date.
The Marina del Rey start-up (which will soon move to Culver City) is the latest newcomer to the rapidly growing flash sale marketplace, which includes One Kings Lane, Fab.com, Gilt and Rue La La. The site offers two new approaches to the usual for-members-only, limited-time sales: concierge buying and group buying.
With concierge buying, LuxeYard members can request items they'd like to purchase at a discounted price. The most popular product will be voted up and LuxeYard will then source either the exact product "or one known to be comparable or even higher quality," the company said.
Group Buy allows members to push prices down on certain items by using social media and networks to encourage others to purchase that product. The price is driven down if the product receives enough buzz. Everyone who purchases the Group Buy item will pay the final lowest price.
Chief Executive Braden Richter said the company was evolving the concept of flash sales by putting the sourcing and pricing of goods in the hands of consumers.
Flash sales were "originally designed to liquidate inventory; it was sort of born out of 2009," he said at a launch party Tuesday night at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. "I think a lot of the current flash sale companies are now trying to figure out what to do. We've come into it at a perfect time to create this next generation."
Like other flash sale sites, LuxeYard features a community of design professionals and stylists, dubbed trendsetters, who offer product recommendations and other advice. Trendsetters include Nicky Hilton; Daniella Clarke, founder of Frankie B Jeans; and designer Faye Resnick.
The site is free to join and launched with $3.5 million in financing from private investors; about 185,000 people had already signed up during the site's pre-launch beta phase. On Tuesday, LuxeYard averaged about five new members a minute, Richter said.
The company has about 30 employees and offers luxury home furnishings — including furniture, textiles, cookware and lamps — at 70% off retail. LuxeYard doesn't hold inventory or operate warehouses; instead, manufacturers ship products directly to consumers.
– Andrea Chang
Image: Screen shot of LuxeYard's home page. Credit: LuxeYard
"We understand that this decision will cause many of the fans disappointment, but please forgive us as there is no other alternative unless to have the blessing from Steve Jobs family," In Icons said in a rambling statement on its website, which features quotes from Jobs and numerous images of the doll prototype. "We will aim to have full refund to the fans who have pre-ordered."
In Icons had been taking pre-orders of the 12-inch doll, which cost $100 and came with "one realistic head sculpt and two pairs of glasses," "one highly articulate body and three pairs of hands," one black turtleneck, one pair of blue jeans and two apples — one with a bite taken out of it.
The company had planned to start shipping the dolls in February and said on its website that it was running out of stock.
In the statement announcing the company's decision to not offer the doll, In Icons said the figurine was adjusted "countless times" to achieve the Apple visionary's likeness. The company said making the doll was a tribute to Jobs.
"Regardless of the pressure, I am still Steve's fan, I fully respect Steve and his family, and it is definitely not my wish or intention that they be upset," said the statement, which was signed "inicons.com." "Though we still believe that we have not overstepped any legal boundaries, we have decided to completely stop the offer, production and sale of the Steve Jobs figurine out of our heartfelt sensitivity to the feelings of the Jobs family."
– Andrea Chang
Image: A screenshot showing In Icons' Steve Jobs doll. Credit: In Icons
Zappos.com, the popular online shoe site, was the victim of a cyber attack by a hacker who gained access to part of the company's internal network through one of its servers, Chief Executive Tony Hsieh said in an email to employees Sunday.
Hsieh said the Henderson, Nev., company was cooperating with law enforcement to undergo "an exhaustive investigation" and that the database that stores customers' credit card and other payment data was not affected or accessed.
"We've spent over 12 years building our reputation, brand, and trust with our customers. It's painful to see us take so many steps back due to a single incident," Hsieh said in a separate email to customers. "Over the next day or so, we will be training everyone on the specifics of how to best help our customers through their password change process now that their passwords have been reset and expired. We need all hands on deck to help get through this."
The company said it would notify the more than 24 million customer accounts in its database about the incident and provide instructions on how to choose a new password; the company has already reset and expired existing passwords.
In the email to shoppers, Zappos said customers' personal information — including their name, email address, billing and shipping addresses, phone number, the last four digits of their credit card number and/or the cryptographically scrambled password on their account — may have been compromised.
"In order to service as many customer inquiries as possible, we will be asking all employees at our headquarters, regardless of department, to help with assisting customers," Hsieh said. "We have made the hard decision to temporarily turn off our phones and direct customers to contact us by email because our phone systems simply aren't capable of handling so much volume."
The company is directing customer concerns and questions to an internal Web page.
Zappos, which sells shoes and has since expanded to other retail categories, was bought by Amazon.com in 2009. The company has become known for its customer service and for its quirky company culture led by Hsieh — including head-shaving events, impromptu parades around the cubicles and employee birthday pranks.
– Andrea Chang
Top photo: Zappos' company headquarters in 2010. Credit: Isaac Brekken / For The Times
Lower photo: Zappos Chief Executive Tony Hsieh. Credit: Isaac Brekken / For The Times
The Lumia 710, Nokia's first Windows Phone to hit the U.S., barely went on sale on Jan. 11 and already Wal-Mart is undercutting other retailers by giving the new phone away for free on a two-year contract.
T-Mobile USA, which launched the phone, sells the Lumia 710 for $49.99 on a two-year data plan, as do other retailers such as Best Buy. The price drop by Wal-Mart is a fast one and it's unclear if other retailers or T-Mobile itself will follow suit.
But if we do see more price drops on the Lumia 710, they will probably be motivated in part by the pending arrival of the new Lumia 900 at AT&T, which is rumored for sometime in March. An official release date and price haven't yet been disclosed for the Lumia 900.
The Lumia 900, which made its debut at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, has a 4.3-inch display and a unique polycarbonate body.
But while the 900 packs a larger screen and a bit more style, it and the 710 are very similar on the inside, with both phones running Windows Phone 7.5 Mango on a 1.4-gigahertz Qualcomm processor and 512-megabytes of RAM.
The Lumia 710 has 8 gigabytes of built-in storage, while the Lumia 900 has 16 gigabytes. And the Lumia 710 features a 5-megapixel camera with a single-LED flash, while the Lumia 900 has an 8-megapixel camera with a dual-LED flash.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: The Nokia Lumia 710 Windows Phone from T-Mobile USA. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles TImes
Remember Cher's virtual closet from "Clueless," the one that helped the fashionable teen choose her outfits by digitally placing the clothes on an image of her body? Now you can have a better version of it.
At the Consumer Electronics Show this week, a Calabasas company was giving demonstrations of Swivel, a real-time virtual dressing room that takes a lot of the hassle out of shopping — no more long waits in the fitting room line loaded down with an armful of clothes, or the tedious process of getting dressed and undressed several times during one trip to the mall.
To use the Swivel system, which works by utilizing motion-sensing technology, stand a few feet in front of a webcam or Microsoft Kinect device. A live image of yourself will appear on a connected television or computer screen, along with a selection of categories like clothing, jewelry and handbags.
Select a category — say, dresses — by waving your hand over it. A lineup of gowns will appear on the right-hand panel; another wave of the arm selects the dress you want to try on and digitally overlays it over the live image of yourself.
Turn to the side and the dress will move with you; the product takes into account your unique body type, and items appear to be form-fitting. You can layer accessories onto the look by selecting necklaces and belts, or change the background image to a red carpet or city scene to put the look into context. The Swivel system also gives users outfit recommendations and enables them to send an image of the final look to their friends for approval.
FaceCake Marketing Technologies, which created Swivel using proprietary software, hopes the system will be used by retailers, in malls and at home.
FaceCake recently did a mall tour in Southern California to debut the system to shoppers. The average shopper tried on 66% of the items available, or about 45 products, far more than he or she would typically try on in a physical dressing room, said FaceCake Chief Executive Linda Smith.
"It's a virtual dressing room that makes things easy," she said during a demo for The Times at CES in Las Vegas. "It really puts the whole store in a little six-foot area."
With retailers' merchandise selections changing daily, Smith said the Swivel system would update its merchandise content regularly to give users the most up-to-date products.
Swivel will be available later this year for consumers for in-home use and FaceCake is in discussions with a national mall operator to put Swivel in shopping centers, Smith said. A handful of retailers, including Banana Republic and Nordstrom, signed on for the mall tour, allowing their merchandise to be featured in the system.
– Andrea Chang in Las Vegas
It's all fun and games for one company at this year's Consumer Electronics Show.
Seattle's Discovery Bay Games wanted to combine the modern iPad with the old-school arcade experience to give gamers the best of both worlds. The end result: Atari Arcade, a $60 console featuring a joystick and four push buttons that connects with an iPad or iPad 2, enabling users to play classic games such as Centipede, Pong and Asteroids using the tablet as a screen but the console as the controls.
"I think what people were missing was that real tactile experience of having the joystick and the buttons, because on the touchscreen you kind of lose the feeling," Discovery Bay Games spokeswoman Natalie Dent said. The tech and gaming company was giving demos of the device Monday at Digital Experience, a consumer electronics media event held in Las Vegas the night before the official opening of CES.
Created through a partnership with Apple and Atari, the Atari Arcade was released at Target, Toys R Us and Apple stores during the holiday season last year and was a bestseller for Discovery Bay Games, Dent said.
Consumers who buy the device have to download the Atari Greatest Hits app to their tablets to play the games; $9.99 gets you 99 classic arcade games.
Discovery Bay Games also released two other iPad-compatible devices, which the company calls "appcessories" on its website, over the holidays: the Duo Pop, a set of remote "poppers" (they look a bit like asthma inhalers) that operate as wireless game buzzers; and Duo Plink, a device geared toward younger children that sits on top of an iPad and acts as a scoring machine.
– Andrea Chang in Las Vegas
In an effort to expand its retail reach, Apple is reportedly planning to open mini Apple Store displays inside select Target locations later this year.
As many as 25 locations in smaller metro areas not large enough for Apple Stores of their own could end up with the in-Target Apple Store set-ups, "according to a source familiar with Apple's plans," the website AppleInsider reported Friday.
Officials at Apple weren't available for comment on the report — the company's usual practice is to decline to comment on rumors — but the tech giant has taken this type of approach before.
Hundreds of Best Buy locations feature Apple Store displays, with Apple signage and tables that match the look of what is seen in Apple's retail locations.
At some Best Buy stores, there are even Apple staffers on hand from time to time to explain products to customers and show off iPads, iPhones, iPods, iMacs and MacBook laptops as well as accessories.
Target sells iPods, iPhones and iPads but no Mac computers. That is likely to change with the Apple-Store-within-a-store plan, AppleInsider said.
The site also noted that although there are 1,752 Target locations and 245 Apple Stores in the U.S., there are also more than 600 BestBuy locations with mini Apple Store displays inside.
Photo: Shoppers look at Apple products inside of a Best Buy store in San Francisco on Dec. 9, 2011. Credit: David Paul Morris / Bloomberg
The Kindle Fire tablet has, since its launch, sold more units than any other single item on Amazon.com.
But just how many tablets sold would that be exactly? Amazon isn't saying. As is the company's typical stance with its Kindle products, the Seattle company isn't offering up specific sales numbers.
Instead, on Thursday, the world's largest online retailer issued a statement saying that "2011 was the best holiday ever for the Kindle family as customers purchased millions of Kindle Fires and millions of Kindle e-readers."
As noted by our sister-blog Jacket Copy, so far this month, the Kindle Fire tablet and the Kindle and Kindle Touch eReaders, have sat in the top three spots for most sold items on Amazon.com, with the Fire ranking first, the Kindle Touch in second and the standard Kindle in third.
The retail giant also said that the Kindle Fire is the item most often found on Amazon.com wish lists too.
Without exact sales numbers, it's tough to judge just how well the $199 Kindle Fire is selling or whether or not it will reach analyst estimates of 5 million tablets sold before the end of the year.
Despite Amazon's continued stance on not disclosing how many Kindle Fire tablets it's selling, many analysts still project that the device will become the second-best selling tablet behind Apple's iPad.
Amazon also said that this Christmas Day was the "biggest day ever for Kindle book downloads" and that the No. 1 and No. 4 best-selling Kindle eBooks released in 2011 "were both published independently by their authors using Kindle Direct Publishing," Amazon's digital publishing platform.
"We are grateful to our customers worldwide for making this the best holiday ever for Kindle," said Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder and CEO, in the statement. "And in a huge milestone for independent publishing, we'd also like to congratulate Darcie Chan, the author of 'The Mill River Recluse,' and Chris Culver, the author of 'The Abbey,' for writing two of the best-selling Kindle books of the year."
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: The Amazon Kindle Fire tablet. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times
Haven't gotten that holiday shopping wrapped up just yet? Amazon.com, the world's largest online retailer, has plenty of stuff to sell and on Thursday launched a Best of Digital store full of items it recommends.
As the name would suggest, the items for sale in Amazon's Best of Digital store aren't physical goods. The store, which is a section of Amazon's website, has for sale mp3 music files, not CDs; downloadable movies, not DVDs or Blu-ray discs. Apps, games, magazines, e-books (for Amazon's Kindle e-reader, of course) and software for home PCs are on the list as well.
Launching such a store after the start of Hanukkah and so close to Christmas might seem like odd timing, but "historically, Christmas Day is the largest day of digital sales on Amazon.com, followed by Dec. 26," Amazon said in a statement.
"Last year, from Christmas Eve through Dec. 30, Amazon customers purchased over three times more digital content, including Kindle books, magazines, movies, TV shows music, and digital games as compared to the weekly average for the year," the company said.
Not at all a coincidence, all the digital items (except for the PC software) for sale in the Best of Digital store can be read, watched, listened to, played and used on Amazon's new Kindle Fire tablet.
"With the introduction of Kindle Fire this season, millions more customers will be shopping for new digital content," Craig Pape, Amazon's director of music, said in the statement. "This year we're making it easier and more convenient than ever to get all the content they want."
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screen shot of Amazon's Best of Digital store. Credit: Amazon.com
Amazon is rolling out another holiday promotion, offering shoppers free one-day shipping on thousands of items starting Saturday.
The latest offer follows the Internet retailer's controversial holiday promotion last week, when it gave shoppers up to $15 for using its price check app in a bricks-and-mortar store and then buying that item from Amazon.
That offer led several retail groups and a senator to lash out at the e-commerce giant, accusing it of using physical stores as showrooms.
The shipping promotion — which includes cameras, diamond earrings, video games and laptops – ends Wednesday. Amazon will apply the shipping discount at checkout after customers add a qualifying product to their shopping carts and select One-Day Shipping.
Also this week, Amazon announced it was extending the order deadline for free "Super Saver Shipping," guaranteeing that orders placed by Dec. 19 will arrive in time for Christmas. After that, shoppers will have to select faster delivery options for orders to arrive by the holiday.
– Andrea Chang
Photo: An Amazon fulfillment center in Phoenix during last year's holiday season. Credit: Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press
The for-members-only shoe club has been spun off from Nordstrom-owned HauteLook as a separate company, company officials said.
Based in Los Angeles, Sole Society was launched in March as a sister brand to HauteLook, a rapidly growing "flash fashion" sale site that sells designer goods at deep discounts for a limited time. Nordstrom acquired HauteLook in March for up to $270 million in stock.
Sole Society members register for free on the e-commerce site and fill out a "style bio" questionnaire to determine their style. They then receive a personalized selection of six "designer-quality, on-trend" shoes to choose from each month and receive the pair of their choice, typically for $49.95. Sole Society has nearly 500,000 members.
"We're an early-stage business and we need 100% focus," said Andy Solomon, chief operating officer of Sole Society. As a standalone business, Sole Society can "really be nurtured and the right decisions can be given to it."
For shoppers worried about committing to a pair of heels without first trying them on or seeing them in person, Sole Society provides a free return shipping label with every shipment. And members are allowed to opt out if they don't feel like receiving a new pair of shoes that month.
"Everyone has very busy lives these days and they don't always have time to get to the mall," Solomon said. "One of the great trends with online shopping is personalization and curated commerce."
Company officials declined to disclose the financial terms of the spin-off or provide sales figures for the 9-month-old brand.
– Andrea Chang
Image: Screen shot of Sole Society's website.
Most cellphone and tablet users can purchase digital goods and charge them to their monthly bill or prepaid phone account, but buyers may not get the protections they need if something goes wrong with the transaction, a new report says.
According to an analysis by Consumers Union, the protections that consumers receive vary depending on their wireless carrier's policies and what's in their cellphone contract.
"We found that consumer rights can vary widely between wireless carriers, and the protections carriers claim to provide are often nowhere to be found in consumer contracts," said Michelle Jun, senior attorney for Consumers Union, the nonprofit advocacy branch of Consumer Reports. Jun said consumers using mobile payments should get the same "strong protections" that they receive when making purchases with a credit or debit card.
In May, Consumers Union called on the top wireless carriers to strengthen their contracts to protect consumers in the event that their phone is lost or stolen, if a merchant makes a billing mistake or the customer is not satisfied with a purchase.
Since then, Consumers Union said it had been in touch with representatives from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless to find out how they handle disputed mobile payment transactions. All four carriers said that they provided ample protections for consumers, but Consumers Union "found that the protections these carriers provide fall short" of what consumers get when they use credit cards and debit cards or when California consumers report a disputed charge on their phone accounts.
In addition, Consumers Union said, many of the protections that wireless carrier representatives described are not disclosed in customer contracts, making it difficult to know whether consumers can count on these safeguards when problems arise.
"As new mobile payment options become available, consumers are better off sticking to services linked to credit cards or debit cards, which come with strong protections required by law," Jun said. "If wireless carriers want consumers to have confidence in direct carrier billing programs, they should strengthen their contracts with the protections consumers need."
For a Consumers Union tip sheet on mobile payments, click here.
– Andrea Chang
Photo: An iPhone user checks out a shopping app in San Francisco in November. Consumers Union says shoppers don't get the same protections when they use mobile payments to buy digital goods. Credit: Jeff Chiu / Associated Press
Good news for last-minute shoppers: Amazon.com has extended the order deadline for free "Super Saver Shipping," guaranteeing that orders placed by Dec. 19 will arrive in time for Christmas. After that, shoppers will have to select faster delivery options for orders to arrive by the holiday.
For delivery by Christmas, Amazon said the following ordering deadlines apply:
Dec. 19: Free Super Saver Shipping
Dec. 19: Standard shipping
Dec. 21: Two-Day shipping (order as late as 8 p.m. PST; varies by item; free with Amazon Prime)
Dec. 22: One-Day shipping (order as late as 4:30 p.m. PST; varies by item; $3.99 per item with Amazon Prime)
Dec. 23: Last-minute Christmas delivery (for Amazon Prime members only; while available; select cities; varies by item; $9.99 per item)
Dec. 24: Local express delivery (while available; select cities; varies by item; $3.99 per item with Amazon Prime)
Super Saver Shipping is available for orders of $25 or more. Amazon Prime is a membership program that gives members free two-day shipping if they pay an annual membership fee of $79.
Like all retailers, Amazon has stepped up its game during the most important time of the year for the industry. Last week, the world's biggest e-commerce site announced that it was holding a one-day promotion that would give shoppers 5% off, up to $5 per item, just for using its Price Check app in a bricks-and-mortar store and buying that product on Amazon afterward. Amazon shoppers could save up to $15 by checking the prices and buying three different items.
That offer sparked outrage from retail groups, who accused Amazon of using physical stores as showrooms and further hurting the competition because Amazon is not required to collect sales taxes in most states.
– Andrea Chang
Photo: Amazon packages are delivered in Boston. The website extended its free shipping holiday deadline to Dec. 19. Credit: Brian Snyder / Reuters
A day after Amazon announced that it would give shoppers up to $15 for using its Price Check app in a bricks-and-mortar store and buying that item from Amazon afterward, prominent retail groups are lashing out at the e-commerce giant.
The Retail Industry Leaders Assn. said the app unfairly uses bricks-and-mortar stores as "showrooms to then purchase merchandise online from inside the store."
"Central to this tactic is Amazon's continued practice of using a pre-Internet loophole to avoid state sales tax collection, a move that gives them an unfair competitive advantage over Main Street retailers," the group said.
Danny Diaz, a spokesman for the Alliance for Main Street Fairness, echoed that sentiment, saying "no retailer can compete with the special treatment" Amazon has by not collecting sales taxes.
"This app is simply another ploy by Amazon to exploit the loophole that allows them to evade collecting state sales taxes," he said.
In September, after several weeks of bickering with California lawmakers and traditional retailers, Amazon agreed to begin collecting sales taxes in the state in September 2012. A new law that went into effect July 1 required online retailers to begin collecting the tax immediately, but Amazon refused to follow through, leading to the two sides cutting the September deal.
On Wednesday Katherine Lugar, executive vice president of public affairs for the retail leaders group, said Amazon's Price Check app promotion was worsening an already unfair advantage during the all-important holiday shopping season.
"Amazon's aggressive promotion of its Price Check App shows the lengths they are willing to go to exploit this tax loophole, and is a stark reminder of why Congress needs to act to protect retailers on Main Street," Lugar said.
– Andrea Chang
Photo: A shopper uses his smartphone to check prices at a Toys R Us in New York in November. Credit: Seth Wenig / Associated Press
Price-check apps are already a headache for bricks-and-mortar retailers, who lose out when in-store shoppers use their smartphones to scan the bar code of a product and find that it's cheaper elsewhere.
Now Amazon.com, arguably physical stores' No. 1 rival, is making it even more worthwhile to price check.
The world's biggest online retailer said that on Saturday, it will give customers an additional 5% discount (up to $5) on up to three qualifying products if they simply check the price of those items while shopping in physical retail stores. Eligible categories include electronics, toys, music, sporting goods and DVDs.
"The ability to check prices on your mobile phone when you're in a physical retail store is changing the way people shop," said Sam Hall, director of Amazon Mobile, in a statement. "Price transparency means that you can save money on the products you want and that's a great thing for customers."
The Price Check by Amazon app is available for iPhone and Android and can be downloaded for free from the Amazon Appstore, Android Market and App Store for the iPhone. Users can price check four ways: scanning a bar code, snapping a photo, saying a product name or typing in a search query.
– Andrea Chang
Photo: A shopper uses a smartphone to compare prices at a Toys R Us in New York in November. Credit: Seth Wenig / Associated Press
On Friday, a new Apple Store will open in Grand Central Terminal, on the balcony above the stairwell that leads down to tracks 100-117.
Missed your train and have an hour to kill until the next one comes? No more slumping dejectedly against the wall glaring at the clock while texting your mom an apology. Soon you can pass the time by messing around with the latest iPad.
Apple has not released the exact square footage of what will be its fifth retail space in New York, but media reports have put the number at about 23,000 square feet. That would make it one of the world's largest Apple outlets.
In a story about the new store, the Wall Street Journal posted some renderings of how the store will look: open to the station and its ceiling dotted with constellations, the pale wood of the tables holding the Apple products matching the pale marble interior of the iconic building.
The location is also pretty cool for Apple. Roughly 750,000 people pass through Grand Central every day, and more than 1 million during the holidays, according to the terminal's official website. It also says that half the terminal's commuters have household incomes of more than $100,000.
– Deborah Netburn
Photo: An exterior view of the Apple Store location under construction in Grand Central Terminal in November. Credit: Jason Kempin / Getty Images
Foursquare launched its "Save to Foursquare" and "Follow on Foursquare" buttons Wednesday in an effort by the New York company to get users to integrate what they do on the Web with what they do in the real world.
The Save to Foursquare button is aimed at online publishers and can enable publications to relate stories and reviews to places listed in the Foursquare app.
"For example, from a user perspective, if the L.A. Times were to use this feature, and I'm on the L.A. Times website and I'm reading a review of a new sushi place at LA Live, then I can click the Save to Foursquare button from the review online and that sushi place will be added to my to-do list on Foursquare," said Jonathan Crowley, who oversees Foursquare's partnerships with media companies. "And then when I'm in L.A. near LA Live and I'm looking at my to-do list, I'll see that sushi place on my list and the L.A. Times review would show up when I am looking at that sushi place in the app.
"So I could go back and read that review if I wanted to remember why it's on my list in the first place. And all of this would take place with the publisher's logo and branding."
As of now the L.A. Times isn't using the Save to Foursquare button, but Crowley's hypothetical example went into practice Wednesday with launch partners such as Frommer's Travel, Eater.com, New York Magazine, Time Out NY and Time Out NY Kids, Time Out Boston, Time Out Chicago, AskMen.com and CBS.
CBS' use of the Save to Foursquare button is something that Crowley said he is particularly excited about because it's a move many people wouldn't expect, he said.
"We wanted to bridge the gap between what you're reading and watching online, and what you go out and do in the real world," Crowley said. "A lot of people don't look at CBS as a local brand, but if you think about it, there are all of these markets out there that have local CBS stations and they're producing a ton of locally focused content, so it actually makes a lot of sense.
"The fact is that the best content creators, the places that know cities the best, are publications like newspapers and magazines and local TV stations. And now we can connect the work all of these publications are doing with what we're doing on Foursquare very easily. It's something we've been working on for a while now."
The Follow on Foursquare button enables anyone with a website to allow Foursquare users to follow that person or business on Foursquare with a simple click, similar to Twitter's follow button, he said.
"The Follow button is even easier to put on a website," Crowley said. "With the Save to Foursquare button, a publisher has to structure the location data of what they're writing about in a certain way. With the Follow button, it's as easy as copying code from our website over to your website. Anyone can do it."
When a person follows someone or something on Foursquare, they'll see that person's or brand's tips when they check in at a location and they'll see lists of things to do by who they follow as well, he said.
"It's all the same as when you've followed a person or a brand on Foursquare before, but now you can follow someone you see on the Web without having to take your phone out of your pocket and go looking for them," Crowley said.
The company also launched a redesigned developer website Wednesday that should make it easier for third-party apps to build on what Foursquare has built and has coming up.
"I think a lot of people look at us as a 'check-in service,' but it's so much more than that," Crowley said. "It's about exploring your city, having a travel guide when you're in a new city, getting brand or friend recommendations wherever you go — and all of this just adds to that.
"We've got a very long product road map, and we're focused on building more of these types of tools that make it easier for people to explore what's going on around them."
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screen shot of the Save to Foursquare button on NYMag.com. Credit: New York Magazine / Foursquare
This post has been corrected. Please see note below for details.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday delivered for major retailers, as expected. But the holiday shopping weekend generated unexpectedly high sales for Santa Monica start-up BeachMint too.
BeachMint, which operates e-commerce websites with products designed by celebrities, launched its fourth site — ShoeMint.com — on Friday. By Monday evening, the site had sold its entire inventory of women's shoes.
"We sold thousands of shoes, and honestly, we underestimated the demand a bit," said Josh Berman, BeachMint's chief executive. "The one mistake we made is we didn't order enough shoes, and it'll take about a week to get more shoes made and delivered to us, but it's a good problem to have."
ShoeMint sells women's shoes, for an average of about $80 a pair, that were designed by actress Rachel Bilson and Hollywood stylist Nicole Chavez, and manufactured by Steve Madden, whose eponymous brand has been a major shoe seller for more than a decade.
"We sold through just about everything we had by Cyber Monday, and we had to go into our warehouse and find a few pairs that weren't even in our inventory system to meet demand," said Diego Berdakin, BeachMint's president. "We're still trying to piece it all together. The traffic was incredible."
The pairing of a brand with celebrity designers and stylists is a model used in each of BeachMint's sites so far: JewelMint.com, which sells jewelry designed by actress Kate Bosworth and her stylist, Cher Coulter; StyleMint.com, which sells T-shirts designed by actresses Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen; and BeautyMint.com, which sells skin-care products designed by Jessica Simpson and skin-care guru Nerida Joy.
"Our model, and you can see it with everybody that we've picked, is to find the authentic experts in that category and to work with them," Berman said. "These aren't just endorsement deals. We're relying on Kate Bosworth, Rachel Bilson, Nicole Chavez, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Jessica Simpson to identify quality products that we can sell using our technology. Diego and I aren't experts on women's shoes, but we see the opportunity and demand there, so we find the people who are experts and we work with them to deliver the right products."
So far, ShoeMint is BeachMint's fastest-growing site, Berman said, noting that it passed BeautyMint's company record of 500,000 visitors in the first 24 hours of operation.
More than 10,000 people are on waiting lists to buy shoes, and about 80,000 consumers registered to buy goods over a four-day period before the site's official launch, Berdakin said.
Berman and Berdakin declined to say how many shoes ShoeMint has sold so far, but they did say that they had originally planned for their inventory to last them through the end of the year.
Berdakin also said that more than half of the site's pre-launch registrations came from referrals made on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. And the bulk of those referrals were made by people who had purchased items from BeachMint sites.
The company produces shoes in limited numbers, so the next shoes that will arrive will be designs originally planned for January.
"We're already looking at expanding the size of the shoe line in April, May, June because of the demand we're seeing" Berdakin said. "But we have the benefit of working with someone like Steve Madden, who has made hundreds of millions of shoes in their life, and he's definitely ready to ramp up production with us. And Steve, Rachel and Nicole are making sure what we come out with each month will be what's on trend, what's fashionable."
While ShoeMint's success is just a few days old, Berman said the company is confident that it has a hit on its hands. The firm, which has about 85 employees and was founded in July 2010 by Berdakin and Berman (who is a MySpace co-founder) has raised more than $43 million in funding to date and is looking to continue to expand.
"This year our tongues are wagging, we're pretty tired," Berman said. "But we are planning some new Mints for next year, and we're going to keep expanding the model. We're focused on expanding the right way and with the right partners, and we're seeing a lot of pent-up demand outside of the U.S., so we may launch internationally next year as well. But, at this point, we're just looking to get the word out about the Mints we have running, and we need to get more shoes in."
[For the record, 8:17 p.m. Nov. 30: An earlier version of this post said BeachMint had raised about $23 million in funding to date, that about 20,000 people pre-registered on ShoeMint before its official launch and that Steve Madden was among ShoeMint's designers. The company has actually raised more than $43 million in capital so far, more than 80,000 people pre-registered for ShoeMint, and Madden is manufacturing, not designing, ShoeMint's shoes, Berdakin said.]
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screen shot of ShoeMint.com. Credit: BeachMint
Cyber Monday deals lured a record number of online shoppers, leading to a 33% jump in U.S. sales compared with the Monday after Thanksgiving last year, according to a new IBM report released Tuesday.
Consumers spent an average of 2.6% more this year than they did in 2010, with the value of an average online order rising from $193.24 to a record $198.26 this year, according to IBM's fourth annual Cyber Monday Benchmark study.
Also increasing this year was the number of shoppers who made purchases on their smartphones and tablets, the study said. On Cyber Monday, a record 10.8% of people used a mobile device to visit a retailer's site, up from 3.9% in 2010. Mobile sales also grew to 6.6% on this year's Cyber Monday purchases, up from 2.3% a year earlier, the tech giant said.
"Consumers flocked online, with shopping momentum hitting its highest peak at 11:05am PST/2:05pm EST," IBM said in a statement. "Consumer shopping also maintained strong momentum after commuting hours on both the East and West coast."
Two statistics not included in IBM's study was an estimate of how much in total was spent or exactly how many people were shopping on Cyber Monday. IBM produces its Cyber Monday shopping report by "analyzing terabytes of raw data from 500 retailers nationwide," the company said.
And, as a tech firm that sells software, tech infrastructure and consulting services to businesses, IBM's analysis of this data is a bit of a marketing opportunity for the company founded in 1911.
"Retailers that adopted a smarter approach to commerce, one that allowed them to swiftly adjust to the shifting shopping habits of their customers, whether in-store, online or via their mobile device, were able to fully benefit from this day and the entire holiday weekend," said John Squire, the chief strategy officer of IBM's "Smarter Commerce" team, in a statement.
So, how did Cyber Monday compare with Black Friday, the Friday after Thanksgiving? IBM has some data on that too, reporting that it found Cyber Monday brought in 29.3% more online sales than Black Friday did (though many shoppers on Black Friday were in brick-and-mortar stores and not online).
According to a few other Black Friday reports, that day was a shopping sales record too.
Most people who purchased items online on Cyber Monday and Black Friday did so using Apple's i-devices, which "continued to rank one and two for mobile device retail traffic" with 4.1% of shopper Web-surfing taking place on the iPhone and 3.3% on the iPad, IBM said.
Android came in third with a solid 3.2% of Cyber Monday and Black Friday Web traffic, the report said.
"Shoppers using the iPad also continued to drive more retail purchases than any other device with conversion rates reaching 5.2 percent compared to 4.6 percent," on other devices, IBM said.
Photo: Cyber Monday specials on Target's website. Credit: Stan Honda / AFP/Getty Images