Sanjeev Aggarwal's Blog

June 10, 2012

NetSuite SuiteCommerce: Transforming Commerce Solutions and User Experience

 Last week I had the opportunity to attend NetSuite

SuiteWorld 2102 in San Francisco. One of the most notable announcements was the launch of NetSuite’s new SuiteCommerce Commerce-as-a-Service (CaaS) platform for B2B and B2C businesses.

The SuiteCommerce offering is designed for e-tailers, retailers and other companies that sell online and provides these businesses with multi-channel platform which is integrated with NetSuite’s core ERP system. This gives companies a unified front-end to manage their various digital sites and brick-and-mortar stores, connected to their ERP to provide a single system of record for history of customers across channels. According to NetSuite, SuiteCommerce will help businesses to:

  • More easily customize web page content and integrate information into back-end financial systems
  • Tailor eCommerce solutions to the requirements of mobile, machine-to-machine (M2M) and social networking platforms
  • Enhanced social networking solutions through integrations that augment the platform with social functionality such as social ratings, reviews, personalized product recommendations and conversations

NetSuite will offer two SuiteCommerce options:

  • The Mid-market version targets businesses with smaller product catalog of products and services. The Mid-market suite starts at $1,999 per month and is available now.
  • The Enterprise version is aimed at larger companies and is designed to handle a more extensive product catalog of products and services. The Enterprise version at $3,999 per month and will be available in August 2012.

The vendor also announced a roster of SuiteCommerce partners, including Square, Stripe, Acquia, Bazaarvoice, MyBuys, Velaro and Shotfarm that have developed apps that integrate with the platform. In addition, it announced partnerships with the creative agencies that can help companies design their sites to optimize SuiteCommerce capabilities. These partners, agencies and VARs can extend the SuiteCommerce platform using NetSuite’s SuiteCloud development platforms and SuiteApps.

Perspective

The timing of this announcement couldn’t be better.

Technology trends are converging to create a perfect storm in the world of commerce—one that empowers customers and raises the bar for companies to meet new, more demanding customer expectations. Social media empowers customers with information from friends and other unfiltered sources. Mobile devices are
facilitating this trend, making it possible to research and shop for products and services anytime and anywhere. Cloud computing and ecommerce are blurring the boundaries between brick-and-mortar and online commerce stores, creating an imperative for merchants to provide consistency and visibility across channels.

This has created an environment where customers expect more from businesses throughout the commerce cycle. They want anywhere, anytime, any-device access to multiple sources for information gathering, product and service evaluation, selection, purchasing and customer service. As a result, merchants need to anticipate what the customer wants, automate and personalize customer interactions, and enable the customer to do business where, when and how he or she wants.

NetSuite’s introduction of SuiteCommerce is designed to help businesses meet these elevated customer expectations. NetSuite has had an integrated eCommerce offering for years, an almost 2,800 of its customers run their web sites and storefronts on NetSuite. However, SuiteCommerce is intended to go beyond the commerce experience to integrate social, mobile and other customer touch points.

As NetSuite’s CEO Zach Nelson noted in his remarks at the event, “Over the past decade, NetSuite has transformed how our customers operate their businesses internally. Over the next decade, NetSuite will transform how businesses operate with other businesses and with their customers through NetSuite Commerce as a Service.”

In addition, SuiteCommerce strengthens NetSuite’s “one system of record” integrated suite story, which is a good one in the mid-market. SMB Group’s research finds that “integrating different applications” is a significant challenge (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Top Technology Challenges in Medium Businesses


Source: SMB Group 2011 SMB Routes to Market Study

The SuiteCommerce offering also aligns with the direction NetSuite announced at last year’s SuiteWorld event, when it unveiled plans to move up from its SMB lineage (that harkens back to its NetLedger days) to pursue the upper end of midsize business, a two-tier strategy in the large enterprise space, and select industry markets.

SMBs increasingly see that customer-facing mobile applications can help them grow revenue, attract and retain customers, and keep up with the competition. SMBs are using both mobile-friendly web sites and mobile apps to offer functionality to foster this interaction, as shown on Figure 2. Regardless of whether SMBs are employing a mobile-friendly web site, mobile apps, or both, what are the top capabilities that they are providing to external audiences? And what do they plan to add in the next 12 months?

Figure 2 Business Functions Available/Planned Via a Mobile-Friendly Web Site/Mobile App.


Source: SMB Group,
2012 Small and Medium Mobile Business Solutions Study

Mid-market businesses are increasingly enabling mobile apps to access line-of-business functions to conduct business with customers, prospects, partners and suppliers. Mobile support in SuiteCommerce will enable significant new revenue opportunities for NetSuite SuiteCommerce VARs and service providers.

Quick Take

The large number of customers and partners in attendance at SuiteWorld 2012 seemed excited about SuiteCommerce and NetSuite’s direction to help transform from the core internally-focused business application into an integrated, commerce-aware business platform. I talked to several NetSuite VARs at the event, most of them were very excited about the comprehensive easy-to-use solution multi-channel commerce solution.

NetSuite’s ability to get both developer and creative partners for the SuiteCommerce launch bodes well, as these are the applications and services that will bridge the last mile for many customers.

SuiteCommerce currently offers good mobile capabilities to mid-market businesses. However, SMBs increasingly see that customer-facing mobile applications can help them grow revenue, attract and retain customers, and keep up with the competition. NetSuite should look at developing some core mobile apps that integrate with SuiteSommerce, these apps can me customized by the VARs and offered to mid-market business providing significant competitive advantage to the SuiteCommerce platform.

There has been a significant rise in demand for social networking capabilities in mid-market businesses. On the social side NetSuite has already enabled the platform for social networking. Several of the social solutions partners help complete the solution to provide a comprehensive social solution.

One question that remains unanswered, however (although asked by analyst Brian Sommer and explored in NetSuite SuiteWorld Part 1: The Big Points | ZDNet), is how NetSuite will help companies crunch through, manage and make sense the massive amounts of new, external and transactional data that they will be bringing in. While big data, HANA, Hadoop and in memory databases are still fuzzy concepts for many, major players (IBM, Oracle, SAP, etc.) will get better at articulating what it means–and their solutions. And as NetSuite turns further upmarket, the pressure will build for it to have a solid and well-crafted big data strategy.

April 2, 2012

IBM Smarter Commerce for Midsize Businesses – Future Trends

—by Laurie McCabe, SMB Group, in partnership with Brent Leary, CRM Essentials  

To help companies understand IBM’s Smarter Commerce initiative, the SMB Group and CRM Essentials are working on a series of posts discussing how technology is empowering today’s customer, and why companies have to change their approach in order to build strong relationships with them. This is the final post in the series.

Empowered customers are reshaping business today. They want a consistent experience between all channels.

They compare notes and instantly share. And they can champion a brand or sully a reputation with the click of a mouse. In response to these trends, IBM Smarter Commerce helps companies manage and adapt their commerce processes, putting the customer at the center of their operations.

For this post, we had the opportunity to talk to Alisa Maclin, Vice President, IBM Smarter Commerce Marketing. We asked her about IBM’s views on some of the more nascent trends in this area that may not yet be on the radar for most midsize businesses–but have the potential to create significant shifts in how companies conduct commerce.

Q. While it may have been difficult to predict how radically social media or the rise of smartphones and tablets would affect commerce a few years ago, what are some of the technology trends likely to have a dramatic impact on commerce in the next 5 years or so?

A: We believe that the speed of technological innovation and consumer adoption will continue to accelerate for the next five years and beyond. This acceleration is driving entirely new business models that are changing the landscape between buyers and sellers. The traditional models of B2B and B2C will need to leverage technology to continue to improve efficiencies, while adapting to new models such as Social and Facebook Commerce. The empowered and connected consumer is driving the “consumerization” of business and the empowered citizen is increasingly digitally engaged and networked. For small and medium sized businesses, the opportunity to embrace technology and the connected consumer is now.

Q: Is there a difference in what B2B and B2C businesses need to think about and do?

A: Yes and no, the lines separating B2B and B2C models are blurring. The empowered consumer looks for the same benefits of mobile and social technologies whether they are at work or at home or on the go. The result is a connected ‘consumer’ that has access to information looking to engage in new ways and do business both locally and globally to meet their needs.

B2B companies need to optimize their digital operations and transform how products and services are created, marketed, sold, delivered and serviced. For example, the influence of ‘self service’ is universal in both B2C and B2B, with 56% of customers demanding increased self service when they do business with a company, according to Forrester Research in 2011. And, B2C companies need to really look at mobile and social as a ‘must have’ to compete and win their customers and keep them coming back.

Q: In addition to the impact of emerging technology, what other trends–economic, social, regulatory, etc.– do you see happening in the future that will impact how companies buy, market, sell and service?

A: Economic realities affect how companies operate, especially across the value chain. As the number of supply chain partners increases, the need for accurate, time-sensitive information becomes more acute. Many companies will turn to business intelligence and analytics on key control point indicators, such as orders versus forecasts and inventory in transit versus in stock, to move from “sense-and-respond” to “predict-and-act” organizations.

From a regulatory perspective, product lifecycle traceability in consumer products and other industries is a growing requirement. As product lifecycle traceability in many industries is becoming a major concern, the use of smart devices is likely to become more prevalent for tagging products wherever they are, as well as the containers and modes that are transporting them.

Q: How do you envision these changes affecting midsize businesses? What should they do to prepare and take advantage of them?

A: These changes will impact businesses of all sizes. No business is immune, and those that think they are will find themselves at a disadvantage. Midsize businesses can start to put the customer – the empowered customer – at the center of their commerce processes by taking these steps toward Smarter Commerce:

  • Listen to their clients to better understand and anticipate customer behavior and turn insight into action.
  • Adapt their sourcing of goods and services with a focus on customer demand, and orchestrate seamlessly among their trading partners and suppliers to serve that demand.
  • Personalize marketing and selling to your customers as much as possible and keep them coming back for more.
  • Evaluate service processes and learn from customers’ behavior to predict and take action.

Q. Do you think Smarter Commerce provides midsize companies a way to level the playing field–by helping them to establish a “virtual presence” in other countries without the physical infrastructure or physical presence?

A: Yes, in a flat world and global access at our fingertips – companies of any size can compete to win. But, just putting a virtual presence out there will not be enough. The key is customer satisfaction, which is tied directly to profitability. Data shows that for every customer who complains of poor service a company loses 10. And, it costs 6 to 7 times more to gain a new customer than to keep an existing one.

The way to stand out will be to incorporate customer-centricity into all your commerce processes. This is not a new concept… but in today’s marketplace it is the difference between thriving and going out of business.

Q: What are some of the things IBM is doing to help midsize companies stay ahead of the curve?

A: You’ll find that much of what we’re doing with our Smarter Commerce initiative is designed to help companies of all sizes to address these market changes. It focuses on three areas organizations need to address – customer insight, strategy and engagement. Companies need deep insight into customer behavior and needs – and the ability to anticipate and predict behavior to take immediate action. This insight, in turn, should drive the development and refinement of their customer value strategy – how to enhance, extend – and redefine value as viewed by the customer – and, the key here, is to do it profitably. And, finally, using that strategy to build customer engagement.

IBM works closely with its Business Partner network to drive this kind of change in the midmarket. For example, working with IBM Business Partner ExactTarget, Skymall was able to deliver more targeted e-mails using analytics-driven behavioral insights. This resulted in recapturing 3-5% of potentially lost revenue from abandoned carts, and helped Skymall to grow email-generated sales by 34%. Another example is RiverPoint, a systems integration consulting firm and IBM Business Partner. They helped The Society of Critical Care run more effective marketing campaigns. Combining IBM’s enterprise marketing management (EMM) software platform with RiverPoint’s best practices EMM consulting has enabled the client to experience a 2.4% positive change in membership attrition in the first year.

This is the final post in a series examining the evolution of the smarter customer and smarter commerce, and IBM’s Smarter Commerce solutions. For more information about how IBM Smarter Commerce is transforming midsize companies’ approach to commerce, visit http://www-01.ibm.com/finder/businesscenter/us/en/its_commerce_topic.wss%5D

February 6, 2012

Swimming with the Smarter Customer: The Speedo International Story

—by Laurie McCabe, SMB Group, in partnership with Brent Leary, CRM Essentials

Recently, Brent Leary and I had the opportunity to talk with Gareth Beer, Ecommerce Manager for Speedo International and learn about how Speedo International is applying smarter commerce philosophies and solutions to better serve its customers. We think Beer’s insights about Speedo’s experience in this area illustrate how important it is for a company to start with a strong vision for delivering a great customer experience–and how to execute to make that vision a reality.

Start with the Customer

Anyone that’s ever been near a pool let alone belonged to a swim team knows the iconic Speedo swimwear brand. But, we do need to supply a bit more background to put this post in context for our discussion.

Speedo International is a subsidiary of Pentland Brands with headquarters and about 200 employees based in Nottingham, UK, and operations around the globe and sales in 180 countries. Up until 2008, Speedo International had been a traditional wholesale business, with retailers serving as its sole sales outlet to customers. The company had no desire to compete with its retail partners, but consumers were clamoring for better access to the full range of Speedo products, in all sizes and colors–which they couldn’t always find in their local stores.

Bringing Speedo International online was an obvious solution to providing customers with better access, but Speedo faced a dilemma common to many companies in this position–the threat of potential channel conflict. But as Beer told us, “Speedo understands that many customers will use the site to search, browse and add to the cart and ultimately buy at a local store.” Speedo’s goal is to give customers a place to search, browse and find information–and then purchase the product wherever they choose.

Zero in on Objectives

In line with these goals, Speedo International needed to create a site with detailed photos, images, descriptions, fitting guides, FAQs and videos of all Speedo products; the ability to purchase; and customer feedback mechanisms. Speedo had a jump-start because Pentland, its parent company, was already running IBM WebSphere Commerce for all of its companies, making this platform the natural choice for Speedo.

So Speedo’s ecommerce team got busy figuring out what analytics capabilities they wanted. They were looking for a solution that “would let us go to another level of thinking, beyond looking at visitors and traffic. We wanted to really understand the customer, how they behave, how they think and how they liked to be interacted with, so that we could optimize marketing, retention and recruitment,” according to Beer. The company also wanted the flexibility to gather and analyze new sources of information as requirements evolved.

After investigating different solutions, Speedo International selected IBM’s Coremetrics for several reasons. First, Coremetrics was available as subscription-based cloud service, and pre-integrated with WebSphere Commerce, which meant that Speedo didn’t need to spend time on technical implementation and integration.

More important, Beer advised us, was that “all the data is in one place and we have a common interface across the 12 Coremetrics modules we use. Other vendors have similar tools, but with Coremetrics, we get the different capabilities we need, from measuring the effectiveness of pay-per-click campaigns to creating personalized interactions with top customers.

Create a Virtuous Cycle

Some of the many ways Speedo uses Coremetrics are to:

  • Track KPIs for sales, orders, visitors, stock and margins, and its consumer index score, which rates customer experience with Speedo.
  • Gauge the effectiveness of pay per click campaigns and retargeting efforts.
  • Get a clear view of who the customer is, how they behave, and how they like to be spoken to.
  • Set and meet service level agreements to pick, pack and dispatch orders.

As a result, Beer’s team can deliver feedback to business decision makers more rapidly. “We can quickly pick up on trends, what’s working, what’s not, what colors and styles people like or don’t like. Then the business can make better commercial decisions faster,” Beer told us.

Using the Coremetrics Lifecycle module, Speedo also gains a complete view of its top customers, which enables it to do things such as offer more personal attention and rewards, and encourage them to post more ratings and reviews. In turn, this gives Speedo more data to feed back to the business, turn top customers into advocates, and generate more business.

Speedo International has held fast to its pledge not to compete with its retailers on price. However, about 15% of Speedo’s customers pay a premium to buy on the Speedo site. Speedo’s research indicates that these customers buy on direct because of the exceptional customer service experience that Speedo delivers–facilitated to a large extent by WebSphere Commerce and Coremetrics.

A Work in Progress

Speedo International launched a Facebook page about 18 months ago. It uses Coremetrics to make sure that Facebook information jives with information on its estore, and to track how many people go to the estore from Facebook. Speedo can append Facebook images, URLs, etc. with tags which feed into Coremetrics. Using these tags, Speedo can also create special product offers, or have people vote on colors on Facebook, and see how many people come to the estore as a result of these campaigns.

One of the most compelling parts of Speedo’s strategy that Beer discussed with us is to “put any Speedo store on top of WebSphere Commerce, and have one place underneath as a common foundation for all stock and inventory management.” In 2012, Speedo plans to launch a new Facebook store, a new mobile store and create stores in key European countries with localized content, currency and language. The unified WebSphere Commerce foundation will ensure consistency and continuity of the customer shopping experience across these different sites.

Summing Up

Beer summed up his perspective by saying “the business is all about the customer. We need to be in as many channels as customers are in and align them as closely as we can–whether the customer is on smart phone, iPad or in a brick and mortar store. The goal is to have consistency and visibility across these channels and heighten our understanding of the customer.”

We couldn’t have said it better.

This is the fourth of a six-part series by SMB Group and CRM Essentials that examines the evolution of the smarter customer and smarter commerce, and IBM’s Smarter Commerce solutions.

February 1, 2012

What Can We Learn From This Year’s Holiday Season?

—by Brent Leary, CRM Essentials

In conjunction with IBM’s Smarter Commerce initiative, the SMB Group and CRM Essentials are working on a series of posts discussing how technology is empowering today’s customer, and why companies have to change their approach in order to build strong relationships with them. This is the fourth post in the series.

Christmas 2011 is a great example of Smarter Commerce in action. It’s a lesson in why businesses need to transform the way they market and sell their products and services. According to the National Retail Federation, retail industry sales for the 2011 holiday season increased 4.1 percent year-over-year to $471.5 billion, beating its expectation of 3.8 percent growth. And while the overall numbers probably made for a pleasant holiday for the industry as a whole, what was happening online was astounding:

  • US online holiday shopping season reaches a record $37.2 billion, up 15 Percent vs. 2010 – a rate of increase almost 4X higher than the overall rate for retail.
  • A post-holiday 2011 retail study from Kabbage, Inc. focusing on small-to-medium online merchants found 69% of respondents reporting increased sales. On average, study participants experienced a 32% hike in sales compared to the 2010 season.
  • As late as one week before Christmas 2011, one-quarter of consumers hadn’t even started holiday shopping. (Consumer Reports)
  • 93% of retailers have offered free shipping at some point during the season vs. 85% last year. (USA Today)
  • The 2011 US Holiday Season edition of the ForeSee Results E-Retail Satisfaction Index of the top forty Internet retailers increased by a point from 78 to 79 (on a scale of 1-100)
  • Almost one in four retail searches online on Christmas Day were made using mobile phones or tablet devices, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
  • The number of adults in the United States who own tablets and e-readers nearly doubled from mid-December to early January, according to a new Pew Research study. (New York Times)

Technology’s Impact on Behavior Is Accelerating

The world is changing. While still a fraction of the overall sales figures, ecommerce is growing at a much faster rate than traditional retail. And not just for the big retailers. As the Kabbage study illustrates, small and midsize online retailers enjoyed tremendous growth as well. This in part stems from the effect technology is having on the customer buying process, and the ability of companies to adapt their business processes to support online shopping.

When you think about twenty-five percent of shoppers not starting their Christmas shopping until after December 18th, it really hits home how the process of shopping has changed. Five to ten years ago most people still were going to multiple stores in search of ideas for things to buy, to find recommendations, compare items, and to look for deals, so they had to start their shopping efforts earlier. Now they can do most of that online – with a lot less time involved. And from the online retailer’s perspective, they leverage the latest technology not only to provide this information to online shoppers, but also to deliver the goods on time as well. Jewelry specialist Blue Nile offered free FedEx shipping guaranteed to arrive by Saturday, December 24, for all orders placed as late as 7 p.m. the day before (Friday, December 23). And other online retailers offered similar shipping capabilities.

This all adds up to shoppers more efficiently finding what they want, knowing the price they want to pay and having the confidence of getting it in time – with the added benefit of not having to wrestle with issues like parking, crowded malls, weather etc.. And as both companies and consumers accelerate their technology adoption, look for ecommerce to steadily increase its portion of the retail pie while customers leverage social and mobile to decrease the time and effort it takes to buy things.

Technology’s Impact on Behavior is Dramatically Affecting Expectations

One of the more interesting developments is how technology is impacting customer expectations as well as their behavior. Now that companies like Amazon can get items to us in two days for free, we expect this kind of service all the time. And while 93% of them did offer free shipping at some point during the holiday season, a study also showed 73% of consumers recently surveyed by MarketLive named “free returns” as a top promotion in determining their online purchasing behavior.

This is a great example of customers understanding what technology can do, and expecting vendors to find ways to leverage it to continuously improve their shopping experience. And improving the experience is crucial to keeping customers satisfied. According to the ForeSee study, satisfaction scores are important because a one-point change in website satisfaction can predict a 14% change in revenues generated on the web. And when they were highly satisfied with a purchase:

  • 64% of survey responders said they were more likely to buy from the same company the next time they needed a similar product;
  • 67% were more inclined to recommend the company to others; and
  • 65% felt a sense of ‘brand commitment’.

This illustrates that investing in improving customers’ web experience is a terrific way to build brand loyalty and capture the benefits of viral marketing (or something like this).

A Christmas Carol…

You really don’t have to look much further than Christmas Day 2011 to see how technology has changed customer behaviors and expectations. Digital content & subscriptions (digital downloads of music, TV, movies, e-books and apps) accounted for more than 20 percent of sales on Christmas Day. On any other day of the holiday season, that number was only 2.8%. And these numbers were driven by the rise of mobile devices, with the iPad leading the way on Christmas Day with a staggering 7% of all online sales coming through just that one device – accounting for 50% of sales that day, according to the IBM Coremetrics Benchmark.

While the numbers tell the story, it really hits home personally when I saw my parents (both octogenarians) sitting at the kitchen table Christmas Day – my father with his iPad, and my mother with her Kindle Fire. And my mother, having received the Fire as a gift, was reading an ebook she purchased Christmas morning… with an Amazon gift card.

This is a totally different story of Christmas than Charles Dickens told in the 19th century, but it’s a tale of what to expect in the 21st century when it comes to customer engagement. Because of technology and its empowering effect on customers, they are developing “great expectations” their vendors must live up to. Which means vendors must be smarter in their approach to smarter, more informed customers.

This is the fourth of a six-part blog series by SMB Group and CRM Essentials that examines the evolution of the smarter customer and smarter commerce, and IBM’s Smarter Commerce solutions. In our next post, we’ll look at key points to consider when planning a smarter commerce strategy. In our next post, we’ll look at IBM’s Smarter Commerce offerings to help illustrate how midsize companies can reshape the way they do business to meet the expectations and needs of smarter customers.

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