On Trend: How Ecommerce Is Eroding Black Friday

Amazon might have just severely undermined the cultural relevance of Black Friday.

On Wednesday, the ecommerce giant announced its plan to start offering its Black Friday deals on Nov. 20 – a full week ahead of Black Friday. Amazon Prime members will be granted a half-hour earlier access to many deals than the general public. Facing pressure from Amazon’s aggressively proactive approach, traditional retailers like Best Buy, Toys “R” Us, Kmart, and Sears are all starting their Black Friday sales early this year so as not to be left out.

More importantly, as more and more people start shopping online and taking advantage of easier comparison shopping, most retailers are now offering the same Black Friday deals online, giving customers less incentive to visit the store. No more lining up for the doorbusters at Walmart this year, as the retail giant has opted to provide nearly all of its deals both online and in stores, with the online deals becoming available at midnight on Thanksgiving day, 18 hours before the stores open.  

Overall, the disruption ecommerce has caused what analysts call the “graying” of Black Friday, where holiday sales start earlier and are spread out evenly throughout the holiday, thus making Black Friday less relevant. For retailers, this means a longer holiday sales period that starts earlier. Some retailers, such as Amazon and Toy “R” Us, are offering their loyalty program members early access, which creates smart sales windowing to incentivize the shoppers.

Besides starting early and rewarding loyal fans with early access, retailers should also consider making a push for mobile shopping this year. Amazon, for example, plans to offer a slew of mobile-only deals in hopes of driving more consumers to its app. Using mobile-exclusive deals to incentivize more shoppers to download branded retail apps can help retailers establish a digital touchpoint on shoppers’ smartphones, allowing them to connect with shoppers on the go. Apps can also provide consumer data for retailers to learn valuable insights into consumer insights.

Ecommerce may be eroding Black Friday’s importance as the biggest annual sales event, but it is also what will help retailers to reach today’s connected consumers and stay relevant in the long run.


The Home Platform: Connectivity, Commerce, & Culture

In two weeks, Apple is expected to announce a new Apple TV set-top box, but this will be more impactful than just an upgrade to their “hobby”: the new device will serve as the cornerstone in Apple’s emerging IoT strategy. There’s a mounting battle for control of our homes, and entertainment plays to Apple’s home field advantage.

An Apple TV App Store will let a thousand streaming services bloom, and a new OTT slim channel bundle will debut in the spring. A key component of the entertainment platform will be a video-focused expansion of iAds, a turnkey solution for ads within any TV app, targeted using Apple’s rich user data. Entertainment will be the Trojan horse that gets Siri, HomeKit, and HandOff into our living rooms making the new Apple TV an always-listening hub, and providing a beachhead for connected devices within our homes.

After living with an Amazon Echo, I can attest to the significant appeal of an always-on voice interface. The Echo, and Alexa, are strong entry points into the home for Amazon, especially with an open API, and near-weekly updates to its capabailities. But because Amazon is operating largely outside the smartphone ecosystem, Alexa can’t send a text, or pause Netflix when someone calls — troublingly, she’s even disconnected from Amazon’s Fire TV. Apple and Google’s existing ecosystems will help, here, in ways that Amazon will struggle to match.

What Amazon does have, though, are millions of products, and Alexa can help you buy them. That’s convenient, but it belies Amazon’s even simpler vision for shopping, the Dash platform. Comprised of both a set of buttonsand an API, Dash allows you to purchase household staples with the tap of a button — a button which will eventually be subsumed into our devices directly, allowing them to re-order supplies as needed. It’s a critical component of our connected home which Amazon is uniquely positioned to deliver. But when coffee buys itself, brand loyalty takes on a whole new meaning, and CPG companies will need to spend mightily to acquire users up front, before a competitor becomes the default.

We also just gained some clarity into Google’s plans for the connected home. Despite having several TVproducts, as well as an entire line of home devices in Nest, Google has launched the OnHub wifi router, which also supports several connected home protocols. On is a new home brand for Google, with the Hub being the first product. With Nest providing ad-free, premium devices, On is free to experiment with lower cost options that are subsidized by advertising. It might work like Kindle Special Offers: pay full price, and use your network like any other, or have Google outfit your entire connected home at a discount, and allow On Hub to serve targeted ads based on the browsing behavior of each device on your network.

From fifty thousand feet, our admirals are moving their troops into position for the coming battle: Google wants to getting you and keeping you online, so the cornerstone of their home platform is a router. Amazon is tackling the home directly with the Echo, and through commerce with the Dash platform. And Apple, with a business built on taste and culture, is entering the home through entertainment. Notably absent is Microsoft, whose strategy whiplash with the Xbox One has left them without a foothold in the connected home, and Facebook, who will likely be content to ride Apple and Google’s coattails, at least for the time being.

With starting positions in connectivity, commerce, and culture, we’re about to witness a fierce battle to define the connected home, and, in a larger sense, what “home” itself will come to mean in the future.


A version of this story originally appeared on MediaPost IoT Daily.


On Trend: On-Demand Delivery Services Compete To Take Over Local Economy

The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that Amazon is quietly developing an Uber-like courier service using crowd-sourced drivers, which means your next Amazon order could be delivered to your doorstep by one of your neighbors. Regardless of whether this could help the Seattle-based ecommerce giant solve logistic problems while cutting costs, this is undoubtedly the latest development in the ongoing trend where on-demand delivery services from tech companies and startups compete to take over the local economy.

For better or worse, Uber pretty much set the precedent for a rollout of on-demand services that all share the same basic principle—using your smartphone to get things you want, when you want it. Start-ups such as Luxe, Washio, and Postmates are just a few examples of businesses utilizing this basic principle in order to make people’s lives more convenient. Luxe allows users to avoid the hassle of urban parking by ordering a valet to pick their car up and park it for them. Washio offers premium dry cleaning and laundry services delivered to your door. Postmates allows users to order any item that is carried in a store or restaurant and have it delivered.

On Monday, on-demand delivery service DoorDash partnered with Trader Joes and Whole Foods to deliver prepared foods like sandwiches and wraps, putting them in direct competition with existing on-demand services. As more delivery services enter the market, Uber may no longer be the dominant player. The company has hit a snag as it strives to expand beyond just a “transportation service”, getting pushback from companies like Apple and Starbucks who would rather look to a more established delivery service like Postmates to deliver its products.

This evolution is great for consumers, because it empowers them to request services at their fingertips. However, from a brand perspective, this could be a scare, as small brands try to stay afloat in a sea of delivery options. Control is taken out of the brands’ hands and put into the hands of consumers making it imperative for brands to explore different approaches to brand marketing.


Editor’s note: this report is updated on 6/17 to add in the Amazon news.

On Trend: Social Commerce Heats Up Again With “Buy Buttons”

It all started last summer with Facebook testing “buy buttons” in newsfeed ads, which Twitter quickly followed by rolling out its own “buy now buttons” in September. Neither really gained much traction in the following months, and the race towards social commerce dominance seemed to cool down a bit—until last month. During May, Mondelez International, Google Search, and YouTube all announced their plans to insert their own version of “buy buttons” into their respective digital ad products.

Flash forward to today, both Pinterest and Instagram are making a big push into social ecommerce. Just one day after Amazon “ripped off” its visual layout for its new product curation page Stream, Pinterest has fought right back with “Buyable Pins”. Partnered with Shopify and Stripe, Pinterest will soon let its app users to browse products and make purchases with a few clicks. Not to be outdone, Instagram is also beefing up its ad tools with the addition of “Shop Now” buttons, along with buttons for app installs and sign-ups. Instagram’s API for ad campaign management is also updated to add “interest and demographic targeting” to make it more appealing to marketers and brands alike.

We have long expected social networks like Instagram and Pinterest to enter the commerce market directly, instead of just driving traffic to retailers’ websites. Now that Facebook seems finally ready to scale up the ad offerings on Instagram, as does Google on its search platform and YouTube, brands need to figure out the platform(s) that best suits their needs among an increasing number of viable platforms. Brands should also start developing strategies for social ecommerce in order to translate the convenience of “buy buttons” and the network effect on social platforms into actual sales. And although it’s in its early stages, social commerce will be an important aspect of attribution, finally allowing brands understand how their marketing converts to sales.

On Trend: Tech Companies Improving User Privacy Measures

On Monday, Facebook announced that it has added support for PGP-encrypted emails, which will help encrypt the maintenance and notifications emails Facebook currently sends. This means that, theoretically, email services like Gmail and Yahoo won’t be able to scan those emails for data-collecting purposes. Moreover, the social network has also reportedly started testing Security Checkout, a new in-feed feature that will prompt users to check important security settings such as multi-device log-ins.

Similarly, Google unveiled a new ‘My Account’ page that aims to serve as the centralized hub for controlling all privacy settings across Google’s myriad of platforms and services. It also includes quick access to its Ad Settings tool , which allows users to easily customize or opt out of Google’s data collection for personalized ads.

Last October, we dissected the delicate balancing act of brands utilizing big data to add value without infringing privacy in a POV deck that centers on winning consumers’ trust. Therefore, it is heartening to see leading tech companies starting to respect user privacy with new services like these to provide better tools for security and self-management of personal data. All brands that collect data to gain insights about their audience need to take notes and act.

On Trend: TV Streaming Market Continues To Expand And Fragment

Three significant new developments emerged in the OTT market this past week as the TV landscape continues to evolve.

  1. Sling TV is coming to Android TV after Dish Network struck a deal with Google. As part of the agreement, Sling TV will offer new customers 50% off Nexus Player devices when they pre-pay for three months’ subscription.
  2. Netflix confirmed a new user interface on the web is rolling out next month. The new UI is said to be closer to what Netflix has been offering on mobile devices, which eliminates the slow scrolling carousels for content discovery in favor of larger, expandable thumbnails.
  3. Meanwhile, Comcast finally added support for HBO GO And Showtime Anytime for its Xfinity customers, after purposefully blocking the two premium channel’s streaming apps for years. However, the unlocked services will only work on Amazon’s Fire TV devices for now.

Taken together, these three news items not only prove the fragmenting effect OTT services have on the traditional sector of the TV business, but also points to the complexity within its own ecosystem. As TV content continues to move away from cable companies’ control towards web-based streaming services, brands would be wise to follow where the eyeballs are going.



On Trend: Is 4K Content The Future Of TV Streaming?

After years of buzz, we are finally seeing some major leaps in streaming video quality. The Ultra-HD TV from Samsung stunned the crowd at CES 2014, and Netflix started its push for 4K content in last October, for good reason: not only does 4K content mean a higher subscription fee, Netflix also leveraged it to promote its Open Connect Initiative, an effort to partner with ISPs in various operating markets to localize substantial amounts of traffic with open peering.

That said, there are still some legitimate obstacles keeping 4K videos from becoming the norm in over-the-top streaming. Besides the fact that most of TV sets currently in the market have yet to add 4K support, streaming high-definition video to millions of users also poses a complex challenge to the broadband infrastructure. Recent reports claim that the upcoming new Apple TV model will not support 4K video streaming, citing additional production cost and low consumer interest as primary reasons.

While it is easy to see why Apple may choose not to tap into the nascent 4K content market just yet, in the long run, as production cost wanes and internet speed continues to improve, Netflix might just be getting the first-mover advantage as the ultra-sharp new standard of the streaming experience in the near future.

Trends And Themes From NRF’s BIG Show 2015

The National Retail Federation’s (NRF) BIG Show comes fresh on the heels of CES, and we’re keeping tabs on key developments.

Policy Goals: Aside from the perennial calls to lower taxes, improve trade, and streamline the immigration process, the retail trade group is trying to pass the Marketplace Fairness Act. This would allow states to collect sales taxes from online commerce, which Internet lobbyist groups are averse to, for obvious reasons. It didn’t pass last year, but with a new Congress, the NRF is attempting to push it through again.

Largest Retailers: The NRF also published its annual list of the 250 largest global retailers, the five largest being Wal-Mart, Costco, Carrefour, Schwarz Group, and Tesco.

2015 Trends: 

  • Travel retail: Increased travel means airport retail is becoming more than just magazines and overpriced snacks.
  • Mobile retail: With the dual spread of mobile payments and location marketing, mobile retail is nowhere near the ancillary market it used to be.
  • Same-day delivery: More retailers are embracing the theory of “fast and nimble” over big boxes.
  • Retail as experience: The consumer journey needs to be consistent across all channels, and put a focus on personalization and lifestyle branding.
  • Disruption: Retail must embrace technology and innovation.

For a more in-depth look, check the NRF report.

Why Brands And Podcasts Belong Together

A guest post from our Creative Team’s Director of Technology, Jason Fried.

Unless you’re living off the grid, you’ve probably heard of, or listened to, “This American Life’s” (TAL) newest podcast, Serial, from TAL’s producer Sarah Koenig. The response has been unprecedented, passing even TAL in total downloads, and where audiences go, brands follow, with sponsor MailChimp reaping the benefits of sponsorship. Far from being a new trend, however, this model is really just a return to the early days of broadcast.

A brief history of 100+ years of radio

Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi invented the first commercial radio system at the turn of the century, and a few years later, a Brazilian priest made the first wireless broadcast of a human voice. But it took until 1920—decades after radio was first invented—for the first commercial radio stations to begin to broadcast in the US. By 1933, FM hit the scene, and during the Depression, radio found its way into homes across America. Families were spending their time at home, huddled around the radio, listening to the nightly news and all sorts of new serial broadcasting. There were dozens of programs in different genres, from mysteries and thrillers to soap operas and comedies.

The world was ripe for this type of entertainment. Families were having dinner together and, after, spending time in their sitting rooms, listening to radio, waiting to hear what Orson Welles had cooked up for them. They talked about it at work, at the bar with their friends, and at family gatherings. The medium united Americans: for the first time, we were able to consume the same programming, no matter where we were.

As programming became more elaborate, costs went up and revenue sources were needed, leading to the birth of advertising on the radio. The first “soap operas” were broadcast during day time slots aimed predominantly at housewives, and as you may have already guessed, included ads for soap and other household products. Ad spots were often performed by the cast or the radio hosts, and often perceived as endorsements by the shows themselves. 30- and 60-second spots started appearing in the late 30’s, and by the end of the Second World War, it had grown into a mature segment of the ad industry.

After the second World War, everything changed: radio made its way into cars, while TVs in homes skyrocketed. As a result, stations started programming content that was easy to listen to no matter what time you tuned in. This was a drastic change in the way that stations began to think about content ,  and it had the advantage of being cheaper. No longer was there a need for actors and folly—a few hosts in a small studio could talk the morning away for a captive audience of drivers and workers. Music and talk radio ruled the airwaves because you could start listening at any time without the feeling of missing out, while soap operas and other serialized content moved to the television.

Enter the podcast

And for 60 years, this was the lay of the land. Music made its way from vinyl, to tapes and Walkmen, to CDs and disc players, and finally, to mp3s and mp3 players, while radio stayed largely the same. In 2000, however, the first ‘podcasts’ made their way onto the web and into mp3 players. By 2004, podcasts had become formalized (and even part of the iPod menu system) and slowly grew as a way for both amateurs and professionals to distribute radio over the internet. Before long, most news organizations were distributing their content in the format as yet another way to capture their listeners’ time.

Ten years later, you can get pretty much any audio information or content you want, when you want it. Podcasting and mp3s transcend space and time in the same way that DVR changed the way we consume television. “Radio” is no longer something that exists to tune into, but a format that, like music, I can take with me and listen to when it suits me. The same way that having radio in the car changed programming, this will change what type of content creators will make.

Serial is just one of the first examples—in the last few months, talk about podcasts has reached a fever pitch. Every day I hear more and more people talking about their favorite podcasts and sharing recommendation with friends. Serial has definitely helped the medium explode — there’s even a podcast, nay, two podcasts, about Serial. Podcasts about podcasts? Yeah. That happened—in addition to a podcast industry newsletter that just started called Hot Pod. But just like early radio programs, these podcasts have a revenue problem. Though they don’t require the same amount of infrastructure, they do need money.

How brands can participate

In other words, we’re back where early radio broadcasters found themselves. While some podcast producers like Roman Mars (founder of the Radiotopia network of podcasts) and Alex Blumberg (Startup) have gone directly to listeners for support, others are turning to traditional advertising formats like sponsorships. Both Mailchimp and Audible have been early adopters to sponsoring podcasts, seeing value from the plugged-in demographics of the medium.

Not all brands are as comfortable with the medium yet, but there are some very simple guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Targeting: There are literally podcasts about everything: muscle building, philosophy, comedy, cycling, you name it. As a result, it allows for very specific targeting and allows your brand to connect with a passionate audience.
  • Scale: The podcast audience in conglomerate is large, for instance, but each show’s audience tends to be small, albeit very focused. Companies looking for scale should think about scale in terms of exposure over time: you may have a smaller base, but you have an audience that keeps tuning in.
  • Format: Podcasts are an ideal medium for native ads. Listening to Startup recently, I loved hearing Alex Blumberg explicitly tell his audience that the sponsored part of the broadcast was beginning as he interviewed the CMO of his sponsor, Mailchimp.

Podcasts are a great opportunity for brands who want to remain relatable to niche audiences and see real brand lift. It seems we’ve come full circle from the early days of radio.

Image: Apple


On Trend: Digitally Enhanced Experiences Are Taking Over Live Events

Attending a live event, such as a game or concert, is a unique experience, but increasing costs and crowd-induced inconvenience have driven more consumers to watch from the comfort of their living rooms.  In order to lure fans—especially younger generations—back to venues, event organizers and venue owners alike are pushing for live experiences enhanced by mobile and location-based technology.

When designing a digital experience to complement a live event, the first step is to identify whether the event is more location- or time-dependent. Although both types rely on widespread smartphone usage, a strong WiFi connection, and proximity technology like beacons, the user experiences they offer can differ significantly:

  • Location-dependent apps work great for events that happen frequently in a specific venue , even if the audience changes each time. This is best shown in the VenueNext app for Levi’s Stadium, home to the SF Giants. The app boasts features that cover everything from digital tickets and parking passes to instant replays on smartphones and beacon-enabled seat locating. The app also offers convenient services such as mobile food ordering, in-stadium navigation, and real-time updated queue length, all of which encourage spending on concessions and merchandise, thereby boosting revenues for the venues.
  • Event-based apps are better during events in which the audience stays the same throughout its limited yet intensive time frame, as in the case of conferences or music festivals. Therefore, organizers typically design digital experiences that are heavy on notifications, event streaming, and social interaction. The SXSW GO app, for example, provides the users with personalized schedule building, event audio streaming enabled by SoundCloud, and a geo-fenced SXSocial network connecting thousands of its attendees.

Despite the differentiation, digitally enhanced tools are slowly but surely changing the way people experience live events, which opens up new opportunities for event organizers and brand sponsors to connect with the audience.