Assessing The Pillars of Modern Digital Infrastructure

Assessing The Pillars of Modern Digital Infrastructure

Seeking to better understand customer experience expectations of digital commerce, Avalara commissioned business intelligence platform PSFK to research key trends and technologies along the purchase journey. The resulting five-chapter report features Avalara customers, partners, and thought leaders.

What did we learn?

Consumers expect retailers to have ecommerce and mobile capabilities. Their expectations are high; they bank on researching each stage of the purchase journey online. Real-time accuracy and transparency are essential, as is a seamless experience.

There’s a lot at stake. Global ecommerce totaled more than $3.5 trillion in 2019. By 2023, online retail sales in the United States alone are expected to reach $969.7 billion.

To succeed in this increasingly crowded field, retailers must deliver an exceptional customer experience at all stages of the customer journey, from discovery to post-purchase support. Technology is a key component of success, helping to build trust and therefore loyalty.

Mobile has elevated expectations: Consumers count on retailers to deliver a true omnichannel experience, tailored to them, no matter how they shop. Retailers that sideline mobile risk alienating a growing portion of the market. Mobile sales have doubled since 2015 and are expected to account for 44% of ecommerce by 2024.

In short, retail today must be “digital-first, fluid, and agile,” as the current pandemic has highlighted. In recent months, retailers reliant on physical stores alone were often unable to connect with customers. Those with an established online and mobile presence could meet consumers where they were — at home or on the move.

No matter the circumstances, the more agile a retailer’s overall digital infrastructure, the better the experience for customers passing through these five stages:

  • Discovery
  • ‘Store’ experience
  • Shopper education and assistance
  • Payment and tax
  • Fulfillment and support

Discovery

Consumers shop across all digital platforms in today’s hyper-connected world, including through social channels as well as through Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri. Managing customer relationships is key. A dynamic outreach with visual search streams and shoppable content helps retailers rise above competitors. 

‘Store’ experience

To convert browsers to buyers, ecommerce retailers need more than an online storefront; the whole shopping experience must be streamlined, secure, and increasingly, curated. An adaptive homepage and social shopping options help provide the experience consumers crave, as does augmented retail. People respond well when given the option to virtually try on products.

Shopper education and assistance

Online shoppers are increasingly coming to expect personalized support at key moments, as they might receive in a brick-and-mortar store. They value well-timed expert opinions. Authentication tools and Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered chatbots help customers navigate product catalogs and retailers understand when human interjection is necessary.

Payment and tax

Checkout must be seamless on the front and back end. Customers are one step closer to a purchase when their payment information is automatically (and securely) provided. Other best practices include offering one-click purchase options, digital layaway options, and in-cart optimization. Currency conversions aid cross-border sales, as do accurate tax and customs calculations. To foster trust, reveal shipping, tax, and other applicable charges up front.

Fulfillment and support

What happens after a customer clicks “Buy now” is an integral part of the customer experience. Flexible delivery options, including in-store pickup and returns, are a must in the age of near-immediate gratification. AI and machine learning can help streamline logistics and reduce costs. Customer loyalty can be fostered with product setup, ongoing support, as well as programs that encourage customer evangelization.

Exceed expectations

Exceeding expectations is key to successful digital commerce. Gain deeper understanding. Get the report here.

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Welcome to BORN’s Partner series! Through this program we look to highlight thought leadership from our vast array of technology partners. Follow along using the hashtag #thisisBORN and #BORNpartner!

Today, we’re thrilled to call attention to our longtime partner, Avalara. Avalara utilizes the PFSK platform to help assess which components of modern commerce infrastructure are some of the most essential. We hope you get a broad overview in this highlight post and explore deeper at Avalara’s site for the full white paper.

The Benefits of Centralizing Your Business with an ERP System: Part II

The Benefits of Centralizing Your Business with an ERP System: Part II

We return here to flesh out a Part II for our article, The Benefits of Centralizing Your Business with an ERP System. So far, we’ve explored how centralizing ERP functionality has become critical in today’s commerce space. Rather than launching multiple applications and burning through valuable company resources on human error and mistakes, a single elegant ERP solution saves both time and money. 

We’ve now seen this at play in business analytics, Key Performance Indicator (KPI) tracking, project management, resource management and other metrics, and gaining operations visibility across the organization. An effective ERP solution puts all of these items in one central location.

ERP Solution Features

There are other important features that a centralized ERP solution should offer. In addition to business metrics, KPIs, and project and resource management, executives will want to have a clear grasp of profitability and a firm’s bottom line through revenue recognition tools along with utilities for billing and time and expense management. Other tools include features such as work-in-progress (WiP) management and estimate management.

One of the key benefits of centralizing these operations with a single solution is that executives and project managers no longer need to waste time toggling between multiple applications while risking data integrity. Another benefit concerns the streamlining of operations. Without an integrated ERP system, obtaining useful business data such as profitability can be a lengthy and convoluted process—drawing from expenses, billing, revenue, and other sources—that ultimately puts a strain on your company’s bottom line.

Effects on Today’s Companies

Such strains can be more than trivial in today’s commerce landscape where even the slightest inefficiency is magnified as your organization scales. What may seem like a small compromise, even at the executive level, once multiplied across your business this can become a significant detriment to your profitability and, in the end, your company’s success. Centralizing your firm’s ERP solution anticipates growth and changes in operations, especially as they concern the rapid pace of today’s commerce landscape.

One of the key terms introduced in our first article on the benefits of centralizing your business via ERP was the Agility Era, a phrase that describes the advertising industry’s recent turn toward flexibility and streamlined production over stable client of record relationships. 1

Here, as in our previous discussion, this term acquires significance because of the fact that an integrated ERP solution will help to navigate this commerce landscape in crucial ways. As opposed to stringing together multiple applications to handle key tasks, an integrated approach saves valuable time and resources that are crucial in adapting to the Agility Era.

Recognizing revenue—and driving profitability through the smart management of resources—is a key part of the success of companies in today’s fast-paced and flexible environment. Here we’ll look first at how an integrated ERP solution can help drive profitability by staying on top of expenses, billing, and revenue. Clean and clear access to this data is a must for executives and reap the rewards of doing it all one place.

Tracking Your Bottom Line: Revenue Recognition, Expense Management, and Billing

One of the most important challenges facing executives and managers today is the ability to track your bottom line. Revenue recognition is one art of this important puzzle, while expense management and billing play important roles as well. 

Prior to comprehensive integrated ERP solutions like Oracle’s NetSuite, firms typically monitored revenue through manual spreadsheet entries characterized as “manual, error-prone, and a time-consuming process.” An integrated ERP solution automates this process, leaving little room for human error.

Revenue Recognition

Using manual practices, alternatively, leaves companies vulnerable to calculation lapses and misinterpretation of important revenue data points. Furthermore, with the introduction of ASC 606, which addresses the recording of revenue garnered from customer contracts while governing how businesses report specific details of those customer contracts, standards compatibility is a chief concern.

As the importance of such standards increases, companies will need to remain more vigilant than ever to ensure the accuracy and diligence of their revenue recognition processes. So, how can an integrated ERP solution overcome shortcomings and pitfalls introduced by human error to provide full visibility into and recognition of revenue?

The key to rigorous revenue tracking lies in a combination of flexibility and robustness. Ultimately, a comprehensive revenue recognition engine like the one included in NetSuite provides a fully automated revenue recognition process while ensuring that firms meet important requirements such as ASC 606. 

This engine spans from simplistic revenue recognition to more complex rules defining how and when revenue should be reported. Specific events such as milestone completion or billing can be used to trigger revenue recognition in an advanced integrated ERP solution. Rules such as these can be defined at the Statement of Work (SOW) level or the project level. 

One important feature of more advanced and integrated ERP solutions, like NetSuite, lies in the ability to decouple such rules from billing. For instance, an executive may want to know revenue data based on the percentage of completion of all projects, taking into account numbers beyond those generated through billing and expenses. 

Billing and Expense Management

Nevertheless, billing and expense management are also important dimensions of managing your company’s bottom line. One of the important features of an integrated ERP solution is the ability to combine these metrics into revenue recognition and project planning. As with revenue recognition, billing and expenses should be automated and included as core functionality in an effective ERP solution.

The same kinds of pain points found in manual revenue recognition processes rear their heads in haphazard billing systems that are not automated or include error-prone, human-executed steps toward receiving visibility into billing.

Another difficulty lies in systems that are too rigid and allow only one billing method for all clients. Instead, an integrated and robust ERP solution provides a single system with multiple billing methods, along with an ability to define and combine billing rules at the project level. Such an approach—which, as we’ll see, is similar for Work-in-Progress and estimate management—is crucial for project managers across the eCommerce industry.

ERP for Work-in-Progress (WiP) and Estimate Management

Two important components of an effective ERP system involve the management of WiP projects and the generation and delivery of project estimates. WiP management, which will be of interest to controllers, project managers, and A/R, concerns the ability to monitor and regulate current projects that are somewhere between project launch and completion. Estimate management, which is mostly a concern for project managers and accounting, allows a company to manage estimate versions, send working estimates to clients, and for accounting to track approvals and ongoing work.

WiP Management

WiP management can be segmented into three main areas of engagement: visibility, enforcement and control, and automation. As for visibility, with an effective ERP solution, project managers should be able to receive an informative overview with data on each WiP. This includes, for instance, a “WiP aging report,” which shows how long each work-in-progress has been in such a state along with anticipated releases. Auto-releasing and a portfolio-based display of WiPs are two other important forms of visibility included in an integrated ERP solution.

Another level of WiP management concerns enforcement and control, in which compliance and hierarchy come into play. How is the workflow and approval process handled for a project? Real-time integrated reports are important for knowing the exact status of WiP projects. 

As many project managers know, it would be disastrous to isolate this data in proprietary spreadsheets, especially if such platforms remain on local or unshared repositories. An integrated ERP solution ensures that WiP enforcement and control are shared laterally across your firm. Finally, automation ties back into release management, revenue recognition, and other tasks.

Estimate Management

Prior to releasing a WiP—in fact, before a project is even underway—an effective ERP solution will allow project managers to control all of the different versions of an estimate to be presented to a client. The key areas of interest for estimate management include pitch visibility, version control, and forecasting and reporting. 

As for pitch visibility and version control, an integrated ERP solution provides insight into pre-sales costs, while different versions of an estimate are shared and updated in real-time across your company. Finally, forecasting can allow collaboration between creative directors, account directors, and project managers to ensure an accurate understanding of revenue and profitability.

Conclusion: Putting the Puzzle Together

As many executives and project managers can attest, the individual tasks required to run a commerce solution can feel like a complicated set of puzzle pieces. When considering elements like revenue recognition, profitability tracking, expenses, and billing, these elements can seem like an unwieldy set of incongruous elements that don’t seem to fit any pattern or ruleset.

Furthermore, executives often sense that even when one department gets a piece in the right place, it takes a while for the rest of the firm to follow suite. This “a while” is no small concern. In fact, with poor management, such disconnects can cause crucial losses and drops in profitability.

Integrated ERP: The Right Fit

This is where an effective and integrated ERP solution becomes one of the most important decisions that a firm will make. There are of course many dimensions that figure into such a decision. But as we’ve seen throughout this two-part article series, one of the principal concerns should be the centralization of functionality into a single ERP solution. 

Whether concerned with billing, expense management, WiP management, estimate management, business analytics, KPI tracking, resource management, or profitability and bottom lines, the key to an effective ERP solution is that this information is shared and updated in real-time. Only with a truly integrated solution can your company put all of the puzzle pieces together and excel in the fast-paced and competitive commerce landscape of today.

For more information surrounding BORN Group’s ERP practice, please visit here.

Footnotes

1. https://www.forbes.com/forbes/welcome/?toURL=https://www.forbes.com/sites/onmarketing/2014/08/27/how-a-creative-cfo-will-save-advertising/&refURL=&referrer=#2607740412ea

2. https://view.pointdrive.linkedin.com/presentations5e7289ae-cbb3-4f8c-9581-1c7af9e58433/preview/cab338b3-acc9-4c8d-a3ed-d32fec84dee0?auth=48e9df2d-f52b-4b02-af8c-93c80239e39f

3. http://ww2.cfo.com/revenue-recognition-accounting-tax/2018/03/asc-606-whats-impact-far/

4. https://view.pointdrive.linkedin.com/presentations/5e7289ae-cbb3-4f8c-9581-1c7af9e58433/preview/cab338b3-acc9-4c8d-a3ed-d32fec84dee0?auth=48e9df2d-f52b-4b02-af8c-93c80239e39f

5. https://view.pointdrive.linkedin.com/presentations/5e7289ae-cbb3-4f8c-9581-1c7af9e58433/preview/b68b1261-573b-41bb-b4e6-1934726d7b85?auth=48e9df2d-f52b-4b02-af8c-93c80239e39f

6. https://view.pointdrive.linkedin.com/presentations/5e7289ae-cbb3-4f8c-9581-1c7af9e58433/preview/b68b1261-573b-41bb-b4e6-1934726d7b85?auth=48e9df2d-f52b-4b02-af8c-93c80239e39f

7. https://view.pointdrive.linkedin.com/presentations/5e7289ae-cbb3-4f8c-9581-1c7af9e58433/preview/1ebef84d-f911-4108-af84-54b1ddd6c47f?auth=48e9df2d-f52b-4b02-af8c-93c80239e39f

Best Practices: Why Search Engine Optimization Belongs in Every Marketer’s Toolkit

Best Practices: Why Search Engine Optimization Belongs in Every Marketer’s Toolkit

Searching online via a browser is the main way potential customers discover a brand’s or organization’s website. Making it easier for them – with paid ads or otherwise – to find your site is one of the most effective ways to draw more traffic and awareness to your site. 

Designing, writing and coding your website with this in mind can not only increase the volume but also the quality of visitors to your site. 

A savvy digital marketer who cares about one of the first touchpoints in the customer journey needs to have a search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO) strategy in his toolkit. 

Search engine marketing

Search engine marketing is the branch of digital marketing that relies on both paid advertising and organic techniques that don’t involve payment – the latter falling under the term SEO – to increase the visibility of websites in search engine results pages (SERPs). Globally, Google is the leading search engine by far, accounting for over 91% of searches, followed by Bing and Yahoo!1. Google also owns Ask, the sixth-largest search engine. Baidu and Yandex are the most popular search engines in China and Russia, respectively, making up around a percentage each of searches worldwide.

Besides SEO, SEM encompasses the following: paid inclusion or sponsored listings placed within the results of search engine queries using Google Adwords or Bing Ads, pay-per-click (PPC), article submissions, and search retargeting. With search retargeting, display ads target searches made on other sites by customers who have never visited your site. 

Getting on the first page of SERPs

SERPs include paid ads on top as well as organic results below them in an ordered list. Traffic that comes through SEO are referred to as ‘organic search results’ to differentiate it from traffic that comes from paid search. The higher up on the list your website can get, the more traffic it will receive. 

A Sistrix study that analyzed over 80 million keywords and billions of search results found that the first organic result in Google search has an average click-through rate of 28.5%2. The second and third positions have only a 15% and 11% click-through rate respectively. The tenth position in Google has a measly 2.5% click-through rate. Rarely does anyone even click to the second page. 

What is SEO and how does it work? 

Search engine optimization (SEO) sounds as though it’s mainly about the search engines. Search engines do play a starring role as the medium through which the search is conducted and routed and their algorithms used to direct the customers looking for information. An example is how Google ‘crawls’ through the web to find and analyze new content, pages or websites to index them even before you search one word. Then its famed algorithms – which is tweaked regularly – matches the searches that users put in to match them to the entries in its search index3

However, SEO is also about your customers. It is just as pivotal to understand what they are seeking, what the words they use when they seek it and the type of content they consume. It is using that knowledge to differentiate your website from that of your competitors’ so that potential customers are led to yours instead of theirs.

SEO techniques

SEO techniques to optimize content can be divided into three categories: on-page, technical and off-page.

On-page SEO relates to the content on an individual page or website.

  • Identify and optimize keywords and opportunities
    • Research the best terms and phrases (keywords) that might generate traffic to your site as well as their intent. Creating and publishing high-quality content that includes those target keywords in all the right places is the next step. 
    • Copywriting for the web keeping SEO in mind uses writing techniques such as the inverted pyramid of information with the conclusion first, ‘chunking’ text to keep readers interested and uses calls to action and instructions.
  • Metatags are snippets of text which are included in the source code of the webpage that help search engines understand the content. These need to be reviewed and updated over time.

Technical SEO involves the technical elements of a website beyond content. It not only improves the site’s readability for crawlers but also improves the user experience, so it is doubly important.

  • Speed and site performance The speed at which pages load, how pages respond and if they are mobile-friendly or relevant to local or international users are directly connected to user engagement. With voice search exploding, being optimized for voice is becoming more important too.
  • On-site coding implementation This relates to the placement of elements on the page as well as the HTML source code. On-site SEO helps search engines as well as users understand what a page is about and identify it as relevant to the search query or keywords.
  • Ranking report & tracking There are a variety of tools that track metrics such as a rise or drop in the value of keyword rankings and SERP features such as snippets and Knowledge Graphs, 

Off-page SEO is about amplifying the authority and influence that your website has in relation to other sites. 

  • Link building High-quality links that point to your site from relevant and authoritative sites show search engines that your website is a trusted source, that it is established and valuable to many others. 
  • Social optimization also involves using social media outlets and communities to generate awareness for your site and your products and services.

As you can see, there are many moving parts to an SEM/SEO strategy. As an unpaid alternative, SEO may be cost-effective, but it is very tricky to get right. The strategy also needs to be monitored and reviewed constantly. This is why a site redesign is the ideal time to involve an SEO expert to optimize your website for search engines. 

Find out more about BORN’s expertise in digital marketing and behavioral experience.

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1. Search Engine Market Share Worldwide, Dec 2020, Statcounter Globalstats, https://gs.statcounter.com/search-engine-market-share

2. Why (almost) everything you knew about Google CTR is no longer valid, Sixtrix, July 14, 2020, https://www.sistrix.com/blog/why-almost-everything-you-knew-about-google-ctr-is-no-longer-valid/

3. How Google Search works, Google, https://www.google.com/search/howsearchworks/

Brick and Mortar: From the Ether to Real Estate

Brick and Mortar: FROM the Ether to Real Estate

It will be interesting to see the data around 2020’s eCommerce adoption numbers given how people are panic buying staples such as toilet paper, pasta, yeast, hand sanitizers, vitamins and hair dye, while travel has been curtailed and over 250,000 retail outlets shuttered in the US alone.

If anything, brick and mortar stores have become an even more key part of the fulfillment process during the COVID-19 situation where logistics snarls have made same-day and next-day delivery a complicated proposition. 

For eCommerce businesses, it will be imperative to have a brick and mortar location for the highest conversion rates, given that in the US, online spending represented only 16% of total retail sales for 2019, according to a Digital Commerce 360 analysis of Commerce Department retail data. Amazon’s share is a third of that. 

eCommerce giant Amazon realizes the value of retail stores – it bought grocery chain Whole Foods in 2017 for US$13.4billion. Using insights gained from that purchase, Amazon now operates seven kinds of retail stores – Amazon Go cashierless groceries and convenience stores, Amazon Books bookstores, Amazon Pop Up themed kiosks,  Amazon 4-star general merchandise stores and Amazon Fresh Pickup grocery pickup locations.

While those numbers are on a trend upwards, from a global perspective, pure-play eCommerce is the exception, not the rule.

While Bonobos, which started out in 2007 and is now owned by Walmart, gained some success offering menswear as a purely online business, it took the opening of a trial space for shirts in 2011 in the lobby of its New York headquarters for business to explode.

One of the biggest and most well-known examples of a purely online business that moved into brick and mortar has to be Warby Parker, which upended the business of purchasing eyeglasses online with its direct-to-costumer (D2C) play in 2010. Experimenting first with popups and then stores on wheels – decked-out buses – the company opened its first physical store in 2013, and surprised even themselves with the overwhelming response. The founders have said that the first few shops generated US$3,000 per square foot of sales, a number topped then only by Apple stores, and physical stores have remained the company’s biggest growth drivers. Since then, they have gone on to open a raft of stores in nearly 90 locations across 30 states in the US and Canada, each tailored to the local market with a custom and unified point-of-sale system. As they expand into contact lenses, the Warby Parker cross-channel strategy will employ more doctors and see all their retail stores equipped with eye examination suites.

Inspired by the ‘Warby Parker model’, D2C brands such as Allbirds, Glossier, Everlane, Casper and Away have disrupted the traditional sales channels for products as varied as shoes, makeup, clothes, mattresses and luggage. These DNVB (digital native vertical brands), all of which put their customer’s interests at the forefront, see physical stores as an extension or scaling up of their online presence, a core part of their omnichannel sales strategy to heighten brand awareness and unify the customer experience.

Not only that, bedsheet brand Boll & Branch has said that its “very profitable” physical store gives consumers the chance to touch products, a very important experience when shopping for a tactile product such as bedding. In-store average order value is said to be two to three times higher than that of purchases made online. No wonder pure-play online companies are racing to set up brick and mortar stores, mostly with a smaller footprint than the usual retail store in its class, despite the steep initial set-up investment.

Define the purpose of your stores

Stores are not only for sales. Digital retailers get to know their customers fairly well, with all the data they gather about the customers and their behavior on the site, but a store is a customer touchpoint like no other. DNVBs get to communicate their brand through another channel, while customers go to a nearby store to get a personalized, tailored experience or to trial products. Stores offer more effective pickups and returns. In-store staff become knowledgeable ‘guides’ to help them through the sales process, while receiving feedback, and their interactions provide learning and insights to make better marketing decisions. Bonobos physical stores are actually dubbed Guideshops. Products ordered there are directly shipped from warehouses to the customers’ homes, reducing the need for storage space.

Differentiate between online and off

The assortment of products offered as well as the customer experience could be different on the Internet and in stores. They use social and experiential touches that can scarcely be recreated online. Mattress company Casper opened “The Dreamery”, a so-called ‘nap store’ where customers can take a 45-minute nap for US$25. Furniture retailers Snowe or Burrow House, have a showroom model. Burrow House offers a  newly-opened space where customers can lounge, drink a coffee, watch movies, made videos of themselves and, of course, shop the displays. Beauty brand Glossier’s bubblegum pink stores, said to top Apple stores in revenue, are tailored to its millennial customers with communal tables for testing, a washroom with sinks and cleansers to wash off the makeup, and staff walking around with iPads taking orders for that instant gratification.

If your DNVB is considering adding on a large or small footprint retail location, there are a few things to consider:

Popups to test the waters or expand your reach

Popups are not a recent trend but remain a solid method to experiment and gauge market response especially when done in collaboration with an established retailer. They can be found within a traditional brick-and-mortar stores as a store-within-a-store, as a standalone kiosk or even a motorized vehicle like with Warby Parker. Such popups increase brand recognition or credibility when placed next to established brands inside stores, and gives shoppers a way to visualize them differently. The lower costs and risks of going this route are another factor in its popularity. Even if you have a physical store, you could consider pop ups as an alternative channel to get your products to travel.

Team up with tech

A recent study reveals that nearly 66% of shoppers check their smartphones in-store for knowing more about the product. As 5G opens up the way to a faster and richer surfing experience, online shopping via this channel will get even more pervasive and companies need to think about incorporating it into their sales and marketing strategies. Using analytics also helps you locate your stores where your customers are. Bluetooth beacons allow messages to be broadcast to customers’ mobiles within stores to aid conversion. POS systems reduces queuing time, while touchscreens can display offers, and enable customers to check stock availability or ask for help. 

Keep costs down but retail staff are valuable assets

While a low-inventory policy might be able to keep a store’s physical footprint down, many DNVBs realize that their retail staff as offering a unique competitive advantage compared to chatbots and artificial intelligence. Consequently, they are investing in training them specifically for their interactions with customers in their physical stores.

Online customers that don’t buy right away can be given an incentive to visit another channel, whether by way of a follow-up discount, scanning in a barcode for exclusive content, or giving digital customers a redeemable coupon to entice them into your physical store
According to CBInsight, since 2012, retail space occupied by brands that started online has grown by 1,000% in the top 300 malls in America.  A physical store might not result in a sale but it should be an integral part of a DNVB’s sales strategy – to keep abreast of modern customers’ shopping habits and engage them to create a cohesive and memorable customer experience where both online and offline channels work seamlessly together to clinch sales.