Friday, March 30, 2012

Google to open its own Android store online

Google's opening its own Android store online. There also has been some talk of Google opening a physical store as well. Do these decisions make sense for Google? I think the first does and the second does not.

The challenge with e-readers and tablets is apart from your technophile superusers most people need to get their hands on them to become confident that the experience is good and is worth it. An e-store doesn't do that. We've seen that Amazon is going to experiment with its own bricks and mortar, definitely a direct response to both the Apple store and the Nook store in Barnes and Noble locations. We've seen that Microsoft is opening stores that take their lead directly from Apple stores, featuring Windows Mobile devices among other things. While the clear trend has been toward internet-based commerce, in this case we have seen that there is value in physical showrooms. Other industries like automobiles and mattresses experience this factor as well, where there value in buyers being able to interact with the physical product before making a decision. What's different about Android is that Google already has a physical footprint in a whole lot of wireless carrier locations. Thousands of Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint stores are doing exactly that. It's hard to imagine Google putting enough of a footprint out there to materially affect Android adoption.

Online is another matter. Google has all kinds of advantages with its own store, such as a page rank of 10, better SEO knowledge than anyone else, free house ads in AdWords, 100% uptime, and local versions in dozens of languages and hundreds of countries. It's hard for even the likes of Apple to compete on an even footing. So I say the online store has lots of potential for Google, but brick and mortar probably doesn't make sense.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Government agencies demanding Facebook passwords: Here is why government should take a light hand on technology matters

The House of Representatives just killed an ammendment intended to make it illegal for employers to require that prospective employees hand over Facebook passwords before being hired, which apparently (and amazingly) is an actual practice at some government agencies.

Since it gives access to private correspondence, there's no fundamental difference between requiring an employee to hand over a Facebook password and requiring one for a webmail account like Gmail or Yahoo mail. And of course there's no fundamental difference between that and requiring employees to turn over the faxes they receive or the contents of their physical mailboxes for the employer's scrutiny.

I'm not a constitutional law expert, but I believe that the the Maryland Department of Corrections requiring an employee to hand over the contents of a personal mailbox under penalty of losing his livelihood might be a Fourth Ammendment issue. Witness the fact that we've had snail mail for centuries and employers are not making this demand on that medium (even the government). The difference is that Facebook is new, and therefore the people who are making these demands fundamentally don't understand what it is they're demanding.

This report is just the latest incident in a storied history of the U.S. government doing a bad job when it tries to meddle in technology. The unfortunate but undeniable fact is that since the advent of the personal computer, government policy has been unable to keep up with the progress of technology, leading to a long string of "doesn't get it" moments, typically involving trying to regulate or control what it cannot. Do we all remember the V-Chip?

When government is wise, it creates an environment that helps private industry and private individuals work out how to use technology best. When it is unwise, it makes ill considered decisions like this one.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tim Callan interview in AMA Marketing News on new gTLDs

And the hits keep coming.  Months ago, before I joined RetailNext, I gave an interview on ICANN's new gTLD initiative to the American Marketing Association's journal Marketing News.  It appeared February 29, and I just became aware of that fact.  It's a long interview (four pages), and it goes into great deal on the new gTLD initiative.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Why Amazon would want to become a brick-and-mortar retailer

Amazon's recent decision to open a physical pilot store in Seattle garnered a lot of attention, including confused head scratching from those who feel that being purely internet-based in a better model.  In response to this head scratching recently wrote this comment in a discussion in RetailWire:
It's pretty clear that the e-reader market is going to transform pleasure reading in a fundamental way and that whoever owns the reader has a massive advantage in this new book marketplace. And suddenly Amazon's virtual-only advantage becomes a disadvantage. Apple and Barnes & Noble are out there putting their e-readers in stores where people can hold them and play with them. That's the fundamental strategy behind Apple stores with all the company's products, and Apple stores outperform any other retailer on a profit per square foot basis by a factor of two to one. And Barnes & Noble gives big air time to Nook, putting the Nook store in the best place in the establishment. The Android tablet gets a lot of attention in the thousands of Verizon and AT&T locations across the nation and similar treatment from other carriers in other markets worldwide.  And even Windows Mobile appears in the twenty or so Microsoft stores operating across the nation today (with surely more on the way).
These examples show Amazon the power of brick-and-mortar retail in winning that e-reader computing platform which will keep earning and earning for years to come. I believe with the company's deep pockets and the amount of revenue that's at stake, that it's well worth Amazon's while to figure this one out.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Despite hiccups, successful Facebook commerce is just a matter of time

I recently posted this comment on RetailWire in a discussion of e-commerce sites on Facebook:
Any discussion of Facebook's affect on retail commerce needs to include the social marketing site's possible future as an actual locus of bona fide online shopping. Today Facebook serves as a marketing and customer service vehicle for most brands and retailers. But the company has made no secret of its desire to become a computing platform, an operating system essentially, just the same way that the web did. To realize this vision, one of the main things Facebook needs to conquer is to handle truly sensitive interactions entirely in its environment in a secure and trustworthy way. Online financial interactions (banking, securities trading, managing your retirement account, filing your taxes, etc.) and online retail are the two most obvious examples.
This isn't a small matter. Think about the truly transformative effect that the web had on retailing and related services. Remember travel agents? The internet killed them. Remember Tower Records? The internet killed it, too. And every consumer-facing retail segment in the world has been completely transformed by the world wide web. Facebook is going to throw its massive resources at this problem, and forward-thinking retailers will eagerly create storefronts to try and service the 850 million of us who visit Facebook every single day (although sometimes I suspect that 800 million of us are only there to play Words with Friends... ;-)
It's already started. There is a whole cohort of startups trying to provide robust online shopping and purchasing experiences in the Facebook environment. Surely they'll have their stumbling points, but just as surely they'll ultimately get it right. And when they do, Facebook will become that much more important to those who wish to sell their goods and services to the masses.
Shortly later I commented on a different discussion about some retailers closing their Facebook stores:
Don't confuse the tactical moves of specific retailers with the long term trend. Facebook as a platform is used by more than one sixth of the planet's population. That figure dwarfs the percentage of us who were internet-enabled back in 1995. Yet, at that time we didn't doubt the strength of e-commerce as a business model. The same will be true for Facebook storefronts.

There were winners and losers in the internet world as well. Remember when Yahoo supposedly had the search engine market all sewn up? That was before Google was even founded. Remember when was one of the biggest online retailers in the world? When's the last time you bought something on But just because some companies did better and some companies did worse, we don't doubt the trend.

The same will happen with commerce on Facebook. Big business there, waiting to happen. Maybe not for these individual companies, but that's not the point.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The disadvantage to customer surveys

I recently posted this comment (slightly modified) in response to a RetailWire discussion on the use of satisfaction surveys:

While the instinct to learn from customers and the market is a good one (otherwise we're just sitting around making things up), there are some definite disadvantages to customer surveys. Not only the irritation factor, but also surveys have sample bias (those choosing to take them are either super involved and therefore biased or pissed off about something and therefore biased) and suffer from the distortion that always accompanies self-reported information. That's one reason that more and more retailers are going out of their way to gather and learn from the huge quantity of performance data that stores inevitably generate. These data are not just sales at the register but also information about traffic to the store and behavior within the store. By correlating these data back to such factors as marketing and promotions, staffing, cyclicality, and even the weather, retailers have actionable intelligence they can use to improve performance without irritating their customers or suffering from the other disadvantages listed here.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Where Tim has been

Sorry, everyone.  My bad.

On December 19 2011, I started my new job as Chief Marketing Officer of a super exciting venture-funded startup called RetailNext.  RetailNext is like Omniture for brick-and-mortar stores.  Which is to say, RetailNext makes it possible to measure and analyze a retail environment to build an optimized shopping experience in the exact same way that an online retailer does.  We've had customers see store sales go up as much as 20%, at which point the ROI on a RetailNext installation is ridiculously high.

As you can imagine, it all has been very distracting.  But I am committed to this blog, and so I'm going to try to be a better poster.  Don't be surprised if my new retail-oriented world winds up giving me new background and opinions and thoughts than I had in the past.  And you'll probably wind up seeing some of them right here.