Have Amazon dropped the ball?

I often use Amazon as an example of a company that is a pioneer in the way that we use the web today. From an ecommerce perspective, our expectations of where elements are placed on the page have come from using the likes of Amazon for books, CD Wow (remember them?) for CD’s, Play.com for DVD’s and Ebuyer or Dabs for computer components. Most of the ecommerce websites today can thank these (and others) for researching and developing how we browse and shop on the web today.

Whilst the competition has floundered, with the closure of Play.com and before that the removal of it’s own products leaving it as just a market place, Amazon must have been rubbing it’s hands with glee. After all, their aggressive pricing policies and free delivery had us turning to them for more than just books, you can now buy almost anything on their website, either directly from Amazon or from a multitude of sellers in the marketplace.

But all that has changed.

No longer is Amazon the cheapest place to buy products, especially one of its staple products, CDs and DVDs. The shop itself has become a jumble sale, allowing the likes of you and me to add products at will, regardless of whether the same products exist on the site already (I know, I’ve done it). Not only that but the super saver free delivery option has gone unless you spend over an ever-increasing threshold, currently set at £20.

You could point to the drive towards getting more people to use the Prime service, which gives not only free next day delivery, but also access to the online streaming service, as a reason for the shift in policy on delivery charges. I can only guess that the powers that be want to take the money up front (currently £79 per year) for delivery that they previously gave away for free. After all they will need the money to pay for Jeremy Clarkson et al’s massive wages for the eagerly awaited Top Gear follow up reported to have been snapped up by Amazon Prime.

Having spent the best part of fifteen years going to Amazon to find almost anything on the web at a good price with free delivery, I now find myself drawn further towards that other stalwart of the web, EBay. There was a time when EBay was just other people’s junk, second hand tat that you could pick up for a few pounds in the hope that it is better than the pictures make it look. These days you can pick up almost anything, brand new, at a decent price (if you know where to look).

Like other market places you still get products that are vastly over priced, so it is worth shopping around to find the best deal and always check people’s negative feedback. And with PayPal (even though it has now split from EBay) you get the piece of mind that if the DVD you bought doesn’t turn up or turns out to be fake, you are protected as a buyer.

So have Amazon really dropped the ball? (No rugby World Cup 2015 pun intended) Or is their inflated product pricing and delivery policy really a masterstroke to move the company into being a streaming media provider (Prime Instant) rather than a physical product store?

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Have You Ever Had a Paper Round?

It might seem like a bit of an odd question to ask at an interview for a web developer or social media manager within an advertising agency, but it is a question I have been asking over the years for a very good reason.

Firstly it isn’t really the question that is important, more the meaning. What I am really asking people is are you a self starter, did you do something when you where younger that set you apart from others, made a bit of money and showed that you are willing to work hard even from a young age.

Of course in a digital age when most people I know read the news online, through their smart phones, tablets or computers, there is less need for people to deliver newspapers. Indeed my wife used to deliver milk (and no it wasn’t a question I asked before I married her in case you were wondering), again showing at a young age it isn’t just newspapers that needed delivering. Not that you can consume milk online but you can buy it and have it delivered with your weekly shop making the daily milk delivery as rare as the paper boy.

These days I do get odd looks now from the twenty somethings who usually ask “what’s a paper round”. Maybe I will have to change the question to “have you ever had a Saturday job?” It would seem that most 16 and 17 year olds would say no, judging by the recent research conducted by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, suggesting that “Only one in five has a part-time job while in college or doing A-Levels”. The BBC newsbeat team have reported the reductions in their article here, which is what prompted me to write this post.

Although never a deal breaker, I can safely say that the overwhelming majority of people I have employed over the past 15 years have either had a paper round, milk round or some sort of work outside of their school / college time. Also speaking to people who are in positions of authority within companies, either clients or other agencies, I have found the a large amount of them will have done something at a young age, paper round, milk, round, working in a shop on a Saturday morning etc.

It has become more and more important as an employer to see people who have more than just academic skills, but also have real world employment skills too. Even graduates or placement students (working for a year as part of their degree) will have more valuable skills to an employer if they have done something, preferably to do with the job they are applying for, than those who just studied and got a better degree.

So I will be telling my kids, one of which is almost a teenager, to go out and find something outside of their studies that will help them in later life, you just never know who might be asking if you have ever had a paper round.

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Every Little Helps

I shop at Tesco’s for 90% of my groceries. I get my TV, phone and broadband from Sky. I use Money Supermarket to get my car insurance. I use my iPhone to entertain me from games to music to web browsing.

I do all this not just because it’s convenient, but in doing so I can save both time and money.

I’m sure I’m not alone. This is the way of the nation and probably most of the western world. Large organisations have adapted to and built around what the consumer needs. Sure, there is opposition. What about the independent traders, the experts, the local farmer? Most people agree there is a need to support these people but circumstances dictate how we live and really, why make life harder than it needs to be?

Of course I’m using this comparison to illustrate how integrated agencies operate and flourish in today’s financially tough, time-restrictive climate.

But, like the opposition to supermarkets and shopping malls, integrated is seen as a naughty word. Is a marketer seen to be lazy, weak or soft by going to one agency that can fulfil all their needs? Or are they busy, budget-conscious and focused?

The debate surrounding using either a specialist digital agency versus an integrated one has raged for many years and probably won’t go away anytime soon. What we have seen over the years is trends pointing first one way and then the other.

In the early days of the Internet there weren’t many specialist digital agencies so there wasn’t any choice, digital campaigns were done by advertising agencies or repro houses (remember them?).

Once there were enough people with Internet experience small, independent, digital agencies were born and the shift towards using these specialists for digital work was complete.

More recently there seems to be a shift back to the integrated agencies who can offer digital not only as a bolt on, but as a segmented, stand alone offering within the business. This is of course nothing new but there is a growing feeling in the industry that this is the way things are going and may be the way things stay.

The big question is why?

In the beginning digital only agencies were small niche businesses focussing on one thing, website design and build. This is long before you had to put any effort into online marketing to rank highly in Google.

The move from niche to mainstream happened quite quickly as the Internet took off and more businesses wanted a web presence. Good digital agencies then offered ancillary services including online marketing (Search Engine Optimisation and Pay per Click), email marketing and online advertising.

It has been this move from niche to mainstream that led the traditional advertising and marketing agencies to look at these businesses as a threat to their share of client revenue, especially with the increases we have seen in spend on digital activity over the past 10 years.

It makes perfect sense to use specialists where only a specialist can give the required results. However as a marketer it also makes more sense to keep your budget, timescales and more importantly your brand consistency in one place.

This is true not only of integrated campaigns, but also for individual projects too. I think it is safe to say that the majority of major brands now have their own website, be it good or bad, so are generally looking for campaign work rather than a complete digital overhaul or new build without any precedent.

What has been happening in recent years is that specialist digital practitioners, who have worked in pure digital agencies, are helping traditional advertising agencies embrace the digital ‘revolution’ by adding a digital capability to their offering. This allows clients to keep their campaigns in one place rather than having separate agencies for on and off-line projects.

Don’t get me wrong; there is a time and a place for everything and specialist agencies are no different. I do think those that will flourish at least in the short term are the niche agencies that offer services like Social Media and Search Marketing.

Both of these can be handled by integrated agencies that have the people and capabilities and will probably be swallowed up in the same way as traditional design and build has.

Having said all of this, some will be nodding in agreement; some will say that integrated agencies have been offering digital capabilities for a long time. This is very true and whilst some have always had their own specialists, a lot of them used to outsource the digital parts of campaigns to the niche digital agencies. Some of them still do.

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with that and is one of the other ways in which specialists will survive, by going back to being the niche design and build agencies that they started out as.

Integration can be seen as shorthand for choice, convenience and collaboration. It is the binding together of resources, knowledge and skill. It also brings consistency. With brands fighting it out across multiple channels, brand consistency is paramount.  In the current climate, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that if you can’t offer an integrated, collaborative solution then you are in danger of not having the ability to fully deliver the whole package.

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Recency of purchase

I will be talking a lot about email in the coming posts but wanted to share a thought on the recency of purchase when segmenting email data.

I have had a couple of instances recently where the marketing team really need to look at how long ago I purchased a product when deciding whether to email me about a particular product or not. These are both major brands who should really know better.

Take the first, Volvo. I bought a brand new XC90 4×4 a few months ago then within a couple of weeks got an email saying as a loyal XC90 customer I might be interested in a deal for a new one. The deal was a better one than I had just signed up for, insensitive yes, I would suggest it was poor segmentation of the available data .

The second is Curry’s the clicks and mortar electrical retailer. I bought a new 40? TV a couple of weeks ago and since then have had three emails about the sale, one even had the model I had just bought in, the last was just a generic email about how much you can save on a 40? TV.

Both of these purchases are large one off products that I probably won’t replace for a few years, so it does bring in to question how long ago did the original purchase take place before sending any form of communication suggesting you purchase a new one.

Segmentation of data is one of the most powerful tools available to the email marketeer and I will be writing about it later, but without taking into account the type of products and the propensity to purchase in the future, the message and communication strategy will be flawed.

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The Power of Links

You may not know this but links have become one of the most important weapons in the armory of the SEO specialist, why you may ask, well here is an example I have been using for a few years now.

Search for the term ‘click here’ in Google, and you will find the ‘Adobe Acrobat’ download page as the number one result, even though the page doesn’t mention the phrase ‘click here’ or the words once. This is because many websites use PDF downloads with a link to Adobe Acrobat – usually saying to download Acrobat Reader ‘click here’. So how does this happen and what does it mean.

There are two parts to this. Firstly the text click here is used as the link, referred to as link text and used by Google to match the link text to the content of the website.

But this doesn’t explain the click here scenario as there is no mention of it on the Adobe Reader website. For years people have spoken about the value of content, so if the Adobe Acrobat website doesn’t mention or talk about ‘click here’ why is it ranked first?

Here’s how it works. Someone once described the internet as one big voting system, the more votes you have the more popular you are, see links it to your website as a vote and you can see that the more links you have the more popular you are. Google likes popular websites so ranks them higher than others for specific phrases even if the website doesn’t have the content on their website.

Now unless you know millions of website owners who can put a one way link to your website with the link text of your choosing, it will be a little more difficult to get rankings purely on link text alone – it has been done for terms such as miserable failure for the White House website when George W Bush was president and is often referred to as Google Bombing.

Links are very powerful, there is little doubt about that. However at the end of the day, if the content of your website isn’t useful (Adobe Reader), or the subject of interest to a large number of people (George W Bush) then you are unlikely to have enough people to vote for (link to) you to make a difference.

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