Category business

ICYMI: Google Updated the Test My Site Tool to Help Businesses Provide a Faster Mobile Experience

For quite some time, we have known that Internet users want websites to load quickly. In fact, in many cases, if the website loads too slowly, users won’t stick around.

Since Google constantly strives to improve user experience, it is not surprising that website speed influences how Google ranks your site. This is now true when users access your site from a desktop computer or a mobile device.

In order to make improvements to meet Internet users’ expectations when they are using a mobile device, and therefore improve your mobile search rankings, you need to know how well your mobile website is performing.

To assist in this effort, Google has updated a tool that measures the performance of your mobile website and then recommends how to make improvements.

Speed as a Ranking Factor

Back in 2010, Google announced it would use site speed as a ranking factor.

At the time, Google stated, “Speeding up websites is important – not just to site owners, but to all Internet users. Faster sites create happy users and we’ve seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there.”

However, until July of 2018, Google did not include speed as a ranking factor on mobile searches.

With the Speed Update, businesses now need to ensure that their mobile websites are fast as well.

According to an article on Search Engine Journal, “Now the speed at which a piece of content loads is a consideration when ranking mobile pages. Obviously the faster the better.”

The article states that this is the most important thing for SEOs and site owners to know about the update. However, the article also points out that the update will only affect really slow websites (i.e., those that take several seconds to load on a mobile device.)

The article also points out, “Relevancy is key, as Google always says. So if a slow loading page happens to contain the most relevant content, according to a user’s query, then it may still rank favourably in search results.”

The New and Improved Test My Site

In February of 2019, Jerry Dischler, Google’s VP of Product Development, announced the update to Test My Site on one of Google’s blogs.

“Because mobile is where most people turn when they want to know, go, do or buy, it’s important to deliver the kind of mobile experience that people expect today: one that’s fast, engaging and doesn’t get in the way of what they want to accomplish,” writes Dischler. “And because Google is deeply invested in the success of marketers and brands, we never stop looking for ways to develop and support new tools and innovations than can move the industry forward.”

“One of the mobile era’s clearest lessons has been that the foundation for any great mobile experience is a fast mobile experience,” Dischler continues.

To help businesses deliver a better and faster mobile experience, Google updated Test My Site to report the speed of both the entire site and individual pages, whether their site speed ranks Fast, Average, or Slow, and the potential impact of site speed on revenue.

Other key updates include a detailed list of recommendations to increase speed on up to five pages and a sharable report.

While Test My Site isn’t the only product out there to help businesses improve their mobile website speed, it is one that businesses should consider looking into.

After all, if you want to reach customers by ranking higher when they search for relevant topics on Google via their mobile devices, doing what Google suggests is a pretty good place to start.

Test My Site TWG

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Ways to Use Podcasts to Reach Your Target Market

Podcast setupPodcast consumption is on the rise.

With this in mind, now might be the time to start using podcasts to market your products or services.

This doesn’t always mean that you need to dedicate your time and resources to creating your own podcast. There are great ways to use podcasting to reach your target market without starting one.

That said, it’s worth noting the benefits of starting a podcast so that you can weigh all the options.

Podcasting to Market Your Products and Services

Some businesses have added podcasting to their content marketing efforts in order to become known as the go-to business for information about a particular topic that is relevant to the business’s customers and prospects.

However, the benefits of starting a podcast don’t stop there.

A recent post by Seth Resler points out some of the ways to make money by podcasting.

According to Resler, “The vast majority of money revenue generated in the podcasting space right now is made through advertisements.”

If the business has created its own podcast, the costs associated with advertising on the show should be minimal, if any.

Resler also suggests that some podcasters are using their podcasts to get movie, television, or book deals, while others are generating revenue by selling tickets to watch the podcast be recorded live or by selling merchandise to fans. If this becomes an option, your business will definitely have other opportunities beyond the podcast to reach potential customers.

Podcast Marketing Without Starting a Podcast

Don’t have enough time or staff start your own podcast? No problem.

As Seth Resler already noted, one of the most common ways for podcasters to make money is through advertisements.

In fact, the amount of money that is spent on advertising on podcasts has increased dramatically in recent years.

This makes sense, since advertising on a podcast can be an effective way for a business to reach its target audience.

In a post written by Kate Harrison on Forbes.com, Seth Greene, author of five best-selling marketing books including Market Domination for Podcasting, points out that, “Podcasts offer advertisers the ability to hyper target.”

Greene goes on to point out that, “Research can pinpoint the podcasts that are just right for your message.”

Podcasts can also give the business a chance to reach customers on a more personal level.

If a certain podcast is of particular interest to a business’s customers and prospects, establishing a relationship with the show’s host can be a great way to connect with them. In fact, a personal recommendation from the show’s host that is woven into the show might be better than a traditional interruptive ad.

However, no matter how it is done, advertising on a podcast can help keep the show going. This is something that the business’s customers and prospects might appreciate, particularly if it is a niche show that is only of interest to a specific audience.

If the company has experts on staff who have useful information to share, getting them invited as guests on several podcasts is also a great way to get in front of the right audience. Beyond the exposure that being featured on a podcast brings, being a guest on a podcast can also provide SEO benefits.

“iTunes is a Page Rank One website, and every episode usually links back to both the show’s website and the guest’s website,” says Seth Greene in the Forbes article mentioned earlier. “Get booked on a handful of shows, with links back to your website for the right keywords, and watch what happens.”

Getting influencers to mention the business’s products or services on podcasts can also be a way to reach potential customers.

These are just some of the ways that your business can use podcasts to market its products or services and possibly make additional income in the process.

And given the increase in the number of podcast listeners, this emerging medium should only become more lucrative in the future.

Photo credit: Sergey Galyonkin on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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The Rise of Podcast Consumption and Why It’s Important for Your Business

PodcastsSteve Jobs was extremely adept at predicting what consumers would want even before they knew they wanted it.

It’s therefore not surprising that Jobs was bullish on the future of podcasting early on.

According to a Forbes article, “Back in the summer of 2005, Steve Jobs and Apple announced they would support podcasts on iTunes. At the time, podcasts were considered somewhat niche, but Jobs was adamant they were important.”

“Apple is taking Podcasting mainstream by building it right into iTunes,” said Jobs in a 2005 press release. “Podcasting is the next generation of radio, and users can now subscribe to over 3,000 free Podcasts and have each new episode automatically delivered over the Internet to their computer and iPod.”

Research published by Edison Research in 2018 indicates that, once again, Jobs was correct.

The Podcast Consumer 2018 – Research from Edison Research

Each year, Edison Research publishes a study on the current trends in podcasting in the United States.

In 2018, the study included findings from the Infinite Dial 2018 study (conducted in partnership with Triton Digital), The Smart Audio Report from NPR and Edison Research, and the latest findings from Edison’s Share of Ear Research.

Because the 2019 version of the report should be released soon, I don’t want to spend too much time on the specific findings from 2018.

That said, because it is the latest data currently available, there are some interesting trends that they uncovered that are worth pointing out.

The video embedded at the end of this post is also definitely worth watching if you are interested in this medium.

More People Are Listening to Podcasts and They’re Spending More Time Doing So

As I mentioned in the beginning of the post, Steve Jobs and Apple recognized the potential of podcasting in 2005.

With this in mind, it is interesting to note that according to Edison Research, in 2006 only 11% of Americans ages 12 and older had ever listened to a podcast. This percentage has slowly increased to 44% in 2018.

The more interesting number, however, might be the percentage of Americans age 12 and older who had listened to a podcast in the last month. This percentage increased from only 9% in 2008 to 26% in 2018.

Furthermore, when the research was conducted in 2018, 17% of the population of Americans age 12 and older had listened to a podcast in the last week. This is an estimated 48 million Americans.

Among those weekly podcast listeners, when compared to earlier years, the average time listening to podcasts increased in 2018.

Overall, weekly podcast listeners listened to an average of seven podcasts per week in 2018.

Infographic: The Steady Rise of Podcasts | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista.

Why Podcasts Are Important for Business

As with any medium, podcasting might not be a good fit for your brand.

However, because more people are listening podcasts, the likelihood that your customers and potential customers are among those consuming podcast content has increased.

It is interesting to note that current podcast listeners make more money than the general population, tend to be more educated, and are more likely to have a full-time job. This makes podcast listeners very attractive to marketers.

It is also noteworthy that Americans currently listen to podcasts most often on their smartphones, tablets, or other portable devices.

As smart speakers become more common, it only makes sense that more people will start listening to podcasts on these devices.

And, as Edison Research pointed out, “In-car listening is growing, and represents a major potential source of new listening.”

All this data indicates that podcasts might be a great way for some brands to connect to consumers.

At the very least, it is something that your brand should consider.

 

Photo credit: Casey Fiesler on Flickr.

Infographic credit: Statista.com.

Video credit: edisonsurvey on YouTube.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Why It’s Important to Know What Your Brand Sounds Like

Sound boardThe idea of having a distinct sound that people associate with a brand is not a new concept.

For many years, businesses large and small that used radio and television ads to reach their target audience created specific sounds or jingles that customers came to recognize and associate with the brand.

However, sonic branding is becoming even more important today as more consumers start to use smart speaker technology and other household items get connected to and become part of the Internet of Things (IoT.)

And, when you factor in the already almost ubiquitous use of smartphones, there are even more opportunities for brands to use sound in their marketing efforts.

Therefore, it is not surprising that many businesses are starting to realize that they need to think about what their brand sounds like.

Sound as Shorthand for the Brand

As mentioned, businesses have used sound to create a connection between the brand and consumers for years in their radio and television advertising.

However, many businesses that haven’t made the investment in radio or television have often overlooked the powerful impact that sound has on consumers.

This is changing quickly as technology evolves.

As more transactions become automated in the future, tones can be used to communicate with consumers to let them know that they had an interaction with the brand without blatantly announcing it. This keeps the brand top of mind with the consumer.

Sonic branding can even provide some peace of mind to the customer by reminding them that they are dealing with a trusted business.

Mastercard Debuts Its Sonic Brand Identity

When it debuted its new signature sound in early February 2019 Mastercard joined many other brands, including one of its direct competitors, Visa, in creating a sonic identity developed specifically for the new connected world of the 21st century.

According to their press release, “Mastercard tapped musicians, artists and agencies from across the globe, including musical innovator Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park.”

“What I love most about the Mastercard melody, is just how flexible and adaptable it is across genres and cultures,” said Mike Shinoda. “It’s great to see a big brand expressing themselves through music to strengthen their connection to people.”

“Audio makes people feel things, and that’s what makes it such a powerful medium for brands,” said Matt Lieber, Cofounder and President, Gimlet. “With the explosion of podcasts, music streaming, and smart speakers, an audio strategy is no longer a “nice-to-have” for brands – it’s a necessity. A sonic identity – the audio calling card for a brand – is now just as important as a brand’s visual identity.”

Additional Strategic Considerations

As mentioned earlier, many businesses have overlooked sound as a way to connect to their potential customers.

Does this mean that all brands that aren’t using sound in their marketing efforts need to spend millions of dollars to develop a new sonic identity?

As with all business decisions, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.

For some businesses, sonic branding might not makes sense at all.

Jumping into sonic branding also doesn’t mean that brands should forget about visual branding. For maximum effect, both should work in concert with the other.

It is also important to note that brands might not get it right the first time. This is something that Mercedes-Benz learned the hard way.

And, as time goes on, there is also a possibility that we get a sort of sonic branding overload or sonic branding fatigue if too many businesses start using sound in this way.

That said, being among the first to create a sonic identity could help establish a deeper connection with consumers.

 

 

Photo credit: Tony Steward on Flickr.

Video credit: Mastercard News on YouTube.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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32 Things to Watch in 2019 and Beyond

Google Maps NavigationAs I write about each year, success in business often requires predicting what potential challenges and opportunities the business will face on the road ahead.

Currently, we don’t have an app that will tell us everything that we need to know.

Therefore, business leaders need to navigate the old fashioned way even if their business is driving full-speed ahead into the future.

This thought process is what inspires one of my first blog posts each year.

It all started in 2012 when I highlighted some of the recommendations that JWT Intelligence thought would be important. Then in 2013, I started to track a list of my own.

Most of the things that I thought were important in the past remain important today. The list just gets a little bigger each year.

This list also helps keep me focused and serves as a public record to show whether or not I am watching the right things.

The Things to Watch List 2019

This is the list so far [with the year that the items were added]:

1) Rapid advancements in technology [2013]

2) Mobile (user experience and marketing) [2013]

3) Mobile payments [2013]

4) Mobile-influenced merchandising [2013]

5) Privacy issues [2013]

6) Emerging markets [2013]

7) The Internet of Things [2014]

8) The evolution of retail (including omni-channel retail) [2014]

9) A global marketplace [2014]

10) 3D printing [2014]

11) Cyberattacks [2014]

12) Ethics [2014]

13) Online video [2016]

14) RFID, NFC, and beacons [2016]

15) Augmented reality (AR) [2016]

16) Virtual reality (VR) [2016]

17) SEO for the Internet of Things [2016]

18) Experiential marketing [2016]

19) Wearables [2016]

20) Dynamic pricing in brick-and-mortar stores [2017]

21) Machine learning & artificial intelligence (AI) [2017]

22) Voice-activated technology [2017]

23) Business collaboration with the competition [2017]

24) The evolution of work (changing skillsets required and the influence on the economy) [2017]

25) Robotics [2018]

26) Subscription business model [2018]

27) How online communications influence public opinion [2018]

28) Market research techniques for the 21st Century [2018]

29) Influencer marketing [2019]

30) Accessible marketing for people with disabilities [2019]

31) Sustainability brands [2019]

32) Health-conscious brands [2019]

Why These Things Were Added

As I mentioned, my list was actually inspired by a list that is published each year by JWT Intelligence.

A lot of the items on the JWT Intelligence list this year focus on ways to help people create a healthier lifestyle. This not only means creating a healthier life for the people who might buy the products, but also helping create a healthier planet, as well.

Creating marketing that is accessible for people with disabilities just makes sense and should be a best practice. Furthermore, not making your website or mobile app accessible to people with disabilities can actually result in a lawsuit.

And, as for influencer marketing… it really should have been added to the list years ago. However, there are also some new areas of influencer marketing that make it worthy of adding now.

There are also things like self-driving cars and changes in product packaging that could have been added to the list. While these things are subsets of items currently on the list, they might get added to the list in the future.

Additionally, there are some things that digital marketing experts were talking about 10 years ago that should be revisited. These basics don’t get talked about enough now even though there are new business leaders entering the market each year. (It’s not always safe to assume that they learned about these things in college.)

So there you have it. If I missed anything that you think I should have included, please let me know in the comments below.

Photo credit: freeimage4life on Flickr. (Creative Commons CCO 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication — CCO 1.0)

 

 

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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The Technology Is Now Available, but Should Your Business Use It?

Business EthicsWe are currently witnessing advancements in technology that are improving the way that we understand the human race and the world that we live in.

This new technology brings with it ethical dilemmas that we need to grapple with.

Specifically, we need to decide where the line should be drawn to distinguish what is ethical and what is not ethical.

For example, although one company’s use of neuromarketing was very successful, it pushed the boundaries of business ethics. The way another business might use biometric feedback could possibly cross the line into unethical behavior.

Keep in mind, these examples are taken from the business world. However, ethics need to be considered in all areas life.

Business Ethics Defined

There are many definitions of business ethics.

In fact, entire business/philosophy classes are offered to help people understand this subject.

For the sake of this post, ethical behavior is defined as making sure that the business is doing what it thinks is the right thing and, more importantly, not doing harm to the business, its employees, its customers, or anyone else in the world. (This would exclude, of course, taking customers away from the competition. This would harm the other business, but that’s just business.)

It is important to keep in mind that what the business thinks is ethical and what the rest of the world thinks is ethical might not always be the same thing. That is why public discussion and complete transparency are highly suggested and often required.

It is also important to point out that if customers think something is unethical, then doing it could actually decrease sales and, thus, harm the business.

Frito-Lay Pushes the Ethical Boundaries and Wins Big

For many years, companies have been using various market research techniques (e.g., surveys, focus groups, etc.) to gather insights as to what customers want and why in an effort to create better products or services and better marketing campaigns to sell those products or services.

Beginning in the 1990s companies started to employ neuropsychology techniques to their market research in an effort to find out what their customers really want, sometimes even if they don’t know it.

According to Wikipedia, Dutch marketing professor Ale Smidts introduced the term “neuromarketing” in 2002 to describe this “emerging disciplinary field in marketing.”

As a Fast Company article written in 2011 points out, many companies are using these techniques to help increase sales.

Frito-Lay is one of these companies.

According to the article, “In 2008, Frito-Lay hired NeuroFocus to look into Cheetos, the junk-food staple. After scanning the brains of a carefully chosen group of consumers, the NeuroFocus team discovered that the icky coating triggers an unusually powerful response in the brain: a sense of giddy subversion that consumers enjoy over the messiness of the product. In other words, the sticky stuff is what makes those snacks such a sticky brand.”

According to a Gizmodo article, Frito-Lay did not stop there.

“Frito-Lay tested out a commercial that emphasized this subversive glee that Cheetos dust apparently gave people,” the author of the article writes. “The commercial shows a woman (played by the indelible Felicia Day) who pranks another woman in a laundromat by putting Cheetos in her white clothes, as Chester the Cheeto [sic] eggs her bad behavior on.”

“Focus groups hated it, saying it was mean-spirited,” the Gizmoto article continues. “But NeuroFocus revealed that people who watched it had EEG results that showed positive feedback. Just like most people don’t admit or even know that they like getting artificial cheese dust all over the place when they eat Cheetos, people didn’t want to admit that they liked a commercial about an asshole who flouts social norms. But the ad tapped into the pop neuroscience that linked Cheetos with deviant thrills.”

This commercial and the advertising campaign it was a part of were so effective that according to the Fast Company article, “NeuroFocus earned a Grand Ogilvy award for advertising research, given out by the Advertising Research Foundation, for ‘demonstrating the most successful use of research in the creation of superior advertising that achieves a critical business objective.’”

Ethical Concerns with Collecting Biometric Feedback on Shopping Carts

According to SIS International Research, “Biometrics is an emerging research field of neuromarketing market research. This form of marketing relies on various biometric technologies and applications to help understand a participant’s cognitive and emotional responses toward certain stimuli. The stimuli can be anything ranging from TV ads to online advertisements.”

The company’s website states that biometric market research uses fMRI, EEG, observational analytics, heart rate monitoring, and facial coding.

We already know how an EEG can be used to create better advertising campaigns.

If other ways of gathering biometric feedback are half as effective, many more companies will start to use these market research techniques in the future.

It is therefore not surprising that Walmart filed for a patent that would allow the retailer to collect biometric feedback on shopping cart handles.

People are already tracking a lot of this information on their fitbits and other smartwatches.

If that data could be accessed in real time and combined with location data, a lot of experiments could be conducted without the person even knowing it. (Note: As far as I know, Walmart has not announced that it would use the technology this way. However, it would be possible.)

While articles talking about this Walmart patent downplay the privacy issues, there certainly are a few.

Although we might make some real gains in knowledge, we need to ask ourselves whether the tradeoff in privacy is worth it.

In the End, Either Customers or the Legal System Will to Draw the Line

In the first example, NeuroFocus used willing participants to gathered biometric data that allowed Frito-Lay and its advertising agency to create an ad campaign that was effective even when focus group respondents said that they hated it.

If companies start to collect physiological responses to different stimuli, whether it be ads, physical retail environments, or anything else without customers knowing it pushes the ethical boundaries even further. Maybe too far.

To determine where to draw the line, the business community should create ethical standards and follow them.

If they don’t, laws will need to be created.

Either way, it is important that people have discussions about what it going on so that we can ask ourselves whether or not what can be done should be done.

Photo credit: Pamela Carls on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license – CC BY 2.0.)

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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The Future of Shopping: A Shopping Cart With a Recommendation Engine

Photo credit: r. nial bradshaw on Flickr.Retail experts know that when customers use shopping carts in brick-and-mortar stores it increases the average number of items sold per transaction.

It is therefore not surprising that stores are looking for ways to make the shopping cart an even more integral part of a customer’s shopping experience.

Walmart is one of these stores.

If you do a quick search online, you will see several of the patents that Walmart has filed in recent years involve ways of adding technology to their shopping carts.

However, it was one patent that was filed in September of 2017 that really caught my eye. The patent allows Walmart to know when specific items are placed in a container.

Although this patent doesn’t say that it will be used with a shopping cart, it could be. And, if used in conjunction with a customer’s smartphone, it could give Walmart the ability to recommend items that customers might want to purchase in a brick-and-mortar store in the same way that Amazon does when customers are shopping online.

In other words, it would give Walmart the ability to use a recommendation engine to deliver suggestions to customers shopping in their brick-and-mortar stores.

What Is a Recommendation Engine?

As I pointed out in a post in 2016, “In the context of what I am referring to, it is an information filtering system that helps a business recommend items to customers that they might be interested in. For additional information, Wikipedia has a good explanation.”

“If you want to see an example of a business effectively using a recommendation engine to help its customers find products, visit Amazon.com,” the blog post continues. “The Amazon.com recommendation engine uses a combination of several input data, including past purchases, product ratings, and social media data.

When you visit your online cart on Amazon.com, it automatically recommends other items based on what other customers who bought the items currently in your online shopping cart purchased in the past. (In fact, Amazon.com recommends other add-on items even before you get to your shopping cart.)

Bringing the Recommendation Engine to the Brick-and-Mortar Store

Amazon and other online stores effectively use recommendation engines to increase sales online.

However, offline it gets more difficult.

With the exception of maybe Amazon Go stores, most stores don’t know what the customer is currently purchasing until they get to the cash register.

And, once a customer gets to the cash register, it’s probably too late to get them to add another item unless it is being kept in a location nearby or the deal offered is really good.

Currently, having customers talk to sales associates is the best and often only way for the store to suggestive sell add-on items to customers in a brick-and-mortar store based on what the customers are currently purchasing.

Even if the customer is shopping with his or her smartphone in one hand, suggestive selling is limited to information collected from past transactions or online behavior (if the store has tracked that) and some demographic data. Mobile coupons, rebates, and targeted ads work, but again, there really isn’t a way to know what the customer is currently purchasing.

That is, unless you use some sort of sensor to track them. That is why Walmart’s patent could be so valuable.

If Walmart develops the technology that they patented and puts it into a shopping cart, they would have the ability to know what customers are currently buying and could therefore send advertising messages to them that would recommend items that are often purchased with the customer’s current selections or that the customer might be interested in.

Granted, this wouldn’t be the first time this was tried out.

In 2012, Microsoft teamed up with Whole Foods to test a shopping cart that would help a customer be sure that they bought everything on their shopping list and even warned the customer that an item had gluten in it if the customer had let the system know that was one of the things that he or she was trying to avoid.

It appears that the Microsoft/Whole Foods smart shopping cart didn’t make it past the testing phase. However, I think this was due to the fact that they tried too many things at once. In fact, some of the features seem to be solving problems that just don’t exist.

It also might have been ahead of its time or just not a good fit for the brand.

Final Thoughts

It might be some time before we see a shopping cart like the one described in this post.

However, the store that finds a way to do it correctly will definitely increase sales.

And, who knows, it could be another way for stores to sell paid contextual advertising to brands that are trying to reach customers in the offline world based on where they are, who they are, and what they are buying.

As I mentioned earlier, Walmart has filed a patent that would make a very important part of the process possible.

If there is a person in Bentonville who is working on a shopping cart that can do this, I’d love to write a post that gives more details. There are a lot of cool possibilities. And, if Walmart isn’t working on this or hasn’t thought of it yet, which I find hard to believe, please feel free to steal the idea. Or even better, contact me, as I have some additional ideas that might be useful.

Photo credit: r. nial bradshaw on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license – CC BY 2.0.)

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Cashless Stores: Ahead of Their Time or Just Bad for Business?

The end of cash?For years now, many experts have predicted the demise of cash.

Those who make these predictions are encouraged when companies like Apple report increased usage of proximity mobile payments. In fact, Apple’s Q4 2018 earnings report and conference call reported:  “Triple transaction volume year-over-year for Apply Pay.”

But even with more consumers adopting alternative ways to purchase items, it appears that cash isn’t going away anytime soon.

In fact, this is something that Jeff Hasen, one the pioneers in mobile marketing, often points out on Twitter.

Cashless Comment Jeff Hasen

A recent article on CNBC supports Hasen’s argument.

“Cash remains the most frequent method of payment in the U.S., representing roughly 31 percent of consumer transactions, more than electronic, credit, debit or checks,” the author of the article writes.

According to the same article, “Use of cash by U.S. households is consistent across most income levels, around 25 percent, and goes way up at the lowest incomes.”

That said, this is not stopping some stores from trying to follow Amazon’s lead and eliminate cash as a payment option.

I think that it’s good that stores are trying different things to see what works.

However, as you might have expected, stores that try to go cashless are often met with some resistance.

Amazon Is Leading the Way

The headline of a recent Bloomberg article says it all, “Amazon Will Consider Opening Up to 3,000 Cashierless Stores by 2021.”

If you are not familiar with the AmazonGo cashierless store concept, the basic idea is that shoppers enter the store with a smartphone app downloaded to their phone, they scan their phones as they enter the store, they shop and leave with the items that they want to purchase without having to stop at a cash register.

As the Bloomberg article points out, “Sensors and computer-vision technology detect what shoppers take and bills them automatically, eliminating checkout lines.”

In this scenario, cash is not an option.

While not going all the way to cashierless stores, other merchants are experimenting with the idea of eliminating cash in order to cut costs.

The Cost of Accepting Cash

While accepting cash as a payment option has been the norm for many years, accepting cash actually costs more than some of the other common payment options.

A USA Today article highlights some of the expenses involved in processing cash transactions, as reported in an IHL report.

According to the article, “Besides the time spent counting bills and making change, they include ensuring registers have enough change, running cash to the bank, bank fees, armored cars, employee theft and robberies, the report says.”

“All told, such hassles cost retailers an average of 9.1 percent of sales, ranging from 4.7 percent at grocery stores to 15.5 percent at restaurants and bars, IHL says. That compares to the 2 to 3 percent transaction fees credit-card companies charge merchants,” the USA Today article reports.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that some stores are looking to eliminate cash.

But this has its downside.

Going Cashless Shuts Poor People Out

This is the main point of a recent article published on The New York Times website.

According to the author, Ginia Bellafante, there are several arguments against going cashless.

“The strongest objection relates to the ways in which rejecting physical currency plays out as a bias toward the poor; advancing segregation in retail environments,” writes Bellafante.

“According to government data, close to 7 percent of American households have no one in them with a checking or savings account, while an additional 19 percent are considered “underbanked,” meaning that they rely on products or services outside the conventional financial system,” the author continues. “These include money orders and payday and pawnshop loans. The majority of people who fall into these categories are nonwhite.”

Laws Are Being Written to Prevent Cashless Brick-and-Mortar Stores

When the article on The New York Times website was published, many people wondered if it was even legal to go cashless.

As Jarrod Frates points out on Twitter, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Private businesses are free to develop their own policies on whether or not to accept cash unless there is a State law which says otherwise.”

Cashless Comment Frates

Given this fact, it is not so surprising that lawmakers in New Jersey and New York City are trying pass bills to prevent stores from going cashless.

As an article on The Motley Fool website points out, New Jersey politicians are trying to prevent cashless stores because not accepting cash can prevent certain groups of people from making a purchase. This is the same argument that was made in The New York Times article mentioned earlier.

According to The Motley Fool article, Massachusetts is currently the only state that requires brick-and-mortar stores to accept cash.

Is Cashless Bad for the Brand?

While it’s estimated that only 31 percent of consumer transactions are cash, not offering cash as an option can create hassles beyond the bad PR it is getting for creating barriers for the unbanked.

Finding out that they can’t use cash until it is time to pay can be a source of frustration for some customers.

Even customers who rarely use cash can find it frustrating when they are asked to use a credit card to pay for a last-minute addition such as mayonnaise or another condiment at restaurants or even small items at a retail store.

Cashless Complaint 1

Cashless Complaint 2

Final Thoughts

Given that customers can and often do vent their frustration publicly on social media, going cashless might be more trouble than it’s worth.

With this in mind, it is fairly easy to see why Jeff Hasen often reinforces the fact that cash isn’t going anywhere, at least in the near future.

It is also not surprising that some merchants that tried to go cashless have decided to change their minds.

Cash is Back Spero

However, as the author of the post on The Motley Fool website points out, while going cashless might not the best way to go now, stores will never know whether it is a good idea to go cashless in the future if they aren’t even allowed to try.

It does seem like there might be some easy workarounds that stores or restaurants could offer if they do want to go cashless at the checkout line. The most obvious would be making an ATM or vending machine available to customers that would give them the option of buying prepaid debit cards.

This would give customers access to the store, while still encouraging them to pay via other payment options.

I’m not sure if this would satisfy lawmakers in Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York City, or any other place that makes going cashless illegal.

If you know the answer to that legal question or if you have any other comments or suggestions, please feel free to comment below.

Photo credit: Nic McPhee on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license – CC BY-SA 2.0.)

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Think About What You’re Sharing Online: Is That Statistic Really Accurate?

Fake StatsThere is a lot of information being shared on the Internet.

This is great if it is used to entertain, mobilize people to action, or help people make educated decisions.

The problem is that people often share things online without really thinking about what they’re sharing. This leads to the spread of misinformation, rumors, or even the dreaded fake news.

When evaluating the validity of the information that we share, we need to look at the words that are used and the statistics that are provided as supporting evidence.

This post focuses on the latter—the statistics.

This is a topic that I have written about a few times in the past.

In fact, each of the subheadings listed below is a headline or title of a former blog post.

I feel it’s time to revisit these posts, because the lessons that can be learned are of the utmost importance.

The Importance of Reliable Sources

Maybe the most important thing to do when evaluating the data that you see online is to ask yourself whether or not the source providing the information is credible.

If the source is unknown to you, be skeptical.

If the information is coming from a reliable news outlet, chances are the information was fact-checked.

However, with the increased emphasis to be the first one to report the news, even the experts make mistakes. Typos are inevitable. After all, the writers are human—at least they are most of the time.

Therefore, it is often a good idea to check with the original source before making any major business decisions based on data you find on the Internet.

Mind Your Bases When Analyzing Data

Checking with the original source is also a good idea because percentages can be misleading.

In fact, if we don’t know what population the percentages are based on, then the percentages are virtually useless.

Furthermore, if only part of the data gets shared or data tables get recreated, an incorrect population or subpopulation is often assumed. In this case, the percentages can be extremely misleading.

A similar thing can occur if quotes are taken out of context.

If you have the time, I strongly recommend that you read my original blog post on this topic, as it goes into further detail about the importance of knowing what population or subpopulation percentages are based on.

A Lesson Worth Remembering: Correlation Doesn’t Imply Causation

This one is pretty self-explanatory, but it is also one of the things that we’re all guilty of forgetting from time-to-time.

It is therefore not surprising that many college professors try to drive this lesson into the minds of their students.

The key thing to think about here is that when analyzing data, you can’t always assume that just because there is a positive or negative correlation between two variables, that one is causing the other to occur.

In some cases, it might be a third unknown variable that is influencing the change in one or possibly both of the original variables.

Weight – Are Your Survey Results Biased?

This topic might be getting into the weeds a bit, but I feel it is important enough to bring up.

If the data that is being reported is not based on a complete census of a population, then there is inevitably going to be a disproportionate number of respondents from a demographic group that can lead to biased data.

Weighting is basically a way to be sure that the data that you are using to make population estimates actually reflects the true population distribution.

For example, according to the United States Census Bureau, 50.8 percent of the 2010 Census population were female, while 49.2 percent were male.

Now, assume that we conducted a research project in 2010 where two-thirds of the respondents were female. If female respondents are also more likely to respond one way or the other on a particular question, then the estimate for the overall percentage of United States citizens who feel one way or the other for that topic would be biased.

This is something that I think many people who are conducting survey research today often overlook.

While weighting your data might not seem like a big deal, it can potentially have a huge impact on the overall estimates of the averages, ratios, proportions, or percentages for a given population.

Again, if you want to learn more, check out the original blog post that I wrote in 2011.

Final Thoughts

If you spend any time reading information shared on social media, you know that there are a lot of statistics being cited to support opinions about all sorts of topics.

Sometimes the statistics are coming from a reliable source. On the other hand, sometimes it seems like the numbers were just made up. In other words, they are fake statistics.

As I have pointed out in this post, even if the data is coming from a reliable source, it is often a good idea to check with the original source before making any business decision that will have a big impact on your company.

A lot of things can happen when data is passed on from one person to another online.

As I have said before, it is ultimately the responsibility of the consumer to make sure that the information is factual before making decisions based on what he or she read, hears, or sees on the Internet.

Hopefully, this post will help give people some idea of what to look for when deciding what statistics to believe and what ones to dismiss.

Photo credit: craftivist collective on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license – CC BY 2.0.)

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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The Future of the Retail Sales Associate—Another Reason Why Retailers Need to Provide More Mobile-Optimized Content Online

The Future of Retail Sales AssociatesThe way customers shop, in general, is changing with more and more customers going online to research and buy products. Furthermore, smartphones have also modified the way customers shop in brick-and-mortar stores.

This means that retailers are going to need to rethink everything. And, that means everything.

For store employees, this means that their world is going to be altered dramatically.

In 2014, Doug Stephens, one of the world’s foremost retail industry futurists, wrote a very informative blog post that predicts what a “typical” retail sales associate’s job will look like in the near future.

In the post, he predicts that in the near future there will be fewer humans working in brick-and-mortar retail stores, with technology there to fill in the gap.

In the post, he cites a study from Oxford University that estimates that there is a 92 percent chance that retail sales associates will be replaced by technology in the next decade. (Keep in mind, this was over four years ago. Therefore, if the predictions are accurate, retail sales associates should be retraining for other positions now! Even if it takes a little longer than experts think it will, the world that they are predicting will arrive someday… soon.)

While this is an alarming figure, people who want to work in retail stores should be heartened by the other prediction that Doug Stephens makes—that those employees who do survive will be paid much higher than they currently are. But this is going to mean that they also are going to need to get a lot more training.

Other sources again support his position.

Some of the recent articles that discuss retail trends point to the fact that there will always be a need for some human salespeople at most brick-and mortar stores. However, they will have a slightly different background.

As far as I can tell, four types of non-management employees will emerge to replace the generally unskilled workforce that currently fills many of these low-paying retail sales associate jobs.

Professional Salespeople—The Customer Service and Product Experts

In the blog post mentioned earlier, Doug Stephens writes, “Although retailers will point the finger at price as the smoking gun behind showrooming, research shows that in fact, it’s more often the pursuit of adequate and accurate information that drives customers online.”

Therefore, in order to compete with online retailers, brick-and-mortar stores are going to have to hire a core group of employees who really know their stuff.

These employees won’t be the ones who check people out at the cash register.

They will be like the salespeople of old who thought of their position at the store as a career, not just a place to work until they find other jobs. These employees will be experts in customer service and they will know everything about what they are selling.

The stores that realize that there is a need for this type of employee and hire and train people who really want to excel at their job will be the stores that will succeed.

As Doug Stephens also points out, the people who fill these positions will be paid more than the average salary of a retail sales associate today.

This probably means that stores won’t hire many of these employees, if they still want to keep their costs down. But, the employees who are hired to fill this type of role will be an invaluable resource to customers and the store.

To be qualified for this role, the employee will also have to invest in additional training.

Organizations like the National Retail Federation (NRF) are already recognizing that this type of training is needed and have begun offering it at a reasonable price.

Part-Time Associates—Knowledgeable Salespeople Augmented With Technology

This group of employees will most resemble the current retail sales associate.

They will be the young adults who are working their way through high school or college. They will have some basic product knowledge and business acumen. And, they will have grown up using technology, therefore they will be very comfortable assisting less tech-savvy customers with the technology that the store will use to assist in the sales process.

They will also use technology (e.g., smartphones, tablets, etc.) to access mobile-optimized content that will answer the product-related questions that customers have.

Because these employees will be in the process of completing their training, these positions will probably still be on the lower-end of the pay scale. However, to attract the best employees, retailers will still have to pay more than minimum wage.

With technology to augment the sales process, fewer of these associates will be needed on the sales floor of tomorrow.

Temporary Workers—The On-Demand Workforce

The gig economy is here, with some employees being hired to work for only a short duration of time to fill a specific business need.

As a Washington Post article points out, it is already changing the workforce in many mainstream restaurants (e.g., Five Guys, McDonald’s, Papa John’s Pizza, etc.)

Will brick-and-mortar retail stores be next?

Retailers have always hired temporary workers around the holidays. This would just take this concept to the extreme.

It is entirely possible that stores could hire employees for one or two days to staff a large sale similar to those on Black Friday.

And, again, if stores bring in the right technological solutions to assist with the sales process, these temporary workers could be quickly trained to work the cash register or again help the less tech-savvy customer in the shopping process.

Some retail experts say using temporary workers is a bad idea. But, the reality is that only time will tell.

Non-Human Employees—Mobile-Optimized Online Content and Other Technological Solutions

The fourth type of employee that will replace the current retail sales associate is not a human at all. However, in many cases technological solutions will be able to do the same job… maybe even better than the current retail sales associate can.

As mentioned above, customers are already reaching for their smartphones to get product information while shopping in brick-and-mortar stores. In fact, some customers would rather use their smartphones to find product information than talk to the retail sales associate on the sales floor.

This might be because they often get incorrect or incomplete information from improperly trained retail sales associates. Therefore, we might have a chicken and the egg situation at play.

Either way, the one thing we do know for certain is that customers want to be able to quickly and efficiently find product information either online via their smartphone or by talking to a retail sales associate.

Having the right information available online is going to be a must for the retailer of tomorrow. And, as mentioned above, it will also help human salespeople do their jobs better.

As Doug Stephens points out in his post, there are companies like Hointer that are working to bring additional technological solutions to market to help automate the retail sales process even further.

However, I will leave that topic for future blog posts.

Final Thoughts

In order to compete, brick-and-mortar stores will need to be able to provide customers with the same accurate and complete product information that they can find on Amazon or other online retailers.

If the brick-and-mortar store provides the information first, customers will have one less reason to visit another store’s website or mobile app, and therefore will be less likely to use the store as a showroom only to buy the product elsewhere.

This can be accomplished by having better trained retail sales associates and by creating the right mobile-optimized content that customers can search for on their smartphones and tablets. Furthermore, other technological solutions like “smart mirrors” in fitting rooms will also be used to deliver product information to customers.

Given the changes in the marketplace, it’s not a question of whether to invest in employees or in technology.

Successful stores will do both.

In fact, technology will help less knowledgeable retail sales associates meet the needs of the store’s customers more efficiently and effectively. In other words, in many cases technology and humans will work together to provide a better shopping experience.

Note: This is a very general prediction of what the “average” retail store of the future will need to do in order to meet the needs of its customers. There will be variation based on the products and services sold, who shops at the store, the store’s location, etc.

Photo credit: Zepfanman.com on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license – CC BY 2.0.)

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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