The Taylor Swift model for ecommerce

The tech web is awash in coverage of the kickoff to the holiday shopping season in the U.S. this week. Predictably, ecommerce sales are up strongly year over year, with lots of interesting detail about sales patterns between different device platforms. But that’s not the interesting news. What many found surprising, though probably shouldn’t have, was that total retail sales over the long weekend were actually down somewhat this year. The National Retail Federation reported an 11% drop, others less. The drop, of course, is all from in-store sales, which took it on the chin as shoppers simply didn’t show up for the “door buster” sales.

Amazon-Black-FridayIn many ways, the trend towards shopping online has had a tremendous, historic leveling effect for retail (and most other industries). After all, companies are now all equally discoverable on the web or via app. But while this evolution has demolished some of the old empires (ex. Radio Shack, Staples), the reason why is because ecommerce enhances the premium of a powerful brand and great customer experience, and strongly links the two together. Some companies have started with the first and developed the second (ex. Walmart, Target), while others have done the opposite (ex. Amazon). Interestingly, both Walmart and Target are reportedly doing just fine over the holiday shopping weekend.

The onset of the holiday shopping season, and the flurry of coverage surrounding it, provide a great example of how this process is playing out. The web’s asymmetry and winner-take-all markets are fracturing the traditional model of marketing, selling, and customer acquisition, and in the process creating a lot of new winners – as well as solidifying some of the old ones.

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How Apple Pay will accelerate adoption of marketing technology

A few months ago, I went shopping for clothes in a real, brick-and-mortar store at the mall. I don’t particularly enjoy shopping, and my experience inspired a blog post about the future of brick-and-mortar retail that has now become one of my most-viewed/linked posts ever. In it, I basically pointed out that the physical store shopping experience hasn’t really changed in decades, and that that’s a huge problem for retailers catering to consumers in the midst of a massive shift in buying behavior.


The retail sector broadly is grappling with any number of new ways to connect to customers digitally: the now-table stakes ecommerce offering, to social presence, to in-store analytics and beacons and much, much more. Some retailers have embraced this new paradigm of selling enthusiastically, while others have ignored or even fought it. While this is often framed as a cultural issue (cue “legacy retailers resist change!” lede), I’ve long suspected that it often has a lot more to do with incentives and business strategy.

Since I wrote that post, Apple Pay was released to much acclaim (my take here). The reception to Apple Pay in the retail world has created some key signals that I believe are relevant to everyone in ecommerce and marketing tech today. Namely: how important are building relationships with customer experiences, really? And what are each company’s priorities for its own (inevitable) digital transformation? Apple Pay has helped answer these questions and gives us some clues about how different retailers see themselves relating to their customers.

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Analysts confirm: no one has any idea what’s going on in MarTech

dog and ponyTwo pieces of analyst research have hit the wires recently that confirm what many of us already knew: no one really knows which way is up or down in marketing tech.

The Forrester Enterprise Marketing Software Suites Wave (thank you for not saying “marketing cloud”) and Gartner’s Integrated Marketing Management Magic Quadrant both hit within a week of each other last month, and have now created a lot more confusion than they resolved. While these reports aren’t technically direct comparators (or, for their firms, competitors), you sure wouldn’t know that by reading their respective descriptions of the market, which sound substantially identical.

Between the hair-splitting that included/excluded vendors from participation and the obvious heavy influence of vendor marketing in report rankings, it remains to be seen how this research will be received. Nevertheless, these conflicting reports suggest two things to me: first, the analyst community continues to struggle to comprehensively understand the burgeoning marketing tech space; and second, that a crowded market space has promoted vendor marketing near the top as a source of information.

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How exactly do we deal with privacy?

scalesTwo weeks ago (before taking some vacation), I wrote a critique of Glenn Greenwald’s recent TED talk on the importance of privacy in which I accused him of pillorying a silly straw man argument instead of substantively considering the issue. Having had some time to reflect, I feel like it’s only fair for me to better articulate my own view on the actual question that I wish Greenwald had used his platform to address: how is privacy going to work in our modern, wired society, and what will it actually mean for us in practical terms?

In preparation for a speaking engagement I have coming up, I spent some time recently organizing my thoughts on these questions. Like everything else on this blog, they are a work in progress; but here’s a summary of what I’ve come up with so far. In short: individual privacy is certainly important, but not to the exclusion of other public interests as well.

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Glenn Greenwald, ducking the issue on privacy


An example of some of the hard-hitting questions at the TED Global conference.

Last week, the TEDGlobal 2014 conference was held down in Rio de Janeiro. Among the global luminaries delivering the brief nuggets of info-tainment that has made TED so famous (and somewhat infamous) was Glenn Greenwald, the journalist and erstwhile attorney, who rose to fame last year when he and Laura Poitras helped leak classified documents from the NSA with the help of Edward Snowden.

Greenwald’s speech was largely a spirited argument against the familiar trope that “if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear” from government surveillance. Greenwald attributes this argument to people like Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whose respective companies he likened to Bentham’s Panopticon, the home monitors in Owell’s 1984, and even the Abrahamic god for the pervasiveness of their products’ visibility into their users’ lives. In Greenwald’s view, not only is this argument deeply cynical when deployed by wealthy technology tycoons who have the resources to essentially purchase their own privacy, but it’s also inimical to modern notions of liberty.

Of course, he’s correct on both accounts – but it’s utterly irrelevant, because Greenwald’s speech was also a classic example of skilled rhetoric: presenting an odious straw man as his opponent, making obvious points cutting it down, and claiming a moral high ground with maximum indignation to boot. (My high school debate coach would’ve scolded me for such an obvious strategy.) In other words, Greenwald swung at a softball. Here’s the real, and more challenging, argument that Greenwald could’ve used his global platform at TED to grapple with.

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