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Getting into home truths: Why is the experience of eCommerce still so poor?

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There’s no denying that the digital world has changed the outside face of marketing. While many of the inner-face principles of marketing have (and always will) remain the same in terms of audience segmentation, targeting and positioning, the way brands now engage with their customers has changed faster in the past 10 years than throughout the rest of history put together.

Now, having a digital presence for large corporations has become the norm. It’s part and parcel of modern marketing. The experience itself has to be great as well, whether it’s on social media, digital advertising, mobile and more, otherwise customers will just go elsewhere. But as brands’ investment in digital properties increases, so too does the challenge of integrating eCommerce, the experience of which is rapidly diminishing for many brands.

Global eCommerce sales are predicted to almost double between 2017 and 2021. But, so many organisations still fail to provide a positive eCommerce experience. This problem is particularly acute at the end of the payment stage where the buyer makes the transaction, which has the highest drop-off rate in the entire online shopping process.

But why is the experience so poor? The reason so many large brands have struggled with the eCommerce experience is because of the rapid speed of change with regards to digital. Just as companies began to get to grips with desktop eCommerce, mobile quickly emerged as another major trend. Then big data. Then personalisation. There has been a lot to keep up with.

This has created different challenges for marketers and eCommerce developers. Merchants and commerce professionals have spent lots of time developing commerce engines that take orders, manage inventories and accept payments – they need to be robust, reliable and trusted. Whereas, marketers have tried to ‘uplevel’ the brand experience to digital – they are under pressure to keep pace with the latest trends. Making these worlds work as one has its own challenges that many companies are just scratching the surface of solving. It's hard, but it’s one that needs work because it hits customers the most.

But what are these issues, exactly?

Unbranded, unpersonalised and clunky

First, on their own, most eCommerce engines don’t offer the flexibility to customise the front end, which creates a jarring templated, shopping experience for the customer with a grid of products to sift through. That’s understandable because branding has never really been eCommerce platform designers’ problem.

But imagine someone who interacts with a brand on social media, is exposed to advertising through multiple channels, and interacts with the brand’s website. Throughout that experience, they’re getting a “feel” for the brand, which suddenly disappears the moment they need to get their credit card out to pay online. Since consumer stress levels rise steadily peaking at the checkout stage, the last thing they need is a poor experience to put them off the purchase entirely.

The sudden change from a warm, personalised experience, ends abruptly as soon as money is on the agenda

Secondly, not only is the checkout stage often unbranded, it’s often not personalised. Many large organisations are investing heavily in personalisation to improve the customer experience, but the lack of content management capabilities with most eCommerce platforms means personalisation falls off a cliff when it comes to the checkout stage. Again, the sudden change from a warm personalised experience ends abruptly as soon as money is on the agenda. It’s as if you’ve suddenly gone cold on the customer for no reason at all.

Finally, because eCommerce platforms are often separate to the brand website, they’re often slower and clunkier than the slick pacey website they’re attached to. Often, shopping sites are separate from brand sites because there are two different technologies supporting both — the CMS for the brand and the eCommerce system for the shopping. For instance, www.brand.com may direct shoppers to www.shop.brand.com. Yet in those scenarios, the experience suddenly becomes inconsistent with what the customer has become used to. The best shopping experience, however, is a unified one, where the brand and shopping experience (or content and commerce) are intertwined.

What to do about it — get the most out of legacy tech and integrate the experience better

The problems above aren’t just small irritations; they’re fundamental issues that are undoing years of hard work from IT teams and marketers who are looking to improve the overall customer experience. Countless studies have shown that a better customer experience leads to more revenue, so what can you do to address this area that’s letting the side down?

The good news is that you don’t need to rip and replace your current eCommerce technology. Instead, consider a “headless” approach. With a headless commerce approach, you decouple the front end part of your shopping experience (the part the customer sees) from the back end (the part your IT team manages) — thereby separating the presentation layer from the eCommerce stack. Decoupling in this way gives you greater flexibility to customise and personalise the part the customer sees without worrying about disrupting the back-end infrastructure. And when you don’t need to worry about the back end, you can be more agile and test features more quickly and efficiently.

Moreover, whenever you as marketers want to integrate any new devices (like mobile), channels (like digital signage or Alexa voice), touchpoints, content or payment gateways you can easily do so through APIs. Then, you can simply focus on the presentation using the framework of your choice — and leave the IT to the IT team.

I really believe that headless commerce is the way to improving the eCommerce experience once and for all. After all, you’ve done all the hard work already getting customers to the checkout stage. Don’t let them fall at the last hurdle.

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.

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Online advertising has alienated our most valuable asset – the consumer

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It’s an understatement to say things have changed since I started my career in publishing 34 years ago, and mostly for the right reasons. The industry has moved on and some of those less palatable institutional barriers have been broken down. Yet there are certain industry behaviours that are having a real impact on original content creators, and they are so often borne from preventable consequences.

In many instances, these could be negated through the reapplication of ‘guiding principles’ that have perhaps been lost along the way.

It’s time we took a look back to make sense of what’s in front

The media industry has always been a sum of its parts, with different skills and disciplines working, mostly, in partnership. There was a sense you belonged to something special, and you knew you were directed by principles honed from many years of evolving media and advertising practices.

But it’s time to face the truth: today, consumers lack trust in digital advertising. In a quest for infinite online inventory, the crucial relationship between brand and consumer – that was built on shared values and respect – has become commoditised and jeopardised, quelling any desire for users to engage with ad campaigns. How have we got to a place where advertising that lives in the online world has all but alienated its most valuable asset – the consumer?

And no matter how many smart and inspiring examples of diversification and new monetisation models we see emerging, for original content creators, a base level of advertising remains essential.

There needs to be a change in behaviour

Many promises have been made to re-evaluate advertising practices and there’s an acknowledgement that quality and context matters. However, very little seems to have moved on and there remains limited evidence to suggest any measurable change in behaviour.

I’m not here to knock the technology that has enabled so much in modern life or the dominance of social media in which many users choose to consume news. Yet there is an obnoxious disparity around ‘standards’, accountability, and responsibility, and the right to compete fairly for advertiser funds that enable and sustain the creators of original quality journalism and content.

Despite all efforts to collaborate and support the industry’s wider call for greater parity, media owners with a long-established code of conduct and complete accountability for every single item present on their site continue to be at a disadvantage. Media organisations have always been defined by their transparent policies. So how is that an organisation like Facebook – that has such an impact and influence on the industry – is able to prosper and have a significant amount of revenue derived from online advertising, without being defined as a media business, and therefore does not need to adhere to any of the policies or codes of practice that is required by others?

As long as these organisations continue to be the principle benefactors from a type of advertising purchase behaviour, they have no motivation to change. It is only when we see a promised change in the advertisers’ behaviour, that the technology businesses themselves will be forced to re-examine their practices – meanwhile they will continue to enjoy all the spoils while residing outside of the union of all other media practitioners.

Driving better standards, and meaningful returns

As media owners, we continue to value the long-established trading partnerships centred on mutually defined policy and protocol, and relationships built on trust. These values matter.

This is a call to advertisers to check this current commodity driven behaviour, to take a moment to reflect, and work with publishers, as partners. But we also need to be sure that in striving for this goal we aren’t diluting standards, and the desire to improve accountability doesn’t just find us looking to provide a definition around practices that would otherwise be deemed as sub-standard.

Within the industry, we have in place numerous compliance guidelines. The IAB has been tireless in its efforts to bring the industry together to agree on a variety of advertising technology compliance standards. But what use are these if there is no accountability and seemingly no process to enforce compliance? While other established media channels have flight checkers in place – for both creative compliance and copy integrity – with all this wonderful technology, why does it not exist online?

And what about the extent of these standards? Premium publishers operate to much higher standards than laid out by these bodies, and always have done. They are self-regulated and they are accountable. And while I strongly support the adoption of universal standards for the good of the industry, it doesn’t change the fact they represent something that is significantly less than what we can actually provide.

At AOP, we’re committed to surfacing these challenges and we are striving to find practical answers, recommendations, and examples of best practice to help cement the future of advertising and publishing. But we must all commit to win back the trust of the consumer and return to a place of integrity – and continue to succeed as an industry I have always been proud to be part of.

Richard Reeves is managing director at AOP

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‘Project Dragonfly’: Google’s rumoured censor-friendly launch in China

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It’s common knowledge that Google, as present as it is in our daily lives, does not enjoy the same ubiquity in China, and hasn’t done for eight years.

Leaked meeting minutes from the corporation, however, suggest that could be about to change.

Codenamed ‘Project Dragonfly’, the search giant is allegedly in the midst of a bid to launch in China in an iteration that would play ball with Beijing’s hardline censorship policies.

According to a transcript from a meeting led by Google’s search engine chief, Ben Gomes, ambitions for Dragonfly were to reach “the next billion” users and launch within “six to nine months”.

Gomes said that China was “arguably the most interesting market in the world today”, according to the transcript published yesterday by The Intercept, said to have taken place on July 18.

“It’s not just a one-way street. China will teach us things that we don’t know,” Gomes told staff. “We have built a set of hacks and we have kept them.

"Overall I just want to thank you guys for all the work you have put in.

"We have to be focused on what we want to enable," Gomes says. "And then when the opening happens we are ready for it."

According to the South China Morning Post, Project Dragonfly has previously been reported as the codename for a censored search app specifically for the Chinese market.

Blacklisting any websites related to human rights, democracy, religion and any other issues deemed sensitive by the Chinese government, the country’s internet censorship laws are considered the most extensive and advanced in the world.

In the meeting, Gomes reportedly acknowledged that trade wars between the US and China were causing difficulties in negotiations with Communist Party officials in Beijing, whose approval Google would need to launch the search engine.

Re-launching in China would open up a vast audience and a matched opportunity to scale its advertising operations globally, competing with Asia’s ad tech giants such as Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent.

Away from China, however, the move – which would be contributing to China’s hardline stance on free speech – could be seen as a far cry from the search giant’s original “don’t be evil” policy.

The reveal of the leaked transcript also comes following a reveal of Google’s efforts to cover up a Google+ data breach, which resulted in potential vulnerabilities to private data attached to 500K users.

As noted by Business Insider, side-by-side, these revelations set a worrying trend of a very powerful company acting in secrecy, and despite its efforts to appear the opposite, unethically.

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.

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Why agencies need to take the lead in ad tech transparency

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The world’s biggest advertisers have called time on the lack of transparency in digital advertising.

P&G’s ad chief Marc Pritchard summed it up: “The days of giving digital a pass are over – it’s time to grow up. It’s time for action.”

However, agencies can only go so far if they are tied into contracts and relationships with non-transparent ad tech partners. It’s time for agencies to be bolder and hold all of our ad tech partners to the highest levels of transparency.

Clients now have more authority than ever to demand transparency from their agencies. So, why then, has trust between advertisers and agencies declined in these past two years?

Shockingly, the ID Comms 2018 Global Media Transparency Report reveals that the level of trust this year is perceived as significantly lower than in 2016. Things are getting worse, not better.

Agency apathy

There continue to be heartening moves in the ad tech community. Just this month, six of the leading ad exchanges launched an initiative to help drive transparency. Rubicon Project, OpenX, Pubmatic, Sovrn, SpotX, and Telaria signed an open letter committing to offering a fully transparent marketplace for both publishers and advertisers

The truth is though, agencies still aren’t doing enough to hold their ad tech partners to account. Many still survive from taking mark-ups or kickbacks. Others are simply not determined enough to make a positive change.

But how can our clients trust us to be transparent if we can’t trust the ad tech platforms we work with?

The time for talking is over, it’s time for action. We believe every agency needs to develop its own transparency methodology for approving and working with their ad tech partners.

It’s incumbent on all of us to refuse to take a mark-up and to regularly review all our partners’ transparency in regard to data, audience, and tracking.

Let’s all be brave – and serve our clients better – by vetting our ad tech partners according to these criteria to ensure the highest level of transparency. If they don’t tick all the boxes, we all need to simply refuse to work with them, giving our clients the highest level of transparency possible.

The devil’s in the detail

This is all about going far beyond box ticking. In fact, it’s about diving deep to make sure you have as firm a grip on your ad tech partners’ operations as you do on your own.

So, as an industry, what should we all insist on knowing from our ad tech partners?

We need to know exactly what performance data is available to pull reports, what additional data and insight is available above and beyond the standard metrics, and if there’s a simple interface or API for extracting data that can easily plug into our own agency dashboards.

For audience targeting, we should demand: the level of granularity, particularly for niche clients or B2B; how it’s sourced, particularly in regard to third party data; and the types of targeting solutions offered, such as onsite behaviour, search behaviour, AI solutions and so on.

When it comes to access to platforms, we all need to reject black box solutions by default. It’s crucial we understand the tech inside out. We need to be able to self-serve giving us full control of campaign set up, targeting options and day-to-day optimisation.

All agencies need this level of control so that it is always clear how our clients’ ads are being served. For instance, what happens if one of your ad tech partners hits the KPI early in a campaign? If you are prospecting can you guarantee they aren’t simply using your data to retarget?

Finally, every agency must demand full transparency from their ad tech partners on what tracking pixels will be placed on site, what information they will be collecting, and how this data will be used.

If all of this sounds demanding, that’s because it is. It’s time for all of us to raise out demands on our ad tech partners to deliver the level of transparency our clients deserve.

So, are you feeling brave?

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.

All copyrights for this article are reserved to their respective authors.

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