Are brick-and-mortar stores coming back?

Those who are thinking that physical presence of a retailer is no more needed, think again. While this is true that many brick-and-mortar stores are no more profitable to operate, there are ways how a firm may capitalize on this classical form of retail stores. This is particularly true when we are talking about high-end brands offering some unique experience through their physical presence.

How about Apple operating in over 18 countries, comprising of about 495 stores? And some of them are offering in-store classes for customers, dubbed as “Today at Apple”, where hands-on teaching sessions and demonstrations are being offered. Not to mention the personal touch in services when you visit a brick-and-mortar store and talk to an employee while looking around gadgets that interest you. Online stores are a bit impersonal and void of emotion, aren’t they? Oh, what is going on with Amazon this year with their first ever brick-and-mortar book store in New York? How about Amazon Go experimental brick-and-mortar store selling products to customers? Are we talking about sophistication, class and emotion when it comes to classical retailing? Probably yes. This trend has been seen in the global retail industry for the last couple of years and more retailers are joining this classical bandwagon. Let us keep an eye on this trend and see how customers respond to this changing landscape of “modern” retailing.

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Mending Customer Relationship: The Apple Way

Apple is probably one of those few brands whose older models are widely used and popular among its customers. One reason could be that the newer models might be expensive to a section of existing Apple users, so they switch to new models whenever the time is right for them. Another reason could be the durability and usability of older models that might prevent them from switching to newer models until they feel it is time to buy a new phone. According to a report, in 2012, about 15% of global iPhone users had Apple models that were two years or older, and the figure is steadily growing over time. It was projected that the figure could reach as high as 35% by June 2018. No wonder that the battery grows older as the phone ages, and battery issues would pop-up in older phones even though core functionalities may not.

Yes, this is what already happened with older iphones with weakened batteries. The company, in its version of an acknowledgement, said that recent updates to operating system could slow down iphone’s performance in older models in order to handle weak battery issues. Results? We see angry customers who are alleging that their phones are slowed down not because of battery issues, but because the company wants them to switch to newer phones. Well, both sides have arguments, but the fact is Apple handled the situation wisely and offered battery updates at a much lower cost (US$29) than the original price of replacement (US79$), in addition to an official apology that the updates slowed down older models.

Evidently, they gave customers a good reason to keep their older phones, signaling good intention to continue serving users of old models. It could be an example of sustaining customer relationship by listening to customers’ needs, what do you think?

 

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Uber and NASA: Blue Ocean Strategy with a Click

Here is another market-disruptive initiative from Uber as it partnered with NASA, with a plan to launch “flying taxi” called UberAir. That’s right! Combining software expertise of Uber and Hardware expertise of NASA, it looks like a perfect marriage to enter into the untouched market of this unique service. Uber would be planning for low altitude flying vehicles capable of making vertical take-off and landing. It would provide this unique “air taxi” services on demand, as if you are calling for an Uber-ride by clicking on your app, with the difference that you just want it over air. They are also planning to make it competitively priced for its customers. The trial is expected to start by 2020 in the USA, and the company hoped that it would be fully operational in selected cities by 2028.

terrafugiaBeing a pioneer in ride-sharing services, Uber is continuously differentiating itself with unique and innovative ideas. It is no wonder that the company has envisioned a blue ocean that it can successfully enter and grow, enabling itself with necessary resources and capabilities. The branding efforts are huge and something to learn from. However, the availability of technology and commercialization of the same would eventually challenge Uber as flying cars like Terrafugia and Airbus Pop.Up  would be commercially available for other competing fleets. It looks like the early entrants with right mix of branding efforts would take the market lead. Let us wait for the new frontier to open and see who wins the race.

(photo credit: http://www.terrafugia.com)

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Is Tesla leading the creative disruption in car industry?

Electric car has not been a new concept of this century at all, though Tesla revolutionized the idea with the inception of its highway-legal practical electric cars that can drive over 250 kilometers per charge. Toyota Prius has been experimenting with this segment though, but no sign was evident that they wanted to make it the mainstream highway vehicle. With its aggressive strategy led by Elon Musk, supported by the enabling environment of stricter government regulations about emission and concern for sustainability of fossil-fuel vehicles, Tesla has been able to wake up the rest of the car-makers and let them jump into this bandwagon.

Consequently, Toyota is now asserting that they will phase out all gasoline vehicle models by 2050. Paris will get rid of all gasoline vehicles by 2030. Germany has already passed a non-binding resolution that all gasoline engines be banned by 2030. It all means that the days of petrol and diesel engines are already marked. In this backdrop, Tesla can be considered as a leading disruptor who inspired others to follow the suit. And definitely, every car manufacturer will eventually adopt and enhance this technology for better. Just like market-resilience is a pre-requisite of survival in a competitive world, so is the technology-resilience. It is time to see who adopts and hones this technology for better and grab a better market share.

 

tesla

(photo credit: http://www.tesla.com)

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Artificial Intelligence in Customer Service: A Way to Go!

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has tremendous potential to be used in customer service. In broad spectrum, two modes of this tech infusion can be seen as of today. First one may include customer service robots, along with automated customer service care-sites that can generate customer solutions based on pre-assigned algorithm. Another avenue could be the human agents assisted by AI assets. The good news is that both of these are actually happening now. Customer service care-sites mapped with solutions for repetitive customer complaints are not new. However, the sophistication over time is amazing. Uber has its own AI lab to enhance customer experience that is already being created by using intelligent network.  Google is planning for robot-assisted surgeries. And there are more! Online Chatbots are taking care of many types of customer services like returns and refunds that are reducing customer care costs. With Big Data and analytics taking over intuitive decision-making, full-fledged AI-based customer service will be a reality soon. What do you think?

 

 

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Is Quality at the Center-point of Branding?

Quality ensures performance, which ultimately plays an important role in creating unique identity that we call “Brand”. Performance, on the other hand, does not merely depend on the quality hardware and parts, but also the way the goods (and services) are “designed” or assembled/sequenced in order to deliver a superior experience, leading to perceived excellence in performance.

However, the equation is not as easy as it seems. The technical quality and perceived quality may not be the same always. In many cases, consumers may not be able to objectively assess the level of technical quality, while they only experience the quality that they perceive to exist in a brand. On top of that, the level of price may also play a big role in signaling quality, oftentimes customers assuming that high priced products are always of better quality.

There is no point to argue whether customers’ perception(s) is technically correct or not, it is about how the actual positioning has taken place that matters at the end of the day. In a competitive world as it evolves, no single sure-fire way of communication can guarantee that a targeted image can be created, rather it takes a collection of techniques and executions that would lead to a perceived image that equals the brand promoter’s target. On top of that, as the number of competing brands increases, nobody can survive without ensuring the minimum and acceptable level of quality to customers. It appears that, the competition is not between bad and good brands anymore; it is among good, better and best brands as are defined by customers. What do you think?

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Smart Speakers are Heating Up!

No, it’s not the smart speaker as hardware, but it is the market that is showing some interesting developments across the board. It is expected that, by 2022, the smart speaker market would reach US$5.5 billion (source). Starting with already popular Amazon Echo (since 2014), followed by Google Home (in 2016), smart speakers could be the most talked about tech gadget this year. Guess who’s next? It is Apple HomePod (coming up in December, 2017) that would probably arrive with some breakthrough specs, asking for more than double the price of Amazon Echo and Google Home.

Smart speakers are holding some bright promises in our virtual life. With net-connected speakers working as your voice-driven online search vehicles as well as music stations, it is taking many of our on-net activities by freeing our hands and engaging us in a voice-interactive way. What’s more, Amazon Echo can be integrated with so many smart home apps like voice activated household switches and what not! On the other hand, Google Home is also competing in this segment with search and music services, along with more functionalities that are on the way. Surprisingly, Apple Homepod has a unique design that is different from the rest of the crowd. Like other smart speakers, it uses AI (artificial intelligence), however, it goes an extra mile by making the sound adaptive to your room! So Homepods are likely to sound great, with clearer and crispier sound no matter whether they are played in big or small rooms.

And the surprises are not over yet. Facebook is planning to ride this speaker bandwagon by offering a smart speaker in 2018, coming with an integrated touch screen that can also act as our visual workstation. Oh, did Amazon Echo Show just do that by offering its speakers with an integrated screen? What a pre-emption! It would be interesting to see who will ultimately win this race of offering big and bigger ideas for our future virtual needs.

amazon-echo

photo credit: amazon.com

(Disclaimer: this post is merely an observation of a market phenomenon. It does not imply or sponsor any endorsement for any specific brand).

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Mobile Phone Batteries Need to Show Some Innovation

Considering the kind of innovation and advancement that we have seen in mobile phone technologies during the last decade, the same pace may not be seen for mobile phone batteries. Although some considerable developments could be observed, the innovation might not be practically visible at the consumer end. The fact is, there are innovations and improvements in mobile phone batteries, but the gadgets have become increasingly powerful and power-hungry, projecting a perception that mobile phone batteries are destined to drain out in a day or less. Until more powerful batteries can be manufactured, many producers invested in research on reducing the power consumption while attempting to keep the functionalities at par or above the competitors. For example, these R&D efforts resulted in less power consuming yet more vivid Amoled display, production of more power-efficient chips, optimization of software design, and so on.

However, recent research clearly indicates that the battery design is about to see a breakthrough soon. Transiting from Li-ion to Li-polymer, and now graduating to Li-air and Nano-tech batteries, future batteries may revolutionize the way we charge and use the capacity of those batteries. The future depends on how tech companies would invest in and adopt these novel technologies and change consumers’ experience of mobile phones to a “wow” level .

 

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Failing Upwards!

Failing, this could be in your career or the brand that you manage, is not an end in itself. Some people would take it as a point where they would fall down further, putting themselves in isolation from the core competition and give up. But the smart ones would take lessons from it and do not repeat the mistake.  They would take it as an opportunity to grow and outsmart others. Failing could be your stepping stone to a bigger success! Check this forum (click here)  where startup founders are talking about their mistakes, so that they can learn their lessons and grow fast. In fact, many entrepreneurs have stepped on the their success paths based on past failures. Similarly, if Elon Musk were not ambitious enough to breakthrough with re-usable rockets, Space-X project would not be here today without learning from past failures.

The bottom line is, while we don’t want failures in our lives, a few inevitable ones would actually surface up as blessing if we know how to capitalize on the learning that ensue from it. It appears that a positive and learning attitude towards failures would immensely contribute to future growth.

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A Tale of Brand Loyalty

This is only one side of the tale, so you tell me about other sides!

This side tells me that brand loyalty is becoming elusive as markets are becoming hyper-competitive. That could be an excuse because that means we are not pro-active in a hyper-competitive market and letting others take our customers away by offering something new that we were shy of offering in the first place. We love to copy market offers, paste it in customers’ minds, hoping that we would beat the competition by focusing on competition and not on customers! And that’s how we lose focus on customers and chase the competition. When disloyal customers are frequently rewarded, loyalty would be seen as an act of foolishness by customers. So brands are putting themselves in this vicious cycle and making their stories attractive to disloyal customers.

How about making the first move first? Without copy-pasting the market offers, why can’t we act like brand leaders and stay upfront when it comes to retaining our loyal customers? The market is actually as big as our thoughts. If we fail to think big, we will end up having petty markets.

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