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Stop guessing – Just ask. What online must learn from the in store experience 

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Half of UK CIOs and CTOs are investing in in-store digital capabilities to replicate the convenience of online services

By Russell Loarridge, Director, ReachFive

The retail winners of 2020 have enjoyed a phenomenal rise in online sales. But don’t get too smug about it. Consumers moved online because they had no choice. And while sales are up and COVID-19 will continue to play havoc with confidence in visiting the high street, consumers are not flocking online because it is an enjoyable experience. It isn’t.

At its best, online retail is a slick, efficient transaction. Retailers are focused on delivering ease of checkout and speed of delivery.  But an easy checkout is not memorable. A retailer offering multiple delivery options is not going to capture a consumer’s attention. These are prerequisite table stakes, nothing more. It is the quality of the shopping experience – the way a good Store Associate interacts with customers – that people remember and brings them back again and again. And retailers need to start thinking about that experience online.

Don’t be complacent. Consumers have been forced to shift their buying online and while some of this new behaviour could stick, will people continue to shop if online retail remains a purely transactional activity?  Russell Loarridge, Director, ReachFive insists it is time for retailers to bring back the joy and that means rethinking the online customer experience.

Leisure Pursuit

Consumers have been forced to adopt online shopping en-mass during 2020 – and there is no doubt that many have appreciated the convenience. But they are also noticing the lack of joy offered by online shopping. People are pining for the high street – and not just the chance to touch and feel products. They are missing that warm feeling associated with a good shopping experience. It is frustrating online to click through tab after tab to find the blue cashmere jumpers.

Even more frustrating to then be presented with ‘people who liked blue jumpers also like skateboards’ – or some equally irrelevant, impersonal suggestion. In contrast, the store experience is tailored to the customer. You can head straight to the enticing display of jumpers as soon as you walk in.  A good Store Associate will not only find the right size but also suggest a matching scarf.

Online shopping works – in the main – but it is not fun. And retailers need to remember that shopping is not just about convenience; for many, many consumers shopping is a leisure pursuit. Online is set to remain a habit until consumer confidence returns.  But unless retailers start to reconsider how they interact with their customers, there is a risk that shopping will become nothing more than a necessary evil, a functional transaction to acquire goods.

It is essential to change the mindset because somewhere along the way retailers have lost sight of their online customers.

Stop Guessing, Just Ask

Russell Loarridge

Russell Loarridge

How has the gap between online and physical retail become so wide? In store, an experienced manager will greet customers as they walk in with a smile and a ‘Can I help you?’. Nothing more – no requests for email addresses or phone numbers. No demands to sign up for offers or newsletters.  They can see at a glance a customer’s gender and age bracket. Shopping bags give a clue to previous purchases; while clothes suggest style preferences and if a customer asks for help will direct them straight to the most relevant items.

Online retail in contrast is all about capturing data – but none of the data that provides any of that insight into the customer’s interests or preferences. Retailers are spending a fortune on measuring every step of the customer’s online journey and analysing in extraordinary detail in a bid to guess what they might want next. Retailers are badgering online customers for email addresses and postal addresses – hoping to draw conclusions about wealth and buying habits from complex analytics.

Why? How is this information being used to improve the customer experience? It isn’t. It is rarely accurate and, with the exception of Amazon’s multi-million pound investment in its own recommendation engine, often disturbingly irrelevant. Why not just ask?

Give to Get

Customers want a personalised experience. So why not ask their gender and age bracket and then immediately take them direct to the relevant area of the site? Following both GDPR and best practice guidelines, retailers need to explain why they want this information and how it will be used. But why wouldn’t a customer confirm their gender if it saves a few clicks? Or set up a profile that includes favourite colours or preference for cufflink shirts rather than buttoned, if it means they quickly get to see the products they are interested in?

No one enjoys clicking on product after irrelevant product in a bid to find the right one. A retailer capturing online the same information about a customer that a switched on Store Associate can either see at a glance or discover during the interaction can totally change that online experience. This is not about sending one of those super annoying emails that says: ‘we saw you were looking at skirts, why not come back and take another look?’

It is about creating a truly relevant, personalised experience – one that could be even better than in store.  Right now, few physical retail operations are set up to proactively contact customers when new products come in that they may like. But that is simple online. If a retailer has asked the customer for their preferences, the email will say: ‘Our new range has a green silk shirt we think you will love.’ Top value customers could even have their preferred size put aside virtually for a couple of days before the new range is made available to the entire customer base.  That is a good quality retail experience.

Conclusion

COVID-19 triggered a fundamental change in shopping behaviour and for the time being this online-first mentality looks set to remain. But the pandemic has also highlighted the stark difference between the online and physical shopping experience.

The impersonal online experience is never going to inspire customer loyalty. Even worse, it has removed the joy from shopping, moving retail from a leisure pursuit that allows retailers to entice customers with up- and cross-sales to a dull, functional, even duty activity. And that will not sustain retail in the long term.

The technology exists to move online retail closer to the high street experience. Customer identity and access management; content platforms; recommendation engines. The technology is not the barrier. The barrier is retail mindset. And while retailers remain focused on improving the quality of the online transaction – the checkout and the delivery – customers will continue to be disappointed.  Online retail has to change – and that requires a truly personal shopping experience.

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ExxonMobil to sell some UK, North Sea assets to HitecVision for over $1 billion

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ExxonMobil to sell some UK, North Sea assets to HitecVision for over $1 billion 1

(Reuters) – Exxon Mobil Corp said on Wednesday it would sell its non-operating interest in its UK and North Sea exploration and production assets to private-equity fund HitecVision for more than $1 billion.

Exxon has been looking to sell its oil and gas assets since late 2019, seeking to free up cash to focus on a handful of mega-projects.

The deal includes ownership interests in 14 producing fields operated primarily by Shell as well as interests in the associated infrastructure. Exxon could also receive about $300 million in contingent payments based on a potential for increase in commodity prices.

Exxon’s share of production from these fields was about 38,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day in 2019, the company said.

Exxon said it would retain its non-operated share in upstream assets in the southern part of the North Sea as well as its interest in the Shell Esso gas and liquids (SEGAL) infrastructure, which supplies ethane to the company’s Fife ethylene plant.

HitecVision, in partnership with Eni, had bought Exxon’s Norwegian North Sea assets for $4.5 billion in 2019.

Initially, Exxon hoped to raise more than $2 billion from the sale, which was planned for late 2019. In June 2020 sources told Reuters that the portfolio was more likely to fetch $1 to $1.5 billion given the oil price weakness last year.

(Reporting by Arathy S Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva)

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JPMorgan’s blockchain payments test is literally out of this world

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JPMorgan's blockchain payments test is literally out of this world 2

By Anna Irrera

LONDON (Reuters) – Stuck in space with bills to pay? Don’t worry, the satellites could take care of it.

JPMorgan Chase & Co has recently tested blockchain payments between satellites orbiting the earth, executives at the bank told Reuters, showing that digital devices could use the technology behind virtual currencies for transactions.

The so-called Internet of Things (IoT), where devices connect to one another, is most associated with consumer electronics, including smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home, and banks want to be ready to process payments when these smart devices start doing transactions autonomously.Umar Farooq, the CEO of JPMorgan’s blockchain business Onyx, thought space was a cool place to try it out.

“The idea was to explore IoT payments in a fully decentralised way,” Farooq said. “Nowhere is more decentralised and detached from earth than space.”

“Secondly we are nerdy and it was a much more fun way to test IoT,” he said.

To run the space experiment, the bank’s blockchain team did not send its own satellites into space, but worked with Danish company GOMspace, which allows third parties to run software on its satellites.

Farooq said the satellite test showed blockchain networks could power transactions between every day objects.

The test also showed it could be possible to create a marketplace where satellites send each other data in exchange for payments, as more private companies launch their own devices into space, Tyrone Lobban, head of blockchain launch, at Onyx said.

Back on earth, examples of IoT payments that could become a reality sooner include a smart fridge ordering and paying for milk on an ecommerce site, or a self-driving car paying for gas Farooq said.

Blockchain, which first emerged as the software underpinning cryptocurrencies, is a shared digital ledger of transactions. Financial companies have invested millions of dollars to find uses for the technology hoping it can reduce costs and simplify more complex IT processes, such as securities settlement or international payments.

But so far, blockchain has yet to have widespread impact in financial services.

JPMorgan has been one of the most active banks in blockchain, announcing it had created its own distributed ledger called Quorum in 2016, which was sold to blockchain company Consensys last year. The bank also developed a digital coin called JPM Coin and in 2020 created Onyx.

Onyx has more than 100 employees and its blockchain applications are close to generating revenues for the bank, it said.

Among the division’s applications is Liink, a payments information network involving more than 400 banks, a project to replace paper checks and IoT experiments, Farooq said.

(Reporting by Anna Irrera. Editing by Jane Merriman)

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Garment workers in Thailand receive full compensation after wages expose

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Garment workers in Thailand receive full compensation after wages expose 3

By Nanchanok Wongsamuth

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Garment workers in Thailand who were illegally underpaid while making products for major brands have received all the wages owed to them after theme park operator and film producer Universal Studios agreed to pay the outstanding amount.

Universal Studios, owned by media giant Comcast Corp’s NBCUniversal, agreed to give $20,000 to a group of Myanmar workers on Wednesday – following three other global brands in making payments to settle the 3.5 million baht ($116,550) owed in unpaid wages.

“We take this matter very seriously and this is not in line with our core values,” a NBCUniversal spokeswoman said.

A Thomson Reuters Foundation investigation in September 2019 found dozens of migrants from Myanmar working at several factories in the western region of Mae Sot were paid less than the daily minimum wage of 310 Thai baht ($10.32).

A group of 26 workers at one of the factories raided in 2019 by officials sued the owner – Kanlayanee Ruengrit – in August last year for failing to pay the 3.5 million baht owed to them.

Interviews with workers by local and global rights groups found that her factory was making goods for several major brands from Universal Studios to Britain’s largest supermarket Tesco.

The workers later received a payment of about 2.88 million baht from Kanlayanee and three brands that said Kanlayanee’s factory had been subcontracted by their suppliers or partners without permission – Disney, Starbucks and Tesco.

The money from Universal Studios will be paid to MAP Foundation, which has supported the workers and been in discussion with the companies, and will distribute the funds directly to the workers.

“Since the former licensee has failed to respond to multiple requests to pay the affected Thai factory workers, we are making a goodwill donation to MAP Foundation … to distribute funds directly to the workers,” the NBCUniversal spokeswoman said.

Suchart Trakoonhutip, a coordinator at MAP Foundation, said the payment marked the first time that underpaid workers in Mae Sot had received the full amount owed to them in a wage dispute.

The Mae Sot case sets an example for other brands to follow in terms of taking responsibility, but workers should not have to rely on the goodwill of companies in order to receive money they have earned, said Ilona Kelly, a coordinator at pressure group Clean Clothes Campaign.

“The industry urgently needs binding agreements to hold brands to account, the lack of which has become even more notable during COVID-19 as millions of workers are now owed wages and severance pay,” she added.

“Without (government) legislation, the happy ending of the Kanlayanee story will continue to be as unobtainable as a fairytale ending for most workers.”

One of the Kanlayanee workers, who now works part-time on a farm, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that he plans to send the additional money to his sick father in Myanmar.

“I feel happy and proud that I will soon receive the full amount of money I am owed,” said the worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

($1 = 30.0300 baht)

(Reporting by Nanchanok Wongsamuth @nanchanokw; Editing by Michael Taylor. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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