Here's my tips for the big trends we're seeing in e-commerce, digital marketing and social media in technology companies (focused on Asia) in 2012. This is based specifically on what I've learned at Dell (managing their e-commerce sales in the region) and on what I see happening in Asia with other technology companies (such as Lenovo, Apple, HP, IBM, Acer, Blackberry, Nokia, etc.).
Buying and e-commerce is becoming more fragmented (particularly for tech companies corporate e-commerce enabled websites) – E-Commerce as we know it is in a death spiral. It just doesn't make sense to build an OEM direct e-commerce website like Dell did in the 1990's. E-Commerce will become more fragmented and dominated by eTailers and new types of online buying. It might seem like a strange statement considering the massive move from traditional to digital sales but consider Dell's example. Dell already has a market leading position online in the technology space. In Asia, Dell has the number 1 Online market share via Dell.com. Dell cannot increase this, it can only be eroded and share will be lost over time. It's not all bad news though, because at the same time, eTail revenue is growing exponentially, with players like Lenovo in China growing in triple digital quarter-on-quarter online (and not through Lenovo.com). There is also a rise in Group Buying, such as in Australia where it is now driving over $500m of Group Buying transactions/year. Serious contentors need to have a product and content strategy that is multi-channel across a company's website, eTail, Social Commerce and Mobile. To win in e-commerce tech companies must think of e-commerce as a transaction from ANY platform - not just an e-commerce enabled corporate site. Customers have evolved and their preferences have changed. Tech companies need to adapt and try new things to stay ahead of customer demand.
Simplify and clearly differentiate our offering for specific customer segments – Many tech companies have too many different products and are confusing customers. At the same time, so many tech companies do not have any real product differentiation (in Dell's case, what is an Inspiron vs Latitude? For HP what's the difference for their Compaq vs Envy brands?). Tech companies should take a leaf out of Apple's strategy on simplification. But for true success in 2012 tech leaders will need to both reduce and simplify their product offering and have a specific digital go-to-market plan for identified customer segments. Real winners in this area will have personalisation programs and social sign-in to truly have a one-on-one customer relationship (while being able to share that relationship with the customer's friends).
Everything is going social – How people communicate and buy technology is becoming fundamentally social. Tech companies need to take a leaf out of eBay’s strategy, where buyers are rated, sellers are rated and products are reviewed – their entire experience is social and reliant on user-generated content. Outside of a company's website, you need to think about how to more closely integrate into Facebook (with 800m global users), LinkedIn (more than 150m professionals), RenRen (over 120m Chinese consumers), Cyworld, Mixi, Mobage, Gree (the latter few for gamification - a critical element of social e-commerce in markets like China) and microblogging services like Twitter, Sina Weibo and QQ Weibo.
Everything is going mobile – There are now more mobile users than Internet users. Mobile Internet users account for 60%+ of social network usage, are driving new retail loyalty location-based services like Foursquare and will bridge the divide between physical retail stores and e-commerce. Customers are now using mobile devices to walk into retail stores to scan bar codes, compare product specs and prices and gather recommendations from people who have bought the same product (word-of-mouth, ratings & reviews, social media). There is also huge increase in the amount of traffic coming into a company website and managed community properties via mobile internet. You need clear plans for integration with mobile in 2012.
Customers are demanding are a more Retail-like experience from Online – With the rise of retail and eTail, customers are demanding to touch and feel products, have all payments options (including cash, bank transfer, credit card, PayPal, etc.) and have either take home or immediate delivery (same day or within the same week). eTailers (such as Taobao in China) have the ability to compare products, great learning content (including images and videos), cash payment options and same day delivery. Customers now expect this and most tech companies need to play catch up to get there in 2012.
Content needs to be “portable” and usable in different platforms – Currently most company's view of content is limited to product information and is located only on its website. This is particularly true of e-commerce companies. You need to consider how to take excellent content and make it available where your customers are (for a B2B company: on LinkedIn, in the company managed social sites, in communities, in Webinars/virtual events, etc.). IBM do an excellent job of this and more companies need to learn from their example.
2012 is the year of the dragon. It's a very auspicious time that will be a breakthrough year in e-commerce for those with the courage to try new things, truly embrace social and mobile, and make eTailers your best friends.