Ian Jindal on retailing

8 minutes estimated reading time

Ian Jindal was on top form at the Sense Loft where he presented some interesting ideas about the future of retail. I know Ian from my work with Econsultancy. Ian Jindal is also the editor of Internet Retailing and consults for the great and the good of the retail sector. Some of the observations about technology made by Ian Jindal are of particular interest. I made some notes on the presentation in real time on my mobile phone and will try to elaborate around them in italics:

The UK

Ian Jindal addressed the overall health of retail and e-tail in the UK.

  • UK most onlne country outside Korea – we may not have 100MB/second fibre into the home broadband connections, but the way in which UK people engage with the web and engage with e-commerce in terms of the amount they spend and the frequency that they shop online means that they are more online than most other countries outside Korea. Hong Kong has a strong broadband infrastructure but e-commerce is superflous in such a compact space. Japan has become almost post-consumer in the way that they no longer splash out on fast cars and Louis Vuitton accessories. One of the things that makes the UK online is the ubiquitous nature of credit cards – still the most effective payment system infrastructure that has seen off a host of rivals
  • UK is the most sophisticated market – consumers have better knowledge in the UK, they know how to play the system. They understand where voucher programmes are and how to best game them to get benefits. UK consumers haven’t stopped spending but are very value driven. They know retailers weak spots and exploit them to get the best deal for themselves

2008/2009 sales

Ian Jindal commented on a retail sector struggling with the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis

  • November big growth due to fire sales – retailers dropping prices enticed consumers online: its a value crunch as much as anything else
  • Volume big but not making money – consumers are buying goods at lower prices and for a given amount of revenue far more is having to be spent on logistics
  • Winners include John Lewis because of gift voucher sales, PCWorld due to the reduced costs of modern big plasma and LCD screens, New Look – why?
  • Successful businesses need to deliver on product, price and promise (and make a profit)
  • Logistics companies screwing the small businesses to service big players like Amazon – in the run up to Christmas 89 per cent  of consumers received their purchases on time, with Amazon it was 97 per cent. Small upstarts will get screwed over on performance as delivery companies prioritise their largest accounts
  • Customers a lot cannier play voucher schemes – they abandoned the voucher sites as soon as the sales kicked in and play the system to maximise value
  • 2009 its about cash, ROI, business focus, focus on SEO and conversion – In the credit crunch the first priority is cash flow, a focus on business efficiency and effectiveness. It moves emphasis from getting traffic to getting conversion as business. Pay-per-click (PPC) buys traffic, but does not guarantee a sale. The high price of PPC means that extreme SEO (search engine optimisation) including hand-building the top 100 search pages
  • Ruthless chopping product lines – To reduce the amount of cash invested in stock and focus product lines on those that sell. A focus on the ‘head’ of the long tail


Ian Jindal on the future focused on the problem of getting to close a sale online and the role of data to signal user intent which is still a major problem.

  • PPC is outmoded as a marketing communications vehicle as attention is the goal: PPC gets traffic to the site but is no guarantee of ‘stickiness’ or completion of a sale
  • One-page department store – This was a concept that Ian mentioned. There is no point having consumers trawl through a site the only page that matters is the page that they buy from. This page needs special attention. 
  • Context vended pages based on user intent – The example Ian gave was two consumers using Google: one looks for Levi’s 501 36 inch waist cheap. Price is obviously important so you don’t display a lot of options and put the price front and centre on the page. The second searches for smart jeans dark blue, you provide them instead with a series of large images that they can click on to buy since they don’t know what they want and reduce the emphasis of pricing information on the page
  • Google as department store of the world. Google,  niche players and brands are what will drive online shopping. Affiliates will not exist in present from in two years time. Affiliate marketing falls down for many of the same reasons as PPC, Google is the department store of the world because of the pre-eminent position of search as the front door to the web. Niche players will do well as they can meet consumers need and won’t be under so much price competition pressure
  • CPA (cost-per-acquisition) is symptomatic of an overly simplistic world that doesn’t understand a complex decision making process – Consumers may go to multiple online and offline brand touch points in order to make a purchase. Who is responsible, how do you measure assists and infer linkages?
  • Social bored him shitless, reviews not believable, people moving beyond reviews as inspiration stories – As Ian so eloquently put it social bored him shitless, it achieves very little for a lot of effort on behalf of the retailer. Current review offerings don’t provide a lot of utility to customers who often don’t trust them, whether it is an act of ‘sock puppetry’ or consumers with a very different viewpoint to our own. Reviews are also based on a viewpoint that is needs focused rather than desire focused. We live in a consumer society where most people’s needs are already met, much of current consumption is about desire and aspiration. Consequently, empowering consumers to tell their own aspirational stories is much more powerful – a kind of crowd-sourced version of the old TV ads from the 1980s
  • Co-shoppers as retailers – Ian highlighted a new US site called ThisNext, which uses individuals as retail curators. As their authority increases and consumers click through on their recommendations they get rewarded with ‘maven points’. This is a mix of the best attributes in social and affiliate marketing – tapping into consumer aspirations and their trust of people like them
  • nikeID vender management, intelligence gathering on trends and colors – Rather than nikeID being about mass-customisation and prosumption Ian thought that it was about getting information on trends, what colour ways should Nike be making products in. What combinations never sell. It is more scientific than coolhunters tracking down kids in urban setting of New York or Tokyo and helps support buying decisions. It is all about trying to understand the head of the long tail
  • Cross channelists – retail businesses who can deliver experiences through different channels are more likely to be part of consumers complex purchase decisions

Evolution of data

  • Data – screw this and you build it on sand – the right data and the right architecture to structure the data is the lifeblood of any retail business. If you get this wrong your decison making process and business is at risk
  • Data is facts – facts works as a good definition of data
  • Meta data – data about data that the data would not know itself
  • The way we use data has changed as the number of nodes that process it change, moving from business analysis to data as a service and mash-ups – Google services and APIs are supported by thousands of servers in a given data centre
  • Social web – evolving to responsive and self configuring services – context, location all start to become important – flickr uses camera details from metadata to provide shopping recommendations
  • APML and microformats – APML is a proxy for intent and understanding the consumer. It shows where they put their time. Microformats allow for data to have more utility than plain HTML data – addresses can be readily imported into address books a la Google Maps using the hcard format
  • Rescue Time time management software allows consumers to make use of their own APML data
  • APML-powered commerce: engagd, phorm, google checkout
  • Entering network age with services such as pique and bazaarvoice  – where predictive services offered based on APML and population monitoring to spot patterns of consumer behaviour
  • location: omnifocus brightkite – includes where 2.0 techniques. From a consumer point-of-view this means a move towards apparent ESP by services as they have an emergent intelligence

You can find Ian’s slides for this event here.