Sunday 17 February 2013

Tesco ClubcardTV part of a new trend?

When it comes to innovative ways of going to market, airlines have traditionally been the bellwether.  From basically creating the modern day, database driven loyalty programme through to their innovative yield management for maximising profits, the airline industry typically sets the standard that all other industries follow.

So when someone like Jeff Katz, (Currently CEO of Nextag, a global digital shopping network and former VP at AA/CEO of Swissair/CEO of Orbitz) highlights another trend in the airline industry that's likely to cross-over into retail, it's worth paying attention.  

In a recent article for Fast Company entitled "Fasten Your Seatbelts: The Future of Shopping Looks a Lot Like Airline Travel", Jeff describes how over the last few years, airlines have basically deconstructed their product offering to provide the cheapest price for the base commodity - an airline seat.  All the value add elements such as luggage allowance, in-flight meals and seat selection have been stripped back and then re-purposed as benefits which can either be montised to those customers who value them, or used as recognition rewards for valuable customers like frequent flyers.

Discussing this, Jeff says:-

Airlines have taken a commodity (a seat on a plane) and caused us to change our view about what we’re buying and how we’re buying it. It’s no longer about buying a product at the cheapest price, it’s about selecting and paying for a package of services that we value most--from an aisle seat, to a faster security lines, in-flight meals, rewards for frequent patronage, or in-flight Wi-Fi connectivity

He then goes on to discuss how retail may actually start to follow this trend.  Deconstructing the retail experience and then rebuilding it with additional, value add options that customers can either buy into if they value them or be provided with for free if they are frequent shoppers.  

It's hard to imagine right now how this may look as you can't really see a clothing retailer "unbundling" their changing room or a supermarket "unbundling" their late night opening hours.  However, as technology improves and customers are able to shop using their own smart phones such as in the new Sainsbury's "Mobile Scan & Go" initiative, you can see how this suddenly changes the landscape.

Being able to scan goods and simply walk out of the store, bypassing tills is a real benefit.  Scanning products as you shop allows for personalised pricing, so elements of yield management can start to be introduced - scanning an item with a longer shelf life remaining could actually cost me more for example.  Tying this into the loyalty programme like the airlines do could allow for certain products or product ranges to only be available to loyalty card holders or to be bundled differently so that a "Silver Tier" customer gets a free bottle of wine with their ready-meal which a normal customer doesn't.

However this manifests itself, I agree with Jeff that this unbundling trend that airlines have started (and which Ryanair continues to push the boundaries on) will cross over into retail and some retailers are already putting a toe in the water today.

Online retailer Amazon for example is already doing something like this today with their Amazon Prime offering, providing customers with additional benefits, including free shipping, a free book rental per month and unlimited instant streaming of movies and TV shows.

In the UK, Tesco is trialling Clubcard TV, a service for its loyalty card holders which, like Prime, looks to provide free entertainment content in recognition of their customers continued loyalty.  The website describes it as:-

"Offer[ing] thousands of movies and TV shows for free. There are no schedules, no subscriptions, no fees – as long as you are a Tesco Clubcard customer and you have access to the internet, you’re free to enjoy Clubcard TV"

Also like Amazon Prime, Tesco "Delivery Saver" provides free delivery for online grocery orders for a single, upfront payment.

Whilst these offerings are more about bundling products to enhance the retail experience rather than unbundling them, it does demonstrate how the retail experience is being taken wider than the basic shopping experience.

It's clear that competition is increasing and retailers are always looking for more ways to deliver the right value to the right customers.  If unbundling/bundling can create a differentiated retail experience, catering to the price conscious consumer at one end and the convenience conscious consumer at the other, then it's a trend that's sure to continue.

Sunday 10 February 2013

Feast or Famine: The next move for Netflix?

HouseofcardsSomething interesting happened recently in entertainment; there was a slight shift in the balance of power.

Netflix, traditionally a channel for reaching the content of other networks  became a producer in their own right.

Their new production, "House of Cards" was a shot across the bow for the likes of HBO and more traditional networks and at the moment it seems their $100m gamble is paying off with generally positive reviews.

A Netflix spokesman is quoted as saying:-
"We’re not releasing any data, but we are happy with the reception the show has gotten in the media, on social media and from our members in reviews"
This is a big deal for Netflix and they know it.  Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer is quoted as saying:-
"The goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us."
While this is interesting for the entertainment market, what's more interesting for me is the potential impact this series will have on both customer acquisition and retention for Netflix.

Clearly, unique, exclusive content is a major acquisition tool for Netflix, helping them draw in both new and lapsed customers.  This is a tried and tested model used by the likes of BSkyB who would in many cases pay over the odds for subsequent series of shows like 24, Heros or more recently Mad Men that had previously aired on free-to-air channels, hoping to bring those hooked customers across in the process.

Indeed, customers such as respected blogger Dave Winer who had previously (and publicly) turned off his Netflix account then made an about turn and switched it back on specifically because of this new content.

So there is no question that exclusive content can be a big draw for new customers.  However with "House of Cards" Netflix is also chalking up another first.

They have launched the whole of the House of Cards series in one go.  Original programming made available like a box set from the get-go.

This is really significant as traditionally broadcasters would utilise a high profile series to draw in audiences regularly at an appointed time; keeping viewers restricted and waiting with baited breath for the next episode.  For commercial broadcasters these episodes would be timed to maximise the audience and hence the revenues from advertisers.  It would also provide the opportunity to gain from the halo effect of viewers staying tuned into the channel for longer pre/post airing.

For Netflix however, this doesn't matter;  their revenue comes from subscriptions, not advertisers.  Without this restriction they have provided a veritable feast of television, allowing subscribers to binge on the whole series in one sitting if they like.  Whilst figures aren't available from Netflix directly, it has been reported that a "significant portion of fans binged on the entire series in the first weekend".

It's worth contrasting this with another form of entertainment, that of social games.

I'm currently hooked on the popular social game "Clash of Clans" which uses all of the best gaming mechanics to keep me playing, progressing and in the flow.  The more I play the more I unlock.  If I had access to everything all at once - if I could feast on all it offered - then I'd tune out pretty quickly.  It would be fun, but there would be no challenge.  Instead, they try to balance the game play, including the strength of foes I have to battle based on my current experience and level achieved.

In discussing the winning formula of the game design, the blog Deconstructor of Fun highlights how the game supports different types of play, saying:-
"Not all of the parts of the core loop are equally important as the importance of each part is influenced by [the] player's ongoing goal in the game, which creates different style[s] [of] game play [,] from resource gathering and building, [to] heavy [and] active battling"
Creating this "flow" within social gaming that ensures players are hooked with a fun and entertaining experience takes data.  They need to constantly monitor usage of the game and adjust the mechanics as users progress or they see usage drop at certain points.

Now Netflix are not short of data but i'd argue they're not really getting the maximum value from it as game designers do.

They are well known for their detailed data analysis of their customers viewing habits in order to serve up better and more targeted content.  Currently, around 75% of Netflix customers select content to watch based on their recommendations and Netflix aim for this to be higher.  Mohammad Sabah, Netflix Senior Data Scientist is quoted as saying:-
"The ultimate goal is to show Netflix customers content they’ll view to completion and then recommend the next thing they’ll view to completion"
The problem Netflix have though is the classic situation all retailers face; the consumer has choice.

There is an increasing plethora of streaming services and so whilst recommendations are important and so is exclusive content, the real key is that consumers "value" Netflix.   The stickyness from content only lasts for as long as the content is "exclusive".  Letting customers essentially burn through that exclusive currency too quickly may in fact reduce the time period its effective for but also the extent to which customers actually value the content.

PSYBLOG recently reported on an interesting study that looked at how consumers valued chocolate based on how they consumed it.

In the study, the consumers were split into 3 groups with one told to give it up completely for 1 week, the next given a big bag and told to gorge and the final group, acting as a control, given no chocolate related instructions at all.  At the end of the study, the groups were given more chocolate and asked to rate the experience.

Those who abstained reported getting more pleasure from the chocolate than either the gorging group or the control group.  Not only that, but they also savoured it more - in essence they valued it much more because they'd been restricted.

Getting the balance between feast and famine is key to keeping customers involved and ensuring they continue to value your product/service.  

It's early days for the Netflix experiment but it will be interesting to see if they start to introduce some of these restrictions on consumption to gain additional loyalty; managing the flow of their customers.  You could easily see top rated Netflix consumers - those who watch more shows, over more hours and engage more with other viewers via social media - being given the ability to watch new exclusive content more quickly than others.  This would then provide social currency into the mix, ensuring those customers stay loyal longer and encouraging others to strive to level up.

If you want to stop your brand falling down like a House of Cards, it's worth looking at how game mechanics can strengthen those bonds.

Game mechanics are not just for games.