John Akerson's Thoughts

Business, technology and life

Black Friday is Dead

Black Friday, the Friday after Thanksgiving, is a day that combines a recipe of these ingredients: pent-updemand, planning for holiday gift giving, end of year bonuses, excessive credit, retailer desires, and a deluge of advertising across all forms of media. It is one day, marked in black, when retailers theoretically break even for the year. It is a day that serves as a standard measure of the economy.

According to USA Today, “Last year, the Thanksgiving shopping weekend accounted for 12.3% of overall holiday revenue, according to ShopperTrak. Black Friday made up about half of that.”

Link to Tombstone Maker
Black Friday is dead. Why? It is dead because people love options and alternatives, because some people hate crowds, and most of all because every retailer is now offering more and more options. Here are a few: Buy online, buy on Thanksgiving day, buy on Cyber Monday, buy a week before Black Friday, buy the week after or on any of the shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, or – simply choose not to buy.

Breaking news today shows Black Friday sales rising modestly or enormously, but each article is just showing a small piece of the Black Friday pie.

Here’s some information from Yahoo: “U.S. online sales were up 33 percent on Thanksgiving this year, according to IBM Coremetrics, signaling irresistible promotions in advance of Cyber Monday, the kick-off to the online holiday selling season.”

Major media outlets like Reuters are saying that U.S. retail sales on Friday rose a mere 0.3 percent from the same period last year, while traffic rose 2.2 percent, ShopperTrak said. Heavily discounted merchandise may increase volume, but negatively skews sales data while cutting into profit margins.

But that is just a little piece of the real story. Paypal money transfers increased enormously, and further, Paypal data suggests that the “shopping season began on Monday, November 15, 2010.”

 How significant is that?  Here are some other tidbits of data: 

“Black Friday 2010 resulted in 21 percent more total payment volume compared to Thanksgiving 2010. PayPal saw 19 percent more payment volume on Black Friday 2010 compared to an average Friday in 2010.  PayPal processes 16.5 percent of U.S. eCommerce and 15 percent of global eCommerce.”

So – is there a 0.3% increase? Or a 27% increase?   Experts had forecasted a 2-3% increase

And many enormous retailers were open on Thanksgiving day. (Including  Sears, Toys ‘R’ Us, Kmart, Walmart, Gap, Old Navy and others) My local CVS pharmacy was open until Midnight on Thanksgiving. Many of these retailers had Black Friday deals available early. Many online businesses offered Black Friday deals early.

The cumulative effect is that Black Friday isn’t comparable to last Black Friday because the buying has been moved to a multiple-day, multiple medium affair. What was once confined to a day and a physical location is now everywhere over several weeks.

Black Friday is dead. We will still have a “Black Friday”, and will still call it Black Friday, but sales will begin earlier and earlier and last later and later. Combining that flexibility with online sales will mean that at some point, we might start calling it “Black November-December”  Whatever it is, and whatever it is evolving into, it isn’t Black Friday anymore.

What do you think?

November 28th, 2010 Posted by | Business, Life, Marketing, Social Media | one comment

Nissan & Facebook

Timothy Tiah wrote a thought-provoking review of the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco last week. It has some amazing contrasts of facebook.

On one hand Fred Wilson thinks of Facebook as a photo/chat site. On the other hand Mark Zuckerberg wants it to be an idealistic, privacy-eliminating uber-platform that he can run like a government-less big-brother.  I think it is somewhere in the middle, but with the potential to go either way. As the Facebook “company” grows, it will be less and less of Zuckerberg’s vision, and more of Fred Wilson’s, HOWEVER – So many people are clueless of both potentials, that there is really no way to predict.

 Jeremiah Owyang pointed out this morning that companies are self-depreciating … of their OWN brands when they point to facebook.com/*** instead of their own sites. When I read that, I immediately thought of Nissan’s weekly emails promoting their “master the shift” contest. This is a weekly contest designed to publicize the Nissan Leaf, where they direct contest participants to http://facebook.com/mastertheshift instead of their own site. They aren’t selling a Facebook Leaf, but do they know that?  Well, maybe Nissan is an exception, though. They don’t even own Nissan.com – so, seriously- Perhaps they have bigger issues.

What do you think?

November 24th, 2010 Posted by | Competitive Advantage, Marketing | one comment

Nissan & Facebook

Timothy Tiah wrote a thought-provoking review of the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco last week. It has some amazing contrasts of facebook.

On one hand Fred Wilson thinks of Facebook as a photo/chat site. On the other hand Mark Zuckerberg wants it to be an idealistic, privacy-eliminating uber-platform that he can run like a government-less big-brother.  I think it is somewhere in the middle, but with the potential to go either way. As the Facebook “company” grows, it will be less and less of Zuckerberg’s vision, and more of Fred Wilson’s, HOWEVER – So many people are clueless of both potentials, that there is really no way to predict.

 Jeremiah Owyang pointed out this morning that companies are self-depreciating … of their OWN brands when they point to facebook.com/*** instead of their own sites. When I read that, I immediately thought of Nissan’s weekly emails promoting their “master the shift” contest. This is a weekly contest designed to publicize the Nissan Leaf, where they direct contest participants to http://facebook.com/mastertheshift instead of their own site. They aren’t selling a Facebook Leaf, but do they know that?  Well, maybe Nissan is an exception, though. They don’t even own Nissan.com – so, seriously- Perhaps they have bigger issues.

What do you think?

November 24th, 2010 Posted by | Competitive Advantage, Marketing | one comment

Brilliance in Red Socks

I spent two amazing days last week at the Internet Summit 2010 in Raleigh, NC. I was amazed at the wild collection of brain-horsepower - a group of people that Joe Procopio calls the ”Jocks and Cheerleaders of Nerds”  Who were these people?

There was Paul Lee – who started his discussion by thanking Jonathan Arehart for “tweeting the hell” out of the speakers – and then speaking at length about how game-ifying things provides enormous motivation for people. (Think about THAT: Essentially, he gamed the 1500 attendees into tweeting even more, and particularly about him, proving his point with his own presentation – so smoothly that almost nobody noticed)  He also advised Chip Perry, CEO of Autotrader.com, that when he listed competitors, he ought to consider how Facebook was going to change the game for Autotrader.com. I don’t think Chip knew what hit him.

There was Dana Todd – firey intellect powerfully seeping out to the very roots of her hair – predicting that i-Ads were going to probably dwarf Google, Yahoo & Bing advertising.  If she is correct, Apple is undervalued by at least 200%, and everyone at the conference needs to understand the potential impact.  I’d bet that less than 5% of attendees had considered i-Ads’ potential impact.

Eleanor Hong was calmly riveting with discussion of news, search, and search in news, and – well, how social growth and news ratings interact.  Here’s a link to her presentation. It reminded me a bit of the problem with schrodinger’s cat. If you measure something, the act of measuring it has an impact. News, Media, and Social media statistics, to me, seem to reflect this. An event happens, it is reported, it is blogged, it is tweeted, it is FB’d, etc. It is an endless real-time churn.   Jenny Halasz told everyone about Linked in Signal. When she asked, I am a witness, that not a single person in the room had heard of it. (except perhaps Dana Todd, who had tweeted about it before the summit, but I don’t remember if Dana was there.) That is both a huge compliment to Jenny, and perhaps an eye-opener for Linked-In’s marketing team. (The conference WAS the target audience and NOBODY had heard of Signal.)

There were others who were a bit behind the times. “How many people in the audience have a Facebook account” is really not a valid question for that audience. There were many who were just a wee bit too self promotional. I’m convinced that one of the speaker presented self-promotional information that was either mis-informed, deceptive, or perhaps just plain lying. There were also questions that weren’t asked about every topic. Sometimes the probing should have been deeper. Statistics and sources should be questioned and understood, not glossed over. But these things were sharp in contrast because they were exceptions to the rule of “amazing-informative-powerful” that dominated the Internet Summit. 

And in this bright, shiny intellectual solar system, Bob Young stood out. Bob was pure Brilliance in Red Socks. He spoke with reverence about the people he shared the stage with, a senior Googler, and an IBM Fellow. In the most humble way, he explained how he respected IBM because they put customers first. He explained how he admired Google because he wasn’t smart enough to work there. (Really?) He spoke a bit about his company – http://www.lulu.com - a company that aims to transform media slightly less than Gutenberg did. There was a chart showing how in 2000, there was 1 printing press for every 50,000 people in the world, but now, in 2010, there are 5 devices capable of print for every person.  There was discussion about how 50% of all printed books are never read, and end up in landfills.

Bob impressed as the sort of person who reads business statistics about Amazon selling 24 e-books for every Kindle they sell, and seeing the goodness in saving 12 quarter reams of book paper and a pint of book ink as resources saved for the world… instead of seeing the Kindle as a money printer that will do more for Amazon than it’s cloud services ever will.

So – what did I enjoy most about Internet Summit 2010?  Bob Young in the question and answer section. The unscripted brilliant firey thought, so powerful that his hat couldn’t contain it – so powerful that it ripped right out of his socks.

Bob said:

  • “Before thinking about what’s next, think about what we’ve already done”
  • “Congressmen are not part of “us” – they need to understand … so they might write laws to promote freedom… Freedom is NOT empowered by anarchy.”
  • (in discussing internet fraud) “These guys are evil, but you have to admire it because they do it so well”
  • “good content isnt going to be written unless people are paid to write it”
  • We are raising the most literate generation in the history of mankind- because of technology, not in spite of it.”

Cord Silverstein’s idea is that for next year’s Internet Summit Keynote, just invite Bob, and have him talk about whatever he wants to. He isn’t suggesting that merely because Bob’s Red Socks can be seen from space… and not because Bob’s 64 minute NC State “Leadership in Technology” piece can be seen here…  I think Bob stood out because he wants technology to do good things, humane things, beneficial things, charitable things. Bob’s Aunt may have given “one of the single largest charitable donations in Canadian history“, but Bob is not about money. He is about doing things that will benefit people –  no, rather, he is about doing things that will benefit HUMANITY – things of depth, things of gravitas, things of consequence. 

Bravo Bob! May we all find a way to create a tiny fraction of your brilliance in the work that we do.

November 23rd, 2010 Posted by | Business, Life, People | one comment

Smart Phones Rise

I am at Internet Summit 10 and I have noticed that Mary Meeker’s quote about smart phone numbers exceeding personal computers by 2012 has resonated with everyone.  To refresh, her quote is: “smartphone sales will surpass PC and laptop sales in 2012, with more than 450 million units sold.” So – the panel is talking about technology, infrastructure, net neutrality and how important it is to focus on customers…

Dana Todd  asked, “For marketing people like her, how do they deal with that technology” She meant the increase in smart phones, the changes in how people use technology. She wants to know how the increase in mobile information technology will impact what she needs to do as a marketer.  When mobile users exceed laptops, netbooks, ipads and other personal computer devices – how can marketers best deliver what customers need?

How will Mary Meeker’s projection change what people need? How will it change what people buy, what people use, what people want and what is important to people?  (assuming that people = customers)

These are great questions – what do you think?

November 17th, 2010 Posted by | Business, Competitive Advantage, Continuous Improvement, Marketing, People, Technology | no comments

Shifting Media

Media is changing, rapidly and thoroughly. I think the only certainty about this seismic change is that if you could ride a Delorean 10 years into the future, what media will look like then bears absolutely no resemblance to what it looks like now. How will it change?  Opinions vary wildly based frequently on the benefits seen by the person expressing the opinion.

Avner Ronen, Boxee’s CEO thinks that a payment platform will win over TV networks.  Bruce Eisen, VP of Online Content Development and Strategy for Dish Network thinks tomorrows media distribution model will be today’s, unchanged. But things are already changing in extreme ways. Greg Kampanis, an executive from South Park Digital Studios has seen that offering all of their shows as free content online has resulted in “an increase in ratings along with online advertising revenue.”

And Michael Willner, CEO of Insight Communications asks if Hulu is bad for Broadcasters.

Mr. Willner’s most essential point is about the viability of the current distribution model. To quote: “Eisen’s argument is that even if putting this content online for free has short-term benefits for broadcasters ultimately it will encourage more users to cut ties with their cable or satellite provider, undermining the current distribution model.” (I added that emphasis, here, to make my point.)

The current distribution model is like a woolly mammoth and broadcasters are like little birds that ride the mammoths. At some point, the woolly mammoth became a species doomed to extinction. Some birds hopped onto elephants instead. Some found other ways to survive their ever-changing, evolving environment. Some of the birds didn’t make it. Some of the elephants did.   The ones that thrived were the ones that were both smart enough to recognize the changes and fast enough to react.

I think that Bruce Eisen is in a difficult position, and if he thinks that South Park’s benefits are only short-term. Things are not going to settle back to a 1980′s paradigm where media is controlled by the current industry giants.  There are so many disruptors in the current woolly mammoth-dominated media environment. Although many things are difficult to predict, the future of those mammoths isn’t. The smartest will see that the “current distribution model” isn’t the same as the future distribution model.  Acting like those things are the same, is understandable, and protectionist, but isn’t the most productive long term strategy.

A better approach is to consider, given the current distribution model, and the currently known disruptors, what other distribution models can simultaneously deliver value to viewers and profit to companies that act as media managers, creators, producers and aggregators.

I think Netflix is poised to deliver on that simultaneous-value sweet spot, and their freely-available corporate strategy/playbook suggests they already know it. 

Who will their competition be?  Will they succeed? Will Dish? 

What do you think?

November 11th, 2010 Posted by | Competitive Advantage, Continuous Improvement, Marketing, Technology | no comments