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The next revolution in online retailing

BY Fritz Brumder

What if you could replicate the physical in-store experience on the Web? The concept sounds incredibly powerful. Retailers could connect product experts with key audiences to demonstrate and sell physical products, just like in store. The ubiquitous “Can I help you?” chat windows are a pale reflection, at best, of a truly interactive customer experience. It’s impossible to convey the intricate details that make a brand and its products unique in a text-only window.

What are the core components of the in-store brand experience? Certainly live interaction with knowledgeable staff is key. Social interaction plays into it too: There is energy and insight people draw from each other. Finally, there’s a visual element: Customers can actually see a product in action.

Surprisingly, creating such a live interactive product experience via the Web is starting to happen. Some retailers and brands are building their own microsites for this; others are tapping vendors that offer these features as part of a branded platform. Pottery Barn, for example, recently used the latter approach to host its first summer cocktail event using a real-time video+social platform called Brandlive. Hundreds of participating consumers had a chance to learn about and purchase products, as well as submit questions answered on the spot by product experts. The retailer is already planning more events.

Other retailers and brands are using these live Web-based events to sell products ranging from high-end boats and outdoor cameras to slow cookers and canning jars. But they’re not just selling the product, they’re selling the experience — the chance to examine products, interact with product experts and even socialize with like-minded folks in real-time. The more that experience is a reflection of the brand’s spirit, the stronger the customer connection.

The secret to that connection is live, interactive video with social integration built-in. These events are a natural evolution of omnichannel retailing, and it’s time to prepare for this next wave of real-time authentic engagement.

When online shopping began, it was basically an evolution of the paper catalog. Consumers were trained to expect product images and short descriptions, and now the web gave them even more information and selection. Awesome! Yet that was more than a decade ago. And while online retail technology has improved, the consumer experience hasn’t changed drastically in that time.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the next revolution in online retail involves the next generation of online video. The numbers tell the story. According to comScore, in December 2013, 188.2 million Americans watched 52.4 billion online content videos. A recent study from video marketing firm Invodo found that about 90% of consumers watch online videos, and online shoppers are nearly twice as likely to make a purchase than consumers who do not view video.

But simple video, like a YouTube clip, isn’t enough to sell an experience. Experienced shoppers are very particular about what matters to them. They want an interactive experience, and retailers need to scale their best product experts to demonstrate how products meet customers' needs.

What retailers need are product demonstrations for the digital generation. It’s likely that your online customers are already interacting via video; such applications as Skype, FaceTime, Snapchat and Google Hangouts have become popular methods for online communication. These interactive video+social microsites, on the other hand, extend that experience considerably, giving customer’s quality content and live access to the experts who know the products inside and out. And the results matter: Companies are getting two to three times traditional e-commerce conversion rates, quickly capturing the attention of such industry leaders as eBay, which also is experimenting with the approach.

Recently, retailer Recreational Equipment Inc. joined forces with adventure camera company GoPro to prelaunch an anniversary sale camera bundle. During this event, consumers received VIP treatment and special pricing. All it took was a branded Web page, affordable video equipment and the product experts. Both companies promoted the events through social media and email marketing. Once completed, the archived video was available for future sales promotions. While we will always have static catalog-like e-commerce pages, there is a growing swath of retailers, brands and consumers who seek something more: more interactive, more engaged, more authentic.

Fritz Brumder is CEO of Brandlive.

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DEA issues final rule on the rescheduling of HCPs

BY Ryan Chavis

WASHINGTON — The Drug Enforcement Administration issued a final rule rescheduling hydrocodone combination products from schedule III to schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act. This final rule imposes the regulatory controls and sanctions applicable to schedule II substances on those who handle HCPs, according to the DEA. The rule is effective beginning Oct.6, 2014.

The CSA puts substances with medical uses into one of four schedules, the DEA said. Substances with the greatest potential for harm and abuse are categorized as schedule II and substances with less potential for harm and abuse are placed in schedules III through V. Schedule I is meant for controlled substances that don't currently have an accepted medical use. HCPs are drugs that contain hydrocodone (a schedule II drug) and specific amounts of other substances, such as acetaminophen or aspirin.

“Almost seven million Americans abuse controlled-substance prescription medications, including opioid painkillers, resulting in more deaths from prescription drug overdoses than auto accidents,” said DEA administrator Michele Leonhart, “Today’s action recognizes that these products are some of the most addictive and potentially dangerous prescription medications available.”

The entire final rule may be reviewed here.

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Same-day delivery continues to gain steam as Uber jumps aboard

BY Antoinette Alexander

Feeling under the weather and need an over-the-counter medication delivered to your door or diapers for the little one? Call Uber.

That’s right. Uber, a taxi app company, has announced that it is experimenting with a drug store shopping and delivery service in a limited area to Washington, D.C., residents.

What does it mean for pharmacy retailers? Well, one thing that’s for sure is that if Uber’s service takes off and becomes standard (Uber has said that “the more you love it, the more likely it will last”), it could help pharmacy retailers better compete with rivals who are beefing up their same-day delivery offerings.

For example, Amazon currently serves 12 markets with a same-day delivery service, and even extends that service to the weekends in certain parts of Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Francisco and Seattle. In addition, Walmart To Go is already offering same-day service in three markets — Denver, San Francisco and San Jose — and Target is test-marketing same-day delivery service in Minneapolis, Boston and Miami, reported DSN senior editor Michael Johnsen in a recent article.

According to several industry sources, the momentum is expected to gain steam in the coming years, especially since affluent millennials are showing the greatest interest in same-day delivery.

In fact, as Johnsen reported, a recent RetailNet analysis indicates that AmazonFresh’s same-day delivery service may be able to reach as much as 80% of the population eventually, and as much as 50% in the next 36 months.

So, for those retailers who have not yet waded into the same-day delivery space or are simply dabbling, it is a trend that is not to be underestimated. If the momentum continues, as anticipated, it will become a standard — sooner rather than later.

 

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