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Sunday, November 20, 2011

The daily deal nerve discovered!

Daily deals brought to you by companies such as Snapdeal, Crazeal etc., has brought “coupon-clipping” to an entirely new generation and it’s made it cool. It’s social. It’s a community of people working together if for nothing else but the simple joy of finding a spectacular deal. It joins the masses for the greater good. Bargain hunters unite!

Daily deal sites count on the fact that the limited time frame will pressure people into making a quick decision. You see that timer ticking (a clever visual pressure tactic) and there’s a limited number of the specific deal left, N number of people already bought it and maybe you want to be part of group that’s getting in on a great bargain. After all there’s nothing worse than feeling left out and possibly it’s something you’ll actually use…maybe. But it’s not long after that impulse shopping’s close relative, buyer’s remorse sets in.

Recently, an elderly relative visited me and showed his new Android phone. During our conversation, he mentioned he had been getting spam SMSes about deals, sometimes in the middle of the night. I offered to help him. I said I can install a SMS blocker on his phone and he can have his peace of mind. "No", he promptly replied, "sometimes the deals are interesting and I can't miss those!".

I was taken aback but I know how that feels. It is like “Shaadi ka laddoo – jo khaye pachtaye, jo na khaye pachtaye” or "Every coin has two sides".

So what is the way out? To have the cake and eat it too? Well, there are many preachy 'dos and donts' articles out there that help you decide on what deals to buy. And there is another way - don't succumb and subscribe to every daily deal website but have some friends in your group who do that and have their number in your phone's favourite list! After all - "har ek friend zaroori hota hai!".

Stunning Video of Earth from 240 Miles Up

Here's a beauiful space video: 18 time-lapse sequences of photos taken from the International Space Station, gorgeously processed and edited by Michael K├Ânig.

It is like sitting in heaven and orchestrating the magic called Earth - the mesmerizing aurora borealis or the Northern and Southern Lights, the lightnings in the clouds, the cobwebs of settlement light stretching across continents, the blue oceans. A list of the locations being passed over are mentioned below.

Shooting locations in order of appearance:

1. Aurora Borealis Pass over the United States at Night
2. Aurora Borealis and eastern United States at Night
3. Aurora Australis from Madagascar to southwest of Australia
4. Aurora Australis south of Australia
5. Northwest coast of United States to Central South America at Night
6. Aurora Australis from the Southern to the Northern Pacific Ocean
7. Halfway around the World
8. Night Pass over Central Africa and the Middle East
9. Evening Pass over the Sahara Desert and the Middle East
10. Pass over Canada and Central United States at Night
11. Pass over Southern California to Hudson Bay
12. Islands in the Philippine Sea at Night
13. Pass over Eastern Asia to Philippine Sea and Guam
14. Views of the Mideast at Night
15. Night Pass over Mediterranean Sea
16. Aurora Borealis and the United States at Night
17. Aurora Australis over Indian Ocean
18. Eastern Europe to Southeastern Asia at Night           

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Understanding the European Union Financial Crisis

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, a video is worth 10,000 words.

But why is Germany letting Greece default by cancelling 50% of latters debt?

Before Euro became a common currency across Europe, German exports stood at around $487 billion in 1995. In 1999, the first year of the Euro being used as a currency the exports were at Euro 469 billion. Next year they increased to Euro 548 billion. And now they stand at Euro 1 trillion.

Using Euro as a common currency took away the cost of dealing with multiple currencies and thus helped Germany expand its exports to its European neighbors big time. Also with a common currency at play, exchange rate fluctuations which play an important part in the export game, no longer mattered and what really mattered was the cost of production.

Since the beginning of the Euro in 1999, Germany has become some 30 per cent more productive than Greece. Very roughly, that means it costs 30 per cent more to produce the same amount of goods in Greece than in Germany. That is why Greece imports $64 billion and exports only $21 billion.

So the way it works is that German banks lend to other countries in Europe at low interest rates and they, in turn, buy German goods and services which are extremely competitively priced as well as of good quality. This, of course, helps Germany.

And that is why Germany is interested in rescuing these countries or at least showing that it is trying to do something about it. Because if these countries in Europe collapse, then German exports will collapse as well.

One solution bandied around is that these countries which are in severe debt to Germany should be asked to stop using the Euro as its currency. But if they stop using the Euro as a currency, then the huge export advantage which Germany has had because of the Euro will also end.

Moral of the story? Germany is jammed in from both sides!

How the whole thing happened explained in a picture:

Understanding the European crisis

Who will lose money?

More data and numbers?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Personalization and E-Commerce

Strong customer relationships are important to the success of an e-commerce business. That's why the e-commerce personalization features are so important.

I went to a neighborhood grocery store, of which I am a regular customer, and asked for a bottle of juice. He gave me a bottle of orange juice with lots of pulp, exactly the one I like.
You are standing in a digital electronics store, wondering which video game to buy for your son - Sony PS3 or XBox 360 or Wii? You are inclined to purchase Sony PS3 but minutes later, a store executive walks up to you and points to XBox 360 console and motivates you to give it a try. Nothing more is said and you walk out of the store with XBox 360 in your hand, passing by the smiling store executive.

These are just two forms of personalization out of many. Personalization is easy to achieve in the physical world. In the virtual world, it is a tad hard. There are no store executives to help, yet you must understand the preferences, needs and intentions of the shopper and help him transact. Sounds easy? I will say may be yes but mostly no.

Let's get to product recommendations, a very interesting form of personalization. The phrases that e-retailers use goes something like this:
  • Similar products
  • Recommended products
  • People who viewed this product also viewed these products
  • People who bought this product also bought these products and more
While searching for a dual SIM mobile phone, the following products are recommended for your consideration. If you have guessed by now, recommending relevant products is very important.
What is relevancy? To a shopper, it could mean related products around same price point, similar features and possibly a fast moving item.

Viewed product
Recommended products

This mobile phone costs Rs 2999 and the recommended mobiles are around the same price point. Since the shopper is looking for dual SIM phone, 2 dual SIM phones are recommended. All these 4 products are liked by the users as inferred from reviews and ratings.

Let us take another example where an attempted product recommendations goes bad.

Viewed product
Recommended products

Anomalies are easy to spot - Samsung laptop is similar to Sony PS2 and gaming laptop worth Rs 76,099 does not come close to Sony PS2 costing Rs 5690. And most interestingly, people who bought Sony PS2 also bought a geyser. That is very insightful!

Mostly, product recommendations are generated using rules or computer algorithms. If algorithm driven recommendations are not meaningful, consider manually linking related products or use paid service. It is a safer way to tread. Today's shoppers are smart and they can smell bad recommendations from miles away.

Product recommendations are very useful tools for personalization. If done correctly, it can significantly improve customer experience, conversion rate and repeat purchase.

There are many more decision to make before serving good recommendations. I will cover these in my future blog posts.

More blog posts on E-Commerce:
Social Validation and E-Commerce
Social Commerce: Part 3