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Beyond the Low-cost Price Tags – the Real Price of Fast Fashion

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Gone are the days when consumer bought a pair of jeans and wore it for years. Fast fashion culture has conditioned consumers to expect a constant stream of new clothing that feeds their desire to buy more in order to keep up with the changing trends. Owing to fast fashion, affordable clothes are being manufactured at a warp speed, worn, and quickly discarded, making clothes disposable commodities rather than keepsakes. About 100 billion clothing items are manufactured globally each year and consumption has increased by 400% in the last two decades. Fast fashion has undeniably democratized high fashion by providing affordable apparel for everyday shoppers but it comes at an enormous cost, not reflected in its bargain-basement price tags.

Fast fashion is the fashion now

Selling large quantities of inexpensive clothing has made fast fashion a dominant business model in the garment industry. Another reason for its popularity is the taste of luxury clothing that it offers to shoppers without paying the full price. Fast fashion brands, such as Zara and H&M, are able to produce low-cost mimics of high-end fashion brands. The moment a model walks down the ramp wearing clothes of luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, fast fashion brands mass produce replicas of a similar design and sell them at astonishingly low prices.

While established luxury clothing brands take months to design and distribute a clothing item, Zara is able to design, produce, market, and distribute a new piece of clothing to its stores located across 93 countries in mere two weeks. This enormous efficiency in producing mass clothing at an economical format provides an edge to fast fashion companies that traditional clothing brands will always struggle to replicate.

Fast fashion has transformed dynamics of the whole fashion industry, changing the traditional four-season fashion calendar to 52 micro-seasons. Fast fashion companies such as Missguided launch about 1,000 new products monthly, while Fashion Nova rolls out 600 to 900 new styles every week.

The blindingly fast pace at which clothes are being manufactured and discarded has its consequences. The manufacturing process is environmentally damaging and speedy supply chains depend on underpaid and overworked factory workers.

Environmental cost of fast fashion

The environmental menace linked to manufacturing and consuming fast fashion is hidden across the lifecycle of each piece of clothing. The production process is tremendously polluting to begin with, as factories indiscriminately dump toxic chemical-laden wastewater into rivers and tonnes of greenhouse gases are emitted while manufacturing – about 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 is emitted annually by the global textile industry, which is more than aviation and shipping industries combined.

Even the choice of fabric for manufacturing fast fashion garments is posing environmental risks. Proportion of synthetic materials, such as polyester in our clothing has increased two-fold since 2000, rising to 60% in 2019. These fibers are oil-based and a single polyester shirt has 5.5 kg of carbon footprint, as compared to 2.1 kg from a cotton shirt. Moreover, polyester generates vast amounts of greenhouse gases, sheds microfibers that cause plastic pollution in oceans, and when disposed, it does not naturally decompose, compounding the waste problem.

A major ramification of fast fashion is that clothes move from consumer’s wardrobes to garbage as fast as they are manufactured. It is likely that within 7-8 uses, a jeans or shirt would be discarded for clothing that is newer and trending. The shorter lifespan of garments is not only generating enormous amount of waste but is also putting strain on production resources such as water that is extensively used in the manufacturing process.

Globally, about US$ 400 billion worth clothing is discarded prematurely and 21 billion tons of textile is sent to landfills annually. The ecological cost associated with these garments is tremendous – 3,000 liters of water is required to manufacture one cotton shirt and a pair of jeans needs about 8,000 liters of water, almost the amount of water an average person drinks over two years is utilized in production of garments that will be quickly discarded.

Social cost of fast fashion

With rise of globalization, supply chains have become international, which has led to increased outsourcing of textile production to countries that offer low-cost labor. Fast fashion’s low price tags largely depend on even lower production costs. Hence, countries such as USA produce only 3% of its garments, while the rest is outsourced to developing countries, such as Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, etc.

Low-cost production means factory owners need to cut down costs, which is usually done at the expense of safety and results in providing appalling working conditions for factory workers. Fast fashion production uses 8,000 synthetic chemicals, several of those chemicals are carcinogenic affecting health of factory workers. Moreover, workers are constantly exposed to fumes of toxic chemicals, which pose serious threat to their lives.

Fast fashion frenzy has led retailers to indulge in unfair labor practices in an attempt to keep production costs low and simultaneously increase production. About 85% of textile factory workers are women, who work overtime and are highly underpaid. Lack of regulation has given way to exploitation of labor in countries such as Bangladesh, where retailers pay as little as US$ 2-3 per day to garment workers, a larger portion of them are engaged by fast fashion brands. Even in developed economies such as the USA, companies such as Fashion Nova have been found to pay employees far below the minimum wage – the brand was reported to pay US$ 2.77 an hour to its workers in Los Angeles.

Additionally, cases of child labor have been registered in countries including Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Turkey, and Vietnam.

A move towards sustainable production

In the past decade, changing consumer attitudes associated with sustainability and corporate transparency have propelled fast fashion retailers to rethink impact of their production processes.

Notable steps have been taken by some of the largest fast fashion brands such as Zara and H&M. Zara aims to use 100% organic, sustainable or recycled material in its clothing line by 2025. Also, it has plans for its facilities not to produce any landfill waste by 2025. Currently, Zara has a sustainable clothing collection, Join Life, which uses sustainable raw materials such as organic cotton, tencel (cellulose fiber), or recycled polyester.

H&M also has a similar vision of using 100% sustainably sourced or recycled materials in its garments. It also aims to reduce water consumption and CO2 emissions in production processes. The company already has a clothing line, Conscious, which uses sustainable materials for manufacturing garments.

Both companies also claim to be striving to provide better working conditions for workers and pay fair wages.

Beyond the Low-cost Price Tags – the Real Price of Fast Fashion by EOS Intelligence

EOS Perspective

Thanks to fast fashion, for many consumers, what used to be a thoughtful and occasional purchase, has turned into a series of impulse buys at shorter intervals. The rate at which garments are being produced is not environmentally sustainable and putting profits ahead of workers’ welfare has led to abuse and exploitation of laborers globally.

Fortunately, the number of eco-conscious consumers is on the rise, a fact that has pushed fast fashion retailers to reevaluate strategies and focus on sustainable production. However, a question still remains how much of those sustainability pledges and greener production goals actually hold true.

Can fast fashion really be sustainable?

The fundamental problem lies in the business model of fast fashion that is based on selling more products. The industry’s profitability hinges on luring consumers to fresh stream of new clothes and designs that are launched almost weekly. A business model that is based on over-production is far from being sustainable.

Fast fashion companies are often criticized for greenwashing and distracting consumers from their harmful practices. For instance, H&M’s recycle program encourages shoppers to donate their old clothes, which H&M claims to recycle to create new textile. However, only 0.1% of all collected clothing is believed to be actually recycled, while the rest is most likely dumped in landfills. H&M’s clever marketing tactics make shoppers believe that it is a green company, but in reality, H&M offers discount vouchers to shoppers in exchange of their donated clothes, which pushes consumers to buy even more clothes.

Claims made by fast fashion companies on using 100% sustainable fabric have been questioned by various experts and critics, as all fabrics utilize enormous amount of natural resources and energy in the production process. Fast fashion companies might be shifting to fabrics with lower environmental profile but it cannot be completely sustainable, as claimed.

Moreover, H&M and Zara’s sustainable clothing lines, Conscious and Join Life, have been called out for misleading consumers with vague sustainability claims. It is unclear to consumers why these companies are labelling their clothing lines as sustainable. The companies have never defined terms such as ‘sustainably sourced’ or ‘sustainable materials’, used to describe their clothing lines. Hence, it is ambiguous how they source the materials, what is meant by sustainable materials, and what portion of garments they actually constitute.

While making an effort to use environmentally-friendly materials is definitely a step towards better production practices, it is not enough to compensate for the overall damage that fast fashion companies impose on the environment, hence, consumers also need to do their part.

Time to slow the fast fashion

Fast fashion thrives because companies create demand for clothing. To curb this demand, consumers need to make changes in shopping behavior to reduce their own environmental footprint.

A conscious choice needs to be made to purchase less clothes and to use the existing ones for longer time period. Solely wearing a garment for nine months longer can reduce carbon footprint of that garment by 30%.

Buying used clothes is another way to reduce environmental impact. Wearing used garments is a sustainable way to recycle clothes which would otherwise be discarded in landfills. If every shopper purchased one used item in a year, it could save CO2 emission equivalent to pulling out half a million cars from roads for a year.

Nonetheless, if consumers make mindful choices and fast fashion brands commit to doing business differently, we would be able to produce and consume less.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Influencer Marketing Redefining the Fashion and Beauty Industry

Social media users are increasingly reliant on and influenced by what they see online, particularly, when it comes to marketing done by fashion and beauty brands. Social media provides immense marketing opportunities to the fashion and beauty industry by allowing them to closely interact with customers and influence their buying decisions like never before. To tap such opportunities, about 78% of global fashion brands incorporated social influencers in their marketing strategy in 2017, according to a survey conducted by Launchmetrics. Influencers are slowly becoming an integral part of marketing campaigns for fashion and beauty brands – for high-end brands such as Becca Cosmetics and Yves Saint Laurent, as well as affordable brands such as Maybelline, for whom influencers have been pivotal in driving sales.

Why beauty and fashion brands are adopting influencer marketing?

In the past, to launch new collections or promote products, fashion/beauty brands invested heavily in celebrities and television models gracing magazine covers, billboard and television advertisements, among others. These efforts were effective but as technology progresses, fresh marketing tactics are born. While most of the traditional forms of advertising are still being used, brands have started to realize how laborious it is to employ traditional methods in promoting products, hence, majority of brands are going digital and starting to work with influencers.

How influential is influencer marketing?

Undoubtedly, influencer marketing is one of the fastest growing digital marketing tools, providing unparalleled access to real-time word-of-mouth targeting. For marketers, today’s social media influencers are yesterday’s celebrities and socialites, only with a more persuasive voice and greater power to reach audiences.

Beauty and fashion industry has understood the power of influencer marketing quite well. Cosmetics brands such as Smashbox have completely abandoned the use of traditional print media for advertising while luxury cosmetics companies such as Estee Lauder have significantly reduced spending on traditional media to focus on digital.

Fashion and cosmetics brands are using various types of influencer campaigns to promote products, foster brand awareness, and boost sales. For example, Maybelline (an American cosmetics company) in China used the influence of beauty bloggers and 50 celebrity influencers to do a 20-minute livestream video for a newly launched lipstick in 2016, which led to sales of 10,000 lipsticks in two hours.

On the other hand, Olay (an American skincare company) introduced a skincare campaign, Olay 28-day Challenge, which urged influencers to document their four-week experience of using company’s products while updating their followers simultaneously across various social media platforms. Influencers also gave away free samples and offered discounts to followers to encourage them to buy the products to join the skincare challenge. In 2018, the campaign was able to increase engagement rate by 20% and there was a significant increase in Google searches for the brand name.

There is no end to innovative social media campaigns that brands are launching. For example, in 2018, H&M (A Swedish clothing retail company) engaged in conversation with consumers on Instagram to come up with new designs for its brand Nyden, which is targeted at millennials. H&M worked with nine influencers, who used Instagram stories’ polling feature to understand followers’ preferences for certain designs, such as using zippers versus buttons, among others. Over a period of two weeks, the polls attracted more than 425,000 viewers and generated 35,000 votes.

For brands such as Fashion Nova (an American fast fashion retail company), with 14 million Instagram followers and ranked as the most Googled fashion brand of 2018, marketing through Instagram has been pivotal in its rapid ascent in the fashion industry. Fashion Nova is known for betting big on Instagram and use of celebrity influencers – as of December 2018, the company had worked with 3,000 influencers on Instagram. Using celebrity influencers, it claims to have generated sales up to US$ 50,000 per post and selling out a whole collection of clothing line within 82 minutes. With about 20 to 30 posts per day on Instagram, Fashion Nova knows how to keep its audience engaged and generate brand awareness.

What challenges are obstructing growth?

Influencer fatigue

Influencer marketing is not as impeccable as it sounds to be. With more and more businesses adopting influencer marketing, threat of influencer fatigue increases, which could result in disengaged audiences and reduced impact. According to a study conducted by Bazaarvoice in 2018, about 47% respondents claimed to be fatigued with repetitive influencer posts on Instagram.

Promotional content is already beginning to clutter consumer’s news feeds. With beauty and fashion influencers recommending every other product that enters the market, audiences will eventually lose trust in them, feel disengaged and overwhelmed. Consumers, after some time, are bound to get tired of having their buying behavior manipulated. Just like people started using ad-blockers when websites became loaded with advertisements, there’s a probability that they may also turn away from beauty/fashion influencers.

Absence of standard metrics/parameters to determine success of campaigns

There is uncertainty regarding what constitutes a successful influencer marketing campaign and how to calculate ROI on marketing spend. Beauty and fashion companies are unable to accurately calculate profitability of influencer campaigns. According to a study published by Celebrity Intelligence in 2018, 46% of respondents (from the beauty industry) faced challenge in evaluating ROI of an influencer collaboration.

Driving purchases is not always the key objective of influencer marketing, rather it focuses on softer goals like growing brand awareness or boosting engagement, which makes ROI far more complex to determine.

Influencer marketing does not guarantee results in terms of sales, brand reach, or number of clicks. No standard metrics have been set for the industry to measure success, instead brands end up speculating whether the campaign was successful or not. Some beauty and fashion companies monitor the comments or number of likes on the posts, while others determine views on videos or track campaign hashtags, all of which are not very effective methodologies.

Fraudulent practices

Much like other industries, beauty and fashion market has also fallen prey to influencer frauds. According a report published Points North Group in 2018, cosmetics/skincare companies suffered losses due to fraudulent engagement – 46% of Raw Sugar Living’s influencer marketing budget was squandered on fake followers, Clarins lost 45% of its budget on influencer frauds, while L’occitane blew 24% of its budget, among various others. Such deceitful practices have taken a toll on marketers, who invest in influencers to drive brand awareness and sales, but their campaigns fail to reach the actual target audience.

Another inauthentic social media activity plaguing the beauty and fashion industry is staging fake promotional posts by aspiring influencers. Companies want to see promotional abilities and references of past campaigns of influencers before hiring them to do paid sponsored posts. Hence, aspiring influencers, particularly from the beauty and fashion industry, have started to publish posts with brand hashtags and captioning it in a manner such that it seems to be a promotional or sponsored content. While this leads to free publicity for brands but most of them complain that this also results in inferior quality sponsored content posted without approval, which could harm brand’s reputation.

Influencer Marketing Redefining the Fashion and Beauty Industry by EOS Intelligence

EOS Perspective

If there is any market that qualifies to be an early adopter of influencer marketing, it is the beauty and fashion industry. It is an extremely dynamic industry and to stand out from competitors, brands need to constantly evolve, be creative, and promote products extensively – all of which is easily achieved through influencer marketing.

Equipped with social media savviness, influencers have the power to eloquently persuade consumers to make purchases. There is no limit to the creativity that they bring to the table – fashion/beauty influencers design compelling marketing campaigns for the brands by reviewing products, conducting polls and contests, offering huge giveaways, sharing their experiences of using products through videos or photographs, attending events organized by brands and promoting such events, among various other tactics.

Is influencer marketing here to stay?

There is no doubt that influencer marketing is becoming the mainstay of beauty and fashion industry, far from a passing fad. The personal nature of influencer campaigns is one of the reasons why it is proving to be effective for the beauty and fashion industry. According to a survey conducted by Celebrity Intelligence in 2018, 98% of beauty companies believed that influencer marketing is effective for the industry while 68% thought beauty segment has a natural affinity with influencers. Even though difficult to calculate, surveys have determined that influencer campaigns could also provide high ROIs – for every US$1 spent on influencer marketing, brands received average ROI of US$10.7 in 2017. Fashion and beauty brands have gauged the power of social media and know that with the right influencer endorsing to the right community/audience, it can translate into clicks, conversions, and actual sales.


Find out more about drivers and challenges in influencer marketing adoption here


For fashion and beauty brands, influencer marketing has become a multi-million-dollar investment, with considerable portions of their budgets dedicated to influencers. For example, Estee Lauder (a US-based cosmetics company), in 2019, revealed that 75% of its marketing budget will be spent on digital marketing, particularly on influencers, while Shiseido (Japanese multinational personal care company) increased its influencer marketing budget by 50% in 2019. On the other hand, in February 2019, Benefit Cosmetics (a US-based cosmetics company) formed an in-house dedicated influencer agency in the UK to streamline influencer marketing operations and manage influencer relationships. In the future, it plans to expand the in-house influencer agency to other locations as well.

Undoubtedly, influencer marketing has dramatically changed the fashion and beauty industry, by allowing real people to narrate a brand story, demonstrate product, and provide honest and credible product reviews. In order to make it a sustainable marketing strategy, measures are being taken to overcome some of the existing challenges. In pursuit to engage with authentic influencers, beauty brands are adopting more sophisticated, data-led approach to selection process. According to Celebrity Intelligence survey, in 2018, about 67% of beauty brands identified social media analytics (including audience insights and engagement metrics) useful to choose authentic and suitable content creators.

Another ongoing challenge is to accurately determine success of campaigns, which some companies (including lifestyle and cosmetics brands such as Daniel Wellington, L’Oréal, and Olay) are tackling by providing influencers with a unique URL or a discount code, which followers can use and brands can easily track conversions. If the campaign does not entail discounts, various metrics can be used to evaluate ROI such as traffic driven, social reach, social media impressions, engagement rate, cost per impression, and cost per engagement, among others.

Nonetheless, opportunities that influencer marketing provides for the beauty and fashion industry outweigh all downsides. While brands have achieved success with sponsored posts and brand hashtags on social media, there is still a lot more for them to explore and innovate through influencer marketing.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Influencer Marketing: A Powerful Marketing Tool on the Rise

Influencer marketing, until fairly recently a new marketing tool, is now on the frontier of becoming a mainstream marketing channel. The real, relatable, and reaction-stimulating content created by influencers, distinguishes this form of marketing from traditional marketing channels. Influencer marketing offers effective means for brands to communicate and engage with customers on social media, a fact that is driving its popularity. Laden with potential to drive sales and grow brand awareness, the influencer marketing market is likely to reach US$22.3 billion by 2024. However, certain challenges do exist in the market, and if not addressed, they can potentially hinder market growth.

Influencer marketing started shaping up around 2005 with mere video blogs on YouTube, but quickly grew in prominence as marketers took notice of its potential. Growing at a CAGR of 28% between 2019 and 2024, the industry is becoming a marketing mainstay for brands across various markets. This is driven by the fact that influencers generate a sense of proximity with their audiences, which helps in molding their shopping behavior under discrete suggestions and recommendations.

What is driving adoption of influencer marketing?

Consumers, especially millennials, are embracing a different approach to making purchasing decisions. Consumers are relying on Instagram models, Twitter personalities, and YouTube influencers to seek recommendations or to understand which brand or product is trending in the market. This has resulted in brands endorsing products through various social media channels using influencers.

Moreover, it is a proven fact that word-of-mouth marketing leads to twice as high sales as paid advertising, and influencer marketing is nothing but a form of word-of-mouth marketing. Studies also suggest that shoppers purchasing product through word-of-mouth have a 37% higher retention rate, another reason why brands want to reach their consumers through influencer marketing.

Additionally, the way that we consume media has changed. Social media boom is slowly driving consumers away from traditional forms of advertising and marketing. More than ever, social channels are becoming means to start a conversation with consumers and build direct relationships with them. With traditional advertising being sidelined by consumers (about 65% of people skip ads posted during or before online videos), influencer marketing has become an integral channel to connect with them.

How have influencers assisted companies to increase sales and grow brand awareness?

Engaging with influencers is proving to be an effective way of getting a sale, hence, brands are investing considerable budgets in influencer marketing. Brands are partnering with influencers to launch various types of innovative campaigns, with primary focus on increasing brand awareness (84%), reaching new audience (71%), and generating sales (64%), according to a survey conducted by Mediakix in 2019.

For example, YouFoodz, an Australian food chain, used Instagram to promote the launch of its 2017 winter menu. It collaborated with 81 influencers, who posted 162 Instagram stories and 176 pieces of content, which reached 1.5 million Instagram users. The campaign was a huge success, generating 70,000 direct engagements and over 500,000 impressions (number of times particular content is displayed, regardless of if it was clicked or not).

Relying on influencer marketing, Bigelow Tea (an America tea manufacturer) was able to showcase healthy aspects of drinking tea and promote its product to a large audience. Influencers incorporated Bigelow tea into their content in various ways. Culinary influencers developed different recipes to use tea in innovative ways, while craft bloggers turned packaging into DIY arts, for example, creating flower pots from the tea packaging. The campaign led to more than 44 million impressions and increased sales by 18.5%.

Further, M&M (a product of US-based confectionary and food company, Mar Incorporated) launched an innovative campaign in 2016 to let audience decide its new peanut flavor (a choice between Honey Nut, Chili Nut, and Coffee Nut) by running a mini-election. It partnered with a television personality and a team of influencers to encourage people to try the flavors and cast their votes. Finally, coffee nut flavor was selected, and the campaign generated 269 million impressions, 216 influencer posts, 14.4 million social engagements, and more than 1 million votes.

Is influencer marketing cost effective?

Influencer marketing has proven to be quite budget friendly, allowing large brands and small start-ups to launch compelling marketing campaigns. Traditional forms of advertising campaigns, through television commercials, magazines and newspaper ads, etc., require substantial investment.

On the other hand, influencer marketing is cost effective and simpler to execute. Companies with limited budget can engage with micro (comprising 1,000-5,000 followers) or nano (comprising less than 1,000 followers) influencers and still achieve remarkable results without spending a fortune.

In fact, according to a study conducted by Takumi, micro and nano influencers can generate high engagement rates – influencer with up to 1,000 followers could generate about 9.7% engagement rate, while influencers with 1,000-4,000 followers could provide 4.5% engagement rate. Micro and nano influencers tend to build strong trust and authenticity, and are relatable to their audience, which enhances their ability to engage an audience. According to a study conducted by Experticity, 82% of consumers have higher probability of listening to suggestions provided by micro influencers than those provided by influencers with large number of followers.

Moreover, surveys have determined that influencer marketing could yield a decent average ROI of US$ 5.20 for every dollar spent, which makes it an appealing option for marketers.

What challenges are hindering growth?

Lack of stringent regulations leading to poor compliance with guidelines

Current regulations and guidelines pertaining to influencer endorsements are not stringent or comprehensive, leading to malpractices. In the USA, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) requires influencers to provide disclosure in case of sponsored content, however, no fines are applied for violations. As a result, most influencers do not adhere to the endorsement regulations, either due to lack of knowledge or in fear of losing followers. In 2018, out of 800 Instagram accounts from UK, USA, and Canada, only 25% fully complied with local regulations pertaining to sponsored content, according to a study released by Inkifi.

Such misleading conduct on influencer’s part could raise questions on their authenticity and lead to mistrust among their followers, who demand transparency. Moreover, large corporations such as Unilever (a consumer goods company) have strictly refused to work with influencers who indulge in fraudulent activities. Influencers are at risk of losing trust of their followers as well as of companies if they continue to indulge in misleading activities.

Fraudulent engagement

Typically, brands use the number of followers on an influencer’s account to estimate campaign results in terms of ROI, engagement rate, brand awareness, earned media value, among others. To seem more appropriate or popular, some influencers purchase their followers using bots – software designed to automatically like, comment, and share posts, increase views on videos, and inflate number of followers on accounts. Influencers have also started to fake their engagements by joining a community of real users to trade likes and comments. Despite these followers being real people, they are not likely to be interested in influencer’s content. Consequently, brands fail to meet the desired campaign result or reach the target audience.

In 2019, fraudulent activities were estimated to cost brands US$1.3 billion, about 23% of allocated budget for influencer marketing. Fraudulent practices are inhibiting market growth, as brands are increasingly becoming cautious of investing in influencer marketing – as of January 2019, about 53% of brands stated that fraudulent impressions were obstacles to increasing digital advertisement budgets.

Influencer Marketing A Powerful Marketing Tool on the Rise by EOS Intelligence

EOS Perspective

Influencers are no longer an extra asset to marketing campaigns instead they have become a critical element of storytelling and building direct relationship between brands and customers. Influencers have positioned themselves as authentic gurus rather than simple advertisers, with 92% of consumers making purchasing decision based on influencers’ posts in 2018. Their relentless savviness to promote brands is what keeps audiences engaged and brands coming back for more.

Nonetheless, challenges do persist but the industry is continuously evolving and coming up with solutions. Measures are being taken against inauthentic engagements. Platforms such as Instagram have started to strictly regulate fraudulent activity and began to threaten offenders with fraud penalties, account suspension, and brand reputation damage. Companies have also become mindful and vigilant while engaging with influencers and started to thoroughly vet them to check for fake followers or use of bot to increase followers. On the legal side, a New York Attorney General has stated that selling fake followers on social media will be considered as an illegal activity in the state.

Further, in November 2019, FTC launched guidelines for sponsored content under ‘Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers’ that encompasses when and how influencers should disclose their engagement with brands, regardless of whether or not it includes payment. FTC has not made any major changes in the guidelines but the new guide is more user-friendly with abridged language, and photos and videos illustrating the correct way to endorse products on social media.


Find out how influencer marketing is reshaping fashion and beauty industry here


According to the guidelines, when partnering with brands, disclosure is mandatory when there’s a financial, employment, personal, or family relationship with a brand. Disclosure language should be simple and clear, and the disclosure should be hard to miss (for example, disclosures on Instagram are required to be placed at the beginning of the post’s description and before the ‘more’ button). FTC’s aim is to foster transparency in sponsored content by placing more liability on brands and influencers to explicitly reveal their relationship while recommending products.

Influencer marketing has well-established itself in the advertising industry and is moving towards becoming a mainstream marketing channel, and such measures taken by regulatory authorities, social media platforms such as Instagram, as well as the brands will further strengthen its position as a marketing channel. In future, not only will influencer marketing continue to grow in popularity, but is also likely to become a more purposeful and effective way to communicate and engage with audiences. Allured by endless opportunities, brands will continue to collaborate with influencers and the industry is poised to grow.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Is Sustainability Just Another Buzzword in Food Packaging Industry?

Sustainable food packaging has recently received an increased attention within the food & beverage sector. Most players try to make sure not to miss any chance of communicating their concern over plastic waste to the general public, showcasing their initiatives taken to curb the waste. Are such initiatives taken out of actual concern or are they just a move to position the brands right in the ‘environmentally-concerned’ market?

It is assumed that packaging is considered sustainable, if it meets three criteria of sustainability. First, it should be economically viable for the consumers as well as the manufacturers. Second, it should be socially acceptable in terms of ease of use, transporting, sorting, and storing. Most importantly, third, the packaging must be eco-friendly through the use of materials that are responsibly-sourced and reusable/recyclable, to reduce the environmental impact of the packaging.

Change fueled by multiple triggers                 

Food and beverage (F&B) and related packaging industry players have been under a growing pressure to be more transparent and to introduce changes to the way food products are packaged. Considering that a significant share of non-sustainable, non-biodegradable waste, especially plastic, comes from food industry, improving the packaging and transitioning to more eco-friendly solutions is becoming imperative, rather than optional, for increasing number of F&B companies.

At the same time, the pressure to reduce waste and protect the environment from non-biodegradable substances is creating new opportunities for the packaging materials producers and for F&B companies with regards to more relevant brand positioning in this highly competitive industry.

While a lot has been changing in the packaging sphere under the heat from environmentalists and legal requirements introduced by regulators, the role of an aware consumer exerting pressure through product scrutiny and shopping choices should not be underestimated in this process.

According to a report published in April 2019 by Globalwebindex, a market research company, there has been a rise in the number of consumers globally who are willing to pay more for eco-friendly/sustainable products (including their packaging), from 49% in 2011 to 57% in 2018. Consumer awareness is growing fast thanks to governments’ initiatives, educational media, and activists’ social media efforts, all of which have triggered an increased sense of responsibility amongst many consumers, who start to understand the importance of switching to eco-friendly and sustainable packaging.

Increasingly, consumer awareness is going beyond just passive understanding and translates into actions which have a real power to change F&B sector’s approach to food packaging. Consumers vote with their spending dollars and exert pressure by switching their loyalty to other brands, both of which approaches appear to be quite effective. According to the same survey by Globalwebindex, 61% of consumers are likely to switch from their currently-used brands to more environmentally-friendly ones if the latter score better on the environmental friendliness front. This shows that F&B companies really do need to re-think their product and packaging choices and start putting money and effort in sustainable solutions, if not from real concern over the environment, then for retaining consumer trust and maintaining brand values.

Big F&B brands appear to show initiative

The increased scrutiny over F&B companies’ packaging choices has already started bringing some results. Several major players are looking to invest in transforming their packaging materials to sustainable ones. Despite the challenges in bringing innovations into packaging materials and designs, and altering their supply chain, several F&B players are claiming to strive for their sustainability goals. Some claims may surely be genuine but some could possibly be a strategy to get the ‘sustainable company’ tag to stand out from the competition in the F&B industry.

Understandably, players are very vocal about their initiatives targeted at improving their eco-friendly standing to appeal to the environmentally-concerned consumers. F&B brands such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Unilever, Nestle, to name a few, have already announced time-bound plans to revolutionize their packaging models.

For example, in January 2018, the beverage giant Coca-Cola announced a goal to collect and recycle the equivalent of every bottle it sells globally by 2030. The company with its bottling partners started an initiative with a plan called “World Without Waste” that is focused on entire packaging cycle from designing and manufacturing of bottles to their recycling. For the execution of this plan, the company plans to educate the public on what, how, and where to recycle, teaming up with local communities, NGOs, industry peers, and consumers. Furthermore, under the plan of “World Without Waste”, the company aspires to create packaging from at least 50% recycled materials by 2030 and continue pursuing the goal to make all consumer packaging 100% recyclable by 2025.

Is Sustainability Just Another Buzzword in Food Packaging Industry? by EOS Intelligence

In addition to this, in October 2019, Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP), the largest independent Coca-Cola bottler, announced it would switch the carriers on its multipacks from shrink wrap to paperboard to reduce packaging waste. The company claims that with this switch it will remove about 4,000 metric tons of single-use plastic per year from its current supply chain. The paperboard packaging is planned to be certified from either the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). Similarly, in January 2019, Coca-Cola packaging partner, Coca-Cola Amatil Australia, announced to cease the distribution of single-use plastic straws and stirrers, and distribute biodegradable Forest Stewardship Council accredited recyclable paper straws.

According to a report by Packaging Gateway, Coca-Cola claims to have made 88% of the consumer packaging recyclable, while its packaging used 30% of recycled material by the end of 2018. Also, about 58% of the equivalent of bottles and cans introduced by the company into the developed markets were refilled, collected, or recycled during 2018. Overall, the company’s recover and recycle rate was said to be 56% in 2018 as compared to 59% during 2017 or 61% in 2014. This proves that with growing sales, Coca-Cola’s efforts might not make as much impact as the company would want the public to think.

Nevertheless, the company is undertaking further initiatives to improve its environmental score. It committed to invest US$15 million in Circulate Capital, an investment management firm dedicated to incubating and financing companies and infrastructure that work upon curbing the plastic waste thrown into the oceans. Further plans of the company include increasing the use of recycled plastic in Australia by 2020.

In another example, PepsiCo also talks about becoming an environment-friendly company, announcing to use 25% of recycled content in its plastic packaging by 2025. In order to meet its target, in September 2018, the company announced its participation in the World Economic Forum’s Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP). The partnership focuses on stakeholders located in coastal economies, such as those in Southeast Asia, and its purpose is to help businesses, communities, and local governments redesign waste management to create circular models that include collecting waste and recycling or composting it to reduce waste streams to the oceans or landfills.

PepsiCo also announced other targets for improved sustainability to be achieved by 2025. These include to re-design all of its packaging to be recyclable, compostable, or biodegradable, to reduce virgin plastic content by 35% across its beverage portfolio, and to amp up investment to increase recycling rates in key markets.

Apart from individual targets, another initiative was also launched in October 2019 jointly by a few beverage players. As reported by a publishing firm, William Reed, three beverage companies, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Keurig Dr Pepper, announced their partnership with World Wildlife Fund, The Recycling Partnership, and Closed Loop Partners under the “Every Bottle Back” initiative. This initiative, starting in late 2020, will include investment of US$100 million and will focus on sorting, processing, and collecting discarded plastic bottles in four US regions. The initiative also targets to educate consumers that PET bottles are 100% recyclable, easily remade into new plastic, bottles, shirts, shoes, coats, park benches, and playground equipment, by introducing pack label messaging.

Smaller players are emerging with packaging innovations

The pressure to embrace sustainable packaging is even greater for smaller and mid-size F&B companies, if they want to stay relevant to the customers, grasp their attention, and grow own market share. Smaller players in the industry seem to understand this and have proven to be more agile in introducing new products that focus on organic ingredients with sustainable packaging, while challenging big brands’ prices.

For example, in March 2016, Alter Eco Foods, a San Francisco-based chocolate-centric, healthy indulgence, and sustainability-oriented food brand, launched the first stand-up pouch made from renewable plant-based materials, designed for storing quinoa grain. This innovative pouch named “Gone 4 Good”, is not meant to be recycled but to be thrown in a composting bin where it will disintegrate within three to six months. Made from eucalyptus and breech trees for the exterior and compostable resin called “Matter-Bi” for the interior, the pouch has several green certifications. Apart from this, in early 2019, the company also transitioned its chocolate truffles packaging from non-recyclable plastic pouch to a recyclable paper box and claims to be looking for solutions to replace its current plastic Coconut Cluster pouch, since it is yet not recyclable or compostable. The company is determined to make all its products packed in 100% recyclable or compostable packaging by December 2020.

Another player, B.O.S.S. Food, a Texas-based nutrition bar company, started selling its premium nutrition bars in compostable wrappers made by TIPA (an Israel-based compostable packaging company) in 2017, focusing on ensuring the products’ packaging is environmentally safe. TIPA’s packaging is a bio-based blend with all the properties of normal plastic but is certified for both home and industrial composting through OK Compost mark by the TUV institute. The packaging also complies with food contact regulations in Europe and the USA.

Similarly, a UK-based beverage company named Earlybirds launched a 100% plant-based packaging for its breakfast drinks – bottles and lids made from sustainable sugarcane, over the span of two months of September and October 2019. The launch made the packaging 100% compostable as per EU biodegradability standards. The company’s advertisements claim that, under the right conditions, the bottle will breakdown in twelve weeks and it can be thrown in food waste bin and then composted at an industrial composter, reducing it back to soil. The company is the first in the UK to launch sustainable packaging for beverages.

These are just a few of several smaller F&B companies, which are focusing on bringing new packaging solutions to improve their rating as environment-friendly companies in the eyes of consumers. The initiatives are worth the effort, even though players face quite a few challenges in embracing sustainable packaging over traditional packaging.

Such challenges include higher costs, choosing the right material for packaging that must comply with the standards of environmental safety, as well sustaining the quality of the food product. It is estimated that the companies are required to spend nearly 25% more on the sustainable packaging than on the traditional packaging. This higher cost is attributed to major shifts in supply chain, including (but not limited to) procuring the raw material for packaging to collecting the used packaging for recycling. Another major factor contributing to higher costs of sustainable packaging is the R&D expenses that must be borne by the companies. The solutions still require a lot of research, as there are still very few commonly-used technologies and packaging products, thus a lot of players need to invent them. The companies need to invest considerable sums in developing an environment-friendly packaging material that is viable for their food product to sustain throughout the supply chain as well as shelf life, and (equally importantly) has the aesthetic appeal to grab the consumer’s attention.

But despite being smaller in size and having to deal with challenges, companies such as Alter Eco, B.O.S.S. Food, or Earlybirds have been investing extensively in R&D, a fact that resulted in several of them coming out with better and innovative packaging solutions. In fact, at times, smaller scale of operations works to these players’ advantage, as they do not have the constraint of having to convert the existing large-scale traditional packaging lines to ones suited to deliver new format or feature of packaging. Therefore, many efforts undertaken by smaller players seem to be converted into tangible solutions and launched more quickly and easily, also giving the companies a great marketing advantage over large F&B brands.

EOS Perspective

With the rise in awareness about plastic waste and environment safety among consumers, along with regulations formulated by governments across many countries to curb plastic waste, it has become paramount for F&B companies to enter the path of sustainability. At the same time, sustainability is becoming an important element of many companies’ marketing strategy to get ahead of the competition (or, increasingly, not to stay behind other players). The latter reason alone makes it no longer a matter of choice for F&B companies whether to keep assuring the public about efforts undertaken towards improving own sustainability rating across the supply chain.

Certainly, it is doubtful whether all these F&B companies are capable of actually achieving the claimed sustainability. On the one hand, there is a doubt if the scale of their efforts is relevant enough to bring about an actual change and not remain just a PR tool. On the other hand, the doubts seem to be really justified considering the challenges associated with achieving true sustainability goals.

The challenges range across many aspects. These include the complexity of the required changes in the supply chain, which involve both radical and incremental change, from manufacturers to users, owing to alterations in packaging materials and designs.

Another major challenge is the higher cost associated with changing the packaging materials from plastics to renewable or compostable materials. This starts with the development of the right product’s packaging material to ensure stable and long shelf life, and safe transportation with minimal waste, all of which is particularly challenging when dealing with food products. The costs and complexity of the task is further increased by the responsibility of creating an infrastructure for recycling of the packaging materials and taking the onus of collecting and recycling the packaging of own products, if not directly then through well-planned network of third-party entities.

Considering the complexity of these challenges and the high cost of going up the sustainability ladder, many F&B companies are likely to not be able (or to not want to) work towards full sustainability across their supply chain. In the midst of the growing pressure to meet the sustainability criterion, it is possible that some of the players might quietly opt for less sustainable solutions or stick to only those changes that are most visible to the consumer’s eye.

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Social Commerce Reshaping How Brands Sell and Customers Buy

Today, social media is at the core of many brands’ marketing strategies. The growing value that customers (especially the younger demographic) place on social media content and the increasing use of social media to gain information about a product or brand have made social media an essential part of a customer’s purchase decision and experience. However, till recently, the use of social media was limited to being an advertising tool or referral channel for retailers, who used these channels to drive traffic to their e-commerce sites. This is expected to change in the future. With social media giants, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest offering direct sales options, it is quite likely that these apps will move from being mere marketing tools to becoming the final destination for sales, creating a new retail category – social commerce.

It is no secret that visual content social media apps, such as Instagram and Pinterest, offer a more engaging shopping experience for customers, who now look at these apps as an integral part of their purchase experience. Visual content on social media is known to significantly improve discoverability for brands, deepen brand trust and value, and increase sales conversion.

Retailers, both large and small, have been using social media extensively as a part of their marketing campaigns and are investing huge dollars in the platforms. Retailers are increasingly offering quick access to their e-commerce websites via social media apps, through which they aim to drive traffic to their sites and in turn convert it into sales.

Visual content on social media is known to significantly improve discoverability for brands, deepen brand trust and value, and increase sales conversion. Retailers, both large and small, have been using social media extensively as a part of their marketing campaigns and are investing huge dollars in the platforms.

This has paid off well for retailers, with reports stating that in 2017, the top 500 retailers globally earned about US$6.5 billion through sales that were a direct result of social media presence/marketing. This has increased by about 24% when compared with sales resulting from social media for the same set of retailers in 2016. This clearly demonstrates social media’s increasing influence in a shopper’s purchasing decision.

While it has become critical for retailers to have presence on social media, it is expected that social media will play an even bigger role in the consumer shopping experience in the future. Several social media platforms have been experimenting with direct selling options, wherein users do not have to leave the social media platform to make a purchase. While platforms such as Facebook and Pinterest have been offering direct selling options for a few years now, Instagram has recently joined the bandwagon.

As per a study by Bazaarvoice in 2019, the number of users who wish to discover and purchase directly through social media platforms has risen by 38% in 2018 over the previous year. Due to this, several social media platforms are forging their way into the e-commerce space, creating a new category, known as social commerce.

Facebook

Facebook was one of the first social media pages to move to direct selling, having introduced in December 2015. Facebook has a huge active user base (about 1.6 billion daily users) who visit the platform to engage with friends as well as brands.

The main premise behind introducing direct selling by Facebook was to streamline the purchase journey by reducing the number of clicks/page redirects a user needs to do to purchase a product. It helps facilitate impulse buys, which sometimes are abandoned in cases where multiple page redirects are required. Moreover, it provides an overall integrated shopping experience for users, who can rate, review, and comment on the products that they have purchased. This in turn increases overall engagement for the retailer, which in response may facilitate better visibility and credibility for them.

The main premise behind introducing direct selling by Facebook was to streamline the purchase journey by reducing the number of clicks/page redirects a user needs to do to purchase a product. It helps facilitate impulse buys, which sometimes are abandoned in cases where multiple page redirects are required.

Facebook store (its direct selling feature) is free to set up for retailers, however, most retailers setup their Facebook store with e-commerce website builders such as Shopify, Ecwid, and BigCommerce for ease of checkout and payment options.

While Facebook has been undertaking direct selling for a couple of years now, the response has been slightly underwhelming. This is due to several shortcomings. Firstly, the ticket size of products sold on Facebook is on the lower end, primarily due to encompassing mostly impulse or low consideration products. The average order value of referrals by Facebook is US$55, suggesting that the value of products ordered directly through Facebook would not be much higher than that. Moreover, the interface for a Facebook store is standard for all retailers, with no room for customization at their end. This also limits their opportunity to upsell/cross-sell other products. Lastly, the rights for ads shown on a retailer’s Facebook store remains with Facebook. Thus it is very likely that a competitor is advertising its products on the retailer’s page.

Thus, while Facebook store may be ideal for small and medium businesses with limited presence and scale, it may not be used by large retailers who sell high-value products and wish to provide an engaging and enriching shopping experience to their customers.

To further strengthen its hold on the social commerce aspect, Facebook launched Facebook Marketplace in 2018, which provides a destination for users to discover, buy, and sell items. However, the Marketplace differs from the Facebook Store and is more similar to eBay and Craigslist, wherein users can list products and conduct transactions through the platform. While it started as a peer to peer shopping marketplace, it has expanded to include merchant selling. As of October 2018, about 800 million people globally used Marketplace monthly to browse, buy, and sell items. This presents a unique opportunity to retailers who can drive sales of products at a platform where customers are already shopping.

While Facebook may not be the one-point solution for retail sales, it is definitely not to be ignored, especially for small to medium businesses. As per Ecwid, one of the largest e-commerce platforms, merchants who sell through this platform drive 15% of their sales from Facebook (as of 2017). Moreover, with people becoming more open to shopping through social media apps (as per a 2016 survey by BigCommerce, one of the largest e-commerce platforms in the USA, about 30% consumers are willing to make purchases directly from social media pages) and an increase in mobile shoppers, direct selling through Facebook presents a great number of benefits to retailers.

However, in 2018, Facebook announced a big change to its News Feed algorithm, which will now prioritize content shared by one’s friends and family instead of content shared by businesses and media outlets. This may further impact direct sales on Facebook, since going forward, business-related posts will feature less on the News Feed.

Social Commerce Reshaping How Brands Sell and Customers Buy

Pinterest

In June 2015, Pinterest also entered the social commerce space by introducing ‘Buyable Pins’, which are Pins that allow customers to buy products without leaving Pinterest. Since Pinterest is widely used by close to 250 million users, who visit the platform to discover new products, designs, and ideas, an option to buy pinned products seems like a natural extension for the social media player.

Buyable Pins help retailers streamline the e-commerce experience and improve conversion rates. As per a research by Shopify (another leading e-commerce platform) in 2014, Pins with prices get 36% more engagement compared with those without. Moreover, according to a 2016 survey by BigCommerce along with research firm, Kelton Global, 26% of the GenXers and Millennials surveyed claimed that they are more likely to purchase a product directly from Pinterest if given an option.

While Pinterest does not take any commission from retailers for sales through their platform, it makes money through advertisements as retailers promote their ‘Buyable Pins’ to users. Moreover, Pinterest lets the retailers handle the order processing, which includes processing payments, shipping, and customer service. This further helps retailers obtain and retain the customer’s information, which can be used in the future for sending follow-up mails, sharing promotions, and making future sales to the customer (unlike on Amazon and eBay).

‘Buyable Pins’ are currently only available in the USA and to few selected merchants. They are also available to merchants who use a listed range of e-commerce platforms, which include (but are not limited to) Shopify, BigCommerce, and Salesforce Commerce Cloud. However, the platform has been expanding, and over time will include a greater number of merchants.

Post the introduction of ‘Buyable Pins’, Pinterest also introduced a shopping cart option which is integrated across the mobile and desktop platforms, and which helps users to purchase multiple ‘Buyable Pins’ at a time.

Several retailers, especially small and medium size enterprises, have achieved significant success with ‘Buyable Pins’. FlyAway BlueJay, an online retailer selling artisanal products such as beauty products and small jewelry, attained tremendous success by using ‘Buyable Pins’ during the holiday season in 2015. All of their ‘Buyable Pins’ sales came from new customers, with ‘Buyable Pins’ driving 20% of their overall sales in the last quarter of 2015. In the beginning of 2016, Pinterest drove about 28% of their overall website traffic. Thus, it helped the company reach new customers and reduce their customer acquisition rate. Another small-scale retailer, Modern Citizen (a San-Francisco based women’s fashion and home goods retailer), introduced Buyable Pins shortly after they were launched by Pinterest and witnessed a 73% increase in their sales from Pinterest by using ‘Buyable Pins’.

Direct selling on Pinterest appears to be a must consideration for small to medium businesses that are selling unique and new products. With women making up 85% of Pinterest’s user base, brands selling to female audiences are expected to achieve higher success rate when compared with male-centric products sellers.

Instagram

Owing to its visual and interactive content, Instagram is one of the most widely used social media apps for discovering new products and inspiring purchase decisions. As per statistics shared by Instagram in June 2018, it had 500 million daily users. Moreover, as per an Instagram user survey (November 2015), 60% of its users claim that they leverage Instagram as a product discovery platform and 75% of these users have taken an action based on the products they discovered via Instagram (such as visit the website, purchase the products, or tell a friend). This puts the platform in a strong position to leverage its role (in the purchase process) and further extend brands’ offerings to include direct shopping from Instagram’s app.

While Instagram had not entered the direct selling market up till very recently, in 2017, it launched ‘shoppable posts’ (in a testing phase), wherein brands tagged their products on their organic posts. When a user clicked on a tagged product, they could see the pricing and a streamlined path to purchase it.

‘Shoppable posts’ received significant success on Instagram and the company launched them across the platform in 2018. In addition, it also launched ‘shoppable stories’ (stories offering the same tagging features as shoppable posts) and ‘shoppable collection’ (which allowed users to bookmark ‘shoppable posts’ to in turn create a shopping folder for the user).

Several companies that were part of the testing phase of ‘shoppable posts’ achieved significant increase in sales and Instagram-driven traffic to their websites. During the beta testing phase, participating brand, Natori (a US-based upscale woman’s fashion brand) posted 61 ‘shoppable posts’ and achieved a 1,416% week-over-week increase in traffic from Instagram and a 100% week-over-week increase in revenue from Instagram. After the testing phase, BigCommerce merchants using shopping features on Instagram witnessed a 50% increase in their Instagram referral traffic to their website.

In March 2019, Instagram launched a testing phase for a checkout option on the platform to tap on the potential of direct selling. Under this feature, Instagram allows users to buy directly (without leaving the app). Instagram aims to monetize this by charging a small fee from the retailers who look to offer this service to their Instagram followers/customers. Instagram will process the payment and store payment information for future purchases, enabling a more streamlined and frictionless purchasing experience for the user.

Instagram will share a small fee from the retailers looking to sell directly on Instagram and in turn offer an option to the user to purchase and checkout through Instagram without leaving the app. Instagram will process the payment for the user and store payment information for all future purchases, enabling a more streamlined and frictionless purchasing experience for the user.

This is likely to facilitate impulse buys and convert abandoned shopping carts into actual sales, since customers will not need to fill in their details again and again (as is case of shopping directly at different retailers with shoppable posts and signing in/logging in separately for each retailer/purchase).

This is expected to provide the perfect blend of social media experience and frictionless e-commerce experience (such as Amazon). However, unlike Pinterest, where social media platform is only the facilitator and the transaction in terms of payment and service is completed by the retailer, Instagram will be handling the payments itself and only sharing the basic details necessary to fulfill the order with the retailer (i.e., contact information and shipping address). This is expected to be a slight downside of selling on Instagram vis-à-vis on one’s own website as the retailer will receive less data and may not be able to build a relation with the customer.

Instagram is currently running a testing phase of this feature with a few brands across the USA, including Adidas, Anastasia Beverly Hills, Balmain, Burberry, ColourPop, Dior, Huda Beauty, H&M, KKW Beauty, Kylie Cosmetics, MAC Cosmetics, Michael Kors, NARS, Nike, NYX Cosmetics, Oscar de la Renta, Outdoor Voices, Ouai Hair, Prada, Revolve, Uniqlo, Warby Parker, and Zara. Payments will be processed through PayPal and customers can pay through PayPal, Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover. The retail merchants can also integrate their e-commerce tools and partners, such as Shopify and BigCommerce, with the checkout feature.

While it is currently in its testing phase, the company is bullish on the success of this new feature. Although checkout option is currently only available for organic posts, Instagram will look to roll it out for ad-based posts as well in the future. It is expected that Instagram is likely to make US$10 billion in shopping revenues by 2021.

Instagram has been one of the most successful social media platforms with regards to consumer purchase decisions and unlike other social media apps that are apt for small to medium businesses, it also has a huge market for high-end and upscale products.

Challenges ahead

While social commerce seems to have a major role to play in the retail landscape in the future, it still has a long way to go. Social media pages have already showcased their worth as product discovery platforms, but exhibiting their potential of converting discovery into sales is a different ball game altogether and may also require a different strategy. Users will need to be organically cajoled to complete sales on these platforms and social media platforms must constantly work towards improving their buy-button experience, otherwise success is not guaranteed for them.

Twitter introduced a direct selling option in 2014 but retracted it by 2017 due to poor reception. Facebook’s initiative has also been met with moderate success with regards to direct selling, which lead the platform to change the direct selling features and strategies over the years to engage both retailers and customers.

Moreover, retailers who focus on selling on Instagram and other social media apps run the risk of alienating followers/users with constant promotions of their retail and shoppable posts, instead of their current subtle engagement posts that are working and preferred by users.

EOS Perspective

Social commerce is often being pegged as the future of online sales. While this may be true, there is a long road ahead for this to happen. Currently, the social media giants are applying different strategies to enter the space of direct selling, however, for most of them the focus is not on revenues from commerce but from ads. Therefore, till the time direct sales do not become a key revenue stream for social media apps, their focus on the apps will also remain limited.

That being said, the emergence of social commerce cannot be ignored by retailers, both large and small. Customers have taken to social media apps and use them extensively to learn about new products. Retailers are in a unique position to leverage this space and work towards reaching a new customer base, converting impulse sales that are otherwise being missed.

However, the social commerce experience needs a lot of shaping. Today, customers greatly rely on user-created content on social media (which includes content by influencers as well as other users’ reviews and product ratings) for their purchase decisions. Social media features must include direct selling not just from a retail’s social media page but also from influencers’ and bloggers’ pages. Till the time direct selling on social media apps is not a fully integrated solution, it will not reap results for users, retailers, nor for the social media platforms.

In the end, it is safe to say that social commerce is currently in a very nascent stage of development but nonetheless, it is here to stay. With the consumer’s attention span constantly reducing and people spending great amount of time on social media, social commerce undoubtedly offers great potential.

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Growing Appetite for Plant-Based Foods Disrupts the Meat Market

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Not many years ago, veganism or consumption of only plant-based foods, was considered an extreme form of lifestyle. Food options that were available for vegans were very limited and meat alternatives were based mainly on tofu, tempeh, and nuts. However, this is not the case anymore. Not only has the mindset regarding vegan food changed in the recent times, but also plant-based alternatives have become the fastest growing food category in the USA. This is also driven by a greater number of meat eaters experimenting with plant-based meat alternatives, whether due to health benefits, growing awareness regarding animal cruelty, or environmental reasons. Moreover, tremendous amount of investment and research in this space has resulted in wide range of food options, including vegan cheese and vegan meats that taste similar to animal-based proteins.

Vegan food has been around for quite some time now, but it was largely considered to be a niche market having a separate shelf in the supermarkets or being served in vegan-only restaurants and cafes. Moreover, it was considered an extreme lifestyle by many. However, over recent years, vegan meal options have found their way into the mainstream, with more and more people embracing veganism and meat-eaters adding plant-based food options in their diet. This is clearly evident from the steep growth witnessed by this food category, especially in the western world.

As per a study commissioned by the Good Food Institute (GFI) and the Plant Based Food Association in the USA, the retail market for plant-based foods was valued at about US$4.5 billion in April 2019, registering a year-on-year increase of about 11% and a growth of 31% in the two-year period from April 2017 through April 2019. The largest segment of vegan food market in the year ending April 2019 was the plant-based milk segment, which comprised about 40% of sales (US$1.9 billion). This category witnessed a y-o-y increase of about 6%. To put this in further perspective, animal-derived milk sales for the same period declined by 3%. While plant-based meat alternatives, cheeses, yogurts, eggs, and creamers are relatively new and smaller categories, they are driving growth in the vegan food segment too.

The growing sales across most vegan food segments indicate a momentous shift towards a vegan diet, which is not only propelled by an increasing number of people turning purely vegan but also a rise in meat eaters that prefer plant-based alternatives in some food categories, such as milk and milk-based products. This is due to growing lactose intolerance among consumers, with about 65% of the world’s population estimated to be lactose intolerant. The environmental benefits (i.e. lower carbon footprint) of maintaining a vegan diet and a growing uproar regarding animal cruelty have also driven conscious consumers to adopt a vegan lifestyle.

The environmental benefits (i.e. lower carbon footprint) of maintaining a vegan diet and a growing uproar regarding animal cruelty have also driven conscious consumers to adopt a vegan lifestyle.

The trend is further supported by the launch of vegan meat substitutes that resemble meat products in taste, look, and even texture. US-based players, Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, are leading this space with the latter having received investments from the likes of Bill Gates, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Twitter co-founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams.

Industry players are diversifying into plant-based foods

Understanding that this trend is more than just a fad, several food companies (including large meat producers) have started entering this space, by either buying or investing in plant-based food start-ups.

Tyson Foods, USA’s leading meat producer, invested in Beyond Meat in 2016 and 2017, by acquiring a 6.52% stake in the company. However, in April 2019, Tyson Foods sold its stake in Beyond Meat with an intention to develop its in-house line of alternative (plant-based) protein products.

Nestle, which is one of the largest food companies globally, has also been expanding its portfolio with a keen focus on plant-based alternatives. In 2017, the company purchased Sweet Earth, a California-based producer of vegan meals and snacks, while in 2018, it purchased majority stake in Terrafertil, a plant-based organic food player that was founded in Ecuador and has presence across the USA, UK, and Latin America.

In January 2019, Nestle expressed its plans to launch its in-house vegan burger patty, called the Incredible Burger under its Garden Gourmet brand. The company is also looking to develop a portfolio of dairy-free beverages, such as purple milk (which is made with walnuts and blueberries) and blue latte containing spirulina algae. It is also adding vegan options to its existing brands, such as Haagen-Dazs (which launched a range of dairy-free ice creams in July 2017) and Nescafe (which introduced vegan protein-based coffee smoothies in December 2018).

Similarly, Marfig, Brazil-based leading meat processor, also entered the plant-based food alternatives market through a partnership with Archer Daniels Midland in August 2019. Under the partnership, Archer Daniels Midland will produce the raw material while Marfig will produce and sell the end product through foodservice and retail channels.

Canada-based Maple Leaf has also made significant investments in plant-based food players to expand its product portfolio and brand positioning. In February 2018, it acquired US-based plant protein manufacturer, Lightlife Foods, for US$140 million. Through this acquisition, it added Lightlife’s refrigerated plant-based products, such as hot dogs, breakfast foods, and burgers, to its portfolio and garnered a strong footprint in the US plant-based food market. To further strengthen its hold in this market, in December 2018, the company entered into an agreement to buy US-based Field Roast Grain Meat Co. for US$120 million. Field Roast Grain Meat supplies grain-based meat alternatives (including sausages, burgers, etc.) and vegan cheese products to the North American market.

Danone, a global food company with large number of dairy products is also bullish on the growing popularity of plant-based foods. In April 2017, it purchased WhiteWave Foods, a US-based leading player in plant-based food and beverage for US$10 billion. It rebranded the company to DanoneWave and in October 2017, further invested US$60 million into its plant-based milk operations. In 2019, the company expressed plans to triple its revenue (to about US$5.6 billion) from its plant-based food line by 2025.

In addition to these, many other large food processors and retailers have entered the plant-based food market either through acquisitions or the launch of in-house products and brands. These include Brazil-based JBS Foods, US-based Smithfield Foods, UK-based Hilton Food Group, Germany-based Wiesenhof, UK-based Heck Food, Canada-based Saputo, and US-based Dean Foods Company, among many others.

In addition to these leading food producers, many other large food processors and retailers have entered the plant-based food market either through acquisitions or the launch of in-house products and brands.

Fast food chains have also joined the vegan bandwagon. In April 2019, Burger King introduced a vegan version of its classic sandwich, called the Impossible Whopper. Similarly, Dunkin introduced a vegan breakfast sausage made by Beyond Meat, while KFC launched vegan fried chicken also made by Beyond Meat. In 2017, McDonald’s launched a vegan burger in Finland and Sweden and has plans to launch the same in Germany. In 2016, UK-based café, Pret a Manger opened a vegan pop-up store in central London and later made it permanent in 2017. Over the years, it opened three more stores (two in London and one in Manchester) under the name Veggie Pret. In April 2019, the company purchased rival food chain, Eat, and aims to convert about 90 of its stores into its vegan chain, Veggie Pret.

Just like the food producers and quick service restaurant chains, supermarkets have also been quick to respond to the vegan trend. In 2018, Tesco, a leading UK-based supermarket chain, launched its own range of vegan foods under the name Wicked Kitchen. Similarly, British department store chain, Marks & Spencer has also introduced a vegan food range in its food department. Vegan options have been introduced and are easily available across a wide range of US-based departmental stores such as Whole Foods, Target, and Kroger.

However, the key shift seen in departmental stores regarding plant-based meals is their placement. Traditionally, vegan food including plant-based meats and dairy were stocked together in a ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’ isle or section. However, recently, these options have begun to be stored alongside their animal-based counterparts. For instance, plant-based dairy has now been moved to the beverage or dairy case. This exposes shoppers to a wider range of options for milk and increases the shopper’s chances of trying plant-based alternatives. This thereby opens the category to shoppers who otherwise would have not explored the separate vegan section in the store.

Similarly, plant-based meat options are also being increasingly stored along with traditional meat items, widening the choice for consumers who are flexitarians (i.e. consumers who are not completely vegan but do also consume vegan food from time to time). UK-based department chain, Sainsbury, was the first supermarket in the UK to place vegan products that are designed to look and taste like meat within the meat section.

Challenges ahead

While the number of vegan consumers is on the rise, it is still very low when compared with people consuming a meat-based diet. Moreover, while a great number of people are exploring vegan options, vegan meals are still largely perceived as offering limited nutritional value when compared with traditional meat-based meals, especially with regards to protein intake. While there is limited truth to this, companies offering vegan options have to invest substantially to educate consumers regarding the nutritional value of vegan meals.

In addition to this, vegan or plant-based meal options face another mindset block. Meat eating has long been associated with masculinity. This by contrary gives vegan meals a perception of being less ‘manly’ and thereby limiting the number of men who are open to embracing this meal option. To counter this, market leaders such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have been avoiding terms such as vegan and vegetarian in their marketing strategy and have been promoting their burgers at male-centric locations such as sports events. Instead of pushing men to eat less meat, they are working towards expanding the definition of meat in the consumer’s mind to include plant-based options. They have also included ingredients (such as beet juice) in their burger to resemble a bleeding beef, making it clone the beef burger in terms of appearance, texture, and experience of consuming.

Other than mindset, price is also currently a considerable barrier for consumers. Plant-based meat substitutes are more expensive when compared with animal meat. While the Beyond Burger sells for about US$12 a pound at Whole Foods (a leading retail chain), its beef counterpart retails for about US$5. Similarly, Beyond Meat’s, Beyond Sausage retails for US$10.30 a pound, charging a premium of about 70% over a comparable pork sausage. Higher price points are off-putting for a big chunk of consumers, who may otherwise be willing to change eating habits owing to health or environmental reasons. While currently, the prices differ greatly, it is expected that the price difference will reduce in the long run (or be wiped off completely). Understanding price to be a big limiting factor, companies such as Beyond Meat are researching and investing into alternative plant protein sources that would lower the cost.

Price is also currently a considerable barrier for consumers. Plant-based meat substitutes are more expensive when compared with animal meat. While the Beyond Burger sells for about US$12 a pound at Whole Foods (a leading retail chain), its beef counterpart retails for about US$5.

However, one of the biggest roadblocks faced by the vegan food producers in making them mainstream is the backlash from the meat industry, which has in some cases resulted in labeling regulations that are damaging for the growth of the plant-based food sector.

In 2017, the EU banned the use of the term ‘milk’ and other dairy products, such as ‘cheese’, ‘yogurt’, etc., for plant-based alternatives (however, traditional versions such as almond or coconut milk and peanut butter are excluded from the ban).

In April 2018, France banned meat names for plant-based alternatives, such as vegetable ‘steak’, soy ‘sausage’, and ‘bacon-flavored strips’. Similarly, in May 2019, the European Parliament’s agriculture committee proposed a ban on the use of meat-related terminology on their labels and product description for vegetarian or vegan products. This includes terms such as ‘steak’, ‘sausage’, and ‘burger’. The proposal will be voted upon by the Members of the European Parliament in autumn 2019 and if passed, will be a big setback to the vegan industry as they would be required to remove the word burger from any product that does not contain meat.

In the USA, a Dairy Pride Act, which requires FDA to stop all plant-based dairy alternatives from being labeled as ‘milk’, was reintroduced in Congress in March 2019 (after being squashed earlier in 2017). While the chances of the bill being passed remain slim, if passed, it could seriously dampen growth in the vegan dairy market in the USA. Most of these legal actions are likely to have stemmed from strong meat and dairy lobbies that are directly impacted by the growth witnessed in the vegan market.

EOS Perspective

There is no doubt that the plant-based food market is growing exponentially and the food industry is taking notice. Meat producers and animal-based dairy companies are currently at a fork, where they may face some level of cannibalization of sales (especially in case of dairy) when they introduce vegan alternatives to their portfolio. The cases of Kodak and Apple are important examples when discussing the prospects of cannibalization of sales. While Kodak failed to innovate at the time of camera digitalization due to a fear of cannibalizing sales of its then popular camera films, Apple has made this one of its strength by innovating and launching new products that have (to an extent) cannibalized its own sales (IPhone for IPods and IPad for Mac).

While most players in the food industry have been quick to understand the potential of plant-based food market and have started to invest in this segment, several others still remain resistant to change. This may cost them dearly. Moreover, evaluating the future prospects of this industry, it may be prudent for meat producers to be focusing more on their plant-based food section than their long existing meat business. In a first of its kind case, in May 2019, Vivera Foodgroup, a leading European meat company sold off its meat business retailed under the brand name, Enkco, to Netherland-based Van Loon Group so that it could solely focus on its vegan food line.

However, while plant-based foods seem to be the future now, things may stir up again when clean meat (also known as lab-grown meat) goes mainstream. Currently, a lot of industry players (such as Tyson Foods) and business tycoons (such as Bill Gates) have begun investing in companies that are researching and developing lab-grown meat. It is expected to become a reality very soon, however, it may still take some years for lab-grown meat to match the prices and volume of farmed animal meat as well as obtain the required regulatory approval. While clean meat will definitely upset sales of farmed meat, it may also have a considerable impact on the plant-based food market as several consumers (who turned to vegan options due to animal cruelty and environmental reasons), may switch to clean meat instead of vegan alternatives. Thus vegan companies must stay ahead of the curve in terms of pricing as well flavors and product range to not only thrive but also survive in the coming times.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Blockchain Paving Its Way into Retail Industry

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Blockchain technology, which initially became popular with cryptocurrency (especially bitcoin), is now making its way into many other industries, including retail. Though still in its infancy, blockchain holds tremendous potential for retailers and has applications across supply chain data management, customer retention through loyalty programs, digital advertising, among many others. While several industry experts have proclaimed blockchain to be the next revolutionary technology in the retail sector, it is yet to be seen if these applications gain commercial acceptability (or remain niche solutions for niche products).

While the financial services industry has been one of the early adopters of blockchain technology, other sectors are also increasingly realizing the potential that blockchain can unlock for their businesses.

One such sector is retail, which is increasingly going digital – shedding its paper-based and centralized way of doing business. With an increasingly demanding customer and growing need for transparency, blockchain technology is expected to play a big role in the retail sector.

In addition to its inherent application as a payment-medium supporter (i.e. increasing acceptance of cryptocurrencies as a payment mode by retailers), blockchain has several other applications in the retail space – encompassing supply chain management, customer loyalty programs, and digital advertising.

Blockchain in supply chain

Blockchain helps improve transparency

Blockchain technology makes it possible to record every touchpoint of the product’s life as it moves through the supply chain – from manufacturer to shipper to supplier to seller – adding blocks of verifiable record to the product’s heritage.

For instance, if a supermarket is selling a box of cookies, blockchain data would record exactly when, where, and by whom the cookies were made, as well as what ingredients were used during manufacturing. By placing the cookies supply chain on the blockchain, the process becomes more transparent through inerasable tracking of how cookies have been handled at each node all the way up to the store shelves. This makes any affected ingredient traceable faster. For instance, if milk or eggs used in the cookies were affected due to poor storage, the affected ingredient (or its batch) could be traced back to the storage location and could be withdrawn from the warehouse without the tedious and error-prone process of checking each supply chain node. This ensures greater food safety and helps hold suppliers accountable throughout the chain. This is also useful in case of tracing of organic products where it is particularly important to trace whether each ingredient used to make a product is organic and matches the claims made by the producer.

There are several players in the industry who are already taking advantage of the benefits brought to their operations by blockchain. One of the largest retail giants, Walmart, has partnered with IBM and has been working together since October 2016 to develop a food safety blockchain technology called, IBMs Food Trust, to facilitate the digitization of the food supply chain process. The technology, which was previously in its testing phase, was launched for commercial use in October 2018. With the help of this technology, the source of the product can be tracked in 2.2 seconds, which previously could take up to seven days (with the use of paper-based ledgers).

In September 2018, Walmart announced a Food Trust Initiative, under which it has requested all its greens suppliers to upload data about their produce on the blockchain and ensure end-to-end traceability by September 2019. It is likely that the company extends the use of this technology to other fresh foods and vegetable suppliers in future.

Post the commercial launch of the IBM Food Trust platform in October 2018, France-based retail giant, Carrefour, also announced that it will be using IBM’s blockchain technology to track animal and vegetable product lines. Furthermore, it expects to expand this technology to other fresh products by 2022.

Blockchain Paving Its Way into the Retail Industry

Blockchain effectively combats food-related fraud

Another issue that blockchain helps combat in the retail space is food-related fraud, i.e. the misrepresentation of product contents by substituting the ingredients with cheaper alternatives. It is estimated that the global food industry suffers losses of about US$40 billion annually due to food fraud. An example of such a fraud was the Tesco horsemeat scandal in 2013, where some of Tesco’s packaged beef meals were found to include 60% horsemeat (undeclared on the label).

To fight such frauds, one of the world’s largest e-commerce players, Alibaba, has partnered with four Australian and New-Zealand-based companies, among whom are Blackmores (an Australian health supplement company) and Fonterra (a multinational dairy co-operative) to create a food tracing system built on blockchain technology. The project entered into its pilot phase in 2018. Through this system, Tmall Global’s (Alibaba’s international online marketplace) customers in China will be able to trace the goods that they order online (from partnering companies) across each node of the supply chain before the goods are finally delivered. The partnership is not only expected to help customers track the supply chain of food ordered online but also to prevent food fraud thanks to greater visibility and traceability of such fraudulent actions potentially attempted by producers.

Blockchain helps bring down the counterfeit luxury goods market

As a digital ledger where multiple stakeholders share and authenticate the same information, blockchain also makes counterfeiting more difficult. Counterfeiting is a big issue in the luxury and premium goods market owing to high prices and limited availability. The scale of counterfeiting in the luxury retail segment is overwhelming and it is sometimes nearly impossible to distinguish legitimate goods from the counterfeit ones. Forbes estimated the counterfeit luxury goods market in 2018 to be worth approximately US$1.2 trillion.

However, the use of blockchain technology can help luxury brands fight against the menace of counterfeiting. By using blockchain, companies can track every link in their supply chain and customers can access information to ensure the origins of the product and its authenticity.

Greats, a US-based premium sneaker brand, has been using blockchain and embedding smart tags in its footwear since 2016. Customers can use their smartphones to scan the tags to verify the authenticity of the sneakers.

The use of blockchain technology can help luxury brands (and other retail companies) fight against the menace of counterfeiting. By using blockchain, companies can track every link in their supply chain and customers can access this information through smartphones to ensure the origins of the product and its authenticity.

In 2018, a Paris-based blockchain company, Arianee, announced that it will be building a registry to combat counterfeiting of luxury brands, where every product will be classified with a unique token that differentiates it from the rest of the products.

Another example of this is De Beers, one of the world’s largest diamond producers, which along with five other diamond players (Diacore, Diarough, KGK Group, Rosy Blue NV, and Venus Jewel) has developed a blockchain platform, called Tracr in 2017. Through this platform, a diamond can be tracked from miner to end customer, i.e. throughout its complete value chain, using ethereum blockchain technology. In 2018, De Beers announced that it has successfully tracked 100 high-value diamonds along the value chain during the pilot run of its blockchain platform. The platform is expected to bring transparency in the diamond trade through physical identification of diamonds. A diamond could be tracked through its unique number from mining to cutting to polishing and to retail, which will ensure its purity.

Owing to its ability to empower companies to track, trace, and authenticate their products from the point of origin to the retail shelf, blockchain is likely to become the standard in supply chain tracking for the retail sector. However, this application is currently in its nascent stage of development and is being experimented on by only few large and niche players before it reaches industry-wide adoption.

Blockchain in customer loyalty programs

Customer loyalty points is another area where blockchain could be considered very useful. Loyalty programs generally work by awarding points to customer account for each purchase, which later can be redeemed for discounts on future purchases. While it follows the principle that retaining existing customers is less expensive than attracting new customers, loyalty programs are not always successful.

Most loyalty programs are centralized, where the customer could only redeem its value with the same retailer (or in some cases a small group of retailers), thereby limiting their use and appeal. Moreover, in many cases, loyalty programs also have stipulations that further restrict the use of the points and reduce the program’s perceived value, which in turn results in lower loyalty of the customer. According to Colloquy Loyalty Census 2017, there were approximately 3,000 loyalty programs in North America, where 6.7 trillion points were issued every year and about 21 trillion points were dormant or not used. This suggests that more often than not, customers find loyalty programs more exhausting than benefitting, defeating the entire purpose of having loyalty programs.

Blockchain technology allows customers the flexibility to use their loyalty points when and how they please. Blockchain-based loyalty programs award customers with tokens or cryptocurrencies instead of points, which could be redeemed by customers during future retail purchases and could even be redeemed for fiat currency (as the value of tokens grow overtime and do not expire).

This can be seen in the case of Rakutan’s loyalty program. In 2018, Rakutan, one of Japan’s largest retailers, announced an alt-coin, called Rakutan Coin, with which customers could redeem reward points for gifts at all Rakutan Group companies and also for other cryptocurrencies. The company has moved US$9 billion worth of existing Super Points (customer loyalty program points) into the blockchain to provide a boost to the Rakutan Coin.

Blockchain-based loyalty programs award customers with tokens or cryptocurrencies instead of points, which could be redeemed by customers during future retail purchases and could even be redeemed for fiat currency.

In another example, in 2017, University of New South Wales in Australia partnered with LoyaltyX, an experimental loyalty agency for a blockchain loyalty research project, wherein students and staff earned US$5 of ether (cryptocurrency ethereum) for every ten transactions made at any of the eleven campus retailers including Boost Juice (Australian fruit juice and smoothie retail outlet) and IGA (Australian chain of supermarkets). It was found that 86% of the participants were more attracted to earn cryptocurrencies where they had the option to redeem them for fiat currency.

Thus, blockchain-powered programs seem to encourage customers to engage in the loyalty programs as they not only curb the problem of set expiration of traditional loyalty points but also give the power to the customer to use the tokens as and when they require with any retailer. This is likely to help retailers renew customer interest in their loyalty programs, which in turn is likely to improve brand loyalty.

In addition to adoption in the retail space, players from other related industries are also experimenting with blockchain-based loyalty programs. In 2018, American Express (an American financial services company) partnered with Boxed (an American online wholesale retailer) to make its membership rewards program more versatile by integrating blockchain. With blockchain, merchants will be able to create custom membership rewards program for American Express card holders. The power to structure the offers will be with the merchants, whereas American Express will have the right to regulate the products or brands being promoted.

Also in the same year, Singapore Airlines partnered with KPMG and Microsoft and created a blockchain-based digital wallet KrisPay, where customers can turn travel miles into units of payment that can be used with partner merchants such as eateries, beauty parlors, gas stations, and some retailers, including LEGO store outlets within Singapore. This shows that some large brands are experimenting with this technology for their loyalty programs.

While integration of blockchain seems to be the ideal solution to invigorate the fading customer loyalty programs, it is still in its embryonic stage. Such applications need mass adaption to be successful and this will require significant time and investments.

Moreover, the adoption and success of blockchain-based loyalty programs to an extent also depend on the overall sentiment towards cryptocurrencies – their value and ease of transactions.

Lastly, scalability is also an extremely critical point for the smooth running of such loyalty programs. With numerous retail transactions happening every second, it is yet to be seen if blockchain can cater to these huge numbers without a slag time.

Blockchain in digital advertising

Another space where blockchain technology is likely to have significant potential is digital advertising, which is used by numerous retailers as a medium to reach their prospective customers. However, the process of buying online advertising is susceptible to fraud, especially with the increasing use of automated real-time bidding through ad-exchanges (programmatic advertising).

Under real-time programmatic advertising, publishers (themselves or through ad vendors) showcase their inventory along with details about the kind of visitors that their site targets. The advertisers then bid for these ad impressions and the highest bidder gets to display their ad on the site.

The entire process and ad marketplace lacks a sufficient level of transparency. Sometimes vendors misrepresent remnant inventory for a publisher as premium inventory, thereby charging higher fees from advertisers. In other cases, fraudulent sellers enter the exchange, claiming to represent publishers and having access to their inventory, in turn selling fake inventory to advertisers.

Blockchain has the potential to make the online ad marketplace more robust and legitimate by providing transparency, which is currently missing. Since blockchain is a peer-to-peer online ledger where all transactions between the participating parties are recorded (and cannot be deleted or changed), the advertisers can see for themselves where the inventory that they are bidding for has originated and who has access/authority to sell it.

Some examples of implementations are already found in the market. In June 2017, MetaX, a blockchain technology company, along with DMA (The Data and Marketing Association) launched adChain, an open protocol built on the public ethereum. adChain is an open access ledger that tracks and reports the origin, sale, resale, and publishing of an online ad.


Explore our other Perspectives on blockchain


In December 2017, MetaX also launched a blockchain-based solution ‘Ads.txt Plus’ to improve transparency in the digital advertising space. Ads.txt Plus is based on a technology by IAB Tech Lab, called Ads.txt, which helps prevent fraud in the industry by allowing publishers to broadcast a list of authorized sellers of their ad inventory. By bringing this technology to ethereum blockchain, MetaX aims to further improve efficiency and transparency for its users.

If blockchain is adopted successfully in the digital advertising space, the advertisers can see exactly where their ad dollars are being spent, which players made commission, and how much of the total amount paid by them for the ad reached the site publisher.

Further, with the help of blockchain, buyers and sellers (advertisers and publishers) can enter into smart contracts for the sale and purchase of digital ads without the need for intermediaries, eliminating them from the ad bidding process.

Alternatively, buyers and sellers can choose to add other verifying parties/service providers to the smart contracts, such as measurement provider, ratings provider, payment provider, and arbitrator. In 2017, Kochava Labs (the R&D subsidiary of Kochava Inc.) launched XCHNG, an open and unified blockchain-based framework for the digital advertising ecosystem. Through the use of smart contacts, XCHNG aims at reducing the number of middlemen in the digital advertising ecosystem by facilitating transactions between the buyer and the seller and measurement providers.

While blockchain-based solutions fit perfectly in the digital advertising space on paper, the practicality and adaptability are yet to be seen.

One of the key issues challenging the adoption of blockchain in the digital ad space is scalability. The process of chaining and verifying on a blockchain takes much longer, especially, when compared with the current speed of real-time bidding transactions. It is yet to be seen if blockchain technology can evolve to offer faster processing speed, which is critical for industry-wide adoption.

While blockchain-based solutions fit perfectly in the digital advertising space on paper, the practicality and adaptability are yet to be seen. One of the key issues challenging the adoption of blockchain in the digital ad space is scalability.

While few blockchain solutions, such as XCHNG (which claims it can handle 180,000 transactions per second per smart contract composed of multiple insertion orders), refute this challenge, the other challenge in this area is that of intent. Since blockchain is expected to make transactions more transparent and also reduce the number of intermediaries, industry players may not fully embrace the technology and despite its inherent benefits, blockchain may take time to gain ground in the digital advertising industry.

EOS Perspective

In an era where businesses are becoming more customer centric, blockchain helps bring the customer and retailer together on the same platform and promises a future with more transparency. It is clear that blockchain technology has the ability to transform the retail sector just as it is likely to transform several other industries (such as healthcare, car rental and leasing, or aviation).

However, despite holding immense potential and promise, most applications in this space are still to move beyond just being proof-of-concepts. Several issues, such as high investment requirements, scalability, and to an extent, willingness to change, remain to be addressed before there is an industry-wide acceptance for these solutions.

That being said, executives are definitely keeping an eye open for the latest developments in this space and several of them are open to testing and investing in blockchain-based solutions, hoping for them to be the key differentiator/value-proposition that attract the customers towards them. While most investments currently are being seen in the supply chain space (since its benefits seem most achievable and tangible), solutions in the space of loyalty programs and digital advertising may take a little more time to gain traction.

It is safe to say that retailers cannot afford to ignore the benefits of blockchain technology anymore. Many retailers lack specific understanding of this concept and its potential across different areas of their operations. This could cost them dearly in terms of customers. Technological innovations are happening at light-speed in today’s day and age and while blockchain technology currently may lack commercial acceptability and scalability, it is expected to seep into the operations of the real sector in a significant way in the coming future.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Argentina’s E-commerce Growing at an Explosive Rate, but Not without Challenges

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Argentina is the fastest growing e-commerce market in Latin America with a booming m-commerce segment. Blessed with high internet smartphone penetration rates, the country sets stage for plentiful e-commerce opportunities. However, Argentina is still battling high inflation and low economic growth rates, a fact that bleaks growth prospects of e-commerce market. Much like its regional neighbors, Argentina is also plagued with logistics and payment issues, and resolving these challenges is the need of the hour.


This article is part of a series focusing on e-commerce in LATAM, which also includes a look into e-commerce market in Mexico and Brazil


What is pushing the meteoric growth?

Home to MercadoLibre (Latin America’s most popular e-commerce site), Argentina, is one of the most prominent e-commerce markets in Latin America, known for its outstanding growth rate – between 2018 and 2022, e-commerce market is expected to increase by 83% to reach US$ 19 billion.

Strong connectivity is one of the key supporting factors powering the e-commerce market. Argentina benefits from incredibly high internet penetration rate of more than 80% and one of highest numbers of mobile Internet users in Latin America. Further, the country’s growing young, Internet-savvy consumer base, with sufficient disposable income, is also driving e-commerce sales.

What is holding back Argentina’s e-commerce market?

Logistics

The most significant barrier restraining Argentina from becoming Latin America’s e-commerce leader is logistics. To begin with, quality of roads in certain neighborhoods of various cities, even in the capital city of Buenos Aires, is not suitable for swift deliveries. An average delivery time for packages to reach shoppers is about seven days, which is not a convenient wait time and could dissuade shoppers from ordering online.

An average delivery time for packages to reach shoppers is about seven days, which is not a convenient wait time and could dissuade shoppers from ordering online.

Most logistics companies are unable to deliver as quickly and reliably as e-retail demands. Adding to the list of logistics and infrastructure insufficiencies is the unfinished GPS mapping, owing to confusing address systems and missing postal codes, thus, making deliveries an even more cumbersome task. With the current state of logistics, Argentina secured 61st rank (out of 160) in the Logistics Performance Index in 2018, lagging behind its fellow competitors (in the e-commerce space), Brazil and Mexico.

Payment methods

Online payments can be challenging in Argentina, particularly, for making purchases on international retailers’ websites. More than 50% of Visa and MasterCard cards provided by local banks, cannot be used on international websites. This is a major operational hurdle for international e-commerce retailers, who have to set up other payment methods.

More than 50% of Visa and MasterCard cards provided by local banks, cannot be used on international websites.

Moreover, with exorbitant credit card interest rates (according to the Central Bank of Argentina, credit card interest rates lie between 36% and 111%), customers have become vary of shopping online.

Additionally, debit cards comprise a negligible share of Argentinian e-commerce spend, as they can only be used on limited e-commerce websites, thus, limiting use of this crucial payment gateway.

Distrust

Another key challenge is distrust among several Argentinians toward e-commerce websites, especially when it comes to billing and payment transactions. Some customers are also hesitant to provide card details for online transactions with protection of information being their primary concern.

With no proper legislation in place, trust in the e-commerce marketplace is hard to build. Argentina does not have a comprehensive regulatory scheme governing e-commerce, rather it has just a few regulations that are applicable to e-commerce.

The country also does not adhere to any standard international e-commerce model such as UNCITRAL model law on electronic commerce by the USA or Directive 2000/31/EC (Directive on electronic commerce) of the European Parliament. Without any robust regulation in place, consumers would neither feel protected nor be certain regarding action being taken in case of unlawful activities.

Economy

Argentina’s economy is shackled with sky-high inflation rate (second highest in Latin America in 2018) and depreciating currency against dollar, thus, dampening economic growth prospects of the country. Poor economic conditions have taken a toll on all economic sectors, including e-commerce. High inflation rate has decreased purchasing power of consumers, who have become cautious shoppers.

Opportunities still exist

Nonetheless, outlook for Argentina’s e-commerce market is quite positive, with key e-commerce players craving for attention from Argentina’s proliferating online customer base.

Argentina’s e-commerce market is endowed with opportunities arising from growing m-commerce and social-commerce segments.

Argentina’s e-commerce market is endowed with opportunities arising from growing m-commerce and social-commerce segments.

Smartphones are increasingly becoming the key mode to reach consumers in Argentina, with consumers preferring to use mobile devices for accessing internet over stationary computers or laptops. The use of mobile phones for searching products before purchase is a common habit in Argentina. To tap this opportunity, businesses are increasingly focusing on building mobile-friendly websites – as of May 2018, 74.3% of businesses adapted sites to mobile phones (compared with only 10.4% in 2017).

Another trend emerging in the market is that of social shopping (shopping influenced by social media), fueled by growing social media engagement among Argentinians – as of January 2018, about 76% of the total population were active social media users. E-retailers are now using social networks to interact with shoppers, particularly the young demographic, and also to promote products. As of May 2018, 73.5% of businesses used social media to engage with shoppers and the most preferred sites were Facebook and YouTube.

Argentina’s E-Commerce Growing at an Explosive Rate, but Not without Challenges

EOS Perspective

Argentina’s e-commerce industry has reached a stage where consumers, particularly the young demographic, are slowly beginning to embrace online shopping as part of their daily lives, however, there is still scope for a lot of development for wider adoption. While Argentina’s e-commerce market is dynamic and growing, it could benefit from certain improvements, particularly in terms of payment methods, logistics, and building consumer’s trust in online shopping.

Payment methods need to be kept up to date with requirements of businesses and consumers, and steps are being taken for its betterment. Better logistics is a requisite for online retailing to function properly. In the era of one-day deliveries, a week’s wait time in Argentina is too long, and retailers are looking to resolve this issue.

MercadoLibre, the largest e-retailer in Argentina, has taken giant leaps for betterment of both payment mechanism and logistics. The company introduced a digital wallet, Mercado Pago, through which both debit and credit card payments can be processed. The digital wallet can be used in physical stores as well. Customers can scan QR code on items using MercadoLibre or Mercado Pago apps and choose preferred mode of payment.

Further, MercadoLibre has been adopting various measures to improve logistics. Through Mercado Envios, the company takes care of package shipment and delivery, as the seller only has to take the package to nearest dispatch center of MercadoLibre, and from there onwards MercadoLibre ensures seamless package delivery. Mercado Envios ascertains that the package reaches customer in the shortest time possible and allows tracking of shipment by both seller and buyer. MercadoLibre’s another program, Mercado Envios Flex, guarantees deliver of packages within 24 hours, but it is limited to Buenos Aires for now.

Undoubtedly, customer service and shopping experience need to be revamped, which could help in building customer’s trust as well.

Undoubtedly, customer service and shopping experience need to be revamped, which could help in building customer’s trust as well. The e-commerce platforms could use foreign digital expertise to develop websites that are safe for billing and money transactions. Moreover, online merchants need to understand that a transaction is not complete when a customer purchases product online, but when the package is received by the customer. To be able to gain customer’s confidence, merchants should take end-to-end responsibility, be transparent in communication by clearly stating the delivery timelines or any additional charges that are applicable, among others, before the payment is made.

Nonetheless, Argentina is slowly making progress and is on track to uphold its position as one of the e-commerce giants in Latin America. Despite being the fastest growing e-commerce market in Latin America, Argentina is still behind the two e-commerce powerhouses, Mexico and Brazil, at least as of now. However, the country definitely has the potential to give them both a tough competition with its e-commerce and m-commerce markets growing at exponential rates.

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