TikTok and the Ecommerce Revolution

July 6, 2021

Online shopping is going through a major shakeup, and China is the epicenter. Verdict declares, “Watch Out Amazon, TikTok Is Coming for You with Short-Video Ecommerce.” Writer Elles Houweling introduces us to “618” (June 18th), an annual Chinese cybershopping festival that combines advertising with entertainment. Alongside traditional tactics like exclusive offers and discounts, retailers compete for attention with interactive live streaming events and the participation of internet influencers. Transactions can be made right on the social platforms that engage customers, smoothing the path to profits. Such developments may be no surprise from the nation that has the highest rate of ecommerce, according to research firm GlobalData. Houweling writes:

“Something that may come as news, however, is the speed at which short-video apps and live streaming ecommerce are taking over. Relatively new to the 618 game are social media platforms Douyin (China’s version of TikTok) and similar apps Kuaishou and Xiaohongshu, which are rapidly making their mark in the world of ecommerce. These apps have achieved something that traditional online retailers have long neglected: seamlessly merging shopping with entertainment. Chinese netizens are increasingly turning to social media platforms to make purchases. In the West, TikTok is not yet widely associated with the idea of ecommerce, but this may soon change. Recently, TikTok announced that it had entered into partnerships with several companies, including Wal-Mart, Shopify and L’Oréal, to bring the app’s ecommerce platform to a Western audience. We may soon find a cohort of Millennials and GenZs not only learning their latest dance moves from TikTok but also buying their daily products, a trend that may threaten well-established ecommerce behemoths such as Amazon. Moreover, social media platforms have introduced new forms of cybershopping. Soon short-video advertisements and live broadcasts may replace the traditional search and click model of online retail.”

TikTok is now testing in-app sales features in Europe. Wal-Mart just partnered with TikTok on live-stream shopping, a move GlobalData sees as a real threat to Amazon. Though that company now has Amazon Live, the feature seems unlikely to capture nearly as much attention as TikTok will command on Wal-Mart’s behalf. The article notes one of TikTok’s strengths is its recommendation algorithm, which factors in what users do not like as well as what they do. The AI’s uncanny knack for discerning preferences makes for a strong marketing advantage. Perhaps that was the plan all along?

Didn’t some hyperactive rich person call this method ACommerce? The A does not mean what you think it means. The A is for algorithmic. I think.

Cynthia Murrell, June 30, 2021

A Useful but Brief Taxonomy of Dark Patterns

December 29, 2020

The idea that one can lead a hapless Web surfer by the nose has been fascinating to me for years. The idea is that one tries to purchase something online; for example, a downloadable Photoshop macro or buy a package of batteries on a deal site. Then the system pops up requests for information or displays “Other customers liked” messages. The person who follows these digital breadcrumbs discovers that a surprise has been delivered. The single macro is a bundle and the batteries include an flashlight.

Types of Dark Patterns” provides a handy list of the specific methods for getting that nose going in the direction it may not have wanted to go. The write up includes 12 types of dark patterns. I am not confident that the list is exhaustive, but it is a good start. Here are three dark patterns briefly explained in the article, and be sure to consult the original write up for the complete list:

  • Privacy Zuckering. This pattern is named in honor of that estimable innovator Mark Zuckerberg.
  • Hidden costs. A popular method for some eBay sellers and a vendor who sells big bars of soap.
  • Forced continuity. The name could be better but the idea is that a single purchase leads to monthly charges because you subscribed to something. Perhaps it is a good idea to check PayPal to see if a merchant has been billing a modest amount each month even though you purchased a single service on Fiverr, the Israel-based gig site.

There’s nothing like cleverness combined with duplicity in the wild, wonderful world of online.

Stephen E Arnold, December 29, 2020

Shopify: Going with the Flow

December 22, 2020

I read “Thousands of Fraudsters Are Selling via Shopify, Analysis Finds.” I know Shopify has been a must mention platform by one of the New Age broadcast stars, or I think it is podcast stars now. Other than that hype hose, I know zero about the company. In the write up, I spotted an interesting factoid. If the datum is accurate, I have learned a great deal about the governance of the firm and its ethical compass. Herewith is the allegedly accurate factoid:

According to the ecommerce authentication service FakeSpot, which analyzed more than 120,000 Shopify sites, as many as 21 per cent posed a risk to shoppers.

Yowza.

Stephen E Arnold, December 22, 2020

Google Shopping and Relevance. Ho, Ho, Ho

July 28, 2020

DarkCyber tested Google Shopping. The query was golf shirts for men –Amazon. Here is page 9 of the result:

image

Some observations. Four of the seven shirts were for products intended for females. One of the products was for a jacket. The other products were for bulk orders of golf shirts.

About that relevance algorithm? Ho, ho, ho.

Stephen E Arnold, July 28, 2020

Search for Shopping: Still Room for Improvement

July 7, 2020

Targeted advertising is not the only way retailers can leverage all that personal data users have been forking over. Retail Times reports, “Findlogic Announces the Launch of AI-Powered Virtual Shopping Assistant, Lisa.” Lisa, huh? I guess Findlogic pays no heed to concerns around “female” virtual assistants. That tangent aside, the AI-powered tool is meant to reduce frustration for online shoppers and, in turn, facilitate to more completed sales. Writer Fiona Briggs tells us:

“Lisa returns on-site search based on an individual shopper’s buying intent signals in the context of a broad set of learnt user behaviors. This allows the solution to personalize results for each shopper, delivering more accurate search returns that connect customers to a desired product faster, moving them along the sales funnel and increasing conversion rates. By intelligently applying understanding to on-site search, Lisa helps shoppers better navigate product category or brand searches, which means that, rather than returning hundreds of options, the solution uses skills to refine results to bring shoppers to the exact product they are looking for quicker. Lisa also incorporates machine learning capabilities which allow it to learn and understand a shopper’s preferences and apply them to search, offering up personalized recommendations, which ranks the products the shopper is most likely to choose at the top of the list of results. Lisa also offers up intelligent ways to refine searches for generic keywords, using the application of a skill that then asks the user a set of questions to progress their search based on their individual requirements.”

Findlogic’s UK director emphasizes companies that put effort into getting shoppers to their websites in the first place are let down by traditional, keyword-based search systems that frustrate some 41% of potential customers. The company is betting this AI that can understand “intent” will change that. Based in Salzburg, Austria, Findlogic was founded in 2008.

Cynthia Murrell, July 7, 2020

Coveo Enterprise Search: A Pivot and a Double Flip from a 15 Year Old Startup

June 4, 2020

DarkCyber noted this story in a New Zealand online information service: “Xero Partners with Coveo to Empower Small Businesses with Machine Learning.” The write states:

Xero has partnered with Coveo to empower small businesses with new functionality on its app marketplace search, powered by machine learning.

Before taking a look at the direct quotes in the article, DarkCyber needs to answer two questions.

First, what’s Coveo? According to the firm’s Web site, the company:

Provide effortless tailored journeys with the Coveo Experience Intelligence Platform. Imagine the experiences you could deliver by embracing the cloud, data, and AI today.

Got that? Coveo was profiled in the first three editions of the Enterprise Search Report as a vendor of Microsoft-centric search and retrieval. Over the years, the company has evolved or at least changed. The firm offered its search system as a customer support component and now it has evolved into providing “tailored journeys”. Let’s call this enterprise search.

Second, what’s Xero? The company’s Web site explains:

Xero is the emerging global leader of online accounting software that connects small businesses to their advisors and other services. Xero provides business owners with real-time visibility of their financial position and performance in a way that’s simple, smart and secure. For accountants, Xero forges a trusted relationship with clients through online collaboration and gives accountants the opportunity to extend their services.

Okay, the company wants to offer an online “store” to sell licenses to companies looking for accounting software.

Now back to the write up. The article quotes an executive at Coveo as saying:

Coveo CEO and chairman Louis Tetu says, “Creating intelligent experiences like Xeros [sic] app marketplace and Xero Central are critical to compete in today’s experience economy. Digital leaders run on data and AI to create the relevant, unified experiences their customers expect – while adding real business value. Few companies understand that better than Xero. Whether a small business is looking to move sales online, coordinate staff or manage projects, Xero’s app marketplace features an array of third-party apps to help with their unique industry and business administration challenges.”

DarkCyber thinks that this means that Coveo will provide product search for Xero’s online store. It is easy to be mystified by words like “intelligence experiences,” “experience economy”, and AI (artificial intelligence). Yeah, jargon is one way to get around the fact that Coveo is providing search and retrieval. (SLI Systems — New Zealand eCommerce search system — is probably surprised by the lingo as well.)

How does Xero explain search? One of Xero’s managers says:

“We’ve seen a 50% increase in people searching for cash flow apps from February to April this year, so we know making it easy to access the right technology is more important than ever…. Tapping into smart insights through machine learning, not only improves the journey for time-poor small businesses, but enables us to consistently evolve our offering to provide beautiful experiences for our customers.

Okay, jargon like “machine learning,” “time poor”, and “beautiful experiences” seems to be a bit of frosting on a donut.

The Canadian company has licensed its search system to a New Zealand accounting centric company to provide search and retrieval for about 800 products.

Interesting. DarkCyber assumes that the inclusion of the buzzwords and jargon is an attempt to make a fairly straightforward ecommerce service into something with a bit more zing. Did it work? You decide because eCommerce search features established options like Elasticsearch and new solutions from vendors like Luigis Box. Coveo was founded in 2005 as a spin off from Copernic desktop search. Luigis Box, on the other hand, was founded in 2017.

Stephen E Arnold, June 4, 2020

Amazon and France: Mais Oui, Mais Non

April 16, 2020

The trusted news source Thomson Reuters published “Amazon to Close French Warehouses until Next Week after Court Order.” Like Ben Franklin, Amazon has an on-again, off-again relationship with France. In the latest installment, Amazon is willing to allow French citizens to hunt for products at the nearest supermarché. There is a soupçon of taxation. There is a virus. There are the French unions. Will Amazon and the French remain déboussolé? Amazon continues to wrestle with governments, including the one in the US. Spring and change are in the air perhaps?

Stephen E Arnold, April 16, 2020

Amazon Fear: A New Marketing Hook for Google and the Softies

January 14, 2019

With the Amazon AWS bulldozer grinding away, some animals are fleeing the crushing power of the machine. Others are adopting a different tactic. “At NRF 2019, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform Court Retailers Wary of Amazon” explains that their services offer a quiet place in the jungle.

The write up explains:

Retail is one of the few industries where AWS isn’t likely to have a huge lead. That reality means Google and Microsoft can pitch their AI and cloud wares to a receptive audience.

Will Google and Microsoft adopt the IBM FUD approach? Will retailers who want to sell to the federal government become more flexible when Amazon’s GovCloud becomes more dense?

DarkCyber anticipates changes which will pose considerable hurdles to Google and Microsoft as places to sell and relax in the Amazon rain forest.

Stephen E Arnold, January 14, 2019

Stolen Identities Affordable and Available from a Few Dark Web Vendors

January 8, 2019

This is quite the bargain for bad actors—Kodos Blog reports, “Hackers Charging £10 for Stolen UK Identities.” Writer Ali Raza tells us recent studies show packages of data required to usurp a victim’s identity can be found for as little as £10, or about 12 and a half bucks. We learn:

“On the dark web, these information packages are called fullz (full IDs), and they can be found on numerous black markets. They often contain things such as names, addresses, bank data, online passwords, and more. Researchers believe that a number of high profile hacks that occurred recently are keeping the markets filled with this type of data. Hundreds of millions of internet users have had their data stolen in 2018 alone. Some of the most famous hacks from the last few months include several Facebook incidents, the hack of British Airways, Marriott hotel, and more. Stolen information then gets posted on the hidden part of the web, known as the dark web.”

We presume in order to create more clients, vendors of such data also offer instruction in how to open loans and credit cards in the victims’ names. Not for free, of course; such a guide runs about £6. The article adds:

“[One] seller also offered a sample of stolen information, currently being in their possession. The data includes names, occupation, addresses, and even date of birth and similar information. The sample itself belongs to a Bristol-based Polish-born woman. Researchers have described this type of stolen information as ‘key to online fraud’. As the internet has become a large part of most peoples’ everyday life, demand for this type of info is constantly on the rise.”

And yet, Raza reports, most consumers have no idea how pervasive these data hacks are. In fact, says one expert, most of us already have had our data stolen and sold on the Dark Web—it’s just a question of how often. One can check whether their email address is believed to have been compromised at several websites, the most famous of which may be Have I Been Pwned. To prevent identity theft, users should follow best practices, like using separate, hard-to-guess passwords for different accounts and taking advantage of two-factor authentication where offered.

Cynthia Murrell, January 8, 2019

Microsoft and Kroger: Have These Outfits Actually Shopped at a Kroger Store in Kentucky?

January 8, 2019

The answer is, “Of course not.”

Kroger’s technological capability is modest, even by the low standards which define the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Home of the corrupt sports programs, bourbon, horse racing, river boat gambling, and other intellectual high water marks.

I read “Microsoft and Kroger to Create Data-Driven Connected Grocery Stores.” What this means is that Kroger wants to get rid of humans, keep the lights at mortuary levels, and not have to fool around with pesky customers who spend actual bank notes.

The write up takes a slightly different approach, stating:

The first fruit of the partnership is a digital shelving system, which was actually announced last year and is in the process of rolling out to dozens of Kroger stores across the U.S. Called EDGE (Enhanced Display for Grocery Environment), it bypasses paper price tags for digital shelf displays that can be changed in real time from anywhere, and it also can display promotions, dietary information, and more.

Yep, that’s an idea. But the flaw is that Kroger’s in Kentucky struggle to complete these tasks in an orderly, coherent way:

  1. Restock. Aisles are choked with people trying to cram products on shelves in aisles clogged with free standing cardboard promotions, mothers wrangling toddlers, and clueless males struggling to locate milk and bread.
  2. Functioning check outs. At the Louisville Westport Kroger, the store has a dozen next generation self check out machines. At 1225 pm Eastern exactly three of the machines were working. The hapless attendant was clueless and an even more confused “manager” was trying to calm down impatient shoppers. How many human check outs were open at this fine retail outlet? Exactly one. Yeah, Windows 10 will fix this puppy.
  3. Accurate data. I routinely locate products on shelves with prices different from what the Kroger check out systems display. The error rate seems to chug along at somewhere between 10 and 15 percent. The solution? Hide the prices so the hapless shopper will not be able to compare what one tag says with what the invisible database says. I suppose one could ask Cortana.

But the kicker is the idea that a shelf will illuminate only when a person is interfacing. It is pretty tough to buy a frozen burrito when the automatic illumination systems does not function. That assumes, of course, that one can actually locate frozen burritos which are in the frozen snack freezer two aisles away from frozen Mexican food.

Should I talk about the crazy Kroger app for wireless shopping and payment. Nope, I am heading to Whole Foods.

Stephen E Arnold, January 8, 2019

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