Roger Swannell

Author: roger (page 2 of 102)

Weekly Update 72

What happened this week…

  • Technical deep dive session with Qubit.
  • Discussed new products for the Allstars schools programme, and set up a landing page.
  • Made the London to Brighton Travel Tickets live on the Online Shop.
  • Updated the Community Fundraiser Website Project Plan.
  • Meet with James at the CSC to playback how we’ll be using Magento for the Community Fundraiser website.
  • Sent an apology email to all of the customers affected by our Christmas card issues.
  • Reviewed low stock and slow-moving stock products.

Read this week

Doing next week…

  • Finalising the development requirements for the Community Fundraiser website.
  • Mapping customer journeys for buying CPR Training Kits.
  • Revising the requirements for implementing Qubit.
  • Updating the Ecommerce Business Overview Dashboard and projects roadmap.

Interesting stat of the week…

  • Comparing the conversion rates between 2016 and 2017 we’ve had a 12% increase on desktop, 7% increase on mobile, and 4% on tablets.

In the not too distant future….

  • Building up the supporter merchandise range.

Progressive Markdown – Using the wisdom of crowds to reach the right price point 

A retailer puts a new product in a store. It doesn’t sell very well so they reduce the price. It sells a little better but they still have plenty in stock so they reduce the price even further. It sells at a more usual rate so they keep it at that price until the stock sells through.

Value is a subjective thing. A product is only worth what someone will pay for it, so progressively reducing the price of the product until it matches the customers perceived value is a surer means of hitting the right price point. It’s more customer-focused than pricing a product by margin targets.

For businesses where space is at a premium and the cost of holding on to non-selling products is as important as the margins achieved by selling the products, progressive markdowns are a great way of letting the customers tell the business how much the business should be charging them.

Highlights from “A CEO guide for avoiding the ten traps that derail digital transformations” by McKinsey

Highlights from A CEO guide for avoiding the ten traps that derail digital transformations by McKinsey

“… companies need to take more risk, not less. Many senior executives look back on their transformation programs1 and wish they’d been bolder. In today’s environment, making incremental changes is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

“Many companies have adopted a “let a hundred flowers bloom” philosophy that encourages broad experimentation. Such an approach generates excitement and learning, but it can also be self-defeating if not carefully managed. Running too many competing initiatives dissipates management focus and starves promising ideas of the resources they need for a successful scale-up.”

“Focusing on the right kind of initiatives is equally important. Too often, businesses pour resources into programs that yield short-term gains but can’t be scaled, aren’t sustainable, and don’t add value. To avoid this wasted energy, any digital transformation should start with understanding customer needs and build out solutions that not only address them but have the potential to generate the most impact.”

“Evaluating the customer decision journey is a good place to start… the joining and onboarding processes for new customers often offer plenty of opportunities for significant improvement.”

“Agility and speed are second nature to a digital organization, but energy can turn to chaos if it isn’t channeled purposefully. Leaders need to be systematic about identifying and capturing business value, which begins with creating transparency into, and useful metrics to track, the progress of digital initiatives.”

“Organizations that embrace learning typically develop inexpensive prototypes, test them with customers, and repeatedly refine them until they reach a minimum viable product (MVP). They seek feedback on new features from small groups of customers through simple surveys or by gauging their responses to specific elements such as the wording or layout of a web page.”

“However quickly you think you are going, chances are it isn’t fast enough. Speed is of the essence when it comes to reacting to market changes and capturing revenue opportunities before competitors do.”

“The most effective businesses ingrain speed by making agile a way of life. They use short development cycles to address specific needs, try out rough-and-ready fixes repeatedly with customers, and produce “good enough” solutions. In marketing, for example, agile organizations12 can test multiple new ideas and run hundreds of campaigns simultaneously and get ideas into the field in days rather than weeks or months.”

Agile Digital and Ecommerce teams at the BHF

The BHF Digital Teams, like many digital teams, take Agile approaches in their work.

The Digital team uses Scrum with Product Managers writing user stories from other parts of the organisation and taking them to the Development team for prioritisation and planning. The Dev team consists of front end and back end developers, business analysts, and testers. They estimate the size of the tasks and work in two week sprints to complete the tasks. Using Scrum means that once the tasks are prioritised for that sprint they don’t change it. This works well for software development as it’s repeatable work that benefits from a timeboxed approach to deliver value.

The Ecommerce team uses Kanban. We aren’t specialists like the Dev team and our work often involves a broad range of work, including customer service, logistics, developing merchandise, marketing campaigns and products, as well as website development. We accept that with priorities changing rapidly and with what work we can undertake being dependent on others, attempting to plan with any degree of certainty or timebox our work isn’t going to be an effective. We maintain a high-level roadmap that shows what we expect to be working on over the next few months, and we have a very low-level tasks list that we refer to and update daily. This works well for ecommerce projects as the priorities change quickly and often.

Digital Team using Scrum
Ecommerce Team using Kanban
Cross-functional team of specialists, including Product Managers, Developers, Testers, Business Analysts, UX.
Single functional team of generalist who cover Platform Development, Customer Services, Logistics, Marketing.
Daily stand-up meetings to estimate, prioritise and assign work.
Weekly planning meetings to prioritise projects for the next few days.
Works in fortnightly sprints to complete predefined tasks.
Works in continuous flow with priorities changing daily.
Uses a ‘push’ system with work forecasted weeks ahead by the Product Managers and Developers.
Uses a ‘pull’ system with demand from the business and/or customers deciding what work is focused on this week.
Kanban isn’t better than Scrum, or Scrum better than Kanban, each works for the team that applies it in the right way for them.

Turkey Dash – Innovative digital fundraising

The Turkey Dash, by PayPal, is a digital fundraising initiative in support of eight charities.

Turkey Dash

The campaign encourages members of the public to choose a charity to donate to, with the more donations a charity gets the faster their turkey will run in the race.

It’s a really innovative and interesting way to gamify and make fun donating to charity at Christmas time, especially with traditional campaigns relying on messages of suffering to motivate donors. 

Suddenly I was surrounded 

There I was sitting in my car minding my own business and quietly tapping away on my laptop when I noticed a man in his fifties standing near my car with a mobile phone in his hand.

A couple of seconds later a car pulled up and out got another man with a mobile phone. Then a young couple joined them also holding mobile phones. In less than a minute I was surrounded by about fifteen mobile phone wielding maniacs.

A woman in her fifties drove up and parked her car in front of mine, blocking me in. She leaned out of the window and called to the group, “Is he one of us?”. For a moment I considered leaning out of my window to reply, but as they outnumbered the normal people I thought better of it.

Then she yelled again to the group, “Are we going in?”, like they were about to launch a military strike. “50 seconds!” came the reply from the leader of the group.

Then, in unison they all began taping furiously on their phones. I glanced nervously at the woman-in-the-car’s screen and saw an orange dragon-looking creature getting punished by her finger tip.

Ah, I thought, as it suddenly all made sense. Pokemon Go. A group of grown adults were meeting up on a cold, dark night to collect imaginary creatures on their phones. Then the woman-in-the-car said, “We’re going to the pub.”, and as quickly as they had arrived, they were gone.

Charity Ecommerce Dissertation Q&A

I received an email from a student working on a dissertation about charity shops and ecommerce with some interesting questions:

Q: How long have you been working in the charity sector? Please could you tell me about how/why you began working in this sector.

A: I’ve been working in the charity sector for four and a half years, three years with the British Heart Foundation and a year and a half with the National Trust. Before that I had been volunteering with a not-for-profit organisation for a few years and working for a global company. The National Trust were looking for someone with commercial skills to redesign their online shop and develop a marketing plan to begin to grow their ecommerce business.

Q; Before this job, what interaction did you have with charity shops?

A: Almost none.

Q: Does your shop/charity offer online sales?

A: Yes. The British Heart Foundation has two online sales channels. Our ecommerce website sells branded goods for BHF supporters and we have an Ebay shop that sells higher value donated goods.

Q: How does the selection process differ when selecting stock for the physical and online stores?

A:Yes. The majority of the goods on offer in the physical shops are donated and so the selection is based on what has been donated. The shops also have a range of new goods to supplement the types of goods that aren’t donated such as household ornaments, Christmas cards, and materesses. The shops have a small range of branded supporter goods such as pin badges. The goods selected for the online shop are all new goods (no donated) and the majority are either branded, such as pin badges or t-shirts, or goods that support the aims of the charity, such as CPR training kits.

Q: What factors affect the sales of an online shop as opposed to factors in a physical shop?

A: The two main factors affecting sales are the products and the marketing. As the online shop provides goods for BHF supporters rather than customers in general, the customer base is limited to the number of people who are supporting the BHF by taking part in a running event or a campaign to learn CPR. This affects the sales as the goods on offer aren’t of general appeal and customers only purchase if they have an existing relationship with the BHF. The online shop becomes part of the customer’s journey with the BHF, but in a complex organisation where different departments have different aims, this marketing can be a challenge. In some ways the challenges affecting the real world shops are greater as they have to market themselves to three groups of people in order to trade effectively. They need donors to bring stock, volunteers to provide their time, and customers to purchase goods. This makes running a charity shop far more complex than any other high street retail business.

Q: How much interaction does the online sector have with the physical stores? Do you think that having more/less interaction would benefit sales?

A: There is very little interaction between the ecommerce website that sells new goods and the physical shops as they have different product ranges and very different customers. Ecommerce customers are looking for ways to show their friends and family that they support the BHF and so purchase a wrist band or t-shirt, whereas physical shop customers are price-driven. There is more interaction between the physical shops and the eBay shop as the physical shops provide donated stock to be sold on eBay if they think the product is of higher value or specialist interest and so might sell for more on eBay than in the shops.

Increasing interaction between the physical and online shops could have the potential to increase sales in some product ranges but it would also increase costs, so the challenge is how to understand what products customers want and how they want to buy them.

Q: In respect of both your charity and your sales area, do you think having an online shop and the growth of the online sector has influenced sales in terms of your charity or your shop itself?

A: Yes, selling online has increased overall sales for the BHF. Growth in the online sector is driven by customer expectations and those expectations apply to charities as much as any other organisation.

Q: In your opinion, what are the advantages and disadvantages of having an online presence to the wider charity sector?

A: The two main advantages of selling online are reach and convenience. Charities are able to reach far more customers with an online presence than physical shops. Being able to place an order at a time and place, and on a device that is convenient to the customer and being able to have the order delivered to them rather than having to go to a shop during its opening hours makes shopping online convenient for the customers.

The disadvantages of selling online is the cost. Often charities starting out in ecommerce won’t have an ecommerce website, a warehouse, packaging, etc, all of which take considerable investment to set up and are an ongoing cost. Larger charities are often required operate their Ecommerce business as a limited company separate from the charity meaning that this trading arm has to pay all the tax and operating costs that any other retailer would but often without the scale, all of which reduces the margins that are achieved.

Q: From your (charity’s) perspective, how has the online market changed and grown since you’ve had an online store? Have any difficulties arisen and if so how have they been addressed?

A: The BHF has had an online shop for seven years, and during that time almost every aspect of the online market has changed. Website hosting moved to the cloud, website platforms became cheaper and more powerful, marketing has become more complex with an increase in the number of channels, and customer expectations have increased with leaders in online retailer such as Argos and Amazon offering delivery within hours.

The greatest challenge I’ve seen faced by charity ecommerce businesses to secure investment from within the charity to grow. Charities have to, quite rightly, be very careful and considered about how they spend money given to them by their supporters and often results in charity ecommerce businesses not being able to justify budget to increase the size of the team, make more products available, develop the website, or market to customers. This challenge is addressed best by building influence with key decision makers and very clearly justifying the return on investment from a financial viewpoint, for customer expectations, and from offering a service that no other part of the charity can.

Q: Does having an online sector change the demographic of your sales e.g. do you have to change the type of stock you put online as for example more of the younger generation shops online?

A: Yes, very much. The BHF has very different customer groups purchasing online to those purchasing in shops. Customers who purchase online are often supporters of the charity and are purchasing branded goods as a means of showing their friends and family that they are supporting the BHF, whereas customers buying from shops are less interested in the BHF and more driven by price of products. Because of this the online shop has a very different range of products than physical shops, and as different visitors come to the online shop at different times of year we see the average age of customers change from twenties and thirties in the spring when people are taking part in fundraising events to much older in the autumn when Christmas cards are the key products.

Q: What do you think could be done to strengthen the charity shop sales, both online and in physical stores? (prompt: increase awareness)

A: The bigger things that increase sales are always more products and more marketing. And then there are other factors that have a lesser impact such as customer service, conversion rate optimisation on the website, etc., etc. Physical shops being able to promote and/or sell their products online would greatly increase their awareness, but whether awareness leads to purchase and so has the return on investment to justify showing the products online is unproven.

Q: Do you have to receive any additional training for working in the online market for your charity? (prompt: is there anything different you should learn?)

A: Charity Ecommerce is too niche for a specific training course and too generalist for one course to cover all aspects (commercial, platforms, customer service, marketing, logistics). I have a qualification in digital marketing and have completed small courses on things like Google Analytics but mostly learning is done on the job. I think to be successful in charity ecommerce a person needs to be a generalist rather than a specialist. Larger retailers ecommerce teams would be made up of marketing specialists, user experience specialists, designers, buyers and merchandisers, etc., etc., but ecommerce teams in charities are often just one or two people who have to do everything related to running the business, from financial planning and reporting to site design, from product development to marketing.

Q: How would you describe the value of a physical shop within the community?

A: I think charity shops have a place in the community as they provide a means for better off members of society to help less well off by donating belongings they no longer want, provide a means for the less well off to buy quality goods at low prices, and provide volunteering opportunities for people who want to give something back to their community and those who may not have other opportunities to spend time with people. Charity shops also have a significant environmental impact as they prevent millions of tons of goods going into landfill sites every year. And in the case of the BHF, our charity shops help to fund life saving research that directly benefits every member of society.

Q: What challenges do charity shops face to keep up with the market? Are there any difficulties faced by physical shops that are eased by having an online shop? How do you address these problems/challenges? What initiatives are in place to help?

A: Charity shops exist in their own market somewhat, but are still affected by other retailers in the low price clothing market. However, it’s shops like Primark, which doesn’t have an ecommerce business, that have contributed to keeping the high streets of our towns and cities alive and so helping to increase footfall in high street charity shops.

For the BHF, because the physical shop customers are very different to the online shop customers there is nothing that ecommerce does to ease the difficulties faced by the shops.

The challenges the shops face are broadly around getting volunteers to run the shop, getting stock donated, and getting customers. There are support functions such as marketing to help with these challenges but they are unique to charity shops and not something other retailers have to deal with.

Q: Do you feel like charity shops are able to compete with the likes of Primark/amazon for cheaper products? Is there repetition of services or is it more unique goods?

A: Yes, charities are able to compete with mainstream retailers because they are selling something unique. People don’t buy from the BHF Online Shop to get a product at the lowest price, they buy branded products they can’t get anywhere else because they want to show their friends and family that they are supporting a charity, and to feel good about giving their support. It’s this ‘feel good factor’ that charities are selling, and retailers can’t compete with that. Charities often struggle to communicate this to their customers, and there are far fewer people who want to support a charity than want to shop with Amazon, which is why charities will never be able to fully scale in the way Amazon did, but charities and retailers operate in different emotional spaces for customers.

Q: Are there any other changes that you’ve seen to your charity/ the charity sector since you have been working there?

A: Over the past few years the charity sector has seen more change than in the past few decades. It begun down the road of digital transformation and trying to figure out how to work more digitally, fundraise in a way that meets customer expectations, and tackle risks from cyber security.

Charities need to apply an ecommerce mentality

Ecommerce is the ‘digital and physical exchange of value between an organisation and an individual’. The customer gives the organisation something they value (money) in return for for something the customer values (goods (although it isn’t really the  goods that hold the value it’s the emotional reward that comes with them)).

When a charity asks for a donation without providing any value in return they force the individual to derive their own value. This reliance on the individual to maintain the one-way relationship leads eventually to reduced loyalty as the individual realises that they don’t need a particular charity to get that emotional reward and that any good cause will do.

Traditionally, charities have considered and referred to the individuals they interact with as ‘supporters’, which implies a one-way process of the individual supporting the charity. Increasingly, there is a shift to considering these individuals as ‘customers’, which conveys the idea that there needs to be a value exchange between the organisation and the individual in order to develop the relationship and maintain loyalty. It’s a good shift.

Chatbots & AI with Microsoft, FARM Digital, Age UK and Cancer Research UK


AI came about as big data, powerful algorithms, and cloud hosting reached a level that could support the need for lots of data, processing data quickly, and running on demand.

Microsoft’s AI solution includes image recognition, language and speech, information search, voice recognition that achieves 5.1% accuarcy (the best human is 5.9%), deep learning.
Cortana Intelligence Suite

The MS Bot Framework for enterprises includes payments, integrated API’s Q & A built from website FAQ’s, analytics, and can be surfaced on many channels.

Chatbot in Bing Search Results

Bing can serve chatbots related to search terms to help provide users answers questions on the SERP’s rather than going on to webpages to find information.

Age UK – Contact Support Chatbot

Age UK get 26,500 calls a year to their national advice line, each call lasts an average of 4 minutes, and 30,000 of those go unanswered. They developed their chatbot to try to answer some of the simpler questions and reduce the strain on the call centre with the thinking that chatbots can offer a 24-7 customer experience.

Some of the things they learned included:

  • Most people don’t know what a chatbot is.
  • People expect a chatbot to be able to answer any question, even if it’s not including in the purpose of the bot. The bot needs a means of filtering these out.
  • People talk to chatbots in all kinds of strange (human) ways, often telling their whole story before asking a question, make spelling mistakes, and use metaphors and similes. This makes it difficult for the bot to understand the intent and so answer appropriately.
  • Developing and maintaining bots takes lots of time and resources. They need to be constantly updated as you learn from user interactions.
  • Bots should sound human, but not too human. They should have some personality and use emoji’s and GIF’s, just as people do when chatting.
  • Know what success look like. 18% of conversations ended with the user going to the safety net to speak to a human. The target is 5%.

When surveying users they found that 33% were happy with their interaction, 48% were indifferent, and 19% were unsatisfied.

Cancer Research UK – My Alcohol Tracker Alexa Skill

Cancer Research UK Digital Innovations Team are looking at how they might be able to use AI, and trained an Alexa Skill as an Alcohol Tracker to help build awareness of the effects drinking too much alcohol has on cancer rates as part of Alcohol Awareness Week.

They mapped, sketched, designed, prototyped, and tested in a five day design sprint. This took some shift in thinking for them as they moved from thinking in screens to thinking in user intents. They learned that voice interaction needs to be very concise, and that the technology can struggle with different accents and how people say the same thing in lots of different ways.

This is Alcohol Tracker being tested in CRUK shops:

What I learned

People will expect to be able to ask anything, in any way, and get an answer

No chatbot can answer every question, but people will expect it to. Not everyone understands that a chatbot doesn’t understand messages in the same way as a human. Even if a chatbot is very clear with the user about what it can and can’t do they will still ask all kinds of questions. The only way to handle this is to provide a escape route so that users can be passed to a human if the bot fails to understand a certain number of messages in row.

Natural language processing is hard

Allowing people to type anything to the bot makes handling any message extremely hard. If a message mentions multiple things that the bot regards as intents then how does it judge which intent to answer? Developers can’t possibly predict and programme for every eventuality, but they should prepare responses for users swearing at the bot and telling it that they love it.

Chatbots work best when they are simple up front and complex behind the scenes

Simple bots that use buttons give a clearer indication to the user about what the bot can and can’t do. Asking questions to the user can help to define the context and understand the user’s intent.

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