Archive

Archive for November, 2009

Review of Best Buy.com’s online store and eCommerce offering

November 25th, 2009 Sandeep Walia 2 comments

The first thing that jumps out to me about BestBuy.com is that it hasn't kept up with the changing monitor resolution landscape. About 45 percent of my monitor real estate is whitespace when I view BestBuy.com and the website only occupies the left hand side of my monitor. Ignify's research shows that the average online shopper now has a monitor resolution that is 1280 x 800 or higher. Best Buy has tailored its website to be at 1024 x 768 — which (to give credit) used to be the standard monitor configuration. However, most shoppers moved past that many months ago with 75 percent now having a monitor resolution that is higher than 1024×768. Best Buy opting for lower resolution is an annoyance and poor use of technology.

Given the volume of transactions that the site processes, I would have expected BestBuy.com to use the Amazon.com model of resizing the site to the user's monitor resolution so that the white space is eliminated.

I often shop at Best Buy for two reasons — great prices on laptops and desktops and a very well-integrated in-store pick up process. The in-store pick up is important because I can get items the same day as opposed to having to wait until the next day or two days with other online-only retailers. That is certainly a competitive advantage that Best Buy brings to the table over most online retailers. Also, the process is very well integrated and my order is usually ready for pick up in about two hours from the time of placing the order.

I've also used the pickup service when I needed to buy items for a tradeshow in another city. This service allows me to ensure that the product is guaranteed available wherever I am picking up in addition to saving me costs on shipping. However, my experience has been that the in-store pick up experience itself has been underwhelming. The store agents often are chattering amongst themselves at the pickup counter and are often confused about what to do about an order placed outside the physical store. While the technology for pick up is well integrated, the people handling the final stage of the online order destroy the slickness of the overall experience. Better training and more focus on the customer would help streamline the process and make this a great differentiator for Best Buy.

When it comes to certain categories like laptops, desktops and a few other electronic items, Best Buy does have incredible pricing. I have accounts at nearly all major online electronic retailers including Buy.com and Amazon.com, and find that in these limited categories Best Buy does an incredible job of keeping the pricing very competitive.

Some of the gripes that I do have are that the cross-sell recommendations are not relevant enough and that the customer reviews are very limited. While BestBuy.com has reviews, there are just not as many as you see at Amazon. Perhaps this is because they provided the ability to give reviews much later. Very often I find myself looking up the same product on Amazon that I'm planning to buy on Best Buy to validate the reviews. That behavior (and I know from talking to other people that I'm not an exception) is dangerous to Best Buy because I am leaving their site to go to another site and there is a chance that I may complete the purchase elsewhere.

Best Buy could strengthen its review process by following up purchases with a "Review the product" email a few weeks after the purchase is completed. That step usually drives up reviews.

The cross-sells (which Best Buy calls accessories) are an important part of trying to understand how the product works best. For example, a memory upgrade or a netbook sleeve with a netbook are great cross-sell items and make the purchase experience easier as well as more profitable for Best Buy. However, most of the cross-sell items are not well researched and don't seem to be based on customer behavior. Instead they seem to be based on what Best Buy would like to sell with the product. The best sites analyze the customer purchase history and recommend the related products or cross-sells based on shopping history. Best Buy needs to bring some of that analysis to the forefront.

Best Buy brings a great value proposition to the customer with its in-store pick sup backed by a large chain of brick and mortar stores combined with attractive pricing. Improvements in the analytics, product comparison and reviews are in order and Best Buy could take a page from online-only retailers such as Amazon as its benchmark.

What's Good

  • Well-integrated store pick-up service with its entire chain of retail stores
  • Incredible pricing in select categories

What's Not So Good

  • Customer experience at pick-up service in the store is underwhelming
  • Web site size is not in tune with users monitor resolution, leaving considerable white space
  • Cross-sell recommendations are not based on purchase history and are less relevant than they should be

Sandeep Walia is the President & CEO of Ignify. Ignify is a technology provider of ERP, CRM, and eCommerce software solutions to businesses and public sector organizations. Ignify is a Microsoft Dynamics Inner Circle Partner  and ranked in the top 18 Microsoft Dynamics partners. Ignify has been included as the fastest growing business in North America for 3 years in a row by Deloitte, Inc Magazine and Entrepreneur Magazine.

Preventing Friendly Fraud

November 23rd, 2009 Sandeep Walia No comments

An informative article publised in the Wall Street Journal on Friendly Fraud. 35% of fraud is 'friendly fraud' – and most merchants realize there is nothing friendly about friendly fraud. It is extremely hard to track. We continue to enhance our fraud management capabilities with an Anti-fraud parameterized filter that helps screen such fraud. http://bit.ly/7uZREQ

Sandeep Walia is the President & CEO of Ignify. Ignify is a technology provider of ERP, CRM, and eCommerce software solutions to businesses and public sector organizations. Ignify is a Microsoft Dynamics Inner Circle Partner  and ranked in the top 18 Microsoft Dynamics partners. Ignify has been included as the fastest growing business in North America for 3 years in a row by Deloitte, Inc Magazine and Entrepreneur Magazine.

Dynamics AX Tips and Tricks from past implementations – I

November 23rd, 2009 Khushhal Garg 3 comments

We recently started Dyanmics AX community discussion meetings to internally talk about projects – what worked,  what didn't to share our learnings and strengthen our practice. On Nov 21, 2009, we held our first DAX community meeting in Los Angeles. The idea of this meeting is to contribute new learning, knowledge sharing, sharing solution designs towards DAX community.  We took one project which went live last month and discussed the implementation cycle.

 

We discussed major features of this project like Warehouse Management, Auction Upload, Bidding, Inventory Reservation, Order Creation, Picking, Shipping, Invoicing, Returns, Order Cancellation, Refunds, Coupon Management. This involves integration of Dynamics AX with front end. Front end is implemented in Java and integration is done using .net business connector.

 

We also discussed what gotchas we faced during this project implementation and what pain points business was having. Initially, we faced integration problem. For example, one of the challenges was around doing integration between Java applications and Dynamics AX?   we created a .net dll that uses the .net business connector to connect to AX and Java in turn is calling this dll.

 

Before this implementation, the customer was using a legacy system which was implemented in .net and SQL. The in-house system did not provide ERP features and Warehouse Management functionality. For example – the system did not have proper order cancellation and customer refund processes. A significant advantage that the customer got from new implementation is the robust ERP system with a full-fledged warehouse management system, order cancellation and customer refund process. It is so easy now for the users to calculate accurate refund using Dynamics AX standard RMA creation process. We enhanced the standard RMA process a little bit but the basic process is very much standard AX. Claim process is also utilizing RMA functionality. The only difference between RMA and Claim process is that item doesn’t get received back in Claim process. We also customized it to give user facility to adjust sales/refunds.

 

We also implemented a rule engine which monitors the order while creation and puts the order into Not Reviewed, Suspect, Stopped, Released state based on fraud rules setup.

 

There is a new requirement to have the customer cash credit feature within AX. The requirement is that customer can refer other customer and customer who referred should get cash credit based on first purchase done by customer whom customer referred. Basically, to have referral reward feature within AX. We discussed design solution to implement this requirement and we come up with 2 design solution. One to use standard free text invoice and second to use standard payment journal feature of AX. Most probably, we will go with payment journal feature.

 

More to come!

 

This post is written by Khushhal Garg. Attendees at the Dynamics AX community meeting were Khushhal Garg, Craig Griffith, Ravinder Singh, Gopi Balakrishnan and Satish Panwar. Khushhal Garg is a Dynamics AX technical manager in the Microsoft Dynamics AX Practice at Ignify . Ignify is a Global Microsoft Dynamics Inner Circle Partner specializing in Dynamics AX for Retail, Distribution, Manufacturing and Chemicals verticals. For help on Microsoft Dynamics ERP email us at dynamics@ignify.com.

Windows Azure – What it means to Microsoft Dynamics users and customers?

November 22nd, 2009 Pankaj Kumar No comments

I attended PDC 2009 last week and enjoyed every moment of it. Things seem to be changing for Microsoft with far too fast changing competitive landscape. And Microsoft has an interesting challenge to play catch up or be thought leaders in computing technology. They seem to be doing both and trying hard to be thought leaders. The significant theme in this PDC was Windows Azure – a platform meant for cloud computing. And there are some interesting bits about the platform in terms of how Microsoft is approaching it.

There is a much different strategy to Azure if you compare it with Amazon EC2 and there are similarities with Google App Engine. Azure is a computing platform and is not meant to be used as a server bank with on demand elastic availability unlike EC2. To Microsoft credit, that is a very attractive idea in .NET world and has merits in a number of scenarios – as an example avoid human dependence for server/application management. Azure seems to be the next biggest bet that Microsoft is taking and so far I think they are on the right track. There were some very interesting talks from Azure team, an outstanding presentation by Manuvir Das that explained Azure’s past and talked about it’s future. One of the key differences in Microsoft offering though is - SQL Azure. There is nothing from Amazon or Google that really comes close to SQL Azure. With a very well crafted scale out strategy, SQL Azure may be the the key winner for Microsoft. But due to scale out nature, it has limited application to existing applications unless re-architected.

So what does all this mean to mid size customers running Dynamics ERP, CRM, Sharepoint, Exchange and custom written .NET applications or plumbing. This question has two different answers for home grown or otherwise written .NET applications and non .NET applications from Microsoft Dynamics stable

For .NET applications, there are two key areas where all CIOs in these mid size organizations should consider Azure. Azure would also significantly change how mid size IT operations would be run in future:

  1. Cost Saving – I am calling this out first given the current economic scenario and the continual pressure to fulfill customer demands while reducing the cost at the same time. Setting up Development, Test & Staging environments and providing global access has been a friction factor for launching many application initiatives. With Azure, that problem is pretty much gone. You can fund a new project with a very minimal upfront cost in infrastructure or time. The billing model for Azure when running in Production is likely to be much lower than what it would cost internally or with a hosting company. Our recommendation for new applications is to evaluate Azure as the first platform option for all future .NET initiatives. A natural question would be about existing infrastructure – right now Windows Azure has limitations on what all you can deploy and you might end up doing expensive evaluation or trial and error. There are offerings on the card that would make EC2 like fully controlled Windows instances a reality on Azure. Our recommendation for existing applications is to wait till 3rd quarter of 2010 before moving existing applications to Azure. 
  2. Enterprise like scale up and fault tolerance capability – This would be my number 1 reason had the economic condition been different. With Windows Azure and the deep investment behind this, there are significant gains for mid size companies to get enterprise like scale up and fault tolerance capabilities at zero upfront cost and very reasonable operating cost. Capability to launch additional instances of web servers (called Web Roles in Azure world) on demand is extremely attractive.

Does Azure change the way I run Dynamics ERP and CRM software today or how I would run it tomorrow? – Official Microsoft word is that yes, some day all Microsoft Products would transition to Azure. My personal opinion is that this is unlikely to happen – there would be changes in the way Microsoft would offer these products to end customer but moving to Azure may be far fetched given the current technology platform and existing customer base. Dynamics CRM is already offered via Microsoft Online Services. Other Dynamics Offerings would be either coming from Microsoft or other partners.

So get Azured and start preparing for the next generation always available apps!

Pankaj Kumar is the CTO of Ignify. Ignify is a technology provider of ERP, CRM, and eCommerce software solutions to businesses and public sector organizations. . Ignify is a Microsoft Dynamics Inner Circle Partner  and ranked in the top 18 Microsoft Dynamics partners. Ignify has been included as the fastest growing business in North America for 3 years in a row by Deloitte, Inc Magazine and Entrepreneur Magazine.

The Server is Dead! Long Live the Server – as the Cloud

November 21st, 2009 Sandeep Walia 1 comment

I spent most of last week hanging out with Pankaj – our CTO and co-founder who was visiting from our office in India to debrief with Forrester Research and attend the Professional Developers conference. Pankaj and I studied together during our undergrad and used to debate for hours on just about anything under the sun but most often about the technology roadmap. We ended up doing the same thing again – old habits die hard :-) .

As we talked through the changing technology landscape, I had an interesting incident happen to me. I got the blue screen of death on my hulk of my Windows Vista 64-bit machine, 8 GB laptop. The hard drive crashed and went into unrecoverable mode. I was left to work on my small little $299 1 GB netbook. It was an interesting experience to go from my ultra-powerful laptop to my ultra-light-very-little-software netbook. I decided not to install any software and work with Google Docs and Exchange OWA online. Google Docs itself was disappointing at how little it could do compared to Microsoft Office. But Google Docs was interesting in that it brought a new paradigm to the forefront. I no longer needed a personal computer. I could be anywhere, on any machine and could access all my documents without lugging along a laptop. It is limited and has limited storage but as this thing evolves and gets more features, it is going to become a very viable alternative to Microsoft Office.

Parallel to this incident, Pankaj kept talking about the cloud, azure – and he wasn't talking about the blue sky at the beach in Southern California. In that week we made our first move to the cloud and shifted the server that hosts this blog to Amazon's EC2 service. The switch was painless and voila we freed up two servers in our data center with full redundancy, database clustering and everything else that used to keep some of us up at night. We are now moving just about everything to the cloud. The server in our data center is dead. Because it is now replaced by the servers in the cloud.

The larger picture that did come home is that heavy laptops, in-house servers are going to go away and should go away except in the most demanding enterprise environments. Given today's pricing (and this is an important incentive), the scalability the cloud offers, and the inherent redundancy there is no reason for a mid-market business to keep most of its infrastructure in-house. There are several things that we see happening with this move to the cloud.

- More Green: The cloud is a fabric that can do a massive amount of load balancing of memory, hard drive space etc. With more people moving to the cloud the chances to optimize hardware is incredible. That means fewer servers, lesser power consumption and a greener environment.

- Death of the Data center: Businesses like Rack Space will soon see the death of their business model as they stand today unless they do something different. The cloud can easily offer much more at a much lesser price point. Our data center is a case-in-point. I would be surprised if hosted anything beyond experimental applications in our data center by March 2010 (we are only talking 4 months here).

- Shorter Time to Market: The time to market for an application is much higher because you don't have to buy operating system software, hardware or anything like that. you just turn on a switch in Azure, Amazon EC2 or whatever your preferred model is and you have what you need in a fully redundant, backed up and scalable model. The limitation today is the size of the database you can host there. But this limit will go up over time.

- SAAS becomes less compelling: This is counter-intuitive. But if you think about it  the big argument for SAAS is that it offers you redundancy, scalability and not having to need network administrators and the ability to get up fast. No one jumped to SAAS because they wanted to rent software. In fact SAAS providers today charge a premium because they can because of the benefits that come with SAAS. However, these benefits are now there in the cloud.  Customers can now marry the scalability, time to market benefits of SAAS with the cost benefit of owning licensed software.

We are extremely enthusiastic about cloud computing and how this paradigm will change businesses and reduce their cost structure for technology.

Sandeep Walia is the President & CEO of Ignify. Ignify is a technology provider of ERP, CRM, and eCommerce software solutions to businesses and public sector organizations. Ignify is a Microsoft Dynamics Inner Circle Partner  and ranked in the top 18 Microsoft Dynamics partners. Ignify has been included as the fastest growing business in North America for 3 years in a row by Deloitte, Inc Magazine and Entrepreneur Magazine.

Categories: CEO Tags: ,