Archive for December, 2013

Amazon Drone – Delivery Revolution Or PR Stunt?

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

On the weekend preceding 2 December 2013, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced plans to use Unmanned Aerial Vehicles — aka drones — to deliver packages to online shoppers, cutting delivery times to 30 minutes. Like many people, I found this idea great.


Amazon’s plan to use drones is self-admittedly futuristic. Retail Systems Research, Reuters and many others have given several reasons why delivery-drones might not get off the ground.

I don’t agree. Amazon can make the R&D investments and pull off the political lobbying required to overcome the obstacles in front of drone delivery.

If it wishes to, that is.

This is where I’ve a slightly different take on Amazon’s announcement, timed as it was a day or two before 2 December (The significance of this date will become obvious pretty soon in case you haven’t already figured it out).

add04When I thought back to the video about PrimeAir – as Amazon has branded the drone delivery service – I remember seeing an orange jumpsuited man placing the package into a conveyor belt in a warehouse, or fulfillment center as Amazon calls it.

I was wondering, why isn’t a robot doing the grunt work?

After all, robots have been used in warehouses for over a decade. I remember a leading Swiss retailer who had bought my company’s ERP package in 2000 asked us to build an interface between our inventory module and its existing robotic system. In fact, ease of integration was one of the main reasons why the company chose our product. But, I digress.

The point is, if Amazon were seriously planning to deploy drones in a futuristic scenario like delivery, wouldn’t you expect the company to showcase a tried-and-tested use case like picking and packing using robots? Would a drive for operational excellence not include grabbing such a low hanging fruit for cost reduction, especially since the etailer operates on wafer-thin margins?

That’s when it struck me that there’s nothing cool about using robots in warehouses.

On the other hand, showing a drone making delivery of an online order is a major ‘aha’ moment. And it worked brilliantly. Made on the eve of Cyber Monday, the announcement got Amazon to the front page of print, TV and online media on the busiest day of online shopping.

Nothing wrong with a PR stunt from time to time but credit where credit is due – a stroke of marketing genius shouldn’t be confused for execution innovation.

Let Banks Chase Their Defaulters Instead Of Seeking Bailouts

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

The old saying “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time” crossed my mind when I recently read this article in which loan defaulters protest against the aggressive procedures adopted by banks to recover their loans.

The typical refrain of almost every defaulter profiled in this article seems to be “I couldn’t keep up with my repayments after losing my job. Since I’ve already informed my bank about this, it should put a stop to its constant follow up.”

Well tried, Charlie. That’s not how it works.

When the borrower took a loan, he or she signed a contract with the bank to adhere to a certain repayment schedule. While doing so, they might have assumed total stability in their career, but that’s not the bank’s problem. Any default in repayments is a breach of contract and the bank has every right to take steps to collect. While borrowers can seek extra time to pay back their loans, they’ve no right to expect their banks to accept their requests.

The article is right in urging banks to seek legal recourse in the event of a default. However, as anyone who has filed a lawsuit to recover their payments can tell you, the courts have a huge backlog of cases. Under the situation, banks can’t be blamed for resorting to some supplementary action to expedite recovery and keep their delinquent outstandings under control.

Citing the US Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), the article suggests a similar law to regulate the banking industry’s collection activities. This is very naïve and displays total ignorance of how the American judicial system works: Once a court sets a date for a hearing, the defendant (loan defaulter) must attend it. Failure to do so inevitably leads to a suo moto award of the case in favor of the plaintiff (creditor). Unfortunately, there’s no similar provision in the Indian judicial system. No-shows by defendants result in postponement of hearings, which is a major reason why court dockets keep mounting in India.

Just as banks must follow the law about when to call, whom to call and how to talk while seeking recovery of their overdue loans, borrowers must be equally circumspect about the amount, tenor and repayment schedule of the loans they take. Irresponsible loans set the stage for defaults when borrowers go through adverse life events such as a job loss. Besides, they cause hardship for everyone by creating bubbles in shares, gold, real estate and other assets.

As long as friends and family members stand guarantee for a loan, there’s nothing wrong in banks following up with them when the loan goes bad, especially when banks are unable to reach the defaulting borrower in question.

Let banks chase their defaulters aggressively and recover their dues. That’s better than going soft on them and then pleading for a public, taxpayer-funded bailout when their existence is threatened by skyrocketing Non Productive Assets. India escaped that fate during the Great Financial Crisis but, as we all know because banks keep reminding us, past performance is no guarantee of future results.

To Personalize Or Not To Personalize Is The Question

Sunday, December 8th, 2013

Personalization has always been a hot topic from the dawn of the Internet but it has been garnering even greater interest lately as recent advances in HTML5, Big Data and Mobility technologies have raised the targetability and implementability of of personalization to the next level.

News, social updates, color scheme, country version, product recommendation, and location based offer – these are some of the areas in which websites and mobile apps are seeking to up the ante on personalization with a view to deliver an enhanced user experience.

Here’s a word of caution for all of them: Personalization could be a double-edged sword. Greater personalization doesn’t necessarily mean better UX. At times, even the opposite could be true.

Let me illustrate this with a couple of examples.

When I visit Amazon, I like it that the website automatically recognizes me and recommends a list of products that I might be interested in.

Likewise, since I’m based out of India and most of my travel is domestic, I don’t mind Expedia automatically taking me to the India country version, especially when it makes it very easy for me to continue to the US site should I wish to.


Personalize, but give an easy “out”

However, since I’m by default interested in a global perspective on something, I prefer to go to as my first port of call whenever I search for something. Therefore, I don’t like to be redirected to the home page of Google India based on my browser’s IP address signaling that I’m in India. (I recently solved this problem by suffixing /ncr to the URL).

With MSN, it’s worse. When I last checked, it took me to MSN India and, unlike Google, didn’t provide any way of going to

In short, I like personalization on Amazon and Expedia but not on Google or MSN.

But that’s only me.

By its very definition, personalization is personal – one man’s food is another man’s poison, and all that.


Let the user drive personalization

It’s very likely that there are many others who

  • Don’t like websites slicing and dicing their purchase history to make recommendations
  • Travel abroad very frequently.
  • Want a local perspective.

These people would want exactly the opposite behavior from Amazon, Expedia, Google and MSN as me.

Diversity in user situations and preferences makes the scope of personalization very hazy. But, one thing is clear: Getting personalization wrong could spoil the user experience just as often as getting it right might enhance it.

Websites and mobile apps need to study both stated and unstated consumer situations and preferences before determining what to personalize and what not to personalize. A broad brushstroke approach towards personalization will not only set them back financially but actually deliver diametrically opposite results to what they set out to achieve when they invested the big bucks on personalization technologies.

They can either use the results of the following straw poll as a general reference or contact us for insights that are more suited to their specific circumstances.

online poll by Opinion Stage