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Internet Retailing Conference 2015


There was probably a time, back in the day (before t’internet) when a retail event had a quite different content agenda. Understanding how to lure customers into the store and match purchases with stock order levels would have occupied a fair chunk of time before slicker ‘sound bites’ on ugc, cgc and sku’s fed an impatient merchandiser audience, wanting their ‘take-aways’ packaged and meaningful, with high-value propositions before the lunch time tiramisu.

That was then. Make no mistake, this is a must attend, heavy-duty, high profile speaker event that delivers excellent content for a rapidly changing, technology driven retail marketplace.  

internet conference martin facebookSo it was hard not to be just a little in awe of the fresh-faced Facebook guru, Martin Harbech, Head of eCommerce & Retail (pictured right), giving a presentation-redefining slick, information-drenched performance. And not selling a damn thing. He didn’t have to. As I remembered the clichéd pith, of a slightly jaded insurance salesman I once knew, “less about what it’s going to be, more about what’s in it for me.” I thought this is all about the right here, right now for all of us. How we as consumers are behaving for sure. Content rich pith from one of the most content rich ecommerce sources on the planet.

Mobile is dominating. It’s our constant companion, spending on average 2.5 hours per day searching, surfing, using.  64% of offline sales are influenced by digital. 68% of shoppers use mobile in the store. Facebook accounts for 1 in 4 minutes of time spent on a mobile. 82% of time on a mobile is spent on apps. For the digital train-spotters, that’s Google, 13%, Facebook 28%, BBC 6% (the rest presumably watching Chelsea’s Mourinho melt-down).

If as a retailer you are (somehow?) unaware of the mobile phone dynamic shaping retail sales – this stomach-flab pinching context reveals the transformations taking place, between traditional retailer consumer models and what has to be taken on board, to stay fit and in the game.  These are not nice to have observational tidbits, you might just consider factoring in. I recalled hearing about a bridal designer, whose website was not sized for the mobile. Told to go and look at the stats, freely available from Google analytics – forty per cent (probably higher now) of visitors to the website came via a mobile phone, and stayed on for less than 2 seconds. Er, hello? Bridezilla’s (and the less emotionally charged ones) weapon of choice today is the mobile phone. Get with the programme. Or go out of business.

The grown up conversation to be had at this year’s event involved joining the dots with the digitally determined behaviorisms influencing retail sales. Specifically, pre-selection and pre-buying decisions on e-platforms with the sorts of quality data analytics awareness of people like Bazaarvoice – and then comparing that with what was actually happening in retail land. And scarily, you only need to scope out certain wholesaler and big retailer websites to find the sleeping dinosaurs.

Interestingly, the traditional retail model, once undressed and given a very cold shower, has realized a new relevant fit. By dovetailing its people-centered physical engagement, it’s still about the retail bricks and mortar side of the business combining harmoniously and intuitively with the electronic determinants that bring the customers to them. It was as if the sales and marketing mix, in unfashionable cardigans, having been found wanting in understanding how to interface (getting your face between theirs) with the digitally-fixated customer, suddenly realized there was still a point of sale, bricks and clicks role to play. And if played well, enhanced all the offline, out of store body experiences happening when the shops are closed. It seems we still like to touch and feel and to pick up our goods. And if looked after with up to the second stock levels, may be encouraged to do more and repeat the sales cycle all over again from within the store. Just in time for Xmas.

The other revelation, reinforced by the longest uninterrupted conversation at the event with Lee Friend, international content director and founder of Fashot, was the golden rule of making the customer central. Ironically these days, its focus can change without a stoic commitment to it shifting even the width of a multi-stamped discounted sales tag. And what is it now, interfering with yesterday’s grip on reality shopping? Neuroscience. FB and neuroscience? Yes, it’s not fair. They will really know what their stats are already telling them. They know the mobile platform screen is bigger than you think, less distracting. So know what you put on it, why and where. “You have to put people at the centre. People based analytics, people based marketing. Don’t rely on cookies.”

The same polymath FB son-of-God then mentioned some bigger boy sound bites: “Sequential storytelling. Personalization at scale. Move from search into discovery.” He made it sound like the best cereal-packet giveaways ever, with PhD key facts cards to follow. It was a glimpse into how the retailer, engaging as best they can with their highly intuitive customer-centric websites, should understand how the mind works and be on that nourishing neuroscientific journey to feed their customer’s wishes before they arrive. And it’s likely to be a visually engaging story for optimum benefits.

Like a post-modern 11th commandment, we were subtly advised: “Move from a text based communication to a visual one.” Well, it is only 60,000 times faster than text. Or 13 milliseconds to absorb if you prefer. What’s neurally exciting the FB guy and his pals these days? Virtual reality – this is the new game changer they are researching. I guess they know what they already know and expect us to be talking about next.

internet conference sam mckeeAnd off I went, having been hyper-charged with super-duper rich content, worth the price of admission alone.  Elsewhere, there were still sound bites worth nibbling on. According to Sean McKee, head of e-commerce, Schuh, “Consumers want a faster experience, the ‘click and collect’ preference has been gathering steam in the last 18 months.” He cited Black Friday as making a big difference to the growth in this area, and the influence of the ‘app route.’ “Apps are a simpler way of shopping – this is the perception from the customer. Few retailer have a native app however.”  One of the main drivers for Ebay in the last 12 months has been mobile purchases and payments. Specifically, the adroit simplicity at check out is key, with “90% of failures at check out due to clunky payment systems.” It comes down to showing the customer: size, availability and immediacy, with customer friction a key point for Sean. He asks what is friction and what is natural behavior? And recommends as a watching brief for payments to work, to lower the number of taps, stating, “the technology isn’t the solution, the customer’s journey is the solution.”

I would advise carefully selecting the conference speakers you will get the most from for your type of business and customer, tempting as it is to go for the big brand big speaker draws. And annoying that there may be a clash of program content stopping you seeing equally engaging speakers scheduled at the same time – but that’s what the follow up speaker notes are for. It’s also a little tricky discerning the multiple platform offerings that all ‘do something’ to enhance customer engagement and increase sales from the exhibitors on show, and useful to have your benchmark of what it is you are trying to compare to that has a standard of efficiency or optimization you know is achievable. Or you will be bamboozled and get lost.

I’m already looking forward to the next event with a number of very useful industry contacts I am following up with to review their business operations in the meantime.


By Paul Markevicius

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