This Wednesday kicked off the annual eCommerce Expo, the biggest ecommerce industry conference in the UK, which was hosted at Kensington Olympia in London. The eCommerce Expo, held from October 2-3, brings together leading vendors, thought leaders, retailers and marketers under one roof, creating an excellent opportunity to network, exchange ideas and learn about the latest trends and technologies available to today’s online stores. Although the networking and exploring was a big aspect of the conference, the highlight for me was the series of keynotes, and in particular the panels for each day.
On the first day, a panel discussion on ‘The Internal Struggles of the Multichannel Team,’ brought up various insights into navigating the growth of ecommerce within a bricks and mortar business. Director of Practicology Nupur Manchanda chaired the discussion between David Cottage, former Head of E-Commerce at Hewlett-Packard, and Steven Wilson, Head of eCommerce at Sony Mobile Communications. Their discussion centred on what difficulties a newly formed multichannel ecommerce team faces from above, from within and from other departments.
Nupur discussed how ecommerce teams undergo three main life stages:
This is when ecommerce teams are initially formed, usually from Marketing and Sales, to form a small group of innovators. Only about 35% of teams have management positions within, and most are gathered from across departments. This causes many ecommerce teams to feel both alienated, and insecure about relationships to other departments, especially higher ups who may not be sold on digital jargon alone. They survive on miniscule budgets and hope for the best…
2) Hippo Culture
This is the point at which an ecommerce team is accounting for about 20% revenue of a company, and begins to earn respect (and oversight) from above. The problem with this is that once ecommerce begins to show promise, those from above (so-called hippos), who may not understand the research-driven proposals for budget and campaign, will try to become involved. One example included a team working and researching the design of a website for months, only for a manager to say they want the CTA on the other side, and to change the colours too... ahhhh! Many times, higher ups will sideline ecommerce teams without meaning to, but because they aren’t aware of the complexities of selling online, they will want to steer without the proper metrics and goals in mind.
3) Data-driven Success
Data-driven ecommerce teams usually have a solid set of experienced individuals who have the proper tools to create compelling campaigns, can say they have company clout, and are able to work semi-autonomously because they back up their arguments and campaigns with the right metrics. They are able to garner support from above, from within and from other departments. This is exactly where all ecommerce teams should aim to be, while continuing to optimise and test metrics according to strategy and consumer reactions.
One of the big lessons from the panel was that today’s ecommerce teams face a number of complex obstacles, whether they are getting sidelined within a larger Marketing or Sales department who hold the purse strings, or they risk getting micromanaged by execs from above. They also face struggles from within a team when learning on the job is mixed with diverging goals for ecommerce. The truth is, many ecommerce teams learn on the job about how to manage selling online and making a place for themselves within a company, but getting to the mature third stage of a successful ecommerce team requires being data-driven from the beginning, differentiating the KPIs needed for the short and long term, and building a team from diverse backgrounds who can contribute and see things in new ways. It is also vital to stay customer-focused, rather than tool-focused, as this will allow you to listen to how customers are interacting with your company, and plan your roadmap that way.
On the second day, there was a panel discussion on the ‘Future of the Hight Street’, led by Andrew McClelland, Chief Operations & Policy Officer at IMRG, which focused on a futurologist’s view of current retail trends. The energetic discussion was joined by Katy Clark, Group Relationship Director at Nectar, Martijn Bertisen, Senior Industry Head of Retail at Google UK, Rosie Akenhead, Manager of Local Business Outreach at Yelp, and Glen Richardson, CMO at Fruugo.
The central theme of the discussion was around mobile, and more specifically about how Smartphones are changing the high street and how people shop worldwide. Although some panellists disagreed about how mobile would be changing the high street, one thing was agreed upon by everyone – the high street is indeed NOT dead.
With Smartphone usage growing exponentially each year, and consumers getting savvier about current trends in online shopping, mobile has become the largest variable in the online shopping equation. It was overwhelmingly clear from this panel that retailers absolutely must embrace mobile engagement technologies in order to keep up with upcoming trends.
Martijn at Google UK emphasized that the customer journey is becoming more complex because of mobile, and that Smartphones – not tablets – will be leading the future of mobile sales. He added that tablets have been growing steadily as well, but because they are most commonly used at home, they have become a replacement for laptops and PCs, and should be separated from the more mobile mobile (sorry, couldn't help it). However, it was Glen from Fruugo who said some pretty interesting things about interactive mobile technologies such as Blippar, an Augmented Reality app featured on the eCommerce Expo conference badges and their pop-up shop of futuristic tech demos. The moderator, Andrew, also mentioned iBeacons, a new GPS sensor-based technology rolled out recently by Apple that is going to have a big effect on the market. Both of these hold a major stake in how interactive mobile technologies will change the high street of the future, however, as Glen stated best, “one of them has to win.” The question still remains as to who it will be, but that will depend upon consumer education and adoption.
A debate arose over who should be leading the educational aspect of mobile technologies for consumers – is it the consumer who is leading the retail industry and teaching it what to implement, or is it up to retailers to develop campaigns and teach consumers how to use new tech? There were good opinions expressed on either side of this debate, with Rosie at Yelp holding strongly onto the opinion that apps and technology will only work when they take the hassle out of shopping, not make it more complex. However, Glen shot back quickly, defending the “need to educate consumers about the availability and value of technologies in store.” The inclusion of Wifi in stores, and the encouragement of showrooming were also emphasized as customer behaviour-based strategies for integrating digital into the physical world. Altogether, the need for a mobile strategy, responsive design and interactive apps was hailed as essential for the future of the high street. It’s definitely not dead, but only as much as it recognises the need for a shift in perspective about shopping and the importance of mobile. As Martijn Bertisen stated, “put stuff out there – if it’s useful to [consumers], they will use it.”
Overall this year’s eCommerce Expo conference was a great success for networking with other vendors, entrepreneurs and thought leaders, and a great learning experience for me about ecommerce development and keeping up with the latest technologies available to ecommerce stores. With the holidays and new year creeping closer, it will be very interesting to see who heeds the advice of retail futurologists and what multichannel teams learn from becoming increasingly data-driven.
To read more about the mobile engagement technologies mentioned in this post, see my series on: