February 29, 2012

eTail West 2012 - "Make A Presence Wherever Your Customers May Be"


With the opening of eTail Palm Desert's 3-day conference, vendors and retailers from all over have come together to discuss some key themes that revolve around improving efficient, measurable multi-channel, online and brand strategies. Throughout the keynote sessions, panel discussions and guest presentations, eTail attendees are challenged with creating solutions to matters that relate to how businesses can offer better, more optimized user experiences and on-site tools; how to strategically leverage and integrate multiple channels; what best practices should be reinstated for e-Commerce success; and honing in on the optimization of the mobile and social commerce experience. During the first morning's spotlight keynote session, attendees listened in on Stifel Nicolaus's Managing Director Jordan Rohan discussed that brands must focus and think of themselves as being a part of a mobile, social digital ecosystem. Rohan noted that in a recent comScore report, there has been a huge shift to streaming and mobile content. In August 2011, tablet, mobile and other related devices made up 6.8% of the share of all traffic from connected devices. By Dec 2011, this same category took hold of 8.2% of the share of connected device traffic in the U.S. This translates to a 1.4% increase within a mere four months -- that's a huge leap! With a popularity rise in all these multi-channels and devices, it's clear that APIs have become the much-needed glue that can help tie together these various ecosystems, and help retailers adjust to this new mobile, social world that now involves search, social platforms, 3rd party apps, 3rd party platforms (such as Amazon and Ebay), retargeting ads and emails, affiliates, and many more. There were also discussions during the day that revolved around maximizing resources and increasing growth by means of integrating mobile and tablet platforms into retailers' overall shopping mix. Monetate's CMO Kurt Heinemann noted that it is absolutely essential that brands create "a relevant user experience for where transactions occur." With today's market of last-minute purchasers (analysts are seeing a rapid shift - in this particular niche - to mobile), same-day and one-day purchasers, it is especially important that customers' expectations are met; that is, creating means whereby transactions happen in a quicker fashion, successfully adjusting the tablet and mobile user interfaces according to the device's unique experience, and most importantly, being present wherever customers may be. In fact, even Bakersshoes.com's Director of Merchandising and Sales Scott Cohn stressed the day's theme: "Customers expect you to be everywhere…You need a variety of instances and options" in order to appeal and cater to the demography of various shoppers. On a panel discussing how retailers can maximize their in-house resources, Brad Wolansky, former CEO/Project Leader of The Golf Warehouse had made a point that seemed to echo a common pain point that resounded with the audience. Wolansky noted that the executive requests for their internal IT department were alkways backlog lists that consisted of over 150 line items. In his words, from a CEO's perspective, when it is difficult to increase expenditures in a company's IT department and when gross margins are shrinking (as a result of commoditization pressures such as having to offer free shipping), brands need to figure out and discover new places where potential customers have yet to hear about them in order to expand into new market channels. In other words, brands need to eventually come to terms with the importance of embracing APIs as the key to leverage their brand and their branding experience, and channel those forces into markets beyond their company website. By doing so, retailers and businesses can effectively then create applications and unique instances that incorporate what GPShopper CEO Alex Muller would say "an entire presence in one place." All in all, the repeating theme that was addressed in practically every session of the first day of eTail was that retailers and brands need to sell directly to customers through multiple channels and platforms that look beyond their own websites. The VP of Customer Experience at Ecampus.com, Mark Carson encouraged retailers to "dip your toe in all parts of the ecosystems to make sure you're providing the services and conveniences that the customer seeks." By integrating operations in a generic-enough, yet uniformed manner via APIs, brands and retailers can effectively create a unique, single outreach to customers at each touch point and point of sale. Once retailers come to realize the diversity of their customers and the importance of evoking dialogue through structured experiences within various social and mobile platforms, retailers can then essentially trigger scalable solutions to maintain their status as industry leaders and keep ground with their brand's relevance within a consistently competitive.