The IRCE 2015 conference in Chicago featured professionals speaking about their challenges and successes in the ever-evolving world of e-commerce. And e-commerce has come a long way since 1995, when Newsweek published an article asking, “Is the Internet a Fad?” Clearly it is not a fad, but in fact, a way of life. And it is evolving so quickly that it is becoming harder and harder for companies to keep up with consumers’ evolving behaviors and changing expectations. The keynote speakers both days addressed the challenges and the opportunities e-commerce has presented.
Jason Goldberger, President of Target.com and Mobile, stated that his speech would have been very different if given six weeks prior. He had just lived through the Lilly Pulitzer launch disaster on Target.com. Despite testing for months, minutes before launch, Target.com went down. If you have been in e-commerce for any length of time, you can commiserate with Jason. Panic, frustration, and helplessness are all the emotions swirling around while teams of people are desperately trying to get the website back online. Target.com came back online and Jason said the teams learned a valuable lesson that will be applied to later launches. Failure is good, if you learn from it.
But the real point of Jason’s keynote was that companies must embrace change and Target is doing it in three ways. First, Target has become guest obsessed, not channel obsessed. It does not matter where a customer last saw the brand, but that he or she is interacting with it. Target understands that by 2017, millennials will replace boomers as its largest customer group, and that they are digital natives. Target is taking a mobile-first approach to all guest initiatives, despite the channel, which means that half of the capital dollars are being invested in technology.
Second, Target is reinventing assets. Jason was quoted as saying, “Target.com will not beat Amazon. Target will beat Amazon.” Target is experimenting with ways to leverage all its assets, including reinventing how the company leverages its stores as fulfillment centers. Finally, Target says “yes.” Target has made it a priority to listen to customers and say “yes” even if it may not make financial sense in the short-term. Target rolled out Wi-Fi in all stores three years ago, despite the fear of show rooming. What it found is that the most visited site via its Wi-Fi is to Target.com. Target is now testing the concept of show rooming more directly by leveraging floor space for high-end displays that can be ordered online and delivered to the home. These initiatives are changing how Target is building relationships with its customers and positioning it for success in the future.
Christopher McCann of 1-800-Flowers.com focused his keynote on how his company has evolved and innovated throughout its history to capitalize on changing consumer behaviors. He summed up this evolution succinctly by walking through the four waves of shopping behaviors the company has reacted to over time. 1-800-Flowers.com has been an innovator throughout its history. In the beginning, it made a decision to be early adopters of technology and to invest in innovation. Even as a brick-and-mortar company, selling flowers locally in NYC, it was developing products and services based on customer segmentation. In the 1980’s, the company embraced telephone commerce, changing the name of the company to 1-800-Flowers. In the 90’s, it was one of the first companies to sell a product through the Internet.
Through it all it has evolved as a company to answer the changing needs of consumers and how they buy. Now consumers are embracing social, local, and mobile, and 1-800-Flowers.com is answering the call. It was the first company to have a store and Facebook, and while that was not financially successful, it has learned from that endeavor and continue to pursue partnerships and new ways to engage with customers. The company has focused on delivering smiles on behalf of its customers and is proactively seeking new ways to answer consumers’ changing behaviors.
These keynotes set the stage for the themes that came out of the conference. Here are my top five takeaways.
1. There are no more channels. There are customers and touch points.
Customers are acting in real-time across multiple devices and marketing channels. They expect companies to be able to identify them across all platforms and react to their needs in real-time. Companies must find ways to connect the dots and leverage data across platforms to create a rich and engaging experience.
2. Mobile is here, for real.
It has been the year of mobile for several years, but now it truly has arrived. Mobile dominates screen time and consumers expect a seamless experience across all their devices. And the mobile device is close to a consumer’s body most of the time. Companies that find ways to leverage this device will see its value across all its channels. The message was clear, don’t be afraid of show rooming. Take advantage of its possibilities to provide more information and value to your customers.
3. Omni-channel means leveraging assets in different ways.
As a speaker said, “Your store is just a pretty warehouse.” Brick-and-mortar stores don’t have to die. Successful stores are transforming. Companies are succeeding in the omni-channel experience through system integrations, enterprise-wide inventory, and convenient shopping experiences. Consumers are quickly adopting new shopping opportunities like buy online, pick up in store (BOPS); find in store; reserve online, pick up in store; ship to store; and ship from store. Don’t believe it? In 2013, four percent of consumers ordered online and picked up in store. In 2014, it was up to 64 percent!
This really means omni-channel is about creating a customer-centric experience. Focusing on customer engagement and aligning the organization around how customers want to engage is forcing companies to reorganize and realign their people and resources. Companies that focus on the customer, not the channel, may realize customers are leveraging channels in unexpected ways and that success may need to be redefined.
4. Product information drives commerce.
According to Hubba, “$1 trillion of commerce is reliant on digital product information, but only 25 percent of it is correct.” Companies are spending millions of dollars to promote products in multiple channels, but none of it will work without product information. Digital is influencing purchases across all channels with 70 percent of shoppers preferring to search online than talk to a salesperson.
Consumers researching and shopping online expect product information to go beyond basic specs and to include rich media, marketing materials, social media materials, and user-generated content. This is a challenge for most companies, where product information is stored in many different systems. To create efficiencies, companies must find ways to centralize product information, manage it across all platforms, and make it accessible to consumers.
5. Personalization is expected.
Consumers expect to be identified across all platforms and channels and for experiences to be personalized for their needs. This means customer lifecycle planning and journey mapping to understand the customer experience and investing in technologies that can leverage customer behaviors to create personalized experiences efficiently.
E-commerce is changing rapidly and companies are being forced to react faster than ever before. Companies must align their resources to focus on the customer and their needs to ultimately achieve their revenue goals. This means investing in technology, people and assets and aligning them in new ways that satisfy changing consumer expectations.