Experience & Disruptive Tech Dominated eCommerce in 2018
2018 was a banner year for eCommerce. The exchange of goods and services finally transcended the notion of being purely transactional and experience finally rose up to become the true commodity. No matter the actual product or service offered, the experience is what differentiates and brings a customer to a brand’s digital doorstep. Data solidified its position as the ally in helping brands create that experience and even though the GDPR came in to forever change the data game, that data has become an even greater asset to brands. Consumers will increasingly have a say in which brands they choose to engage and share their information with so whatever insight brands can gain from these interactions will become of a higher value.
The biggest takeaway for me in 2018 when it comes to the eCommerce technology side is slow and steady is not winning this race. Pretty soon it might not even get you qualified. Brands need speed, agility, flexibility and intelligence baked into their commerce platform so it can enable them to bake eCommerce into all the existing and future touchpoints their customers will use. My greatest aha moment on this came when Darin Archer, Chief Marketing Officer at Elastic Path simply said, “I think we’ve got to really recognize that the commerce has got to be woven in, literally stitched into the fabric of the experience.”
Looking back on the year though, I had some truly insightful conversations with some of the brightest minds in eCommerce so rather than keep it all to myself, I will share some snippets of those conversations below on what I deem the three biggest eCommerce topics of 2018.
Experience is Truly the Currency of eCommerce
Experience playing a major role in eCommerce wasn’t breaking news in 2018. It’s heavily driven eCommerce conversation for a few years now and as time moves on, the notion is getting more and more refined. The evolution of this idea means a greater offering of insight and education from thought leaders on how brands can truly optimize the experience for their customers.
“Contextual commerce is and will continue to be the gold standard when it comes to the digital customer experience in the retail space and beyond. Overall, I’d love to see content made explicitly relevant to each customer, so retailers can deliver real value based on actual intent. When discussing using an individual’s data to make an experience more engaging and relevant, however, the conversation must turn to privacy and security. What General Data Protection Regulation should be doing is opening up marketers’ eyes to the fact that consumers are in control of how their information is used, and they will punish organizations that are reckless with their data in the form of using it without improving their experience or not making it secure.” – James Norwood, EVP of Strategy and Chief of Staff at Episerver
“The whole definition around customer experience used to be a good website or a good mobile experience and now it's more of an emotional experience with a brand. It’s like that emotional, emotive connection you have with a brand as you're interacting with that brand and every touchpoint that you have had, and brands need to create that positive experience credibility, put it in the experience bank account and keep building that up with their users through their social touchpoints.” – Harry Chemko, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Elastic Path
“Let’s assume you have identified the journeys, you have identified the personas, now the next thing that I need to be able to do is present content and merchandising offers that are relevant to that experience and so it’s not just about the same experience across all channels, it’s what does that person want at that point in the buying cycle? Mine your data, make it available, index it and then present it in fashions that are predictive and contextual based on the personas and the journeys.” – Dale Traxler, VP Commerce Solutions at Rightpoint
“To build a successful omnichannel experience, retailers need to gain a competitive advantage by using their resources to offer a unique experience and investing in personalization across channels and devices. Personalization is key for strong brand relationships and involves identifying individual users to create more personal experiences by providing the pathways relevant to them.
According to some of our recent research, personalization also heavily influences brand perception. In fact, over a third of shoppers (35 percent) feel brands do not care enough about personalizing their shopping experiences, causing them to feel disappointed, frustrated and distrustful. Therefore, it is especially important for companies to offer consumers a one-of-a-kind experience every time they interact with a brand to boost customer loyalty and build a strong relationship.” – Ed Kennedy, Senior Director of Commerce at Episerver
“With the ability to fully integrate both supply and demand data, we will see brands more strategically implementing a 360-degree view of the customer. By connecting data across the entire enterprise, customer experience professionals will have a comprehensive view and be able to better understand intent, anticipate needs and provide the helpful touchpoints that consumers have come to expect.” – Kevin Cochrane, Chief Marketing Officer, SAP Customer Experience
Technology is Disrupting Technology
No brand will survive if they hinge their entire eCommerce strategy on a great webstore with a responsive design. eCommerce doesn’t just live there anymore. Customers today demand their experience be served up within every touchpoint they use to interact with a brand and thanks to the influx of IoT, conversational technology, etc., the number and variety of those touchpoints will grow exponentially. As you’ll read below, this and a few other things have changed the roadmap for eCommerce vendors in how they create their technology.
“The human mind perceives change linearly, we think the next step, the next step, the next step but consumer technology is changing exponentially and we can’t predict the exponentially of it. The brain can’t really process or at least forward think about that, so my view has always been that technology is going to move exponentially faster so if you’re a brand that's really looking to be relevant and take advantage of all those things when they come up, you need to have a different approach. You need to have an approach that makes you really agile and fast so you’re not having to change up that core technology a lot. Back in 2012 when we first released the platform it was really that thinking that drove us to go that way. In 5 to 10 years from now we’re not going to be able to predict the changes so we asked ‘what's the best way we can build the platform so it doesn't matter what happens, brands be able to adapt to it.
The way we’ve always thought about it is the trend line again, today there is 10 billion internet connected devices out there and most of them are mobile phones, PCs or laptops or something like that that you’re connecting to and in the next few years, that's going to be up to 24 billion and when you think about the population of the world that's multiples per person. Most of those items are not going to be a phone or a computer either so what's really driving this from our perspective is just that its getting cheaper to do hardware, it’s getting cheaper to make things like cameras, sensors, anything that just gives you contact.”- Harry Chemko, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Elastic Path
“It’s becoming more important that retailers and consumer brands invest in a Customer Data Platform (CDP) that tracks and stores customer data anonymously and identifies consumers who visit their ecommerce website. Brands need to enrich this data platform with consumer data from their email marketing solution, CRM, and loyalty programs.
Upon this foundation, brands and retailers can leverage automated personalization technologies such as product recommendation engines, content recommendation engines, and promotion targeting to optimize what consumers will see in various stages of their journey and in which channel. Brands, however, should work with vendors who take a consent-based approach to data processing and processes as personalization and privacy are parallel conversations under General Data Protection Regulation.” - Ed Kennedy, Senior Director of Commerce at Episerver
“Many retailers and brands are using 1990s era monolithic commerce platforms that make it hard to release to production more than once every few weeks or months. And, it’s still common to deploy a legacy monolithic commerce platform to production once a quarter. Amazon, on the other hand, releases 50 million times a year to production. Innovation through iteration is their core competency. They have relentlessly embraced microservices, and they use it to continually push new functionality to production, incorporating real user feedback to continually improve their offering. It's not uncommon for Amazon to iterate on a feature a few times over the course of a single day until it's producing the business value they want. Traditional retailers and brands can now adopt microservices to have the same release frequency as Amazon. The methodology and technology have finally made microservices usable by anyone, not just Amazon and the other tech giants." – Kelly Goetsch, Chief Product Officer at commercetools
“A lot of the leaders in the space are part of larger companies so Adobe also bought Magento, so if you’re a Magento customer you have to ask yourself, do I want to be all in with Adobe because now we’re integrated or, if you are an Oracle customer and you have ATG commerce but you don't want to go with all the Oracle stuff. It's an interesting time in the market because you have consolidation at the top and a lot of disruption at the bottom.” – Jon Feldman, Senior Director of Product Marketing at Skava
"Brands need to be prepared for the explosion of touchpoints and new channels. What seemed impossible yesterday, is the hot commerce point of today: AR/VR, voice purchasing through smart home appliances like Alexa and Google Home, more in-app engagement on social platforms like Snap or Instagram. If you just have pretty pictures on a web store, you’re behind the competition. In the future, the expectation will be that the purchase process is invisible: I just walk into a home for Airbnb. I just get in and out of the car for Uber. I just step onto a cruise ship and buy things, like the Ocean Medallion on Carnival cruises. In three to five years, enabling a seamless purchase process will be a need-to-have, not a nice-to-have." - Darin Archer, Chief Marketing Officer at Elastic Path
Amazon Shouldn't be Feared or Ignored
In the eCommerce space, thinking critically about the cause and effect of Amazon on the market should always be top of mind. For one, I think the notion of Amazon owning everything and being ‘the everything store’ as Bezos has hoped isn’t appealing however it is necessary simply because in-part it drives the innovation that is remarkable about the industry today and, it would be a dull, dystopian like business world if whatever ignites organizations to compete with Amazon is extinguished. Secondly, Amazon should not be feared. The creativity Amazon shows in its creation of things like Amazon Go flipping the script on grocery shopping and the launch of its brick and mortar book store not only should inspire but provides a great template for blending the online/offline experience, showing how well-equipped digitally native brands are at doing so and perhaps where incumbent brands should go for cliff notes on how to create their own similar strategy.
“It makes complete sense for online-only retailers to have physical locations. Physical retail still has several advantages over online including convenience, speed to consumption and tangible product experiences. Online retailers such as Amazon and Warby Parker opening physical stores may eat into their profitability but they gain brand and market presence that can increase sales both online and in-store. Furthermore, physical stores give online retailers a collection and distribution point for online purchases, which provides a convenient service for consumers and helps control continuously rising shipping costs.
Moving to physical locations that complement the Web experience shows that these brands are willing to invest in the customer experience, which sets them apart from those not accounting for shoppers’ diverse expectations and needs. In the same breath, however, it’s important for digital-first retailers to understand that when they open their physical doors to shoppers, their online crowd will expect a technology-driven experience. They will be more open to trying features like smart mirrors, in-store kiosks and other self-serve type functionality.” - Ed Kennedy, Senior Director of Commerce at Episerver
“No one is going to win against them, you can’t beat Amazon first of all. Let me just level-set with everybody on Amazon for a second. Retail is about 3.4 trillion dollars in business. Of that, about 3 trillion is physical retail, about 88%. Only 400 billion is eCommerce. So for all the news and headlines eCommerce gets, it’s still only 12% and by the way, mobile, is only 1.7% of commerce. We get all these headlines and we hear about all this digital, eCommerce and mobile but they’re tiny portions of retail.
On top of that, yeah, [Amazon] does own a lot of eCommerce, but they don’t own a lot of retail. I mean, when you remove marketplaces, and I’ll tell you in a minute why you should remove marketplaces, Amazon owns 2% of retail, 2%, that’s not a lot, it’s actually a little and it’s mostly in the eCommerce space. They don’t own physical retail yet. So to say that Amazon is winning, I would say that’s a stretch. But I would also say they’re doing a very good job of winning their customer. They do understand how to win the customer.” – Brendan Witcher, VP and Principal Analyst of Digital Business Strategy at Forrester
“We built BRX for the folks who are tired of being amazoned. We heard from you, and we listened. We heard you’re tired of spending millions of dollars on a legacy ecommerce platform, only to end up with a transactional system that is not the core of your competitive advantage. Think about this, you take a couple million dollars and a couple years to deploy a new commerce platform and then every cookie cutter site run on Demandware or whichever looks identical to the Amazon site. So why should a shopper shop with you if you’ve spent a million dollars on something that pretty much looks like Amazon or arguably, not as good as Amazon. You win by putting your brand forward." - Raj De Datta, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder at BloomReach