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Internet Retailing 2010: The keynote speakers

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Start with the customer – and what they want. That was the central underlying message from all our keynote speakers at Internet Retailing 2010 today.

For while Dave Hughes, director of M&S Direct, David Walmsley, director of ecommerce, Dixons Retail, and Clare Gilmartin, VP, European marketplaces at eBay, all had very different takes on their own companies’ response to what their customers want, that was the starting point for all of their presentations.

Each comes from a company at a different point on the ecommerce route – and each is responding in different ways. Dixons Retail, for example, is two years into a transformation programme designed to take it towards its ultimate strategic goal of winning on the internet. In the meantime, said David Walmsley, who leads the ecommerce team there, it has been important to develop the foundations for successful ecommerce.

In his first year in the business, that has included bringing the ecommerce teams behind the different Dixons Retail group businesses into one ecommerce team, consolidating service functions and moving websites to one merchant platform. “A lot of what we’re doing,” said Walmsley, “is just getting the basics right.” At the heart of that, he says, is building a team that is focused on customer experience, and using analytics – essentially knowledge of customer behaviour – in order to trade and merchandise the websites.

Meanwhile at M&S Direct, the emphasis has been on developing a multichannel service that suits its customers. Some of that, admits Dave Hughes, director of M&S Direct, has been to do with his four somewhat informal rules of innovation.

Under ‘Don’t’, he lists the usefulness of having a pot of money that hasn’t been assigned to a particular project and isn’t expected to see a return. It was just such a pot of money, he says, that has funded the retailer’s highly-successful mobile strategy.

Under ‘Blind Leap’ comes the need to do something because it might just work. That included video, an area of which the retailer didn’t necessarily expect great things. However, it now reports that its customers spend 23% more online when they watch video – and that it now produces some 400 videos a year for its M&S TV channel. “It was just a blind leap,” he said. “We thought video was just a good idea but we wouldn’t be without it now,” he said.

Under ‘Test and Learn’ comes social media. Today M&S has 150,000 Facebook followers who have confounded the pessimists who thought this could provide a forum for complaints and detractors. Instead, said Hughes, it is a largely self-regulating forum where recent hot topics of debate have included the recent launch of men’s ‘uplift’ underpants, which, perhaps tellingly, sold out.

And under ‘Stealing’ comes the whole concept of multichannel. Hughes is the first to admit that M&S wasn’t first to invent multichannel – but that it has designed the concept in a way that suits its customers. “You need people looking outwards trying to work out what is going on elsewhere,” said Hughes.

And at eBay, Clare Gilmartin, its vice president of EU marketplaces, and a “self-confessed shopaholic” says that since it launched in 1999, has grown its audience dramatically to, today, 17.7m unique users a month. That audience has changed over the years. In 2005 it was largely male, looking for collectibles, media and TV products, but by 2010 the rise of female shopping categories such as fashion, baby and homewares have changed the demographics of the site to the extent that today its shoppers are 49% male and 51% female. Today they can choose from goods in some 100 different categories.

Today the key to giving them what they want is a concentration on the different needs and wants of shoppers within those different categories – ascertained through “deep research” – and giving all of them the ability to shop anywhere, any time, through mobile.

In fashion, for example, Gilmartin says it’s been important to work out how to ‘curate’ search results, rather than simply present shoppers with the 130,000 results their search has come up with. That has meant, for example, the ability to search by brand, as well as the introduction of image searches – showing images rather than descriptions of relevant items. “It’s far easier to use a picture than words to describe what you are looking for,” she says. “And once you find something and have a look at it you can quickly collect all similar items.”

Meanwhile, mobile offers shoppers “instant buying”. Gilmartin cited the Japanese market, where mcommerce makes up 15-16% of the total ecommerce market in arguing that there’s plenty of room for growth in the UK market. So far, she says, mobile has “pulled down barriers” in where and when people can shop. Now it truly is a case of anywhere, any time.

Finally, Gilmartin also pointed out the need to move beyond home markets, selling beyond the UK to Europe where, she says, the demand for brands and products is no less than it is in the UK – but is much more poorly served by local sellers.

We’ll bring you more from Internet Retailing 2010 in Friday’s newsletter.

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