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IRC 2017 Standout themes from the conference

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This year’s InternetRetailing Conference gave retailers and industry professionals a forum to debate the future of retail, as well as what’s working, and not working in the present. Here are five themes that stood out.

Emotional commerce

The effect of making an emotional connection with potential customers was under discussion in the plenary panel discussion.

Philip Driver, head of ecommerce EMEA at imaging specialist Canon Europe, says his brand has focused on sharing stories as part of its focus on offering a premium brand experience. “You tell us what your stories are and we will help you live your stories, providing a whole ecosystem around that, and the tools and services to help you do that,” he said. “Data is really important for that, since it helps us to fill those gaps.”

Sean McKee, director of ecommerce at Schuh, says the footwear retailer measures customer sentiment with every transaction, and is working to develop a positive, feel good, and trusted position. “It’s not just about today’s sale but it is about being where the customer trusts you.” That said, negative emotions, such as anxiety, can help to spur the sale. McKee says features such as countdown clock or showing the number of other people looking at an item can help to close the sale. But it’s important that these figures are based in fact, and that retailers don’t play too heavily on the negative. “It has to be better than that,” he said.

Simon Bell, founder and managing director of Diligent Commerce says the “emotional triggers” that nudge people towards a sale are important – depending on the item being sold. “If you’re selling widgets, emotion is not too important,” but, “If you are in luxury the fundamental benefit is less about utility and more about what it says about you. Those sectors must really go for it.”

Canon’s Driver added: “Ink is a panic purchase but when you come through the ecommerce store, we’re still presenting you with high end brand values, irrespective of what you’re buying. Next time you may be looking for something more upmarket. You want the journey to say we know why you’re here, you want it quickly, but it still has to be that same seamless experience.”

Understanding the customer

Daniel Infanger, vice president, international, B2C at German electronics retailer Conrad Electronic International, shared his experience of using data to “get deeper in the customer’s mind” in his contribution to the opening plenary session. This is important, he says, as customer behaviour gets more and more complex, and new technologies provide new opportunities. Through customer research and analysis the retailer segmented its typical customers and mapped typical customer journeys in order to ensure the website responds in the most appropriate way.

Becoming a customer-centric company, he said, has given the retailer new insights into its customers – and, indeed, a new relationship with them. That has helped to lift sales as a result. A key part of the journey was to “completely change” its use of data and asset management. “We had to harmonise all the data and bring it together in one database. That took three years to be centrally available, so that shoppers could work with comparable data.”

Future of retail

Google’s Alastair Sterling, industry head, retail, looked at the trends he sees currently dominating the way consumers behave. He warned: “The space of change and technological adoption is only going to get faster” – and the retail response must keep pace.

The key trends he pulled out included the “always connected consumer”, the growing access to hugely powerful supercomputers, such as those now at work at Google, and the massive datasets that are now commonplace. “We have access to more and more data than ever before,” he said. “Every two days we produce more data than mankind produced up to 2003. For businesses that’s mind-blowing. On one side of the fence this is scary, on the other, if I can make sense of the data I’m probably going to be able to engage with my consumers and my audience better than ever before.”

Voice, assistance, and cross-device digital experiences and journeys will all be important – as will emotional commerce. He summed up his advice in three points: help me faster, know me better, wow me everywhere.

Insight through fulfilment

In the eDelivery Conference, Karen Gibson, senior manager, toy client relationships, at Asda, explained how the retailer developed its third-party collection and returns service. The service, she said, was designed around the customer’s needs. By analysing the data generated by how shoppers use the service, the retailer has found useful insights into how shoppers behaved. One recent addition to the service resulting from these insights is the use of QR codes for returns. Shoppers generate a QR code for the item they want to return, go to the most convenient store, where they print the label in store, put it onto their parcel and drop it off. “We live in a very me-centric society,” said Gibson. “We want to be able to do things on our own terms and control our own destiny. What customers said to us on returns was that they don’t want to have to take the parcel back and they hate making a special trip.”

The next generation of buyers

Giles Delafeld, global CIO at Clarks, said that the shoe retailer had two dominant groups of customers: parents bringing their children for shoes, and adults looking for more comfortable shoes from late middle-age onwards. Nonetheless, its Clarks Originals have struck a chord with millennial, with LA rap stars buying them. Clarks recently relaunched its website as mobile-first. “It’s a great example of how millennials or the ‘I-generation’ have different expectations,” said Delafeld. “My mum is not shopping on her phone, but is on desktop. But most millennial brands are seeing 50% of their business going through mobile.” He added: “Retailers need to be moving faster than consumers, or at least as fast as them. They need to be testing, creating new customer value propositions rapidly in order not just to be relevant but to stay ahead.” But, he added, it’s important not to assume all customers will engage digitally. “We disenfranchise big groups of our consumers by only thinking the world is run for the I-generation.

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