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A decadian view (IRM54)

This October InternetRetailing celebrates its 10th anniversary Conference. Ian Jindal takes a moment for some decadian reflection.

InternetRetailing launched at the transformation of the ‘technical web’ into the ‘working web’ so the agenda for this year’s InternetRetailing Conference is an opportunity to take a decadian view over our industry’s development.

Each year has been the ‘year of mobile’, yet the actual transformation happened silently and almost unnoticed. Like the changing of the seasons, there was no one single point, but rather a recognition that ‘things had changed’.

For a young consumer the mobile is everywhere and everything – the ‘remote control for our brands’. Ever-present, highly capable and at last competently integrated, the mobile connects our many systems, service points, locations and offerings – always in the palm of the customer’s hands.

At NRF in January this year, one could have been forgiven for thinking that ecommerce had never happened! The expo covered the latest in digital and integrated stores and the newest and most integrated mobile systems and services. The ecommerce folk were in the minority and in fact promoting their store and mobile credentials.

Ecommerce was a necessary step to introduce digital channels, start integration and create the underpinning data to power mobile and POS!

Reflecting upon the last decade, the ‘trend of trends’ can, with much controversy, be seen as the dissolving of digital channels (and even ecommerce as a stand-alone) and the renaissance of the store, all powered by mobile adoption and capability.

Another trend – less glamorous, but certainly fundamental – has been the cyclical replatforming of retailers’ operational architectures. These robust, immense and optimised systems were perfected for a different age, rooted in the last century. The combination of improved business case (now that digital revenues are clear), a cyclical investment opportunity and competitive pressures have seen multichannel logistics and operations move from the back office to take centre stage. The offers we make to our customers, and the fulfilment of those promises, now more than ever sit with our supply chain colleagues (for whom we launched and magazine this year).

A further trend has been the growth in direct commerce. Department stores and traditional retailers led the last decade, based on their honed retail skills and customer contact. The current focus is for brands to move from a wholesale model to a direct-to-consumer operation – getting closer to their customers and recovering margin.

Within brands, the necessary cultural and organisation changes have only recently started. Head office teams will now be managing the real-time hurly burly of sales, returns and customer sentiment.

This leads me to a view of the major trends for the coming decade. While it’s tempting and fun to consider the technology changes, I suspect that customers are used to (and expect) a never-ending stream of novelty and capability. The bigger impacts will come not from the technology but from their impact. I see this in three areas – and the seeds of the decade ahead are already germinated.

The first is a transformation of the customer relationship: from retail brands (based on service, location and availability) to product brands (who own the DNA of the product, the imprimatur of promise, experience and memory) – brands that will be increasingly available.

This change will be seen in a rise in marketplaces to mediate and aggregate customer interest, the second major trend. In Europe our research shows that some 41% of all retail visits go to Amazon and eBay (Source: IREU Footprint), yet there are over 200 other marketplaces growing alongside these giants: specialist, niche, b2b, craft, retailer-driven… We are pleased to have added Tamebay to the IR family this summer to focus on these changes. Over the coming decade we’ll see customer affinity being shared between key brand, favoured marketplaces and relevant retailers. Brands will benefit but many mid-capability retailers will feel the squeeze.

Alongside these changes we’ll see a necessary focus upon staff and skills, our third trend. The battleground to convert and retain customers is increasingly moving to the edges of our business: the front-line staff in store, contact centres, delivery and social. These staff need the support and resources to drive our business in front of the customer. Equally, behind the scenes, all teams need to have embraced and incorporated digital, flexible working and customer-commercial focus.

While we may not get 3D avatars, psychic shopping or nanobot deliveries this decade, the changes to our businesses will be more fundamental and perhaps more challenging than the last decade’s technology-and-growth stories.

At InternetRetailing, eDelivery, eSeller and Tamebay, we look forward to the next decade. It will be more challenging, but almost certainly more rewarding and exciting too.

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