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The InternetRetailing Expo

Five thousand trailblazers attended the 2018 InternetRetailing Expo to listen to some great presentations from leading retailers. One figure that cropped up in multiple presentations was 96%. Some readers will recognise this figure but for those who don’t, it’s the average percentage of customers that browse an ecommerce site but don’t buy on that visit – or may not buy ever. A number of presenters shared insight into how they are trying to push the percentage points in the right way, while others shared how they are innovating through customer acquisition and market expansion., for example, spoke about how it is monetising the 96% through media partnerships. Its Travel People business unit is enabling brands and retailers with products that travellers might be interested in purchasing to advertise on the site.

Google brought new figures into the mix. Sarah Davies, Lead, UK eCommerce Partnerships at Google, highlighted the move to omnichannel retailing with a search statistic which shows a +176% growth in searches for the term ‘omnichannel’ in the year to date in comparison to the same period in 2014.

She also quoted a study by Practicology which counted services offered by European omnichannel retailers to discover how closely they are matching consumer expectations. The lowest performer across Europe scored 18% against the highest score of 67% by shoe retailer Schuh. The average score in the UK was 52% meaning that retailers here are only matching consumer expectation half of the time. “So why is it [omnichannel] so hard to execute?” she asked.

Discussing 3 areas in which retailers need to work in order to match how consumer behaviour is changing she mentioned consumers wanting assistance, making everyone in the retail organisation responsible and organising around business goals rather than channel goals. “After people, data is a business’ most valuable asset,” she told delegates.


Rob Pearson, Head of Online Personalisation at Next shared details of how, in his role as the first head of personalisation at the fashion retailer, he is developing this aspect of retailing. With 4.5m active customers in 70 countries and 120% growth over 10 years, online is close to overtaking the stores’ value, he explained to delegates. “It’s very close,” he said.

He went on to explain how personalisation today offers a short term differentiation but in the long term personalisation will be the norm online. Personalisation software is needed to improve the customer experience but “it’s really about testing and learning faster, understanding what’s working,” he told delegates.

By testing and analysing the output a retailer can understand the reasoning behind why something is working or whether it isn’t working and that “helps with buy-in from other departments too,” he said. “A negative test can also be rewarding so you know what to test next,” he added.

When asked about how personalisation is impacting on returns, he said that they are yet to take the data out of the personalisation engine but the team is seeing some positive signs. “There’s more to do,” he said.

Going forward, Next will continue to “test, test, test,” learning and improving the customer experience, delivering at scale and pace and building up internal processes. “We’re early in our journey,” he concluded.


While big brands are trying to create a one-to-one relationship with customers, visitors from smaller retailers were warned not to try to emulate them in terms of content. Don’t act like a big brand – you have the advantage that people are buying into your back story and that will get the return visits. “Make it human,” was the response from a panel of retailers.

When asked what they thought is the million dollar piece of content to get the sale, responses included “Social proof, especially when you are new” and getting the balance right between engagement and pushing the sale. “Do you want the one-night stand of a transaction or long-term gain?” asked one panellist.

As Dan Mahoney, Head of Ecommerce & Customer, Whittard of Chelsea, pointed out, it’s good for a retailer to be able to take a brand mentality planning its cornerstone, evergreen content a long time in advance. This then leaves space for the Monday morning, quick turnaround content. “If it’s all quick turnaround you won’t develop over time,” he said.

The panel also advised having a library of assets that can be utilised by agencies and different departments within the retail organisation around the world. This is better than having 11 or 15 agencies redoing everything for a localised perspective from scratch when the core of a campaign can be the same brand messaging across the globe with aspects localised to each market.

Content sharing by market and across agencies ensures that everyone is working off the same page. It also means that content people need to be developed centrally with a team able to “connect all the dots across the countries.”

Giving a shopping centre’s perspective of omnichannel retailing, Kathryn Malloch, Group Head of Customer Experience at Hammerson, told delegates how one retailer had seen a 40% uplift in sales in the region after opening a store highlighting the halo effect brick and mortar retailing can have on online sales.

As well as offering click and collect and partnering with Amazon at its locations, Hammerson also measures shopper behaviour across its shopping centre using beacons and its own app. The Style Seeker tool uses visual search and artificial intelligence (AI) allowing shoppers to take a picture of items of clothing and be shown the same or similar items which are available from the retailers in the shopping centre. “It helps customers find brands or retailers that they wouldn’t already visit,” said Malloch.

Alex Murray, Director E-Commerce, Lidl UK, closed the Innovation & the Future conference track with his insightful view as a retailer into what AI really means for ecommerce and how it can improve sales, customer engagement and delivery. He told delegates about Lidl’s wine chatbot called Margot and how it was set up “to help customers navigate our world of wine”.

Margot can provide customers with more than 220 food pairings with customers able to type in emojis such as a pizza and get a response as well as asking natural language questions about wine regions, grape varieties, recommendations by country and price. She also handles swearing and jokes as well as being helpful about how to get wine out of a pair of trousers, Murray explained.

He has a realistic view of AI and chatbots though telling delegates that they shouldn’t have an AI strategy. “You should just do good business,” he said, taking opportunities to engage customers in a different way, improve services and then ask “how AI can help you do that”.

Responsible retailers “should drip-feed AI experiences into the consumer mind,” he said and this has to be done in a way which is transparent. “We are at the beginning of the foothills,” he said, adding that AI “is going to happen, I don’t doubt it for an instance. The prospects are hugely exciting.” However, he did add that retailers are not going to be generating AI/human interactions that will pass the Turning test in the next 2-3 years.

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