InternetRetailing’s European Summit took place in Berlin in June. Although it was a Chatham House Rule event – with delegates feeding back their appreciation of the opportunity to hold off-the-record candid exchanges – we can report on the shared conversation.
BETTER WAYS of managing operations, engaging with customers and innovating were among the subjects under discussion when more than 140 retailers from across Europe gathered for the first InternetRetailing Europe Summit. The event, held in Berlin at the end of June – just days after the UK voted to leave the European Union – gave executives from countries including the UK, Germany, Holland, Russia, Poland and Norway, an opportunity to discuss with their peers both their business’ current performance, and how strategies for the future will evolve to meet the changing behaviour and expectations of customers.
Discussions were held through a mixture of leadership panels and round tables that, through the application of the Chatham House Rule, which prevents the attribution of comments, encouraged openness and relaxed attitudes. Below we summarise some of the key ideas to come out of the sessions. Sessions were organised around the key themes of the IREU Top500 research, the first edition of which was launched at the Summit.
OPERATIONS AND LOGISTICS
Delegates saw both opportunities and challenges in the way customers’ expectations are changing, both in relation to the delivery process, and the final mile.One defined the delivery experience as a “route to market”. Future opportunities would be all about smart delivery, personalisation and convenience, and the increased availability of pick-up points. Increasingly, deliveries will be consolidated and the environment will become a guiding factor. “The influence of Uber will be felt in future custom deliveries: to you, where you are,” they said. But there was a warning on one key challenge. “Getting it right is important. If you mess up delivery, the customer won’t come back.”
STRATEGY AND INNOVATION
A leadership panel focused on how attitudes to strategy and innovation could be developed and fostered through the business. One speaker said that their business encouraged people in the business to work on anything they liked every now and then, whether that was redecorating an office or developing a new app. Encouraging a speak-up culture was important in dealing with failure.
Another speaker talked about expanding around the world, and said it was important to export the central principles of the business, which could then be evolved for different markets. “The world of trade is less about governments negotiating trade agreements and more about how do we enable individuals to trade across borders on the other side of the world and build businesses.” The final speaker said that an upcoming change to the business would be challenging, but would lead to “significant benefits” in due course.
One questioner asked about how important it was to localise. “It’s a fragmented world,” said one speaker, “and you need to offer cash on delivery in Italy to win any business.” Payments methods, local courier choices and local teams all need to be adapted. Rather than choosing a specific assortment for a market, personal feeds and customers’ interests are driving a more personalised choice of goods.
Another speaker said that localising was also important within different parts of the UK market. “London behaves differently to the rest of the UK. Digital stores work in London and in city centres but there’s less fast take-up regionally.” A questioner asked what challenges faced speakers’ businesses in the future. One speaker replied that evolution wouldn’t be online or offline, it would be omnichannel. That presented the challenge of developing interfaces between the two.
The Chinese market would be a challenge for one speaker. How consumers in China, where total retail floor space is a quarter of that in the US, experience brands would drive future innovation. Meanwhile, the safety of the supply chain would be a key factor in a market that is built on trust. One speaker closed with a question: “Will we adapt as quickly as the consumer does?” Legacy systems, they said, made it difficult to keep up with changing shopper behaviour.
Content plays an important and growing role in engaging consumers, said the speaker in a session on brand engagement. They said that their technology email was one of their most opened, after those offering discounts. That gave the fashion brand an opportunity to engage with its core market of young men in a way that wasn’t about selling. Content can come from a team of journalists and bloggers, or from users themselves.
Also worth remembering was that the home page is not necessarily the most trafficked page: fewer than 50% of visitors to one website discussed in the session now see the home page – a popular product listing page sees more traffic. That’s down to search and navigation, which drive traffic towards different pages. “Products should reflect the search,” said one delegate. How important is user-generated content in this? “If customers engage, that’s their picture of the brand and that’s good,” said one participant in the debate. Another said products with reviews were more likely to convert. “Even one-star ratings can be fed back to the business to review the product.”
Guiding shoppers through the process helps to narrow down the breadth of choice. Recommendations and personalisation help when it comes to selling to individual shoppers.Technology is an enabler, but there needs to be an emotional connection underlying that. One brand spoke of using stores as a space for interest groups to meet with no link to retail. The end goal is an emotional connection to the consumer, and stores and online are just ways to achieve that.
It’s a different sales pitch than 10 years ago, when product knowledge was firmly with the retailer, emphasised one speaker. Disruptions come daily. It’s important to read and learn from the negatives, whether those are comments, reviews or stock failures. Asked about external disruptors to business, one speaker said that consumers now take in fashion information so quickly that fashion cycles are shorter. There’s a need to respond to that both through marketing and at the backend.
Overall, speakers concluded, a hassle-free experience is an imperative for the customer. It’s important to think about trigger points – the micromoments when people think about purchases, one retailer suggested. “The true wow will come when the in-store fitting experience can be connected to the home.” Are online and the store still seen as in opposition to each other, asked one questioner. “We’re seeing some people moving channels, but we’re also seeing people who wouldn’t go to the store,” said one speaker. “People choose what’s better for them.”And what is the most difficult thing about customer experience? “Bringing our people along,” said another speaker. “Some of our staff have been here for 20 years or more and may not shop online themselves.” Another said the biggest challenge lay in data. “You can measure everything online and it’s tempting to over-rely on this.”
Some 3.7bn people have mobile phones, suggested the leader of this session. Mobile commerce is developing quickly – it will be possible to buy from Snapchat in the next year. However, other innovations such as beacons seem to be taken up less quickly.
Delegates discussed their ideas of what future developments were most likely in this area. One pointed to the emergence of virtual reality headsets and of augmented reality in showcasing products. Another suggested personalised billboards, as first seen in the cult film Minority Report, might soon become a reality. Payments will become invisible, suggested one speaker, while another said data would mean service was more personal.
While data was a strength in mobile, it was also a potential challenge. One speaker highlighted the difficulty in getting the data from this channel – “though,” they added, “data can also show what trends are emerging.” Another challenge lay in adapting mobile approaches to the behaviour of young people who were more likely to ask Siri out loud than to type a search enquiry into Google.