Monday, 21 November 2011

Internet Retailing 2011

So a few weeks ago I had an interesting day attending the Internet Retailing conference 2011 (#IR11 for twitter fiends) with a fellow TCS colleague.

The day consisted of three separate 'tracks' or themes of discussions- rather vaguely entitled the Customer, the Team, and the Industry. But madly seat-hopping between the most interesting presentations in each track, it seemed clear to me that the real three themes that everyone is (and if they're not, should be) talking about are more specifically:
  • The Empowered Customer
  • Embracing True Multi-Channel, and
  • M-Commerce: You Can't Escape It
Some of the key take aways from the day:

Mark Hodgkinson (Marketing & E-Comm Director HMV Group) kicked things off by reminding us that consumers expect more from their shopping experience than ever before, and are now in the driving seat, empowered by technology. Tech is changing shopping habits as shopping becomes a more participatory experience, with consumers engaging with each other, and with brands, regarding their purchase decisions, an increasing amount.

Mark advised us that the way we shop now is becoming more 'channel agnostic' as we expect to be able to shop Whenever, Whereever and However is most convenient for us- which is increasingly using our Mobiles, with which research shows we are shopping for longer and spending more, than other means, in addition to the 10% of UK adults who use their mobile to compare prices and learn more about products. Mobiles are always with us becoming like our wallets as we become more confident in using them for financial transactions, offering a continuous opportunity to engage with and inspire our customers to buy, wherever they are.
Social Media is the other big change to the way shop now enabling engagement and commerce (with 1 in 4 inspired to buy after social media interaction), and is only set to increase in influence with a reach of 1bn users and counting.
Mark concluded by advising that in order to succeed today, retailers need to embrace: multiple channels, partnerships & collaboration (e.g. dumping the outlet stores and selling excess stock through EBay as some retailers have started doing), and technology as a core competency.

Interesting thoughts from Jo Causon of the Institute of Customer Service on that recurring theme- the evolving customer. She reminded us that customer service is seeing a renaissance, as businesses realise that in a climate where customers are more demanding- and crucially more likely to complain, more likely to talk about their negative experiences, especially with the growth of social media meaning feedback is more accessible and more immediate; building successful relationships has a direct positive impact on business performance and bottom line profit. There is even some demonstrable correlation between share price and customer service index.

But there is still plenty of work to be done, as Jo advised us that £15.3bn is lost to the UK economy annually due to poor customer service. Some of Jo's final thoughts included reminding retailers that customer service needs to be a strategic boardroom issue, that it can be a source of sustainable competitive advantage, that in an age where feedback is immediate and highly visible, customers have real power!!!

And from Aurora, innovators of the moment, Ish Patel (Group Strategic Development Director) and Hash Ladha (Group Multi-channel Director) and some timely words on Mobile Commerce and multi-channel, re-iterating the growth of smart phones, their place as the first personal mass media device and the 'glue' for true multi-channel retailing... And talking of multi-channel, both guys made the point that customers do not shop 'channels' so successful retailers needs to be brilliant at all channels... customers shop brands but the key things they are really looking for from their purchase are the right price, reputation, service, choice, and delivery options!

Ish and Hash reminded us that customers are less patient these days, they are doing more at once (tweeting, shopping etc) and our requirements for online shopping are evolving- we want convenience, speed in addition to a better selection, lower price, and the ability to compare myriad products.

Finally, Ish and Hash also advised us of Aurora's recent and imminent developments (which are many!), including the Shutl 90 mins delivery service (which will be rolled out nationwide  & to all stores next year), Facebook shops for their threee brands (go where your customers are!), Mobile Optimisation of Aurora websites, and In-Store Mobile, with Tablets in use for Stock Management, Q-Busting, and Handhelds for PoS, and Smartphones for self-held, selfcheckout; with Locality, and additional Payment options (contactless, e receipts etc) offering further potential in the future..

Richard Weaver, Majestic Wine's E-Comm Director used his business as a case study to talk about their success in offering local content in social media. Following internal demand from store staff, Majestic determined that local marketing online had real value as key point of difference between themselves and pure play competitors, providing real engagement and a memorable experience for their shoppers. Majestic have seen time on pages doubled, page views increase, and those stores that are most active seeing the biggest impact.
Store staff were involved in the initiative from the start, ensuring on-going buy-in, and of course Change Management was key to its success- with key strategies including: internal heroes and influences to inspire, best practise highlighted, involvement of the whole team, non-negotiables to ensure consistency, incentives tro encourage activity, and formal training to maximise effectiveness.

And finally, David Hogg of IBM reiterated the key concepts of the day, driving home the message that customers are: 
- Instrumented  with typically 2+ technologys in use when shopping these days
- Interconnected & Engaged with the huge number of mobile phone users and social network users (nevermind the amount of time we have our mobiles with us)
Intelligent,  Informed & Empowered with the increase in smartphone use, in user generated content, and the impact of user ratings on click thru and sales. David reminded us about the impact of social networking on buying decisions and the fact that customers trust friends, family and unknown fellow online users a lot more than retailers in informing their purchase decisions!
- Demanding ok not a shock here, David repeated the consensus that the majority of customers expect a seamless experience across all channels, and are increasingly channel agnostic
And how David and IBM think retailers capitalise on this insight?
  • A mature website, that is mobile optimised
  • Cross-channel integration, and marketing
  • Single view of stock
  • Tailored social media strategy
  • Mobile to assist shopping experience (not just order capture)
And there you have it, a not-very condensed synopsis of key messages from Internet Retailing 2011. Following on from this I'd like to develop my own summary for you of what the key focus points for retailers need to be as we gallop towards 2012, so look out for that soon.