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eTail West 2024 - Conference Report – Part Two

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By: David Slavick, Ascendant Loyalty |

Posted on March 4, 2024

Celebrating 25 Years of Omni-channel Marketing

The 25th eTail West Conference held last week in Palm Springs, CA was wonderfully organized by Worldwide Business Research (WBR), and we received strongly positive reviews of the event from people who attended. The Wise Marketer covered the event and David Slavick, Ascendant Loyalty, prepared this summary of Day 2 proceedings here.

The theme of the first day was “The New eCommerce Business Model: Balancing Growth & Profitability.” The keynote discussions and panels revealed how e-commerce, merchants, loyalty leaders and customer experience professionals are continuing to serve the individual needs of consumers who choose to shop online to meet their daily needs. You can read the report of Day 1 here.

Leaders across retail, specialty retail, pure play e-commerce and the service providers focused on visioning “the next decade in Retail” on Day Two. Most were in agreement that exponential growth in the e-commerce channel will continue, with consumers pushing them to do better to serve their needs.

The consensus was that a successful strategy needs to incorporate key operational factors as a foundation for marketing success:

  • Attention to inventory management
  • Refinement of return policies
  • Optimize the approach to free shipping
  • Improvements to the overall website experience

In a session titled Looking Back on 25 years of eTail – a panel moderated by Rose Hamilton, Founder Compass Rose Ventures and informed by Ken Pilot from The Retail Pilot Podcast, Angela Caltagirone PB5star,  and Mark Deruyter VP PE Nation shared insightful tips for the next generation of e-commerce leaders focused in the retail channel.

  • Think like a shopkeeper – know your customers inside and out and demonstrate that you know them by applying the data they share along with the information you learn from observing them to truly serve their unique individual needs, wants and desires.
  • AI is all the rage but build a plan first before attempting to leverage its power to drive your business metrics.  Data fueled by AI will be abundant, but you need strategic thinkers who can execute plans that take advantage of these new tools can do for you.
  • Make it easy on your team members to do their job and do it well.  Seek to create energy and momentum from online experiences by leveraging new solutions on your website that can both entertain the site visitor and make it easy for them to browse and convert.
  • Reach for the stars – think about how your site can create real theatre by connecting to your store so that your shopper feels everything that your environment has to offer.
  • Explore Generative AI and in particular an internal AI assistant powered by OpenAI’s GPT-4 and GPT-3.5 models called Ava.  It brings the power of AI together with the art of modern-day merchandising tactics to influence site conversion.

Another intriguing session was titled: Driving Traffic and Energizing the Online Experience to Capture the Next the Next Generation of Customers.  This session was full of insight from Ken Pilot who moderated a panel that included Dave Spector, Co-founder & Chairman Third Love; Kevin Ertell formerly of Nike and Neha Singh CEO and Founder, Obsess

The session started with Dave saying “it’s all about the thumb” which was his way of making it clear that mobile dominant engagement is full of scrolling behavior that lasts milliseconds. If you have content that has stopping power whether on Tik Tok or Instagram, you need to influence the brain to tell that thumb to hit the screen and learn more.

  • Panelists agreed with the age-old premise that it is better to retain and grow customer base versus chasing new customer acquisition.  Partnerships are an effective strategy if you can find brands and service providers who can give your brand a differentiated advantage versus the competition.  Seek out brands and service providers that share  your beliefs and offer stellar digital experiences as a sustainable criterion for success.
  • Strategies to drive traffic must still rely on paid media and discounting, but loyalty programs will continue to be a key to earning the customer’s affinity yielding incremental return on investment compared to the non-member. 
  • Video on websites is seen as a new emerging solution, consistent with the theme of entertaining the visitor versus the traditional focus on site design heavily reliant on font and color.  Neha Singh shared the Obsess story where her company of five years is building for retailers – AI generated content that takes the visitor to events, livestream videos and Avatar hosted tours.  Their solutions have led to increased conversion with more time spent on the site as well as lift to social engagement: https://obsessar.com/virtual-events/
  • The next generation consumer has a “B.S.” detector when it comes to reviews, paid or non-paid influencers – the panel all agreed “it’s all the same” when it comes to how it is received so deciding who your brand should invest in should be decided based on authenticity. 

Along the lines of new technology that brings the store “home” to the site visitor, Firework provides one to one video chat via an AI enabled virtual associate that knows “everything” about the store and can lead the site visitor to any department or product that aligns with their real-time dialogue.

In the SMS space, innovation was illustrated via a digital concierge available to the mobile enabled shopper seeking information, leaning on immediacy, and wanting a personalized experience with your brand.  In this case, it is a “real human” communicating with the shopper which is a nice change of pace from AI dominant options.