by Ben Burke -- June 14, 2014

I spent two days this week at the Internet Retailers Conference (IRCE) in Chicago and learned a lot about the priorities and imperatives that retailers and product companies are facing. Here is a summary of the themes and highlights:

Viva la commerce revolution. John Donahoe, CEO of eBay, predicts we will see more change in how consumers shop and pay in the next three-five years than we’ve seen in the last fifteen years. There are four primary drivers to this “commerce revolution”:  1) mobile; 2) local; 3) global; 4) data.

Personalizing the shopping experience -- online and instore -- is the biggest driver of loyalty. Shopping experiences are rarely personalized today, but increasingly will be. Today, personalization isn’t really personal and is mostly based on “wisdom of crowds” data (what other shoppers did), not personal data (who you are and what you do). In the future, leading retailers will marry past (what you bought before), present (who you are), and future (where you want to be) data with stellar service to create unique experiences for their customers.  Doing this for a few, special customers is table stakes – doing it at scale is revolutionary.

Shopper identification becoming a more clear opportunity. Identifying shoppers in brick/mortar stores is increasing – less than 5% of retailers do it now, but over 60% of retailers plan to do so in the future. When shoppers identify themselves, retailers can personalize the shopping experience using purchase history, interests, sizes, etc.

The death of channels. Retail is increasingly about the customer, not the channel. Channel is a merchant term, not a customer term. Customers don’t talk about what channel they are shopping in – they are just shopping, and they want their shopping experience to be consistent as they move between laptop, phone and store. This is “seamless shopping” – not omnichannel.

Stores drive online success. Online sales will grow 2x greater if a retailer involves their physical stores in online sales. There are three ways to involve stores: 1) fulfill order from DC, customer pickup in store; 2) fulfill order from store, customer pickup in store; and 3) fulfill order from store, ship to customer.

Videos and shopping are like peanut butter and jelly – turns out, they work together!  Entertainment, content and commerce are converging… in videos.  Video commerce allows the shopper to see a product in action, demonstrated by a trusted figure. Video commerce is the art of “selling special” – it is a depth platform, not a breadth platform.  Video allows story selling, not story telling. The website www.joyus.com is a leading example of using videos to showcase product and engage shoppers online. 

Social media is popular, but rarely moves the sales needle. Retailers need to think closely about how to use social media to achieve specific objectives. Kevin Ertell, SVP of Digital at Sur La Table, says that context, purpose and mindset matter… a lot. Two keys to success are: 1) engaging customers on your website – not just on Facebook, and 2) connecting the “who” (they are) with the “what” (they buy). Sur La Table is doing both through their “My Collections” feature on www.surlatable.com.