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What’s Next in E-Commerce

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Last Friday I attended the MITX “What’s Next? E-Commerce Summit” which featured many local Boston-area brands and how they’ve adapted to the changing e-commerce landscape. The speakers represented a variety of small and large players, including in-store retail brands that had to bridge the gap to online, e-commerce only companies, breakout retail brands and a few new e-commerce startups.

While topics ranged from omnichannel to social to metrics to what’s next in e-commerce, I found the following three topics to be ever-present over the day’s talks.

1. We all have a lot of data and want to make sure we’re using it.

Everyone knows that engaging in the online marketing ecosystem brings about a lot of data. We know a lot about our customers and how they act online. But everyone worries, are we really taking this data and using it to learn to better parts of our overall business? And how can we get at this data easily, and bring it to places that matter?

While this wasn’t discussed here, I think the big data question is one that a lot of people face when making business decisions. There is a LOT of information that you can have access to, but what data should impact your decision? The problem here is determining what it is that would help you- which is hard to know until you have it!

Organizations want to better understand the qualitative data around their customers as well. Whether it’s to learn more about the customer’s experience or what people most enjoyed interacting with on the site, this knowledge is helpful. One of the panelists from the Upstarts and Startups panel, I believe Oisin Hanrahan of Handybook, explained that at the end of every purchase, he has customers write about why they purchased that day from his site. Some people write a lot, some just a little, but each day he gets a word cloud of the responses from the day before. For him, seeing this qualitatively lets him know explicitly how customers reacted that day.

2. The mobile world should be treated differently.

We all know that mobile is the next wild frontier. Consumers may not be purchasing on mobile as much as they are on desktop, but they are searching on mobile and doing a lot of research before purchasing somewhere else. We live in a multiscreen world, and your e-commerce has to adapt.

One fact thrown out during Akamai’s “Improving the Quality of the OmniChannel Digital Experience” was that if dissatisfied with website performance, 33.1% of tablet users and 26.8% of smartphone users are LESS LIKELY to purchase from that company ACROSS ALL CHANNELS.

Let me say that again: your mobile and tablet site performance has an impact ACROSS ALL CHANNELS.

Different companies had different viewpoints on how to improve the mobile experience, none of which are right or wrong, but really focus on the fact that you need to create a mobile solution based on what’s good for your consumer. Think about how they use mobile before you decide what you need.

While creating a mobile version of your site is a good option, Joss and Main created a mobile app to better tailor to its consumers. They found that because their business was so time sensitive, it made better sense to create something specific customers could open and that they could better tailor to their needs. Gemvara, on the other hand, explained that as they improve their mobile functionality, they might not even ALLOW the ability for a user to purchase because they know that the user needs to build up trust with the brand and won’t want to make a purchase on mobile.

So the moral of the story here- don’t ignore mobile- but don’t believe there is one set solution that is perfect for everyone.

3. Consumers should be the star.

It has always been that companies need to focus on the consumer, but now, the consumer has to be the star.

One way to do this is through social media. While no company said that social media was the true driver of their e-commerce experience, many noted that it was important to the overall ecosystem. Social is a great way to have a conversation with your consumers and to give them the tools to become great fans and brand advocates.

One example of this was from Gemvara, when Brian Kalma said how he has to work to arm customers with the right words to say. Their jewelry is made to be completely customized, so what one person created and thinks is beautiful, another person could find ugly. Gemvara has to work on getting the consumer to say, “I created this at Gemvara.” – NOT – “I bought this at Gemvara.”

Lastly, I think this conference shows that no matter what your business, e-commerce shouldn’t be a second thought, but something built into your business every day from the ground up.

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