– James Byrne, Agency Account Director – Ecom Nation
What a whirlwind few days for the team at Ecom Nation as we made our way to Sydney for our first visit to Online Retailer. As we approach the Agency’s first birthday it was our first big opportunity to get out there and meet with our amazing suppliers, catch up with old friends and participate in some amazing discussions around both the current and future state of eCommerce – in Australia and around the world.
There is always a lot to think about as you walk out of any conference but a few things stood out to me as themes that we as an Agency will be thinking more and more about as we return to the office.
The experience is part of the product
When does the customer experience start, and when does it end? How much of that experience can you control and how do you make the most of your opportunities to optimise it? These kinds of questions emerged and re-emerged across the 2 days of sessions and as an Agency they present some very interesting opportunities.
Traditionally the online experience supports the path to purchase for a product or service; it is a journey with a purpose. Once the sale is complete we can now embark on two new experiences, the online post-purchase and the ‘real world’ use of the product or service. The online journey and product are linked but are in most cases separate, but this is changing fast.
More and more the opportunity to push these disparate journeys closer together or even merge them is being enabled by clever merchants and technology.
There were many examples on show but a great and simple one is the evolution of virtual wine tasting. Rather than relying on a cellar door as a tourism destination, COVID drove many wineries to develop online tastings from simple presentations to live audiences to more nuanced approaches with the purchase of sample boxes that are sent out ahead of the tasting appointment to provide something closer to the ‘normal’ experience – many merchants played with the format.
Technology on show from Brauz/ZOOM highlighted how this kind of experience can evolve again to become more engaging and interactive. Rather than a pre-determined flight of wines why not charge for a sommelier appointment and have a one-on-one conversation about the wines you like? They can then provide real-time recommendations that can be added to cart directly from the video window? Less a presentation and more an experience with the initial purchase being the appointment and the cross-sell being the product? In this way the sommelier acts similarly to a marketplace platform providing personalised recommendations to users and charging for the experience.
The same idea is applicable to other industries like fashion. Book an appointment with a stylist, discuss the things you like or the items you need and have the recommendations provided to you in real-time.
Data will continue to unlock more doors and opportunities – front and back of house
Conferences always have a lot of tech on show and it is always impressive, Online Retailer 2022 was no exception. Interestingly this year was the technology on show aimed at specifically improving merchant experiences. From the enablement of advanced reporting, diversified shipping connectivity and more AI tools to streamline and automate decision making, there were some very cool things on show.
Of course, the same is true of the front-of-house. Despite the deprecation of 3rd-party cookies, the world of data marches on. There was a clear push to help merchants capture and leverage 1st-party data in new and interesting ways and I expect we will see more innovation in the space.
An example of some very useful tech in this space are tools designed by a company called Preezie to engage users directly with on-screen content and then use this data in real-time to filter and curate the available products in a store. The results of this kind of dynamic filtering can be captured alongside email addresses to provide email marketing opportunities that act as a complimentary flow to browse abandonment or abandon carts. The focus here is to use the tools to capture the customer’s ‘discovery intent’ and use that to drive future marketing efforts. Less, ‘you showed interest in this product’, and more, ‘are you still looking for bedroom furniture to match the nordic style of the rest of your house?’.
In a world of algorithms, people are still people
Briefly touched on above, the demise of 3rd-party data was discussed at length throughout the conference. As an Agency we have long highlighted that if you are outsourcing your marketing to a Google or Meta algorithm then you are giving away your ad spend, ignoring opportunities on the table and leaving yourself vulnerable to the whim and shifting landscape of these large ad display platforms.
It is the easiest thing in the world to run a Meta or Google campaign and let the automated options control your spending, but this ignores the simple but obvious fact that algorithms are not people. Spending the time to either learn the platforms and opportunities or to brief an agency to understand your business and customer, allows for innovation and experimentation beyond algorithmic optimisation. It also highlights the continued importance of building and maintaining your brand.
Omnichannel opportunities can go both ways
When marketers talk about omnichannel they typically mean the pursuit of customers across multiple platforms, channels and devices, the delivery of consistent messages that attract and convert customers where they are, whenever they are there. As eCommerce is a digital experience we tend to default our thinking to digital platforms and channels but, depending on the business, can include mail drops, posters, SVOD, cinema etc.
Omnichannel is also normally an inbound consideration, but there is nothing stopping merchants from considering omnichannel outputs. Some exciting examples popped up with fulfilment and packaging options that, like my first point on the importance of customer experiences, turn the experience of receiving and opening a package into part of the product – or at least part of the overall brand messaging. Reusable or repurposable packaging, leave-behind codes and pURL generation to return the customer to an online experience – there is a lot of possibility in this space to elongate the purchasing experience and create new ways for the customer to engage with your brand.
Brand is only going to become more important
Finally, but in my mind most importantly, the theme of brand and its importance was central in this conference and that is super important for us as an Agency. The generation of agencies and marketers that plied their craft in digital platforms when it was easy are finding now what many have been saying for years and decades – a strong brand (and all that encompasses) lifts discoverability, trust and loyalty with partners, stakeholders and customers alike. It matters, your logo matters, your story matters and the way you tell it matters.
Nearly a year into our journey we are already refocusing the agency on this idea that in a world of businesses and an eternal sea of content, your brand – no matter the size of your business – matters more than it perhaps ever has. It can be your sword or your shield and effectively sharing your brand and telling your story only has upside because it helps find your customers and develop your community.
A huge thank you to NORA and the organisers, volunteers, stall holders, suppliers and anyone else involved in a hugely fulfilling, rewarding and successful Online Retailer 2022. You’ll see us back again and in greater numbers in 2023.
Photo from the Online Retailer Instagram Feed.