Retail and logistics professionals gathered at the end of March in downtown Atlanta for the Ecommerce Show USA 2016. And their objective was to explore innovations in e-commerce and supply chain optimization in the omnichannel world. Approximately 1,200 attendees from retail, logistics and information technology companies attended the two-day event hosted by Terrapinn Holdings Ltd. and held at AmericasMart, a wholesale trade center where President Barack Obama had given an address the previous day.
Worldpay, ThoughtWorks Retail and MailChimp were among the show's 56 exhibitors. A roster of 95 speakers, from technology startups to established brands such as Coca-Cola and Perry Ellis International, shared insights in presentations, roundtables and panel discussions. The conference agenda was organized into four seminar tracks focused on e-commerce, retail technology, home delivery and home delivery content development themes.
Terrapinn has honed its reputation for creatively designed, interactive events over the last 25 years in curated gatherings across a number of industry sectors. The company employs mechanisms such as storytelling, games and interactive design to bring ideas about strategy, innovation and technology to life. Rolling robots and interactive digital displays added a touch of whimsy to the event's exhibit hall.
The need to understand one's customer was a recurring conference theme, as retailers shared strategies beyond data-crunching and automation. Most agreed that getting out of the office to frequent customers' neighborhoods, stores and shopping malls is essential to understanding consumer behavior.
"Our executive team goes to the mall to understand what other innovators are doing in the space," said Imran Rahman, Chief Operating Officer at Combatant Gentleman, a clothier established in 2012 that caters to the 18- to 35-year-old male demographic. "Some brands do technology for technology's sake; our aim is to make the experience from entrance to purchase faster, but not so fast that your customer leaves you with a thousand questions."
Rahman added that his customer is a "broke, big city guy" who grew up with an iPhone in his hand, is impatient by nature and can see through a brand. The company has designed suits and accessories to fit his budget, using magic mirrors and RFID hanger technology in the fitting rooms designed to recognize items and make recommendations on complementary accessories.
"When they are in the fitting room, they can request the items through the mirror," Rahman said. "Physical stores are no longer limited by available inventories; we can show all accessories from luggage to belts to tie clips and customers can purchase these items via the mirror in the fitting room."
In his presentation, Benjamin Babcock, Director of UX Research and Conversion Optimization at Jet.com discussed various ways to know customers as more than data points. These strategies are designed for both inside and outside the office, he stated.
Jet.com routinely conducts field studies, where employees go "out of house," carrying phones, tablets and computers and get feedback on their e-commerce site. Mixed gender teams that have been schooled in interview best practices look for people who are relaxed and open to discussion. Typical venues are trains, buses, ferries and coffee shops, he said. "We don't conduct this research on planes, in restaurants, bars, cars or tow trucks," he added.
Jet.com also hosts Thursday "shopalongs" at company headquarters in Hoboken, N.J. "Ten to 30 people attend each session and shop online for about an hour," Babcock said. "Other customers who are far away from the office can participate remotely from their homes."
A-B testing, involving two control groups that are shown different versions of the same web page, have proven to be a useful way to measure customer satisfaction on Jet.com's diversified merchant marketplace, where everything from apparel to books to automotive supplies are sold. Jet.com dashboards measure net promoter score and a suite of business metrics including sales, revenue and units sold, he said.
Online grocery retailers are also experimenting with new ways to understand their customers. The promising category is one of the fastest-growing segments of e-commerce. According to the U.S. Commerce Department, U.S. consumers spent $591.6 billion on groceries in 2014.
Kurt Hasson Assistant Vice President of Ecommerce at Hy-Vee Inc. has seen mobile payment technologies make a huge impact on consumer lifestyles, with "click and collect," in which a customer orders online and picks up later at a store becoming a popular practice. "Customers are using their mobile, connected devices to make lists and checkout at a later time," he said. "We're looking for ways to deliver a consistently high quality experience throughout the consumer journey."
Some approaches might be to turn a recipe or meal planning into targeted offers, or offer an annual subscription for higher levels of service. "Total consumer spend might be up to $350,000 over a lifetime," Hasson said. "What do we have to spend to attract and retain our customers?"
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