The 2016 edition was certainly special because the event was a part of 'Startup Fest Europe' this year. SFE is a major initiative with a single goal: bringing startups and investors in Europe together to kickstart new and big projects inspired by the success of Silicon Valley. Former EU commissioner Neelie Kroes, the driving force behind the project, really pulled out all the stops and brought Tim Cook (CEO Apple), Eric Schmidt (Executive Chairman of the Google-holding Alphabet) and Travis Kalanick (CEO Uber) to Amsterdam to kick-off the event. Real fancy names present, indeed, but what really brought us to Amsterdam was the question: what is the current state of affairs in the field of e-commerce and what can we expect in the future?
If anything became clear to me in Amsterdam, then it would be this: by now, each and everyone present at the event is convinced that retailers need to seamlessly merge their traditional -physical- shops and their e-commerce activities into one story. The reason is fairly simple: a customer does not 'think in channels'. How organizations are structured and whether this structure is applicable to their needs does not interest them at all. And rightly so. Whoever succeeds in correctly mapping the customer journey and adjusts his strategy accordingly, will stay in the running. Those who cannot adjust will be mercilessly accompanied out. Unless you are working in a very specific niche based on a near-monopoly or when you have a very strong case based on a unique concept and a strong brand, the competition is extremely tough.
Unified commerce and omni-channel commerce are the keywords. The ultimate litmus test: can customers change channels at any time in their customer journey without you losing all necessary information and views on that customers and especially in such a way that the customer doesn’t notice anything? Only if the answer to that question is yes, you can speak of successful omni-channel commerce. Is this all new? Not at all. In any case most companies have difficulties to transform their silo structure to an organization that allows such an omni-channel approach. In short, nothing new but still a lot of work to do.
Insight driven organizations
The same goes for big data. At any event in the sector, the concept is staged. Many companies are aware that personalization in an e-commerce setting is the key that leads to higher conversion rates. In order to provide an answer they have gathered data with the help of technology that enables to map the preference of their customers and prospects. A company that knows the preferences of its customers is highly relevant. Relevancy leads to customer engagement and engagement leads (or should lead) to sales and turnover. Yet this is not always the case! The result is often that a company just sits on top of a huge heap of data. Or rather: sits next to this heap. Because for many reality turns out to be this: they stand by and they watch. To dispose of data is only the first step but in the end, the subsequent step is even more important: take correct decisions on the basis of all this information, of all this data.
The big dream of a lot of organizations is to evolve towards an insight driven organization (IDO). One could argue that an IDO is nothing more than a culture in which decision makers base their decisions on data & analytics. Analytics may not always provide the answers, but they can certainly help to make the right choices and to enhance the quality of decision making. An e-commerce-environment is perfectly suited to become an IDO organization. Customers always expect the most relevant experience and this experience can only be provided on the basis of data.
One of the factors of success to evolve towards an IDO is to make sure that you have the right people on board. Profiles that are good in data analytics and at the same time in translating those analysis towards decision makers. In practice, however these profiles are scarce. If you want to make sure that they remain loyal to your organization, you need to make sure that they are part of the decision process, that they have impact, that they have the opportunity to learn and grow and that they can choose their tools and tactics for themselves.
B2B e-commerce is increasingly being discussed at the event, but all in all in a more modest form. But we did notice a noticeable change compared to the previous edition of E-Commerce Live! where this theme was hardly discussed at all. That B2B e-commerce receives more attention, these days, is not surprising. Just like their B2C-counterparts, companies in B2B are making the shift from the classic one-to-many to more personalized forms of communication. Let's not forget that professional buyers, in their spare time, are consumers just like you and me, who visit online shops and place their personal orders. These personal experiences in shopping create a certain expectation pattern that also applies in their work environment. They know all about how an ideal relationship with a supplier in a digital world can be. Add to this that many buyers (whether or not under pressure of their management) strive towards greater efficiency and prefer self-service instead of spending time to invite and meet -or even simply call- suppliers and you will quickly understand that B2B-organizations are facing big changes.
Another reason why we currently meet this window of opportunities within B2B e-commerce is the fact that a lot of legacy systems are easily being migrated to new and modern environments that can efficiently connect with other systems on the basis of API's. We therefore also speak of 'synaptic commerce', suggesting that businesses are evolving towards interconnected e-commerce models where, suddenly, a lot more is possible. In a B2B-context, companies can this way, finally, start to work on improving customer experiences.
Context and personalization need good and solid content. However, not everyone seems to pay attention to the quality of their content. We all remember having read the quote ‘content is king’ but at the same time, at this moment, we all started to exaggerate in the creation of content. Marketers just keep on adding articles and blogs to their website. And even worse: only 30% of those marketers believes that content marketing is very effective.
Content marketing is not the same as 'publishing everything you know'. It is all about helping your target audience to find answers to their questions. And that is exactly what each person consulting a search engine starts out with: with a question. Just remember: their are only two letters that differ in the words helping and selling. Keywords are anticipating and thinking ahead. What is the next step someone takes if he or she has read an article? What is the next best click? Make sure that you have this flow mapped out in advance. It’s all about relevance in the right moment, at the right spot. You don’t know exactly what excites your customers and prospects? Simply ask them. Talk to them and certainly do not just assume things. All too often content is written (and thus time and money is wasted) that doesn’t interest the target audience at all. And this is also important: one size does not fit all. There are different types of content: branding, product and educational content... each have their own purpose. The point is that you need to use each type of content carefully and correctly.
Regarding the shape, we note that video marketing is doing incredibly well. That is in line with the general trend that the web has become mainly visual. People like to watch and don't necessarily want to read. Video does seem to be the ideal form to strongly influence emotions.
Social commerce is nothing new (just like some of the other notions in this article). For several years now, there is fierce speculation about whether social commerce will become the next big thing. Even if this is not the case yet, we seem to have reached a turning point today. Recent research shows that people have adopted shopping via social media. Men in particular seem to be the frontrunners. In relation to women they even spend a lot more per purchase. And are we mainly talking about young people here? Not at all! The most willing buyers can be situated in age groups 35 to 44 and 45 to 54.
The same study also shows that retailers need not fear cannibalization. Social commerce will NOT have a negative impact on store visits, on the contrary. A significant group indicates that the chance that they will effectively visit physical stores even increases because of social commerce. Retailers are thus doing the right thing by amplifying their current efforts on social media with direct sales CTA’s via the 'purchase buttons' offered by Facebook, Instagram and other social networks.
Questions about digital commerce?