eTail West 2020: The ‘Experiential’ E-Commerce Event
At last month's eTail West, enjoying the warm weather and dining on In-and-Out burgers wasn’t the only experience folks were talking about. With the e-commerce industry constantly pumping out emerging technologies that leverage shopper behavioral data, from automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning, personalizing the customer experience has become more attainable than ever before. At this year’s conference, attendees learned how some of the biggest online brands are optimizing their efforts to deliver the ultimate shopper experience.
Using Marketing Technology to Drive Better Customer Experience
Attendees heard from Overstock.com's Chief Marketing Officer JP Knab as well as Group Product Manager of Marketing Content Cathy Bergstrom on how brands can optimally interact with shoppers using personalized content.
How? By creating a highly intelligent system that can deliver the right content to individual shoppers in real time. Knab and Bergstrom recommended four steps to accomplish this:
Buying furnishings from Overstock.com for the home is an emotional experience for shoppers, they explained. Personalized content can help consumers make these emotional purchases.
In order to talk to shoppers through content, the messaging must be engaging, specific and timely for each individual. But how can brands scale this type of personalization? Enter machine learning, with its ability to decipher customer data in seconds.
With over 40 million content assets, Bergstrom stressed that Overstock's system must instantly catalog these assets and match them with customer interest data gathered from the retailer's website, along with any other behavioral data.
What does this look like in reality? Overstock uses personalized email messaging as a good example. As a consumer shops, its email platform is adjusting content in real time to offer updated, personalized messaging. This way, the next time that individual pops into their email, they’ll see content from Overstock.com that speaks directly to them in the most hyper-relevant of ways.
How well does this approach work for Overstock? It has seen a 28 percent lift in revenue due to personalized emails. Now that's an experience all brands would enjoy.
Getting Found: Amazon as Your Customer's New Search Engine
In this compelling panel discussion, attendees heard from Hamish Khayat, co-founder of Burst; Andrea Steel, Director of digital direct and operations from Hershey Company; and Mark Deruyter, vice president of digital for Implus.
Moderator Patricia Waldron from RetailWire walked the audience through an apparently common shopper journey that begins with Amazon.com and ends with D-to-C sites. The audience was struck with this stat: over 50 percent of shoppers start their online product searches on Amazon.
According to this presentation, half of consumers will start with Amazon, search for a product, find the product, then head over to that product’s direct-to-consumer site. This puts brands in an interesting position, presenting the opportunity to get creative in optimizing their Amazon search listings.
Steel dove into Hershey's strategy, explaining that not a lot of people are searching for Hershey on Amazon organically. The idea was intriguing though, because in terms of traditional SEO, the unlikeliness of winning the keyword “chocolate” is high. In order to get Hershey in front of relevant shoppers on Amazon, the chocolate brand partnered with Halloween costume brands to tie candy into its Amazon promotions. Shoppers that were buying their Halloween costumes on Amazon also were shown the need for Hershey chocolate to give out to trick-or-treaters, and were driven to Hershey’s native site. Steel also noted that Hershey's Amazon media sales are actually driving its brick-and-mortar sales.
Khayat explained that Burst initially sold its innovative electric toothbrushes on Amazon, but not the replacement heads. Those were only available on its D-to-C website. However, Burst decided that approach wasn't really providing its shoppers with great online experiences, and began selling the replacement heads on Amazon as well. Now it hopes that people will buy on Amazon, love the products, and tell their friends, who will buy them on Burst’s dot-com site. It makes sense, Burst noted, because “Tooth people” will do their initial search on Amazon, but will then want more product information from the D-to-C site.
What kind of resources does Amazon search marketing require? Deruyter said Implus typically needs A-plus content, videos, and imagery for this approach, not to mention a SEO guru for Amazon (it uses an agency).
Steel noted that Hershey's has a holistic search manager to help with this strategy, while Burst works with an agency to build up reviews to gain credibility and improve its Amazon search ranking.
Overall, this is an interesting and effective technique for retailers to try this year. It's encouraging to learn that shoppers really do appreciate the better experiences that brands’ native sites deliver as opposed to staying on Amazon.
The Digital Experiences You Need Today to Guarantee E-Commerce Success
This keynote panel featured Lee Senderov, president of Richline Digital, Richline Group; Lev Peker, CEO of U.S. Auto Parts; and Steven Tristan Young, chief marketing officer, Poshmark.
This session explored the idea that technology should be used to enhance nondigital shopper interactions (e.g., in-store, pop-ups, etc.), not just replace them. For example, emerging technology is great, but people typically still want a phone number to talk to a live person.
This also supports the concept that video chat is growing in popularity because it creates fast engagements, but is still personal as the individuals communicating can see each other. Another approach to digital messaging? Young noted that sometimes it's good to use technology for “nonselling” messages. For example, Poshmark uses push notifications to send daily inspirational messages that are designed not to sell, but to inspire shoppers.
Young also explained Poshmark’s initiative for building an offline community. It accomplished this by holding “Posh Parties” in local cities and encouraged shoppers to hold their own posh parties (both in-person and online) and invite friends. At first, the social selling brand didn't know what to expect. The results? Last year, shoppers held over 1,000 posh parties.
Senderov discussed how Richline tried a pop-up event last year, and it was a big failure. Why? The jewelry brand launched its pop-up shop for just one day, and then realized there wasn't enough time to properly promote it. Richline decided the next time it would do a week-long pop-up shop to have more promotion time. Senderov's advice for online-only retailers that want to do pop-ups? With little to no in-store, brick-and-mortar experience, they need to really think about the pop-up layout and execution prior to launching.
The ‘Sweet Spot’ for Shopper Experience
There were many sessions at eTail West around different topics, but the e-commerce “experience” focus really stole the show. It was inspirational and encouraging to learn all the different shopper experience strategies brands are testing and using to keep consumers engaged and push them through checkout. It supports the concept that there's still room for human creativity and conceptualization in a world of machine learning and automation.
However, nothing beats the sweet spot where art and science align, encouraging brands to discover new ways of delivering the ideal shopper experience.
Rich Stendardo is the CEO of Yottaa, an e-commerce acceleration platform.