The stars aligned for eTail West, the pre-pandemic fan favorite retail conference that held its annual event in-person on February 28-March 2, 2022, in sunny Palm Springs, CA. With COVID-19 cases down and mandates lifted, the event was the closest thing to a “normal” conference many of us have experienced in what feels like forever.
Seeing old and new faces (IRL) brought the feeling of comradery that was directly paralleled to this year’s event theme: Innovation. Disruption. Transformation. The retail industry has certainly been disrupted, but here we are, coming together completely transformed and ready to innovate further.
Let’s jump into some of the major event highlights:
Lessons Learned From Our Pivot to Connected Commerce
Theresa Palermo, senior vice president, marketing and connected commerce for Signet (and YOTTAA customer), and Jason Goldberg, chief commerce strategy officer for Publicis, had an open discussion on connected commerce. They discussed how they've committed to empowering the customer journey on their terms: anyhow and any way the customer wants it to happen.
While people buying online has increased 30 percent over the course of the pandemic, after the pandemic started to wane, people wanted to go back into stores. They admit that although virtual try-ons are a good option, people still like trying things on in-store. But that doesn’t mean digital is done — just the opposite, in fact. Signet is seeing the shopper journey still starts online even if it ends in-store. In fact, over 78 percent of purchasing starts through some sort of digital trigger.
Palermo and Goldberg encourage brands to see these innovations as permanent changes. The pace of digital transformation will continue to evolve, so just keep putting the customer first and meeting them where they are.
Pedal to the Metal
In the panel discussion, Translating Customer Expectations Into an Incredible Digital Shopping Experience: From Pre-Purchase to Delivery, we heard from executives from leading omnichannel retailers as they reflected on consumer shopping behavior changes and how they're creating stellar customer experiences.
Moderator Molly Bruttomesso, senior vice president, customer success for Wunderkind, opened the discussion on how retailers are determining how convenience has been redefined and what it means to be "convenient" from a holistic perspective.
Shelby Sharp, director, digital experience, retail, for Walgreens, spoke as a convenience retailer on how the pharmacy chain needed a differentiator when it launched BOPIS. So Walgreens focused on the experience, from the time shoppers placed their order to the order confirmation. Customers want something extremely seamless that makes their lives easier throughout the entire purchase process. Internally, Walgreens prioritized listening closely to the customer, and made sure it was set up to work in small, agile teams in order to innovate faster.
Terra Cochrane, head of digital and e-commerce for LUSH Handmade Cosmetics Inc., said its team focused on monitoring for any friction and launched a “Voice of the Customer” program to understand what customers are telling the retailer. Also, using analytics to understand the funnel and where people are dropping off, and looking at reasons for contacting customer support has helped LUSH gain that understanding. Additionally, Cochrane talked about the retailer's BOPIS 2.0 program, which became the No. 1 priority and was released in May 2020. In addition, LUSH has partnered with DoorDash for same-day delivery, and is continuously evolving its omnichannel programs.
So, what’s next? There has been a lot learned over the past few years.
Stefan Nandzik, senior vice president of brand experience for Signifyd, noted that there was a lot of obsession over the customer experience leading to the buy button, but not enough attention post-purchase. He warned that without this focus, not every order turns into revenue.
Cochrane mentioned that answering customers’ question of “Where is my order?” is still a huge challenge for LUSH, especially considering fulfilment must be fast and accurate for the company's perishable goods. The retailer is also still working to determine whether customers are more interested in speed or transparency when it comes to delivery.
Sharp urged that no one has time to take their foot off gas. Everyone is already innovating on the digital experiences they've implemented. Full steam ahead.
Necessity Breeds Innovation
In the keynote panel discussion, Managing Accelerated Digital Transformation Timeline and What Investments Are Next, a group of retailers talked about how they're evaluating the changes they made in 2020 and 2021, and how they're continuing these transformation efforts in 2022 and beyond.
The panel discussion opened on the topic of proactive vs. reactive transformation.
Robert Elzner, head of online marketing and e-commerce for Dell, Inc., told the story of how being proactive allows an organization to get the processes and programs in place to ensure a transformation is the right move, and that it sticks. Transforming reactively means out of necessity, and necessity breeds innovation. Elzner highlighted that there has been more digital transformation and adoption in the last two years than in the last 40 years, and that being reactive creates a force function that moves retailers into the transformation journey whether they’re ready or not. Dell started down the digital journey five years ago by getting its people and processes in place. They had to learn how to work remotely while helping their customers do the same. This actually unlocked learning that Dell likely couldn’t have achieved through a proactive transformation.
Nick Sarraf, vice president, digital transformation and customer satisfaction for AutoZone, said that it is outcomes driven and focused on creating better ways for customers to engage with the retailer. He mentioned that every organization is transitioning to a model based on delivering incremental value rather than focusing on big projects that take a long time.
Dimple Rao, vice president, head of digital product management and product design for Chico's FAS, talked about its digital-first mindset, and how it's working in more agile ways to react more quickly, restructuring the type of talent it needed. Chico's FAS was also able to quickly set up BOPIS and virtual try-on, maintaining a consultative associate relationship with shoppers, which will continue to be important.
Jillian Dimoff, strategic account executive for Cheetah Digital, said it has seen many of the brands it works with prioritize making retail locations a destination, changing up loyalty programs, and incentivizing BOPIS. She emphasized the need to creatively and strategically use customer data to meet changing customer needs.
The main takeaway from eTail was something that most had already suspected: there's no going back to the way things were before, and that retailers (and shoppers) want to keep all the new digital options AND maintain an in-store presence. Other themes included:
- The need to innovate and stay ahead of the curve.
- A focus on smaller teams to be more agile and able to innovate faster.
- Prioritizing meeting customers where they want to be met.
- Making in-store and digital interactions flow seamlessly together.
- Using data intelligently and strategically to improve shopper experiences.
Overall, it was incredibly impressive to learn how retailers have adapted to the disruption. Retail is clearly a resilient industry, and it was a great show to swap stories, see familiar faces, and showcase the incredible innovations, minds and technologies retailers have in their corner.
Rich Stendardo is the CEO of YOTTAA, an e-commerce acceleration platform.
Related story: eTail West 2020: The ‘Experiential’ E-Commerce Event