Many of you were probably at IRCE a few weeks ago, but even if you weren’t – we want to share with you some of the insights we gained from the industry’s biggest, and perhaps most important, event. While there wasn’t much focus on completely new trends, the trends that we’ve been talking about for a while – mainly mobile, social, and a blending of the two to enhance the in-store and online experience – were front and center.
For example, this year mobile was talked about in terms of sales and commerce, whereas last year it was mainly addressed in terms of content. While customers still primarily research products on mobile devices (even when they’re in a physical store), they’re also making more purchases. And retailers are taking that into account as they continue to evolve their mobile presence, using the mobile platform to help people in a brick & mortar store.
Social media also plays a key role in the mobile and online shopping experience. A lot of brands are still figuring out how to utilize Facebook, Twitter, and others to foster deeper engagement, but they’re weaving social media content into mobile and traditional e-commerce sites more, and giving customers more incentive to ‘like’ their Facebook pages (or “pin” products to their Pinterest board) to increase sales.
Another topic discussed a lot was how big and small brands alike can compete with, and do things better, than the more established brands. Keynotes given by the CEOs of Barnes and Noble, William Lynch, and Walmart, Michael Duke, were quite interesting in terms of how they’ve had to find new approaches to selling online in order to beat the competition or just survive. For example, Barnes and Nobel had to completely change their business to adapt to a new environment driven largely by Amazon – which led to their huge and successful bet on the Nook. Part of Lynch’s strategy is to leverage the Barnes and Noble stores to get the Nook into people’s hands, which is an advantage they have over Amazon.
Walmart has also worked hard to blend the in-store shopping experience with online. For example, they offer in-store pick-ups for orders placed online, and also allow people to purchase an item ordered online with cash in the store. This is an appealing approach for people who don’t have credit cards or don’t feel secure using them online. Walmart is also using “geo-fencing” on their mobile app, using the phone’s GPS to find out which store a customer is in and show them store-specific information. And if a particular product isn’t available in the store it can be ordered using the mobile app. Duke also discussed some of the interesting things they’ve done with search, and how that’s helped their online business. For example, to better compete against Amazon, Walmart allows users to refine their product searches per department (Electronics, Music, Movies, Books) or for the entire store. They also implemented a cool “Find in Store” feature on the products pages to see if the particular products a user is looking at is carried at the local Walmart store.
Another interesting keynote was given by Sam Yagan, CEO of OKCupid, one of the largest dating sites. He talked about how companies are starting to use the unique data that his site collects to better understand their different market segments. This points to the ever-increasing dependence on customer data for success in online retail.
One of the more innovative vendors we saw at the show was a company called Eyeona, which has an app that guarantees the price won’t be lowered on a product someone just bought. If the retailer drops the price, then the user gets a voucher to spend the difference in store. Their business model is to sell this as a service to retailers as a way to drive people back to their site. For example, retailers can deliberately drop the price on products that were recently purchased, and give people an incentive to come back into the store where they’ll typically make a purchase significantly larger than the voucher that they have.
Overall, the common theme we saw was in how brick and mortar retailers are leveraging both their stores and the mobile platform to drive their online strategy. For pure-play online retailers, a focus on delivering a unique user experience is key to their success. And regardless of whether it’s shopping online or offline, innovation continues to happen throughout the whole industry.