Post Covid, conferences are back! It was great to be back talking face to face, mingling and mixing it up, and it was clear that everyone at the conference felt the same. There’s no substitute for face to face networking to learn from others, exchange war stories and understand what state of the art ecommerce is and where it's going.
In the fast-paced world of eCommerce, staying ahead of the curve is essential for businesses aiming to thrive in the digital marketplace. Recently, SimplicityDX had the privilege of attending the eTail Boston conference and chairing the social commerce conference stream, an event that shed light on the latest trends, challenges, and opportunities in the industry.
In this post, we're sharing some of the takeaways we could gather from conversations and sessions we attended.
eTail Boston 2023: Interesting Insights
Let's unpack the key insights that emerged from our time at eTail.
AI Hype: Distinguishing the Real Game Changers
One recurring theme that resonated throughout eTail Boston was the current hype surrounding Artificial Intelligence (AI). The use of AI in eCommerce has gained significant attention, but it's crucial to separate the hype from the reality. While AI undoubtedly has transformative potential, businesses must focus on identifying AI solutions that can genuinely make a difference. Walking around the vendor booths there were way too many with the words ‘AI’ and ‘Generative’ on them testament that these are now new buzzwords that you can assume that every vendor will use.
The Tight eCommerce Market: The Quest for ROI-Boosting Tech
The event highlighted the enduring challenge of a tight market in the eCommerce industry. Despite signs of hope, competition remains fierce, ad budgets and staffing have been cut and profit margins are often razor-thin. There were recurrent themes around the conference of doing more with less, finding ways to be more efficient.
The Changing Landscape of Customer Acquisition
There was a lot of focus this year on Top of Funnel and Customer Acquisition. The traditional approach to customer acquisition has undergone a significant transformation. In the past, eCommerce businesses heavily relied on targeting ad strategies to reach their audience. However, this approach is no longer sufficient in the evolving eCommerce landscape.
The rise of ad blockers, privacy concerns, and changing consumer behavior have forced businesses to adapt. In this new paradigm, content and creativity have taken center stage.
Crafting compelling content is not just a matter of choice; it's a necessity for achieving virality and connecting with customers on a deeper level. But it's also hard to do well.
Influencers and creators have emerged as powerful catalysts for brand promotion, further highlighting the shift toward content-driven customer acquisition. Brands that invest in authentic, engaging content and leverage influencer partnerships are more likely to succeed in this changing landscape.
Content as the New Targeting and Landing as the New Conversion
Another highlight of the event was the discussion around a paradigm shift where content assumes the role of targeting, and landing becomes the new conversion point.
In one of the sessions, Mark Bietz, the CMO of Fun.com described “Creative [as] the new targeting” explaining that after Apple’s introduction of ‘Ask App Not To Track’ he doubled down on creative and Customer Acquisition Cost rose following the changes. By focusing on content and influencers, who bring their own audience he was able to bring CAC back to similar levels as before.
The effectiveness of the four Customer Acquisition levers have now changed: Targeting - Creative - Landing - Conversion. Of these, Targeting is now more restricted than before, and there are only marginal gains to be had at the bottom of the funnel in the Conversion area as cross site tracking has gone away. This naturally puts more focus on Creative and Landing where there is significant upside. Get the creative right, and it might go viral. Get the landing experience right and you can cut your bounce rate in half resulting in 2 or 3 times more campaign revenue.
The journey from discovery to purchase is becoming increasingly complex
Neelima Sharma, SVP of E-commerce & Omni Commerce Products and Technology at Lowe's, emphasized the importance of aligning digital and physical stores to provide customers with comprehensive solutions. This entails detailed research, project planning, and collaboration with contractors and labor. She points out that complexity isn't merely a challenge but also an opportunity for retailers to think out of the box.
Neelima also highlighted the significance of customer-centric thinking. By understanding customer needs and preferences, retailers can optimize their online platforms, adapting browse and taxonomy based on in-store insights—a concept she referred to as a "digital twin."
The anchor of this approach is solving customer problems effectively, with both physical and digital channels working in harmony to enhance the overall shopping experience. In essence, digital serves as a critical research tool before customers make their in-store purchases.
The Amazon Dilemma: Brands without Storefronts
It was also a reminder at eTail Boston that not everyone has gone Direct To Consumer. There are still many brands with their own eCommerce storefronts that rely on channels like Amazon, Walmart and Target as their primary sales channel.
For brands that still ‘ship by the pallet’ this form of ecommerce may be the only option - it's certainly one where you can drive significant volumes, but usually at the expense of margin.
Brands that exclusively operate on Amazon face the potential of being delisted, increased competition from Amazon's private-label products, and loss of control over customer relationships and branding.
The general takeaway was brands should follow an Omni-channel route to market including their own DTC eCommerce storefronts. This approach spreads risk, enables greater control over pricing, branding, and customer data while reducing dependency on third-party platforms. While the transition may be challenging, it ultimately offers more independence and potential for growth. It's also, of course, hardly new, illustrating that at Etail Boston there were some recurrent themes and big challenges most brands and retailers are still working on and will be for years to come.
eTail Boston 2023 proved to be a great event - not just an opportunity to network, learn, and gather knowledge; it was a platform to unlearn outdated strategies and embrace the dynamic shifts in eCommerce.
The event was a melting pot of insights, innovative ideas, and transformative discussions, leaving us not only with valuable connections but also with a renewed sense of purpose in the ever-evolving world of online retail.
As we reflect on our experiences at eTail Boston, we're excited and anticipate our continued participation in such events throughout this year, and in the future, we extend an open invitation to anyone exploring this vibrant ecosystem. Don't hesitate to get in touch with us at any time for an engaging brainstorming session!