Retailers Looking to Improve

It was just a few weeks ago I was out at Etail West, in Palm Springs. I was there to meet and talk with some leading retailers…the whole spectrum from start-up to extremely well established players. At an aggregate, it was clear that there is really a few key items that people are focusing on as they look to transform their businesses and keep up with consumer trends and technology. Things are changing quickly, that isn’t a mystery to anyone…but when I talked to the CEOs of a few start ups, it was clear – they are focused and have more agility than they ever to have to start stealing share (no matter how small) from the big boys. (Who are the start ups in your industry that aren’t weighed down by bureaucracy and unnecessary process?)

I found that companies focused on driving sales online we really focused around the following key themes:

  1. Playing catch-up: Maybe its a reorg, or a change in CEO priorities, but there were certainly a group of individuals (large traditionally offline focused) who felt they were playing catch up and were “finally” ready to “get serious” about their digital strategy. My POV: is it too late?!
  2. Acquisition & ROI: Because things are so competitive, the leaders understand they need extremely robust acquisition strategies to match their deep relationship marketing efforts – but, not everyone is clear on where to start. Some companies are so focused on measuring ROI as soon as possible (even day 1!) that they are paranoid to try new things. My POV: Do what you know to be the right thing, measure later. Waiting until you have 100% comfort will be too late.
  3. Budget Optimization: Overwhelmingly, people I spoke with did not feel good about their spend on media. Agencies ripping them off, ineffective campaigns, and lack of insight and capabilities on their staff. My POV: Ability to target your media spend based on what you know about your audience is crucial…more and more functionality is coming to marketers in this space – media buying is about to get very interesting!
  4. Omni-Channel: This has been a buzzword for at least a few years now, but this is a very real concern for companies who have a bricks-and-clicks model. Nobody seemed very sure how they would address this, although the old standards of Apple and Nordstrom came up as a model to be imitated more than once. My POV: No back office or separate views of the customer, employees in store must be able to interact digitally with data and trigger communications, and process should be seamless from online to offline for consumers (note: this is very difficult I realize, but its the future!).
  5. Short Term Testing (Multivariate): A/B testing…the old standby of optimization. I was a little surprised how much people were focused on this, but I also know how much revenue effective testing can drive. A lot of questions on testing and how it can be done more effectively…there are a few companies who do only this, and they seem to gaining some good traction. My POV: Testing is great, but not everyone is really testing a hypothesis, some are just testing when then can’t decide between two options – and then doing nothing with the learnings. Want to test something, have a hypothesis and have a plan to take the learnings and adjust your strategy and approach going forward.
  6. Access to Data: Big surprise – data is still squirreled away in large unwieldily systems that were only meant to be accessed and understood by IT professionals – making them in some cases useless for marketers or ecommerce teams. How to solve this is a big problem for some people – although people agree the solutions are there, the effort required to migrate is holding people back. My POV: Remember the start ups I mentioned earlier? They have none of these problems and they know the degree that they can action their data is a big competitive advantage. Don’t take your time trying to solve this problem.

Overall, a great week spent with great people who are charged with transforming their businesses (and their industry actually). Time will tell who was successful, and who continues to kick the can. Next up: SXSW Interactive.

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