Takeaways from eCommerce Expo 2019

'It was a manifestation of the constant frenzy, debate, cooperation, and analysis that happens in the backend of digital retail.'
27 September 2019

Attendees amassed to tackle e-commerce’s biggest challenges. Source: eCommerce Expo

Attracting an estimated 15,000 delegates to London’s Olympia this week, attendance at eCommerce Expo’s 2019 return represented just a sliver of what is today a colossal industry. 

Away from slick, consumer-facing interfaces and seamless ‘click-to-door’ customer journeys, the two-day conference and expo served as an ample physical manifestation of the constant frenzy, debate, cooperation and analysis that goes on in the backend. 

Among the 150 exhibitors on the floor, we got a glimpse of the rapidly expanding and complex supply-chain— retailers, payment systems, shipping and logistics, CRM, analytics and more— that are combining to power the industry’s projected growth of more than US$1.4 trillion worldwide in the next two years, according to eMarketer. 

Facing pressure from customers

On the ground as an official media partner, TechHQ saw heard first-hand the pressing issues faced in online retail— one of the most notable being, the difficulty, and expense of implementing the technology needed to meet customers rapidly scaling demands. 

Speaking on a panel tackling the ways in which retailers are using customer data, Donna Storey, Global Digital & Marketing Director at Mothercare, said that customers now expect “free and easy” delivery and returns as a matter of course. 

Klarna offers flexible payment options for customers. Source: Reporter

Despite the maternity and childcare brand representing a leader in its space, Storey conceded that for established retailers with legacy systems, integrating systems that satisfy this demand is “not easy to implement”.

The statement presented firsthand evidence of recent findings from the REPL Group, which found that while 91 percent of retailers are aware that investing in retail tech is now crucial to ongoing success, a large chunk simply lacks the funds available to invest and develop it further.  

Former Revolution Beauty Ecommerce & Customer Direct, Nadine Neatrour, meanwhile, urged retailers and customers alike to “move away from a discounting culture”. Instead, people should “buy for value” of product and service, while retailers can learn from the likes of Amazon and Walmart in pricing “just right”. 

Marketing for value

Co-located with Ad: Tech London and Technology for Marketing, the Olympia played host to wider discussions about the power of brand perception, and the methods used to engage buyers from the first step.  

Poignant comments came from Unilever’s Data and Innovation Manager, Charlie Clinton, who warned that— bar a handful of global names who are “leading the way”— brands are not doing enough to improve their perception and provide any real value to customers.   

While we have been talking about it for the “last ten years”, he laughed, brands must do more to provide value to consumers, who are more concerned about their data use by the day; who are now using ad blockers or have simply become banner blind; and who are faced with a barrage of retargeting, pre-roll, et al, everyday. 

All this ‘noise’ is ultimately a waste of our advertising budgets if we’re not providing value to the customer at the same time, Clinton said. You can read our writeup here.

Conference tracks were at capacity throughout the day. Source: eCommerce Expo

Personalization’s potential

Customer data— specifically, how it’s used— is perhaps one of the most challenging topics in e-commerce and advertising today. On the one hand, it’s laying the foundations for value-adding, tailored experiences, such as personal stylists in fashion, or pre-packed grocery shopping carts and loyalty schemes.  

On the other, its use is frequently perceived as creepy, misleading or unnecessary, while data breaches occurring by the day demonstrate just how wholly inept organizations at large are at protecting it, and honoring pledges to privacy. 

In Technology for Marketing, Lisa Kalyuzhny, Senior Director, Advertising EMEA, Pubmatic, said e-commerce and advertising industries must do much more to educate consumers and “get rid of confusion” surrounding how data is used.   

“We need to take a step back as advertisers and move forward in the shoes of the consumer,” she said. “We need to understand it as a consumer and [reassure them] we’re not all Cambridge Analytica.”

Meanwhile, Google’s Director of EMEA Go-To-Market Partnerships added that the search giant is aware of the need to continue personalized advertising, but with “less personal data”. 

“There is new technology available now for this to be possible. We still want to provide a good ad experience, but without the need for personal information.”

Bringing the high street into a digital age

In the midst of a bustling two days eCommerce Expo 2019, TechHQ was lucky enough to grab a quiet sit down with Shimona Mehta, Head of EMEA at Shopify Plus, the worldwide e-commerce giant’s enterprise division.

On Shopify’s rapid rise to e-commerce ubiquity, Mehta told us how the Canadian multinational— which now serves 800,000 businesses- was born from then 26-year-old founder Tobias Lütke’s desire to build a platform to sell snowboards. 

“He started to look for any commerce platform found that there was nothing out there that was user-friendly, that was agile, that actually had great UI. He’s a programmer by trade, and so he decided I’m going to build my own.”

“He went through those early pains of fulfillment and shipping, figuring out payment gateways, and how to add products— all of the things that every entrepreneur goes through is when they’re trying to start a business.

“That really became the birth of his passion, which was ‘how do we make commerce better for everyone?’” 

More on our interview with Mehta to follow on TechHQ