3 Key Themes from eTail West: Retailers’ Top Priorities for 2016

The Mobify team joined thousands of retail experts in Palm Springs last week for WBR’s eTail West conference. We were excited to escape the rain of the Pacific Northwest, soak in some sun, and learn what challenges retailers are looking to solve in 2016.

The week was jam-packed with presentations, panel discussions and networking events with an array of different retailers – and there were three key retail themes woven throughout all those discussions.

1. The Rise of Apps

It’s no surprise that mobile commerce was a big topic at this year’s eTail conference, but the interest shifted from mobile web optimization to the value of a retail app. PWC labelled the app the “Trojan Horse of commerce,” a comment that resonated with other keynote presenters from Beyond the Rack and 1-800-Flowers.

This is a bold statement considering that retailers are often hesitant to invest in an app due to the challenges associated, like increasing app downloads and ensuring that it’s “sticky” enough to stay on a home screen.

So why apps?

  • Payments: Several retailers confirmed last week that their app converts better than mobile web and desktop. This is largely due to the payment functionality in an app. 1-800-Flowers explained that people are getting used to paying in an app and they now seek out this functionality – 50% of their app transactions are now done with Apple Pay. QVC is also seeing success with app payments as first-time customers are completing their first transaction in the QVC app.
  • Gaining Customer Insights: An app gives the retailer the ability to track their shopper’s journey and collect data. Brendan Witcher from Forrester explained that the Starbucks app is not for payments, it is a customer data capturing machine. Fanatics is building apps for a similar purpose. They are building a SDK that can be used by their customers and partners to create apps that can pull customer data – this data would then be used to drive innovation in areas like personalization.
  • Loyalty: By using the app to roll out loyalty programs, retailers are able to ditch the old plastic rewards card and personalize the experience based on the shopper’s purchasing habits within the app.
  • Testing New Features: Apps have become a test lab for features. RueLaLa pilots new features through their app, and if those features resonate with app users, they then roll them out through their other channels. 

2. Meaningful (and accurate) Personalization

Personalization done right isn’t personalization from the customer’s perspective, it’s just a great experience. Almost every panel spoke to personalizing the customer journey. Despite the popularity of the new buzzword, an IBM study showed that 21% of shoppers are still not being marketed to based on their likes and preferences.

Brenden Witcher explained in his keynote that where we often go wrong is when customers are segmented based on a single point of data – he called this “minority matching.” If you don’t have enough information to personalize the journey, then don’t.

How can you create a great experience?

  • Understand why your customers are shopping with you to get a holistic picture of the shopping journey. The North Face tries to determine why their customers are shopping with them and then shape the experience around that – for example, if they had a shopper browsing for an upcoming climbing trip at Mt Kilimanjaro, they would change the experience to help them purchase items for their trip.
  • Determine what moments are relevant to your customers. Kohl’s uses customer moments to inform their content, for example, a wedding or baby registry would trigger content relevant to that type of celebration.
  • Consider how each each device is unique to the customer journey, and deliver a great experience specific to each one. Since a customer will engage with your brand across multiple channels, ensure that the personalization is consistent cross-device.
  • Leverage underutilized first party data like product views, site searches, add to carts, and purchases. You can also design digital touch points that will capture customer movements, like an app.

3. The Attribution Challenge: Digital to In-Store

As the shopper’s journey becomes more complex, retailers are faced with the issue of siloed data. Target spoke to how closing the loop between digital and in-store influence is a huge challenge for retailers.

The general feeling seems to be that if you can’t measure it, then it’s not important. 80% of today’s data is unstructured and largely invisible to data systems, so brands are actually only benefiting from 20% of the data that’s out there.

Solving the attribution issue, and connecting the siloed data, is becoming more important because:

  • It’s difficult to get internal and executive support to invest in projects unless there is the data to support the cost.
  • Customers are often segmented incorrectly because their movements cannot be tracked cross-device.

The holy grail has yet to be discovered, but a few different approaches were discussed. Kohl’s uses fractional attribution to attribute portions of sales to different channels, while 1-800-Flowers has taken a data-informed vs. data-driven approach. Rather than allowing customer data to define the customer journey, they are using this data to start hypothesizing why their customers are shopping with them and then layering that data with third party data.

The three key themes at eTail West all related to mobile, so it was fitting that the week kicked off with an entire day devoted just that, the Mobile Summit. If you weren’t able to attend, download our recap of the Mobile Summit keynote address to find out what you missed.

Find out what I missed!

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