Akamai Diversity

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Confronting the Challenges & Opportunities of YouCommerce

At eTail last week, one dominant theme continued to challenge retailers and vendors alike: how to create rich, engaging and consistent experiences across all customer touchpoints.  And how to ensure those experiences flip the focus to the customer, versus products, brands or channels.

We are truly in the era of YouCommerce and the new shopping experience must be where the shopper is, and with the full context of what they've told us. The YouCommerce customer engagement model has four fundamental tenets: Personalized, Localized, Authentic and Holistic.

Personalization was the talk of the conference, with enthusiasm for Pinterest not only because of its incredible growth - hitting 10 million uniques faster than any site in history - but the introduction of a new interface for curated, personalized content.

The rise of Big Data is also driving personalization.  Panelist Gareth Gatson, SVP of Global eCommerce at Wyndham, noted that the Big Data challenge was not how to get data, but how to best use it.  And Ajay Agarwal from Bain Capital suggested that in five years, CMOs will spend more on technology than CIOs as they look to capitalize on the data opportunities to personalize and advertise in new ways.

Smartphones. Tablets. Sofas and shopping aisles. Mobile devices offer the single greatest opportunity to capture shoppers at their moment of impulse. It's also the single biggest threat to bricks and mortar retailers since the online channel emerged. The irony is the threat is paralyzing some retailers from capturing the low hanging fruit offered by mobile. Dana Settle of Greycroft Partners remarked that less than one third of retailers offers a tablet-optimized websites. Tablet shoppers go online more often, convert at higher rates, and spend more than any other device segment.

And the experience on these mobile devices is still lackluster at best. Tom Leighton, Akamai's Co-founder and Chief Scientist, remarked in his keynote that we've gone backwards - with the top 30 mobile sites as slow as the top 30 desktop sites back in 2001, despite 71% of users expecting a site to perform as fast or faster than that desktop site today.

Social networks have changed the way we connect and interact on the Internet, demanding new levels of authenticity and personal connection.  Perhaps the most inspiring talk of the show was David Bridal's CEO Brian Beitler's keynote on Growing Successfully in Difficult Times.  His mantra: "Be informed by data, but make decisions based on personal experiences."  Beitler launched a design contest with Seventeen magazine for teenagers to design their own prom dress after his own daughter's frustrated prom dress shopping experience.  Their online prom dress business is up 160 percent as a result.  They also tapped into their most valuable resource - the stories of the brides themselves - to create authentic, emotional connections between their brand and the community of brides old and new.

Zach Nelson, President and CEO of NetSuite, made it clear that no channel should be without access to customer data, and that a single customer record is the foundation for the "full multi" [multichannel commerce]. He once walked into a home improvement store to inquire about a custom order only to learn there was no in-store access to the inventory system managing those orders. Embracing the cloud removes the systems and connectivity barriers to a single customer order, and ensures that every customer touchpoint offers the same consistent experience.

Real-time, personal connections across all channels and devices are only possible because of the Internet.  As retailers seek to break down their channel barriers to create this holistic customer experience, the Internet has become the platform of necessity.  

If you didn't get a chance to make it in person, you can request video copies of the presentations from etail directly.

With so many sessions running concurrently, there is so much I missed that I'd love to learn more about.  What did you take away from eTail? 

Lelah Manz is Akamai's Chief Strategist for Commerce