2018 NRF Big Show Recap: Obsessing About the Customer Experience

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The 2018 NRF Big Show featured one overriding theme amongst all the talk of transformation, efficiencies, data, and metrics; an intent focus on providing the kind of impactful customer moments that can endear a brand to an individual.

Regardless of whether a conversation was being driven by an executive, a technologist, a logistics expert, or service leader, it always came down to consistently delivering meaningful customer experiences in an ever-evolving environment.

McFadyen Digital NRF Big Show 2018

McFadyen Digital’s booth was busy at the 2018 NRF Big Show

The new capabilities introduced by technology and data provides more ways to engage with a customer. This NRF show has become a reliable yearly indicator of what’s-to-come in retail technology and strategies, and the 2018 version did not disappoint. From futuristic in-store displays, what’s next in ecommerce, leveraging data for deep personalization, and industry leaders telling stories about relevance and effective customer engagement, the Big Show delivered a full slate of what’s working now, what’s coming next, and what trends to keep an eye on.

Our experience at this year’s Big Show was excellent. Exhibiting alongside retail technology heavyweights such as Oracle, Salesforce, Microsoft, and Toshiba was a great experience, as the Expo floor was brimming with activity, including a lot of intelligent conversations about retail and ecommerce.

In the spirit of those conversations and the ever-evolving retail landscape, these are the top five ecommerce and customer engagement topics and trends we saw being discussed and presented at the 2018 NRF Big Show, and some action items you can use to get started:

1) Personalization Drives Omni-Channel Retail Engagement

As Terry Lundgren, Macy’s and NRF Big Show Chairman, discussed, channel distinction is a thing of the past. Content needs to be seamlessly delivered across numerous digital and in-store channels and that content needs to leverage the data we collect to provide an increasingly personalized experience to the customer. The more we can learn what a customer expects, cares about, and strives for, the more we can deliver on-time content that enriches their experience.

Why Should I Care? A recent Accenture study found that 75% of consumers reported they are more likely to buy from a retailer that greets them by name, recommends relevant options based on prior purchases and learned behavior, or knows and makes use of their purchase history.

Action Items: Personalization depends on your understanding of the customer. A combination of strategic planning and data analysis is a good place to start. Buyer journey mapping and persona development helps marketers determine what content to deliver and when, but be sure to prioritize the availability of the data necessary to offer such personalization.

2) Marketplaces are Dominating Ecommerce Retail

One of the magic elixirs for retail sales have been 3rd party marketplaces. At NRF 2018, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon credited the Walmart Marketplace and Jet.com with much of the company’s ecommerce retail growth in the past few years. Walmart has executed both a build and buy strategy when it comes to enabling 3rd party sellers to offer items alongside their own core items. They purchased Jet.com, built their own custom marketplace in the United States, and went with the Mirakl marketplace platform in Mexico.

Why Should I Care? The Ecommerce Foundation projects that that global marketplaces will own up to 39% of the online retail market in 2020.

Action Items: Evaluate your organization’s competitive space. Are any competitors offering 3rd party items alongside their own? If so, it’s time to catch-up, if not, you have an opportunity to lead. Engage with a partner familiar with building and launching marketplaces, and consider investing in an established platform such as Mirakl to maximize your chances of success.

3) Amazon is a Clear and Present Danger

If we had a dime for every time someone mentioned “competing with Amazon”, “catching up with Amazon”, or “providing an Amazon-like experience”, we’d be able to pay for next year’s Big Show sponsorship entirely in dimes. Amazon was clearly top of mind as they expand into and disrupt an increasing amount of retail categories, with grocery being the latest via the Whole Foods acquisition. In-line with the prior point about 3rd-party marketplaces, over half of Amazon’s revenue comes from their own marketplace. The Amazon Marketplace has been their silver bullet, providing customers with more products to browse, using the 3rd party offerings to learn more about what the customers want, and ultimately selling more per transaction, all without the risk of carrying additional inventory.

Why Should I Care? According to eMarketer, Amazon is estimated to have gained a 44% share of US-based ecommerce sales, up from 38% in 2016.

Action Items: Assess the potential threats from Amazon and other large players in your space. Disruption comes in many forms, but the Amazon’s and Wal-Mart’s of the world have turned to our last topic, marketplaces, to broaden their offerings and mitigate the risk of category expansion. The strength and predictable revenue growth of these marketplaces often allow these companies to try new things and quicken the pace of innovation. In addition to consistently improving your customer communication, logistics, and service operations, consider a curated 3rd party marketplace to add more revenue growth stability to your operation.

4) Companies Don’t Always Do Their Digital Engagement Homework

While some top companies were espousing the progress made in delivering personalized omnichannel experiences, the show floor was rife with frustrated stories about how digital marketing platforms were not providing the value that organizations had anticipated. In each of these stories of MarTech exasperation, there lies a common theme; when asked about foundational details such as audience identification, buyer journey mapping, and persona development, the clear majority of those with issues had either not done these exercises at all or had – in the words of a Digital Director from a top fashion brand – had “not taken that part of it seriously enough.” The “part of it” that she was discussing is the foundation for successful content and on-time message delivery, so it’s no surprise that companies who gloss over these steps struggle to gain value from their investments.

Why Should I Care? Aberdeen Group’s research found that the investment into mapping your customer’s journey leads to a 54% greater return on marketing investment, 56% percent more up and cross-sell revenue, and makes your organization 3.5x more likely to realize revenue from customer referrals.

Action Items: When investing into digital engagement platforms, whether it be Responsys, Eloqua, Listrak, Dotmailer, or even MailChimp, you will never maximize the value of that platform without a clear understanding of your customer, their journey, and what types of engagement will serve them best throughout that journey. It is vital to identify and understand the audiences with which you want to engage. From segmented audiences, to personas within those audiences, to understanding the stages of their buying, onboarding, re-purchasing, and brand loyalty journeys, we need to put in the work to deliver the right personalized message to the right individual at the right time. So…do your homework, identify your goals, track the results, and iterate accordingly.

5) Retail is Ready for Commerce in the Cloud

Digital transformation is often accelerated when implementing cloud-based technologies that generally provide well documented APIs, a stable environment, and upgrades that happen without costly custom development and testing cycles. From a strategic, technological, and financial TCO standpoint, cloud technologies are often far superior to their legacy on-premises relatives. True Enterprise ecommerce capabilities have remained somewhat out of reach as a cloud offering, but with the rapid maturation of commercial cloud-based commerce platforms, that is rapidly changing. Cloud-based offerings such as Oracle Commerce Cloud for core B2C and B2B ecommerce, and Mirakl for marketplaces, are proving that there are now ecommerce cloud platforms capable of handling the volume and security requirements of large retailers.

Why Should I Care? Forrester Research revealed in their “Understanding TCO When Evaluating Commerce Platforms” report that 74% of ecommerce leaders planning to re-platform do not believe their current platform can scale to meet the needs of their business.

Action Items: Research cloud offerings, engage partners, engage the vendors, and create a cloud migration strategy appropriate for your business goals. Oracle Commerce Cloud is the obvious enterprise choice, being architected specially for the cloud, but still based on Oracle Commerce (ATG) and Endeca, the backbone for some of the most successful digital commerce properties in existence. Such a platform is easy to integrate with other technologies such as Mirakl for marketplaces, BlueKai for anonymous audience personalization, Responsys and Oracle Social Cloud for digital engagement, and whatever other back-end systems you have in place.

With the 2018 NRF Big Show now in the rearview, we’re curious to know what topics you were most excited about at NRF. Do you agree with our list or have some topics of your own? Please let us know at info@mcfadyen.com or via Twitter (@McFadyenDigital).

We help top brands such as Neiman Marcus, Louis Vuitton, Nordstrom, and more with Oracle-based ecommerce, Mirakl marketplaces, digital marketing engagement and technology, and UI/UX design and implementation services. Please reach out if we help you meet your commerce and marketing objectives.

 

AUTHOR
Thomas Gaydos
CMO & Digital Marketing Practice Lead
McFadyen Digital
@ThomasGaydos

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