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E-commerce top trends at Internet Retailer 2014

SNEWS tech reporter Yoon Kim traveled to Internet Retailer 2014 to gather the top trends in e-commerce and explain the relevance to our industries.

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Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition (IRCE), held in Chicago once a year, is the world’s largest e-commerce event dedicated to everything online retail.

Representing 5.8 percent of all retail sales in 2013, e-commerce sales grew 16.9 percent for the year to reach 263 billion, and are expected to account for 6.4 percent of sales by the end of 2014.

Given that online sales continue to eat more of the overall retail pie, SNEWS tech reporter Yoon Kim traveled to Chicago to figure out the latest trends for e-commerce. Furthermore, with Emerald Exposition’s acquisition of George Little Management, this year’s show gathered interest from some in the Outdoor Retailer and Health & Fitness Business Expo world.


Tablet first
While mobile commerce is still a minority of overall e-commerce, it is quickly catching up to laptop/desktop online sales. In 2013, m-commerce sales spiked 70 percent year-over-year to reach $42 billion, and is projected to increase to $58 billion by year’s end. Nearly two thirds of that currently comes from tablets. This trend will only continue as the so-called Plurals (aka Generation Z) skip personal computers altogether.

“I bought my daughter a brand new MacBook Air for college, and she didn’t want it because it was too big,” said Jacob Hawkins, vice president of e-commerce of teen fashion brand Aéropostale.

To get a sense of how mobile is affecting your business, try this exercise. Go to your Google Analytics, click on “Audience” then click “Mobile,” then click “Overview.” Once here, on the right side, you’ll see five views. Click on the second one, which is the Percentage (or pie chart) view. You’ll now see how much mobile traffic you get.

Now compare that to last year’s traffic. Go to the dates in the top right corner and click the “Compare to Previous Year” button. With the results in hand, consider whether your next website redesign should first be formatted for tablet, mobile or desktop.

The rise of video commerce
Video has always been an important part of the brand’s storytelling portfolio, but never before has it seen the prominence in e-commerce as it has today. IRCE 2014 dedicated an entire seminar track and a keynote address specifically to video commerce.

According to the seminar Harnessing Video to Boost SEO, product pages with videos convert 25 percent higher than those without. More importantly, search engines reward pages that contain video driving loads of new traffic. More traffic plus higher conversion rate means more revenue.

Because video has had such a big impact on product pages, marketplaces and retailers have recently pushed brands to supply product videos to their pages through programs like Amazon’s A+ Detail Page or Zappos’s in-house video production program.

IT meets marketing
Today’s marketing tasks require technical expertise, whether it’s front-end coding, HTML email design or web data analysis. Oftentimes, the easiest place to find technical talent is within IT departments.

According to Tony Orelli, managing director of Elite SEM, this can create resource conflicts where development queues can be months long. However, for companies like Guitar Center, it can lead to complete reorganizations where back office IT and marketing are one in the same.

“The skillset that the IT folks have is now being demanded from the consumer facing marketing [team],” said Victoria Wisot, vice president of multichannel commerce at Guitar Center. One of the challenges for outdoor companies will be finding Silicon Valley-type technical talent that is passionate about the outdoors.

Demographic data, channel acquisition data (social versus email versus search) and even physical location allow marketers to cater different messages to different customers in different platforms. This can mean sending personalized emails based on triggers like birthdays or showing entirely different website content to customers with a certain IP, known as Macrolocation.

Say you sell SUPs but for shipping reasons, you can only sell them in certain parts of the country. With macrolocation, you can now show different products to people with IP addresses of a certain area.

Some companies have even tried different, so-called “dynamic pricing” based on location and user info, as this Wall Street Journal investigation discovered, but the practice could run into consumer backlash an/or discrimination claims.

Pay to play product searches
Consumers searching for gear online might not always find your product anymore, even if it’s the lowest price.

Pay-to-play product search results are today’s norm, including with search king Google and Amazon, who are now competing over the best price for inclusion in the search results.

“Google is now the first point of contact when someone searches for a product. It used to be Amazon,” said Bryan Natter of S&O, a company that manages product ad listings.

The importance of great content
About 10 percent of the seminars at IRCE 2014 were directly related to content generation. If there was one reverberating theme, it was the emphasis on quality. Google demands it, your customers want it and, chances are, you probably want it for your company.

“To generate enough content for your multiple channels is not easy,” said Stacy Reece, CEO of Swell, the largest online-only surf and skate retailer. Whether this is photo, video, SEO (blog), social or user generated, creating enough high-quality content to feed multiple channels can be an overwhelming task.

Stacy Reece, CEO of online surf and skate retailer Swell, speaks at Internet Retailer 2014.
High-quality content is important to e-commerce sales said Stacy Reece, CEO of online surf and skate retailer Swell, at Internet Retailer 2014.

One of the creative ways Swell generates content is through a college ambassador program where ambassadors are paid like employees and are expected to meet specific content goals. Other companies like Chubbies, a brand of short shorts for men, talked about their user-generated content strategy of asking fans to submit funny photos of their shorts.

The world of e-commerce can be intimidating for newcomers so it was reassuring to see outdoor companies like Mountain Equipment Co-op, Avantlink and Yeti Coolers, speaking, exhibiting and walking the show. There’s no exception. Outdoor and fitness brands will have to continue to innovate and embrace changes in web technology to stay relevant with a new generation of consumers.

–Yoon Kim