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Unified Views: CommerceNext 2019

At CommerceNext 2019, a packed two-day conference held in New York this week for retail and eCommerce marketers, perhaps the most significant part of the conference’s name to reflect on was the year – 2019. In 2019, retail and eCommerce are speaking the same language and driving toward the same goals.

Despite their divergent brick-and-mortar and digital-native origins, each breed sounds like a convincing deepfake version of their opposite. Some DTCs have matured and begun springing up in permanent physical locations beyond the occasional popup store at SXSW or in balmy NYC. Conversely, under massive pressure to feed their hefty bottom line, brick-and-mortar chains who survived earlier eCommerce bombardments either borrow from the winning digital playbooks of authentic direct-to-consumers, or buy them up.

Walmart’s head of fashion group Denise Incandela, whose company has acquired online retailers like Bare Necessities, and also drew up a partnership with higher-end retailer Lord & Taylor last year, told the audience: “We want our brand’s DNA to sing online.”

The reality in 2019 is that all brands are competing against each other on the same digital playing field, regardless of how level this field actually is with tech giants like Amazon and Google bearing down on it. When a rising brand reaches a certain level of success, it could likely get acquired by one of the happy behemoths.

On bringing Ralph Lauren and other Saks Fifth Avenue brands (via the Lord & Taylor partnership) to Walmart shoppers, Incandela announced, “It’s so invigorating to be part of such a big behemoth company and taking on digital in an assertive way, turning a brick-and-mortar into a tech company. According to Incandela, Walmart is “playing offense,” actively considering more brands to add to their assortment, online and in-store.

Incandela explained that traditionally, in-store inventory at Walmart has focused on value. “Historically, Walmart lifted and shifted its in-store experience online,” she stated. But because there are no real estate concerns in digital, this allows the retailer to offer “more than just value, and include a broad range of price points.”

She added, “Fashion is a clear part of the strategy, where the margins are very healthy…and we can establish ourselves as a destination for fashion.” As part of their aggressive strategy, they established the EV1 line with Ellen DeGeneres, in addition to low-cost Sophia Jeans by actress Sophia Vergara.

Whether the CommerceNext attendees were agencies, vendors, brands or consultants in this ecosystem, all are in search of the best attribution, opening up a seam to acquisition on behalf of retailers. The right data strategies inform the proper channels and messages for brands to begin their relationship, through that crucial first touchpoint, and then to extend that relationship with customers. Customer lifetime value (LTV, though rarely abbreviated when spoken emphatically from the stage), the money on the table, can either be pounced on or left for the next retailer to snatch up. Mobile payment methods are now a game-changing ally on the final lap, making purchases, even by older pre-millennial consumers of analog days, frictionless.

Scott Gifis, President of eCommerce growth platform AdRoll, told me at the end of the busy first day, “We’re now in a digital-first world where people are online all the time.” He added, “a fragmented customer experience demands that marketers think not just about a single channel, but about the entire mix.” In doing so, AdRoll aims at “helping our [clients] gain a single view of the customer, making the experience personalized so they can turn into ambassadors for the brand.”

Whether a given brand uses the universal AdRoll ID, or a CDP like the one offered by another attendee, Amperity, the data needs to be unified so that all points along the customer’s journey are understood as a single path matched with an appropriate, relevant communication – in the form of a personalized email, or an adequately customized landing page or ad). Laura Jones Joukovski, CMO of TechStyle Fashion Group, recommended “having a stable of highly fungible iterations and testing” for sticky content.

Bob Meixner, director of product strategy – commerce & loyalty for Oracle unveiled a new report on digital investment by leading retailers and DTCs. Overall, budgets are on the rise in digital strategies, and CDPs and personalization were top investments from the businesses surveyed. But 24 percent had no investment in personalization.

Also, looking at the numbers, Meixner found visual search, voice-enabled search and augmented or virtual reality as under-invested by marketing departments. Forty-nine to 63 percent of businesses had no investment in these channels, making them “key areas to leverage in customer experience,” he stated. “High levels of investment here make a lot of sense,” he added.

What would leveraging one of these under-invested channels look like?

In between presentations, I was given a tour of 3D-modeled augmented reality from Dalia Lasaite, CEO of CGTrader. Based in Lithuania, this vendor provides 3D imaging from their network of two million designers for U.S. retailers like Macy’s.

Tablet screens positioned in-store help digitize the brick-and-mortar experience, creating an “endless aisle” on screen for all the product variations that don’t fit in the limited shop space. Lasaite also called my attention to Google’s searchable 3D animals for augmented reality. Imagine if you were the first search result in a 3D search for boots or patio furniture.

A practical selling point right now for eCommerce is the ability for customers to us AR to view a larger product from all angles, in any available style, and be able to purchase with the confidence that they’d be less likely to return it later, which cuts into the seller’s profits if they promise free shipping.

“There’s a lot of interest in AR,” Lasaite said. “And for many, it’s not a question of if I need it, but how can I do it.”

In 2019, the can-do attitude is the bare minimum. If you’re not doing it, someone else is. And customers won’t even notice, because they’ve already been carried off on your competitor’s personalized journey.

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