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eCommerce Expo 2017 – 10 key learnings from the event

We attended major UK marketing technology trade show eCommerce Expo. Here’s what we learned.

On 26th and 27th September, London’s Olympia was transformed into a technologist’s bazaar as crowds of marketers descended on the conference hall, hungry to find out about the hottest topics, tools and tactics in marketing.

E-Commerce Expo

The Expo in action (co-located with Technology for Marketing)

Meanwhile, scores of tech vendors vied for their attention, pressing the flesh while brands and tech leaders took to keynote theatres across the Expo to share their leading thoughts. 

Disappointed you missed out? Worry not because we gleaned everything important. These are our findings:

1. GDPR looms large – but the outlook’s foggy

It’s clearly causing some panic. The incoming General Data Protection Regulation was the subject of several talks and many other talks overflowed into discussions about it. In talks where we were in attendance, there were frequently more marketers than available seats as everyone tried to get the jump on what might impact their marketing activities and the actions they might take to reduce risk.

There was some debate on whether GDPR will impact innovation. “It’ll be a challenge on the innovation side,” proposed Nicola Millard, Customer Experience Futurologist at BT. “It may damage consumer confidence to share their data. Is our willingness to experiment going to be held back? We don’t know”.

Henry Eccles from Google took the view that GDPR is just the latest storm that marketers will inevitably weather: “We’ve been here before with sea changes in technology and regulation, it should never stifle innovation.”

It’s going to be good for the consumer. “It will force companies to be ‘customer first’ – something we’ve been wanting to do for one hundred years,” argued Steve Lok, Head of Marketing & Technology for Global Digital Acquisition at The Economist. Jon Davies from Shazam took the same view, pointing out that “as a consumer it’s a good thing as it will better protect me”.

But the benefit to the consumer may not necessarily be at the expense of businesses, as outgoing Chief Customer Officer at Ladbrokes Coral, Kristof Fahy put it: “Respecting customer data should be at the heart of giving a customer a good experience”.

2. Customer Experience (CX) is the new big thing

Freshdesk t-shirts at e-commerce expo

Freshdesk’s t-shirts seemed to agree

Very much the talk of the show, ‘Customer Experience (CX)’ is the new buzzword in marketing. ‘CX’ very much feels like the evolution of the ‘personalisation’ conversation. “It’s about starting by walking in the shoes of of our customers”, explained Mark Harrison, Chief Customer Officer at Shell.

The core message at eCommerce Expo seemed to be that, to provide a seamless CX, you need to unify the data sitting behind it.  It marries up the more abstract ‘experience’ side of delivering value with the gritty ‘analytics’ side in one neat concept.

3. Winning marketers will unify their data sources

It’s telling that perhaps the most consistently-attended keynote arena was the Data Theatre. If ‘Customer Experience’ is the key thing to get behind, delivering that customer experience consistently depends on unifying your data sources. The thing is, as most marketers already know, that’s extremely difficult to achieve: “Giving customers a good experience is a really bloody hard job,” shared Kristof Fahy from Ladbrokes Coral, “We still have too many systems in too many places…”.

It’s a story already familiar to many marketers.

4. Top marketers are mapping the customer journey

Leaders are talking about the importance of truly understanding and maximising all customer touchpoints – and to do this properly, you’re going to need to start with a map.

That map needs to include every potential interaction your customer might make with your business. Making a map is how, for example, Kristof Fahy went about linking up Ladbrokes Coral’s 71 different customer touch points managed by 21 different teams.

It’s a similar approach that led Mark Harrison at Shell to bring all customer operations under one business. He explained that “making all the conversations happening with customers under one organisation” has driven the biggest impact. It’s only when you take the time to define the big picture – and make that picture work – that you can really start to build a customer experience that works.

By getting to grips with the big picture, marketers can stop obsessing over channel-specific conversion rates in siloed channels and start making a real difference to the overall customer experienceCheck out our guide about this to find out how you can start mapping your customer journey.

5. Everyone’s going nuts for ‘AI’ and ‘Machine Learning’

The other biggest buzz terms at eCommerce Expo? ‘AI’ and ‘Machine Learning’. For the uninitiated (or just plain confused), this is basically when, rather than telling your computer what to do with all that data you’ve gathered, it takes its own cues. Can it solve all of your problems today? That’s certainly a question we’ve considered.

Being real, at the Expo, we heard a lot of futurism instead of practical advice on how you, a marketer in 2017, can do something meaningful with it right away. For the most part, practical application is for grunt work only; it’s less Westworld, more Lazy Susan – at least for now.

6. Plants are popular

So many stalls have plants. Plants everywhere.

Plant at Ecommerce Expo

A plant in action

6. It’s not clear if you should hate or love Amazon.

We were getting mixed messages about how retailers should approach Amazon. Is Amazon your friend? (“What a great way for small businesses to get their products to more customers!”). Or is Amazon the Four Horsemen of the eComm-pocalypse (“We can’t beat its margins, we can’t match their lightning fast delivery, we can’t compete with their customer experience”)? Right now, it just depends who you ask.

8. Marketers want an honest conversation with tech vendors

It’s no surprise to hear marketers are a little peeved with tech companies that over-promise and under-deliver. Because it’s a waste of everyone’s time and money. In a nice bit of directness to tech providers, Mark Harrison at Shell set out his plea:

“Firstly, stop promising me the world; let’s have a honest conversation about what [your] technology’ does and doesn’t do. Secondly, make sure your tech talks to each other. I’ve invested millions into legacy tech. I can’t just walk away from that. And finally, deliver automation. Whether it’s through data or customer process. The more tech we can use to automate or blend roles to increase efficiency, the better.”

This is common sense, but it’s good to hear from a leading marketer that brands want to partner with the tech vendors that provide smart and simple propositions which they can deliver on, slot into their existing marketing stacks and unchain their teams from menial tasks to focus on what makes better use of their time and resource.

9. Tools won’t solve your problems alone: you need expertise

Machines aren’t yet intelligent enough to supplant marketers – and in 2017, no measure of wishful thinking about machine learning or AI will replace human expertise. The same applies to systems such as CRMs as Kristof Fahy from Ladbroke Coral explained, “If you buy the tool before you put the rules in, you have a lovely box and nothing happens”. You’re only going to get results if you have clearly defined objectives, your data sources in order and expertise to use technology correctly.

10. Tote bags are the best stash

We loved Bronto’s inflatable brontosauruses and Klarna’s sunglasses, but I was especially pleased with my TrustPilot tote bag. It’s a fun play on their product and by wearing the bag, you can feel like you’ve been given a 5-star customer rating and, moreover, if you want to turn Expo goers into billboards for your brand, you really can’t go wrong by offering up a free and humble tote.

After an epic two day-er to rival any major UK festival, Yieldify’s marketing team left elated and informed. If you have anything you’d like to share with us about this year’s eCommerce Expo, reach out on Twitter. Looking to build customer journeys that convert? We can help. Get in touch below.