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Musings from Shop.org strategy conference…

I spent a little bit of time checking in with the attendees of the Shop.org strategy conference, just completed in Orlando, to gather some general thoughts and impressions to form an up-to-the-minute state of eCommerce.   Also, I’m adding a new format today – I asked my good friend Peter Cobb of ebags.com to add on his thoughts from the show to provide a view of the show through the eyes of a leading etailer.  So first, a few of my takes:

  • Attendance was visibly down from last year.  Clearly, tighter travel budgets and priorities back at the office kept more people than usual at home.
  • The feel was by no means ‘ominous’ – but several attendees did notice a significant change in the mood from the September show.  People are a bit more guarded without visibility to what 2009 will hold for their businesses. However, optimism runs high for the industry being stronger than ever when the economic funk clears.  Some would even say we are in a necessary adjustment period where the consumer needs to get back in control – finding a silver lining in the macro-economic clouds.
  • Everyone I spoke with feels eCommerce remains highly strategic to their overall company mission, and they are seeing published and verbal support from top executives to keep making eCommerce a key priority.  It was also noted that there is increased pressure to perform as a result.  While there is a general industry perception that budgets will be tighter this year, I also heard cases where budgets have not been touched to ensure a strong eCommerce agenda.
  • We all have heard the ‘talking heads’ on television discuss a second-half recovery – and joked a bit about how around this time, last year, they were talking about a second half (‘08) recovery.  In general, the consistent view was all of ‘09 will remain a challenge, and best case is to start to see some improvement next year.
  • Vendors are still getting business done – but the decision cycles have stretched out.
  • The general take was that the show content was excellent – diverse and topical – props to Larry J.  I received a particularly rave review from a ‘tough grader’ who felt the presentation by Bob Thacker of Office Max was one of the best ever… and was on the edge of commanding a standing ovation.   A strong reminder to keep on with the business of doing business.  If interested in more on Bob’s presentation, read Ellen Davis’ synopsis.

Now, Peter Cobb weighs in….

  • A frequent comment from attendees and a bit of a “silver lining” to the current economic challenges is the feeling that there will be a contraction of eCommerce players. Those who have solid business models and who have taken steps to be on sound financial footing will have less competition and will gain market share “once the skies clear” and online retail returns to a period of stronger growth.
  • Several attendees commented that they are “getting back to basics” and solidifying those areas that they might have recently overlooked. Optimizing areas like home page abandonment, shopping cart performance, and emails are areas that will get more attention in the coming months as online retailers strive to increase conversions.
  • Some good discussion about how to monetize the 97% of the traffic that does not purchase.
  • Several multi-channel retailers mentioned that the online retail division is getting more attention (and more capital) vis-à-vis their brick and mortar counterparts. In a few cases, members of the online team were recently given promotions in recognition of their ability to drive the business to success.
  • Shop.org attendees seemed more willing to share what worked as well as failures; and several presenters commented that if you don’t have a few failures, you are not stretching enough.
  • Twitter tweats were flying both days.

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So, summarizing what both Peter and I observed and heard – those who made the trip were happy that they made the investment of their time and money. This was a good example of the benefit of not “hibernating” in a tough market; but instead, continuing to forge ahead with confidence to run “business as usual as much as possible” with the mid- to long- term opportunity in eCommerce in mind.

If you were at the show, please comment on your experience.

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Comments

Doug,
As an attendee, I agree with everything you said and most of Peter’s comments and I certainly give the conference highest marks on content. It was one of the best I’ve been to lately. One caution however RE the online division getting more attention. There were several instances of major multichannel retailers who are not advancing the positions or investment in eCommerce. Take note of some recent changes in successful senior eCommerce positions and infrastructure (one as late as this week). It is important that we continue to educate and inform the “C” level especially in large Brick and Mortar operators to make sure they fully understand the benefits of further investing in eCommerce as they tighten their belts.

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