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My Week At ETail West 2023

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“Help My Shoppers Discover Products Faster” and “Make My Job Easier!”

I’ve been marketing and selling technology solutions my entire career, so it isn’t unusual that when you ask prospective customers what they want it is a “time is money” type answer. I did hear that from a few folks. But, really what I heard is a general concern the merchant has for the process of product discovery. Yes, it is a self-serving concern, but it is a legitimate concern nonetheless.

The nuance here is that different merchants require different types of discovery. Some sites rely on on-site search almost 100 percent to help shoppers discover their next purchase. Some sites actively ignore search altogether and instead rely on merchandising and personalization techniques. Both ways are legitimate. They both require a technology partner (in most cases), and both ways require mastery of site data.

Here is where making a merchant’s job easier is of paramount importance. Technology solutions need to enable insight, not just be another tech layer on someone’s already tall tech stack. The insight needs to be actionable, too. A merchant needs to look at a report and know exactly the next step. Through insight, a merchant can make the two goals above happen – better shopper discovery and an easier job.

Segmentation is (Still) the Most Important Building Block

In fact, segmentation is so important, the entire first general session was dedicated to it. Angela Hsu the CMO of Overstock.com did an excellent presentation that focused on how Overstock shifted its business from a broad sales strategy to a sharp focus on housewares.

It really all boils down to a segmentation analysis where they realized what they sold most, the profit margin on those items, and the sell-through of those items. Housewares was far and away their best category. And, just to make sure you don’t accuse me of oversimplifying, once they realized that, a whole truckload of work went into shifting the brand and communicating the message. But, the shift all started with the relatively simple notion of a segmentation analysis.

Zero Results, Top Results, and Creating Synonyms are (Still) Key

When I asked about key reports merchants use to understand the shopper experience on their site, all of them said these two site-search reports: zero results (searches that return no items), and top results (reports illustrating the top searched terms and related items). What do they use these for? Overwhelmingly, merchants all create synonyms for zero results and top searches.

A close second was, “Can you help me create the synonyms?” My answer is, “Get a thesaurus.” Just kidding. My answer was, “That’s why we have a customer success team. They can help with your strategy in a variety of ways. Synonym insight is one of those ways.”

If the ROI of eTail Was Measured in Fun, the Number Would be 1000X!

WBR, the company that owns eTail does an excellent job of hiring meeting managers to plan a packed agenda with rich content, great personalities, and fun events. Held at the JW Marriott in Palm Desert, CA, the relatively remote location lends itself to togetherness and connection. But, something else was happening this year. Attendance was up over last year, which was great, and the people who attended wanted to connect. They wanted to learn from each other, learn about new solutions, and share their experiences over the past several years. It was both cathartic and educational. Lots of laughs. If you didn’t attend, give it a shot in the future. It’s worth the time.

The Ecommerce Ecosystem is Alive and Well

Basically, I spent a week talking – to clients, prospects, existing partners, prospective partners, and complete strangers. What I really take away is the the ecommerce ecosystem is healthy and loaded with opportunity. Technology vendors and agency partners make up an important part of a merchant’s success. While they are not the business owner or the creator of the vision, they can be a pathway to greater success.

I was talking to an agency partner of ours one evening at the legendary eTail/JW Marriott bar and we got on the subject of supporting our merchant clients. Both he and I buy from our clients as much as possible, not only to support them financially, but to learn more about the shopper experience and see where we might be able to have a larger impact. This might not be a novel practice, but it does lead to amazing insights during our engagement.

My notebook is full of one-liner notes such as, “Influencers = Ambassadors -> rethink this!” and “How can we better help our fashion clients understand their shopper better?” I’ve only been home for a day (at this writing) and both of these ideas have made it to my team. I can only hope that your notebook (or brain) is as full of ideas too, and that you are bringing those ideas to life!

See you next year at eTail West 2024!

I was so busy learning and networking at eTail West, I only took one picture! Here is Account Executive, Casey Marksberry in the Searchspring Booth.

Special thanks to our friends at Searchspring for their insights on this topic.
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