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eRetailer Summit: Strive For ‘Remarkable’ Retail Experience

With retailing’s middle ground becoming more vulnerable between price-driven and luxury sectors, the stakes are higher for retailers to become more “remarkable,” said Steven Dennis, founder and president of retail strategist SageBerry Consulting. Dennis, in his keynote to open the third annual Home Improvement eRetailer Summit in Chicago, said the urgency of a remarkable makeover is underscored by the immediate challenge faced by many middle-market retailers— physical, digital or omnichannel.

“The trouble is in the undifferentiated, or what I call the boring, middle,” Dennis said, stressing that trying to “out-Amazon Amazon” is not the answer. “For most, the right choice is trying to be more remarkable.”

Dennis identified eight essentials of “remarkable retail” in today’s e-commerce age:

  • Digital Enabled: “The digital influence on physical stores is growing dramatically,” Dennis said, citing Deloitte research that 56% of 2016 retail sales were influenced by a digital channel; 36% by a mobile device.
  • Human Centered: “It’s not just customer-centric,” Dennis advised. “It’s about an emotional connection people need.” He cited a recent study revealing 75% of consumers want more human interaction.
  • Harmonized: Dennis’ take on omnichannel: “The customer is the channel,” he said. “Silos belong on farms.”
  • Mobile: “Mobile is becoming retail’s front door,” Dennis said. He said most retailers are adept at transactional “I want to buy” moments using mobile commerce but less so at “I want to know,” “I want to do” and “I want to go” moments.
  • Personal: “No customer wants to be average,” Dennis said.
  • Connected: In a collaborative economy, peer-to-peer influence is growing, Dennis said.
  • Memorable: Consumers are “drowning in a sea of sameness,” Dennis said.
  • Radical: Embrace a “culture of experimentation,” Dennis said. “Test and learn.”

The third Home Improvement eRetailer Summit connected home improvement vendors, distributors, e-tailers, logistics and digital service providers under a theme of optimizing e-commerce opportunities for a segment that still trails other online product categories despite a 34% year-over-year online sales increase in 2017 to $20 billion.

“Home Improvement is still in the early stage of online development,” said summit speaker Joe Derochowski, executive director and home industry analyst for The NPD Group. “It’s lagging behind most industries, but it is growing online at a faster rate.”

“Act now,” Derochowski said. “This is the time to invest more in e-commerce.”

Sonya Ruff Jarvis, founder of the Home Improvement eRetailer Summit, said the format combined educational content, one-on-one vendor/buyer sessions and networking to deliver perspectives on retailing’s current e-commerce trajectory and guidance on how home-improvement dealers and suppliers can thrive in a market where an ever-expanding number of people take an “online first” approach to product information and purchasing.

“Today, the shopper no longer goes shopping; she is always shopping,” Jason Goldberg, svp/commerce for digital strategy specialist SapientRazorfish, told summit attendees. “The whole notion of ‘channel’ is irrelevant to the customer,” he said. “I like to think of it as simply commerce.”

Emphasizing the rising importance of “social proof,” such as online reviews, to consumer purchase choice, Goldberg noted how some physical stores are exploring ways to implement examples of social proof, such as Instagram pictures and top Pinterest picks, into presentations.

Goldberg also predicted that 40% of consumer spending in five years could be fulfilled through auto-replenishment, a dynamic that would impact in-store inventories and distribution, including store-pickup and ship-from-store programs. “It’s now about addressing the last mile,” he said.

This year’s Home Improvement eRetailer Summit topics also included the complexities of collecting taxes from online sales; choosing the right e-commerce platform; where influencers can play a role in marketing campaigns; and the ins and outs of free shipping.

Laura Heller, a veteran retail journalist and director of external communications for performance marketing specialist Performics, endorsed the need for balancing “tech first with merchant first.” She cited efforts to streamline checkout— such as autonomous checkout (Amazon Go, Sam’s Club) and mobile scan-and-pay (Target, 7/11)— that reduce abandoned carts, reduce shrinkage and integrate loyalty programs.

Heller also cited a Google prediction that by 2020, half of all searches will be voice-activated. “Talking is the new typing,” she said.

Ryan DeChance, director of discovery at innovation-focused e-commerce platform the Grommet, closed the summit by advising attendees how storytelling can enrich e-commerce differentiation.

“Tell people where a product comes from,” DeChance said. “We want to know where our food comes from. Why not other products?

“Our brains are more wired for stories than they are for data,” DeChance continued. “People care about stories and shopping by their values. Telling stories is more powerful than the hard sell.”

The 2019 Home Improvement eRetailer Summit is set for November 6-8 in Chicago. HomeWorld Business was the housewares media sponsor for this year’s summit.