Content curation, discovery commerce, delivery wars and disruptive retail futures were all on the agenda at the Wired Retail conference, held in London last week. With a host of inspirational speakers from digital and physical retail fields, a retail-tech marketplace, plus a stage dedicated to showcasing 16 of the magazine’s best start-ups in the retail-tech arena, it was a day full of insightful commentary.
The conference was supported by Valtech, a digital insights and marketing firm, that advised the audience to ‘orchestrate the consumer journey through new technologies’, said MD George Smith, in a keynote address.
Social curators hijack content to commerce
Content curation is the key path to commerce according to Runar Reistrup CEO of Depop (a snap and sell app that’s a hybrid of Instagram and eBay), who said retailers are now thinking like social media natives.
‘Depop works for retailers as a flash-sale m-commerce tool. ASOS comes to us to sell in the same social context as Depop users, who follow their favourite sellers,’ he said, adding that the social element to selling product on Depop makes it more fun and engaging for the retailer.
Chris Morton, CEO of Lyst calls it ‘distribution commerce’. ‘In the beginning, content came to commerce, now we are beginning to see the opportunity when it’s the other way around. Content is shared around the web and it’s instant commerce via Twitter or magazines that have ‘buy it now’ buttons,’ he said. Social commerce is relevant to mobile because everything is consumed on mobile – content is everywhere, he added. ‘Mobile blends the online and offline worlds – but we need to personalise the experience in an app.’
‘This generation is the best equipped to curate their own style,’ said Amber Venz, CEO and founder of Reward Style, in one of the conference’s most engaging presentations.
‘Content creators are the social influencers of the era. There are 9000 content creators on Reward Style and all of them create actionable, organic content that leads to commerce,’ she says citing a recent project with luxury re-sale site Coveteur to make its content more shareable and instantly actionable.
She says through training this group of style bloggers they are directly influencing online sales to the tune of $270m in 2014, an increase of 174% from 2013. Venz said that at the top level, influencers with Reward Style are earning around $100,000 per month in commissions.
In 2013 Instagram became the most popular platform for RewardStyle bloggers, according to Venz who launched Liketoknow.it in April 2014, as a work around platform for driving commerce from posts on Instagram. ‘Liketoknow.it has been more impactful that all the other social platforms combined. It has driven 3% of the retail sales generated from Reward Style bloggers, since it started eight months ago,’ she says.
Users who like a post can get immediate, daily, weekly or monthly information from Liketoknow.it, ‘95% choose to receive right now’ says Venz who describes the latest way to shop as ‘discovery commerce’.
Instagram is undoubtedly contributing to a paradigm shift in the way people shop online. ‘Instagram is image-led retail,’ said Tracy Yaverbaun, head of brand development, EMEA at the Facebook-owned platform.
Consumers use Instagram for ‘snacking into tunnels of visual inspiration – they used to look through a magazine for that, now they do it on a small screen 24 hours a day,’ she said adding it’s like a transportation window that’s open all the time – ‘mobile is the new shop window.’ Yaverbaun said Instagram is now fusing the phygital and digital retail worlds, giving examples from Banana Republic and Topshop that have both used imagery from their Instagram feeds in window displays – playing to the highly engaged mobile consumer practice of walking into a store and asking for product they’ve seen on Instagram.
Citing Instagram’s own research, Yaverbaun said 60% of users on Instagram engage with people or brands they don’t know, simply to take them to a place of inspiration or to find people with similar passions. Yaverbaun said the company does not have an immediate commerce strategy to implement just yet. ‘We feel to focus on inspiration first is the most important thing to do, then we figure out the rest later.’
According to Chris Morton, CEO of Lyst, desktop browsing is slowing for the first time, while mobile continues to go through the roof for shopping on the go. ‘Channels are being bundled together in customer journeys, it’s difficult to understand only desktop in the equation,’ he says adding mobile has become a device for snacking but an app is for shopping now.
Tablets have a higher conversion rate than mobile, says Morton. ‘It’s snacking verses intent on tablets, which is why we built a universal checkout which let’s users add ten items from different retailers. It has improved convergence rates dramatically,’ he says. Lyst’s data is available to retailers and can help them understand what consumers bought with other purchases.
Morton’s tip for the future of retail is blended online and offline journeys via mobile. ‘Communicating with the consumer can be totally personalized with an app. For example if a customer is in a city for the first time, we can plan a shopping trip for her. The personalization element allows us to give her exactly the experience she wants, based on data.’
The mall is not dead, argued J Skyler Fernandes, MD of Simon Venture Group, a retail-tech investment arm of the largest mall operator in the US. ‘The mall is at the centre of what I call the ‘mall-ennial’ community. It’s the future of conversions and will play an increasingly important role between online and offline retail,’ he said in a keynote address Fernandes cited some recent retail stats to back up his statement: e-commerce conversion rates are still only 3% v 20-30% conversions from consumers visiting physical stores; in the US, ecommerce is worth $304 billion, but traditional retail is worth $4.4 trillion.
There is a role reversal of the physical and digital retail experience, says Fernandes as e-commerce becomes engrained in the physical store (through localized fulfillment and online sales being attributed to a physical location). On the flipside, in-store retail is increasingly becoming a digital experience. A growing number of online retailers are opening brick and mortar stores, for example Bonobos, Warby Parker, Birchbox, Rent the Runway and Trunk Club. Plus we have seen Holiday stores from mega-system giants, Amazon, Google and eBay.
Malls should provide unique community experiences for shoppers that want to visit physical stores, which is still where 90% of retail sales happen, says Fernandes. These consumers love technology but they’re not shopping exclusively online, they still visit the mall and they use their mobiles for an enhanced shopping experience. Retailers need to ensure in-store mimics the online experience and they will need to upgrade their stores to include free wi-fi, beacon technology and real-time inventory that they can search for on their mobiles, while in-store.