IBM’s Global Smarter Commerce summit: five key takeaways

Senior marketers and ecommerce specialists at InterContinental Hotels Group, Abercrombie & Fitch, coffee brand Illy and wedding retailer David’s Bridal share their top five lessons and digital marketing challenges from IBM’s Global Smarter Commerce summit, which took place in Tampa, Florida this week. 

IBM conference smarter commerce

Breaking down silos, working around consumers and creating ‘snackable’ content were top of brands’ agendas at this week’s IBM summit.

1. Align teams across channels

InterContinental Hotels Group’s director of CRM technology Billy Turchin says the main issue the company faces is aligning teams across its vast business of 4,600 hotels – including the Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza brands – spanning 100 countries.

“Our biggest challenge today is that large companies are siloed by channel, and that’s a challenge that everybody is struggling with. You have to ensure consistent customer experience horizontally which can be difficult when groups are organised by channel and have their own goals,” he said.

“I think we are doing better than a lot at [rectifying] that but it’s still hard.”

2. Keep up with consumer demands

David’s Bridal, which recently opened its flagship UK store in London, is the largest wedding retailer in the US with more than 300 stores and a growing online presence which it hopes to expand to the UK.

It launched its ecommerce offering in the US in 2006 and has been selling wedding dresses online since 2007.

Although its bricks and mortar stores continue to be its main sales channel, which is unsurprising given the bespoke nature of a wedding dress, David’s Bridal’s has been developing its online offer to replicate some of the touches found in-store, including recommendations for additional items like lingerie, jewellery and bridesmaids dresses.

Its director of interactive technology Jerry Baklycki said: “Seven years ago I was sceptical that we would have a high number of brides buying online. After the first five days we looked at how many sales we had made, I thought it would be in single digits but it was well over 50 dresses.

“That was six years ago. It has grown very quickly from there.”

Baklycki doesn’t believe ecommerce poses any more of a challenge for a bridal retailer than for any other as it is something consumers now expect regardless of what they are buying. 

“Our customers want to have that opportunity online. They want to be able to manage their purchases and information in whatever way works best for them. 

“The challenge is trying to keep up with what consumers want and then seeing how fast we can put the right technology and business processes in place to support that.”

IBM conference center Tampa

3. Mobile is a moving target

Moosejaw, a US based outdoor sportswear retailer, which generates 80 per cent of its revenue through ecommerce, has been investing heavily in mobile which now accounts for a third of traffic and a fifth of sales.

But chief information officer Michael Moore says one of the biggest challenges the business faces is the constantly evolving nature of the channel.

“Mobile and tablet has such a dynamic presence right now because traffic is moving there so quickly, so trying to measure and keep up with what people are doing is a real chase,” he said.

He describes the business’ goal for mobile as a “moving target”.

“The shelf life of a typical desktop version for us is 18 months, but for mobile and tablet it’s more like six to eight months,” he adds.

4. Content investment can pay back

For coffee brand Illy, which sells direct to people through its online store, content and consumer stories have been critical to its success on the web in the US.

“Illy is not a hard sell, we are more focused on experience,” said its head of global digital business development Amy Harp.

The majority of the brand’s focus online (60 – 70 per cent) is given to content, storytelling and engagement, while 25 – 30 per cent is spent on driving sales, a strategy which has led to a 36 – 40 per cent increase in traffic over the past year.

“We have tested this many ways and if you get the heart, you get the wallet,” she added.

Harp says acquisition and building awareness of the brand, particularly in the US, does remain a challenge though as “we’re not like Coca-Cola and our budgets aren’t that big”.

As a result, the role consumers play in generating buzz around the brand has increased.

“I’ve learnt that you should not underestimate the love consumers have for your brand and what you can ask them to do because most of the time they are really happy to do it. You might feel like you’re imposing but you’re not.”

5. Context is critical 

Abercrombie & Fitch group vice president Billy May says content is nothing without context particularly on mobile, which means brands can no longer have a fixed approach.

“Consumers have unlimited access to brands so content has to be on their terms as they have a limited attention span.”

This is exemplified by the fact that its young, tech-savvy target market spends an average of just 1.5 seconds per photo on Instagram.

More than 75 per cent of the emails A&F sends consumers are also now opened on mobile which has additional implications, said May.

“It means we have to start modularising the experience and creating ’snackable’ moments and content… Speed is critical to test, learn and scale.

“From our perspective, constant context in addition to content is truly key.”

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