Shop.org Strategy and Innovation Conference – Day 2
Day two of the 2009 Shop.org Strategy and Innovation Forum got started with brief talks by Fiona Swerdlow, Head of Research at Shop.org, and an overview of the eCommerce Forecast 2009-2013 by Brian Walker of Forrester Research. After these discussions, the keynote for the second and final day began – and it turned out to be one of the most inspirational business and marketing talks I’ve ever attended.
Bob Thacker, OfficeMax.com
Bob Thacker is the Senior Vice President of Marketing and Advertising for OfficeMax.com, and he overflows with creativity and enthusiasm that is surprising and fresh. His talk centered around phrases such as his “cornfed philosophy” and “be mature but never act your age”, and he followed up each saying with substance, stories, and in many cases, video. Prior to OfficeMax, Bob spearheaded several wildly successful partnerships and campaigns with Target, such as their Michael Graves’ partnership and their “It’s a Wonderful Life” Christmas theme that was Jimmy Stewart’s last appearance (a voice-over) before his death.
“If you don’t have big bucks, you better have big ideas.” When OfficeMax began to market their printer ink refill station, they waffled over a conventional approach and one that was riskier – bus stop images of women’s tattooed backs. The tattoo approach was chosen and it was a huge success, leading the way for the world’s largest rubber band ball and their teenage reality show “Schooled” on ABC Family.
“Look before you leap, but then LEAP!” was the phrase Bob used to introduce a segment about their ElfYourself website. The website reached the high-water popularity mark of the 55th most popular website in the world, due primarily to viral marketing and the phenomenal reactions people had to faces of themselves and their loved ones pasted onto dancing elves. But the most inspiration part of the talk was based on the idea that “brands are like people; they have to have heart”. OfficeMax launched a campaign to provide school supplies to teachers, in a drive to “erase teacher-funded classrooms.” When an idea has the ability to both promote a brand and alleviate a problem, you know you have found something great.
The State of the Economy: The VC Perspective
To be honest, I expected to be texting and twittering throughout this talk, since I’m not in the place to personally care about venture capital…however, the discussions were fascinating. The session was moderated by Brett Hurt, CEO and Founder of Bazaarvoice, and the panel was made up of Tom Ball of Austin Ventures, Jeremy Liew from Lightspeed, Satya Patel of Battery Ventures, Amanda Reed from Palomar Ventures, and Cyriac Roeding of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
Brett admitted to tossing out a softie question to the entire panel but got great results to the question “How bad is the economy going to get?” Fortunately Tom believes that the economic downturn will have less of an impact on the online sector than it will for traditional retail. Satya, however, thinks it’s time to hunker down, as it will take time to loosen the credit market, and we probably won’t see an upswing until 2010. Cyriac echoed Bob Thacker’s idea that fear kills creativity, and reminded us that this is a time to drive change, and that although retailers may need to streamline business, it’s still a time to think big.
When asked whether 2009 will be the year of mobile retailing, Amanda explained that this was true in the capital venture world, where investors are extremely interested in mobile technology ideas. But she believes that we’re at least a year out before mobile retailing becomes an action item for retailers. During the Q&A session, a conference attendee asked what Amazon’s optimistic Q4 numbers indicated for the rest of us, and Jeremy responded with an inspiring idea that all of Amazon’s wonderful technology is currently available to those of us without R&D departments and was likely present in the Expo Hall of the conference!
After another excellent lunch, three panels of retailer case studies were on the schedule. The first, “Innovation in a Downturned Economy: Pure-play Retailer Case Studies”, gave attendees several core ideas to think about. The panel was moderated by John Squire of Coremetrics and included presentations by Marc Katz of CustomInk.com and Tomima Edmark, President of the Andra Group, with the complementary websites HerRoom.com and HisRoom.com.
Marc began with a joke that his company not only has no research and development team, but that he doesn’t even own a mock turtleneck or iPhone! But his website showcased brilliance in simplicity. CustomInk.com sells custom-printed t-shirts, and their design application is beautifully simple. They are also brave enough to show “uncensored reviews” of their company and service right on their homepage. They also do a fabulous job of telling their company story (straight down to a photo of the green couch that has been with them since day one) and engaging customers in a community with idea such as a photo contest.
Tomima described how women hate to shop for lingerie, citing factors such as unhelpful salespeople, and then gave her sites’ goals of developing a shopping experience that is better than the one in a store. Her site features lots of photos, including extra shots of bras in larger sizes, overlays of different shirt styles to see whether a bra is compatible, and even video bounce tests for sports bras! She is very focused on protecting the company’s intellectual property, but the most astounding fact that stuck with me was that the sites are entirely self-funded and were profitable after only eighteen months.
“Driving the Living, Breathing Store: Retailer Case Studies of Innovations in Delivery Dynamic Content” was up next, moderated by Kelly O’Neill of ATG Commerce with panelists Ronit Weinberg from Diane von Furstenberg and Kate Forbes of QVC. Ronit described how the goal of the DVF website was to develop content that engaged customers and developed an online community. They added a news feed, two blogs, and a 9000-fan FaceBook page. They also connected with fashion-oriented bloggers, developing relationships within the blogosphere, while generating content that helped secure brand equity, instead of focusing solely on selling as part of their site. Kate discussed QVC’s marketing strategy relating to Fashion Week, one of the “POW Events” they do once a month. Because QVC was originally a TV-based medium, and still maintains that as a large part of their sales, they felt the need to maintain a consistent theme across multiple channels. QVC also utilized FaceBook, YouTube, Twitter, and blogs to create a sense of urgency among its customers.
The last panel of the session, “Leveraging Your Most Valuable Asset: Creative Ways that Retailers can Make Consumer Information Actionable”, featured Jennie Carlson from Levi Strauss & Co. and Sam Taylor of Oriental Trading Company, and was moderated by Nick Pahade of GSI Commerce. Jennie showed videos and information about the eye-tracking and other usability studies that Levi’s did prior to their 2008 site redesign. After finding that users were very focused on images, they redesigned their leaf category pages to be image-intensive. They then took satisfaction surveys to prioritize other planned improvements and to establish a baseline prior to the redesign. Sam showed the attendees some terrific ways that negative customer reviews have positively affected their business, after reestablishing the use of customer reviews after his predecessor canned the idea. They take the reviews further, offering a top-rated products promotion on the homepage, and even featuring content from the reviews in their printed catalog. Oriental Trading Company took the time to read every 1- and 2-star reviews to improve their service and product line. Sam said that if a site “disappoints a customer, they will never come back and will tell ten people about their bad experience.” He ended the conference with the following “Top 5 Recommendations” for all of the retailers of the Shop.org conference:
- Commit the necessary resources to do customer ratings and reviews right.
- Embrace the negative review.
- Leverage online data in other retail channels.
- Personalize your content by customer segment.
- Let your best customers generate your content for you.
Well said and done! Thanks to Shop.org for a wonderful conference.