MITX 2018 eCommerce Summit Highlights

Catalyst kicked off February by sponsoring the 2018 MITX eCommerce Summit at the Wayfair office in Boston. Founded in 1996, MITX (The Massachusetts Innovation and Technology Exchange) is a community of New England-based brands and agencies who collaborate and drive how technology is shaping the future of customer experiences. MITX curates and develops content, experiences and interactions that keep its members ahead of the pace of change.

One of MITX’s cornerstone events is their annual eCommerce summit. The 2018 summit united a diverse range of speakers. From start-up companies to household brand names, the speakers and panelists represented many facets and aspects of eCommerce. Thanks to this stellar mix of speakers, attendees left with many valuable perspectives on key industry trends and changes.

Here are some of the insights we found most interesting.

Keynote: It’s a Really Bad Time to be Boring:  Re-Inventing Retail in the Age of Amazon

Steven Dennis, President, SageBerry Consulting & Forbes Contributor

Steven Dennis of SageBerry Consulting delivered an exciting morning keynote. His presentation was a “state-of-union” of sorts for the retail industry. He addressed major trends in the retail industry, including the unprecedented number of retail store closings and the record number of section 11s filed. He also acknowledged the consolidation that we’re seeing more and more frequently (e.g. Wholefoods and Amazon).

You can’t talk about eCommerce without talking about Amazon. Dennis addressed Amazon by explaining how trying to “out Amazon” Amazon won’t work. To help retail and eCommerce brands succeed in the “Age of Amazon” he shared a 7-step framework for “remarkable retail”:

  1. Harmonize. Silos have no place in retail. You need to have one brand throughout the many channels available to you.
  2. Have a digital first strategy.
  3. No customer wants to be average.
    • Use data as a competitive advantage to target users differently
    • Use machine learning to make curated offerings
    • Personalized marketing (e.g. Spotify Valentine’s Day Ad)
  4. Be remarkable in the moments that matter. Dennis explained that there are several critical micro-moments that occur during the consumer journey: “I want to know moments”, “I want to go moments”, and “I want to do moments.” Dennis believes that retailers need to do more to win these moments.
  5. Be amplified. A USP (unique selling proposition) is important now more than ever.
  6. Be radicalized. Retailers afraid of change, have had their business models upended.
  7. Create a culture of experimentation. Dennis cautioned retailers from being too afraid of failure. He explained that while rigorous processes and methodologies, like Six Sigma, help eliminate mistakes and errors, they can also become a crutch for some organizations and can hinder innovation and experimentation. Dennis noted that smaller companies tend to be more successful with experimentation as they are more agile and less afraid of imperfection.

Overall, Dennis warned the audiences about the risks of going toe-to-toe with Amazon. Instead, he advocated for retailers to make their brands standout in their own unique way and to ensure that their branding comes through in every channel.

Changing the Digital Path to Purchase: Integrating Advanced Tools and Technologies

Rob Garf, VP of Industry Strategy & Insights, Commerce Cloud, Salesforce 
Ed Macri, Chief Product & Marketing Officer, Wayfair
Ryan Scott, VP, Digital Operations & Innovation, Keurig
Dan Smith, GM, ASICS Digital and CEO, Runkeeper

In this panel, each presenter described digital’s role at their brand and how they are integrating advanced tools and technology into their strategies.

Ed Macri, Chief Product & Marketing Officer at Wayfair, shared some particularly interesting insights around Wayfair’s approach. He explained that when it comes to digital and advanced tools/technologies, the first step is to always identify who you’re talking to. He said Wayfair has two types of shoppers, “Browsers” and “Hunters.” To reach the “Hunters” Wayfair has created the “Shop the Look” discovery platform that has been wildly popular. For “Browsers,” it’s all about making browsing fun. For Wayfair, specifically, Macri noted how they create technology that makes interior décor fun and engaging customers so Wayfair stays top of mind.

Other takeaways from this panel included:

  •  Attribution can be a challenge for large companies who are selling through 2nd or 3rd parties
  • You need to know who your customer is and where their touch points are to ensure proper messaging
  • DMPs can help you when you do not know or don’t have all the necessary data points

Achieving Digital Maturity: Adapting Your Company to a Changing World 

Jerry Kane, Professor at Boston College & Guest Editor, Digital Business, MIT Sloan Management Review

In this presentation, Jerry Kane shared insights from his latest report on Becoming Digital, which uncovers trends at the most digitally savvy companies. He also revealed the pitfalls that are holding back most organizations from truly embracing a digitally mature strategy.

First, Kane pointed out that the biggest roadblock to becoming digitally mature is the massive influx of data. Most large corporations lack the infrastructure to delegate who owns this data, what can be done with the data, and what should be done with the data from a legal standpoint. This alone may be enough to keep most company’s hands tied when deciding how to leverage customer data.

Kane stated that while 85% of companies know that they should be adapting to the shift to big data that only 44% of companies are doing something about it. From there, he emphasized that digital needs to be at the core of each business’s strategy. Talking about it is not enough, action must be taken as well. And Kane feels that this is where most companies fall short as not enough action is being taken.

Some of Kane’s top observations from his latest research are:

  1. Company Culture – Legacy businesses may be afraid of experimentation, and even worse afraid of failed experimentations. And while these companies are spinning their wheels in this stage, digitally mature companies are scaling their wins better and driving massive change within their corporation. (e.g. Wayfair’s shop the look discovery engine).
  2. Company Structure – Digitally mature companies are organized differently. The norm for these digitally mature companies is having cross-functional teams.
  3. Company Perception – Kane went on to explain the previous two traits can affect the type of talent that is attracted to your company. For if you are a company that is not seen as on the forefront of technology or even making use of your current talent then people will not want to work for you.
  4. Company Training – To build off the last point of attracting the right talent, it is also important to keep employees engaged by training them on new skills. Typically, employees are 15x less likely to leave a company if their digital skills are being improved on the job.

To conclude, Kane emphasized that a company’s strategy, and not specific technology itself, should be driving digital transformation. He noted that digitally mature companies genuinely and wholly embrace digital as part of their core culture vs. digital initiatives being mandated from management or other stakeholders.

Want More eCommerce Insights?

This is just a sampling of the insightful presentations and discussions that took place at the 2018 MITX eCommerce Summit, but you can learn more about MITX and their other upcoming events on their website. You can also always check out Catalyst’s latest thought-leadership in the eCommerce space, including our monthly webinars and our latest whitepaper on using Amazon’s marketing opportunities to drive business results for your brand.


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