On 21 & 22 September, a packed Curio-Haus in Hamburg enjoyed discussion of cutting edge and disruptive trends, technologies and innovations in the SMB retail space. The conference programme, including tracks for Strategy, Technology and Merchant areas, attracted strategic thinkers from all aspects of the online retail spectrum – exploring evolving technologies, shopping trends, marketing and social shifts.
The keynote of ePages CEO Wilfried Beeck
The event was kicked off with an analysis of just how far small business retailing has progressed since the last Summit in 2014. Wilfried Beeck, CEO ePages, showed how the modern consumer journey – from search to social, brand experience and customer management – now challenges and empowers SMBs in equal measure. New consumer devices and touchpoints mean that shopping is truly everywhere.
Future-proofing SMB merchants
Announced at Summit, ePages and 1&1 partnered to launch a new range of cloud-driven 1&1 eShops, based on next generation ePages Now software. Available first in 6 countries, the shop packages specifically address the key modern requirements for rapid ecommerce success.
With over 50 million small companies in Europe and North America alone, Robert Hoffmann, CEO 1&1 Internet, delivered a rousing keynote on the huge untapped opportunity and responsibility the industry shares to inspire, equip and educate SMBs. “We must support SMBs well in their big decisions of selecting the right business applications. ePages and 1&1 is a great example of best of breed technology partnership.”
The transformational power of mCommerce was further underlined by ecommerce pioneer and CEO NewStore Stephan Schambach, who summarizes, “Retail needs a makeover. Millennials get their brand inspiration via mobile devices – seamless integration of mobile and in-store is absolutely needed. Multichannel should mean truly friction-less selling across channels”.
High Tech empowers and challenges equally
The most high-tech innovations such as artificial intelligence, cognitive business and machine learning are already making marks on SMB retailing. There was a consensus at Summit that AI is now being used to disrupt and transform business processes – a trend that could be a powerful asset for SMBs with limited resources.
Gabriel Vizzard and David Hogg from IBM Watson reported how Watson is expected to touch 1 billion people this year. AI is coming closer to the reach of SMB owners for live interactions with customers and powerful personalization. In the coming years, AI will offer SMB retailers deeper learning and the freedom to focus more resources on their core challenges.
Renowned futurist Theo Priestley concurred with this trend, observing how “China is the region progressing AI for SMBs most right now”. He advises SMBs, “Think about the future of your business in terms of connecting different types of intelligence. It’s time to really know your customers contextually. Tech has removed the barriers of size, now join networks and create experiences”.
As well as shaping new consumer touchpoints, AI is on the way to becoming a strong support with back-office ecommerce processes – with ePages demonstrating how Alexa can assist merchants with tasks like managing open orders and administering shipping.
Ann-Kristin Hamke from Statista showed how mobile shopping remains the biggest game changer, with same day delivery, virtual wardrobe and social commerce gaining pace as important trends. The digital platforms that most thrive succeed in decentralizing consumer touchpoints and ensuring simplicity with a plug & play ecosystem.
Achieving success from marketplaces remains mission critical for most retailers. Thennarasu Ponnusamy, Principal Engineer at eBay, offered new strategic advice on how a cost per sale model can maximize SMB sales and ad investments.
SMBs can and should borrow from enterprise retail techniques – and often have the agility to gain the best impacts. For example, consumer psychology is more relevant than ever, with Internet Psychologist Graham Jones using the “Sex & Shopping” adage to prove how unconscious consumer preferences and impulses can be harnessed by SMBs. “Shoppers are making decisions before they even know consciously what they’re looking at”, he advises.
The use of pricing psychology also offers great effects according to Professor David Loschelder, Leuphana University, who delivered research on pricing models and what degree of choice will optimize consumer confidence. For example, “When to ask for payment information in customer journey remains a critical science – too soon or too late can wreck confidence”.
Interactive merchant advice
A unique and thriving aspect of Commerce Summit was the live workshop theatre tackling practical topics for SMB retail success. Speakers on marketplace and price comparison strategies included Torben Schwanke from eBay, and Erik Meierhoff from Idealo. Shop usability is nowadays a success factor as well as a concern, with a session from Johannes Altmann from Shoplupe.
The opportunity to use machine learning to recognize behavourial patterns in shops was explored by Olaf Brandt from etracker, proving that the simple linking of web analytics data to programmatic advertising can greatly optimize sales conversions for SMBs.
Best practice payment options were discussed by Markus Fuchs from PayPal, Marcus Lilienthal from Ingenico and PAYONE founder Jan Kanieß. Opportunities for merchants to leverage apps and integrations were showcased by eTrusted, Sendcloud, and rankingCoach. With social media now shaping revenues as well as branding and communication, Teja Töpfer, from Facelift, offered merchants up to date case studies and the latest practical tips.
Developing ecommerce for 2030
The Technology track of Commerce Summit attracted developers and technologists from across the ecommerce ecosystem. There was consensus that cloud-based ecommerce with an API approach offers the best possible catalyst for SMBs to compete online. Workshops explored both single ‘micro’ and wider ‘macro’ architecture with communication patterns, APIs, operational requirements and guidelines covered. Coding workshops included topics such as OAuth 2.0 and webhooks.
Harm Behrens, CTO ePages, explained, “Microservices allow us to try out and quickly bring new innovation to our merchants, without putting proven functionality at risk. An API approach means greater customization for niche retailers whilst the platform itself can remain focused on optimizing the key competencies”.
Ecommerce platforms face the challenge to handle modern consumer interfaces such as voice devices and virtual reality applications. Highlights included a demo of online shopping using Microsoft HoloLens and its underlying technology, courtesy of Luis Gomes of commercetools.
Beeck adds, “As well as being highly enjoyable, our largest Commerce Summit to date proved the importance of collaboration – it’s through being able to come together, discuss and measure progress and potentials within each facet of commerce that we can work best with SMBs to drive their use of technology and future success”.
Glamorous party with Betsy
At the end of day one, ePages invited the attendees to a big party in the event venue. A special treat waited there for Summit participants: Welsh singer Betsy entered the stage and gave an unforgettable performance.
Thank you to our sponsors
A big thank you goes out to the sponsors of Commerce Summit for their support with making these days possible. Sponsors included Aruba Cloud, Amazon Pay, Open-Xchange, CM4all, Ingenico ePayments, flour.io, PayPal, Shoplupe, .SHOP, SendCloud, etracker, Händlerbund and TrustedShops.