Event Recap: Top E-Commerce Trends for 2018

By Anshey Bhatia • February 6, 2018

Last week, Verbal+Visual hosted a panel discussion in light of the e-commerce trends for the year, The Renaissance: Top E-Commerce Influences For 2018. We believe that 2018 will be an e-commerce renaissance – redefining the way shoppers shop and retailers sell. We lined up an expert panel to cover topics around AR, AI, Chatbots, and more, exploring how they’re affecting retail online and where the convergence between the digital world and the physical world will end up.

Live! The Renaissance: Top E-Commerce Trends for 2018. See how we deep dived into AR, AI, chatbots and the future of e-commerce.Our expert panelists are:Ali Fazal – Director of Marketing Operations at YotpoBen Staveley – VP of Operations at dotmailerFrancis Bitonti – CTO/Co-Founder at LexsetJonathan Shriftman – Director at SnapsThis event is moderated by Anshey Bhatia – CEO at Verbal+Visual

Posted by Verbal+Visual on Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The invite-only event was for a limited amount of emerging and established retailers. We filled the room with CEOs, e-commerce directors, and hand-picked partners. Some of our attendees were VIP’s from Anne Klein, Revlon, Fourlaps, Carhartt WIP, and Friends of the Highline.

On our expert panel we had:

Jonathan Shriftman – Head of Business Development at Snaps.

  • Snaps help companies acquire customers, then helps the value of those customers through chatbots, voice skills, and social messaging. Some of their key clients are Nike, Nordstrom, and Vice.

Francis Bitonti – CTO/Co-Founder at LexSet

  • LexSet is an AI platform for interior design. They help furniture companies analyze context and make meaningful product suggestions to customers.

Ali Fazal – Director of Marketing Operations at Yotpo

  • Yotpo is a customer content market platform. Their clients are retailers who sell online, and help them engage with their customers, help them create a better sense of loyalty, and build their brand around the voice of their consumers and ultimately drive more traffic sales engagement to their website.

Ben Staveley – VP of Operations at dotmailer

  • dotmailer is an email information provider. They help over 5000 retailers deliver marketing automation and email automation. Effectively, they help brands have one-to-one conversations with clients’ consumers through email, SMS, etc.

The panel discussion was moderated by Anshey Bhatia, CEO at Verbal+Visual.  We’re delighted to share the key takeaways from the panel:

There are a few major breakthroughs in how people communicate.

Jonathan Shriftman of Snaps argued that when you’re in this e-commerce renaissance, 2018, for the last 200 years, there’ve been a few major breakthroughs in how people communicate with one other. In the last 100 years, there’s the telephone, internet, email, and social media. With each one of those, new communication channels give a huge opportunity for businesses to build relationships with their customers. When you look deeply into 2018, the trend across all ages and demographics all over the world is messaging. People are spending more time messaging each other than we are sharing. A quick show of hands revealed that everyone in the room has sent a text message that day. There’s a very clear shift that’s happening. Jonathan’s company Snaps helps large brands understand this movement, and shows them where their consumers are already spending their time. The one technology he feels is revolutionary is chatbots because it solves many problems. You have a technology that can help your consumers with a multitude of things, whether it’s shopping, customer support, and creative marketing. Jonathan is seeing a lot of really great outcomes when brands implement bots, as no one wants to pick up the phone and dial a 1 (800) number anymore. Bots are instant and automatic and becoming very smart. 

E-Commerce businesses need to focus on word-of-mouth marketing.

Ali Fazal of Yotpo believes that the number one area for e-commerce businesses to focus on in 2018 is word-of-mouth marketing. He illustrates that you could get a Kardashian to advertise for your brand, and maybe that aspirational quality will help you achieve some market share you haven’t attained before. The most powerful tool that a business has is its own customers. Ultimately, if you think back to a meaningful purchase you’ve made, such as the last car you’ve bought, an apartment you’ve signed the lease for, or the phone that’s in your pocket, you’ve probably consulted a real human being who didn’t sell it to you, and didn’t work at the store where you bought it to ask their opinion. Creating that type of dynamic online helps establish a sense of trust with consumers, especially in the modern era with so much technology’s been lost. If Ali was an e-commerce business owner today, he believes that creating that sense of word-of-mouth around their brand would be a top priority.

Email marketing will be vital for 2018 with the help of AI.

Ben Staveley from dotmailer illustrates that there have been many elements of AI that have existed in lots of email platforms for quite a few years. No one realized that it existed and the most common piece of functionality is same-time optimization, which nearly every email provider has. AI helps brands understand the most optimal time people are clicking and opening emails. When a retailer is preparing an email campaign, rather than sending to 150,000 people in the same minute, AI is looking at all of their previous opens and engagement behavior, and sends the email based on the best time.  dotmailer also uses that feature quite heavily, and know that at 5:30 pm in the afternoon is generally when we check our emails. Ben also believes that subject lines have always been a big advantage for email campaigns. Marketers for a long time were contemplating “How am I going to get an open?” AI now looks at the subject line, looks at the body copy of that email and gives recommendations based on certain factors, such as the most optimal words you should include in your subject line, and the best open rate from your previous history. Ben feels that the most exciting technology will be dynamic content in email campaigns. Currently, brands will campaign around, “If this person is male, show this picture.” or “If this person is spending more than 100 bucks, show that picture.” AI takes those practices to the next level by understanding where in the world that person is, the time of day it is, and what the weather is like. These factors can drive the image or the bear text that will be displayed within that email. AI will take dynamic content from different standards, 5-10 different variations of the marketeers to pull information from. It’s an endless supply of content that the machine will enable us to manage.

Chatbots will help brands deliver a very personalized experience.

Jonathan believes that chatbots are a great tool to be able to deliver a very personalized experience. At Snaps, they look at disparate data sources; data from the consumer, data from the platforms, and other third-party data sources to create an augmented experience for consumers. Snaps built a unique experience with Bud Light and the NFL – a chatbot where the user would actually see an ad. For example, if you live in NY, the chatbot would say “New York Giants or New York Jets? Let’s chat.” The user would hit send on messenger. The bot would automatically know your demographic, your gender, where you live because the user gives the bot some input. Because it’s messenger, they already know the user’s name, their hometown, so there’s already a lot of data available about your consumer. You indicate that you like the Jets, and an hour before the Jets play, It’ll send you a message, and say “Hey Jonathan, your Jets are playing in an hour. Do you want any Bud Light? If so, press this button. We can deliver you a 36 pack before the big game.” Snaps were able to look at 6 different data points – name, zip code, your favorite team, your team’s schedule, and create millions of possible combinations – but it’s still under the parent company of Bud Light. Snaps delivered this campaign during the entire NFL season last year, which resulted in an average of 83% open rates. 

As a brand, know that you’ve already lost battles with Amazon.

Ali thinks that it’s important to accept the reality of the world you live in. When you think about your e-commerce brand, there are battles you’ve already lost to Amazon, whether you like it or not. You will never sell your product in a way that’s as convenient, as quick. You’ll probably never beat them on price. In order to think of this as a good David verses Goliath story, brands need to protect themselves with a shield. At Yotpo, they’ve been able to communicate to their clients, like Leesa, Chubbies, Sugar Bear Hair, the cool kids of e-commerce, that their shield is their clients. For a long time, brands ignored their customers. Brands made products that they thought were cool. Brands shifted the marketplace in the way they wanted to and it didn’t pay off for them. The brands that are really succeeding now and owning the digital sphere are the ones that not only listen to their customers, but leverage them through their marketing. Why? Because in a world where media, celebrity, and technology can all come into this fever pitch, people are hungry for something authentic and real. As an e-commerce business, the best way you can provide authenticity is by leveraging people just like the ones you are trying to appeal to. That’s when brands are slowly coming across to understanding – they’re doing less retouching, they are placing real models in ads, which is all part of this grasp for authenticity. The other half of it is really trying to develop a true relationship with your customer – not as a buyer or as a seller, but as a true community.

VR and AR have parallel growth opportunities for retailers.

Francis Bitonti of LexSet is seeing retailers adapt to both augmented reality and virtual reality at the same time with the same degree of seriousness, but have to pick the technology that’s best suited for their brand. For example, if you need to present a product in context, AR makes a lot of sense. VR, on the other hand, is best with a controlled environment. If you’re trying to stage a space that doesn’t exist yet, VR is a better tool because the context doesn’t exist. If the context already exists, such as a building you’re renovating, AR is the best fit. Figure out which technology makes the most sense for your brand. 

What’s the future for brick-and-mortar?

One of Ali’s clients at Yotpo is Untuckit, which is direct-to-consumer, has focused on brick-and-mortar for the first time. Some of Yotpo’s brands, like Away Travel have pop-up shops in New York. Ali feels it’s a great place to be for the brick-and-mortar renaissance that is next to come, but mentions that you cannot duplicate face-to-face experience and value. Having a presence in brick-and-mortar allows a true connection with your customers, and AI plays into that, in terms of being able to replicate it online. Actually being face-to-face with people and having them experience the appeal that your brand has to offer is unmeasurable. 

Ben brought up the new Amazon bookstore here in NYC – how they’ve adopted the technology and information they have from their online site and how they’ve fully exhibited it in-store is incredible to the point that every book is forward facing so you see the front cover. On the end of every aisle, they have the top 10 bestsellers from the website. The top 5 reviews are printed underneath every book so you can see it, and you pay with your Amazon app so you don’t have to give them any cash. Jonathan added while at the Amazon bookstore with his girlfriend, they bought a book, and it was $17.99, but if you’re a prime customer and you have the app, and you swipe with the app and it recognizes that you’re a prime customer, it changed the price on the swipe. So it went from being $17.99 to $8.99. 

Francis is a little less optimistic about the future of brick-and-mortar. And the question is when it will continue to contract. His company LexSet is dealing with a particular type of product category that he believes digital technology can’t solve, like ergonomics. For example, brick-and-mortar can show you how big a product is, how it looks in your space, but there’s a barrier there when you’re dealing with furniture. From his perspective, he sees that relationship as one that lets us bring things from your home to the store, from the store to the home, and there are these things that are very hard to move when we’re dealing with space. Until technology contracts, Francis sees it hard to transfer things that are very hard to transfer.

Ali added that brick-and-mortar is becoming less about lining all your products up, and more about creating an ambience and a sense of identity for your brand. While visiting the Away Travel store in Soho, it made him want to travel. Or going into the Leesa store – you’ll want that mattress or any pop-up experience. Ali thinks that if you’re a brand thinking of ways to innovate the brick-and-mortar experience, it’s not about lining up all the SKUs you have just to make it accessible ‘cause people want to order stuff online now. It’s more about creating an experience where people can identify with the brand in a more multidimensional way, think of old factory sense, which plays a powerful role in how people engage with brands.

In conclusion, personalization is where e-commerce and retail will be at the of the year.

Ben believes that from an email marketing perspective, technology is going to really make personalization, They’re striving for the one-to-one conversation via email with the brand consumer and feels technology this year is going to make it so easy. Something like 25% of dotmailer’s customers aims to commit to a one-to-one conversation, and they’re making the technology do it for them. Basically, there’s no excuse that you don’t have the time for personalization. Every email that will get to your inbox or every website you go to by the end of this year is going to be so unique to you that no one is going to see that email or webpage like you’ve seen it, and technology is going to make this possible.

Jonathan believes two things are going to happen. One, the concept of a brand is going to go on defense by 2020 because half of the searches will be done by voice. As consumers, we’re saying, “Hey Alexa, I need towels, I need toilet paper.” So, we’re losing brand in a sense. On the other hand, it’s a great opportunity for companies and marketers to develop a one-to-one relationship with their customers. Jonathan thinks the technology to help brands battle is really coming to life. His company Snaps has powered this experience with Nike ID to create your own custom shoes. Snaps built an experience where you upload a picture of your outfit. Using Google Vision API, the bot within seconds creates a total custom pair of shoes that match your outfit. Snaps launched that experience with Nike and saw a 12.5 times higher increase in click-through rate through dot com that actually purchased and a 4x higher conversion. The standard operating procedure is how you sell the product – that’s going to be really hard to compete, but Snaps can help with a one-to-one strategy – that’s how you target and make the experience highly personal for the individual. 

Francis thinks we’re going to start to see more and more personalized content that’s generated for each user, less of the binary if-you-want-this-or-not situation. Additional, he feels we’ll start to see content that’s highly personalized.

Ali thinks that with business owners, you must demand more of your tech. The days of suffering through a clunky CRM or a tool that doesn’t work for you have hopefully long since passed, so when you think about how technology runs with how people run their businesses, look for a tool that will be proactive with you, that will give you insights on how to better your business. Look for tools that use technology to do things that you cannot do as a human. It’s great to have a robot assistant in your pocket that can create a calendar invite for you. But at the end of the day, you can create a calendar invite.  Wouldn’t it be great to use tools to do things that you’re not able to do, and that your brain isn’t able to do? As Ali looks ahead at the landscape of software and how people interact with the tech that they use, especially in e-commerce, he thinks people will start to demand more and more from their vendors, which they should. They’re paying good money for the tools, and hopefully come to rely on the technology doing things that they can’t, instead of just doing what they can do to make things more faster and efficient.

Please check out the pictures from our event below, and subscribe to our mailing list so we can invite you to the next one!


e-commerce, revlon, the sugary efffect

Our VIP guests with V+V team members having a blast.

e-commerce renaissance, technology

Mid panel discussion – the audience is engaged in the intense conversation.

Yotpo, dotmailer, Snaps, Verbal+Visual, Anne Klein

The crowd before the panel discussion getting warmed up.

Some of the guys from the panel getting to know each other.

Anshey Bhatia

Founder of Verbal+Visual. E-commerce nerd. People connector. Travel junkie. Tech lover.

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