By Joe Skorupa
Seattle has two major icons that blended together at Shop.Org last week – Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Bezos. Well, at least I made the connection. Hendrix mastered the guitar and asked, "Are you experienced?" Bezos mastered online retailing and figuratively asked: "Are you e-commerce experienced?" The answer to both questions, considering the high bar set by the sources, is "not exactly, but we are trying." The spirit of the masters carries on and was very much alive last week in Seattle.
Like Hendrix, Bezos operates at a different level than his peers. His influence is felt even if he is unreachable. Amazon was part of nearly every conversation at Shop.org last week and was even on the agenda, at least in the form of a session with the author of a book about Amazon – "The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon" by Brad Stone.
However, neither Amazon nor Bezos was actually at the event, which was too bad because the convention was in Seattle. But no worries. Despite the absence of the patron saint of e-commerce, it was an outstanding convention with strong sessions, a huge exhibit floor, and a mix of post-show-floor activities that were too numerous for anyone to attend.
Some highlights for me include:
The irony that even though it was a tech convention WiFi connectivity was either paralyzed at best or impossible at worst. As a host of live tech events myself, I recognize that you just rent facilities, you don't build them.
"The minute you say your company playbook is perfect, you stop evolving. And then it's game over." --Jamie Nordstrom, on the opening day of the convention.
"You'll never hear a customer use the word 'channel.' They don't think like that. It's about an experience." --Jamie Nordstrom
Nathan Stern of BevMo spoke at the ARTS meeting and provided in-depth information about a CRM project that was used for a personalized marketing campaign. One of the campaigns was designed to sell a bottle of 50-year old single malt Scotch whisky for $30,000 and it was successful! Who knew a bottle of Scotch could cost as much as a car and who knew someone would buy it? BevMo did because it knows its customers.
Kevin Sterneckert, of OrderDynamics, spoke about the "ghost economy," which refers to phantom retail numbers and reports that are so inaccurate they hide huge mounts of inventory distortion, demand misalignment and pricing errors that cost retailers millions of dollars per year. New enhancements to the OrderDynamics suite enable retailers to see things in their organizations that they have never seen before. As Sterneckert says, "I often hear retailers say I don't have any products for sale that are priced below what they were paid for or that I don't have any products on my website that I don't have in inventory. But when you have tools that can really see into your organization you discover that you not only have tens of products that are misaligned but you have hundreds."
Ed Stevens, founder and CEO of Shopatron, launched a disruptive business model at the convention by offering retailers two years of Shopatron software usage for free for any two of the six modules in his fulfillment platform -- ship from store, same day in-store pick up, inventory lookup, ship from warehouse and in-store returns. The limited-time free software approach could be a game changer for many retailers who are facing constraints during their big and expensive omnichannel transformations, at the heart of which is distributed order management, a Shopatron specialty. The software is aimed at retailers with 20 stores or more and they can get it up and running in eight weeks. Free enterprise-class software? "The first reaction is disbelief and then engagement, "says Stevens.
Errol Denger of IBM confirmed for me the significance of the Apple-IBM relationship to retailers. Today, retailers grudgingly accept that iPhones, iPads and other Apple mobile products are the leading devices of their kind and that they can't do without them. Retailers don't like this situation because there is no B2B relationship with Apple. Basically, Apple treats billion dollar retailers as if they were consumers walking into a store off the sidewalk. However, thanks to the new Apple-IBM relationship, IBM "will provide an industry context to Apple's B2B relationship with retailers," according to Denger. Today, that context is nonexistent.
Two other highlights of the trip were visiting the Space Needle and the EMP (Experience Music Project) Museum for post-convention events. The EMP Museum is the brain child of the co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen, and it is a cutting-edge homage to Jimi Hendrix, which is a pretty close parallel to how Shop.Org is essentially an NRF homage to the spirit of Jeff Bezos.