eTail East 2023 descended on Beantown, and while Broadleaf and partner Artisan Studios presented on Enabling Innovation: How a Composable Approach Fast Forwards Your Business (YouTube link coming shortly), and Retail prepares for this year’s Black Friday / Cyber 5 season, there were a few new trends worthy of note in raising both revenues and margins.

Here, then, in no particular order, are my top three trends from eTail East 2023:

Trend 1: Generative AI is moving further into Digital Merchandising.

Specifically into dynamic offers and promotions. I recently wrote about Generative AI in eCommerce, including “Hyper-Personalization (e.g., dynamic merchandising),” where this trend fits.

First, the Use Case: “As a Merchandiser, I want to automate dynamic promotions so that customers who are considering a purchase will be incentivized to purchase immediately.”

Session AI capitalized on this use case when talking about In-Session Marketing (ISM), stating that within five clicks on a website (whether the user is authenticated or a guest user, with or without cookies), their platform can determine purchase intent - either going to buy, not going to buy, or “on the fence.” Using this data, the “on the fence” customers could be presented with a promotion incenting their product purchase. In contrast, those customers who have already committed to buying would not receive a promotion, which reduces a retailer’s revenue and margin.

Here’s how that could play out by leveraging Broadleaf:

Step 1: Customer visits website, clicks around, Session AI determines purchase intent

Step 2: Session AI sends purchase intent data to Broadleaf
Step 3: Broadleaf determines a promotion to be applied and deploys a content item (such as a banner ad or marketing message) to inform the customer of the promotion

Straightforward and practical. From here, we start thinking of the art of the possible when leveraging Generative AI with Offers & Promos:

  • What if you could generate targeted promotions by sub-source so channels like paid search could have different optimization strategies based on combinations of sales, customer acquisition, and margin depending on each individual ad campaign?
  • How about targeting anticipated influencers with affiliate offers that they are more willing to leverage post-purchase vs other commission programs?
  • And while we’re at it, how about AI proactively getting ahead of anyone trying to “game the system” so that promotional offers aren’t formulaic?

No doubt the biggest hype right now is around Generative AI - to the point where a reporter on the stage jokingly compared the current hype to the Metaverse hype from past years -. Still, whereas the Metaverse has simply become a new potential brand channel for retailers, Generative AI will no doubt change the entire ecosystem of buying and selling online.

Trend 2: Omnichannel solutions continue to be replaced by Unified Commerce strategies.

First, let’s agree on a definition of terms - as we’ve stated before in Broadleaf Commerce and Artisan Studios’ Unified Commerce: The Speed of Change report:

  • Rather than restricting shoppers to one storefront or another, retailers wanted to provide consumers with flexible options by combining digital storefronts, mobile applications, brick-and-mortar locations, supply chains, and delivery options. These creative combinations became known as Omnichannel Commerce.
  • But, instead of thinking about the impact of each customer journey segment on every other component in the commerce enterprise, the focus should be on unifying the entire brand experience with every customer.
  • Therefore, when designing a Unified Commerce solution, the customer may be at the center of attention regarding experience design. However, the technical design must have a flexible and dynamic framework that connects data and systems across the entire business. This infrastructure allows the enterprise to shift quickly with customer expectations and business needs.

Manhattan Associates partnered with Google Cloud, Zebra Technologies, and Incisiv to deliver a Unified Commerce Benchmark Report for Specialty Retail and offer retailers the assessment across 286 customer experience capabilities. The benchmark data itself is derived from a set of 124 retailers across 11 specialty retail segments.

Engaging in many discussions around Unified Commerce was the nod to technical underpinnings - both Composable Commerce and Microservices Architectures were noted as core enablers of a Unified Commerce strategy. And so the line between business and technology is blurred as tech innovation continues to be put to the practical test of business results, especially with those espousing Unified Commerce.

Trend 3: Every Channel has its’ purpose.

We’ve already discussed Omnichannel and Unified Commerce - so let’s talk about Multi-Channel strategies. Sessions at eTail had some common themes around channel purpose:

  • Though several retail manufacturers have been into and out of Direct-to-Consumer (DTC / D2C), the general guidance is that all retail manufacturers should use the DTC channel to gather more data on the end consumer.
  • Coopetition with Amazon is still based on a few basic fundamentals: 1) Can you use it as a Marketing channel to get new customers, even as a loss leader? 2) How much data can you get on the end customer? 3) Can you move certain inventory more effectively and make margin?
  • Similar to Amazon, you can sell to or sell through third-party Marketplaces (also known as third-party logistics / 3PL or endless aisle solutions), but in the “me too” world of Marketplaces, innovative retailers are managing their own first-party Marketplace Solutions so that they control their own vendor relationships and catalogs, enabling differentiated offerings.

Speaking of Amazon, one retailer noted they take a weekly search feed from Amazon and use Machine Learning (ML) to identify market trends and use those insights to market associated products using those trends, not only on Amazon but across all their channels. What a great way to leverage data from a competitive channel.

Hats off to the crew at eTail - the conference exceeded my expectations through insights gleaned and connections made. Let me know if you want to meet at the next one!