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On 2nd May, Screen Pages organised its 5th E-commerce Forum (after a 6 year hiatus), jointly sponsored by Nomensa (the leading web usability agency), Emailvision (the email & digital marketing software company) and MNP (the direct commerce software bsuiness). The event was held at the Millbank Media Centre, London.

Over 100 e-commerce professionals, retailers, marketers and related experts joined us for an informative and insight-packed day. 11 speakers covered a range of topics relevant to retailers from what private equity companies are looking for to invest to the do’s and don’ts of SEO and PPC. Main themes included marketing, sales & service from an e-commerce best practice perspective - in particular how to increase sales, conversions and improve customer service: search, mobile, usability, content & email marketing & personalisation and fulfilment.

Leon Hughes from leading private equity house Piper shared his views on what they looked for: an understanding of key performance indicators, sensitivity to a brand's consumers, a robust platform for growth, database quality, a great team and finally a SMART online strategy.

James Murray, marketing and research analyst at Experian Hitwise, the online & digital retail insights company, presented latest internet & search patterns and statistics: everyone lies. Online retail is growing: retaileres need top know, get & keep customers. Data is pointless & insight is everything. The key is to understand your customer, target and interact with them.

Edward David, Director at Atterley Road, leading online women’s fashion retailer, showed how his business plan calculated that profitability could be achieved in 0.8 years online, versus 2 for retail and 4 for cinemas & restaurants. He stressed how retailers should "make it easy", particularly in relation to delivery and returns. The best websites were those where the shopper didn't notice the website. In terms of marketing, Atterley Road is always learning but, at the end of the day, people dont walk past the web and once they'd arrived, it is vital to measure residual and ongoing values of different marketing communities.

Matt Trimmer, managing director of Ivantage, (the search marketing specialist) explained current search marketing best practice, strategies & futures for retailers- in a post Panda & Penguin universe. The basics still apply: Core infrastructure and vertical directories, press releases, blogger outreach, manual outreach & old-fashioned "link bait" - but build a strategy.

Emailvision’s Personalisation Director, Neil Hamilton, explained the benefits of personalising web content to increase conversions. A recent Econsultancy report stated that companies who are personalising web experiences are seeing an average 19% uplift in sales. Retailers need to focus on their key ingredients - attributes - and match them to beheviours and profiles. Personalisation shouldnt be seen as a "strategy" nowadays, but a basic ingredient.

Blue Glass' Kevin Gibbons shared the value and concept of content marketing, including some brilliant video content from brands such as Google and Evian, including a viral video by Dove, which moved some of the audience to tears. Most e-tailers don’t have the budgets of these global brands to spend on creating and promoting videos so Kevin’s main tip was to spend money creating the best content you can, rather than spending money on promoting average content. £5,000 advertising spend at £0.50 per click = 10,000 visits doesn't compare with $4,500 on a creative video campaign yielding 10m+ views.

Nomensa's Simon Norris discussed how insights from psychology were instrumental in "persuading" browsers into shopper: the importance of meaning providing a critical sense of control; focusing on what people expect and their motivations, as well as what challenges them; translating this into a design that embodies meaningful interaction: "as designers, and clients, we tolerate far too much failure because of poor interaction design."

Gary MacDonald, Head of Marketing at Donald Russell, the leading online and mail order butcher, shared how they were forced into new channels including eCommerce when 95% of their market closed on 22 March 1996 when BSE was discovered in cows and a ban on export came into effect. 35% of its business is now derived from online channels. He explained how Donald Russell planned, executed and measure marketing activity: targeting different discounts to different segments: knowing the customer and targeting the currect audience is crucial.

Magento's Jenny Homer, EMEA partner manager, brought us to speed on Magento as a platform. Now at 26% share of the top 1m retail websites, it goes from strength to strength. Today retailers are being challenged in little ways across a very broad frontier.  In the Magento world:  merchants want to focus on delighting their customers, merchants need to be able to easily customize solutions to fit their changing needs, merchants want to be merchants, not technologists and no single vendor has all the answers. Magento - now part of the Ebay eco-system - is uniquely delivering on these challenges.

Pierre D'Arbost, managing director of MNP/Order Active, the direct commerce software company, talked through the challenges of fulfilling the customer promise in terms of delivering the goods, effective customer service and downstream processing - using examples from Lakeland, Kurt Geiger & Isabella Oliver. Delivering slick, cost-effective operations in a multi-channel world remains one of the biggest customer satisfaction challenges.

Roger Willcocks from Screen Pages presented a range of compelling statistics on traffic sources, conversions & engagement as well as mobile adoption and performance. In a separate session, he covered "20 immediate ways of improving your online sales."


The day ended with a panel session with panellists from Argento, Donald Russell, Liberty, RSPB and Isabella Oliver debating a range of topics from what marketing they have found works best (Argento and Isabella Oliver both agreed Email marketing is best for value and ROI (music to our ears!) to the importance of recruiting Ecommerce people with commercial acumen.

To quote our partner Emailvision: "The main take away from the event is that the UK is leading innovation and technology in e-commerce and with online business being one of the only channels for retailers continuing to grow, niche retailers have a real opportunity to challenge the big boys in the digital arena with smart technology, some creativity and comparatively small budgets and resources."



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