Posted by: Geoffrey Barraclough  |   Comments  2 Responses

For ten rollercoaster years, e-commerce has been operating at the wild frontier of business life – an exciting, fast paced discipline which threw off new ways of working, new business models and new customer insights almost every day of the week.


Well, that was then. Now, things are very different – at least, that’s my conclusion from two days at the Retail Week/Drapers E-commerce Summit which BT sponsored and hosted at our HQ last week.


I was expecting industry leaders to be discussing the strategic stuff that matters such as what multi-channel retailing really means now that the smartphone revolution has put a web browser in everyone’s pocket? Or whether consumers’ shift to value products is temporary or permanent? Or whether vertically integrated producers/retailers are still viable in an all-digital world? Or how superfast broadband will drive a radically different approach to building brands’ web presence?


Instead, we got a series of lectures on multi-variate testing, user testing, best practice in online consumer surveys and list upon list of KPI’s; all helpfully inscribed in PowerPoint better to befuddle the audience. One speaker even suggested that since running a slick e-commerce operation was all about manipulating spreadsheets, then the marketers should hand it over to their colleagues from the finance department


This heavy lifting is all terribly important, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not new, it’s not controversial and it’s not the stuff of debate worthy of a Summit. All e-commerce managers know they should be continuously testing don’t they? I got a strong sense that the e-commerce world thinks it’s cracked the ten year old conundrum of how to build the perfect website. You just need to work hard and follow best practice. Job done.


Surely there’s a risk that the e-commerce world has become too inwardly focused as it obsesses about rising to the challenge of the 27 different ways the British spell hummus? If it is, then e-commerce people will have journeyed from dot com pioneers to statistical geeks in less than a generation; finishing up as marginalised website optimisers, rather than contributing their knowledge and customer insight to the big challenges retailers are facing as we all claw our way out of recession into a brave new multichannel world.



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