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24th March, 2016

RBTE: Great Show, Great workshops but where was the ‘next big thing’?

In my first full week since Mel Jensen, our ecommerce Product Manager, left for maternity leave Dave Ludman and I joined the other c16,000 attendees and c550 solution providers at the Retail Business Technology Expo (RBTE) at London Olympia.

Overall, this years expo was great from a workshop perspective however, we didn’t see that much genuine innovation

In my first full week since Mel Jensen, our ecommerce Product Manager, left for maternity leave Dave Ludman and I joined the other c16,000 attendees and c550 solution providers at the Retail Business Technology Expo (RBTE) at London Olympia.

Our main effort on the day was to meet some of the partners that we are looking to integrate with over the forthcoming months. Our face-to-face conversation with Avalara, a provider of Global Sales Tax solutions, has already led to development works commencing, integrating them with the FrescaCommerce Platform.

Avalara provide a simple to use system to manage the complexities associated with distance selling to, and within, the United States. Believe it or not in the UK our Value Added Tax style of Goods and Services taxation is actually a blessing! In the US GST is not set at a federal level or even a State level; individual counties, and parishes within counties can maintain their own taxes for such things as sports stadia construction, fire and education services provision and the like. Such a style of taxation maybe OK when you sell from a physical store and the customer incurs the GST there. However it’s a real headache for ecommerce retailers who have to account for GST at the point that the customer receives the goods.  There are literally cases where the taxation boundary lies down the middle of a road, even numbered buildings attract one tax rate, whilst odd numbered buildings attract another.  We currently have three ecommerce retailers who sell into the US, with a fourth launching in summer 2016. We’ll be working with Avalara closely over the next few months to launch a new channel for Jigsaw and to migrate others away from the incumbent tax provider.

With respect to garnering additional input to influence the direction of the back office, a lot of time was spent trying to get to the core of what the retailers at the exhibition wanted. Rather than listening to what each respective sales team thought retailers wanted (while trying to subtly scan my badge for a job title), one of the ways we did this was to attend some of the workshop sessions held around the expo and listening carefully to the questions of the audience, not just the speaker.

This proved to be very valuable and one of the most informative sessions came from Jamie Peach (Head of SEO at House of Fraser) who gave a great presentation about taking advantage of longtail keywords for good SERP (Search Engine Results Pages) exposure. Some of the key learnings can be seen below:

  • Longtail SERPs have not been cannibalised yet and as such, focus mainly on organic listings and not contextual / local / paid results.
  • Each page type needs to be uniquely analysed and optimised, there is no one size fits all solution.
  • Focusing on longtail is not an accident and requires a good supporting content strategy with the intention of letting Google know you are an authority on the subject matter. Most importantly, this content requires proper forethought to ensure it’s unique and is rarely automated.

There were many other nuggets of information throughout and he not only proved the overall importance of the approach but also led on to questions from retailers about content knitting and the ability to create the content strategy to facilitate the advice. All in all it was a great in-depth look at how a large scale retailer deals with these challenges not only in terms of planning but also management and resourcing.

The key takeaway from our perspectives was, of course, how this information can feed into the back office and the interfaces we provide to our customers to enable them to take advantage of this approach.  More importantly making the interfaces as user friendly and easy to manage as possible considering that most of our clients house much smaller SEO teams than House of Fraser or outsource the management to third party SEO agencies.

It’s an interesting challenge and one which we feel confident that we will be able to provide a best in class solution too moving forward.

One of the other big things we noticed from various stands/demos was that many of the user interfaces created for retailers were incredibly over-complicated and although they technically allowed the user to overcome a barrier, they were far from intuitive. This simple learning is a given but something which will be at the absolute core of all future back office improvements, ease of use.

Overall, this years expo was great from a workshop perspective however, we didn’t see that much genuine innovation.  Instead we were presented with refinements of existing offerings.  There is nothing wrong with this but we’re looking forward to going back next year to not only see the “next big thing” but to demonstrate our own platform advancements that will be coming in the next year.

 

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