Welcome to Episode #1 of the Midmarket Ecommerce Report! This is a new web show with a fresh format where midmarket brands and retailers can tune in to watch industry experts—from all sides—talk shop, cover trends and happenings, share the latest strategies, and much more. In our first episode, we had the pleasure of interviewing Linda Bustos, from Skava and Ecommerce Illustrated, plus John Forberger, of Forberger Communications.
Topics covered in episode 1:
- How to know when to approach the notion of utilizing AI
- What’s the usage for midmarket retailers
- Who’s writing about AI for ecommerce
- Predictions for AI from a platform perspective
- Areas to create efficiencies within your organization
- And lots more
QOTD: What’s important about AI right now that midmarket retailers should be looking at?
Check out the full transcript of episode 1 below.
Midmarket Ecommerce: [00:00:05] Welcome to the Midmarket Ecommerce Report. Joining us today, John Forberger from Forberger Communications. Hey John, welcome to the show.
John Forberger: [00:00:13] Hey, Sterling. How are you doing?
Midmarket Ecommerce: [00:00:14] And of course, the legendary Linda Bustos from Skava and Ecommerce Illustrated. Linda, how are you doing?
Linda Bustos: [00:00:20] Doing well, Sterling. Thank you for having me on.
Midmarket Ecommerce: [00:00:23] Glad to have you. So we’re going to get right to it. NRF just finished the show of the year, Shop.org in Vegas, and the big takeaway we’ve been talking about here in the newsroom is A.I. A.I. seems to be the story of the year, especially from this show. So maybe we’ll start with Linda. Looking at the midmarket retailer specifically, from that lens, what’s important to take away about A.I. this year as far as what you saw at the show, and more in general?
Linda Bustos: [00:00:50] Well I think there’s kind of a couple of categories of A.I. They were definitely at Shop.org in the Innovations Lab, a lot of point solutions, not necessarily platforms but individual one-shot things that vendors are trying to solve. Anywhere from scanning your body and getting your exact measurements so that the user can, through a mobile phone, just filter your products and get very personalized and tailored results, no pun intended. Also to things like being able to use pattern recognition and voice A.I.s for chatbots and voice search and actually placing orders. A 360-degree almost like a science fair full of different single point applications. So I think that’s very overwhelming for midmarket retailers to kind of understand, okay, where do we start with, what actually drives value, and what actually drives ROI.
Midmarket Ecommerce: [00:01:48] So John for midmarket retailers, how do we know is this too complicated for us, too expensive? Are we there yet? How does a midmarket retailer know how to deploy this tool effectively?
John Forberger: [00:02:00] Sure. Yeah I think a lot of this goes back to when you’re looking at or evaluating any tool, or anything you’re going to add your team, which is look at what your team can do. What does your team need? What are the priorities that they have? And if you feel like A.I. is something that could solve some of those problems then that’s worth looking into. But I would say first examine what you have actually going on. Do you have an issue with getting back to your customers via customer support and customer service agents? Do you have an issue with making sure your inventory management is taken care of? And sort of start at the basics of that and then explore, like Linda said, some of these standalone items that aren’t platforms, but these single point apps.
Midmarket Ecommerce: [00:02:43] So Linda, is that the path to it? To look at your pain points and see are there A.I. solutions that can solve a problem for us and build a bridge to better customer service and higher ROI? And if that’s the case, where are some of the areas where A.I.’s hot right now that as a midmarket retailer we should be looking at to say, “these are areas if we’re not deploying them there, we should be eyeballing that for Q1 2019?”
Linda Bustos: [00:03:08] Sure. Well, I think A.I. is kind of like a marketing buzzword right now. I mean machine learning has been around for a really long time and collaborative filtering, so most ecommerce sites have a personalization tool already. They can do affinities between products like people who bought this also bought that. That’s machine learning. So it’s not exactly new but I think the packaging of those things is new and kind of the actual use cases and applications that are being developed right now are kind of being presented as new. So I think especially for midmarket retailers, one thing to really keep in mind is does your level of traffic actually justify the implementation of the tool because the more data that you have especially if the A.I. is going to be doing things like a personalized shopping experience, or making recommendations, or trying to solve customer like product discovery gap and merchandising gap, you really need to make sure that you have enough baseline traffic and also that your catalog is stable enough. And by stable I mean it doesn’t turn over as quickly as you know some legitimate businesses have very quick catalog turnover and you might have a very large catalog with many, many, many different categories and you need to factor that all into can you get reasonable predictive data from what you’re working with. So I’d say that’s number one for midmarket retailers. The second thing too is just to really evaluate that it’s actually going to actually add value to the customer experience because some of these things are nice to have. And then once you start plugging things into your system they can slow down your ecommerce system. They can add overhead to what you’re doing. So be diligent. Do your due diligence on the actual tool. Make sure you’re picking things that give you some degree of rules base control or give you a way to audit whether the black box is working, and make sure you start with things that really do have a customer demand versus just being something cool that you can do with new tech.
Midmarket Ecommerce: [00:05:25] Now John, you’re probably the most well-read guy in ecommerce in my opinion. This is why we tapped you to do the Midmarket Ecommerce recap report for the Shop.org show. So you see everything, nothing goes past you. From your perspective, what’s important about A.I. right now? What’s happening in what areas that are most relevant to midmarket retailers that they should be looking at as far as deployment and getting ready to deploy?
John Forberger: [00:05:51] You know, I think a lot of this goes back to the time savings that this can afford these companies. These are smaller teams that if machine learning and A.I. is able to help them out, they’re of course going to explore that and say yes that could be for me. But really you know what are these tasks that you want to strip away and never have to go back to again? And if you feel like that there is a tool that matches that for your team, then they’ll go look at the vendor and, just like anything else, go explore that with your peers and try to find out more information. One tricky thing about this right now for midmarket is you’re trying to find out who has used what, the pros and cons, and there are a lot of sites out there like G2 Crowd and TrustRadius where you can get your head around some of these tools. But some of the trickier things is these tools are brand new, and you’re not able to find those reviews online. So like Linda said, do your due diligence and really explore these things because if you’re going to invest in it, you’ve got to make sure that this is going to, you know, actually pay off relatively quickly.
Midmarket Ecommerce: [00:06:51] So let’s talk about some resources. Who, and this will go to either of you guys, who’s writing about this at a high level right now that we should be looking at? Who, whether it’s a particular media outlet or a particular author, who’s got some stuff out there that’s worth checking out? It’s an open question to anybody.
John Forberger: [00:07:09] Sure, I’ll jump in with it. You’re getting very deep dives from folks, of course, on the vendor side, right? You’re going to get these blog pieces that have, quote-unquote, a lot of propaganda and I think that’s healthy. I think that we’re going to see, and this is more of a prediction, we’re going to see a lot more coming from the analysts because this is such a hot topic, and they’re writing more and more. But people are going to be demanding this in, you know, certain reports. And I would say another one to check out that I go to quite often is listen to a lot of the podcasts that are out there. Omni Talk with Chris Walton and Anne. I would head over and check out Cara’s pieces that cover marketing tools and such on Retail Dive’s website. It really is coming from various directions, you know. If I’m spending every single morning like I do, reading up on these things, I’ve got to really scour the web and search. But ask around. LinkedIn is actually probably my first place that I go to in the morning, and that sort of is the large bucket where I can go dive a little bit deeper and go into these articles and find experts. And then if I want to dial it back and you know, go to a main site, I can just pull out of LinkedIn.
Midmarket Ecommerce: [00:08:27] Linda?
Linda Bustos: [00:08:28] Yeah, I think we’re a few years away from an analyst report on A.I. for ecommerce. I think one of two things are going to happen. We need to see some consolidation of these tools, because right now there’s so many different points solutions, like how do you evaluate them one against another? It’s like, apples, and grapes, and oranges, and peaches. So either we’re going to see which of those point solutions actually pan themselves out in the next two or three years that actually get big. But I do think that the ecommerce platforms will probably make a bunch of acquisitions, kind of like how we have a marketing suite or ecommerce suite right now, and the analysts are evaluating the suite. I think they’re going to… by the time that A.I. hits an analyst wave or an analyst quadrant, there’s going to be some acquisitions and integrations with bigger platforms. So, we’re just really early at this stage.
Midmarket Ecommerce: [00:09:21] Got it. Okay, so final question. I’m about to go into a meeting, and I’m going to get asked the question about 2019, and somebody is going to ask me about A.I. I need to put something on the table that’s intelligent and forward thinking, and shows that I know what I’m talking about, and actually may contribute to the bottom line. So, what regarding A.I., for a midmarket retailer, should I bring up at the next big meeting to discuss… to make sure that we’re looking at, we have our eyes on the horizon, when it comes to A.I. for midmarket retailers?
John Forberger: [00:09:52] Linda, I’ll let you go first this time round.
Linda Bustos: [00:09:55] Well honestly, I think the frontend stuff gets a lot of attention, you know, what can the user do with A.I., and what can we push to the front of the experience. But backend processes, things that you can cut out and automate. Like, where are you spending a lot of your time, and money, and human resources, and can that be automated? I did see on the trade show floor, tools that can help you cut out a photo shoot entirely, shoot the outfit and have it superimposed on one digital model like as a real person, but use that photo over and over to create efficiencies, or find things in the logistics and backend, or when you’re doing global selling, you know, things that you can automate on the product information side. There’s a lot of areas that you can create efficiencies in your organization. I would start there, and then let the frontend stuff battle each other out in the next year or two.
Midmarket Ecommerce: [00:10:48] So that’s a great lens to use. That’s a great paradigm, to come in and say, “somebody wants to talk about A.I.? Are we talking about frontend or backend?” So that’s a great tool somebody can take into a meeting and not necessarily be the A.I. expert, but at least have a tool to open the conversation up and lead it somewhere productive. So John, same question to you.
John Forberger: [00:11:06] Yeah, I think this is looking at what’s going to be very versatile for you. A lot of these tools right now are pinpointed on solving very few items, and I think if you’re having the team size in the mid-market that most people do, really look at tools that are able to expedite the normal, mundane things or ax them completely but across multiple areas of your team. If it’s fitting just one thing, then really bank on that thing solving that problem perfectly or as good as it can be right now. But that’s something I would definitely take a look at is, how can this help us in multiple areas and not just one?
Midmarket Ecommerce: [00:11:46] From my perspective, too, make sure you get out to these shows because just talking in the prep room, in the green room, here with John and with Linda, I’m learning so much, right? So just being around people who are having smart conversations about this stuff, even when we’re micing people up, and getting ready starting the show, I’m listening to these guys talk shop and I’m learning. So, there’s definitely great opportunities to learn from people who are actually doing it. So, besides listening to great podcasts like Jason and Scot and all the other ones that were mentioned, try to get out. The BIG Show’s coming up in January 13th through 15th at the Javits Center in New York, and I think B2B Next just passed. Try to get out to these shows and rub elbows with people who are solving these problems. It’s so easy to get cocooned and siloed, right, in our little cubicle and our little meeting room. And then definitely follow smart people like John and Linda. So, I’ll let you guys go. Final piece of advice, one sentence. What should we take away as midmarket retailers? What’s an actionable relevant piece of advice? Linda, we’ll let you go first. Final piece of advice for midmarket retailers around A.I. and the coming New Year.
Linda Bustos: [00:12:54] Don’t fear A.I. Don’t fear change, don’t fear the innovation, but be smart about it, be educated, and learn data. The data analysis and being able to validate whether these tools are worth it or not is going to be the most critical skill moving forward no matter what your role is in ecommerce right now.
Midmarket Ecommerce: [00:13:14] Sounds good. John, same question to you.
John Forberger: [00:13:17] So I’m going to run off the holiday action, and say try to find a tool that could help you get your head around returns, and handling that the fastest way that you absolutely can.
Midmarket Ecommerce: [00:13:29] Sounds good. And I’ll give my piece of advice. Come to Midmarket Ecommerce and read our a great recap that John wrote about Shop.org. And make sure you follow John, the ecommerce professional in PR, at Forberger Communications. Of course, Linda Bustos from Skava and Ecommerce Illustrated. Guys, thanks very much for your time, and I appreciate it. Hope we’ll have you both back soon.
John Forberger: [00:13:51] Thank you so much. Talk soon.
Linda Bustos: [00:13:52] Thanks.
Midmarket Ecommerce: [00:13:43] Take care, everybody.
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