ECF III – October 2009

Reflections on the third European eCommerce Forum

As the dust settles on the third European eCommerce Forum in Amsterdam, Ian Jindal reflects on the even with co-founder Joris Beckers.

This piece appeared in the November 2009 issue of Internet Retailing Magazine.

The European eCommerce Forum (ECF) is a cross between a private conference and a think tank, founded by Joris Beckers (CEO of FredHopper.com) and me in 2008 with our first conference in Amsterdam. Born out of a shared passion for online merchandising – the ‘art of selling online’ – we’d long spoken of the benefit of bringing the best minds we could muster together to discuss openly their issues and ideas. The event is held approximately twice a year under the Chatham House rule, and has grown a core group of contributors as well as an Advisory Board.

This October we had keynotes from DunnHumby (on a recent project for Tesco.com), Dalziel+Pow (on retail theatre, store design and challenges to the future of the store in a digital age) and Nike on their integrated activities, including the inspiring Football+. In between these keynotes we have a series of ‘provocations’ – informal, brief challenges or ideas from contributors to stimulate discussion and insight. These are of course confidential!

Joris Beckers of FredHopper.com

Joris Beckers of FredHopper.com

Joris noted that

“it really is the most inspirational work thing I do. I don’t think there is any other place where such an experienced group of online retailers comes together to really “think” and be inspired on how to evolve the young art of selling online”.

Michel Koch, eCommerce Director at Quelle.fr supports Joris’ view:

“The ECF conference is one of a kind, made to measure for e-commerce and online marketing practitioners. It is the place to network with peers, make contact with a Europe-wide community of experts, and share the latest trends and visions on how “digital” is changing our world, how we adapt it and adapt ourselves to it”.

Turning to the Keynotes, Joris’ take-away from the DunnHumby contribution was “that retailers and brands should focus their marketing spend on their best customers to engage them further and reward them for their loyalty”. This keynote reminded us that in data, research and systems we can be helped to ‘be our best’. The D+P presentation re-opened our eyes to the sensory stimulations and triggers that inform the best of store design. As retail innovation tends towards ‘experience stores’ to build the brand, Joris noted he was reminded “that the fastest way forward for online retailing is to re-apply all that’s already learned in physical retailing. This is yet again another example where online should tap into that existing knowledge more”.

For many the Nike presentation challenged their preconceptions of one of the world’s most recognised brands. Harking back to the foundations in sport and obsession, we gained a privileged view into how a brand’s “DNA” and values can inform and support radical risk-taking and innovation.

Tony Preedy, Marketing Director at Lakeland and Advisory Board member sees the benefit of the ECF as a focus on “how better to serve and inspire customers”. Asked about his reflections he noted that “What’s certain is that Retailing is changing fast; we better all learn, and adapt, quickly”. The ECF’s program inspired by “blending the best of current online and offline practice”.

Tim Curtis, MD of Lands’ End also found much by way of stimulus. He was struck by the behavioural triggers – “we’re hard-wired to notice what’s different” was a phrase from D+P’s challenges. He’s also looking anew at the possible business benefits of social media – “igniting rather than interrupting conversations”. His verdict on the event? “Stimulating conversations with convivial company – it’s a great formula”.

Michel reminds us of the practical application of our discussions, and how we can “speed up web adoption in major retail companies and drive them to this future that seems so near at ECF”. One of the benefits of building on the core group is the support this network of peers can offer each other in moving the art and practice (as well as the thinking) ever forward.

Joris’ final view was that, thanks to our colleagues and keynotes, a” super, inspirational conference and a privilege to be with so many of the best online retail minds. For us, the ECF, is about growing the core of great online retailers.”

We’re keen to build further on our first three events, however, and so have started planning our 2010 gathering. We are asking all colleagues at the ECF to suggest both game-changing speakers and game-defining participants, but we don’t want the development of this very special Forum to be limited by our own networks and research. Please do drop us a note at forum@fredhopper.com if you feel you could contribute, or visit europeanecommerceforum.pencil.wpengine.com for further information.

My thanks go, as ever, to my friend Joris who exemplifies the spirit of ECF by never mentioning Fredhopper despite their support of the Forum: without him this would have been just another good (but unimplemented) idea.

Reflecting upon this ECF the abiding memory for me is the conference room at each break: rather than leaving their seats the room is buzzing with ongoing conversations and exchanges. As Peter Callaway, eCommerce Director at House of Fraser noted, he values the “serious debate in a non pressured environment with others sharing similar challenges”.

I’m looking forward to building on this for 2010, towards ECF IV and – as Joris mentioned – one of the most inspirational work activities of the year.

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