The e-commerce show at Kensington Olympia

e-commerce expo 2013

It’s no surprise to see this show getting busier each year as e-commerce continues its relentless march to global retail domination.

There were about 50 seminars and a dozen keynote speeches, all of them free of charge and many oversubscribed. Visitor numbers are clearly up on last year.

Much of the show’s attention was devoted to mobile apps, personalisation, localisation, site hosting, SEO, online payment, security, fulfilment, ‘big data’ and the cloud, but one of the things that I took away was a reminder of the enduring power of the killer application that convinced many of us to buy our first PCs back in the 1990s.

For the last few years, much of the talk at these expos has been about the impact of social media and how important it is for retailers to engage with customers online. We know that recommendations and referrals from friends carry more weight than even the best marketing department. Most of us have also learned a little about the dark arts of SEO, the means by which businesses and their products can be promoted up the online search rankings. So it was interesting to hear how these methods of reaching the market place are still dwarfed by the scale and reach of the humble email, the primary driver of commerce on the web.

Did it occur to you that Facebook is the biggest emailer on the planet? How else would they reach people who don’t spend most of their time on Facebook?

Customer surveys show that we prefer to receive marketing messages via email. This even applies to younger age groups, who are more likely to spend their days engrossed in social media. Unlike the ads on TV and in the press, we can choose which brands to engage with by email and the data shows we are subscribing to an increasing number of brands.

The marketing email open-rate paradox

It was intriguing to learn that there is an inverse relationship between the percentages of sent marketing emails that are opened and the total number opened. As open rates increase, totals decrease: the message for the marketers is to focus on the totals, unless they’d rather ignore their less active subscribers at the cost of reducing total openings. Instead, efforts would be better spent increasing the list size and the frequency of emails. Dela Quist, of Alchemy Worx, urged marketers not to be embarrassed about this as all the recipients are subscribers who are free to opt out at any time. Indeed, he even took the opportunity to argue that the old chestnut of ‘email overload’ is a modern myth.

I was surprised to hear that marketing emails boost conversion across all channels, so even if they don’t get opened and clicked, they are still bringing in business. It was also counter-intuitive for me to discover that, as frequent email-openers are only a small percentage of the total recipients, the majority of revenue comes from the bulk of occasional openers. These are good reasons for marketers to be careful how they set their goals and measure the outcomes of their email strategy.

One minor gripe

You would think the organisers could fill empty seminar seats with the people who would like to sit in them. The problem was, free tickets were issued 45 minutes before each presentation started, but there were lots of no-shows. Rather than take a decision five minutes before show-time to offer the unclaimed seats to the numerous disappointed and ticketless visitors, the seminars proceeded with dozens of empty spaces. It really isn’t that complicated, is it?

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