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The insights from Online Retailer that stuck with me

The continual progression of technology and collaboration continues to astound me. This year’s Online Retailer conference held at the International Convention Centre at Darling Harbour highlighted some of the exciting offerings and changes to the industry.

Australia, once a laggard in online retailing is now considered up to speed with its European and US counterparts. There was much talk about artificial intelligence and machine learning; however, this was all nicely put in its place by Andrew Gorecki of Retail Directions, who eloquently put it that one requires insight, emotion and empathy as well as mathematical reasoning; things that software can not emulate.

He elaborated that we are lost in buzzwords and what people are referring to as artificial intelligence is merely the ability for a system to “learn” something based on a set of rules and parameters. Facial recognition is a classic example of this. There is nothing intelligent about the technology, but rather complex computational data processing within a programmed environment.

Marketplaces were also a hot topic and this has been the flavour of the year with Catch, Myer and Amazon amongst others all launching marketplace offerings, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are other niche marketplaces emerging such as Outdooria, a market place focus on everything to do with outdoor camping and recreation. Other formats of marketplace are emerging such as Bob Jane’s marketplace for tyres and Jayco’s caravan marketplace.

Chatbots and the future was another topic of interest. WhatsApp users send 55 billion (yes, billion) messages a day. Messaging is not going away. Kelly Slessor of ShopYou spoke about the future of chatbots, which came to prominence in 2016, but unfortunately for most, have not delivered on their promise. But changes in adoption and emerging technologies for the creation of chatbots are steps in the right direction.

According to Juniper research, chatbots will save 11 billion service hours by humans by 2023. The benefits are a 24-hour service for things like bookings and customer complaints. But users don’t like canned responses. New technologies are appearing that monitor the conversation and decide when to bring a human into the conversation.

Facebook recently launched a patent for purchasing coffee through its Messenger app. After the bot tells the user the price of a beverage, the user is able to confirm that they want to purchase the item. If the user agrees, the bot is able to ask for a payment method and place the order. It can also create an order number and offer a time for the consumer to pick up the item. In order to accomplish all of these tasks, the bot reportedly uses natural language processing.

If you want to see the success of chatbots in business watch the Lemonade insurance video.

Christian Heinrich an ethical hacker demonstrated some of the risks that web owners face by hackers. He used an example how a Shopify site can be hacked as Shopify does not verify ownership of a domain name allowing a user to act as a vendor, creating a new service and giving it the same name.

I decided not to share some of the other information he discussed as it could be too easily used for the wrong reasons. Heinrich also showed a website you can use to test if any sites you are registered with have been compromised. A test email address I had, revealed that my password had been exposed on Dropbox, Adobe, Linked In and Zomato. Try it yourself:

The Iconic’s Anna Lee talked about how the retailer has nine different carrier cutoffs and has collaborated with Australia Post to ensure that orders placed up until 10pm each day will be delivered in metro Sydney the next day. Consumers are looking for newness, urgency and an ever-increasing frictionless experience, she said.

Appliances Online’s head of neuroscience and strategy Katharina Kuehn dazzled the room with insights, such as why Aldi typically gives shoppers the choice between three types of a product, how the brain process and filters data and why empirical data doesn’t always stack up.

She used an example of a store in Europe selling both German and French wine that saw higher sales of French wine when French music was played and more sales of German wine when German music was played in the background.

Amidst all the excitement of technology and entrepreneurship the topic of ethical businesses stood out. Brendan Sweeney from Cotton On spoke about the Cotton On Foundation and giving back. Consumers want to buy from business with a purpose and this is a future beacon for the success of business.

The awareness of social issues, disproportionate wages and living conditions in developing countries, the emerging problems of plastic waste bring new challenges to retailers to win the hearts of customers who want to purchase with a social conscience.

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