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The FLOW Forward Summit tackles commerce at the speed of retail

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When retail’s top thought leaders and Signifyd’s fraud, consumer abuse and ecommerce experts got together last week for the company’s first virtual conference, a graduate program in commerce strategy and techniques broke out.

During the half-day FLOW Forward Summit 2020, specialists from retailers such as Rite Aid, Mack Weldon and Rad Power Bikes, dropped retail knowledge between sessions by experts from Adobe, Forrester and Astound Commerce — all before a crowd of attendees participating on laptops and digital devices dispersed across the country. 

The first-ever event also served as a coming out party for Signifyd’s Commerce Protection Platform, an innovative end-to-end bundle of tools and services that uses constantly learning machines to maximize conversion, automate customer experience and eliminate fraud and consumer abuse. 

What's this story about, anyway?
  • Signifyd held its first virtual conference, FLOW Forward Summit 2020, last week.
  • A roster of some of the leading retail thought leaders in the country shared their retail wisdom.
  • The conference also introduced the Signifyd Commerce Protection Platform.
  • This is a session-by-session recap of highlights. View the on-demand version of the conference to hear it all.

“Today we’ll be talking about retail’s transformation and offering strategies from the industry’s top thought leaders that will help retailers navigate the rapidly shifting retail environment,” Signifyd’s Director of Customer Marketing Kalina Bryant said to open the virtual conference. “The three tracks of sessions will allow attendees to assemble a playbook of inspirational strategies for molding a successful ecommerce enterprise built for now and the future.” 

As with any sort of conference, absorbing all the content — or summarizing it for that matter — is a daunting task. But one of the many advantages to a virtual conference is that all the sessions have now been recorded and are available on demand. So, grab some popcorn and go to town.

To whet your appetite and to help you prioritize your viewing, here’s a highlight or two from each session: 

Fearless commerce 2020 – new buyers, challenges and opportunities

Signifyd Senior Vice President of Marketing & Alliances Indy Guha took virtual conference attendees through the rapid evolution of the retail and ecommerce markets. He explained how changes in consumer behavior and the evolution of digital technology have transformed the way successful retailers are doing business. 

For example, Guha pointed out that retailers today are spending 18 cents of every dollar to build an experience that allows customers to buy anywhere and pick up anywhere. Given the success of Amazon Prime, serving customers on all channels all the time had become a competitive imperative.  

“If you can offer a frictionless shopper experience, there is an opportunity for joy and an opportunity to turn that joy into lifetime value,” Guha said. “You cannot afford to lose customer lifetime value.”  

Successful retailers also have turned to automation to make sure that the joy is not killed by delayed and cancelled orders brought about by seasonal or unexpected circumstances and sales spikes. 

“We saw  a 62% spike in order volume over Cyber Week,” Guha told attendees. “Think about that for a second and about how hard it would be for a manual process to scale if you’re trying to do order investigation with that kind of spike.”

Know thy enemy – latest fraud and abuse vectors

Tim Potvin and Ryan Bermudez, respectively head and director of customer success at Signifyd, provided a survey of the latest twists in online fraud attacks. Mule fraud continues to be prevalent and constantly morphing, with romance or sweetheart fraud attempts surging last year.

For instance, Signifyd blocked $2 million in romance fraud attempts aimed at one customer in rapid succession last year and has identified more than 100 mule fraudsters in recent months, Potvin said. 

“This would not have been possible by looking at transactions just from one of our businesses. The fact that we were able to look across several different companies, match the behavior, and screen these transactions outside of the data elements presented here, gave us the advantage to move more quickly and stop these orders before they went out.”

And that work serves not only to stop the bad orders at hand, but prevents future fraud attacks as well, Potvin said.

All brands need A direct to consumer digital commerce strategy

Featured speaker Michelle Beeson, e-business and channel strategy analyst at Forrester, provided a deep dive in the challenges and potential of taking a business direct-to-consumer.

She offered concrete examples of upstart direct-to-consumer retailers that were born on the internet as well as more traditional brands that developed a direct-to-consumer strategy after selling in stores or through third-party retailers. 

“All brands need some kind of direct-to-consumer strategy,” Beeson said, “because it’s not just all about direct sales. It’s about digital engagement, not just through a brand site, but through retail partners, through marketplaces, through digital marketing. And it’s about building an understanding of consumers and building a relationship with them.” 

Decision Center – the newest component of Signifyd’s Commerce Protection Platform changes the game

Gayathri Somanath, senior director, product management and Stefan Nandzik, vice president of product & brand marketing at Signifyd, introduced a key module in the company’s new Commerce Protection Platform — an innovative solution that leads to an average 4% to 6% revenue lift.

The Decision Center, along with the Agent Console and Insights Reporting, gives in-house teams and risk experts hands-on control and vision into transactions and the performance of the enterprise. 

And Decision Center in particular gives risk teams precision tools to manage commerce abuse, such as overusing promo codes, unauthorized reselling and activities where blacklisting and whitelisting are valuable solutions.  

“Abuse, unlike payment fraud, is not so black and white,” Somanath explained during the FLOW Forward Summit. “With payment fraud, it’s either a purchase made by the cardholder or it isn’t. But if you think about an abuse situation … for one merchant, sharing and reusing promo codes could be encouraged as a customer acquisition or revenue-growth strategy. But for another merchant it could be a strict one-time use policy to avoid revenue leakage.”

People buy experiences, not products

The talk about consumers shifting their focus from products to experiences is a common topic of conversation in retail circles. But Peter Sheldon, Adobe’s senior director, commerce strategy, presented a nuanced view of just what that means for modern merchants. 

It doesn’t always mean spending on a restaurant meal instead of a pair of shoes or buying a tent only from a store that features a rock climbing wall. It can be about the actual experience of buying the product. 

Think of how Tesla has reimagined car shopping. Rather than a traditional dealership, consumers stroll something of an Apple Store for cars. Or how Stitch Fix altered apparel shopping with its algorithmically aided fashion advice. Or how Casper pioneered a different way to buy a good night’s sleep.

“Who would have said a decade ago that no one would ever buy a mattress without lying on it, sitting on it first,” Sheldon said.

But now 20% of mattresses are purchased just that way, he added.

The experience movement and consumers embrace of it are fueling a fundamental change taking place online and in physical retail. 

“Brands absolutely still need a presence out there in the mall, on high street, on Fifth Avenue,” Sheldon said. “What they’re doing is investing in experiential centers. They are there entirely to drive engagement with the customer.” 

Consider, by way of example, Canadian Goose’s Toronto flagship. 

“You can’t buy one of their parkas or jackets there in the store,” he said. “There is a virtual snow cave you can go into, a cold room and there is snow falling. It is all about entering into an experience.” 

The nine pillars of successful ecommerce

Dean Bowerman, Rite Aid’s vice president of digital marketing and ecommerce, provided virtual conference attendees with an end-to-end rundown of the discipline-by-discipline keys to running a successful ecommerce business. 

His overview was comprehensive, covering everything from marketing and merchandising to fulfillment and customer support. He offered useful nuggets about how to make sure the C-suite fully appreciates the ecommerce side of the house. 

Bowerman emphasized the importance of data, as most modern retailers would, but he cautioned against relying on data for data’s sake. Make sure the C-suite is getting the right analytics reports, he added, and make sure those reports make sense to those who inhabit the C-suite.

Finally, don’t skimp on data experts. 

“Make sure your data scientists are generating insights and not just reporting,” he said. “A good data scientist will pay for themselves typically in the first month.” 

Sometimes getting things right requires dramatic action. Bowerman said Rite Aid went through an extreme rough patch with its third-party fulfillment partner, with delivery times slipping by many days in the midst of the holiday period. 

“We were able to bring it in-house,” Bowerman said of fulfillment operations. “We were immediately able to cut our delivery time to just over two days.” 

And they were able to cut their fulfillment costs by 70%, he added.

“It doesn’t work for everybody,” he cautioned, “but we were able to work it out pretty well for Rite Aid.” 

Demo time – Decision Center, Agent Console and Insights Reporting in action

Once attendees had heard from Nandzik and Somanath about what Decision Center is, it was time for them to see Decision Center — as well as the Agent Console and Insight Reporting — in action.

Mariana Ortiz-Reyes, Signifyd’s product design manager, and Steven McComb, Signifyd’s product manager, walked attendees through some tangible examples of how the key modules of Signifyd’s Commerce Protection Platform work. 

Toys R Us case study — right technology at the right time to ensure success

Corey Meesom, managing director, Canada at Astound Commerce, took attendees through the initiatives that Toys R Us, Astound and Signifyd launched to help the retailer unlock value and build better experiences for its customers. 

At the heart of the project, Meesom said, was the principle of harnessing the power that working with partners can unleash. It’s the old notion of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts brought to a new world of digitally dexterous consumers. 

Salesforce Commerce Cloud, Meesom said, anchored the project, which the partners pulled off in less than half a year.

“There were very short timelines, very complex integrations and so many fingers in the pie. Things don’t always go swimmingly,” he said. 

But in this case, Meesom added, Toys R Us had glowing reviews for the work —  from start to finish. 

“They saw a massive increase in their order approval rate over previous processes,” he explained. “But it was way more than that. Signifyd was winning too.” 

Signifyd, he explained, corrected an issue with overly aggressive declines when it came to the sale of PlayStation 4 consoles. Signifyd also allowed Toys R Us to act on insights that hadn’t been in their arsenal before. 

“The new reporting available was something they had never seen before,” Meesom said. “Previously they were doing quarterly fraud reports. They moved now to almost real-time triage and reporting. This was the promise, again, of modern commerce.” 

Fireside chat – the digital native perspective on D-t0-C

To wrap up the day, Signifyd Senior Vice President, Marketing & Alliance Indy Guha returned to the virtual stage with Ty Collins, co-founder & CMO of Rad Power Bikes and Charley Moore, vice president, finance & operations at Mack Weldon.

As executives of two of retail’s most successful direct-to-consumer brands, Collins and Weldon were well equipped to talk about the buzzy topic and to offer practical advice for others looking to build successful D-to-C models.

Collins spoke of how uncertain the path to success can seem when one is starting out to build a company that will sell directly to its customers without the benefit of an established retail channel. He and the Rad Power team turned to crowdfunding, which ensured they’d be connecting immediately with an audience that was interested in buying what they were selling — electric bikes.

And he looked to loved ones for emotional encouragement for his plan to sell electric bicycle on the internet. And well.

“Even the people that believed in us more than anything went, ‘Uh, are you sure you’re going to be able to do that?’”

But Collins said he and his co-founder knew that they could do it, as long as they provided “a steller, amazing customer experience.” 

As companies grow and scale — Rad Power Bikes has grown from a company of three to more than 200 — new challenges arise. 

Moore of Mack Weldon talked about the shifting world of digital marketing. The retailer was among the pioneers of finding and marketing to fans on social media. It’s still effective, but the channels have become noisy. 

And digital advertising?

“Digital advertising networks have gotten really expensive in the last 18 months,” said Moore. So, Mack Weldon is continuing to think creatively. One channel that the lifestyle menswear retailer has embraced: Physical stores.

To be clear, Moore said, the company looks to stores to make money. But they function as a marketing touch, as well. 

“They are very much ways to drive awareness, drive customer acquisition and be a hub for our existing customers,” Moore said. Meantime, the retailer is exploring more ways to use stores for marketing. 

“More flagship stores in 10 to 15 of our top markets,” he said. “Can we take that store design and sink it down to something that is 100 square feet total? Or kiosks that we could activate in maybe airports or train stations, maybe malls.” 

For their part, Collins and Rad Power Bikes are also looking for ways to connect with customers — new showrooms, video chat options to help with bike repair, mobile repair units, Rad Power Bike rentals at local bike shops.

It is all part of the rapid change that is a constant in the world of direct-to-consumer selling. 

Because in retail, you’re never really finished innovating — a truth that the FLOW Forward Summit 2020 made crystal clear

Photo by Getty Images

Mike Cassidy

Mike Cassidy

Mike is the head of storytelling at Signifyd. A former journalist and a retail geek, he covers ecommerce and the way technology is transforming digital commerce. Contact him at [email protected].