Given that Marc Lore works for one of the biggest companies in the world, his advice for those crowded into a meeting hall at Shop.org sounded a little strange: act like a small, nimble company no matter how large and unwieldily you might become.
Lore was speaking during a session called “Act Like a Startup no Matter Your Size,” a message that has been trotted out enough that it could begin to sound a bit like a throw-away line. But from the exhibit hall at the annual gathering of ecommerce professionals, to the sessions featuring ecommerce leaders, to the hallways of the Los Angeles Convention Center, the wisdom of acting like a startup was evident.
The idea is to stay nimble and focused on the future in a world that is constantly changing — and there is no doubt that the ecommerce world is constantly changing, driven by the rapid evolution of technology and the increasing demands of consumers accustomed to life with Amazon.
Lore, CEO of Walmart Ecommerce, acknowledged that it’s not easy to remain nimble, particularly when you’re a $486-billion company with 2.3 million sales associates. But the problem of becoming lethargic and resistant to change can plague any size ecommerce operation. Lore says building an atmosphere that inspires creativity is key.
Risk taking can fuel ecommerce success
“If you give people information and you trust them and empower them and let them run and let them know that they’re going to be rewarded for taking risks, that’s the kind of environment you need to create,” Lore told the roomful of retail professionals.
In talking to others at the show, it became apparent that another key element in keeping up with ecommerce’s transformation is the willingness to seek out technology that provides a competitive edge or at least keeps your organization in the game.
It is the cost of doing business in a time when consumers have come to expect so much, given how much technology is able to provide — personalized recommendation, one-click ordering, two-day delivery, pinpoint package tracking, customer service by phone, email, text or bot.
Doug Rappoport, vice president of Visa Commerce Solutions, hosted a morning tour of the Tech Lab at Shop.org, an area where two dozen companies were showing off technological solutions for retail challenges. He acknowledged that retailers have a lot to handle in a very competitive business, even without launching programs based on cutting-edge innovation.
“I think what’s important is finding the right partner,” he said, adding that there is no reason for a retailer to become an expert in every technology it deploys.
“A retailer might not be an expert on (virtual reality). They might not be an expert on payment,” he said. “And they shouldn’t have to be.”
The same could be said for payments, fraud prevention, fulfillment, customer support and other aspects of the business that become vital pillars of the customer experience once a consumer has clicked on the buy button and ordered.
Brian Beck, a retail consultant with Guidance, said Tuesday that there is no doubt that the marketing and merchandising efforts and tools that encourage consumers to click or tap on “buy” are critical to success. But what happens after that purchase is equally important, he said.
“If you look at Amazon, they are a monster. And they’re a monster for a reason,” Beck said. “They do a great job with personalizing the experience, meeting and beating the expectations across the entire customer experience, including post purchase.”
How to decide which tech solutions to deploy
The tricky part for merchants, of course, is figuring out what technologies will actually help them succeed and which partners they should turn to help them automate and innovate.
“There is such a wide variety of technology available for businesses of all sizes. I think they really have to do their homework,” said Joe Beninato, founder of Banter, a natural language processing chatbot system for retail.
Part of that homework, he said, is to ask trusted partners for recommendations, while realizing that sometimes if you want to get ahead of the curve, there will be experimentation involved.
“So finding a company that is nimble and can help support them throughout, is important as well,” Beninato said.
As for what technologies to embrace? Walmart’s Lore had some advice there, too. He said most of what he’d been seeing and reading about was viable technology. Yes, he added, some of it is closer to being ready for prime time than others. It’s really a matter of determining what technology will be useful in the near term and lining that up with the needs of your operation.
Oh, and Lore didn’t say it, he didn’t have to: Be prepared to move in another direction if the technology answer you decided on didn’t turn out to be what you thought it would be.
Photo of Marc Lore and Fortune’s Andrew Nusca courtesy of the National Retail Federation.