Comment: RBTE eCommerce Theatre Day One

It’s been a mind-stretching day in the eCommerce Theatre on the first day at RBTE.

I’ve been challenged by our editor to write about a theme that connected our speakers and panellists. By lunchtime, I’d pretty much decided the theme should be 'follow the consumer'. Our first speaker was Robbie Feather, eCommerce Director at Sainsbury's, and he was very explicit in commenting on this: retailing used to be about 'Product, Proposition and Price', but now the consumer takes centre stage. Mobile in particular, for Sainsbury's, is enabling them to move closer to the consumer, and a long term ambition for them is that one-hour delivery of orders placed via mobile might occupy some of the space that convenience stores do today for Sainsbury's – it’s what the consumer wants, in this case for convenience and immediacy that’s driving their direction, and Sainsburys are following them there.

At first sight, our next presentation was a complete contrast. Instead of the huge-scale processes that lie behind online grocery, we heard from Enclothed, a start-up. But connecting the two together was a total focus on the needs of their consumers, in this case men who want clothes but don’t actually want to bother to buy them.  Following their consumers for Enclothed really means exactly that: learning continuously about their needs based on what they don’t buy.

And our morning ended with a panel discussion entitled: 'what does the consumer want, need or think?' – and of course, how do we as retailers meet that need. What could be clearer then? Our theme was going to be 'follow the consumer'.

That is, until IBM told us only 22% of consumers say the average retailer understands them… Following the consumer is clearly going to be pretty tricky if you don’t understand what your consumers are telling you. Still, maybe I could still use it as the theme for this article, I thought. Except, we then heard from Travelex, whose presentation began with the assertion that 'customers aren’t always right,' and then proceed to demonstrate this rather convincingly, in a presentation that challenged more than one paradigm: throwing out the concept of 'Minimum Viable Product' and replacing it with 'Minimum Loveable Product' is certainly one takeaway I plan to try out on my clients in future.

And we concluded by hearing exactly how often consumers are indeed 'wrong': 43% of the time in apparel categories for Equiva, a German retailer of equine related products – this being their returns rate for online orders. Or Shop Direct’s customers, who get it wrong so often, their returns centre processes 50,000 items per day. Maybe 'follow the consumer' won’t work as a theme for this article then?

Later I was chatting to someone at the post-show networking drinks, who asked me: “What’s the best way of driving conversion you’ve seen recently?” And when I thought about the best thing I’d seen in the last 12 months, it was right back to basics: all about understanding and following the desires of consumers. is a US pureplay retailer of pet-related products, most especially pet-food. Their returns policy? Take your unwanted food to your local pets-shelter, and we’ll give you a full refund and then donate the food to them. It’s probably the most powerful sales and conversion driving I’ve seen: and it’s all about following the consumer through the whole of the online shopping experience, not just proposition and marketing, but right through execution all the way to returns.

So we’ve spent a day following our consumers, from proposition right through to returns, with a critical detour: we need to be sure we understand them, and our consumers need to love us while we follow them!

Chris Jones is a freelance specialist in multichannel and eCommerce, with extensive senior-level experience as both consultant and hands-on interim. He has worked extensively in both B2B and B2C sectors, and has client engagement experience in 15 countries. He is the author of ‘The Multichannel Retail Handbook’. You can find him at