5 things we learned from IMRG Customer Connect Conference 2018

Tips, data, and insight from ecommerce experts


The IMRG Customer Connect Conference 2018 took place in June, and discussed the practices and expectations of the internet-savvy customer.

If you were there, thanks for coming. It was great to have you.

And if you weren’t, don’t fret. We’ve got you covered. We’ve condensed the wealth of content from the day into five key takeaways.

And so, without further ado, here are five things we learned at the 2018 Customer Connect.

1. Communication is the lifeblood of ecommerce

IMRG Strategy and Insight Director Andy Mulcahy kicked off the day with the challenging, if somewhat tongue-in-cheek conclusion, that ‘customers are really confusing and you can’t possibly hope to understand them.’ Seeking to undo this uplifting sentiment, experts in their fields weighed in throughout the day with their insight on the matter.

Andy Mulcahy presents at Customer Connect

‘It’s not just data, data, data’ – Dan Mahoney, Head of eCommerce and Customer, Whittard of Chelsea

Data is useful in many respects and can be core to business practice, but, according to the theme of the day, is redundant in isolation.

Paul Gray, Head of Marketing at Chums, had this to say on the matter: ‘Data is the crown jewel of any organisation. But data in itself is useless – it’s about the insight you can take from it. It’s how you can use it to tell stories’.

And stories were in prolific form on the day. Laura Riches, Marketing Director of Naked Wines, had no less than five accounts of stories generating an overwhelming response from customers. And, of vital note, one such account demonstrated how an entire absence of data can have no effect, as long as the story evokes an emotional, human, feeling.

Laura Riches speaking at Customer Connect

‘Customers should be the end-point of everything’ – Malcolm Berg, Sales Director UK and Eire, Stored Value Solutions

It’s an undisputed fact that the customer sits at the heart of retail. But in this world of relentless technological advancement, customer retention is becoming more complex than ever. Without an optimised route through the customer journey, they’re apt to go elsewhere. And so, the golden question: how can you understand what a customer wants?

Well, it’s rather simple, really: ask.

Modern shoppers ‘want engagement and a relationship’ (Malcolm Berg). They expect a conversation, an ability to discuss a return, an interaction on social media. A personalised purchase. The acquisition of data is the baseline of business success, but to really thrive in the contemporary age? Look to the human element.

Audience at Customer Connect

2. We’re heading towards the apocalypse in retail (maybe)

We’re seeing a definitive ‘shift in consumer culture’, according to Paul Fennemore, Digital Transformation Consultant, Sitecore. Millennials are driving a significant portion of online purchases, and the economic position they’ve been born into has a direct correlation with their purchasing behaviour. They won’t necessarily own houses, and cars are being purchased on finance. And because of this, people ‘aren’t bothered about owning things anymore’.

People want to put their money towards ‘life experiences rather than ownership’: holidays and dinners. And so dawns the era of subscription-based services. We’ve already seen a transition to video-based subscription services with the likes of Netflix, and the near-future could see subscription blossoming. Cars could be on subscription so ‘the car you drive to work in isn’t the one you drive home’. Utilities such as kitchen appliances may begin to automatically order for themselves.

What this all boils down to is disintermediation. The cutting out of the retailer, so that producers and customers engage directly. A concept for now, but perhaps a concept worth acknowledging.

‘Keep ahead of the trend’ – Colm O’ Monáchain, V.P. Product Solutions, J.P. Morgan

On the flipside of concept is stark reality, coming in the form of the Payment Services Directive Two (PSD2). Colm O’ Monáchain, VP Product Solutions, J.P. Morgan, presented on what to expect from the SCA (Strong Customer Authentication) requirements which will be mandated from September 2019.

It seems a way off yet – a mere smudge in the distance – but retailers need to begin to prepare for this change. Not only will two-factor authentication become obligatory, but retailers will need to integrate dynamic authentication tools into their services to adapt to the change. It’s also recommended that retailers ‘alert their customers in preparation’. The time to begin thinking of the future is now.

Barbara Cichello hosts a panel

3. Beware the Smart Customer

In today’s world, uncapped information is carried in pockets. A customer has the ability to become an expert on a topic in as much time as it takes for them to type into the search bar, and, as such, there is a necessity to overturn traditional retail habits.

Staff can’t afford to be lacking behind the customer in product information. John Lewis are already combatting this by ‘issuing their staff with iPhones’, so as to be on an even keel with the customer (Louisa Nicholls, Senior Manager of Online Trade, Home, John Lewis).

‘Don’t get distracted by “shiny things”’ – Louisa Nicholls, Senior Manager of Online Trade, Home, John Lewis

Adding a garnished side-plate of fancy interfacing to your website: it’s an alluring proposition. But, one which should be entirely discounted. The modern-day customer is only interested in one thing: ease. Website restructuring should concentrate on simplification: ‘customers want simple things made better, not more complex’ (Louisa Nicholls).

Another sentiment at the conference was that there is also a movement towards customers browsing items in-store, before buying them online. This growing trend points towards a future of omnichannel retail where the role of the store seems to be in some need of fundamental redefinition.

Women networking at Customer Connect

4. How to optimise the data stream

In this day and age, every step of the customer journey can be tracked and monitored. Data feeds in to everything; the key question, therefore, is how best to use this wealth of information?

‘Consolidation,’ says Dan Mahoney, Head of eCommerce and Customer at Whittard of Chelsea. The trick is not in isolating the various streams and comparing them individually, but rather to perceive them as a whole and extract overlying trends therein.

Beyond that, a business needs to be aware of the enormity of data, and discount that which doesn’t personally benefit them. They should ask themselves ‘what questions do we as a business want to answer?’ and then ‘develop a strategy from that’ (Avneet Mudhar, Data Analyst, Salmon).

And owing to the ongoing intricacy of data, it’s important to recognise the value of third-party collaboration. ‘Nobody can have knowledge of all areas of marketing. People in a business don’t necessarily have time to study how to maximise and gain the good customers. Dedicated third parties can offer these things’ (Sangeetha Narasimhan, Regional Marketing Director – EMEA, Ingenico Retail SMB).

Experts sit on a panel

5. Black Friday is / isn’t the new Christmas

It’s June, and so, naturally, the conference featured a lengthy discussion on the Christmas period. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, the key takeaway was that maybe it ought to be redubbed the Black Friday period (though, in truth, Black Friday and Christmas, despite their proximity, are arguably separate events entirely).

Simon Dring, Head of Client Success at Mention Me, stated: ‘December was weaker last year year-on-year, while November was proportionately stronger.’ What this means is that businesses need to prepare for the influx of customers earlier in the quarter, now that Black Friday is a firm feature of the public consciousness.

Keep in mind, then, that the customer is expectant of Black Friday. There won’t be a ‘Mount Fuji’ type data graph – customers will naturally roll in throughout the week of discounts. And owing to this, there’s ‘no need to labour the point in emails’. Customers are aware of the occasion. Oversaturating their inboxes with deals may be detrimental. Although, ‘showing the product can be powerful in ensuring a conversion’ (Elizabeth Brennan, UK Industry Client Director for Retail, Travel and Classified, Criteo).

Men networking at customer connect


Our next event is the IMRG Data Summit on 20th September 2018

IMRG run a series of studies analysing participant performance across a range of datasets that we track. At this Data Summit, we’ll be unveiling the key learnings from these studies, that will help you inform your strategy for optimising the customer experience.

Registration is now open – be sure not to miss it.

Register now

Join thousands of other Online Retail professionals

Get unique insights straight to your inbox for free, and improve your understanding of online retail. Subscribe to Online Retail Weekly now.

Webinar Scroll Banner
Join thousands of other Online Retail professionals

Get unique insights straight to your inbox for free, and improve your understanding of online retail. Subscribe to Online Retail Weekly now.

Webinar Scroll Banner