Internet Retail EXPO 2017: Google Innovations, Chatbots and emojis

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Leigh Mardon

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I recently attended the highly-anticipated Internet Retail Expo. Held annually in Birmingham, this was the biggest one to date, exploring the latest multi-channel retail trends and major online innovations.

With some of the biggest names and tech experts attending, there were some interesting discussion on the future of eCommerce, here are a few of my highlights from the event…

Mobile marketing on the move

Mobile. It’s everywhere in eCommerce this year, so it’s no surprise it was a hot topic at this years EXPO. Considering the majority of people are using one at some point each day, there was a lot of chatter around how retailers can use it to their advantage. One conference discussed better promotional targeting through location services, which could become incredibly specific with improved WiFi availability. In fact, there was a not-so-far-fetched idea that permanent WiFi everywhere could eventually replace the phone network, giving retailers even more marketing opportunities.

Along the same lines, it apparently takes up to 24 hours for a person to read their emails but only 32 seconds for a text message. If companies utilise this combined with location services, engaging consumers with relevant content could be even more targeted. Chuck video into the mix, which all text messaging apps support, and this makes for a very compelling offering.

Also, searching rich content via voice search on mobile has particularly taken off. Nick Wilsdon, group SEO lead at Vodafone, said if retailers want this and their SEO rankings on Google’s featured snippets to have better visibility, they need to focus on optimising the mobile experience to help boost these features.

Rise of the robots

Chatbots were a big theme at this years Expo. Stuart McMillian, deputy head of eCommerce for Shuh is considering the introduction of them onto their site. He believes they’ll become common currency in the next 2 years, which will have big implications for retailers.

Not only will this type of technology mean instant responses can be provided 24/7 for the customer but the reduction in human interaction means less call centre staff will be needed, which is money saved in the long term. Also having auto translation would help overcome the language barriers, especially when internationalisation is such a hot topic.

Around 22% of retailers are using it in some way and it was exciting  to hear that more companies are looking to embracing the technology, including Next, who discussed it during the Customer Experience Panel. Even Google have introduced Google Allo, their own virtual assistant who you text through an app on your mobile.

As for their accuracy, mGage says these Chatbots can answer up to 90% of customer queries and will make it easier for us to complete our digital chores after regular hours. Customer’s so far appear happy to interact with them so, it looks like the robots will be taking over soon..

Dial P for pizza

Lastly, one thing that took us by surprise was the humble emoji and the innovative uses it’s having in retail. As it turns out, the innocuous icons are actually the most recognised language in the world. Dominos are among the first to embrace them, allowing customers to place an order by texting nothing but the pizza emoji. There may even be opportunities for companies to create their own emojis as a fun form of branding. As the most understood form of communication, who knows, we may soon be ordering everything with them, from clothing to food, apparently.

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