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Fórum E-Commerce Recap: The Future of the Retail

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I had the opportunity to attend Fórum E-Commerce, held in Sao Paulo from August 14-16 and the largest e-commerce event in Latin America, where many retail and e-commerce innovations were discussed.  Two major topics that were recurrent throughout the event were the continued importance of strong omnichannel strategies and applications of AI for retail.

Omnichannel: Eliminating the Offline-Online Divide

One of the first speakers at Fórum E-Commerce was Martin Barthel, Global Head of Global Retail and eCommerce Strategy at Facebook.  A major theme from Barthel’s presentation was the importance of mobile devices in retail.  Mobile, Barthel argued, “is the common thread in the customer experience” and the “connective tissue in people’s shopping journey”.  Per Barthel, 90% of Facebook users globally use Facebook on mobile devices, and 69% of the sales conversions Facebook can track happen via mobile.  Shoppers increasingly use mobile devices while in physical stores as well.  To help store-based retailers take advantage of these trends, Facebook is introducing new marketing tools specifically geared towards offline retailers.

Frederico Trajano, CEO of Magazine Luiza, presented a broader vision for omnichannel initiatives in his session, “New Frontiers in Retail: A Vision of Innovation”.  Per Trajano, Magazine Luiza is converting from a traditional retailer with a digital division to a digital platform with physical locations and a human touch.  Both Trajano and Marta Dalton, formerly director of e-commerce at Coca-Cola Refreshments, stressed the need of getting buy-in from store employees and sales teams when implementing new digital initiatives at Fórum E-Commerce – especially for digital initiatives that take place alongside brick and mortar strategies, frontline employee buy-in is critical.

AI: Using Technology to Make Retail More Human

Artificial intelligence was the main focus of 1-800-FLOWERS CMO Amit Shah’s session, “Artificial Intelligence and the Next Evolution of Marketing.”  The implementation of AI has the potential to restore aspects of store-based retail that perhaps have been missing in e-commerce marketing.  Per Shah, traditional retail marketing is “relationships driven by conversations” – and it’s hard to have a conversation without knowing anything about the customer.  Structured data and AI give retailers the chance to understand the customer’s “context” and interact with shoppers in a one-on-one way, as well as to grow the number conversations (both online and offline), as well as the variety of channels they take place on.

Sylvie de Wever, GM of Latin America at eBay, also discussed AI applications in her session, “The Future of E-Commerce and Retail: An Overview of eBay in LATAM”.  According to de Wever, “AI is an enabler to bring the human back.”  Some of the ways eBay is currently using AI include a discovery tool, in which shoppers can take a picture of an item and eBay image recognition software finds similar product listings, and a voice-based “global price assistant”, which provides sellers with pricing guidance using Google’s personal assistant.  eBay’s strategies demonstrate how AI can be used to improve both the shopper experience as well as business operations.


“I hope you are excited about the future of retail - because there is so much to be excited about,” said Facebook’s Barthel, concluding his session and in a sense summarizing Fórum E-Commerce as a whole.  While it is key for retailers and e-commerce companies to think critically about the types of innovations and strategies that will most benefit their core customers, there have never been more tools and technologies available for retailers to improve the shopper experience.

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