On Wednesday I braved the snow and attended another Econsultancy Manchester Digital Shorts event. Ian Jindal is a firm favourite of the Azam team and I went to see his review of Christmas 2008 trading results as well as predictions for developments in e-commerce.

The British are among the most recent group of online purchasers in the Western world, yet we have quickly come to boast the highest concentration of internet buying activity, making the UK the “capital country for shopping online”.

However, any E-commerce Managers believing they have an easy ride ahead of them, please take note: Jindal warns that despite the nation’s enthusiasm for shopping online, UK shoppers have been described as “cynical, savvy and demanding,” making your job much tougher in 2009.

Whereas previously, an innovative, user-friendly website with thousands of products was enough keep your visits and conversions high, this year the requirements for successful online trading are cold hard cash and high return on investment (ROI).

Hearing Ian state this took me back to my first days at Shop Direct, before it merged with Littlewoods Home Shopping. My ‘apprenticeship’ with the company was spent seeking new online acquisition opportunities and building business cases to support budget for new projects. Every case was presented with an ROI forecast and purchase order and had to be signed off by the Head of E-commerce, Finance Director and CEO.

It’s fair to say I had to work hard for my money; data managment systems were built to constantly monitor performance. We had to ensure an ROI of 90%. The pressure was on, but the system worked and the company gradually recovered from falling sales and debt to make a profit.   

This model eventually changed as new online competitors and channels started to emerge. New projects were signed off more quickly to ensure our brands could widen their reach across the web. Suddenly, the level of ROI was relaxed. It continued to be monitored and reviewed but margins were not as restrained. We were looking for exposure as much as sales and new customers.

According to Ian Jindal’s 2009 predictions, it appears e-commerce has come full circle. In the current recession, businesses can’t afford to pay for brand exposure which returns low or 0% profit. Targets have to be met – bosses will be putting pressure on their internal teams to deliver results; agencies and partners in turn will feel this weight.  

In an age where popular brands such as Diesel and Miss Sixty are widely available through multiple retailers, focus and differentiation will have to outweigh product range and stock. 

However, before you start worrying you may not be up to the challenge, fear not. Ian assures us we are moving into a ‘magical phase’, where data will form the building blocks of the next decade of digital commerce. Vital customer data is key to developing a targeted proposition to allow you to interact and serve your customers, making your business step beyond the screen and become an interactive brand.

The other good news is this data is free and not exclusive: you just need to know where to look and how to use it. New social shopping websites such as ThisNext are already using their own resources to swap loyalty points for free customer data allowing them to slowly build a distinguished, active and profitable position in a slowing saturated market.

If you are interested in exploring the ideas above further and meeting the man himself, Ian Jindal will be making his presentation again at the Sanctuary Cafe, Hove on 11th February. He is a well of knowledge and one of the wittiest speakers in the business!

You can review notes from last year’s event here or contact sinead [at] azam.net for further information.

You can view the slides of the presentation here:

View more presentations from Ian Jindal.

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