by Brian K. Walker

Over the last two days leaders in online retail and the vendors who support them gathered in Orlando, Florida to discuss the state of eCommerce.

Some key thoughts:

1 – A glass half-empty is also half-full. Business is tough for some, and good for others. These times are full of opportunity and will lead to innovations. This was a resonating theme from Bob Thacker’s absolutely terrific keynote Wednesday morning, and reinforced by our forecast for 2009-2013. Many online retailers I spoke with reflected a relative strength of the online channel in an otherwise very challenging retail environment.
2 – Focus on the customer. Alfred from Zappos shared some key insights in the operating philosophy and culture at Zappos and how this has translated into a value proposition and loyalty for their customers. The metrics and results from this laser-focus on customer service and satisfaction speak for themselves. Much of what they do is common-sense, but requires commitment and courage to execute.
3 – A healthy eCommerce technology market. Our data and level of client engagement on this topic was reinforced by the retailers and vendors at the forum. A show of hands in my session on “The eCommerce Platform of the Future” was yet another data point, with 25-30% of retailers in the room indicating they intend to replatform in the near future. Point-solution providers have also shared that they have been pleasantly surprised by the market this year.
4 – International is still not a real priority. The complexity, cost, and distractions of operating international eCommerce remain a barrier to companies. This is still not easy. Payments, logistics, content, marketing, talent, and technology all add up to a challenge. As Jim Okamura said in the international session, it requires a commitment over the long-term by companies to get this right. It is great that is getting behind this topic, helping retailers solve this, and I know Forrester is looking forward to supporting that as well.

I encourage you to check out the blog for more coverage of the sessions.

And some personal notes and observations:Apollo_4

  • I am thinking that the Gaylord resort concept may be an indicator of what it will be like to live in space. No one left the bio-dome for 3 days, living is a faux-reality complete with “outdoor square  s”, 17th century forts, and alligators. Will we have space-ports themed after every state in space? When I finally stepped outside today if was as if I have been living without gravity and  was trying to get into the helicopter harness to be spirited off the waiting carrier (my rental car ). 
  • Twitter is a major topic of conversation. I was amazed by how many conversations started with “oh, I think I am following you on twitter”. But, relatively few people are really participating, and many talk about not knowing if this is really a useful and meaningful tool. I do think it is a great way to keep a conversation rolling, and it will be interesting if all the new follows from the forum develop into that.
  • We have great people in this industry. I was again reminded by the genuine, down-to-earth, smart, and creative people we have in this industry – retailers, vendors, and thought-leaders. It was great to connect, share stories, and learn from each other.

Now, back to my debriefing after returning from space,