An eTail East Recap: Bridging Digital & Physical

Our team attended eTail East 2016 in Boston last week along with the top retailers across the continent all looking to transform retail together. 

There was a ton of great content and countless in-depth conversations had. Below are a few key takeaways from the event.

1. The customer’s need to see, touch and feel is real

Jon Sainsbury, President, International & Head of Marketing at Blue Nile stressed there is still a very clear need for customers to see, touch and feel in the world of retail. Through events they realized that while their pure play online sales were strong, there was a need to move in-store to satisfy their customers and close more sales. They started with a webroom kiosk in Nordstrom and then expanded to their own webroom location. Blue Nile saw such a meaningful lift in sales in zip codes near those locations, they have since planned to have five by EOY. The webrooms are pure showcase and interaction, but solve the customer’s need.

2. Cultural challenges are a main omnichannel hurdle

Brad Dolian, Mobile Marketing Manager at Cabela’s, spoke on a panel about how Cabela’s has a very rich history in catalog. The way they are setup is with e-commerce on one side of the business and in-store on the other. The online to offline attribution and issue of buy online pick up in-store initially caused a lot of internal friction. Where does the credit go to? You have to take a very real look at your overall incentive strategies and goals, ensuring everyone is working towards the same big picture.

3. Digital is too important to leave to the e-commerce department

Wayne Duan, Director of Digital Commerce at Walgreens, somewhat echoed Dolian’s cultural challenges. Duan quoted the old saying that just as marketing is too important to leave entirely to your marketing team, digital is too important to leave to the e-commerce department.” Walgreens is building agile teams within their organization and including the merchants in those conversations. It’s because of these teams they have ended services such as pickup in-store” because they realized if it’s not solving a problem big enough, it will not take off.

Duan instructed the audience to abandon their FOMO (fear of missing out) and embrace JOMO (joy of missing out). Walgreens plans to scale based on the realization that they don’t have to be everything to all people and it’s not necessary to do what all other brands are doing. 

4. Personalization is the newest buzz and it boils down to data

How do you add personalization without being creepy? It starts with collecting the right data and aggregating it in the right way. From there you can intelligently market to your customers in the appropriate ways at the appropriate times during their path to purchase.

Thoryn Stephens, Chief Digital Officer at American Apparel gave a number of suggestions in how to drive customer centricity, realize your customer value, perform cluster analyses, and match customer data to social media profiles. If an ad looks exactly that, your customers aren’t likely to share the information. If you can provide niche content that people identify with and that evokes empathy and human connection, people are more likely to act upon it.

Stephens left the audience with the concept that on-demand fulfillment is the future of retail. He spoke to the concept of today’s customers (especially millennials) desire to have their needs fulfilled in under an hour. Hence American Apparel’s partnership with Postmates – which is essentially Uber for delivery.


Overall, it was very apparent customer channels will continue to blend and the physical and digital components of the retail experience will need to continue to blend as well.

Want more information on how you can blend digital and physical? Check out our whitepaper: Best Practices for Bringing Endless Aisle into Your Retail Strategy.