I am at the Internet Retailer Conference in San Jose, CA this week along with 4,000 other e-tailers. Here are some thoughts from the first day.
Jim McCann, founder and CEO of 1-800-Flowers, gave the keynote address. Closing in on $1 billion in annual sales, 1-800-Flowers has aggressively acquired other companies in past years and expanded far outside flowers into other gift products such as candy and wine. According to Internet Retailer, that growth has been expensive, and all is not good within the company. I find that easy to believe. McCann filled his 30 minutes with bad jokes and very little substance. He was either trying very hard to keep the company strategy under wraps or he does not have a company strategy. I suspect the latter. He ended his talk with a rather bizarre plea for help from the audience. No thank you–if I figure out a better way to sell flowers online, I do not feel like sharing it with Jim McCann. I would rather start a flower company.
The Chief Marketing Officer of Ebay, Gary Briggs, was the next speaker, and I was very impressed. Gary challenged internet retailers to step up their game and truly innovate rather than just copying each other. He specifically made a little fun of e-tailers whose complete marketing strategy seems to consist of offering free shipping. He shared much of the Ebay strategy for the future, and it is definitely innovative. They want to take advantage of the increased bandwidth in homes and push typical Ebay functionality from the browser to the consumer desktops. They are also introducting distributed shopping to partner sites. I found myself contrasting the tough, smart approach of Ebay to the apparent lack strategy of 1-800-Flowers and decided to buy Ebay stock.
The next speaker was a professor of marketing at Texas A&M University named Venky Shankar. He demonstrated perfectly why I do not like to see professor types at these kinds of conventions. The Internet is simply moving too fast for the universities to keep up with, and his presentation was a bit naive and was not current.
Ken Burke, CEO of MarketLive, then presented a new white paper about improving site conversion. He was very informative, and I plan to discuss this white paper in a future post. Along with MarketingExperiments, MarketLive performs a service desperately needed by e-tailers. There are very simple changes that can be made to about any ecommerce website that will probably generate incremental improvements to the site’s conversion rate, and the MarketLive white paper is full of recommendations for those kinds of changes.
After two forgettable presentations from Callaway Golf and Wal-Mart, we listened to a short debate about internet regluation between David MCClure of the US Internet Industry Association and Tod Cohen, an Ebay VP. Ebay is taking a lead in proposing legislation to outlaw 2-tier networks that will keep companies such as AOL from controlling what sites are displayed to their users. McClure believes that legislation is unnecessary because market forces will make such a scenario impossible. However, both McClure and Cohen agreed that the most dangerous problem facing Internet Retailers is the possibility of an Internet sales tax.
All in all, I have learned a lot today. Fortunately, I have my laptop with me, so can get some work done during some of the less interesting speakers. More tomorrow…