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Attendees at the Salesforce Connections conference in Chicago last month were met with stories of innovation, forward-thinking leaders in e-commerce, and even got their fists pumping with the event’s legendary annual concert. The theme this year was strongly focused on shopper experience, and how the right technology and some out-of-the box approaches can really make a huge difference.

Here are recaps of a few of the key presentations from Connections, which should help provide some inspiration and motivation to take action in order for you to follow in the footsteps of our industry trailblazers.

Holiday Prep Continues to Start Earlier Each Year

Preparing for the upcoming holiday season was marked as a priority multiple times during this year’s edition of Connections, and the audience received some great advice on how to have their best season yet. The Salesforce Commerce Cloud (SFCC) team took a hard look into the holiday data from last year and presented their findings and recommendations for the upcoming season. Having so many great brands on the Commerce Cloud platform means that the audience got to learn from the best in the business.

It’s no surprise the consensus was for retailers to begin holiday preparations as early as possible to be ready for lockdown in October. Considering SFCC reported seeing 50 percent of retailers’ total holiday revenue being made by Dec. 3, one could argue that it’s never too early to get started. It was also reported that for the first time, mobile had the higher percentage of transactions, with 48 percent of orders compared to 44 percent from computers. This reinforces the fact that a great mobile shopping experience is critical for all e-commerce sites.

The SFCC team also urged retailers to optimize for search engine optimization to increase long-term return on investment, maintaining focus on three main areas: meta information, good content and site performance. To optimize for meta information and good content, SFCC dove into the capabilities of its new Page Designer feature — an easy, drag-and-drop way to add image-heavy pages like gift guides and lookbooks to e-commerce sites. Page Designer allows nontechnical users to build these pages, keep merchandise up-to-date, and drive SEO through metadata and tagging, eliminating the need for retailers to depend on third parties for these features.

The deep dive into the first two focus areas was well received, but the audience could have benefitted from more details around the third recommendation: site performance. In terms of preparing for the upcoming holiday season, SFCC announced its artificial intelligence-powered product recommendations tool, Einstein. In this year’s first quarter, it was found that shoppers who acted on AI recommendations spent 26 percent more.

Einstein in Action With Roots Canada

We were fortunate enough to see Salesforce’s Einstein product recommendation tool in action from retailer Roots Canada. Roots is an innovative, nature-inspired apparel company driven to help people be who they are by combining the best of city life and cabin life. Roots’ James Connell and Gabriela Mercer, along with Rob Rosone from Salesforce, walked us through how to increase average order value by sharing their story.

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Initially, Roots had been using a third-party product recommendation tool on its site, but knew there was room for improvement. By switching to Einstein, first with A/B testing before making the total switch along with a website redesign, Roots saw a 20 percent increase in sales from product recommendations. During this process, Roots wasn’t afraid to try something different, and added Einstein product recommendations to its homepage. Not only did this eliminate the concern of hard-coded out-of-stock products on the homepage, but it gave Roots the ability to feature relevant products without manual effort.

Not everyone thinks to use product recommendations on their homepage, but that’s not the only way Roots has been showcasing its innovation. During this session, Mercer and Connell spoke about Roots’ new store concept that creates a personalized shopping experience. Picture walking into an environment rather than a clothing store. Here, there’s inspiration everywhere; stimulating sounds; and a friendly tour guide that custom selects products for shoppers based on a lifestyle conversation. The end result? Shoppers purchase more in-store AND online.

Closing in on the ‘Mobile Gap’

Attendees seemed to really enjoy the mobile focus included in this year’s conference. In one session, PayPal Evangelist Danny Houk offered insights into closing the mobile revenue gap. The audience learned that on Cyber Monday 2018, 51.4 percent of e-commerce site visitors came from mobile, but only 23.6 percent made a purchase on their smartphone. That discrepancy is called “the mobile revenue gap,” and e-commerce sites are experiencing it across the board.

Houk noted that online shoppers are visiting retail websites from their phones, adding items to their wish lists, before ultimately making purchases on their laptops and desktops. The problem with that is not all shoppers make it back to the site to complete their purchase. Houk’s team at PayPal have set up a program to run a series of tests to see if they can decrease the friction in the mobile buying experience.

Their team uses the metric revenue per visitor (RPV) to measure the success of this initiative. RPV is calculated by dividing total revenue earned in a time period by total visitors in the same time period, on the same device. So far, here are some of the things they’ve learned:

  • collapsing the coupon and promo fields at checkout raised RPV by 3.34 percent;
  • adding an auto cart update so shoppers don’t need to hit “update cart” increased RPV by 8.84 percent;
  • removing the wishlist feature raised RPV by 5.62 percent; and
  • removing breadcrumbs decreased RPV.
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These findings are great to keep in mind when optimizing for mobile experience. While the concept of directly linking a consistent shopping experience to higher conversions isn’t new, this session certainly re-enforced it.

The Benefits of Upgrading to Storefront Reference Architecture (SFRA)

Insight into new technologies is always promised and a big reason why retailers attend Connections each year. This session with Rolf Krauss and Johnny Vu from GSPANN Technologies, urging retailers on SFCC to switch from using SiteGenesis 2.0 to Storefront Reference Architecture (SFRA), delivered on that promise.

By upgrading to SFRA, developers and marketers will both benefit heavily from improvements in their respective camps. The new architecture boasts modularity, pixel perfection, and quick enhancements. After making the switch, retailers have seen results such as 1 percent to 2 percent percent lift in total site conversions, year-over-year triple-digit mobile conversions, a big improvement in page load speed, among other impressive reports.

One thing that stuck out in the SFRA presentation was the assertion that it can potentially improve page load speed. However, significant site performance increase from SFRA seems a bit misleading, considering research shows that 75 percent of page load time actually comes from third parties. It’s overly optimistic to attribute a change to the site’s UI structure to that much influence on page load time without making any significant changes to how the retailer controls and optimizes their 40-plus third parties.

As discussed, there are many great reasons that e-commerce sites should make the switch to SFRA, and doing so will certainly help the SFCC server-side performance. However, upgrading to SFRA won’t help with optimizing page load time from the client-side performance, especially with all the third parties and extensive imagery that e-commerce sites are using today.

Actionable Insight Made Connections a Success

It was inspiring to see our industry partners already diving in, conducting research, and really paving the way through e-commerce innovation. It’s an exciting time for retailers, and the key to success seems to be getting over the idea generation hump and actually executing on those ideas. People are trying new things and being successful. There may have been a few missed opportunities to really dive into site performance, but it was encouraging to see a solid focus on building a seamless shopper experience, and all the great research being done around mobile.

Overall, the 2019 Salesforce Connections conference was the perfect balance of strategic vs. tactical, and the audience was able to walk away with ideas they can actually begin working on immediately. The research has been done and the trails have been blazed. The time is now for retailers to move towards the future.

Rich Stendardo is the CEO of Yottaa, an e-commerce acceleration platform.

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