Last week, I attended the ChannelAdvisor Catalyst E-commerce conference, a lively two days of insightful presentations, panel
discussions and debates and a real focus on the channel aspects of developing
and driving e-commerce.

Here I round up some of the key points from the conference…

The threat from Amazon and eBay

One of the themes of
the conference was the sense of an online metamorphosis taking place by two big
American brands – eBay and Amazon – setting their sights on becoming the giant online
shopping malls of choice in the UK’s burgeoning e-commerce space.  

Some familiar retailers were slowly waking up
to the rising threat of the big multi-seller offerings as they gobbled up
significant market share from more traditional businesses with their aggressive
and diverse online marketplaces.

Both eBay (who also own micro payments site PayPal) and Amazon have been investing heavily in
developing highly sophisticated market places where there’s fierce competition within
their own brand sites, even against themselves (in the case of Amazon).

not alone at it either, as other brands like are developing their sellers
market models, with Play operating a hybrid retailer and sellers market place
business.  It may well be time for a
British retailer (Play is Jersey based) to move into this space, and give the Yanks
a home grown contender.

The benefits of having a strong brand hosting a market place
are patently obvious: there’s trust that has already been established; advanced
technology for handling the transactions; a familiar interface that’s tried and
tested; an effective recommendations engine; not to forget a single checkout.

Here are some useful insights that came out of the two day e-commerce
channel session:


  • There’s an acute awareness by Ebay, Amazon and Google that
    mobile will be the next e-commerce battleground, and the big guys are well
    placed to figure out how to make things work on the growing number of smart
    phones entering the market. 
  • Last year
    Ebay did $600m on iPhone e-commerce sales alone, and there’s a big jump being
    predicted for this year.
  • Mobile advice at the conference was that if you were
    conducting e-commerce today, make sure that have a mobile ready site as soon as
    you can
  • There’s going to be a dramatic shift taking place, with ecommerce moving more to mobile and slate devices over the next couple of years in terms of hardware influence.

Social media and e-commerce

  • There’s a growing trend between social media and
    , with companies like Vente Prive in France and Gilt in the US showing
    some amazing results.
  • Social gaming was seen as another big e-commerce growth
    , with virtual goods and gaming generating around US$ 300m for Zynga just
    on Facebook alone. It has made such an impact to Facebook that they’re now
    coming up with a payment system of their own.
  • There was talk about the rise in importance of social shopping on the internet, with companies like Facebook well placed to benefit from this. 
  • A bad product review doesn’t do any damage to the retailer, it damages the product, having more reviews is always better. It was mentioned that having negative product reviews at least showed customers that you were honest, and helped to drive traffic. 

Price comparison

  • Price comparison sites were willing to admit that when it
    came to their space, they hadn’t done enough to really innovate, and the market
    has become completely commoditised. 
  • Data quality was seen as a major issue for price
    comparison sites
    in terms of optimising search both on their sites and on the
    web, as well as providing a better user experience.

Free delivery

  • The general sense was that customers are becoming even more
    , wanting free postage, free delivery, free returns, more data fields
    to get details on the products they were interested in.
  • Free shipping remains a big feature on e-commerce sites generally. According to eBay, it used to weigh in heavily on best match searches for sellers on their site six months ago, but does so to a lesser extent now.

Multichannel retail

  • John Lewis had found that the value of a multi-channel
    shopper was twice that of a single channel shopper.
  • To have a strong e-commerce brand online, it was felt that
    one needs to define every single touchpoint, how it feels, looks, as brands can
    easily become diffused.
  • Easyjet was cited as an excellent example of  an e-commerce retailer having one voice when talking to the customer, by being consistent with its advertising, as well as on Twitter, Facebook, and in driving its social media strategy.

Other highlights

  • Another big tip was to check that your e-commerce site works well on Safari and Chrome browsers, still perhaps being overlooked by some of the players out there. There are too many Safari and Chrome online shoppers these days to be overlooked.
  • Amazon talked about its mission of being the most customer-centric company when dealing with its three customer sets: the consumer, the
    seller and the developer.

From a practical perspective the ChannelAdvisor Ecommerce
conference was quite a lot of fun, with a great venue, a dynamic mix of
Americans and Brits (ChannelAdvisor had sent a big team from the US to attend the
event), break out areas for smaller seminars, some decent grub, a good amount
of networking time, and a friendly host.