Four key trends from one of the industry’s leading events: external traffic, AI, marketplaces, and authenticity
By Michael Tennant, The Mars Agency
As part of an ongoing quest to keep our finger on the pulse of the global ecommerce landscape, The Mars Agency visited Salt Lake City last month to attend Accelerate 23, an annual industry conference hosted by Pattern.
This year’s event featured some of the brightest minds in connected commerce and focused on best practices for brands and other practitioners looking to drive shopper awareness, acquisition, and/or retention across an increasingly complex ecommerce environment.
As is often the case at these kinds of global summits, a collection of overarching themes emerged during the two-day event. We’re pleased to present this overview of the key focal points from the show to help other practitioners level up their own ecommerce understanding.
1. External traffic is the new/old “star of the show”
With onsite media networks becoming essential to brand success everywhere, there was a significant shift at this year’s event to discussing external traffic drivers. And while the sources examined weren’t anything new for savvy marketers, it was clear that external traffic is now top-of-mind across the industry.
Social media — TikTok in particular — was again a hot topic of conversation, whether the strategy is working through influencers, affiliates, or even your own employees. When done right, there’s no discounting the value of these programs.
Paid search ads linking to ecommerce sites are enjoying a renaissance as well, particularly those pointing to Amazon product detail pages (PDPs). Given the massive audience using Google — 3 billion daily searches! — it makes sense to leverage paid search as part of your overall ecommerce strategy.
And coupled with Amazon’s attribution program (which lets advertisers utilize pixels to build ultra-relevant audiences) and its Brand Referral Bonus (which offers up to 10% of the sale), this tactic can be both lucrative and cost-efficient. It also helps brands combat Buy Box loss by sending shoppers directly to their storefront or product offer.
2. The AI Revolution isn’t coming. It’s here
“While AI won’t steal your job, someone leveraging AI will,” was likely the most overheard quote throughout the two-day event. While we’re still in the early days of generative artificial intelligence, ecommerce practitioners are already utilizing the technology to save both time and money. Vendors and presenters using various AI tools developed keyword analysis, competitor reviews, product content, even custom imagery and ads in mere minutes right in front of attendees.
Unlike other major technological advances of the current age, generative AI doesn’t need to be a fully polished solution before it can make an impact. Even if the current iteration only gives marketers a good start on fulfilling otherwise time-consuming tasks, it can still be transformative for the industry. That’s why many are already using it to jumpstart their digital activities.
3. Marketplaces are here to stay
Brands that embrace the proliferation of marketplaces will be category leaders as growth through this channel continues both domestically and abroad. According to Statista, more than 35% of online purchases worldwide were happening on marketplaces as of April 2022. For comparison, grocery sites accounted for 17% and e-retailers only 12%.
This shift makes sense because profitability has become the most important metric for brands online — overtaking top-line revenue. To maximize profitability, brand and price control are essential, and marketplaces give marketers greater freedom to manage both.
There also are countless opportunities for international growth in marketplaces if brands are prepared to capitalize, as international volume is significantly outpacing domestic volume. Brands in the U.S. are (hopefully) very familiar with the Amazon and Walmart marketplaces. But not as many know that Amazon actually ranks second worldwide to China-based Alibaba — which reported $1.29 trillion in revenue in 2022 — and is barely ahead of another Chinese marketplace, JD.com ($503 billion in sales).
Growth isn’t limited to China either: conversations at Accelerate covered Flipkart in India, Coupang in South Korea, and Zalando in Germany, just to name a few. It will be essential for brands that envision themselves as global leaders to either level up their own proficiency or find a partner with the capabilities needed to capture these international opportunities.
4. Authenticity sits at the core of success
Current trends among shoppers to delay purchases and spend less overall were on the minds of most attendees, given the existing macroeconomic conditions. As purse strings get tighter and shoppers become more deliberate with their purchases, brand authenticity stands out as a differentiator in the crowded digital space.
The newly launched TikTok Shop illustrates the trend perfectly because selling partners on the platform thrive on their ability to be authentic and connect directly with an engaged audience. The social media site even rewards sellers for creating authentic content that doesn’t go “viral,” giving them improved rankings simply for making an effort to connect with the audience. (There’s another potential edge to this sword, however, since insincerity here can sink a brand faster than any negative review on Amazon.)
One common story being told throughout Accelerate 2023 was the need for brands to understand themselves first, and then their audience, before leaning into all of the opportunities available in ecommerce. Regardless of your category — hunting equipment, men’s grooming, or garden supplies — the combination of digital know-how and brand authenticity is what will lead to success.
About the Author
Mike Tennant is Director, Amazon Commerce at The Mars Agency, where he focuses on driving profitable online growth for brands. Based in Chicago, he is a 15-year veteran of the ecommerce world with a wide range of CPG and brand experience.
To learn more about winning on ecommerce and how the Mars Agency can help, contact Mike at [email protected].