Moose Jaws, Cheap Tools, Donut Tagging, and Other Things I Saw at eTail West

As always, the beautiful location and great speakers made this year's eTail West an unforgettable event. The focus of the conference was on retailers sharing experiences, challenges and insights with peers, which led to a lot of great content. One topic in particular that I found interesting, which also led to a discussion about a general trend I’ve noticed with my clients, discussed "donut tagging." That's my informal name for it, but the patent was submitted under ‘Automated Tracking of Groups of Circular Confectionary Treats’ – so look out for the official announcement!
One of my favorite aspects of my job is learning how businesses I respect operate: Moosejaw is one of those brands. It is one of the largest outdoor retailers in the world, and although rare for me, I enjoy shopping on their website. It doesn't take itself too seriously and is all about quirky fun, which has garnered the company an incredibly impressive fan base. The subject of CEO Eoin Comerford's talk was "Anatomy of a 'Decently' Successful Site Redesign." I found some lessons he shared from this effort (which was more akin to a complete re-platforming) very interesting. For example, they focus on customers’ insights for driving design decisions and to avoid problems that arise if you spend too long staring at a design on the screen. It's easy to miss things due to tunnel vision and bias towards your own design, but customers will tell you quickly (and cheaply) what you are doing wrong. Of course, some mistakes don't need feedback to discover; for example, in the interest of simplicity, a "chat now" icon was reduced to a pictograph without text. Chats dropped about 50% after launch and when they put it back to a design based on the original, it rebounded. The lesson here was to listen to your customers, but also listen to your data. 
Another point Comerford made is that staff augmentation allows you to maintain control of larger initiatives. Moosejaw built an impressive team internally and enhanced it with external development resources, rather than farming out the work entirely to a specialized firm or hiring for the project and reducing the team post launch. This let Moosejaw maintain control of the process and maintain their rapid pace. This is something we are, of course, big fans of here at Stratigent. Most of our customers use us in exactly the same way: to provide scale, specialized knowledge and capability, and an outside perspective without having to hire high demand resources. But one of the biggest revelations presented that day was something I've seen more and more of in this space, which is using low cost but highly capable tools to do things better, faster, and cheaper than ever before. 
In the Moosejaw example, for immediate customer feedback, they used to run quick A/B tests before, during and after the launch. As Comerford put it, "it's 50 bucks, it's easy, and it's effective." Physical evidence of this explosion of new tools by startup vendors was at the show itself. What used to occupy half of the exhibition space a few years ago, now completely fills the space. This is the result of two related trends:  existing mature tools are adding features and functionality at a rapid rate, both to compete and also to provide additional value to existing clients, and smaller technology startups are looking for a slot in a crowded market. So you end up with a few very big, mature, feature rich players surrounded by smaller, hungry, focused new players. Any time you have such brisk competition, the customers win! 
In this case, Moosejaw could have used an existing testing and optimization package, aligned it with a testing, data and optimization strategy, and for the relaunch, worked with a few different vendors to coordinate a panel based testing program using their chosen tool. We’ve helped lots of companies do this; but here, it's overkill. Will user testing replace a full implementation of a testing and optimization package tied into a strong visitor data strategy? No, and it's not meant to. It's meant to put a better, faster and cheaper tool in the hands of marketers. Tools like Usertesting are like donuts; they provide a solution when you are hungry, need some energy, and want something fast and delicious.  
Speaking of donuts, eTail West was an expert in the calories department this year. There was a constant flow of snacks and drinks, which is definitely necessary if you are trying to keep your energy up. During one of the breaks I encountered a wall of donuts in the vendor "B" hall. I quipped via Twitter that I hoped someone was tracking the consumption rate by category and bragged that here at Stratigent, we can tag a donut. My tweet garnered a lot of attention and had people questioning how we at Stratigent could do just that. I'd like to break down the best options for donut tagging from the simple, doable options to the "it would be easier to colonize Mars" options. Here we go!
  • Option 1: Build a donut dispenser. This is easy and accurate. Force donut consumers to attain donuts in one particular way and you can completely eliminate error. But the compromise is you ruin user experience for data collection. You likely also pollute the data, as the donut "board" is likely a contributor to consumption. These are things we tend to shy away from at Stratigent for obvious reasons. 
  • Option 2: Computer Image Processing. Point a Kinect attached to a computer at the donut board, do some programming and use some tools, done. If you are clever enough with the image processing, you don't even need the donuts to be sorted correctly on the board, so you eliminate errors introduced when refilling the donuts. If you looked at the actual donut board, that was a real issue! Lesson: smart people and good technology can do amazing (if borderline silly) things.
  • Option 3: Project GM^3 (Genetic Modification, Monitoring and Markers). Was option 2 not enough nerdy overkill for your liking? Option 3 is for you! First, develop food that can modify the consumers DNA in a trivial, non-life threatening (as far as we know) way. Next, roll out wide scale mandatory DNA tracking capabilities in every public service, to gather data ubiquitously and completely. Couple that with lookups against a complete DNA database of every human on the planet, cross referenced with activity, associations, preferences, and demographics, and donut = tracked. Sure we are now living in a depressing dystopia, but imagine the DATA!
Overall, eTail West was a great conference. I learned something new from every session I attended, whether that was focused on mobile trends, merchandising, or reaching out to millennials. I had a great time connecting with everyone for our “Selfie with Stratigent” promo and enjoyed the social engagement. I even spotted some mistakes in action – for instance, the custom built, super expensive, big data dashboard showing everything about visitor behavior. It was built by a retailer who had a mobile optimized site with a "New Products" page that was not only non-responsive in the mobile sense, but in the literal sense as well. It was impossible to even zoom and scroll to get around! Regardless, eTail West was a great time and an engaging conference. I can’t wait to see what is in store for next year!
By David 'DJ' Johnson
About the Author:

David 'DJ' Johnson is the Vice President, Account Development at Stratigent.

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