Social, mobile and other bright, shiny objects

It’s official. Social media and mobile commerce are this year’s bright, shiny objects. I recently attended a couple of industry conferences where those two topics dominated the agendas, and the trade mags and email newsletters are full of articles on everything social and mobile.

Heck, I’ve also written a white paper and blogged about social media.

Don’t get me wrong. I think social and mobile are important opportunities for us to improve our businesses. I just don’t think we should focus on them to the exclusion of some of the core aspects of our sites and businesses that still need a lot of work.

The level of our success with any of these new technologies is going to be limited by the effectiveness of our core site capabilities and constrained by any internal organizational challenges we might have.

Here are some topics I’d love to see get a little more press and conference content time:

  • Usability
    From my vantage point at ForeSee Results, where I can see customer perceptions at many different retailers, it’s clear that our sites have not come close to solving all of our usability issues. In fact, I’ll go as far as saying improving usability is the #1 way to increase conversion. I’m currently reading a book called “The Design of Everyday Things” by Don Norman. The book was written in the ’80s (I think) so there’s no mention of websites. Instead, he talks a lot about the design of doors, faucets and other everyday objects and, most interestingly, the psychology of we humans who interact with these things. The principles he discusses are absolutely relevant to web page design. Other books, such as “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug and anything by Jakob Nielsen are also great sources of knowledge. I’d sure love to see us cover these types of topics a little more in our conferences and trade mags. Also, how do different retailers approach find and solve usability issues? In the end, if the experiences we create aren’t usable our social and mobile strategies won’t reach their potential.
  • Organizational structure
    How often do we come back from a conference with great new ideas about implementing some new strategies (say, a new social media or mobile commerce strategy) only to run into competing agendas, lack of resources or organizational bureaucracies? Discussing and writing about organizational structure doesn’t have the panache of social media or other exciting new frontiers, but there’s little doubt in my mind that the structure of our organizations can make or break the success of our businesses. When we were first setting up the organization for the new, we spent a LOT of time studying the structures of other companies learning about the pros and the cons from those who lived through different schemes. It was hugely useful and more interesting than you might think. Mark Fodor, CEO of Cross View, just wrote an excellent piece for Online Strategies magazine that discussed the hurdles involved in going cross-channel and included a very good discussion about the need for mindset shifts. I’d love to see these topics further explored in interactive environments at industry conferences.
  • Incentives
    Books like Freakonomics make strong cases for the fact that incentives drive our behaviors. I’d love to hear how other companies set up their internal incentive structures. And there are multiple types of incentives. Certainly, there are financial incentives that come in the form of bonuses. But there are also the sometimes more powerful social incentives. What gets talked about all the time? How do those topics of discussion influence people’s behaviors? How do all those incentives align with the needs generated by new strategies to maximize the power of social media or mobile commerce?
  • Data/analytics storytelling
    We have so much data available to us, and we all talk about being data driven. But how do we get the most from that data? How do we use that data to form our strategies, support our strategies and communicate our strategies. John Lovett of Web Analytics Desmystified wrote an excellent piece on telling stories with data recently. There are also several great blogs on analytics like MineThatData, Occam’s Razor, and the aforementioned Web Analytics Demystified. I’d love to see more discussions in trade mags and conferences about how to get the most from our data, both in analyzing it and relating the findings to others.
  • International expansion
    We used to talk a lot about international, but it doesn’t seem to be a big topic lately. Yet the opportunities to grow our businesses internationally are immense. So, too, are the challenges. Jim Okamura and Maris Daugherty at the JC Williams Group wrote an absolutely excellent white paper late last year on the prizes and perils of international expansion. Jim did have a breakout session at last year’s Annual Summit, but I’d love to see more discussion from retailers who have gone or are going international to learn more. Or it would also be good to hear from those who simply ship internationally or those who have decided to stay domestic to learn more about their decision making processes.
  • Leadership
    Leading lots of people and convincing big, disparate groups to do new things is hard. I just read the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Dan and Chip Heath. There are some amazing tips in that book about implementing change in organizations (and in other parts of life, for that matter). I would love to see more discussion of these types of leadership topics that help us all implement the changes we know we need to make to take advantage of new opportunities like social media and mobile commerce.

I know a lot of these topics are more business basics than retail or e-commerce specific. But the reality is we need to be our absolute best at these business basics in order to implement any of our new ideas and strategies. I personally always enjoy talking to other retailers about some of these basics, and I certainly never tire of reading books that expand my horizons. I’d love to see more about these topics in our conferences and trade mags.

But these are just my opinions. I’d really love to know what you think. As a member of the executive content committee for, I’m actually in a position to influence some of the excellent content that my good friend Larry Joseloff regularly puts together. But I’d love to know if you agree or not before I start banging the drum. Would you mind dropping me a quick comment or an email letting me know if you agree or disagree. A simple “Right on” if you agree or a “You’re nuts” if you don’t is plenty sufficient; although, I certainly appreciate your expanded thoughts if you’d like to share them.

Please, let me know what you think of my little rant.


  • By Danny, March 30, 2010 @ 10:13 am

    Spot on Kevin! Social and mobile are certainly shiny and exciting, however not the panaceas to pure success in business. Rather, social and mobile are ingredients in the big picture and should be understood for their conceptual “shininess.”

    International is huge and needs a lot more attention!
    I cannot get over the stat I recently read: 70% of users on the web do not even speak English. This says a lot as retailers try to reach the international marketplace.

  • By Lisa Foote, March 30, 2010 @ 10:50 am

    Kevin – Great post. Problems arise when marketers treat a “new thing” as a bright shiny object, instead of what it really is: a tool.
    Approaching new tools naively will waste time and money. Too often I see marketers become discouraged when they get into the details of social or mobile. “Oh, so it’s not a magic wand?” No, they’re not. But they are powerful differentiators if you can research, learn, master and integrate them with all your other marketing techniques.

  • By sarahallenshort, March 30, 2010 @ 12:35 pm

    We used to say this about advertising…don’t waste your time and monsy driving traffic to your web channel until you make sure it is really, really good. Same with mobile and social. These are just tools. If the businesses they are driving to and/or representing are lacking, they won’t cure anything.

  • By Teresa, March 30, 2010 @ 1:33 pm

    Excellent post Kevin. Social incentives tend to far and surpass financial incentives in their ability to influence behavior even in the business world. Would love to hear more about that.

  • By Michelle Boyd, March 30, 2010 @ 1:38 pm

    As usual, I found your post to be “right on.”

  • By Robert Jacobs, March 30, 2010 @ 4:43 pm

    Right on

  • By Becky, March 30, 2010 @ 11:15 pm

    Great post, Kevin! I often talk to clients about the fact that social media and mobile are important, but that they are only a piece of the puzzle! There are so many other things (as you have correctly listed here) that we can be working on and improving! Right On!

  • By Craig M, March 31, 2010 @ 12:14 pm

    I could not agree more!

  • By Maris Daugherty, March 31, 2010 @ 4:28 pm

    Kevin, your rants are always so productive! First, thank you for the kind words. All of your points are valid but you’ve touched on two of our passions – Organization Design and International Expansion. As the web continues to perform better than traditional retail and customers vote for convenience and ease, cross channel strategies are being more frequently embraced. In this case, organization design is one of the toughest issues facing any retailer looking to shift their organization from a multi-channel to a cross channel focus. Helping to define the role of the web in a cross channel strategy and then an associated organizational structure with supportive processes and metrics are primary to any successful strategy.

    As the pace of growth slows and domestic market share is being fought for online, retailers are considering International expansion as a viable option. Our conversations have been wide and varied on the subject with many retailers in the consideration and early planning stages for International expansion. It’s still early in the conversation; Domestic priorities and concern over the operating complexities for International are abundant. Our whitepaper sets out to discuss options in how to approach International expansion. We wrote it hoping that it helps to demystify some of the complexity. For more info – the April issue of Internet Retailer will have an article on International ecommerce and Jim will be speaking on International Expansion at the IRCE Conference in June.

  • By Kevin Ertell, April 2, 2010 @ 11:20 am

    Thanks for your comments, everybody. I really appreciate it, and I’m glad to hear I’m not alone. So far, in the comments here and in all the emails I’ve received, we have unanimous agreement. There’s got to be some dissenters out there, though. I would really love to hear from you, too.

    Maris, I’m really glad to hear there’s going to be some exposure to the international issues in the next issue of Internet Retailer and at the IRCE conference.

    Thanks again to all.

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