John Napieralski, who’s watched consumers’ attention spans shrink and the amount of time they’re willing to spend on e-commerce sites decline, says it’s time that digital merchandisers and marketers rethink the way they approach customers and measure success. Napieralski is someone retailers might want to listen to, given that he’s spent a considerable chunk of his career pushing e-commerce toward, and sometimes past, the cutting edge. As a technologist at Accenture, he dabbled with some of the earliest e-commerce site prototypes. He went on to work in key leadership positions on the digital teams at Williams-Sonoma and Neiman Marcus , two leaders in e-commerce innovation. Napieralski at eTail West
Where: eTail West, JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa, Palm Springs, CA.
What: John Napieralski will speak about using data and the combination of powerful machines and smart people to drive profits and build better customer experiences.
When: Tuesday, 4:20 p.m.
More info: eTail West website.
Broadly speaking, Napieralski says, it’s time for more retailers to focus more on the experiences they’re providing customers and less on raw conversion numbers. And to move in that direction, he adds, it’s time to embrace the power of combining the best that machines have to offer with the best that humans can bring to e-commerce. Napieralski will be preaching his message this week at eTail West, something of a tent revival for the retail industry. He’ll appear with BloomReach Head of Sales Darren Johnson on Tuesday to talk about the state of the art in e-commerce data, machine and human teamwork and meaningful ways to measure success. Let’s just say they’re topics that Napieralski has given some thought to. Start with conversions, or people actually buying stuff on a site. Of course conversions are important. That’s where the money comes from. But when I reached Napieralski to talk to him about his upcoming presentation, he explained that obsessing on conversion statistics gives retailers a narrow view. “I think conversion is the by-product of everything that comes before,” he said, turning his attention to consumers. “Somehow you have to engage them, especially as their attention span shrinks, their time on site shrinks, your window of opportunity shrinks.” A key, Napieralski said, is to make it easier for customers to find what they’re looking for, when they have something specific in mind — and to help them discover products that interest them individually when their end goal is less clear. The experience should feel personalized — and not personalized to a demographic group or a geographic segment, but personalized to an individual. “If they’re only going on your site for eight or nine pages,” he said, “something better sort of pop that makes them want to go deeper and engage further, whether it’s in that session or subsequent sessions.” A lot of that comes down to providing the sort of experience that a dedicated and well-informed sales person would provide in a brick-and-mortar store, said Napieralski, who once ran a physical store. “It’s exactly what you would expect. I’ll use a Neiman Marcus example of a store associate who develops relationships, knows who you are, knows your price point and styles.” Oh yeah, and you have to do that on a massive scale. And in real time, as in when that individual consumer is searching on a site. “Now it’s just, can you go off and actually apply it real time on the site,” Napieralski said. “What should I show John Doe next, specifically?” No wonder talk of achieving real personalization, one-to-one personalization, often brings exhausted sighs from retailers. But Napieralski says it doesn’t have to be that hard. First, advances in technology and the declining price of collecting, storing and analyzing data mean that corralling the massive amounts of information needed for real personalization is eminently doable. Second, while the task for any individual retailer remains formidable, there are technology partners out there who are already doing the work for some leading retailers. “Internal organizations have sort of never built that platform internally, to take everybody’s data, run constant models on it and spit it back out on every page of the session,” Napieralski says. “But that’s exactly what some SaaS (software-as-a-service) vendors have built.” And all of these priorities are magnified on mobile devices, which Neiman Marcus long ago recognized as consumers’ go-to shopping device, not just because people buy items on their phones, but also because phones drive both online and in-store sales. On mobile, it’s all the more vital to show consumers relevant results that are individually tailored to what it is they’re looking for — all while making search easier with auto-suggest typing features and the like. Sure, on a desktop you can build-in features that display categories and subcategories as you mouse over navigation aids. It’s easy to dip in and out of areas of interest, Napieralski says. Not so on a smartphone. “On the phone, you have a hamburger navigation and you’ve got to basically scroll,” Napieralski says, referring to the way the menu icon on mobile looks like a double hamburger on a bun. “You’ve got to do it one step at a time, almost like you’re walking through a maze.” And shopping, of course, should never be like walking through a maze. Not if retailers want to keep consumers on their sites and keep them coming back. You do want them coming back, right? Napieralski might be just the guy to help you with that. Full disclosure: Neiman Marcus and Williams-Sonoma are BloomReach customers. Photo courtesy of John Napieralski. Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org ; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.