We sent Piers Drake, our Head of eCommerce, and Chelsea Horncastle, our Senior Product Innovation Manager and AI/AR specialist, to Cologne to check-out DMEXCO 2018. Here they discuss what they found:
Piers Drake: So, Chelsea, that was a busy couple of days; my Fitbit tells me we covered 15miles lapping the halls of the Koelnmesse! Other than aching feet, the overall theme that jumped out for me was one of retrenching in these post-GDPR times. ‘Take CARE’ was the DMEXCO tag line, and every other booth had the words ‘Safety’ and ‘Transparency’ written large on their displays, with a somewhat apologetic tone!
Chelsea Horncastle: On top of which the keynotes were frequently referencing the disruption of data, gender inequality and the bleak outlook for retail! Quite negative thematically, but the atmosphere was actually very optimistic and buzzy, particularly when it came to the application of newer tech to consumer problems. And the halls were absolutely packed!
PD: Definitely. This was a transitional year for the industry I think. For me personally, the most interesting and positive stuff was when we dug below the surface and asked the exhibitors what they had coming down the pipeline for 2019. I think we found the seeds of some very cool tech and new approaches, but these weren’t always obvious from browsing the displays.
CH: The narrative that kept coming up with vendors, Google and AWS for example, was getting the appropriate infrastructure in place now to take advantage of the vast amounts of data – video, images, and more – already being collected. Also making voice and visual search technology more accessible, and using it to free up people’s time rather than for it’s own sake. I think the story of the next 12 months will be baby steps around implementation of these technologies at scale.
PD: One exhibitor that brought this to life for me was Oath, who were demoing their AR content via Ryot Studio and HoloLens. Beyond the novelty of playing with virtual Smurfs (!), crucially they were talking confidently about the need to unite the content and publishing with an ‘insights engine’ of data in the background; what I’d call an end-to-end approach.
CH: Yep. The tech is impressive, but we need to move beyond the ‘cool technology’ angle and take it back to consumer insights – what are our goals with using these new formats and how do they help real consumers? And, AI can generate insights from big datasets, which is one of the most actionable ‘today’ applications.
PD: Thinking real-world applications, I was excited by the computer vision and ‘visual search’ tools we saw from Google, Microsoft and a number of startups. The Google Lens demo was particularly good because they were emphasising the practical uses, for example where you can identify plants or shoes or paintings with a tap, but then the UI drives you directly to other Google tools such as Shopping, Maps or Translate for the next steps. It’s going to be a great timesaver AND drive business results.
CH: Google Lens is great! On the B2B side, we saw Microsoft analysing the faces of people walking past their stand and estimating their genders, ages and moods – all in real time. This kind of real time analysis of video is a potential gamechanger for lots of industries, retail in particular.
PD: Yes, let’s talk retail! eCommerce vendors were dotted around the show and my main takeaway was that online retail is no longer an awkward cousin of digital! Everybody is talking about commerce outcomes, trying to explicitly link investment to sales (at last!)
CH: Ha! eCommerce seems much more mainstream this year and I heard a lot about AI-led personalisation. Salesforce were talking about ‘Shoptimism’ and the benefits of AI-driven recommendations on online stores, with their data showing a 5x transaction value from that.
PD: Whether it’s via human curation, AI or a hybrid – recommendations and personalised experiences are a key area where rivals can offer something different to Amazon. They had a sizeable presence at the show but were characteristically reluctant to discuss their plans. The explosive growth of their Amazon Advertising platform was a frequent topic of conversation with third party tool providers like Kenshoo, who told me that Amazon Search is growing at 10x the rate of Google Search.
CH: From my side, I was surprised that Alexa was invisible among the other AI assistant demos on show. Meanwhile, you said eBay had some interesting ideas when you spoke to them?
PD: I think eBay is one to watch as they are launching new tools and trying to shift perceptions of it as a ‘second hand’ eCommerce platform – their data is that over 80% of product sold is brand new. They already have an upper-funnel proposition and potentially it could evolve into a brand-friendly ‘end-to-end’ platform that offers more control over the shopping experience than Amazon.
CH: Let’s talk social for a moment. Facebook, LinkedIn and Snapchat were all there. Snapchat was the most low-key of these, mainly letting the product do the talking. Facebook were primarily featuring Instagram and Blueprint, showing some neat upgrades to IG Stories with more animation and motion.
PD: Social was a little low-key all round. I was surprised by the lack of messaging platforms around DMEXCO given the predictions of how ‘conversational UI’ was going to be big by now. And social commerce was invisible. We’re out of time unfortunately, so what was your highlight overall?
CH: Overall, it was a demo that sparked my imagination. That is the best part of attending conferences like Dmexco. This demo used image recognition to create a connected car experience, where it could understand what people see as they drive past buildings giving additional information or actions as needed. The idea is still very new, but it allows us to think about what the future could look like. And, yours?
PD: It’s slightly off-the-wall, but one of the most crowded and best-looking stands was a replica of a general store with tins, bottles and bags of pasta on display, with ‘shopkeepers.’ The popularity of it really captured for me why the eCommerce story is becoming about joining online up with physical retail – because despite all the info available online, people love browsing real shops….and going to trade shows like DMEXCO!