It’s now a month since we visited Internet Retailing Expo 2019. Looking back, it seems that there are three key themes that successful online retailers stick to like glue:

  1. A habit: Customer Obsession
  2. A performance: Speed
  3. A tool: Machine Learning


Customer Obsession and Speed

Of course, we are all obsessed with our customers, but, in a talk with Gymshark CEO Steve Hewett, customer obsession is taken to another level: They don’t even use the term customer, they have fans.

It’s all about engagement and the results support the approach: in 2016 Gymshark was the UK’s fastest growing retailer - and sales exceeded £100 million last year.

The point is this – customer obsession is not just a phrase, it’s a habit, a behaviour that needs to be delivered with imagination and passion. The sales will follow.

But fans can be fickle. They will not be kept waiting. If you are going to be obsessed with your customers then speed is everything: The speed of your website, the speed with which you deliver relevant content, the speed at which you deliver products and respond to questions about your services and products.

Speed across all aspects of an e-commerce site should be a key performance metric for retailers.

Machine Learning and AI

Google’s business model is built on speed and relevancy. We rely on Google to quickly show us what we are searching for whether in the form of organic search results or adverts on its various platforms and networks.

That relevancy is predominantly delivered using AI and machine learning. A healthy dose of that secret sauce was available at IRX19 - from marketing automation to our own AI merchandising and search solutions.

And it makes sense. Used correctly AI and machine learning dramatically increases both speed and relevancy. The right technology is fundamental. As Alexander Bartholomew explained in his marketing keynote: “Every day your foundations are wrong it is harming your business, damaging CPA and your customers’ perception of your business, and slowing down productivity.” 

By removing the heavy lifting that goes with making sense of gigabytes of data - and doing it in real time - AI and machine learning is a tool that, amongst other things, facilitates the speed and relevancy required to be customer obsessed.

A survey by Oxford Economics reported half of respondents (55%) saying AI has substantially improved the speed of customer complaint resolutions, and more than half reported increased revenue growth from AI initiatives.

Small wonder that 72% of retailers in that survey described AI as a “competitive necessity” in the next five years. 


So, you cannot be customer obsessed without speed and relevancy, which are increasingly facilitated by AI and machine learning.

The question is, will the majority of visitors to IRX20 still be discussing whether to implement AI across product discovery, or will they nod knowingly when colleagues share their experience of the savings and gains made?