Welcome to Growth Interviews!

Welcome to Growth Interviews, the fun, stimulating and engaging series of conversations driven by digital business growth.

Our mission is to provide insights and ideas from world-class professionals on the topic of growth and to cut through the noise of so-called marketing tips and tricks, revealing the money-making strategies behind e-commerce.

Each episode is an intriguing challenge involving an insightful expert who reveals some of their best-kept secrets, which you can use right away to boost your business. 

In this week’s episode of Growth Interviews, we invite you to join our conversation with Wijnand Jongen, a globally recognized author, keynote speaker, futurist, and trendwatcher on topics in retail and e-commerce. 

Wijnand is the co-founder and Chairman of the Executive Committee of E-commerce Europe, representing over 75,000 online shops, and is also the founder and CEO of the Dutch E-commerce Association Thuiswinkel.org.

Because Wijnand is a well-known speaker at conferences all over the world, we wanted to hear his opinion on the differences between American e-commerce, European e-commerce, and Asian e-commerce. You can find his thoughts in the interview below, along with some e-commerce growth tips online business managers should keep in mind this year.

Debating the growth of European e-commerce vs American and Asian e-commerce

Who are you and how did you get into this digital landscape?

Wijnand: My name is Wijnand Jongen. I’ve been involved in the e-commerce industry for almost 25 years. I started as an entrepreneur and then founded the association for the Dutch e-commerce industry and, later, E-commerce Europe, a Europe-wide association. I’ve been involved in e-commerce ever since. I think it’s a wonderful industry and I hope to stay there for another few years.

What’s your take on e-commerce growth and its slow adoption outside Western Europe?

Wijnand: I think the Southern and Eastern European countries are very much emerging countries which means there are a lot of opportunities there for entrepreneurs. The reason for that is probably that people in the Eastern and Southern parts of Europe, with their broadband connections, have been a little slower with their adaptation of 2, 3, and 4G. I think it’s part of the culture, and also has to do with money, of course. 

It’s always a combination of factors but I think that the good thing is that there are a lot of opportunities. If there’s an opportunity, entrepreneurs should be making themselves ready, making themselves visible, and finding the right strategy for taking chances, and seizing opportunities that e-commerce is presenting to them. I would say, ‘Go for it!’

Why do you think there is no aggressive e-commerce movement in Europe like in Asia or America?

Wijnand: Well, I think there’s a lot of discussion about the fact that there are the big American companies, the tech players, and the ones from China, who are all moving ahead aggressively and strongly. Their platforms and their marketplaces are having a big impact not just in the U.S. and in China but also in Europe.

They operate on a larger scale, so I think they have strong homelands, namely China and the U.S. I mean, e-commerce is about economy of scale. Whereas in Europe (European Union), of course, we have 28 smaller countries, with a few million people in them. That makes it harder to reach upscale and I think it also brings us to the point where we do not, in Europe, have any Amazon, Alibaba or big tech player.

As for safety, that is due to culture, to the fragmentation of nations, and to lack of money, and also to a different level of entrepreneurship. In the US and in China, people just go for it, whereas we in Europe tend to be more careful and abide by all the rules and so forth, while the Americans and Chinese, I think, couldn’t care less. They just go for it and then see where they end up.

What’s your advice for European e-commerce players for fighting Amazon or other big companies?

Wijnand: The question, of course, is whether you should fight Amazon, Alibaba or whatever, because that’s hard to do. I think the smart thing to do is just to look for opportunities. Amazon provides opportunities, and Alibaba provides opportunities. Depending on your strategy, and on the type of products or services that you sell, you should decide for yourself what your long-term strategy is in relation to platforms and marketplaces.

Sometimes you have to create your own (strategy) and sometimes you have to start working together to form alliances and to cooperate with other companies to make a stronghold of what’s happening in your country. I think a lot of countries do not realize that they still have a strong position, that they can help their companies become stronger within their own country, within their own framework. In Europe, we should make European companies stronger, we should provide the right atmosphere – an entrepreneurial atmosphere – that we can also create in Amazon. 

For companies, I’m not saying you should not fight, but you should look for opportunities. For me, the glass is half full. Try to find the opportunities that are out there and if they’re not out there, find another way! You should always be entrepreneurial and find your way to the future. 

What’s currently frustrating you about the e-commerce landscape? 

Wijnand: What’s frustrating me at this point in time – I think you’ve touched on this already with some of your questions – is that we, in Europe, just have a hard time keeping up with the Americans and the Chinese because they have their scale.

We are very fragmented and are still having a hard time creating this one digital market; crossing borders is still not easy to do, to sell and to buy. I think there’s still a lack of entrepreneurship in a sense.

I think we need strong entrepreneurs, innovative entrepreneurs; we need to educate people, and there’s a lot of frustration. Our school systems are still trying to raise people for the old situation, for the high-street market. I think we should be much more progressive and innovative in that sense and educate people for the next generation of retail.

Seven strategies retailers can use to compete with Amazon and Alibaba:

1. Offer fulfillment flexibility through fulfillment models such as ‘click and collect.’
2. Implement cross-channel returns.
3. Integrate with emerging customer touch-points.
4. Provide artificial intelligence-enabled customer-centric experiences.
5. Build a collaborative ecosystem of partners with other retailers, suppliers and technology providers.
6. Leverage capabilities of ‘conversational commerce’ platforms in order to grow customer loyalty.
7. Enable service-led retailing, combining physical and digital channels so as to increase personalization and shopper convenience.

More ideas on how small retailers can fight e-commerce giants here.

Three 2019 e-commerce growth ideas

Tell us three growth ideas for e-commerce players at this moment.

Wijnand: One, try to define for yourself who you are and what you want to accomplish, not just this year but also looking ahead to the next two, three, or even five years. Strategy is crucial!

Two, look outside the box and see where you can find opportunities that are not locked down per se in the sector that you’re in, in the way you’ve been doing business for the last 5, 10 or whatever number of years. You have to look beyond that, you must look beyond your own silo of expertise. Find Corporations, joint ventures, alliances and whatnot.

Three, rely on the innovation of people. I think people are vital to our business! We all know there’s a big war of talent going on in the world of retail and e-commerce. So, find the right people! Make those people come to you and, that way, you will be able to get the best out of your business. Then, of course, you should give the best to the consumers that you want to serve.

Besides strategy, opportunities, and innovation, there are other e-commerce growth hacks that you can implement today:

👉 Giveaways
: BeardBrand ran a giveaway for seven days to celebrate ‘No Shave November.’ By the end of the campaign, they had doubled their email list and quadrupled their sales on the contest launch date.

👉 Remarketing: Retargeting is a great opportunity to remind visitors who are already interested in your website, of who you are and what you offer.

👉 Drip email campaigns: 77% of consumers prefer to receive permission-based marketing communications through email, and 44% of email recipients made at least one purchase based on a promotional email. Need we say more?

👉 Referral system: Creating a customer referral program is an effective way to garner additional and repeat business. The key to a good referral program is creating one that is easy and enticing for your customers to use.

Why customer retention is crucial for any entrepreneur

What’s your take on customer retention? 

Wijnand: I think customer retention is crucial for any business. You want to keep your most loyal clients and I think data and retail is a data game. Data is at the basics of customer retention, and at the basics of our e-commerce industry.

I would say to any entrepreneur, you should get your data straight and you should rely on your data because data is the basics of your business both now and, especially, in the future. I fully support keeping those customers and making them more loyal. The loyalty of customers is hard to get; it’s even harder to keep, but data will help you to do so.

Machine learning as an evolutionary stage

What’s your take on machine learning?

Wijnand: I think that machine learning is just part of the evolutionary process. It’s part of the next generation of how we make data smart and I think algorithms are definitely going to help us get a better life.

Machine learning, other than deep learning, still puts people in charge. We tell the machines what to do, what to look for and to search for – we give them direction. With deep learning, that’s different! The machines start to think for themselves and maybe they think differently to the way we do.

Yeah, that’s a little scarier but, I think, it’s just part of a process. We thought that the first algorithms were scary a few years ago, and now we just have to adapt to the fact that as long as we are in control, we can still point machines in the direction we want. It will help us and will make us smarter; it will help people in their daily lives and it will help businesses grow.

Like Karl Gilis also pointed out, customer retention is crucial to any business. Ironically, it’s also one of the things companies seem to not care about. 

Many businesses turn from being customer-centric companies to business-driven companies. They lose connection with their customers, and they enter a vicious circle where they always need to bring in more customers so that they don’t go out of business. Bad customer experience or bad customer service are leading indicators of customer churn.

To build customer retention, you need to follow the formula below:

Shared Interest + Shared Space + Shared Concern = Customer Retention

A must-read: The End of Online Shopping: The future of retail in an always connected world

Tell us about your book, The End of Online Shopping: The future of retail in an always connected world

Wijnand: My book has now been a bestseller for almost two years. Being published in more than 10 languages and more than 25 countries, over fifty thousand copies have been sold. I’m very proud of that! 

The book touches on the transformation of retail in general and the way offline and online retail are truly merging into one another. That’s the always-connected world and the impact on consumers.

My vision and my view is that retailers, both online and offline, and for the first time in history,   are having a hard time following the changing behavior of consumers. We as consumers want things now, and we want things faster. We’ve changed our behavior so fast that retailers have a hard time following that.

The book touches on that. It’s something that is being recognized globally. I think that’s why it has become a best seller all over the world, which is great and I’m very proud of that. The book is written in such a way that you recognize yourself as both entrepreneur and consumer, but also from a government perspective. You recognize what’s happening in the world of retail and it gives you, of course, some ideas on how to go about, what to do about it, to find strategies, and to give a bigger picture of this transformation and one of the greatest professions in the world, that of retailer.

The retail sector is experiencing unprecedented changes. To understand what is happening, we need to recognize a broader pattern of transformation. Offline and online will become one.

Stores cannot keep up with the changing behavior of customers. Retailers need new business models to stay relevant in a world dominated by marketplaces and sharing platforms. They need to transform into digital network organizations but with human dimensions. 

The end of online shopping is the dawn of a new era
, a new economy of always-connected retail. Wijnand Jongen’s book provides an excellent overview of shopping trends and developments worldwide, offering an indispensable peek into the future of retail.

Conclusion

E-commerce is an ever-changing industry. With intensifying purchasing power on the part of global consumers and the constantly progressing infrastructure and technology, the future is brighter than ever. 

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