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skucamp B-Sides

Early this month I was invited to sit on a panel discussion concerning emerging trends in e-commerce at the inaugural skucamp hosted by my friends at commonsku. This post contains an assortment of thoughts that I put together in preparation for the panel. First, you should know the players:

  • Bobby Lehew: Chief Content Officer at commonsku and former head honcho at ROBYN. I had the pleasure of working with Bobby for 6 years and am truly privileged to have him as a mentor and friend. Bobby's been in the Company Store game for many years and is well regarded as a speaker and thought leader on the topic. 
  • Todd Pottebaum: Quality Resource Group's President, fellow Reciprocity Road Roadie and newly elected PPAI Board member. Holy moly, when Todd's at the table, I shut up and listen! Whip-smart, Todd is one of the most genuine people I know. Todd and QRG are big players in the company store space. 
  • Casey Schorr: Casey is the co-founder of Printfection, a swag distribution platform. I've got a business-crush on Printfection. Listen to Bobby's interview with Casey to find out why! Printfection's unique platform is connected with Zapier (I love them, too) and that is pretty damn cool. Also, in 2006 I was still hustling merch on a some print-on-demand sites and I still have my sign-up email from Printfection from almost 12 years ago! 
  • Eric Granata: Some schlub who managed to get on the panel. He thinks people read his blog.

Let's get on with it! This will be pretty slap-dash so if you're confused, want to discuss or challenge me on a point, contact me.

Future Tech

This is where I like to play and you should too! If only it wasn't so freaking expensive.

Artificial Intelligence

Implications for customer service (HT Bobby). At ROBYN we use AnswerDash which uses AI to provide contextual self-serve customer service on our stores. Saves us time and money while providing users with the information they need.

I love the implications that, just as we provide personalized marketing, we can provide personalized customer experience with the help of AI. Advances in AI are making multi-threaded conversations with our chat bots and virtual assistants (Alexa, Siri) possible and less infuriating.

Chat Bots are an easy way for us to dip our toes into this realm.

Think about what AI and Business Intelligence could do together! More on this below.

Should we cower in fear over Alyce?

Augmented Reality

I've got lots of thoughts about AR. Read them here.

AR enhanced catalogs. Imagine combining with virtualization to add logos. It’s a personalized, interactive catalog. Holy crap!

There are many AR platforms out there that help savvy marketers create AR experiences. I think we’re missing out on opportunities to upsell AR services.


I had to do a double take at this one. Totally didn't expect to talk blockchain on this panel. Way to be ahead of the game, commonsku! This is all I had to say about that...

I wish I could better grasp what the possibilities are. Payments are obvious. Visa is up to something. But I don’t think I can contribute much more to this discussion.

I do think the implications for Blockchain (data, time, actions) coupled with Machine Learning/AI (correlation of behavioral patterns) could be incredible but the marketplace will determine how this is leveraged.

The Internet of Things

I don't know about you, but when I think of IoT I think of home automation. I love me some home automation. Fun stuff.

Bobby stated...

This is a big category for our industry and continues to have huge potential, example: smart fitness clothing, apple watch, Amazon echo, we’re seeing trends in physical products + tech/digital enhancements, if at this least, this is an entire category that we might capitalize on but, moreover, this has implications for driving consumer expectations (products that enhance our lives and makes things easier).

That last bit about products that enhance our lives hits home with me. This is why I love the branded silicone pocket product we all sell. It wasn’t fancy or clever. It just made things easier.

I’m an Apple fanboy. But Alexa has easily become the most appreciated platform in my life. If the internet goes out, I'm lucky if I can find my way to the light switch to turn it off! It helps that Amazon has a fantastic developer program.

At ROBYN we've had success with the Tile Bluetooth tracker as an IoT device that is much appreciated by the recipient. We've also had some fantastic product demos with the iLuv Alexa enabled speaker from Hirsch thanks to some custom Alexa skills.

Bobby made the point that IoT drives the consumer expectation that process and data should be instantly available. This reminded me of Amazon's Dash technology (order process) and Alexa's order tracking (data) as a rudimentary example.

Related: Don’t be surprised when CSV reports are not enough for our clients. Instantly available AI + BI (data, time and actions) will play a big part in purchasing decisions. If we can use this tech to help our clients FEEL good about their buying habits – we win.

Other Future Tech

You might get a groan from 3D printing but I think it won’t be long before we see a shift to hyper-localized manufacturing. Maybe suppliers would become IP holders who simply license their patents and designs rather than manufacture and sell. Who knows? This would affect freight carriers (less shipping) and eco-conscious buyers (also less shipping) as well.

Cool, cool stuff.

Tech for Today, Tech for Tomorrow & How Tech Shapes Your Company

Lots of good discussion at this point. Remember, this post comprises only of the thoughts I had leading up to the discussion. You really had to have been there to experience the magic.

Are you seeing trends in cross-channel marketing tools outside print and promo?
Yep. We onboard clients who take advantage of our digital marketing tools like dynamic video, imaging and documents as well as traditional print and promotional hard goods.

What tech development are you most proud of and why?
A self-serve gift card feature that we built to work with our B2B e-commerce platform. It was built for a B2C client but has shown immediate value for companies looking to build BrandLove with their team.

What type of transactions are you doing on your store that are beyond promo and beyond print?
Digital Downloads, Dynamic Imaging, Merged Office Docs, Dynamic Video and Gift Cards!

How does technology impact your client retention?
Providing technology based solutions allows us to become very important to hour our client partners do business. Remaining intuitive and agile makes us a valuable asset.

There are a ton of small enhancements [to company stores] that trigger sales (e.g. interstitial messaging, consistent store and email marketing for the client, copy on product pages that leads to sales, customized experiences), that we can utilize, whether we are a full blown store or not, can you share a story about how a small technology tweak created significant sales growth?

Timely messaging on the store really helps to drive sales. We do this using all the methods above. Nothing has been more effective than email marketing directly to customers. If you have the kind of relationship with your client that will allow you to market directly to store users, do it (responsibly). An important thing to remember is, even though they are B2B buyers, they are still cosnumers.

We also started adding downloadable calendar events to items with a sale or ordering deadline to act as a tickler for the buyer.

Fireside Chatter

That's about it, minus some tidbits you'd have had to have been there for.

I shared some thoughts leading up to skucamp that were, admittedly, a little "out there" and beyond the scope of this discussion. They are posted below for posterity:

Some random thoughts – not sure if they’ll make it into the convo:

1. There’s a lot of fear in the world right now concerning technology. Will they take our jobs? Should AI be crippled to prevent a Terminator scenario? I think we should remain optimistic. I recently read this quote:
"The greatest benefit of the arrival of artificial inteligence is that AIs will help us define humanity. We need AIs to tell us who we are". –Kevin Kelly, WIRED
After technology has allowed us to defeat disease and scarcity (Star Trek) and shed our mortal forms (2001 Space Odyssey). Once we’ve discovered how to truly understand each other, perhaps by some kind of humanity scale mind-share. What will be left of us? Perhaps, the very essence of our humanity.
2. We used to introduce computing into our lives through modestly connected devices that still required our disconnect from “the real world” or “meat-space” to interact with. But AI, coupled with data and patterns from the blockchain, and interacted with via Voice and AR (see how I tied all that together?) will some day be so ubiquitous that we will instead find ourselves a part of the machine itself.

Copyright © 2019 Eric Granata