Innovation Uncensored

On November 2, I attended Innovation Uncensored, an event hosted by Fast Company in San Francisco.

While there were plenty of good talks, I was especially intrigued by the conversation between Fast Company editor Robert Safian and John Donahoe, President & CEO if eBay.

The premise of the talk was centered around “reinventing a giant,” exploring how a signature brand like eBay can reposition itself in a fast-changing and unpredictable environment. The key takeaway that stuck with me was when John stated provocatively that there’s no difference between ecommerce, brick and mortar retail stores and mobile commerce. He effectively echoed what Brian Walker from Forrester has stated – that multi-channel commerce “no longer makes sense.” The reason is that consumers – you and me – are no longer thinking in terms of channels. Half of all retail and brick-mortar transactions touch the web. In fact, web is driving foot traffic into stores, so a better way to approach the concept is to think of each “channel” as a consumer touchpoint that feeds into the same beast.

John gave an example of Pizza Express, a company in the UK which takes mobile orders from customers in store and then alerts them on their mobile phone to come up to pick up the pizza – essentially managing the queue. It made me wonder, “Why stop there”? In the very short term, consumers will be able to pay through the mobile phone; and the pizza orders will be taken by assistants with POS (point of sale) embedded in iPads or tablet PCs. Now imagine this: the retailer pumps offers right at POS and the consumer can tweet to friends to join or share the offer. This concept is not far off at all, but because we get stuck in classifying the different channels, we’re losing sight of what the consumers want – to get the most seamless experience possible — whether it be in the store, on their phone or online.

The bottom line here is that consumers are in charge. John said eBay’s strategic planning is driven by carefully observing what consumers are doing and getting in front of those trends – or at least ensuring they don’t fall behind.

Imagine the challenge of personalization in this brave new world:  how to deliver exactly what the consumer wants – at a given moment, in this blended, all channels are one, universe. This talk was a good reminder that we need to keep innovating to meet consumers’ heightened expectations of a seamless experience at all touchpoints. Personalizing and delivering the exact offer, product or result is going to be harder than ever – but has never been as important as it is now.