Becoming a Disruptive Commerce Brand: 3 Takeaways from My eTail East Keynote

By: Sameer Patel | August 18, 2017 | Artificial Intelligence, E-Commerce, Personalization

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to keynote the eTail East conference in Boston. Etail East is the meeting ground for successful iconic retailers and well-known commerce brands such as Neiman Marcus, Le Tote, Wayfair, Revlon, Dell, and others who are seeking out the latest strategies and tactics to help them amplify their reach and truly engage with consumers on a one-to-one level.

My presentation in particular focused on how the most successful & disruptive commerce companies of our time are in fact disruptive because they’re leveraging next-gen technologies in order to create these personal relationships with their customers. As consumers today are now expecting this hyper-personalized experience with the brands they love, it’s up to retailers to give it to them, or else. The good news is that disruption is anyone’s game—the only caveat being that you prioritize the implementation of technology and tools needed to create meaningful communications and experiences for consumers. These are who tomorrow’s disruptors will be.

So, let’s talk disruption. Modern commerce disruption. Here are 3 key takeaways from my keynote presentation:

1. What does it really take to be a disruptor?

The term “disruptor” gets thrown around quite a bit in today’s world. It is a coveted title for most and diligently pursued by many. Being a true disruptor, however, means that you not only used emerging technologies to knock out a traditional brand champion, but also created a new market in the process.

One of single biggest reasons we have seen such a surge in disruptive companies has been the ability to sell goods online. Many companies are being founded as solely digital with no brick-and-mortar presence which continues to break down the barriers of the need to shop in-store. As online buying experiences improve and eventually surpass the real world experience, the pendulum will swing further toward a digital-only realm.

This swift change has made room for digitally savvy brands such as Wayfair and Casper to elbow their way into previously traditional verticals of furniture and mattresses, respectively. As a result of an increased number of players in-market and intensified competition, consumer standards have risen accordingly as brands vy for attention. What we’ve seen from disruptive brands such as  Wayfair, Casper, Airbnb, and Dollar Shave Club is that they were able to elbow their way into the market by prioritizing a customer-first experience and a multi-channel approach.


With hockey-stick growth and promising revenue it is difficult to still see that depressed metrics for consumer engagement are still very very prevalent. A staggering 46% of consumers are tuning out of mobile messaging and nearly all consumers eventually unsubscribe from emails. For the retail industry in particular, these uninspiring figures translate into hundreds of billions of dollars abandoned in digital shopping carts every year.


And so the first take away is that there remains a big opportunity for every retailer and digital commerce provider to up and ante on truly personalized and meaningful customer experience. This could be the set of current disruptors mentioned above, older retailers and a new crop of upstart brands.

2. How to ensure you’re a disruptor…and not part of the disrupted


Many of you will have some combination of analytics and delivery. You may even have a way to sync the data to glean multi-channel insights across your campaigns. While that may work today, emerging technologies such as  artificial intelligence (AI) enables contextual marketing that will deliver hyper-personalized messages on the right channel, on the right device, at the right time, and update in real-time.

What this distills down to is understanding each one of your consumers as individuals. By understanding each of your consumers as individuals, you are inherently increasing what Brian Solis has deemed as the human quotient. Consumers are more savvy nowadays—they know when they are being sold to, they know when they are being batch-and-blasted, and they resent irrelevant spam. Today’s bar is much higher to resonate and develop high lifetime value consumers. Luckily, emerging AI technologies and the evolution of companies adapting AI is quickly paving the way for a new and improved approach to consumer marketing.

At Kahuna, we’ve seen contextual marketing in action with large, well-known brands to smaller start-ups that are innovating in their respective space. Many brands are aware that they have holes in their consumer on-boarding process or know that they want to improve their retention metrics or convert unknown users to known users but are unsure of how AI can help in these arenas. Some will double down on their systems of delivery or their systems of insight in order to see lift. However, it is only through understanding each consumer as an individual and marketing to them based on their preferences that you will see lift in today’s market.

TickPick, an online ticketing site, is a prime example of how contextual marketing improves consumer engagement and positively impacts the bottom line. CEO Brett Goldberg reports decreased dormant users and 3.7x goal completions when using AI to improve real-time data insights, message relevancy, and cross-channel consistency. All of these pieces working together in tandem is made possible by AI.

3. Disruption is anyone’s game (yes, even yours)

If there is one takeaway for where the industry is headed, it should be that today is anyone’s game. It does not matter if you are Amazon or Shelly’s Closet. AI-powered systems will be the key to staying ahead of the commerce curve and winning your share of the market. To take the first step, assess which systems you have in place now and find out which parts of the delivery, insights, or integration could use an AI transfusion to enable more personalized marketing.

The good news? This is much less daunting than you may think. You don’t have to rip out entire systems and replace them with AI-based systems. Instead, AI tools that facilitate personalization can integrate right into your existing platforms, e.g. your incumbent email service provider (ESP). Here, the marketer gets the best of both worlds: prime message delivery coupled with unparalleled message personalization.

I had a blast keynoting this event and learning from so many iconic brands and new upstarts that are doing amazing things to build resilient relationships with every consumer.

Watch full keynote below

For more information about what you need to do to be a disruptor, check out our latest ebook, The Next Modern Commerce Disruption: A Marketer’s Blueprint to Win in the Age of Personalization. Simply click the button below!


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Author: Sameer Patel

Sameer Patel joined Kahuna in August 2016 as CEO. Prior to Kahuna, Sameer was GM/SVP at SAP/SuccessFactors where he led the team responsible for making SAP a leading provider of customer and employee collaboration solutions, serving over 35 million subscribers. Prior to SAP, Sameer worked consulting and systems integrator business. He has keynoted over 50 industry and venture capital/private equity events and has been quoted in publications like The New York Times, CNBC, The Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, and HBR. Sameer received his Bachelor’s in Finance and Economics from Babson College and his Master’s in MIS from Boston University. He enjoys writing about leadership and high-performing enterprises on his blog, Pretzel Logic.

Fun fact:

Sameer has worked in seven countries, was a nationally-ranked squash player, and has swum 3 open water races. His current passion is subjecting his family to his (mis)adventures in the culinary arts.



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