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Ecommerce Modernization with Google Cloud

Presented at Activate Product Discovery 2021. Learn how Google Cloud is helping retailers drive digital transformation by accelerating omnichannel revenue growth and becoming more customer-centric and data-driven.

Amy Eschliman is the Managing Director of Retail at Google Cloud. Amy is responsible for shaping our Americas Retail solution strategy. Prior to Google, Amy has extensive experience in retail, focused primarily on ecommerce and customer engagement. Most recently, Amy was at Sephora where she served as the SVP of Client Engagement and previously as the SVP of Ecommerce. In her four year tenure at Sephora, Amy helped drive significant growth in the ecommerce business. Amy’s teams were responsible for leading Sephora to client-first marketing by driving changes in the company’s understanding and use of client data, personalization capabilities and new approaches to client loyalty. Prior to joining Sephora, Amy was the Vice President of e-commerce of Pottery Barn, within Williams-Sonoma, Inc. and responsible for e-commerce and retention marketing.

[Amy Eschliman]

Hi, I’m Amy Eschliman. I lead our America’s retail strategy for Google Cloud. 

I wanna start today talking about where we are. And sometimes the best way to do that is reflect on where we’ve been. When we look back, there’ve been two previous cloud eras. 

First, there was the VM cloud era, a period of time where startups, many of whom are the SaaS leaders of today, recognized that they could forego buying or operating hardware, and build from the beginning in the cloud. 

Next, and what we’ve experienced for the last decade, was traditional businesses recognizing the advantages of migrating IT infrastructure to the cloud. During this infrastructure cloud era, servers moved to the cloud, data storage moved to the cloud, old school email, calendar, et cetera, all moved to the cloud. While this drove cost efficiencies, it looked like business as usual, just in the cloud. 

But there are moments in history where everything changes, moments where things start moving in fast-forward. How we live, how we work, how we communicate, how we learn, all seem to transform in what seems like an instant, making what came before feel distant and of another era. 

The fundamentals of business have been forever changed, and retailers that understand that business as usual in the cloud is simply not enough. The pandemic has catalyzed an acceleration into what we’re calling the transformational cloud era. 

Consumer buying behaviors have changed rapidly during the pandemic. And we’re seeing trends that have accelerated, some new trends, and then some areas of continued uncertainty. I wanna first talk about the acceleration of current trends. We have all seen a rapid growth of e-commerce and of omnichannel experiences. Online shopping and pick up and delivery modes will continue to grow rapidly. COVID-19 has made these must-have capabilities. 

And then the digital shift has increased margin pressure. So in 2019, we saw a surge of bankruptcies and the current environment is even less favorable with this move to digital that has those lower margins. 

And then we’re seeing ultra convenience and ubiquitous shopping as the new norm. So consumers are continuing to demand a higher bar of convenience, including faster delivery times, product availability and personalized offers. Even click to order or voice commands. 

Some new trends that we’re seeing include the importance of in-store experiences and thinking about the store in a new way. Shoppers will opt for more experiential spaces and retailers that offer them a higher degree of safety and community. There’s a need for supply chain visibility. Beyond the need to just manage operations, retailers are being held accountable for responsible sourcing by consumers. 

And then, hyper-personalization. Bringing those experiences that we expect from digital into the physical world to a store of one. 

Some areas of continued uncertainty include unpredictable demand and chaos within inventory. So the rise of consumer hoarding and fluctuating demand spikes is expected to continue. We’re definitely seeing volatility in the supply chain with a general shift to the global economy supply chains are slow right now, they’re kind of feeling some slowness, and there’s a lack of clarity on how long that will last and how intense the disruptions might be. 

And then some very expensive and challenging last mile delivery options that consumers are demanding, and that is creating some uncertainty on the retailer side. 

And then finally, the role of the store. So, where previous focuses have been on products related to health and safety and hygiene due to the pandemic, some uncertainty about what that new environment, that new store environment will look like. 

A few additional data points that I wanted to talk about to reinforce some of these trends that we’re seeing. We’ve seen a definite shift towards e-commerce adoption. By some accounts, e-commerce adoption has accelerated to a level that we did not expect to hit for another 10 years. 

First, by necessity, when stores were mandatorily closed, and then by customers just opting to keep it safe and avoid physical stores if possible. In addition, these digital first shopping journeys are blurring the lines between the physical and digital brand experiences. Shoppers want to know what’s available before they visit a store, and they expect fulfillment options like curbside. This has left many retailers asking how they can get smarter with their data, move faster to create new customer experiences, and do a better job of connecting their employees and customers. 

And of course, how to do this all with confidence. Throughout all of this uncertainty, those that can move at the pace of customer expectations will win. Retail has historically rewarded innovators, and here are just a few examples of where we see customer expectations changing. 

With all of that as background, I wanna talk a little bit about Google Cloud in the retail industry. We’ve been making significant investments strategically aligned to the industry, with executives coming from deep retail industry backgrounds driving decisions and solutions. The cloud of retails best in class AI and ML expertise and engineering power is brought to our retail partners. And we’ll bring the best of Google. 75% of global shoppers have used a Google product in the past week to help with their shopping experience. And customers are engaging with Google across a multitude of platforms to start research and complete their shopping journeys. 

And then finally, retailers get access to the same technology and infrastructure that powers no less than nine platforms that are used by 1 billion users or more. We’ve recently been named the number one cloud provider for retail, something that we’re very proud of. As the industry transitions to a new normal, it’s important to have the right partner, and retail is one of Google Cloud’s top priority verticals that we’re rallying our teams around. 

I’m gonna talk about a bit about where we’re making investments. We spend our time thinking about how we can rise and succeed in this new era together. We continue to focus on areas where we can bring the best of our capabilities to our retail customers around the world, and ways we can bring the best of what Google has to offer through cloud integrations. 

First, we help customers capture digital and omnichannel revenue growth. Second, we help them build and become customer-centric, data-driven retailers. And third, our solutions help drive operational improvement. 

We’re gonna go a bit deeper in to capturing digital and omnichannel revenue growth for this presentation. So let’s dive a bit deeper into how we’re helping customers drive omnichannel revenue growth, particularly through e-commerce. 

We meet retailers’ needs in one of three ways. There’s a platform on which they can build their own e-commerce experiences. We also have a strong network of partners who give customers the building blocks on which they can customize. And then finally, a network of SaaS partners that offer out-of-the-box solutions for e-commerce. 

Our customers are constantly thinking about how best to balance resources. With a modern e-commerce platform, our clients are then able to add new functionality experiences, and better take advantage of our AI and ML to address their challenges and drive their business. There are various ways to implement AI within your organization. 

At Google Cloud, we approach this in three categories. First, we have pre-built solutions. We are bringing solutions to market across the retail value chain to solve for specific retail use cases. For instance, vision product search helps you bring image-based search capabilities to your mobile applications. Then we have building blocks. Our cloud AI building blocks enable you to easily infuse AI into your existing applications, or build entirely new intelligent applications across a broad spectrum of use cases. For instance, auto ML tables can automatically build and deploy state-of-the-art machine learning models on structured data, giving you insights from your robust datasets. And then finally, you can build yourself on our platform. If you have the skillset and the desire, you can leverage our robust platform to build your own applications to meet the unique needs of your business. 

I wanna talk through a few case studies just to bring this to life. So Wayfair is a great example. They’re one of the world’s largest online retailers of home goods, and they use Google Cloud for their hybrid cloud strategy. Through technology and innovation, Wayfair makes it possible for shoppers to quickly and easily find exactly what they want from a selection of more than 14 million items across home furnishings, decor, home improvement, housewares, and more. Their challenges were scaling the web to support the buyer experience, and developing the flexibility to handle surges in customer web traffic and unlock more ways to improve the shopping experience by democratizing data across the enterprise. With Google, they were able to centralize their data on a platform with low operational overhead, enabling data analysts and scientists to run business critical analytics. They were able to provide data-driven recommendations to help suppliers capitalize on demand, and increase the accuracy of customer recommendations. 

The next example I wanna talk through is Lowe’s. Lowe’s is one of the customers who saw tremendous success with e-commerce using Google Cloud. Lowe’s has built a truly channel-less customer experience. One of the key examples here of the channel-less experience is 130,000 Android devices that were put in the hands of their store associates, that helps deliver more real-time information to the associates to better help customers. 

Another example I wanna talk through is Ulta Beauty. Ulta Beauty’s goal is to create a personalized beauty experience for over 30 million loyalty members. They leveraged several Google Cloud solutions, including machine learning analytics and our highly scalable data warehouse to handle massive data sets at scale and quickly gain rich insights about their customers. Their continued focus on innovation with Google Cloud technologies has enabled them to launch new experiences like their Virtual Beauty Advisor, an AI-powered shopping tool that we highlighted in our app a few years ago. With this solution, Ulta Beauty has seen an order increase of over 40%. We’ve had outstanding success with large global retailers and in every industry, as they embark on their digital transformation journeys. 

Very excited to work with you within the retail industry. Thank you.

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