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Shall we all become French?

eCommerce Guru?
eCommerce Guru?

That’s a slightly odd question I know but it popped into my head after moderating a panel at Google’s eCommerce Summit. The panel included Mark Inskip, Director of Digital EMEA, Accenture, Simon Curry CEO, DABS, Angus Cormie, eCommerce Director, Dell, Daniel Kerzner,Regional Director of Marketing, Starwood Hotels & Resorts. In other words they really knew what they were talking about when discussing internet sales and marketing. The great news was that in answer to an audience question “are you finished with the old SEO, SEM et al methods now?” everyone agreed that there is plenty more potential simply getting better at understanding your traffic, conversion, customer segmentation, price discrimination, total cost of ownership… the list goes on. We heard plenty of stories about the techniques that are being discovered, deployed and honed by these businesses.

The message I heard though was that eCommerce continues to be driven by vigorous analysis of numbers and logical deduction. When an analytical approach seems to give diminishing returns in eCommerce there is always another level of precision and detail that can be plumbed to grow sales and margin. That seems to be something lost in the offline world. You might say that before the internet we got stuck in the empirical point of view – i.e. “we do this because we found it usually works”, rather than trying to figure out why it actually works. Consequently this basically anglo-saxon point of view was manifest in a joke about the French in business who are alleged to say “that’s fine in practise but it’ll never work in theory”. The reason the French suffered this insult is that the thinking of Rene Descartes has had such a profound effect on the country and its philosophy – what some people call Cartesian logic. Descartes wasn’t satisfied with empricial ideas – his approach was to dismiss them but then try to rebuild them from scientific investigation and logic. He wanted to show why things worked.

Looks to me as if this Cartesian approach is the very best discipline to apply in eCommerce. Empirical approaches are dangerous because you are doing the right things without knowing why they are right – dangerous because things change quickly. So I think I am now advocating that we all get reeducated the French way!!!

By the way, when I asked for an example of an eCommerce business that my panel admired they said Pixmania. Started in Paris didn’t it? Q.E.D.

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