#535: The Continued Evolution of E-commerce with Mark Simon, Celigo

In an era where consumer behavior is rapidly evolving, understanding the shifts in online shopping habits is crucial for any business involved in e-commerce.

Today, we’re joined by Mark Simon, Vice President of Strategy at Celigo, who will share insights from Celigo’s recent global consumer survey that sheds light on the future of online shopping in 2024 and beyond, amidst ongoing economic and political changes.

About Mark Simon

For nearly 6 years, Mark has been helping Celigo’s customers find success on their digital transformation journeys. Mark’s background prior to Celigo includes his beginnings as a software developer to becoming CTO of a successful high-growth ecommerce startup. He then spent 8 years leading the Professional Services practice for one of the largest and most successful NetSuite VARs, Explore Consulting, where his team specialized in ecommerce practices and executed digital transformation initiatives for over 200 ecommerce companies.


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Note: This was AI-generated and only lightly edited afterwards.

Greg Kihlström:
With consumer behavior rapidly evolving, understanding the shifts in online shopping habits is crucial for any business involved in e-commerce, which really means most businesses these days. Today, we’re joined by Mark Simon, Vice President of Strategy at Celigo, who will share insights from a recent global consumer survey that sheds light on the future of online shopping in 2024 and beyond amidst ongoing economic and political changes. Mark, welcome to the show.

Greg Kihlström: Hi, Greg, it’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me on.

Greg Kihlström: Yeah, looking forward to talking about this with you. Why don’t we get started, though, with you giving a little background on your role at Soligo and just how it positions you to analyze some of these trends and consumer behavior in e-commerce that we’re going to talk about.

Mark Simon: Great, thank you. Well, I’m a VP of strategy at Celigo. Celigo is an integration platform as a service company. If anyone needed another technology acronym, and you weren’t aware of what an I-PASS is, that’s it. And I think nobody needs another technology acronym. So the best way, if you’re not familiar with that space, is really think of us as an integration platform, and we’re connecting the business systems in an organization. And particularly, we’re really focused on doing this in a very modern fashion, so a different approach than traditional middleware, which is very development-oriented. We’re more tech-savvy, business-oriented, so we can accelerate the integration and the connectivity within your business to make your applications, your processes, your tools work more seamlessly. And so in my role here, I get to work with really across our customer base and across our departments internally, and help both set our strategy as an organization, but also help our customers be more successful leveraging our platform and help them understand how we fit into their larger digital transformation initiatives in their organization. And one of the cool things about that is we’ve got about 5,000 customers. And so I get to see trends across this entire set of customers. And there’s very wide variance between who who is succeeding in leveraging technology, business process advancements, et cetera, to achieve their business goals and who’s not. And often it’s some really simple things and it’s more about how they think about things. So there’s definitely a lot of trends that we see across those and insights that we can provide to your audience.

Greg Kihlström: That’s great. Yeah, well, let’s dive into some of those trends and we’re gonna start by talking about the 2024 Global Consumer Survey on e-commerce. And Saliga has put this together with, as you mentioned, a lot of factors around AI, inflation, political events, how all of those things and more are shaping consumer e-commerce behaviors. So, let’s start with Could you share some, you know, what are some of the key findings from the report and, you know, in particular regarding online shopping habits for 2024 and beyond? And, you know, maybe what are some surprising trends or statistics?

Mark Simon: Yeah, you bet, Greg. So one of the things with this report, so we conducted a survey of more than 1,500 consumers in both the US and the UK, and this was about their 2023 holiday shopping experience and their plans for 2024 around their holiday shopping. So trying to do this timely, so it was fresh in their minds, coming out and use that to inform and be able to give our customers and our prospects a bit of a vision into how things are changing in the online shopping marketplace. So, one of the first things that jumped out at me about this as far as takeaways is that 85% of shoppers had at least one to three poor experiences with online retailers last year. And these experiences were poor enough that they were, those stayed with them, they remembered those, and those have an influence, those were poor enough that they have an influence on their shopping habits going forward. And I think that one alone is pretty eye-opening for some organizations out there.

Greg Kihlström: Yeah, yeah, definitely. I mean, to make that kind of impact, because I mean, at this point we’re, know, their e commerce is pretty prevalent, right? So it’s, it’s to have such a bad experience that it actually changes your behavior. And you know, if this was 1999, or something, that’s a whole different thing. But in 2024, definitely, what about other ongoing factors? I mean, there’s lots of things, I mean, everything from AI to inflation, you know, and pretty much everything in between, you know, lots of different factors that that might be influencing consumer decisions? What are you seeing there? Yeah.

Mark Simon: One thing is, from a trend standpoint, what we saw there was 43% of those shoppers stated that higher prices and inflation, it’s causing them actually to shop less online. because they’re really tightening their budgets and they’re pulling back on their overall spending in general as consumers. So you’ve got one group here that’s pulling back and then What I think is very interesting with this as well is that the counterpoint to that is that you’ve got a group of 31% of those consumers that’s saying that because of the same reasons, higher costs, inflation, and the need to make their budget go further, that they’re actually shopping online more and they’re doing so specifically to find better deals and get higher value. So you’ve got two groups, you’ve got two ends of the spectrum here, but it’s impacting online behavior. And I think from those points, really, I think it helps leaders, commerce leaders, omnichannel organization leaders sort of understand, hey, if you’re not doing something about this, if you’re not, if you’re not, you’re realizing that you’ve got a more, a consumer base that is now more, much more becoming much more price conscious. If you don’t address that, you could get impacted negatively, you could get impacted positively, or it could potentially be a neutral impact. And so obviously, as a business leader, you look at this and say, hey, there’s opportunity here, but there’s also a threat. And I think that’s for a lot of things, but in particular here, I think that’s an important takeaway.

Greg Kihlström: Yeah, well, and so building on inflation and potentially other economic factors. We’re also in an election year. And so there’s other external factors like that, which certainly can have impacts just like inflation and other things on impacts on consumer confidence. as well as their spending habits. So in light of the upcoming presidential election in the US and everything else going on in the globe at large, what changes are you anticipating in consumer e-commerce behavior just based on some of those things?

Mark Simon: Yeah, when you start talking about the election, that’s really interesting. I don’t think we’re going to crack open the politics box here today, so we’re going to keep that one closed. Totally, totally. I think we can stay safe there. No, but I mean, certainly there’s been, and I know there’s some fantastic macroeconomic analysis out there of the trends economic trends that are very, very repeated in election years. And I think the big thing is that uncertainty, and the takeaway from some of these is that uncertainty is not good for consumer spending, and it’s not good for business spending. So those trends are, and what we hear from consumers through our customers is that there’s, in an election year like this, there’s just that level of question of, okay, well, what’s going to happen? What is is next year going to be like if there’s an administration change and policy changes to go along with that. So that brings unease to people. It increases a baseline level of anxiety, if you will, whether it’s within consumers or within businesses. And that causes a general sort of hold back, a sort of, hey, we’re going to be a little bit more cautious and maybe we won’t spend as much, or we won’t go in on that sort of big ticket items, or be as free with your spending as with our consumer. And then we see that within business as well, that they’re just holding back, they can hold back a little bit more, or think differently, especially around their go to market. And I think that, okay, let’s, you know, you end up with this collective, okay, let’s wait and see. And that alone has a negative impact on trends and consumer spending overall.

Greg Kihlström: Yeah, yeah. So then what would you I mean, given a need to prepare and adapt, I mean, what, how would you recommend that they do that, you know, that an e commerce business would make preparations or, you know, what should they do, knowing, knowing that the unknown is coming, but at least I guess, at least knowing that it’s, it’s on its way?

Mark Simon: Yeah. Well, I mean, it’s interesting. I’ve been in this business systems and digital transformation space for long enough here to have been through a couple down cycles, well, more than a couple. And one thing that I’ve seen that has held companies in very good stead whenever there’s uncertainty, whether it’s an explicit down cycle, or it’s more these periods of muddling through, if you will, where it’s not great, it’s not bad, and you just don’t know what’s coming next, The one thing that’s really held organizations well and I’ve seen great outcomes from is when they’re unsure of where to go and they’re not ready to commit to say new go-to-market initiatives, but stepping back and basically shoring up their operational efficiency. So, increasing both their efficiency, and this is probably the most important thing, increasing their agility at the same time. So, committing to that work, if you’ve got sort of that, if you think of, you know, to borrow a developer’s term, that technical debt, but what I often like to call in many organizations an operational debt that occurs, particularly when you’re going fast and you’re running forward and things are going really well, and then you, It’s like it slows down and there can be this inclination to sort of batten down the hatches sometimes. And that’s actually exactly when you have to increase your investment on that operational and system side to make sure to catch up and increase that flexibility? Can you move? Can you do more? Can you automate? What are the things you can do to automate more, but automate in a flexible fashion so that you’re better equipped to redeploy your internal resources? to whatever opportunity in response to whatever opportunity may present itself coming out or to respond better to whatever threats may occur. And a classic example of the ability to respond to something like that is what we saw through COVID. And now COVID is, it was a very, let’s just call it an extreme example But sometimes looking at those extremes, they’re great because they focus your attention on and kind of exaggerate the trends. But what we saw with our customer base is the companies that had invested already in automating their business systems, in building better connectivity and integration between systems and their suppliers and their commerce channels, and did it in a way that was flexible, when they had supply chain shocks, when they had big spikes in demands, when consumer buying patterns all of a sudden shifted very radically, they were able to pivot faster than others. So in fact, in some cases, they could pivot in weeks instead of months. Or in some cases, I saw it took a year and a half for larger companies that didn’t have the agility there to be able to shift around and accommodate a much higher demand for online sales channels. So that agility sets you up. And so I think that’s a very, very good way and really one of the best ways that a company can set themselves up for really whatever comes in the future.

Greg Kihlström: Staying on the topic of operational agility, let’s call it, with all the focus on AI, certainly AI has been around for decades. Those that just thought chat GPT was the first time AI ever was invented or something, certainly you know, it’s been around for quite a while. Do you think that there’s a lot of promise with automation and, you know, some of the things that you mentioned with using AI based tools and processes and things? Do you think the conversation around AI is constructive in helping with operational agility? Or is it kind of distracting because it’s the shiny object? Or does it just, is it kind of, is it a matter of maturity in the space? Uh, yes.

Mark Simon: It’s hard to break. It’s hard to break those apart and they all come together. And, and I would say absolutely yes to all of those. And I think because all of that, it’s all, it’s all one big pot right now and it’s all happening, happening at once. And I think It’s been fantastic because with the advancements in AI technology and the advancements in those language models, it’s great because it raised awareness across the board. And that’s fantastic. But it gets to a point where it’s almost funny because as a business leader, you’ve got not only probably your other leadership, might be your CEO or other leaders asking you about, oh, are you leveraging AI for almost just about anything. What are you doing with AI? You’ve got maybe a board asking that. You’ve got your employees and team being like, oh, we want to leverage these AI tools. Or, hey, look at what I just did. And there can be this horrifying look sometimes if you don’t have the data governance policies and an AI policy in place being like, oh my God, you just did what with this proprietary information. You want to foster initiative in your teams, but sometimes it can be terrifying. So you’ve got this press coming in about, okay, do this. And yet, we’ve reached the level of where the tools are at right now, we haven’t had access in the way that we have for the average user in an organization to be able to leverage AI. And so it creates a whole set of problems. I mean, as a business leader, there’s a tremendous amount of stress around this. You’ve got everyone wanting to leverage it and wanting you to leverage it. And everyone asking about it, I know, you know, things get a little crazy. I know when my 97-year-old grandmother asked me about, you know, am I doing anything with AI? So that tells me right there that it’s reached a level in the collective consciousness that it’s like everybody’s thinking about it, and which is awesome. But what it really is, the best way to look at AI is it’s just another tool in the automation toolbox. And so as a business leader, whether you’re explicitly a tech leader or you’re in line of a line of business to depart, whether you’re a marketing leader or an operational leader, a customer success leader, head of e-commerce, you have either direct influence or direct ownership of your teams. And And in those situations, you have to be looking at and figuring out, OK, how can I how can I leverage AI? But the real question is, what should I be doing to automate the business in light of this as a new tool? And I think that helps reset the conversation a little bit back to where it should be. And I will put a kind of an asterisk there. There is some sort of light usage that I almost call the sort of co-piloting the, you know, for example, within marketing teams of leveraging chat GPT to help you revise some marketing copy and produce it faster. There’s some great things that can be done right there that I call kind of surface level stuff. But if you really want to accomplish game changing things for your business, leveraging AI, you’ve got to think of it in the operational terms. And specifically, it’s like, oh, this is another tool to enhance our operational efficiency and automate the business. How do we add that in? And you’ve got to make sure you’ve got a solid foundation. And I think that’s the key. Is your foundation in place already to leverage the AI?

Greg Kihlström: Yeah, I mean, I was talking with a company who shall remain nameless the other day, and it became clear that a company goal was AI, not like let’s grow customers or let’s do more personal, you know, let’s do more strategic stuff. It was like, literally, like two letters is a company goal. And it’s clearly, you know, based on what you’re saying, that’s not the right mindset. It’s like, it’s a means to an end, right, is kind of what you’re saying. And so, you know, I see two parts to this from that operational standpoint. And I think you definitely touched on the, let’s call it the internal operational part of, you know, let’s make teams work more smoothly, let’s make them work more quickly, and getting to that first draft or whatever that that case may be. But then, you know, seeing what you see from the and consumer standpoint as well, you know, how are enough companies thinking about that piece as well, you know, enabling, you know, using AI to reach customers better, more quickly? And I guess, just because I’m asking you 10 questions at once today, are consumers ready for that?

Mark Simon: And I think the answer to all those is maybe. It’s a big, solid maybe. So I think when you look at how to prepare and leverage to use AI within a business, you’ve got to look at it. You’ve got to look at it. Hey, where can we leverage, say, some of these tools to enhance people’s, your employees’ roles? How can they leverage it to do something more efficiently and faster? But an augment, real creative work. And then the flip side of that is how do you, how do you use it to provide, to be a sort of game changer to the business? And that’s, that’s either how do you use it, focus AI internally and use it to move faster, automate more, more of the business. And how do you provide a higher level of service to the customer? And so I think that kind of breaks down, but the foundation of all of those AI tools is data. In order to use AI for your business, you have to have a solid data foundation. If we feed in garbage data, we’re going to get AI giving us garbage guidance and a garbage response, and it’s not going to help the business at all. It’s going to be a hindrance and get in the way regardless of where you’re using it. What that really means is you’ve got to think about your data. This can be tackled in kind of very isolated ways in an organization or holistically. So, it doesn’t have to be a Big Bang approach, but you’ve got to think about wherever you’re trying to do something and leverage modern AI tools, what data do I need to accomplish that? How is the quality of my data? And that data quality directly comes from How is it integrated? Do you have your systems integrated well, and are you bringing your data together and ensuring that it’s accurate, that it’s consistent, that it’s all together, and that you’ve broken down the natural data silos that exist and are being ever more quickly created in an organization? Are you breaking those down? And by integrating well, having processes for agile integration using modern iPaaS tools. But to do that, you’ve got to have your business processes in order and you’ve got to be flexible with your business process. That synergy between operations and technology is absolutely critical. That’s really the foundation to that good data. And then that good data you can leverage in AI. And then that opens the doors up to do really cool things that are customer facing, or maybe really cool things that are internal at first, that enhance and make your team more efficient in dealing with customers. And then that gives you a way to vet it out with human oversight. And there’s a lot of different ways to approach this. It doesn’t have to be kind of an all or you don’t have to unleash AI on the world, you can unleash AI You don’t have to unleash it on your consumers, I should say. You can unleash it on a group of your employees and they can make the decision, oh, this is helping me and accelerate how I support or service customers, for example.

Greg Kihlström: Yeah, I love that. Well, Mark, thanks so much for joining. One last question for you before we go here. We’ve talked about current and near future state. What should brands be preparing for a little bit further out? E-commerce, landscape, what do you see coming that brands should be preparing themselves for?

Mark Simon: I think brands should be really thinking about how they differentiate across the board, and making sure that they have multiple pillars to their differentiation. So it’s not just price, it’s not just maybe a highly curated and customized experience, but how are they able to differentiate in multiple lanes and really be clear on how they’re differentiating and how that’s impacting the consumer to provide an optimized customer experience. Because I think those customers, we know, there’s no thinking, we know from the data that consumers are continually raising the bar and setting the expectations higher for a buying experience. So be thinking about continually being ahead of that and thinking, okay, what we can do, how can we enhance it? make for a smoother experience throughout that whole customer journey. And I think that focus really holds companies in, you know, put them in a situation to accelerate their growth and succeed in the future.