Merchant Innovation

In-Person Events: The Next Frontier Of Contextual Commerce

Red Carpets Are Now Retail Spaces

If they have the resources, retailers will gladly spend millions of dollars on data processes that pinpoint who they're critical customers are and how they can get their products in front of them at the right time. If they don't have the resources, they'll pay somebody else to run the numbers for them. It's a fact of life in online commerce and doubly so when the mission is identifying susceptible shoppers. If you don't have the data, you don't have much.

However, two retailers are testing out a new hypothesis: Data is great and all, but in the real world, picking your spots can be just as good a tactic.

Look no further than Amazon's recent and somewhat out-of-the-blue partnership with the U.K.'s Gamer Network and its flagship event, the EGX gaming convention. Held every September, the video game gathering draws 80,000 like-minded fans of digital entertainment to check out the latest and greatest releases from software and hardware companies alike. Some of the products on the floor are still in development, but others are ready to purchase as soon as attendees get home.

Thanks to support from Amazon, though, EGX attendees will be able to order their favorite consoles and games on the spot during the convention. It's contextual commerce in its distilled form: Consumers are going to the conference with the expressed purpose of seeing the most exciting and entertaining products on the horizon, and Amazon will be there to remind each attendee that they need not wait a second longer to buy the items in front of them for themselves.

“We asked our community where they prefer to buy and pre-order their games, and Amazon was overwhelmingly their number one choice," Rupert Loman, CEO of Gamer Network, said in a statement. “Their obsessive focus on customer experience fits perfectly with our attendees’ discerning taste. We’re extremely pleased to have the backing of another market-leading partner.”

In some ways, Amazon's participation in the EGX convention makes perfect sense for the eCommerce giant. It doesn't have to bring any of the actual products to the event, since its fulfillment network can just as easily have the released ones speedily delivered to consumers' homes, while saving them the effort of lugging consoles and swag around the convention floor. However, this wave of in-person event retail isn't limited to the eCommerce brands that can easily extend themselves into the physical world.

For some, like Nordstrom, the rewards are well worth the effort to take their in-store efforts out into the wider world of retail events.

Case in point: When the cast of "Hamilton" arrives at the 70th Tony Awards to pick up their truckload of awards, Nordstrom will be livestreaming every attendee's fashion choices from the red carpet, and the broadcast will be picked up by Vogue, Entertainment Weekly and People. Much like Amazon's mission to make each item at EGX instantly shoppable, Nordstrom, too, will be taking online orders for dresses and accessories worn by the stars of the Tony Awards themselves, and the combination of celebrity and ephemeral fashion could mean big bucks.

“Nordstrom is buying the ability to connect dots to data to drive desire and sales,” Chris Ramey, president of Affluent Insights, told Luxury Daily. "Impulse buying is essential for fashion. The ability to measure those impulses is immense. The ability to turn them into instant revenue is gold.”

If Nordstrom, Amazon and others hit pay dirt with this kind of red carpet retail, the monkey-see, monkey-do nature of modern retail will see a rush of competitors into the space as well. However, that comes with just as many of its own dangers. While leveraging contextual commerce at in-person events is all well and good, overfishing the waters runs the risk of erasing what non-commerciality these events have retained and transforming them into staged sales ops, alienating any natural audience that was the whole point in the first place.

To its credit, Nordstrom is planning on limiting the number of fashion items from the Tony Awards it sells online to safeguard "the integrity of the show," but if it makes millions off of a curated collection, will it and other merchants have the self-control not to offer a few more products the next time and then a few more after that?

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