Highlights from Group Commerce’s First Annual #ThinkCommerce Summit
Lisa Chau

E-commerce technology provider Group Commerce held its first annual Think Commerce Summit last week at Chelsea Piers in New York City. 400 guests attended the event, which offered what was described as “future focused visionary panels and keynotes on the collision of content, commerce, and technology from the perspective of media companies, brands, and consumers.”

Panelists and speakers included top executives such as Shana Fisher, Managing Partner at Highline Venture Partners; Terry Kawaja, Founder and CEO of Luma Partners; and Nick Lehman, NBCUniversal President of Digital. Forrester’s Principal E-Commerce Analyst, Sucharita Mulpuru, delivered the afternoon keynote address, which included the latest research in e-commerce conducted by her company. Reporters Adam Penenberg (PandoDaily), Barney Jopson (Financial Times), J.J. Colao (Forbes), Nicholas Carlson (Business Insider) and Sarah Frier (Bloomberg) closed the summit with their perspectives as media journalists.

The overarching discussion covered the challenges of merging content with commerce: How can content providers incorporate commerce into their business model and vice versa? This collaboration is the next logical step in business profitability given the manner in which consumer behavior has evolved with technology. As Mulpuru notes, the way in which people discover products has changed massively, and a large percentage of this happens on mobile phones and tablets.

Companies are looking for ways to make shopping easier for today’s sophisticated consumers—keeping customers informed and allowing them to easily spend money by marrying content with commerce. More people are shopping on their mobile devices and this presents a huge opportunity for companies. Commerce sites will need to rethink the way they are engaging customers and how to become leaders in this ever-changing, ever-growing digital world.

Co-founder and CEO of Thrillist Media Group, Ben Lerer, managed to successfully incorporate commerce into his men’s lifestyle brand Thrillist.com by purchasing members-only shopping club JackThreads.com in 2010. He made readers into buyers and buyers into readers. Collectively, the two brands have a daily reach of over 5 million subscribers, comprised of young, urban males.

Lerer has been listed in Crain’s “40 under 40,” AdWeek’s “Young Influentials,” and he has also been recognized as one of Entrepreneur Magazine’s “Top 5 Entrepreneurs of the Year.” For five consecutive years, Lerer has made Silicon Alley Insider’s “100 Coolest People in Tech.” He is also a co-founder of the highly active New York-based seed stage venture capital fund Lerer Ventures.

Previously, companies kept editorial content separate from advertising and commercial endeavors. Now, executives are trying to come up with ways to bridge these two sectors. Conde Nast’s Lucky Magazine makes a notable attempt to close the gap, but the execution still needs work. Former Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Digital Media Group at News Corp., Jonathan Miller explains, “‘The Internet has gotten really good at demand fulfillment. It now needs to work on demand creation.”

Tom Cunniff, Chairman of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), the advertising industry’s oldest trade association, responded via Twitter: ” Jon Miller is right re: demand creation. IMO big challenge: how to do at scale, as content explodes/audiences fragment?” Miller suggested looking at big data, which is driving content. While more companies are using big data to personalize their messages to consumers, the process is still in its early phases.

Lerer Ventures Partner, Eric Hippeau, added that companies cannot be publishers today without a mobile and social strategy. More and more people are using mobile as their primary vehicle for consumption. Social is important because it connects shoppers with the brand. Shana Fisher, Managing Partner of High Line Venture Partners, explained how social allows people to have a relationship with a brand; one not readily available with search. Furthermore, companies must go where the users are. In the last ten years, businesses looked to Google for traffic. Now, it’s Facebook because that is where everyone has gone. Fisher also noted that web and mobile are getting increasingly visual, using Instagram as an example. In contrast, Google is text-based.

Companies are racing to adjust to these myriad of constant changes in the consumer landscape. Lerer tells companies to be one step ahead, instead of playing catch-up. Also, build for mobile, then web. Chief Executive Officer of Clear Channel, Robert Pittman focuses on serving his customers. “The consumer is always concerned with brand and convenience, even over quality. Those issues don’t change.” Think about the microwave versus the conventional oven. Or the mobile phone versus the landline. Easy trumps better. Hippeau stresses the importance of community. “If you’re a media company and you can’t form a community, you’re not a good media company.”

The reporters’ panel reminded attendees to make sure they have the authority to curate and recommend. Also, to mind the echo effect, as in showing people what they already like. Instead, show them something new. Leverage the power of giving consumers the ability to discover new things. That is where opportunity awaits. The Financial Times’ Barney Jopson delivered the most blunt piece of honesty: Getting lucky is vital. (Also: If a reporter ignores your email, let’s just move on…)

@MarkThink concluded via Twitter, “#Thinkcommerce wrap: Media talking about ecommerce felt like enjoying momofuku & deciding to open a restaurant. It’s harder than it looks!”

Lisa Chau has been involved with Web 2.0 since graduate school at Dartmouth College, where she completed an independent study on blogging. She was subsequently highlighted as a woman blogger in Wellesley Magazine, published by her alma mater. She has been published in US News and Forbes on the subject of social media, and she has taught at MIT. Follow her on Twitter @Lisa03755.