Interviews Trends

“If we want to offer customers a unique customer experience each time they visit their favorite online shop, we need to accompany them on each step of their journey through the shop” – interview with Thorsten Mühling (epoq)

Thorsten Mühling, Co-Founder & CEO at epoq, shared with us the story of founding epoq, as well as views on e-commerce trends in 2020. Keep on reading to find out more!

Can you share with us your story of how you founded epoq?

My business partner Michael Bernhard and I founded our first company back in 2003. Our goal was to bring in an automated self-learning technology for dynamic scoring, which was carried out manually. Pretty soon we identified a need for optimization in several industries and were quick to integrate reinforcement learning into the mix. As the relevance of internet increased, we shifted our focus to better meet the upcoming needs of digital commerce. The first step in that direction was to develop a new technology to increase the shopping cart value in online stores. It was important to us to place the concept of personalization at the forefront and to have it all happen in real time, which was better achieved by delivering our services as SaaS.

In 2013 we concentrated our business within epoq internet services GmbH and have since then been offering our software services in the field of digital commerce. After our recommendation service, epoq Inspire, came the development of our intelligent search function, epoq Search. Only a couple of years later followed our personalized email, epoq Connect, and our guided selling system, epoq Advise. Together, these four products make up our epoq Suite, which has been the pillar of our company for years. Now, with the introduction of our newest software service, epoq My Stream, we have developed a new pillar with which we expect to open the doors for a new standard in online shopping. With My Stream, we are adding a decisive building block to our portfolio and coming a big step closer to our vision of supporting online shoppers holistically in their purchasing process with consistent personalization.

What are your daily responsibilities as a CEO? How big is your team?

Next to my day-to-day business as CEO of the company, I make sure that I leave room for keeping in direct contact with customers and partners, which I greatly enjoy. This constant exchange of ideas with people with vast experience and great interest in the field of e-commerce helps me in staying sharp and in touch with the latest trends.

Earlier this year, we hit the 40 employees mark and we are still growing. In fact, we’ve grown a lot in the last few years, especially so since early 2019. Now that we have moved to a new headquarters, we have more room to keep on expanding our team.

How can epoq enhance customer experience?

Right from the start, we compared the processes in e-commerce with stationary trade and transferred what the salesperson does and what they learn in dialogue with the customer into services. These self-developed software services take on the role of a digital salesperson who caters to the needs and wishes of each individual visitor in a personalized way – albeit without the benefit of personal interaction. That is why we developed a self-learning technology for our services that assesses the reactions, behavior and preferences of each visitor in real-time and provides them with positive and unique shopping experiences while keeping in compliance with data security requirements.

As is the case in a local store, positive and emotional experiences in an online shop also enhance the customer experience and strengthen customer loyalty.

At the E-commerce Berlin Expo 2020 you’re going to deliver a presentation with a mysterious title “Wow, it’s like Netflix for Shopping!”. How did you come up with the idea of this topic?

Our presentation is about customer loyalty and ways to strengthen it. I will be presenting the idea of a personalized shopping area within an online shop, which reduces the noise, so to speak, of products and brands you don’t necessarily care about. This personalized shopping area instead enables you to browse through the product and brand worlds that you like, while also inspiring you with similar products, categories, brands or pieces of content that you may not know yet. Since this shopping area is tailored to your taste and preferences and constantly provides new inspiration for you, you will want to visit your “stream” over and over again to see what is new for you to discover. Kind of like Netflix.

We owe the catchy phrase to a visitor at our stand at the DMEXCO last year, which is where we officially presented our product epoq My Stream. As I was explaining to this visitor what My Stream can do, which new possibilities it offers and how it can strengthen customer loyalty, she exclaimed: “Wow, it’s like Netflix for shopping!”. We had of course noticed certain parallels between what we were putting up together and different platforms like Instagram, Pinterest and Netflix – but it was great to have someone immediately make that connection with no prior knowledge and such excitement.

In your opinion, what is the role of the holistic personalization for online stores?

If we want to offer customers a unique customer experience each time they visit their favorite online shop, we need to accompany them on each step of their journey through the shop. Only in this way we can build an emotional bond that lingers in the memory and that motivates the customer to come back over and over again. With our software services, we allow shop operators to personalize each touchpoint in their shop from the perspective of each visitor. In addition, we have gone many steps further and now allow shop operators to offer each of their customers their own personalized area in which they can browse through their favorite product and brand worlds, get inspired by content that reflects their interest and even discover new products, brands or trends through various interactive options.

That’s what holistic personalization means – creating positive emotions at each touchpoint that lead to a positive shopping experience and an enhanced customer loyalty.

What are the essential e-commerce trends for 2020?

Artificial intelligence is still regarded as a trend – not because it is particularly new, but because there are still many who have yet to implement it or to implement it correctly. In 2020, online shop owners cannot afford to be left behind as the rest of the e-commerce world embraces AI. That being said, embracing AI calls for more transparency and data security, so data security requirements should also be reconsidered and constantly updated.

Personalization is yet another concept that has been making the rounds as a trend year after year. And yet, to this day, there are many who shy away from making the most of its benefits. Even though some may still regard personalization as a complex topic, companies operating online shops, whether they are big or small, need to give this subject a serious thought, examine their options and take decisive steps towards implementation. This holds especially true in 2020.

Our aim with epoq My Stream is to further show how AI and personalization go hand in hand – that’s why I regard this concept of a personalized shopping area for each customer as an exciting trend for the years to come. As social media and streaming platforms take on a higher degree of relevance, so customer behavior adapts. With hundreds and hundreds of movies and series on Netflix, or millions of pictures and posts on Facebook and Instagram, it is nearly impossible for the user to find something of their interest without any sort of assistance that narrows that immense amount of content down. People are quickly getting used to have the content they receive and consume tailored to their interests. If it is possible in social media and streaming platforms, why should it not be possible in e-commerce?

Thanks for your insights, Thorsten! 

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