By David Hall, Vice President Sales and Marketing, Cutting-Edge Solutions
In early June, Cutting-Edge Solutions’ Bill Walzak and I exhibited at the Internet Retailers Conference and Exhibition in Chicago (IRCE 2012). It was the first time the company exhibited at this show. In fact, it was our first trade show outside of the music products industry. The experience was an eye-opening one!
The IRCE is a gathering of 8,000 Web developers, programmers, eCommerce retailers and various entrepreneurs, making IRCE 2012 the largest eCommerce-focused conference ever (18.3 percent increase over last year according to Internet Retailer Magazine, host of the event).
The IRCE Exhibit Hall also set a record, with 564 companies presenting all manner of eCommerce technologies and services. People who attend this show all have a connection to eCommerce, whether it’s sales, fulfillment, shipping, Web development, system management or support.
The four-day conference featured speakers from many high-level eCommerce companies, including William Lynch Jr. (CEO of Barnes & Noble), Joel Anderson (President and CEO of Walmart.com, U.S.) and Alexis Maybank (Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer for Gilt Groupe).
With eCommerce growing at 16.1 percent last year, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, IRCE attendees were mostly upbeat, despite concerns about the global economy. This year’s theme was “Connecting with the 21st Century Consumer.” As mentioned on the conference Web site, today’s consumer “is a pro in finding, pricing and comparing products online, and Web sites that fall short of the high satisfaction bar they set are abandoned and forgotten.”
For almost a decade, the industry has known us as Pro-Active Websites. That’s actually the brand name of the eCommerce platform we sell to retailers. Our parent company is Cutting-Edge Solutions. We specialize in eCommerce solutions for suppliers and retailers that simultaneously work together. Our system repurposes product information into multiple sales, marketing and publishing channels, maximizing the power of eCommerce communication and product information management. We transform advanced technology into a simple tool that improves the promotion of products and increases sales across multiple channels.
Now that I have had time to digest the enormity of the show, a few key areas stood out as common topics of interest among many attendees.
Multi-Channel Commerce: Retailers and vendors have many channels available for the promotion and sale of their products. The lines used to be very clear between retail and wholesale. However, more vendors are taking matters into their own hands in finding new and innovative ways to reach and influence consumers. Social media, mobile marketing, affiliate relationships, B2B/B2C selling, print and digital catalog creation, and more are growing concerns for all sides of the selling cycle.
New for 2012, the IRCE introduced the eCommerce Platform Pavilion: a dedicated area on the show floor designed to give retailers access to companies that can enhance their current multi-channel needs and help position them for the future. Some of the new developments inspiring e-retailers to do a better job include SMS-based order confirmations; in-package QR codes for post-purchase product info; shipping labels with ads; and codes to reward repeat buyers.
Free Shipping: Free shipping is still one of the hottest trends in eCommerce. One session examined walking the “free-shipping tightrope” and discussed ways for retailers to offer it without cutting into their profit margins. Among the ideas were limiting free shipping to items that make financial sense and working with your drop-ship providers to find cost savings during the pick, pack and ship process.
Mobile Commerce: With the number of mobile devices growing at record rates, more consumers are using them to check prices. I have heard dealers report that roughly 25 percent of shoppers will check prices online while in their stores. According to Branding Brand, smartphone adoption is growing so rapidly that, by the year 2014, more than half of 49.6 billion visits to the Internet Retailer Top 500 e-retailers will stem from smartphones.
Creating Repeat Visits: It’s not always about price. Innovative e-retailers are finding ways to draw and keep customers coming back to their Web sites. One way is to attract them with gaming options via your brand’s social media accounts. Fanplyr is an upstart company that engages gamers who visit your site. Choose the game you want to offer and it rewards customers with coupons and loyalty incentives, while providing you with analytics.
Use More Product Demo Videos: People like to hear what real people have to say, and homegrown product demo videos are your competitive edge on the Internet. If you do just one thing to improve your Web site this year, it should be to focus on creating as many product demo videos as possible. Start with your 25 bestselling products, and then write a script lasting about two minutes for each. Many musicians are improvisers and can work from an outline. Set the stage with a pleasant and clean-looking area and press record. Let your personality shine through. It might be difficult at first, but you will get better as you do more videos. Remember to have a call to action at the end. Consider offering the customer a special discount code at the end of the video.
NAMM runs great trade shows and it was interesting to compare the two. Just as NAMM has the ability to draw the biggest names in the music products industry, the IRCE pulls in the largest brands in eCommerce. They did an excellent job of organizing and running the show. Their sessions were interesting, informative and well attended.
Exhibiting at the IRCE gave us the opportunity to venture out into new territory. We learned a lot about the state of eCommerce. Whether you sell shoes or guitars, retailers in all segments face the same challenges online. The show emphasized the importance of technology in connecting with, and keeping, customers. It validated that managing technology can be rewarding and have a profound effect on your customers’ experience and loyalty. When embraced, prioritized and acted upon, it can be an invaluable tool to your eCommerce success.David Hall is Vice President – Sales & Marketing for Cutting-Edge Solutions. The company specializes in multi-channel commerce, Web development and network building for dealers and vendors. Its brand, Pro-Active Websites, is used by leading retailers throughout the industry.
Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.