Reflections on 2011 Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition

Last week a colleague and I attended the Internet Retail Conference and Exhibition held in sunny San Diego. The IRCE is one of the largest e-commerce conferences boasting a list of impressive speakers, resourceful workshops, and a myriad of exhibitors that span the e-commerce ecosystem. It certainly seemed like the place to be to get a sense of the e-commerce pulse. And apparently this year’s conference had the most attendees and exhibitors of any previous year which was a telling sign that the momentum behind e-commerce continues to grow.
We haven’t attended an e-commerce conference in a while and I was curious how the emerging trends in e-commerce, specifically social, mobile, and cloud-based technology would be reflected in the products and services offered by the exhibitors.
Being one of the largest e-commerce conferences in the country there was plenty to absorb and while the workshops and speakers offered wonderful discussions about what is emerging in e-commerce, the exhibit hall offered an opportunity to gauge the current mindset of businesses catering to e-commerce merchants. This was of particular interest to PixelMill as we look to improve on our services as well as focus on new opportunities.
Social Marketing was the hot topic.
There’s no doubt that e-commerce merchants are realizing the importance of integrating social channels to their overall marketing strategy and there was no shortage of businesses promising to help e-commerce merchants gain more insight, traffic, conversion and ROI. It seemed like everyone was offering some social integration product or service and yet I still heard a number of people talk in the lobby about not using social because it was too time-consuming or they weren’t sure how to use it in their business.
It’s not that e-commerce merchants don’t realize the importance of social integration but many are still stuck in the process of figuring out how to set it up in a way that’s easy to manage and fits their business goals. Learning the right approach and the right things to say as well as finding the right person to manage the process is critical as well.
Social media integration should not be difficult. Often the hardest thing is defining your goals for using it. Consider starting with a simple goal, whether that is to build a fan base, use it as an extension of your customer service, or simply follow your brand to see what others are saying about you. Setting up a store on Facebook may appear sexy but it’s not the answer for everyone and that’s okay.
Short on Mobile.
While the conference offered a number of informative workshops on mobile commerce, I was actually disappointed in the few number of exhibitors offering business services around mobile. Sure many exhibitors displayed their own QR codes for contests and landing page content, but it seemed mobile services took a back seat compared to the social media services offered, which seems like a huge opportunity missed.
All signals point to the increase of mobile usage and merchants must consider adapting to this medium sooner than later. This includes creating an enhanced mobile experience for users that not only focuses on delivering content fit for their device but also adapting new functionality that will allow mobile users to share information and make it easy to buy. It’s not just about shrinking the size of a current ecommerce website to fit a mobile screen, and merchants who get this are looking for easy solutions to integrate a mobile channel without having to move their entire store to another ecommerce platform.
It’s encouraging to see Internet Retailer hosting a mobile commerce forum in October which should help define strategies and tactics that merchants can use to benefit from mobile commerce.
E-commerce software aplenty
Merchants certainly had a number of companies offering end to end ecommerce platforms. I would have thought that eBay’s recent acquisition of Magento would have scared them away but they came out in full force. I expected Big Commerce and Volusion as well, but was surprised at the number of smaller companies still vying for market space. Unfortunately our old partner ProStores did not attend which could have helped alleviate the concerns about the future of their platform in light of the Magento deal.
While the number of e-commerce software platforms is a healthy sign of innovation there are very few options that offer a complete solution. PixelMill has always sought to partner with viable platforms that are easy for merchants to use, offer cutting edge functionality, make it easy to scale, and offers the option to customize. ProStores offered a quality blend of all these characteristics but with a bleak future we turn our attention to other options.
If you’re considering rebuilding or upgrading your e-commerce store, contact us to see how you can transition away from your current platform to a solution that shares the same core elements we value and makes it easy to incorporate multiple website optimization strategies like social, mobile, and search engine optimization.
Overall I must admit that I’m excited for e-commerce merchants as a wave of new technology and new mediums come together and offer an opportunity to create some really cool stores. The prospects of engaging customers in a whole new way while customizing your website user experience to fit the specific device they use to consume information on the Internet sounds big but nonetheless exciting.
Is your website ready for the future of e-commerce? Maybe it’s time it should be.
Don’t miss our series on optimizing your Web presence to get a sense if your site might need an update.

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