Top Ten Insights from IRCE 2016

Last week, Michael Thompson, CoreCommerce CEO, and I, headed up to Chicago for the 2016 Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition (IRCE). As a first timer to Chicago, I enjoyed Chicago’s diversity, eclectic mix of old and new architecture, famous metallic bean, blues music, and, of course, the deep dish pizza! But, what I enjoyed most was the opportunity to learn from industry experts and thought leaders about what is happening in eCommerce, so that I could pass those insights on to our prospective and current clients, like you!

If you are not familiar with the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition, it is an annual event featuring over 200 speakers with over 130 workshops and presentations on a variety of topics, ranging from emerging technologies, eCommerce marketing and social media, eCommerce trends, and eCommerce business operations management. We learned a lot! And, I look forward to sharing with you the top ten insights I gained that will help you crush your competition.

10. Display is not dead!

Research and opinions on display advertising are mixed. But, according to Debbie Johnsen, Director of Interactive Marketing, Leading Hotels of the World in her presentation “Search? Display? Finding the Right Balance,” display advertising is seeing a resurgence. According to her, display inventory is plentiful which is driving costs down. High prices are difficult to justify, which is driving the ROI upwards. How can you measure the effectiveness of display? Two ways, she says. First, head over to Google’s Display Benchmarking Tool to see how your ads perform within your industry. Second, she suggests a PSA or “Public Service Announcement,” in which the ad is served to half the audience and click through rates are compared between the groups.

9. Create a distinct content voice.

Know exactly who you are and exactly who you are not. As a marketer of your business, you may be tempted to cast a wide net, hoping to draw in as many possible leads and new customers as possible. But, this actually may not be the best approach, according to Joshua Nafman, Senior Director of Brand Marketing and Digital at KIND Snacks. In his presentation, “Content Strategy for Shopper Engagement, Entertainment and Education” he emphasized the importance of developing a unique voice. Similarly, Tom Montgomery, Co-Founder of Chubbies Shorts described the content filters they developed for their brand. In line with their brand identity of “We are the weekend,” the company strategically develops content that aligns with a particular voice, that is: fun, freedom, humor, relatability, authenticity, and inclusiveness. Chubbies Shorts may not be for everyone, but they most certainly are for folks who love to have a good time, and by determining exactly who they are and who they are not, the brand has been successful building a really engaged community on social media.

8. Remember that your brand is part of a broader community. Appeal to that community.

Tom Montgomery’s excellent talk, “How to Get Shoppers to Create Great Content Money Can’t Buy” mentioned above also inspired Top Insight #8. Chubbies has been successful by aligning itself with the concept of “the weekend” and all that entails for folks who genuinely love to have a good time. As a result, the brand has an active community of followers on Facebook and Instagram who create great brand content for them. The key for Chubbies’ success? Remembering that the company is not just about products – it is about aligning itself and creating around it a community of people who share the same values and interests. By appealing to that community, Chubbies is more than just a pair of shorts, it has becoming something of a way of life, evidenced by the self-designated community of “Chubsters” who create and share content around #chubbies. Maybe your business does not sell a product with quite so much potential for fun as American flag short-shorts and funky weekend wear. But, whatever products or services your business provides, find the potential to create a community that goes beyond those products.

7. Shipping strategies must change from profit center to retention center.

Does shipping have to be fast? Yes. Does it have to be free? Yes. In a nutshell, this approach sums up Josh Ehren’s views on making shipping a strategic driver of customer retention. Josh, who serves as Director of eCommerce Digital Lab at VF Corp., in his presentation, “Let’s Get Tactical: Shipping and Logistics,” argued that shipping cost is a primary reason for shopping cart abandonment. Rather than viewing shipping in terms of profit and loss, it should be viewed as customer service. Much of Amazon’s monumental growth has been due (among a variety of factors) to this approach. And, with Amazon setting the bar, customers have come to expect this level of service even from smaller businesses.


6. #1 way to lose SEO rank is to to use the same strategy for ranking in Amazon and Google.

By now, many eCommerce businesses have embraced Amazon as a channel that supplements their online store. For those businesses, the struggle for visibility is two-fold. First, the business itself must be visible on Google’s search while at the same time individual products are competing for visibility on Amazon. The #1 way to lose out on both platforms – use the same one-size-fits-all strategy for both, according Nik Rajpal, Vice President of Marketing Services at Exclusive Concepts. According to Nik, the best way to win and increase visibility for your products on Amazon is: 1) Sponsored ads increase sales velocity; the more money you spend, the greater your visibility and number of leads. 2) Stuff keyword fields. In Amazon, keywords matter.  3) Body copy is a bonus but it is not the main event. For Google, shift gears: 1) There is not a 1:1 relationship with Adwords, as in Amazon’s sponsored ads. Investing here may or may not increase sales velocity. 2) Meta keywords are useless; don’t waste your time stuffing in meta keywords. 3) Body copy is the key focus. Invest your time here using a depth and breadth of relevant keywords in a high-quality description. Google will reward you.

5. Identify predictive audiences and use data to figure out how to keep them.

Often, marketers focus on customer demographics as a key strategy in segmenting and targeting their customers. Key identifiers like gender, age, and brand preferences can be useful. However, segmentation shouldn’t stop there, according to Matthew Butlein, CEO of Freshpair in his presentation, “Data and Automation Drive the Future of All Marketing Communications.” Predictive audiences can span across demographic identifiers, and are based primarily on behaviors. Such segments include groups such as: 1) Who are your most valuable customers? 2) Which of your loyal customers are fading away? 3) Who is a full price buyer who doesn’t need a discount? 4) Who is about to unsubscribe? 5) Which customers show potential of being high value? 5) What data are necessary to answer these questions? Collecting information on these customer groups and creating targeted campaigns to then can help your business become more effective in retaining customers.

4. The customer comes to social media for social engagement, not commerce or a marketing experience.

Social media is evolving, and it is evolving fast – and eCommerce businesses are looking for great ways to get in on the action. From buy buttons, to hashtags, to product ads, there are a number of ways to dive in. But which way is best and will provide the greatest returns for your business? According to Andrea Weiss, Founding Partner of The O Alliance, brands are missing the mark on social media. The customer is centric to all dimensions and all networks – and customers come to social media to socialize, not to buy. Summer 2015 was the summer of the buy button – and social media platforms and businesses alike were jumping on to the bandwagon. And yet, there have been significant challenges, and Twitter has even put development of its buy button on hold. This is partly due to the frame of mind mentioned above – the behaviors customers actually want to engage in on social media (socializing) versus the behaviors brands want them to engage in on social media (buying). Andrea recommends checking out Dollar Shave Club for an example of how to do social media right. Remember, it’s about going beyond the products to appeal to a community of like-minded human beings.

3. Stop the FLAT marketing campaigns; marketing needs to go 3-D!

Another key piece of advice from Andrea’s presentation, “5 Ways to Drive Social Media Engagement You Can Deploy Tomorrow” is to take your business’s marketing into a third dimension! The era of the “flat” marketing campaign, which its brochures, mailers, text and photographic content is over. Learn from brands that are getting it right – and on a low budget, too. The IKEA bookbook video is a great example of a low budget production that hits the mark. Witty and informative, the video captures the brand’s sense of humor while marketing a key driver of revenue, its product catalog. Meanwhile, start ups and established brands alike are engaging customers through guerilla marketing. is a company that thought outside of the box this past year at SXSW. Check out their fun, 3-D guerilla campaign that raised awareness about their brand and ended up being featured on USA Today.

2. Conversational commerce is the next wave. 

Lately the talk has been about mobile commerce – ways that traditional eCommerce conducted on desktops and laptops is expanding rapidly into the realm of mobile devices. But, there’s a new kid on the block, conversational commerce. Chris Messina, Development and Experience Lead at Uber (who did not present at the conference) defines conversational commerce as “utilizing chat, messaging, or other natural language interfaces (i.e. voice) to interact with people, brands, or services and bots that heretofore have had no real place in birdirectional, asynchronous messaging.” According to Kevin Ertell, Vice President of Digital at Sur La Table, conversational commerce is rapidly coming to the fore. Store staff can select and present specific items based on live conversation with customers – and the conversion rates are extremely high. In his presentation, “Making Sure Your Technology Keeps You in Touch With Your Customers – Wherever They Are,” Kevin outlined Sur La Table’s unique approach to engaging with customers on chat and suggest Layer as one platform that performs well in the space.

Drum roll, please….and the #1 insight gained from the 2016 IRCE is…..

1. Go agile or go home.

In his presentation, “Keeping a Lid on Tech Costs: Growing Sales Without Growing Tech Investments,” Jonathan Wu, Founder and CEO of Touch of Modern, describes the key difference of approach in waterfall operations and agile operations. In traditional, waterfall operations, businesses research, plan and execute large technology projects on a yearly (or longer) basis. According to Wu, those days are long behind us as the pace of technology innovation has reached a breakneck speed – and new industry disruptors are emerging every day. Matthew Butlein of Freshpair gathers his team every two weeks to course correct, and insists that businesses must develop a culture of continuous improvement. Need to update your website? Do it now – and then make regular updates weekly. Incorporate emerging technologies as they are introduced. Shift strategy to keep pace with competitors. Constantly examine data to re-define customer segments and behaviors. Want to learn more about creating an agile work environment in your business. Wu and others suggest checking out Scrum.

That wraps up the top ten list from IRCE 2016. The IRCE is a great resource for e-retailers and online businesses. Were you at the conference this year? Share what you learned in the comments! Next year’s IRCE will be in June in Chicago. Will you be there? Let us know! We’d love to meet with our prospective and current clients in person!

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