June 30, 2006, 12:00 AM

E-Retailers loosen the purse strings

E-retailers are anxious to improve their web sites by acquiring more advanced e-retailing solutions.

By Jack Love

Anyone walking the Exhibit Hall at the Internet Retailer 2006 Conference & Exhibition in Chicago last month noted the obvious: e-retailers are anxious to improve their web sites by acquiring more advanced e-retailing solutions. The 70,000-square-foot Exhibit Hall featured booths of 186 e-retailing solution providers and was easily the largest display of technology in the history of web-based retailing.

This year’s Exhibit Hall was four times larger than the exhibition at IR2005, and yet despite this increase in the supply of exhibits there was more than enough demand to absorb it. Exhibitors at the show enthusiastically reported extremely strong booth traffic, took in hundreds of leads and did a brisk business on site. Many told us it was the best show they had ever exhibited at.

Our online post-conference survey, completed by slightly more than 20% of the 2,400 paid attendees at IR2006, substantiates the vendor reports. For many attendees, the IR2006 Exhibit Hall was as important as the content of the 45 conference sessions that were held one floor above. In fact, 66% of paid conference attendees rated the exhibits as either “very good” or “excellent,” and another 30% rated them “good.” Those ratings were about the same as the ratings that the conference sessions enjoyed.

Frankly, I do not detect such buying enthusiasm at shows that cater to traditional catalog or store-based solutions buyers. When web-based retailing is growing at 25% a year or more and other retailing channels are showing modest or no growth, it’s clear that multi-channel merchants are shifting their technology purchasing dollars to enhance their online channel. Our latest survey on buying intentions (see page 14) shows that 79% of e-retailers plan to increase their technology spending this year, and 72% of those are increasing their spending by 10% or more.

Given this environment, this year’s edition of the Internet Retailer Buyers Guide seems destined to be the most used by the 38,000 subscribers of this magazine, when compared to the previous seven Buyers Guides. The Guide provides a comprehensive listing of 478 companies that specialize in e-retailing solutions, and along with the online version of the Guide (at internetretailer.com), it provides a great place to start looking for new e-retailing solutions. Vendors know that, which explains why the number of paid vendor ads in this year’s Guide is up 8% from last year to 393.

That growth, however, also reflects that diligent work of Michelle Suchomel, our Marketplace advertising director, who spent many long days and nights putting this record-breaking Buyers Guide together. This was Michelle’s first year selling the Marketplace section of Internet Retailer, but given her performance-a 22% increase in Marketplace advertising so far this year-you would never suspect that she’s an ad sales rookie.

Maybe that’s because she’s no rookie to the IT solutions market. Before joining Internet Retailer, Michelle was a project manager at Discover, working with web solution providers to help enhance the card issuer’s robust web site. So, you might say that she moved from buying web technology to selling to web solutions providers. In the near future, we intend to expand her role to include guiding the continued development of our web site. In fact, she began serving in that capacity by designing a web page that allowed solution providers to purchase their enhanced listings in this year’s Buyers Guide online. Thanks to those efforts, 23% of classified advertising in this year’s Buyers Guide was purchased online. Think of it; print advertising bought on the web. Now that’s coming full circle.

Jack Love, Publisher

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