May 1, 2013, 4:12 PM

A wider lens

With 25% more speakers than last year, IRCE 2013 expands its focus to encompass global e-commerce, nonprofits, b2b and more.

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It may have started with consumers buying books on Amazon.com and ordering computers on Dell.com instead of by phone. But e-commerce today is no longer just about consumers, shopping and, certainly, not just about North America.

It's also about Facebook and Twitter becoming go-to places for product research, shoppers checking prices in stores via their mobile phones, businesses buying truckloads of chemicals via business-to-business web sites, nonprofit organizations raising large sums online and companies everywhere in the world selling via the web to consumers and other businesses across the globe.

In short, e-commerce is refashioning the way goods and services are bought and sold. And that's reflected in the theme of this year's edition of the world's largest e-commerce conference and trade show, the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition: "Breaking Barriers—Toward a New Retail Economy." IRCE 2013 will take place June 4-7 in Chicago.

Aiming to cover a wider landscape, IRCE is expanding its content. The conference will feature 20% more sessions and 25% more speakers. For the first time it provides a full-day workshop focused on online activities of nonprofits, offers a full day of sessions on b2b web selling and on global e-commerce and a full-day workshop called "Amazon and Me" taking up the ways e-retailers both compete and cooperate with the world's leading e-retailer, Amazon.com Inc.

Symbolic of IRCE 2013's global outlook, one of the keynote speakers will be Hiroshi Mikitani, chairman and CEO of Rakuten Inc., Japan's dominant e-commerce company, which in recent years has made major acquisitions in North America, Europe and Asia. Mikitani will discuss his vision for online retailing, one that recalls the personal interaction of a shop owner and a longtime customer.

"Our e-commerce concept is totally different from Amazon," Mikitani says. "People want to hear directly from the specialist who is making the product and selling the product. We are seeing a very strong reaction among consumers in Germany, France, the U.K. and even the U.S. showing they are receptive to this."

Mikitani's presentation will be followed by a featured address from the American Red Cross' vice president of digital engagement, Craig Oldham. He'll explain how replacing a hodgepodge of web technology for 500 local chapters with a single ATG e-commerce platform from Oracle Inc. helped the nonprofit successfully handle 500,000 page requests per minute and as many as 75,000 simultaneous credit card donations during last fall's Hurricane Sandy.

After Oldham will come special guest speaker Al Gore, the former U.S. vice president who is now a director of Apple Inc. and senior advisor to Google Inc. Gore, who as a U.S. senator and then as vice president championed the conversion of the Internet from a closed Department of Defense project to an open commercial network, will speak on "The global view: The Internet, business and the worldwide opportunity."

IRCE 2013's expanded agenda will allow for more sessions on newer forms of marketing, such as social networks, mobile devices and the growing interaction of physical retail stores and the web.

Featured speaker Alex Zhardanovsky will explain how his $200,000 investment in Facebook advertising helped him build a fan base of 700,000, up from 20,000 in just a year. That social traffic produces $10 million in annual sales, about a third of the revenue of his web-only pet food retail site, PetFlow.com, and the fan base provides ongoing benefits, he says.

"The problem with any other form of media except for Facebook, whether it's TV or print or other online advertising, is that the dollars you spend on marketing stop paying off when your advertising stops," Zhardanovsky says. "With Facebook, our fans were acquired and there was a cost for that, but now I can advertise to them for free."

Speaking of TV, IRCE's e-marketing track will feature a presentation describing how a small retailer—one that launched in 2008 with an $800 loan—is succeeding with national TV advertising, a marketing medium small web retailers normally can't afford. The key is that the DIY Network caters precisely to the kind of do-it-yourselfers that TheRTAStore.com targets for sales of its ready-to-assemble cabinets, says CEO Tyler Ackerman, who will speak June 5.

When the ads are running, more consumers search for the retailer online; when they don't run, sales go down, Ackerman says. "While we cannot calculate the ROI down to the penny, we can see our branding efforts working tremendously."

Fitting with IRCE's "breaking barriers" theme, HSN Inc. CEO Mindy Grossman's June 6 keynote presentation is entitled "How boundaryless retail drives 21st century success." "Technology has become an integral part of our business," Grossman says. "Social, mobile and gaming technologies are all contributing to a shift in what customers expect and demand from retailers."

Like retailers, nonprofit organizations see opportunities to market themselves via mobile and social channels. Jane Hanna, social media strategist at Chicago's The Field Museum, will describe during IRCE's Nonprofit Workshop on June 4 the museum's efforts to use a new ranking system from Foursquare—the service that lets consumers check in at various locations from their mobile phones—that helps cultural institutions compete for tourists. "It's a powerful and often overlooked tool for reaching out-of-towners," Hanna says.

This year's IRCE will be the first since Google radically revamped the results for product-related search terms, turning what had been free listings—complete with images, prices and other information—into the paid format called Google Shopping. As part of the Search Marketing Workshop on June 4 Darren Baldwin, e-commerce manager at web-only work clothes retailer Dungarees.net, will describe how he uses Google AdWords tools to often appear in these prominent positions.

Beyond marketing, there will be many sessions covering the essential elements of online retailing. For example, Kevin McCracken, founder and chief operating officer of custom printing company Social Imprints LLC, will lay out the process he followed to vet and ultimately engage a company to fulfill orders for his company's 30 e-commerce sites. Addressing the ways a major chain caters to the needs of consumers shopping both online and in physical stores—including by enabling online orders to ship to stores and store employees to place orders for home delivery—will be Milton Pappas, president of e-commerce customer experience at Toys ÔR' Us Inc., U.S.

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