May 2, 2014, 12:20 PM

Insider's Guide to IRCE: The collective wisdom of e-retailing

Content and community are key success factors for headliners at IRCE 2014, the show's 10th edition.

Lead Photo

It took a long ride down a couple of escalators to a meeting floor buried deep in a Chicago hotel to reach Internet Retailer's first Conference & Exhibition in 2005. About 1,100 e-commerce professionals made the trip. With e-commerce still recovering from the dot-com bubble burst of the early 2000s, we were thrilled to see every conference-goer who stepped through the doors.

The early conferences bubbled up some e-commerce axioms that still hold true today. A ForeSee survey reported at IRCE 2005 revealed that consumers "often shop on a variety of web sites and other channels before making a purchase." Imagine. And IRCE 2006 keynoter Thomas McInerney, then executive vice president and chief financial officer of IAC/InterActiveCorp., cited the promise of new online merchandising and marketing techniques like personalization. "Connecting one-to-one with customers is something we think about every day," he told attendees.

Early conference speakers referenced buried seeds that grew in ways that even most of the forward-looking attendees didn't envision a decade ago. At IRCE 2007, Netflix Inc. CEO Reed Hastings outlined how the Internet would upend DVD rentals and explained that Netflix and other retailers would need to evolve to prosper in an Internet-driven world. For Netflix that would eventually mean expanding from DVD rentals to streaming to entering the entertainment business itself. In fact, last year Netflix earned nine Emmy Award nominations for its original, online-only television series, "House of Cards."

At IRCE as well, things have changed beyond anything we could have forecast 10 years ago. We anticipate 10,000 attendees this year, a nearly tenfold increase from our first conference, against the backdrop of big changes in the industry. E-commerce sales soared to $262.5 billion in 2013, up more than 150% from the $109.4 billion figure that wowed us back in 2005. Technology advances undreamed of 10 years ago are now standard, dramatically altering how and when consumers, retailers and brands talk to, and about, each other, and how, when and where consumers make purchases.

As e-commerce has moved out of retail's ground floor to become the place merchants want to be, so has the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition. To accommodate the growth of what has become the world's largest e-commerce show, we've exchanged our early hotel meeting floor digs for the huge, light-filled spaces of McCormick Place, right on Chicago's lakefront. And every year, we challenge ourselves to bring attendees the best experience and the best speaker program possible.

This is evident in the keynote, featured and special guest speakers who will grace the stage at Internet Retailer's 10th anniversary Conference & Exhibition in June. In different ways, each embodies the conference theme, "E-commerce everywhere, bonding with shoppers through content and community." It is a theme that celebrates 10 years of changes, connections and creations that have led the industry to where it is today.

Platform powerhouse

As the CEO and president of eBay Inc., one of the Internet's biggest and most enduring success stories, John Donahoe was a top choice of Internet Retailer's editors to keynote day one of the main conference. Collectively across eBay's key divisions, including its namesake marketplace and PayPal, the company last year enabled $212 billion worth of sales to take place. Its global reach and leadership in mobile initiatives are outstanding examples of the key trends driving e-commerce. Donahoe, at eBay's helm since 2008 after joining the company as its head of marketplaces three years earlier, has been pivotal in that growth.

EBay's continual investments in, and acquisitions of, multiple companies show that it is a company focused on growth. For example, in recent months eBay led a $133 million funding round for Snapdeal, an Indian online marketplace, acquired payments processor Braintree for $800 million and bought 3-D computer graphics company PhiSix, saying the acquisition will let merchants virtually demonstrate how clothing for sale fits a shopper's body.

Drawing from web-only merchants, retail chains, branded manufacturers, catalogers, financial services firms, event ticket sites, airlines and hotel chains, IRCE's audience is diverse, but, like eBay, it is united at the conference in the goal of looking for new ways to grow their businesses. With eBay aligned with that same objective, Donahoe's keynote address, "Connected Commerce: The New Opportunity for Retailers in an Evolving Retail Environment," will provide a comprehensive look at where retailers large and small are today and at the developments ahead at eBay.

Same strategy, new delivery

The title of Wayfair LLC CEO Niraj Shah's day two keynote address, "Connecting With Consumers by Giving Them What They Want," explains the retailer's winning ways in a nutshell. But Wayfair's story also is a powerful demonstration of how success can be found by changing to stay in step with an evolving industry. With experience spanning technology and entrepreneurship in previous leadership roles in mobile services, global technology consulting and information technology services firms, Shah has spearheaded a company strategy of bonding with shoppers though content in ambitious new ways.

Shah, who co-founded the company as CSN Stores LLC in 2002, understood early on the importance of giving consumers what they want. He initially delivered on that strategy by offering products on hundreds of niche e-commerce sites with product-focused names including and But as executives came to understand that customers wanted to purchase more from a one-stop shopping experience, the Wayfair team in 2011 consolidated the brands under the Wayfair name—and then some. Consolidating the sites also improved the repeat customer rate, improved its placement in search results and eventually helped lower the cost of acquiring new customers.

Wayfair has also expanded its home furnishings portfolio with on-trend furniture brands DwellStudio and and upscale flash-sale site Joss & Main, and rolled out deeper content through an in-house editorial team and content-sharing and cross-sell arrangements with print magazines Coastal Living, This Old House and Sunset. New shopping tools, including its Inspiration Gallery showrooms designed by professionals, provide a rich store of 2,500 home interior room photos that customers can click on to shop. "We had figured out how to bring millions of items for the home together under one roof, but what we hadn't done was start with how [consumers] get inspiration and follow through to purchase," Shah says. "We need to give consumers what they care about."

comments powered by Disqus




From The IR Blog


Paul Dobbins / E-Commerce

6 tips for maintaining sales during the post-holiday lull

Use that stellar email list you built during the holidays to market new products or ...


Jeff Sass / E-Commerce

How brands use domains beyond dot-com to attract shoppers

Amazon, for example, posts holiday ads to