February 2, 2011, 12:26 PM

A disappointing mobile commerce event

Three speakers, though, provided practical information.

Going to a conference and exhibition can be a leap of faith. You rely on promotional materials to spell out the nature of the educational sessions and the kind of exhibition hall. If you’ve never been to the event before, don’t know anyone who has attended in the past, or if it’s a first-time show, you’re essentially making an educated guess about the quality of the event.

I attended the Mobile Commerce 2011 Conference last week in San Francisco, held by the International Quality & Productivity Center (IQPC). With the exception of three very diverse speakers, I was disappointed in the quality of the event.

But first, in the interest of full disclosure, I must say that Internet Retailer held its first annual Mobile Commerce Forum in October last year. We had 430 attendees and 38 technology provider exhibitors. And we had 18 educational sessions with 29 speakers from companies ranging from Walgreen Co. and 1-800-Flowers.com Inc. to Fandango and Travelocity. This is the standard by which I judge other mobile commerce events.

The IQPC Mobile Commerce 2011 Conference had only 50 attendees and a mere two exhibitors. It featured a workshop and 14 educational sessions with 16 speakers. The aforementioned three speakers of note were from Target Corp., Cars.com and Pizza Hut. Each of these speakers offered great case studies with solid lessons learned.

Unfortunately a good deal of the conference got bogged down in technical issues surrounding mobile payments, particularly Near Field Communication, a technology important to the future but not relevant to retailers, consumer brand manufacturers, travel companies and ticket sellers right now, today. Mobile payments are just one aspect of mobile commerce. The event needed more content on mobile design, marketing, merchandising, site building and app development. It had some, but too many of the sessions wandered off into mobile payment and mobile infrastructure discussions.

And wandering was perhaps the biggest problem. Within the small, cramped room of 50 people, there were two attendees who incessantly asked questions that ultimately turned into diatribes on off-topic subjects. The speakers did their best, but more to the point, the conference chairperson did nothing to rein these attendees in to keep things on track.

The chairperson or IQPC on-site staff were needed for another matter, too. Another conference behind the temporary wall that divided the hotel meeting room was very noisy, making it difficult to concentrate on the speakers. Turns out the other conference (nothing to do with commerce) also was being held by the IQPC, which should have been monitoring the rooms for just such problems.

I was really looking forward to another m-commerce event, but in the end was disappointed. Maybe they’ll have learned some lessons they can apply next time. And one thing they’ll need to improve on if they do another event is attendance. 50 is a rather small group. It doesn’t afford the networking opportunities and wide range of backgrounds that a group of hundreds offers.

So be cautious when choosing which conferences to attend. Make sure marketing materials are robust and detailed. Make sure the event has a strong web site with an abundance of information. And make some calls to colleagues in the industry to see what they’ve heard about the event and its organizer. It will help you ensure you make the best use of your time.

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