The crowded aisles and booths in Chicago last week were again a reminder of the longstanding industry presence of the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition (IRCE) within the maturing digital marketplace. The list of exhibiting companies ran the gamut from niche startups to established platforms. The historically B-to-C-driven conference continues to broaden its appeal beyond the core "Internet Retailer" moniker by presenting sessions, content and exhibitors targeted squarely at the B-to-B market as well.
Looking across the content and speaker presentations, they were a largely similar array of featured retailers bringing forward various strategies about "what works for us." The content was organized against traditional discipline themes such as technology management, digital marketing and social engagement, and omnichannel alignment. Beyond these core tracks, newer areas of specialty focus emerged, including designated sessions for B-to-B, a dedicated track of "Google and You," and deeper dives into the impact of mobile commerce. The quality of content remains high; these sessions are directional, informative and relevant for the less mature digital marketers trying to expand into new areas of initiative and growth.
On the exhibit floor, it continued to be evident that the web-based commerce industry is maturing with solid and established players defining the parameters of most digital categories. In a few cases, innovation and newness seems to be generating in response to the increased complexity of the evolving digital landscape and the expansion of core enterprise transactional platforms (e.g., ERP, CRM) to ensure that retailers running these systems can have their e-commerce needs met within the core ecosystem — even though those eCommerce needs extend across a broad range.
- Product information management (PIM): Still rising in relevance for many B-to-B and B-to-C digital brands, the popularity of PIM continues to grow in addressing the real problem of managing product information, content and data across multiple channels, touchpoints and devices. inRiver, one of the leading PIM platforms at IRCE, was standing room only for much of the show and seemed to be driving at least 75 percent of this interest from companies that have been researching and considering PIM for several years and have decided that now is the time to move forward into more deliberate platform selection and implementation.
- Enterprise resource planning (ERP): Very interesting to note the integrated e-commerce strategy playing out for SAP. Following its acquisition of hybris several years ago, and its obvious positioning as an enterprise ERP platform, SAP Anywhere is being touted as a low-cost, low-barrier-to-entry e-commerce solution built directly off the SAP system with open-source components such as WordPress. With hybris solutions costing well into seven to eight digits, it's noteworthy that SAP is also bothering to promote a $10K to $20K turnkey commerce solution. It's easy to assume that, at core, it’s more about making sure the necessity of e-commerce solutions doesn't drive SAP's ERP customers too far into researching the market beyond SAP-based offerings.
- Customer relationship management (CRM): It was also interesting to note e-commerce evolution from the CRM angle as well. Salesforce made a major commitment to an e-commerce strategy when it acquired Demandware earlier this month for a reported $2.6 billion. While the Salesforce ownership and brand wasn't featured at IRCE this year, presumably this merger will position the CRM to readily extend its customer relationship-based value proposition as the center point of digital selling. While not owned by Salesforce, CloudCraze is a fairly recent entrant that, native to the Salesforce Cloud, professes to be able to launch CRM-based transactional commerce sites in a fraction of the time and effort of larger enterprise systems. As with SAP, Salesforce seems to want to offer a vision for a digital world in which its core platform can readily align to both low-cost and fully robust commerce options and not drive those customers out to pursue alternative technologies.
Many providers of Microsoft technology are also aligned to this same expandable model, where core systems — notably MS Dynamics ERP and CRM — can be readily aligned to e-commerce platforms, content and marketing automation systems while leveraging established integrations within both an on-premise and Azure cloud service delivery model.
Beyond the myriad of small marketing, analytics, logistics and supporting commerce service providers, the higher level trends shown at this year’s IRCE reflect an industry that's maturing, consolidating and expanding core technology platforms to cover a more broad range of customer profiles. Mergers and acquisitions certainly are playing a role as previously disparate technology platforms are rolled up and integrated into more comprehensive and scalable solution platforms. The continued growth of cloud-based solutions speak to the shifting delivery models that will allow small online retailers and brands to be able to benefit from and seamlessly grow with robust and scalable technologies that would have been more exclusively targeted to their upper-mid and enterprise-tiered competition.
Jeff Pratt is the commerce experience practice director at Verndale, a marketing technology agency.
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