International Expansion, Showrooming, Online Marketplaces Trending at IRCE
Having spent last week at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition (IRCE) in Chicago, I came away with three key takeaways: One, if you're an online retailer not selling internationally, particularly in Australia, what are you waiting for? You're missing out on a potential growth opportunity for your brand. Two, brick-and mortar retailers must develop a strategy to deal with "showrooming," — i.e., consumers using stores as showrooms to check out products, then buying those products online at a lower price (with free shipping, of course). Three, online marketplaces are proliferating — it's not just Amazon.com and eBay anymore — and becoming another viable channel for retailers to engage consumers and sell their products.
What's driving these trends, particularly showrooming, is the growth of mobile shopping. More consumers than ever are carrying a smartphone with them wherever they go, including shopping. Stories of brick-and-mortar retailers losing sales to consumers who use their smartphones in-store to find the products they're looking for at a lower price offered somewhere else were commonplace at IRCE. This isn't news to anyone, I'm sure, but mobile is going to continue to have a bigger impact on your business going forward.
Here are some more thoughts now that IRCE has come and gone:
- Wednesday morning's keynote address from Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN's "Global Public Square," was terrific. Zakaria eloquently discussed the global economy and how the internet is driving it. He left many in the packed room feeling optimistic about the future of the retail industry in the United States, saying that what the country lacks in manufacturing is more than made up for by the large percentage of leading technology companies that can be found here. Zakaria exited the stage to a standing ovation.
- The conference itself continues to grow at a rapid pace. This year's event attracted a record 8,638 attendees, an 18.3 percent increase over the 7,301 who attended last year in San Diego. IRCE 2012 had 564 companies exhibiting their e-commerce technologies and services, up from 504 companies last year. With that growth did come one troublesome side effect — the cab lines to get out of McCormick Place were longer (and slower) than ever.
- A common theme I heard in many of the sessions I attended was that the customer is in charge in today's retail environment. Walmart.com's President and CEO Joel Anderson gave a presentation on how the retail giant relies on innovation to be present anywhere (e.g., online, in-store, social media, email, mobile) and anytime the customer wants it to be.
- Free shipping is a cost of selling products online. Multiple people told me that their customers not only expect free shipping, they demand it.
- Talk of selling products via social media sites, specifically Facebook, quieted down from previous retail conferences.
- If you have both an e-commerce site and brick-and-mortar stores, implement a ship-to-store program immediately (if you haven't already). Consumers are increasingly using this option.