IRCE 2018 Exhibit Hall
ICBA at IRCE 2018

“In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is a failure. In a busy marketplace, not standing out is the same as being invisible” – Seth Godin, author

With the Internet Retailer Conference (www.irce.com) taking place in Chicago this week (just a couple of miles from the ICBA office), it was a great opportunity for ICBA Staff (Jon Bibo, Paula Haerr, Marcy Farrey, and Marc Smith) to check out all that is going on with advanced retail and ecommerce technology. IRCE features 130 education sessions, showcases over 600 exhibitors, and attracts 10,000 attendees. Of course, the goal was to find partners with tools that can be valuable (and affordable) for independent college stores!

ICBA @ IRCE 2018

Here’s a summary of observations from Team ICBA:

  • It’s all about UGC (User Generated Content). Dozens of booths featured technology to enable user-generated reviews and testimonials. Plenty of data suggests that user reviews are driving more and more ecommerce purchases, as consumers become more cynical about retailers. ICBA initiated conversations with a number of these vendors to research opportunities for college stores.
  • There are lots and lots of tools to bring retailers closer to individual consumers and that certainly was a message from vendors supporting loyalty programs. Today’s loyalty programs are evolving from the “old model” which based earnings solely on “points per dollar spent” (those are sooooo 2015!). The new breed of loyalty programs rewards overall engagement. Write a review? Earn benefits. Visit the store or web site often? Earn benefits. Post to social media? Earn benefits. Attend events? Earn benefits. And, yes, you still earn benefits when you buy “stuff!”
    • While we are at it, the “benefits” are not always free products or discounts. Exclusive information or VIP access to unique experiences is proving to be as valuable as free products or product discounts.
  • As we walked from booth to booth, it’s clear that the “Table Stakes” these days in eCommerce and mobile commerce assume:
    • Abandoned shopping car recovery
    • Marketing/E-mail automation
    • Customer re-targeting
    • Site optimization (reducing the number of clicks is critical!!)
    • A/B testing
      Note: ICBA is working to bring some of these advanced tools to ICBA Members.
  • Cloud-based POS and ecommerce systems from Shopify and Magento are growing rapidly. So much so, in fact, that they have spawned a whole slew of 3rd party solution providers (think about how the Apple “ecosystem” generated business opportunities for so many 3rd party developers). However, Shopify and Magento are not even thinking about how to rent a textbook!
  • Plenty of vendors were featuring custom packaging for eCommerce shipments. Remember, in the world of eCommerce, a customer’s first interaction with your products and your brand is the box. Think of your packaging as a branding statement and a way to promote your unique connection to the consumer (it’s not just a container to get products from your store to the consumer). Wouldn’t you prefer getting a box with a fun graphic or a smiley face sticker on it? Think about it!
  • eCommerce optimization is a huge opportunity for e-tailers. Tracking how consumers interact with your web site and mobile sites is critical and there were plenty of IRCE vendors who provide assessment and consultative services. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that customers get turned off when doing searches on your site? Does a search for red t-shirt return every t-shirt and everything red on your site? Or how about learning that your bestselling product would sell even more if it were in the upper right of your page, rather than the lower left?
  • A number of vendors showcased how improved photography and 3D imaging can drive online sales(rotating 3D images were especially compelling).
  • Plenty of exhibitors were touting Artificial Intelligence (AI) in their platforms or tools. It was difficult to really gauge, however, what AI specifically referred to, from one exhibitor to another. As it related to analyzing (“mining”) big data, AI does seem to be able to sort through massive amounts of info to present what may be relevant insights. Overall, it seemed like it was being mentioned simply as a “buzzword” more often than not. Don’t get me started on “blockchain…”
  • It was good to see some ICBA Members in attendance including: BYU, McGill, and Three Rivers!
ICBA @ IRCE 2018

We stopped to chat with several exhibitors to learn more about what they do, and to tell them more about the college store channel.

ICBA@IRCE 2018

Amidst all the networking, there was still time to have fun — Chicago style! Paula Haerr meets the Blues Brothers.

ICBA @ IRCE 2018

After talking to several vendors and learning about the many possibilities out there to take your eCommerce strategy to the next level, we were pleased to find that most of these companies also focus on educating their clients. The last thing they want is to have a customer who buys a product, gets it set up, then has no idea how to maintain it or use the data from it effectively. With these services, there is no need for you to go it alone.

And just a reminder…ICBA is here on the journey with you! We go to events like IRCE to help you focus in on the technologies, services, and vendor providers who can help you and your store the most. There’s a lot out there, and it can be overwhelming. As always, email or give us a call and let us know how we can help!

(On the left: ICBA takes a photo with the #BIGLLAMA to support Big Brothers, Big Sisters. Each person was asked to write a name of someone who inspired them when they were growing up. For each name, $1 was donated to Big Brothers, Big Sisters.)