By Samantha Hornby

A couple of weeks ago we attended IRCE 2014 – the world’s largest eCommerce conference and exhibition in Chicago, IL.  This year’s show celebrated the 10th Anniversary of IRCE and showcased more than 600 solutions providers and had over 6000 attendees.  The great thing about IRCE is that it not only gives vendors a chance to speak with attendees and hopefully close some sales, but it also gives vendors an opportunity to network with one another, forge new partnerships and learn about new technology and trends in the industry. As a first time exhibitor, it was a great learning experience for Blue Link and we have highlighted some of what we learnt below.

1. There are A LOT of eCommerce packages available

Although a simple Google search will confirm the fact that there are dozens of eCommerce platforms available in the market, at this year’s IRCE show specifically, there were over 80 eCommerce platforms exhibiting!  With this much information and choice it can be overwhelming for first time attendees to distinguish between platforms and chose one that is best for their company.  Even those who did their research before may have encountered several platforms that they didn’t know existed. This is a common problem when searching for software and sometimes having too much choice can leave companies to not make any decision at all.

In order to differentiate vendors and focus on those that will work with your company make sure you do some initial research and planning.  Determine which aspects of an eCommerce platform are most important to you and create a checklist to review with vendors.  Some specific things to consider include:

  • Design flexibility – this refers to how much control you want to have over the look, feel and behaviour of your site
  • Source code – open source code will allow you to make modifications to the platform and tap into a wider community of developers for pre-built site add-ons
  • API – an extensive API allows better integration with other systems
  • Community – having a strong community of fellow merchants, developers and marketers is like having a large group of experienced personal advisor

2. With so many eCommerce platforms and online retailers, competition is fierce

Competition in the eCommerce space is continuing to increase as more and more retail and wholesale business start to sell their product through online channels.  This means that simply having an eCommerce store is no longer good enough – companies must be willing to invest the resources necessary and implement proper technology in order to remain competitive.  The goal of any eCommerce company is to receive and send out as many orders as possible which means having properly integrated systems and dedicated staff to perform these tasks.  Customers will not be satisfied with misplaced orders, shipping errors, or inventory shortages and will go elsewhere to find product if they experience these issues.  eCommerce companies must differentiate themselves from the competition by offering incentives such as same day shipping and free returns.  Having the systems in place to automate these processes will increase the numbers or orders that can be processed on a daily basis and allow staff to focus on customer service as opposed to administrative and manual tasks.

3. People tend to think about hiring additional employees first and integrating eCommerce with back-end software second

Although IRCE is a technology and software show, there are still a lot of companies who struggle with the idea that technology can replace the need for additional human labor.  When order volume increases and companies start to grow they think about hiring additional employees before realizing that software exists to manage some of their requirements. Hiring someone may seem like the obvious choice, but it is not always the right choice.  Companies looking to grow should consider the importance of purchasing software and the benefits and costs savings that will come as a result.   When your eCommerce business takes off and order volume becomes unmanageable, instead of hiring an additional employee to enter orders and make changes in your system, consider integrating a proper ERP system with your eCommerce site.  This enables orders to flow bi-directionally between the two systems eliminating the need for double entry and resulting in one central system to manage all sales channels and information.

**Bonus – Chicago has great food and neat architecture

ChicagoAlright so this last point doesn’t have to do with the trade show or eCommerce, but it can’t all be work right? When we weren’t busy at IRCE we had some time to walk the city, explore the architecture and try some of Chicago’s delicious restaurants.  After seeing all the neat office buildings, clock towers, arch ways and statues strewn throughout the city I can fully understand why they dub main street the Magnificent Mile and why it was the perfect location for Gotham City. It didn’t hurt that I had some of my best dining experiences while in Chicago as well, and I would definitely recommend anyone visiting to check out Chicago’s 20 Best Steak Houses.