The Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition (IRCE) held in Chicago during the first week of June is a major annual trade show for ecommerce retailers, vendors and industry professionals.

With topics ranging from marketplaces, artificial intelligence to omnichannel, innovation, personalization, IoT, VR and AI, this year’s edition was packed with vital content on current trends and developments and useful advice from experts on ways to enhance retail strategies.

We also attended the event, getting the pulse of the US industry and engaging in relevant discussions. The following are our main key takeaways from the on/ off-stage debates.

The reality of modern eCommerce

Omnichannel. Niche markets. Pop-up shops. At the center of modern eCommerce is an evolving generation of buyers who behave and expect to engage differently with retailers (Gen Z anyone?). To keep up with the times, retailers need to distinguish themselves by adopting an omnichannel or niche strategy. Also, in this context, personalization is key.

As part of their shopping experience, consumers are increasingly using multiple touchpoints, such as online browsing, smartphones, brick-and-mortar stores and voice-controlled devices. In order to meet expectations, retailers need to focus their efforts on offering a seamless experience at each of these touchpoints, according to Walker Sands’ The Future of Retail 2018 report discussed during an event session.

Throughout the event debates, pop-up shops have been often mentioned as a way for brands to quickly make a significant difference by opening turnkey omnichannel stores in major cities. Pop-up shops are an opportunity to provide consumers with a high-touch experience, while promoting retailers’ brand, concept, service or product in a short period of time. Equipped with technology-enhanced elements aiming to enrich the customer experience, they are a good instrument for retailers to make flash appearances, attract buyers they could not reach before and bridge the online – offline gap.

IoT: Everything is getting smarter

As new technology gets smarter and smarter, the Internet of Things (IoT) is being tested and implemented more often with payments and businesses, as well. As underlined throughout the event, 54% of all retailers believe that IoT will drastically change the way companies do business in the next three years.

An anti-Amazon alliance

Amazon’s dominance has been forcing competing retailers to constantly evolve. During the event, the question whether they can stand a chance against Amazon’s growing market share was raised.

Amazon limits the revenue by taking away many of the most desirable customers, puts pressure on prices with a large selection and millions of Amazon sellers competing on price. It also raises costs towards retailers, as they have to compete against free and fast shipping. Add also Alexa to this picture and its aim to take the lead in the conversational trend: Amazon voice devices are used in 11% of US homes vs just 4% for Google. How can retailers keep up? A possible scenario comes from Google.

The search giant joined forces with Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Costco to deliver items via Google Express, in a move which has been defined by the industry as an anti-Amazon alliance. Google enables retailers to list their products across Google Search, in its Google Express shopping service, and in the Google Assistant app for smartphones and on smart speakers, like the Google Home.

Why is Gen Z important?

Gen Z, the generation after Millennials, born in the mid-1990s to mid-2000s, represents a customer segment for whom shopping is an indispensable part of life.

They are hardcore consumers, price sensitive and they know technology better than any previous generation.

More than this, they are a large target group, but retailers really need to understand their habits to gain them as customers.

Investing time and resources in monitoring their shopping behavior is key to ensuring access to the products these consumers want, exactly when and where they want them.

Whats next?

An ongoing topic at each industry event (this one included) is, inevitably, the future: what changes will it bring? How is payments simplification going to be achieved and what are the technological implications?

There was a lot of discussion around potential visions for next-gen payments and commerce and one question clearly stands out: is facial recognition and biometrics the next breakthrough technology or just another tech hype? In the US, it seems to be an upcoming trend. But let’s see if we will ‘smile to pay’ soon.

Meanwhile, here is a possible answer the question in the title:

“People love new technology … as long as they are aware of what is happening to them and have control of their data”

Nuala O’Connor, Center for Democracy & Technology

To sum things up, it will be a challenging time for retailers, in their attempt to capitalize on growing trends, compete with dominant players and increase customer reach.

Maik Bodden, Marketing Manager @ G2A PAY