Walking the Floor at IRCE Through the Eyes of a Customer

Walking the Floor at IRCE Through the Eyes of a Customer


Last week, Joey and I had the pleasure of attending the Internet Retailers Conference and Exhibition (IRCE) in Chicago. As the largest gathering of eCommerce companies in the world, it was a great opportunity for us to meet customers, learn more about their biggest problems in social, and discover new trends in eCommerce.

We watched some really great sessions from speakers like Bridget Dolan (VP of Digital Marketing, Sephora) and Dave Atchison (SVP of Markting, Zulily) who were informative and insightful.  We also had the opportunity to walk the around the exhibition hall floor-whichis the real subject of this post.

The exhibition hall was absolutely enormous  (250,000 sq feet to be exact) and featured “The largest display anywhere of E-Commerce Technology and Services,” according to the organizers. There was everything from drop-shipping robots, to GWaaS (gift-wrapping as a service) and a TON of marketing and advertising solutions providers.  Really, it was mecca for eCommerce vendors.

Because both customer-centricity and empathy are part of our core values at Inside Social, I wanted to walk around the floor as if I were digital marketer of an eCommerce company. My goal was to better understand what it’s really like for our customers to swim around in this vast ocean of selling.  Oh boy, do I have a new appreciation for our (prospective) customers. The sheer number of vendors promising to revolutionize my business was overwhelming and the aggression with which they shilled to me was disheartening.  I empathize with our customer who are constantly being bombarded by pitches both cold and warm.  At IRCE, I noticed the pitches seemed to converge around a single message: more revenue, more revenue, more revenue. Of course there is a reason for this: more revenue is definitely a value prop that resonates with eCommerce.  But after a while (read: all of five minutes), it felt very, very stale. Now all of the companies promised me more revenue through varying approaches-email retargeting, mobile engagement, gift-wrapping-but the more they tried to differentiate, the more it felt the same. Each message sounded like a slight evolution of the last and it made me feel confused and disillusioned as a would-be eCommerce executive.  It was exhausting.

It made me think a lot about positioning and communicating with customers. At Inside Social, we don’t want to be just one more wave in the sea. We’re going to work hard to educate our customers by adding value wherever we can. We don’t want to sell to our customers, we want to help them (even if that has nothing to do with using our platform). That’s an approach we’re going to apply to our marketing and messaging. We want it to be about a relationship with our customer, not just another pitch-even if we, too, help drive more revenue

Three Other Things That Didn’t Seem Customer Friendly:

1) The use of professional female models to draw foot traffic to booths.  Some brands were more egregious than others, but it felt deeply like sexist pandering-that greatly alienated me as a would-be customer.  Don’t treat your customers like teenage boys; treat them like informed, interested decision-makers who are eager to learn.

2) The use of “hired promoters” to pitch products instead of real employees. As a potential customer, this was really frustrating as these folks had minimal knowledge of the products they were selling and had very little passion for ‘their products’ (some even admitted to me that their only knowledge of the product came from reading a one-sheeter that day.) If you are going to spend heavily on a booth presence, spend the money to get your employees there as well-the knowledge and passion that come from working on a product every day are what potential customers want to see.

3) The opportunistic treatment of potential customers as cattle.  Some vendors would aggressively ask me to scan my badge into their lead-gen system-one even approached me and asked to scan my badge without even introducing herself or the company. This may sound obvious, but treat your customers like people, not leads or numbers or anything else. They are humans with feelings, thoughts, and interests. Show them respect by learning about all three and building a sincere relationship.

All of this was an eye-opening experience and it’s helped us put an even deeper focus on making our customers happy by listening and forging strong relationships.  The value of empathy for your customers can’t be understated.  Do what it takes to understand them as people and try to bring them happiness accordingly.  That’s what we strive to do every day at Inside Social.

Written by brewster