Last week wrapped this year’s edition of #IRCE2017. IRCE once again put on a tremendous show with many of the top vendors, system integrators, platforms, and solutions in the world exhibiting. While you can probably find deep, in-depth (ahem, boring) analysis elsewhere, this post will concentrate what you really care about – The best SWAG, food, buzzword, parties, and more! Continue reading to find a recap of IRCE 2017 the top 7 takeaways from the exhibitor hall…

1) Best SWAG — Fidget Spinners. While Salesforce kept you hip and trendy with their blue and white ‘Cloud’ plastic sunglasses, the best SWAG of the IRCE 2017 had to be those captivating, dizzying fidget spinners given away by BigCommerce. It’s a phenomenon that’s seemingly sweeping the globe and IRCE was no different. You couldn’t walk through the exhibition hall without seeing a swarm of individuals rotating fidget spinners on their index fingers, with some attendees becoming so skilled that they would effortlessly pass them from one hand to the other.

As like most shows, there was also high-end SWAG to be acquired like stainless steel water bottles, backpacks, and mobile chargers, but to earn one of these items you would have likely needed to be a partner or a retailer who agreed to a meeting and placated the vendor by viewing a demo.

The runner-up prize goes to Visiture, who had you leaving the show outfitted for summer with surfboard pens, wood grain styled sunglasses, and branded trucker lids that will definitely have you ready for any beach or pool party.

2) Buzzword, Cringeworthy Word. The biggest buzzword (well technically an acronym) of the IRCE 2017 was G-M-V. If your unfamiliar, GMV or Gross Merchandising Value is a calculation to show how much a retailer is selling on a marketplace by simply multiplying the sale price by the units sold. Most vendors are more concerned with this metric more than a company’s revenue and profitability since often time their own sales and revenue is derived from service fees based on client’s GMV, not gross revenue. In other words, even if your expenses are in the billions, if your GMV is $5-$100M+, vendors want to talk to you. So be sure you know your GMV and share it proudly during your next business meeting.

The most overused word of the show and maybe across the entire Digital Commerce space has to be ‘Unified’. Karl Marx would certainly be ecstatic with this ethereal ‘Unified Utopia’ that companies have developed as marketing messages, but let’s be honest, no such singular ‘Unified’ product exists yet that can effectively and efficiently combine on-line and off-line retail, POS, OMS, ERP, CMS, WMS, commerce platform, Marketing Automation, Personalization, etc. Retailers continue to choose ‘best-of-breed’ solutions instead of settling for individual platforms and solutions that lack an exhaustive suite of tools prohibiting them from attaining each business objective or stymies innovation and hamstrings future roadmap plans. Luckily, even those vendors boasting about their ‘Unified’ solution understand that customers are currently unwilling to use a single platform and allow for straightforward integrations with other solutions, even if ultimately it is more complex and costly to integrate and maintain and requires additional, internal SMEs to manage.

3) Not Who’s Who, But Who’s Not. Most all the name brand companies you would expect had some sort of a presence at IRCE 2017. Shopify had a holiday themed, Winter Wonderland booth. Magento had an impressive two-story booth with a meeting room on the second floor and Salesforce, SAP Hybris, Aptos, Kibo Commerce, IBM, Bronto, and Netsuite all had prominent spots near the front of the exhibit hall. However, what was more surprising was who was not there.

With both Oracle Cloud and Adobe obstinately targeting high-end ‘Internet Retailers’, their absence was noticeable. Oracle Cloud seemingly missed an opportunity to tout their new SaaS and Commerce solutions (although as mentioned above, their recent acquisitions of Bronto and Netsuite did exhibit but both are still operating as wholly-owned subsidiaries and not yet part of the Oracle Cloud), nor was Adobe anywhere to be found actively displaying their Experience Cloud marketing, creative, and analytics capabilities. Both did exhibit earlier this year at #ShopTalk, so it will be interesting to see if IRCE continues to remain a ‘must exhibit’ event especially for large, enterprise solutions.

4) 3P Vendors Expand Their Offerings. One of the most impressive things from the third-party vendors who did exhibit is how much each has expanded their service offerings. Companies once known for their testing software like Optimizely and Monetate and on-site search companies like Reflektion are now Personalization suites.  User-generated content companies like TurnTo can now import and display product reviews from any brand’s site through its Open Review Syndication. While the enterprise software companies continue on the acquisition binge, with Magento purchasing RJ Metrics for analytics, Oracle purchasing Bronto for email and Netsuite as a cloud-based SaaS ERP, and Kibo Commerce purchasing commerce platforms Mozu and Marketlive and Baynote for personalization.

5) Avalara Still Knows Taxes, But Also Knows How To Party. Avalara, renowned for their robust fully managed tax solution, have also become synonymous at IRCE with bright orange clothing, Hawaiian leis, and of course the incomparable #Avatopia party. This year Avalara teamed up with Workarea for Avatopia which returned to the Brazilian themed restaurant and bar, Carnivale, inviting partygoers to enjoy a ‘Night in Paradise’ with live birds, ice sculptures, and an opportunity to dance, network, and imbibe in an open bar with other IRCE 2017 attendees.

Many other companies entertained clients and partners at private dinners and events with select partners, clients, and customers, while Salesforce, TurnTo, Lyons Consulting, Optimizely, InRiver, Listrak, and Affirm hosted an exclusive, invitation only party at the Fremont on Wednesday night. There were quite a few bloodshot eyes and groggy individuals on the exhibitor floor on Thursday morning as many refused to let the night end, keeping the party going late night at Paris Nightclub and the Underground.

6) The Food — That Curvaceous Side Item That Was Best Of Show. McCormick Place continued to provide adequate food options in their food court with cold, prepackaged sandwiches, salads, and parfaits and hot, ready-to-order sandwiches, Italian, and burgers. However, the food item of the show had to be the upstairs exhibit hall’s Curly fries. With a generous portion that would even make Arby’s and James Earl Jones jealous, almost every tray upstairs contained this delicious side item.

If you weren’t fortunate enough to get free coffee and doughnuts from the Mailchimp team early morning or swing by the Listrak booth for their fully staffed coffee bar, then the La Brea bakery downstairs from the exhibition hall floor was a fine place to start your morning with scalding coffee, teas, pastries, and made to order breakfast items. Conversely, my accounting department doesn’t particularly care for the bottles of water that run $3.25 a pop (still the most abundant natural resource on Earth last time I checked) and unfortunately the variety doesn’t really showcase anything too inventive nor feature any traditional Chicago fare that many of us out-of-towners would appreciate from a multi-cultural city when spending entire days in a convention hall in an isolated part of town. Instead the food selection is far too reminiscent of a school cafeterias or an older airport with limited, overpriced options.

7) The Free Drinks. After a long day of meetings, demos, and reciting your company’s value propositions and core competencies, everyone’s favorite part of the day is most definitely at 4PM when the convention rolls out the free drink carts. The drink carts feature a mixed assortment of beer and wines. Day 1 the convention selection was mainly composed of domestic light beers and a few decent house wines, however the choices did improve on days 2 and 3 with more premium and craft beers. I do have to give some props for the white wine selection, pouring the tasty La Crema Chardonnay, but unfortunately it was not accompanied by what my palate prefers, their red varietal, Pinot Noir.

What the novice and inexperienced attendee might not realize is that the real trick here is to find the ultra-premium beer and wine selections that exhibitors have paid to offer at their own booths. For example, title sponsor Mailchimp offered a premium selection in their hospitality lounge, Shopify Plus was pouring Heineken on tap in their Winter Wonderland, and ROI Revolution offered free local craft beers in front of their booth. Schmooze with these vendors and you can upgrade your drink selection from coach to first class.

Did you attend #IRCE2017?  I would love to hear your thoughts, feedback, and comments about the show or my post at thenderlight@sophelle.com.

Contributed by Timm Henderlight