The Retail Practice organization at Demandware exists for one reason – to help our clients be successful. A big part of that is engaging with our community and, perhaps more importantly, connecting our retailer clients with one other.

As Senior Director of our Retail Practice, I have the good fortune of being part of it, and have a front row seat to the issues keeping some of the world’s largest retailers up at night.

At our XChange Conference North America in April we held our first ‘unconference’ for business users. We have held developer unconferences for the past several years and thought, why not business users too?

Now you may ask yourself (as I did) – what is an unconference? Is it a user group? A workshop? Isn’t that just a developer thing? Well I did what most do in these situations: I Googled it and found the following

un·con·fer·ence  / noun /

a loosely structured conference emphasizing the informal exchange of information and ideas between participants, rather than following a conventionally structured program of events.

Ok, that sounds great, but what does that really mean in practice? We could have taken a few different approaches but decided to follow our developer format, since it receives rave reviews every year.

Here’s how it works:

  • We invite business users for a 3-hour session; and set-up ten stations around the perimeter of a ballroom,
  • Ask users to submit up to 20 topics of their choosing – what’s on their minds? What did they need to collaborate on with their peers?
  • Break into ten smaller groups to talk about the first ten topics for 40 minutes; repeat the process until all topics are covered
  • Come back together and share with everyone the session’s biggest takeaways

Honestly, we didn’t know what to expect. Having an unconference is a leap of faith. Would business users even come? Would they open up and share? While it is an opportunity for customers to share ideas and common challenges in an open environment, we at Demandware must be willing to acknowledge and embrace our own limitations while striving to drive innovation and collaboration for our clients.

So we did just that – and it was fantastic. Our concerns faded the minute people gathered in the stations around the room. People began to share immediately and dig in.  Questions and challenges were met with ideas and advice from customers and Demandware subject matter experts.     Whether it was a group of two or 20 people in a station, the conversation was compelling and often kept going after time was called.

What did we cover? The group teed up 16 topics ranging from building compelling mobile experiences to best practices for homepage templates. We also talked about Demandware functionality: efficient ways to import and export product data, needed permission enhancements, and price book tactics. In some cases, we joined groups together because of a theme (it was no surprise that mobile was among the hottest topics.)

I had the opportunity to speak to several of the attendees after the event.  The feedback was overwhelming positive.  People were impressed by the openness of conversation from the customer and Demandware and appreciated the ability to connect with other attendees prior to the conference. My favorite line was to “rinse and repeat”.

The North America unconference was so successful we decided to replicate it for a global audience at 2016 XChange Conference Europe, which takes place June 14-15 in Berlin, Germany.

Registration for the Business User Unconference is an option you can select during your conference registration.  If you have already registered for the conference and would like to attend this Unconference, you can edit your registration by clicking “Returning Users.”