The Internet Retailer Conference & Expo is always a huge event, attended by big-named retailers and innovative technology vendors who gather to discuss the world of e-commerce – and this year was no exception. As IRCE celebrated its 10th anniversary, more attendees than ever converged in the windy city to experience thought-provoking presentations and discussions, and network with other ecommerce professionals.

Needless to say, the CQuotient team had a great time. After attending countless panel discussions, presentations, and networking sessions, it’s clear the digital commerce train continues to roar along. Here are our key takeaways from the event:

1. Omnichannel and personalization are alive and well – these two words have been buzzwords in the industry for some time now, but IRCE proved they aren’t going away anytime soon. Nearly every session we attended and retailer we spoke with expressed how important these two strategies are for improving customer loyalty, increasing transactional spend, and remaining successful among stiff industry competition. And the sentiments we’ve discussed before on this blog rang true at IRCE – retailers understand the importance of delivering omnichannel shopping experiences and personalized messages to their customers, but many are still struggling to do so.

2. Gen 1 Personalization is not enough – most sites these days have some sort of “you may also like” product recommendations. I call this “Gen 1” personalization, because it is fundamentally based upon cookies (not customers) and it is essentially limited to product-to-product associations. This was fine five to seven years ago, but now that omnichannel is here, Gen 1 just isn’t good enough. It doesn’t understand the same customer who interacts across many cookies, it doesn’t look at non-cookie interactions, and it isn’t powerful enough to vary other parts of the message (beyond items) or impact other media outside the website. This was the message we heard loud and clear from many retailers at the show, both in the speaking presentations and in one-on-one discussions. What was surprising is that we heard this from really large, sophisticated retailers who may even have in-house data science teams, as well as small retailers who are just getting going and see the need to move to next-generation personalization now.

What is the next-generation personalization they are looking for? It’s when a full view of the customer is at the heart of your marketing strategy and in real-time you are able to optimize the message to an individual customer, regardless of how that customer chooses to interact with you (mobile, email, in-store, direct mail, call center, etc). And it is what retailers need to have to survive. Which leads to the last theme we heard…

3. Amazon can be beat – it’s no secret that Amazon is a dominating force in the marketplace and has all of the tools necessary to personalize every customer communication. But as Amy Larson, digital VP at The Children’s Place pointed out during her presentation with CQuotient CEO, Rama Ramakrishnan, by using the data you already have at your disposal, retailers have more than a fighting chance against Amazon. Of her own company she said, “Amazon knows everything about [our customers’ wants] from power drills to tooth paste, but we know what a Mom wants in kids apparel.” And to The Children’s Place, that’s all that matters.

Amy went on to explain that to execute this strategy you have to use every morsel of data you have (web, store, email, CRM, etc.), leverage predictive science to find what the data is telling you, and then use that insight to delight your customers. If you aren’t doing all these things, then you aren’t using your “depth” advantage, and Amazon’s “breadth” will beat you. Fortunately, The Children’s Place (with CQuotient helping) is doing these things and seeing the benefits!

Overall, we were encouraged by the dialogue around omnichannel, next-generation personalization, and the value of data mining that went on at IRCE this year. While the retail industry is always in a never-ending chase to meet customer demands, IRCE proved the retailers are eager to up their game! I am excited to see how this continues to play out.

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