eTail East 2015
This year’s eTail East conference was held in Boston at the Sheraton Downtown and it was a great location for the show. I opted for the full four days since I wanted to take in as much as possible and had meetings arranged with several potential vendors. I arrived in town late Sunday night so that I could be ready for the first morning panels.
Monday is my favorite day at eTail due to the unique set up. There are three tracks that you can choose from and you stay on that track all day. I chose the Search Summit Track which was my primary focus at the conference. I was randomly assigned Table 1 and met the five other retailers once everybody filtered in. We were all from different industries and fairly well matched in company size and our job responsibilities. This is always a plus since we could talk freely and really share solutions and strategies. Overall there were five tables in the room each with six retailers. To start off the day there were two keynote speakers who talked about various aspects of search both natural and paid.
Then after a brief break it was time for the morning roundtables. A vendor and one of their clients would sit at your table and lead a conversation on their specialty. After forty minutes the moderator announced that it was time for the vendors to switch and our table greeted a new vendor and client. I feel that this format is extremely helpful since you can ask the vendor very specific questions while having others in the industry there to help lead the follow up questions. Also since you have been sitting with the same group of retailers you get to know them and the specific pain points that they deal with and you can help them as well. It really is a great learning/sharing tool and I feel one of the best formats I’ve ever come across. In addition you tend to build a closer relationship with the other retailers at your table.
After a lunch break the afternoon followed along in much the same fashion with two keynotes and then three rounds of vendor roundtables so that each table was able to talk to the five vendors and address each topic. Everything ran smoothly from what I could tell and there was plenty of time to get a good grasp on each of the topics.
Once the tracks were done for the afternoon there was a retailer only “speed dating” card swap. About 50 of us lined up on either side of some tables and were offered beer or wine. We spent two minutes each before moving on to the next person. I met about 20 people from a wide variety of industries before the time ran out. After the card swap there was a cocktail reception with a variety of finger food. This is one place where I felt the conference failed me a bit. As a vegetarian there really wasn’t anything to eat there since it was primarily seafood. I do understand so much seafood given that it’s Boston, but still it would have been good to denote people with dietary differences at check in.
Since I had a few drinks and no real food I decided to leave the hotel and walk a bit of the city. Using Yelp I found a great little place called Zest Mediterranean Grille, down near the Berklee School of Music. After a wonderful meal I walked around for about an hour and then headed back to the Sheraton wanting a quick workout. The hotel’s exercise rooms were great and I spent about an hour there, after which I headed back to my room to organize my notes and plan out Tuesday.
Tuesday morning felt more like a standard conference, with a few large keynote speeches, to the full scope of attendees. Throughout the day, I spent my time rotating between presentations and meetings in the vendor hall. At lunchtime, I went to one of the private vendor sponsored lunches and had a good meal with plenty of insightful discussion. After talk about website and data security, it was back to the panels and my path of choice. I did vary between the rooms a bit but mainly stayed in the area that focused on social media and mobile, in between a few more vendor meetings.
As the standard day ended I joined in one of the six retailer only round tables. I chose the social media marketing table which was the most crowded and almost exclusively people in the fashion industry, which I provided a nice contrast since my company is electronics. The hour went by quickly as we all chipped in on each others questions. Our table moderator did an excellent job of leading the discussion around so that we all had a chance to talk about our company and strategy. At the end of the time I had quite a few ideas tucked away of things I could try at MCM.
Now came the dinner decision. I had been invited to several special dinners hosted by vendors, but there was also the appeal of heading to the top of the Prudential Center Skywalk for dinner and drinks overlooking Boston. I opted for the later and had a great time taking in the sights of Boston from 50 stories up and eating a variety of items from the area, which included quite a number of vegetarian dishes. I had several great conversations with a variety of people including a few who I had met earlier in the day.
Wednesday was set up very similar to Tuesday, but I had fewer vendor meetings set up so I took some time to wander the vendor room and find out about services providers who I’d never heard about before. I did gain some new ideas and had a good morning between the panels and the vendor room. At lunch, I opted for the standard lunch and ended up sitting next to a vendor who I worked with while I was at a previous job. It was a good meal and great conversation.
The afternoon was then filled up with more panels, followed by two more vendor meetings scheduled after hours, one of which was a dinner with a Boston native. During our meal she asked how much of the city I had seen to which I replied “Not much other than the hotel”. She told me that I should finish up my dinner and then head out to see the city. I did have a few options to join groups at some nearby locations, but instead I decided to take her advise and explore. I spent the next hour and a half walking around, including a quick trip to MIT where I took quite a few great photos of the skyline. Then back at the hotel I once again headed to the exercise rooms before getting organized in my room.
Thursday brought my final day…or at least final hours at eTail. After asking about TSA lines at the airport to a few people I found it best to head out before noon. This meant that my final day at the conference was rather abbreviated, but I still gathered some more great information and made a few more contacts. The trip back home was rather uneventful other than the oddness around boarding planes at Reagan International during my brief layover. There appeared to be four flights at a time departing from the same gate. In reality they would call a flight number, everybody would head downstairs and load onto a waiting bus. The bus would drive down the tarmac and take us to our waiting plane where we could see passengers departing from the last flight. The departure board showed a flight leaving every 10-15 minutes from that gate. If I hadn’t been on top of things I would have missed my bus and my flight.
Now over one week out I am still going through my many notes and trying to prioritize everything that I need to look a bit closer at and all the new strategies to try. In addition my email / voicemail have been blowing up thanks to the many vendors I talked to and those who I never had a chance to visit while in Boston.
The bottom line: eTail remains my favorite conference and is a must attend if you are working in the ecommerce space. I do think there are a few small places where they could improve (like more vegetarian choices!), but overall it is a very well run and organized convention that features many worthwhile panelists and presenters. However, I think the biggest attraction is the variety of other ecommerce professionals who teach you as much as the speakers. I definitely plan on attending again and would also love to attend another eTail in some other part of the world…that is if someone will pick up the tab for me.
Thanks again to the staff of eTail and of the Sheraton for making the week such a great experience and especially to all of the people who I met, talked with and traded so many great ideas! Please keep in touch!
tl;dr eTail is worthwhile, lots of information, variety, food & drinks