This month’s Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition will explore how the lines between online and offline retail are blurring.

Tracing a consumer’s path from “want” to “buy” has never been more difficult. After all, consumers’ paths to purchase are increasingly blurring the lines between online and offline. In-store shoppers check their smartphones to compare prices, find coupons and locate items, while consumers on their smartphones may see a paid search ad that shows them a nearby store that has the item they’re looking for in stock.

Consumers have come to expect to find the items they want quickly and easily in any channel they want. That’s driven retailers to roll out new fulfillment and returns options. It’s led retail chains to invest in inventory management systems that enable them to leverage stores to fulfill orders. And it’s pushed a number of previously web-only brands to open stores and/or pop-ups that integrate digital elements into the store environment and created the new reality of blended commerce.

It’s through this digitally focused lens that this year’s Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition, June 25-28 in Chicago, will highlight a variety of strategies and tactics that are helping retailers thrive in this ever-more connected world. The show, which is co-located with retail industry events Global Shop and RFID Journal Live under the banner Retail X, will feature more than 200 expert speakers and curated content spanning more than 130 sessions that aim to deliver practical advice that attendees can implement to improve business results.

Take Walmart, which is implementing a strategy to expand its customer base by appealing to affluent shoppers in key categories.

In 2017, the retailer bought Bonobos. The digitally native, vertically integrated retailer was founded by Andy Dunn, now Walmart’s senior vice president of digital consumer brands.

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The acquisition was part of a spending spree that included women’s vintage-style apparel retailer ModCloth, plus-size women’s wear retailer Eloquii, outdoor apparel and gear retailer Moosejaw and underwear merchant Bare Necessities.

Dunn, who is IRCE’s day one keynote speaker, will explain how those boutique brands are contributing digital marketing expertise and loyal customer bases to Walmart, and how Walmart is helping those brands grow across channels.

Dunn says a cross-channel presence is vital to unlocking the full potential of digital brands. That idea is increasingly common, as a range of digitally native, vertically integrated brands, including Warby Parker, Untuckit and Indochino, are investing heavily in physical stores to increase sales and brand awareness.

“It’s such an exciting time in retail,” he says. “While Bonobos was founded 12 years ago, in many ways it still feels like we are in the early days of digital, direct-to-consumer brands.”

Framebridge, an online custom picture frame retailer founded in 2014, is another direct-to-consumer brand that’s challenging retail’s traditional models.

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The idea behind Framebridge came to the retailer’s founder and CEO Susan Tynan after she paid $1,600 to frame four U.S. National Parks posters she’d purchased on vacation—only to wind up with frames she wasn’t satisfied with. Tynan, who is IRCE’s day two keynote speaker, decided to create a different approach by allowing consumers to order frames online or via an app.

A consumer can upload her art or use Framebridge’s prepaid packaging to ship it to the company’s Kentucky-based production facility. Once the artwork is framed, the retailer ships it back to the customer for free.

Framebridge blends ecommerce, logistics and an intense focus on the customer experience to streamline the custom framing process. In her presentation, Tynan will share the lessons she’s learned as a leader of a high-growth startup and where the company is headed.

Every year, IRCE features a special guest speaker who has a meaningful perspective to share from outside the industry. Filling this role at IRCE 2019 is Chip Conley, global strategic advisor to Airbnb, an online marketplace and hospitality service that enables consumers to arrange or offer lodging or tourism experiences.

After selling Joie de Vivre Hotels, the boutique hotel group he founded at 26, Conley found himself at a career crossroads—until Brian Chesky, the millennial co-founder and CEO of Airbnb, reached out for business advice. At age 52, Conley, a self-proclaimed “old-school guy,” signed on with the young company as strategic advisor and found that the learning went both ways.

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That experience fueled his interest in how different age groups can function together for the benefit of the company in today’s workplaces, which may span three or four generations. The lessons he learned drove him to write “Wisdom at Work: The Making of a Modern Elder,” and launch The Modern Elder Academy, a workshop-focused institution he calls a “midlife wisdom school.” In his presentation, Conley will clarify for business leaders and workers of all ages why the intergenerational exchange of wisdom and skills is key to the success of the modern workplace and our society.

Unstoppable, hardy and hyper-focused on the mission: the words that could describe a top-grade U.S. soldier also could describe a successful ecommerce entrepreneur. Dan Alarik, founder and CEO of patriotic apparel and gear company Gruntstyle.com and IRCE’s
2019 featured speaker, is another example of a digital entrepreneur who found and filled an unmet need.

While still on active duty as a U.S. Army drill sergeant in 2009, Alarik grew frustrated when he couldn’t find T-shirts that showcased his country’s military pride. So he decided to design his own.

Alarik applied his personal experience and the values of his military career to launching his ecommerce company in 2009—a classic startup story of selling T-shirts out of his car. Powering through setbacks that can challenge any new business, Alarik’s determination and ability
to learn fast and correct course were rewarded with increasing success.

Today, Grunt Style has a loyal customer base and some 2 million followers on social media, bringing in sales of $100 million over the past three years. With its brand in stores such as Cabela’s and Gander Outdoors, the company has expanded further into offline sales. Recently, it secured store placement at Macy’s “The Market,” a rotating pop-up market located within
selected Macy’s stores that gives both upstart and established brands their own featured product display on a limited-run basis.

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Beyond those main stage sessions, IRCE will feature a number of topic-focused tracks and workshops, including:

  • The “Strategic Guidance for the Retail C-Suite” track, which aims to help leaders understand how digital commerce is changing retail and what new strategies are needed to manage technology investments, business integration and executive recruitment.
  • The “Thriving in the Amazon Age” track, which features sessions that look to help retailers effectively compete with Amazon. Conversely, the “Amazon & Me” workshop examines how merchants can work with Amazon to take the most advantage of its platform and outsized reach.
  • The “Brand Building in a Digital Age” track, which will focus on branding techniques and challenges specific to newer online retailers.

Beyond those sessions, IRCE attendees will be able to share ideas with the roughly 10,000 industry peers representing more than 3,000 companies. Amid a rapidly evolving retail environment, there’s much to learn.

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