Review – eCommerce Summit ECMTA PeSA 2008 vs Catalyst Pinehurst 2008

The eCommerce Summit in New Orleans wrapped up the event today with a Habitat for Humanity volunteer workshop.

Habitat

More than 100 of the over 500 eCommerce Summit 2008 attendees and journalists who attended this year's 3 day long conference in New Orleans, dedicated time and elbow grease to help this worthy charity build homes for people in need in New Orleans. Final numbers have not been tabulated yet, but at last count the event raised over $80,000 for Habitat for Humanity.

eBay Donation Habitat

On the first night, Frontier Marketing (one of the main sponsors of this Summit) presented a check for over $30,000 to benefit Habitat for Humanity. Frontier requested $1.00 donations from each active customer and over 15,000 customers joined the cause. To make the gesture twice as impressive Frontier offered a dollar for dollar matching donation. Frontier, together with their customers raised over $30,000 to help Habitat. eBay surprised the crowd prior to Lorrie Norrington's keynote address with a $50,000 donation for Habitat in the name of all eBay sellers. In addition, Genco Marketplace donated many fine prizes for a silent auction benefitting Habitat as well.

ECommerce Summit

eCommerce Summit vs. Catalyst Pinehurst? Catalyst

Recently (yesterday while in the NOLA airport via a Twitter Tweet from a friend) I was asked to compare this year's Summit event with the recent Channel Advisor Catalyst conference held in Pinehurst, NC.

On the surface one could say two events do not match up - based on the premise that Catalyst is primarily sponsored & promoted by a single multichannel solutions provider and the eCommerce summit is sponsored by two connected trade organizations with additional corporate sponsorship from multiple solutions providers. There is an overlap of sponsorship for each event, yet each event had a different look and feel.

Some points of comparison are available to informed observers, I am sure many of my readers could easily chime in with comments regarding the differences, I met with many of them at both events.

The initial impression:

Solutions providers and vendors brought a more impressive array of displays and vendor booths to the eCommerce Summit 2008 than the exhibitors at Catalyst. This difference certainly could be attributed to either Channel Advisor's primary investment in Catalyst as an effort to bring in new business for Channel Advisor, or it could just be a symptom of the lack of display space available at the 110 year old Pinehurst resort vs the massive Morial Convention Center in New Orleans.

Catalyst's focus appeared more involved with the general education of the audience. This impression was provided by including a broad spectrum of information presented by both the staff and sponsors of the seminars and sessions. Comments from the attendees of Catalyst I spoke with expressed surprise regarding a lack of focus on outright marketing to the crowd from Channel Advisor or any other brand sponsor at Catalyst. (The hundreds of Channel Advisor white shirted employees at Pinehurst surely never let you forget who was sponsoring the event, but not one of those employees seemed to be working the crowd in an obvious attempt to create business for the primary sponsor).

I commend Channel Advisor for this surprisingly low key approach. While all of the staff were certainly ready to answer questions regarding the CA suite of services they were not overbearing or intrusive in any way. A nice way to provide value for potential clients and inform all attendees.

eCommerce Summit 2008 sponsors seemed to be more interested in offering a sales pitch than valuable education. Certainly not all of the presentations were handled as marketing vehicles, but many more were at the PeSA ECMTA event than at Catalyst. This seems to be a dichotomy of purpose when considering who held each event. I heard similar perceptions from more than one attendee at the eCommerce Summit yet no one claimed the pitch(s) detracted from the event. In fact I spoke with one Titanium PowerSeller who had increased energy and excitement for his business and for eBay following the eCommerce Summit than he had prior to the event (This same seller attended both Catalyst and eCommerce Summit).

Differences in PresentationseBay

eBay came to the eCommerce Summit 2008 in New Orleans in full force with their "A" game ready.

Somehow I don't think eBay was prepared for the open, honest and forthright revolt from sellers they experienced at Catalyst. Many of the PowerSellers in attendance at Catalyst asked very pointed and almost physically angry questions of the eBay representatives. Similar questions were presented at eCommerce Summit but the Keynote speech by Lorrie Norrington seemed to ease the tension in the room(s) a great deal compared the the Question & Answer period following Stephanie Tilenius's Speech at Catalyst.

eBay's preparation and careful re-crafting of the "message of change" became very apparent at the eCommerce Summit 2008. eBay also brought a bevy of high level managers and executives to this not so small gathering of eBay sellers and eCommerce merchants. Apparently eBay valued this opportunity to bring a new message to their core members and high level PowerSellers. With over 750 paid ECMTA/PeSA members in the organization(s) and in excess of 500 merchants in attendance, I would say the attention dedicated to this event by eBay was well deserved.

eBay brought forth a much more positive message with a polished and crafted delivery to the eCommerce Summit audience. Many of us who had attended both events were impressed by the recovery from the Catalyst speech and with the extra effort expended on reshaping of the message delivered at eCommerce Summit.

Lorrie Norrington could be a better speaker than Stephanie Tilenius, although the difference may have been more of a matter of preparation rather than skill. eBay as a team was evidently not prepared for the agitated crowd at Catalyst. There is much more work to be done to ease the fears of eBay sellers, but I would give eBay a thumbs up for working towards a better understanding of the sellers' concerns and crafting a message which includes the "good" sellers in the process of cleaning up the eBay site image.

Beyond eBay

Google came to both events with the same exact cloud computing presentation. Other companies also provided very familiar content even if the speaker was not the same person. Repeating the same presentation to these audiences is a mistake. Many of the attendees were present at both events. An awareness of audience expectation would seem to dictate bringing new and exciting information to similar conferences. This is a golden opportunity for channels outside of eBay to recruit and win over sellers who are looking seriously outside of the eBay box, some for the first time ever. Bring these sellers good information meant to educate rather than sell and as a company you could win over some extremely loyal customers.

Attendees at both Catalyst and eCommerce Summit are beyond the basics of eCommerce. While a few attendees are certainly new sellers, the majority of the audience is looking for new, interesting and advanced information. Possibly a dual track schedule should be explored to provide value for both the novice and advanced attendees. In any case, eBay wins the award for changing the message significantly in a short time period. While other sponsors may not be under the same scrutiny as eBay has brought to itself, keeping the attention of this group of merchants would seem to entail updating presentations more often and including more useful content.

In summary regarding the value of presentations; I would say, for my money, Scot Wingo wins hands down for pure value of content. His keynote speech and subsequent multiple appearances on Stage at Catalyst were worth the price of admission alone. Yet there were many more significant contributions at Catalyst from representatives of many companies. The very interesting concept of recruiting a panel of 10 local Pinehurst area Internet shoppers prepared to answer questions from the sellers at Catalyst was a unique and useful window into the real minds of buyers.

From a pure recovery of image perspective I would say that Lorrie Norrington and eBay gets the prize, her Keynote speech at the eCommerce Summit did not put out all of the fires but it went a long way towards modulating the breeze which fanned those flames. In addition, the entire presence of eBay and PayPal staff seemed genuinely concerned with the sellers viewpoint. We will see if this is a real change or just a momentary event, but it seems as though eBay has a new attitude. In my book, making the effort to create the impression of openess deserves kudos.

Networking

Both events provided excellent opportunities to network and share ideas with other like-minded business owners and individuals. Catalyst kept the networking opportunities closer to the event because of the remote nature of the Pinehurst resort. (and the fact that there is no Bourbon Street or Harrahs Casino nearby in Pinehurst, NC to distract attendees). Yet PeSA ECMTA countered the draw of Bourbon Street and Harrahs Casino with organized lunch round tables where people interested in a specific company or service could reserve a seat at a table with like-minded attendees and learn more or network. After hours networking dinners were also scheduled at many of the fine restaurants in New Orleans for eCommerce Summit attendees. Catalyst provided elegant dinners at Pinehurst with the support of sponsorship and these events seemed to create a broader range of Networking opportunities than the more focused dinners in New Orleans.

Surprisingly the food was much better at Pinehurst than at the Morial Convention center in New Orleans. The evening hours get-togethers I attended were much more business friendly at Catalyst than at eCommerce Summit.

Location

While Pinehurst is a lovely golfing venue and the remote nature of the resort keeps attendees concentrated on the grounds, I will have to give the location award to PeSA ECMTA . The eCommerce Summit gets the nod for choosing to bring an event of this size to New Orleans. The city has done much to recover from Hurricane Katrina and yet there is much more to do. Without events like this and many more, the city will never get back to its pre-Katrina tourism levels. Attaching a well deserved charity to an event like this brings out the good in everyone (including eBay who donated $50,000 to Habitat for Humanity).

The city is safe and the local hotels I checked plus the Morial Convention center provide free wi-fi access, which in my mind puts Pinehurst at a great disadvantage. I can not fathom how an Internet related conference can be held at a resort which has very little or no Internet access.

Costs were similar for both trips simply because personally I spent more money on taxi transportation while in New Orleans (on site transportation was provided at Pinehurst), whereas the hotel was much less expensive (with much more modern accommodations for the price) in New Orleans than in Pinehurst. With more places to go in NOLA, this exchange is a good trade off.

Conclusion

I give both events a big thumbs up! I enjoyed myself at both and I met many interesting people at each. Scot Wingo gave the best presentations of either event and provided the most real nuts & bolts education, yet PeSA ECMTA brought more suppliers and solutions to the eCommerce Summit.

There was a lot to learn at each event and each had big name presentations put on by top notch companies and organizations. If you can, try to attend both events next year and make your own conclusions.

You could not go wrong by choosing either one if time or budget does not allow for dual attendance. While attending either event does not require membership in PeSA/ECMTA or becoming a client of Channel Advisor, both events will give a good impression of either while providing significant benefits in education and networking opportunities.

I can't wait to hear where the eCommerce Summit will land next... My understanding is that Catalyst will remain at Pinehurst (a big plus for golfers). I hope to attend both events again next year - see you there!

Learn More...

For the first time ever the eCommerce Summit featured live streaming Internet Radio interviews from tRadio Showhe exhibitor floor sponsored by Internet Auction News Radio and Hosted by David White & Ray "Sparky " Felix. If you would like to hear more about the event & the solutions providers and merchants who were interviewed please follow this link to eBay and Beyond Basics to Business or look for the show on iTunes as a podcast.

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