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Internet Retailing Expo (IRX) 2021

IRX & eDX took place on 13 & 14 October 2021 at the NEC, Birmingham. The exhibition hosted a range of fast-growing brands, big-name retailers and industry experts who provided practical advice on a range of topics. The premise of the exhibition is to help businesses find their next solution and grow, and Team Cake attended to check it out and take in all the insights!


The conference at IRX 2021 showcased a range of thought-provoking expert speakers, mixed with case studies and real life examples of next generation technology. It was a must-attend conference for anyone interested in eCommerce and growing their sales!

The speakers came from a range of backgrounds including retailers who have worked in eCommerce for many years, fast growing-brands, industry experts, thought-leaders and podcasters. 


First up was a talk by Luke Carthy, eCommerce Growth Consultant & Founder at Afro Drops. Luke discussed all things Google Analytics and how this can tell the story of the user journey in a way which identifies faults that lead to a poor conversion rate. The talk was centered around smart, scalable eCommerce growth and SEO disciplines. It was great to hear an example of how a standard error message being replaced with a more specific message could help increase conversions drastically, something we also relay to our clients here at Cake.


In Steve Hewitt’s (Gymshark) talk on Powering Growth, he made the point of brands creating their north star. He asked the audience why do you exist as a brand and an organisation? He then stressed the importance of not trying to be everything to everyone. By changing your positioning constantly, it makes you a meaningless brand. 


Steve went on to say how the purpose of GymShark is to unite the fitness community and in doing so they need to be good at effective storytelling. Steve discussed how the average customer of their brand is 15 years old so sending a responsible message is crucial. An example he gave was the Sweaty Selfie campaign where they changed the name from GymShark to HomeShark during the wake of Covid.


Steve was full of advice and tips, stressing the importance of getting your core product right. He said that failure happens mostly in the growth, such as on Black Friday when 45% of consumers are lost within 12 hours. 


Steve then broke down Gymshark’s journey to growth. 


Factors to growth

Chapter 1 – the start up years 


  • Gymshark put the brand on the map by exhibiting / bringing influencers into Birmingham 
  • Launched into the female market rather than just male
  • Launched Flex 


Chapter 2 –  building the foundations 


  • Introduction of pop up stores
  • Built communities – being part of a purpose and movement that you love
  • Took time to storytell the values behind the business – which led to great people joining who haven’t left the business 
  • Took the city events worldwide, built community where you can hang out and work out – leading to high engagement 
  • Launched conditioning app
  • Invested heavily in the data team – learned what turns customers on and off
  • Base in Denver to understand the American market better – 45% American customer base

The Key Takeaways from Steve’s talk were:


  1. Build your north star & stay disciplined
  2. Ensure the product you offer is scalable
  3. Control your value chain – work with the right external partners – make sure they understand your north star
  4. Don’t fear failure… just do it quickly
  5. Employ people who are better than you – the same people that get you £10,000k may not get you to £100,000k
  6. Work hard, stay humble

Klarna & Visualsoft

Klarna and Visualsoft’s talk centred around a survey they did on 200 retailers to ascertain what’s important to retailers now, in the future, and how consumer behaviour has changed forever. 


Insights from the survey:


  • 9/10 Klarna customers use multiple channels to search and spend – including browsing/searching for inspiration
  • 75% want to access products throughout all those channels – web/stores/social content, they all want the opportunity 
  • 64% expect omnichannel experience 
  • 51% Klarna customers still shop in store – blend between physical and digital is becoming smaller 
  • 76% of Klarna customers will spend more if there is a quality experience across all touch points
  • 79% would shop more frequently 
  • 47% of Klarna customers said they are less likely to shop if they didn’t offer  quality experience
  • An example they used for a fast and seamless experience was H&M who offer all payment options online and in store – including buy now and pay later. The H&M app is live in 10 countries – of whom 50% of users shop with Klarna.
  • Klarna + Hero acquisition is a strategy which allows customers to speak to retail colleagues with the in-store stylist over chat, video, & text. It is also offered as a service on site, allowing customers to interact with products in a different way, bringing the brand to customers at any time. 

Key learnings

Also at the event were a series of workshops which ranged from a complete programme of practical, training focused sessions, delivered by leading companies in the industry. Topics included automating ad optimisation, brand loyalty, real-time personalisation, cross-channel personalisation, site-search, affiliate marketing, the last mile, customer experience, algorithm orchestration, payments, telecoms and tax regulations – plenty for Team Cake to go at! 


It was also a chance for us to network with other vendors from all backgrounds to discover more about the latest technologies and how we can use them more effectively with our clients to drive sales. 

In a workshop on approaches to multi-product, multi-channel selling to reach the post-pandemic consumer, it became apparent it’s not just about convenience, it’s about safety now. What is common across all platforms is that customers coming online when the pandemic hit had no pre-sale expectations. Now people’s expectations have become a lot more defined as so many more people shop online than they used to. 


Oliver Bonas was used as a case study after reporting a drop in sales of 80% when the pandemic hit, despite having an online store. The product range shifted to homeware, furniture and gifting. Before lockdown they reported to have sold 3 puzzles a week, compared to the 1500 per week during lockdown. It was the diversification of products that saved them.


The takeaways from this were that multi-channel management selling is crucial for your long-term eCommerce strategy. 

In a workshop by Linnworks, the premise was ‘now is the great commerce acceleration – on all fronts. The speakers talked about how commerce is moving closer to consumers who expect effortless commerce, such as Facebook, Instagram and Youtube. The challenge that arises with this effortless commerce is that we’re no longer sure where we shop, and how can you stay relevant, connected and not missing out on any revenue opportunities? There has become more of a shift of less investment in-store (fewer products stocked/fewer sizes available) and more investment online. 


These are the key areas of investment currently:


  1. Brand Building
  2. Multi-channel distribution
  3. Brands are bypassing central network and going direct
  • customer insight direct with customer
  • better margin opportunities
  1. Brands are now shifting and moving to establish their own brand on Shopify/Bigcommerce

Due to it being compelling to consumers, effortless eCommerce is excellent at driving traffic to your platform and being engaging, by having visibility to product range, checkout fulfillment, this becomes compelling for the consumer and compounding for the marketplace. In turn, this attracts more retailers/suppliers/customers.

How to future proof your marketing strategy, from the experts

By creating an experience for that specific customer, the format and content needs to be engaging to them. Gen-Z’ers like engaging video content and want organic creative content coming from other people like them. It needs to feel real and achievable, with influencers their age who experience life how they do.

Personalise marketing to each customer with relevance and context; dynamic content with the right message at the right time on the right platform.

Do customers trust your brand? Are you compliant?


With regards to customer data, trust is more important. The Gen-Z’ers have a stronger moral compass and care more about the environmental and social impact than previous generations. Further to this, having a brand with purpose stands for something to Gen-Z’ers, but you need to mean what you say. You’ll be caught out if you’re not truly authentic.

The team loved the Exhibition and we can’t wait to see you all next year!

Headshot image of Beth

Beth Taggart

Brand Executive

Chris Thomas


Chris Thomas

CEO & Founder

Chris has been at the forefront of eCommerce and a pioneer of online retailing since the early 00s. A 5-time Drapers Award winner, Chris has extensive experience in developing fashion brands online.

Chris founded Cake in 2016. Based in Birmingham, with offices nationwide, Cake specialises in helping fashion brands understand their market online and then helps to develop appropriate strategical direction to achieve their plan, all backed by his 20 years of operating in the retail market.