On April 12th and 13th, VTEX hosted VTEX DAY 2022: a two-day digital commerce event that took place in São Paulo, Brazil. I was fortunate enough to attend the event in 2019 as an industry analyst from IDC and again this year as a VTEX employee. I wrote this article to reflect on my top 5 takeaways from the event and how it compared to three years ago. Some of my colleagues have done a fantastic job writing about their own takeaways, so I tried to take a different angle.
1. COVID definitely didn’t kill the in-person conference
Before COVID, I attended a lot of in-person events (82, to be exact). This included huge events like Dreamforce, Oracle Openworld, NRF, and many more. I took trips so often for these events that The Venetian hotel in Las Vegas knew me as a frequent visitor. In 2020, when in-person events were completely shut down, I pondered whether we would ever see conferences like those again, and I believed that a future without giant conferences would actually be for the best.
I am here to say I was wrong – in-person conferences will and should live on.
With over 14,000 attendees, VTEX DAY 2022 was BIG and was brimming with energy. I had forgotten how nice it is to be among so many folks in person, leading to serendipitous encounters with strangers. There are unquantifiable benefits of getting so many like- and unlike-minded people in the same place to chat, brainstorm, debate, and even dance.
Big picture: I took in-person events for granted before COVID and VTEX DAY made me remember the immense value of in-person events.
2. VTEX has grown up a lot (but hasn’t forgotten its roots)
When I attended VTEX Day in 2019, the company had about 700 employees and practically zero name recognition outside of Latin America. Today, we have over 1,700 employees, are publicly traded, are in the top 10 for market share, and have customers all around the world.
Similarly, VTEX Day matured quite a bit in those 3 years. The event was still predominantly attended by Latin Americans but over 30% of sessions were in English this year, including my own speaking session and many of the major keynotes. While there weren’t necessarily more attendees this year than on VTEX DAY 2019 due to COVID, the conference felt bigger.
This is due to booths on the show floor being taller, on par with the NRF BIG SHOW in New York City, and seven breakout session tracks spread across the expo floor. This created a more lively atmosphere than 2019 and the conference felt like one of the marquee software shows.
Despite this, VTEX Day in 2022 felt very similar to three years ago. The vast majority of the conference is organized and run by VTEX employees, giving it a more personal end-to-end feel. The event is also intended to make an impact beyond our company, by encouraging up and coming Latin American companies to follow in VTEX’s footsteps.
Big picture: VTEX DAY reflected VTEX’s own maturation. The event has taken the place of being a digital transformation event for Latin America and a voice for all tech underdogs in the region.
3. The event was overflowing with energy
I have been to few (if any) enterprise software events that have the energy of VTEX Day. Walking the show floor, you could feel this energy among vendors and conference attendees who were genuinely excited to be there.
One event that historically offered comparable lightning in a bottle was Magento’s Imagine conference, which brought out the excitement, nerdiness, and rambunctiousness of the Magento open Source community.
Unfortunately, that event got rolled into Adobe Summit with the acquisition and isn’t quite the same (Summit is still a great conference though). The energy that VTEX DAY originates from the employees and ecosystem members who genuinely want to be there and cannot be manufactured.
Despite being a sizable, publicly-listed company, VTEX still approaches VTEX DAY with a level of ownership that a start-up would. Leading up to the event, co-CEO Mariano Gomide de Faria told presenters that he wanted us to take full responsibility for session attendees’ experiences, to educate attendees instead of selling, and to be aggressively helpful if any conference-goer had questions. During the keynote session with Sir Lewis Hamilton, he also pointed out that even VTEX’s founders could be found working in the parking lot to assist.
Big picture: Digital commerce is an exciting market with constant innovation. VTEX Day achieved a level of energy rarely seen at technology conferences thanks to the excitement of our employees and ecosystem.
4. The future of commerce will look more like TikTok or Youtube and less like eBay
You couldn’t walk 20 feet at VTEX DAY 2022 without hearing a conversation, speech, or product demo about live shopping, social commerce, or conversational commerce. Everyone seemed to be talking about commerce becoming more immersive and engaging; I incorporated this theme into my own session at VTEX Day.
Ecommerce only accounted for 19% of all retail in 2021, meaning there is a lot of room to grow. A lot of that growth will be driven by more engaging commerce experiences that can compete with in-person ones. China is the clear global leader in terms of digital commerce adoption, with over 50.3% of all of its retail transactions expected to occur over digital channels in 2022 (almost $1.5 trillion in ecommerce revenue!).
For comparison, the United States is forecast to be at 17.3% in 2022. Of China’s massive ecommerce revenue, 10% occured in live video formats and over two-thirds of Chinese consumers have bought products via livestream commerce in the past year.
Many folks in the ecommerce industry are skeptical these trends from China will catch on elsewhere. I like to think about the evolution of social media we have seen over the past decade. When I think about Facebook, the first thing that comes to mind is a profile page – their profile picture, characteristics and groups, and feed down below. If you squint your eyes enough, it looks a little bit like a product detail page (PDP). Now if we think about the direction social media is going, towards Instagram and especially TikTok, it is clear that interactive video-based content is king. I believe it’s inevitable that commerce will also move in this direction.
Big picture: Similar to the trends occurring in social media and content, video will increasingly become a driving force in commerce. Brands and retailers need to think about how they will list and merchandise their products in this environment.
5. Sir Lewis Hamilton and Scott Galloway refocused the narrative on overlooked populations
Barack Obama’s speech at VTEX DAY 2019 was very memorable. He greeted the crowd in Portuguese, casually complained about São Paulo traffic, and captivated a room of mostly non-native English speakers. Realizing that there was no way to outdo the former president, VTEX DAY 2022 instead featured a wide variety of speakers with diverse backgrounds; the most notable were Sir Lewis Hamilton (most decorated F1 driver of all time) and Scott Galloway (NYU professor and thought leader).
These two speakers’ sessions were very different. Scott’s session featured his typical talking points against big tech and predictions for the economy. Sir Lewis Hamilton’s session was inspirational about his ascent to an immensely successful racing career.
How did they relate? My answer: they both touched on how overlooked populations will soon have their turn to drive the global economy (and ecommerce) forward.
One of Scott Galloway’s main points was that investors are increasingly looking towards Latin America (vs. the US and Europe) when betting on companies. For instance, the price/earnings ratio of innovative Brazilian companies are much lower than their US counterparts.
When Sir Lewis Hamilton was on stage he described his struggles as a black man facing racism in the white-dominated F1 racing field. To help counteract this, he founded a non-profit, Mission 44, to support underrepresented groups in the UK. I think these points can be blended and extended to digital commerce, where the fastest growing regions (Asia, Latin America, Africa) have been historically overlooked but hold huge opportunities for the future.
Big picture: Digital commerce and enterprise software as a whole has been very North America- and Western Europe-centric. The future of commerce will be more global and in areas with the most people (Asia), fastest growing populations (Africa), and fastest-growing ecommerce markets (LATAM) warrant more focus.
The only constant in life (and commerce) is change. The past couple years have been a testament to that and the pace of change in commerce is only expected to accelerate. VTEX DAY reminded me how fortunate I am to work in such an interesting industry and the power of an enthusiastic ecosystem. I’m looking forward to this energy spreading with regional VTEX Day events in the future.