Boldly Redefining the Retail Experience

Tim Denman
Editor in Chief
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The Retail Experience Summit was guess what? All about the retail experience. We designed and built the agenda with the retail experience and boldly breaking the mold top of mind.

The annual event was held at the Grand Del Mar, San Diego, Oct 2-4, and featured the who’s who of retail both on stage and in the audience. The intimate event was designed to offer attendees plenty of time to not only learn from their peers, but network with them.

Click here for extended coverage of the event, including interviews, videos and in-depth analysis of the key themes. Below is a quick look at some of the highlights of the event:

The Tip of the Spear event offered a relaxed atmosphere to interact with emerging tech.

Tip of The Spear Tech

For the first RIS hosted a pre-conference Tip of the Spear Technology event where innovative and emerging solutions providers were able to demo their technology and network with retailers and fellow startups.


Ten startups were on hand to display their technology, including:

  • Happy Returns. Shoppers get returns that are easy, free, involve no packing or shipping, and provide an immediate refund. Retailers using the service save money through decreased shipping and support costs and enjoy increased conversions and customer satisfaction.
  • Bucket Technologies. The platform rethinks physical coin currency. Bucket digitizes all coins from the balance of cash transactions at the POS and deposits them into a customer’s account, eliminating the need to handle and carry physical coins.
  • Wiseshelf. Transforms standard retail shelves for the IoT world. It is an appliance mounted on existing retail shelves that provides real-time information regarding the stock level of each product.
  • Five Elements Robotics. Its goal is to help launch the era of robotics, where robots become a part of their everyday life. Their retail robot DASH is designed to significantly increase sales, enlarge and expand the customer base and customer satisfaction, reduce operating costs, and reduce losses from theft.
David Osborne hosted a pre-event interactive workshop as well as a main stage presentation.

Innovators Workshop

In addition to the Tip of the Spear event the pre-event activities included an innovators’ workshop hosted by David Osborne, executive OD consultant, trainer, Dale Carnegie Digital. During the interactive workshop attendees were broken up into groups where they explored the biggest challenges facing the industry and their organizations today.

Some of the key disruptive areas retailers, solution provider and analysts pointed to as major challenges were labor, IT resourcing, keeping up with the competition (Amazon), workforce turnover, and being tethered to legacy systems. The group pointed to a lack of financial resources and staffing concerns as the root causes of these challenges.

The event gave attendees the opportunity to compare notes on what keeps them up at night with fellow industry executives while helping to influence and guide Osborne’s mainstage presentation the next day. Osbourne took to the stage in the morning of the opening day of the conference to reveal the results from the prior day’s workshop and to offer some advice on how retailers can meet the challenges head on.

Osborne told the audience that they “can’t just have incremental growth, it is not enough, you will fall behind and die,” offering up the following advice once he peaked their interest:

  • Create an experience people want to come back to.
  • Find something that helps you stand out.
  • People don’t leave their companies, they leave there bosses.

The final point on employee engagement was the crux of Osborne’s discussion, focusing on how retailers can create an environment that retains key team members:

  • Learn about your employees: what they do for fun, family situation, career goals and life goals.
  • Everyone need praise.
  • Give employees the training and resources to be successful.
  • Involve employees in the creation of the company vision and mission.
  • Implement a sandwich coaching model: praise, correct, praise.
  • Create culture of appreciation.
Robert Stephens delivered the opening keynote.

Embracing Your Inner Geek

Prior to Osborne’s main stage discussion Robert Stephens, founder of The Geek Squad, got the summit going with his opening keynote: Dare to be BOLD: Embrace Your Inner Geek.

The tech innovator recounted how he boldly founded and grew The Geek Squad, and explored how his innovative, guerilla marketing approach helped make the service a household name.

A few key pieces of advice and insight the well-known innovator shared with the audience:

  • Boldness means getting up everyday.
  • Those who predict the future we call futurists; but knowing when the future will actually occur is the trick.
  • When you have no money for marketing, everything you do is marketing.
  • Can a corporation act as a startup? No. Corporations aren’t startups so they shouldn’t try to act like one.
  • A competitor is a friend, there nothing unites internal fractions like an external threat.
  • Do not take the title of innovation, it will put a target on your back.
  • Retailers shouldn’t have a customer service desk. It means that not everyone is in charge of customer service.
  • Creativity is great, but it has to be scalable.
Sterling Hawkins discussed the future of retail innovation.

Immersive Experiences are The Future of Commerce

Sterling Hawkins, partner, operations & Venture, CART discussed the latest developments in retail and how VR, AR and other cutting-edge technologies need to be truly customer-centric to be effective.

Hawkins believes that the innovation landscape is changing and only those retailers that are able to adapt to this new reality will reap the rewards. Some of his key thoughts from the presentation include:

  • The rise of industry-led innovation ― historically, industry innovation was driven internally.
  • Innovation now driven by outside forces such as consumer tech adoption and outside competitors.
  • Store closings. It is not the stores that are the problem, it is not even amazon, it is how stores are using tech.
  • Our greatest shortcoming is our inability to understand the exponential function.
  • Future of commerce is immersive, perceptive and predictive.
  • Faster, cheaper processing power is driving the growing use of AI and machine learning.
  • Innovation isn’t a factor of technology, it’s a factor of the possibilities you see.
The CIO of the Year finalist panel (left to right: Bob Graham, Beverages and More; Sherri Browning, 99 Cents Only Stores; and Charles Jarrett, Cumberland Farms) shared their award-nominated projects.

CIO of the Year

The eighth annual CIO of the Year Awards had a new wrinkle at RES. For the first, we hosted a finalists’ panel before the awards ceremony so the audience could learn more about the award nominated executives and their projects.  

Three finalists participated in the panel:

  • Sherri Browning, Director of IT, Stores and HR Portfolio, 99 Cents Only Stores
  • Bob Graham, VP IT, CIO and Warehouse Operations, BevMo!
  • Charles Jarrett, CIO, Cumberland Farms

Browning discussed a unique and powerful human capital management initiative she spearheaded that save 99 Cents Only hundreds of thousands of man hours per year.

Graham explained the cutting-edge work he and his team are doing in the area of artificial intelligence and robotics.

Jarrett discussed how the rip and replace of critical systems including supply chain and POS was executed and the backend re-engineering required to manage the massive upgrade.

Click here to read more about the CIO of the Year Awards and see which executives took home the hardware this year.

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