Fire breather at ShopTalk networking dinner

SmartTalk from ShopTalk: Best of What Was Overheard

Content is king at ShopTalk more so than at any industry event on the retail calendar. If you think that’s a bold statement, consider that the lineup of 336 speakers included dozens of CEOs and presidents of the industry’s top companies.

A short list of chief executive or president-level speakers includes: CEO of Target, CEO of Macy’s, president of, CEO of Pinterest, global head of e-commerce for Facebook, president of retail for Google, president of global retail for Levi Strauss, CEO of Coach, CEO of Fresh Direct, CEO of Sprouts, CEO of Sur La Table, CEO of Ulta, and the president and CEO of Walmart e-commerce.

Other speakers who were just one level below the top represented such retail powerhouses as Alibaba, Amazon, Kroger, Walt Disney, Albertsons, Best Buy, eBay, Hudson’s Bay, Marvel Entertainment, Nike and Sephora.

Although content is king at ShopTalk one vendor I spoke to noted that the emphasis comes at the expense of the two of the other major reasons to attend an industry trade show – networking and exhibit floor excitement.

(Editor's Note: For excitement, see the fire breather, above, who appeared at a networking dinner and concert around the pool at the Venetian Las Vegas featuring Wyclef Jean. Also, for more info about ShopTalk, click here.)

However, as an industry insider, ShopTalk’s amazing content was a unique goldmine for uncovering nuggets of information about the latest news and buzz about retail. Below are my best-in-show comments and smart quotes.

Best of What Was Overhead

“Things don’t change in a linear fashion. They change exponentially. So, we can’t compare the next 10 years in retail to the last 10 years. We believe the world will change more in the next 10 years than it did in the 100 years before.” -- Anil Aggarwal, founder & CEO, ShopTalk

“An algorithm doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be better than a human, because humans aren’t perfect either. So, you don’t have to wait for something to be perfect to launch it.” – Alon Cohen, president and co-founder, Houzz

“Artificial intelligence enables bespoke personalization at scale.” – Scott Cutler, SVP Americas, eBay

“We are constantly looking for new ways to bring excitement into our stores. We will debut in-store navigation and augmented reality in our mobile app. We will debut mobile checkout in 2018, where you scan, pay in the app and leave. We will have virtual reality in our furniture department where customers start with the room they want to fill and then drag and drop the furniture into the layout. Then they put on the VR head set and experience the fully furnished room. We will go live with all of this in 50 stores led by top talent. We will then learn from it and roll out the learnings in 2019 and beyond.” – Jeff Gennette, CEO, Macy’s

“Our only competition is our own potential.” – Adam Sussman, chief digital officer, Nike

“The holy grail of computer vision is to be able to take an arbitrary scene and be able to interpret it, to be able to know exactly what is happening in a particular scene. We have had to invent many algorithms, solving who took what in close contact with each other and simultaneous picks. If you show a child a can of Coke, they will be able to recognize it after a few times, but not so with computer technology. We are learning how to teach computers to recognize photos of products quickly without a lot of data. This requires robust hardware and software infrastructure.” – Dilip Kumar vice president, Amazon Go

 “At Pizza Hut a quick summary of our mission, which underlies everything we do is: Can’t be wrong. Don’t be late. And don’t be cold.” – Helen Vaid, chief customer officer, Pizza Hut

“Mobile is a big part of the Sephora strategy. We were one of the first to really go hard into mobile and figure out what role mobile should play relative to our stores. One of our latest initiatives is geofencing customers when they are close to a store. We could be sending a message about an event that is taking place that day or products the customer left in her cart, and when we do that we find 50% of the time the customer comes in the store.” – Mary Beth Laughton, EVP Omni-Retail, Sephora

“At Ulta, our mission is to deliver three important things: 1. Awesome real estate locations, 2. Awesome product mix, and 3. Awesome services. Since 2013, we have more than doubled sales.” – Mary Dillon, CEO, Ulta Beauty

“Machine learning as a discipline permeates everything at Amazon.” – Dilip Kumar, vice president, Amazon Go

“Technology enables Nike to deliver on the founder’s vision. Thanks to mobile technology we can scale all over the world. We have adopted a company-wide mentality to make the shift to achieve digital transformation and make shopping fun. We have launched a conversational commerce experience with Nike Experts on Demand and we will launch an augmented reality concept in a couple of months.” – Adam Sussman, chief digital officer, Nike

“The store should be more. Associates now have the full power of the Internet and so do customers, so the store has to be more experiential, more engaging, more.” – Carrie Ask, EVP and president of global retail, Levi Strauss

“We are not trying to build an e-commerce channel or an omni-retail approach, we just want to serve customers. Channel accounting and channel sales are becoming an increasing distraction. Shoppers go from one to the other. It is just not helpful to think of accounting that way. Our metric for success is, are we gaining market share? The balance sheet is not helpful when you are dealing with customers.” – Ken Worzel, president,

“We have had one million products viewed in 3D and augmented reality in the Houzz app. You click on the product and you can view it in your room. Two million customers have used it and we have seen 11X conversion for those who use it. We are using deep learning and, frankly, the things we are doing today look like science fiction compared to when we started. It is in our DNA to use advanced technology and it is in our DNA to create great customer experiences, so when those two things meet you get a great result.” – Alon Cohen, president and co-founder, Houzz

“Our goal is to serve consumers one to one personally no matter wherever they are.” – Adam Sussman, chief digital officer, Nike

For an in-the-moment report on ShopTalk 2018, which focuses on major announcements made by Target, Macy's and Amazon Go, click here

About the Author

Joe has been consistently named one of the top Influencers and Bloggers in retail by independent organizations. He is a frequently quoted source in business media and is also a frequent speaker at such conferences as the NRF Big Show, Shop.Org, and SXSW. Read More

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