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Straight Talk from ShopTalk 2019

If you want a good snapshot of the drivers of change in the retail industry directly from those doing the driving, go to ShopTalk. After three days in Las Vegas and participating in dozens of sessions and industry conversations, here is what I found to be the best of ShopTalk 2019.

ShopTalk is not simply a conference that brings together retail industry drivers of change and innovation, it is actually a driver of change and innovation itself.

"We are a new generation of event that takes a proactive role in moving the needle to get the right kind of people talking about the right kinds of things in the right ways,” said Anil Aggarwal, Founder and CEO of ShopTalk, on the opening day of the event. “We believe that just as retail needs to evolve so do events."

Digging a little deeper into this theme, Aggarwal added: "We believe reinventing retail is not an option. It is an obligation, a collective obligation to consumers, whether it is physical or digital or a combination of the two. Too much of retail is out of date and needs to transform. In 10 years everyone will look back and ask, did shopping really look like that back in 20019?”

ShopTalk Disrupts the Future of Retail Events

As a professional retail event attendee of long standing, what I like about ShopTalk’s fast-growing model is that it has disrupted the established format typically used for retail conferences. Sure ShopTalk has an exhibitor floor, concurrent sessions, general sessions, public events, invitation-only events, one-to-one meetings, private meeting rooms, private dinners, vendor tech talks, and all the usual stuff.

But it doesn’t end there and new offerings emerge every year. At this year’s event ShopTalk announced the following programs:

  • Retail Club, which will organize local, small-format gatherings for retail professionals throughout the year and across the U.S. with the aim of creating local professional communities for meaningful and fun experiences. The Retail Club will work with Kindred and use a software platform to connect peers across shared interests to personalize interactions and engagement.
  • Shophop, a high-end pub crawl with retailers and a small number of sponsors who get special treatment at the Venetian Casino & Resort’s (home base for the event) best onsite venues.
  • Tabletalks, 45-minute roundtables for 5-8 attendees who take a deep dive into one of 10 topics identified as tracks in the conference agenda. Attendees register, fill out profiles, and then receive invitations recommended by proprietary personalization software prior to the conference.
  • Annual Retail Education Certificate, which is received by those who get at least 10 credits based on attending a combination of sessions, Tabletalks, Techtalks, and hosted/sponsored programs.
  • Finally, all of the following experiences at the show: a Barber, Headshot and Blowout Lounge, Shoes Shined, Puppies to play with, Caricatures, Psychic readings, Tarot readings, a Pool Hall, Hand Rolled Cigars, and a Zen Lounge with shoulder, back and hand massages. 

All of the above makes it clear that ShopTalk walks the talk in terms of innovation and disruption. “Put that in your pipe and smoke it!” comes to mind, at least to me who came across this old-school phrase recently.

SmartTalk at ShopTalk

In my experience, the difference between retail insiders, those who love the game of retail, and retailers themselves, who do most of the hard work, can be described this way:

  • Retail Insiders want to know who, what and why.
  • Retailers want to know who, what and how.

Below is a little of both pulled directly from the drivers of change at ShopTalk:

“Our house brands are a huge driver of loyalty to our stores and therefore treated as major brands because customers love them. They are the best selling products in our stores by far. 92% of customers shop our brands and 1.25 million house-brand items are purchased every hour.” – Gil Phipps, Branding & Marketing Our Brands, Kroger

“Consumers prove again and again how quickly they can shift to something new. They are doing something different every six months, so building an organization that can change that fast is the challenge for retailers today.” – Mark Rabkin, VP Ads & Business Platform, Facebook

“It is a misnomer to think there is an online and an offline customer. There is just a customer. The best retailers think of the shopping experience as just one shopping experience." – Nilam Ganenthiran, Chief Business Officer, Instacart

“I don’t differentiate between the digital shelf and the physical shelf. They influence each other and are equally important. One of the things that comes into play when you think about it this way is the checkout counter, which is disappearing in retail. Both retailers and manufacturers are hurt by this because sales here are very profitable for impulse buys at checkout.” -- Doug  Straton, Chief Digital Officer, Hershey’s

“All of the relationships we have with current beauty customers and the way we earn new beauty customers is through our 13,000 trained beauty advisors at Macy’s. They are the ultimate beauty enthusiasts.” Nata Dvir, General Business Manager – Beauty, Macy’s

“We believe what got us where we are today won’t get us where we’re going and that without a strong culture innovation is impossible. Our culture is built on the core values of honesty, entrepreneurship, fun, personal responsibility, courage and connecting.” – Celeste Burgoyne, EVP Americas, Lululemon

“For our innovation team we believe in speed before perfection, reduce complexity, small and simple, test and learn. We strive to be part of the organization but be different. For us, speed and freedom are key.” – Sonja Moosburger, COO, MediaMartkSaturn N3xt, a $25 billion company that is the largest electronics retailer in Europe

“We have focused for the last few years on omnichannel and as a result we have been recognized as the #1 omnichannel retailer in the country. However, our associates are using the same technology in the store that they had 27 years ago, so we need to provide them with truly 21st century technology.” – Roger Rawlins, CEO, DSW

“We are transforming the way people find what they love. We leverage data to build a retail experience the way people want to shop. Do customers even look at brands? I am sure some do, but they primarily care about size and fit, which are the number one preference. Our products are created for them, curated for them, and personalized for them.” – Chris Phillips, GM, Stitch Fix

“People ask me how do you compete with amazon and sleep at night? I always answer that I sleep at night like a baby. I wake up every two hours and cry. But I don’t focus on Amazon. Every retailer is a competitor. We focus on our strengths.” – Jim Donald, CEO, Albertson’s

 "Yes, we have AI and machine learning and have been buzz-word compliant since the beginning in 2004. We have 13 patents for algorithm-based personalization and now everyone says they have it."— Meyar Sheik, CEO & Co-Founder of Certona

"Sustainability is a major mission for us with clear KPIs. Why? Because in 150 years we want to be just as successful as we are today." – Frans Muller, President and CEO, Royal Ahold

"We arm 4,500 style advisers with omnichannel tools and an entrepreneurial mindset. They are our secret sauce. We provide them with their own page online and encourage them to create personal relationships with customers on Instagram. Today when we hire new style advisors we ask about their social media presence because social media marries art and science and enables us to focus on game changers." Helena Foulkes, CEO, HBC

“All retailers are data companies but some just haven’t realized it yet. The retail paradigm breaks down when you have massive amounts of data and humans determining actions to achieve outcomes. You have to flip the script and have humans determining outcomes and machines determining actions. – Vimal Kohli, VP and Head of Data Science, Analytics and CRM,  Dick’s Sporting Goods

Service is missing today in retail. There is plenty of traffic but not plenty of conversion. We celebrate when 70% of shoppers leave our stores without buying anything.” – Art Peck, President & CEO, Gap

“We are a creation company. We create and design our products and 95% of products sold are exclusive to Crate & Barrel. 45% of sales are online and 48% are mobile commerce. We have 25% conversion in stores compared to 3.5% online, 26 million visitors come to our stores each year, and our average associate tenure is 7.1 years. In addition we have 65% female employees and 65% leadership.” – Neela Montgomery, CEO, Crate & Barrel

“First, we want a strong analytical understanding of our current shoppers, second a good understanding of our competitive landscape, and third a company strategy married to the customer strategy. All of this becomes our blueprint.” – Jocelyn Wong, Chief Marketing Officer, Lowe’s

“Beauty shoppers don’t buy by price points. They curate by individual needs.” – Dave Kimbell, Chief Merchandising and Marketing Officer, Ulta Beauty

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