HomeFEATURESDrinking from the firehose of retail

Drinking from the firehose of retail

Shoppers today are spoilt for choice. We live in an age where they are free to shop whenever they want, wherever they want and however they want. There is a battle for shoppers’ attention and retailers face unprecedented competition around the world. With the whole world at shoppers’ fingertips, it has created an environment where they are enjoying incredible price discounting on retailer brands in a race for convenience and speed. Our shopper is also becoming immune to what retailers are telling them; they’re less convinced by what brands say, they want to experience what brands stand for and see them walk the talk.

Clearly the thriving brands of tomorrow are focused on why they do what they do and how they do it, while striving to deliver their offer in ever more captivating ways. This seems great in principle. “But how do we do this?” you ask.

Let me show you.

Shoptalk 2018

Shoptalk has certainly made its mark as the must-attend conferences for any retailer. I’d go so far as to say it is now my number one event to hear about what’s new, innovative, inspiring, refreshing or plain insightful in the world of retail.

The speaker line-up was truly impressive, with the who’s who of retail in attendance. There was everyone from Walmart, Amazon, Target, Ulta Beauty, Sephora, Macy’s, Pizza Hut, Nordstrom, Facebook, Google, Pinterest to movers and shakers like Glossier, Boxed, Away, Dia&Co, Deliv, Daily Harvest and Poshmark.

Shoptalk is unique in that it covers how consumers discover, shop and buy – from new technologies and business models to the latest trends in consumer behaviors, preferences and expectations. It’s effectively a blend of the art and science of retail, but not with the over the top and intimidating exhibition stands you get at other conferences.

Who attends? Established retailers and brands; startups; tech companies; investors; media and analysts. They all converge on The Venetian in Las Vegas to learn, collaborate and evolve. From the larger than life keynotes; to the 50-seat tech talks; to the incredible 1:1 ‘speed dating’ meet-ups, there is a smorgasbord of knowledge and experience to choose from.

In the exhibit halls, you can explore the latest and greatest from different vendors but also specific areas of interest including: Emerging Tech; Grocerytalk; Store of the Future; Startup Zone and Artificial Intelligence.

You could also score cool giveaways; scan and score to win; get a blow out or a shave and hair cut; or have some anonymous person tell you, simply by looking at you, what your “looks” say about you.

My head is still spinning from the four days packed with incredible content, exhibitors and interesting people I met along the way.

The stats

  • Shoptalk 2018 had 8,400 attendees from 50 different countries (there were a few Kiwis I bumped into there).
  • The conference is now three years old, with the 2018 event 50 percent bigger than the prior year.
  • 100+ presentations.
  • 330+ world-class speakers.
  • 100+ women speakers (outstanding).
  • 68 percent of all attendees were dog owners (you could see by the symbol on their label).
  • The most over-used phrases and words include “elevate the offer” and “laser-focus” (I think the CEO of Macy’s said this about 20 times).

To be fair, this is one piece of wisdom I could have shared with anyone, but it was a central focus of pretty much each speaker at the conference, said out loud by Gianna Puerini, VP of Amazon Go.

It may seem obvious, but one of the biggest challenges for retailers is that they say it, but don’t necessarily deliver on that focus. A heap of retail success is coming from a bunch of new kids on the block, that aren’t beholden to the shackles of the past (and aren’t only focused on making money). At the conference it was very apparent that it was the traditional retailers who must tackle significant barriers within their business to fully embraced the shopper to revitalize. (More detail in my opinion piece on page 60). These retailers have been consistently measured on same-store year-on-year sales. There must be an increase in profitability every year. There must be a clear ROI on every initiative. Ecommerce must “wipe its face.”

Jeff Gennette, CEO and Chairman of Macy’s, stated this more eloquently: “Each of us needs to define where we exist, and find where we compete…Yesterday’s playbook isn’t going to help us win tomorrow.”

For many, this means finding ways to make the brick-and-mortar store more digital-friendly. And many retailers were at Shoptalk 2018 to explore this for themselves.

Amazon Go is essentially a grab and go store, offering ready to go meals, meal kits and convenience items. Through the app, the customer identifies themselves on entering the store and the technology does the rest. The customer shops as usual but just walks out when they are finished.

Utilising camera machine learning integrated with shelf sensors is impressive. Amazon’s cageyness raises some questions, but their journey is fascinating. The accuracy bar required is so high, and the concept needed significant testing for multiple shoppers.

Be channel agnostic

Omni-channel, I think is becoming a bit of a dirty word, but Mary Beth Laughton from Sephora talked how the company changed her role to take the “channel” out of the equation to focus on experiences for the shopper. Defining a new way for Sephora to do business, this move was aimed at stopping the business operating in silos, with an omni-channel customer experience as the goal. Sephora has launched several initiatives, including: Sephora Virtual Assistant, Beauty Insider Community, Store Companion and Digital Guide.

Agility and pace

Hardware chain Lowe’s introduced a new technology called “Measured by Lowe’s.” This app turns an augmented reality-enabled iPhone or iPad into a digital tape measure that can calculate, align, filter measurements and even share them on social media. Taking the guess work out of taking, saving and sending measurements, it aims to boost the customer experience and reduce friction in shoppers’ home improvement endeavors.


How refreshing to have a CEO say businesses need to get rid of the distractions around how a sale is accounted for, or how investments deliver results based only on singular metric. ”Where do you put those sales?” asked Sur la Table’s Billy May. “How do we account for the investment in digital?” The customer doesn’t care. The shopper may be inspired in-store then shop online, or they may be sitting on a train and remember they need to pick up a present today. The salesperson makes the commission regardless. Focus on the customer and then you watch the market share grow as sales increase.

Know your customer, engage and deliver

Nike has more than 100 million members in its Nike+ loyalty program and they spend nearly four times more than non-member guests. Nike attributes this to three customer segments it has developed different offerings for: the ‘Weekend Runner’; the ‘Style Shopper’ and the ‘Dedicated Sneakerhead’.

Nike has been incredibly innovative by gamifying its exclusive product launches with its SNKRS Stash targeted at the dedicated sneakerhead. With SNKRS Stash, sneakerheads go on a city-wide treasure hunt for virtual ‘Stash Spots’ where they can purchase the products via mobile. Stash Squad is now in development by Nike, which allows fans not located near the treasure hunt to join a ‘squad,’ watch the event via livestream and receive the product.

Riches in niches

Boxed is an online wholesale company with no membership fee, offering low prices on big-sized grocery and household items. Despite a limited product selection of about 1,600 items, the average order value of a box is $100, with eight to 10 items per order. Closing the loop on ROI, brands are seeking Boxed due to the rich insights it shares from demographic to customer path to purchase data.

As a side note, this was the funniest and most entertaining presentation of the conference. Chieh Huang is a CEO with a fabulous attitude and authentic positioning.

A conference worth the investment 

This conference was truly refreshing. I left feeling uplifted, inspired and excited about what the future holds for retail ahead. I did feel a little overwhelmed at the pace at which technology is moving and that even the most admired retailers don’t have all the answers.

This is a conference where you can rock up to anyone and they are happy to engage in conversation (a mixed Kiwi-Aussie accent helps). People are open, opinionated, open to new dialogue and talking shop. This is a fraternity I am proud of, one very open to working through problems together. I look forward to attending again next year to drink more from the firehose of retail leadership.




​Get your tickets for the Retail Innovation Evening here. 

Juanita Neville-Te Rito from Retail X will be sharing highlights from her trip to the Shoptalk conference in Las Vegas giving us insights into upcoming global and local retail trends. 

Carl McInnes (co-author of Shopper Marketing: Neuromarketing strategies to win the battle at the shelf & The Market research revolution: A marketer’s guide to emerging new methods) will talk about the virtual store & predictive shopping work he and his team are working on in conjunction with Fonterra.

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