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Shoptalk Roundup

by John Dee, President


Shoptalk is the retail technology and ecommerce conference event that brings together the digital aspects of all things retail. Although it’s a relatively new show, it’s got all the right elements for its attendees to meet great retail marketers of all disciplines and learn a ton about the retail tech industry. Shoptalk gathers a mix of tech companies (young and old), marketers, store operations professionals, bankers, and venture capitalists. It's a bit like the bar scene in Star Wars, but for retail tech.  


If you are as fascinated with retail tech as we are, Shoptalk needs to be on your dance card.


There is so much at Shoptalk, so I’m just going to give highlights of the key trends and storylines we saw over three days. If you are a close follower of the retail industry, some of this might not be new, but fresh perspectives are always interesting.


1. Experience.

In all forms! In-store, in-mall, online, on mobile, in social, and across any number of other touchpoints. Many speakers have been preaching the use of data to better understand how your customers access your services and, in turn, how you delight them with a thoughtful and high-quality experience. One of our favorites was Uri Minkoff, who talked about wearable tech handbags with a sensor inside that unlocks specific content depending on your location (like, for example, “Rebecca Minkoff’s LA Itinerary” – a guide to her favorite spots that is sent via mobile as soon as you arrive in Los Angeles). 


2. Personalization.

Two-thirds of consumers are willing to trade personal information for a personalized experience. 42 million eBay shoppers have created a personalized feed in the past four years. We all have personalized experiences on our social media channels and increasingly across all online media. And retail is, without a doubt, going down the same road. We saw lots examples of in-store and online personalization and will likely keep seeing more and more. For our part, we’ve been hard at work to deliver personalized content as part of our services.


3. AI, Bots & Conversational Commands

Artificial Intelligence is finding a warm reception all across the retail world. From supply chain to storefront, there are machine-learning applications that gather information and optimize product and service delivery. We saw AI applications for recommendation engines, for catalogue optimization, inventory management, and as enablers for personalization. And the interface is changing with voice command technology now approaching a 5% error rate – roughly the same as humans.


4. Delivery and Fulfillment 

The power of immediacy is huge and is an advantage for brick & mortar stores. But watch out – Amazon has openly stated they are headed to a 1-2 hour delivery window. And yes, all the logistics and delivery guys like FedEx and UPS are definitely feeling the impact of Amazon’s self-delivered goods. Drones are still being tested and are still expected to be part of the future. For retailers with scale, it was interesting to hear the CEO of Kohl’s say that 33% of their holiday 2016 ecommerce business was fulfilled from local store.  


5. Data

It is not possible to have a conversation at Shoptalk without saying this word. And with good reason. Data, in all its formats, teaches us the most important thing – how the customer behaves and how they use our products and services. But like anything, too much is never good. We saw a dizzying array of data from location to purchases to satellite imagery of parking lots used to predict possible store closures. To get the most out of it, start with a clear idea of what you are trying to learn, be open to whatever the answers are, and change your processes based on what you learn.


6. China is really big. (China’s answer to eBay) has 420 million users and is still growing. That's right – 50% more than the entire population of the United States! On Singles Day in 2016, an obscure Chinese holiday taken over and contrived by Ali Baba, sales totaled $17.8 billion dollars including 100 Maserati cars in the first 18 seconds! The keynote from Lee McCabe of Ali Baba was eye-opening in terms of the sheer numbers of the Chinese market.


Attending Shoptalk makes it clear that the (r)evolution of retail is in full swing. It's a huge market with lots of room for new businesses and old alike. But the winners will most certainly use technology to remove the friction from the retail experience and enhance the lives of the customer.