ShopTalk 2019 Recap

I just got back from ShopTalk in Las Vegas where over 8,000 retail, eCommerce, VC and brand folks gathered to hear from executives of some of the world’s biggest brands on the latest trends, failures, and technology and to be assaulted by “AI-powered” drink serving robots and vending machines that were there only for show. (Which is a shame, I really would have bought those Ricola, CVS!) I wanted to provide a quick recap so I took a quiet 15 minutes amongst the clanging slot machines to provide you the fast five.

  1. Omnichannel is omnipresent.

And you thought you heard the world personalization a hundred times last year at ShopTalk or!  Not only did omnichannel get mentioned 200 times a day, have its own track, and almost every booth we passed had the word added to their signage. This really had a fracturing effect on the term as it became embroiled with technology solutions from large and small providers. And while there are some great technologies out there to enable omnichannel (BOPIS, shipping lockers, easy returns) it really should just be focused on the actual problem set customers have. See #3 for our thoughts on that. I did appreciate the Google Retail booth which attempted to showcase all their omnichannel partners with mini demos from Trax to their shipping partners.

2.  The store of the future is still in the future.

Trust me. I’m a MAJOR nerd for the store of the future technology and realizing the dream. Who doesn’t want the grocery store to show up in front of your house? Proving that mall owners are not just resting in their graves, the folks at Macerich BrandBox showcased rotating/changeable retail space of the future. But they don’t have one actually launched yet. However, what is actually happening is simple smart tech from folks like Kroger/Microsoft to fix universal online/shelf pricing. Or computer vision using already existing loss prevention cameras. Or Accenture using VR to test merchandising. These incremental changes are starting to take hold, moving us closer to where we want to go. However, the folks at Soma had a great reminder that we should be talking more about the store associate of the future, instead of the store of the future. They are doubling down on training store associates, equipping them with tech and even giving them their own landing pages so customers can shop trends alongside personal, store based recommendations.

3. Meet me where I am, and hurry up already.

This is really how we should be thinking about omnichannel personalization. Why don’t you try asking the customer what they want? And then providing it for them? Seems easy, but of course, it’s not. From returns to search to ordering by voice (Amazon and Google), a wide range of speakers took the stage to talk about this topic.  Some great examples were 7-11 and Sam’s Club not chasing the nirvana fallacy of cashierless shopping, but instead slowly changing the customer experience. Sam’s Club scan and go seems to be a big hit in their stores. But, David, you ask, don’t I still have to have that person check my basket before I leave? You do, but they are equipping them with technology to check the basket even faster. I also appreciated Crate and Barrel adding more interior design associates who can help you get your house looking great. Oh, and they will 3D map your living room to help you make the right choices. Also when it comes to voice, will every brand have to have an Alexa app to make it worth their time? Doesn’t that just lead us to the same place we are with apps?

4. It’s the Experience…and everything is an experiment.

Everyone is waking up to the power of the online and offline customer experience. From selling red staplers to high-end fashion, tons of folks presented on creating authentic customer interactions. Have you seen Planet 13 ? They are not just building a superstore (with high-security mind you) they are trying to build an attraction that will lure you away from the Vegas casinos with a restaurant, production facility with tours, event space for bachelor/bachelorette parties and more (depending on local laws). Also, I was introduced to the Camp experience in NYC. Which is a summer camp for kids with retail attached, where you have to buy a ticket to attend. Even legacy mall folks are getting into the act with swimming pools, ski slopes and nighttime DJ sets. The question is…does that actually build trust and relationships with your customers? And how are they testing that? It does seem that an experimentation mindset was driving the brick & mortar and pop-up rollouts. We heard that with BrandBox. We heard that from the Tapestry CEO in reference to brick & mortar. And we also heard that mentioned by Neela Montgomery, CEO, Crate and Barrel.

5. The VC Fallacy.

The CEO of neighborhood goods took the stage and talked a lot about the VC fallacy. People are so excited to back this new crop of DTC startups that they pour in money and encourage them to open their first retail stores. Their CEO talked about how he thought he could go from 0 locations to one open store in six months. As any retail CEO can tell you (including my wife opening her second location) that’s just not reality. Building physical retail is rough. With permits, construction, electric, plumbing, staffing all being real-world problems that aren’t magically solved because you are a startup. On the same VC slant, I personally recommend attending the yearly VC panel. This year it featured Rebecca Kaden, Managing Partner, Union Square Ventures, the one and only Aileen Lee, Founder & Managing Partner, Cowboy Ventures and Nicole Quinn, Partner, Lightspeed Venture Partners. All who had an amazing perspective on up and coming CPG and DTC brands and trends.

Finally, I will leave you with two fun things. Have you seen DogSpot? It’s airbnb for your dog while you shop. But for your dog.  The other is an amazing quip from John Evons. He’s the VP of Keens shoes, but every day he wears Amazon private label shoes in his office to remind his team of what the future could hold….