After two years of digital meetups, retail leaders and changemakers from all over the globe gathered in-person last week to attend Shoptalk US. Held March 27-30 at the Mandalay Bay Resort in sunny Las Vegas, Nevada, the four-day event featured sessions from the industry’s most prevailing executives and gave space to roughly 350 vendors across an eye-popping convention hall.
Together, executives from retailers and brands like Amazon, PepsiCo, ULTA Beauty, Apple and SKIMS, along with startups, investors, tech companies, analysts, and members of the media shared new experiences and opportunities learned in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
From groundbreaking digital experiences like the Metaverse, live streaming, and social commerce to innovative growth strategies, AI, and personalization, the show buzzed with discussion on the impact technology and connection will have on the industry as it moves forward.
Brick-and-mortar is back with a vengeance
There’s no denying that the absence of physical stores limited travel and boosted online sales over the last 24 months, but that doesn’t mean brick-and-mortar stores aren’t coming back with a vengeance: they’re coming back big—but with a new purpose.
This sentiment was highlighted during a key takeaways session with panelists Marie Driscoll, Steph Wissink, and Lockie Andrews.
Steph Wissink, managing director of Jefferies, jumped straight into a potentially uplifting landscape of brick-and-mortars as retailers transition out of the pandemic.
“The role of the store is never going to be what it was,” Wissink explained. “In 2019, stores were looked at as liabilities. There has been a huge mindshare shift in the way investors look at stores now as part of your network of assets.”
Whether it’s the fulfillment process, the content, the customer experience, or the “romance” of it all, Wissink and her colleagues saw the challenge in defining the role of the store in 2022—but not without recognizing its role in culture, community, and the physical spaces consumers love.
Brands tackle the Metaverse one at a time
Just six months from Meta’s announcement, the blueprint for how retailers and companies will tackle the Metaverse is fuzzy at best.
There are, however, already retailers including Forever 21 and PacSun not only investing in the technology but reshaping avatars and creating communities in the virtual world
“It’s a phenomenal place,” said Coresight Fashion and Luxury Managing Director Marie Driscoll when speaking on the metaverse. “You’ve got to be playing there. If you’re not thinking about it, you’re behind already.”
But the Metaverse doesn’t just support a community of consumers, as advancements in VR, AI, and digital personalized experiences encourage both brand authenticity and loyalty—two topics stressed at the year’s Shoptalk more than any other.
Is loyalty the gateway to personalization?
As evidenced by the speakers at this year’s Shoptalk event, traditional loyalty programs aren’t the end-all-be-all when it comes to increasing customer retention at scale. Moreso, the link between brand loyalty and first-party data and personalization is at its strongest today.
“I think of loyalty and loyalty programs as an unofficial contractual exchange of personal information for perks,” explained Wissink. “And so the way in which you use that information is how you build trust with your consumers.”
And as we’ve used customer-centric data over the years, we’ve learned how important it is to create personalized experiences, monitor customer health, and build brand authenticity—all while respecting the privacy of consumers.
“If you have the data and you’re not using it, shame on you… but you all have to tenderly own that relationship, Wissink furthered.
“How do you respect the move in which your customer comes to you? What can you notice about them and how do you serve them in that moment differently than just segmenting them into a demographic bucket or socioeconomic bucket?”
Machine learning needs a human’s touch, too
Thankfully, the technologies that companies have access to today far surpasses technologies of only a few years ago and that’s changed the retail landscape dramatically.
“Every company is a technology company, right? And underlying technology is data, right,” questioned RICH Hair Care CEO Lockie Andrews.“That’s the underpinning of all omnichannel experiences is having information about your product, information about the customer, and information about your inventory.”
“You need machine learning and the power of robotics to help you understand the many, many different cohorts and segments that you have.”
But where is this information going? Many retailers, including Andrews, indicated that they understand that identifying and reading data signals takes a human element.
Analyzing consumer data wasn’t the last piece of the agenda at Shoptalk, either. From digital marketing to sustainability, supply chain woes, and learning consumer personalities, much more was on the table during the dozens of other sessions that took place over the event’s four days.
But as Shoptalk US came to a close, attendees walked away knowing how to better reach, understand, and build community with customers.