Over 8,000 people attended Shoptalk last week in Las Vegas and this year the YOOBIC team was amongst them, with our CEO, Fabrice, giving a talk about how physical retail is far from dead - it’s thriving!
Shaggy may have performed at the event (yes, really) but we were more excited about the jam-packed schedule of inspiring panels, talks and presentations, and the chance to hear from the best and brightest in the retail industry.
The overriding feeling at the event this year was that, despite a rocky couple of years, the “retail apocalypse” seems to have been avoided. 2018 turned out to be a very good year, with holiday retail sales rising 5% to $850 billion, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse.
But how exactly are retailers managing to turn it around? Here are three of the main points that had the whole conference buzzing this year.
Time to forget about channels
Technology pervades our everyday lives to such an extent that consumers no longer see online and brick and mortar as separate buying channels. They expect a seamless, cohesive, and above all easy buying process across the board.
That means physical stores need to be on the cutting edge, or risk losing customers. The biggie is AI, of course, with machine learning offering seemingly endless possibilities for retailers.
Some of the more impressive examples showcased at Shoptalk included:
- FaceFirst’s facial recognition technology, which not only helps stop shoplifters but also recognises customers so that they can be sent tailored text alerts and receive personalised store assistance
- Google Lens, the image recognition app that instantly provides you with a list of similar items when you take a photo of a product
- “Conversational commerce”, i.e. shopping done via chatbots, live chats or voice assistants; Groupby’s “Semantish” idea, for example, makes it easier than ever for consumers to search for what they want by recognising colloquial language used in internet searches
Ultimately, this new tech isn’t about looking flashy. It’s about easing the customer journey and giving sales associates more time to dedicate to helping those customers face to face.
However, after last year’s Cambridge Analytica scandal people are concerned about the effect of data mining on their privacy, and don’t want to feel like they’re being watched and analysed every time they enter a store.
Retailers are already reliant on customer data, but we suggest that they tread carefully - if it seems like they’re playing fast and loose with personal information, customers will go elsewhere.
Customer-led retail is the future
Building a customer-centric brand is becoming a real necessity, particularly for retailers looking to appeal to the Millennial/Gen Z market.
As Rebecca Kaden from Union Square Ventures noted, 'customers don’t fall in love with business models [...] They fall in love with a retailer that’s able to connect with them at a deeper level.'
It’s easy to get carried away with all the high-tech advancements, but it’s important that retailers don’t forget about the human element of retail. People want to feel that they are a valued customer and not just another number. That’s why personalisation - one of the many buzzwords being thrown about at the conference - is key.
For example, Macy’s fragrance department is working with Perch, who provide interactive displays to create a superior customer experience, to collect data from the way customers interact with the products.
This is just one of a million ways the in-store experience can be transformed. Embracing the physical store is the ultimate way to create a unique shopping experience and forge a strong client relationship.
Women in leadership
Just in time for International Women’s Day, it was also great to see that there was a particular focus on women in retail at Shoptalk this year.
Let’s not forget, women make up the bulk of consumers - they are responsible for around 70-80% of all consumer spending, through either buying power or influence.
Retailers tend to mistakenly categorise female consumers as mainly fashion and beauty buyers - but more often than not, women are also responsible for buying groceries and household goods, amongst myriad other products.
In other words, retailers need women to survive. And that means listening to what female consumers actually want (let’s not forget the Bic ‘For Her’ pink pen fiasco), and crucially, reflecting their customer base in their own management teams.
Some retailers are already ahead of the curve on this. Bonobos CEO Micky Onvural said of Andy Dunn, the brand’s founder who handed the reins over to her last year: 'He often says the success we've seen in the last year or so actually couldn't have been achieved by a man.'
The industry as a whole might still need a push, but Shoptalk certainly embraced female leadership this year. The Women In Retail Leadership group, the Female Quotient, and the Women2Watch group all hosted various different events and receptions over the course of the conference, discussing how to help women climb the ladder to reach those male-dominated leadership positions.
All in all, a very forward-thinking and inspiring conference this year! We can’t wait to see what Shoptalk 2020 has in store.