Shoptalk 2023 brought together some of the most innovative minds in retail and ecommerce. During the event, Don Brett and Ray Cao from Retail Ecommerce Explained (REMx) caught up with a few of these industry experts to discuss their biggest learnings from the event.
In this article, we’ll share an abridged version of their insights and explore what the future of retail may look like based on their discussions.
Senior Director of Ecommerce Analytics & Tech Capabilities at Franklin Sports
Don Brett: What did you think about this year’s show and what would you pass on to someone who couldn’t attend?
SK: I spent less time going to sessions and just met with people that I knew virtually for many years. Data continues to be a theme for everything from merchandising strategies to inventory optimization and performance marketing. It’s important to understand how to harness its potential since it can determine your brand’s fate in a lot of situations.
DB: I’m sure in your organization, a key enabler to accelerating performance is not just you having the data, but having dialogue with the management team. Do you think that’s fair to say?
SK: Yes, that’s fair. But it’s equally important to have dialogue with vendors. From a brand’s perspective, building your own web crawlers is no longer a competitive advantage, because vendors such as CommerceIQ can already help with that. You need to focus on what you’re actually going to do with the data once you have it and what is the investment rationale for buying more data in this particular competency versus another.
DB: If you come back, what would you like to see more of that you didn’t see this year?
SK: I don’t know if there’s a home for first party Amazon brands. From what everybody told me, Prosper is very much like Seller Central because it is focused on third party business. Here (at Shoptalk), there’s more DTC presence. The first party world is a growing section and I’d love for them to have more time to engage with them.
DB: As a guest walking the last couple of days, there’s a lot of focus around traffic and conversion. What is your take on that?
SK: I always find data points that aren’t just RoAS or ACoS to be really driving the rationale behind spending money. I feel that there’s this new wave of data that we haven’t accessed yet, given that Walmart and Target advertising platforms are at the national level and they don’t allow targeting specific zip codes where we’re out of stock. That could be where a lot of attention is going in the future.
Senior Director of Ecommerce & Digital Strategy at Jack Link’s Protein Snacks
Ray Cao: What channels get you excited as you think about growth?
JO: DTC is probably still the most important. Direct-to-consumer is the most powerful data we have, and when you bring that into a Walmart Connect media site, it becomes even more powerful. Your own direct-to-consumer or website is always the most powerful place to play commercials and get into topics.
RC: Any interesting takeaways from Shoptalk that’s getting you excited?
JO: At table talks and meetings, I hear everyone talk about three things: data, AI, and the connected commerce experience.
RC: On ChatGPT, where do you feel like it’s at for yourself?
JO: GPT is a tool that can be useful for writers, digital marketers, and analysts. But it’s important to use it as a tool, which still requires a human to drive its purpose. We’re playing with it from a brand perspective. We have an intern on our content marketing team who is utilizing GPT to write blogs by using it as a jumping off point. With GPT4 becoming more interesting, you really bleed in between AI and machine learning. I’ve heard several people ask “is AI gonna replace our jobs?” No, but the person who understands how to use it will.
RC: Any things that you can immediately take back to your team and encourage them to action on right away?
JO: First, we need to keep the customer in focus, especially in relation to data, personalization and AI. As we explore tools like GPT, it’s important to remember what the consumer wants. When attending conferences like this one, we come to get inspired and to bring back big ideas and philosophies.
Second, Google’s session on AI and machine learning covered a lot of ground, but it all boiled down to getting back to baby steps. For example, let’s think about recommendation engines and search/browse. How can we use new AI tools to personalize these functions even further? For us, this is the second thing we’ll be focusing on – getting back to the right consumer.
RC: Anything else that you think is worthy of mentioning as you’ve gone through the show?
JO: Levi’s discussed mental health awareness, which is a powerful topic for brands to consider. Pinterest also talked about their platform and the responsibility that we have as marketers to create positive experiences for consumers. I believe that even when we commercialize our efforts, we can still do good. When we focus on what’s going well with people, as inspired by Positive Psychology, and bring it to the digital shelf, we can create experiences that delight consumers.
SVP Ecommerce Sales at Dorel Home
DB: What did you see this year that was interesting or insightful that you could share with those who couldn’t attend the show?
BM: What I really appreciate is the shift in focus from solely ecommerce to store experiences. In the past, we usually assumed consumers start at retail then move to ecommerce. Now, born and bred ecommerce brands are opening physical stores. This omnichannel approach is apparent in the industry now as we’re embracing both ends of the consumer shopping.
DB: I saw a lot of traffic-driving conversations aided by a retail media push, and conversion. What’s your take on those?
BM: It feels more relevant. Our company mainly sells B2B to big box retailers, with a portfolio of private label branded items. It’s exciting to learn about Metaverse, but it’s just not applicable to my case. This year, my biggest focus is on conversion, making every dollar count, and ensuring that we’re making the right decisions. With the ups and downs of inventory and sales in the past couple of years, it’s crucial that we’re driving towards the sale. This feels like a better course correction because it deals with what we deal with everyday.
DB: Is there anything that you would like to see next year that we didn’t see this year?
BM: Although there was a lot of input on startups, as someone who runs the ecommerce arm of a large company, I’m also interested in learning from my peers and applying what I learn to my business. Besides focusing on new software or applications, I believe there is a huge opportunity to discuss business strategy and how to pivot in the current climate.
DB: Anything else before we wrap up that you would leave the audience with?
BM: As someone who reaches consumers mainly through retailers, I realized through the conference that AI could impact how we advertise and speak to our consumers through those channels. It also made me think about expanding our reach to new channels and using more automation to make it easier. While I’m not executing AI right away, I’m excited to take these learnings back to my organization.
VP NA Ecommerce at CP Skin Health Group
DB: Anything that you’ve learned that you’re excited about that you would want to pass on to the audience?
AF: Walking around the show and seeing new technologies and capabilities have been incredibly beneficial. I’ve been focusing on our growing DTC businesses and finding new ways to improve consumer experience and drive conversion in our category. Specifically, I’ve been looking at diagnostic technologies for facial diagnostics to better communicate with our customers and help them understand the science behind our products.
DB: One of the things I took away from this year’s event is a clear focus on how we’re converting the traffic that we’re driving and I imagine next year’s show will even be more focused on content optimization and conversion. What is your take on that?
AF: It’s primarily Amazon that serves as our retail media, while smaller ecommerce partners haven’t yet fully embraced the retail media component. As our businesses grow faster online, especially in direct-to-consumer sales, our biggest challenge is taking potential customers from the top of the sales funnel through to the bottom. In the skin care industry, this process requires education and content. Content is literally king in our category.
DB: What would we like to see next year that you didn’t see as much of at this year’s show?
AF: Last year’s show almost had too much focus on the Metaverse. This year’s show is back to media and content, but I haven’t seen anything related to Web 3.0. I think there needs to be more balance between these topics in future shows. As a business leader, I want to know how to leverage technology. For instance, going headless with DTC sites has become a popular strategy, but I want to know how it benefits my business specifically. As more companies embrace DTC, this becomes increasingly important for growth and success.
From discussions on the role of technology to the importance of conversion, it’s clear that there is much to consider as we shape the future of retail. We look forward to seeing how these conversations and ideas evolve in the coming years and what impact they will have on the retail landscape.
Want to learn more? Watch the full interviews here: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLdzX8HN7UiGYCicAG36aEmf0eDuz72sjN