I just got back from the US, having visited Shop.org in Los Angeles and let me tell you: don’t be fooled by deceptive distinctions between different forms of commerce. It’s all one experience in the eyes of the shopper. Let me explain.
Throughout 2017, my quest has been to help retailers figure out what the future of retail looks like. To fulfil this mission, I’ve represented Retail Directions at major retail events, both locally and globally, and shared my findings with the retail community down under.
At Shop.org, I joined more than 3,500 retail industry attendees at what can best be described as a preeminent annual conference focused on digital retail.
Held on a truly impressive scale, with 200+ exhibitors, a myriad of high-profile keynote speakers and an array of content streams that made my head spin, the event labels its purpose as “delivering insights into what’s next for the digital retail industry”.
However, just like I found at its local counterpart Online Retailer, you can’t talk about the modern consumer and stay focused on a single facet of the retail commerce ecosystem. Retailers must no longer adopt and master digital. Instead, they must become digital if they want to stay relevant with the transformed, connected society.
Here’s my three key takeaways from Shop.org:
- The industry needs to drop commerce distinctions
An insight not just limited to Shop.org. All the conferences I’ve attended, whether their core theme is e-commerce, payments, or traditional retail, end up delivering the same message: commerce is now borderless and technology plays a key role in the creation of a seamless consumer and brand experience.
With omnichannel retailing now entrenched as a fundamental part of modern retailing, distinctions between forms of commerce are no longer relevant, necessary or helpful. It’s all retailing, and it’s all about the consumer. And, in this reality, savvy retailers are using technology wisely to gain a competitive advantage.
Perhaps, it’s time for Shop.org to rebrand (wink).
- New tech is alluring but mostly impractical (for now)
The conference was flooded with venture capitalist-funded technology start-ups, many of which seemed to be doing a lot of the same thing just with different branding.
The expo floor wasn’t dissimilar to “Hooli-Con” from the satirical comedy Silicon Valley, there was even a lonely guitarist, sitting on fake grass, strumming calming melodies among the technology overload.
Retailers always seems to be caught in the rip of new technology trends, struggling to make sense of what will truly deliver ROI and what is simply an alluring mirage.
Out of all the hyped emerging tech, voice and artificial technology have the strongest use cases, with voice poised to reframe the practise of merchandising through acute personalisation and the convenience of “one best answer”.
This is where AI and machine learning comes in – to digest and analyse consumer data and behaviour and deliver unprecedented competitive intel and personalised suggestions.
Of course, there was a lot of talk about Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality as well. And, while AR is in play and fun e.g. Disney’s in store AR treasure hunts, for the most part its relevancy to mainstream retail is currently limited.
As for Virtual Reality, the high price point and the limited adoption of AR leads me to believe that VR as a viable technology for retail is all hype for the time being.
- Logistics is the battleground of the future
For the modern consumer, speed, convenience and price are trumping brand equity.
Perhaps the most acute example of this battle is Walmart vs Amazon, both investing in strategy, technology and infrastructure to help customers get products as easily as possible. This is why Amazon acquired Whole Foods and partnered with Kohls.
Speaking at the conference, Walmart’s U.S. e-commerce president Marc Lore shared how the retailer may leverage its 4,600 US-based stores, all within 90 per cent per cent of the population, to roll out a new grocery delivery concept – Walmart may come into your house and put milk in your fridge, and groceries in your pantry. Can you fathom that?
A caveat here, while the retail giants of this world fight for the last mile, I stand by what I said in a keynote I delivered at Seamless earlier this year – if you play Amazon at its own game you’re going to lose.
Exceptional shopping experiences delivered through technology-fortified stores and a borderless digital brand are key to remaining relevant and deflecting the pending Amazon invasion of Australia.
Shop.org was a fascinating three-day retail event, delivering vibrant ideas about the future of retail and the evolution of the consumer.
That said, I’m reminded about the Latin saying, “nihil sub sole novum” – there is nothing new under the sun. Retail remains about holding the consumers attention, wherever THEY choose to shop.
The key is to recognise that consumers have fundamentally changed, and retail must embrace digital – not just to sell online, but more importantly to stay connected with their audience and remain relevant in all channels, including brick and mortar.
I repeat, it’s all one experience in the eyes of the shopper.
Justin Cohen has been working in marketing and media for over 15 years, mostly in the digital space and looks after Retail Directions’ marketing direction, brand positioning, digital content and community.