May 16, 2017
With a 77 percent increase in attendance from its first year, Shoptalk has clearly become one of the hottest conferences in commerce. More than 5,500 people from numerous brands, retailers, startups, investors, and agencies descended on Las Vegas for four jampacked days of rich conversation about ecommerce and the evolving retail landscape. Getting through the exhibit hall was like a salmon swimming upstream … but there was coffee in the middle of the stream, so that was helpful.
It would be impossible to provide a succinct summary of this year’s event (even though there are already a number of listicles out there claiming to), so I wanted to take a higher-level look at some of the highlights. Below are some of the things that, over a month following the event, still stand out to me.
Walkout Winner: Harry’s
Raindrop, drop top. Andy and Jeff were at Shoptalk. The two co-founders of the popular shaving company took the stage in style, walking out to Migos and inspiring the audience with the story of how excited they were to get sued by one of the largest companies in the world. They took something simple (a razor) and built a challenger brand that defied the notion that a high-quality razor had to be expensive or from a big brand. They told the story of how their simple approach, quirky brand, and kick-ass products have created an army of loyalists for Harry’s over the course of the past several years. Also — they shared the origins of their nickname, “The American Internet Cowboys.”
Buzz buzz buzz: Voice, VR, AR, and AI
It’s no surprise that these were the hot topics during Q1 2017. However, one of the most interesting and encouraging aspects was the focus on real-world use and the possible connection between these emerging technologies. How do we use voice for non-commodity items? What might be the future of voice and visual display? How can VR and AR become more cost-effective for brands? We don’t have final answers to these questions, but we know where to focus our efforts in research and discovery.
Mic Drop Moment: Alibaba
The word “Amazon” seemed to be uttered in every other sentence during the conference, but it was Alibaba that likely put the most jaws on the floor. Michael Evans, the company’s president, casually noted during his presentation that Alibaba did $17.8 billion dollars in sales in one day (Single’s Day). For comparison, Amazon did $43.7 billion in sales during the entire fourth quarter of 2017.
Inspirational Exec: Suja Chandrasekaran
Suja is the Chief Information Officer at the Kimberly-Clark Corporation. She’s a leader at a large corporation, but the way that she talked about collaboration, communication, and teamwork made it sound like a small tightknit company. She emphasized the importance of technology and business working closely together, which is far too often deprioritized due to complexity and competing internal priorities.
The Ecommerce Evangelist: Mary Lou Kelly
Mary Lou recently left Best Buy as the President of Ecommerce, but that didn’t stop her from clearly demonstrating her passion for the business. She talked about how her goal was to “bring the best of the blue shirts online.” Best Buy sells cool new technology, but they also sell washing machines. People don’t care about a sexy washing machine (is that a thing?) — they want to know what makes them functionally different from one another, which is a question most often answered in-store by Best Buy employees. She emphasized the importance of speed and simplicity — the fact that the fundamentals have to work well in order to make a customer happy. Her approach clearly puts the customer at the center of the business and is a pragmatic perspective that more businesses should be paying attention to.
“I do what I want.”: Casper
Amidst many executives touting innovation and advanced technology, Luke Sherwin (the Chief Creative Officer) proudly spoke of Casper’s successful ads in the the New York subway system. A metaphorical middle finger to being cool for the sake of being cool, Casper truly embraces the concept of customer-centricity. Yes — they are innovative and do embrace the latest technology, but not at the expense of practicality. Their customers ride the subway. Urban settings are most densely populated with their target market. Of course they’re going to put ads there.
The Dark Horse: Lowe’s Innovation Labs
I’ll be honest: It used to be when I saw a Lowe’s home improvement store, my first thought was not “progressive technology and innovation.” Kyle Nel, the executive director of their Innovation Labs, has forever changed my perspective. From his exposition of practical smart home technology to the LoweBot that may someday be following me around their stores, his presentation had my attention locked and left me wanting to know more. I roll my eyes at most people who say they work in disruptive technology, but these people are the real deal. I’d suggest you keep an eye on Lowe’s as an unexpected source of innovation in the next generation of retail and ecommerce.
World’s Best Boss: Chieh Huang
Chieh, the CEO of Boxed, spoke of incredible success with his company, but never once focused the conversation on himself. Yes, his personal story is what motivated him to start Boxed, but he’s much quicker to talk about his employees and customers than he is about himself. This humility, paired with his brilliance and focus on a narrow inventory model, was clearly demonstrated on stage and has grown the company to be a serious contender with both Costco and Amazon. Empathy is woven into the DNA of the company, as evidenced by the requirement for all Boxed employees to work in the fulfillment center. Oh, and he also pays for the college tuition of his employees’ children. NBD.
The No-Show: Alternative Payments
Although there was a deep-dive session dedicated to innovations in customer payments, there was surprisingly little discussion about the importance of products like Android Pay and Apple Pay in the browser during Shoptalk, overall. My hopes may have been too high, as I’m somewhat of a payments nerd, but given how the whole point of commerce is to perform a transaction, the lack of attention to the subject seemed a bit odd to me. I suppose it’s just not as cool and shiny as VR or a voice assistant that can order your toilet paper.
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