If there's one industry in need of a crystal ball, it's retail. Recent years have seen a host of native ecommerce upstarts challenging legacy brands, while changing consumer expectations and tastes threaten existing supply chain, delivery and marketing strategies.
Many marketers hoping to fashion the right playbook for survival are attending Shoptalk, the annual retail-focused conference, this week in Las Vegas.
Now in its fourth year, the event is expected to draw 8,400 attendees—including more than 2,800 representatives from retailers and brands. Nearly 300 speakers will share insights in a packed schedule of more than 100 sessions. Ad Age will be running behind-the-scenes video coverage during the conference, which runs from Sunday through Wednesday. But here's a little of what to expect from the stage:
Omnichannel—the seamless melding of the physical and online worlds to deliver one cohesive experience for shoppers—has been a buzzword in retail for several years, but many brands are still lagging. Few have figured out an effective strategy that combines digital and physical, though more brands are beginning to get it right. Department stores are all pushing buy online, pickup-in-store strategies.
"The truth of the matter is, most retailers haven't figured out that stuff—they still haven't gotten it down pat," says Brendan Witcher, VP and principal analyst of digital business strategy at Forrester.
Taking a page from China
The payments process has always been an area of friction for consumers, both in stores and online, as impatient shoppers increasingly expect an efficient checkout. Alibaba, the Chinese tech giant, offers a single functional experience that combines all the working aspects of Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple into one platform, says Marie Driscoll, managing director of luxury and fashion at Coresight Research.
"They are advancing more rapidly than we are in technology so there's a lot we can learn from them," says Driscoll.
No more blaming Amazon
Retailers are finally beginning to stop pointing figures at the Seattle ecommerce brand and starting to plot their own strategies. In recent years, there was a never-ending stream of complaints from brands about Amazon stealing their business—now marketers are realizing they can deliver similar experiences.
And some of those experiences even include Amazon. Legacy brands are delving into new partnerships and products in order to attract modern shoppers. Kohl's has piloted programs with Amazon, while many direct-to-consumer startups are selling at Nordstrom. Barneys New York recently announced a new high-end cannabis shop. "We expect retailers and startups to work together more regularly going forward," says Driscoll.
Brands will be looking to enhance their personalization strategies even further through the use of customer data. Witcher says to expect plenty of conversations on using data as a "competitive weapon." Unlike previous years, when such analytics were deemed "unsexy," he says that companies collecting data about their customers—their likes, dislikes, etc.—are now able to craft a more personalized experience that beats out the competition.