This year what happens in Vegas does not have to stay in Vegas. Despite talks of industry downturns, I left energized and inspired. With layoffs, inflation and customers more demanding than ever, it was great to meet leaders face-to-face and talk about how they're planning to overcome macro headwinds. One leader from a $1 million revenue brand told me:
“We have all the data we need to make better decisions, but we’re spending too much time managing it instead of actually analyzing and gaining insights. We’re looking for tools that seamlessly integrate with our existing stack and give suggestions to our team for where to focus their efforts.”
To that end, here are the themes I heard over and over from attendees and speakers.
Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning in Retail is Coming into Focus
It seems like the word of the year at ShopTalk was “AI.” It’s no surprise with the recent rise of tools like Chat GPT that AI found its way into most conversations. While many argue its importance in optimizing internal processes, specifically around big data management, I was refreshed to hear an eagerness to maintain the human element in retail. Jue Wong, CEO of Olaplex, discussed how her team was able to bounce back from continuous hair loss complaints due to her highly experienced in-house staff of trained hair stylists. Their human response was critical in maintaining user trust. She finished her talk by saying “Chat GPT is not as good as a human. You can’t replace humans.” While AI has it’s place it’s the people behind the brands that make them unique.
Retail leaders are hunting for ways to build efficiencies into their processes to capitalize on their growing sectors and saving dollars in declining markets. Returns were a big point of discussion across the ShopTalk floor. For example, Verishop discussed new tech that provides discounts for customers who agree to not make a return at checkout. Leaning into data to find inefficiencies in your processes and upgrading them with tech can be mutually beneficial for brands and customers alike.
Customers come first
Despite the push for automation and reducing spend, all brands continue to agree that customers come first. As the Target CFO noted “we don’t want our inventory challenge to be our guests inventory challenge.” With killer inflation rates brands are aware that shoppers' purse strings are tighter than ever before. Finding ways to keep them coming back requires a seamless experience and meeting customers where they are. Flexibility is king.
In conclusion, despite the challenges faced by the retail industry such as layoffs, inflation, and demanding customers, the 2023 ShopTalk event left attendees feeling energized and inspired. The conversations focused on finding solutions to overcome macro headwinds and improve efficiency in processes. The use of AI and machine learning was a prominent theme, with many leaders acknowledging its importance in optimizing internal processes while maintaining the human element in retail. The need to find efficiencies in processes and capitalize on growing sectors while saving dollars in declining markets was also discussed. However, the overarching theme that all brands agreed on was the importance of putting customers first and providing them with a seamless experience. Flexibility was highlighted as a key element to keeping customers coming back in light of killer inflation rates and tight purse strings. Overall, the event showcased the resilience and determination of the retail industry to adapt and thrive in the face of challenges.