Shoptalk sizzles, showcases many faces of innovation
For background, Shoptalk is the unique event begun last year by tech entrepreneur turned trade show innovator Anil Aggarwal. He recognized a retail industry being wracked by disruption was in need of a different type of event focused on how consumers discover, shop and buy. The result was the introduction of Shoptalk, a concept which instantly resonated with the market and has become the “IT” event for industry executives ranging from establish players to unknown start ups.
“Our goal is for Shoptalk to be a catalyst for the growth and development of an increasingly complex retail and e-commerce ecosystem as it continues through a period of profound change,” Aggarwal told attendees during the event’s opening session. The event is designed to help you answer the hard questions about new technologies, trends and business models that are transforming commerce and that you must now address to meet the needs of today’s consumers.”
Within that framework, it made sense for the event to kick on with an executive leading the most disruptive business at the retail industry’s most disruptive company. Stephanie Landry, the Amazon vice president who leads the company’s disruptive Prime Now one hour delivery service available in 45 cities in seven countries.
“Customers really like it,” Landry said, adding she imagines a future where one hour delivery won’t seem all that fast.
While she didn’t elaborate on specific initiatives, she shared views on how Amazon thinks about serving customers which helps directionally understand where the company is head. For example, with regard to Amazon’s Echo device and voice assistant Alexa, she noted that, “certain tasks and chores will evolve and that we are at the most early, early days of voice shopping.”
Going forward, expect to hear a lot more about Alexa because, as Landry explained, Amazon is focused on, “what is going to make our customers’ lives easier?”
Simplification, the elimination of friction, the magic of mobile devices and the evolution of shopping were recurring themes through the first several days of Shoptalk. Jamie Iannone, president and CEO of Samsclub.com, touched on all those themes.
Sam’s Club has been in the omnichannel world for more than 15 years, and was the first to launch a service that let members fax their orders to a club and have merchandise pulled and ready for pick up. Orders are obviously no longer faxed and Iannone explained how Sam’s is leveraging technology to speed the order process and is reconfiguring clubs to facilitate pick up with curbside drive through capability being expanded to 100 locations this year.
“We think about our mobile app like a Sam’s Club in your pocket,” Iannone said, noting the Walmart division rolled out a payment innovation called “Scan ‘n Go” that is being replicated by its parent company.
“Our members absolutely love Scan ‘n Go,” Iannone said, explaining how it allows members to avoid the checkout line and simply show their mobile receipt as they exit the building. “It has helped drive frequency and sales and has been a really helpful innovation for us.”
As is the case at Sam’s Club, Target Chairman and CEO Brian Cornell shared a retail world view that envisions the seamless integration of physical and digital. Target is investing $7 billion over the next three years to create what Cornell calls a “smart network” that more effectively leverages the retailer’s base of 1,800 stores. (For more on Target’s Big Bet, check out the cover story of Retail Leader’s March/April issue).
“We’ve got to keep investing in our stores,” Cornell said, adding that they serve as showrooms to inspire and double as shoppable hyperlocal fulfillment centers.
Target stores already fulfill about 55 percent of all digital orders and during the past holiday season that figure was as high as 80 percent at time. That explains why Target’s e-commerce sales have double during the past few years.
“We are growing significantly faster than the industry trend,” Cornell said.
Also planning to grow faster than the market is Walmart.com, where Marc Lore now serves as President and CEO of Walmart eCommerce, a role he assumed after Walmart acquired the company he founded, Jet.com.
Since the $3.3 billion acquisition closed last year, Lore said Walmart has completely restructured the digital organization to more effectively buy and merchandise products on the Walmart.com and Jet.com platforms that integrated with Walmart’s expansive store network.
“Every day I become more and more convinced about the omnichannel model,” Lore said.
He’s also convinced that a huge company like Walmart needs to facilitate disruption by investing in and walling off innovators so they are free to innovate. Accordingly, Walmart created it own incubator for startups called “Store #8.”
Lore also spoke highly of the culture at Walmart where he said any reservations he might have had as an entrepreneur selling to the world’s retailer were quickly allayed by the freedom the Jet.com team has been afforded.
“People are fired up and having fun,” Lore said.
The same could be said of the attendees at Shoptalk who were faced with an abundance of riches when it came to the content presented and the fast-pace of a show that moves to the Venetian and Sands Expo center in anticipation of further growth.