IRCE 2017: The Focal Point of eCommerce Innovation

If you know the history of Chicago, you already know that the city proudly holds the title of the first skyscraper in the U.S. Similar to the innovation that took place to bring about one of the most transformative structures of our times, the annual Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition (IRCE) at the beginning of June, united the best and boldest technology vendors and retailers in the industry, all at the center of one of the founding cities for merchant activity —Chicago.

Whether attendees were looking for the next big technology invention on the show floor or sharing their best practices on the main stage, the conference was a clear indicator that technology continues to permeate into all aspects of the retail industry and that it will continue to evolve.

Here are four interesting takeaways from this year’s show:

  • The availability of technology – if you happened to find yourself wandering the show floor during the conference, one thing is for sure, if there was a specific technology you were in search of for your retail business, you were sure to find it as well as an additional buffet of technology offerings to serve your needs. Looking at the retail industry within the past decade, it’s amazing to see how retail technology has continued to advance. This is both a transformative and exciting time to be a retailer, and the caliber of technology solutions on the show floor demonstrated that there is a proper tech solution for all retailers’ needs.
  • B2C expectations in the B2B space – One thing our regular consumer lives has taught us is to expect a great customer experience no matter what. To achieve this, many retailers have implemented personalization technologies and techniques and these expectations have inevitably transferred into our business lives. Several workshops during IRCE, such as Zoro.com’s presentation with Kibo, offered key insights into how to overcome B2C challenges in the B2B space. A key lesson from this session was to analyze your B2B customer set across the board and implement key personalization techniques for three main groups; new online prospects, the ready buyer and return customers.
  • The Importance of Security – Today’s consumers expect their shopping journey to be one seamless experience, yet secure. We were impressed this year to see an increased and wide variety of security and fraud prevention technologies readily available on the show floor.
  • Grocery – The grocery space has undergone one of the biggest transformations of all within the past few years with the rise of grocery delivery services such as Instacart and AmazonFresh. Throughout the show we attended several discussions and outside events focusing on the future of grocery and were pleased to find the grocery space is currently one of the biggest verticals pioneering a mobile-first and omnichannel environment. One of the reoccurring themes throughout our discussions was the continuous blend of the brick-and-mortar store with the digital channel, and the push to continue making the grocery environment an experience-driven process for consumers.

Aside from the rich and delectable deep-dish pizza and the historic architecture found in every corner and crevice of Chicago, IRCE 2017 proved to be the focal point for retailers and vendors to share insights on the latest and greatest technology trends happening in the world of eCommerce. We are excited to see what the future holds for eComm and can’t wait to see what IRCE 2018 brings!

Shoptalk 2017: Disrupting & Transforming The Retail Industry

ShoptalkShoptalk 2017 in Las Vegas last month owned up to the reputation it created last year of providing fresh, groundbreaking and unmatched content as well as networking opportunities for the retail industry. The show, which proclaimed itself as “The New Blueprint For Retail & eCommerce,” featured more than 325 senior-level speakers who covered the ongoing disruption of retail and commerce.

The second annual Shoptalk event took place during a time when we are seeing, hearing and reading about significant turmoil in the retail industry. Daily headlines leading up to and following the show discuss Amazon’s market leadership, follows the journey of retailers becoming truly omnichannel capable and highlight traditional retailers who are closing their doors due to today’s ever-changing environment.

While it may seem we are witnessing what appears to be the retail apocalypse, the truth is this may be the most exciting time to be a retailer – and this is exactly what we saw at Shoptalk 2017.

Straight from the horse’s mouth, here are some of the best sound bites about blending technology with retail we heard on the show floor:

  • “At the forefront of all technology implementations, remember that your store associates are your strongest assets. Today’s retail transformation should also widely focus on empowering store associates through technology.” – Michael G. Relich, COO, Crate & Barrel
  • “When deciding what technology to implement throughout your retail organization, keep in mind the idea of explicit tech vs. implicit tech, what will your customers see and interact with vs. what technology will go behind the scenes to make all touch points connect.” – Healy Cypher, Co-Founder & CEO, Oak Labs
  • “Figure out what is important to your shopper’s and rewrite the rule book.” – Brian Kavanagh, Senior Director, The Hershey Company
  • “Balance duality, innovation cannot be in the corner, it must be part of the complete process.” – Mary Beth Laughton, SVP of Digital, Sephora
  • “Retailers spend the time to get your innovation right.” – Anne Marie Stephens, Founder & CEO, Kwolia
  • “There is a macro-level of personalization and a micro-level.” – Nadia Bourjarwah, Co-Founder & CEO, Dia&Co
  • “Consider where AI will intersect with human service.” – Shana Tellerman, CEO, Modsy

It’s a transformative time in the industry where many retailers are going back to the drawing board and shaking things up by partnering with savvy technology vendors to deliver authentic yet innovative experiences to their consumers. While taking a risk may seem scary, the end results of transforming a retail operation demonstrate a bright future ahead.

Shoptalk 2017, Back and Bigger than Ever

Shoptalk U.S. 2017 is just around the corner! Taking place at the Aria in Las Vegas, March 19-22, this year’s Shoptalk promises to be the “blockbuster” of all retail events for the year, with world class speakers, new session formats, increased networking opportunities and a revamped exhibit hall.

las-vegasIf last year’s Shoptalk is any indication of what this year’s will bring, we have one prominent piece of advice to maximize your time at the show: wear comfortable shoes and have your introduction ready to fire off at any moment in time, as you will find yourself mingling among the industry’s movers and shakers.

Remember that what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas and this is especially true for Shoptalk. If you schedule your agenda just right, the contacts you make at the show can follow you all the way back to your home headquarters and continue to deliver results long after the show has ended.

Here are our pro tips for making the best of Shoptalk U.S. 2017:

Content, Content, Content!

A little bit of history for you, the creators of Shoptalk are the same organizers that brought you Money 20/20. Inspiring and intelligent content is their bread and butter, and as such, Shoptalk this year promises to bring the brightest minds in the industry to discuss the current and future state of retail. Before the show, make sure to earmark the sessions you consider a must-attend on the agenda and plan around those. Shoptalk is a complete learning opportunity for your team and a great way to discover new opportunities for innovation and differentiated thinking within your organization.

Bring Your Best!

As we’ve alluded to continuously throughout this blog, Shoptalk provides several scheduled networking opportunities as well as opportunities to develop organic conversations anywhere you happen to be at the moment. As such, be sure to prepare a concise yet memorable way to introduce yourself and what your company does.

Social Media is a Must!

After you’ve introduced yourself to new contacts, be sure to connect with them via social media. Twitter and LinkedIn are excellent ways to not only keep track of everyone you are meeting at the show but to also engage in follow up conversations post-show. Consider this for one second: you are likely to meet an average of 50 contacts while you are at the show. Make life a bit easier for yourself by connecting with them via platforms you monitor on a daily basis.

Keep an Eye Out!

Additionally, should you happen to be perusing the exhibition floor or looking for innovative sessions to attend, keep an eye out for our clients who will be present at Shoptalk this year:

  • 360pi: Look for the 360pi team on the show floor meeting with retailers and partners about their pricing intelligence solution.
  • Bold Metrics: Bold Metrics will be exhibiting on the show floor, be sure to stop by to learn how they’re helping retailers predict consumer body measurements.
  • Columbus Consulting International: Be on the lookout for Columbus Consulting’s principals! They will be navigating the show floor and meeting with retailers and vendors alike.
  • DynamicAction: DynamicAction will be demoing the expansion of its advanced analytics solution, which addresses retailer challenges by leveraging connected data to drive profitable decisions online and in stores. The demo will take place with Mulberry on Tuesday, March 21 at 8:50 a.m. If you can’t make their demo, be sure to stop by their booth #1210 on the show floor.
  • Edgecase: Keep an eye out for the Edgecase team on the show floor. They’re looking forward to meeting with retailers and potential partners to learn how they can help them unlock the power of their e-commerce product data.
  • Mirakl: You won’t want to miss Mirakl’s demo at 9:35 a.m. on Monday, March 20. During the demo, CEO Adrien Nussenbaum will go through their new Marketplace for Services, which aims to make it simple and straightforward to sell services, whether standalone or packaged with complementary products. Mirakl will also be on the show floor at kiosk #PK20.
  • Shopgate: Shopgate will be on the show floor; make sure to drop by to discuss your mobile strategies for 2017.

We look forward to seeing you at the show!

The Top 5 Technology Trends that Will Ring in 2017

celebration-1705127_960_720

It’s safe to say that 2016 has been a year full of dramatic business and technological innovations within the retail industry. While we began the year emphasizing conversations around omnichannel capabilities and empowering associates to create a great customer experience for their shoppers, we end the year discussing artificial intelligence, virtual reality and technology that helps retailers go head-to-head with Amazon.

Debates are already brewing about what will be the biggest retail technology to hit the streets in 2017. To get to the bottom of it, we sat down with our clients over the past few weeks and here are their top five predictions for disruptive retail technology entering the New Year:

  • The Rise of Amplified (Artificial) Intelligence – Retailers will tap into the power of artificial intelligence in new ways to develop semi-automated processes for merchants
  • Unified Commerce – Retailers will bring all aspects of omnichannel retailing together to create a holistic experience.
  • Retailers to develop Amazon compete strategy – In 2016, Amazon was the de facto price comparison search engine and took an ever-increasing share of retail sales. In 2017 retailers and brands will continue to look for ways to arm themselves against Amazon, including the adoption of their own online marketplaces to expand their offerings and pricing options.
  • Supply chain optimization – To drive lead-time reduction, faster speed to market and lower costs, retailers will use technology to optimize their supply chain efficiency.
  • Order Management System as a key player – With the continued implementation of new technology designed to drive consumers to purchase more goods, retailers will increasingly adopt OMS technology to ensure a seamless customer experience.

While we have yet to see what new technology 2017 will bring our way and whether this will finally be the year that drones deliver all of our packages, this new year is panning out to be an exciting time for retailers and retail solution providers. Here at Ketner Group we are very excited to start the New Year with our clients and avidly watch the retail technology trends unfold.

Battle of the Brands: Austin City Limits Music Festival 2016

This month, Austin City Limits (ACL) music festival took over the city of Austin for two entire weeks, bringing with it a great variety of talented artists, a runway-like display of festival fashion and most of all, a vast array of brands looking to gain further consumer buy-in by being present and accounted for during the festival.

Its not every day that Willie Nelson graces the stage just hours after Kendrick Lamar and Radiohead delivered their performances all on the Samsung stage, and it’s this last part, (the fact that it all happened on the Samsung stage) that highlights the branding competition at play during the festival.

From the seven sponsored stages donning such names as Honda, Cirrus Logic, Tito’s and Homeway among others, to the latest transportation, payment and dating apps, brands battled it out the past two weekends to leave lasting impressions on consumers.

Here are our top picks for the coolest brands on display this weekend:

  • RYDE and Venmo’s Pony up campaign – Who doesn’t like a free ride? Even more, if that free ride happens to come in the shape of a car that is wrapped in brown faux fur and has a Mohawk? RYDE, an Austin-based startup transportation service that uses branded electric carts to transport patrons around downtown Austin, teamed up with Venmo these past two weeks to shuttle ACL Festival attendees to and from the festival, in a pony-like car that read “Pony Up on Venmo.” This eye-catching whip was seen all across town and spread the message to consumers that Venmo and RYDE are the way to go.
  • Fasten’s and Bumble’s airplane banner displays – It’s a bird, it’s a plane! Ok, so maybe it was a plane circling the festival grounds, yet a great way for Bumble and Fasten to send the message out to consumers that their apps are out there to help schedule a ride home and perhaps meet that special person at ACL. If you’ve ever been to ACL, you know the big concerts get crowded really quick, so much so, that sometimes you have to turn your head to the sky to either find your friends’ flag or better yet find an advertisement that stands out above the rest.
  • ACL’s own Golden Porta Potty – An oldie but a goodie, ACL’s Golden Porta Potty has been making the rounds for two years now and is the topic of conversation before and during the festival. This is just what it sounds like, a Golden Porta Potty with air conditioning and a golden throne. Before the festival, this porta potty is placed around the Austin area for lucky consumers to stumble upon and find their “Golden” ticket to attend ACL. During the show, attendees are encouraged to look around the festival grounds to find the lucky porta potty wristbands for their chance to win access to the Golden Porta Potty for the rest of the festival.

ACL may be classified as a music festival but deep down the festival also provides the perfect stage for a battle of the brands, where one by one, brands play up their presence to get the consumer to pay attention to them.

Shop.org Retail’s Digital Summit: Seen and Heard From The Shop Floor

20160927_171535-1

Last week, the Ketner Group team arrived in Dallas at Shop.org Retail’s Digital Summit to talk shop with top ecommerce innovators, retailers and influencers about what lies ahead for the remainder of 2016 and the start of 2017.

As anyone in the business can tell you, the summit is viewed as the kick-start to the holiday season, the opening ceremony if you will, to the busiest, yet most profitable time of year for retailers. During the months following the summit, retailers will look to put all of their technology implementations into play and verify which of their implementations are tough enough to withstand the holiday grind.

Seen on the shop floor
Ketner Group’s clients were in full force at this year’s summit showcasing their latest offerings and news:

Convey showcased how their technology helps retailers transform the most frustrating part of a customer’s experience, delivery, into one that delights at every turn. Through predictive, adaptive and proactive data analysis, Convey helps retailers unify the carrier ecosystem, identify problems before they happen, and facilitate changes on-the-ground, in real time. Convey also discussed upcoming integrations to their platform as well as shipping and delivery trends that will impact the 2016 holiday season.

DynamicAction released its Retail Index – Fall 2016 which found that as retailers head into the critical holiday shopping season, they continue to rely too heavily on their promotional calendars, with an 85% increase globally in the percent of orders using a promotion YoY (Jan.-Sept. 2016 vs. 2015). Other key findings from the report indicated additional challenges for this holiday season, as retailers continue to struggle to acquire new customers and convert first-time buyers into repeat shoppers. On a more positive note, retailers are beginning to make changes to increase operational efficiencies and shore up profit margins. While product profits are basically flat YoY, they’re up 6% for the quarter, compared to 2015.

Edgecase showcased how the company is helping retailers and brands like Lancome, Sur La Table and Crate and Barrel improve their online product visibility.

Kibo, the complete omnichannel commerce platform, announced the acquisition of Baynote, a cloud-based personalization platform. With this acquisition, Kibo will continue to strengthen its commerce solutions with industry-leading personalization technology that quickly enables retailers and brands to provide individual buying experiences.

Mirakl highlighted how the Mirakl Marketplace Platform makes it easy for operators to onboard vast numbers of vendors in a single platform to drastically increase their product selection, competitive prices and a superior shopping experience.

Heard on the shop floor
While innovative technology applications were the center of attention on the expo floor, these shiny new applications also opened the door to deeper conversations of best practices to remember while integrating a new technology.

From personalization technology, intelligent fulfillment, data analytics and in-store technology, one thing remains true: the overall experience should be at the forefront of the implementation. For example, key lessons heard around the expo floor for deploying a technology solution included:

  • Taking a research-based, vertically integrated approach to implementing technology within your product and services strategy.
  • In terms of disruptive technology, remember the function is just as important as the form – the look and feel of that technology must flow seamlessly and solve a pain point.
  • Being open-minded to new technology. For example, technologies like virtual reality will allow retailers to reimagine the way they should work on their next project.
  • Understanding new ideas and methods through data analysis.
  • Remembering that technology is just an enabler to achieve a greater result. It takes a deep understanding of your brand and customer to make all touch points flow seamlessly.
  • Keeping in mind the importance of great people and culture within your organization.

The conclusion of Shop.org Retail’s Digital Summit signals the opening bell for the start of the 2016 holiday sales season for retailers. With several technology solutions ready to make retailers’ processes flow seamlessly, retailers will be ready to deliver the goods to their consumers.

Shoptalk 2016: It’s All An Experience

Shoptalk

Last week the Ketner Group team attended the inaugural Shoptalk conference at the Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. The much-anticipated conference lived up to its promise, bringing top industry leaders together to discuss the technology disruption currently turning the industry on its head.

Shoptalk offered a three-day jam-packed agenda that in true Vegas fashion ran well into the late hours of the night, bringing with it great networking opportunities, organic thought leadership conversations and even a stellar performance by Wyclef Jean at the conference’s Industry Night.

This year’s sessions also brought a few resonating themes and posed several questions about where the industry will find itself in the next few years. It’s no surprise that the wave of technologies available to retailers today has them scrambling for a roadmap of the perfect combination needed to deliver the greatest customer experience possible.

Both vendors and retailers throughout the show agreed that the customer experience is paramount. No matter if your organization is omnichannel, strictly digital or only brick-and-mortar, at the end of the day shopping is not about channels, it’s an experience, and the technology that you implement throughout should create a memorable experience.

Here are the top interesting takeaways we gathered from industry leaders at this year’s Shoptalk:

  • Buying a product is an experience; all touch points must intersect in order to create this experience.
  • Retailers are now living in an all-channel universe; the Internet will not destroy physical stores, it will just grow to be a part of every transaction.
  • The customer has never been more in charge.
  • What is happening to retailers right now in terms of adopting in-store technology and becoming omnichannel should be considered an evolution vs. a revolution.
  • Technology will not dehumanize the physical store experience—it will enhance it.
  • The principles of retailing are still there, but retailers need to figure out the balance between old and new.
  • Be agile – everything that touches a retailer’s organization touches the consumer.
  • Retail complexity breeds a different opportunity, people will still need to understand what humans want and this will lead to new opportunities to bring together data, artificial intelligence and technology to meet the customer’s needs.
  • Think of artificial intelligence as amplified intelligence for retailing.

All in all, the conversations at Shoptalk demonstrate that while the industry is continuing to adopt technology and change, this is only the beginning. Can’t wait to see what innovative topics Shoptalk brings to the table in 2017!

SXSW 2016: The Customer May Always Be Right, But What The Heck Do They Want?

SXSW Interactive 2016 blazed through Austin this past week in typical disruptive fashion, bringing the tech industry’s brightest minds into town for a five-day festival that was all business during the day and all party during the night.

No matter the application, the topic of how to engage customers was at the forefront of the most prominent conversations. From machine learning to data analytics to mobile, all technology pointed to one focal point – the customer and their engagement.

However, during all of the discussions one thing became apparent: while we now have technology that can help us track and study customers’ actions throughout the engagement cycle, we cannot yet decipher what prompted the customer to begin the engagement process with a particular brand.

Zappos Product Manager Kandis Yaokum best described it during the panel session titled “Future of Cool: Predicting What’s Next in Fashion”. Sitting alongside ThoughtWorks Senior Retail Consultant Rachel Brooks, Google Fashion Data Scientist Olivier Zimmer and Shoptelligence Founder Laura Khoury, Yaokum discussed how data analytics is helping fashion retailers predict what will be the industry’s next big trend. When Yaokum was asked “what kept her up at night?,” she answered that it was not knowing why a particular customer decided that a certain product was the “cool one” to buy and what stirred the initial curiosity to engage with a brand.

All the panel members described how data analytics is historical by nature, and can help deliver better insights into overall trends that can help predict the future. However, understanding what sparked a customer’s initial attention is still something that technology cannot yet decipher.

It seems we are at an inflection point, however; additional sessions all pointed to a better understanding of the customer and different ways we can look at the convergence of brand and technology to spark and measure customer’s attention. Key themes that emerged included:

It’s all about psychology: a brand’s engagement with a consumer should have personal and organic connection.

  • Marcela Sapone, founder of the New York based startup, Hello Alfred, discussed that how brands make you feel is all about perception, and brands can use this perception alongside technology as a metric to continue innovating and building a better product.

Going beyond the product – A physical store setting should be more about the overall experience and providing content customers can immerse themselves in.

  • STORY founder Rachel Shecthman discussed how the retail store should be utilized as a media channel to create an experience that immerses customers in the overall story and gives them something to do. We should think about physical stores as living labs and places of entertainment that are enabled by technology.

Democratizing access to luxury: luxury is now defined as a combination of access, experiences and usability.

  • Discussing wearables, Uri Minkoff and Decoded’s Liz Bacelar emphasized how luxury items should be both about usability and functionality and how the wearables of the future will be more about portraying emotion than tracking health data.

ALL customers are individuals.

  • Refinery29’s Phillipe von Borries discussed how all brands should look to people as individuals instead of grouping them into a block such as a generational age group. The power, he says, lies in niches – people who are defined by their overall passions and hobbies.

At the end of the day, the customer is the key driver, and brands that look to incorporate innovative technologies and tactics into their overall customer experience philosophy will continue to spark their attention.