jerry sheldon ihl group

From Electric Cars to Customer Journeys: Talking Retail with IHL’s Jerry Sheldon

One of the things I love about working in retail technology PR is the chance to develop friendships with so many of the clients, editors and analysts we work with at Ketner Group.

That’s certainly the case with our friends at IHL Group, who helped me learn my way around the retail tech world 20+ years ago.

I recently had the chance to interview IHL analyst Jerry Sheldon about the current state of retail, what’s ahead for the rest of 2022 and why he thinks electric cars could be a disruptive force in retail.

Following are some excerpts from our conversation. Enjoy!

Inflation and recession are the top concerns for the U.S. economy. How is this impacting retail, and what are some of the other headwinds facing retailers in the second half of 2022?

The impact of inflation on consumers is a tale of two cities. If you’re above the median income, your stock portfolio has been hit, but inflation isn’t impacting your day-to-day quality of life.

However, if you’re below the median income, the rising price of gas, food, and other essentials has a significant impact.

In addition to inflation and fears of recession, there are the uncertainties of supply chain challenges, the war in Ukraine, chip shortages and the lockdown in Shanghai due to COVID. As a result, retailers will face a number of headwinds in the coming months.

You’ve expressed concerns about how the lockdowns in China could affect retailers and retail sales for the remainder of the year. Can you elaborate?

As Shanghai reopens, it’s going to take time for manufacturing to get back to normal.

There is a huge backlog of container ships queued up at the port waiting to be loaded, along with pent-up demand to get product to the U.S. In an effort to catch up, shipping levels will be much higher than usual, which will create a logjam at ports of entry.

What happens when all those container ships arrive at in Long Beach? We have rising gas prices, a shortage of long- and short-haul truckers, and limited capacity to unload these container ships.

I’m concerned about the impact of all this on Back-to-School shopping. Schools have re-opened, so there will be a lot more kids returning to the classroom and demand could easily exceed supply.

Inflation will likely continue to be a problem. The food sector has been hit hard with inflation, there’s a massive shortage of cars, and now inflation could spread to the apparel sector.

I hope all this can be rectified before the Holiday shopping season.

IHL has always been a big proponent of unified commerce. Why is it so important for retailers in the post-COVID era?

We published research on unified commerce and optimized customer journeys in January 2020, and then bam! Here came COVID. It’s ironic to see how our findings played out.

During COVID, big box stores had a huge uptick in revenue, and we saw some amazing comps. But if you look at gross margins, they only slightly improved.

The reason is, you had a big shift in how customers were shopping, and retailers had to support a number of fulfillment models that weren’t profitable. (Note: see chart below). There were significant erosion in profit margins, which creates a big opportunity for technology vendors.

Order management, for example, became very important because retailers had to quickly determine the most profitable way to fulfill an order. Do you fulfill it from your store? Do you fulfill it from your warehouse? How do you ship it?

The importance of mobile devices in retail continues to grow. Can you briefly describe the shift you’re seeing in mobile usage?

Mobile is an interesting example of how retailers are adopting technology. Mobile 1.0 and 2.0 were embraced in particular by smaller retailers that adopted mobile devices as their transaction platforms.

Then with COVID the customer journeys changed, with more curbside, ship from store, etc., and mobility helped support this.

So while we saw a significant shift to mobile POS for SMBs, the really big adoption happened in the enterprise space, helping Tier 1 retailers support the new customer journeys. That’s why we’re calling it Mobile 3.0, which we reference in our report on enterprise mobility.

The past few years have seen significant increases in retail IT spending. As retailers implement new technologies, what are some of the pitfalls to be avoid?

Retailers need to be careful to not overlook security. Every internet or network connected device is a potential entry point for bad actors.

All the IoT devices in stores today are potential entry points into the network, and if they’re not secured properly, it can be problematic. There are potential pitfalls in something as simple as electronic shelf labels.

In our research, we have found that there were a lot of security holes that were opened up as a by-product of bringing devices onto the network in a pretty rapid fashion during COVID.

Looking ahead, what are some of the retail trends you’re thinking about long-term? What’s going to be different 5 years from now?

Electric cars will have a profound impact on retail. Supercharging an electric car takes 30 minutes. How does that affect road trips and where you might stop because of supercharging? How does that affect customer visits and dwell time at gas stations, shopping malls and grocery stores?

How retailers accommodate electric cars could be a big differentiator; this could also give consumers a reason to return to shopping malls. Whereas a gas station can accommodate only a handful of cars, malls could have hundreds of charging stations. Why should consumers queue up at a gas station with limited charging stations when they can go to an air-conditioned mall with numerous restaurants and retailers?

Shopping malls could potentially disintermediate gas stations and provide shoppers with the kind of customer experience that creates long-term loyalty. Electric cars have the potential to impact nearly every retail vertical.


Influencer Insights: Yolanda James

Yolanda James recently joined the Nashville Health Care Council where she serves as the director of the Fellows initiative and content strategy. 

In addition to managing Fellows, James plays a key role in strategy development and works with staff in program planning, addressing subject content and speaker selection.

Before joining the Council, James was the director of public relations and strategy for the Tennessee Hospital Association. She also provided oversight of THA’s Agenda 21, an internship program for minority students.

James has nearly 20 years of experience in public relations, social marketing and grassroots advocacy. She holds a bachelor’s in journalism and a minor in women’s studies from Miami University (Oxford, OH). 

Ketner Group: You have a long history in public relations and marketing through a variety of industries. Clearly, you love what you do. What is your favorite thing about PR?

Yolanda James: My favorite thing is the problem-solving, finding that solution to your client’s problem. It’s that constant task of making the puzzle pieces fit. The solutions are equally as exciting. Often, I’m asking questions, such as:

Do you want to do press conferences? Will you meet with community organizing and public affairs? What’s your target audience? How can we draft impactful bylines? How can we reach ideal publications and use the right channels to achieve your goal?

KG: What do you think differentiates really great PR professionals? 

YJ: The true greats are flexible, especially those on the agency side. In PR, you have to expect the unexpected and embrace it. In many instances throughout my career, I’ve worked with professionals who were able to pivot and deal, revise talking points or take new information and then draft a news release or document accordingly.

Secondly, the truly greats write and edit well. They know when to add a transition and when to delete a bunch of fluffy run-on sentences.                                            

In my new role at the Nashville Health Care Council as the director of Fellows and content strategy, I still use all of these skills every single day (even though I am no longer responsible for PR).

KG: How do you see the PR/marketing industry in Nashville evolving in the next five years? 

YJ: Nashville is a growing city and it is growing not just by population, but by industry. Health care accounts for more than 270,000 jobs locally, with Nashville-based companies operating in all 50 states. Facing unprecedented growth, the city will need more PR and marketing professionals who are effective at promoting their companies at a regional and international scale.

KG: You’re incredibly involved in your community. What is one of the biggest challenges Nashville is currently facing and what have you been doing to address it? 

YJ: Top of mind is the massive growth that’s happening and making sure that everyone — native Nashvillians, women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ community — continue to experience advancement from it. Nashville has an opportunity to not be like other growing cities that have reached their peak only to come up with excuses for why the rising tide is not lifting all boats. We’ve built healthcare, tourism, music and entertainment dynasties. Surely, we can figure out how all Nashvillians can not only be invited to the table but also given a piece of the pie and a fork to eat and enjoy it.

To help with this, I am a Board member of the Tennessee Diversity Consortium. TDC focuses on creating positive community impact where peers gather to offer support, exchange best practices and become better diversity leaders.

KG: When you’re not in the office, what do you enjoy doing on a personal level?

YJ: I love reading. Besides my Bible, I have 7 books on my nightstand right now: Michelle Obama’s “Becoming”; Mindy Kaling’s “Why Not Me?”; “O’s Little Guide to Finding Your True Purpose”; and Jasmine Guillory’s “The Proposal”.

For my business brain, I have “The Memo”, “Multipliers” and “The First 90 Days”. They will all be completed by November 1, possibly before then!

I also love music and dancing, especially to hip-hop and 80s and 90s music – any genre.

New obsessions include hiking and people watching. There are so many cool places in Nashville for both of those.

KG: What’s the best piece of personal or professional advice you’ve been given?

YJ: I have received a lot of great advice. The best PR nugget I’ve been told is “No matter the typo, no matter how many misplaced commas or semicolons, nobody died.”          

The most useful personal advice comes from my dad: “Yolanda, people’s reactions to you are not about you. It’s about them.”                                

Remembering that keeps me grounded and humble on my most amazing days, and that motivates me to keep smiling and moving forward on my worst days when I really want to crawl home and listen to B.B. King on repeat. 

Lisa Roberts headshot

Influencer Insights: Lisa Roberts

Lisa is the founder of Great Catch Consulting, where she works with a myriad of mostly B2B technology businesses, from pre-seed to mature growth stages, on creation or refinement of key go-to-market strategies and tools. Lisa has built and grown Marketing & Product teams and strategies for early- and growth-stage businesses for 20 years. She has the experience to confidently anticipate and navigate the go-to-market challenges that will come for all growing businesses as they strive to reach their full potential. Lisa is inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit and only knows how to go all-in when partnering with those attempting to build and grow something meaningful.

What do you think are the biggest changes most impacting the tech industry in Austin?

The continued influx and growth of large tech firms in Austin (Apple, Google, etc.) is changing our entire landscape. For tech companies, it’s creating an even tougher fight for talent as recruits have more options. Companies, not just in Austin, have to reorient themselves to the experiences that people are now looking for in their jobs. From how career paths are defined, to environment design to accommodate different working styles, we all have to work harder to find ways to nurture and retain great talent.

Where do you see the tech/startup industry in Austin headed 10 years from now?

These are all realistically more my hopes rather than predictions, so take them with a grain of salt:

  • Embracing even more Californians. 46% of Bay Area residents plan to move away soon, and Austin is the 5th most cited city that they are targeting as their new home. Basically, our growth is not going to slow and it’s going to be heavily fueled by smart, driven tech employees and investors from the Bay Area.
  • Increased diversity in tech verticals. I hope to continue to see the diversity in the industries that our startups are serving. It’s been great to see the rise of tech startups serving real estate, CPG, fintech, healthcare, security and social good, in addition to verticals like hardware, retail/ecommerce and analytics tech that have been foundational in Austin.
  • More diversity in our investors and advisors. We have some incredible people who are paving the way (i.e. Kelsey August at CTAN, Sara Brand and Kerry Rupp at TruWealth Ventures, Female Founders Fund), but I hope to see more. And, I hope that we don’t always have to make it us vs. them. Our local VCs will benefit from more diverse people being involved, as will local company boards.

Who or what are you “rooting” for in the tech industry right now? (Anyone or a company you’d like to single out whose work you are appreciating or look forward to hearing more about, etc.)

I’m rooting for an old co-worker turned friend of mine, Beth White, and her business, MeBeBot, an AI and chatbot technology for Human Resources.  One, she’s a woman bootstrapping her way to create a business that she believes in wholeheartedly. Two, as an employee to numerous companies over the years, I see so much value in what she’s creating. The solution streamlines employee engagement with a dizzying array of systems and information, helping everyone simply get or give important HR information much easier. Think getting your questions about company holidays answered, getting info on how to change 401K selections or providing updates on your OKR progress simply using a single chatbot embedded in the tools you already use, like Slack or Teams. HR teams are loving it and I hope she’s going to be wildly successful!

How do you most like to stay up to date on tech trends?

I primarily pay attention to the trends that directly affect my work. Given that I’m a marketer, I’m always interested in ways that people are USING tech to have an impact, not just what new stuff is out there. My best sources for that are generally podcasts. Some of my favorites are Tim Ferriss, Flip My Funnel (w/ Sangram Vajre) and the OpenView Build podcast. Having a strong network of other marketers who enjoy sharing successes and failures with new tech is also invaluable, whether over drinks or more formally through organizations, like the CMO Club. For broader tech industry trends, I still love good ole Fast Company.

When you’re not in the office, what can we find you doing?

I am both a homebody and an extravert, so I keep a healthy balance of both in my life. I love being home with my family playing soccer in the front yard or hanging with our neighbors, but I’m also still a longtime Austin girl and love to get out for a live show. The Mohawk is still my favorite venue to hear great music and have an experience. I also support the Andy Roddick Foundation who does amazing work to provide after school opportunities and an amazing summer program for students at some of our east Austin schools. It’s a great foundation with a great mission.

What’s the best piece of personal and/or professional advice you’ve been given?

If what you’re going after doesn’t scare you a little, you’re probably not growing. When I remind myself of this in a moment of, “Holy crap, this better work,” I can usually shift my nervousness to excitement. I’ve grown to trust that when I choose well in who I work with and how we plan, we have a high chance of succeeding. I’ve also grown to see the learning in my failures, some of my best lessons yet!

Kirsty Goodlett, Director, Ketner Group Nashville

Employee Spotlight: Kirsty Goodlett, Director, Nashville

Get to know Ketner Group’s fearless leader in Nashville as we open our newest office in her favorite city.

Tell us a little about your background with KG.

Kirsty Goodlett: I met the kind folks at Ketner Group seven years ago when I was a client of Ketner’s while working for a retail tech company, Digby. There, I found Ketner to be a true extension of our marketing team, and I really relied on our partnership to create successful campaigns and achieve our goals.

When I moved to Nashville five years ago, I joined the team part-time while I additionally ran Seamless Marketing, the company I founded to help small businesses with their marketing efforts. This February, I returned to Ketner to open our Nashville office, an opportunity so amazing it has at times felt like a dream.

What new opportunities are available to you and KG now that we have an office in Nashville?

Nashville is a wonderful city! Being here provides us access to a whole new set of B2B tech companies to partner with. One thing I love about Nashville is that it’s a great city for relationships, and a lot of those are built over good cups of coffee.

Additionally, Nashville is known as the “Athens of the South” because of the large number of universities and colleges in town. I believe the city will set us up for success from a hiring perspective.

How would you describe Nashville in comparison to Austin and New York? 

Great question! I could go on for ages, so I’ll work to be brief.


Weird and fun, Austin is a city that welcomes folks with open arms and features a tech scene that is constantly innovating. Austin is a super hub for our headquarters because it’s a true representation of the companies and employees we attract.

New York

New York is one of the biggest cities in the country. Business gets done quickly and things are always changing. Being in NYC gives us access to great media contacts and influencers.


The friendliest city in the country, Nashville has a diverse, growing economy that attracts people from all over the world. Nashville will provide opportunities for us to grow in new markets and ensure a lovely quality of life for our team. Not to mention, it’s the best city to host clients. Who doesn’t want to come to Nashvegas?!

What is your favorite part about living in Nashville?

My favorite thing about Nashville is the people. Everyone is collaborative, kind and really supportive. That attitude makes opening an office here ideal, people are excited about your efforts and look to help you through challenges. I am so grateful for all of the people and communities that have shown up to help us prepare for and then celebrate our launch! 

What are the top three spots in Nashville everyone should visit?

Marche: hands down my favorite restaurant in town, Marche is a French classic with lots of local flair and the best food.

Robert’s Western World: you can’t come to Nashville without going to a honkytonk and Robert’s is a classic, old-school joint with the best music and plenty of locals in addition to tourists—a rarity these days.

Monell’s: not only does Monell’s have my favorite fried chicken in town, but it also features the added bonus of sitting you family style so you can get to know your neighbors.

Andrew Tull

Influencer Insights: Andrew Tull

Andrew Tull has been a staple in the Business Development and Start-up/ Entrepreneurship community for over a decade now. He specializes in technology solutions and focuses on integrating strategic business plans for sustainable company growth. He currently works for Tailwind Business Ventures where he helps to provide end-to-end technology solutions to real- world business challenges.  Before partnering with Tailwind, Andrew served in a variety of director and executive positions for companies such as, Switch Inc., Pragma Systems Inc., and more.

KG: What do you think are the biggest changes most impacting the tech industry in Austin?

Andrew Tull: An inability to attract, find and keep quality folks in key roles, most particularly product management, product delivery, and technical architecture and development roles.

KG: Where do you see the tech/startup industry in Austin headed 10 years from now?

Andrew Tull: I believe we will see a continued intersection of larger companies (Apple, Indeed, Facebook, Google) on the tech side. These companies will combine with a number of the key incubators (too many to enumerate) in town to drive forward an ‘Austin 3.0’ that will lead to a new wave of investing, as well as new industries coming to town. When you combine these tech companies and incubators with the massive growth engine that is US Army Futures Command, and the multi-decade significant impact that this group will be having, it speaks to a very bright future for the tech/startup industry in Austin.

KG: Who or what are you “rooting” for in the tech industry right now?

Andrew Tull: No specific companies – our team is focused on helping custom software development with a number of key industry players currently in Austin. I’ll continue to root for continued and sustained growth in a new and diverse set of industries and market verticals. 

KG: How do you most like to stay up to date on tech trends?

Andrew Tull: I’m blessed to be part of a number of startups, incubators, angel funds, and other groups that keep me up to date with the new tech trends happening in and around Austin. 

KG: When you’re not in the office, what can we find you doing? 

Andrew Tull: Spending time with my amazing family, running or volunteering with Texas Search and Rescue (TEXSAR).

KG: What’s the best piece of personal and/or professional advice you’ve been given?

Andrew Tull: Always, always, *always* lead with ‘how may I help you’?

Mike Troy

Influencer Insights: Mike Troy

As editor-in-chief of Retail Leader, Mike sets the editorial direction for the publication. He focuses on providing business intelligence to senior retail and consumer goods executives to help them become more effective leaders and drive growth within their organizations. Mike leverages extensive industry experience and first-hand experience to manage content for the publication.

KG: What do you think are the biggest changes (technology or otherwise) most impacting the retail industry? 

Mike Troy: At a high level, retailers are attempting to keep pace with shoppers’ rapidly shifting expectations. Trying to stay on top of constantly shifting customer behaviors driven by new technology is impacting retail in a big way.

KG: How do you most like to stay up to date on trends?

Mike Troy: The best way to stay up to date is to read anything you can get your hands on. Read through press releases, research reports, 10-Ks, S-1’s, conference call transcripts and stuff my colleagues at EnsembleIQ write.  It is also important to learn from peers in the industry. I actively attend key industry events and listen to the thought leaders who are inventing the future.

KG: Where do you see retail headed 10 years from now?

Mike Troy: I have no idea. I’m not as smart as I used to think I was because retail is changing so fast. With technology constantly changing, it’s hard to say where any industry is going to be 10 years from now. The next big thing could come along next week or next month and ruin what sounds like a good prediction today. Directionally speaking, there are some well-established trends in place, but anyone can predict those.

KG: You must get thousands of emails a day with pitches and ideas (including from us!). Which emails stick out to you the most and why?

Mike Troy: I wouldn’t say I receive thousands a day, but the ones that stand out tend to be personalized to my brand. I’m more likely to notice pitches that make it clear the sender understands my style of storytelling.

When you’re not writing or setting the editorial direction for Retail Leader, what can we find you doing? 

Mike Troy: I’m rehabbing a house that is taking way too long and costing way too much.

KG: What’s the best piece of personal or professional advice you’ve been given?

Mike Troy: Tell the truth.

Influencer Insights: CJ Johnson

CJ Johnson is an award-winning photographer and content creator, a GQ Insider and Google Next-Gen Policy Leader, and a well-known “brand guru.” We wanted to learn more about his process and asked for his perspective on the state of influencer marketing.

KG: How do you as a social influencer create partnerships, and what is your criteria before aligning yourself to an opportunity?

Typically, I say yes to partnerships or sponsored opportunities with brands if it’s an industry I’m knowledgeable about and interested in already. That’s important. Then, I want to be sure the ROI makes sense and is beneficial to me and my time. More and more, I’m starting to explore social causes, too. Creating these partnerships varies – some come organically my way, others I reach out to. If my goals are aligned with those of the brand or cause, then it’s off to the races.

KG: Recently there have been headlines about consumers feeling “influencer fatigue,” as they voice feelings about inauthentic content. How should you and other social media influencers respond to this sentiment?

CJ: Influencers who are frustrated or misunderstood by this discussion are feeling a bit judged. There is always room for improvement – everyone can agree on that. The “fatigue” mentioned is stemming from every influencer trying to compete with one another, and the inauthenticity is felt because of a lack of imagination as people copy each other. To help the state of influencer marketing, people need to be more educated about this industry and there also needs to be a culture that fosters more creativity.

Additionally, a more standard pay structure would help influencers understand their market value and how to better negotiate their pay. Right now, influencers – and the brands they collaborate with – are in the dark with what the market asks for. It’s a bit all over the place. Someone with 100k followers on Instagram can demand $1,500 per post while someone else can ask for $500, and both parties don’t even know the real value of either ask.

KG: You say there needs to be more education on the industry. In what ways do you see that playing out?

CJ: For content creators and influencers, there needs to be a clear understanding of professional etiquette, the deliverables they’ll create for companies they collaborate with, and their overall value as a business. On the other side of this, companies need to understand what really incentivizes these content creators and influencers. It’s not just about free stuff or monetary value. Content creators and influencers honestly care about their messaging and the impact they’ll make on their community. With every collaboration there is a lot more risk involved than you’d think.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more to learn on both sides of the aisle. We’ll see more workshops, webinars and events that will center around these topics in the future, for sure.

KG: Do you think the influencer space is becoming too cluttered?  Is there still room for individuals to make their mark and curate authentic community online?

CJ: For every article that talks about the pitfalls of influencer marketing, I see another that talks about how fast it’s growing into a lucrative sector. Two things stick out to me. First, the critiques often come from someone who is attempting to be an influencer, someone who is frustrated with not being recognized, even possibly experiencing a bit of “FOMO” (fear of missing out). The second thing is a difference in audience perception due to the influencer strategy – one sees content from influencers as annoying advertisements, and the other has no idea they’re looking at an ad in the first place. In any case, I think transparency and authenticity is key to growth and success in influencer marketing.

Even if it’s cluttered, it’s a growing industry. Influencer marketing used to be a thing only a few people were doing online, and now there’s an upcoming generation whose sole goal it is to grow up and be an online influencer. I don’t necessarily think it’s a bubble waiting to burst – I think of influencer marketing as evolving just as the acting or entrepreneur industries have done.

KG: What is your advice to companies considering influencer marketing as a part of their strategy?

CJ: First, consider why you need it in the first place, and then what your goals will be. Too many times, I see companies that “heard from a friend” or are following a competitor that is growing quickly because of influencer marketing, so they want in too. But that can lead to unrealistic expectations or experimenting without quite understanding the value of an influencer. So, please recognize the “why” before you begin. Secondly, you need to understand there are several strategies with influencer marketing now, including:

  • Getting as many influencers on board as possible
  • Recruiting a smaller number of influencers to act as brand ambassadors
  • A combination of the above for a specific limited campaign
  • One-off influencer-promoted posts
  • Repurposed influencer content and posts

When you know which plan fits your goals, set aside the time to do authentic research. Yes, there are automated tools and databases, but it might be smart to also have a team-member (here’s looking at you, interns) do some research on influencers that fit your criteria. After researching, make sure your collaborative efforts bring as much value and long-term relationships as possible. Again, influencer marketing is incredibly impactful and a lot more cost-effective than people give it credit for.

We enjoy following CJ online and think you might too. Learn more about what he’s up to by visiting his Twitter or Instagram.

Influencer Insights: Caroline Farley

Caroline Farley is the Chief Growth Officer of Shoptalk and Grocery Shop. 

KG: Why did Shoptalk decide to create a separate conference solely dedicated to the grocery space?

Caroline: The grocery and CPG industry is facing a major shift into e-commerce as this space is the last retail sector to take the leap into online; today just 2-3% of grocery sales in the U.S. come from e-commerce, a small fraction compared to other retail categories. It was a natural next step for the team that built Shoptalk to launch an event creating a new framework and dialogue with a community of rapid innovation and disruption.

KG: What are the most interesting trends you are seeing in the grocery space this year? 

Caroline: The obvious trend is the impact innovative technologies have on the industry in terms of digitization and the new consumer landscape: new technologies are enabling more interactive, engaging in-store experiences, as well as making store operations more efficient. Groceryshop is designed to meet the needs of the sector as it undergoes widespread disruption. Over the next few years, new omnichannel offerings will emerge, which will include new ways to order as well as more convenient delivery and pickup options. The result will be an increase in orders via digital platforms, as well as significant changes in physical stores as they become a key part of order fulfillment. At the same time, new technologies like artificial intelligence and blockchain will start to transform the supply chain.

KG: Now in its fourth year, what can we expect to see and hear at Shoptalk?

Caroline: Shoptalk 2019 will have a core focus on empowering retail with education. Our framework outlines how the retail industry has evolved from a Legacy Normal(2015 and earlier) through a period of Disruptive Change(2016-2017) and into a phase we refer to as the New Normal(2018 and beyond).

The New Normal is characterized by optimism about transformation and a renewed confidence in the future of retail. In this phase, disruptive innovation is no longer simply reactive or something that a minority of people advocate. Instead, it is embraced by the mainstream and is a top priority throughout the ranks of retailers and brands, increasingly touching all parts of the organization.

Culturally, this New Normal has ushered in an era where innovation, not inertia or protection of the status quo, is reflected in companies’ daily operations. It is an extended period during which innovation is no longer an “if” or “why” but “who, what, when and how.” Retailers are now in a state of constant improvement as they look to ensure that everything from the supply chain to the online and in-store experience is optimized.

Shoptalk’s 2019 agenda is organized to reflect the key themes that represent this new era of retail and how brands and retailers are positioning themselves for the future. To ensure that we continue to lead the industry conversation, we’ve retired a number of topics and added others–about half of the session topics are new.

As well, attendees can expect to see unique activations in the Exhibit Hall and more intimate retailer to retailer networking with peer dinners. We’ll also feature Shoptalk’s Shop Hop, allowing retailers and brands an opportunity to network with each other in a casual setting and reflect on the three days of extraordinary education. Just as we have the past three years, we will continue to introduce the element of surprise onsite to create the most exciting, hyped and educational conference model in the retail space.

Special Edition of “Ask the Influencers” – Who Run the World? Girls! Part 2

In part two of our special edition of “Ask the Influencers” we talked to Janet and Nikki about how they stay up to date on retail trends, the best advice they’ve been given and what they are most looking forward to in 2018:

How do you most like to stay up to date on trends?

Janet:I keep up via Twitter, LinkedIn and events I participate in. I follow the industry magazines, retail experts and the retailers themselves. There is some great content out there if you look. I also maintain great relationships with our customers. They are a wealth of information. A lot of them participate in our annual user group conference where they are sharing a lot of information, specifically around what’s working, what’s not, and what they are seeing in the industry. That kind of information is invaluable.”

Nikki: “Well, RSR surveys a lot of retailers all year long, so looking at their answers to our questions helps a lot! I also read a lot, and I talk to people. I try to ask questions to everyone – retailers, tech providers, friends and family. Everybody shops. Everybody is a consumer. Therefore, everyone has an opinion about retail. The hard part is sifting through all that to get to directional trends. I do think there’s some art to that.”

What’s the best piece of personal or professional advice you’ve been given?

Janet: “The best advice I’ve been given was to ‘enjoy it.  Enjoy what you’re doing.  There will always be ups and down, but if you are enjoying the process, the people, the work, then it’s all worth it.”

Nikki: “The two biggest lessons I’ve learned – from advice given, then validated through personal experience – is one, always look to learn from everyone you interact with. Everyone has a lesson to be learned, whether they intended to teach that lesson or not. It’s way easier to learn from other people’s mistakes (or successes!) than from your own. Every mistake or bad outcome can be at least somewhat salvaged if you can ask yourself, ‘What should I learn from this?’. But you have to have a learning mindset to make that possible.”

“And two, everything – and I mean everything, I even count things like singing in this – really is 95% hard work and 5% innate talent. There probably are a million Beyonces out there, singing like angels in their showers. But it’s Beyonce who was willing to put in the hard work that got her to where she is. And yeah, lucky breaks play a part, but a lucky break comes to someone who is ready and able to take advantage of it when it comes their way. If you combine 1 and 2 – always have a learning mindset, and work hard at whatever it is you want to master – then you’ll go places.”

 What are you most looking forward to in 2018?

Janet: “I feel like we are positioned very well for 2018.  I think that retailers are realizing that the stores are still, and will continue to be a very important part of the consumers’ experience.  The Opterus solution is all about making sure that the store associates and the stores are ready for consumers to have a wonderful and consistent in-store experience. I think the problem we solve, operational excellence, communication, task management and overall compliance and accountability for the retailer, is key to making the stores something that customers will want to return to over and over again. So, I’m excited for what the year holds and how we can help retailers be more efficient and effective in managing the stores and creating something special.”

Nikki: “You know, at RSR, we never try to predict the future, because it’s just so uncertain. What I’m most hoping for in 2018 is to see a retailer who has figured out what the store really needs to be in a post-omnichannel world. I would really like to see that future brought to life. I would really like to see retailers start innovating again – innovating in a way that moves beyond just trying to find more ways to sell more stuff. 2018 could be the year! But, to be brutally honest, I thought 2017 could’ve been that year too, and it wasn’t!”

Nikki Baird is Managing Partner at Retail Systems Research focusing on trends impacting the consumer-retailer relationship, along with their supply chain and marketing implications. She brings perspective from all sides of the retail technology equation – having served in technology roles at both a large and a small retailer, and has provided advisory and consulting services for Fortune 500 retailers, distributors, and manufacturers.

Janet Hawkins has more than 20 years of experience in the retail market working for industry leaders such as NCR, Triversity and SAP. She has held a wide variety of positions with areas of responsibility including global strategic business partner relationships, third party technology partners, clients and resellers, business development, and project management. This has contributed to her strong relationship management, leadership and team building skills.


Special Edition of “Ask the Influencers” – Who Run the World? Girls! Part 1

I’d like to take a second to brag on my fellow “Wonder Women” out there: a recent Zenger Folkman study of 51,418 leaders in the U.S. and internationally found that women are considered more effective than male leaders. What’s more, former U.S. President Barack Obama said last month at an invitation-only event in Paris that more women need to be put in positions of power “because men seem to be having some problems these days.”

Seriously though, it’s been tough out there for women – and I’m not just talking about the past few months of daily horrific sexual harassment news stories. As the female cast members from Saturday Night Live recently sang about in the parody music video, “Oh, this been the dang world!”

But enough with the negative already. At Ketner Group, we believe in the positive stories, which is why we wanted to dedicate time to shine the spotlight on women executives who are leading the charge to make a difference. In this two-part blog, we speak with two very talented women entrepreneurs, Janet Hawkins, founder and president of Opterus, and Nikki Baird, co-founder and managing partner at Retail Systems Research. In this first blog, we ask Janet and Nikki about their thoughts on women working in retail and the biggest changes impacting the retail industry:

In your experience up to now, how have things changed for women working in the retail industry? What other changes would you like to see?

Janet: “The biggest change is that I see more women in more influential roles in the industry. I definitely think a women’s perspective was needed.  I also find that the women I’m connecting with are a group of strong, intelligent, driven people who are very interested in collaboration, sharing ideas and taking pleasure when others are achieving.  It wasn’t always that way. I’d love to see this be encouraged and to continue.”

Nikki: “You know, I think retail has been one of the more progressive industries in this regard. Not that retail has been a leader in tackling women in the workplace, but at least in my experience, it hasn’t been nearly as bad as I’ve seen in other industries, like tech or manufacturing or supply chain. In an industry where (much of) a consumer’s shopping money is discretionary, or at least has a lot of competition for those dollars, there has been a big focus on understanding the customer, and a lot of acknowledgement that an executive should not be using their personal experience as the basis for saying they “understand the customer.” I think that has forced more thinking about women’s lifestyles and women’s needs than you see in other industries, and some of it, I have to believe, seeps into the workplace.”

“That said, retail needs to do more. I still see too many women only in marketing or HR roles, and not in tech or supply chain or even store operations. And there’s a real ruckus being raised right now by tech circles about the lack of women in Artificial Intelligence – which retailers are increasingly looking to adopt in some form or another. If it’s a bunch of toxic bros teaching your customer service chatbot how to interact with other toxic bros, that’s going to lead to some real misses on the customer service side for a retailer primarily serving women.”

What do you think are the biggest changes (technology or otherwise) most impacting the retail industry?

Janet: “When Opterus first came to market, only a short time ago, cloud solutions weren’t common.  Back then, a lot of retailers we spoke with believed and asked to host our solution on premise. We stuck to our guns, knowing the future was in the cloud. We don’t have any on premise installations of our solution. In the early days, it was hard to say no at the risk of losing the deal, but we did. Today, we almost never get asked the question. There is much more confidence in technology now and an understanding of the cost savings, efficiencies and benefits embracing new technology can bring to the table.”

Nikki: “Oh, omnichannel by far. Everything that has happened in omnichannel up until now has been a prelude to the REAL change that has yet to happen. Retailers have made only surface-level changes so far, but we’re getting to the point where they can’t move forward without making substantial, structural changes. Look at stores – retailers are struggling to figure out where to wedge in storage for click and collect. Retailers are struggling to figure out where to put the pack & ship station for ship from store. They’re trying to figure out last mile delivery and inventory visibility and in-aisle purchases. And at the same time, they have all these cashier stands that just aren’t getting used. Fixing that means construction and remodel. Literally, rip and replace. None of that has happened yet – though I’m starting to see some signs of it. That’s where big bucks start getting committed, because if you’re going to rip out the front of your store to revamp it because of omnichannel, you might as well tackle the rest of it while you’re at it. And that’s just looking at stores. Supply chain, merchandising, even product design will all feel ripple effects as well as their own direct impacts. When it comes to omnichannel, the industry is just getting started.”

Please read part two of our blog where we talk to Janet and Nikki about how they stay up to date on retail trends, the best advice they’ve been given and what they are most looking forward to in 2018.