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A Passion for Fashion Tech: Speaking with Jackie Trebilcock with the NY Fashion Tech Lab

I don’t know about y’all, but after spending months at home during COVID, I was thrilled to be back in “real clothes” and out of lounge wear. Fashion retailers were ready to have us back, too, and technology played a significant role in driving consumers back to their favorite brands. 

In fact, according to McKinsey & Company’s 2022 State of Fashion Tech Report, fashion companies invested between 1.6 and 1.8% of their revenues in technology in 2021. That figure is expected to rise to between 3.0 and 3.5% by 2030.

There are so may innovative things happening in fashion tech, and specifically, with women-led tech startups. I just had to go directly to the source of this innovation and learn more, again!

I spoke with Jackie Trebilcock, managing director for the New York Fashion Tech Lab (NYFTL) back in 2020. We recently had a chance to catch up with her again, and what a treat that was!

Founded in 2014, the Lab connects a cohort of women-led B2B, fashion and retail-focused technology companies that are fostering iteration, validation and acceleration of technologies to advance the industry.

I had a blast learning even more about the Lab and what Jackie and her team are doing to support women-owned tech companies. Enjoy our conversation!

For those readers who don’t know you, can tell us a little bit about you and your journey to the Lab?

I joined the New York Fashion Tech Lab at the end of 2014. They were looking for someone to run the cohort that was launching for 2015.

I’ve worked in fashion for over 20 years, and I’ve been an entrepreneur myself, so I understand both sides of it, which is why I was so excited when I had reached out to the Lab’s parent company, Springboard Enterprises. I just thought what they were doing was so cool and I wanted to learn more. And here I am, many years later.

What was the catalyst for the creation of the Lab, and why the focus on women-led companies?

Founded in 2000, Springboard Enterprises is a nonprofit organization specifically focusing on women-led companies. Springboard runs a myriad of programs (i.e., bootcamps, accelerators, etc.) in a wide variety of sectors such as life science, biotech, women’s health, general tech and ad tech. 

In 2014, when they were looking to expand into different sectors. They realized that the fashion and retail industries were a bit behind some of the advancements they were seeing in technology in those other industries. That’s when the NYFTL was born!

I describe Springboard as a venture catalyst because their main mission is to help give women resources to raise money and grow and scale their companies. The Lab does that too, but we are more of a business catalyst. We are in partnership with leading retailers and brands that are looking to keep their finger on the pulse of new technologies that address pain points or take out an area of friction for them.

I would love to hear your insights on innovation and the changes that you’ve seen in the fashion tech industry since you’ve been with the NYFTL.

It has been exciting to see the progress that’s been made within the industry over the past eight years. In the beginning, we were mostly engaging with CTOs and CIOs because that’s where technology really sat at some of these larger retailer and brand partners.

Now, there are so many different points of contact within these retailers and brands. We often engage with CMOs, innovation leads, digital strategy, or eCommerce. It’s really everyone’s job to know what’s out there from a technology standpoint. Tech is everywhere and in everything!

We’ve become another way for fashion retailers to keep their finger on the pulse and to do it together. It’s important that they feel like they are not doing it in a silo, but as an industry.

I would imagine that all this work and the things that you’re doing at the Lab inspires you every day!

Yes! I think I have the coolest job in the world as I kind of get to sit in the middle of being in contact with retailers and brands, understanding what’s happening there, and getting the opportunity to meet inspiring women creating these awesome and needed solutions for this industry.

My personal mission with all of this is to be a connector for our retail and brand partners, the alumni companies, the companies in the Lab, and for the industry in general. It’s exciting to see what can happen when you make that connection.

Can you provide a few examples of how the Lab has helped to propel women in fashion tech forward?

We’ve had 69 companies go through the program since its inception. We’ll be onboarding another group of Lab companies for 2023. What we have seen and what we track with the Lab companies are the partnerships and pilots that come from the program, which happens all the time.

There is also so much that can come from candid feedback from the retail executives as part of this program, which can save the startups so much time as they continue to build and iterate on their product. We also have another network of 80 industry experts, entrepreneurs and investors that they get to connect with and get feedback from, and of course opportunity for investment.

The Lab is an ongoing community that is part of the companies’ entrepreneurial journey – whether they are looking to hire, pivot, get acquired or fundraise.

As you look ahead in your crystal ball, what are you most excited about with regards to the fashion tech industry?

On our website, we have this whole list of “areas of interest” and it’s something that we are constantly adding, removing and refining. What excites me most are the things that we don’t even know exist!

If you think about the very buzzy tech trends, like NFTs and Web3, they didn’t exist before a few years ago. I know there will be other new innovations and advancements like that. It’s exciting to think that we are going to get to uncover them, spend time learning about them with the retail and brand partners and make them part of our areas of focus.

I agree you do have the coolest job in the world! As we wrap up, what opportunities are available for anyone interested in becoming more involved with NYFTL?

Application for our 2023 program has already closed, but if you are an entrepreneur interested in applying for the Lab for next year, I recommend getting in touch with us as soon as possible. We start connecting with and tracking companies very early.

If you’re a retailer or brand that wants to learn more about becoming involved, it’s a great time now to potentially join us for 2023, or we can do sessions with you so you can meet some of the alumni.

We also have an active expert network made up of industry experts, entrepreneurs and investors that connect in with the Lab companies as part of the program.

How can we learn more?

To learn more about the NYFTL, email [email protected] or visit https://nyftlab.com/.

My Three Favorite Quotes From The SKU Retail Brew Summit 2022

I joined Ketner Group as an intern in early 2020. And as you can imagine with that start date, I haven’t had many opportunities to attend in-person retail conferences. So, when my team mentioned the possibility of having me attend the 2022 SKU Retail Brew Summit, I jumped at the opportunity! I couldn’t wait to hear from some of the brilliantly talented people in the retail technology industry.

I can confidently say that the conference lived up to all my expectations. I was able to hear from executives at JCPenney, Crocs, Shipt, Kroger and more. In addition, I had the chance to network with the reporters from Retail Brew while enjoying great food.

For those of you who didn’t make it to New York City for Retail Brew’s conference, I wanted to share a few of my favorite quotes and how they apply to the future of retail.

“What you do to get them, you should do to keep them.”

A major topic of discussion at the conference was customer experience. When discussing this all-important aspect of retail, Ciara Anfield, chief member and marketing officer, Sam’s Club explained that the things you do to gain a new customer should be the same things you do to keep them around.

This sentiment can be achieved through added-value strategies like promotions, deals and personalized outreach, or through community-building tactics like authentic collaborations and user-generated content.

Similarly, Kat Cole, president and chief operating officer, Athletic Greens, spoke about authenticity in employee culture. According to Kat, businesses should open clear channels for dialogue with their employees to ensure everyone feels supported from their first day at the company to their last.

“Confidence is earned through experience.”

Melissa Ben-Ishay, co-founder and CEO, Baked by Melissa started her mini cupcake business in 2008 and it has since become a staple bakery chain in New York City. This is an impressive feat in a crowded industry, and it was made possible by her focus and innovation. After explaining her rise to the top, she told the crowd that “confidence is earned through experience.”

This sentiment rang true throughout the event as multiple speakers explained that staying true to core values and the value proposition is critical to success.

They also explained that retailers must be customer-obsessed, dedicated to the quality of their product and open to testing and retesting based on data and customer reactions.

“Be the cockroach.”

Believe it or not, Tyler Williams, head of brand experience, Zappos, used cockroaches as a metaphor for successful retailers. The pest is known for its genetic adaptability, something that should inspire retailers to continue to innovate despite industry challenges. As retailers deal with labor shortages, inflation and an impending recession, adaptability has never been more important.

Speakers throughout the day touched on upcoming innovations. For example, executives from Athletic Greens and Puppyspot expressed interest in adding subscription services for loyal customers and Jing Gao, founder and CEO at Fly By Jing mentioned focusing on seamless omnichannel experiences in 2023.

Innovation is always top-of-mind for our clients at Ketner Group, and hearing so many retailers express their intent to lean on these new technologies is promising for the new year ahead.

There’s always more to learn after the Retail Brew Summit

Every event that brings professionals together is an opportunity to get smarter, craftier, and more excited about what you do – and the 2022 SKU Retail Brew Summit was no exception. I loved hearing from so many brilliant people because it only motivates me to dive deeper into this exciting industry.

The Ketner Group team is looking forward to attending more in-person events both to support our clients and to strengthen our own understanding of the retail technology industry. For example, we’re looking forward to attending NRF Retail’s Big Show, and just last week we enjoyed attending The SEMA Show!

Please reach out if you want to meet us at one of these exciting industry events.

Retail Sustainability Is So Hot Right Now

Sustainability has been a huge topic in retail for more than five years now. But the trend keeps on evolving, a reality Catherine Seeds explores in her latest video. Listen to her thoughts in our latest video, or read the transcript below to learn more!

Catherine Seeds presents: retail sustainability

Hi y’all! I’m Catherine Seeds, president of Ketner Group, coming live to you from beautiful Austin, Texas!

If you’ve been listening in to my KG ABs (audio blogs) I appreciate you coming back for another go-round.

In my latest AB installment, we dug into the shopping habits of Gen Z with my daughter Madeline and, most recently, tried to peel back the initial layers of the metaverse.

Sustainability is what the people want

Today, we are going to dive into something very hot right now in retail – sustainability. For anyone listening who thinks this is just a fad, let me back up this statement with some truth bombs.

According to a recent survey by Capgemini, almost 80% of retailers believe that their sustainability work increases customer loyalty. Couple this stat with insights from a recent Sensormatic consumer survey that indicate that American consumers consider sustainability when making at least some purchases, and the sustainability trend becomes even more evident.

In that same survey, research shows that 80% of nearly half of those surveyed believe the responsibility to be more sustainable falls on retail organizations. What’s more, 70% said they would change their shopping habits if they discovered that a store or brand was not operating sustainable. 

Think of that for a minute!

Now more than ever, a significant number of shoppers are taking a “stand” by showing their support at the checkout for more sustainable retail practices.

Consumers, young and old, continue to be conscious of how their lifestyle and shopping habits can affect Mother Earth, and they are putting their money where their mouths are to ensure that retailers are also stepping up to the plate when it comes to sustainable practices. 

As with anything, if you want to make big changes happen, you must often take baby steps. Here are a few examples of what some retailers are currently doing to galvanize their own sustainability practices.

B Corporations for the win 

For retailers who looking to get the jump on becoming “official” when it comes to sustainability, B Corp status is the way to go. Organizations who are designated B Corp, “are leaders in the global movement for an inclusive, equitable, and regenerative economy.”

According to the B Corp website, B Lab assessment measures a company’s entire social and environmental impact.

Examples of B Corp Certified retailers include Toms Shoes, The Body Shop and Allbirds. These and over 4000 retailers in over 70 countries are, as our friends at Business Insider describe, helping drive a global movement that uses businesses as a force for good.

What’s old is new again in fashion

As I discussed with my 17-year old Gen Z daughter a few months ago, thrifting is all the rage, and it is only gaining in popularity. According to my cost conscience youngling, thrifting allows her to double down on her own unique style at a lower cost.

According to BYU professor Michelle Hyde, “I believe thrifting is a huge trend that will continue to grow, particularly pushed by the younger generations that are environmentally conscious. Never have young adults been so in-tune and so environmentally aware of the negative impact of conspicuous consumption.”

In an interesting twist to the thrifting trend, retailers have adopted their own resell programs. Examples include Patagonia’s “Worn Wear” program and Ikea’s Buy Back and Resell program.

Online marketplaces for resale luxury goods, as Ketner Group’s Jeff Ketner talked about in a recent blog, are also doing their part to drive the circular economy.

Saving the Earth one store at a time

Although the business and popularity of digital commerce continues to grow, shoppers like me are creatures of habit and still enjoy doing business in person, in a good old-fashioned store. The store will always be the gathering place in modern society, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need an Earth-friendly facelift.

Sustainable US women’s fashion brand, Reformation, has implemented several strategies to save energy, improve water efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions in their stores. This includes incorporating materials like LED fixtures, rammed earth, and recycled fabric insulation in its buildings, and offsetting its construction footprint and electricity usage.

Not to be outdone, fashion designer Stella McCartney’s flagship store in London has sustainable sourced furnishings, biodegradable mannequins and an air conditioning system that cleans the air using nano-carbon technology. 

If sustainability were easy, everyone would do it

Sustainability is top of mind for retail CEOs, which is certainly a good thing.

At this year’s NRF Big Show, the big guns at several of the top retailers made this topic front at center. From Walmart’s John Furner who discussed concerns about climate change and the importance of diversity and inclusion, to Pepsi CEO Steven Williams who talked about sustainability as it relates to the value chains of products from farm fields to packaging composability. 

On the flip side, being a “sustainable retailer” is not an easy gig, and according to Home Depot CEO Ron Jarvis, there’s really no such thing as an environmentally friendly company. According to Jarvis, “Unless you’re an organic garden grower that has your garden by the river, and you deliver all your products in a wagon and a buggy, then you’re not environmentally friendly. 

Jarvis goes on to say that everything that retailers do has an environmental impact. Retailers have the burden of looking at all the factors and deciding which ones are acceptable risk, which ones could hurt the greater good, and which ones could hurt society.

We want your thoughts on retail sustainability

When it comes to sustainability in retail and all that entails, I’ve only just scratched the surface on this topic. There is so much more we could dish about, including Earth-friendly packaging, rental business models, incentivized recycling, eco-energy delivery options and more. More to talk about on another day!

If you have any comments or insights on this topic, our crew would like to hear from you! The Ketner Group team loves to talk retail, give us a shout to learn how our retail expertise can help elevate brand awareness and support your marketing goals.

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.

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Direct-to-Avatar (D2A): Retailers, Are You Ready for It?

According to our president Catherine Seeds, one of the best parts of her job is learning “the next big thing” happening within the retail industry. Her latest video discusses the latest trend: Direct-to-Avatar.

Prefer to read a transcript of her video? We’ve included one below!

Catherine Seeds presents: Direct-to-Avatar

The best part of my job is learning and researching “the next big thing” happening within the retail industry. For more than 20 years, I have had a front seat for hundreds of game-changing innovations. It’s always exciting to see what’s coming next.

Hi, I’m Catherine Seeds, president of Ketner Group – thanks for listening in.

Right now, there is a huge momentum shift for brands to create strategies around direct to consumer (DTC). We all know that the customer experience is everything.

This means it is critical for brands to figure out how to create closer connections with their customers. Whether that means bypassing the more traditional retail model or even opening retail concept stores. Our very own Jeff Ketner talked about this trend in his most recent blog. 

When it comes to creating closer consumer connections, the “next big thing” on the retail horizon is a step beyond the DTC trend. To be more accurate, it’s a step into the vast virtual world of avatars.

Direct-to-Avatar: changing the digital economy game

The Direct-to-Avatar term, or D2A, refers to the business model of selling products directly to shoppers’ avatars. The model sidesteps the management and logistics of sending an actual physical product to a consumer. 

It was described in a recent Decode_M article, as this, “The DTC business model forever changed how we shop, cutting out the middleman. The next evolution of sales channels (D2A) will bypass humans completely, selling straight to our avatars instead.”

This might sound like a trend for only future generations. Wrong! Direct-to-Avatar is here and now. According to Crucible, Direct-to-Avatar expects to be the largest digital economy in history, topping $1 trillion during this decade. 

Need further proof? 

According to Nicola Mendelsohn, vice president of global business group at Meta, “Within the next decade, the metaverse will reach one billion people, host hundreds of billions of dollars of digital commerce and support jobs for millions of creators and developers.” 

The complete potential of the Direct-to-Avatar business model has yet to be realized. The fashion and luxury industries, however, have certainly already taken full advantage of this movement. More on that later!

Roblox and Gen Z: a match made for the metaverse

If you are familiar with the Direct-to-Avatar trend, then you have most certainly heard of Roblox. As the biggest player in the metaverse, Roblox has more than 50 million daily active users with nearly 10 million developers on the platform.

67% of Roblox users are under the age of 16, also known as Gen Z. For fashion brands, Roblox is a perfect gateway to Gen Z – a generation whose disposable income has reached an estimated $360 billion, according to Gen Z Planet. 

Brands dipping their toes into the metaverse should also be paying attention to Generation Alpha, those born after 2010. These young consumers influence $500 billion in purchases per year. 

As Christina Wootton, VP of global brand partnerships at Roblox says in NYLON, “Self-expression is a huge part of any shared experiences, be it in real life or in the metaverse. The Roblox community, over half of which is over 13 years old, is very engaged, spending billions of hours on the platform every month, and digital fashion plays a hugely important role in our community’s creative self-expression.” 

According to Wootton, 25 million virtual items were created by the Roblox community in 2021 alone, and over 5.8 billion virtual items (both free and paid) were acquired on the platform.

Becoming fashion-forward with D2A

Given their proclivity to all things digital, it’s easy to understand why the Direct-to-Avatar model is so attractive to younger consumers. This is especially true for the fashion industry. It creates an easy way to access and engage with younger demographics. It also provides a more impactful way for companies to connect with their shoppers beyond digital ads and content.

Here are a just a few examples of fashion brands releasing D2A digital collections, as featured in a recent Wunderman Thompson blog:

  • Ralph Lauren released a 50-piece digital clothing collection in August 2021, available for purchase in social networking app Zepeto. 
  • American Eagle announced a digital clothing collection for Bitmoji avatars in July 2021. 
  • Gucci and The North Face released a joint collection for avatars on Pokémon Go in January 2021. 
  • In March 2021 Gucci released virtual sneakers that can only be worn with AR, using technology developed by Wanna. 
  • Digital fashion house The Fabricant has partnered with brands like Adidas, Puma, and Tommy Hilfiger to virtualize their garments.

Most recently, youth retailer Pacsun, announced its first dedicated experience on Roblox called PACWORLDa fantasy interactive mall experience where players are the owner and operators of a new mall. Their objective is to make the mall as profitable and popular as possible.

Is Direct-to-Avatar the future of shopping?

Time will tell if the Direct-to-Avatar movement will stick. Looking at the stats, however, the odds are certainly in its favor. Digging into this topic has encouraged me to borrow my son’s Oculus headset and journey into the world of the metaverse.

The Ketner Group team will be keeping an eye on this trend as it continues to develop. For brands, Direct-to-Avatar brings endless financial and customer loyalty possibilities.

As WGSN Insight’s Cassandra Napoli said recently at NRF 2022, “The possibilities are truly endless for brands in this avatar economy, as avatars will extend the scope of storytelling for brands. And while digital fashion is not a new concept, it’s gaining momentum. It provides brands with a potentially more sustainable and inclusive — not to mention lucrative—way to reach consumers.”

Thanks for joining me today. Let’s keep the conversation going! 

Get in touch today to find out how our retail expertise can help drive brand awareness and support your marketing goals. 

Ketner Group Domain ATX

Deep in the Heart of Retail: Ketner Group’s New Home

Moving into a new home is a lot of work—boxes to pack, movers to coordinate, juggling a seemingly endless array of details. However, it’s also a cause for celebration, full of excitement and new possibilities.

That’s certainly the case at Ketner Group these days. We moved to a new office in Austin last month, and it already feels like home. Our Austin team feels we’re right where we belong, in the middle of one of the best retail developments in the country.

Ketner Group’s Austin office is located in the Domain, the landmark mixed-use retail development that has helped make Austin one of the most desirable retail markets in the country.

With Ketner Group’s focus on retail technology PR for 20+ years, it’s the ideal location. Our clients have been on the forefront of retail tech trends for over two decades, and many of the most innovative brands in the business are right outside our door.

Austin’s Domain is retail at its best

Remember how the so-called retail apocalypse was supposed to put an end to physical retail? The Domain is a prime example of why that prediction never came true. Experiential or destination retail has been all the rage in the industry the past few years, and the Domain is a case study of experiential retail at its best. People actually love to work shop, dine and live here.

Here’s a quick rundown of the numbers:

  • 38,000 residents, making the Domain its own mini-city.
  • Well over 2 million square feet of office space, with major employers such as Meta, Amazon, Indeed,  Vrbo and hundreds of smaller companies.
  • Over 50 restaurants and nearly 200 luxury and exclusive retail stores and brands, with more on the way.

Austin is on every list of the fastest growing metro areas in the country, and retailers are paying attention. Last month Gucci opened a store at the Domain, joining other top retail brands including Neiman-Marcus, Nordstrom, a flagship Restoration Hardware, and many more­—running the gamut from A (Apple) to Z (Zara).

As a local real estate analyst said, “if you’re a retailer I don’t know of a place you’d rather be than in Austin.”

An ever-changing retail innovation lab

For Ketner Group’s Austin team, the Domain is a retail innovation lab that showcases the best in  modern retail, and it’s right outside our door. As an agency that lives and breathes retail technology PR, it’s the ideal location.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon I visited the Herman Miller store at the Domain and was immediately greeted by an employee who was busily sketching store layouts and designs. She’s a staff architect at Herman Miller and is using as the store as inspiration to study and imagine new store concepts.

Herman Miller calls its Domain Store an “experiential retail concept,” one of only a handful of company branded stores. The staff was friendly, accommodating and excited to work at the Domain. One associate I talked to has lived at the Domain for several years and is glad to be able to walk to work.

With thousands of high-tech office workers within walking distance, it’s a smart location for the iconic office furnishings designer and retailer.

Herman Miller Domain ATX

Directly across the street is the first Texas location of The RealReal, the popular online marketplace for authenticated, resale luxury goods.

The RealReal exemplifies one of the retail trends that are most prominent at the Domain—online brands that have opened physical stores. It’s a colorful, well merchandised boutique that invites shoppers to stick around and browse.

Harmonized retail with an Austin vibe

The best retailers today are moving beyond omnichannel to what our friend Steve Dennis calls “harmonized retail,” putting the customer at the center of the experience regardless of where and how they shop.

The Domain is a successful case study in harmonized retail—a totally immersive experience where you can work, live, shop and dine.

No wonder it’s on the radar screen for the best retailers in the business. Even as it’s grown, though, the Domain has managed to retain an “Austin vibe,” even offering its own version of Austin’s famed Sixth Street entertainment district.

Our team loves the opportunity to explore great restaurants and retailers that are just a short walk from our office. Like many PR agencies and professional services firms, we’ve adopted a hybrid office model that gives everyone an opportunity to work from home, a coffee shop, the office—whatever works best for them.

However, there’s an extra incentive to show up at the office now. Ketner Group’s Austin team is thrilled to be in our new home at the Domain. Reach out to schedule a time to come see us and we’ll show you around!

Gen Z Madeline Q&A Blog

Dishing With My Daughter: Interviewing “Gen Z” About Shopping Habits

Today we are digging into a topic that I find incredibly interesting – Generation Z and their shopping habits. Gen Z, the group of 72 million youngsters born between 1997 and 2012, can’t remember a time before the internet and widespread digital technology. According to McKinsey, Gen Z has a greater interest in human rights, race and ethnicity issues, LGBTQ+ equality, and feminism than generations before them.

Gen Z has never known a country not at war. As well, most have seen first-hand the financial struggles of their Gen X parents. In my opinion, they are old souls always searching to find their unique identities but are grounded in fiscal and social responsibility.

And I should know – I have two! 

I recently sat down with the oldest of my two Gen Z’ers, Madeline. Born in 2005, Madeline is a high school junior busy with her various school and volunteer activities. She also holds down a part-time job at a local pizza restaurant. But just like any high school teen, she loves hanging with her friends and, of course, shopping.

I was able to pull Madeline away from her very busy life to have a conversation with me – her Gen X mom who still doesn’t understand exactly how Snapchat works – to spill the tea on her likes and dislikes when it comes to retail shopping. 

What I found was not surprising at all. Madeline’s habits match up to the general characteristics of Gen Z. She is digitally connected all the time, but fiscally aware when it comes to spending her hard-earned money.

Check out our full conversation in the video or transcript below!


Transcript from “Dishing with my Daughter”

Tell me a little bit about what you like about shopping in the store and what you don’t like.

I like being able to see all the clothes in person and being able to know what kind of material is really used, because different styles and materials all fit differently.

I like knowing exactly how everything will fit. What I don’t like about in-person shopping is all the other people around me. As well, in my experience, retail workers are sometimes rude.

Gen Z Madeline In Person Shopping

When shopping in store, do you like having the help of a retail worker?

Sometimes. But I mainly do things by myself because they (the retail worker) are not in my head. They don’t know what I really want. I could tell them what I want, but I would rather not. 

I know you do a lot of online shopping! I’m curious, what do you love about online shopping and what is maybe frustrating about shopping online?

I like it because there are more options–in terms of sizes and other options. You could find something you like in-person, but they might not have your size or the color you want. With online shopping, they’re more likely to have your size. It’s easier to find things online because you can just search the style you are looking for. It also seems more organized to shop online than in the store.

Gen Z Madeline Online Shopping

Tell me a bit about the brands that you like to shop at online and why you keep going back to those shops?

I really like Shein because they have so many options. As soon as you think you’ve found all their options or you got to the bottom of the list, there are always hundreds of more items to view. And it’s also very cheap, for the most part. I don’t think I’ve ever spent over $15 or $17 on one thing at that store.

With online shopping, you can take as long as you want, instead of feeling like you’ve been in one store too long. I feel like the retail workers are thinking, “What is this girl doing here for so long? Is she lost or something?” 

I’ve spent almost two hours just on one website making sure I got all the colors in, the size and the style. I spend my own money when I shop, so I want to make sure I’m getting exactly what I want.

Gen Z Madeline Online Shopping

Let’s talk about social media shopping – very popular with Gen Z. Can you give us an example of how you use this?

I find a lot of the things that I’m interested in on Instagram and Facebook the most. Because of the algorithms, I think they (the social media channels) consider what pages I follow and what things I like on Explore pages. I really like a lot of Western, 60s, 70s and early 2000 styles, so I follow a lot of people and small boutiques that carry those styles. 

As I’m going through my feed, I’ll see a pair of jeans or a cute blouse in the styles that I like, so that’s helped me a lot when I’m shopping. It’s helped me expand and learn about new stores, and it’s also helpful for smaller boutiques too. Tiny boutiques will pop up on my feed that I’ve never seen before, so I often end up buying things from them, too. In that way, I feel like I’m doing my part to help small brands. 

My thing is that I come up with my own style in my head, but I don’t always know how to search for what I’m looking for on an online site. For example, I was trying to find my prom dress online last month. I was looking for a dress on Lulus and I knew exactly what style and theme I wanted for my dress – an icy platinum look. But on so many online sites, you can’t really look up icy platinum in their little search engine. So, I went to Pinterest to find what I was looking for.

With Pinterest, I literally typed in icy platinum prom dress! So many options came up and I was able to find some dresses that I liked. From there I looked at the names of the dresses, did a Pinterest search again and ended up finding the exact icy platinum dress I wanted! 

Gen Z Social Media Shopping

Let’s talk about thrift shopping! Tell us a little bit about why you like thrift shopping and how that’s helped you with your style.

I like thrifting, and feel like I’ve been thrifting before it was a trend! I like it because the clothes are super cheap there. I’m also a big fan of early 2000 styles. There are a ton of options in terms of clothes and accessories items from that decade at stores like Goodwill. And, like I said before, it’s also cheap. My friends and I can walk in there with $50 to spend and can buy probably close to that number of shirts! How could you not want to go there?

Side note: After speaking with my Gen Z’er for this blog, I took a closer look at the thrift shopping trend. According to according to a report from GlobalData and the online thrift store ThredUp, the secondhand market is projected to reach $77 billion by 2025 and is growing at a whopping 11 times the rate of the broader retail clothing sector. The drivers of the growth are younger consumers who are drawn to thrifting for its sustainability and eclectic and cool styles.

Gen Z Thrift Shopping

As a Gen Z’er, what else helps influences how you shop, either on social media or online or in a store?

A big part of my influence in what I like to shop for and wear is honestly music. I love older music, like Fleetwood Mac and Lynyrd Skynyrd – mostly bands from the 60s and 70s. I like the styles from that era. Sharon Tate is another style icon of mine. I would say she a big influence on the clothes and accessories that I buy.   

Gen Z Shopping Music Influence

Let’s talk retail!

At Ketner Group, we love digging into all things retail – even with our kids! Get in touch today to find out how our retail expertise can help drive brand awareness and supporting your marketing goals. 

retail tech company nrf 2022

NRF Wasn’t the Same This Year, But the Show Goes On for Retail Tech Companies

Our CEO and founder Jeff Ketner started going to NRF about twenty years ago. It’s always been the event for building relationships in the retail tech industry. But this year, like last year, was different. His latest video discusses the shift in the landscape and how tech companies can respond. Prefer to read than watch a video? We’ve included a transcript of his discussion below.


The show goes on for retail tech companies

Hi, I’m Jeff Ketner, founder and CEO of Ketner Group. NRF may have gone haywire, but every marketer knows that the show must go on. And that’s what we’re talking about today.

As a retail technology PR agency, we’ve attended more than 20 NRF Big Shows. Before COVID, there was always a buzz of excitement. Our clients were there, we managed countless press and analyst briefings, and it was an annual celebration of all things retail.

This year was different. With Omicron raging, NRF attendance was off by as much as 2/3. Most of our clients stayed home. We did, too. It felt strange. On the other hand,  retail is back. It’s healthy, and that’s good news.

Retail sales in November and December grew more than 14% compared to 2020–far exceeding the most optimistic expectations. Retailers overcame huge challenges last year dealing with inflation, supply chain disruptions and the continuing impact of COVID.

Much of the success retailers have found can be attributed to their technology investments. Which begs the question, without NRF, how can retailers find their next big tech initiatives?

For technology vendors, strategic marketing and communications is more important than ever. One important way to get the word out is through media and analyst relations.

Give media and analysts news they can use

In the past, retail tech companies looked to NRF as a opportunity to make an impact through media relations. Ketner Group has managed hundreds of 1:1 meetings over the years.

Those in-person press meetings at NRF didn’t happen. However, the media still needs to hear about your new products, customer wins and trends you’re seeing in the industry. And there’s no better time than now. Retailers are finalizing their IT priorities for the year, and they’re looking to retail and business media as key resources to help guide decisions.

retail-awareness

A retail technology-focused PR agency like Ketner Group can help you break through the noise and get your story out to the media that matter most. With a great story and the right agency support, the resulting media coverage can help get the attention of prospective customers.

It’s the same with industry analysts. They rely on PR firms to help them stay current on the changing technology landscape. Analysts are key influencers with retailers; time and effort here can make a difference in bringing tech vendors to the attention of analysts.

If you write it, the leads will come

What about all the sales leads you didn’t get this year?

For many retail tech companies, NRF has always been the #1 source of leads for the year. That’s something that’s hard to replace, so now is the time to double down on new, creative content initiatives to develop and nurture leads.

retail-content-development

Thought-provoking content is important. You own it, and you control the message. It gives you the opportunity to engage readers with your viewpoint on some of the biggest issues they’re facing. Your content can include press releases, bylined articles, case studies, blogs and LinkedIn articles, as well as long-form content such as bylines and white papers.

Content marketing is essential for engaging retailers as they research technology vendors. It can help replace some of the leads you would have received at industry events, and it’s a critical part of your marketing strategy.

The great technology reset

With or without NRF, marketers have lots of opportunities to help their companies make an impact in 2022. According to our friend Greg Buzek of IHL Group, retail is in the midst of a once-in-a-generation technology reset; you can’t afford to miss out.

increase-retail-tech-leads

This represents a huge opportunity for technology vendors—and a specialized retail technology PR firm like Ketner Group can make a difference. We’ve focused on retail technology PR for over 20 years. Our understanding of the industry makes us experts in retail tech marketing, and we’ve developed invaluable relationships with key retail tech influencers – both media and analysts.

2022 will be an exciting year in retail and technology. And with proactive PR and creative content in your marketing playbook, your company can play a big part in it.

Thanks for listening. We’d love to hear from you! Reach out to connect with us.

retail tech pr agency

Why to Hire a Retail Tech PR Agency

When speaking with prospects and new clients in the retail technology industry who have previously worked with a PR agency, we regularly hear that the agency didn’t understand what they did. Often the agency either specialized in B2B technology or in retail, but not both. This is why it’s important to specifically find a retail tech PR agency.

Our friend and advisor Karl Sakas explains this well. He says, “If you needed heart surgery, you wouldn’t hire a general surgeon. If your insurance was good enough, you wouldn’t hire a cardiac surgeon, either. You’d hire a cardiac surgeon who’s done your exact procedure 500 times before. When they have a choice, people tend to hire a specialist.”

With that logic in mind, we recommend that if you’re a retail technology company – whether you provide solutions for the supply chain, eCommerce, payments, or even a vertical specific technologies for grocers or apparel – you work with a retail tech PR agency to drive brand awareness and support your marketings goals.

Here are just a couple of reasons why.

Expertise in retail AND tech

It’s easy enough to find a B2B tech PR agency. A quick Google search retrieves thousands of results.

However, it’s a lot harder to find a PR agency that specializes in BOTH retail and B2B technology. But why should it matter? Simply put, a general B2B tech PR agency is trying to be all things to all people. Meanwhile, a retail tech PR agency knows your industry just as well as you do, if not better.

ketner group retail tech

So, what does that mean? For Ketner Group, that means we live and breathe retail tech. When onboarding a new client, it’s easy for us to understand what the client does and to translate that into terms that retailers and brands understand.

This is especially important if you’re hiring an agency to do content development. If an agency is doing nothing but reading and writing about the industry that you serve, it’s easy to pick up your company’s tone of voice and style to create content that resonates with your target audience – retailers and brands.

Established relationships with retail tech influencers

Beyond having expertise in retail and technology, a retail tech PR agency has established relationships with key influencers in the space. This is particularly important for media and analyst relations.

When working with a specialized agency, it cuts down on onboarding time and the time it takes to gain media coverage. We don’t have to spend exorbitant amounts of time researching and building media lists from scratch. We use our proprietary media lists to customize and build a database of targets for each client.

With most of our new clients, Ketner Group Communications sees media mentions within the first month by leveraging our existing connections with media contacts in the space.

retail tech pickup

Same goes for analyst relations. We have established relationships with key industry analysts and are able to quickly set up introductory analyst briefings with the analysts who cover your space. Additionally, we help cut through the red tape (i.e. sales people) that solution providers often encounter when handling analyst relations in house.

Start working with a retail tech PR agency today

So, you’re convinced – it’s time to engage with a retail tech PR agency. Look no further.

Ketner Group Communications has specialized in retail tech PR for over 20 years. Our deep understanding of the industry makes us experts in retail tech content development and brings with it established relationships with key retail tech influencers – both media and analysts.

Ketner Group speaks your language and knows your target audience. Get in touch today to find out how we can help you drive brand awareness and support your marketing goals.

retail associate experience

Why Retailers Must Create a Great Associate Experience—and How We Can All Help

As I write this, the retail industry is in the home stretch of the holiday shopping season, and the news is enough to make even the Grinch smile.

Retail sales are on track to rise between 8.5 and 10.5 percent this holiday—the largest growth rate on record. Shoppers returned to stores in droves this season, with foot traffic up 48 percent from last year (although still below pre-pandemic levels).

The retail industry has proven its resilience despite persistent supply chain challenges; leading retailers have become “logistical ninjas” in order to meet consumer demand, according to the president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

By almost every measure, Holiday 2021 is looking very merry indeed—unless you’re a store associate.

The retail associate paradox

For many in-store workers, the record-breaking shopping season means extra headaches dealing with unreasonable customers, the stress of working harder, longer hours and only a brief respite before the onslaught of holiday returns and after-Christmas sales.

retail workers quitting

There’s a paradox at work here. Retail sales are soaring to record numbers, yet retail associates are leaving their jobs at an unprecedented rate.

According to U.S. Labor Department data, a staggering 721,000 retail workers quit in August, making up a large proportion of employees in the Great Resignation of 2021. And who can blame them?

Rude behavior wasn’t always the norm

The title of this recent Business Insider article says it all: “Rude shoppers are fueling America’s crippling labor shortage.” Rude treatment of store associates and restaurant workers is nothing new, but it’s gotten worse during the long pandemic.

As the article points out, while retail associates were hailed as frontline heroes in the early days of COVID-19, they’ve increasingly borne the brunt of shoppers’ frustrations with mask mandates, long checkout lines and product shortages. Grocery workers died from COVID while keeping the doors open to serve customers, and some retail workers have been killed by gunmen while trying to enforce mask mandates.

retail dehumanized

It wasn’t always like this. My mom spent her working years in retail, first in accounting and then in the credit department at Sears (back when it was actually a great retailer). She had stock options, decent pay, benefits and a job she looked forward to every day.

This used to be the norm for retail. But as retailers focused on cost-cutting and low labor costs, employees increasingly became “commoditized and somewhat dehumanized.” And the effects of the seemingly never-ending pandemic have led many retail associates to say “enough.”

Retailers are stepping up in response

To their credit, a number of large retailers have stepped up.

Retail Dive recently reported that retailers such as Walmart, Kohl’s and Amazon “are betting on higher wages, bonuses and even tuition assistance in a bid to woo potential candidates.” Nordstrom is one of many retailers that is offering competitive pay and generous employee discounts of 20%. Target’s new associate mobile app lets them add or swap shifts to better fit their schedules.

As Business Insider points out, ”retail businesses are realizing that they need to address working conditions, wages, and career prospects if they want their jobs to be seen as desirable.”

Some of the best retailers are taking a hard line against rude behavior.

retailers improve associate experience

“Dick’s Sporting Goods has a “zero-tolerance” stance regarding disrespectful behavior toward team members,” according to Fortune. “This includes a hotline number for employees to call if they feel they have not been treated with dignity and respect. Customers who shop in the store also can use the hotline. The stance empowers store managers to escort customers from the premises when efforts to de-escalate conflicts do not succeed.” Dick’s head of inclusion and diversity said that employees have been escorted from the store for using abusive language and some have been asked not to return.

After years of focusing on creating better customer experiences, retailers are finally paying attention to the associate experience. It’s essential, too, if the retail industry is going to carry over some of the momentum of holiday 2021 into the next year.

Shoppers can make a positive impact too

As shoppers, we have a role to play, too.

Every year the head of the school my kids attended told the students she expected only three things of them: “Be kind, be kind, be kind.” The tagline for season two of Ted Lasso is “this year, kindness makes a comeback,” and it can’t come too soon for retail workers.

We may be impatient, frustrated and overwhelmed with the demands of life and the holiday season, but we can’t take it out on the restaurant staff, store associates, delivery people and countless other retail workers we encounter.

Working in retail has never been easy, but it’s especially difficult today. A little empathy on our part can go a long way in helping retail workers feel appreciated.

As a store associate told me this weekend, “It’s been a really busy day. People just need to be patient–and most of them have.” Hopefully that trend will continue, throughout the holidays and into the new year.

Happy holidays from all of us at Ketner Group!


Ketner Group is a PR and communications agency that’s passionate about retail and technology.

We help retail technology companies build brand, drive demand and grow stakeholder value. We’d love to hear from you! Contact us