NY Fashion Tech Lab overview

A Peek Inside The New York Fashion Tech Lab

In our latest KG Connects webinar series, we heard from Jackie Trebilcock firsthand about the work that the New York Fashion Tech Lab (NYFTLab) is doing to empower women-led fashion-tech and retail-tech companies.

Jackie is the managing director of NYFTLab and boasts over 15 years of experience in fashion, technology and business development. She has spent much of that career working with entrepreneurs to grow their vision and companies via strategic planning and relevant industry introductions.

Elevating fashion-tech companies

For the past eight years, NYFTLab has facilitated partnerships between growing companies and big-name global brands. Founded by Springboard Enterprises, alongside key fashion retailers, NYFTLab’s mission is to support women-led companies that have developed incredible innovations merging fashion, retail and technology.

Through the connections to capital and retail partners, Jackie describes what NYFTLab does as, “a business catalyst…our whole goal with this is to provide more exposure and a platform for the companies to share what they do.”  

This is a sentiment echoed by co-founder and CEO of HaftaHave, Amanda Latifi, a 2020 Lab participant.

“The connections and relationships that Springboard and Jackie have forged with top brands and marketers in the retail industry is bar none,” Amanda said. “This is not VC’s telling retailers about emerging tech, but retailers selecting emerging technology to work with based on known needs and pain points.”

NYFTLab is empowering women and emerging tech

NYFTLab is highly focused on a particular group, recruiting women-led early and growth-stage emerging technology companies. While that description might be narrow, the areas of interest for the Lab are anything but. AR/VR, blockchain, data analytics, content marketing, supply chain and so many more technologies are welcomed into the fold.

Participants in the Lab have hailed from all over the globe. From Paris to Singapore, anyone from anywhere can apply to the NYFTLab program. The Lab also partners with brands and retailers from outside of the U.S.

“It’s becoming increasingly more global than it was when we started,” Jackie said.

Jackie Trebilcock quote

The next generation of fashion technology

The 2020 Lab featured eight companies that represent the cutting edge of fashion and retail tech: Reflaunt, Becoco, Sozie, Zoomlook, Futureproof, Change of Paradigm, Heuritech and HaftaHave.

While the participants were selected in February, the fact that they are pushing the bounds of technology means that they were well-poised to take on the unique challenges that 2020 brought.

When asked about the intersection of technology and fashion, particularly in the pandemic, Jackie said that, “everyone needs to think differently. The consumer has been really changed and challenged as to how they can shop how they used to. All of this has created a huge opportunity for new companies to come to the forefront.”

Missed the webinar?

Watch this webinar and sign up for the next KG Connects

To learn more about the NYFTLab and the 2020 Lab participants, watch the webinar on demand.

On deck: Grocery’s Digital Disruption: What’s Ahead for 2021

The world is changing at a breakneck pace, and retail is no exception. Mark Fairhurst and Sylvain Perrier, creators of the “Digital Grocer” podcast will focus on what’s ahead for grocery retailers in this fireside chat featuring special guest host Jeff Ketner. We look forward to you being there! You can register here.

Spooky and Uncertain Times: Halloween 2020

Spooky and Uncertain Times: Halloween 2020

When you rest your heavy October eyes, what do you see? Smiling jack o’ lanterns? Casper the Friendly Ghost? Bowls of delicious candy? If so, consider yourself lucky….

Those of us at the Ketner Group have been disturbed by an image of pure terror as we’ve slipped into our slumbers… skeletons filled with spiderwebs, ghouls, goblins, broken dreams, all dancing under the FULL MOON on HALLOWEEN. That’s right folks — a Halloween full moon. Just when you thought 2020 couldn’t get any more 2020, the moon rears its spooky glow on the 31st of October for a Q4 scare.

We’re not even talking the friendly Harvest Moon that Neil Young so lovingly crooned(?) about. This will be a Hunter’s Moon according to the Farmer’s Almanac. And while we’ll all be hunting for candy, the question we must all ask is… who will be hunting for us?

To answer that sinister question in an obvious way, it will be retailers hunting for our wallets as the holiday season approaches. But what does this Halloween’s retail landscape look like? Allow your mouse to be the planchette on this Ouija board of projections as we conjure some insights.

The boo normal

While last year was a graveyard smash, Halloween 2020 will obviously look a little different amid COVID-19.

With the CDC offering some safe trick or treating guidelines and alternatives, thankfully trick or treating is still on the table. I say that as a 26-year-old who definitely will not be trying to fill that pillowcase this year dressed as a ninja (mask included).

Still, according to the National Retail Federation, more than 75% of consumers say COVID-19 is impacting their plans to celebrate Halloween, with overall participation down to 58%. “Plans for parties, trick-or-treating, handing out candy and visiting haunted houses have all dropped, due largely to the fact that some activities do not easily adhere to social distancing.”

NRF expects this drop in participation to reduce the holiday’s spending to $8.05 billion, down from $8.78 billion in 2019. However, those who celebrating plan to spend an average of $92.12, up from $86.27 in 2019.

Ultimately, much remains uncertain for retailers this year as shoppers wait until the last minute to decide if and how they’ll celebrate. “It could either be the worst year we’ve ever had or the best year we’ve ever had,” said Tom Fallenstein, CEO of HalloweenCostumes.com, in a Marketplace interview.

Retailers and brands making a social media splash

With everyone grasping for a hero these days, a 12-foot-tall leader has emerged. One of the biggest celebrities of Halloween has been Home Depot’s “12 ft. Giant-Sized Skeleton with LifeEyes.” This hip decoration went viral on Twitter and TikTok, inspiring humerus content and selling out a month before Halloween by Oct. 1.

If you’re still interested in experiencing a life with this decoration, Home Depot uses AR to let shoppers see how their home could be haunted enhanced by this big guy. We’ve seen this capability with furniture in the past, but never has it spurred more gasps. Visit the product page on your phone to experience it for yourself (disclaimer: Ketner Group is NOT responsible for any frights or scares the user may experience).

As it goes on corporate Twitter, other brands hopped on this bandwagon as quick as they could.

NRF Quote Halloween 2020

A digital Halloween & holiday season

This clinging to an unlikely idol makes sense with America looking for new ways to celebrate Halloween this year. In fact, 17% of NRF survey respondents say they plan to celebrate virtually.

In a year of digital and e-commerce explosion, Halloween may not even be the beginning of the holiday season. Amazon Prime Day, having moved from its usual July date and taking place Oct. 13-14, is expected by many to be the kickoff to the holiday shopping season. According to Business Insider, “Amazon Prime Day 2020 will be unlike any other since its debut five years ago. Amid the backdrop of a pandemic and recessionary headwinds, this year’s event promises significant changes that will shake up the entire retail landscape heading into the holidays.”

Prime Day is expected to generate nearly $10 billion in sales worldwide, according to eMarketer.

Time goes on, but the frights remain

There are plenty of uncertainties in this world, now more than ever (to give you some spooky, early-pandemic commercial flashback). Cities are calling off Halloween events, states are putting forth guidelines for celebrating and All Hollow’s Eve retail projections are trending downward but still TBD.

Still, there will be plenty of fun to be had, whether digitally, socially distanced or alone on the couch slugging Reese’s Crunches (a sandwich consisting of two Crunch bars, with a Reese’s in the middle).

In this uncertain world, however, we can all take pleasure in knowing that, like every year, Halloween will be extremely spooky…now more than ever amid a FULL HUNTER’S MOON. 

marketing investments 2021

Retail’s Big Show Has Gone Digital: What Should Tech Vendors Do Now?

NRF, the National Retail Federation’s annual expo, has always lived up to its nickname of “Retail’s Big Show.” For the past 20+ years, Ketner Group has braved New York’s frigid January weather to help our clients make the most of retail’s signature event.

That’s ancient history now, of course, for NRF and every other industry event. Almost overnight, virtual events have replaced physical events, and 2021’s January NRF is now a two-week digital event, with a physical expo to follow in June. Since no one knows what to expect from the new format, it’s opened up a huge void in sales and marketing that retail tech vendors are scrambling to fill.

This has also freed up new marketing budget for some companies, since their NRF 2021 budget may go largely unspent for the remainder of the year. We’re actively working with many clients to help refocus their marketing activities in the absence of NRF, and here are four recommendations to consider.

4 marketing investments instead of nrf 2021

1. Double down on PR

As we wrote in a blog post this summer, this is not the time to go dark on PR. Companies have typically viewed NRF as a prime event for new customer and product announcements, and we see no reason why this should change.

After all, retailers will have set their priorities for technology investments, and they’ll want to know more about your solutions, customers, technology direction and understanding of the challenges they face in 2021 (and there will be plenty, coming off retail’s most disruptive year in decades).

So start planning your PR strategy and campaigns now. This includes press releases, thought leadership content, editorial briefings, media relations campaigns and more; if you have a robust pipeline of announcements, get started this fall and keep your foot on the accelerator pedal through January.

2. Step up your analyst relations program

Retailers’ technology priorities have shifted dramatically in the wake of COVID-19, and they will be looking to industry analysts to help them prioritize investments and vendors.

This fall and winter will be critical times to refresh your messaging and conduct analyst update briefings. It’s important to understand key analysts’ viewpoints and to demonstrate how your solutions help retailers meet the challenges of the new, post-COVID world.

If you’re not currently investing in analyst services, this may be the time to redirect some of your NRF budget, to ensure constant access to analyst research, strategic direction, inquiries and feedback.

Research projects can pay big dividends, too, whether it’s with a traditional analyst firm or through a market research group such as Researchscape, who we’ve partnered with on multiple occasions.

3. Remember: content is still king

In the absence of face-to-face meetings at events, content is more important than ever. Conversion rates are six times higher for companies that use content marketing, according to Aberdeen Group, and fresh content will drive greater engagement on your company website and provide fresh material for your lead nurturing and content marketing programs.

Content comes in a wide range of formats, including blog posts, infographics, customer case studies, ebooks, whitepapers and more.

Repurpose your content when it makes sense, in order to get the most out of your content marketing investments. One long-form piece of content can be condensed and reused for blog posts and thought leadership articles for media, for example, and also be used to drive social media engagement.

4. Complete a messaging and website refresh

Many companies have used NRF to launch new marketing messages, and that shouldn’t change. After all, NRF has gone digital; what better time to revamp your digital presence?

With all the changes in retail in 2020, your company’s messaging and website is likely due for an overall, too. Make sure your messaging and your website are current, relevant and speak to the real needs that retailers will face in 2021.

After all, your website is the foundation for all other marketing initiatives. When done properly, PR, analyst relations and content will always drive people back to the website.

Focus on the future

These are some of the key initiatives that companies must focus on in the coming months, and there is much more that can be done.

Companies should also take a close look at NRF 2021’s virtual offering, too; just because an event has gone digital is no reason to not be involved. But given the uncertainties of a new format, it’s important to put even more emphasis on the initiatives we’ve described here. 

If you’re interested in diving into one of these initiatives and would like some help, we offer a free 30-minute consultation. We’d love to talk about how we can power an impactful marketing initiative. Get in touch.

retail re-emergence post-covid

“Retail Re-Emergence” in a Post-COVID World

For the August 2020 edition of our KG Connects webinar series, we hosted internationally known retail experts Manolo Almagro and Ben Gauthier from Q Division. They are experts in commerce and technology, working with startups and brands worldwide to promote and deploy emerging retail tech and take advantage of key trends. They joined us for a conversation on what to expect as the retail world resets, recovers and advances in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic and economic downturn.

COVID-19 creates an opportunity for retailers

While “post-Covid” may be overly optimistic to say at this point, retailers and technology companies need to know what to prioritize and where to focus to shore up infrastructure while the “opportunity” of closed or limited store capacity, so to speak, still exists.

While big box retailers including Target, Lowe’s and Best Buy have performed exceedingly well in recent months, mall-anchor retailers such as Macy’s, Nordstrom’s and Kohl’s are facing big challenges. In all cases, most of the response to the pandemic was cemented well before 2020, as they deployed or failed to deploy the right technology infrastructure, customer engagement strategies and assortments that served customer needs.

changing-consumer-behavior

A big part of that is that the way people shop for regular items – from groceries to back-to-school items to holiday shopping – is changing. Of course, that was true before the pandemic and those changes have accelerated tremendously since.

Retailers must go virtual to meet changing consumer behavior

Just like the way we communicate and entertain ourselves as communities have gone fully virtual, retail has to as well. And it’s benefited the big retailers who have pushed innovative solutions to sticky problems and punished the laggards hanging onto old glory. 

As foot traffic in physical stores continues to slowly but steadily regain momentum, it’s essential to remember that it’s human nature to be social. Shopping in person is part of that, but in a “post”-pandemic world, the digital influence can’t be ignored.

Of course, the way technology is deployed needs to be strategic and what works for one retailer would be foolish for another. That said, technology investments shouldn’t be patchwork, hole-filling remedies. Retailers need to truly reconsider how their business model plays with their consumers’ wishes – now and into the future – and respond in kind.

Technology is ready to power future retail success

Ben and Manolo took us through some of the most important innovations. Of course, the pattern will be different for everyone, but what’s true for all is that a service or process that was once radical may quickly become foundational, and what was once foundational may seems suddenly secondary.

retail-post-covid

One stat that stood out was that 75% of shoppers have tried a new shopping behavior since COVID-19 struck, according to McKinsey. And according to IBM, we’ve advanced up to five years ahead in e-commerce because of the fundamental need.

For example, curbside was a forced behavior among most grocers. A somewhat slow-to-innovate industry with customers who aren’t always highly tech savvy, curbside quickly became a lifeline and is now very popular across demographics.

When we look at restaurants, we also learn a big lesson on loyalty and owning the customer relationship fully even when launching new services. Restaurants obviously took a huge hit. But some sectors, such as pizza, did well. They were structured to thrive on quick delivery and had the ecosystem in place.

For others, the fees were so high on partnering with a service like Uber Eats that they struggled to really take advantage of the profit those services bring. And when the customer interaction with the restaurant goes through the app, brand identity and value take a hit, too.

That said, consumer loyalty across retail segments quickly shifted from an enjoyable in-person experience or goods rewards program to more fundamental needs, and availability became paramount for driving loyalty.  Now, success is all about delivering those new services with efficiency and transparency, and providing great results with availability, quality, speed and consistency.

How to identify the best technology application

Want to learn about the specific technology applications that will take center stage as retailers look to own their customer relationships while reimagining what retail experiences mean to their brand? Watch the webinar to learn more about:

  • Customer experience
    • BOPIS
    • Walk-up, curbside, drive-through
    • Cashierless/unattended stores
  • Home commerce
    • E-commerce
    • Virtual shopping / telepresence
    • Home delivery partners
  • Customer-centric convenience
    • Buy now pay later
    • Contactless transactions
    • Loyalty = availability
  • Operations and supply chain
    • ML demand forecasting
    • Micro-warehousing
    • Autonomous everything and robotics

Next up: discussing inclusive communication

It’s also critical that no business loses sight of the power of communication to develop and maintain strong communities. In September, we’ll host Kia Jarmon for a conversation on The Art of Inclusive Communication on how to do just that. We hope to see you there!

catch covid-19 retail webinar on demand
retail evolution 2020

Retail Evolution 2020: Pandemic Edition

Like much of the U.S., non-essential retailers closed their doors in mid-March. The whispers returned and eventually reached a crescendo, “The ‘Retail Apocalypse’ has arrived!” We’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the ‘Retail Apocalypse’ is not here.

One more time for the cheap seats in the back (remember those?), THE ‘RETAIL APOCALYPSE’ IS NOT HERE. In fact, the ‘Retail Apocalypse’ is never happening. So let’s remove that from our vocabulary and put the rumors to bed, once and for all. Instead, let’s talk about what’s really happening — a retail evolution.

Like everything else in 2020, the retail industry has been faced with a new normal. Retailers who have failed to evolve, have had to make difficult decisions, from closing stores to declaring bankruptcy and even all out business closures.

Meanwhile, many retailers have thrived through the pandemic. In fact, Target reported that its curbside pickup service, Drive Up, grew 700% in Q2. 700%! How? Because again and again, Target has transformed to meet the changing needs of shoppers. With that, let’s dive deeper into the 2020 retail evolution.

The essentials

While many retailers temporarily shuttered to comply with state and local mandates, essential retailers like grocers, pharmacies and convenience stores, remained open. These retailers faced new challenges, from supply chain shortages to daunting volumes of online grocery orders.

However, most adapted and emerged as heroes. With digital grocery sales reaching a an all-time high of $7.2 billion in June, grocers have accepted that many of the forced changes of 2020 are here to stay. Grocers and their solution providers alike have worked hand-in-hand to rapidly evolve and meet shoppers’ needs as we continue to stay home.

essential retailers

Amazon’s 2017 acquisition of Whole Foods ignited a fire in grocers, and many began examining and implementing much needed technologies, from AI-enabled supply chains to digital grocery solutions. No doubt, they could have done more to be prepared for 2020 but no one anticipated a pandemic.

Grocers recognize the need for AI-enabled and digital technologies now more than ever. As a result, they will continue to digitally transform to address the fundamental shift in how consumers shop for everyday essentials.

Digital realities

Across the industry, retailers who have failed to embrace digital transformation have suffered immeasurably in 2020. On the other hand, forward-thinking solution providers who have been waiting in the wings for their heyday, and the retailers adopting those solutions, are reaping the rewards. Many digital solutions, like virtual fit and live shopping, that once seemed futuristic are now necessary to retail survival.

retail tech solution future

For example, Greg Alvo, CEO and founder of Ordergroove, launched the Relationship Commerce company in 2010. At the time, Amazon Prime and the Subscribe & Save program were in their infancy. But Greg recognized an opportunity in the market and had a dream of making consumer’s lives easier through subscription retail.

Ten years later, Greg’s vision has become a necessity as consumers look for reliable ways to get household essentials. According to Ordergroove, retailers and brands with subscription programs have seen a 40% in new enrollments as a result of COVID-19.

Digital capabilities like reoccurring subscription models are a win for consumers and retailers alike. From our daily conversations with solution providers, we’ve seen that retailers are clamoring to adapt such technologies ahead of the holiday season. Furthermore, consumers are adopting these new omni-channel shopping options as part of their ongoing routines.

The retail evolution is here to stay

Call it what you will — trade, retail, digital commerce — the retail industry will continue to evolve. It’s here to stay and has been for thousands of years. Yes, it will change but so will the rest of the world, and retailers and shoppers alike will adapt.

Speaking of changes in the retail industry, be sure to register for August’s KG Connects webinar, “‘Retail Re-Emergence’ in a Post-COVID World,” with Q Division.

kg connects august 2020
woman shopping for clothes in a store

Sensory Marketing: A Retailer’s Friend or Foe?

It’s a no brainer that emotions influence buying behavior. Advertisers use tactics daily to grab our attention and drive brand awareness. Similarly, our five senses can also be used to influence our behavior, whether it’s through the attractive color of a sweater or the smells in a candle store. But there’s one sense that online and brick and mortar retailers are realizing can be their biggest weapon or biggest downfall: touch.

What is sensory marketing?

Haptic perception is the process of recognizing objects through touch, and haptic marketing, or sensory marketing, can help retailers sell products through the sensory effect a product can have on a shopper.

Sensory marketing takes place when a shopper squeezes an avocado to see if it’s ripe, samples a lip gloss or lifts their arms to see if a new shirt fits. While this is not a new concept, these examples of sensory marketing are done in physical settings.

E-commerce’s role with sensory marketing

Before COVID-19, a Retail Dive survey found that more than half of shoppers visit a brick and mortar store to touch or see a product they may end up buying online. So while e-commerce may be touted as a more convenient option, it often fails to mimic the in-store experience due to the lack of physical touch and ability to test out or try on products.

The letdown of making a major purchase online and have it not meet expectations when it arrives – not to mention the hassle of returns – can be a main deterrent and reason why shoppers still visit brick and mortar stores. The act of touching or testing out a product reassures the shopper that their choice is the correct one.

Sensory experiential marketing

The pandemic has created an unprecedented opportunity for savvy e-commerce retailers to use technology to continue taking market share from stores. But it’s important to consider if online retail can ever fully match the same experience that physical stores offer.

Traditionally, online retailers have worked to alleviate haptic marketing growing pains by offering trial periods or samples of products. And now if you shop online, retailers have detailed product information and high-quality images, so consumers know when they’re buying a cotton or rayon top.

Now, with artificial intelligence and virtual or augmented reality, consumers can even visualize larger items in their own space – such as a new couch or a Christmas tree right in their living room. When done through a device, haptic marketing has also taken an experiential turn.

Common in the gaming world, a viewer’s phone can buzz or vibrate when watching a video. Imagine watching an ad for running shoes, and every time the runner jumps, you feel the impact on your phone. While it may not be effective in conveying how the shoes fit on your own feet, this new form of marketing can definitely increase brand awareness.

Retail’s relationship to emotion

The use of sensory marketing can be very nostalgic as the five senses are tied to emotions. When you’re sitting in a store, debating which couch to buy, you imagine yourself sitting on it in your own home. This is harder to imagine behind a screen. Luckily, when there’s a barrier between the shopper and product, e-commerce retailers are getting smarter about how they market these products.

coffee shop open for business

Reopening Retail: What We’re Seeing

There’s only one topic that really matters in retail now: when and how to safely reopen retail so consumers can begin to shop and dine. The trick is to strike the right balance.

As retailers and restaurants open up their brick and mortar locations and slowly enter into a new way of doing business, it’s essential that shoppers feel safe and able to practice proper distancing and health practices.

Industry leaders such as Kroger have stepped up with their roadmaps for reopening. For example, Kroger’s “Sharing What We’ve Learned: A Blueprint for Businesses” has generated a lot of well-earned interest for its detailed recommendations.

What the experts are saying

In addition, Ketner Group has been in the middle of lots of discussions with clients, editors and analysts on the best ways to reopen retail. And we’re seeing interesting ideas begin to gain traction.

Ketner Group recently worked with our longtime client NGC Software on developing thought leadership on how to reopen retail in the era of coronavirus. NGC’s concepts are quickly gaining traction with leading brands and retailers, and we’re confident that they can play a role in helping to jumpstart retail.

This article in Sourcing JournalHow to Shorten the Timeline to Get Stores Back in Business – grew from a series of LinkedIn posts that generated 9,000+ views.

Another article in Glossy about how fashion brands plan to slowly reopen stores quotes NGC president Mark Burstein, along with retailers and other industry leaders that are working together to get retail up and running again.

We’re also helping Cathy Hotka and the Store Operations Council promote their recommendations for safely reopening retail. The Store Operations Council consists of leading retailers and industry thought leaders, and we’ll share those guidelines as soon as they’re available. As Cathy says, “We are in the second inning of a 9-inning game…we’re going to be dealing with this for a while.”

The key is for companies to work together, and we’re encouraged to see so many positive initiatives focused on the future of retail.

Grocery shelves full of eggs

UK Guest Blog: Will retail really be different after the crisis?

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to impact every aspect of life and the economy, our friend Chris Field, principal at UK-based FieldWorks Marketing, offers a look at some of the most influential trends that the crisis is accelerating, how retail will be affected by the crisis, and what the future of retail may look like as we emerge from it. We hope you enjoy.

As UK consumers discover that there are almost no home delivery slots available from any of the grocers, it is a timely reminder that only 8% of food is delivered online. And the grocers have defended themselves by saying that they cannot simply add huge capacity overnight, or possibly at all, given the controversy over staff working side by side in warehouses at the moment.

And it is also worth remembering, as so many people are calling the end of the store, that 85% of goods are still bought in stores, and that, while the stores landscape will look different after the pandemic ends and while retailers continue to explore just how many stores they need in a digital world, stores will not disappear, they will simply evolve, along the lines of the conversation we were all having before the pandemic.

Let’s put online shopping growth in perspective

Add to this that, albeit based on US research by Paymnts , only 25.4% of consumers surveyed said they were shopping online, and 16.3% were doing so on mobile more than they were before the coronavirus made its presence felt on these shores.

That’s only a slight uptick from the 22.1% and 16.7%, respectively, who reported similar sentiment in the survey at the beginning of March. So the idea that consumers alone will drive online growth and a further decline in store numbers may apply to certain types of goods that are already substantially bought online, ignores the fact that huge numbers do not shop online at all.

Rents are realigning

Consider also that, in the UK, there is growing flexibility among landlords to consider new types of rent agreements and the government is reviewing the rates system, so there should be a more benign environment for the store after the current crisis. This will, in turn, enable retailers to explore the right balance of on-to-offline and also to continue their journey to digitise stores to enable click and collect, browse digitally in store and buy online, store as warehouse and so on.

Consider also the role that retail stores play in the lives of consumers. Morrisons has recently reopened all of its cafes, not to serve tea and cake, but to provide a mini-warehouse for people to donate food to food banks.

You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone

And it is important to recognise that shopping in stores for most of us is a leisure activity that everyone would miss if it went away. A more useful debate to continue is the one about what people do when they go shopping in stores; they buy but they also chat, they drink coffee, they go to the cinema, they go on from there to the park and so on; so many different types of journeys that may be all shopping or just some shopping.

Remove stores entirely from that scenario and there are no more towns. So, listening to Silicon Valley tech investors and their hatred of stores, simply tells me that these are people who do not shop anyway; most of them are still men, so I probably don’t want to believe what they have to say about the future of the store.

So what I am concluding is that the reinvention that has been going on in retail for more than five years will continue after the crisis, even though in some areas, the velocity will increase.

If the pandemic is an existential crisis, it is one that has been going on for years.


Fieldworks is a UK-based agency that helps retail technology brands build visibility and reach prospects with award-winning digital marketing, content and PR.

Old time general store representing the basic retail model built on relationships

Coronavirus Puts the Focus Back on the Basics

Like nearly anyone offering a few words of reflection on the Coronavirus phenomenon, I’m far from an expert on the matter. I have tried for weeks to write this blog, and every two days the situation has changed so rapidly that I’ve had to essentially start over.

While I can’t offer any advice on how to assuage the public health, mental health, or economic threat this pandemic has affected, the process of learning, acknowledging, adapting and persevering that these few months have mandated from all of us is something I believe we should all take a moment to consider and to find great value in.

Like many, my first connection to Covid-19 was watching the virus take grip of China from the (physically) safe haven of Twitter, wondering along with everyone else whether what we were seeing was an authoritarian overreaction to assert political power or a global crisis exploding before our eyes.

When it burst through the border and put Italy under lockdown, I felt the emotional stress of being limited to FaceTime updates from my brother living 45 minutes from the country’s outbreak center with his wife and two kids – who as of this writing, we still understand to be healthy and safe.

When SXSW along with the City of Austin – where I live – canceled the event last minute, it felt like the most significant public acknowledgment that this crisis wasn’t just a blip on the radar or concern of only a foreign ‘other’.

Now, as we hunker down with our frozen pizzas, 1000-piece puzzles and the most organized junk drawers the world has ever seen, it’s provided the time to contextualize the moment and think about where we go from here and the lessons we should take with us.  

The benefit of being proactive

While I’m bummed that SXSW was canceled, it has proven to already be the right decision. The same goes for our clients who have had to cancel or postpone their customer events at their own expense.

Some things are just bigger than the bottom line, and I applaud the companies and executives being proactive about their broader long-term role in society even when they do so to their own short-term detriment. Their foresight and compassion had a massive effect on our ability to dampen the barrage.

It’s not always about being first to market with a new gadget or service. It’s not about being a fast follower. It’s not about taking credit as a pioneer in your field. The value comes from being quick to adapt and change to new conditions, for the betterment of all.

Flash vs substance

Having worked so closely with retail technology vendors for the past four years, it’s been very clear that most of the emphasis for building a modern retail business has been on customer engagement. When engaged, shoppers are likely to take desired actions.

We think about personalized marketing, same-day shipping, on-demand merchandise and endless aisle assortments. We talk about hyper-localization within a global economy and dynamic pricing in stores. It all sounds pretty wonderful, and it is.

But engagement doesn’t come from an innovation lab alone. It comes from personal understanding and connection to shoppers. For example, personalized marketing can only be done once you build real relationships with customers and learn enough about them to know what they want, when they want it.

If you can’t deliver on a shopper’s fundamental needs, all the work you’ve done to create new conveniences and ‘engagement’ is for naught.

Relationships and values are everything

What we’ve seen in recent weeks emphasizes this point. Families are paying more attention to grandparents than ever before. Businesses are finding ways to create more flexible, human-centric employee schedules. Dogs are getting more walks and parents are spending more playtime with their kids.

In times of crisis, we gravitate towards comfort and connection. We are drawn towards truth and fulfilling our fundamental needs. We realize more clearly what matters to us and what has been a distraction. And we see that much of our time and attention is dominated by clutter.

But who we are and what we mean to others is eternal.

When considering the future of business – all other considerations of financial management, product value, and bailouts aside – I’m sure that the companies who fare best and emerge from this with momentum will be those that have always emphasized building a brand and a culture of authenticity and responsibility, and actively cultivated customer and employee loyalty above all else.

Because when everything else gets called into question, our identity, our values – and what others know of them – are all you can rely on. It’s not only in times of stress that they matter, but it’s as good a time as any to realize the depth of their impact.

A most helpful Covid-19 legal resource:

Our client, national law firm Foley & Lardner, is offering a terrific library of support for companies navigating the complex legal ramifications of business disruption. If you’d like to get in touch with them, let us know!

Stack of newspapers that you will earn coverage in by following the advice in this blog.

How to Build a Great Retail Tech PR Program

Done right, a great retail tech PR program can have as strong an impact on a vendor’s success as their solutions have for the retailers they serve. As retailers look to innovate alongside Amazon and avoid being next years’ Sears, they’re turning to emergent technologies such as AI, machine learning, robotics, machine vision, and IoT.

But in an ecosystem full of marketing hype and hyperbole, retailers aren’t ready to trust an unknown commodity. In other words, they won’t just take your word for it. Innovation, without broad recognition, holds surprisingly little value. That’s where the influence you gain with a retail tech PR program comes in.

Retailers trust the media to be the gatekeepers of truth. Not just about the news stories, but trends and the impact and value of those trends.

Our clients at Ketner Group have been taking advantage of this to place themselves at the forefront of retail trend conversations for nearly three decades. By building close media relationships, they have earned coverage in publications ranging from The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Bloomberg and Forbes, to influential retail, grocery and CPG trade media.

How can your company create the best retail tech PR program? Keep these four principles in mind to increase your market visibility and attract new customers, partners and investors.

1. Define your unique story.

Does your company have a promising new solution for retailers? That’s great, but how can you stand out to decision-makers from the hundreds of other technology companies that are vying for attention?

It begins by creating concise, easily understood messaging that answers fundamental questions:

  • Who is your audience?
  • What specific challenges do they face?
  • How does your solution answer those challenges?
  • What are the benefits?
  • What do your customers say about you?
  • Do you have data and performance metrics to back up your claims?

Answering these questions isn’t an easy exercise. But it’s fundamental to creating a unique brand story that differentiates your company from your competitors in the market.

2. Consider the broader context.

Every problem/solution must fit into a larger context in order to find market acceptance. If your PR program is focused only on you, you’ll never get the results you want.

For example, one of the biggest disruptions in grocery retailing is the rapid rise of e-commerce, especially from Amazon and Instacart; grocers are moving quickly to deploy their own e-commerce and delivery solutions in order to retain customers and protect market share. It’s a trend that one of our clients directly addresses.

Other clients have introduced technology for fully automated, cashierless stores; solutions to help companies navigate major supply chain disruptions; AI technology that can identify new opportunities for profit while helping retailers cut their losses.

All these are just a few of the market dynamics that are reshaping retail. And to be successful in retail technology PR, it’s imperative to frame the context for your solution and show how it addresses significant business trends.

3. Know what to say, when to say it and who to say it to.

The life of a typical editor or reporter isn’t easy. Typically, it’s marked by tight deadlines, heavy workloads and information overload. Our job as PR professionals, in partnership with our clients, is to make their jobs easier with newsworthy, timely and relevant information.

What do editors want?

For starters, editors always welcome unique, compelling data that are unavailable from anyone else. The data should add a fresh dimension to an ongoing story or reveal a new conversation the industry should consider.

Editors also appreciate commentary from thought leaders on fast-breaking industry trends, as this can support their story development with an expert perspective. If you can provide a customer that’s willing to speak, so much the better; nothing adds to a story like the real-world perspective of a retailer.

4. Create a well-rounded retail tech PR program.

Much of this blog has dealt with media relations, and it’s typically a primary focus when companies decide to hire a PR agency. However, earned media is only one facet of a well-rounded PR program. As Ketner Group president Catherine Seeds made clear in her recent blog about what to do after NRF, an effective PR program also includes:

  • Analyst relations
  • Social media
  • Digital marketing
  • Speaking engagements
  • Event participation

Together with all forms of original content—ranging from blogs to thought leadership articles, case studies, e-books, white papers and more—these are the fundamental elements of a comprehensive PR program for retail technology companies and other businesses as well.

Companies that create comprehensive programs like this, usually in partnership with a PR agency, will reap a number of benefits. Charles Dimov, VP Marketing at our client ContractPodAI, underscored this point in a blog on the connection between PR and lead generation.

At Dimov’s former company (also a Ketner Group client and retail technology company), he implemented a disciplined method of tracking qualified leads. The company traced a third of the company’s leads to PR—a result that can make a significant difference in the bottom line.

So can a robust PR program pay dividends? The answer is “yes,” and hopefully these tips can help point you in the right direction, whether you’re a retail technology company or other B2B business. Now go out and build a great PR program (and contact us if you need help along the way)!