direct to avatar

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

amazon go evaluation

“It Feels Like Stealing!”: A First-Hand Experience at Amazon Go

As someone who never considered herself a “tech nerd” before joining Ketner Group, I would not have predicted that I’d be be jumping at the chance to try out new store technology. But after nearly two years of talking about all things e-commerce, personalization, omnichannel retail, etc. and hearing our clients describe their impressive innovations – I have developed quite an interest in the technology that powers our daily lives.

And what e-commerce platform is arguably the most pervasive to our day-to-day? None other than Amazon. With its user-friendly interface and convenient delivery options, we all rely on Amazon at least once in a while. But ever since the digital-first retailer entered the brick-and-mortar space and started changing the way we shop I’ve been interested in checking it out.

I’m fortunate enough to work in Ketner Group’s NYC office, so I was just a short subway ride away from the Amazon Go store on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. But for those of you that were curious about how the Just-Walk-Out technology works, yet don’t have such easy access to the new-fangled store, I’ll walk you through my experience.

Setting the shopper expectations

After initially looking up the store to plan my excursion, I was surprised by the hours. Amazon Go stores in New York City all close by early evening and remain closed all weekend. As a nine-to-fiver, this confused me – the times seemed to limit the number of people who could try out this cool, new buying experience. However, after reading more, it all made sense.

The Amazon Go store was never intended to replace a trip to the grocery store or your favorite department store (although, Amazon is looking to create a department store in the near future). Instead, this store was designed for the nine-to-fiver who forgot their lunch or needed a quick snack during the day. The shop only sells grab-and-go meals, packaged snacks, and drinks.  

First impressions of Amazon Go

When the subway came to a stop on E 53rd and Lexington Ave., I emerged from the exit and immediately saw the Amazon Go sign. A perfect location for a store appealing to white collar workers, the store is right in the center of tall office buildings and less than 40 feet from the popular subway stop.

From the outside the store looks sleek. There is a simple black awning with the recognizable Amazon logo and a sign that promotes the products on one side and explains the unique technology on the other.

amazon go exterior

Next, I saw the Amazon lockers just inside the first door. This is another example of Amazon’s easy delivery options because this central location is convenient for workers looking to pick up their order from a secure drop box on the way home. After taking in the façade and the lockers, it was time to go inside.

Scanning in: two options

Upon entry you have two options: scan your palm or scan a QR-code. The latter is simple, you just open the Amazon app, tap “in-store code” and scan the QR-code that comes up. The former option connects your palm to your Amazon account after you first set up the technology, only once, at a kiosk by the front door. In under two minutes, you can unlock this option, making it so you don’t even have to take out your phone and navigate to the app to enter.

scanning in to amazon go

Intrigued to see how it worked, I chose the former and set up my account at the kiosk so I could simply hover my palm over the sensor to open the turnstile gate and begin my shopping journey.

The in-store experience was unusual

My first thought once I made it past the front gate was the lack of inventory. To be fair, I went to a store clearly designed for the nine-to-five worker at 5:20 p.m. on a Friday, but I was surprised by just how many shelves were empty. Regardless of time, grocery stores rarely look like this, unless it’s the toilet paper aisle during a global pandemic.

amazon go inventory

Almost all of the grab-and-go meals were sold out, and many of the snacks were missing from their aisles. And there were no employees restocking because there were no employees at all. The only people in the store at the time were me and one other shopper who came in, grabbed a soft drink, and ran to presumably catch his train home.

Despite the store being understocked, it was extremely clean. I never saw anyone cleaning, but I’d assume that an employee comes in (or checks one of the hundreds of cameras) every so often to make sure the place is neat.

Skipping the line

The main pull to Amazon Go is, of course, the Just Walk Out technology. According to Amazon, gone are the days of having to wait in line and speak to a cashier, or even scan a barcode at self-checkout. Now, if you identified yourself on the way in and your Amazon account is linked to a credit card, all you have to do is pick up a product, in my case a granola bar for the walk home, and head out the door. It feels like stealing!

My gut instinct after leaving the store was to look around and see if anyone was waving their hands at me trying to catch me before I rounded the corner with the stolen snack. But I had paid, and I had followed the rules of the revolutionary store – that’s really all I had to do. The cameras and sensors in the store and the technology that links your phone’s Amazon account to the in-store experience do all the work.

About five minutes after exiting, I received an email thanking me for shopping with Amazon. The email contained my receipt and a summary of my visit including the length of my trip. My credit card was automatically charged for the right amount and my shopping journey was complete.

Amazon Go has pros and cons

The Amazon Go store was undoubtedly cool. The convenience of just grabbing what you want and leaving, without any lines or conversations to slow you down, is unmatched and the excitement of scanning into a store with your palm was unique.

But at the same time, I’m not so sure I’m ready for the traditional in-store experience to fall by the wayside either. The experience felt impersonal and the comfort of knowing there is an in-store associate ready to help you in a normal store was missed.

For the grab-and-go lunch rush or mid-day snack crowd that Amazon Go is trying to appeal to, the frictionless experience is ideal, but for the everyday shopper, the Just Walk Out technology may not be the latest and greatest.

Keep the conversation going

Interested in talking more about Amazon Go and other retail technology trends? We’d love to keep the conversation going. Reach out to us to learn how we help retail tech companies create captivating communications campaigns.

grocery technology communications strategy

Retail’s Big Opportunity Is Grocery Tech: How Communications Can Support Market Leadership

Grocery continues to be the healthiest, most rapidly changing segment in retail today. Grocery and essential retailing were the bright spots in retail during COVID-19, and that trend is continuing. 

The most dramatic shift, of course, has been the surge in online shopping. Research from our client Mercatus and Incisiv found that online grocery sales will reach $250B by 2025, a 60% increase over pre-pandemic projections. To support this, grocers are investing in e-commerce, fulfillment, omnichannel capabilities and other technologies at an unprecedented rate.

According to Progressive Grocer’s 2020 Annual Report survey, grocery executives view new technology as a key priority, “Tech as a whole is top of mind for most grocers. When survey respondents were asked about the best investment their companies could make to be successful in the next five years, the top response was technology upgrades/new investments.” 

Many of our Ketner Group clients are at the forefront of these changes, with technologies that cover a broad spectrum of grocery retailing: e-commerce, personalized engagement, mobile advertising, shopper data, forecasting and replenishment, omnichannel POS and more.

The rapid changes in grocery represent a once-in-a-generation opportunity for technology companies, and a targeted, high-impact communications program can help them make the most of it. 

Here are just a few communications strategies that are increasing engagement—and leads—for our clients.

Content that engages your prospects

With the disappearance of events and in-person prospect meetings, content became an even higher priority for technology companies, as we talked about in our recent KG Connects webinar, and this trend is continuing. 

From blogs to case studies, thought leadership articles and long-form content, content (or owned media) allows companies to build influence and position themselves as an expert resource for prospects and customers. Companies can utilize content in marketing campaigns, sales outreach and social media, further amplifying its impact.

Content is a key pillar of the communications strategy for our long-time client GK Software. Our team runs GK’s blog program in the U.S., and grocery technology is a recurring theme, as demonstrated by this blog on dynamic pricing in grocery. Bylined articles, such as this recent feature in Chain Store Age, are another excellent way to use content for thought leadership.

Media relations that drives leads

Media relations can be a game-changer for grocery technology companies. And while every company aspires to be featured in The Wall Street Journal, Business Insider and the like (and we’ve made that happen for many of our clients), executives also pay attention to the retail and grocery trade media.

As Kirsty Goodlett wrote in her recent blog, a single press release helped generate more than a half dozen leads for our client Birdzi. Retailers are always curious to know what technologies other retailers are adopting, so this press release about Birdzi’s engagement with their customer Coborn’s sparked a lot of interest—and demonstrated powerful ROI.

Press releases are just part of a successful media relations program. Our team monitors industry trends and news to keep their finger on the pulse of what journalists need, and we create the right strategies—proactive pitching, rapid-response commentary, interviews, background briefings and more—to ensure our clients are included in the most important industry stories.

Analyst relations that create influence

Given the dizzying pace of technology changes in grocery and essential retail, industry analysts such as Gartner, Forrester, IDC, IHL Group, RSR Research and others rely on communication firms to help them stay current on the changing technology landscape. 

Adrienne Newcomb’s how-to blog on analyst relations analyzed the importance of a disciplined, proactive analyst relations program. Analysts are key influencers with large retailers in particular, so time and effort here can make a difference in bringing tech vendors to the attention of analysts, and ultimately retailers. 

I encourage you to check out our latest KG Connects webinar on analyst relations for unique insights from both the analyst and vendor perspective.

Grocery technology vendors must seize the opportunity 

These are just three strategies that are creating success for our grocery tech clients. There is much more we could talk about: original research, digital media, sponsorships, virtual and physical events (live events are beginning to return as more and more people receive COVID vaccines), and more. We’d be glad to talk to you about the communications strategies that are working right now.

The point is, be sure to communicate. You may have a great story to tell, but if you don’t tell it effectively and powerfully, no one will hear it. Grocery technology is arguably one of the biggest opportunities in retail right now, and the right communications program will help create success. 

birdzi ketner group case study

Birdzi + Ketner Group: How a Press Release Generated Leads

We’ve been lucky to work with our client Birdzi on and off for more than five years. Most recently, in the fall of last year, we kicked off a monthly PR engagement to help them increase brand awareness and build on our previous media relations successes.

So far, one of our most successful campaigns was distributing a press release detailing Birdzi’s engagement with their customer Coborn’s. The release helped generate more than half a dozen leads, and solidified Birdzi as a leader in customer intelligence and strategic marketing personalization.

Birdzi, founded in 2010, offers a customer intelligence platform to grocers and is led by Shekar Raman, CEO and co-founder. Gary Hawkins is a strategic advisor.

gary hawkins ketner group testimonial

“I first met Jeff Ketner more than five years ago and became familiar with Ketner Group Communications and their services at that time. I’ve been in grocery my whole life, so working with Ketner Group, which has such a deep history in retail technology, has been a really positive experience,” said Hawkins.

“It’s always fun to talk shop with Ketner Group and it’s a great pleasure to work together, whether as a client or collaboratively on industry projects–like when I appeared on a KG Connects webinar as a guest speaker.”

We couldn’t agree more! In fact, just this week our CEO Jeff Ketner and president Catherine Seeds loved talking with Gary and Shekar on the latest Retail Perch episode! Their discussion centered around the important role PR plays in a startup’s overall business plan.

Crafting PR that demonstrates grocery excellence

Last December, we kicked off the Coborn’s press release project with Birdzi. Coborn’s began working with Birdzi in 2016 and has since deployed a robust loyalty program based on understanding of customer data and insight-driven personalization. When developing the release, we wanted to detail the long history between the companies and highlight the successful collaboration.

public relations driving leads

Comparing new, digitally engaged shoppers on the Birdzi platform vs. shoppers that are not, Coborn’s saw a 355% increase in customer retention, 16% increase in trips per month and 23.7% increase in spend per month. What a success!

After setting the story’s stage with a big impact, we detailed Coborn’s MORE Rewards program, which provides Coborn’s shoppers with personalized savings and experiences. There aren’t many grocers, particularly regional grocers like Coborn’s, who are executing such a robust program. We knew sharing strong details and examples would appeal to the media.

Once the release was drafted and complete, we put it on the wire and completed personalized pitching to journalists.

Grocery industry pick-up inspires prospects

Our goal of creating a strong story that truly resonated with the media was a success. The Coborn’s news was picked up in six publications: Chain Store Age, Progressive Grocer, RIS News, The Shelby Report, Supermarket News and The Wise Marketer newsletter.

The articles demonstrated Birdzi as a leader in customer loyalty and directly generated interest from other regional grocers. Birdzi received more than a half dozen leads through their website and LinkedIn, with prospective customers interested in implementing some of the same strategies as Coborn’s.

shekar raman ketner group testimonial

“When you imagine an ideal outcome for a press release, your dream is that the news drives interest from prospects, but you don’t often expect as many leads as we saw with Coborn’s!” said Raman

“Not only did the news drive leads, but the coverage sparked conversations with our broader network, including friends, partners and current customers. Coborn’s is a perfect use case for grocery innovation, and we’re thrilled to tell their story with Ketner Group.”

Continuing to tell innovative stories

While the Coborn’s press release was a great success, our work as communication professionals is never done.

Birdzi has a steady queue of customer stories to tell for the coming year, and we already followed up the Coborn’s press release with a story of how Birdzi customer Harps launched a mobile app to drive engagement. That release saw similar results, with seven unique pieces of coverage generated.

Looking to master your communications strategy as well as Birdzi does? Reach out to us today to discuss how we can help you craft a strategic PR program that creates thought leadership, brand recognition and a few leads along the way!

retail 4.0 gary hawkins webinar

Grocery’s Great Digital Revolution Through COVID-19

In November, we had the pleasure of being joined by Gary Hawkins, founder and CEO of the Center for Advancing Retail Technology (CART), on KG Connects. Hosted by Ketner Group CEO, Jeff Ketner, Gary walked listeners through what the digital evolution of grocery means for retailers and shoppers alike.

CART connects retail to new innovative capabilities through programs, events and education. Additionally, Gary is a highly sought-after strategic adviser and speaker, as well as a board member of companies that bring game-changing capabilities to market. He has written three books, Retail in the Age of i being the latest.

Below you can find a full summary of the webinar. If you’d like to view it on demand, you can check it out on Zoom here.

Retail 4.0: What the future of grocery retail entails

To set the stage, Gary and Jeff first discussed Gary’s latest whitepaper, “Retail 4.0: The Age of Metamorphosis” reveals the current and future changes expected in the grocery industry. There are three key themes Gary focuses on.

The first is the blurring of reality.

As Gary explained, “The world of digital, the online world is meeting and fusing together, melding with the actual physical world. As these things come together, it’s absolutely beginning to change and transform how we shop.”

retail 4.0 key themes

The majority of people use their phones while they shop, which, according to Gary, opens the door to not only incredible amounts of information, but also augmented reality. As augmented reality technology continues to improve, the in-store experience will begin to utilize it more and more. 

The second theme is the automation of business practices.

“Instead of a physical robot, we’re talking software robots that can begin to automate the decision-making process in a growing number of areas across the retail organization.”

The third theme is the opportunity for traditional retailers. Specifically, the ability for these retailers to, “play the exponential value creation game building out their digital networks.”

Who’s spearheading the future of grocery retail?

After the closer look into Retail 4.0, Jeff asked a rather simple question, “Who is doing it right?”

Who else but Amazon?

grocery sales change

“The new Amazon Fresh Farm…They’ve brought Alexa into the store now,” Gary described, “if a shopper has a question, they don’t have to seek out a clerk, they simply go to an Alexa station and ask their question.”

Which ties right back to the first key theme in Retail 4.0.

The pandemic’s impact on retail

When asked about the role of COVID-19 on the grocery industry, Gary had one word—Accelerant.

“Before [the pandemic], online grocery was maybe somewhere around one or 2% of sales. Literally overnight, retailers experienced a doubling or triple of online sales. I’ve talked to some retailers that saw even 5x or 6x of online sales growth. Simply exploded.”

Gary continued by explaining that the growth has plateaued, allowing retailers to reassess their systems and ensure they are prepared for the foreseeable future.

He also noted that, “for an industry that has almost resisted innovation and change for the past 100 years, when they need to, retailers can move really fast.”

One area where he saw this unusual speed was employee communication. Retailers, typically through apps, were able to push out training for sanitation, coordinate messaging and rapidly changing scheduling for every associate.

Grocery innovation on the horizon

Being at the forefront of new technologies, Gary sees a lot of interesting new startups enter the retail space. One area that he is watching with a keen eye goes right back to the first theme of Retail 4.0: augmented reality.

“I saw a stat recently from Gartner that over 100 million people are using AR primarily through their smartphones. I think we are simply going to see that explode in the next 12 months as Apple introduce their smart glasses,” Gary continued, “I’m really looking to that technology to transform the shopping experience.”

Marketing to the individual shopper

Augmented reality isn’t the only cutting edge. Gary also lauded AI and machine learning’s current and future potential, as well as its ability to power key business systems such as personalization.

“It’s helping to facilitate the automation of different decisions. For example, it is more efficient for a mass retailer to go to market on an individual customer basis than it is to go to market with traditional mass promotion.”

While it would seem that meeting the individual preferences of shoppers may be harder to achieve, Gary explained that, at scale, the 1-to-1 marketing tactics will, in-fact, smooth supply chain issues by removing the spikes in unit sales caused by mass promotion.

gary hawkins grocery evolution quote

While there are challenges to implementing this method, they aren’t caused by technology, but by retailers and brands themselves. Gary stated that retailers need to move away from over a century of thinking about how they do business.

This includes brand promotions as well.

 “When you shift to a true 1-to-1 model, that changes how brands pay retailers to promote their brands to shoppers on a mass scale.”

The 2021 digital retail experience, and beyond

The fact is, in twelve months, we may find a very different retail experience in grocery stores that are on the cutting-edge of technology. Online grocery has had a major impact on the physical store, and Gary expects to see stores become hybridized between a traditional grocery store and a micro-fulfillment center.

“Every retailer is now focused on making online retail profitable, and when you’re sending people up and down the isles to fulfill those orders, it’s tough to get profitable,” Gary said.

Gary is seeing a, “stampede,” toward the automation and micro-fulfillment side of grocery retail. He expects that stores will begin to move the micro-fulfillment center to the back of the store, while the front half focuses on fresh foods and customer experience. Experience being the operative word according to Gary.

“If that store can’t provide an experience to get shoppers out of their home and into the store, they won’t be there,” and because grocery delivery is so prominent, he explained that, “the days of utility shopping are gone.”

Breaking into the grocery technology market

Gary was asked, “how do new technology companies market themselves to retailers?” While the inability to meet face-to-face makes marketing a challenge, Gary offered a bit of advice.

“Understand the space, the retailer’s challenges and needs and then work to craft that vision and story about why the retailer should be talking to you. Retailers need to focus on the vision — what’s coming — because things are moving really, really fast.”

Regional grocers can utilize technology to keep up with major retailers like Walmart. According to Gary, “it’s not about access to the technology, it’s about can that regional retailers change their culture? Can they move faster? Deploy things faster? Can they change their processes and how they think about their business?”

Missed digital grocxery webinar

Hear it direct from Gary and sign up for the next KG Connects

If you’d like to watch the whole webinar, you can watch it on demand anytime.

The last one for 2020: Where in the H*LL Does the Future of Work Go From Here?”

As we wrap up 2020, we’re looking toward 2021 and how work will change even further than it has over the past year. Join Carolyn Birsky, Daniel Oppong and Sterling Hawkins as we dive deep into how to maintain a culture, recruit talent and keep some kind of normalcy all while remote. We look forward to seeing you! Register here for free.