Alas, the Ketner Group team did not attend last week’s Groceryshop event in Las Vegas. However, it felt like we were right in the room via comments made in the Twitterverse. This is year two of Groceryshop, and from what we’ve been hearing, it did not disappoint! Groceryshop brought together over 3,000 attendees and more than 200 speakers, all who are extremely passionate about the transformation of the grocery retail industry. And why shouldn’t they be? The industry is redefining itself day after day, with new and shiny ways to make our trips to the grocery store – be they online or in a physical location – a fun and delightful experience.
At the end of Sept., Mariana and I ventured to the West Coast for Shop.org 2017: This is Digital in Los Angeles. We were excited to see what NRF had in store for the re-invigorated annual conference.
Shop.org Gets a New Focus and a Fresh Look
Until now, Shop.org’s focus had been squarely on eCommerce. This year, however, NRF shifted the event’s focus to include all things digital, bringing new vendors, perspectives and content into the limelight.
Having attended last year’s Shop.org in Dallas, I can say that the show sure did look different! NRF refreshed the branding with brighter, flashier colors and created more inviting, well-designed spaces on the show floor for attendees to gather for networking, meetings and meals.
Another great addition and surprise was Monday evening’s networking cocktail party. The cocktail party was held remotely at the famous Shrine Auditorium, which over the years has served as home to both the Emmy Awards and the Academy Awards. It was quite a spectacle, with a red-carpet entry hosted by Melissa Rivers, dancers in giant balloons and a genie floating above the crowd.
Retail Innovation Lounge Takes the Popcorn
During Shop.org, we had the privilege of spending most of our time in the Retail Innovation Lounge (RIL). Ketner Group’s good friend, Anne Marie Stephen, founder and CEO of kwolia, invited us to once again serve as the media partner for RIL and support her on site. As we mentioned in our previous blog, this was the first time that kwolia and NRF partnered to bring the event inside the conference.
Over the course of the two-day event, we saw nearly 600 Shop.org attendees stop by the RIL. While the fresh popcorn might have helped (as overheard on the Shop.org shuttle), we were told repeatedly that the content presented at RIL was some of the best at the conference. The Amazon Power Block, featuring sessions from Bryan Eisenberg, author of “Be Like Amazon,” and retail marketing agency TPN’s interactive workshop, drew the biggest crowds.
Ketner Group has been lucky enough to have seen the Retail Innovation Lounge since day one, when it kicked off during SXSW in 2016, and boy, has it grown in the past 18 months! We can’t wait to see what RIL has in store for the retail community in 2018 and beyond.
What’s Next for Shop.org
Shop.org planning is already under way for 2018 and the event is scheduled to take place in Las Vegas, where organizers are hoping to draw big crowds once more.
SXSW 2017 was a terrific week spent in the presence of some of technology’s brightest minds, music’s best acts and film’s most creative souls. For Ketner Group, the event was a chance to lose sight of reality and dive into the fascinating beyond, the next era of the intersection between technology and humanity. It’s exhausting work, but hey, someone’s gotta do it.
It seems that with each passing year, SXSW does a better job of asking questions than providing answers. Maybe that’s because each one-hour session doesn’t do the experts on stage enough justice. How can someone who has dedicated their life to mapping the human brain using machine learning break that work down in one hour, while sharing a stage with the founder of Siri and a biologist learning how to grow everything we need by having intelligent systems program atoms and microbes? It takes the hour just to fully realize how much smarter these folks are than you!
But understanding the question that needs solving is the key first step to success. And we saw a few critical questions arise that anyone involved in commerce and technology will need to consider within the short and long term to ensure their prosperity. Some will be answered before SXSW 2018, and some not for many years, but the work starts now. Let’s dive in.
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, these are some of the most hyped technological concepts out there. And they were everywhere at SXSW 2017. And really, they should be. AI and machine learning will be incorporated into nearly every aspect of retail, from logistics and distribution to marketing to in-store and online customer experience.
AI has the power to greatly reduce the stress of manpower on a retail business, opening up human capital for more valuable roles that drive better experiences. Intelligent systems will understand human language and new age personal assistants will make Amazon’s Alexa look like a pet rock.
And as the founder of Kasita revealed, even your living room will be AI-heavy to the point that it may actually be artificial intelligence in physical form. TVs, window blinds, thermostats and many other items will become smart gadgets, learning how to adapt to your lifestyle and reduce your time spent doing menial tasks, which include buying things like groceries or razors. Watch out, because this one is going to be fun.
Siri started the voice command personal assistant craze that has since grown into a full force commerce craze. But based on nearly any metric – capability, adoption, competition – it hasn’t yet hit the mainstream and is nowhere near its full potential. Alexa and Google Home can’t understand complex speech patterns, can’t infer deeper meaning from simple requests and are prone to making real mistakes, like ordering something because it overheard someone on TV or a demanding child say it. Chatbots will combine the best of speech recognition and cognition to make customer service a breeze. No, really.
Our voices will eventually replace our hands as our primary machine operating tools, and how retailers integrate this technology into their omni-channel platforms will be fascinating to watch.
The golden rule in payments innovation is not to compete against other forms of digital payments, compete against cash. Social commerce has long been an area that retailers have felt could be the next frontier in omni-channel commerce. And as they started to understand its potential, conversation apps outpaced them. So what’s the future of social commerce? Think small.
Commerce on social media or conversation apps is not a significant growth area for enterprise level business, at least not yet. And part of this is the limitation of highly complex payment, banking and regulatory systems.
Instead, this is an area in which independent businesses, individual sellers and developing nations are the true pioneers. In fact, according to Facebook’s Director of Commerce & Payment Partnerships, Facebook alone has over 5 million businesses registered, many using it as a critical platform to do business.
Sellers can create mini-storefronts on their Facebook or Instagram pages, listing the products they have for sale, deleting the posts once they’re no longer in inventory. They can use peer-to-peer payments apps like Venmo to manage cashless and remote transactions, and communicate instantly via apps like WhatsApp and create a marketplace for their goods much broader than available within the constructs of their physical environment and local infrastructure.
The question for major retailers will be whether they can integrate massive SKU count assortments into this sort of framework, if the social and conversation apps will evolve with their platforms to enable a simple integration, or if social apps will avoid the invasion of commercial interests on an otherwise personal interaction space.
For now, we wait, we watch and we marvel at the technologies that are revolutionizing our world. Within retail itself, we’ll continue to see the automation of process, the personalization of marketing and experience, and the simplification of consumption. Where we’re going, we don’t need answers (right away), we just need the right questions.
A Ketner Q&A with Greg Buzek, Founder and President of IHL Group
What technology trend do you see most impacting the field?
The single biggest trend for retail is how they compete with Amazon. Retailers must get to Unified Commerce with a single view of the order and single view of the customer regardless of how they choose to shop. And then they need updated POS technology at the store level to take advantage of these changes. Customers used to HAVE to shop, now they need a reason to WANT to shop your stores. This change is having dramatic impact on the number of stores, the alignment of personnel, and total operations. Retailers that make these changes and create a compelling reason for shoppers to visit your stores will survive and thrive. Those that don’t won’t be here much longer.
How do you most like to stay up to date on trends?
We read massive amount of news, and talk to a lot of retailers and non-retailers. I like to spend a lot of time on bleeding edge technology sites to understand new technologies and then think through how these might be applied to retail. Certainly conferences and vendor information plays in here as well. But we always look at these things with a minimum 3 year lens before actual deployment anywhere. Retailers are notoriously slow at technology adoption. We have to filter through the “might be” to try and forecast what likely “will be.”
How do you recommend PR professionals reaching out to share news?
Announcements just to announce a product or new person or new office are fine for local newspapers, but what really gets the attention of analysts and influencers are actual customer wins and anything with $$$ in the headline. Customer wins or case studies are most important. Otherwise you are asking us to sort through hundreds of pieces of news and determine what is real and what is vaporware.
What’s the best piece of personal or professional advice you’ve been given?
Always leave a situation better than you found it. Whether a customer relationship, vendor relationship, or simply borrowing a tool from someone….leave the other person better off than when they found you.
How did you get involved in the industry?
Before college, I worked at Hardees, Sears, Skyline Chili and a small restaurant in Cincinnati called J&Js. Once I went to college and graduate school, my first job out was with NCR and I was given that challenge of competitive analysis of the industry. This was an incredible blessing based on what I do now since most new hires only learn about their company, I was forced to learn about all the other companies in the industry. This served me well when I created an analyst firm 20 years ago.
What are three things we wouldn’t guess to be true about you?
I dotted the i in Script Ohio performed by the Ohio State Band (wasn’t supposed to), I still may be one of the only Catholics to sing in the Mormon Tabernacle choir for a day and I got kicked out of my college dorm as a sophomore in college.
What do you think is the biggest change occurring in the retail industry?
The decoupling of IT Spend for this year based only on a figure of last year’s revenues. Most retailers still look at IT as a cost of doing business and thus tie this year’s spend to last year’s revenues and growth. Those retailers who do that fail to see that Amazon has changed the game. 66 million U.S. homes now have Amazon Prime Accounts with Free 2 Day shipping. Amazon is an endless aisle retailer that is almost always in stock, supported by Amazon Web Services which is the largest and greatest value Infrastructure as a Service platform. Retailers that don’t realize that IT transformation is not only needed but critical to survival and don’t spend the required funds for turnaround will simply not be here 3 years.
What do you do for fun?
I’m an avid sports fan. My son and I have for the last several years done a college football tour around the country. We love to go to different schools and enjoy the traditions and the game.
Greg Buzek is the Founder and President of IHL Group and one of the Founders of the Retail Orphan Initiative, a charitable foundation that seeks to help the 400 million orphaned and vulnerable children around the world. In 6 years, RetailROI has been involved in 80 projects in 17 countries helping an estimated 158,000 children through clean water, education, computers, language training and care. Noted by RIS News as one of the “25 Most Influential People in Retail” and the National Retail Federation in 2015 as one of “The List of People Shaping Retail’s Future”, he has a Masters Degree in Business Administration (MBA) from The Ohio State University, and 25 years of experience in retail market analysis, business planning, product development, and consulting with Fortune 500 companies. In 2011 The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute honored Greg with the first ever Paul Singer Award that recognizes business and governmental leaders for going above and beyond their defined roles to advocate for better adoption and foster care policies worldwide.
NRF’s Big Show is officially over and we are back in Austin! After several cups of coffee consumed as well as analyst and media meetings coordinated for 13 clients, I think it’s safe to say this year’s show was one for the books. Check out what the Ketner Group team was up to while in the Big Apple.
In most industries, the holidays are a time to disengage from the hustle and bustle of work, plan for 2017 and clean out the junk folders to start the New Year feeling refreshed. But as we all know, quite the opposite is true in retail. And once a new calendar gets pinned to the wall, the heat really starts to turn up as we make final preparations for the biggest conference of our year, NRF’s BIG Show.
This year, the Ketner Group team has been as busy as ever, meticulously preparing, pitching, coordinating and managing all sorts of client announcements and on-site briefings. As the newest member of the KG team and a rookie to the realities of NRF life, I have to admit it’s been impressive watching our team stay (mostly) stress-free, while securing some truly terrific opportunities for publicity next week, without losing sight of client needs in the now.
As our entire office goes wheels up this weekend, heading from sunny and warm Austin, Texas to the hopefully not-so-cold and not-so-gray Big Apple, I expect to feel the same excitement and confidence in our client outcomes as our veterans who have been mastering the NRF process for over ten years.
We look forward to seeing a lot of familiar faces, connecting with new clients and having NRF ’17 mark the start of another great year at Ketner Group, for our clients, and for the retail industry in general. Good luck everyone!
Ketner Group clients at NRF, and where to find them:
- 360pi – booth 815
- Bold Metrics
- Columbus Consulting – booth 2147
- Displaydata – booth 4225
- Dynamic Action
- GK Software – booth 1853
- Kibo – booth 4033
- OrderDynamics – booth 204 (w/ Blueridge)
- Unata – booth 1239
For those of you who are theater nerds like me, perhaps you caught the mashed-up reference to two songs from the critically acclaimed, Tony award-winning Broadway musical, Hamilton. (For those of you who didn’t catch the reference, I’ll forgive you only if you can score me 5 tickets to the show next Tuesday!)
But, back to the matter at hand. Those of us working in the retail industry know there are exactly nine days until NRF begins. As of right now, the race is on to be in the room where it happens -“it” meaning where the best and brightest in retail come together to showcase the technologies that will change the way consumers shop in 2017 and beyond. (I’d also like to say I threw in another Hamilton song reference in this paragraph. I’ll let you figure that out on your own.)
The Ketner Group team has attended and supported our clients at NRF for nearly 15 years, and we’ve learned a few things along the way – one big one is to wear comfortable shoes and stay hydrated in between your Starbucks trips! Here are a few additional PR tips to keep in mind as we enter these last few days before the BIG show:
Don’t save all your announcements until January. Most vendors spend months planning their NRF announcements. But why cram all your news into a three-day period? We counsel our clients not to save everything until NRF, but rather to adopt a release strategy for before, during and after the Big Show.
Announcing significant customer wins and new technology in the months leading up to NRF is a great way to build momentum going into the show and to trumpet your successes to prospects. During the show, your news faces stiff competition from hundreds of other press releases, but one or two newsworthy announcements can help drive booth traffic and create a buzz during NRF. After the show is a good time for announcements, too; editors’ inboxes will be a lot less crowded, many of your competitors will emptied their arsenal of news at NRF, and your news will have room to breathe.
Don’t expect to brief everyone at NRF. While NRF presents a terrific opportunity for face-to-face meetings with key editors and analysts, you won’t be able to meet with everyone on your list. The top editors and analysts are in high demand during NRF and have tightly packed schedules; many of them will have their entire days booked in 30-minute slots starting at 6:30 a.m., and paying clients and prospects will have top priority. It is important to respect the fact that they may not be able to meet with you; briefings before or after NRF can often be more relaxed and unhurried.
In keeping with this, we advise our clients to connect with key influencers in the months leading up to NRF. Schedules are more open, and it’s an excellent time to bring analysts and editors up to speed on your company’s latest products, customers and other developments. During these briefings, you can also lay the groundwork for a possible meeting or product demo at NRF.
Leave the PowerPoints at home. The editors and analysts you meet at NRF will likely be cramming 30+ vendor meetings into their day – which can mean an equal number of mind-numbing PowerPoint presentations. We advise our clients to scrap the PowerPoints during NRF. After all, if you’ve done your briefings in the fall, then an NRF meeting can be a chance to build a one-on-one relationship. Offer editors and analysts a comfortable place to sit (their feet will be aching!), bottled water and treat them the same way you’d treat your most valued customers. Find out in advance what they’d like to focus on during the meeting: demo, product roadmap or customer announcements. If an editor is accompanied by a sales rep, be sure to give him or her equal time, too. After all, editors and analysts have to make a living, too, and many of the lead generation programs offered by the top retail and analyst firms can produce solid results.
If companies prepare properly, NRF can get the new year off to a running start. Don’t forget, history will have its eyes on New York during those four days this January – what will you do to earn your shot in the greatest city in the world?
In the past few years, it would seem that the appeal of “traditional” physical retail stores is decreasing. After all, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, eCommerce grew 14.6% in 2015 with online sales accounting for more than half of total retail sales growth.
Even with this tremendous amount of growth in the online channel, the store is still the heartbeat of retail. But the reality is this: What we as shoppers really want, what we crave, is for our favorite retailers to create new and refreshing reasons for us to visit their physical stores.
Spoiler alert: it’s all about technology with a human touch!
So what, exactly, does this partnership of technology and human touch translate to?
Human touch means assisted selling in the store, in which store associates capture customer preferences and provide more targeted recommendations with the help of mobile devices that contain attribute information for all retail products. The result? Associates can become highly-effective personal “style” advisors when they combine their own knowledge of a product with readily available product information and customer preference indicators.
So too does it translate to relaxed spaces in-store where customers can learn and call on associates if they need or want to. Apple has been a leader in this type of dynamic in-store environment for ages.
Since then, other retail stores have taken note. For example, London-based department store, Selfridges, has brought that “technology meets human” feel to the store by launching a multi-sensory yoga experience by partnering with East London yoga duo, Yung Club. Smaller scale retailers like STORY have taken the store experience to another level. Their 2000 square foot Manhattan store is part magazine, part store. Every four to eight weeks, it completely reinvents itself from design to merchandise in order to address a new theme, trend or issue.
Human touch in the store becomes especially useful when it partners with technology that pulls together disparate pieces of information. Think Clueless in the real world! Consider the example of a shopper pulling up a digital version of their own closet to see if a top they’ve found at a retail store matches their skirts. Adding that insight to a full product catalogue allows the store associate to purchase that top from another store should their location be out of stock. By connecting all channels with human insight, shoppers can truly find the right product at the right moment. The end result is a delightful and share-worthy shopping experience for the customer.
The Ketner Group team looks forward to hearing more about how human and machines are working together to create relevant, intimate and memorable customer experiences. We’re excited to find out the extent to which the future success of retailers hinges on connecting these two things to build memorable brand experiences. Retailers that effectively blend human touch with technology stand apart from the rest and not only “win,” they kill it.
A Ketner Q&A with Paula Rosenblum, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at RSR Research
As we enter the start of the holiday shopping season, what technology trend(s) do you see most impacting the field?
Cloud, obviously. But that’s not holiday season only…it’s a trend that’s moving around the industry. Oddly, it seems more vendor-driven than retailer-driven, but retailers do seem to be starting to embrace it. And price comparison shopping is only growing in power.
What are your go-to resources for staying up to date on retail and hospitality trends?
I subscribe to a ridiculous number of publications, both B2B and B2C. The Wall Street Journal reportage has improved, Bloomberg has Shelly Banjo, who is a great source of accurate reportage, Reuters has Phil Wahba, Smartbrief is a good content aggregator and I receive several of those. I also read Twice, Advertising Age (that’s a really good one, actually) and Forbes. My friend Walter Loeb is my best source for department store related information. He’s also my role model. He’s 91 and still going strong. I want to be like Walter when I grow up!
What would you most like for people to understand about Retail Systems Research?
We don’t do any competitive intelligence whatsoever. We are all about market intelligence and understanding broad trends currently happening in the retail industry today. We try not to look too far into the future, since there are too many things that once seemed impossible that suddenly become possible. We are the most pragmatic, objective and practical people we will find, and we’re a fascinating blend of talents.
What’s the best piece of personal or professional advice you’ve been given?
Be fulfilled, be happy, and be kind. Above all, strive to be fulfilled in yourself, not by things. And remember, it never costs a penny to be kind.
What do you do for fun?
I’m an amateur photographer, and love to go out shooting with a long lens. I also still love spending time down in St Croix where I can snorkel and visit with my friends, the fish! In a month or two, I’ll love driving around in my convertible in Miami as well. Right now, I’m hunkered indoors because it’s so bloody hot and muggy!
About Paula Rosenblum
Paula Rosenblum is co-founder and Managing Partner at RSR Research and is widely recognized as one of the industry’s top retail technology analysts. She was selected as one of the “Top 50 Retail Influencers” in 2014 and 2015. She also writes a weekly blog for Forbes. Previous to her 12 years as an analyst, she spent over 20 years as a retail technology executive and CIO at companies including Hit or Miss, Morse Shoe, Domain Home Fashions and others. Paula received her MBA in 1991 from Northeastern University, with a major in management of High Technology firms and was nominated to the Beta Gamma Sigma honor society. She’s active in a variety of organizations supporting human growth and development, and has been involved with the RetailROI charity since its earliest days.
A recent Washington Post headline read, “Unemployment is down. Gas prices are low. Why isn’t America shopping?”
There are a number of possible answers. Both in the article and at the inaugural ShopTalk conference, there were numerous discussions about the U.S. being “over-retailed” – too many stores and e-commerce sites for too few shoppers. Many like to point to widespread uncertainty about the global economy and the twists and turns of the presidential election. Moreover, shoppers are spending their money differently: they are addicted to promotions and often opt to spend their hard-earned dollars on experiences like vacations or big projects like home improvement. But these don’t explain the whole truth.
In reality, the shopping experience can all too often be downright awful. On a recent weekend I spent five minutes at a big-box office products store waiting for someone, anyone to show up at the empty cash registers at the front of the store. I didn’t really feel like chasing anyone down, and I’d only gotten half of what I came for, as the pens I wanted were out-of-stock. After a few minutes of waiting I started comparing prices on Amazon. No surprises here: I found everything I wanted at a lower price, so I left my purchases at the register, walked out the door, and placed the order before I left the parking lot. It’ll likely be the last time I visit that retailer for basic office supplies.
My wife didn’t fare much better at a women’s apparel store that weekend. She stood in line at the register for what seemed an interminable amount of time waiting to pick up an order, which turned out to be a different size from what she ordered. When she headed back to the counter to order it in the right size, the sales associate promptly announced she was headed to lunch, leaving my wife stranded at the cash wrap. She placed her order online later that afternoon; however, her 40% off coupon code didn’t apply online, even though the coupon said nothing about online exclusions. It took a call to the e-commerce help desk to straighten it out – although the help desk operator couldn’t answer my wife’s questions right away, as the retailer’s systems hadn’t updated yet.
These problems fall into two broad categories: too few sales associates for many retailers (and a failure to properly train the ones they have), as well as outdated systems and disconnected technology. Is it any wonder that Amazon accounts for 1 in 3 shopping transactions, according to Internet Retailer?
Fortunately, the best retailers are making the right moves to re-energize retail and attract shoppers. Nordstrom, which consistently has some of the best sales associates in retail, is opening a small Tesla gallery at a high-end mall location. Target is spending $1 billion this year remodeling its stores and has launched 25 “stores of the future” in Los Angeles. Urban Outfitters, which recently set a Q1 sales record, firmly believes that “bricks and clicks are synergistic.” Urban bought the popular Vetri Family pizza chain last year and recently opened two flagship Anthropologie stores with “a petite shop, expanded jewelry and accessories, an intimates boutique, an 800 square foot beauty shop, a full-service shoe salon as well as over 6,000 square feet of home products,” according to RIS News.
These retailers, and many others, are clearly doing everything they can to get America shopping again. Retailers shouldn’t forget the fundamentals, though: Train your associates. And get those legacy systems to talk to one another, in real-time. Focus on these things – and continue to make stores fun, creative and innovative – and consumers will start shopping again. After all, you can’t buy a Tesla, get a makeover or get a slice of pizza while shopping at Amazon – at least not yet.