At Shoptalk, uniting the retail ecosystem.

Shoptalk is one of the industry’s biggest retail and commerce events, held annually in both the US and Europe. This year in the US it was staged from March 17-20, and 10,000 senior leaders from retailers and brands across 48 countries descended upon Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, joining 900 sponsors and exhibitors.

Shoptalk’s pitch this year was “uniting the entire retail ecosystem” and predictably – but necessarily – there was a big emphasis on Artificial Intelligence.

VML was out in force, walking the show floor, listening to retail luminaries, hosting our clients and dispensing opinions and advice from the main stage.

Read on for some of our key takeaways:

Shoptalk floor 01
A view from the Shoptalk floor

Integrating Digital & Experiential

Digital is growing significantly every year, not just as a source of inspiration and influence, but as a place for commerce. TikTok has emerged as the single largest source of social buyers – with 40% of people buying on platform, taking a steep jump over Instagram and Facebook.

Brands are focused on investing in digital, where they see commerce growing. Kimberly Wallengren, VP Marketing of North America for Coach, said: “We're focused on driving sufficiency in digital channels first – it's so efficient that there’s no waste. Then we move on to traditional channels.”

Kimberly shared that Coach has “doubled or tripled our live experiential budget year-over-year and we're excited to integrate that with digital," revealing the importance of bringing experience to the fore.

This re-focus on experience has also been a driver in the success of Kohl’s and their current strategy. Tom Kingsbury, Kohl’s CEO, said: “We’ve worked a lot on our stores, making them more modern and brought in new brands like Sephora." At VML, we're seeing that the most successful brands exist at the intersection of digital and experiential.

US Social Buyers Shoptalk 01
US social buyers by platform

Brand Still Matters

Tyler Murray, Chief Client & Commerce Officer, VML, and Amy Reibrich, Shopper Engagement Lead, Haleon, discussed the role of purpose in brand building.

In a world where massive focus has been put on performance media and shifting every dollar to maximize efficiency, brands are realizing that they may have moved too far away from the impact of great creative and branding. At VML, we believe in the power of Creative Commerce. Dani Reiss, CEO of Canada Goose, said: “People have to fall in love with the products they buy from us. We don’t just make stuff.”

Craig Brommers, CMO of American Eagle Outfitters, said: “Brand still matters and we’ve found that putting more money in brand has given us better results. I wonder if we’ve overextended into performance.”

Purpose and growth can co-exist, as Haleon’s Amy Reibrich explained. “At Haleon, we believe that delivering on our purpose, which is to deliver better everyday health to more people, is not in conflict with our growth agenda,” she said. “In fact, realizing our purpose is a critical component to delivering on our business goals.”

Brands are learning that it doesn’t need to be either/or. The best campaigns start with both business and human problems to solve, and a data-backed, insight-driven creative solution to address those problems, while aiming to elevate and grow the brand.

Tyler Murray Shoptalk 03
Tyler Murray, VML, and Amy Reibrich, Haleon, discuss the role of purpose in brand building

Outcomes Are Essential

Brands are focused on making sure that all dollars work harder across all tactics and channels, which was the main takeaway from the panel “Finding and Reaching Customers in a Fragmented Media Landscape.”

Kimberly Wallengren, VP Marketing, North America for Coach, said: “Ensuring performance marketing works harder and that it’s more effective and productive, that’s the magic sauce.”

From my own panel “Agency Rapid Fire: Nine Major Challenges and Opportunities in Marketing,” I was joined by Joe Laszlo, Head of Content-USA, Shoptalk; Shane Rickard, CEO, Harmon Brothers; and Curt Munk, CSO, Tracy-Locke. Our discussion focused on effectiveness and creativity, starting with the business problem to solve, the job to be done, and clear and measurable objectives.

Our conclusion was that it’s not just about finding any metrics – it’s about measuring the right ones that are linked to business outcomes.

At the Shoptalk session "Improving Demand Forecasting and Inventory Planning," Wayfair’s Nitin Kapoor, VP Supply Chain & Omnichannel Commerce Platform, revealed: “We found ourselves creating a bunch of metrics, like a metric soup, and finally at some point in our journey, we said let's stop focusing on metrics that masquerade as true business outcomes and focus on those that actually matter, like sales, revenue and margin.”

Agreed.

Michelle Bauman Shoptalk 01
Shane Rickard, CEO, Harmon Brothers; Curt Munk, CSO, Tracy-Locke; Michelle Baumann, CSO, VML; Joe Laszlo, Head of Content-USA, Shoptalk

Generative AI Is Not Alone

As we also saw at the NRF Big Show in New York in January, AI was a major topic at just about every Shoptalk session.

GenAI is a growth tool that marketers are looking to utilize, but many still don’t know the rules of the road or how to use it to be successful.

While AI is baked into everything we do in retail, like in-store intelligence, digital and supply chain, and digital assistants, most everyone realizes it alone cannot replace great process and strategy.

Marketers and agencies of the future require bright minds with creative thinking and problem-solving skills to set the right strategy, leveraging tools like AI within their processes to drive efficiency and positive outcomes.

Gen AI is not alone Shoptalk 01
AI at Shoptalk
Shoptalk 01
Until next year!

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