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Retail Innovation Conferece Recap

There’s one thing that’s for sure about retail today: it’s changing. There’s a debate to be had about how and to what capacity this change is happening and it certainly impacts different industries differently but what’s not debatable is that brands and retailers are frantically trying to keep up. This past week, I attended the Retail Innovations Conference to see what brands in all industries are doing to try and keep up with the evolution. Two days of content are hard to distill down to a short recap but here were the themes I saw emerge.  

Not Your Old Loyalty Programs
In the age of data, loyalty programs are not only still alive and kicking, they’re going strong and evolving to fit the needs of retailers striving for meaningful connections with consumers. Shinola talked about how they reconsidered their program with their brand promise in mind. Macy’s Style Crew re-envisioned a program inclusive of consumer viewpoint and a new reward attainment structure. Personalization for Born shoes is driven by consistent acquisition of consumer online activity behavior data. Hershey’s hasn’t ever collected consumer email addresses before, in 2019 they hope to build a database of 3.5M consumers. Wayfair continues to explore how to enhance their subscription based loyalty program and GameStop is challenging itself to improve on an award-winning loyalty program to stay relevant and valuable to its consumers. One thing everyone is thinking about when it comes to loyalty is growing profitable sales rather than giving away margin. Loyalty may be an old word but no one is slowing down on new ways to encourage it.

Everyone is Chasing Experience
Not surprisingly, the movement away from purchasing things to wanting experiences is attributed to millennials which leads to a concerted effort on the part of many retailers to provide those experiences. Sleep Number talked about how they show up in unexpected places like the Super Bowl to let consumers test out mattresses. Kendra Scott, while a jewelry store, also aims to be a gathering place for women and their girlfriends. Brian Solis defined an experience as an emotional reaction to a touchpoint. In that frame, experience isn’t necessarily that a consumer gets to touch or feel the product they are buying, it’s also the relentless good customer service a retailer provides or a clean store with pleasant music playing.

Selling is Still About Stories
Branding still matters. Multiple speakers throughout the week had this as at least a component of their presentation. Jeff Fromm challenged retailers to understand their brand’s authority and align their representation in the marketplace around that authority. Deb Gabor challenged retailers to understand the functional, emotional and self-expressive benefits their brand presents to consumers. UGG founder Brian Smith reminded retailers to think about how their products are presented in a world where consumers are connecting with emotion and feeling. Wayfair & Macy’s are both using virtual reality to help consumers visualize the placement of furniture products in their own home before purchase. While potentially not though of as traditional storytelling, this action helps consumers connect products to their own lives and helps ease frustration that might arise later. The components of ease and convenience are certainly part of the story these brands are trying to tell.

Innovation vs Iteration
One of my favorite lines of the entire conference came from UGG founder Brian Smith. His line “You can’t give birth to a baby” is so obvious, yet something we sometimes forget when trying to come up with the next great thing. Innovation takes time and in many cases shows up as iteration of something we already know and understand. According to Brian Solis, iteration is doing the same things but better, while innovation is doing new things that introduce value. Disruption, says Solis, is doing new things that make the old one obsolete. It’s no doubt that Amazon is on the minds of consumers and retailers alike. From Virginia Wong of L-Brand’s point of view though, Amazon competes more on their ability to relentlessly automate processes and correct issues that other retailers refuse to address. At times, explained Tony Southard of Hershey’s, innovation in product can be about packaging or branding. These slight changes help reframe the product in a consumer’s mind and bring interest back to the brands.

It seems that retailers are in a constantly shifting mindset as it relates to how consumers will relate to their brands. Consumer data is necessary. Experience has to be considered. Stories still resonate. What’s next is always intriguing. New expectation bars are being set constantly by retailers trying new things with an eye toward the balance of risk. Driving factors of consumer purchase continue to be price, product & convenience, says Kasey Lobaugh of Deloitte. Sprinkle in brand or experience as another factor then include Macy’s Parinda Muley’s recipe for how to drive innovation: leadership engagement & support, a dedicated team, balance of tradition & disruption, and a deep understanding of consumer behavior, then you’ll be set. Easy, right?

Why do I work at AWG? “I value the opportunity to work with family businesses. My dad owned his own business for 35 years, so it is what I know and cherish. Plus, I love food, so thinking about it everyday is a huge plus.” -Kate