It’s the Era of Rationalized Retail – Part 2

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\"\"Shoptalk 2017 in the Rearview Mirror: Part 2

Here’s what smart companies are working on with all these new-economy brainiacs. We’ve compiled some highlights of the major trends, presented, discussed and predicted at Shoptalk in Las Vegas, March 2017:


We’re all going to fall in love with our machines – Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri. I mean how can you resist a soothing voice that anticipates your every need, shows you how to get where you want to go, and helps you cook dinner without complaining? What human can compete with that level of narcissism?

The Rebecca Minkoff brand is the poster child for thinking creatively and rationally about the customer experience. Uri Minkoff, Co-founder and CEO, explains that they strive to create experiences that are “future-proof and fool proof for millennials.” They were pioneers with lots of clever tech toys, including magic mirrors and checkout alternatives, and the see-now, buy-now seasonal launches. They are developing an IoT solution for customer relationship management and are invested in 42 Technologies, a leading edge turnkey analytics and reporting solution to deliver voice recognition, real-time information on inventory, sales data and trends…via Alexa. Where did they find each other? On LinkedIn, which just goes to show you that professional/social media works. The Minkoffs have established a VC fund with Quotidian Ventures for more next-gen tech acquisitions, which they will presumably scoop up before anyone else knows about it. Their seasonal launches have become major productions, most recently at The Grove in Los Angeles where models, bloggers and influencers collaborated in an immersion festival, resulting in a 64 percent lift in online sales. In the end, it’s about marrying great ideas and vision with logic in a systems-thinking approach. Uri says what really gets results from his team is simply seating people on staff together at the office in a way that they naturally interact and collaborate with each other to break down any silos or territorial thinking that could sabotage the overall business.

Mark Hardy, CEO of InContext Solutions, celebrates AR with the good news that retailers no longer have to look at stats and sales data on endless Excel spreadsheets. All you have to do is walk through the store and march down the aisles and see every parsed bit of information you will ever need on your mobile screen. Logistics support is the next step, then virtual commerce. According to Mark, that’s “when physical stores become irrelevant.” Through AR, you are transported on-site to see the what’s inside the tent. It all becomes a gamefication of retail as customers cruise through the store virtually and buy what you want. AR, he says, “is taking commerce to the next level.”

What’s inside? Intel’s intelligent reimagining of retail. Rachael Mushahwar, General Manager of Retail, Hospitality and Consumer Packaged Goods, defines the major AR/AI tech breakthroughs that are happening in-store and shaping the future.

  • Chatbox is your new BFF. Centennials (Gen Z) shop differently and know Alexa can help. Rachel predicts that in 2017 less than one-third of customer service requests will require a human.
  • Robotics. Retailers will use robots in-store in addition to distribution centers. Simbe (Simulated Being) Robotics Tally is the world’s first robotic autonomous shelf auditing and analytics solution for retail and has already been tested in Tesco, Lowes and Target.
  • Internet of Things is an agent of value creation. The remote control for daily life – our iPhone – controls everything: how we shop and engage with it in the stores, as well as transportation and logistics. Here’s a sobering thought: Rachel says that the iPhone’s personal computing power is more than what was required to put a man into space in the 60s.
  • Operational Wearables. These wearable devices connect with distribution centers and link to inventories to provide real-time stock information that reduces the friction in any retail transaction. You never have to say you’re sorry you’re out of stock, because you’ll know ahead of time.
  • Visual and Video Search. We will use our voices, not a keyboard, to search. Visual match-ups will become the norm. Imagine taking a picture of a girl wearing an outfit you desire, and using visual search, immediately finding three similar outfits, complete with information on where to buy them.
  • Machine Learning and Personalization. The floodgate opens with personalization, customization, mapping, and incoming messaging composed for each individual customer.

Retailers will have imaginative strategic choices to create a meaningful customer journey, all of which will require investments of science-based technologies. The transformation takes place when you shift your self-definition from being a store to becoming a provider of value. Rachel asks, ”What would you do if you weren’t afraid? Fill in the blank.” Her advice is to make the right choices now to morph into responsive retail.

Sophie Miller, Head of Shopping Partnerships at Google predicts that the fourth industrial revolution is coming with the fusion of biological, physical and virtual. Using AR and VR with partners Daydream and Tango, the smartphone becomes part mapping device and part encyclopedia of product knowledge. Google has developed 200+ apps for retail partners to help customers navigate stores and benefit from rich experiences. She says, “The closer you make interaction with computing like the real world, the more powerful it will become. It’s context computing.” Mapping – wayfinding pathways on your smartphone – can guide you through a Lowe’s store with a “yellow brick road” leading you to the products you are seeking. You are then directed to the product placement on the shelf. And then you are virtually enveloped with every piece of information you can imagine about that product. Or, think of rendering your own BMW through VR and AR, customized with your preferred colors and options. You can visualize the car you want and then you can order it directly. Home décor is perfect for AR. Wayfair can unbox the item in your own home. Pottery Barn and Williams Sonoma can place an entire room of furniture in your own living room, courtesy of AR.

Sephora is mastering experiential retail that teaches and inspires through play.

Beauty classes in-store offer one-on-one consultations with makeup pros, and through augmented reality, customers can try on lipstick colors on their phones. More personalization? Their subscription model beauty boxes delivered to your doorstep. Alice Chang, CEO of Perfect Corp., offers an AR beauty journey, anticipating what Gartner reports that by 2020, 100 million consumers will shop though AR. To date, her brand has had over 400 million downloads from customers using AR to try on makeup. Alice says the AR alternative is great for in-store as well, as a workaround to unsanitary conditions from hundreds of customers experimenting with physical products. Plus, Alice says, you can see the whole panorama of brands in a single cosmetic category at a kiosk instead of wandering around the store trying to figure out what product is the best for you … and where to find it.

Clarifai uses visual recognition to connect people to pictures and video using a sophisticated technology platform that identifies images on a pixel level. It looks like magic when the app demonstrates it can discern your dog from someone else’s, and uses machine learning to deliver images of products based on customer behavior.

IBM Watson IoT has reinvigorated the venerable IBM brand. The platform uses data from the connected store to deliver insights to make real-time, contextually driven decisions. And all this tech jargon leads to delightful customer experiences. According to IBM, “retail store operations can be transformed to rival those of any online retailer.” And “Watson IoT Shopper Insights, from in-store behavior, purchase history and social media activities, can help retailers to provide personalized offers and predict future trends.”

Conversational Commerce

Amir Konigberg, CEO of Twiggle says 1.77 billion people shop online globally. But search is still so primitive that “31 percent of the results are irrelevant, 22 percent can’t find what they are looking for and 19 percent of the results come up empty.” So Peter Faricy, VP at Amazon Marketplace wins the dazzle-me award at Shoptalk. Courageously he live demo-ed Alexa on stage in front of 5600 people to show the power of conversational commerce. “Alexa, find me a pair of black velvet dress slippers, size 11.” In what seemed like a nanosecond, Alexa came through with a recommendation for the slippers, on your screen of choice, located at Saks Fifth Avenue in Las Vegas, including driving instructions, store hours and a host of product attributes. Even for the jaded, it was a behind the curtain glimpse from a Wizard of Amazon.

Shoppable Video

MikMak  is a mobile video shopping network that is becoming a giant wave of the present-future. CEO Rachel Tipograph produces video content in short-form formats, minimercials. She says the evolution of video is highly creative, personalized and customized to match the medium with the message that resonates with millennial shoppers. MikMak hosts have stand-up comedy backgrounds, and the videos are irreverent, clever, exciting and entertaining. New videos are released every night at 9:00 PM Eastern time. But regardless of their cool factor, these videos are designed to sell product.

Mindy Grossman, CEO of HSN – the doyenne of video commerce – shows a gentler side to the retail business. Her mantra is about compassion, meaning, caring and kindness. She believes that these qualities will inspire loyalty in a time of confusion, disruption and abundance of choice. The way to build a sustainable relationship is with human, tactile experiences.

Mindy declares that systems-thinking defines a successful retail leader. And that approach needs to be combined with fluency in the tech vernacular. She says, “Distributed commerce is table stakes for the future. Our world has moved from one broadcast to 96 million customers to one message to each of 96 million screens.” The way to be meaningful and intuitive on these screens is to tell stories that inform and engage. She describes five critical elements — universal truths — married to meaning:

  1. Mobile is the new flagship. It’s personal, not a device, it’s a destination. It is our individual world — who we are and our life.
  2. Everyone is your competitor. Uber, Airbnb –- any brand that delivers an experience.
  3. Agile is the new smart, speed is critical.
  4. Never take Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for granted. The iconic pyramid has been inverted and self-fulfillment is now at the top.
  5. Talent is value.

She also emphasizes that, “Personalization has to be meaningful.” We need to cater to each screen. Transmedia is the communications strategy for shoppable video and personalization. Customization and localization are personified by craft, artisanal brands. She says we need to “make every touch point feel like a small business.” We also need to create a community through curation to mitigate the impotence when we feel faced by abundance. Creative retail can educate, inform and provide clarity. These communities provide ecosystems for customers that are holistic, immersive environments, not a discrete vertical. How is she keeping it fresh and cutting-edge? She hosts an incubation program for entrepreneurs and has launched 125 new products through the American Dreams Inventions Academy.

The Customer Channel

Mike Blandina, CTO of Westfield Retail Solutions has a lot of bold things to say about the future of retailing. He explains that an existential threat to his business forced a pivot in 2015 with new board members. Westfield Labs morphed into Westfield Solutions. He says, “In the evolution of retail, innovation in physical time is happening slower than innovation in digital time.” And he proclaims, “Omnichannel is dead. The consumer is the channel.” Retailers need to respond to these single channels by responding to customer needs any time, any place. “It’s time to write a new book. The chief of digital and technology information officer are not discrete jobs anymore,” he states. Retailers need to deliver a seamless interface experience. Imagine Google Home starts a product search, Facebook Messenger calls you and you can complete the transaction on Messenger or in-store.” He describes, “The problem for retailers is that they only have one way to do one task.” Interconnected systems and devices deliver an elegant, curated and refined way to do things. He suggests that we need to bring retailers together and they need to engage on social platforms as well as in venues. “We win as a team and die as individuals, “ he says. “Retailers should not look at their assets to deliver a unique customer experience. The trends are augmented reality, conversational commerce, and endless aisle –- about consumer as the channel. Collaborate now. He uses fintech as a model for new standards for retail. “There is no equivalent to fintech in retail; we need to find that model. The pace of innovation grows exponentially weekly,” he adds.

He believes that no one cares about an app and probably never will. “Consumers are on social platforms, so go and engage them there. An iconic experience is when physical and digital bring it all together. He says the top conversation rates result from conversational commerce: voicebots and chatbots. He adds, “whether you like it or not, it’s happening. We’re competing against several large giants, and against over 100 different apps and websites.” But in the end, consumers want a single valuable experience. They don’t care how you build it, they want the end result. Digital starts at home, at work, or the car. Basically, it starts and ends where the consumer starts and ends. Buy, sell pick up and return wherever they are.

He explains, “We can use the mall for a great experience, but if we don’t merge these two views – digital and physical – retailers will struggle and malls will struggle,” The solution is to build a retail network where we all share data.

The flat internet playing field enables inclusive e-commerce. Peter Szulczewski, CEO of Wish , serves the underclass of the 80 percent of U.S. households with incomes under $100K. With a robust business in Europe, Wish serves lower-income European households, with an average annual income of $16,269. That long tail adds up, and Wish fulfills many consumers who don’t have credit cards or bank accounts.

Speed wins and Amazon’s Prime Now, with one hour-or-less delivery, is hard to beat even though wannabes are working on it. According to Stephanie Landry, VP of Amazon Prime Now, Amazon’s philosophy is to “give you your time back.” Already in 45 cities in seven countries, customers are not only getting used to speed, they want way more. Built on the new business principles, technology is the infrastructure that provides fulfillment and delivers customer delight. Stephanie says that Amazon Prime, combined with Alexa’s machine learning voice recognition prowess, is “meaningful and makes customers come back to us.” A flex community of drivers provides the deliveries. And with a shout-out to the environment, the hugely popular paper bags have supplanted the mountains of corrugated cardboard that Amazon is famous for.


The Target Open House Innovation Lab in San Francisco is a living lab showcasing the seduction of IoT. The concept store is designed as an immersive environment dispaying the connected home and how it works. When all your devices are synched with a master program (like Alexa) you can pretty much play master puppeteer to your lights, appliances, locks and entertainment. According to Gene Han, VP of Consumer IoT at Target, the store demonstrates how a smart home works. Target has some dazzling kiosk-based interfaces: a digital wall immerses you in a travel experience, which delivers travel suggestions, ranging from destinations to what you need to take with you (back to retail). There are vignettes that demonstrate how a connected bedroom works. A lot of the ideas come from local startups, and the Lab serves as an open-house garage for entrepreneurs. The space is used for meet-up forums, and Target has embedded itself securely into the forward-thinking Silicon Valley startup community.

Personalized Commerce

The ultimate in personalized online customization is Spoonflower, a business that enables you to design and print your own fabric and textile designs. CEO Gart Davis describes Spoonflower and “an explosion of choice” that disintermediates the $3 trillion textiles and apparel business. Through crowd sourcing, this participatory commerce model provides a meaningful relationship between makers and customers.

Michelle Lam, CEO of True & Co., started a business that customizes bras so that vast majority of women who have been wearing the wrong size bras all their lives can finally get into the right lingerie. Michelle has broken through startup status to the next level, having been acquired by PVH.

Houzz offers customization through augmented reality, inspiring users to envision their redecorating and remodeling plans in their own homes. Adi Tatarko, CEO, has created a community of design professionals, suppliers, and buyers on a platform that provides an end-to-end solution. Users can source furniture, wall coverings, appliances and decorative details and plant them in their own homes through AR. Adi says Houzz taps into the tech community and recruits Ph.D.’s who think expansively about creating innovative tools. This community-based commerce model also serves the B2B community with housing and remodeling economic reports based on the data they collect.

Innovating in the realm of convenience, David Gudai, CEO of startup Ideally, has crated an app for serious shoppers to create a log of all the items they covet, but won’t buy until they go on sale. Shoppers curate their own product portfolios and then Ideally will alert them when that Theory dress or Montcler parka is on sale. Since shoppers have already specified the amount they are willing will pay, all they have to do is confirm the purchase and, boom, it’s on its way. Brands partner with Ideally to participate in the program, an effective way to avoid the outlets and instead move your off-season merchandise directly into the hands of those who love it.

eBay is the granddaddy of personalization for shoppers. CEO Devin Wenig says, “We’re going to compete by being different, not by emulating others.” eBay is more distinctive because of its unique inventory. “We provide a unique shopping experience, one-on-one for 167 million people. It is highly personal and individually curated.” Combining art and science, Devin says eBay is sitting on the largest image database in the world, and through machine learning, data engineers can image test merchandise to see which perform best and then can seamlessly choose the most effective picture to sell based on sales conversions. On the near horizon?

Devin says voice will play a role. Ask Alexa and the perfect pair of Stuart Weitzman shoes will show up in your life from an eBay seller.


In the end, startups and veterans alike can benefit from a more reflective view of work and success. Charming and super-successful Lionel Richie believes that risk taking follows one simple philosophy, “Life begins at the end of our comfort zone. If you think you’ve made it, you’re one step behind. You have to find your edge, and fear is your companion. Fear is a great motivator. Keep imagining.”



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