Exactly two years ago, on September 22, 2015, we announced the launch of Shoptalk. Today, we are on the brink of hosting an event in Las Vegas with more than 7,500 attendees and 700 CEOs. Below are a few thoughts on the journey over these past two years and our plans for the future.
Our thesis from the beginning–not universally shared by others at the time–was that big shifts in technology and consumer behavior were about to reach a tipping point and cause retail to undergo extraordinary changes, shaking the industry to its core. On the verge of disruption in every way imaginable, we knew the industry would need help during the upcoming years of uncertainty and opportunity. We believed that a new industry event could form the base of that much-needed support, but we didn’t believe that a traditional events model would work.
We got to work, drawing on our backgrounds as tech entrepreneurs and retail analysts–none of us were career events professionals–to create a new, unique product that serves an unmet need and does not compromise on quality in any way. Our first job was to eliminate the extensive fragmentation of retail and ecommerce professionals which existed in literally every way you can slice it: Between stores and online divisions; startups and established companies. We weren’t beholden to any one group, and we believed the industry needed to remake itself through a fresh and unified community. We committed ourselves for the long term as well as significant amounts of personal financial resources to make this a powerful reality.
We kicked off our inaugural event in spring of 2016
As we prepared for our first event, we talked to dozens of people to understand the perspectives of all the different groups we aimed to bring together. In an effort to craft the dialogue that would help them all, we drafted and discarded multiple versions of the agenda. We spent countless hours debating the topics that would be most useful to our audience and how they all fit together. We were uncompromising in whom we selected as speakers, rejecting the industry norm of “pay-to-play” presentations. No one else had attempted anything like this, and when we walked onto the stage to kick off Shoptalk 2016, it was not without anxiety as we hoped our content, speaker lineup and the overall experience would wow the 3,100+ senior-level attendees who had flown to Vegas to be a part of our newly defined community. Thankfully, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive and we could exhale as we wrapped up a hugely successful industry gathering.
…and learned a tremendous amount in year one.
Did we get everything right in our first year? Absolutely not, In fact, that wasn’t our goal. We had intentionally experimented with many “firsts” for an industry event and got enough right that we now had a template, allowing us to focus on the things we needed to improve. People from throughout the industry approached us in droves with suggestions and requests–they wanted to help us so we could help them. We added a whole set of new formats for our sessions so attendees wouldn’t suffer from “panel fatigue” and lengthened our sessions. We moved away from some topics and toward others like supply chain. We got a much better sense of what the industry needed and how Shoptalk could help fill that void.
We expanded our community in year two…
As we dove into preparing our second annual Shoptalk, we’d managed to show the naysayers that we were onto something very important. Even with an absolutely phenomenal speaker lineup in our very first year, we were able to increase the number and seniority of speakers once the industry understood the value Shoptalk provided. We no longer heard, “Retail doesn’t need another event” or “Retailers aren’t going to fly to Vegas.” In fact, our choice of Las Vegas had been very deliberate. When you hold events in places like New York, San Francisco or London, you become one small part of people’s schedules; attendees come and go in between meetings and other obligations in the city. We wanted to build a community where everyone learns, analyzes and socializes together.
…while addressing key industry challenges.
To that end, we redoubled our efforts going into our second show and took on more of the issues that we felt plagued retail, such as industry networking–which everyone agreed was entirely broken. We introduced curated programs to help retailers learn about new solutions and discover new companies. We also recognized that retail budgets were becoming increasingly limited just as the need to learn had become paramount, and so we identified novel ways to provide retailers with free tickets and travel to Shoptalk. Our approach resonated: By year two, Shoptalk had grown by 80 percent and sold out at 5,600 attendees. People told us Shoptalk was the best event they’d ever attended, and that motivated us to want to provide even more value to them.
We launched Shoptalk Europe…
Not being ones to let the grass grow under our feet, as we came out of the second Shoptalk in Las Vegas, we had already embarked on our next show, Shoptalk Europe, which will feature over 225 speakers and sell out at 2,250 attendees this October. With a primary focus on Europe–and drawing from around the world–Shoptalk Europe will follow a similar format to our U.S. show but transcend borders even more than our past events with speakers coming from more than 25 countries.
…and subsequently a more global Shoptalk 2018.
As we built Shoptalk Europe for 2017, we realized the power of an international community with a wide range of different use cases and viewpoints. We decided the industry would benefit most in 2018 from a single global event that brings together the most innovative retailers, consumer brands, technology companies, investors, analysts and others from around the world. So, we made a bold, counterintuitive move given the overwhelming success of Shoptalk Europe: We decided to combine Shoptalk’s U.S. and European events into one truly global view of retail to be held in Las Vegas in March 2018. Over 20 percent of our 400+ speakers will come from outside the U.S., with a particular focus on groundbreaking European companies–we’ll also feature speakers from other hubs of global innovation such as Israel and China. Additionally, we’re expanding in the one major area of retail just starting to be disrupted by digital channels: Shoptalk 2018 will include an entirely new track dedicated to grocery and CPG, our first-ever content focused exclusively on a particular industry.
As we move forward into 2018 and beyond, we will continue to assemble the world’s absolute best lineup of speakers, attendees and sponsors while creating the best on-site experience we can imagine. It requires an incredible amount of courage and hard work to build a brand new community and dialogue that extends globally and makes a meaningful difference. That’s our one and only passion at Shoptalk.
We hope you’ll join us for retail’s groundbreaking new journey and look forward to seeing you at Shoptalk for many years to come!