Shop.org continues to attract the top brands, marketers and techies to its annual event with presentations and discussions around the newest tech trends, industry updates and what’s on the horizon for the next year in retail. Each year, a few key themes emerge throughout the event, and this year was no exception.
Here are some of the key trends from this year’s show that we found most interesting:
Artificial Intelligence Is Taking Hold
The use of artificial intelligence (AI), whether it’s virtual reality or machine learning, was the dominating topic of this year’s event. For instance, Adobe discussed AI’s role in becoming a personal shopper for customers and how AI-driven personalization can help increase sales. There was also a lot of discussion around automation and how it is helping retailers scale quickly and bolster their customer service teams by leveraging chatbots for simple and frequently asked questions. While AI can be an added resource to a retailer, there was also discussion around the need to strike a balance between automation and human interaction in order to keep interactions personal for each customer.
A Refocus on Back-End Operations
While retailers must always focus on getting a customer to make a purchase, back-end operations for retailers are also important, from managing orders, payments and fraud prevention to fulfillment and post-purchase customer service.
This is where AI made it back into talks, with numerous discussions on how technology can help in back-end operations, and how machine learning and automation can help expedite these processes and make a more seamless and faster customer experience. This is especially true as Amazon has become a competitor for many retailers. Customers expect an Amazon or better experience—and a lot of that experience and competitive edge from Amazon is based on its operational efficiency and distribution. To remain competitive, all retailers must meet (and ideally exceed) their customers’ expectations. Operations is a major contributor to that.
Retail Isn’t Dying
There has been an endless cycle of articles throughout the past year hyping “the death of brick-and-mortar” and big-name department stores. However, the data coming out of Shop.org told a very different story. Two reports featured at the event from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and IHL offered some very positive takeaways from the past year in the retail industry:
- There has been an increase of over 1,300 store openings in the core retail segment this year compared to the same time last year (IHL);
- 78 percent of consumers said they’re shopping at brick-and-mortar stores just as much or more than they did a year ago (NRF); and,
- 49 percent of millennials said they’re shopping more in-store this year compared to 2016 (NRF).
While there has been a ton of focus on the growth of ecommerce over the past year, especially with the juggernaut that is Amazon, brick-and-mortar is still maintaining a strong presence in the retail industry—and this was clear from the presentations from Orvis, Target, American Eagle Outfitters and DSW Inc., just to name a few.
With a jam-packed agenda this year, it was evident the industry had a lot to discuss on the current state of the commerce industry, and it will be interesting to see how some of the insights, predictions and new technologies take hold over the next year.