7 Major Takeaways from Shoptalk 2018

Shoptalk 2018 was huge — the world’s largest conference for B2C, retail, and ecommerce innovation sold out for the third time in a row with more than 8,500 attendees from some of the biggest brands in the world.

However, there was so much happening all at once, it was all too easy to miss something at this expansive event.

Whether you couldn’t make it to The Venetian in Las Vegas or you just couldn’t attend every single session, you may have missed a key insight that could help you grow your B2C business.

That’s exactly why we attended as many sessions as possible at Shoptalk and took notes the whole time. We want to make sure you didn’t miss any of the incredible content at Shoptalk 2018 and learned as much as possible.

Here are the top strategic takeaways from leading industry executives who spoke at Shoptalk. With their guidance, we hope you can stay on the cutting edge of new technologies, the latest trends, and the rapid evolution of consumer behaviors in ecommerce, retail, and B2C business.

1. AI is still not fully autonomous

“AI is here, but the experience is not amazing just yet. The best experiences are actually a hybrid: an automated flow at the start, but then a handover to a human when the questions become more complicated. As AI becomes more powerful in the future, we’ll have a fully automated experience from end to end. But we’re not there yet.”

Stefanos Loukakos, Head of Messenger Business at Facebook


AI-powered chat is becoming huge for a lot of B2C businesses and has a variety of useful applications, including handling customer service requests, transactional messages, and even serving as personal shopping assistants for buyers on Google. In addition, these chatbots are a treasure trove of data that is just starting to be used by brands for better personalization. However, AI technology has yet to be able to handle very complex customer interactions that go beyond a standard logic flow. For the moment, people are still more powerful than computers — something even experts at tech companies like Facebook admit.

2. Omnichannel takes over the organization

“To really deliver personal experiences, we needed to take channel out of the equation and make our decisions all about what’s best for the buyer. We have a team that is focused on omnichannel experiences so we don’t just fall back into our channel silos.”

Mary Beth Laughton, EVP of Omni-Retail at Sephora


More and more large retailers and ecommerce brands are moving away from organizing their teams according to channels. Mary Beth Laughton shared the story of how she used to run just the digital team for Sephora, but has now integrated the digital and in-store teams for the entire brand under one umbrella. Many brands at Shoptalk discussed how the organization of the company has to reflect the value of serving customers across channels. Silos are the enemy, and the first step to an omnichannel experience is organizing your team to reflect that.

3. Customer data creates seamless customer experiences

“The customer expects you to use their data to develop very customized experiences with them. The customer is happy giving you their data if they get value back in return.”

Eric Messerschmidt, SVP Strategic Marketing, CRM, and Loyalty at Ulta Beauty


When it comes to customer data, there’s almost never enough for B2C and the retail industry. Brands of all kinds discussed how important it is to collect, clean, centralized, and analyze their customer data effectively. In one session, Eric Messerschmidt talked about Ulta’s incredibly valuable loyalty program that allows the brand to collect detailed data on their buyers. He shared how they use that information to provide personalized experiences that their customers absolutely love. Without that data, they could never offer such a great experience to their buyers.

4. The concept of stores is evolving

“This idea of digital first or physical first doesn’t matter. It’s about what experience you want to offer. We don’t open stores to build markets, we open stores where we already have a market.”

Ethan Song, Co-Founder & CEO of Frank And Oak


Many of the emerging ecommerce brands have moved from online-only into pop-up stores, showrooms, and even a number of new, permanent stores in key markets. This trend is continuing to grow and proves that the business model of in-store shopping is not dead at all. Ethan Song explained that to him, the physical store is a key to building an even better customer experience and really standing out from the competition. These types of newer brands make sure their stores reinforce a high-end experience where the buyer really connects with the brand in person and works to drive customer loyalty over time.

5. Accurate marketing attribution is still a challenge

“Part of the problem is there’s no perfect data attribution platform. The data that’s being fed into those platforms is not clean.”

Aaron Sanandres, Co-Founder & CEO of UNTUCKit


Marketing attribution is still difficult, even for new and digitally-native brands like UNTICKit. Aaron Sanandres explained that they’ve experimented with a lot of channels including traditional ones like TV and radio, which have been hugely successful for the brand. However, in doing so, they’ve realized that they still can’t measure the impact of every marketing activity on consumer behaviors easily. TV, radio and other channels are harder to measure than online marketing, but still have value. It seems that while omnichannel marketing is more achievable than ever, omnichannel marketing attribution is an ongoing challenge.

6. Customer-driven content is key

“It doesn’t matter anymore what a brand says about a company’s products; it matters what the customers say about your products. People have become obsessed with sharing their experiences. An airbrushed ad isn’t going to sell you foundation, but the thousands of reviews on Sephora or MakeupAlley might. That’s why we’re obsessed with our customers.”

Emily Weiss, Founder & CEO of Glossier


When it comes to your products, online reviews can often make or break you. This isn’t news to anyone in ecommerce today, but there are ways to really drive that engagement with your buyers. Emily Weiss shared how Glossier approaches this by offering their buyers a connection with another customer who has a similar style and skin type. Instead of forcing their buyers to wade through thousands of online reviews, they have a more personalized experience with customer-created content. Your brand’s happiest customers can actually advocate for their favorite products, which is incredibly powerful.

7. Rely on the power of brand

“A few years ago, the Coach brand entered into a transformation strategy. We started to roll out craftsmanship bars in our stores, a nod to our roots as a New York City house of leather. You could have monogramming, repairs, customization and made-to-order products in stores.”

Joshua Schulman, CEO & President of Coach


For brands with an existing strong customer base, you can learn from the lessons of the more niche brands by re-thinking how you interact with buyers. Joshua Schulman explained that Coach has pulled back from some of their retail locations, re-focusing on the customer experience with more personalized offerings in-store. Rather than trying to be everywhere, they’re relying on the strength of the Coach brand and rebuilding relationships with loyal, long-time customers.

Bonus: The Empowered Marketer Goes to Shoptalk

While at Shoptalk, we also recorded a special episode of The Empowered Marketer. Watch below for exclusive interviews with B2C leaders from top brands, including Mizzen and Main, Ollie, Rachel Roy, and Paul Evans.  

There were many other interesting takeaways from Shoptalk 2018, but these were the most impactful. Top B2C brand leaders openly shared their challenges, the latest trends, and advice on ecommerce innovation with the crowd in Las Vegas. And now you’ve experienced it too. Whether you attended or not, we hope you’ve gotten some real value from Shoptalk 2018.

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