Retail Renaissance: A Review of Shoptalk 2018


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"Hopefully, GDPR is the medicine we need to start putting our customers at the center of the story, and not our conversion rates." We review Shoptalk 2018 in the wake of Cambridge Analytica with a discussion about the content, the vendors, the experience, and how merchants can take the knowledge gained at a show like Shoptalk and turn it into actionable results.

"Hopefully, GDPR is the medicine we need to start putting our customers at the center of the story, and not our conversion rates." We review Shoptalk 2018 in the wake of Cambridge Analytica with a discussion about the content, the vendors, the experience, and how merchants can take the knowledge gained at a show like Shoptalk and turn it into actionable results.

Main Takeaways:

  • Brian and Phillip recap some of the standouts of Shoptalk 2018 and how these standouts made lasting impressions.

  • AR and VR are being implemented in new and creative ways and could very well be shaping the future of the retail industry.

  • The technology that was being developed a few years ago is now being used in the state of the current retail industry but is there room for its development?

  • Cambridge Analytica happened and shook the public to its core but will data security regulations like GDPR be able to prevent future leaks?

One Beef, Two Beef, Red Beef, Blue Beef:

  • Brian and Phillip start by bringing up some beef between them that they at this year's Shoptalk Conference.

  • Brian registered for Press Passes for Shoptalk and listed himself as Host of Future Commerce, and Phillip as the co-host. (Scandalous!)

  • The Future Commerce content team accompanied Brian and Phillip this year to help capture the show and be active on social media.

  • Brian and Phillip went out to Red Rock Canyon, and even though they got stranded out in the desert, they can not recommend the location highly enough.

Brian's Big Shoptalk Announcement: The Career Change:

  • Brian made a big announcement at Shoptalk and let us know that he is now employed by Amazon (cue music)

  • Expect the tone of the show to shift so that now Phillip will prod Brian until he is forced to recuse himself from the conversation.

  • Brian is super excited to be on board at Amazon and thinks that his role working with the pay team and eCommerce platforms is a great fit.

VR in eCommerce: Separating the Virtual World from the Real World:

  • Brian hosted a panel at Shoptalk in which he spoke with Brian Cavanagh from the Hershey Company, Mike Festa from Wayfair Next, and Greg Jones from the Google AR Team.

  • The Hershey Company is partnering with goPuff to create a VR Shopping App that will allow consumers to purchase convenience store items within a VR experience.

  • The first thing that jumped out to Phillip as he was watching the panel was the Hershey Company's unique take on VR, which is to not replicate a commerce experience in the real world in VR.

  • Phillip describes the Hershey VR experience as a Willy Wonka-esque experience in which you can explore a colorful world and purchase almost everything you see.

The Retail Renaissance: A Recurring Shoptalk Theme:

  • Phillip recalls that a recurring theme at this year's Shoptalk was the fact that retail is not dead, but rather, we are going through a Retail Renaissance. (And thus a show title was born.)

  • Someone even compared the artistic progression of Picasso throughout his life to the evolution of retail to where it is today.

Digital Hurdles: Overcoming VR Roadblocks:

  • We still think about the online shopping experience in regards to aisles and carts, but with VR being such an expressive medium, the possibilities are endless.

  • What's the most efficient way to shop versus what's the most experiential way to shop?

  • The biggest challenge that retailers will face when trying to get into AR or VR is creating a library of 3D assets.

  • Brian predicts that the 3D asset problem is not a problem that retailers should have to solve, but instead, brands themselves will provide the assets from the point of origin to retailers.

Predictions Become Reality: Future Commerce at Shoptalk:

  • Phillip talks about how nice it was to see so many listeners at Shoptalk and brings up how, for avid listeners of the show, a lot of the topics that were brought up at Shoptalk were things that they had already heard on Future Commerce.

  • Iterations of things that Brian and Phillip had predicted on the show have come to fruition in the real world by brands known across the globe.

  • Trevor Sumner from Perch gave a rundown of the store of the future that incorporates responsive and interactive displays that interact with physical items from store shelves.

  • All of the information that we have available online is now available to us in new and dynamic ways right when we need it as we shop.

Trends and Topics: The Arcs of Future Commerce:

  • Phillip takes us back in time and talks about some of the arcs of Future Commerce as defined by the main conversation points of each year: the first year was voice and conversational technology, the second year was AR and VR, and this year's focus has been disruption and protecting our private data.

  • Back in October of 2017, Phillip and Brian advised a retailer that stated not to believe anyone that said they were using AI or machine learning because AI has been reduced to a marketing term without any actual functionality.

  • Phillip couldn't believe that Shoptalk had an entire area devoted to AI and Machine Learning and that the application of what could be a transformational technology to retail is abysmal at this point in 2018. (Phillip's feeling spicy today.)

  • Brian brings up a past episode with Jonathan Epstein from 2 years ago that had one of the best applications of machine learning that he's ever seen, and there hasn't been much more innovation in those two years by other players in the industry.

Making an Impression: The Standouts of Shoptalk:

  • Phillip did not recognize the Handy booth until around the third day at which point he saw that they were everywhere.

  • Handy has partnered with Walmart and will provide handyman services to Walmart customers in over 2,000 stores nationwide.

  • Phillip also gives accolades to the startup Hemster, a technology/services company that provides tailoring and alterations (that are incredibly cheap) to business and individuals in addition to free delivery service of the alterations.

  • Another standout was Mizzen+Main for the simple fact that it was an actual fashion brand at the show with clothes and that their domain name is (Brian got to bring a Mizzen+Main shirt home and agrees that it is indeed Comfortable AF.)

Three Shoptalks Later: Using the Past to Predict the Future:

  • Brian states that we have hit a spot in technology where what is being spoken about in Shoptalk is similar to what was spoken about in Shoptalk 1 (which was two years ago).

  • Brian also predicts that the technology that we are using now will be used for the next 3-5 years and will power the next wave of commerce.

  • "There is too much to do with the technology that we have and too much opportunity to make money on it so people will put their dollars and effort towards that and we will probably see IRCE and NRF follow in this direction as well."

  • Is it a good thing that other conferences will start to look more like Shoptalk with the current technology stack?

Phillip Goes on a Rant: Technology is Not a Replacement for Quality:

  • There was more than one brand that Phillip spoke with that had filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in the past 12-18 months that ranged from big-box retailers to actual fashion brands and the fact that some of these companies were looking at AR and VR as a means to save their business was terrifying to him.

  • The current technologies that are emerging today are not replacements for the fundamentals of being a good brand with a good product that connects with your customer.

  • Brian agrees that if you are looking at any one technology to save your business, you are looking in the wrong spot as you have made some bad business decisions to get where you are today.

  • "If you are in eCommerce and you are not connecting with your customers regularly, then you are missing out on a fundamental".

The State of Data Security: Cambridge Analytica Fallout:

  • Brian references Episode 55 in which predictions were made for what was going to happen in 2018 and Brian predicted the idea of giving shoppers access to their data to help them leverage that data to accomplish things and sure enough, companies are beginning to do this.

  • If you are affected by GDPR, you should probably consider that you don't want to run two different data strategies across channels and start planning your future data strategies now.

  • Data security could not be more timely as the Cambridge Analytica scandal came to light during Shoptalk.

  • What do you we actually need in our commerce experiences that can minimize data requirements as opposed to including everything just because we have the capability of plugging it in?

  • "We need to put our customers at the center of the story instead of our conversion rates at the center of our story."

  • Phillip predicts that in the same way that companies became "green" in response to customer demand, he sees an opportunity for companies to go private in which they will not partner with third-party companies to protect your data.

As always: We want to hear what our listeners think! Should AR and VR play a bigger role in the future of retail? Does the Cambridge Analytica breach change the face of data privacy and will GDPR be a step in the right directions towards the protection of customer data?

Let us know in the content section on, or reach out to us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Linkedin.

Have any questions or comments about the show? You can reach out to us at or any of our social channels, and we love hearing from our listeners!

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