#RICE22 Recap: Highlights from the Design:Retail Conference - Retail Innovation Conference & Expo

#RICE22 Recap: Highlights from the Design:Retail Conference

The underlying theme for this year’s Retail Innovation Conference & Expo was “Designing the Next Era of Connected Commerce.” You can’t have a connected commerce experience without brick-and-mortar stores, right? Right! That’s why we saw practitioners across functions gravitate to the Design:Retail Conference. Whether in marketing, ecommerce, visual merchandising or operations, #RICE22 attendees were eager to explore the future of store design and experience strategy — and boy, did our speakers deliver!  
Over two days, experience strategists, design consultants and, of course, retail executives, shared their take on the latest store trends and real-life examples of brick-and-mortar innovation. Here are some key snaps with our incredible speakers front and center. 

Speakers were clamoring to get a front-row seat for Giovanni Zaccariello of Coach’s session. As SVP of Global Visual Experience, Giovanni has helped shape the way Coach invests in stores and the physical brand journey. Rather than sticking to strict brand guidelines, Giovanni encourages his team to push creative limits, and rethink the role that Coach can play in consumers’ lives — even as a purveyor of surprise and delight. The Coach Bagel Shop is a fantastic example of how the brand was present in a completely new (and super creative) context. The temporary space, which “popped up” (pun intended) in Singapore, offered a limited menu of fresh bagel items, which consumers could enjoy after they shopped the latest Coach collection. They even got access to merch exclusive to the store, which added a fun “FOMO” element to the experience. Of course, this was just one of many activations and experiences Giovanni highlighted in his inspirational session.  

If you want more detailed takeaways from Giovanni’s session, check out Retail TouchPoints coverage!

As we crafted the event agenda, we were focused on featuring brands across categories and growth stages. For the Design:Retail Conference specifically, we believed that attendees could get fabulous ideas and practical takeaways from so many different sources — especially outside of their immediate competitors. Knowing this, and seeing the growth of the cannabis market, we were adamant about getting a cannabis brand on stage. I was thrilled to sit down with Daniel Firtel, who is President of TRP Co. We discussed how despite cannabis getting legalized in more states, the company still faces incredible challenges in building its digital communities in “rented” spaces such as Instagram. Communication limitations and the constant risk of having accounts shut down both inspired Firtel and his team to invest heavily in brick-and-mortar stores.

It was fascinating to hear how Cookies and Dr. Greenthumb’s are opening more and more stores, and how they’re using their connection to pop culture and music to forge deep connections with consumers. In fact, musical inspiration is present in many facets of the brands’ strategy, including the events and conferences they attend, and even how they use events to drive people to locations. However, the most inspiring part of our conversation was hearing how Cookies uses in-store technology to empower consumers and associates alike. Daniel compared the experience to that of an Apple store. Associates have access to rich POS and CRM data, and use tablets to enter information about consumers as they get to know them. In the end, consumers feel more at ease in the store. They feel heard and understood and get the best product for their needs. If consumers don’t want to have a one-on-one conversation with a “Bud-tender,” they can use touchscreen technology that is triggered by QR codes. After consumers place a package on the display, content is triggered on the screen so they can learn more about the product.  
We gave a sneak peek into the Cookies retail experience ahead of the event on Retail TouchPoints. Check out the article to learn more about the brand’s innovative approach to building brand trust and engagement. 

Speaking of inspiration from unlikely sources, we have had a lot of conversations with retail executives who are looking more at hospitality brands for inspiration. For example, goodMRKT (one of our other incredible brands on the agenda) has a café at the center of its store to create an organic gathering point for consumers. For decades, we’ve seen department stores integrate coffee shops and restaurants into their spaces and companies like Tiffany’s have followed suit with their own culinary homages to their brands.  
But A Non-Agency is bringing the convergence of retail and hospitality to the next level with The Brand Closet Showroom. This new concept creates an incredible moment of brand and cultural immersion, bringing consumers, creators and influencers together in one unforgettable experience. Michelle Collins, who developed the concept, took the stage with Joel Contor, Director of Sales and Marketing for Kimpton Gray Hotel Chicago, to share details of their partnership, and how the hospitality industry is helping shape the future of experience strategy and design. With community-driven commerce being such a big topic for this year’s event, we were thrilled to have Michelle and Joel on stage sharing their story!

An ongoing question in the industry over the past year has been: what does the future of the store look like? Although more consumers have embraced innately “digital behaviors,” especially as they research and compare items, they still crave the tactile shopping experience. But the big difference today is that consumers need more reason to stay in a physical store and, most of all, spend their precious time and money there.  
The brands that lead in the future of retail are the ones that blend both worlds flawlessly. While some folks have very strong feelings about the word “phygital,” a lot of our sessions referred to this principle in some capacity. Even in sessions led by designers and visual merchandisers, digital behaviors and tech were consistently mentioned. This is especially true in the session led by Tom Philipson, Founder and CEO of strategy and design firm YourStudio, who emphasized the importance of blending digital innovation and environmental design.  
During his session, Tom explained that brands need to think more about how they’re creating moments of exploration and discovery not just in physical spaces, but from these touch-and-feel moments to digital environments, as well. The four key ways brands can better resonate with consumers is by:  

  • Establishing a human connection;  
  • Aligning with personal values;  
  • Gaining trust to build long-lasting relationships; and  
  • Adding value to shopping at a physical location in real life.  


Dig into more of Tom’s fantastic perspectives by checking out the latest design:retail feature 

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