We’re back from an exciting week at the Retail Innovation Conference & Expo, which took place May 10-12, 2022 in Chicago. For many, (myself included), this was one of the first major shows attended in-person since before the pandemic in 2019 and I have to say, it was incredible to witness the on-site energy again! With 80+ sessions, 16 total tracks and 200+ speakers overall, there was no shortage of content to experience.
In developing the programming for the agenda, our goal was to ensure the session content was purposeful and tangible so attendees could walk away with a few action items. We were striving for ROI. Not Return on Investment but Return on Intention. We wanted to be intentional and meaningful by developing an agenda that had the timeliest topics represented by diverse and highly knowledgeable industry speakers. To help attendees personalize their journey, we had 3 micro-events taking place concurrently: Retail Innovation Summit, IRCE and design:retail.
The Retail Innovation Summit (RIS) is a go-to destination for senior leaders and experience executives to converge, collaborate and explore new paths to growth. The acceleration of digital behaviors during the pandemic reaffirmed the importance of an omnichannel mindset and it was interesting to hear how the retail industry is evolving. Retail leaders from a variety of brands such as: Target, Foot Locker, INDOCHINO, Vera Bradley, WEIS Markets, Interior Define, Abercrombie & Fitch, Crate & Barrel and more gave attendees an inside view of the trends, issues and challenges driving leadership priorities at their organizations. Can you guess the overarching theme that each session focused on? If you guessed reimagining brand experiences to meet the needs of the evolving consumer, you’re correct!
Here are a few of the key session highlights and themes we’re still reflecting on.
An incredible fireside chat featuring Rick Gomez, EVP and Chief Food & Beverage Officer at Target, moderated by Liza Amlani, Principal and Founder of Retail Strategy Group, provided insight into how grocery is playing an important role in the retailer’s guest experience. He shared how Target is prioritizing grocery as a key strength as they want to be a retailer that not only sells food but celebrates it. Listening to him speak about how they launched the Target Circle loyalty program, which has grown to be one of the largest and fastest-growing loyalty programs, to how they’re curating assortments to increase diversity by working with smaller, emerging, BIPOC owned brands was extremely inspiring. One of the quotes that really stuck with me from the session was when Rick discussed his thoughts on Target’s omnichannel mindset. He said, “We’re trying to do a better job of thinking about the customer journey and ensuring it’s connected, so that the point of purchase is as close as possible to the point of inspiration — that you can just click when you see the recipe to get those ingredients.” This really speaks to one of our key themes throughout the show which is “Meeting the customer where they are.” No matter how consumers shop, whether it be online or in stores, the customer experience should be as seamless as possible.
Another major theme throughout RIS was how to tap into community-driven commerce. As consumer behaviors are rapidly evolving, it is absolutely critical for brands to be transparent and authentic to increase consumer connection and foster loyalty. We had a few sessions from various brands that provided unique examples on how they are creating communities within their stores. For example, one of the panel sessions, “Activating In-Store Communities with Events, Experiences and Inclusion,” discussed how brands can find new ways to resonate with communities on a deeper, more meaningful level. This panel featured Harry Cunningham, Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer of goodMRKT, Bob Dalton, CEO of Sackcloth & Ashes and Robert Wallstrom, CEO of Vera Bradley. Amazing, right? Brands like goodMRKT are embracing this movement and are using their stores as connecting points between their consumers, associates and purpose-driven brands like Sackcloth & Ashes, a mission-driven company that donates a blanket to a homeless shelter for each one purchased.
A second panel session that focused on community-driven commerce was the session titled: “Tapping Local Creative Communities to Drive Commerce (Powered by MARTK’D).” Moderated by Dion Walcott, President at MARTK’D, and featuring two panelists from Foot Locker, Community Marketing Manager, Jennifer Aldridge and Marketing Director, Donald Dudley, the session showcased their amazing collaboration by intersecting education, art and community in their Detroit store. They helped launch Foot Locker’s Sneaker School, a mentorship boot camp that introduces students to jobs and professionals within the retail and design industries. Such an inspiring and impactful discussion!
To dive even further into the consumer shopper journey, we also had a session focused on “Revolutionizing Consumer Choice in the Shopping Journey.” Our very own Nicole Silberstein, Ecommerce Editor for Retail TouchPoints, sat down with Martha Welsh, Lead of Strategy, Operations and Go to Market for Google Commerce & Payments, and Alicia Waters, Executive Vice President at Crate & Barrel and Crate & Kids to share how retailers should be assessing and implementing new omnichannel strategies. Martha shared how shoppers are finding inspiration in new ways which is resulting in shopping journeys becoming much more fluid. They also discussed the tools and technologies retailers should embrace to meet shoppers where they are, which is a good reminder to ask yourself, “how are we being intentional with the tech we’re implementing? What action or behavior are we hoping to illicit from our consumer?” Content has become a big source of context and inspiration, especially on social media, so it was fascinating to hear how Alicia is thinking about using content to accelerate the shopping journey across channels.
I could go on and on about each one of the incredible speakers and sessions, but if you want to hear even more details from #RICE22 you’ll have to check out the Retail Remix podcast, episode 109, where Alicia Esposito and I unpack a quick recap of the amazing keynote speakers and overall trends driving connected commerce. If you haven’t already, SAVE THE DATE for our 2023 show! We’re coming back to the Windy City, June 13-15th, 2023 to dive even deeper into the latest and greatest retail innovations driving the industry forward.
Interested in speaking on stage in 2023 or know an industry expert that would be a perfect fit? Be sure to submit here!