Distilling Shoptalk 2024: Exploring the Future of Retail and Commerce through 5 Key Themes

Shoptalk 2024 Las Vegas debriefed: Navigating the future of retail through 5 key themes

Anita Temple headshot
Anita Temple
Corporate Journalist, commercetools
Published 28 March 2024
Estimated reading time minutes

Three and a half days, six stages, 56 sessions, 225+ speakers and 900 sponsors/vendors all dedicated to helping retailers and brands understand how consumers shop. That’s Shoptalk in a nutshell.  Thousands of retailers and brands attend with the goal of walking away with a clear picture of where they should focus their energy. Which trends they should explore? Which innovations are worth investing in? What insights from others can they use to overcome challenges? It’s an exciting yet overwhelming experience. Whether you were there or not, our key takeaways will give you some insight into what’s happening now and what’s happening next in the world of retail.

Distilling Shoptalk 2024: Exploring the Future of Retail and Commerce through 5 Key Themes

The organizers of Shoptalk established five main themes to serve as a framework for this year’s event, which reflect what they believe retailers should be thinking about right now to continue to move business forward. After listening to countless executives offer their opinions, insights and examples, we discovered that customers are at the core of all these strategies. It comes down to choosing the right technology, the right sales channels and the right marketing strategies to deliver to their expectations. So, as Amitah Mall, Chief Analytics Officer at Woolworths shared in the session, Tactics for Building the Right Infrastructure and Team for AI, don’t try to mimic what other retailers are doing because what works for them might not work for you. Instead, focus on figuring out the problems in your organization. The question is, “How can we serve our customers better?”

We always start at the top of the page to say what's the business problem and why should we be solving it? What's the impact of that to our customers, to our teams? And then we actually start building it.
Amitah Mall

Chief Analytics Officer, Woolworths Group

Here’s a roundup of takeaways from each of the themes.

#1 Employing AI to transform your business

There’s been so much talk about how AI Is going to change everything in retail — and it is, but if there’s one things major brands like Walmart, Mattress Firm and Domino’s agree on it’s that retailers should approach all AI applications cautiously and use it responsibly. In the session, Understanding and Managing the Risks of Generative AI, Nuala O’Conner, Senior Vice President and Chief Counsel, Digital Citizenship at Walmart, outlined the company’s approach to AI, which includes informing and educating its customers so that they are aware when it is being used. 

At this point, most brands said they were experimenting with it for both business use cases such as for pricing and promotions as well as for customer-facing applications like search and recommendations. Some retailers, including Walmart, have created associate enablement apps powered by AI to make it easier for employees to find products and serve customers.

Generative AI is not the solution for all problems. I think there's a lot of application in retail, but we will need to do the work to make sure that it actually facilitates a great shopping experience and there's no room for some of the errors you might tolerate in other contexts.


Key insights
  • AI is not a one-size-fits all solution
  • Find a specific problem that AI can solve
  • Ensure AI images and product descriptions are accurate 
  • Make sure your AI tools are easy for your associates to use
  • Test, test, test.

#2 Harnessing brand power and building brand trust

Retailers need to recognize that today’s consumers demand a lot more from the brands they buy products from. As Shoptalk’s official research partner, Coresight Research explained it, “In an era of heightened sensitivity and microscopic focus on missteps, brands must be crystal clear on what they stand for, the purpose of their brand and products, and who their customers are, with little margin for error.”

Brands like PetSmart, Fig. 1, Mad Rabbit, PacSun and NBCUniversal all reinforced that brand trust is contingent on being authentic in everything you do. Whether it’s connecting with customers via social media, providing opportunities for them to win rewards for promoting the brand or leading initiatives that reinforce that brand promise, the goal is to create a sense of community around your brand. As Brieane Olson, CEO of PacSun shared, “are no longer buying things; they are buying into things… They want to be a part of brands that are making a difference,”

If a brand can actually entertain authentically, it generates its own marketing — that's so much more powerful than a lot of different paid formats. It really breaks the algorithm and lets you do something that's not optimized for on the platforms and it's just extremely powerful.
Evan Moore

Senior Vice President, Commerce Partnerships, NBCUniversal

Key insights
  • Understand your customers, pay attention to how they are evolving
  • Collaborate with influencers and customers to build a community 
  • Connect with your customers where they are. For example, PacSun and H&M have a presence on Roblox
  • Promote your ESG initiatives. 

#3 Building loyalty via seamless customer journeys

As digital commerce has evolved, retailers are learning more and more about what drives loyalty with customers. As a result, even well-established loyalty programs like Amazon Prime and Target Circle are tweaking their offerings to better serve their customers. In Target’s keynote, Meeting Consumer Expectations to Maximize Relevancy and Loyalty, Lisa Roath, EVP and Chief Marketing Officer, said the company is revamping its loyalty program based on feedback from its customers. The new Target Circle will be easier to understand, more personalized and engaging.

While the Shoptalk sessions presented a multitude of loyalty strategies to engage customers, again and again  the discussion came back to listening to your customers and implementing programs and rewards that will appeal to them. 

In the session, Emerging Digital Shopping Technologies, Matt Smolin, co-Founder and CEO of Hang, a brand loyalty and membership platform, pointed out that retailers need to look at loyalty in new ways. His company integrates gamification, exclusive offers and community engagement strategies that incentivize digitally immersive interaction both pre and post-purchase. He gave Ulta Beauty as an example, explaining that Hang built a word game for their loyalty program that gives users rewards for playing every day — he said 40% of users come back the next day.

There are also new ways to drive loyalty, specifically at the checkout point. Startups like Extend, a company that enables retailers to offer customers product and shipping protection, and Croissant, which enables retailers to offer guaranteed buyback for luxury and fashion purchases. Even shoppable video is now considered a loyalty touchpoint for its ability to continually foster engagement with your brand. 

At the end of the day, we're just humans selling to other humans. And yes, there's algorithms involved in some of it, but ultimately you need to bring it back to the point of being like, okay, we're human and we're telling a story and we're creating emotion and that's the customer on the other end receiving that.


Key insights
  • Align your loyalty program with brand experiences
  • Give rewards that your customers will appreciate. If you’re not sure — ASK
  • Explore strategies outside traditional parameters
  • Integrate gamification where relevant.

#4 Creating unified retail experiences

In a commerce landscape that’s increasingly phygital, delivering an omnichannel experience is no longer the North Star. Now unified commerce is becoming the ultimate goal. This is where technology became a key part of the conversation at Shoptalk as it requires retailers to provide unique experiences on every channel while enabling a seamless, frictionless journey from channel to checkout. Retailers including Woolworths, Levi Strauss & Co. and  David Yurman all stressed that modern technology is critical to keep up with the pace of commerce.

In the session, Maintaining a Modern Ecommerce Tech Stack,  Vikalp Tandon, Managing Director, Global Commerce Lead at Accenture, explained that the “channel complexity” retailers are faced with today requires that they “strategically invest in the right foundation and build capabilities for focus channels.” He then presented a plan for how retailers can decouple their monolithic legacy systems to embrace composable commerce to achieve this goal.

All of us are building platforms to make sure that the customer doesn’t see the boundaries between the physical and digital algorithm and can seamlessly transition between the two.
Vikalp Tandon

Managing Director, Global Commerce Lead, Accenture

Key insights
  • Don’t dismiss the power of your brick-and-mortar operations
  • Shifting to a composable architecture provides the flexibility to deliver unified experiences
  • Strive to meet customers where they are, regardless of channel
  • Tap into the power of partners.

#5 Navigating changing industry relationships

Retailers selling advertising, brands making movies, independent creators driving marketing initiatives and B2Bs collaborating with B2Cs — the industry as retailers know it is changing. While the emergence of retail media networks and how to leverage them was part of the conversation, one of the most interesting retail shifts is the fusion of entertainment and commerce. . With consumers becoming more digitally savvy and spending a significant amount of time online, retailers are stepping up their game to provide an engaging and entertaining shopping experience. Mattel is now in the movie business and Walmart’s embracing shoppable video while NBCUniversal runs its own marketplace. All three brands shared insights on the strategy behind the projects.

During the keynote, Power of the Franchise: Barbieland and Beyond, Seve Totzke, President and Chief Commercial Officer at Mattel, made it clear that the toy company’s foray into film wasn’t a one-off production, announcing that its film division currently has 15 movies in production. He explained that aligning product development with film production is a key focus for Mattel.

In the session, “Leveraging Marketplaces to Reach New Customers,” Evan Moore, Senior Vice President,Commerce Partnerships, explained why NBCUniversal launched a marketplace, reiterating the importance of partners. "With television, shopping intent is forming at the moment and it's an incredibly valuable and rare thing. It led us down the road to building a 3rd party marketplace on top of Mirakl and commercetools — a couple of great vendors that we work with — so we could create a seamless shopping experience for consumers that is mated to the content that they're watching from us."

The traditional structures and relationships in our industry are starting to blur. Retailers and marketplaces are growing their media. Businesses, brands and retailers are selling technology solutions to one another and to others. Marketplaces are developing wholesale retail businesses and technology companies are building consumer-facing brands and manufacturer-to-consumer is emerging as one of our industry's most disruptive new business models.
Allie Garfinkle

Senior Finance Reporter, Fortune

Key insights
  • Leaders must break down silos to leverage these opportunities
  • Data is a critical component in operating a retail media network
  • Shoppable video on social platforms has set an expectation for consumers to be able to buy whatever they see
  • Choose initiatives wisely and always stay true to your brand.

To get an insider’s perspective on Shoptalk from our Chief Strategy Officer, read Shoptalk 2024: Key Takeaways from Kelly Goetsch.

Anita Temple headshot
Anita Temple
Corporate Journalist, commercetools

Anita J. Temple is the Corporate Journalist at commercetools. She was a fashion editor at Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) and W Magazine before launching a career as a freelance writer and creative producer. She has written content and worked on a wide range of marketing projects for companies including Dreamworks, Walmart, Coca-Cola, Verizon, and Adidas.

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