Retail Reflections

Shoptalk 2023 Day One: Don’t You Just Love APIs?

Shoptalk 2023 Day One: Don’t You Just Love APIs?

Shoptalk hadn’t even begun before I think I might have found my killer technology use case for this year’s conference. Don’t you just love APIs? For those who are not familiar with them, API stands for Application Programming Interface, and in case you didn’t realise, they allow you to do pretty much everything in your day to day life. Why? Because they allow different applications to be able to talk to one another.

Like when you use Uber Eats, or the London Underground, or using your banking app, or, well just about anything because APIs are all around us. But my trip to Las Vegas encountered the API use case to beat all use cases and I can’t get enough of it. It’s so easy, simply and straightforward whilst at the same time making life so much easier.

It’s the MGM Rewards app and because I’m staying at an MGM hotel (most of them are in Vegas) the app gave me the opportunity to check-in to my room ahead of arrival. So whilst I was sitting in the lounge at Heathrow, I entered my details, scanned my passport and hey presto I was checked in! And when I arrived at the hotel I simply went straight to my room, held my phone up to the digital card reader and opened the door. No fuss, no bother, no worries.

But enough of that, let’s get into the sessions, because there were some great brands represented from the likes of Ralph Lauren, Pinterest, Lowe’s, Forever 21 and McDonald’s to name a few.

I’ve always been interested in the use of data to drive better personalisation and it was interesting to hear from the likes of McDonald’s and Stitch Fix on how they are using not only customer data but joining it with product data in order to drive a better customer experience.

And the topic crossed over to one which looks set to be this year’s main hype – generative AI. And the signs are that this time around, a new emerging technology is actually set to deliver on what it promises. Stitch Fix are using it to create product detail and also use AI to optimise inventory. In their world, this means ensuring that the best outfits are reserved for their best customers. And why not? I’ve always thought that retail should learn more from other sectors than it currently does. After all, aren’t the best seats on an aircraft reserved for an airlines best customers?

McDonald’s were also in the same session and it was interesting to hear how they are using customer data to understand their customer preferences and also using AI to understand customer churn.

Now, those of you who know me will know that I am not a fan (to put it mildly) of the term ‘omnichannel’. So it may come as a surprise that I attended a session dedicated to discussing how to build an omnichannel organisation. And of course, whereas the panel referred to omnichannel dozens of times, not once was it explained exactly what it is. And that’s the problem; the term is so old (2011) and used interchangeably that it’s simply assumed that we all know what it means.

Which of course, is nonsense.

But what wasn’t was what they actually discussed, which was removing silos, being customer centric, putting the customer first, the challenge of competing metrics within a retail organisation.

However it was Seemantini Godbole EVP digital & information officer at Lowe’s who introduced me to a new concept: “spacial commerce”. Simplifying the big ticket purchases using LiDAR technology to make measurements such as for a new kitchen. Maybe in reality, omnichannel is all of these things.

I’ve long held the view that retail, in addition to attracting more young talent, must do a better job not just of empowering women but having a better mix of female empathy and intuition with male ego and competitiveness. But what I wasn’t quite prepared for in the session on empowering women in retail, was for Forever 21 CEO Winnie Park, when describing the more trickier, riskier roles that sometimes come your way, was that women are better equipped than their male colleagues to handle those challenges.

And guess what, before I indignantly threw a virtual rotten tomato at her, I found myself violently agreeing. This session also contained what for me was the quote of the day, courtesy of Kimberly Lee Minor President & CCO at Los Angeles based fashion company Bandier. “Companies put people into roles to support the company not to support the individual”. Never was a truer word spoken.

Opening keynote on day one went to Bill Ready, newly CEO of Pinterest and for me the interesting insight he had to share was that other social media networks, Instagram for example, are lean back in nature. In other words, we use Instagram to post pictures of our pets, our hobbies, our holidays and of course that new number we modelled for our friends before sending it back.

The difference, he claimed, was that with Pinterest, people go to his platform with the express intention of shopping. Seems that digitising the physical world really has become a thing. Throw in some generative AI and garnish with a little ChatGPT and voila! The world will never be quite the same again.

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