Future Of Retail 2018: Connecting Digital And IRL Experiences

Future Of Retail 2018: Connecting Digital And IRL Experiences

At our Future of Retail 2018 conference, speakers shared insights on tech for the in-store experience and amplifying physical events for digital audiences

Isabella Alimonti
  • 22 january 2018

Last week, a sold-out crowd joined PSFK for our Future of Retail 2018 conference in New York. Expert speakers from across the industry took the stage to discuss the blending of digital and physical retail, new consumer expectations and the next wave of tech integration. The main driving factor, and a thread running through the morning’s conversations, is that shoppers are looking to get value—not just efficiency, which they can find online—from the in-store experience.


The first half of our program delved into a trend from PSFK’s Future of Retail 2018 report called Revolving Discovery, which sees retailers developing in-store programming and thematic displays to give customers something new each time they visit.

“The store as a community center is something I’m obsessed with,” STORY founder and CEO Rachel Shechtman said in her keynote presentation. In addition to bringing STORY’s audience—described as “a very specific demographic” of men, women and children from ages 5 to 95—together for memorable and meaningful connections, Rachel discussed how even intimate events can be amplified many times over on social media. As an example, she cited STORY’s collaboration with the USA Network series Mr. Robot, which brought cast members in front of a small audience. Fans following the livestream online were treated to a “hack” that released the first episode of a new season one day early.

Ron Faris, general manager of Nike’s NYC Digital Studio and SNKRS app, shared this perspective on combining digital and IRL. The Nike SNKRS app engages sneakerheads in exclusive product releases, often drawing them to physical locations to unlock a new shoe in AR. Ron said he thinks of hardcore Nike fans as gamers, rather than shoppers.

“Product is content,” Ron said—and brands should follow the rules of viral content to succeed in retail (check out his #Sparah campaign for Virgin Mobile). “Community sharing is more powerful than any media buy.” His strategy harnesses the energy and emotion of fandom.

Ross Bailey at PSFK’s Future of Retail 2018 conference.

Two experiential marketing experts—Ross Bailey, founder of short-term retail marketplace Appear Here, and Melissa Gonzalez, author of The Pop-Up Paradigm—sat down with PSFK’s Emily Wasik to weigh in on the pop-up phenomenon’s effect on retail as a whole. As Ross pointed out, direct-to-consumer brands—even those that swore to remain online-only—have begun seeing offline retail as an opportunity to advertise.

Physical retail “can capture mindshare in a deeper way than online,” Melissa added. And for Ross, a driving factor is simply that retail has gotten boring. Taking advantage of the buzz that comes with one-off events and consumers’ fear of missing out, pop-ups are clearly here to stay.


PSFK’s Piers Fawkes and Scott Lachut welcomed the audience back from a coffee break with more insights from the Future of Retail 2018 report. Central to this part of the program was a trend called Retail OS, which employs an underlying layer of technology (think AI and biometrics) to enhance the in-store experience.

Kevan Wilson, b8ta’s general manager of retail partnerships, underscored their points with real-life examples in his keynote. b8ta is a chain working with online startups that lack a retail footprint, providing space for customers to try their products in person. In each b8ta store, 150 to 200 cameras track quantitative and qualitative insights, which are then passed on to inform partner brands’ R&D. b8ta embraces the showroom—Kevan pointed out that b8ta doesn’t care whether shoppers purchase from its stores or buy online later (even from another retailer), because its business model is driven by partnerships rather than sales. Again, it’s all about discovery.

PSFK’s Scott Lachut and Piers Fawkes at the Future of Retail 2018 conference.


Lee Anne Grant of Brandless shared her company’s take on the direct-to-consumer business model. Brandless, which launched in July 2017, quickly made a name for itself with its commitment to price all of its products—from toothpaste to organic pasta sauce—at $3 or less. “The CPG industry is huge,” Lee Anne said, and being disrupted from every angle, but Brandless saw an opportunity to look at the whole thing. Noting that consumers care deeply about transparency and the ingredients in their products, she broke down the thinking behind Brandless’ clear, concise packaging.

The final panel of the day brought together Anna Harman, director of Walmart incubator Store No. 8, TheCurrent founder Liz Bacelar and Hello Alfred founder Marcela Sapone to discuss the future of the retail customer experience. “The brick-and-mortar store is very much here to stay,” Anna said—but retailers need to figure out how to leverage their physical footprint.

Liz argued that retailers need to abandon legacy systems in favor of all-encompassing ones that create seamless experiences for the consumer. “Consumers don’t give a damn [about] separate departments.” She also advised that retail innovation not be left to a designated group, like an in-house lab, but instead become a company-wide initiative.

Exactly what tech will dominate retail experiences, and how, remains up for debate. Anna invited the audience to consider VR as a integral part of the in-store experience—imagine transporting a customer shopping for camping gear from the retail floor to a quiet forest. Liz countered that AR, not VR, will be the critical tool for retailers.

Nonetheless, everyone agreed that first and foremost, retailers have to focus on their interactions with customers. As Marcela said, “It’s going to come down to building relationships with your customers for the long haul.”

Anna added, “The retailers that will win are the ones that build tremendous trust with the consumer.”

Lead Image: Anna Harman and Liz Bacelar at PSFK’s Future of Retail 2018 conference

+experiential marketing
+future of retail 2018
+psfk labs
+Social Media

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