Interview: Translating Ideas In International Retail To Domestic Innovation

Interview: Translating Ideas In International Retail To Domestic Innovation
Delivery & Logistics

Zia Daniell Wigder of Shoptalk spotlights retail innovations from Europe and Asia that U.S. retailers should study

Piers Fawkes, PSFK
  • 19 february 2018

As we seek new innovations to deploy in retail, sometimes we spend too much time looking at what other U.S. companies are trying to roll out. Because of market size, geographic constraints and even language barriers, unique retail ideas develop in European and Asian markets first.

In the latest PSFK podcast, founder and editor-in-chief Piers Fawkes talks to experts about the importance of looking beyond borders. This article is an extract of the conversation with Zia Daniell Wigder of Shoptalk. Shoptalk is arguably the most important retail conference on the planet, where thousands or retailers and their partners will meet to share stories and ideas. The organizers of this spring’s event in Las Vegas are making a special effort to inspire the attendees by putting a spotlight on international retail.

Zia: For Shoptalk 2018 we’re going to have a significant number of European brands and retailers taking part in the event, not just on Europe-specific sessions but throughout the entire agenda. They’ll be talking about how some of them are leading retail innovation. 

Piers: What always has been interesting to me is that European countries and other “smaller” markets innovate in a different way because the physical nature of retail is reduced and even because of the geographic makeup of its markets. They have different pressures and concerns. You see some great innovation come out of that.

Zia: Absolutely. If you look at something like grocery, you see that the retailers in the U.K., for example, have very much led when it comes to online grocery and when it comes to digital transformation in the grocery sector.

As you said, part of that is due to unique or a different distribution of population, with population density being much higher in the U.K. as compared to the U.S. which means it’s more economical to do it.

Nevertheless, you haven’t seen the U.S. companies being as aggressive in that space traditionally as they have been in the U.K., which means that a much higher percentage of grocery sales are done online in the U.K. than they are in the U.S.

And in areas like experiential retail, I would say you’ve got some real leadership coming out of Europe. To your point, because of the different pressures and different environment we absolutely should be looking to Europe for inspiration.

Can you give us some specific retailers we should monitor?

If you look at Europe, two of the keynotes that we’ll actually be featuring from European grocery players are Ocado from the U.K. and Picnic from the Netherlands.

The CEO from Ocado will be talking about their online grocery advances and some of the exciting things they’re doing, particularly on the logistics front.

Ocado grocery delivery. Photo: Ocado

Picnic is an online grocery startup with over €100 million in funding. They run exclusively through a mobile app. They call themselves the modern-day milkman, I think. 

In effect, they are doing deliveries. They are bringing groceries to your door. They are also in charge of the whole back end. They’re vertically integrated. What they’re doing is very exciting.

Obviously, the Netherlands is a small country and is different then the U.S., but I think it’s a pretty innovative model and one that I suspect will be of great interest to the Shoptalk audience. We  just want to show what’s possible when it comes to both the logistics piece as well as the overall bringing grocery to your doorstep piece.

What about innovation coming from Asia?

To broaden the global conversation, one of the things we’re also planning to do at Shoptalk is to expand our coverage of innovation coming out of China.

A lot of events have looked at the cross-border opportunity selling into China. But what we really want to showcase are some of the unique things that the companies in China—the Chinese e-commerce companies, in particular—are doing when it comes to retail innovation.

The ChicBus Alipay flagship store in Hangzhou, China. Photo: Xianjuan Hu (Unsplash)

If you look at the likes of Alibaba or, they are in most cases ahead of where U.S. retailers are in things like logistics and fulfillment when it comes to automation in the warehouse. Even when it comes to things like AI, you’ve got some pretty sophisticated usage over there.

While we have Amazon Go here, if you look at what some of the leading Asian players are doing with cashier-less checkout as well as startups like Bingobox, it’s pretty interesting to see how they’ve tackled these issues.

With Asia, everyone’s fascinated by how consumers interact with brands in a different way, especially a mobile-first way.

We have both Alibaba and speaking at Shoptalk. I think both of those companies are absolutely phenomenal when it comes to the developments that they have pushed forward in retail and e-commerce. Both of them are very much looking at both online and physical retail innovation. If you had to cite two hyper-innovative players over there, those two would clearly be at the top of the list.

Another retailer is Bingobox, which is doing unmanned convenience stores—they’re another really interesting startup coming out of China.

Is there anywhere else in the world we should study?

Israel has been known as a powerhouse in cybersecurity and fintech, but you’re starting to see a lot of activity in retail and e-commerce right now. We have a series of Israeli startups that will be at Shoptalk talking about some of the unique innovation that’s coming out of Israel and also why retail and e-commerce is such a hot area there right now for their tech startups.

With Israel, will the focus be less on retailers and more on technology companies or back-end companies? 

Yes. Israel traditionally dominates when it comes to tech companies rather than consumer-facing companies. I think you’re certainly seeing that in retail and e-commerce as well, with a lot of really innovative startups coming out of Israel that tackle different parts of retail, from companies like Twiggle, which is in search, to CommonSense Robotics.

Our innovation in Israel session features four different companies— Yotpo, Optimove, feelter and Syte—all of whom are tackling different areas of e-commerce but all with a very innovative approach where they tapped into some of the talent in Israel to be able to develop these new offerings.

Finally, can you remind us about what Shoptalk offers our readers?

Shoptalk is showcasing innovation in retail by bringing together the entire retail ecosystem. Between having nearly equal representation from traditional brands and retailers and then the venture-backed startup community, we’re already bringing together two groups that initially were quite separate from each other but now are working together much more closely.

On top of that, we add in a significant group of investors. We have over 100 VCs in attendance. We also have a number of equity analysts, buy-side analysts and other types of investors as well. Then we have the real estate developers providing their perspective at the event. Then, in addition to that, the whole other category of agencies and research organizations.

Really what we’re trying to do is to bring together everyone who’s playing a role in where retail is going—from the consumer-facing companies to the tech companies—not in a traditional trade show way, but one where the content is at the center of the event and where everyone can come together as part of one community to join the conversation.


Listen to more international retail experts in our recent PurpleList podcast ‘Why International Retail Translates Into Smart Innovation.’ The next Shoptalk conference will take place March 18-21, 2018 in Las Vegas.

Lead Image: Alibaba’s augmented reality Magic Mirror. Photo: Alibaba Group

As we seek new innovations to deploy in retail, sometimes we spend too much time looking at what other U.S. companies are trying to roll out. Because of market size, geographic constraints and even language barriers, unique retail ideas develop in European and Asian markets first.

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