Retail Column: Retail Wins From Las Vegas To Chicago

Retail Column: Retail Wins From Las Vegas To Chicago
Delivery & Logistics

Retail columnist Winston Wright addresses some of the biggest hits and misses from brick-and-mortar in the last few weeks

  • 27 march 2018

In my last column I waved the flag and said I was hopeful to report on “the excitement and innovations that come out of the 2 big retail confabs in Vegas and Chicago respectively over upcoming weeks.”

DELIVERING on the first of those 2 shows. But – since this column is about Retail Rants & Raves, first…a rant.

Sin City

The Siren of Seattle needs a smack on her dorsal fin.

Las Vegas can be nightmare-ish. I shan’t go further except to nearly boil because of the negligence in the consistency spending BUCKS on coffee.

We all have “our drink.” Mine’s a double espresso, with a pump of chocolate syrup and a splash of brewed coffee just to soften it a little. And, they are kind enough to make it for me when I order.

But… in 5 different locations within a mile of each other, I’ve been charged 6 different prices for the very same drink.

At the hotel I stayed in: $4.68 once; $6.48 once; and $8.68 once and I flat out reused to pay that.

At one freestanding on ‘Tha Strip” and in “Tha Mall” $4.38

At the hotel where my conference was: once $5.11 and another time $6.27.

And the time it cost 6 plus bucks, I waited 23…yes twenty-three minutes to get it because one half of the 8 registers in that location were not staffed and only one burr-ees-tah was behind La Marzocco. Sin.

I get this drink in 10 different -bees in Manhattan for $3.32 about 15 times a week. (In my home town in East Tennessee I get it for $2.65.) I get space costs, revenue share lease agreements and labor costs, but I don’t get the delta. The Sanctified Siren felt more sanctimonious than saintly. Sin.

Now, the Rave.

Win City

I’ve been to scores of conferences, exhibits, trade shows in Las Vegas. SHOPTALK self-defines as the World’s Largest Conference for Retail & Ecommerce. I don’t know if it’s the world’s largest or not; that isn’t my stat to claim But, it’s the best ideation exchange for retail that I’ve ever attended. Anil & Simran Aggarwal and Zia Danielle Wigder & team assembled a brilliant cast of talent and a 5 star collection of sponsors / partners to say what needed to be said about the distorted perception of Retail. Stacy Berns and her team shouted the message muscularly and elegantly and it was a win-win all around. The 8,000 heads that were there should be 16,000 next year. Anybody in this business with half a brain needs to experience this event.

I attended every keynote address (and nearly every Track Talk time slot) of the conference. The overriding themes were, not surprisingly, ‘personalization,’ ‘customer first,’ ‘consumer centric’ over and over. I heard ‘disrupt’ and ‘innovate’ and ‘accelerate’ more than I can count. This show is about big data and data analytics and AI and digital display platforms and integrated payment systems and machine learning and the list goes on. All the big boys were there and I won’t slam places where I think perhaps these buzz words were exactly that. Instead, I’d like to highlight 3 organizations who delivered what I believe to be truth in what they’re doing.

Best Use of Tech Hardware:

And the winner is Ocado.

Founder and CEO Tim Steiner had the intestinal fortitude to stand in front of that room and show off a logistics stack that’s something akin to one of the panorama shots from Star Wars where there are hundreds of vehicles, people, and ‘things’ moving gracefully across the city-sky without collision, intrusion or peril. What’s been done in Ocado’s facilities and the acumen with which the right apple gets to the right address is astonishing. I wish this model could work in the US. I hope Ocado can help make it happen.

Best Ecosystem:

And the winner is: Google.

Google President of Retail & Shopping Daniel Alegre unveiled “Google Shopping Actions” and explained in detail the place that shopping and ARCore and Google Assistant and maps and voice all blend into a really real ecosystem that helps us live our lives better… And just as importantly how “Data is the backbone of retail,” as he said, makes what’s going on there on Amphitheatre Parkway in Mountain View so SO valuable from a brand perspective. Google’s integrated experiences are as fit as the US Olympic team. This is great business and great brand building.


Best in Show:

On an opening slide prior to one of the keynote sessions was the obligatory visual that identified the big sponsors of the conference. In each corner one of the big BIG players / sponsors and gently in the middle of this art was the elegant red circle with a script p knocked out in white. It looked odd at first because it was 1/10th the size of the other logos. But after hearing what they had to say, it should have been written in the clear desert sky.

The winner is Pinterest.

Trophy. Blue ribbon. Gold Medal.

Ben Silbermann, Co-founder and CEO, eloquently introduced us to Pinterest’s theory and development of Visual Discovery. Announced in February- just as I had begun to get suggested pins in my inbox for a reason I wasn’t certain – this approach (for lack of a better word) is so close to genius, I can hardly stand it. I had the chance to catch up 1:1 with Amy Vener, Retail Vertical Strategy Lead, and learn a little more.

One of the first and most surprising things I learned is that Pinterest doesn’t consider themselves a Social Media Channel. With 200M global users, that’s astonishing. But it’s what Pinterest is doing FOR these 200M and is doing FOR retail is nothing short of Astonishing. Here’s how it (generally) works…I hope I get this right. Their in-house developed AI observes what you’re pinning to your wall. And through what I’ll now call Emotional Intelligence they understand what it is that you like, nay, LOVE. Then, your “trends” are further emotionally intellectualized and develop for you a Taste Profile Graph. It understands who you are, what you love and then, by Jove, it takes you to the place where you can buy it. Then it turns around and makes suggestions to you for things you might be compelled to buy. The “where to buy,” partially made of retail partnerships (both Native on-line and Brick and mortar.) PSFK covered what was a test of the AR part of this in January.

All of this sounds as if it could be an expected algorithm that does what utility algorithms do but there’s something different about Pinterest’s consumer attitude to this. This is honest. It’s authentic. It’s genuinely thoughtful. It’s heartfelt.

It’s credible.

The marks of “we’re doing this under the guise of connection when all we’re trying to do is raise revenue” are not evident. The AI Pinterest has invented isn’t artificial intelligence. It’s Accurate Awareness. It’s Absolute Insight. It’s Authentic Intuition. And its deliberately purpose lead to, as Amy so well said, “Help[ing] people discover and do the things that they love.” Let none of us ever forget that post-note, screensaver, motto on desks everywhere that’s some quip about brand loyalty and emotional connection. Pinterest seems to have realized that “It’s not faith in technology, It’s faith in people.” – Steve Jobs.

Good luck with this, Pinterest. I hope it resonates with the world the way it has with me. If it does , it’ll be a case study for the ages.

Winston Wright is a brand consultant in New York City. He has a professional passion for branding and brand communications, particularly how brands show themselves directly to the consumer. With a depth of experience in retail, having worked for Saks Fifth Avenue and Macy’s, over the past 20 years he has worked on “bringing brands to life” globally for Apple, Nokia and Jawbone. Most recently, he was on the Brand Consumer Marketing team at AOL.

In my last column I waved the flag and said I was hopeful to report on “the excitement and innovations that come out of the 2 big retail confabs in Vegas and Chicago respectively over upcoming weeks.”

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