January Digital attended Shoptalk’s annual retail conference last week and are excited to share our takeaways from over 50+ panel sessions. We heard from brand executives, investment firms, and key marketing partners on topics ranging from Web 3.0 to sustainable commerce.

Below we’ve highlighted what we heard to be the most important themes: 

1. The Metaverse takes main stage.

As expected, Metaverse and Web3 were the top two buzzwords at this year’s conference. 

First, the metaverse has the potential to change how we work. Vic Drabicky, January Digital’s Founder and CEO says “Right now, the idea is rather basic and bland, but as technology and innovation surrounding the metaverse advance, it could provide agencies a much more unique, richer work experience.  At the most basic level, the metaverse can transform how we work remotely.  Gone are boring Zooms, replaced by rich environments where participants can interact with each other, see each other and work product in 3D, and even build creative, inspiring environments.  It’s basically all the convenience of Zoom with all the inspiration of a well-crafted experiential execution.”

Second, several panels centered around how the metaverse also presents a commerce opportunity for brands - ranging from NFTs to augmented and virtual reality experiences to digital avatars. Some brands are diving headfirst, others are dipping their toes, and yet others are not ready to experiment. The general consensus was that there is no right or wrong answer still, but early testers will have the benefit of gaining learnings before others. 

Questions that brands should ask themselves as they think about what the Metaverse opportunity is for their brand include: 

    • What is your goal of entering? For most retailers the Metaverse as it exists today is a brand awareness play, not a direct revenue driving initiative. Time will likely change that though, but it is paramount to ensure that any metaverse initiative meets your business objective first. Are all levels of your organization bought in to this testing initiative? 

    • Is your target audience or current customer base actively engaging in the Metaverse? Millennials, Gen Z and Gen Alpha are common metaverse users and players. It is important to already have a strong sense of customer community outside of the metaverse before wading in. 

    • Do you have the appropriate resources lined up? It is important to identify what internal vs. external resources will be required, as this may dictate speed to market. 

Brands like PacSun, whose target audience is 17-24, shared how they have found success in establishing presence and commerce initiatives (via their Roblox shop call PacWorld that features the brand’s logo tees among other items) in the Metaverse by establishing it as a core initiative across all teams within the company. From CEO to product, marketing, finance, technology and analytics teams, all are given goals for pushing the company forward into the Metaverse. 

Whether you are an expert already or not yet tested, the Metaverse continues to be a space that all brands will need to familiarize themselves with and integrate with their marketing initiatives eventually. 

2. Social commerce and livestream shopping offer a new medium for connecting with customers.

Livestreaming in the US is in early days still, but funding to social commerce startups, many of which have a livestreaming element, reached an all-time high of $7bn in 2021, so all brands should be paying attention to this space. We predicted in our 2022 Digital Trends and Predictions, that livestreaming would be a key focus this year. 

At a panel titled “The Investor Perspective on Retail's Biggest Growth Opportunities”, partners from GGV Capital, M13 and Franklin Templeton all agreed that there will be fast growth of live streaming this year and that the channel should serve as a key testing ground for their portfolio companies.

Livestreaming is relevant for all retailers, and offers a means to bridge physical and digital worlds, drive commerce and build community through a brand selected spokesperson, store associate or creator/influencer. It is as much a customer engagement tool as it is a selling tool. 

During the final key takeaways session at Shoptalk, the crowd was polled regarding their belief in new emerging channels that were covered throughout the conference. On a scale of one to five, livestreaming garnered a 3.8, with 69% ranking it as 4 or 5, indicating its growing importance in the retail landscape. 

shoptalk livestreamSource: Shoptalk

3. The store takes shape via omnichannel strategy in a post-COVID world.

While e-commerce grew massively over the past two years and continues to experience gains, as consumers adapt to post-COVID living in 2022 there is a renewed sense of focus on store presence, and more importantly how digital meets physical via omnichannel. 

At Shoptalk there was general consensus in the value of the store. It is not dead! Specifically, the store plays a key role in omnichannel strategies whether through BOPIS capabilities, for experiential marketing, or to support last-mile logistics for ecommerce orders. As consumers demand a seamless experience regardless of where, when and how they interact, brands ranging from digitally native to well-established retailers are investing in omnichannel infrastructure and presence to meet the diversity of options for buying that consumers crave. 

The key to connecting the omnichannel dots is to know your customers and prioritize delivery of offerings on the digital and store touchpoints they prefer. This can only be done with clean, robust and actionable data. 

4. Leading businesses continue to focus on investing in data.

Another key topic was data effectiveness and how data remains at forefront of decision making. However, there was no shyness around admitting that most retailers are overwhelmed by the amount of data they have and how to use it effectively. Therefore, it is important to continuously ask yourself why am I collecting this data and what do I plan to do with it? In a future where cookies and third party-bought data lose effectiveness, first party data collection continues to be paramount and retailers must be diligent about collecting, analyzing and utilizing it. As an example, Jessica Rolph, CEO of Lovevery, which offers stage based play boxes for children via a subscription model, shared that Loveevery found that NPS data is the most valuable data set to informing product and marketing pivots - so much so that they implemented a second NPS survey that is sent six weeks after purchase, and which is accompanied by a personalized 1:1 response from one of the brand’s customer service associates. 

Even sophisticated data-first retailers like Poshmark acknowledged that being “data-first” doesn’t mean investing in a bunch of marketing technology without the human capacity to manage it though. Leading organizations are balancing investment in marketing tech and tool sets with human capital to strike a balance. 

5. Driving personalization is key to retention.

After the past 2 years in which customers were busy discovering new brands, it is now more important than ever to focus on retention. At Shoptalk, personalization emerged as a key topic in driving loyalty. One panelist noted that using SMS to communicate early access paid dividends in Q4 2021. Curated personalization should come in the form of surprise and delight features through rewards programs, exclusive or first access to new product, customized promotions and experiences, or even premier customer service features. These should be activated on site, in store and through marketing channels like email and SMS marketing. 

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