The competition within the retail trade show circuit has heated up intensely over the past few years.
The National Retail Federation (affectionately known as NRF) had always been the belle of the ball, until along came ShopTalk in 2016 with its Las Vegas glam and tech rockstars to give NRF a run for its money.
ShopTalk smartly found a niche to exploit — “the holy shit we don’t know what the hell is going on in retail right now but at least I can take a work trip to Vegas and feel much cooler than I am” vibe.
I say this because it was me. I resemble that remark.
The appeal was understandable. If you have never been to NRF’s Big Show in NYC, it is like watching an entire industry have a midlife crisis all at once. This past January I attended the Big Show, and I hadn’t seen so many middle-age white men since my stepfather forced me to rent Cool Hand Luke when I was 12 years old.
But recently NRF tried to do something different with Shop.org 2017. They stepped up their game. In some ways, they even out ShopTalked ShopTalk. Shop.org had great guest speakers (I man crush hard on Scott Galloway), a much easier to navigate show floor, and it was situated in the beautiful locale of Los Angeles.
But shiver me timbers and call me Anaheim Mickey –there was only one big problem.
I never saw them. The press, the vendors, the guest speakers, even the barristas were everywhere, but yet I couldn’t find a retailer to save my life.
So it is time someone came to the defense of our retail association. It is time someone asks the tough question, “Retailers (of which I will always proudly be one), what the hell are we doing?” It is time to get our heads out of our asses!
Yes, you heard me right, retailers.
Our industry is at a crossroads, a turning point, and what is staring us in the face isn’t pretty (especially if our heads are up our asses). It is time we stepped up to educate ourselves as fast as we can. I will continue to nail my 95 theses on the wall until I am blue in the face — omnichannel retailing is nothing like anything we have ever seen before — it’s not legacy bricks-and-mortar and it’s not e-commerce.
We have to learn an entirely new reverse-engineered bicycle. We can’t learn what we don’t know by inertia.
But I digress because there is no point in continuing to chastise us. What we really need is help. So, if your open to it, here are three quick and easy suggestions to make retail trades shows as fabulous as a Katy Perry halftime show.
Suggestion #1: Emphasize Education Year Round
Our industry is undereducated. Legacy bricks are haughty about what they know relative to e-commerce, and e-commerce is possibly even more data-drivenly disdainful of traditional retail. It is time we bridge the gap and align on educating ourselves on the principles of omnichannel retailing to move our entire industry forward, rather than continue down the path we are on that will leave current players deeply at risk of being disrupted by the leviathans lurking deep below the surface that we don’t see right now.
We need to do several things.
First, we need to poll the populace at all levels of retail, especially retail workers between the ages of 20 and 40 years old, to understand what questions are most on their minds in terms of how to move retail forward. We need to understand what they think are the key areas of education for our industry.
Second, we need to synthesize this polling data and convene a panel of true omnichannel experts to create an industry-wide educational agenda. I am talking about real experts here too – people that have scraped their knees riding the omnichannel bike – guys like the head of R&D at Lowe’s, the CEO of JustFab that impressed me at Shop.org, etc. Maybe even Marc-las (Doug McMillon and Marc Lore) could make time as a matching set and kick-off everything with a three-legged race. Heck, I would even throw my own hat in the ring (are you listening Matthew Shay?).
For my money the schedule of educational topics would look something like this:
- Item Data Management
- Cloud Point-of-Sale
- Location Technology
- Data Processing
- Data Analytics
- Content Creation and Management
- Omnichannel Experience Design Solutions – smart mirrors, employee tools, scan-and-go, etc.
- Last-Mile Delivery
- Augmented and Virtual Reality
- Labor Modeling and Crowd Sourcing
Third, we need to create a concrete “educational curriculum” about the finalized list of determined topics. The curriculum shouldn’t just be for trade shows either. The curriculum should be chaired by the most resident experts in the industry, cataloged, and kept up-to-date with all the necessary resource information required for retailers to make better decisions in their quests to develop new omnichannel Products (big “P”).
Need to know the pros and cons of the different point-of-sale systems available in the industry? Here you go – we have done the work for you from an objective point of view.
Think Congressional Budget Office meets Retail – only without a gridlocking two party system.
Fourth, we need to get the word out. Once the curriculum is complete, we should leverage the great industry resources to spread the word, e.g. Retail Dive, Internet Retailer, etc.
Suggestion #2: Reorganize Trade Shows Themselves
I have no idea if this is true, but it feels like the average trade show is about three days. Three days feels about the right amount of time too. We need one day to orient ourselves, one day to work our assess off, and then another day to process, plan our attacks, and take action.
But, trade shows are not organized like this. Trade shows currently require us to multitask everything all at once – networking, listening to speakers, speaking with solutions providers, taking our teams out to dinner, strategizing, and, for ShopTalk goers, finding time at the casino tables too.
Let’s make things easier for us – lord knows we have enough multitasking in our lives already.
Here are my suggestions:
First, concentrate each day of a trade show on one specific task, like this:
- Day 1 should be solely about Guest Speakers and Networking and nothing else. The benefit of this approach is that retailers would have more of an impetus to show up early for the entire show, and the vendor community would love it because they wouldn’t feel like they were constantly competing with guest speakers for attention every day. It would also be a welcome, passive warmup for everyone that has to travel far for the show.
- Day 2 should be built solely around the educational curriculum I discussed above. The lead sponsors should hold educational training sessions on the determined core topics. There should be large groups sessions, small breakout sessions, and anonymous online sessions too where people from all walks of life, especially our neuroplasticity-rigid older leaders, can ask all the questions they would be afraid to ask in public. And, nothing should be titled, “Winning with Mobile” ever again. Ever. Again.
- Day 3 should be all about activating strategy and walking the trade show. At this point, retailers will have listened to speakers that stretched their minds, they will have educated themselves on core concepts, and so by Day 3 they should be ready to walk the floor with a sense of purpose and to talk to the solutions providers they believe can most help them to improve their businesses.
Second, I would reorganize the trade show floor. Right now, trade show floors are tough to navigate. A hardcore topic curriculum would help to create organization. All the POS providers, all the pricing analytics, and all the item data specialists could be walked quickly in one space, and, of course, there would be a miscellaneous room too for anything that didn’t fall into the core curriculum.
Now, I know what you naysayers are already thinking. If we reorganize a trade show like this, no one will stay for the third day. Well, one, if a retailer thinks like that, then I am shorting their stock, and, two, penalize the hell out of them if a retailer attempts to do that.
What do I mean?
Punitive Ticket Pricing. For example, charge $5000 for a two-day pass, but only $1,200 for a three-day pass. Then, at the show itself, require retailers to scan their badges upon entry to the show every morning, so they don’t try to game the system. If a retailer buys a three-day pass and only stays for two days, charge them the residual $3,800 plus a $10,000 penalty fee. That type of expense would flag in nearly every expense department in the country, and honestly you are a real a**hole if you think your company should pick that up because of your own poor planning.
Suggestion #3: Book Katy Perry and Procure Omni Talk an Exclusive Interview
Hey, a guy can still dream, can’t he?
Be careful out there,
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P.P.S. Travel Note of the Week #4: Omni Talk is taking a much needed break next week. We plan to return the following week better than Betty Buckley (c’mon, it is as arbitrary as Ezra)
P.P.P.S. On 11/2 I am debuting The Store of the Future Promises to be One Hell of Swingers Party at CUE4 — the Unconference in Minneapolis. Tickets are still available.
Chris Walton is an accomplished Senior Executive with nearly 20 years of success within the retail and retail technology industries. He is well-versed in merchandising, store operations, inventory management, product design, forecasting, e-commerce, pricing and promotions, and tech product development.
Chris was most recently a Vice President with Target, where he led the retailer’s Store of the Future project and also ran the Target’s home furnishing division for e-commerce. He previously worked for GAP, Inc., as a Distribution Analyst and Manager.
Chris holds a BA in Economics and History from Stanford University, and a MBA from Harvard Business School.
He likes to dress as Darth Vader for Halloween, and his wife also frequently asks him to ask Alexa, "to turn off the music."