Shoptalk, a trendy commerce show in Las Vegas, just finished its 3rd year successfully. The growth of this show has been phenomenal. With 8000+ attendees and a hefty price attend, it brings together speakers, educational institutions, investors and startups to understand and predict the future of retail. While there are other shows like IRCE and NRF, the focus of shoptalk is all things digital presented in a trendy setup to make the attendees forget the elbow grease and the grime of retail.

CEO of ulta macys houzz and google ceo cartoon illustration

The New Normal

The show started with general sessions where the founders, Anil Aggarwal and Simran Aggarwal spoke about the growth. The speech was more like a brag — their growth all presented with metrics like number of attendees, speakers, CEOs, VPs, managers, startups, participant by countries etc. One interesting fact they brought up was about bringing 1000s of trees for us to inhale fresh air. Maybe they were inconspicuously placed, as I still felt smoke hanging everywhere I went. The 3 years of shoptalk has been dubbed as — Legacy Normal in 2016, Disruptive Change in 2017 and New Normal for this year. You can read more about it here.

To a sustained New Normal where a critical mass of the industry embraces continuous, disruptive innovation to satisfy changing customer expectations in a digital age.

This year, if there was one message that was loud and clear was that the stores are here to stay. In earlier years, retailers did not want to talk about it as everything was about Amazon eating them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This year, it seems like there is renewed strength about stores working for them. Or maybe the fact Amazon is also going to stores (with Wholefoods purchase) is reassuring. So we are never going to hear the end of brick and mortar and omni-channel, even as ToysRUs is closing its stores.

I have been attending Shoptalk for the past 3 years and I felt good and bad about many things. As Shoptalk grows, it is inevitable that it gets diluted, but I should commend the way organizers have tried to stay true to the trendiness of the show with education sprinkled around. Some keynote speakers were awesome, like Jeff Gennette from Macys, Gianna Puerini and Dilip Kumar from Amazon Go, Mary Dillon of Ulta, Adam Sussman from Nike etc. While everyone talked about personalization, getting to know the customer better, giving customers what they want — similar themes since 2006 — this time, there was proof that they are serious about it. This included demos, stats from programs that they launched, sneak peek on things they are working on etc. It did feel different this time that it is all not talk, but lots of action.

Photo of Mary Dillon of Ulta speaking at Shoptalk
Mary Dillon of Ulta speaking at Shoptalk

Ulta Beauty has built a very diverse organization with many female executives in decision making roles — Mary Dillon, CEO of Ulta Beauty

Startups and AIOn the startup and disruption front, there are technologies that are more of the same from previous years but only better. There was not a disruption that did not use AI in their slides or talk. AI this and AI that. To their credit, there are lots of innovative uses of AI to help retail from fulfillment to the customer touch points. Here are some cool things I liked in what I saw:

  1. CommonSense Robotics — Automated grocery picking and delivery technology from Israel. Can you deliver groceries faster than a pizza?
  2. — Automatic product characteristics tagging, description generation and using them in all parts of merchandising lifecycle using computer vision
  3. Chicory — Recipe based shopping
  4. NuOrder — A b2b commerce platform for connecting retailers and the suppliers
  5. Clarifai — Computer vision to enhance shopping experience

The startups are pushing the boundaries showing off exciting results.

A Class Apart

There were sessions focused on education, the show aptly touted #class of 2018, with professors from Wharton school. The professors provided their view of the state of retail, future of retail, use of data and application of AI with lots of charts and graphs. These sessions were very educational at a high level, but they wanted the retailers to talk to them about more details. Not sure how many people did, but it did provide lots of food for thought. One such graph that captivated me was this from a talk by Barbara Kahn

Where is retail growth by American low income, middle income and high income class
Where is retail growth by American low income, middle income and high income class

Did you see almost no retail growth in middle class? The New Normal of retail is one of opulence and luxury completely taken over by the high income group. Very disturbing.

The Exhibit Hall

The exhibit hall seemed to have tripled in size since last year shoptalk with many booths. In addition, last year acrobats were performing their routines during the break (read my Has retail become a circus article from last year Shoptalk). I was in constant fear of something or someone dropping on me as I navigated the floor that time. This year was the year of opulence — the New Normal! You got an opportunity to get your hair cut or beard shaved by Pall Mall Barbers, an exclusive UK based barbershop. Not to be outdone, for women there was Drybar, a hairstyling service brand, hairstyling on the side. Then you can get your tarot card reader and the infamous Bumbys, a fair and honest assessment of you by people. And because people said they like Sushi when registering for Shoptalk, there was lots of sushi during breaks and for meals. I am not sure how they are going to top this next year. Maybe Gordon Ramsey would be cooking food for the attendees!

Photo of Bumbys honest assessment at work
Bumbys honest assessment at work

With so many distractions, I did get some time to walk around. I met some interesting companies at the exhibits. And here are the ones I liked. BTW, full disclaimer that I did not have a chance to visit all the booths.

1. One Market — This company is either going to rock the retail world or fall flat. I hope the former. They have this laudable goal of unifying customer information and providing aggregate insights and applications on top of that to retail world. Imaging retailers sharing with them along with other retailers. They have so far succeeded to make retailers understand the value

2. Twiggle — I did not visit their booth but watched the CEO talk. Twiggle is trying to create a conceptual knowledge of all products sold by all retailers. This is the job groups like OMG is doing with NRF, but Twiggle is doing it to enhance the shopping experience

3. Zio — This team has created shopper analytics that can be very useful for the retail world. The CEO, Angel Morales, is a veteran in retail and data science. He has put together all his learning over the years in a consumable form that is available to retailers for free. Yes, it is free. The predictive analytics are not free but one should watch this company

4. Google — Google has an integration program with google home for all retailers. This is something most retailers should take advantage of. Another cool thing they showcased was the mobile based VR for shopping furniture. They launched it during shoptalk along with Pottery Barn. It was cool to setup a room in their demo space

Otherwise, there are the same players you see in every conference. Commerce platforms, marketing platforms, analytics platforms, personalization platforms, payment platforms and service companies. As the product market is getting crowded it is getting hard to distinguish between many of the offerings. After a while, one gets jaded walking through the booths. There were tech talks arranged during session breaks where various technology companies showcased their wares. These talks were very useful to get more people understand the products in detail. Unfortunately, the few of the talks I attended it was more marketing than any tech.


Lastly, I have some feedback for the shoptalk founders:

mobile app for shoptalk

Mobile App

1. The mobile app for shoptalk is not at all user friendly. First, it does not automatically adjust the view to the current time on my agenda screen. Too much scrolling all the time

2. Searching for people is the worst. Maybe one of the search vendors could have helped you. BloomReach, you guys should help here

3. Why doesn’t the app show the people in the show that are on my 1st degree connection in LinkedIn?


So much talk during the general session about shoptalk, but there is no mention of where the Track rooms are. You made me walk back and forth for Track Room 6. I would have expected it to be next to 5. I am sure it is in many brochures you’ve provided but no one reads them. Please provide the orientation during general session and introductions. It would have helped more people than knowing how many CEOs came to the show.

About the Author

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Jags Krishnamurthy


Jags is a passionate tech vigilante. As CEO of Object Edge, he follows how technology changes the landscape for businesses across the world. He’s motivated by happy, engaged people. His motto: financial yesterday, commerce today, eagerly waiting for tomorrow every day.

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