Shoptalk brings together the entire retail ecosystem to discuss what the future of retail will be – and most importantly, how to prepare for it. Experts share the latest trends, technologies and business models, including recent changes in consumer expectations. This year’s Shoptalk event, held at the Venetian, Palazzo and Sands Expo Convention Center, was sold out, with 8,400 attendees and a waiting list of people hoping for a last-minute spot.

As expected, keynotes and panel discussions offered insights from a mix of retail luminaries, from Amazon, Walmart and Alibaba to small but disruptive direct-to-consumer brands. Flow had a booth in the front of the expo floor and our CEO, Rob Keve, gave a TechTalk presentation.

While attendees could choose from a broad cross-section of educational sessions, networking and social events, there are a few big takeaways that will surely keep retailers talking for months to come. Here are three major topics that attendees, presenters and exhibitors were buzzing about:

  1. Online marketplaces are growing. Just weeks prior to Shoptalk, wholesale suppliers who had been selling items directly to Amazon reported that they’d stopped receiving purchase orders and were instead being encouraged to sell directly to consumers through Amazon’s third-party marketplace. There was some vendor panic and many questions about marketplaces at the show, but also some answers. In one panel session entitled “Selling on Marketplaces,” executives from eBay, KEEN, and The Wonderful Company shared thoughts on the importance of embracing marketplaces as a way to extend market reach, especially to consumers overseas.
  2. Personalization is still a work-in-progress. From a technical perspective, artificial intelligence as a way to improve personalization was a hot topic, with sessions from several cutting-edge technology companies whose AI-based solutions are helping retailers connect with consumers. Of particular concern for retailers is leveraging relevant customer data to deliver more personalized offerings while complying with data privacy regulations such as GDPR.  In general, the industry still has work to do to navigate the complexities of customer data.
  3. Customers have higher expectations than ever. “Customer experience” continues to be a top buzzword at every retail conference, but at Shoptalk, experts aimed to dig into what the customer experience really means to the individual shopper. Several panels offered real-world advice on how to create a personalized experience that is authentic, provokes an emotional response from the customer, and inspires them to return to your online store. This was especially clear in two Q&A sessions featuring digital leaders at Nordstrom and Macy’s.  

We would’ve liked to see a larger discussion on globalizing a direct-to-consumer e-commerce brand with a focus on digital natives. Many of the sessions that dealt with international selling were more focused on brick-and-mortar strategies as opposed to digital-first retailers. As these digital native brands look to diversify their revenues, global expansion is an increasingly important priority and competitive advantage compared to more traditional retailers. We spoke with several companies at the event who agreed that it would be exciting to have more digital native brands represented in panel discussions, particularly when examining international markets.

It’s also surprising that the show only dedicated one panel session to cross border e-commerce and localization on the last day of the conference.  Selling internationally is not easy, given the differences in language, regulations, payment types, and other factors across locales and markets. Hearing from more brands who are seeing success on the global stage is important for businesses looking to make that international leap. Cross border as a norm is inevitable, so we hope in the future there will be more Shoptalk sessions dedicated to teaching cross border e-commerce merchants best practices and helping them to tackle the risks and potential pitfalls.

Overall, Flow’s experience at Shoptalk was positive. We had the opportunity to speak with many retailers who are looking for cross border solutions that will help them manage some of the more challenging aspects of becoming a global brand. Clearly there is a hunger for cross border knowledge and solutions in the industry, so we are hopeful that next year ShopTalk will shine a spotlight on this fast-growing side of retail.