shoptalk photo

A capacity-plus crowd of 5,500 people descended upon the Aria Hotel & Convention Center in Las Vegas last week for Shoptalk 2017.  Unlike many retail-themed conferences, all factions of the industry were represented – the disruptors and the disrupted, the thought leaders and the thought feeders, the mature companies and the startups, the up-and-coming and the down-and-out.  Each came with a similar purpose: to figure out what the heck is going on in these tumultuous days of retail!


Here are some of my key takeaways:


    • In the age of Amazon, two companies are clearly winning – Amazon and Walmart. For the plethora of companies that make up the other 92% of retail sales, the outlook is mixed.  Amazon is winning for two key reasons: 1) shareholders continue to value the company for its future potential, and 2) the company leads the marketplace in real innovation, both online and offline.  Walmart is also winning because it is making the long-term technological and marketplace investments necessary to adapt to 21st century retailing.


    • Clearly, most of the other well-known retail brands are struggling mightily with innovation.  They talk the talk, but do they walk the walk? For example, Target announced it was shelving its plans for a “store of the future” near San Francisco in favor of a small-footprint store model and more attention to its grocery business.  The message I heard was, “unless the ROI from technology innovation is crystal clear and immediate, we will continue working smarter with the old playbook.”


    • In one of the more interesting sessions I attended, a venture capitalist moderated a discussion between an up-and-coming digitally native retailer you’ve never heard of and a down-and-out bricks and mortar retailer you definitely have heard of.  The up-and-comer described many ways he was using innovation to surprise and delight his growing base of customers; the down-and-outer’s main innovation was replacing name-brand underwear with private-label underwear to squeeze out more margin.  Sad.


    • I was surprised and delighted by the way startups were treated on the exhibit floor.  At the annual National Retail Federation (NRF) convention each January, startups have low visibility [except, as I noted in my NRF recap, that startups were integrated into the booths of the tech giants as a façade to suggest that legacy technology is innovating]. At Shoptalk, “Startup Row” flanked the edges of the main exhibit hall, making it impossible to get to a meal or a content session without interacting with a few startups. Two RevTech Ventures alums were well represented on Startup Row – Dor Technologies and EverThread.  Both were blown away with the number of conversations they were able to have with prospective customers.


  • The inverse correlation between attendance at Shoptalk (10% above capacity) and attendance at (shrinking toward non-existence) speaks profoundly to what’s happening in the overall industry.  One is framing the architecture of 21st century retail; the other is applying lipstick to legacy.