How to thrive in the Retail Renaissance

5 takeaways from Shoptalk + downloadable notes from 20+ sessions

I had the privilege of attending Shoptalk last week to get inspired and meet some of the biggest players shaping the future of retail. From digitally native disrupters like Glossier to legacy retailers like Target, founders took the stage to dish out their secrets and make their biggest announcements for the year.

I’m happy to report that the “Retail Apocalypse” is over, with many industry leaders calling it out as #fakenews and proclaiming 2018 as the best time to be in retail. Below are some of my biggest takeaways from the 4-day jam packed conference, along with my notes from the retail sessions for those overachieving extra curious types.

Turn store associates into brand ambassadors.

If your store associates are incentivized by the clock, you might want to consider changing things up. Brands like Sephora to big box retailers like Nordstrom are moving toward commission-based payment structures that prioritize quality service over quantity of sales. With the help of assisted selling tools like Tulip, store associates are empowered to treat customers as "personal clients" with services like wardrobe styling or make-up tutorials to name a few. Compliment that with CRM tools and chat-based services like MessageYes, store associates focus less on “the hard sell” and more on building a lasting relationship with customers that lead to larger purchases online and higher customer retention for your brand.

  • Mgemi - Text your shoe assistant to handpick styles and hold them in store
  • Nordstrom - Sends you the style board you created in store with your personal stylist with links to purchase products online

"As we think about evolving after 117 years, service is paramount to what we do.
Our connected journey moves the customer across digital and physical through a combination of people / products and place."

–Shea Jensen: SVP of Customer Experience, Nordstrom


Invest in tech that elevates the customer experience, not takes away from it.

It wouldn’t be a proper retail conference, without people saying robots are the future and promoting screen overload (using VR to direct people to the right aisle is not the answer). Rather than making technology investments based on what’s “new”, invest in frictionless technology that works behind the scenes to make the customer experience more magical. Amazon’s choice to go “checkout-free” in their first store was a massive technological undertaking, but yet the technology is hardly noticeable. No bar code scans, no apps, just grab your items and leave. This is wildly different than the way other major retailers are approaching this pain point, adding unnecessary steps that isn’t natural to the consumer. By automating a seamless solution that eliminates pain points in the consumer journey, Amazon was able to put their store associates behind more meaningful tasks like winning customers over and building long-term loyalty.

  • Sephora - Using A/R to guide people through a beauty makeup tutorial in store

  • Ebay - Using A/R to measure box size for sellers looking to speed up the shipping process
  • Nordstrom - Using location-based servings to shoot a text to a customer who is in the neighborhood with a product they discovered online

“Start with the customer and go from there. Physical shopping is fantastic, but check out is not. Let’s fix that and put people on tasks where human touch could add more value.”

– Gianna Puerini: VP, Amazon Go


Speed and convenience are table stakes.

We know one thing for sure, customer expectations are changing and that doesn’t fall short of delivery. Brands like CVS, Target and Macy’s are offering speed and convenience through same day, next day and 2 day delivery options, which in today’s world is simply table stakes. Retailers who are going over and beyond are adding in store and curbside pickup to the family. The results? According to Retail Dive, 73% of customers say that after receiving same-day delivery they’re more likely to purchase again from that retailer. 

  • CVS - After learning from their customers that running errands with kids in the car was highly stressful, CVS added a curbside pickup option for busy parents
  • MGemi - Customers reserve online and try on in store. People were greeted by first name with a dressing room waiting for them.

“Our guests don’t want to make choices or trade offs. They want options and it’s our job to make it easier than ever.”

– Brian Cornell: CEO, Target


Foundational CRM Marketing is not personal enough.

Above all of the keynotes, the talk of the week went hands down to Mary Beth Laughton who heads up digital experiences at Sephora. She blew people’s minds by revealing the secrets behind Sephora’s personalized customer journey. With 45% of people expecting brands to customize products and experiences to fit their needs, Sephora realized that foundational CRM marketing that delivered relevant messages based on lifecycle wasn’t going to be enough. Instead they built rich digital experiences that captured valuable data throughout the journey to enhance her experience in the future. And with phones becoming a valuable in-store companion, Sephora prioritized mobile so those experiences were with her, no matter what.

  • Sephora Cast
    • Digital skincare or make-up guide sent to client after in store tutorial, includes video and all products used during the session
    • Collects data for follow-up emails in the future on similar products to what she loved / sampled
  • Sephora virtual artist
    • Allows you to triple the make-up you try on while bringing confidence to consumer
    • Integrated into all product pages: Virtual try on > save to love list > Test top picks in store

“With our personalization strategies, we are trying to go beyond the birthday email by delivering really exciting personal experiences across channels. By capturing data within her journey and using it to create more personalized experiences for her in the future, that is where differentiation will come into play.”

– Mary Beth Laughton: EVP, Omni Retail - Sephora


The store of the future isn't placed in a corner.

We heard a lot of talk from digitally native brands using their stores to solely create community and a lifestyle around their products through unique experiences. Despite retail now being exclusively an experiential touch point, legacy retailers are only allocating corners of their store to adopting the change. In 2018, I’d like to see these retailers expand beyond cafes and “store within a store formats” like B8ta as their solution for the future and instead approach experiential retail more holistically in their strategies. It's not realistic for Lowes and Macy’s  to transform thousands of stores in one year, but instead they should pursue experiential formats in select locations or launch smaller concept stores where every square foot meets the ever-rising expectations of the new consumer.

  • Away - Expanded its narrative by creating a pop-up hotel in Paris and offering an array of travel recommendations in their stores in New York
  • Cadillac House - Transformed a car dealership into a brand center incorporating not just a cafe, but an event venue, gallery space and lounge to experience the history of the Cadillac
  • Eately - Transformed the classic “grocery run” to an experiential destination for taste and community



“The challenge was creating a 1200 sq. foot store with 1 product to prove that there is more to the brand than just the suitcase. Every detail and program in our stores are helping us build out that larger lifestyle story. We’ve been profitable since day 1.”

– Jennifer Rubio: Founder, Away Travel


So there you have it. Retail has officially made a comeback from time well saved to time well spent. If you’re curious about diving into any of these topics further, feel free to shoot me a note at You can also access all of my notes below. 

Gabriela is the founder of Whereabout Studio, a creative strategist and entrepreneur who formerly led brand strategy at Uber and Wieden+Kennedy. For the last decade, her passion for physical experiences has manifested itself in to leading dozens of experiential projects for major brands and retailers.  Always ahead of the curve, Gabriela is known as a “retail futurist” often challenging her clients to create thoughtful experiences that speak to the ever changing consumer mindset.


Gab Baiter