The Past and Future of the Retail Landscape

The 2019 edition of the Summer Insights Fest kicked off in Chicago on July 15th reuniting experts across all industries to discuss key trends and issues impacting shopper and retail activation across the world. The event is comprised of three summits: Shopper Insights & Retail Activation, UX Research and Insights Summit, and Insights Leadership & Talent Summit providing attendees with the tools to influence the buying decision, shape the future of retail, and drive business growth.

The sessions and panels focused on bringing together the most updated insights about changing consumer behaviours and best practices around how to adapt to the evolving retail landscape. Business models and brand activation initiatives were framed in three chronological segments: past, present and future.

The past: Never-ending distribution games

Brands have been tracked through traditional KPI’s which depicted a product’s performance relative to the market for a specific channel. Growth came from gaining distribution, as product placement and “hot zones” at supermarket aisles determined the rise or fall of new product developments. One of the first speakers to challenge the audience was Sri Rajagopalan, current SVP of eCommerce and Digital for Revlon. He described how some brands continue to implement outdated business models focused on generating sales contingent upon the size and growth of large mass retailers.

These practices of the past focus too heavily on product performance relative to sales rather than understanding underpinned motivations that trigger consumption across all retailing channels. During the three days, speakers challenged brands and manufacturers to develop new metrics for their performance which will better capture how consumers are currently shopping for their products, rather than how efficiently supply chains roll out SKU’s across channels.

The present: Retailing in a digital world

Rajagopalan stunned the audience by portraying retailers as being lethargic and lagging behind an everchanging consumer landscape. He described a state of the industry in which consumer preferences constantly evolve, leaving brands and retailers playing catch up as they adapt.

Another speaker that contributed to this discussion was panelist John Ross, President and CEO of IGA, Inc. Ross argued that shifts in consumer preferences have shaped the retailing environment from the start. He explained how consumers’ need for a brick-and-mortar location, which unified all staple items needed for everyday meals in one place, led to the rise of supermarkets. He illustrated the order in which change happens, first comes the change in consumers which is always followed by a response from retailers.

Joe Bier and Susan Stacey from Gfk further elaborated on the transformative forces reshaping the shopping experience, emphasizing the need for a simpler curated assortment. They portrayed a “Go Small” revolution citing initiatives like Ikea’s City Studio, reaching consumers where they shop and Nordstrom’s mini-stores Nordstrom Local which favor up and coming designers from the region where the store is located.

The future: From omnichannel to an ecosystem

The conference wrapped up with an invitation to reimagine shopping experiences as part of an ecosystem which blends the online and offline environments. Bieir and Stacey, in their Future of Retail: 2020 and Beyond presentation, depicted a future in offline and online blur to provide consumers with the right assortment at the ideal location, recognizing that consumers will quickly embrace new technologies which allow them to interact with the brands they love.

Brands were invited to rethink their strategies in order to reach their audience with relevant messages across a plethora of touchpoints. Speakers like Jackson Wang from L’Oreal, challenged retailers to redesign their selling space to encourage consumer-product interaction, expressing how brick-and-mortar locations offer brands the unique opportunity to observe and learn from consumers as they explore and experience their products in-store.

As consumer inevitably gravitates towards eCommerce, retailers need to reinvent themselves by providing captivating experiences which will continue to lure clients to brick-and-mortar locations. Several speakers invited the audience to view online touchpoints as a compliment and an extension of their brand message, rather than competition to their offline initiatives