Three Digital Insights from Shoptalk 2016

Shoptalk, which dubs itself the tech event for the next-generation of commerce, attracted merchants, startups, tech providers and investors to its event hosted in mid-May in Las Vegas. A key focus of this inaugural event was how digital devices and other technologies have changed the way consumers browse and buy products and services across all verticals.

Here are three digital commerce insights from my Shoptalk experience:

Joining consumers in the conversation

Increasingly commerce is being inserted into the normal course of conversation. Although this convergence of social and commerce first gained traction in Asia Pacific, it is quickly being duplicated all around the world. Social media behemoths, including Pinterest and Facebook, recently joined the conversation and provided updates of their s-commerce efforts at Shoptalk. Pinterest President Tim Kendall said there are now 50 million products from 20,000 retailers being sold on the social discovery app. He says the app has had s-commerce success because it does not have to rely on advertisements to make money like other sites. “We don’t have to tradeoff between user experience and consumer experience,” Kendall said. Facebook’s Director of Global Vertical Strategy Nicolas Franchet also provided an update to some of Facebook’s latest features, which include its buy-now buttons, location-based marketing services and lastly immersive storytelling with carousel or canvas advertisements. “Successful marketers find the right balance between marketing and content sharing,” Franchet said. “It’s a really exciting time to reach all the people that matter to you in these platforms.”

Role of physical stores in the digital era

With internet retailing projected to outpace store-based retailing at a rate of 76.7% to 9.7% over the next five years based on data from Euromonitor International, many retailers spent much of Shoptalk debating the future of the physical store. Mary Beth Laughton, who is senior vice-president of digital for Sephora, said retailer-led mobile apps will become increasingly more important in this digital age as a tool for trying a more enriched in-store experience. Sephora uses its mobile app for three main purposes: attract consumers to the store, enhance the in-store experience in some way and to further digitize experience. For example, Sephora has tested beacon technology, specifically reminding the consumer that products searched online are available in the store. In other campaigns, it has promoted openings in the schedule for makeovers to consumers via push notification. The beauty retailer is perhaps most known in the digital sphere for its augmented reality experiments, in which in one example a consumer can try on 3,000 different shades of lipstick all via the mobile app. “The old experience of going into the store and striping your arm with different lipsticks just wasn’t a good experience,” explained Laughton. “Now consumers can pull out the Sephora virtual artist and then buy the products that are the most compelling.”

Early days for proximity marketing

Mobile phones have the potential to be the glue that unifies the online and office commerce experience by providing a unified marketing, commerce and payments experience across all channels. “These device IDs are the best indication of who you are because it shows the places you go,” said Leah Malone, regional director of brand partnerships at Foursquare. Despite the potential of proximity marketing to drive traffic, increase the basket size and improve data integration, the concept remains in its early days. Even so, LINSR CEO Rodney Williams believes consumers will eventually sacrifice a bit of privacy and share location-based data, assuming they receive greater convenience in return. He cited the popular dating app Tinder, a location-based dating and social discovery service application, as a sign that consumers’ expectations about privacy are malleable, if offered something greater in return for information.