What we learned about Digital Transformation at Shoptalk 2018

I f you’ve been following updates from Shoptalk (or any retail publication in the last three years), you know that the span of 2016-2017 was a tumultuous period for retail. Anyone remember the “retail apocalypse” that dominated news and LinkedIn timelines for what felt like forever? It was as if the media was saying “if you haven’t invested in digital transformation yet, start packing your desk.”

Then when Amazon bought Whole Foods, the grocery vertical (the final frontier of essential retail), began to panic.

This year at Shoptalk, I wanted to get a full spectrum understanding of how other conference goers and exhibitors view digital transformation and the state of retail.

So, I simply asked:

"What is digital transformation?"

“Moving a physical presence into digital presence, digital representation. Brick and mortar and eCommerce work together. Customers seek the experience of being able to hold a product before they buy. Digital points them there, and brick and mortar brings it home.”

— Matt at Snap36

Many attendees said new retail begins and ends with digital:

“It means all retail is going towards personalization, in product content and visuals especially. Product content is the driver of digital transformation.”

— Joey at flexReceipts

Some attendees weren’t feeling any of the #DigitalTransformation heat:

“Nobody really wants to see stores go away. They still want to see things, touch things, experience retail. Until they can do that with eCommerce, brick and mortar is safe.”

— Anna at Shyft

Some touted omnichannel harmony:

“Offline retail becomes digital. It’s simplifying the transmission of information between individuals, including art, music, and retail too.

— Alex at OneSpace

Others were happy to ride the inevitable waves of change:

“Digital transformation provides a huge opportunity to have access to brands, and it automates a lot of menial tasks associated with retail.

— Deanna at Returnly

Back to digital basics

Clearly, a lot of Shoptalk attendees and speakers agreed that the time to get ahead of digital transformation was yesterday – and those who haven’t are woefully playing catch-up. Still, others continue to see it as an opportunity for fast growth.

After spending four days immersed in retail insight (and hounding attendees for their respective opinions), here’s my advice for retailers: get creative with the basics to provide a revamped customer experience… with or without robots.

1. Get granular with your targeting.

The internet, in all its beauty and terror, has opened more channels for more retailers to sell to more customers to buy. These customers are influenced by more channels than ever before.

Personalization is to 2018 what “AI and blockchain” were to 2017, but before you even approach personalization, you have to know your customer base. Use user-generated data to your advantage, and give your digital-centric customers what they expect of their favorite brands.

2. Invest in great personnel

In 2018, influencers are moving into uncharted territory…and dominating.

Retailers understand that shoppers aren’t just guessing and hoping when buying products anymore. They’re well-informed and expect the same out of retailers.

Knowledgeable employees serve as in-store influencers and let customers skip the internet middleman.

3. Follow up in the post-shop phase

If you only focus on the pre-shop and shopping phases, you are missing out.

The customer experience stretches far beyond the conversion point. Let your customers do the talking for you. This could mean investing in an online space for your community (even if it’s just Instagram), or sharing customer stories in your content marketing. Help your customers tell the story of your great brand experience.

4. Ensure personalization is digital-first

You knew this was coming… this is the part where I tell you how easy it is to win over customers with robots that know your name and your favorite shade of chartreuse, because it’s true.

Customers will always love flashy tech, and in the age of social media, anything that supports a customer’s personal brand will end up being publicly shared, giving your brand more mileage on the web. These tactics work.

But beyond surface-level flash, brands are still tasked with providing quality service and experience long after customers have stopped getting Instagram likes on their personalized dog bowls they received from your customer loyalty campaign.

Looking back on Shoptalk 2018, my favorite comment on the state of retail came from Jeff Genette, CEO of Macy’s:

“We’re not in the commodity business. We’re in the experience business.”


Forget your latest product release. To reach your customer, double down on the tactics you know work: understanding your customer, meeting them where they are, and providing the best customer experience possible at every touchpoint.

With those tactics, you can still win… even without robots.

Madeline Harrell
Madeline, a millennial who enjoys Googling puppies in her spare time, is the Digital Content Coordinator at Edgenet, the product content platform preferred by thousands of brands and retailers.

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