Tours, Takeaways, and the Carlos Awards – The 2019 Retail Innovation Conference Recap

Last week I attended the 2019 Retail Innovation Conference in New York City.

There was a lot to see and do.

Overall, the Retail Innovation Conference was a well-produced and inspiring event. It was rich with content, plus the speakers were both engaging and compelling. And as many retailers would desire from their customers, event organizers had most of us engaged before, during and even after the event ended.

That’s brand awareness and affinity worth bragging about.

If you weren’t able to make the event yourself, here a few positive observations that I’d like to share with you.


If You’re a Retailer, You Need to Experience Hudson Yards

If you’re into retail and cultivating an innovative customer experience, I recommend you visit Hudson Yards – a showcase of retailer concept stores, featuring both well-known brands and single store operators. It’s truly an impressive display of how retailers are looking to create a new environment for the consumer and to captivate them via improved interactions. Some of the stores of note include:

  • Neiman Marcus is a brand you’d expect to see in Hudson Yards, as it seeks to improve the guest experience by offering the unexpected. In addition to incorporating more local art and culture, this location has also added top-notch in-store entertainment with Liza Minnelli and Kelli Rowland performing live concerts. But personally, I was most impressed by the two full bars that featured a full complement of delicious bourbons.
  • Micro Kickboard chose Hudson Yards for its U.S. Flagship store. This Swiss-based company manufactures all things scooter and is looking to revolutionize the modern scooter for today’s consumers. Its location features a wide assortment of scooters starting at less than $100. In addition to the enthusiastic store associates, Micro Kickboard encourages shoppers to test-drive multiple scooter models to ensure they buy the one best for them.
  • Verizon is testing a redesigned store experience by removing the usual window clings, incorporating special sound-absorbing ceiling planks, and changing the lighting to produce a bright, clean, and quiet environment that doesn’t overwhelm the senses and enables a frictionless engagement between consumers and store associates. Additionally, Verizon is utilizing both digital and modular displays to allow maximum flexibility and configuration of the store and of the products they sell. Another cool feature is the “What We Love” board that allows associates to list their favorite devices; thereby engaging them and providing a vehicle for a deeper conversation with consumers.
  • 3DEN (pronounced “Eden”) offers a safe haven for what it calls the “in-between moments” of your day. The concept store in Hudson Yards features co-working spaces, a gym, coffee & refreshments, private showers, swings with a view and nap pods – that will soon be sponsored by and feature Casper mattresses. Sounds like a little slice of heaven, especially for those with a limited amount of time to unwind. The space was beautiful, serene, clean, warm, comfortable, and quiet – all while being situated within this bustling mall. And the views outside the window were spectacular.

I could go on and on about more of the 100 concept stores within this recently opened tribute to retailing, however, the tour of Hudson Yards was only a pre-conference adventure.

All these concept stores showcased how retailers should take advantage of one of their biggest assets – the physical store space that digital-only brands can’t compete on.


The Primary Themes of RIC2019

Experience: The driver of customer choice, repeat spend, and brand preference.

As we know, the experience with most retail brands is omnichannel and needs to resonate across all channels.

Although it needs to be consistent, it shouldn’t be the same forever because consumer preferences, needs, life stages change, therefore the brand must stay connected to continually gather meaningful data that allows it to migrate with multiple segments of consumers.

The Millennial Myth: They aren’t as finicky as we’ve been led to believe. They are more willing to try new technologies – especially innovative financial services, however, they aren’t necessarily disloyal.

When asked about the financial services that most excite them, 73 percent stated the services from Google, Amazon, and Apple are more exciting than their banks. They just expect something different from the brands they support.

Millennials aren’t abandoning retail, as we’ve been led to believe.

Although they are making less visits to high-end establishments, traffic is up in quick service restaurants, convenience stores, and traditional grocery stores, according to Kasey Lobaugh, Principal/Chief Retail Innovation Officer at Deloitte.

So, they are spending money at retail, they’re just choosing to spend differently.


The Coveted Carlos Awards

Since this is my blog, I thought I’d give out some valuable, coveted recognition to some deserving retailers who shared their stories at the 2019 Retail Innovation Conference.

Most Dynamic Speaker: Jeff Fromm, President of FutureCast.

I’ve been in the loyalty marketing business for more than two decades, so it’s only on rare occasion that I’m “wowed” by a speaker. Jeff is that kind of amazing speaker who thoughtfully weaves relevant data, case studies, and personal experiences into a captivating presentation. Some of the nuggets he shared with those in attendance, include:

  • Social circles are critical to the success of retailers as proven by Apple and Starbucks. There aren’t many top brands that don’t have significant social circles.
  • Most retailers who are struggling have a gap in innovation. Google and Bonobos are examples of brands that constantly improve and reinvent themselves.
  • To do something new, you have to be willing to give up what you’re currently doing, and you need to change faster than you’ve been willing to change in the past.
  • Brands that are recognized for having a purpose (beyond profit) receive a 12%-15% price premium.
  • We believe that loyalty is a series of moments and all brands constantly look for ways to make the customer experience awesome at every touch point.

When/if I grow up, I want to be like Jeff – an accomplished author, public speaker, and sought-after consultant to brands across the globe. Well done, sir!


Best Engagement of Associates: Macy’s.

Parinda Muley, VP Business Development & Innovation at Macy’s, discussed the company’s latest results in driving innovation for this longstanding retail juggernaut.

To bring about the desired change, Macy’s needed C-level leadership and support, a dedicated team that acted more like a hungry, nimble startup, a balance of its traditions with a desire to be disruptive, and a better understanding of consumer behaviors.

The innovative approach was rolled out in 17 stores that were required to shift from an approach of a company selling things to people and move into an environment that has people selling things to people.

To optimize this approach, Macy’s utilized its most valuable asset – store associates. The Macy’s Style Crew started with 20 members but has swollen to 2,000. Style Crew Members develop their style preferences and combinations from Macy’s inventory (shared through shoppable video and photo content via their own social media channels), consult directly with consumers because 70 percent of them are also in-store associates and they are deployed in more than 40 states for maximum coverage – delivering an average order value of $175 from the content they recommend.

Read more about the most powerful asset that retailers have: In-store associates.

Most Inspirational: The Groomsman Suit.

Diana Ganz and Jeanne Foley, co-founders of The Groomsman Suit, have been on a meteoric rise since founding their company in 2016.

The Groomsman Suit is the first ecommerce company offering stylish, high-quality suites and tuxedos men can own in seven colors across 140 jacket and pants sizes that are sold as separates for just $194.

If you’re like me and recently attended a formal event, you know that a tuxedo rental is usually more expensive than $194. At least mine was. After Jeanne had an unpleasant experience with her own wedding, she asked her BFF to partner with her to establish and grow this new company

As many women can attest, Diana and Jeanne were met by skeptics who consistently told them, “This isn’t a good business to go after. It can’t be done.”

Fortunately, they didn’t listen.

The Groomsman Suit generated $2.5 million in sales in 2018 and is on pace to deliver more than $8 million this year. But these ladies are just getting started. Now headquartered in a 2,200-square-foot office space in that doubles as a showroom in Chicago, they have plans to continue to disrupt the marketplace.

Up next, they’re launching TGS for HER, Dap Suits for proms, and Groomsmen Gifts that feature accessories items. I have a feeling that this is only the beginning of their success story.

Diana and Jeanne built their business around memorable moments that lead to positive customer experiences.


Retail Is Alive And Well

Retail really isn’t dead. It’s alive and well for the brands willing to step up the customer experience.

Loyalty is a series of touch points (moments) and these retailers are showing that these moments are memorable and create competitive differentiation.

From the tour of Hudson Yards, to the key takeaways, to the coveted Carlos Awards, the main theme revolved around creating these loyalty moments.

For the brands focusing on awesome experiences at all touch points, retail is alive and well.

If you’re looking to attend any loyalty conferences this year, check out our 2019 loyalty conference schedule here.

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