Talkin’ about Shoptalk 2019
Last week I had the absolute pleasure of attending Shoptalk in Las Vegas. This was my first year attending, though it was the fourth year of the event which has grown significantly in each successive year, drawing close to 8,000 attendees ranging from investors, press, analyst, vendors and the retail community. As a collective company it was our first time at the event. We’ve heard so much about the event and received so many inquiries from clients asking our opinion making it was a must.
Attendance has been a bit of a challenge us. I share that not to disparage anyone’s policies, but to let the vendor community know why analysts at the event are limited. In years one and two we were denied access as press. We as a company are more analysts than press, though we do write and are quoted a fair amount. Shoptalk’s policy is that attendance fees are waived for press, but generally speaking analysts pay full fare. For us that was a bit of a show stopper. We applied again this year and after a little discussion were granted complementary admission, for which I was thankful.
So, what did I think? Well, I gave away my punch line above, but let me elaborate just a bit and break the event down by perspective:
- Investment Community – If you are part of the investment community this is a must attend event. Shoptalk is very unique in the emphasis it places on the needs and interest of the investment community and I think the entire audience benefits, along with it being part of the secret sauce which has helped the rapid growth. The investment community really concerns itself with growth and innovation with an emphasis on creating value. The thread on innovation was evident in almost every session I attended. Throughout the event there were five concurrent sessions. This was both good and bad. The content was great, but many times I wish I could duplicate my existence because I wanted to be in two places at once. In one person is spoke with at lunch, a three-year-old startup focusing on return logistics, he mentioned how he’d been trying to get a meeting with one of the big investment companies, and with the “speed dating” sessions offered by Shoptalk between startups and investors, was finally able to get “on their radar” after trying to do diligently for several years.
- Members of the Digital Ecosystem – If you are a vendor, SI or consultant in the area of digital commerce or digital transformation, you have to attend this event. Anyone who is anyone in the industry is represented. If Shoptalk isn’t “THE” digital transformation event, it is getting very close to being it, and certainly at the top of the list. The event is about all things digital so as an incubator for ideas, a place to make connections, a place to connect for future funding, or as a place to bounce ideas and rub shoulders with the best and brightest, this is your place.
- Pure play hardware vendors – This probably isn’t the event for you to have a booth, but a good idea to attend. I did happen to bump into one of my client contacts at a hardware vendor who was at the show as an attendee, not an exhibitor. He too, like me, thought the event was valuable, just for the sheer content that was presented. On the exhibit floor, hardware companies would have likely felt out of place. The one caveat to this is that Bell & Howell was on the exhibitor floor and were very much at home, as their BOPIS delivery systems which are widely in deployment at Walmart’s were very much within the norm for the event.
- Retailer & Ecommerce IT & Marketing Leadership – This is very much a must attend event for you. Based upon some of the conversations we have had previously and interactions at Shoptalk, this is a great event for sharing ideas, gathering ideas and being inspired to create tomorrow’s commerce ecosystem. In contrast to shows such as NRF, at Shoptalk, it felt as if retailers were much more prominently featured on stage and as part of the overall program. While vendors did at times appear on the stage with retailers, it was more often than not asking questions of a retail panelist or MC’ing the session, rather than delivering content. This is likely a reason why this show is really liked by retailers themselves because they are hearing from peers. A word of note on setting expectations is that most sessions with leading retail executives are top level strategy big-picture type perspective. If you are going hoping to get into the executional weeds on specific areas of transformation, you’ll be disappointed. There are a lot of reasons for this namely time, and likely a whole litany of rules and regulations that prevent detail sharing. With that said if you want to understand the mindset of leading retailers, and where they are going, then again, this is a great source for that type of information.
- Software Vendors – I had the chance to meet with almost a dozen vendors at the event, both formally and informally. Among the exhibitors and potential expo exhibitors, was the greatest diversity of opinion. The biggest challenge I saw and continue to see is somewhat of the double-edged sword with the great content. The sessions are really so exceptional that you want to spend a lot of time in them. To attract people to the expo floor, the organizers do several great things to attract traffic. The path to all keynotes and lunch events are through the show floor. Additionally, dinner on Monday night was served on the show floor. The main course, and get this, was lobster, prawn and sushi. When have you ever been to an event that serves food like that? Lunch on Monday was surf and turf, and my understanding was that during the breaks that they would roll out snacks on the show floor. As an option for vendors to make connections Shoptalk also offers the opportunity to “Speed date” with retailers. These are 15-minute meetings, up to 10 of them, with retailers who are attending the show. The challenge in talking with vendors is that sometimes the meetings were good and sometimes not so good. I had a small sample size of conversations, but they seemed to be a lot more miss than hit. In one conversation someone noted that the organizers of Shoptalk had spent a tremendous amount of money and are continuing to work on ways to help facilitate better connections/opportunities from those meetings. I think there are things that a vendor trying to make the most out of this event could do to better make use of their investment. First, a little research into the perspective company goes a long way. Not to be promotive but a tool like our Sophia Retail Technology database is specifically intended for understanding who is using what technologies to better understand who is a likely opportunity. Second, spend more time working to set up meetings with your Analyst Relations or PR team. Third, work to get your booth placed along one of the high traffic paths. If you’ve read this and you’re still on the fence I would leave you with this comment. It’s really never a bad idea to be at a place where a large and growing population of those that are writing the checks are located. There certainly were a lot of those there, a veritable who’s who from both the leaders in technology investment and leadership among retailers.
All in all, a very good show. I hope I have the opportunity to attend next year, and if I do, I hope to see many of you there.