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Welcome to The Merchant Life, for retailers and retail enthusiasts wanting the insider perspective of all things retail.

This week, we give you a recap of retailX, the first IN PERSON retail conference since the pandemic hit.

Excited Season 2 GIF by The Office
In person???? Exciting!

Let’s dive in.

The HOT Windy City

We kept cool in the McCormick Center during the sweltering heat of August.

From over 10,000 attendees in a pre-pandemic world down to 3,000 a few weeks ago, the crowds were thin. Chicago was not bustling but it was definitely worth the flight out. Everyone who was there had a purpose and many were searching for ideas and solutions on how to keep up with retailing today.

Day 1

We started off the event with a selfie…obviously.

Followed by an inspiring keynote by the COO of Ulta Beauty, Kecia Steelman.

The room felt HUGE. Attendees were seated more than 6 feet apart and COVID precautions were everywhere and in full site. Exhibitors were spread out and once on stage, masks were off.

I was ready to take in everything Kecia had to say.

And she was incredible!

Sidenote: I wasn’t the only one in heels!

Kecia walked us through how Ulta put their associates first, why they held off opening in Canada, and how the pandemic pushed them to reinvent their approach to growth.

Kecia spoke in detail about their partnership with Target and how it will open up possibilities for emerging brands to capture new market segments.

She talked about the importance of digital innovation and the significance of the physical store. Curated assortments and championing diversity across associates and product mixes got my attention.

Thank you Ulta for setting the stage, on the stage.

MUSE was the BEST part!

Talking Curbside

Next up was my first appearance on stage with Melissa Minkow, CI&T’s Retail Industry Lead. We talked through table stakes and implications of implementing a curbside solution and a few things retailers must consider.

The future of curbside involves your merchants, your store staff, and your community.

A few key takeaways:

  • Give your store staff time and space to ensure they have bandwidth for additional curbside tasks.
  • Don’t make consumers wait too long for their curbside orders. Expectations are high and safety plays a key role.
  • Notify customers via SMS instead of email for curbside pickup notifications.
  • Designate ample room and a comfortable area for curbside pickup. Use the space as an opportunity to upsell or engage with the customer.

Curbside is an opportunity for engagement and loyalty and it’s here to stay.

The Digital Transformation Deep Dive

Next up was my Q&A with Andrea Wasserman, the first ever Head of Global Commerce for Verizon Media. As a former merchant, we had a lot in common and a lot of ground to cover in our short chat.

We started off discussing the current state of retail and how COVID had changed the landscape. New consumer behaviors have forced retailers to adapt.

What we covered:

  • Insights on the technologies and trends shaping retail today.
  • Steps to prepare for shopper expectations of 2022 and beyond.
  • A deeper understanding of customer data.
  • How to begin the digital transformation process.

Staying ahead of the curve is non-negotiable but understanding the data is imperative.

76% of retailers say data insights are critical to the performance of their organization. (Source: RetailWire)

From offline to online data, the insights driven from the data will help retailers make decisions from product assortments to pricing.

Asking the right questions is the key.

There was so much to cover and so little time.

Am sure we will take our ‘shop’ talk to a podcast soon! Stay tuned.

Home Depot and Lowe’s Battle it Out

Ok not really a battle but it was definitely a highlight of my day!

I spoke to Ruth Crowley, formerly of Lowe’s, and Albert Vita, former Director of Strategy and Innovation for Home Depot.

The ‘fireside chat’ consisted of Albert cheering on the crowd like a true Hype Man and Ruth telling us fundamentals of CX.

This selfie speaks for itself and I can’t wait for you to watch the replay!

You can just FEEL the excitement!

Day 2

I started with Alicia Esposito of Retail Touchpoints, talking shop on her podcast.

We talked about retailers shift in focusing on the right product mix, partnering with the right brands and the value of private label.

We also covered my views around speed to market and digital product creation.

The podcast will air October 4th on Retail Remix on all streaming platforms. Stay tuned!

The rest of the day was full of meetings, networking, and of course checking out Andy Laudato, COO of The Vitamin Shoppe.

There was a plenty to take in, from logistics and last mile solutions to RFID and digital marketing.

Then, I met Peter Twomey of EcoCart, an e-commerce plugin that encourages checkout by allowing your customers to shop carbon neutral with you.

Customers can fund certified carbon offset projects (like planting trees or building wind farms) based on the exact carbon footprint of their order.

Mind. Blown.

The full retailX replay will be available starting on September 15th.

Next Up:

A few noteworthy appearances:

🛒 Check out last week’s Pacific Retail + RetailBoss panel discussion on growing your business in shopping centers, the official kick-off to CosmeCon 2021.

🎙️ My latest podcast interview with Dig Insights.

📰 My contribution to Glenn Taylor’s article in The Sourcing Journal on retail’s latest acquisitions and the benefits of acquiring a brand vs. building a category from scratch.

💡 As an active BrainTrust expert, take a read through my latest contributions on RetailWire. My thoughts around cancelling the ethnic aisle certainly ruffled some feathers.

Lastly, for a deeper dive into curbside, my friends at Aptos have a few insights of their own. Find the iPaper at here.