Shoptalk 2023 Brought Together 100,000 Humans Who Talked About Machines

Here’s why you need to flip that script

Michael Kahn (MK)
Global CEO at Astound Commerce

If the mood at many industry conferences last year evoked a dress rehearsal—a tentative reemergence from pandemic-induced isolation with a sense of preparation for the main event—then we can fairly characterize 2023 as the year of the opening night. And nowhere was that exhilarating opening-night energy more in evidence than at last week’s Shoptalk conference—which at 100,000 attendees from 61 countries, featuring CEO presentations from the likes of Walmart, McDonalds, Levi’s, and Chewy, was the largest Shoptalk ever. 

I’m pretty sure all those 100,000 attendees were human. I’m also sure that every single one of us talked about, thought about, and prognosticated on AI and related emerging technologies for most of our waking hours at the show. Predictions about the impact of these technologies on commerce varied wildly, but one sentiment was unanimous: they are driving a radical shift in the customer experience, and a rock-solid strategy for implementing the right ones for your brand is a must for any business that wants to stay competitive. 

One of the most fascinating sessions related to emerging tech came from Panera Bread. When Panera recently reintroduced a mobile application, their team assumed that customers would place a mobile order and then drive to their local restaurant to pick it up. Certain operations were dependent on that assumption—including an “artificial delay” in making the order to ensure freshness when the customer arrived to pick it up. But by enhancing its mobile app to include geolocation data, Panera began to understand that customers were actually using their phones to place orders from the parking lot—or even from the restaurants themselves. Instead of using an in-store digital kiosk, they were using their mobile devices as quasi “personal kiosks.” Now Panera actively manages order priority based on where the customer is located—to ensure the freshest product possible. 

This example underscores a subtle yet crucial distinction—a flipping of the script—about this pivotal moment in commerce. Yes, brands need to seize upon emerging tech as a means of optimizing their operations and driving revenue, but equally important, they must understand and anticipate how their customers are themselves adapting to these technologies. It is those adaptations—and the new trends in consumer behavior we’re observing as a result—that provide the critical roadmap for your business going forward. 

At Astound, our teams across Technical Consulting & Architecture and Experience Strategy always seek to identify evolving consumer behaviors prior to a technical implementation. We conduct customer research, derive insights, and develop customer journeys that identify patterns—and our assessment of new technology is always done in the context of those trends and their business impact. 

For one client, we’re in the process of adding an augmented reality component to the brand’s customer experience that has the potential to dramatically improve that experience, accelerate the customer decision-making process, and reduce returns—all significant revenue drivers. Importantly, we didn’t consult by throwing a technology at our client partners and then trying to find a use case for it. Instead we studied the client’s business and led them to an innovation that fits the behavior and preferences of their #1 customer target, and then developed an integration plan that complements their long-term roadmap. And we did it at speed, to ensure we’re defending the brand against competitive share-taking while focusing on the creation of engaging guided shopping experiences and superior customer service. 

We know the siren call of new technologies and the potential they hold is a collective obsession these days—witness last week’s open letter from technology leaders published by the Future of Life Institute cautioning against the more sinister consequences of that obsession. That’s why smart brands are taking a thoughtful approach, working with smart partners to anticipate consumer behavior adaptations, to meet new consumer needs and expectations accordingly, and to meet them consistently and reliably across all digital channels. Together we are flipping the script, and remembering that in the midst of what those tech leaders have dubbed our “long AI summer,” it’s still the people that matter.

Looking for the right AI/AR solution to meet your customers where they want to be? Get in touch today, and let’s create the emerging tech implementation strategy that’s right for your brand.


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