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Shoptalk 2024 Takeaways: Astound’s Perspectives from the Ground

Astound
We create digital commerce experiences that engage consumers, increase sales & fuel exponential growth.

A central theme that swept across Shoptalk’s massive number of sessions, meetings and adjacent events was the unification of retail experiences: across channels, platforms, partners, data, content and commerce.  This unification was perhaps best personified in Mattel’s “Barbieland and Beyond” keynote, which illustrated how the Barbie movie unexpectedly joined content (film, music, social media) with commerce (selling a ton of toys). Of course, Barbie was a proof of concept that became a unicorn, but the keynote set the stage for the show, if only a dreamland for most brands.  

This year at Shoptalk, Astound engaged with many retail executives and industry partners, like Salesforce, on topics ranging from customer data activation, AI, digital platform integration, performance and retail media, SEO, loyalty and conversion optimization.  It’s clear that most brands are still seeking the holy grail of unified, end-to-end media, content, commerce and post-purchase experiences, powered and optimized by actionable insights from customer data. 

Here’s our take on some key Shoptalk 2024 themes:

Seamless, Frictionless Shopper Journeys 

A common theme across many panels, not only the Barbie keynote, was building emotional connections in the spaces where your consumers are.  However, retailers continue to be challenged in engaging shoppers “where they are,” across an increasingly fragmented media and technology landscape. 

One of the more compelling panels that illustrated this fragmentation featured American Eagle, Coach and Meta.  Gen Z, in particular, takes a highly fragmented shopper journey.  For example, the younger generation continues to gravitate towards snackable, not highly produced video; they watch shows then search online for the clothing they see; they prefer social and streaming commerce; they buy from creators/influences (Meta noted that 80% buy products after seeing them on a creator); and they also want to “live in the real world again.”  In fact, AE and Coach, as well as other speakers like Macy’s, are growing their investment in pop-up and experiential marketing as part of holistic digital + physical integration.  

Brands are battling for consumer attention on endless fronts.  Surprising and delighting shoppers with compelling content and experiences has never been more difficult.  And when brands do succeed at this, shoppers are in a “need it now” mindset, rapidly moving from consideration to consumption on their own terms.  Removing friction in commerce is key to meeting these consumer trends.  To succeed, brands should take a test-and-learn mentality, continually optimizing the shopper journey and checkout to remove any barriers to conversion, and embrace an agile approach.

Measurement in a Fragmented Space

Cookie deprecation, coupled with fragmentation, has made it increasingly difficult for brands to measure the impact of campaigns.  Even with the cookie, measurement is far from perfect; we miss things that are truly driving performance.  To illustrate, Meta noted that Gen Z is 2 times more likely than the rest of the population to go into a store after seeing a digital ad, without even clicking on the ad.  Furthermore, after decades of trying to segment online shoppers from in-store shoppers, some brands at Shoptalk are now saying they “don’t care where people buy.”  The brand drove the sale, but sometimes isn’t exactly sure how the customer got there, and that’s okay. 

As we move closer to a cookieless world, that seamless, perfectly-attributed shopper journey is going to continue to elude us.  Brands should do their best by building centralized systems and processes to harness as much customer data, analytics and insights as possible from walled gardens and fragmented channels.  But measurement will never be perfect, and it doesn’t have to be. Many Shoptalk panelists also highlighted the opportunity to harvest internal data from people on your front line: mainly social media managers and store associates (and then use that data to give these associates better tools to assist customers). 

Post-Purchase and Loyalty 

Post-purchase and loyalty can often be overlooked as a central component in the unified retail experience.  New customer acquisition costs are on the rise, as advertising platforms are taking (more than) their fair share of growth vs. brands.  Overall, the cost to acquire new customers far outpaces the cost/effort to grow the customers you have; generally 25% of customers will bring in 50% of your revenue.  

While loyalty programs, rewards and feedback loops can engage your top 20% of customers, some Shoptalk panelists illustrated that the real opportunity to deepen relationships lies in the other 80%.   A holistic approach is key, as stand-alone features, or programs aimed at only the top 20%, can encounter barriers.  For instance, credit card as a loyalty play is shrinking as fewer customers are getting approved by merchants over the past few years. From an onsite commerce perspective, implementing features like wallets, protection plans on shipping (customers are very worried about porch pirates/shipping losses) and UX/UI upgrades can boost loyalty for your entire customer base. 

AI’s Role in Creating Unified Experiences 

Many brands are leaning into AI for internal operational efficiencies, and the overall AI sentiment at Shoptalk was “rush slowly!”  Once brands are comfortable, we’ll see more use cases for AI in improving customer experiences and enhancing creativity.  Shoptalk’s speakers and attendees continued to stress the importance of harnessing and activating data as the biggest challenge to bringing AI into the mainstream for retail sites.  

At the show, many brands and platforms illustrated what’s possible with AI across the full customer journey: product suggestions, personalization, recommendation engines, product substitutions, AI-created content, virtual storefronts on apps, assisted experiences, image generators, gift ideas, virtual try-ons, AI-powered advertising campaign management and optimization tools, etc.  Karin Tracy, Head of Retail at Meta, was wearing her Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses on stage and used GenAI to buy the outfit she was wearing.  But each of these use cases hinges on data integrity, managing massive data sets, and the ability to create an actionable data foundation for your organization.  Data strategy should be step one for all brands embarking on an AI journey.

If we missed you at Shoptalk this year and you need help creating unified experiences across media, content, website design, technology, customer data and AI, please reach out to Astound today!

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