Taking a Stand: Shoptalk’s Zia Daniell Wigder explains the bold choice creating buzz about this year’s event

Founded in 2015, Shoptalk has exploded on the scene—becoming the fastest-growing event in retail history and providing a platform for large retailers and branded manufacturers, investors, startups, tech companies, analysts, and members of the media to learn, network, collaborate, and grow. The conference is reshaping how consumers discover, shop, and buy, and frankly, it’s a whole lot of fun.

This year’s event, held March 22–25 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, features 274 speakers who will discuss a wide range of technologies that retailers are leveraging, including artificial intelligence, chatbots, and voice-activated commerce; intimate speaker sessions; roundtables; dinners; one-on-one meetings; and an interactive exhibit hall.

Astound Insights had the opportunity to talk with Shoptalk Chief Global Content Officer Zia Daniell Wigder about the big news around the conference this year.

Astound: The dominant story this year is that Shoptalk has drawn a line in the sand by mandating an all-female speaker lineup for the 2020 conference. What drove that decision?

Wigder: We have tried to make sure that the number of female speakers increases every year. Before this year’s announcement, our goal certainly was parity, and we were moving rapidly in that direction. Still, we realized at some point that just achieving parity wasn’t going to be sufficient. We needed to take a bold step to move the industry forward, because despite all the great efforts—whether it be events that had gone to parity or other ways of bringing women into conferences—it just wasn’t having enough of an impact on the industry, and we did not see change happening fast enough.

Astound: Why 2020? Why this year?

Wigder: It’s going to be our fifth year, and we had been talking about what we could do to help promote women—a step that would move women forward in this industry. We discussed a variety of approaches we could take. We realized that if we went the direction we ultimately chose, it could potentially have a significant impact on the industry. It was good timing, with Shoptalk turning five and wanting to make a big statement about an issue that is very important to us.

Astound: And this happened after male speakers had been confirmed. Did you receive any pushback?

Wigder: We had surprisingly little pushback. We had more than 60 men confirmed for the event when we made this decision. We went back to them and said, “We will honor your free ticket to the event, we want to feature your company on the agenda, and we’d like to give you this opportunity to nominate the most senior woman possible to take your spot on stage.” In rare cases, they didn’t have someone that could do it. Still, overall we had a supportive group of men who felt we were doing the right thing and were glad to step aside, particularly given that this is not a long-term approach; it’s just something we’ll be doing for a single year before moving to a 50/50 lineup in future years.

At right: Shoptalk Chief Global Content Officer Zia Daniell Wigder, on stage during the 2019 event

Astound: Any target numbers around LGBTQ participation or other underrepresented groups?

Wigder: We want to ensure we have a diverse lineup in terms of having people of color and having the LGBTQ community represented. Diversity is an integral part of helping the industry become much more varied than it is today. And while we don’t have a quota or a set number, we’re trying to make sure we are mindful of all these different groups and that our speaker lineup represents a wide range of individuals.

Astound: Shoptalk has an impressive array of sponsors. How can they follow Shoptalk’s lead in helping support women in retail?

Wigder: We’ve called on both sponsors and speakers to think about what they, at their companies, can be doing to empower women within their organizations. There are different steps you can take. You can commit to having a certain percentage of female leadership. You can establish new mentoring programs. You can ensure that the numbers you do have, at every level of the organization, are diverse. Many companies start with a young workforce that is quite diverse, where they have a large percentage of women, but those numbers begin to dwindle over time. Then, as you start to see the more senior-level executives, there are fewer and fewer that are women.

Astound: Each year, Shoptalk offers new onsite initiatives. Last year you introduced Tabletalk, for example, which are interactive peer-to-peer roundtables, made up of five to eight attendees, that allow for in-depth discussions to share insights, address issues, and generate actionable takeaways that will help them drive their businesses forward. Will there be new initiatives at this year’s event?

Wigder: We do try to make sure we are bringing in new types of content every year and new ways for people to learn. This year we’re doing two different things. We’re going to be introducing Classroom Sessions, which are 20-minute sessions taught by a teacher or instructor—anyone from a leader at a brand or retailer to a market research analyst like someone from Forrester. Or it could be someone who comes from the investment side to talk about how they look at companies. We want to go deeper and get more hands-on and tactical than we might be able to do in our regular sessions.

Astound Commerce is a proud sponsor of Shoptalk 2020, which will be held at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada, March 22–25, 2020. If you plan to attend, stop by Booth 3933 in the main exhibition hall and say hello!

What We Learned at NRF 2020

Now that the curtain has closed on NRF 2020 and the dust has settled, we want to share our key takeaways from the three-day conference, along with the implications for your customers. While some of the news was bleak, there is plenty to be optimistic about in 2020.

Create Shared Experiences

Social acceleration is real; consumers are stressed. We don't have enough downtime, so we continue to work 24/7. Addiction to our mobile devices is creating isolation, and shoppers are suffering from decision fatigue amid general economic uncertainty and have lost trust in brands.

As an antidote, consumers are craving shared experiences. That is why community matters, perhaps now more than ever. Brands can play a role by creating destinations where shoppers can gather, in either the digital or the physical world. Deploying online forums and chat groups, for example, can help cultivate connections among shoppers as well as between your shoppers and your brand. In-store events drive traffic to the store and bring shoppers together. But the approach must be authentic, because consumers will see right through you if it isn’t. Authentic brands convey their brand story and value proposition clearly and persistently across all touchpoints.

Embrace Change

Brands often make the mistake of growing old with their customer base. Younger generations, however, are growing up to challenge traditional norms, so you have to be flexible and embrace change. Generation Z consumers live in the moment. They want immediate gratification, even when it comes to paying for purchases. PayPal, Venmo, and other alternative forms of payment are gaining in adoption rates. This generation of digital natives demands a new generation of retail.

Loyalty and Personalization: Focus on the Human Element

Loyalty involves a strong interplay between the physical and digital worlds. Do what’s best for your customers—listen to them, but make sure acting on their needs works with your business model. Loyalty programs rooted solely in a points-based tier structure are obsolete. Go beyond points—your shoppers are more than the sum of their purchases. Use these programs to build on those emotional connections with your customers.

True personalization means retailers have to toe the line between being “creepy” and being “relevant.” Customers are conveying what they need and want, and you need to listen. You must be customer-centric. In-store, there is a new mandate for associates to be more personable and engaging with customers and to spend less time on tasks that take them away from customer interactions. To become customer-centric first means to focus on the human relationship at the core.

Personalization and loyalty are like the chicken and the egg; one begets the other. And both personalization and loyalty begin with data—more importantly, smart data. Harnessing the right data can help to provide your shoppers with solutions that will make their lives easier. Retailers must not only be ready to meet shoppers’ current needs but must anticipate their future needs as well.

Contextualize Your Commerce

Contextual commerce is gaining traction, especially in terms of social and voice shopping. Indeed, we’ve heard it before, but it can take an iterative process to perfect new technologies and marketing strategies. Voice is a natural extension of how we communicate as humans. Voice is contextual, convenient, and immediate. For the past decade, keyword relevancy has been the focus, but the future will center on situational relevancy. Social platforms are digital communities where your shoppers already gather. The next dot to connect is to effectively (and authentically) leverage your social efforts in order to decrease the gap between discovery and conversion. In the end, those brands that can successfully connect with consumers at the moment of inspiration and discovery will win.

“Channel-less” is the new omnichannel. Consumers don’t “see” channels: they don’t differentiate between in-store, mobile, mobile app, and so forth. It’s all one unified brand experience to them, or should be. Customers expect a seamless, frictionless experience, so keep the journey uncomplicated and inspiring. Discovery can begin in one channel and end with a sale in a different channel. Every engagement is an opportunity for an immersive experience.

Invest in Sustainability

Sustainability is more than a trend: it is a fundamental shift in consumer behavior. Consumers are educated and are becoming increasingly socially conscious in regards to their carbon footprint. They are consuming less and focusing more on the value they receive from the products they buy. Meanwhile, returns are projected to cost brands $400 billion in 2020. The environmental impact from the fashion industry, in particular, is of grave concern. Consequentially, the exploding resale market is being embraced by shoppers of every economic level. Consumers want to know how their products were made, and they want to shop with brands whose social values align with their own. Retailers who invest in sustainability measures will attract shoppers.

Don’t Neglect Your Brick-and-Mortar

The physical store is evolving— today it is about creating experiences within brick-and-mortar environments. Developing new partnerships, creating exclusive products via collaborations, and utilizing pop-up locations are some of the ways in which the physical store is being reimagined. But stores must still work smarter on the back end—they should be a hub for order pickup, fulfillment, and returns, connecting the digital to the physical. Consumer demand for sophisticated technology is continually growing, both in-store and online. But you can’t provide technology just for technology’s sake. It must be relevant to solving shoppers’ pain points.

Think Differently

Now is the time for change management and thinking differently but staying true to your north star—your brand. Retailers can often be hindered by legacy systems and status quo thinking. You must have curiosity, agility, and flexibility to endure. It will take-next generation thinking to reach a next generation of consumers.

What to Expect at NRF 2020

Look for architectural decoupling and physical personalization to dominate the conversation.

Thousands of retailers, retail technology vendors, service providers, and systems integrators will descend on the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City yet again this coming January, braving the bitterly cold wind blowing across the Hudson River to share their wares, pick up ideas, and make new connections. From January 11 through January 14, #NRF2020 aims to educate and entertain all those in attendance.

Two major trends are likely to be big topics for the January conference. The first is the decoupling of digital experiences from the platforms that feed them content—known as headless architecture, or headless commerce. The second is the personalization of physical, real-world shopping experiences, both in the form of human interaction and in the products we buy.

Headless Commerce Forges Ahead

Headless commerce is all the rage right now as a topic in the digital commerce space, and for good reason. Retailers are growing tired of the repetitive cycle of redesigns and replatforming every three to four years. Headless commerce helps to release these brands from the shackles of their ecommerce platform so they can freely innovate with fewer boundaries. However, with fewer boundaries comes more responsibility—and headless isn’t necessarily right for everyone.

I predict that headless commerce will be back again in 2020 with a stronger vision. You can expect that front-end-as-a-service (FaaS) offerings will have more-cohesive strategies to offer efficiencies for retailers looking to make the jump to headless architectures. In the meantime, headless content management providers will offer more-flexible use cases that can be applied to headless commerce strategies for seamless content and integrated product experiences.

Ecommerce platforms are increasingly throwing their weight behind this movement, and you should see big news from Salesforce Commerce Cloud related to headless commerce and content management. Adobe is likely to announce further innovations with its Magento and Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) combined offerings, and you can expect to see more maturity from headless natives such as Moltin and commercetools.

Elevating Physical Retail with Technology Solutions

Meanwhile, physical store experiences and the technology that drives them continue to morph and grow. You can look forward to seeing increasingly integrated experiences between the online and offline worlds a brand inhabits. The merger of data intelligence and human-to-human interfaces in physical retail spaces is a growth opportunity for brands looking to distinguish themselves and provide engaging experiences for their consumers.

Retailers and brands alike are seeking ways to provide personalization while retaining profit margins and reining in lead times. Technology vendors are innovating and providing new and interesting products to facilitate these goals—including 3-D printing, which is reaching commoditization and quality levels that can provide bespoke product components in minutes. Printing technologies are advanced to the level where custom skins can be produced and applied to a product in 15 minutes. I expect you’ll see some exciting demos of these innovations at NRF 2020.

All of this is elevating the in-store experience and delighting consumers—and there’s no question that delight is a powerful means for creating passionate brand ambassadors.

Come Share Our Astounding Vision

Over the past two decades, Astound Commerce has helped many retailers in their journey to stay abreast of the latest in digital technologies. We hope to see you at Booth #1407 so we can share our vision for how Astound Commerce can help you blend technology, user experience design, creative design, strategy, and data intelligence to push your brand ahead of the pack.

3 Key Takeaways from Dreamforce 2019

Announcements on cross-cloud integration, strategic partnerships, and OMS innovations stood out at this year’s conference.

Why do I attend Dreamforce, the annual Salesforce conference for employees, partners, customers, and stakeholders? Because every year I learn something new. Being there allows me to see how others are approaching and adding value to the same technology platforms we use at Astound Commerce. I gain insight on how Salesforce is directly addressing market concerns, and it makes me realize many people out there are experiencing challenges similar to ours. That feeling of “I’m not alone” is so important—it helps re-energize and inspire how I and my team approach our jobs.

At Dreamforce 2019, held November 19 through 22 in San Francisco, cross-cloud integration—which has the potential to transform the ecommerce experience for our clients and their customers—dominated the conversation.

First, some background: Last year, when Salesforce announced its integrated CRM platform Customer 360, people got excited. They started to imagine the possibilities of getting siloed clouds—marketing, service, commerce, community, and so on—to function together. Achieving this would remove the massive amount of custom work we currently do to reach this same end, thereby enabling our clients to use their development dollars—and our development time—to devise new features that create differentiation in the marketplace, rather than just treading water.

Dreamforce Announcement #1: Customer 360 Truth

Cross-cloud integration is notoriously difficult, and customer data is complicated. The realization is setting in that this system synchronization is not going to happen overnight. But in the meantime, Salesforce is continuing to release tools that mark each step toward realizing Customer 360’s promise. The latest, announced at the conference, is Customer 360 Truth.

Set to roll out over 2020, Customer 360 Truth will allow companies to draw from all the clouds to create a single customer record, ensuring a uniform customer experience regardless of platform. It will also connect customer data, authenticate identity, govern privacy, segment audiences, and personalize experiences. It could be a massive boon for Astound clients, including those still struggling with marketing, customer service, and compliance initiatives, and we’re eager to incorporate these tools as they become available.

Announcement #2: New Alliances

Also announced were new—and extended—strategic partnerships with Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon Web Services that could streamline our clients’ Salesforce integration. For example, many companies are deeply invested in a particular cloud platform solution. Salesforce is making sure its solutions are compatible with all these stacks so that customers don’t need to switch platforms. That means less disruption and a shorter learning curve for our clients.

Announcement #3: Lightning Order Management

But the most innovative unveiling—at least for us and our customers—concerned Salesforce Lightning Order Management. Teased in the keynote, this order management system (OMS) is natively built on Salesforce’s core platform, and it will allow us to deliver end-to-end ecommerce experiences, from shopping to shipping to customer service.

This will be a game changer. Lightening Order Management will fill a gaping hole in the suite of platforms; it may also eliminate the need to purchase and integrate a third-party solution. This development has the potential to not only save clients substantial time and money, but also to reduce the risk and complexity of data- and system-synchronization issues. We’re already speaking with customers about their test cases.

In addition, we’re participating in Salesforce’s pilot program to roll out the technology. Given our focus on and belief in this OMS technology, it was great to see it presented so well—and to observe the enthusiastic reaction. This and so much more at the conference is helping me brainstorm about how Astound Commerce will employ the Salesforce platform in increasingly innovative ways going forward.

Learn more about Astound Commerce and Salesforce.

What to Expect at Dreamforce 2019

Hundreds of thousands of industry professionals are preparing to flock to San Francisco this November for the 16th annual Dreamforce conference. Starting Tuesday, November 19, and running through Friday, November 22, #DF2019 will draw the best and brightest in the field to explore the latest developments in ecommerce.

As forward-thinking digital commerce strategies develop and new technologies emerge, Astound Commerce identifies two critical areas of opportunity for its clients and partners to master: unification and personalization. When these components are interconnected, they allow brands to deliver seamless end-to-end ecommerce experiences to their customers. And that message will be found everywhere you look during this year’s conference.

We’re in an age of personalized engagement at scale. Today’s consumer expects consistent interactions across departments and touchpoints. According to the most recent edition of Salesforce’s “State of the Connected Customer” report, which was based on a survey of more than 8,000 consumers and business buyers across 16 countries, 78 percent of customers expect consistent interactions across a brand’s departments, and 80 percent say their experience with a brand is as important as the brands’ product or service offerings.

Solving the Personalization Challenge

The numbers speak for themselves: siloed infrastructures and siloed data are no longer sufficient to sustain relationships with today’s digitally savvy consumer. Customers want personalization—and companies want to provide it. The problem is, most organizations aren’t designed around the customer; they’re instead designed around department functions. A similar conundrum occurs in regard to data. Often just as siloed as organizations, disconnected data prevents the level of personalization consumers and companies crave.

Astound and Salesforce are acutely aware of the difficulty that siloed infrastructures and data cause, and at Dreamforce both companies will be presenting solutions aimed at solving these industry pain points.

Companies need clean customer data and analogous front-end systems to streamline all channels and touchpoints. Enter Salesforce Customer 360. Introduced during last year’s Dreamforce conference, Customer 360 is Salesforce’s initial attempt to link the customer profile across its platforms through the use of a unifying customer ID and to make this data visible across all clouds. Going forward, Astound anticipates improved cross-cloud integration and partner enablement resources along with technology initiatives focused on improving customer identity across clouds and increased unification of the unique customer ID across platforms.

Enabling a True Digital Experience Platform

As for this year’s conference, consider Dreamforce the place to see what’s coming in 2020 from Salesforce’s digital experience platform (DXP), which was named a leader in the Forrester Wave for Digital Experience Platforms, Q3 2019. According to Forrester, Salesforce DXP is especially strong in B2C and B2B commerce, campaigns, and messaging, as well as customer profile, developer tools, and API management. However, a true out-of-the-box DXP solution remains more of an aspiration than a reality.

“With Salesforce’s family of enterprise platforms providing the building blocks for success, one still needs quite a bit of help to activate the DXP vision. That’s where Astound comes in,” says Dave Murack, Astound’s vice president of technical services. “We turn the robust Salesforce ecosystem into a true digital experience platform. Maximizing the business value that each platform provides, we optimize a customer-centric approach across all touchpoints that is then implemented and supported through a centralized strategic vision.”

To maximize potential, siloed DXP offerings require some finessing by customer experience experts, software integration experts, and digital marketing experts, ideally under a unified, strategic umbrella. That strategic umbrella includes the data architect, the solution architect, and visual design and digital marketing experts who can activate campaigns and customer engagement strategies and then continue to help power those campaigns and drive more customers to your site, further identifying audiences.

Data orchestration can be a considerable challenge. Experts from Astound Commerce will be on the ground at Dreamforce and available to provide valuable insights into your commerce pain points, and to offer advice on multi-cloud implementation. You can find Astound at Booth #1736 in San Francisco’s Moscone Center. Or, to schedule a meeting in advance, visit astoundcommerce-events.com/dreamforce2019