retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Content Guy's Note: The goal of "The Innovation Conversation" is to explore some facet of the fast-changing, technology-driven retail landscape and how it affects businesses and consumers. It is, we think, fertile territory ... and one that Tom Furphy - a former Amazon executive, the originator of Amazon Fresh, and currently CEO and Managing Director of Consumer Equity Partners (CEP), a venture capital and venture development firm in Seattle, WA, that works with many top retailers and manufacturers - is uniquely positioned to address.

Content Guy's Note: I was unable to attend the recent Shoptalk "next gen commerce" conference in Las Vegas, but Tom Furphy was there, along with his business partner Justin Leigh, who is the co-founder and CEO of IdeoClick.

And so ... I asked them to cover Shoptalk for MNB. This week, Tom Furphy takes over the "Conversation" with a report and commentary from Shoptalk, and then, in the next "Conversation," we'll feature a dialogue between Tom and Justin in which they consider the implications of what they saw and heard.


On March 19 – 22, Justin Leigh I attended the Shoptalk 2017 conference at the Aria in Las Vegas NV. Justin and I work together at Consumer Equity Partners, and on the Ideoclick and Replenium businesses within our portfolio. We worked together for a number of years at Amazon building out the CPG business there. As our lead Product Manager, he has a unique inside perspective on how e-commerce works, from the data out through fulfillment to the customer. This will be our second year sharing our observations from the conference.

ShopTalk US and its European counterpart are billed as “unprecedented gatherings of individuals and companies reshaping how consumers discover, shop and buy.” Their aim is that “each event provides a platform for large retailers and brand manufacturers, startups, tech companies, investors, media and analysts to learn, network, collaborate and evolve.”

Not only does the event bring together innovators and entrepreneurs, the event itself is an entrepreneurial endeavor. It was founded by Anil Aggarwal and Jonathan Weiner who built and sold the Money 2020 conference for over $100 million to London-based i2i Events Group. They set out to build another blockbuster conference with Shoptalk, and they have done so. I assume their goal is to eventually sell the Shoptalk conference.

E-commerce and the changing consumer is clearly a hot topic. In only the second year of the conference, almost 6,000 attendees from over 2,200 companies came together. The event featured hundreds of exhibitors from large companies such as eBay, Amex and Amazon down to about 100 exhibiting startups. All of the networking receptions occurred on the exhibit floor, so it prompted lots of engagement among the attendees and exhibitors, with a great balance of social versus business interaction. There were roughly 1000 startups in total in attendance, 400 direct-to-consumer business and 600 technology companies. Of course, many of these will fail, but it demonstrated the scope of innovation that the conference was able to bring together.

Of all the events that we attend over the course of a year, this one seems to be the best at balancing education, inspiration, business, networking and social. The conference did experience some growing pains this year. It was at maximum capacity for the Aria, which meant that flow from one session to the next was one traffic jam after another. And many of the good sessions filled quickly and spilled into overflow rooms. These are high class problems to have, and I’d say that the organizers handled them well. Next year Shoptalk is moving to the Venetian and will be able to handle a larger crowd, which it undoubtedly will have.

Like most conferences, Shoptalk featured general sessions as well as topic-specific breakouts. The general sessions featured power players such as Target’s Brian Cornell, Amazon Marketplace’s Peter Faricy, Jet / Walmart’s Marc Lore, Alibabas’ Lee McCabe, Amazon PrimeNow’s Stephenie Landry, Google Shopping’s Jonathan Alferness and eBay’s Devin Wenig.

The breakouts were long on talent as well, including folks from companies such as Alex Lee, Best Buy, Boxed Wholesale, Lowe’s, Apple, Instacart, Deliv, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Macys, Sam’s, Postmates, NatureBox, Plated, UPS, KC, Nordstrom, Amazon, Google, Instagram, Pinterest, Birchbox, Casper, Facebook and Walmart Labs.

Basically, anybody that is anybody in e-commerce was there. And e-commerce is front and center at Shoptalk. Unlike typical industry conferences, there is not discussion of if e-commerce will work or if retailers and brands should participate. Shoptalk recognizes that e-commerce is moving at breakneck pace and is designed to help all of the attendees to figure out how to navigate and contribute to the growth.

Outside of the structured sessions, there were plenty of opportunities for deep conversation. We had several great meetings with retailers, brands, tech companies, analysts and investors. I feel that the focus on e-commerce and serving customers has never been better. Perhaps it’s the imminent threat posed by Amazon. But the energy from brands, retailers and startups is as strong as it’s ever been.

In addition to hundreds of exhibiting tech companies, investors turned out in droves. There were plenty of Venture Capitalists there, both to promote their current investments and to find new ones. Many sat on panels or attended speed-dating session where startups pitched them.

I was struck by the number of equity analysts that attended, who seemed to share a common belief that because Amazon has been in a heavy investment mode over the past couple of years, it should be hitting another period of accelerated growth upcoming. The heaviest Amazon growth is expected in Grocery & Consumables, Apparel and Private Label. The analysts were grappling with which retailers will be hit the hardest by this growth and which retailers are best positioned to counterattack. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Most felt that Amazon is poised to steal significant share in the coming years and that many retailers we know today will not respond adequately. Said one analyst “Frankly, it doesn’t look good for them.”

In her keynote interview, Stephenie Landry, Global VP of Amazon PrimeNow reminded the group that her business went from concept to launch in 111 days. She also spoke about the speed of rollout and that the service was at 46 markets as of the conference, adding a couple markets per week.

If I were a retailer, I would ask myself what I’ve done for my customers in the time Amazon has developed the business and rolled out to 50 markets. Also, during that span they’ve also announced Amazon Go and the Amazon Fresh pickup depots.

A simple question, then, if I may:

In the short time that Amazon has rolled out these services, how many innovations have occurred elsewhere in the industry?

The Conversation will continue...

KC's View: