ICON 2023 is Blue Yonder’s annual customer conference and premier supply chain event, where practitioners and decision-makers exchange insights about their transformation journeys. If you are in the retail industry, why should you attend this year’s event? I spoke with Blue Yonder’s Shannon Wu-Lebron, CVP, Industry Strategy, during a recent Blue Yonder Live session where she shared the top opportunities and challenges facing retailers, what to expect this year from ICON 2023, and some of the key highlights for retail sessions.

Mike: What are the big challenges and issues that are facing the retail industry today?

Shannon: I would say 2023 is an interesting year for retail. We’re still dealing with impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s continued supply chain disruptions, the conflict in Ukraine, and now inflation and consumer spending patterns changing. Regardless of any of these external factors, at the end of the day, retail is about acquiring goods at a cheaper price from suppliers or wholesalers and then selling them to consumers for a higher price with the added services and the best experience. Retailers are used to anticipating external forces impacting their top line, their increased costs or resulting erosion of bottom-line margins, as well as their return to shareholders value. Based on a recent Retail Executive Outlook survey conducted by KPMG, 73% of retail executives actually believe that we will be facing recessionary situation within six months. However, 77% of the same pool of executives also said they intend to continue to invest in technology and digital capabilities this year. What this shows is that facing market challenges are not new to the retail industry. Leveraging technology and investing in future capabilities is really what’s going to improve agility and the resilience needed to help the retailer’s core strategy.

Mike: Given all of those changes, the imperative to digitally transform, and the focus on the shopper experience, what would you say is the main reason a retailer should attend ICON 2023?

Shannon: The shopper experience over the last few years has evolved quickly and I would say it probably covers the previous five to ten years of changes in retail. Overnight, we saw consumers change the way they shop, and this really demonstrated to retailers their need to quickly change how they operate. And at the end of the day, nobody has the crystal ball on what a best-in-class shopper experience should look like in the future. Last year, we were all imagining a metaverse-type of shopping experience. This year we’re  talking about how ChatGPT can influence how people buy things. Next year, I’m sure there will be something else.

One thing we know for sure is that we don’t know how consumer preference will change over time – all we know is that it will keep changing. Retailers must learn to adapt and build flexibility into their operations, processes and systems to really respond to whatever digital and physical convergence way-of-shopping comes along.

At ICON, we will cover many of these key topics, including:

  • The continued convergence of physical and digital,
  • The doubling down of improving shopper experience,
  • The role of the stores,
  • How the role of store is changing from just a point of purchase to an experience center and to even becoming a fulfillment center,
  • How merchandise planning and inventory management is becoming a continuous process fueled by machine learning,
  • How labor, robotics and automation will come together to achieve that next level of resource efficiency, and
  • How the topic of sustainability is going to continue to impact retail industry.

At ICON, there will be 200 educational sessions, inspiring General Session keynotes, a unique networking and peer exchange set of activities, and access to Blue Yonder executives, our product teams and our partners. We also have an invitation-only, exclusive Executive Exchange. And last but not least, there’s going to be an Innovation Experience that will highlight a lot of our new solutions, as well as those from our partners.

Mike: What are some of the not-to-be missed sessions?

Shannon: The General Session keynote by Sainsbury’s Karen Brown, Deputy Chief Technology Officer, and Meinir Childs, Director of Supply Chain, will be a great one for retailers to hear. In addition, we have many retail-specific sessions led by our retail customers. For example, there’s one on category management, floor and space planning with Save-a-Lot. There’s a session on supply chain planning and orchestration with PVH. We also have one talking about how to best leverage demand and fulfill with Pizza Hut in the quick serve restaurant area. Loblaw will be talking about how they improve employee engagement with our workforce solutions. There will be a session on merchandise financial planning with BJ’s Wholesale Club, as well as Sprouts Farmers Market. Last but not least, there is a session on achieving real-time omni-channel visibility with REI and many others.

Mike: I’m actually really looking forward to that Sprouts session. It’s good to see grocers starting to embrace merchandise, financial planning and really bringing some of that discipline that’s not always there. Anything else that you want to share?

Shannon: This event is a great networking opportunity for retailers. We will have not only many of our North American customers attending, but also customers from around the world. Mike, why don’t you talk about the Innovation Experience?

Mike: The Innovation Experience is really exciting this year. There’s a commerce immersion experience that I think is really, really going to bring that area to life. I’m looking forward to what we’re doing with category management, bringing together automation and a partner ecosystem and edge technology, helping drive compliance. There’s a whole lot of stuff around fresh food management and how you can simplify that. There’s also something very special that we will be unveiling . All I can say is that it’s in the planning space and it’s going to involve something cognitive.

To learn more about ICON 2023 and to register visit blueyonder.com/ICON

To watch the Blue Yonder Live session click here.