What a great week at Shoptalk 2024 in Las Vegas! The vibe at Shoptalk was festive with a crowd of 27,000+ people at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino. Overall, the event was a big success. Shoptalk is one of the more enjoyable conferences in the retail world. It has the feeling of a big large show (which it is!), but all of the conversations make it feel small and intimate at the same time. We had the opportunity to meet new retailers, old friends, and learn about new technology along the way. Now that Shoptalk 2024 has wrapped up, we reflect on the wealth of insights and some very clear messages.

Here are a few of our key takeaways:

AI is omnipresent. From the buzz in the Expo Hall to the strategic discussions on stage, AI’s potential to revolutionize commerce was the star of the show. Yet, amidst the excitement, a note of caution was sounded about the ethical use of data and the importance of maintaining customer trust.

AI is not a panacea. It’s a powerful tool, but its success hinges on the ethical sourcing and use of data. The hype around AI is certainly high and is on the rise, but it doesn’t feel like it’s peaking, it feels like we are just getting started and there is excitement about the potential for its long-term benefits. Traditional technologies like automation and machine learning (ML) still play a crucial role, especially as apprehension surrounds the newer generative AI (GenAI).

AI transforms business. Using a combination of emerging technologies, namely AI and GenAI, as well as a comprehensive feedback loop, brands and retailers can turn back-end investments into front-end sales. Most exciting is the opportunity for store associates to gain more time helping and engaging customers by putting AI to work on time-consuming and laborious tasks.

Search is where it all begins. Search remains the gateway to commerce, setting the stage for the customer journey. It’s where AI’s ability to connect consumers with their desired products shines, but also where the challenges of data ethics begin and where people are navigating the boundaries between helpful and creepy.

Commerce is about customers. Commerce is evolving, and qualifiers like omni-channel seem to be losing its marketing buzz. In some cases, you see unified commerce as a replacement, but the market conversation is shifting towards a seamless shopping experience that places the customer at the heart of every interaction while sharpening the focus on employees and efficiency.

Act 1 of GenAI. You didn’t have to go far to hear someone talking about GenAI as it is a key inflection point within the field of AI, and it builds upon decades of work in AI and ML. The technology enables retailers to speed up the product-development process, improve decision-making through enhanced data analysis, and personalize digital campaigns. Retailers are encouraged to start small, test, and be willing to fail and use the feedback to ensure they are using new technologies that work for them…as one size does not fit all.

Customer centricity is alive and well. Lots of discussions and sessions citing “putting shoppers at the center of everything you do.” This strategy might be obvious, but the key lies in “how” a company puts the shopper at the center while maintaining profitability, employee satisfaction and shareholder values. It is not difficult to increase revenue or customer satisfaction if you have an unlimited budget. Race to the bottom rarely works in the super competitive world of retail. Making the best decisions to optimize and balance all dimensions of KPI is the retail holy grail.

A conference of conversation.  Shoptalk fostered a community atmosphere with its “speed dating” style Meetups, facilitating over 50,000 connections. This intimate setting underscored the event’s focus on building relationships and sharing knowledge. There were also lots of first time Shoptalk attendees, including GenAI startup companies led by founders with work experience from the big tech companies. It’s great to see the new generation of retailers, tech providers and industry influencers coming together at the event, sparking new conversations.

Shoptalk 2024 has set the tone for the future of retail, emphasizing the need for ethical AI implementation and a customer-first approach. AI can solve a variety of problems, from product personalization and supply chain optimization, but it is not a silver bullet.   As the dust settles, one thing is certain: in the world of commerce, data reigns supreme, but only when used responsibly. Losing customer trust is a silver bullet – for failure. Automation, advanced analytics, and ML all have a key role to play, especially when we start breaking down the silos and unlocking the data.