Shopper Insights & Retail Activation Conference – 7 Takeaways

By Alexis Bolonassos | July 19, 2019

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to Chair the Shopper Insights & Retail Activation Conference. It was terrific to learn from more than 25 great speakers and to hear the thoughtful questions from the attendees. The topics were wide ranging, from the strategic and visionary to the practical and tactical. Here’s my recap of the key themes that emerged across the 2 ½ days:

Theme # 1 – Shopper’s fluid omnichannnel reality vs. “our boundaries”

Key Points: Most big retailers and CPGs are trying to catch up with shoppers, who are either native or increasingly “naturalized” omnichannel shoppers. It’s also harder than ever to distinguish among retail channels, as retailers add adjacent and emerging categories to grow their share of wallet and brand owners become retailers via DTC. Given all this blending, John Ross of IGA suggested we might drop the “e” in commerce and just call it all “commerce.”

Implications: To catch up and keep with shoppers, the internal boundaries and barriers in large organizations need to be reduced and removed.

Theme #2 – Disruption is all around, and even more to come

Key Points: We’re being disrupted, we’re creating disruption, and we’re anticipating more disruption. Disruption, aka creative destruction, is fine, as long as it serves the shopper and creates competitive advantage. This topic emerged in a number of sessions, including in comments by Katie Survance of Constellation in the panel discussion: The Retail Apocalypse? (note the question mark!).

Implications: (a) While we grapple with today’s changes, we must also recognize some really big changes are on the horizon. These include the impacts of demographic shifts, climate change, and potential economic volatility. Each will create new opportunities and challenges. Don’t start conversations by talking about what you’re going to disrupt. Focus on what you’re going to improve for shoppers. (b) Create the space to imagine, anticipate, and prepare for the big changes ahead of us.

Theme # 3 – Scale, speed, and agility – new right-to-win balance

Key Points: Traditional benefits of scale, including speed-to-market and cost efficiencies – long-time hallmarks of CPGs – are being, OK, we’ll say it, disrupted by today’s new go-to-market models, competitors, and shopper expectations. Agility will separate companies that thrive vs. survive vs. dive.

Emphasizing this point, Sri Rajagopalan of Revlon proposed that any CPG that’s been in business for more than 10 years is out of position for winning in ecommerce. But, he said, when the big changes came millions of years ago, not all the dinosaurs died off. Some learned to fly.

From a retail perspective, Linda Lomelino of Walmart Labs and Meghan Ludvigsen of Verizon both emphasized the importance of retailers maximizing the research value of their own data. “Extreme data ownership” has benefits in speed, control, and socialization within the organization.

Implications: Your current state is not your fate if you think ahead, stay nimble, choose wisely, and act boldly. Of all your capabilities, strategic thinking, creativity, and organizational alignment may be the most important.

Theme # 4 – Advocating for a Shopper View

Key Points: Great sessions led by Kate Deurloo and Ed Galletly (LEGO) and Chrissy Love and Karen DiZio Lee (Mars Petcare) touched on critical shopper-centric topics, including maximizing value from occasions and strategic shopper segmentations. More broadly, sessions emphasized the importance of leading your organization’s understanding of the shopper persona vs. the consumer persona.

Implications: (a) Understand how the path to purchase varies by segment, retail destination(s), missions, and motivations, and other factors. (b) The shopper acquires, and the consumer uses.

Theme # 5 – Balancing act – data, methods, talent, investment, and fitness for use

Key Points: There are so many sources of data and insight, including new suppliers and new methods and Vivian Polishuk of CLIF Bar led a great forum on this. One topic that’s particularly challenging for most CPGs: An increasing number of “non-strategic” retailers who are pushing their data as a must-have. There’s continued pressure on budgets and headcount and more trade-offs ahead.

Mark Bartkiewicz of Macy’s led an engaging roundtable discussion focused on new methods, including challenges in getting them established.

Implications: (a) Beware of – and challenge – the external and internal pressures (including inertia) that can create mismatches between your real priorities and your data and insight assets. (b) Focus on fitness for use and let go of metrics and methods that no longer serve the business.

Theme #6 – Humility – what you don’t know, and what you know that ain’t so

Key Points: Most presenters shared stories of new insights, new methods, and strong results. A common starting point was humbly recognizing knowledge gaps and old assumptions that might not be true anymore. The sessions led by Ben Pagel of McCormick and Tim Davis of The UPS Store highlighted the benefits of opening your business up to new learnings. It was no surprise that their learnings were all the more powerful due to their openminded approaches.

Implications: Be ready to challenge, be challenged, say you don’t know, unlearn outdated info, and then get the answers you need.

Theme #7 – Understand what matters to shoppers and your bottom line

Key Points: The need to understand what matters most to shoppers, including what really drives conversion on the omnichannel path to purchase was at the center of nearly every attendee’s plate. This seems like a good spot to mention that Nepa’s omnichannel Path to Purchase Analytics solution answers these questions and provides crisp recommendations on which touchpoints win shoppers.


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