Episode 289
February 16, 2023

2023 is the Year of Good Enough

Lots of thoughts and feelings and experiences after NRF this year. Alicia Esposito sat down and interviewed our very own Phillip Jackson, along with Adam Blair, to debrief The Big Show and discuss what’s coming and what needs to be happening next in the world of commerce and why it’s a good time to be excited about it. Listen in now to hear it all, including intriguing metaphors and talk of noodles!

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Lots of thoughts and feelings and experiences after NRF this year. Alicia Esposito sat down and interviewed our very own Phillip Jackson, along with Adam Blair, to debrief The Big Show and discuss what’s coming and what needs to be happening next in the world of commerce and why it’s a good time to be excited about it. Listen in now to hear it all, including intriguing metaphors and talk of noodles!

Close The Loop

0:04:15 - Lots of positive excitement was abuzz at NRF, even with the pain of Q4 in the past, there is enthusiasm ahead, and also lots of talk about ChatGPT

0:05:25 - Shopify came out into the enterprise space, and this was a huge shift and changes a lot of upcoming trends we will see moving forward

0:12:00 - Noodles, let’s talk about noodles and how they touch all the things, and how when it comes to technology, it’s really like a bunch of spaghetti touching all of the other noodles, so we need to layer tech on top of tech, understanding that all of it effects the rest

0:21:15 - The mass adoption of ChatGPT, and the swiftness with which it has been adopted are unprecedented, which will be interesting to see how this change of thinking will be the hallmark of a new era

0:27:40 - Actual diversity is being achieved within more companies and brands are not only talking about it, and also returns management is something that is being better handled now, leading to more positive change

0:31:05 - Is there a recentering happening in retail that is core to the industry, and what are ways that this recentering will make business more productive?

0:34:00 - With all of the industry talk and vernacular, how do we actually recognize the change in culture and workforce and address the buzzwords and change the language to enact the change?

0:40:00 - Events outside of NRF, like our Archetypes Pop Up, were very fun ways to create organic moments for people to connect more authentically and meaningfully within the industry community

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Phillip: [00:00:07] Future Commerce is brought to you by Adobe Payment Services. Adobe's payment services for Adobe Commerce and Magento Open source empowers eCommerce merchants with secure centralized payment processing. Learn more about what Adobe can do for you and payments at Adobe dot com slash go slash payments. Hello and welcome to Future Commerce the podcast about the Next Generation of commerce. I'm Philip. I recently sat down to have a conversation with Alicia Esposito over at the Retail Remix podcast and we talked about the sights and sounds and overheard conversations at Efes big show back in January. And we talked about all kinds of things A.I. chat bots, robotics and so much more. But I had such a wonderful time with her and Adam Blair, the editor over at Retail Touchpoints, and I just thought it was a wonderful conversation, and I'd love for you to hear it, too. So without any further ado, let's go listen to my interview about how men are like waffles and women are like spaghetti. And maybe retail operators are kind of like both. And if that doesn't make sense, it sure will pretty soon. Let's take a listen.

Alicia: [00:01:22] Hello, everyone, and welcome to a special episode of Retail Remix. As you can tell by the state of my voice right now, it is the day after NRF. Lots of thoughts, lots of feelings, lots of experiences. And we're going to debrief on a lot of it during this fun conversation with two of my friends and colleagues, Adam Blair, Editor of Retail Touchpoints, and Phillip Jackson, Co-Founder of Future Commerce. Guys, one, I'm sorry. Two, thank you for joining me.

Phillip: [00:01:59] {laughter} Apology accepted.

Adam: [00:01:59] Apology accepted.

Alicia: [00:02:01] Jinx, We're starting. Good. We're coming in hot.

Adam: [00:02:05] Good. All right.

Alicia: [00:02:06] So like I said, we're just going to go over... It's always helpful for me at least to speak with folks that went through the experience, sat in sessions, and had their own meetings just because there's so much to do at NRF. And after the circumstances of last year's show with Omicron, I was curious to see what the turnout was going to be, and what the sentiment was. It seems like everyone was hot to trot, ready to go, super excited. Did you guys get similar feelings on the overall vibe?

Adam: [00:02:39] I'll dive in first. Absolutely. I mean, it couldn't have been more different. Night and day. I mean, as you said, Omnicron was exploding just before last year's event. And that certainly affected turnout and the whole attitude at NRF this year. It felt almost too crowded to me, especially on Sunday and Monday. But I thought the energy was great and people were certainly anxious to be there. I can't count how many times also, I heard different accents or different languages as I was just going from place to place. So the international side of it seemed to have come back really strong. So from my perspective, yeah, 180 degrees difference.

Alicia: [00:03:18] Yeah, I think they had, what do they say, 30 to 35,000 registrants this year, which I think was the most that they've ever had.

Adam: [00:03:26] I think that was the number I saw. And I believe it was 75 non-US countries represented but I don't quote me on that but something like that.

Alicia: [00:03:34] Yeah. Yeah. Phillip, what did you think?

Phillip: [00:03:35] Yeah. I think we'll remember this particular NRF Big Show in three ways. Number one, I don't think that we could say The Big Show is back. I can say I think it's bigger than I've seen it in almost a decade. The last time I saw a Big Show with this much fervor, NCR was all over the show floor, taking up way too much of a footprint. And I've not seen this many people excited about various different things. There's a lot of buzz and a lot of it seems to be actually confusingly positive. Many, many people are kind of waiting and seeing where things are going. I think a lot of retailers are reporting that Q4 is not looking wasn't so great and there's some pain to come potentially still in, especially as they go to reporting numbers. Everyone else seems to be extremely upbeat and everyone's talking about ChatGPT. So I think when... And this is normal people, not people like me who think about this incessantly, it's normal, everyday people who are using it to write, recap, recap emails and agendas and responses to their boss and they're using it in Slack. And so I think that there's a real inflection point, and I think the attitude of the show, the incredible amount of attendance, it was very, very crowded at times. This has always been a bit of an interesting show and it kind of sets the tone for the year. I feel like I'm starting off the year with an incredibly upbeat perspective, especially for those who are looking... I think the third thing that I think we'll remember this show for was the official coming-out party for Shopify in the enterprise space.

Alicia: [00:05:26] Yes, I noticed that.

Phillip: [00:05:26] That. And that that to me is the biggest change of pace in conversation, is there is no way that anybody can go into this year thinking or saying or repeating what used to be the truism. Shopify doesn't do enterprise. Shopify is absolutely aiming squarely for the enterprise, and if Walmart Technologies has anything to say about it, we have new players investing in in enterprise tech and commerce, tech and new. We have always had new entrants and well capitalized companies that spend a lot of money on the show floor, but few the likes and the scale of a Shopify or a Walmart who I think will be the probably the prevailing dominant stories of coming out of NRF and then probably into at least the first two quarters of 2023.

Alicia: [00:06:19] Yeah, I mean, if you're bringing a Mattel on stage with you that kind of sets a pretty strong message out to the industry I would think.

Phillip: [00:06:28] Phillip: Yeah. I mean, I'm hype for the Barbie movie. I don't know about you. Mattel, Barbie, Shopify. Done. And I say that as somebody who has worked for 20 years implementing lots of commerce tech and lots of commerce platforms in various capacities, both brand side and in the consulting and strategic side. So it's a really interesting thing to sort of come about, especially since the ipso facto, if Shopify is doing enterprise, that means they will engage in an RFP once in a while, which was always a thing they said they'd never do. So, you know, never say never.

Alicia: [00:07:09] No, it's true. And since we're talking about tech, I do want to dig into just the overall lay of the land and the representation of different tech categories on the floor. That's always the interesting part for me. How everything is laid out. The journey that NRF is really trying to create for its attendees. I'll give them credit. They tried to create these little pockets and areas where people can kind of self-select and kind of establish their own paths, whether it's startup, the innovation zone, and now they had the food tech pavilion. So it seems like they try to cluster things out with some thought behind it, which is really interesting. I'd love your takes on those efforts, but also just more broadly, the weights of different types of tech. I mean, we saw everything from these really grand interactive virtual displays, Metaverse agents to workforce engagement. I mean, I saw something on LinkedIn. I apologize. I don't remember who said it, but they basically called out the emphasis on Metaverse tech and virtual tech. Whereas the biggest issue or topic to come in a lot of the sessions was the big talent and workforce gap that's happening in retail right now. So tech high-level thoughts on presence, what you thought was really key or most represented, whether you thought it was right or wrong.

Adam: [00:08:48] I was struck by, and this is something that some of the larger exhibitors did routinely, how many exhibitors were including partners in their booths and emphasizing their partnerships really strongly. I think that says to me that as retail has gotten more complex, even the biggest and best equipped tech companies need to work with companies that specialize. That was just one basic thing. Alicia, you were mentioning before we got started about robots and robotics on the show floor. They seem like annoying toys that won't leave you alone, but I think it may not have been as visible on the show floor, but my feeling is robotics are going to be huge. Maybe not this year, but within a couple of years, probably more in distribution centers and other places.

Alicia: [00:10:27] Yeah, your part around partnerships is interesting. I will say to your point about robotics, the most interesting for me was the sorting tech and automated fulfillment. I was just standing in front of them, like, "Whoa," just because that to me is a meaningful use case because there is value there rather than the little robot following you around and talking at you. Phillip, I'm curious what your thoughts are, especially around Adam's points around partnerships, integrating partners into the broader conversation, and also this emphasis on at least in a lot of my conversations, the discussion around building and perfecting your tech stack based on where your business is and where it needs to be, it seems like there's a more holistic conversation happening around tech strategy and investments, which I don't know if that ladders up to any macro trends, but would love your thoughts on that. And just what's happening in the tech ecosystem right now.

Phillip: [00:11:30] Yeah, sure. And and I do think before I answer that question directly, I have this thesis that we talk about at Future Commerce that the world like we live in the future that the Jetsons imagined. But it's not it doesn't all quite work. And actually that's exactly how The Jetsons worked. It's like not everything quite worked. And so we sort of we live in that future. I have called that our shitty robot future. I've found that there is a decent amount of floor space dedicated to a lot of shitty robots at NRF. And that's just my hot take. To answer your question more directly, once upon a time when my wife and I first got married, we did premarital counseling as all good evangelical kids do when they get married way too young. And we were given this very toxic book to read called Men Are Like Waffles, and Women are Like Spaghetti.

Adam: [00:12:28] You're kidding, right?

Alicia: [00:12:30] Wait, so I get to be spaghetti? I love spaghetti.

Phillip: [00:12:33] Yeah. But I like waffles, too. Why can't we be both? But the big idea is that men sort of compartmentalize feelings or thoughts and women, the noodles, touch everything, which I think is a really gross way to categorize and genderize the way that people feel think and feel.But I think that that's exactly the same sort of dichotomy that we usually apply to the implementation of technology, which is we'd love to think it's extremely compartmentalized and we can take and swap best-in-class pieces and we can call that composable. What it actually is spaghetti when you pull on a single noodle and it touches all of the other noodles and I don't care if it's branded Mock Alliance or who's involved in what consortium with a brand new acronym, all of the noodles touch all of the other noodles today, and there's no amount of tech layering on top of that that makes it easier or better without having to wholesale replace everything. If I had to be so bold, I don't think the year 2023 of our Lord is going to be the one where people are going to adopt a bunch of technology that replaces all the ones that touch all the noodles. I think this will be the year that what you have is good enough and we'll continue to layer things on top of other things that add some perceived value or some sort of novelty that will at least keep us relevant in the conversation and potentially drive down operating costs. Potentially. That's I think, the big, being here too, and talking to a bunch of online retailers is that we have to contain those costs. And more and more and more apps and technology aren't doing that. They're actually going the other direction. It's eating away our margins. So I don't know that it's as easy as saying we need vendors to implement technology well. It's that the vendors have to be multidisciplinary and understand all the noodle touching. Other than that, yes, that's happening. There's a lot of conversation, but they all want a very large piece of the increasingly shrinking pie as far as the retailer's technology spend is concerned. So I think that it's a much ado about nothing. I think a lot of people will have a lot of consternation this year. I don't know how much tech implementation is really going to happen into Q2 and Q3.

Phillip: [00:13:47] Was was that a mixed metaphor enough for us on this podcast?

Alicia: [00:14:53] I'm just trying to figure out why women are like spaghetti other than touching everything. We're a little bit floppy. I don't know. I don't understand.

Adam: [00:15:03] I think the noodles touching everything is going to be my new metaphor for life.

Alicia: [00:15:06] Actually, that's going to be the title. We're going to roll with that. We'll figure it out.

Phillip: [00:15:11] I think it's very uninclusive to say that men's noodles can't touch each other.

Alicia: [00:15:16] And I don't care what you do with your noodles.

Phillip: [00:15:22] It's fine. You do you.

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Alicia: [00:16:47] So quick follow-up question there. I want to bring up a conversation that I was having with our eCommerce editor, Nicole, last night just around the investments and I guess innovation that's happening within big tech in particular since she got to dig into all the new announcements from like the Googles, the PayPals, and she made the observation that they're trying to create these new services, these new solutions that essentially could be redundant to some of these upstarts that we've seen make a big splash, get a lot of VC funding. And the big question for her was, what does this mean? As the big tech players build out their ecosystem and I guess go more across, what does that mean for the specialized vendors that are smaller, maybe don't have as much capital, don't have as much talent? Is that going to impact the landscape? And I mean, not even in 2023, but maybe over the next couple of years, are we going to see even more shakeout? Thoughts?

Adam: [00:17:50] This is not my major area. My initial guess would be there'll be a lot of tech acquisitions and mergers as those startups start to make their mark and big companies come in. I mean, we've already seen it even from the retailers. Target's acquisition of Shipt or I went to the Verizon booth and they're working with partners. They were talking about technology that they had developed that they are now trying to sell to other retailers. It was about computer vision in the warehouse and returns. So not my major area, but I think it's going to be more of a financial and business merger play. Will it affect how retailers are able to access technology? Probably. But I don't know that it's going to make more innovation or less innovation. But I'll see the floor on this one.

Phillip: [00:20:43] If I have to be even more self-referential. We talk about this quite a bit over on the Future Commerce side of things, both in the newsletter and the podcast. I call it the inversion of the Clay Christensen Innovator's Dilemma. I think somehow in the last 20 years we have the imitators dilemma. I don't know that we need a whole lot of M&A acquisition and acquihire to get the same effect in big enterprise. Big enterprise is ruthlessly copying ten out of ten. No notes. I'm taking everything that you put into the market and I'll make it mine. And I think that that's one of the... We see early partnerships and collaborations to sort of test the market and use it for PR and earned media and then they build it from within. And that's been the track record of the last two decades, especially as bigger retail has had to play in digital more often and gets called in public on really shallow implementations and poorly stitched-together experiences. And so I think that that's where we're sort of headed, especially as capital markets are not so willing to extend more credit. The retailers that need it the most are the ones who have the most debt. And so we'll be in a bit of an interesting situation where we're going to see these really amazing point solutions that are backed by really interesting emergent tech, like OpenAI's Dall-e or Midjourney, Stable Diffusion, something that is creating generative imagery even. I think we could see a lot of those pop up and fizzle out just because that's technology that most of these retailers are putting into place already. It wasn't at the show, but I had a conversation with the CEO of Diane von Furstenberg this week. And what I'm hearing from brands like DVF and from Chanel and from Moroccanoil and from Porsche is that technologies like ChatGPT, which have been broadly available and publicly available, were adopted and put into place as part of their critical systems or their experimental systems that went straight out to consumers within weeks of signing up. We've never seen a mass technology adoption like that as far as I've been working in this industry. Usually, it's very deliberative, we think very quickly or we think very deeply about how we adopt technology. We usually survey the landscape. No, no, no. We don't have time for that anymore. And when you have that quick adoption, turn on a dime, and think like a startup founder... Some of the most prestigious brands in the world or CEOs and leadership of the most prestigious brands in the world thinking that way, I think it's a little bit of a hallmark of a new era because that's top-down leadership. And they think like that, the rest of the team is going to think like that. I don't know what that means. And I don't think that you need to acquire a bunch of companies to make it happen, because that takes time too. So, yeah, I think maybe this is the year that we see a lot of reskilling in the workplace away from certain out-of-house talent, like PR and copywriting and maybe even editorial. Sorry, Adam, but we could see a big shift and maybe even more uncertainty on how all that shakes out as far as retailers making big moves in 2023.

Adam: [00:22:36] Next year I could be just an AI avatar instead of an actual brand.

Alicia: [00:22:40] I was going to say, you'll be a robot. You'll be our new Rosie.

Phillip: [00:22:43] Who's to say you're not?

Adam: [00:22:45] That's right. You'll never know. Sorry. I just wanted to say I think the speed of implementation is a really strong theme. It probably grew out of the necessities of COVID and the pandemic. But I think one of the follow-ups to that is, during COVID, when retailers had to set up curbside pickup or BOPIS or contactless payment or all the things that were necessary for that emergency period, they probably did it without thought of "How am I going to be a noodle? How am I going to connect to every other important system?" So if you've got curbside pickup, that means you also have to connect to inventory, you have to connect to the store, you have to connect to allocation, you have to connect the last mile in fulfillment, etc, etc, etc. My metaphor, and it's an old one that shows my age, is if you had a really complicated stereo system, you had to turn it around and connect all the wires. And I think that's what, I don't know whether they're going to be successful at it, but I think retailers are going to have to do that this year or in coming years because the operational costs and the tech costs are just way too high as they are now. And for them to continue to offer those customer-facing services that people want, but in a way that gives them profitability and margin, they've got to make all those things work together and not duplicate work.

Alicia: [00:24:12] Well and just creates friction too ultimately. If the goal initially during the pandemic was just to roll out the experience because you had to have it, this should be the time to perfect those experiences, because usually a lot of them did not really operate that seamlessly for the end user. It was like, "Okay, this is great. You have this, but it doesn't work so well." So hopefully we'll see some iteration and improvement from that perspective. But I feel like indirectly we're talking about some of the key themes, the key topics that were coming out of the show represented in the agenda. I thought it was really interesting seeing just, I guess, the spread of topics. Obviously, our entire editorial team was sitting in on sessions. An interesting observation again from Nicole, the contrast between sessions around workforce culture and even just the fundamentals of operations. Actually, our colleague Erika sat in on the RFID session with Lululemon and said the room was packed. Even retail media, a new fundamental element of new revenue opportunities versus, say, the Metaverse, virtual experiences... The rooms were not so much. So I'm curious what you guys are thinking in terms of since NRF is typically a pretty good baseline around where people's heads are at, where their priorities are, or what topics are really going to be central, I don't know, maybe it ties to that to the tech conversation we're having around just more fundamentals versus bells and whistles. Adam, you sat in on sessions, right? What do you have?

Adam: [00:25:56] Yeah absolutely. Not as many as I would like, but yeah, definitely. Well, one thing and it's not as tech-oriented, although I think tech helps it work was that two of the major sessions stressed diversity and inclusion and I think we can safely say that's gone from oh that's a nice thing to do and it's sort of like sweet and politically correct too. No, these are big, big companies and they are showing actual things that they're doing. Macy's has half a dozen programs for different aspects of diversity and inclusion. The Target panel was Brian Cornell and then four top executives who were all women, two of them African American in major, major positions. And talking very specifically about half of our board is women or a third, I forget what the exact thing is anyway. This is really, I believe, becoming a "This isn't just something we're doing because people will yell at us if we don't." It's really something that's starting to benefit the companies that do it and can show it. Measurable. And it's not just like, "Oh, yes, we're committed to diversity." Well, yeah. Okay. So how many people are on your board are not dead white men? But the other thing that was fascinating to me and this was more in conversations with exhibitors, was the focus on returns. And that sounds simple, but like the noodle metaphor we were talking about, it touches so many different things. And if you want, I can talk about some thoughts on that, but I just want to put that out there. I think it's going to be a real, real flashpoint and an area of tech investment that we're probably going to see a lot more of.

Alicia: [00:27:51] Yeah, returns management, but also things, even things like Fit-tech are kind of connected to that, if you think about it. If you have the technology up front to minimize those returns, that's less operational strain and cost. And it also kind of supports the sustainability mission that everybody is talking about. It's more of an indirect, I guess, impact. But it's interesting that all of the things connect, or the noodles connect if I should be so bold.

Adam: [00:28:22] I won't hog the conversation. But I'm in total agreement in the sense that fit-tech and really a lot of the stuff that's customer-facing with returns and the efforts to lower them are about personalization, which of course is an evergreen theme in retail. People are saying, I remember when one of the solution providers saying to me, "Well, if you're a person who typically buys five things and returns four, if I can turn you into a person who buys five and only returns two, that's enough of a benefit that it's worthwhile to do that." And the way you do that is you get to know the customer and say like, "Listen, you don't need to order five sizes. You can order three sizes and hopefully get what you want." Yeah, it touches a lot of different areas.

Phillip: [00:29:10] Can I completely switch topics here? I feel like there's one thing that I haven't heard anyone talk about, and I find this to be really fascinating, actually, and maybe a little bit of a bellwether for the hype cycle that we came through and maybe some normalization of the way that we think about startups and conversation. We talked about fit-tech and we talked a lot about fintech. And fintech this year was noticeably absent from a lot of conversation, even though I heard from almost every session someone mentioned BNPL and Gen Z driving up consumer debt. That's on the minds of people, but they're not name-dropping Bolt and Fast. Even though Bolt went through some rebrand, they were all over the show. Really bold of them actually to continue to show and exhibit and sort of show up as if last year didn't happen. I find that it's a really interesting reversal and maybe a normalization that level heads can prevail if we can all kind of get outside of the echo chamber and think a little more deeply about the way that I think a lot of consumers have to engage with the retailers, not through one payments channel. It's through a multitude and plurality of the way that they connect with and have relationships with retailers. And so I find it interesting that within the last 11 months, the conversation has changed so dramatically and we're back to, I think, a lot of the mainstay and admittedly kind of boring, but probably the most important topics, which is ESG and getting back to how we make the world a better place for commerce.

Alicia: [00:30:57] Mm hmm. Yeah, absolutely. Well, and I think, too, just focusing on the fundamentals, right? Because what I heard a few times in my conversations was that there's so much still that retailers need to perfect and figure out that is core to creating a sound, profitable, and efficient business that it seems, to your point, Phillip, they're kind of circling back around all of this noise that's happening on the outside and kind of zeroing in a little bit more. Hence why there were so many workforce-specific solutions on the floor. And they had a very big presence too. I'm not sure if you noticed that. Whether it be workforce empowerment and then task management or even service optimization and anything around empowering your people to serve the customer better, and I guess set a foundation for creating that sound place to work that people want to stick around for. I don't know. I found that to be satisfying for me. I was like, "Oh, okay, it seems like it's not just "Metaverse Metaverse," "assisted selling," "phygital," and all of these other things. And the crowds were good at those booths. So it seems like there's kind of a recentering on the things that are really core to the industry.

Adam: [00:32:30] I heard a great phrase about workforce management. I totally agree. I think that under that broad umbrella, there are a lot of things that retailers and solution providers are looking at ways to make their front-line associates more effective, ways to make them more productive. One person said retail has to adapt to the gig economy, so maybe people work only one or two days at a retailer because it's their side hustle. But they have to be able to go in and immediately pick up how do things work. So they need technology that's going to be very easy to use and very, very intuitive. They also mentioned, speaking of finance, the number of not payday loans, that's negative, but you get paid before your actual paycheck.

Alicia: [00:33:21] Oh, yeah.

Adam: [00:33:22] You're only working... Maybe you're working three days a month and they're scattered across the month, but you want to get paid for that time. I think it all ties into the really, really tight labor market and retailers are realizing that's a huge red flag if they can't staff their stores. Because they're realizing not everything can be self-serviced by the customer and they really don't want it to be self-serviced by the customer. The store or even an online conversation is their big chance to engage and connect with customers, which is still super important.

Phillip: [00:35:15] Phillip: I have, this in my own personal thesis here that I think we say a lot of things like seamless and frictionless. And what we really mean is empowering, delightful, memorable, and emotionally resonant. And we found these words that sort of mean a thing because we know that we have to pull together a lot of different technology to create a single experience. So fine, seamless. That's not the way that the customer talks about anything. And I heard a lot of conversation in speaking with exhibitors on Sunday as the crowds were being let in for the first day. And there was like, by the way, the hallways and the entrance to the Javits were just jam-packed like packed in like sardines waiting to get in. I don't know if I had to estimate, you know, ten, 11,000 people just waiting to just either get in the main session or get into the expo. And that created a lot of buzz. But yeah, hearing some of the conversation, they were sort of rethinking the way that even the language is being adopted. I heard a few folks say, "Oh, headless is probably not the right word to use anymore." So I think even just being careful around the vernacular and sort of trying to understand that from the way that we talk about implementing technology is not the way that the customer experiences it at all. And those things are so far apart that we've forgotten what we're all in service of, to begin with. So a really bright spot for me was having at least three conversations around can we drop the buzzwords? And I think that that's pretty encouraging. And to tie this back into workforce, I think it's due to a changing culture and workforce because the retail and digital commerce professional is younger than ever before. And they're more savvy and they're very online and they're trying to... They've been told for three years now to bring their whole self to zoom and I think that they're actually trying to change a culture in our industry that has been a certain way for as long as I've been around. And I'm here for that. I think changing our language and changing the way that we talk about things is a great way to actually get us into the mode of doing the work and enacting the change.

Alicia: [00:36:29] Yeah, that's a really good point. I had one conversation with a solution provider and she said something along the lines of, "Oh, this company explains their value prop in a very similar way to us. But when you get into the heart of how it works and what it really does, we're different." So like as a content person, my wheels got spinning a little bit like, we're in this mindset of, like you said, Phillip, latching on to like buzzwords in order to get people's attention. But what is it really saying? Usually, I don't really know. I'm like, okay, so what does that mean exactly? What does that do? So maybe this emphasis on the fundamentals means an emphasis on simplifying and really getting to the heart of one, what it does, two, why it's valuable, and three, how that ultimately connects to the customer. I don't know. So maybe this will be an easier year. A simpler year.

Adam: [00:37:33] Yeah. Apropos of that, one of the solution providers I was talking to was talking about customer data platforms and said that big retailers or retailers in general probably also need an employee data platform. And I think it's apropos of what you were saying, Phillip, that the workforce that's coming in is super tech-savvy. They are also representative of today's consumers. And one thing that tech can do is make things more transparent. It's as you say, it's not like, oh, there's terminology on the business side that the customer doesn't understand or doesn't apply to them. I think it's all becoming more visible to both customers and employees. If they have technology that looks like a cell phone but is rugged enough to drop on a concrete floor, if that's the problem, they also want it to do all the things that their phone can do. And if it doesn't, they're not going to be happy working there. If they have to switch between technologies and devices just to accomplish basic things, they're going to get frustrated, and as will the customer.

Phillip: [00:38:41] Adam, so what I hear you saying is just one more piece of technology. That's all we need is an EDP now. And it's just one more noodle. It's fine.

Alicia: [00:38:51] I'm always in the mood for noodles.

Phillip: [00:38:56] Let's be real.

Alicia: [00:38:57] People listening are like, "Oh, my God."

Adam: [00:39:00] What can I say?

Alicia: [00:39:01] Oh, gosh. All right. We went down a bit of a rabbit hole, but there's so much to talk about, I think, in terms of the tech. But just going back to the point around the excitement and that just the overall vibe of the show, like Phillip you're talking about, people are just clamoring to get inside. A lot of people spending time with the tech, actually having conversations, like small crowds, even in the innovation zone, people wanting to see how things work. I don't know. It was super exciting. But one interesting thing that I noticed just in developing our plans, building our strategy around how we were going to tackle this beast, is a lot of events happening outside of the Javits, and I don't know if that helps ease the crowds a little bit, but what I found really fun were these little moments, these opportunities for other players like Cap Gemini and Sharpen did something similar. They had an interactive store-type environment where they were hosting events and panels. And Phillip, I know you and your team, you had your pop-up shop in Soho, which was so fun and so creative. I don't know, is this kind of the future of the event experience? There's one core hub and we have all of these different spokes, so to speak, that create opportunities for more focused conversations, more relaxed conversations, even. I mean, Phillip, I would love your thoughts on your vision and what the hypothesis was, I guess, behind your experience and how it came to life.

Phillip: [00:42:13] Oh, I'm a big fan. I've always said that the real track is the hallway track because there is a sort of social acceptability bias that happens when you're in a formal setting. If you're at the trade show booth, if you're speaking to an exhibitor, if you're listening to people on a stage, you're being critiqued on what you say. But when you're in the hallway or you're offsite and you're talking about your experiences, your guard is down and you're actually real and you're relaying actual hands-on practical experience or you're saying exactly how you feel. And so I do think that it's a vital part of the ecosystem to encourage more outside of event and adjacent event connections to happen. And I believe, seeing more, especially in media, especially in the implementer space and partners coming together with technology, finding more interesting ways to bring those things that they always talk about to life and seeing who's actually capable of doing it. So that's the other thing for me is that lots of people talk about storytelling. Who's actually doing storytelling? And this is the opportunity to go do that because let's be real, it costs hundreds upon hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars to invest in putting that in the show. There's a ton of distraction around and most will never have the opportunity to recoup the cost they spend there. They're investing in some future that is as unquantifiable and attributable as their eCommerce sales and fragmented channel sales are for the customers that they serve. So in my mind, BigCommerce doing something at Electric Lemon is not just an interesting talking point or a way to save a little bit on the show floor, it's vital to the way that we all do business and we're going to all probably spend, unless you are in the media side of trade media, covering the show, a lot of people, I think, feel the need to retreat. Hudson Yards now close by probably one of the first years that we can actually make use of that property being that four COVID ago we couldn't really experience it. So yeah, there are a lot of opportunities for that, and I think it's a really good point. It's never been a better time to actually create an ecosystem of events that surround and allow people to escape from what is actually sensory overload at The Big Show.

Alicia: [00:43:37] Well, it's great. We talked about a lot of things during this conversation. So I appreciate you guys coming into the chat. Ready to go. I guess the final question I want to ask is just around, one, did you see NRF as a success? And two, more broadly how do you think about these types of events and experiences now? Because Phillip, you made the joke about however many COVIDs ago, it definitely, I think, shifted the landscape and expectations around events in general. I mean, you can do so much online as we've all found. There are so many virtual experiences still and will always be core, I think, to content strategy and education, especially in retail. So how are you guys thinking about going to these events? What constitutes as success for you? I personally thought this was a great show for us. We were able to kind of divide and conquer, see a lot, have a lot of conversations and get a lot of content, which is always good for me. But it definitely sparked some questions for me around what will the future of the event landscape look like. And it definitely revolves around those adjacent experiences, activations, more opportunities for people to touch, feel, and dive in versus just having a standard briefing in a meeting room. So it's going to be interesting, I think, to see how things shake out through the next year because NRF sets the baseline, I feel like. So we have a lot to come but was definitely happy and reinvigorated I guess after the show, in spite of how I sound right now probably to everyone listening.

Phillip: [00:45:32] I think it's actually a positive sign that we all kind of have a little bit of a sense of fatigue and gruff voices. It means something worth spending your time on happened. I'm very bullish coming out of this. I was very concerned about the landscape and events being maybe a thing that we're all going to have to just continue to deal with apathy around post-COVID. But Avatar is back in theaters and trade shows are back, baby. And I would say one more thing. I think that it's like, what year is this? I don't know that Big Show actually is the one that sets the tone. This is my perspective. I think CES sets the tone. And if you have an incredibly bullish CES, people carry that vibe and that energy into Big Show. Whether or not there's a lot of overlap between the attendees, doesn't matter. I think people coming out of CES being incredibly negative and having a lot of sort of downer attitudes that they're putting out into the ecosystem I think does impact the way that you bring an attitude and form a preformed opinion before you even walk into the entirety of trade show season. So I think we have a bit of a 1-2 punch and it can only fare well and there are a lot of shows to go to in the next few months.

Adam: [00:47:00] One thing I was thinking is that the event space is somewhat akin to the retail space in that, and I know we've all heard it until it's become an earworm, you've got to be where the customer is, wherever that is and however that is. And I think with events it's the same thing. You need to have an in-person event. There's no substitute for that. But you also need to be on multiple platforms and you need to be communicating the same message on multiple platforms, just the way a retailer does so that the off-site events or the activations or the store tours are one aspect of it, but you've also got to have a great communication strategy so that you can follow. How many times do you go to a trade show, and you collect a zillion business cards, although very few people had business cards this year, I think that's actually good for the planet. But you go to a zillion booths and maybe two or three of them follow up with you or you follow up with them. I think it has to be, and this is actually a motto of our parent company, Emerald, that you're in touch with people 365. You're not in their face every single day of that, but they're going to be aware of you the whole year round, not just when you go to the trade show. So I think retailers are, they know that, and because it's hard to do, they don't always do it. But the ones that are going to be successful are the ones that are at least trying, I think.

Phillip: [00:48:24] Adam, I'm sorry. I was going to give you the last word, but I have to say, I feel like you and I are so simpatico because my 2023 New Year's resolution is to close the loop. Always close the loop. And I'm bad at closing the loop. And my resolution this year is if there's an intro, someone made an intro to me, close the loop, man, send an email and say, "Hey, that was awesome. Thank you for doing that." And I feel like we would all be better if we could maybe a little less in the business cards and a lot more closing the loop and we'd all be in a better place.

Alicia: [00:48:58] Yeah. No, I think those are really awesome points and big ups to LinkedIn. I mean, in times when social media is just like a hellscape and just like a pit of despair and hate and anxiety, just being able to go to an event, a cocktail reception... Phillip, Erika and I met some really awesome people at your pop up, just being able to scan a QR code, get connected to their LinkedIn and connect right on the spot. That's closing the loop. That's turning just like a casual conversation into something possibly meaningful. We were able to connect a lot of those dots and even have those moments of "Oh, you guys did that? I know that. Awesome. Let's figure out a way to collaborate." And I think that's really what it's about rather than how many business cards can you collect, how much swag can you get, and how many demos can you do. So jury's still out. But for now, I think we're all exhausted but equally invigorated. And I appreciate you both taking the time out to chat with me about this. This was fun.

Phillip: [00:50:09] Thanks.

Adam: [00:50:10] Thank you. It was great.

Alicia: [00:50:11] And to all of you, we would love to keep the conversation going. If you attended NRF 2023... Thoughts. Feelings. If there were trends that you saw that we missed... If you disagree with the trends that we talked about... Still would love to hear from you. I'm ready to talk about it. Drop us a line on Twitter @RTouchpoints or on LinkedIn, at Retail Touchpoints, or even if you just want to share your favorite noodle recipe, I'd be open to it. But for now, that's it from us, everyone. Take care. We'll see you next time.

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