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Retail X was a Ghost Town

IRL events aren’t back. Not yet.
August 27, 2021

If you know Steve, check in on him. We really hope he’s okay.

Where were all the merchants? Because they weren’t at RetailX. 

This year’s merchant-to-vendor ratio at RetailX was worse than the male-to-female ratio on Grindr. 

RetailX was supposed to herald a return to physical events in retail trade, and the beginning of a Fall filled with ecosystem trade and thought leadership events. That was until the doors opened at McCormick Center, and it was largely empty. 

The expo hall occupied less than 25% of the space it had at McCormick West in 2019. Even with the smaller footprint, there were a large number of gaps on the show floor, with some booths remaining empty for the duration of the conference. With the exception of ecosystem mainstays, Klaviyo and Gorgias, booths were lightly attended with just 1-2 occupants; mostly talking to each other or engaged in email on their phones. The lack of buyers left sellers with a lot of idle time and a ton of merch to cart back after the show.

Who can blame merchants? Depending on who you ask, this is either the best time in eCom or the worst and many are coming off of a year where they doubled down on their digital investments. The traditional buying cycle of eCom was disrupted last year. Budgets were slashed or accelerated, and most investments are quite young in age.

Merchants weren’t the only no-shows. Many booths were just plain vacant. Even platforms and agencies are doing the risk/reward tally and playing it safe. 

If you’re a merchant doing the calculus on taking a travel risk during a surge in the Delta variant of Covid-19 versus your need to grow top-line revenue, you’re probably in dire straits already, especially if making the trip through O’Hare is worth the risk.

Unfortunately for the SaaS vendors in attendance, there’s little-to-no choice to trudge on into the Fall conference season. Digital acquisition has been challenging for B2B SaaS companies as it is, with many investing in newsletter, podcast, and gated pieces to performance marketing budget against in hopes to generate MQLs.

Up next is CommerceNext and DTCX in NYC, GroceryShop in Las Vegas, and Expo East in Philadelphia. I’m hopeful. But, if this week’s event in Chicago was any indication, it’s going to be a blustery Autumn for eCom events.

— Phillip

Spotify, play Despa-CTO. Spotify has released songs written to honor CMOs of well known brands, such as CVS, Frito-Lay, and Indeed. Nothing like the power of music to… celebrate marketing partnerships.

Visa Apes In. This week Visa acquired CryptoPunk #7610 for a cool $150,000. The result? Maturation of the metaverse. By purchasing the jpg, the world’s largest fiat payments network validated the current bubble in the world’s most decentralized blockchain network.

When the Market Gives You Lululemons. As the retail industry as a whole struggles to find workers, Lululemon plans to raise employee’s minimum wage to $15-17 an hour, as well as adding other benefits such as fitness stipends to help lure workers in time for the holiday season. The athletic clothing company also announced plans to hire over 8,000 people.

Go Big or go Public. On its road to becoming a public company, Sweetgreen is acquiring Spyce, to help up their technology game. Spyce is a Boston-based company that uses fully automated kitchens for its food prep.

Maximalism Spotting. Remember the beef Lil Nas X stirred up with his Satan shoes containing a negligible amount of human blood? Liquid Death, the metalhead canned water startup, has upped the stakes and partnered up (eternally) with Tony Hawk to bring 100 limited edition skateboard decks to life boasting an entire vial Hawk’s actual blood in each deck.

About the partnership, a pallid, lifeless-looking Tony said he hopes infusing the skateboard designs with his lifeforce will take the connections with his fans “to a new level.” Yeah, dude. A new, really weird level.

The real question—where’s the Christian conservative right outrage?

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