5 things we learned at the Digiday Retail Summit in Chicago

Retailers, both small and large, gathered in Chicago this week for the Digiday Retail Summit to discuss the future of the industry. It’s an exciting time to be a retailer, but it can be a confusing one, too, as buy buttons flood social platforms and attribution becomes more elusive.

Gathering representatives from Amazon, Walgreens, Nordstrom, Barnes & Noble and more in the same room for panels, sessions and candid conversation led to fruitful discussion. Here are five key takeaways about the future of retail we gelaned at the summit.

The omnichannel consumer is here
Ready or not, omnichannel retail has broken down the traditional barriers of consumer behavior. No longer is a transaction as simple as getting customers into your store and making a sale. Today, the trail of attribution could look like this: the consumer spots a product on Pinterest, researches it on mobile, checks availability at their local store on the retailer’s ecommerce site, and finally goes out to pick up and purchase the product in store. It’s a lot for a retailer to keep track of. But retailers are adapting: Big Lots’ chief customer officer Andrew Stein said the big box discount store is finally launching an ecommerce store. And brick-and-mortars should breathe a sigh of relief. While customers are gaining inspiration from Instagram and buying on their phones, in-store shopping isn’t over. Jason Allen, vp of multichannel strategy at GameStop, insisted that millennials are still buying brick-and-mortar.

The importance of storytelling
For many retailers, getting people to buy their product means getting them to buy their brand story. But successful storytelling relies on authenticity — shoppers today want to feel good about the brands they’re buying from, and that connection depends on the story the brand tells. But with so much direct access to a brand (or at least, to its social media team), the modern consumer can detect when a company is full of it. A brand’s story and its products must complement each other, though, according to Bridget Russo, the CMO of Detroit-based lifestyle brand Shinola. “You can have this great story, and great vision, but at the end of it, if there’s not a fantastic product that matches that story, then you’re dead in the water,” she said. And smartly navigating the tools of the conversation — platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr — is as important as choosing which ones to use at all. One tone deaf tweet, and a brand can get itself in real hot water.

Facebook is frustrating
It’s important for brands to think before they jump on a new platform, but when Facebook isn’t generating the best results, it’s okay to try something new. Now that one-click-to-buy features are debuting on Google, Pinterest, YouTube and Instagram, a company’s resources may be better spent off Facebook, now that content and commerce are so closely connected. We heard from brands during the Town Hall discussions that performance on Facebook is frustrating, even for brands like 1-800-Flowers, whose demographic skews toward the older crowd. Thanks to the attention other platforms are paying to making mobile shopping easier, Facebook is far from the only answer for brands looking to make an impression on social media.

Take risks
We asked retailers, agencies and tech providers to share, in a few words, the biggest challenges they face today. One answer: “Overcoming senior egos,” from the retailer and agency side. From the tech provider side: “Convincing retailers to take risks.” Big, less agile brands aren’t staying competitive unless they’re willing to loosen their grip and try new things. One of the biggest obstacles to overcome, for agencies, is getting brands to understand the potential rewards of taking risks. A representative from agency PMG said that new strategies shouldn’t be met with a 10-to-1 ROI expectation. “If you want that every time, you’re only looking at paid search,” he said.

Data drama
Tracking and handling consumer data has never been trickier for a brand. Multichannel attribution means there’s a lot of data to deal with and understand. From the consumer side, brands can seem like sketchy data lurkers. Download the Nordstrom app, for instance, and you’ll later get a notification that the app has been using your location in the background. What consumers often don’t realize, though, is that brands are still figuring out how to use that data. Once they nail that — and location-based advertising — the relationship between retailer and the consumer should be more harmonious.

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