Shoptalk Europe: An Eye-Opening Journey Through The Future Of Retail

By Steve Wynne-Jones
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Shoptalk Europe: An Eye-Opening Journey Through The Future Of Retail

With more than 2,300 attendees, including 360 CEOs in attendance, Shoptalk Europe was always going to be one of the most dynamic retail conferences taking place in Europe this year. Here’s ESM’s take on three days of eye-opening debate and discussion on the future of retail.

Day One Review: 9 October

Taking to the stage to launch Shoptalk Europe, Shoptalk founder and CEO Anil Aggarwal said that the event’s goal was to “help you answer the hard questions”, and the first day saw eye-opening presentations from both established players such as Tesco and DIA, as well as the opinion-formers of today, such as Dollar Shave Club, a male grooming startup recently acquired by Unilever.

As Dollar Shave Club founder Michael Dubin explained, the name of the game in ‘direct to consumer’ businesses such as theirs is “learning as much about the customer as you possible can, and preferably from themselves”, a point that was touched upon by many of the speakers present.

As was discussed at length over the duration of the event, it’s no longer a case that the customer is merely ‘king’; rather the customer is ‘everything’ a business needs in order to be successful.

Jerry Storch of Hudson’s Bay, which bought the Metro-owned Galleria Kaufhof in 2015, also took to the stage on the first day to say that “what will win in the end are the all-channel retail brands that manage to tick all the boxes” in terms of what the consumer is looking for.


In an interesting parallel, he added that while many traditional operators are looking to “build a Model T”, they “can’t see the sports cars” that are being developed by the competitors.

Collaboration was also cited as a key driver of progress - retailers need to stop thinking in silos and embrace businesses that can add the X-factor to their own operations.

At DIA, for example, this was a high-profile tie-up with Amazon Prime in Barcelona and Madrid, which has facilitated the group’s desire to become a true “omnichannel player, transforming the way we interact with customers in stores”, as chief corporate officer Amando Sanchez Falcon explained.

Similarly, Steven Lowy of Westfield, which operates some of the most impressive shopping malls in the world, called on traditional retailers to share data in order to compete with the online juggernaut. “The whole concept of sharing data is so the experience between the retailer and consumer can be made stronger than ever,” he said. “Retailers that are predominantly physical in nature need to work out how to collaborate and share their data.”


Day Two Review: 10 October

With Day One setting the tone nicely, Day Two of Shoptalk saw some of the giants of ecommerce set out their strategy for the future of the retail sector, with RJ Pittman, Chief Product Officer, eBay; Mariangela Marseglia, Director, Amazon Prime Now and Terry von Bibra, General Manager Europe, Alibaba Group among those addressing the audience during a busy schedule.

As Marseglia explained, the genesis of concepts like Amazon Prime Now lay with the need to “give people the time that they need to live their life, rather than go around the town to visit the stores that they need for their grocery shop”; the epitome of the customer-first proposition that the company has excelled at.

Alibaba’s von Bibra echoed this statement in a presentation that summed up the state of mind of the modern consumer - one that doesn’t see a difference between traditional retail and ecommerce: “The consumer does not care about online and offline,” he explained. “No consumer in the world gets up in the morning and says ‘I’m going to buy some shoes “online”, or goes into an electronics store and says ‘I’m going to buy a refrigerator “off line”. The only people that care about that are the people that sell shoes or refrigerators.”

It was a sentiment that has permeated through much of the event thus far - the realisation that the lines between ‘online’ and ‘offline’ are so blurred, that they barely exist at all.


Other notable presentations included that of Richard Hearn of IBM’s ‘Watson’ AI division, who suggested that by 2020, 85% of all online interactions will happen “without having to engage with a human”; an indication of the growing prevalence of artificial intelligence in the online space.

Elsewhere, Joris Beckers of popular Dutch delivery service Picnic presented the service as a “milkman” for the 21st century, an indication of how modern ecommerce is leaning on the community-driven principles of the past to develop winning concepts for the future; and Ronan Harris of Google UK & Ireland shared his insight on how Google is seeking to drive “conversational and sensory engagement” between consumers and its services, very much leading the way in terms of digital personalisation.

In an era in which technology increasingly dictates so many aspects of our daily lives, many of the second day’s presentations sought to highlight the ‘human side’ to the rise of the robots.

Special mention should also go to InContext Solutions, a virtual reality experience ESM had the opportunity to sample on Day Two. Its a category management platform unlike anything we have yet seen, and we have no doubt that the company is set for great things.


Day 3 Review: 11 October

Day Three of Shoptalk commenced with one of the most memorable discussions of the event, a ‘fireside chat’ with Michael Ward of Harrods, the quintessential London department store.

In a conference that was all about using technology to gain a competitive advantage, Ward reminded those present of the importance of having good people at the forefront of the operation. “We are about exclusivity and experience,” he explained. “We’ve got brilliant buyers, and our edit is exceptional, [reflecting the] flair and expertise of the buyer.”

It was a discussion packed with mind-blowing facts - around 25% of the total Chinese retail spend in the UK takes place in Harrods, while wealthy individuals from around the world are queuing up to keep their prized cigars in Harrods on-site humidor, with the value of each cigar stash averaging £250,000. Harrods is also a retailer for which Brexit has barely made a dent, as Ward explained.

“For the luxury and affluent customer, Brexit is not altering their shopping patterns,” he said, “We are focusing on the top 0.01% of the world’s wealthy - that gives you absolute focus […] and that clientele is not likely to be affected by Brexit.”

Elsewhere, Philip Krim of bed specialists Casper outlined the brand’s plans to develop the ‘world’s first sleep brand’, outlining how he believed that sleep was fast becoming a “pillar of wellness” for consumers.

As Krim explained, yes, everybody has to sleep, and bedmakers have been around for millennia, however “there has been a lack of innovation around the product and the shopping experience” that this up and coming brand is seeking to capitalise on. Its recent tie up with American Airlines as ‘official sleep partner’ is an example of how it is seeking to do things differently in this regard.

Track sessions on the closing day included a fast-paced appraisal of the payments industry from MasterCard’s Sarah Quinlan, and eye-opening presentations from Everseen, a startup offering checkout-free shopping, Kwik, an Israeli business focused on introducing automatic replenishment to the ‘Internet of Things’ model, and Quiqup, which offers an ‘out of the box’ alternative to Amazon Prime Now for retailers seeking to develop a fast-delivery architecture.

Hats off to the organisers for a memorable and thought-provoking event. Roll on Shoptalk 2018 in Las Vegas next March…

Shoptalk, which will combine the learnings of both Shoptalk US and Shoptalk Europe into a single global event, will be held on March 18-21, 2018 at the Venetian in Las Vegas. For more information, visit

© 2017 European Supermarket Magazine – your source for the latest retail news. Article by Stephen Wynne-Jones. Click subscribe to sign up to ESM: The European Supermarket Magazine.

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