This week we spent four days in Las Vegas attending ShopTalk 2018. Alongside numerous retailers, brands, and service vendors, we heard industry experts discuss major trends in both the brick-and-mortar and online retail space. After hearing from individuals such as the CEO of Ulta Beauty, the President of E-Commerce at Best Buy, the President & CEO of Ascena Brands, and many other established retail executives, one thing is clear: it is all about the customer experience. In an omni-channel world, retailers see the necessity for meaningful brand interactions and personalization at scale in order to gain and retain customers.

In many panel discussions at ShopTalk, we heard how brands and retailers are focused on optimizing how the customer interacts with their brand. Customer-first and customer-centric approaches, both online and in-store, were highlighted numerous times. For example, Nordstrom has recently released its Nordstrom Local shops, service-focused stores that offers customers the convenience of easy alterations, styling appointments, online purchase pick-ups, and even return drop offs. There is very little to no merchandise sold at a Nordstrom Local. Nordstrom understands that building a lasting brand comes from building loyal customers, not necessarily getting a sale each time a customer walks through the door.

Away, the online direct-to-consumer luggage brand, has opened four retail stores that emphasize travel over their luggage. When asked why, the CEO of Away explained that shoppers are looking for a relationship with a brand, not just a transaction. And as such, Away uses its stores to highlight the holistic experience that comes from their product, not just the product itself. Retailers know that simple purchases do not create sticky relationships. They want customers to feel tied to the brand through experiences, resulting in greater loyalty and increased sales in the long run. It is about the connections made with the brand before, during, and after a purchase that hold the true value.

Many discussions also covered the personalization of the shopping experience. With the wealth of data retailers accumulate about their shoppers, individuals have come to expect personal, relevant interactions while shopping. Marc Lore, the President & CEO of Walmart Ecommerce discussed the need, and capability, for one-to-one selling at scale. He added that shoppers want this to feel like a simple and natural process for them, not one forced upon them.

In the same light, Glossier’s CEO, Emily Weiss, explained that customers want personal recommendations and suggestions. However, she added, human preference for social and communal interactions makes individuals more receptive to recommendations from other customers than from the brand itself. Given this, she explained that retailers must tap into this and offer a connected shopping platform versus a purely commercial one.

To close ShopTalk on Wednesday morning, our CEO Toby Moore discussed the innovation Optoro is bringing to the process of returns for retailers. Over the course of the show, forward-facing transactions dominated the conversations, and rightfully so as that is how retailers build their business. But Toby discussed the need for retailers to also think about the customer’s experience during the returns process, because as interactions and purchases grow in the long term, so will returns.

We had a great time at ShopTalk and are looking forward to next year!