Earlier this week, I attended the second annual Code Commerce in New York led by Recode’s formidable duo of Kara Swisher and Jason Del Rey. The event kicked off with some casual banter between the two hosts (read: Kara playfully mocking Jason’s carefully curated, hipster outfit) and then moved full-steam ahead with a line-up of equally cynical speakers and panelists that provided some “radical candor” on the state of retail. From Scott Galloway’s (Ballmer-esque?) enlivened tirade on Amazon’s next HQ, to Framebridge CEO’s unapologetic use of direct mail to reach target customers, the speakers were everything you want in an industry event and more – bold, blunt and (mostly) open about their current and future plans.
Below are my key takeaways from the event:
If the consumer is king, experiences are solid gold – Macy’s Chairman & CEO Jeff Gennette said it best when he talked about the need to “create something that combines a gallery, a store and a curated experience.” The return of FAO Schwartz also speaks directly to this trend as consumers need to feel, touch and see a product come alive in front of them. In an intimate gathering of execs that included Warby Parker VP, Real Estate & Development Kelly Radford; FAO Schwartz CEO David Conn; and L&L Holdings Chairman & CEO David Levinson – the future of the physical store focuses on creating a living, breathing representation of a brand and is more important than ever when building customer loyalty.
Amazon is not god – It may not always seem like it but entrepreneurs are still having their day. It’s in our nature as people to discover and find new brands as part of the larger shopping experience. From AllBirds to Away, it’s clear that entrepreneurship is alive and well – despite what the industry thinks when it comes to the “big four” domination. When asked about an influx of competition from the top (i.e. Amazon Storefronts), Shopify Founder & CEO Tobi Lütke painted a future where the growth of new merchants and the need for “millions of SMBs” is the most important thing we need to keep commerce flowing.
New tech is great and all but… - While most of the speakers tried to dodge the direct questions of “what’s next for the company” and ultimately “how are you going to use AI, VR or other news techs,” there seemed to be a bit less of a guard up when it comes to adoption and a majority of “maybes” so as not to look like a stalwart in the industry. Crate & Barrel and JD.com were the most vocal about using AI or driverless tech – both from a consumer and back-end logistics standpoint – but no one seems to be getting it totally right just yet. Crate & Barrel CEO Neela Montgomery said it best when she repeatedly referenced her mantra of “fail fast” – agility is key in our constantly changing landscape.
Omnichannel is out – It was made clear over and over in the session that brands and retailers are straying from a platform-led strategy. Forget mobile first, the new “new” is finding your audience, listening to the conversations they are having, and then being part of it – no matter where or what that means.
A new way to window shop – Instagram’s Director of Product Management Vishal Shah cleared up some pre-conceived notions (hello Kardashians and fit tea) of the platform when he explained the overall purpose is not to sell: “…people come to Insta and they stumble on products…we are solving the serendipitous job in shopping…” Discovery has been a continuous theme over the years
Overall, as a self-proclaimed “retail geek” (credit to Dan Frommer for the term), this event was everything I expected and more. Beyond the general session, the “on-location experiences” and “power lunches” allowed for a more intimate offering for networking and knowledge sharing. As one of the most “under-understood” and arguably outright captivating industries, Commerce is on taking a wild ride and taking pundits, revelers, admirers and the whole world along with it.