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Recap: The 2017 Retail Smarter Conference

The 2017 Retail Smarter Conference has come to a close. Held June 8-9 in St. Petersburg, Fla., and sponsored by University of Florida's David F. Miller Retail Center, the conference is an opportunity for a unique group of retail executives and industry leaders to network, discuss trends, and hear from retail thought leaders. This year’s conference focus largely centered around the ever-changing retail landscape -- and where the industry as a whole is headed.

Shiftgig’s Chief Revenue Officer Jill Erickson was a keynote at this year’s conference. Her presentation focused on how the gig economy is changing the way retail companies hire, and how many workers are seeking the flexibility that on-demand work through a platform like Shiftgig can provide. Here, Jill gives us a recap of this year’s conference, and a few of her favorite highlights of the event.

Shopper journeys are changing

Nearly every speaker touched on the fact that, from the outside, it looks like the retail outlook is bleak. But the reality is that it’s just changing course. While there’s a shift in how consumers shop and buy products, there’s still a very tactile experience to shopping in-person that will never go away. A lot of the conversation centered around how the consumer journey still culminates in-store -- but typically after the person has spent significant time shopping online. Say you really want to buy a pink sweater. You can look at a ton of pink sweaters online, but at the end of the day you want to know what it feels like when you put it on, what the true color is, and how it makes you feel. That’s not something ecommerce will ever be able to replicate.

Customer engagement is key

Knowing that consumers are coming into retail stores looking for specific items that they researched means that customer engagement is more critical than ever. One particular speaker, Jennifer Hipskind, an SVP from JCPenney, spoke directly on this topic and how, as industry leaders, we have to bring our company to life through our retail associates -- they need to live and breathe the brand. When you’re competing against a faceless entity like Amazon, it’s important that when someone walks into your store, they feel welcomed, can find what they’re looking for, and feel like the experience is a seamless one. Essentially, they need to feel like they’re getting an experience in-store that will never be replicated from a service standpoint online. At the end of the day, Hipskind preached the importance of engaged, on-site employees and how they will equal engaged customers who want to return to your retail store.

Retail footprints are expanding

While a lot of retail stores are closing down physical locations -- think KMart, Sears, and Macy’s -- many retailers are expanding their retail footprint -- just not in the way you’d think. While physical locations are shuttering, the need for warehouse space is on the rise. In order to stay relevant, retailers need an online presence, and a shipping warehouse to support their online store. Everyone -- even the big names like WalMart -- are trying to compete with people like Amazon today. And in order to compete, they have to have strategically located warehouses in order to ship product quickly to consumers. So the square footage is actually increasing for retailers -- it’s just a matter of where that square footage is focused -- and in 2017 that’s in the warehouse space.

On-demand will change the face of retail

Following my own presentation on the gig economy, and how it’s affecting the retail space, I received a number of questions about how how and why the on-demand workforce is looking toward a platform like Shiftgig to find work. In my view, today’s worker is looking for flexibility. They want to create their own plan for full or part time work, on their own schedule using Shiftgig or other on-demand platforms. For retail, this can mean it’s harder to find full-time employees to work in their stores. But on the plus side, it also means that during peak retail seasons like Q4, there’s an ability to acquire a network of qualified workers via an app like Shiftgig.


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June 14, 2017 | Jill Erickson