2018 Shop.Org

Jon Bibo represented ICBA at the Shop.Org Conference earlier this month. Here are Jon's observations regarding what was most relevant and what it may mean for independent college stores.

This is my 4th time attending the Shop.Org Conference and it’s one of the more exciting shows I attend each year. First of all, what is Shop.Org, you ask? Shop.Org is a specialty Conference, conducted by the National Retail Federation (NRF), that focuses on the following areas for retailers: eCommerce, Marketing, IT, User Experience, Mobile Experiences, Artificial Intelligence, Data Analytics, Personalization, and Consumer Behavior.

Shop.Org strikes about a 50-50 balance between trade show and education sessions, and there’s plenty to be gained from both. Those of you who attend the ICBA Conference may be familiar with our annual Retail Technology Innovation Showcase session (launched in 2016). Well, Shop.Org was the original inspiration for the RTIS session and it continues to stimulate ideas and potential ICBA program partnerships. In fact, ICBA’s programs with Bronto, NetSuite, Qualtrics, and others began at previous Shop.Org Conferences.

2018 Shop.Org Stage

Here's our challenge as independent college stores: retailers and e-tailers are increasingly relying on advanced technology to help them acquire and retain customers…and find ways to increase their purchases through more personalized interactions and unique “experiences.” While I think “experiences” has overstayed its welcome as an industry buzz word, it was still mentioned, reinforced, emphasized, and celebrated in virtually all education sessions and booth conversations. If we don’t harness at least some of that technology in the college store market, we will be at a serious disadvantage (and we will “experience” something called pain).

2018 Shop.Org

So, where to begin? Certainly not at the table tennis and beer garden zone, although I did feel obligated to research that area. Just browsing a few of the program categories will give you a sense of what exhibitors were featuring:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • 3D
  • Augmented Reality
  • Business Intelligence & Data Analytics
  • Behavioral Email Targeting & Marketing
  • Mobile Web Platforms
  • Loyalty Programs
  • User-Generated Content
  • Website Personalization & Optimization
  • Post-Purchase Experience
Shop.org Personal Shopping Experience

In terms of what I think college stores should have on their “to-do” lists, I suggest the following:

  1. A clear communications strategy for email marketing and use of social media. Having a part-time student execute your plans may be all you can afford, in terms of resources. However, having a thoughtful strategy with clear measurements and goals for your marketing “team” (however small) is highly recommended.
  2. eCommerce strategies must focus on mobile devices vs. websites. The data that was referenced regarding frequency of mobile device use was simply staggering. If you are not emphasizing mobile, you are missing out (even if your website looks decent).
  3. Focus on “fast & cheap” delivery. Can you offer same day delivery on or off campus? Good, because that is quickly becoming the expectation of the consumer.
  4. Become familiar with retail technology and try to make smart investments to become more efficient and faster at knowing and serving customers. Some areas that have become “table stakes” are: loyalty programs, eCommerce ratings & reviews, abandoned shopping cart messaging, and overall, treating each customer as an individual with the goal being a curated, personalized experience.

Should you consider attending Shop.Org? I would say yes—I think you will come out of it with a good sense of where retail technology is today, and where it is going. As a result, you will be able to make smart decisions and hopefully smart investments to help your store achieve its goals.

Plus, Shop.Org does a nice job of bringing in a diverse set of speakers, including Celebrity Chef Lorena Garcia, tennis star Serena Williams, NPR’s Guy Raz, and executives from top companies, including: Nike, Google, CVS, Etsy, PwC, Pinterest, Levi Strauss, Snapchat, Buzzfeed, Build-A-Bear, & Major League Baseball.

Serena Williams at Shop.Org 2018

To stay on top of retail technology, I strongly recommend the NRF’s Shop.Org SmartBrief newsletter. It’s free and you do not have to be a Member of NRF to sign up. Plus, it’s a quick read with really good content. NRF Shop.Org SmartBrief Newsletter Sign-Up.

You can also read a great recap of the event on the Shop.Org website.