Jon Bibo is checking out the latest Retail Technology that can benefit independent college stores at the annual Shop.Org Conference ( in LA this week. Read his report from Day 1:

The National Retail Federation’s Shop.Org Conference is one of the most exciting shows I attend each year. It highlights the latest trends in digital retail, ecommerce, and cutting-edge analytics that give retailers a competitive advantage in recruiting, engaging, and retaining customers and, of course, in growing sales. In other words, there is some seriously cool stuff being shown here in areas such as: shopper insights, data mining, consumer behavior analysis, ecommerce optimization, and more. The Conference is part trade show, part networking event, and part education programming…overall, it provides a pretty darn good roadmap of what the future holds for retailers who want to use technology to improve their businesses.

Exhibitors here often focus on multi-billion-dollar mega-retailers, but my goal is to be an advocate for the independent college store channel and to find partners who may be interested in developing affordable and valuable programs for ICBA Members. In short, ICBA feels it is critical for you to be able to take advantage of these advanced tools. You may be familiar with the Retail Technology Innovation Showcase (RTIS) session at the ICBA Conference (started in 2016), where we feature three promising Retail Technology providers…Well, Shop.Org is where I “shop” for prospective partners for that “RTIS” session at the ICBA Conference.

Day 1 Observations

• This year’s Shop.Org featured significantly more education sessions, which I felt was a positive development. The floor layout changed in that there were 3-4 new “mini-theaters” placed around the show floor (and an Innovation Lounge) where education sessions took place throughout the day. I’ve always been a fan of Shop.Org and have felt it would be a valuable show for college stores to attend…the increase in education programming only increases its value.

• SOMEBODY HAD TO DO IT! Yes, I attended the Tyra Banks keynote presentation about how she built her brand, and yes, I arrived early to get a good seat close to the stage, and yes, I thought about asking her to consider an “America’s Next Top Model” for 50+ year-old businessmen who might need to drop a few pounds, but who look fierce on a runway.



• A recurring theme from booth to booth was: how gathering and analyzing massive amounts of data can be used to develop a closer and more personal relationship with each customer…to get them to buy more! The cutting-edge tools that are now available to predict what people buy, why they buy, when they buy, and at what price they will buy are both exciting, and a little scary. Big retailers are all using sophisticated tools of the kind featured at Shop.Org to learn a heckuva lot about us. Maybe that’s OK…if it helps us save time and money. Of course, what they know about us should have some limits, right?!?

• What is this, a dystopian sci-fi thiller or a retail store? Machine Learning...Artificial Intelligence (AI)…Augmented Reality (AR)…Chatbots… These words could be seen and heard in booth-after-booth. During a keynote presentation, a senior exec from Disney said that these next generation tools are completely transforming how Disney designs their stores and their eCommerce sites. He said the possibilities these tools offer to help consumers engage with Disney characters and the Disney brand in personal, customized ways are unprecedented. Right when I thought Arnold Schwarzenegger might appear as the Terminator to do away with us inferior humans, the Disney exec also said that Disney is investing more than ever in its people with more training than ever before. He commented that the real problem to solve is to help their associates use the new technologies to better serve each customer in a memorable way. He said Disney was 100% certain that advanced tech without human intervention would fail. Just know that the next time you do an online chat with a company, your chat partner, who calls himself Greg and asks how he may help you, is probably an Artificial Intelligence “bot.” But hey, if it makes me feel better to think that “Greg” is an actual person who was quickly able to tell me how to return my broken toaster oven, then I am fine with that.

• Good news…there was plenty of interest in our independent college store channel and what we’re all about. I made it through 11 of the 17 rows of booths with the unaugmented reality of sore feet! I’ll be back at it for Day 2.

Check back soon to view Jon’s observations from Day 2 at Shop.Org…