In Las Vegas, retailers place their bets on innovation

Top executives from Target, Amazon, Walmart, eBay, Alibaba and many other innovators shared their views on the future of commerce at the second annual Shoptalk, which drew more than 5,000 attendees.

Simplification, the elimination of friction, the magic of mobile devices and the evolution of shopping were recurring themes through the first several days of Shoptalk. Jamie Iannone, president and CEO of, touched on all those themes.

“Our members absolutely love Scan ‘n Go,” Iannone said, explaining how it allows members to avoid the checkout line and simply show their mobile receipt as they exit the building. “It has helped drive frequency and sales and has been a really helpful innovation for us.”

As is the case at Sam’s Club, Target Chairman and CEO Brian Cornell shared a retail world view that envisions the seamless integration of physical and digital. Target is investing $7 billion over the next three years to create what Cornell calls a “smart network” that more effectively leverages the retailer’s base of 1,800 stores. (For more on Target’s Big Bet, check out the cover story of Retail Leader’s March/April issue).

“We’ve got to keep investing in our stores,” Cornell said, adding that they serve as showrooms to inspire and double as shoppable hyperlocal fulfillment centers.

Meanwhile, IBM’s Amplify and Interconnect events drew more than 25,000 attendees to the Las Vegas Strip. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty talked about how all retailers will eventually become cognitive enterprises. 

“These companies using artificial intelligence,” she told attendees, “will leverage data to uncover insights, and that is what will separate the winners from the losers." 

Rometty and other IBM executives highlighted several retailer experiences, including those of Harry & David, 1-800-Flowers and Charlotte Russe in demonstrating how artificial intelligence can be the cornerstone of a retailer’s digital transformation. IBM’s Watson product, expected to reach 1 billion people by the end of the year, is using AI to help businesses think, reason and learn from a blend of customer and outside data such as buying trends, so they can transform data into actionable insights and highly personalize customer engagements.

“Harry & David is bringing humanized experiences to digital platforms with Gwyn, a Watson-power concierge, following the success of its sister site, 1-800-Flowers,” said Harriet Green, General Manager, Watson Internet of Things, Customer Engagement & Education, IBM. “Customers can simply tell Gwyn, ‘I need to buy a housewarming gift for my sister’ and she will provide personalized recommendations, learning and improving with every interaction.”

Down the street from IBM, more than 10,000 people packed the Venetian for Adobe Summit 2017, where the theme was: Digital is changing everything. Consumers have infinite choices in content, they’re connected to an explosion of devices, and they want every experience with your brand to be seamless. 

To meet the demands of digital, retailers need to become an experience-led company — a company that delivers in-the-moment experiences that are compelling, personal, useful, and delightful to the customer at every touchpoint.

“Today’s customers have high standards when it comes to brand interactions. Enterprise companies must deliver exceptional experiences at scale or risk losing customers to competitors,” said Abhay Parasnis, executive vice president and CTO, Adobe.