fashion wearable tech

This year, Las Vegas hosted the first-ever Shoptalk conference, focused on ecommerce and brick and mortar retailers. It was a fantastically well-produced  show, with over 3000 attendees taking over the Aria hotel for 4 days of panel discussions, multiple networking events, and a unique trade show floor setup featuring standard booths, as well as a “Main Street” and meeting pods.

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But amidst the smiles and business card handovers, the underlying  theme of Shoptalk was one of concern. For the past 18 months, the retail industry–especially in apparel–has seen consistently declining sales and slow in-store traffic. The industry is frustrated and concerned, looking for direction on how to move forward. Many say that the old guard retailers are not sharing their seasoned knowledge with rising CEO’s, and that the established retailers seem to be unwilling to learn from new disruptors. But Shoptalk was evidence that there is a place where we can all come together to listen, share and hopefully change for a better future of retail.

The impressive lineup of panelists and attendees ranged from the big names and retailers we all know including Hudson’s Bay, Kohl’s and Adidas to successful startups that have impressed with rapid growth such as plus size fashion retailer Eloquii, mens razor upstart Dollar Shave Club and trendy apparel retailer Modcloth. Also lending their voices were a number of other retail and technology innovators such as Stowaway Cosmetics whose nontraditional approaches will surely leave a mark on their industries.

The good news is, retail is not dead and will not die, but it does require a major facelift.

The good news is, retail is not dead and will not die, but it does require a major facelift. There must be open minds from the old guard and a willingness to learn from the side of the disruptors to move through this time.

Some of our key takeaways from the panels:

  1. Customer satisfaction still comes first
  2. The nature of the physical store is changing but not disappearing
  3. Data: if you’re not using it effectively, you’re falling behind and leaving money on the table
  4. Technology is fueling change everywhere you look: from product design to distribution to fulfillment to in store-experience. Customers overwhelmingly  research their purchases online, and retailers are playing catch-up to capture mindshare and dollars.

Technology is clearly leading the way in how we speak to, please, fulfill, fit, and serve our customer. What seemed lacking though, was conversation about the products themselves. The vast majority of the emphasis is on customer acquisition, filling the funnel, improving conversion rates..in other words, the front end of the business. But what about the back end?

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It seems as though every app, technology innovation and big data strategy has to do with somehow convincing the customer to come and buy and to keep retail alive. While this is all exciting and of course, sales are the key to the future of retail, what we did not hear much about was the back end. We would have loved to hear discussion around subjects like simplifying the supply chain, ensuring your product is well made, resolving logistical challenges, and how to think about key initiatives like global sourcing and ethical manufacturing.

According to panelists from companies of all sizes, including Gerald Storch, CEO of Hudson’s Bay Corp., Nigel Oddy, CEO of House of Fraser, and Michelle Lam, Founder and CEO of True & Co., what ultimately matters is the customer’s satisfaction. Yet the conversation about customer satisfaction seems to rely heavily on the shopping, in-store, app or multi channel consistent experience. Our take is that truly servicing a customer is making sure your product is so great that it is something they are excited to buy, and to hopefully re-purchase in the future. As Sandra Lopez who heads Intel’s New Devices Group said, “ultimately, it’s not about creating wearables, it’s about creating wantables.” This is true, no matter which industry or which product category you stand in.

Ultimately, it’s not about creating wearables, it’s about creating wantables.

At Sourceeasy, our entire business is focused on the back end. We help customers ranging from major retailers such as Ross Stores, to startups like Hey Gorgeous, Rockets of Awesome, and Katie K Activewear  to design, develop, produce and land high quality products at competitive prices. We’re constantly thinking about the “unsexy” side of the business: product development, sourcing, sample development, production, quality assurance, logistics–all while keeping a close eye on ethical manufacturing principles. And yes, we’re a technology driven company as well–we’re a venture funded startup, building a modern SaaS system for management of these processes from every angle: internal, customer-facing, and vendor management.

We hope next year’s Shoptalk will hold much of the same excitement and buzz around areas like customer acquisition, loyalty and retention, while also giving a nod to the creation and supply chain of what we believe is the core of any successful retail business (apparel or otherwise): the product itself.