Shoptalk is well known in the retail industry as an exciting, forward-thinking gathering infused with tech innovations for retailers and brands. How do they stay on top of the trends and curate the most interesting tech solutions? We asked Joe Laszlo, Vice President of Content at Shoptalk, to share how he and his team scoured the tech industry to select the most dynamic, relevant solution providers for this year’s event.
Solutions for the Present Moment
Laszlo says that the Technology Spotlight sessions at Shoptalk present the many solutions that can improve the success of all types of retailers of all sizes. He explains the eight sessions that highlight what’s front and center in the lens of the CTO.
For 2023, Shoptalk’s tech track will feature sessions on:
- Innovative marketing technologies
- Data and personalization
- Fulfillment and last-mile delivery
- Customer care and the post-purchase experience
- Pricing and merchandising
- Hiring, managing and empowering frontline workers
- Making digital shopping faster and more convenient
Arguably this year’s hottest topic is AI, which as Laszlo says, “permeates the entire tech track with new capabilities from marketing and advertising to fulfillment and delivery. What’s interesting this year is the shift from AI and ML as back-end, data crunching tools to creating content, in the form of generative AI. Several Shoptalk speakers are pioneering this field. For example, Pixis uses generative AI to quickly build ads and marketing messaging. Wizard uses automated text-based conversations to enable consumers to find brands and products they want by making AI conversations more human-like. Netomi and Forethought are leaders in automated chat solutions for customer care. ChatGPT has been the focus of much media coverage, which seems to alternate between the view that it is the most revolutionary thing ever, or risky, half-baked and a disaster waiting to happen.” Laszlo believes that generative AI will emerge as a game-changing technology shift, assuming solutions can install guardrails to make it safe and reliable.
A Tough Selection Process
Shoptalk this year received over 700 applications to speak. Of all the companies that apply, only about five percent are accepted. Much of the Tech Spotlight is actually filled by presenters that are initially identified and invited by Shoptalk’s Content team. Laszlo explains that they are very selective keeping in mind what the audience expects — Founders and CEOs of some of the best and most innovative tech solutions, who are onstage to share their knowledge, not to pitch their companies.
A Pitch for Startup Pitch
The one exception to the “no pitching” rule is Shoptalk’s Startup Pitch. This session is a showcase for a dozen very early-stage retail tech solutions, whose founders have a moment in Shoptalk’s spotlight to share their solutions. Says Laszlo, “Since a bunch of tech presentations could quickly get boring, we gamify it, like Shark Tank, with Judges asking tough questions and the audience rating each presentation.” This year the winner of Startup Pitch will get a $100,000 investment from Shoptalk Ventures, funded by Commerce Ventures. This keeps the session engaging, while also introducing the audience to up-and-coming new companies.
Laszlo empathizes with CTOs today. “Any digital team is overwhelmed these days by the number of really cool solutions clamoring for attention.” He adds it’s tempting to focus on the newest or most buzzy technologies, without necessarily thinking through whether they are the right solutions for a given company’s specific challenges. However, he says, “The smart companies start with the needs of the business, not the latest headline-making tech unicorn. They then work backwards to identify the technologies and solutions that address those needs. Especially in the current economic climate, the best tech solutions are those that make brands more efficient, more profitable or serve specific needs of customers or employees.”
He also believes that success in a digital marketplace “requires that all employees, from frontline workers to the C-suite, have a basic conversational familiarity with data and technology. This is not to say that everyone has to become a digital engineer or data scientist, but that nobody should be scared of, or intimidated by, technology.” He adds that it’s the nature of the world today that our tech skillsets become obsolete every few years, so it’s important that a workforce is curious, wants to learn and can use filters to judge what solutions are most relevant for the organization.
The guiding light for bringing exciting new technologies to the Shoptalk audience is the fact that they address the current needs of the retail industry, aligning well with the conference agenda as a whole. Shoptalk’s role is not to advise individual attendees what solutions will work for them, but to offer a rich portfolio of possibilities and facilitate connections among attendees to find partners and solutions. Laszlo says it is a successful model because “We keep it honest and transparent. We don’t do any pay-to-play speaking. Every solution provider we feature on our stage is there because they do something that’s worth our audience’s attention.”