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Shoptalk 2024 Wrap-Up: AI “Hype” and Back to Retail Basics—Loyalty, Physical Stores and More

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Coresight Research is an official research partner of Shoptalk 2024, which took place March 17–20 in Las Vegas, Nevada, US. Shoptalk is an annual retail conference focusing on the trends, business models, and technologies shaping the future of retail.

This year, Shoptalk attracted 10,000 attendees. It featured 225+ speakers (with a 50:50 gender balance) and its largest Exhibition floor yet. The meetings programme enabled more than 200,000 mutual requests to meet. During the show, the Shoptalk team announced the launch of The New Market, a brand-new event to take place within Shoptalk Spring in March next year. True to Shoptalk’s DNA, the event will bring a fresh perspective to the attention industry, convening a community of stakeholders from across the ecosystem: media buyers; technology solutions; retail media networks (RMNs); agencies; and next-generation publishers, including streamers and connected TV, gaming, immersive worlds and more.

At Shoptalk 2024, the Coresight Research team presented at panels, attended conference sessions, met with clients old and new, participated in one-to-one sessions and hosted networking dinners at the show.

Left to right: Sarah Shmukler-Karpov, Community Manager at Coresight Research; Chandan Mahajan, Co-Founder and Chief Organic Growth Officer at Sangria by dotkonnekt; Gitika Bhatia, Founding Member at Sangria by dotkonnekt; Vanessa Yan, Entrepreneur in Residence at Craft Ventures; Deborah Weinswig, Founder and CEO of Coresight Research; Mohammad Ahsen, General Manager at Mark’s; Sean GR, Vice President Digital Commerce at Premium Brand Holding Corporation; Oren Paran, Managing Director at Retail Innovation Club
Source: Coresight Research


In this report, we present our top insights from Shoptalk 2024, centered around five key themes, as identified by Shoptalk: creating unified retail experiences; employing AI to transform your business; harnessing brand power and generating brand trust; building loyalty via seamless customer journeys; creating unified retail experiences and navigating changing industry relationships. See Figure 1 for our summary of our key takeaways!

Figure 1. Key Takeaways from Shoptalk 2024

Source: Coresight Research


Shoptalk 2024 Wrap-Up: Coresight Research Insights

1. Creating Unified Retail Experiences

Retail Innovation in China

Deborah Weinswig, CEO and Founder of Coresight Research, presented insights on retail innovation in China, diving into the market factors that are influencing retail and e-commerce growth in the country. She highlighted five ways that retail companies can win in China’s complex and competitive market—namely, product, brand and marketing localization, festivalization, and immersive brand and product discovery.

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Weinswig presents five ways that retail companies can win in China’s complex and competitive market
Source: Shoptalk


Physical Stores Are the Retail Hub

Various speakers at Shoptalk 2024 discussed how physical stores remain the essential center of gravity in the retail space, anchoring the shopping experience. Melissa Blandford, Senior Vice President of Stores and Operations at footwear retailer DSW, for example, discussed how DSW is creating a seamless retail experience by ensuring that any inventory rolled out online is also available in its physical stores, meaning consumers can enjoy the same experience across all channels. The retailer has also added localized areas to stores, which feature locally made and themed products, making customers feel like each store is their own personal store. Additional initiatives that DSW has implemented to drive traffic and increase engagement include its Soles4Souls shoe-donation program, adding coffee bars to stores and rolling out AI-powered try-on tools.

Other offerings tied to physical stores can enhance the experience and improve consumers’ view of a retailer, while simultaneously providing instant benefits to the retailer. For example, electric vehicle charging stations increase shopper dwell time and characterize the retailer as sustainability minded. On the other hand, together, two technologies, RFID—which offers item identification and inventory visibility—and computer vision, can create frictionless, checkout-free stores, enhancing the shopping experience.

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The “Rethinking Physical Stores: Footprint, Purpose and Metrics” panel, from left to right: Rosalind Johnson, SVP and Chief People Officer and Experience Officer at Build-A-Bear; Melissa Blandford, SVP of Stores and Operations at DSW; Ruthie Underwood, Chief Creative Officer at Shinola; and Kelly Pedersen, Partner, US Retail Leader at PwC
Source: Shoptalk


2. Employing AI To Transform Your Business

AI was a central theme at Shoptalk 2024, as many retailers and brands reported actively using generative AI (GenAI). This reveals how far the technology has come since the Shoptalk 2023 conference, which took place in March 2023, just a few months after the announcement of ChatGPT 3.5 in November 2022.

GenAI: Overhyped, Underhyped or Properly Hyped?

Head of Content at Shoptalk USA, Joe Laszlo, asked panelists, as well as the Shoptalk audience, whether GenAI was overhyped, underhyped or properly hyped. The audience poll revealed that 52% of the audience stated that GenAI has “just the right amount of hype,” while 33% felt it is “overhyped” and 15% believed it is “underhyped.” The panelists shared a similar consensus: most stated that they feel that GenAI is overhyped in the short term, but that its capabilities are underestimated in the long term. As one of the panelists pointed out, this could be due, in part, to the apparent promotion of AI technologies: for example, much of traditional AI is now being referred to as GenAI; some basic automation is being classified as AI; and some regression or analytics are being characterized as machine learning (ML).

AI: Current Use Cases

There were several examples of AI, including GenAI, in practice mentioned throughout the conference, including the following:

  • Alimentation Couche-Tard discussed using customer data to provide relevant, personalized upsell ideas at checkout. For example, if a customer purchasing Doritos had previously purchased Mountain Dew, the point-of-sale (POS) device could recommend the beverage, increasing the average order size.
  • Domino’s is using AI to deliver personalized ads to consumers; for instance, its AI can help not show ads for pizzas containing meat to customers who have historically only ordered vegetarian pizzas.
  • Google highlighted several AI-powered shopping tools, including: the Chrome browser’s new ability to track shopping-cart abandonment and remind users of their unpurchased items; the growing connection between Google Lens image recognition and search, allowing users to search for products with a photo; the “Circle to Search” feature on premium Android phones, which finds an item in a photo or video for purchase within any app; and “Shop with Google,” which creates photo-realistic images from a search that the user can use to find purchasable items.
  • Lowe’s is using AI to redesign store layouts in ways that increase sales, as well as utilizing various emerging technologies to help customers visualize how home-improvement projects will look before they purchase any items.
  • Meta delivered a compelling demo of the company’s multimodal GenAI language model. The demo featured Karin Tracy, Head of Retail, Fashion and Luxury at Meta, asking her Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses what to wear for her Shoptalk presentation, with the platform offering recommendations for clothing and shoes. She also stated that Meta possesses the largest product discovery engine and that 40% of Instagram content is recommended by AI.
  • Tapestry showcased its associate app that utilizes GenAI to allow associates to “talk” to the app. The app then synthesizes the information and learns from it “in real-time,” providing near-instant feedback.
  • Walmart first started using GenAI internally, developing the Me@Walmart app for associates, enabling them to search the myriad policies of the world’s largest retailer without needing to leave the store floor and leaf through binders, saving “millions of dollars of hours.”

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Tracy discusses Meta’s multimodal GenAI language model
Source: Shoptalk


AI: Philosophy and Strategy

Notwithstanding the impressive AI use cases discussed at Shoptalk 2024, the technology still has the potential to provide significant benefits or go completely awry. As such, retailers and brands need to define their needs for the technology before jumping in, putting structure to many CEOs’ questions of, “What are we doing in AI?”

In contrast to naming a new C-level officer for each emerging technology, Walmart drafted general principles surrounding technology risk four years ago, which continue to guide the company to this day. Via these principles, Walmart maintains a “duty of care” to its customers to use their data only when appropriate and necessary and to inform them when AI is being used. At the same time, Walmart’s senior management has adopted a pro-technology orientation and sees the pillars of GenAI adoption as “inform, educate and entertain.”

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Nuala O’Connor, Senior Vice President and Chief Counsel of Digital Citizenship at Walmart, delves into how Walmart is managing the risks of GenAI
Source: Shoptalk


At the end of the event, the Shoptalk team assembled key AI-related takeaways from the conference, specifically advising retailers to follow these four steps when implementing GenAI:

  • Create an inquisitive environment and team
  • Test out some internal use cases
  • Implement guardrails
  • Roll out AI to customers

3. Harnessing Brand Power and Building Brand Trust

CPG Brands Can Be High-Growth Products

Procter & Gamble (P&G) owns many of the most popular, iconic consumer brands worldwide, including Tide detergent, Crest toothpaste and Ivory soap. The company has built these brands up by maintaining an innate understanding of their customer and overall consumer trends; for example, women entering the workforce in the 1940s drove the need for synthetic detergents, while the needs of single people living alone are driving current innovation. This understanding has enabled the company to grow faster than its markets for decades, even posting healthy growth rates in mature markets.

Still, P&G faces many of the same challenges that other brands (as well as retailers) face, namely around on-shelf availability. This problem often results from a lack of data integration, as data is often not integrated within a physical store—i.e., products may not be available on the shelf although there is sufficient inventory in the storeroom. End-to-end supply chain integration can solve many of these problems and enhance brands’ images through better in-shelf availability.

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Shailesh Jejurikar, COO at P&G, details the company’s product innovation over time
Source: Shoptalk


Meeting Consumers Where They Are

PacSun stated that its focus is on Gen Zers and that it receives constant feedback from young consumers via social media. To resonate with Gen Zers, the company aims to provide a “multi-channel, seamless” shopping experience. Moreover, to build loyalty, PacSun pays attention to where consumers spend their time; for example, the company has partnered with gaming platform Roblox to offer special benefits for loyalty club members and is working to become the first retailer in the sunglasses space to accept Bitcoin payments via the BitPay app.

Mattel’s brands have also undergone an enormous transformation to meet consumers where they are. Historically, Mattel, the owner of brands such as Hot Wheels and Barbie, has focused on building its individual brands; however, the enormous success of the Barbie film has enabled the company to leverage the combination of products and entertainment. Going forward, Mattel will work to unlock the value of its intellectual property with new entertainment offerings and brand partnerships. Robbie Brenner, President of Mattel Films, explained that the company is centered around three values, all of which are informed by a goal of “expertise in every vertical:” innovation, collaboration and execution. To boost demand and meet shopper expectations, Mattel is also utilizing both its social media accounts and Mattel Creations, its direct-to-consumer (DTC) site.

Growing Brands Via Word of Mouth and Partnerships

Apparel company Canada Goose has built a strong following for its jackets despite their high price points by meeting consumers’ demands (it offers a lifetime warranty and remains a family-run, Canada-based company) and through word-of-mouth and social media recommendations. The company demonstrates the value of its products and provides experiential shopping moments by offering “Cold Rooms” in its stores, which provide a cold environment for shoppers to properly test coats before purchasing. Building on the strength of its coats, Canada Goods is now branching into other categories, such as footwear and knitwear, and offering lower-priced, entry-point items, such as belt bags.

Kohl’s, one of the largest department stores in the US, has embarked on a new growth strategy, centered around four pillars: enhancing the customer experience; accelerating and simplifying the company’s value strategy; managing inventory and expenses with increased discipline; and strengthening its balance sheet. Partnerships are a major part of enhancing the customer experience at Kohl’s store: following in the footsteps of the retailer’s partnership with Sephora—which CEO Tom Kingsbury estimated will generate $2.0 billion in revenue by 2025—the company unveiled its latest partnership, with Babies “R” Us, which is set to launch this fall.

During his panel, Kingsbury also discussed how Kohl’s physical stores represent a major element of its brand, and the company is working to improve store productivity. Kingsbury concluded, “Brick and mortar is not going away…[Brands] need a brick-and-mortar presence.”

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Kingsbury (left) outlines the four-pillar strategy for growth at Kohl’s, in conversation with Melissa Repko, Retail and Consumer Reporter at CNBC (right)
Source: Shoptalk


4. Building Loyalty Via Seamless Customer Journeys

Listening to Customers

Target’s EVP and Chief Marketing Officer, Lisa Roath, offered a keynote with details on changes to the company’s Circle loyalty program. The program will comprise three tiers: a free tier; a tier for Circle (formerly “Red Card”) cardholders; and the third tier, Circle360, a paid membership program. The company developed the program by listening to its customers in focus groups, surveys and “shopalongs,” where it shopped alongside everyday customers to determine and, ultimately, solve their problems. In addition, Target examined the overall usability of its digital experience and began making its app easier to use and more streamlined.

Similar to Kohl’s, Roath stated that partnerships will play a greater role in Target’s revamped loyalty program; for example, it plans to link the Ulta Beauty and Target Circle apps to provide users with double Ulta loyalty points. Target also aims to offer more memorable moments of “micro-joy,” which Roath described as the feeling a customer gets when their Starbucks order is delivered to the car alongside their Target order (for example). With its new loyalty program, Target aims to create consistent, personalized experiences across all channels.

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Roath (left) discusses Target’s Circle loyalty program with Krystina Gustafson, SVP Content at Shoptalk (right)
Source: Shoptalk


Similarly, lifestyle brand Shinola is building out its loyalty program, noting that over 70% of loyalty program members have been engaged over the past “few months.” The retailer is also expanding its clienteling options, such as offering coffee and drinks to customers when they enter the store and monogramming and engraving options. Additionally, the company aims to meet customers’ time and experience demands by training its associates via roleplay exercises so that they understand how to respond to different customers; for instance, a customer looking to explore the brand’s storytelling is not treated the same as a customer who simply wants to go into a store, buy a watch, and then leave.

Video—The Center of the Action

Shoppable video combines entertainment and commerce, and, overall, video continues to resonate well due to its immediate engagement and Gen Zers’ close connection to the format. Although video increases engagement, it often does not drive immediate transactions; still, it can translate to improved loyalty and an increased likelihood of later purchases. Video also enables retailers and influencers to better convey authenticity, which is particularly important with Gen Zers. Brands need to find the optimal balance between brand-generated content and creator-generated content, and the latter outpaces the ability of a brand in terms of quality as creators can move quickly; additionally, small influencers can sometimes have disproportionately large followings.

Moving forward, shoppable video will continue to evolve—it is no longer simply another term for livestreaming. For example, this past holiday season, Walmart produced a holiday special featuring its products that was distributed in three-minute segments on TikTok, describing the event as “T-commerce” (“T” as in “TV”).

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Discussing shoppable video (from left to right): Ajay Salpekar, Head of Beauty at TikTok Shop US; Chris Lamontagne, President of Fanatics Live at Fanatics; Jill Toscano, VP and Head of Media at Walmart; and Amy Lanzi, CEO of Digitas North America
Source: Shoptalk


5. Navigating Changing Industry Relationships

Amazon’s Journey to RMN Leadership

Shopping is a journey, not just a “find, click, exit” series of steps, and RMNs need to be informed by the same signals that customers are looking for. While sponsored products can help a brand connect with customers during the shopping journey, it is more important that ads bring forward important attributes—such as pricing, shipping speed, reviews and images, among others—that are misleading if incorrect. In retail media, the priorities of the brand and customer are inherently aligned; no brand wants a disruptive interaction.

Amazon’s engagement with retail media has evolved over time and continues to evolve as new technologies and opportunities emerge. Initially, Amazon did not set out to create and dominate the retail media category; rather, the initial focus was to provide information on products that were not hosted on Amazon.com. Today, Amazon has a direct connection with consumers via its Fire TV sticks, Prime Video app and hosting of Thursday Night Football, enabling it to combine entertainment and commerce in innovative new ways.

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Colleen Aubrey, SVP of Ad Products and Technology at Amazon, discusses the keys to success for RMNs
Source: Shoptalk


More Evolution Ahead for Retail Media

There have been three “eras” of retail media, according to Andrew Lipsman, Founder and Chief Analyst at Media, Ads + Commerce:

  • In the 1.0 era, retail media was primarily driven by search.
  • In the 2.0 era, which we are currently entering, retail media will embrace evolving media formats, such as streaming.
  • The 3.0 era will encapsulate the future of retail media, during which Lipsman expects retail media to be more experiential and focus more on customer lifetime value.

Looking forward, in-store retail media represents a new frontier. While the industry has not yet solved the problems surrounding reimagining the structures in the world of shopper marketing, Pinterest still believes it is ready for that evolution, as it is the most-used social app in grocery stores and has experimented with smart mirrors in select Kohl’s stores.

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Left to right: Carrie Sweeney, VP of Retail Partnerships at Pinterest; Eric Tarnowski, SVP of Connected Commerce at Kenvue; Emily Bibeault, Head of E-Commerce at Campari Group; and Andrew Lipsman, Founder and Chief Analyst at Media, Ads + Commerce
Source: Shoptalk


What We Think

The Coresight Research View on GenAI

At a high level, AI combines automation with the ability to access large amounts of computing power to process large amounts of data to find relationships and anomalies within that data, many of which may be not readily apparent. AI is able to sift through data in quantities that are unfeasible for humans and eke out relationships, a process that would be uninteresting for humans, freeing humans from tedious and repetitive work. Machine learning adds the ability to select, operate, maintain and monitor the optimal AI model for any given job. GenAI adds the ability to communicate with the models in human language, with prompts to activate language models submitted in standard written language.

GenAI builds on the foundations created over more than 70 years of research into AI and, more recently, ML. The technology represents the next major revolution in the history of technology, standing on the shoulders of the microprocessor, the Internet, cloud computing, AI and the smartphone, bringing the benefits of all these technologies to everyday users and consumers.

The revolutionary capabilities of GenAI lie in its generative aspect—its ability to create new text, images, audio, video and other content, driven by instructions written in natural human language. In addition to the well-publicized applications such as summarizing, drafting and translating text, GenAI will enable enterprises to find new insights in their own data by means of an interactive conversation, and the technology will interface to other business functions, such as data analysis, finding new business opportunities or eliciting data from supply chains.

We envision that AI could ultimately power personal digital assistants/copilots that continuously help consumers with shopping, scouring the internet for deals or opportunities and offering personalized services, helping them manage their lives. The latest generation of smartphones include AI models that increase their processing power and have the ability to run LLMs (large language models).

While many of the leaders in AI are based in the US, software and AI talent are global, and GenAI leadership will likely occur in areas with strong software and AI talent. China has publicly stated its goal of AI leadership by 2030, and Indian conglomerates have also entered the AI race.

Continued interest and investment in GenAI technology and specialized startups will drive huge growth—of nearly 240%—in the global GenAI software market (service providers’ estimated revenue) in 2024, we estimate. The potential of GenAI is no longer confined to the likes of technology experts; it is permeating the collective consciousness of businesses and consumers alike.

Implications from This Report

Shoptalk 2024 appropriately focused on many of the current and permanent themes in retail. The question of whether GenAI is currently overhyped, underhyped or properly hyped, more than a year after the launch of ChatGPT 3.5., was a major topic of discussion at this year’s event. While the initial capabilities of GenAI were—and remain—astounding, reality is now setting in, and companies are realizing how challenging the technology is to manage. Still, it is important to note that the technology remains in its early stages, and even more astounding capabilities are yet to come, particularly around multimodal models leveraging text, images and video.

Many of the sessions took attendees back to the retailing basics: listening to customers, attending to them where they are, and relying on traditional values and behaviors that remain successful. This view was refreshing, as technology is a tool and not a panacea for all the challenges retailers face. Physical stores remain the center of gravity of retail, still accounting for the vast majority of retail sales, though their role is evolving when consumers shop seamlessly online and offline. China has elevated retail by focusing on its customers through localization and shopping festivals that not only give consumers an excuse to shop, but make shopping fun.

We think that retail media—in particular retail media via shoppable video and connected TVs—is a particularly exciting new channel. RMNs received quite a bit of coverage at this year’s event, with the topic being covered extensively during Amazon’s keynote and earning a dedicated session, and we are pleased that RMNs will comprise an entire track at Shoptalk Spring 2025. While there still remains much infrastructure and technology to be developed to bring the data collection in line with the technological capabilities, we are optimistic about RMNs entering the physical store, turning the shopping journey a complete circle.

Implications for Brands/Retailers

  • Physical stores remain the center of gravity for retail.
  • As we move forward, retail media is likely to become more experiential and increasingly focused on customer lifetime value.
  • Western retailers can learn from the localization, festivalization and immersive product discovery trends seen in China.
  • Retailers and brands can still greatly benefit from listening to their individual consumers and their problems—this information is essential to meeting customers where they are.
  • Loyalty programs and clienteling can engage customers in stores and foster generational loyalty; meanwhile, video combines entertainment and commerce, and resonates better with Gen Zers.

Implications for Technology Vendors

  • Streaming and connected TVs are driving retail media engagement. There are opportunities for vendors along the value chain, including offering complete solutions and in attribution of advertising impact.
  • There are many attractive opportunities for companies engaged in GenAI, including developing new language models and applications and moving AI to the “edge” and the smartphone.
  • There are also many opportunities to develop novel applications in “traditional” AI, i.e., automation and ML, to find opportunities and anomalies in an enterprise’s data.

Impacts from AI

  • AI is likely overhyped in the short term; however, brands and retailers have just scratched the surface of the long-term benefits of the technology.
  • Throughout Shoptalk 2024, retailers discussed several established AI use cases, including personalized recommendations and AI-powered store associate apps.
  • Many leading retailers view AI as a powerful technology that does carry risks; as such, they believe they have a duty of care to protect their customers from the potential dangers of the technology.