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Key Takeaways from the 2023 Retail Innovation Conference & Expo (RICE) 

Our retail experts recently attended the 2023 Retail Innovation Conference and Expo (RICE) held earlier this month. The event brought together industry leaders and professionals from across the U.S. to share perspectives on omnichannel strategy, eCommerce, and digital marketing as well as discuss how to turn the latest industry disruptions into new commerce opportunities. 

2023 Retail Innovation Conference & Expo (RICE): 5 Takeaways

Below, we outline five key takeaways from the 2023 RICE: 

1. Retailers must look to create an immersive experience.

Customers are increasingly craving community and deeper engagement. For retailers, it’s no longer about just offering products – rather, it’s about enhancing the purchasing journey through personalized and immersive experiences, ranging from offering personalized balloons to engaging in the metaverse. Other examples include: 

  • Selling t-shirts out of a cupcake display, where every purchase makes it feel like it’s your birthday. 
  • Taking a targeted approach to marketing in the metaverse, like Coach did with its designer bags. 
  • Investing in immersive technology/3-D imaging to draw shoppers into stores. 
  • Customizing the consumer shopper experience with personalized radio, like Walmart Radio. 
  • Leveraging NFTs for loyalty programs that create an experience and a community, like Starbucks’s Odyssey.
2. Web3 is here and suggests a massive, disruptive shift in the marketplace.

Web3 has the power to revolutionize how companies market and interact with their customers, as it enables two-way connections as well as better aligns with Gen Z buying behaviors and media consumption. Companies like Puma, Liquid Death, and PepsiCo are beginning to designate Web3 Marketing Leaders, as they see it as going from a campaign to a completely new marketing channel. Web3 is still in its early days, so companies need to lean in and listen. Leaders should educate themselves and their organizations, partner with legal and regulatory teams, and prioritize use cases and pilot them. There’s still a lack of regulation and precedence in this space, which can make it that much more difficult to navigate.

3. Consumer insights are the heart and soul of innovation.

Keeping customers at the heart of all decision-making is nothing new, and there’s a proven correlation between insights-driven culture and business performance. Consumer centricity – keeping the customer at the center of everything you do – has been proven to drive revenue and encourage innovation. At RICE 2023, leaders explored three traps that can hinder that growth and innovation: 

  1. Unfettered Creativity – Focusing on the quantity of ideas vs. quality of the problem can lead to unfettered creativity; instead, it’s better to focus on the quality of the problem and its specificity. 
  2. Speed to Market – An internally beloved idea can create pressure to launch. When an idea gets a resounding amount of commitment, the obsession over that idea can lead to moving too fast. 
  3. Research Function Maturity – Oftentimes, organizations obtain lots of consumer insights but they don’t have the ability to influence decision-making with those insights 

To avoid those traps, retailers should start with what they can observe and keep going. Make sure you’re integrating consistent research touchpoints at every step of the way and truly capturing the voice of the customer; collecting and leveraging these insights must be at the top of leaders’ priority list. 

4. The possibilities of Generative AI.

For retailers, the opportunities with generative AI can help empower research, ideation, visualization, scaling, advertisement and pitch. Leveraging easily accessible toolsets, like Perplexity, ChatGPT, Midjourney, Adobe Firefly, and more, can enable organizations to more efficiently work together to solve business needs and reach their customers. For example, a product manager could use an AI platform to convert a long-form article into a video, instantly making that content more accessible and customer-friendly. By learning which tools are best for what areas (i.e., ChatGPT has been proving strongest in ideation, while Midjourney has more visualization capabilities) retailers will be better able to realize the true potential of generative AI for their various needs. However, keep in mind that like with most technologies, AI tool interaction and workflow between platforms still requires human touch and human review.

5. Don’t forget about the circular economy/reCommerce.  

Retailers have a massive opportunity if they are able to understand and manage what happens to their product after the initial sale. In 2022, North America processed $816 billion in returns – of that, 9.5 billion pounds of product ended up in landfill. That equates to 10,500 fully loaded Boeing 747s, according to the 2022 Optoro Impact Report. Customers, perhaps most notably Millennials and Gen Z, continue to value sustainability and look to purchase items from companies that prioritize sustainable practices. For example, 59% of shoppers say they are open to buying “open box” items (opened but never used) due to the satisfaction in knowing they’re saving items from a landfill; further, 59% of shoppers say they buy secondhand due to the value, and 27% say they’re turning to reCommerce during rising inflation to stretch their budgets further. 

Looking Ahead 

We expect these themes to continue to dominate the retail industry as we move into the second half of 2023 and beyond. Retail is always in a state of evolution, and those that continue to push the envelope will have the opportunity to meet customers where they are and ultimately gain market share.  

To chat more about 2023 RICE or other emerging trends and topics in the retail industry, connect with us today. 

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Tags: eCommerce, Event Recap, Omnichannel