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Distributed Commerce: Insights from Shoptalk 2017

What does the future of retail look like? Find out below with insights from the Shoptalk 2017 floor!

This week, over 5,000 people representing more than 2,000 unique brands converged in Las Vegas to answer this question and more, as part of the second annual Shoptalk conference. The event has quickly become a staple for retail and e-commerce industry leaders, drawing a perfect balance of established brands, technology startups, media, analysts, and influencers. Olapic was very excited to participate in the event in a number of ways, as we sponsored the event and an “UNWIND” networking party, and our thought leaders were featured in a series of podcast and press interviews.

The idea of distributed commerce has gained buzz-worthy attention among the retail innovators we work with, and as a result is a critical interest of ours as we work to develop new solutions and strategies for our industry. With the recent launch of Instagram Shopping, and Pinterest Shop the Look, platforms are quickly innovating to enable this behavior. At Shoptalk, the discussion was front and center, with an entire track dedicated to “Distributed and Connected Commerce.” We attended a session, entitled “Enabling Commerce Everywhere,” which featured the following panelists:

  • Suja Chandrasekaran, Chief Information Officer, Kimberly-Clark Corporation
  • Ken Worzel, President,, Nordstrom Inc.
  • Lindsey Rupp, Retail Reporter & Co-Host of “Material World” on Bloomberg News

From the conversation, here were a few points that stood out as particularly compelling:

What Does Connected Commerce Mean?

To begin, the panelists took a stab at sharing what the concept of connected commerce meant to them and to their brands. According to Worzel, at Nordstrom, the goal is to look at the customer experience through the eyes of the customer, rather than through the desired goals of the brand. As he shared with the audience, “For us, if we think about the customer, our question is ‘what does she want from the experience?’ And how can we use technology and the other capabilities we have available to serve her?” Today’s customer wants convenience, continuity of experience, and context. Brands need to support that journey.

Nordstrom works to create content to support its products, using social media to tell stories to its audiences. As Worzel mentioned, customers today want context in brand marketing, but social platforms offer a different path to discovery. To date, buying off of these networks hasn’t been scaled effectively, although that is beginning to change.

For Chandrasekaran and Kimberly-Clark, the goal is similar. The brand looks at the holistic consumer experience when making decisions, including the lifestyle, and then inserts products as a complement, rather than the focus. “We know our products, we know what goes into products, we know how to tell stories around the products,” Chandrasekaran said. Additionally, the brand focuses on telling “human stories,” and Chandrasekaran noted that content is a major element in doing so effectively. Additionally, distribution must be very localized in order to resonate with an audience, and the brand must identify ways to turn engagement into conversion across each and every channel. To date, Chandrasekaran has yet to see the purchase experience work effectively on social platforms. Social, in her estimation, is more reserved for delivering context, not yet commerce. Still, for messenger services, such as WeChat, where there is a pay element, commerce has been more effective thus far.

Activating Data Effectively

Another key conversation topic surrounding connected commerce was the need to understand and activate data effectively. Certainly, this makes sense, as connecting both messaging and the purchase experience across all relevant channels requires a sophisticated data management strategy. In this nascent category, however, data has been somewhat limited. As the panelists pointed out, brands can obtain shopping analytics but not much actionable data to help scale. For brands to succeed, they will need to reconcile data points to make sense of the opportunity. Perhaps the most obvious data opportunity for brands hoping to activate distributed commerce is retargeting. Already, for brands like Nordstrom, retargeting across multiple channels is quite effective, as the same content and products can trail a customer and elicit a point of purchase.

As Worzel pointed out in the conversation, if executed properly, distributed commerce can open up the marketing ecosystem and allow brands to participate in different ways. For fashion affiliates, specifically, it will create an easy way to partner with different brands across channels, maximizing their potential while enabling direct-to-consumers experiences.

Ultimately, brands and consumers want very similar things – to be able to have an easy, personalized experience and purchase desired products. For brands, the challenge is how to serve the customer better through connected commerce activations. As these services continue to mature, multiple brands, technology partners, and third-party vendors will be able to work together and share data. As a result, brands can achieve the convenience, continuity, and context that is so critical to modern shoppers.

At Shoptalk, and beyond, brands are having this conversation daily, and now that technology is available across channels, the ones that innovate and deploy truly connected experiences are likely to thrive.