The overarching theme this year is transformation and how retailers are going to need to evolve with the digital landscape.

Image: Tyra Banks presenting at

The day started with a highly energetic supermodel Tyra Banks who drew on personal experience to make the point that would be the theme of the conference: when the game you’re playing isn’t working for you anymore, don’t just sit there and cry about being too fat! Get out there and find some agents/brands that want to work with the booty! It was pretty full on first thing in the morning, but I got the point. The fundamentals of retail have shifted: don’t waste your time on pity parties, hustle hard and reinvent yourself in a new game.

Here are our top three takeaways from the speakers of the day:

Walmart’s millennial market strategy: if you can’t incubate it, buy it

Image from Marc Lore President and CEO of Walmart e-commerce US (left) and Andrew Nusca, Digital Editor from Fortune (right).

Walmart recognises how difficult it is for large corporates to be innovative and launched “Store No. 8” in March, its own in-house tech incubator. Marc Lore, President and CEO of Walmart e-commerce US, told us that Store No. 8 sits apart from the rest of the business with separate KPIs, P&Ls and even has license to cannibalise Walmart’s own existing business. Lore added you need to let people “know that they’ll be rewarded for taking risks, not penalized for them, I think that’s the kind of environment and culture you need to create to allow people to run and be comfortable moving fast.”

If you have a bit of cash lying around like Walmart you can also acquire innovation, and they received a lot of attention this year for acquiring brands popular with millennials including Bonobos, ModCloth and Shoebuy. Lore, who was himself acquired along with, said the strategy behind those acquisitions was an “offensive” play, “I’m a big believer in these digitally native brands being the future and I’ve seen them connect in a way with millennial shoppers that many brands haven’t been able to do”. The question remains for me – will these brands still have the credibility to be able to connect with their target audiences now that they’re owned by the biggest mass merchant of all time?

Pinterest takes discovery beyond words

In a world with so much choice accessible in a few clicks, how can a brand capture a consumer’s attention and then keep them coming back? We know that broadcast marketing effectiveness is declining as consumers demand one-on-one relevant content, and for the most part they skim over email titles, skip ads and ad block where ever possible. So how do we get in front of them?

Amy Vener, Retail Vertical Strategy for Pinterest, thinks we’ve skewed our investment too far towards optimising for last click and not enough into the discovery phase. As one of the leading discovery, inspiration and planning tools in market right now, Pinterest is about to shake things up with it’s new visual search tool (in beta), Pinterest Lens. Pinterest Lens lets you search with pictures when you have no words to describe what you want, either by taking a pic or using one you already have saved. We tried it out:

Image: (left to right) My journey using Pinterest Lens for the first time. It didn’t know what a beer looked like, but it does now.

It was at least able to recognise that it was a picture of a drink and impressively that it was probably an alcoholic drink. I could forgive the fact that it couldn’t narrow it down to beer, but it’s easy days and that’s why it’s in beta. Once I told it what it was though, it came up with quite a lot of interesting stuff and I actually pinned a few things! At least Pinterest has got the search results part down pat. For whatever you search, Pinterest will recommend results across various categories personalised to what it knows about your taste including recipes, outfits, similar products, craft ideas etc.

Samsung has already integrated this tech with its voice assistant AI, Bixby (available on Galaxy S8 and S8+). Pinterest also announced a partnership with Target this week, who will use the search tech in their app to recommend similar items from their catalogue and will also allow them to collect data on what styles their customers actually want to buy.

Image: Pinterest Lens powers Target’s visual search tool

The Skimm demonstrates the power of purpose

I’d never heard of The Skimm before but loved the story of Co-Founders and Co-CEOs Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin on how they came to be publishers of a daily newsletter that now has 5 million readers, and has an estimated valuation of around $55m.

Image: Co-Founders and Co-CEOs Danielle Weisberg (right) and Carly Zakin (left)

Weisberg and Zakin told the story of how they built a theSkimm with only their journalism backgrounds and no business or tech knowledge, but a very clear understanding of who their audience was and knowing exactly how to talk them. They were very clear on their purpose of not just sending out newsletters, but making it easier for their (mostly female millennial) readers to live a smarter life. They identified that their audience “want a voice that they can relate to that they trust to tell them this is what you need to know today”, and they’ve managed to deliver it with a consistent authentic tone of voice that people actually want to read at 6am.

The brand has built such an engaged following that their “Skimmbassador” program actually started organically with early fans voluntarily promoting the site. Now, they have 27,000 Skimmbassadors who aren’t targeted social media influencers, but are influencers in their personal circles. It’s the kind of engagement that many established brands can only dream of!

Their broad purpose and the trust they have built with readers has allowed them to evolve into selling things that do well on recommendations, like wine and books and they’re not stopping there. “We want to be able to anticipate what aspects of your life you need to be smarter in, so we’re going after routines that we all share and looking at how we can make them smarter”.

And that’s it for Day 2 at! Check out our summary of Day 1 e-commerce in China 101 here, Day 3 coming soon!