Ok onto Day 2 of the National Retail Federation’s ‘Big Show’ – if you missed our Day 1 wrap-up it’s here. There were some seriously great speakers today – most of them women – nice to see the change-up in leadership happening in retail. We listened to legends like Arianna Huffington (author of Thrive and founder of Huffington Post), Beth Comstock as well as business like Walmart Labs, Apple, Panera and more. Here were our top themes of the day:

1. Innovation outside of Silicon Valley
The morning opened with Beth Comstock – a total force – in the ‘Women in Leadership’ session. Yes, NRF has finally come on board with a female session showcasing leadership. Comstock was the Vice Chair at GE, and is currently a Director at Nike. She spoke a lot about entrepreneurship and the fact that ‘volatility is the new normal’. Her main point was that we need to change culture in order to address the future – to move from a mindset of big product launches to one more aligned with the Silicon Valley methodology of agile testing (and sitting above that transformational, entrepreneurial leadership).

Her point was that you shouldn’t throw capital at an idea to get it to launch, rather fund lots of little ideas to the point where you can prove that it works or it doesn’t, then move to the next stage. A more experimental, consumer-driven mindset than one obsessed with just impressing investors and the stock market.

Comstock also made a great point around the ‘team change’ dynamics. The fact that when change comes into a business particularly digital there is a split – the ‘cool kids’ (who get it) and the ‘losers’ (those who don’t). It’s important that you avoid this – that you get everyone speaking the same language and feeling included in the change (as much as possible).

2. If you can’t create it, separate it.
We listened to Lori Flees of Walmart’s incubator called ‘Store 8‘. This is a business that sits as a separate entity to the ‘mothership’. To loosely quote Flees ‘(Store 8) is where they incubate companies that will shape the future of retail. (It was designed to) help build and support the businesses or underlying technologies that will shape retail in the 3-5 year range. They’ve had some major wins in terms of talent (aka Jenny Flees ex. Rent The Runway founder now works with them) in this business because unlike other corporates they separated their incubator – from the old, traditional business.

This means that things like process and silos that exist in Walmart’s structure don’t exist here. But, maybe more importantly is that there is a separate budget. Store 8 has it’s own budget, that means that day-to-day issues or projects at Walmart don’t have the ability to carve into Store 8’s capital. Store 8 (under the ultimate leadership of Mark Lore) is a great incubator to watch for more mature retail businesses looking at addressing their future…faster.

3. Conversational Commerce:
This is the topic that couldn’t be avoided – voice. If last year was all about AI, this year (just like CES) is about voice. There’s really only one key player in this area and that’s Amazon’s Alexa (this is a fully integrated offer…unlike Google Home who will probably nail information based questions because of it’s links to their search function). Walmart’s Lori Flees spoke briefly about conversational commerce saying that it’s still very early for the technology. It’s currently good at buying one item but there isn’t the sophistication (aka learning) for it to understand – without dozens of questions – how to handle a whole basket. That said, this will no doubt change and change quickly (meaning now is the time to play and experiment with the technology). The real part of this whole voice race we can’t wait to see if who will get there first – Amazon (our bet) or Google (Walmart’s bet…for obvious reasons).

4. Remember we’ve all human (that comes first).
The second session of the morning was delivered by the beautiful human being that is Arianna Huffington – the brilliant entrepreneur who has turned her attention to self care and self love as the basis for thriving in all aspects of our life. Her opening comment was simple and definitely true ‘when you take care of yourself you make better decisions’. She followed this up with the fact that ‘we get so used to running on empty that it becomes the new normal’.

At the heart of it her argument is the fact that we aren’t machines, we are human. As humans we need to sleep well, eat well, exercise and basically recapture our humanity – those are the keys to succeeding in business and life. Given that better performance then means a better bottom line. (In fact Jeff Bezos wrote an article for Thrive Global – Huffington’s company – about this and the importance of getting 8 hours sleep). In financial terms, the bottom line is reliant on us all looking after ourselves. On that note we booked ourselves in for a massage – thanks Ariana – and we’ll be turning off our phone on the weekend to properly recharge.

Stay tuned for our last blog post tomorrow from the NRF Big Show.


Author Pippa Kulmar

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