STORES 2017 BIG Show Daily - January 17, 2017 - 1
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
FOR POSITION ONLY
Branson: Retailers Need to Think Like Entrepreneurs
near-capacity crowd gathered in obsolete by the invention of the iPod and
the North Hall yesterday morn- the transition to distributing music in the
ing to hear what was billed as "A form of downloaded digital files.
Fireside Chat with Sir Richard Branson,"
"When we saw the handwriting on
moderated by outgoing NRF Chairman the wall for Virgin Megastores," he said,
Kip Tindell, co-founder and chairman "we decided, well, we don't have to keep
of The Container Store. Branson, whose being a retailer. We looked at what prodVirgin Group controls over 400 compa- ucts were selling well in our stores. It
nies, offered some
was the early days
thoughts for retailof mobile phones,
"It's bizarre that
ers as they struggle
so we decided
to keep their foot[to] start a mobile
you don't have more
ing in today's enphone company. It
women running retail
was the early days
"If you were a
of video games
U.S. retailer," said
doing well, so we
Tindell as an openthought, let's get
ing question, "with 20 or 30 years in out and start a video games company.
business and maybe 300 locations, and
"And actually, the businesses we
you were faced with declining foot traffic, started by sort of using the stores to see
what would you do?"
what products were selling became much,
Branson, who describes himself ac- much bigger than our retail stores ever
curately as a "serial entrepreneur," noted could have been. I know it's easy to glibly
that one of his earlier and very successful say this, but I think people who own retail
ventures, the record, CD and electron- stores should not think of themselves as
ics outlet Virgin Megastores, was made always being retailers. They need to be
2017 BIG SHOW PREVIEW
Outgoing NRF Chairman Kip Tindell chats with Sir Richard Branson.
entrepreneurial, and they need to spin off
businesses on the back of their retail that
can make them money to help the retail
stores to survive."
Push for equality
Turning to management opportunities
for women, Tindell said, "I think about
See "Branson" on page 22
Technologies Changing Retailers' and Consumers' Lives
n Monday morning, a panel moderated by Pano Anthos, founder
and managing director of XRC
Labs, discussed new technologies that are
seen to have the potential to make a significant difference in the way we conduct
our daily lives. Panelists included Sentient
CMO Jonathan Epstein, Leif Jentoft, cofounder of RightHand Robotics, Sandra
Lopez, vice president of the new technology group with Intel, and Loomia founder
The session began with a brief presentation by each panelist on the technology
they were representing and the potential
that technology has for life-changing impact in the coming years.
Impact of AI
Leading off, Epstein described the
impact artificial intelligence is having on
retail websites. "The e-commerce conversion rate is 3 percent," he said. "We'd shut
down a store with those statistics. AI can
solve that problem."
The problem with retail websites, he
said, is that they have not evolved significantly in the past decade. They tend to
be built with a hierarchical decision tree
structure that requires the consumer to
walk a slow and tiresome path to find the
products they want. Artificial intelligence
applications, which query the shopper and
quickly narrow the range of products offered, can streamline and personalize this
process. Websites using AI personalization,
Epstein said, are racking up 40 percent
conversion rates and 16 percent increases
in basket size.
Lopez addressed wearable technology.
"Are wearables here? Yes. The transition
we are making is from a world of wearables
to a world of wantables. By 2020 there will
be 50 billion connected devices, and they
will interact. It's all going to be driven by
220 billion overall sensors."
A key question, she said, is what kind
of use will be made of the resulting tsunami
of data. "There are two possibilities," she
said. "One is that data is pollution. The
other is that data is the new oil."
RightHand Robotics makes robots,
which Jentoft said are at a transition point.
The technology has been around for de-
cades, but it has been largely limited to
very structured, very stable environments,
doing the same thing - welding two parts
together, picking up and moving heavy
objects - over and over and over.
The new generation, however, can
operate in unstructured environments doing variable things; Jentoft demonstrated
with a video of a robot picking and sorting
products from baskets on a conveyor belt,
identifying what it wanted from each basket and distinguishing the wanted objects
from unwanted ones. "This," he said, "will
enable robots to move from B2B to B2C."
Loomia is in the business of moving
from smart wearables (chip-bearing shoes,
etc.) to making what we normally wear, i.e.
clothing, smart. "Imagine a future," Maxey
said, "where wearables are actually, well,
wearable. This future needs robust and reliable smart fabric to become a reality. Our
smart fabric conducts electricity in patterns,
making a fabric into a circuit. These sorts
of smart fabrics mean an exciting future
for not just apparel, but also furniture,
industrial wear and even wristbands. To
create this future, we're mixing up stretchable and flexible conductive materials
to bring energy to fabric - literally. We
make enabling technologies to help brands,
manufacturers and makers bring electricity
to their products."