Key Takeaways from the WWD Apparel & Retail CEO Summit

Bridget Johns
Bridget Johns
Head of Marketing and Customer Experience

The WWD Apparel & Retail CEO Summit annually promises the industry’s preeminent thought leaders two days of hard-hitting strategic conversations, and this year’s edition certainly lived up to its billing of “Create and Renew.”

The 2017 WWD Apparel & Retail CEO Summit took place in New York October 24-25, and for the fourth consecutive year, RetailNext had the privilege of participating. Annually, this show ranks among my favorites, for the speakers and topics of conversation all directly address the biggest issues and opportunities affecting the retail industry, both currently and over the short- and mid-term horizons.

This year, on the Summit’s first day, RetailNext CEO and co-founder Alexei Agratchev shared the stage with b8ta CEO and co-founder Vibhu Norby for a Q & A-style discussion about the changing nature of retail. If you’re not familiar with the b8ta story, I highly encourage you to check out the Palo Alto-based company. b8ta approaches retail with an entirely new and innovative concept and business model, and it’s making waves – big waves – as it disrupts retail’s traditional multibrand model. For the complete discussion between Alexei and Vibhu, please see the video from the Summit, below:

2017 WWD CEO Summit – Alexei Agratchev (RetailNext) & Vibhu Norby (b8ta) from RetailNext on Vimeo. Credit: WWD Apparel & Retail CEO Summit. Please visit fairchildlive.com for more.

The rest of the Summit was outstanding, with speakers including Chip Bergh (Levi’s), Neil Blumenthal (Warby Parker), Tommy Hilfiger, Kris Jenner, Pete Nordstrom and so many more. My key takeaways from the event to share with you are below.

Differentiation is so yesterday; Execution is today

A differentiated value proposition creates a sustainable competitive advantage. That’s not exactly “news,” and you certainly don’t need me to educate you on that most fundamental business school staple. But, whether you’re differentiated or stuck swimming in a “sea of sameness,” if you can’t execute effectively and efficiently, you can’t win. Not now, not ever.

Within the sphere of data analytics, the theme remains true to form. The question isn’t whether you need retail analytics or not to best operate your enterprise. Rather, it’s a question of where and how to start.

Brand authenticity resonates with consumers

Authentic brands who resonate with shoppers are winning, and they’re winning big time. Marco Bizzarri of Gucci and Kendra Scott of Kendra Scott, LLC were both big stories in that regard at the Summit, and both stories are full of lessons for brands in any retail segment or niche to learn.

Today’s connected consumer picks up everything, and I mean everything, from the good through to the bad and even onto the ugly. As a result, brands must be transparent and honest – authentic – in their dialogue with consumers, be it through stores, owned media, paid media and/or social media. Those brands who are sincere and authentic quickly find out shoppers will do the heavy lifting part of marketing for them. And, as for those brands who come across as not authentic, well … let’s just say it doesn’t bode well in a retail environment where shoppers have an almost unlimited number of global alternatives in which to patronize.

Retail is not about the transaction

In today’s new shopper-controlled era of retail, there is a blending of what retail really is to the shopper. It’s no longer just a place to transact. Rather, it’ a place for community and dialogue, and, when a connection is made between brand and consumer, it’s an extension of shared values and lifestyles.

Transparency was a key theme throughout most all discussions, and Michael Preysman of Everlane illustrated how “modern basics and radical transparency” creates loyal customers and a legion of brand advocates. And, as it relates to brand advocates and social media savvy, two sterling examples presented themselves – Anastasia Soare of Anastasia Beverly Hills and, of course, the aforementioned Ms. Jenner, both brands built upon the ability to connect their communities.

The end of this year’s CEO Summit had me immediately looking forward to next year’s event. Alas, I’m going to have to wait about 50 weeks for that opportunity, and I highly recommend you look at attending as well – I’d love to talk retail with you there, in person. In the meantime, there’s a lot of work for all of us in the industry. Sure, significant challenges continue to present themselves, but so do tremendous opportunities. Good luck in your retailing endeavors, and let’s make plans to visit at next year’s Summit!

Join the #retail, #inspiringretail and #SmartStore conversations on Twitter @bridgetjohns & @RetailNext, as well as at www.facebook.com/retailnext.