In this, the new gilded age of technology, the biggest challenge for marketers may not simply be keeping up with the latest in software and hardware, artificial intelligence, data regulations, advertising platforms and other emerging innovations.

Without a doubt, the driving force of change today: consumers, according to speakers and panelists at the spring Shoptalk conference — a marquee industry get-together focused on “reimagining retail” — March 17-20 in Las Vegas. As one leading marketer put it: “Moving at the speed of the customer is one of the most difficult things we do.”

Unlocking the riddle of the consumer was a top area of concern for the 10,000 retail changemakers at Shoptalk, which included a delegation from Quad and its full-service media agency Rise, a Quad company. Out of the many storylines at the forefront in Las Vegas, here are three that emerged as among the most consistent:

Shoppable video is rapidly gaining traction

The next big frontier in e-commerce is shoppable video, a new format in which brands can both tell a story about a new product and sell it to you at the same time. A recent study from eMarketer found that a quarter of all U.S. adults have already made purchases through shoppable video and another 30% have shown interest in doing so.

The ability to seamlessly go from content to commerce is most noticeable in applications such as TikTok Shop and YouTube, but also is being used on over-the-air TV, connected TV and other channels, and in new ways in multiverse applications such as Roblox and Fortnite, says Marcus Lancaster, Head of DTC Strategy at Quad.

“Consumers want the ability to move fast and buy from these channels, and brands have to adapt,” Lancaster said in a post-Shoptalk interview.

The emergence of shoppable video also opens new opportunities for creators as the line between content and commerce blurs. Last November, for instance, Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, introduced a 23-episode shoppable holiday series on Roku, TikTok and YouTube.

The key to success as worlds of creative and commerce converge: Giving good creators and influencers the flexibility to do what they do best, which is to produce content that’s genuine. “Authenticity is key,” said Jamie McGarry, Head of CPG Strategy and Growth at Quad and another Shoptalk attendee. “The best content tells a compelling story, and when it does, brands stand to benefit.”

Rethinking the ‘endless aisle’

Brands have long pursued the idea of the “endless aisle” as a way of converging online and in-store experiences. Endless aisles allow in-store customers to order products online that they may not be finding on the shelves.

But according to speakers at Shoptalk, consumers value smart curation of relevant products for e-commerce and in-store presentation — and may not appreciate “endless” options.

“Consumers don’t want the endless aisle. They want the best aisle,” new Macy’s CEO Tony Spring told Shoptalk attendees.

That realization is coming at the right time, as growing capabilities for learning from data and AI are helping retailers and brands draw the right conclusions about the best products to feature.

Joe Cano, Chief Marketing and Merchandising Officer at Zappos, shared how focusing on key brands has helped to “wow” Zappos customers by serving them more relevant products. “Our assumption is that the customer doesn’t have a lot of time, so we decided to focus on curation of the brands we believe most in,” Cano said, “and our brand partners are loving it.”

While AI has become a dominant topic in retail and across other fields, “It’s important to remember that no one has figured out the best way to leverage it yet,” said Tanya Gegare, Client Development Executive at Quad, about one of the recurring subtexts of Shoptalk.

Consumers making careful choices amid economic uncertainty

While the data is giving conflicting signals about the health of the economy, many panelists at Shoptalk noted definite signs of a change in consumer behaviors.

For instance, consumers are “trading down” in certain categories so they can afford “special splurges” in others, a senior partner at McKinsey & Company said during a Shoptalk panel. Particularly interesting in this space are the behaviors exhibited by Gen Z. Claudia Lima-Guinehut, Executive Vice President and Chief Merchandising Officer at Claire’s, shared that “Gen Zalpha” (the combination of Gen Z and Gen Alpha) consumers “tell us what they want — and they want it quickly.”

Consumers may be tightening their belts, but they are doing so in a way that allows them to continue to treat themselves, said Lawrence Kennedy, VP of Strategic Accounts at Quad, who also attended Shoptalk. (Quad highlighted the treats trend in a recent playbook.) “It’s clear that consumers are seeking value, without depriving themselves, and are often spending more on experiences versus products,” Kennedy said.

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