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Are we over the next big thing? Omnichannel’s reality bites at Shop.org Summit

The US digital retail crowd hit Seattle this week for the National Retail Federation’s annual e-commerce event, the Shop.org Summit.

Once a must-attend event for cutting-edge insights on what newness was coming out of the online retail space, this year felt like a repeat of many strategies we’ve heard before: the importance of mobile, the push for omnichannel, the overwhelming plethora of data.

Perhaps it was merely a sign of our industry and how it’s merged: having a separate brick and mortar conference in January (NRF Big Show) and a digital version in October when we live in an increasing omnichannel world, is starting to seem redundant.

Was is still worth attending? Yes. But retail’s tech rockstars seemed to have moved on from the speaker floor this year, leaving us with a series of sessions that felt like they were designed to enlighten the troops rather than inspire the next generation of e-commerce strategists. It was for the doers rather than the thinkers. But maybe, for US retail, that’s exactly where we’re at; in the trenches executing on omnichannel more than merely talking about it.

Those who attended may have come for innovation, but actually what they got was an agenda otherwise driven pretty heavily by the news. Alibaba’s swift movement into the US and its recent IPO on the New York Stock Exchange leading to a valuation of $231bn, made way for a focus on marketplace disruptions and debates about the Chinese giant and its Amazon and eBay counterparts.

The emergence of Apple Pay, another unsurprising one, meant discussion around what all is happening with mobile payments, where we expect that to go, and when we need to really be thinking about it.

Macy’s recently announced plans to introduce 4,000 beacons similarly led to talk on beacons on the expo floor. Confirmations from other big stores including Kohl’s and The North Face of forthcoming trials especially in the run up to Holiday only added to this.

With this most important season of retail just ahead of us, it’s perhaps inevitable the focus was on the execution of new technologies rather than finding the next big thing. It’s just a shame in a town that’s home to Amazon, Starbucks and Nordstrom there wasn’t also something that might at least inspire it.

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