October 15, 2019

Hot Topics Pondered at IRDC

Reflect had a blast at this year’s International Retail Design Conference in Boston! It was enlightening hearing from retail’s thought leaders and networking with great partners. We’re more passionate than ever to collaborate and reshape the future of retail.

Here are our 7 key takeaways from the conference.


Retail is transforming, and the category feels it: double-digit annual increases in eCommerce sales, digitally native brand disruption, accelerated store closings while foot traffic continues a 10% year-over-year decline, plus shopper expectations around experience have never been higher.

Numerous industry experts shared stats on how the game is changing, and we’re all a little nervous about the future. There isn’t a clear playbook for success–some big box and specialty retailers thrive while others close. The good news is that shoppers like visiting physical stores, and they choose to spend their money with brands that deliver a superior experience. Brands can win by using design, technology, and supply chain strategies to make the shopping experience as seamless, personalized, and convenient as possible.  


Today’s shoppers visit stores hoping for three things: 1) in-stock products they can touch & feel, 2) smart recommendations by staff, and 3) personalized experiences. We cannot overlook the importance of people. The staff communicates a brand’s story, sells merchandise, and makes or breaks loyalty.

Research shows retailers should invest more in their people by better equipping them to provide value in the customer experience. A 2018 report stated that large retailers spend 1% of their training budgets on tools and technologies–the lowest figure of all industries.

We cannot miss opportunities to facilitate strong human connections in stores. Within retail, Walmart uses VR to transform the way they train associates. “Walmart Academies” has led to 10% higher training scores and shortened timeframes for training customer service reps.


IRDC featured amazing sessions on the power of branding. One of the show’s highlights was the keynote by Johnny Cupcakes. The world’s first t-shirt bakery exploded into a national phenomenon with eye-catching products, a unique shopping experience, and a mighty brand.

Brands affect the bottom line of retailers by:

  • Creating desire
  • Becoming synonymous with status and prestige
  • Validating self-esteem
  • Creating a sense of belonging

Consumers buy from brands they trust and where there is a personal connection. Tell an authentic story that resonates with your shoppers in order to build loyalty. It’s what Johnny Cupcakes has done, and now more than 2,000 loyal shoppers have the logo tattooed on their bodies!


IRDC buzzed with chatter on how to create “immersive experiences.” Yes, experiences that fully envelop shoppers can be very powerful, but they’re also difficult to scale. With a growing focus on customer experience, don’t forget to master the fundamentals around solving shopper pain points. It doesn’t have to be “immersive” to deliver great results.


Retail mavens shared great case studies on how strong collaboration produces award-winning work. Whether it was partnering with research firms to better understand insights on target customers, testing different floor design treatments, or deploying new in-store technology, the best results came from open collaboration and involving partners early in the process.


The role of technology was a hot topic. IRDC attendees questioned the role of digital experiences and what objectives it could/should achieve. We know digital signage and technology improve the in-store experience, but we also know it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Executions focused on brand storytelling can have different hardware and content than those dedicated to driving sales lift.

As a general rule, prioritize revenue-generating digital initiatives that address consumer pain points unmet by competitors or automate routine processes that detract from that focus.


Expectations of today’s shoppers are higher than ever. 80% of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services (Salesforce). Product, people, and design/technology elements within the physical store shape the customer experience.

Personalization is now table stakes. 63% of shoppers expect companies to recognize them wherever they engage (Salesforce). It’s time for retail to seriously invest in leveraging data to create a single view of the customer and find ways to surpass their expectations.