Community of commerce innovators set to gather in Las Vegas

The forces of disruption influencing so much of retail have finally arrived at one of the industry’s most tradition-bound segments. Retail trade events have changed little the past 20 years, but a new event called Shoptalk (May 16-18) is reimagining every aspect of the concept. Event co-founder and chairman Anil Aggarwal spoke with Retailing Today about Shoptalk, what it is, what it isn’t and how he plans to create a community of commerce innovators.

RT: What is Shoptalk?

AA: There’s an incredible amount of disruption in how consumers discover, shop and buy all of their products, services and experiences — that’s what we call ‘commerce.’ People increasingly want commerce experiences to be more engaging and frictionless.

This disruption is the result of the convergence of some really important macro trends that are redefining consumer behavior, preferences and expectations. The macro trends range from anytime/anywhere Internet connectivity and generational shifts to the emergence of an environment today where — far more than ever — start-ups can quickly, easily and cheaply build new technologies, applications and products that fundamentally change consumer-facing propositions.

Shoptalk is the first event to bring together the individuals and companies who are disrupting or being impacted by the evolution of commerce — including established retailers and brands, start-ups, tech companies, Internet companies and investors. Our mission is to be more than just an event though — it’s to help create the definitive community of commerce innovators. We’ll have a total of more than 250 speakers, with more than 100 CEOs already confirmed, talking about disruptive innovation in commerce. We’ll also have an exhibit hall that enables everyone to network in an easy, open and accessible environment.

RT: And what is Shoptalk not?

AA: Shoptalk is not a marketplace for vendors to sell to retailers. We think there’s enough of that already out there. We have no pay-to-play on our agenda — every speaker was confirmed solely on his or her merits, not based on whether they spent money with us. If a vendor was best qualified to speak on something, we confirmed them … likewise with every other segment.

Also, Shoptalk is not focused on just one segment or vertical of the ecosystem, like retail, e-commerce, fashion or grocery. We believe that a comprehensive and all-encompassing view of the ecosystem is what will best inform our attendees and keep them ahead of the game.

We’re building a new community, and for that you need an environment that’s fully inclusive of everyone and conducive to learning, as well as long-term relationship building. That is a sizable undertaking in an industry that has spent years siloed and in a retailer/vendor dynamic, but we’ve successfully done it with Money20/20, which I founded in 2011 and which has since become the world’s largest consumer payments event, so we’re confident we can do the same for commerce with Shoptalk.

RT: You favor the word ‘commerce’ over ‘retail’ or “e-commerce” when talking about Shoptalk. What’s the distinction?

AA: Retail generally refers to those whose primary focus is selling through brick-and-mortar physical stores. And e-commerce refers to those primarily selling online. At Shoptalk, we’re covering all of the ways consumers discover, shop and buy, and we think that should be a single conversation, not separate, siloed conversations bounded by outdated thinking. This modern, comprehensive dialogue is a commerce dialogue, itself representing a disruptive shift rather than an incremental one.

RT: You’ve made a big bet that the retail industry needs an event like Shoptalk, especially considering the retail industry isn’t exactly lacking for trade shows, conferences and company specific events. What are your expectations for the first year?

AA: That’s exactly what people said when I started Money20/20 — ‘I can go to a payments event every week of the year, why do we need another one?’ As with Money20/20, we’re not focused on just creating an event — you’re right that there are already too many. We have a mission to create a community of commerce innovators and, yes, we believe retail and the other segments of commerce desperately need this community, which is being validated by the quantity and quality of adoption of Shoptalk in just its first year.

RT: Creating and growing Money20/20 was an impressive accomplishment. You feel a similar phenomenon can happen in the retail industry, or should I say, world of commerce?

AA: Yes, we see similar dynamics of siloed conversations occurring in commerce, and we believe that that needs to shift to a single, broader dialogue. The foundation of Shoptalk is to help create that new narrative and enable all key stakeholders on their journey as they determine how best to meet the needs of consumers who are fundamentally different today than they were even just a few years ago.

RT: You’re now only a few months out from the event, so where do things stand?

AA: On our agenda, we have more than 180 confirmed speakers — we’ll add additional speakers in certain areas, taking us to a total of over 250 speakers. More than 100 of our confirmed speakers are CEOs and the others are very senior executives.

We have over 125 sponsoring and exhibiting companies — and we’re adding more every week. We’re trialing some unique formats for attendee engagement to ensure an environment that’s easy and collaborative rather than lead-gen based and transactional.

And, we’ve planned some incredible onsite experiences for the 2,000-plus attendees we’re tracking to, including evening receptions and an industry night featuring Wyclef Jean.

RT: Who are some of your notable speakers at Money20/20?

AA: We have an absolutely amazing lineup of speakers, and I’m happy to list them off for you. From major retailers and brands, we have executives from 7-Eleven, Abercrombie & Fitch, Best Buy, Cole Haan, Crocs, Dunkin’ Brands, Elizabeth Arden, Express, Foot Locker, Guess?, KIND, Kohl’s, Lenovo, Macy’s, Mondelēz, Restoration Hardware, Sears, Sunglass Hut, Target, Under Armour, VF Corp, Westfield Malls and many others.

RT: Sounds like an impressive group?

AA: There’s more. From some of the best-known disruptive venture-backed companies, we have more than 100 CEOs, including the CEOs of Boxed, Casper, Curbside, Dollar Shave Club, FlightCar,, Le Tote, Plated, Stitch Fix, Shyp, Sols, The Honest Company, Tradesy and Postmates. We also have the heads of product from Airbnb, eBay, Google Shopping, Hotel Tonight, as well as the head of Amazon Prime Now and Google Express. We’re also thrilled to have the heads of business at Android Pay, Facebook Messenger and Pinterest.

In addition, the heads of consumer and retail investing will join us from venture capital firms, such as Accel, Bain Capital Ventures, Commerce Ventures, Forerunner Ventures, Lerer Hippeau Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners and others.

RT: How have you been able to secure the involvement of so many industry leaders and innovators?

AA: It’s been a grassroots build to get to where we are today and it’s been based on sharing our mission to create the community of commerce innovators. The size and scope of our speaker lineup is a great proxy for the importance of our mission and how widely it’s shared.

RT: The format of the event and even the promotional efforts are very different from what longtime trade event attendees are accustomed to. Talk about the approach you’ve taken and general philosophy on creating a community.

AA: While our speakers, agenda and other aspects of Shoptalk are key to ensuring a valuable experience for everyone, we’re about more than just creating an event. We’re about creating a community, and that means making Shoptalk not only valuable, but also fun. What better way to engage people than having fun, while benefiting tremendously in all of the other important ways they can. That’s why we create caricatures of our speakers and have a rhyming storybook for a brochure. It’s all so different, because we are and so is our mission.

RT: Aside from lining up hundreds of speakers and getting thousands of people to attend, what will success look like when the event concludes on May 18? What do you hope attendees say to one another as they head home from Las Vegas?

AA: That we helped create an important new community and narrative — a commerce community and narrative — and they’re glad to join us as part of the fabric of the ecosystem at a foundational time, supporting the journey as they make very hard decisions about their businesses.

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