The fourth year of Shoptalk in Las Vegas has come and gone. Running from March 3rd-6th, this year’s event sold out at 8,400 attendees. Similar to many retail conferences today, Shoptalk is heavily rooted in e-commerce and customer experience and if you’re interested in direct-to-consumer startups as week as big-name retailers, this is the conference for you.

So, if you’re wondering if you should attend next year’s event or just want to know more, we’ve got you covered. Here are 5 key takeaways from Shoptalk 2019:

1. Stores Must Become the Playgrounds of Retail

Something that has become obvious in recent years is that physical retail is not dead. Now, more than ever “people are striving for human connection,” explained Jocelyn Wong, CMO of Lowe’s Home Improvement, during the “New Brand-Retailer Relationship” session. To create these connections, retailers, both traditional and digitally native, must consider developing store environments that are more immersive, appealing and engaging. It’s has been proven that more revenue is generated through in-store purchases than any other selling channel, so why not elevate the physical space to increase these sales even further? People want unique experiences and a place to play, engage and trial – so give them what they want.

2. Partner Up to Expand Your Reach

Retail partnerships and brand collaborations are on the rise and the more they occur, the more benefits they prove to hold for brands – both new and old. Many retailers are starting to realize they can learn from one another and can gain both value and consumer reach. In a session entitled “New Retail Experiences,” Neela Montgomery, CEO of Crate & Barrel explained how the beloved lifestyle brand, recently collaborated with the digitally native furniture subscription start-up, Fernish. “The Rent-the-Runway of Sofas” was able to showcase their innovative, new platform to a potentially new audience of furniture-lovers, while Crate & Barrel added a new selling (or in this case, renting) channel, adding a layer of flexibility to the brand and expanding its product reach even further by offering up their products at a lower point of entry.

3. Become More Authentic by Marrying Data and People

Consumer data was a hot topic at this year’s event and in today’s market it’s crucial for companies to utilize data in order to gain customer insight. As data continues to play a large role for most brands, it’s imperative that retailers understand how to use it to the full potential. In the session “Delighting Customers through Personal Interactions,” President and COO of Stitch Fix, Mike Smith explained the importance of using data while staying authentic with consumers. He shared how the brand employs hundreds of data scientists, but that the data they pull would ultimately have no true influence without the input of the thousands of stylists they also employ. Data may reveal some powerful things, but it’s important to remember that behind that data are real people with thoughts and feelings looking for authentic and engaging experiences.

4. Try Something New or Get Left Behind

This year’s conference was a good reminder of why it’s important for legacy retailers not to get content with the status quo. Today consumers are more comfortable with the idea of brands trying something new – a fail-fast mentality that keeps brands motivated to experiment and innovate to keep both their environments and experiences fresh. From AI to social media, its now easier than ever to try something new. In the session “Facebook, Building Shopping Experiences for the Changing Consumer,” Mark Rabkin, VP, Ads & Business Platform Facebook explained how Dick’s Sporting Goods recently began using digital ads over the 2018 holiday season. As a result, the company reached record metrics for itself – and within Facebook advertising. This is just one example of how traditional retailers can still make their mark and get ahead in the game by adjusting and updating their digital strategies.

5. Empower and Leverage Your Retail Associates

Full swing into the digital age it may seem hard to believe that people are craving human connection, but as already mentioned, this is very true. To provide this specific human connection retailers need to shift the role of store associates into brand ambassadors, empowering their feet on the ground to share and embrace the brand’s values, mission and story. Don’t make key decisions without gaining associate insight and buy-in. There is no greater brand advertisement than your people – provide opportunities for them to start a dialogue and engage with shoppers on a personal level. Your environment can be memorable for shoppers, but your associates are the ones that will make the experience meaningful.

Overall, I left Shoptalk 2019 with some great insight and inspiration. While over the years, the brand names have gotten bigger and the audience has grown, I challenge ShopTalk to focus more on disruption in the coming years and less on simply checking off the ‘big brand names’. I think retail could learn more from out-of-industry insights and learnings from disruptive start-ups to keep the thinking fresh and the approach innovative.

**Click here to view and download some of this year’s ShopTalk presentations.