Interviewer: Morgan Leathers, Executive Director, Business Lead, OMD U.S.
Interviewee: Jessica Mitchell, Senior Director, Media Marketing Solutions & Innovation, OMD U.S.
Q: Jessica, as OMD’s Senior Director of Innovation and Marketing Solutions, you have a front-row seat to the innovations changing the experiences we craft for our clients.
Having led OMD’s CES floor tours for the last three years and now steering our efforts at NRF’s Retail’s Big Show, was there an opportunity, technology, or partnership that struck you as particularly exciting?
A: I like to approach innovation by considering what “new” efforts have funding to enhance an individual’s way of life or create an entirely new way of life. Over the years, as I’ve attended and reviewed various tech conferences and trade shows, I’ve seen how technology investments and advancements underpin the innovation narrative across all business categories. The impact of tech-led innovation has the potential to change consumer expectations and experiences and fundamentally propel brands to transform what it means to deliver better consumer engagement, products, and even services.
For instance, a recurring theme seen this year at CES and NRF Retail’s Big Show was the reimagined application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) via digital twins for in-store customer service, where the digital twin can replicate a recognizable figure (i.e., celebrity, mascot, influencer, spokesperson).
The generative AI application allows the digital twin to communicate and respond to real-time consumer questions.
In the foreseeable future, AI digital twin placements will move into real-life settings, enabling deeper brand engagement, especially among Gen Z and Millennial consumers. In addition, the ability to create optimized content offers fashion and beauty retailers the opportunity to scale influencer marketing content at reduced production costs and open new purchase conversion points through immersive computer vision try-on –this can position a brand as more consumer-centric and future-forward.
Q: I came across a wonderful quote by writer and photographer Pamela Klaffke, “for some, shopping is an art; for others, it is a sport. It can be a vice, and it can be a cause. Some love it, and some hate it. Rarely is someone indifferent.”
Supporting causes in our decisioning through more purposeful and, frankly, better decision-making is something we obsess over at OMD. As you listened to the keynotes and panels at NRF, was there a learning that stood out as particularly powerful and actionable?
A: I was encouraged by the emphatic importance that the retail sector is placing on sustainability. Like CES, the NRF Retail’s Big Show had sustainability prioritized across exhibitors, panel discussions, and keynotes. Supply chain operations, supplier sourcing, investor demand, post-life product cycle solutions, and sustainable focused data thread an ecosystem for a more sustainable retail network that centers consumer demand and expectation for eco-friendly product solutions.
“People drive retail,” states John Furner, Walmart U.S. President & CEO, during his opening remarks at NRF 2023. Therefore, retailers must adapt quickly to consumers’ evolving wants and needs as a people-driven enterprise.
Retailers such as GoodwillFinds, a division of the non-profit Goodwill, are playing their part and expanding their services to do better for their customers and the environment. At NRF, Matthew Kaness, CEO of GoodwillFinds, discussed how Gen Z consumers took the stigma out of secondhand thrift shopping with the motivation for cost savings and doing good for the environment. In 2022 alone, Goodwill diverted over three billion pounds from landfills. By activating the GoodwillFinds community, where consumers can shop from an online aggregated catalog of products across various Goodwill stores, the company is open to growing relationships with other retailers as an ESG partner providing a circular economy solution.
Q: What was the most interesting customer problem you saw a brand or technology solve through innovation at the NRF Retail’s Big Show?
A: Hearing and seeing retailers’ responses to labor shortages was interesting this year. In response to this challenge, we’re seeing more adaptations of machine vision technology for in-store use cases—one area in particular – faster frictionless checkout experiences.
NRF exhibitors, such as NCR, Zippin’, FlowCart, and Amazon Grab & Go, displayed their checkout-free, frictionless store technology. The technology embodies AI, image recognition, sensors, and cameras to track the items a shopper picks up while in the store. Then, when exiting the store, the shopper is emailed or texted a receipt for the things they picked up without ever having to scan a barcode or go through a checkout line. Of course, this does spark conversation around data and consumer privacy. Still, time will tell if consumers find the value exchange for frictionless checkout worth sharing their email, phone number, or credit card number before entering a store.
Q: As an OMD innovation lead, your focus is firmly-fixed on bringing the potential of the future to our clients today faster and better. What does better mean to you as you look ahead to 2024 and 2025?
A: ‘Better’ means staying mindful of consumer needs, wants, and decisions influenced by present-day circumstances such as climate change, looming recession, social injustice, inflection, war, etc. To envision how our clients can pioneer solutions and experiences that help alleviate consumer stressors and frictions to invoke ease, levity, escapism, and memories.
As Marc Metrick, CEO of Saks Fifth Avenue, states, “loyalty in retail is the absence of something better.” If a retailer is not effectively providing for a consumer, the consumer will go elsewhere.
A retailer’s application and testing of innovative technology and determining where it may be applicable and scalable is certainly helping establish and build better (and more long-lasting) consumer loyalty. Over the next few years, I expect more retailers to use more advanced AI-powered solutions for data-driven online and offline purchase predictions, enhanced in-store experiences, seamless delivery tracking, and sustainable supply chain optimization management. I also expect the continuation of a first-party data dominance exchange between marketers and retailers, expanding data cleanroom usage, and the growth and evolution of social commerce into decentralized metaverse worlds.
While future forecasts will fluctuate, what should remain tied and true brands’ efforts to be empathetic to consumers’ wants and needs to develop innovative and impactful solutions.