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Retail Marketers to Congregate at Innovate

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Having spent nearly 20 years in the web industry, I have been privileged to meet numerous innovators who have set the world on a course to incredible technological sophistication. As an early participant in e-commerce, I quickly learned that retailers had a lot to gain by determining how technology could improve customer service and contribute to the bottom line.

But the sizzling pace of change can also be a burden for retailers.

Particularly vexing to many retailers is the challenge of keeping pace with consumer demands. Not only do they insist on being able to buy the latest products; a growing number of consumers now expect retailers to offer services powered by technology that didn’t exist even a few years ago. (For example, how many of you have used a mobile device to comparison shop while in a retail store?)

High consumer expectations coupled with the need to remain competitive with “first adopters” makes contemporary retailing a complex challenge. Where should retailers with limited budgets and the need to stay profitable place their technology bets? How can merchants keep pace with innovations like mobile, social networking and customer reviews, and still attend to the basics of good customer service and brand maintenance?

To help answer these questions and provide retailers access to the ideas and inspiration of true innovators, NRF is hosting Innovate 2011 — The Retail Innovation and Marketing Conference, in San Francisco this month. Now in its second year, Innovate is meant to be as meaningful to the digital crowd as to more traditional print and media marketers. The fact of the matter is that all retail marketers, whether they specialize in the latest digital trends or in crafting effective print marketing campaigns, are facing a sea change in customer expectations as shoppers become ever more wired, empowered — and demanding.

Taking a two-day break to learn how industry thought leaders are dealing with these changes is meant to give all attending retailers an opportunity to stretch a bit and spend some time just thinking. How attendees use this short respite from the nonstop demands of their jobs will go a long way toward determining the success of the event.

That said, having the opportunity to hear Wired magazine founder Kevin Kelly kick off the event and see author and renowned blogger Guy Kawasaki give the closing presentation makes for a rare opportunity. In between, all retail marketers — no matter where they “live” within a retail organization — will have the chance to talk to each other about the challenges they face.

If you attend Innovate this year, you may find that the opportunity to speak with someone outside of your area of the marketing world will show you have common ground. Those insights can be taken back and put to work right away.

An event like Innovate didn’t exist — and probably couldn’t have existed — when I started out in e-commerce in the late 1990s: The barriers between clicks and bricks-and-mortar were just too hard to overcome. Fast-forward a decade or so, and we can all admit that innovation in the face of rapid change is a challenge for all retail marketers. The hope is that Innovate 2011 will help provide not just inspiration, but a springboard to more inclusive and collaborative thinking.

Hope to see you in San Francisco March 8-10!