I am in Las Vegas attending Shoptalk, a retail tech conference that has some 8,400 attendees and a way bigger trade show hall than I expected.
The conference side of Shoptalk is what compelled me to get on a long flight here, just three weeks before I need to be back for Digital Signage Expo. The organizers have keynotes, five conference tracks and lots of on-the-floor mini-theatres for vendors.
The attraction for retailers is hearing from some of the top companies in their industry, and from some of top people within those companies. Over 6 or 7 sessions Monday I heard from Alibaba, Facebook, Amazon, the CEO of the company that runs the Dubai Mall and eBay. I know other talk tracks had the heads of Gap and Nordstrom.
I also heard from a pile of tech companies – focusing on AI and voice. Those were good, but I felt at 10 minutes per they were too brief to offer much substance, and many had more than a whiff of pay to play. These were senior people saying they were “excited to announce” this or that, and encouraging people to get demos at their booth in the exhibit hall.
Maybe it’s coincidence, but it felt very much like booking a substantial stand in exhibit hall gets you a 10-minute slot in one of the talk tracks.
That, I suppose, makes some sense because the foundational aspect of the event is a massive speed-dating area at the back of the exhibit hall – 15 minute pre-arranged sessions between vendors and end-users that allow paying vendors quality time access to warm lead retail decision-makers or influencers.
The sessions are so rigidly controlled there are big arena-style countdown LED clocks on the edges of the meeting area. Vendors pay Shoptalk big money for that access, but it is not tied to having a stand. I know one digital signage company, ComQi, does the speed-dating and finds it money well-spent.
ComQi is one of very few digital signage companies here, in any form. It’s fairly weird for me to walk a show and bump into only a handful of familiar faces. It’s also glorious – as I can’t walk five feet at DSE without bumping into people. It’s great to see people, but two days at that show evaporate in no time with an endless series of “How ya doing?” and “Can you drop by our booth for a demo?” questions.
Much of the exhibit hall is filled with vendors marketing very retail-y things and services – much of it only vaguely familiar to a non-retail person like me. There are, as I find at many trade shows, companies who pop up stands with their logo and expect people to stop and engage, even though few people could possibly guess or know what’s on offer.
A lot of the vendors do things like “cloud-managed IT for the modern retailer” and “paid social solutions for driving foot traffic.” A lot of what’s around the floor is tech that manages the bridge between online, mobile and bricks and mortar. There is way, way less of the meat and potatoes store ops tech of the NRF show, like payments and checkout technology.
There is virtually no digital signage and not a single display company, at least that I noticed. But screens are everywhere. The show has fine-ish pixel pitch display columns all through the hallways of the Venetian that lead to the Sands Expo, and numerous vendors make heavy use of LED for their stands.
One robotics company, which would have a hell of time bringing in its warehouse and logistics gear, just used a big, curved LED to show attendees what they offer and what it does.
It is a very busy show – sold out, actually, as attendance is capped. That’s done, I’d imagine, because of arrangements like feeding breakfast and lunch to everyone, and somewhat ensuring there are seats for everyone in presentations (that didn’t work – standing room only at the ones I was at).
Shoptalk is very well run, fun, and there is a lot of thought and whimsy to the attendee perks. There is free coffee all over the place, and not just at vendor stands. Free desserts. And services, lots of services. I had my remaining hair trimmed before escaping snowy Nova Scotia, but I could have had that done for free on the show floor. There were blowout and makeup touch-up stations. Or had my shoes shined. Talked to a psychic. Had tarot cards read. Got a caricature done. Or pet puppies in a corral. And, as is common at trade shows, massages.
One thing that stunned me is how long this thing runs. The exhibit hall opened at 8:30 am Monday and shut down at 7. That is one freaking long day working a stand. It goes to 6:30 on Tuesday. That said, there are a few shows, like DSE, where I wish I had that kind of available time.
If you are in digital signage, should you be showing here? Maybe. It’s a target-rich environment and you’d not really have any competitors. But there’s also the speed-dating thing at the back, which is not cheap to do, but way cheaper than shipping in, putting up and running a booth.
The show subsidizes travel and lodging for qualified retailers – the trade-off being how they must agree to attend up to two hours in the speed-dating zone. But that part is curated, so you don’t have the head of merchandising for a fashion retailer staring blankly at some guy pitching cloud services or transaction processing tech.
I’m taking notes and will post some highlights on talks I heard Monday, in a separate post. Back there today.
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for some 14 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast.