Retail Brew’s takeaways from eTail West 2023

We headed to SoCal to chat with retail industry executives about the coming year.
article cover

eTail West

· 4 min read

If you’ve been reading the news lately, then you know California has been seeing some pretty wild weather (wild for the West Coast anyway!) Since it seemed like such a great time to be on the roads with thousands of California drivers who’ve never seen snow, this Retail Brew reporter decided to take a roadtrip.

I headed down I-5 to sunny snowy Palm Springs for eTail West, an e-commerce and omnichannel conference promising a meeting of the minds on industry disruptions and innovations.

On stage, I sat down with executives from three of the retail world’s biggest and most exciting players to chat about their approach to emerging technologies, going viral, and leaning into brick and mortar. My sessions with Sarah Henry, VP of content, influencer, and commerce at Walmart; Kohl’s CMO Christie Raymond; and Kendra Scott CMO Michelle Peterson ran the gamut—from TikTok trends to loyalty programs.

Here are a few of my key takeaways from those conversations:

These brands are everywhere, doing everything, all at once.

You don’t have to have seen the film to make sense of this one. Brands like Walmart and Kohl’s and Kendra Scott aren’t only on Instagram. They aren’t only on TikTok. They aren’t only doing live shopping. They’re trying it all.

Walmart, for example, has been promoting live shopping on all fronts (platforms) including its own e-commerce site. At the same time, the retail giant invested in developing creators of all kinds, through the beta version of its in-house influencer platform, Walmart Creator. Kohl’s, meanwhile, has hosted holiday-themed live shopping events and tested out TikTok hashtags, and has been digging into AI and big data since before it was cool (like, 2016).

Kendra Scott, may have gone viral on RushTok, when aspiring sorority members found the brand’s jewelry perfect for rush week, but is also committed to brand partnerships, like Museum of Ice Cream and Barbie.

Sustained reach > virality

Now, going viral is a great result for any brand, but the key is less about how to go viral, and more about being prepared to take advantage of those opportunities when they come, Kendra Scott’s Peterson explained.

Stay up to date on the retail industry

All the news and insights retail pros need to know, all in one newsletter. Join over 180,000 retail professionals by subscribing today.

“People often ask us, ‘How did you get that viral video?’ or ‘How did you take advantage of that moment?” said Peterson, who joined the brand in 2022, after the first wave of RushTok. “When I look at our success during that, it really shows we have a really strong brand…Everyone at the company knows our purpose, and knows the brand pillars,” she explained.

The college sorority hopefuls who helped Kendra Scott rise to TikTok fame actually weren’t tagging the brand in their videos, which ensured that the trend felt authentic, and left room for the brand to contribute its own content to the conversation, Peterson said.

  • Staying abreast of cultural trends is also key. Peterson described her social media team as being “steeped in culture,” and pointed to Yellow Rose, Kendra Scott’s new line for the “modern cowgirl,” which tapped into the immense popularity of Yellowstone (the Peacock series, not the national park.)

IRL is front of mind

Despite the success these brands have found with online platforms, they aren’t giving up on traditional brick and mortar stores:

“Fun fact: Almost 80% of consumers live within 15 miles of a Kohl’s store,” Raymond told the eTail audience. And the company plans to expand their physical presence in the coming years, including with the rollout of in-store Sephora shops.

But it’s not just the big box retailers learning into IRL—Kendra Scott is also focused on what a physical space can do for the brand and its consumers. In addition to points of sale, Kendra Scott is leaning into its stores as event spaces, both for partnerships—the Museum of Ice Cream partnership transformed an Austin store into an interactive Valentine’s Day world—and for community-hosted events.

“We always say ‘connection before transaction,’” Peterson said. For Kendra Scott, that’s where the IRL interactions with consumers come in, providing a different connection to the brand than the viral TikToks. “That transaction will follow if you have an amazing connection,” she added.—MA

Stay up to date on the retail industry

All the news and insights retail pros need to know, all in one newsletter. Join over 180,000 retail professionals by subscribing today.