What a fabulous event. I’d like to give some praise where praise is certainly due: last week, Parker Avery was a title sponsor for the annual RIS Cross-Channel Retail Executive Summit, held at the Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas. And true to being in Texas where everything is BIG, this intimate conference of less than 75 senior-level retailers delivered some pretty impressive content, supported by the exceptional staff at RIS and the other sponsors.

The opening keynote, delivered by HNSi CIO Karen Etzkorn, was truly spectacular, as she guided the audience through HNSi’s vision, success factors and path to where their business is now. I was intrigued by the fact that HNSi does not use the word channels, as this defines silo’s, and operating in silos is as about as anti-omnichannel as you can get. This notion was underpinned by the RIS Cross Channel Study presentation later in the event, where it was discussed that the measurement of retail growth is becoming blurred: retailers are moving away from measuring growth by channel – rather, they are embracing measurement by the brand.

Etzkorn also talked about HNSi’s “4 Core Elements of Experience,” which are Insights (knowing their customers), Engagement (building rapport and excitement), Generosity (the brand’s value beyond selling like philanthropy) and Trust (building loyalty and confidence). I also enjoyed hearing about the personalized “gamification” strategies HNSi has employed – giving customers a reason to visit them that is beyond the products. I think what struck me the most is twofold: that this brand is not only very successful and relevant without a physical channel, but more so that HSNi’s original channel is television – an almost antiquated form of marketing and retailing – but one they’ve managed to not just keep alive, but thrive and grow as a key part of their brand strategy.

Another speaker I had the good fortune to hear was Leeann Fecho, Marketing Manager from the Follett Higher Education Group. She talked about how they engage and target their customers via mobile, focusing on market basket data captured in the store, combined with agility to anticipate and address customer needs. This leads to an “offers wallet,” which are targeted mobile coupons based on the historical market basket data and customers’ unique phone numbers. During the Q&A of Fecho’s breakout session, we talked about the opportunities to leverage the students’ data into the post-college / alumni years and even possibly into subsequent generations. Fascinating stuff.

Another key takeaway was from Brent Trent, Vice President, E-Commerce from the Ascena Retail Group in his session “Lessons Learned in 4-D Retailing.” He talked about the differentiation of “t-channels” or transactional channels vs. “e-channels” or engagement channels. T-channels are how customers buy, whereas e-channels are how customers and brands interact. Strategies, communication methods, processes, organizations and supporting systems are aligned to the channel’s objectives and purpose.

Trent also talked about the fact that the “new normal” for customer engagement is that distraction is the rule, while focus is the exception. Think about this for a moment. With the ubiquity of mobile devices, multiple screens, various channels, and wide varieties of choices in just about everything, combined with normal, everyday life events (kids, work, travel, school, etc.), the level of “CDA” or “Continuously Divided Attention” is quite high. Retailers need to understand that they will never have their customers’ complete, undivided attention, so to ensure the right communications hit their mark, they must be timely, very relevant and highly personalized – not only from a content perspective (what a customer needs or wants), but also from a delivery perspective (how the retailer communicates with that customer).

We are looking forward to reading RIS’ Cross Channel Study, which is to be published in early October (click here for the 2012 study). In the 2013 study, I think we will be seeing much more channel integration from all perspectives: systemic, organizational and processes. But there is still a lot of work to be done. This was evident in Parker Avery’s workshop, “Successfully Navigating to Omnichannel Maturity,” where we discussed the different business models that are in transition. These models included single channel, multi-channel, cross-channel and omnichannel. It became evident during the workshop that as retailers moved from single channel through multi-channel and into cross-channel, that their desire to quickly become omnichannel will be the key driver for technology investments and fundamental changes to their business models. Most retailers admitted there is still a lot of work to be done.

All in all, the RIS Cross-Channel Retail Executive Summit, was a fabulous event. We met with and enjoyed networking with many of the attendees, and RIS, the other sponsors and the hotel staff were amazing to work with. We are most certainly looking forward to next year’s event.

Shop on.

– Tricia