I spent two and a half days at the RIS News Retail Executive Summit (RES) in sunny San Diego earlier in June. My wife asked me when I landed if it was “sunny and 75?” No, actually it wasn’t that hot. With a high of only 72° each day, it did not make me miss the sweltering heat of Charlotte, North Carolina (high in 90’s, drenching humidity).

But fortunately the activity and discussions at RES were indeed hot….well, at least buzzing with energy. There was a lot of positive dialogue from a stellar group of retail executives, mostly on the IT side of their companies, although there were a sprinkling of supply chain and merchandising members as well.

During the awards dinner Wednesday evening, Todd Lyche of Guitar Center won Rookie of the Year and Michael Braine of Luxottica was named the winner in the Innovation category. The award for Strategic Impact went to Karen Etzkorn of HSN. And finally Richard Mader won a Lifetime Achievement award for his successful retail career with Boscov’s, Bon-Ton, Federated and especially his leadership in the Association for Retail Technology Standards (ARTS) organization for almost 20 years.

While RIS News coordinates and orchestrates the RES event, the chairman of the event was Ted Jackson, CIO of the Sport Chalet. Ted encouraged everyone to make the most of what is always a valuable event – go to all sessions, meet people you don’t know and try not to leave early.

I had been asked to be the closing keynote speaker, and while my presentation and talking points were complete, I really wanted to find out what others had to say, for several reasons. First, just to hear what is on everyone’s agenda (retailers, solution providers, and analysts). Second, to learn and confirm. Third, just to make sure I had my facts right on my presentation.

It was encouraging to find out that many of the speakers had common themes. As you can imagine, there was a lot of focus on omnichannel and the “internet of things.”

• Sucharita Mulpuru of Forrester Research stressed that omnichannel takes a long time, and can be expensive and difficult. I couldn’t agree more.

• Ted Rudman of Sears spoke about the big data analytics challenges that a retailer their size has. But rather than building enormous and slow projects to attack the problems, they focus on rapid projects, adding value in short bursts, and where necessary, failing fast.

• I participated in a workshop facilitated by Xerox. I had no idea of everything that Xerox does in the innovation space, but learned from Naveen Sharma, Xerox Chief Innovation Officer, about their focus on Rapid Continuous Improvement. Their mantra of identifying “what’s possible, what’s probable and what’s profitable” will stick with me.

• Jennifer Terrill, VP of IT at True Religion Apparel, spoke about their digital store improvement initiatives. She was clear that bringing new content into a store is creating a new promise for your customers, and it was imperative not to break that promise by having technology issues or stale content.

• Shannon Warner of Cognizant spoke on their 2014 Shopper Experience Study, sprinkled with examples from Joe Skorupa of RIS News. I appreciated her concept of a retailer needing to take to heart the “virtual importance of wearing our customers shoes.”

• We heard opinions on the State of the Retail Industry with a panel including Christina Callas, SVP E-Commerce at Hudson’s Bay, John D’Anna, SVP and CIO, Brookshire Grocery, and Rajeeve Kaul, Former SVP OfficeMax. They touched on the challenges and opportunities on which their teams are working.

Finally, in my closing keynote on Friday, I referenced several of the previous sessions, which fortunately helped me tie a lot of my message together. The title of my session was “Laying the Foundation for an Engaged Consumer.” Drawing from my very recent experience at Belk, I touched on the requirement for many retailers to improve their foundational processes and systems before they can truly think about omnichannel.

Further, it is important to think about omnichannel as a group of many projects under the umbrella of “omnichannel,” which also allows you to focus on continuous improvement rather than a single monolithic project. Finally, I encouraged us to always lead with the consumer experience, with a goal to delight the customer, versus starting with a technology answer.

Bottom line: in the omnichannel world, when it comes to defining and delivering on an “engaged consumer,” there’s good news and bad news.

• The bad news is that in retail, optimizing the consumer experience at every point in the shopping continuum is hard to do, and even harder to get the support, resources and alignment to do it well.

• But the good news is that managing the customer experience doesn’t have to be so hard – there are options, and you don’t have to try to do it all at once. From a risk and reward perspective, more customer touch points gives retailers more chances to delight their best customers. But just as with opening a new store, if you fail to delight (or worse, you disappoint), you risk losing that customer.

In closing, when customer engagement in the digital world is done well, using more ways to touch and delight, while also making it personal, this allows us to reduce friction in the consumer shopping and buying experience – ultimately delivering a more loyal, and profitable, customer.

My congratulations to RIS News on another successful RES event.

– Clay