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One-on-One With Shoptalk's Zia Widger

Veteran e-tailing analyst discusses fast-growing event and its new grocery-focused sister in WGB's Breakroom
Illustration by Olivier Balez

Zia Daniell Wigder is chief global content officer for the digital retail conference Shoptalk and its new sister event, Groceryshop, taking place Oct. 28-31 in Las Vegas. She's the guest in WGB's Breakroom:

Jon Springer: Shoptalk has seen attendance more than double over the past three years, with more than 8,400 attendees this year. What, in your opinion, has made Shoptalk such a phenomenon?

Zia Daniell Wigder: I think the biggest factor was simply the fact that we filled an unmet market need. There was no large-scale conference that brought together all the different parts of the retail world, from venture-backed startups to large brands, retailers and tech companies, and from investors to real estate developers. We also came in as a completely independent entity with no other purpose than to create a fantastic experience, build a new retail community and lead the industry’s agenda for innovation. And while we were convinced we had a valuable proposition with Shoptalk, we’ve been thrilled by how quickly others embraced this vision.

The grocery-based trade show was considered all but dead several years ago; now, its move online merits a show all to itself. What is it about the food retail industry that has attracted so much newfound interest?

The shift to e-commerce is indeed a big trend, given that grocery is the last large retail sector to move online. However, this piece is only one component of a much broader transformation of the grocery industry, which we define to include food and nonfoods. In addition to embracing new digital offerings, shoppers are also demanding greater transparency from brands, seeking out natural and organic products, and gravitating toward smaller brands they believe represent their values. Paired with new advances in technology, these shifts are altering the face of the grocery industry. We believe—and many have confirmed—that the grocery industry needs an event that’s horizontal across all of these opportunities and challenges.

What’s your take on the topics and issues that supermarket retailers and CPG companies want to understand most about the trajectory of retail today?

Digital technologies in particular are having a growing impact in grocery: They are enabling more interactive, engaging store experiences as well as making store operations more efficient. Retailers are using new technologies such as blockchain and RFID to create more transparent and efficient supply chains. There are also big changes that are not digitally driven: Supermarket retailers are testing new store formats and locations, while CPG companies are experimenting with new ingredients to create products that appeal to today’s shoppers. New delivery and pickup options are emerging. Our agenda covers more than 50 different topics, all of which touch on the transformation of the grocery industry.

You’ve been an analyst and researcher in the internet retail space going back to the Webvan days. Has the space evolved in a way you might have imagined 20 years ago?

In some ways, I think it’s kind of the opposite—it’s a bit surprising grocery hasn’t undergone more of a digital transformation. Over the past two decades, we’ve seen virtually every other retail category make the shift online, yet there are still naysayers in grocery who think it won’t happen. We saw this same thing in past years in areas such as apparel, footwear and beauty. There’s a false assumption that people won’t buy products online because of their desire to physically touch and feel items prior to purchase.

While the economics in grocery are certainly different and, in many cases, much more challenging than in other categories, once shoppers can access a broad selection of products at reasonable prices and with convenient delivery or pickup options, there’s no question they’ll make the shift.

Lightning Round

How old were you when you had your first paying job, and what was it?

In high school, I was a day student at a boarding school. I got paid to give school tours during vacation because there was no one else around.

What superpower would you most like to have?

To grant wishes.

Who does the grocery shopping in your family?

I do most of the grocery shopping in the family—probably half of it online. With three kids, it’s easier!

What’s the one item on your grocery list most likely not to be on many other people’s lists?

Malawach. It’s basically Yemenite fried dough. My 9-year-old would eat it every night if she could.

 

 

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