In an era where every major purchase begins with the consumer checking prices and availability on the Internet, traditional retailers are examining the impact of the networked retail environment to create a new framework for the way they will do business in the future.

Do consumers expect consistent pricing across a retailer’s multiple channels (catalogs, in-store, online), though the cost of doing business in each of those channels is different? Do customers want Tweets or other social media contact from retailers? Can a website give a similar customer experience as a visit to a store? Is there anything that can’t be sold online? These were the kinds of questions discussed at the first Thought Leadership Conference hosted by the Center for Retailing Studies at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School, January 29-30, 2009. The invitation-only conference gathered 40 retailers and academicians from across the country to discuss topics related to the theme “Emerging perspectives on marketing in a multichannel and multimedia retailing environment.”

The conference brought together industry leaders and academicians to explore some of the challenges and opportunities of multichannel retailing in today's environment.
The conference brought together industry leaders and academicians to explore some of the challenges and opportunities of multichannel retailing in today’s environment.

“I thought it was wonderfully thought provoking,” said participant Mary Ann Wyckoff, senior vice president of strategic marketing at Macy’s. “As retailers, we’re usually so busy executing that we don’t have time to think and ideate like this. I loved it and will definitely use this information.”

Randy Reeves, a divisional vice president at Macy’s, agreed with his colleague, Wyckoff. “By far the greatest takeaway is the ability to take ourselves out of the day-to-day of budgets and planning and be able to think on a theoretical level,” he said. “We can start to push the industry on a store by store level to think about these concepts. We can be advocates for change with this information.”

Keynote speaker John Irvin kicked off the event, discussing changes in multichannel retail throughout his career. Irvin, whose retailing resume includes top management positions with companies such as Foley’s and Spiegel, moved to JCPenney in 2001 to head up their catalog and Internet sales as president of JCP Direct. Though the JCP “big book” had been around for decades and their website had been live since 1994, when Irvin joined the company, neither of those channels were profitable. Irvin streamlined both arms of the business, transforming them into multi-billion dollar operations.

“You can’t ask the customer to adapt to your model,” Irvin counseled the audience. “They have too many choices. You must adapt to the customer.”

Using Irvin’s comments as a springboard, the conference attendees were split into seven groups for the remainder of the conference and tasked with examining a specific issue related to the theme, such as consumer behavior, interactive technologies, and mobile marketing. Participants spent several hours exploring questions on what is currently known about the topic, what challenges and opportunities for retailers exist, and what research could be pursued.

Each group's findings were presented at the end of the conference and will be considered for publication in a special issue of the Journal of Interactive Marketing.
Each group’s findings were presented at the end of the conference and will be considered for publication in a special issue of the Journal of Interactive Marketing.

Each group presented their findings on the second day of the conference in a dynamic workshop format, gathering suggestions and critiques from other attendees.

After receiving feedback, groups will submit a manuscript based on their conclusions to be reviewed and potentially published in a special issue of Journal of Interactive Marketing (JIM) in spring 2010.

The Thought Leadership Conference was sponsored by JIM, the Marketing Science Institute, the Center for Retailing Studies, and Mays Business School. Mays Professors of Marketing Venkatesh Shankar and Manjit Yadav co-chaired the event and will edit the corresponding issue of JIM.