Shoptalk 2024   //   March 17, 2024

‘It’s such a marathon’: The Shoptalk survival guide

Navigating a crowd of 10,000 e-commerce professionals with the intent to meet new people, listen to panels, pick up vendor information and kick back to have some fun is an intimidating prospect. But that’s the charge at Shoptalk, which kicked off Sunday from Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

Krystina Gustafson, svp of content at Shoptalk, told Modern Retail that getting through the event can require 20,000 steps a day, and a thoughtful plan about how to spend your time.

“It’s such a marathon and there’s so much going on,” she said. “If you don’t walk in being very strategic about how you spend your time and what you want to do, it can be somewhat of a lost opportunity.”

Whether you’re a first-time attendee or a seasoned pro, Modern Retail has put together a “survival guide” for making the most out of your Shoptalk experience.

Make a plan

Attendees and organizers recommend having a schedule ready before arrival. Not only are multiple sessions happening at once, but private parties and meetups can also overlap. Gustafson recommends the Shoptalk app to help manage invitations, meetups RSVPs and schedules in one place. 

“We’re serving digital and technology leaders so we always want to make sure we’re putting our best foot forward there,” she said. “It’s a very easy way to sign up for all the various things the event has to offer and keep track of your schedule.”

Juan Olea, vp of commerce and live shopping at the influencer agency Influential, is attending for the second time this year. He said that he notes any sessions are must-sees and puts them in his calendar ahead of time, as it’s easy to get distracted on the bustling trade show floor.

But it’s equally important to leave space between meetings and events to wander the Exhibit Hall or have a quick chat at the coffee bar.

“You’ll get distracted by so many things,” he said. “But you can’t have too much of a plan, otherwise you’ll miss those serendipitous moments.”

Dress for success — and the desert

While mid-March in Vegas invites images of poolside lounging under the hot desert sun, the conference center is a massive air-conditioned expanse that requires comfortable shoes and layers. The Shoptalk FAQ recommends “smart-casual attire” that can handle the low 70s in the day and low 40s at night.

Gustafson emphasized that bringing a light jacket or sweater is essential for the air-conditioned conference environment, as well as comfortable shoes. One year, she forgot to bring her Rothy’s flats and wound up spending four days in high-heeled boots.

“It’s not the Vegas you would expect if you were attending a bachelorette party,” she said.

Kylee Guenther, CEO and co-founder at sustainable home brand Loopy Products, plans to bring two pairs of black Sketchers as well as company-branded T-shirts. “Not only am I walking billboard for my brand, but it makes packing so much easier,” she said. “I bring as little as possible with me.”

Talk to strangers

Like any trade show, the networking at Shoptalk is a major draw for attendees. Olea from Influential looks forward to the serendipitous moments, saying last year, he met a brand representative at an invite-only dinner that wound up becoming a client.

“My initial approach is starting at the smaller events, and building your network there,” he said.

But everyone has their own strategy and capacity for networking. Last year, Olea met one attendee who greeted about 150 people each day by standing in a doorway and talking to every person who walked through. 

“I met this guy in the Subway line,” Olea said. “He was a young entrepreneur — and he was a lot more outspoken and Type A than me — and he was like, ‘This is what I do, I stand outside the door and I talk to every single person.’ I’m like, ‘That’s another level.’”

Ron Margulis, managing director at RAM Communications, has attended retail conferences for over 20 years, including Shoptalk since its early days. He said one of the best ways to make the most of the experience is to be open to meeting new people. He’s managed to stay in touch with people he’s met at Shoptalk in years past, and another met executives from one of his favorite e-commerce brands that specializes in competitive rifle shooting.

“People who you will be meeting with, analysts or influencers, will hopefully introduce you to their networks, and they’ve always been great sources of information,” he said.

Keeping up with healthy habits

Conferences are marathons that can take a toll on the physical body — especially for those who work from home and may not be used to long days on their feet. Being able to last the day means staying hydrated and nourished with coffee, water and snacks provided by the conference. Shoptalk also provides breakfast from Monday through Wednesday, and lunch on Monday and Tuesday — meaning attendees are on their own for dinner.

Many attendees aim to keep up their healthy habits in the crowded environment. Guenther of Loopy Products brings her own reusable water bottle and travel mug — which has the added benefit of not contributing to single-use plastic waste. She also brings snacks and protein bars due to food allergies, and her co-founder totes an EPI pen just in case. “Shared food is a no for me,” she said.

Bruce Smith, founder and CEO of the connected rowing machine company Hydrow, uses work conferences as an opportunity to check out what’s inside the hotel gym. If it doesn’t have a Hydrow, it’s a chance to “check out the competition.”

Go outside your comfort zone

Smith also uses events like Shoptalk as an opportunity to learn more about the industry at large. While he has specific topics this year he’d like to hear about, like AI-based marketing techniques, he’s also interested in hearing thoughtful conversations with the executives giving keynote speeches. “The amount of brain power that goes into the conversations on stage is unusual, relative to the other conferences that I go [to],” he said.

Gustafson from Shoptalk also recommends going to sessions that are outside the scope of your day-to-day job to deepen your industry experience.

“We can’t live in silos anymore,” she said. “If your job is head of marketing, go to a supply chain session. If you’re a supply chain leader, go to a marketing session. I think it’s really valuable to hear how your counterparts at your organization are approaching innovation [and] the challenges that they’re facing — and that can help you develop cross-functional solutions in a much more productive way.”