A Tale of 2 Cities and 2 Retail Conferences

As retailers and retail technology vendors from around the world converge in Chicago for the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition this week, I have the unique opportunity to compare the world’s largest e-commerce gathering to a smaller but just as vibrant retail conference that took place two weeks earlier – and 5,467 miles away – in Istanbul.

Istanbul has been at the historic crossroads connecting trade and culture between Europe and Asia for millennia. So it seemed entirely fitting that the 2013 Kumpem Forum Retail Conference, hosted in Turkey’s largest city, was to become a magnet for some of the best thinking in retail innovation from around the world.


Koc University, a major institution of learning, and Migros, the largest grocery chain in Turkey, combined resources to underwrite the conference in late May as a way to share and promote best practices in retail. When the request came to speak at this premier conference, I was delighted to join other international presenters and the hundreds of retailers attending. While I’ve spent my entire career in the U.S. tech industry, I grew up in Turkey, and this also was a return to the city of my youth.

The third annual Kumpem conference set an ambitious agenda to cover emerging trends in multichannel retail infrastructure, merchandising, service, and promotion. International speakers came to present the latest in how to create differentiation in service quality, manage collaborative retail promotions, launch effective m-commerce initiatives, and leverage predictive analytics in driving revenue.


Kat Cole, the charismatic CEO of Cinnabon, set the stage for the conference with her keynote on developing global retail brands and integrating multichannel branding. The takeaway: how to lead and innovate in today’s retail environment by having the courage to try alternate channels and turn competitors into partners. Kat’s powerful presentation on collaboration and working through organizational and cultural obstacles already has me excited about the IRCE keynote from HSN CEO Mindy Grossman on boundary-less retail and how she dismantled organizational barriers that kept separate divisions from working together.

Following my Kumpem presentation on the explosion of consumer engagement channels and multichannel marketing, I joined a captivating panel discussion moderated by Georgia State University professor, Dr. Sevgin Eroglu, with panelists Mustafa Bartin, director of IT and corporate development for Migros, and Yalin Ozcan, alternative sales channel director of Turkcell. The topic: “New Retail Channels and Consumer Engagement through Social Media.”

Migros, as it turns out, is a bona fide pioneer in the e-tailing grocery business. Mustafa Bartin told the standing room-only crowd that the company wants to ensure consumers feel as if they are in the store, regardless of if they engage with the grocer through social media, m-commence, or e-commerce. Migros initially assumed that in-store buyers would purchase more than online buyers. But further analysis revealed that the opposite is increasingly becoming the reality. Additionally, just two and a half years after launching an m-commerce initiative, 20 percent of Migros purchases now come through mobile.

“Multichannel marketing has become a reality of our era, but what’s more important is providing the consumer the same impact and experience across each of these channels – that’s omnichannel marketing,” said Bartin. “Our biggest success has been providing a consistent experience to our consumers across each of these channels.”

Yalin Ozcan of Turkcell, Turkey’s leading mobile phone provider, said his company likewise is focused on mobile marketing and is looking to leverage mobile buyer behavior patterns to predict consumer demographics to improve targeting and relevance.

The conference speakers consistently drew a clear and important distinction between multichannel and omnichannel marketing. We all know that multichannel represents the basics in today’s world of retail marketing across paid, owned, and earned media. Omnichannel takes this a step further, putting the emphasis on achieving a unified brand experience across all channels, while leveraging the unique advantages of each channel.

Interestingly, nearly one-third of the sessions explored the power of predictive analytics to transform retail – and the attendees ate it up. We looked at various ways to make this industry more predictable, with a big focus on how to leverage seasonality, price, promotion, social media, and socioeconomic indicators to forecast retail sales. Clearly the desire to determine predictors-to-purchase, churn, and loyalty, is already an international pursuit.

So how does the Kumpem Forum Retail Conference stack up in focus with the IRCE? Pretty well actually. With m-commence, social media, personalization, web-based technologies, and online retailing strategies continuing to shape the new retail economy, the topics of interest are remarkably similar between the retail conferences in Chicago and Istanbul. As the world continues to grow smaller and many retailers go global, the concerns and needs of retailers around the world appear to be converging as well.

A final note on the Istanbul conference. The Grand Hyatt, on the historic Taksim Square, right on the now famous Gezi Park, hosted our international gathering. Within days of our departure, anti-government demonstrators gathered in that very same square to protest against the increasingly authoritarian regime, and conflict and violence erupted, spreading to many other parts of Turkey. It is another not-so-subtle reminder of the rapidly changing nature of life.

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