Trendspotting: Five Emerging Themes in Retail from Code Commerce 2019

Last week I attended Recode’s annual Code Commerce, an excellent conference covering innovations and how they impact the current and future state of retail and ecommerce.  Driven by the vision of Kara Swisher and the Vox Media Network, it was clear by the caliber of speakers and interviewers that this conference matters.  

After a few exciting days of talks from industry legends like Scott Galloway, Professor of Marketing at NYU; Jennifer Hyman, Cofounder and CEO of Rent the Runway; Marc Lore, President and CEO of Walmart e-Commerce; and Kara Swisher herself, I began to see a few emerging themes from their discussions.

Ecovative Design’s Danielle Morino, via Recode

SUSTAINABILITY IS MORE THAN A FAD

Fast Fashion is on the decline and the idea of “dynamic ownership” is on the upswing.  If Marie Kondo taught us anything, it’s that ownership of things is not the key to happiness.  The idea of the “closet in the cloud” has mass appeal. Rent the Runway’s expansion from one-off rentals to the monthly subscription model has been highly favorable. It now generates over 70% of their total revenue, and subscribers are growing over 100% year over year.

Born out of the recession in 2010, The RealReal is another company capitalizing on the societal change in perception about re-wearing and recycling luxury goods, but only when there is trust in the authentication process.

There was also a lot of enthusiasm when Ecovative Design presented their biodegradable packaging design constructed from mushrooms! To quote the company (and I agree): “packaging should never last longer than its product.”

Recode’s Jason Del Rey and Marc Lore, CEO of Walmart eCommerce, via Recode

WELL-LEVERAGED PHYSICAL FOOTPRINTS ARE IMPORTANT

Marc Lore from Walmart gave a great overview of the unique asset set that Walmart has. With 90% of the US population living within 10 miles of Walmart, their ability to provide in-store fulfillment and pick-up is particularly meaningful as they reimagine what their stores mean.  Walmart launched a $98 annual membership that gives customers same-day delivery of grocery and consumables. This is a huge advantage over any competitor, and it’s Amazon’s Achilles heel — shipping frozen & fresh is a huge challenge. Walmart knows that the in-store experience can be their brand’s biggest detractor, so they’re working on ways to minimize in-store time while still leveraging the availability of merchandise it affords to surpass consumer expectations. 

The RealReal uses their select footprint of locations to authenticate and transact, traffic at Rent the Runway locations is up 10X, and Away has showrooms in select cities to further the brand experience and connect with their consumers. Restoration Hardware has knocked it out of the park with an amazing flagship store in NYC’s Meatpacking District, which has become a retail and dining destination with a spectacular rooftop restaurant all while surpassing revenue expectations. 

On the flip side, Scott Galloway declared the department store dead, saying “no one under the age of 40 with any options will ever take an escalator to shop.” Let’s put The American Dream Project, formerly Xanadu in NJ, in this same camp – outlined plans were met with heavy skepticism from the crowd.     

Jeff Raider, Cofounder and CEO of Harry’s, via Recode

“IF AMAZON ISN’T IN YOUR CATEGORY TODAY, THEY WILL BE TOMORROW”

DTC companies that make it are unique unicorns and shouldn’t be viewed as any type of norm or given.  Competing with Amazon puts you at an immediate disadvantage, and it’s only a very few companies that can win here.  Jeff Raider from Harry’s talked about the about-to-close deal between Harry’s and Edgewell Brands. While Harry’s doesn’t sell on Amazon, Edgewell Brands, makers of brands like Schick and Wet Ones most definitely do. The relationship can be complicated, but ignoring Amazon will most definitely not make it go away.  

Jennifer Hyman, CEO of Rent the Runway, via Recode

SUCCESSFUL BRANDS EVOLVE AND ITERATE

Co-founders of Away talked about how they view themselves as a Travel Company, and are envisioning line extensions beyond luggage, including “travel clothes” which they described as anti-bacterial, wrinkle-free, and far from athleisure.  Additionally, they have their sights set on CPG as a category as well. Definitely one to watch. Rent the Runway is planning extensions into Home, and perhaps most spot-on, the Kids market. Walmart has proved they’re far from ready to cede the race to Amazon, and they’re notably taking a position on gun sales that government can’t or won’t – but most Americans agree with.  

Jenn Rubio and Steph Korey, cofounders of Away, via Vox

WOMEN…. SIGH.

The vast majority of VCs are still men.  Women founders that run companies geared towards female customers face an uphill battle in securing VC funding.  Per Jennifer Hyman from Rent the Runway, “As a female CEO the biggest challenge I have is I have to waste 25% of my time on explaining how my business works…all I want is to be evaluated on my data, which speaks for itself”.  Imagine the business ideas that never make it off the ground floor. It’s a loss for us all. 

Overall, Retail is dominated by the behemoths, but we remain inspired by the up-and-comers.