About 130 retail and marketing executives gathered last week to talk shop during the eighth annual Global Retail Marketing Association Forum at the Loews Don CeSar Hotel in St. Pete Beach. Attendees got an earful about current trends in retail and how no business is immune to what's happening worldwide.
Here are some highlights from Friday's presentations.
• Nader Mousavizadeh, who was special assistant to former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said the best economic opportunities are in African countries where leaders have learned that peace and political stability are more beneficial than war. They have natural resources and a growing middle class. Also emerging are smaller nations, such as Colombia, Mexico, Myanmar and Indonesia, with decent governance and a basic economic foundation. Not promising are Russia, India and European countries.
When it comes to China, if and when a democratic movement occurs, it will be different from what most of us expect, he said. Today's young Chinese are more demanding of their government but don't necessarily seek political freedoms or covet Western ways. They are nationalistic and anti-American and want greater economic opportunities for the middle class but not at the expense of watering down their unique culture.
"The Chinese will not become more like us or will not like us more,'' he said.
The more likely scenario, he said, is that in their efforts to become more democratic, they could actually become more hostile toward the United States and the American way of life.
And keep this in mind. There is more content on the Internet in Chinese than there is in English, he said.
• Jill Braff, executive vice president of digital commerce for HSN, said today's consumers are 100 percent in control, moving from screen to screen – be it TV, smartphone or tablet – to get exactly what they want when they want it. The challenge to retailers is how to reach them most effectively.
For St. Petersburg-based HSN, digital has been the main driver of sales growth in recent years. Last year, digital accounted for 38 percent of revenue, with mobile sales growing at the fastest clip. For the first quarter of this year, 10 percent of all sales were mobile.
HSN did $167 million in mobile revenue last year. Possibly even more notable: almost one-quarter of those customers were new to HSN. They were younger, more diverse and more affluent than HSN's traditional TV-viewing customer.
• Cloud networking consultant and author Tom Koulopoulos told the audience that if you want to see how today's kids will work, look at how they play: on computers and handheld devices, almost always with other people.
"Kids don't know how to become unconnected or alone,'' he said. "They are swarms. They only work collectively.''
• Marco Bertini, assistant marketing professor at London Business School, included the latest "we're sorry'' TV commercial from JCPenney in his talk about smart and dumb store promotions. Done well, promotions can start a conversation with customers and create an emotional tie to a company or product, he said. Done poorly, promotions can erode or cheapen a brand.
He compared bad promotions to drugs. Yes, the bump in sales makes you feel good at first. But, eventually, you need to do it even more to achieve the same results and you can't stop. Finally, the promotions rule your business.
Bertini cited a promotion out of England for Hoover vacuum cleaners. To help move inventory, the company offered round-trip airline tickets to the United States for every vacuum purchase. The promotion raised $30 million in revenue but cost $50 million. Hoover was taken over by another company.
"We have this feeling that we do too much promotion, but we can't do less,'' he said. "It's a drug.''