Redefining Retail’s Next Decade with Web3

August 31, 2023

The D2: Retail Edition Conference was held in June 2023 in Chicago. Industry leaders joined for a panel titled “From Virtual Beings and Gaming to Generative AI” where they talked about the influence of Web3 technology on the retail industry.

Panelists include:

  • Deborah Weinswig, CEO & Co-Founder, Coresight Research
  • Meredith Darnall, Chief Optimization Officer, Brookfield Properties
  • Brian Trunzo, Head of Business Development, North America, Polygon Labs
  • Tobin McComas, Vice President, Development & Member Services, Chamber of Digital Commerce

Panelists shared their background and how their respective organizations are approaching Web3. Polygon is a permissioned blockchain, meant to speed up Ethereum. Brian’s team works with brand and enterprise companies, like Starbucks and Nike, to develop specific applications with Polygon’s suite of scaling solutions. Brookfield Properties has taken a wider approach, detailing retailers pain points for things they have difficulty solving themselves.

They are evaluating Web3 technology as a way to service multiple retailers with use cases to determine the applications for commerce. Web3 can provide data about customer behavior that translates from the physical world to the digital world and back again.

Tobin’s organization, the Chamber of Digital Commerce, serves as a conduit between industry and policy makers to advocate for retailers. Their mission is adoption of blockchain technology and digital assets, and they help keep their members abreast of the many regulatory considerations that are starting to creep into retail operations.

Deborah moderated and asked about NFTs and consumer shoppers opting in.

  • Meredith offered that “NFTs opened their ability to see what shoppers are doing”, where they haven’t had that insight before. It’s a way to customize, and for brands to share more with consumers before transactions happen. It’s about giving a better customer experience. And this is where the digital and physical worlds are colliding.
  • Brian explained the idea of a more immersive, gamified experience in a virtual world is speeding up the interaction between retailers and consumers. Within a game, “by interjecting AI into NPCs (non-player characters) a customer can have a customized relationship with a chat bot on steroids” that can interact with the consumer – and it’s akin to interacting with a human. Retailers can also drive consumers to physical locations with digital experiences and it becomes a gamification experience where a customer collects NFTs through AR. It all works hand in hand.
  • Tobin discussed Chamber’s role in educating about blockchain and differentiating NFTs from cryptocurrencies. Their role is to help steer brands out of trouble (i.e., is your digital token a security?). They view it as a generational issue – there is a belief by some policymakers that an NFT is the same as bitcoin because they’re powered by a blockchain. But once the technology is broken down for them, it becomes clear that a collectible is different than some instrument that provides a financial return.

Panelists were asked about better practices for engaging customers and getting everyone on the same page, so the best strategy possible can be developed to realize good consumer outcomes.

  • Brian suggests brands engaging in “earning” over selling, citing Starbucks and Nike. They initially let “fans” earn NFTs as a technology introduction, creating memorable experiences, showing long-term commitment.
  • Meredith, experienced with luxury brands, sees luxury as forward-thinking in Web3. They understand value, customer ties, and evolving beyond exclusivity. Luxury aims for sensory, lifelong engagement in both physical and digital realms.

Weinswig: How do you bring people together around Web3 technology and are retail brands willing to share their wins and losses?

  • Brian: It’s dog years in web3, the innovation is moving so quickly. All the successes and failures are public on blockchain, and individuals are also sharing on Discord and Twitter. People are negotiating in public, making mistakes publicly.
  • Meredith: Where it gets interesting is with the power of generative AI – there is no concierge/customer service person in the Metaverse. Instead, AI creates an “experience” in a physical space. It recognizes what the consumer is looking for, which gives retailers the ability to better engage with their base.
  • Tobin: Tobin: The main issue in Web3 is user interface; wallet addresses, and private keys can be intimidating. Improved UX is essential. The US’s heavy-handed regulation hinders innovation, while Europe promotes it. The Chamber views Web3 as a grassroots movement, urging broader engagement for its support.

Panelist Takeaways:

  • Tobin: Figure out how to describe the technology to your grandmother – what this is about and what it means. This technology can do so much, everything from creating business efficiencies to humanitarian aid.
  • Meredith: Collaboration is key –there is power that can be harnessed with collaborative data and commerce.
  • Brian: Be an evangelist for blockchain technology because it’s unstoppable, literally.
  • Deborah: There is this idea that Web3 is fun and engaging, and from a retail perspective, you can achieve anything, especially with your friends. Be, and have, advocates in the space.

To watch the video of the entire panel discussion, click YouTube Video.

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