ICSC @ Canada: Insights from three Master of Management in Retailing (MMR) Students

Key takeaways from this year’s Innovating Commerce Serving Communities conference in Toronto

This past October, three students from our Master of Management in Retailing (MMR) had the opportunity to attend ICSC @ Canada, a three-day expo and networking event for innovators and dealmakers in the retail space. The event was hosted by Innovating Commerce Serving Communities, a member organization for industry advancement which promotes and elevates the marketplaces and spaces where people shop, dine, work, play and gather as foundational and vital ingredients of communities and economies. The event was filled with panel discussions, speaker sessions and lots of networking. Read on to hear key takeaways from three MMR students in attendance!

Aparna GummedidalaAparna Gummedidala

As they say, you never forget your first! I shall always my remember my first Toronto visit owing to this memorable conference. I am grateful to the Bensadoun School of Retail Management, Saibal Ray (Academic Director, Bensadoun School), Anwar White (MMR Program Director, Bensadoun School), James Dulin (Manager, Student Engagement & University Partners, ICSC) and the gracious hosts, ICSC and Delta Marriott, for helping make this experience a memorable one.

Not only are few of my takeaways assimilated as a retail student but also as a passionate change management and talent development professional!

The Power of Pop-ups

The session “Retailers do things differently” covered the importance of pop-ups within the world of omnichannel retail. Perhaps one of the few options available to indie brands and startups in the past, today, pop-ups are or should be considered by mega brands as a powerful way to engage with consumers. The camaraderie, vibe, and magical moments that pop-ups can offer are a win-win avenue for both consumers and brands.

Pop-ups are a way to create immersive experiences attracting returning and new customers alike. Examples of European brands leveraging the pop-up channel before expanding into new markets were shared during the session, emphasizing the importance of pop-ups as a fantastic playbook for merchandizing, marketing, and brand building leading to eventual brand recognition.

What was also eye-opening for me was how the narratives we create through brand and product marketing and the views and ideas that come with those narratives can in turn create conscious and sub-conscious beliefs and a dogma for the society we live in. For decades, condom ads and product marketing have fed into toxic masculinity. In response, JEMS condoms aims to break barriers even through a seemingly simple shift towards neutral packaging, as an example. Pop-ups can provide a space to enable such conversations, listen to the voice of the consumer, and be a catalyst to meaningful change and growth while enjoying the shopping experience, They are a truly influential retail channel and are therefore here to stay.

Earn the Commute

“The Future of Food Service” showed us how technology has pulled the improvements and changes in mall food and restaurant services ahead of its time due to lifestyle changes brought forth by the pandemic. Shopping malls should now focus on “earning the commute” due to declining visitor rates resulting from the rising popularity of curbside pickup and online shopping via brand e-commerce channels or platforms consolidating options and delivering them to our doorsteps. Food services are also feeling the heat as pressure to automate food services in food courts and restaurants has increased due to less footfall. Getting restaurants and fast food brands to sign up for spaces in malls is increasingly difficult due to issues with compatibility with existing technology platforms of the mall, IoT enabled services, technology driven operational services such as parking, garbage, loading and unloading areas, and more.

This session emphasized the importance of integrating technology in the vertical and horizontal relationships between operational activities. This is an opportunity for malls to engage with communities and build partnerships to improve guest experience. Grassroots connections should be built in order to bring back the micro engagement moments that guests once enjoyed at shopping centers.

Resleen MangatResleen Mangat

The overarching theme of the conference was post pandemic retail trends, immersive in-store experiences and the impact of inflation on retail. Attending the ICSC conference, we were presented with several panels and networking opportunities to better understand the landscape of the Canadian retail sphere. Hearing from industry professionals provided a worthwhile and invaluable experience.

Retail and real estate

Learning about the retail sphere from the side of real-estate added to what I’ve already learned through the MMR and provided me with the practical examples I needed to truly understand the ways in which all aspects of retail work together to create a seamless experience. While all panels and discussions were extremely interesting and educational, the one that stood out to me most was the discussion on “How retail ownership and investment strategy have changed”.

This panel focused on the ways that COVID-19 changed the way consumers shop and how this has impacted businesses and physical retail spaces. While it was expected COVID-19 would further propel the online digital world ahead of physical retail space, the panelists actually debunked this belief and shared their thoughts on how they believed COVID-19 had the opposite effect. From their findings, the owners of several malls across Canada shared how the foot-traffic at their malls had actually not only come back to pre-COVID-19 levels, but had also exceeded those numbers, with more and more consumers wanting the in-store experience. These statistics were very surprising to me and helped me gain a better understanding of the direction in which the retail world is moving.

The importance of experiential retail

Another interesting point of this discussion was the importance of experiential retail. This is a word that I have been hearing throughout my MMR experience, and to learn about how much it actually makes a difference in real retail spaces helped solidify what we were taught in class. The mall owners described how they are constantly investing in ensuring that their mall has unique experiences that would attract consumers. One panelist from Oxford Properties described how it was his entire job to coordinate experiences at all the Oxford retail spaces.

This panel showcased the importance of being creative when investing in physical retail spaces. The discussion of the revival of classic retail spaces really inspired me and even introduced me to new concepts that I had not heard of. Attending this conference truly helped me solidify the concepts learned in the MMR with practical, real world examples in a great educational

Supreet KaurSupreet Kaur

The ICSC Conference provided me with an opportunity to broaden my perspective. Though the pandemic accelerated online retail, 70 per cent of consumers still prefer to shop in-stores. With all the big real estate companies present at the conference, I was brought back to this reality. The overall theme of the conference was focused on post-pandemic retail trends, connecting offline and online channels to create better omni-channel strategies, creating immersive in-store experiences, and the impact of inflation on retail. It was three days filled with panel discussions, speaker sessions, and lots of networking.

I thoroughly enjoyed all the speaker sessions; they provided great insights into the future trends of retail and were very relevant to the concepts taught in our MMR courses.

My favourite speaker was Eric Morris, the Managing Director and Head of Retail at Google, who discussed 3 topics that I found really interesting:

  1. Post-pandemic retail trends:
    How retailers have actually seen increased traffic in-stores, the importance of retaining loyal customers acquired in the pandemic, digital innovation in stores, and how to utilize different channels to increase product discovery.
  2. Online & Offline Connection (Creating a great omni-channel strategy):
    The importance of collaboration with the two channels, and using technology and analytics to get improved customer insights
  3. Google as an innovation-focused company making the world’s information accessible:
    Morris covered experimentation with drones and navigation systems to improve delivery, how Google is deploying sensors to help retailers gain customer insights and improve shopping experiences, and the possibilities brought forth by the metaverse.

The conference was overall a wonderful experience and really adds to the experiential learning component of the program. It’s interesting to see how different companies are actually implementing all that we are learning in class.

Master of Management in Retailing (MMR)

Learn more about the MMR

Bensadoun School of Retail Management (BSRM)

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The Future of Retail

The Future of Retail

The MMR program has been made possible thanks to generous donations from Aldo Bensadoun, and is offered in partnership with the Bensadoun School of Retail Management.

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