Key Takeaways from the 2023 WWD Apparel and Retail CEO Summit

We recently attended the annual 2023 WWD Apparel and Retail CEO Summit in New York City. This premier industry event brought together executives and thought leaders across retail, apparel and fashion. Business leaders and brands included: Chris de Lapuente, chairman and chief executive officer from LVMH; Kevin Fried, Industry Director, retail from Google: Jeff Gennette, Chairman and CEO, Macy’s; Fran Horowitz, CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch Co.; Matt Marcotte, Global Head of Retail, consumer goods, manufacturing, automotive and energy industry advisors at Salesforce; and Danielle Schmelkin, Chief Information Officer at J. Crew Group. The two days of energetic conversations provided an inside look at how top brands are navigating the current landscape of volatility and change. Here are major themes and insights we took away:

The importance of humanity – Brands need to connect with consumers on an emotional level and evoke a sense of belonging, not just fitting in. Providing rich, personalized experiences is key.

Agility and innovation rule – In unpredictable times, brands must be nimble, test new ideas quickly and embrace innovations like AI. As Macy’s CEO said, “Fail fast, learn fast.”

Look beyond sustainability – Regenerative practices that enrich ecosystems are crucial, from materials sourcing to farming.

Leverage AI With Care – AI has huge potential but needs human guidance. It should augment teams, not replace them. Half the battle is bringing the team along. You can have the best AI technology, but if employees are not convinced or are hesitant, the adoption of AI will be challenging. 

Younger consumers demand values – Brands must align with the social impact expectations of Gen Z and Millennials. Purchase decisions can depend on a company’s values.

A Very Cautious Consumer for the Holidays – Consumers are expected to spend this holiday season despite economic concerns, but there will be great caution.

Learn from Culture Clashes – As LVMH’s CEO noted, taking learnings from disparate cultures and generations is key to evolving.

Attending events like this enables CGPR to stay on top of consumer preferences in tumultuous times. The news landscape is impacting purchasing moods and testing the mettle of brands and retailers alike. CMOs, regardless of the category, need to figure out which hoop to jump through and how fast. We will apply these insights to better serve our clients that face the same daunting challenges. 

There is a ray of hope for brands focused on purpose, innovation and humanity.