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The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA)’s conference attracts retail and supply chain leaders from the biggest brands in the country, providing a forum for innovation, networking, and collaboration.

If you couldn’t make it, or want to refresh your memory, here are five big themes from the 2019 conference.

1. Retailers are hungry for supply chain innovation

Attendees flocked to the innovation showcase stage presentations on Tuesday afternoon to hear companies give five-minute pitches. Roadie presented its “on-the-way” delivery service that uses extra space in passenger vehicles for flexible shipment options.

Another company, Packsize, explained how its On Demand Packaging eliminates waste and saves customers money. We presented networked distribution and showed how it connects shippers with our network of warehouses across the country.

2. Shippers continue to find new ways to use technology

Technology appeared in nearly every session, covering many applications and uses. For example, speakers from Walmart and Best Buy shared how they they gained better freight visibility and created a shorter returns cycle.

Speakers from Carter’s and ClearMetal shared their experiences with predictive analytics for delivery optimization. In another session, an Anheuser-Busch representative explained how the company uses data insights to improve pricing and supply chain forecasting.

3. Trade chaos and economic trends are forcing retailers to adapt

Recent events in global trade also headlined many of the sessions. At one roundtable discussion, speakers from The Home Depot, Walmart, and Maersk addressed the uncertainties shippers face in international transportation. They discussed topics like low sulfur fuel requirements, global trade negotiations, and the state of trucking in the United States.

Elsewhere, representatives from RILA, Joann, and Tailored Brands talked about how new tariffs and ongoing trade wars affect their supply chains. They explained the new sourcing and transportation strategies they adopted in response to these events.

4. Shippers are prioritizing human resources

There were also many panels devoted to hiring, employee retention, and diversity. At one session, for example, three executives from Target spoke about the company’s diversity and inclusion initiatives.

A speaker from Patagonia explained the philosophy behind the company’s family support offerings (like on-site child care, or substantial maternity and paternity leave). He argued that the business value alone of supporting employees makes these policies worth adopting.

5. The standards for innovation are high

Shippers at the conference were often skeptical of new strategies or technologies. For example, many expressed disappointment with ideas that looked new, but didn’t offer any substantive value.

The solutions and technologies that drew shippers’ interest provided tangible, measurable supply chain improvements. Innovators showcased benefits like greater visibility or better delivery forecasting to demonstrate lasting value.

Emily Gay