New technology, the human touch and doing what you love are what professionals say will make the future of retail “awesome.”

The enthusiasm was evident as attendees danced in their seats to upbeat music playing before Friday’s first speaker took the stage at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort for the 18th Annual Global Retailing Conference held by the University of Arizona’s Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing.

The day’s lineup included all-stars from the industry including Brian David Johnson, a futurist at Intel Corp.; Bobbi Brown, founder of Bobbi Brown Cosmetics; and Blake Irving, CEO of GoDaddy.

Here’s a roundup of what they had to say:

Brian David Johnson, futurist at Intel:

Johnson outlined what he sees happening to retail 10 to 15 years into the future.

One of the biggest things that will change retail as we approach the year 2020 is the size of the chip that goes into devices, he said. “Right now, we’re at about 14 nanometers, and we’re gonna be at 5 nanometers, which is about 12 atoms across,” he said. “This changes everything. When you have the size approaching zero, you can turn anything into a computer.”

He talked about a few ideas that could become reality. HoloStores, for example, are feasible. That is, consumers will be able to use holograms to browse products from the comfort of their home. “People can interact with the object without it having to actually be in the room,” he said. “You’re pulling down the wall between humans and products.”

Shelves in retail stores that communicate with customers’ smartphones are another advance on the horizon.

“What would it mean to make it smart? Let’s say your daughter has a peanut allergy. Imagine you walk into a store and because of your smartphone or intelligent fashion (clothes with chips), the shelves begin to know your daughter has an allergy and everything that has peanuts goes black just like that. All of a sudden the shelves care about somebody you care about.”

Johnson also spoke of the possibility of drones for mobile delivery, 3-D printing and sentient stores that have enough intelligence to discern who is there.

“Nothing was built by people who didn’t imagine it first,” he said. “Once you do that, all the technology can help build it. ... The future will be awesome because it’s in your hands. Why would you build a future that sucks? Lets build a future that’s great.”

Bobbi Brown, founder
of Bobbi Brown Cosmetics

A year out of college, Bobbi Brown moved to New York City with aspirations of becoming a makeup artist. There were no freelance jobs. But to get hired, she had to have a portfolio. So she put hers together by doing makeup for free.

In the 1980s the makeup was artificial, she said. “There were white faces, red lips. The people at the cosmetic counters would try and change you. My style slowly evolved and eventually my style as a freelance artist was more natural and healthier. It wasn’t the norm, but it started catching on.”

After seven years, one of Brown’s dreams came true. “I got a Vogue cover. It was Naomi Campbell’s first Vogue cover. It was the turning point in my career.”

Brown started working with celebrities and eventually got a phone call from photographer Annie Leibovitz to do an album cover for the Rolling Stones. “It was amazing. After I finished their makeup, a stylist came in and said ‘here’s your clothes’ and I looked up and all I could think was ‘oh my God. I’m in the dressing room with the Rolling Stones in their underwear.’”

At the top of her freelance career, Brown was tired of traveling. She knew she was ready for a change when she didn’t want to go to Bali to work on a Ralph Lauren campaign. Having turned that opportunity down, she got married and moved to the suburbs. Family has always been her top priority, she said.

Her cosmetic line took shape after she spoke with a chemist at a shoot about creating a lipstick for her that didn’t feel greasy, looked like lips, wasn’t dry and didn’t smell. “So, he made this amazing color.” The idea of creating cosmetics was born. Together they created a collection of 10 colors from pink to beige. “I thought ‘this is the perfect wardrobe. I bet people would want to buy this.’”

She started selling lipstick out of her house until creating a partnership with Bergdorf Goodman in 1991. “I thought we’d sell 100 the first month. We sold 100 the first day. It took off. Then Neimann Marcus called. It was a new thing having a makeup artist designing cosmetics.”

From there, she sold to Esteé Lauder. “Right now we are all over the world. In 66 countries. It’s amazing.”

She looks back on advice from Leonard Lauder, who was CEO of the Esteé Lauder Cos. He told her to never ask for permission. Always ask for forgiveness.

Her newest accomplishment is being named editor and chief of the beauty category on Yahoo. “It will be a destination place for women and men to go when they want info on how and what to do,” she said of her new venture. “I want it to be a smart place where people can get content.”

Blake Irving,
CEO of GoDaddy

GoDaddy represents about 12 million owners of “very small businesses,” Irving said. “I believe that customer is gonna form the next big step that our global economy takes.”

Irving pointed to an Oxford study that said over the next 20 years, 45 percent of America’s workforce will be replaced by computerized automation. “That should either scare you or make it an incredible opportunity.”

Today’s times are comparable to the Industrial Revolution, he said. “We’ve seen this before, and it’s about to happen again.”

That push will make more people go into small business for themselves, he said. And that same technology makes it possible. “I believe the producer economy will move people from working for the man to being the man,” he said.

Four basic hurdles small businesses have that technology helps them solve are getting started, getting found, getting connected and getting paid. But with Internet services and e-commerce websites, a business owner can do all of those things “without even leaving their couch,” he said. “That’s pretty awesome. Think of all the barriers that have been knocked down in the last five years.”

Student reactions

Here’s what some of the UA retailing and consumer science students in attendance thought of the conference:

Kylie Stratton, 18: “It’s so interesting how technology is innovating the retail experience and making it so much better. The millenials are the future and we’re excited to enter the workforce.”

Brianna Gerwin, 23: “It’s inspiring. We’re all overwhelmed because these large figures started out at such humble beginnings. It’s an inspiration to be more proactive.”

Contact reporter Angela Pittenger at 573-4137 or