Wayfair Tech Blog

An Inside Look at the State of Retail at the Milken Institute Global Conference

Fiona at Mliken 2023
Wayfair CTO Fiona Tan discusses AI at the 2023 Milken Institute
Photo courtesy of the Milken Institute

Last week I participated on a panel at the Milken Institute Global Conference. It was a fantastic event featuring more than 200 sessions, including mine, “ Retail Renaissance: Businesses Embracing Technology, Sustainability, and Innovation.”

Moderated by Yahoo Finance Senior Columnist Rick Newman, my panel featured some incredibly accomplished names from leading retailers, including:

  • Poshmark Founder and CEO Manish Chandram
  • Saks CEO Marc Metrick
  • ESPRIT CEO William Pak

Rick kicked things off with a question about retail in the post-pandemic world and in specific areas, such as the supply chain. I started by calling out a key differentiator between Wayfair and the other retailers—Wayfair is a 2-sided platform which means we are inventory lite, and we are focused on creating experiences and capabilities to help our customers find the products that they are looking for from the curated catalog that we work with our suppliers to enable, and we offer valuable supply chain services for our suppliers to fulfill. And while we had to make some adjustments over the course of the pandemic, these services remain just as vital today as a competitive differentiator for suppliers on our platform to be able to fulfill products for our customers in a fast and reliable way. We also see our suppliers leveraging our platform to help sell through the excess inventory that they have.

Panel discussion at 2023 Milken Global Conference
Wayfair CTO Fiona Tan speaks on the panel "Retail Renaissance: Business Embracing Technology, Sustainability, and Innovation" with execs from Poshmark, Saks and ESPRIT
Photo courtesy of the Milken Institute

Next came the discussion about what Rick called “the battle between brick-and-mortar and online.” The panelists all agreed that it’s not a battle but a balance to meet customers where they are and how they shop. I touched on how being digitally native, Wayfair offers customers endless aisles and possibilities online which we curate, personalize and present in a way that makes it easy for them to confidently find and buy what they are looking for. In our stores, they experience the brand and our products in a different way, and we enable them to easily go from what they are seeing and touching in the store to the additional colors and options that we offer online seamlessly through the QR codes we have in the stores or with help from our store associates. Whatever channel, we personalize every interaction because we know everyone’s preferences from past activities and transactions.

This topic of personalization came up again when Rick asked how we see artificial intelligence (AI) changing retail over the next ten years. I shared my view that AI and machine learning (ML) are table stakes today. At Wayfair, we use AI in various ways, such as to better understand our customers' preferences and intent and our suppliers' products. Behind the innovative curtain, we are also pushing forward, examining potential Generative AI user cases. Specifically, how it can assist our customer service representatives and how we can use it to power new text-to-image options that let shoppers take an image of a room in their home and show it in different styles.

It was a thrill to join some truly iconic and innovative retail brands in a discussion about the state of retail today and the initiatives they have in place to best serve their customers. If you are curious to learn more about the panel, here’s the recording in its entirety.