By Astoria Luzzi
A lecture room on the second floor of the Ted Rogers School of Management (TRSM) fills up quickly with eager retail management students.
They sit patiently, chatting with their friends. All of a sudden, a group wearing Mercatus Technologies Inc. t-shirts run in and pelt the audience with ping pong balls.
The first event, Magic Gadgets, kicks off Ryerson’s annual Retail Week. Each year the event gathers speakers from large corporations and companies like Tim Hortons, H&M, Canadian Tire and Target.
Last Monday’s speaker was Mercatus, a company of 60 employees that work out of their headquarters in Toronto, that prides itself on service, innovation and quality.
The first event featured a talk from James Thomas, the director of strategy at Mercatus. He stressed the importance of no longer separating technology and marketing, but rather practicing a marriage of the two as an effort to attract customers through multiple platforms.
“This fusion of new ideas is really what is driving innovation forward,” Thomas said.
The event proved to be a good hands-on experience, as most lectures presented by major corporations include a case competition, a challenge presented to students to pitch a mock solution for a retailer’s problem. At Monday’s event, Mercatus held a case competition that awarded the members of the winning team with Google Nexus 7 tablets.
Zolfan Daoud, a fourth-year retail management student who is also an organizer for Retail Week recalled last year’s case competition.
“Last year H&M [had] students create the marketing strategy for their Versace line that they launched and it was a really good help to both the company and the student,” said Daoud. “They can figure out how to target their consumers because as students we are the consumers, especially for H&M,” Daoud said.
She said the winning team of the case competition actually had their strategy implemented for the launch of the line. Their job was to create a buzz, so they went with a Miami Vice theme and gave out pina coladas and other things that worked with the look of the Versace line.
During Thomas’ talk on Monday, he referenced two different companies which have created innovative ways to communicate with and attract customers. These included a shopping mall in the Philippines, which developed an app for tablets that allows you to catch virtual butterflies that translate into deals and coupons you can use throughout the mall.
Another was the Wal-Mart Shopycat, an application implemented through Facebook which suggests gift ideas from Wal-Mart specific to posts and liked pages of a Facebook user, leading up to a user’s birthday. Thomas said the success of these innovations prove that there is now a demand for personalized multi-channel options for everyday activities such as shopping for clothing or groceries.
This demand is not yet something Ryerson has addressed, in Thomas’ opinion.
“I was actually speaking to one of the professors at Ryerson, from what I understand there isn’t a technology track at all, certainly not one that brings together those two disciplines so I think really within the market itself there is an emerging need for these skills,” Thomas said.
He thinks universities need to start paying more attention to the trends in the industry and address them so students are prepared when they enter their respective fields.
Retail Week events will be occupying classroom space and will interrupt certain class times. In light of this, professors have adapted to the inconvenience by counting it as class time and making it mandatory for retail students to attend. They provide an event passport to use to collect stamps from each event as proof of attendance.
Retail Week at Ryerson will run from Nov. 12 to Nov. 16, and will include events such as panels, receptions and a pub night.
Visit Ryerson’s Retail Week website for specific locations and times.