This week we are joined by guest Carrie Tharp.

Carrie is the Vice President of Retail & Consumer at Google Cloud, where she is responsible for creating and executing Google Cloud’s global product, partner, and go-to-market strategy in the Retail industry.

Prior to joining Google Cloud, Carrie was at The Neiman Marcus Group where she served as Chief Digital & Marketing Officer and was responsible for all aspects of its e-commerce business across Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Last Call and Horchow brands

Join us as we explore Etsy’s migration to Google Cloud, the evolution of personalization and privacy, and what it’s like to transition from a legacy retail brand to a top 5 tech company.

Episode 66 of RETHINK Retail was recorded on Feb. 25, 2020.

 


Hosted by Julia Raymond
Researched, written and produced by Gabriella Bock
Edited by Trenton Waller

TRANSCRIPTION

Julia Raymond:
Hi and welcome to the show. In this episode of RETHINK Retail, I’m joined by my guest, Carrie Tharp.

Julia Raymond:
Carrie is the Vice President of Retail and Consumer at Google Cloud where she is responsible for creating and executing Google Cloud’s global product partner and go-to-market strategy in the retail industry. Most recently, Carrie was at The Neiman Marcus Group where she served as Chief Digital and Marketing Officer and was responsible for all aspects of its e-commerce business across Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Last Call and Horchow brands. Carrie, welcome to the show.

Carrie Tharp:
Hi, very excited to be here today and talk a little bit about what we have going on and what we see happening in retail, and how people can think about evolving their customer experiences.

Julia Raymond:
Absolutely. And I’m so happy to have you on the show because I think you have a really unique background coming from global leadership positions at huge retailers like Neiman Marcus Group to now working for one of the big five tech giants. So what does that transition been like for you? Because that happened just last year. So how different is it?

Carrie Tharp:
Yeah, it’s actually very different. So being in retail, I very much love operating a retail P & L testing and learning, trying new things and really seeing those results come to bear in your day-to-day P & L and seeing customers interact with your brands. And so switching over to Google Cloud was really driven by an ability to help drive transformation in retail at scale. So instead of the day-to-day feedback from customers, it’s really getting to work with some of the biggest and best global retailers, help reshape their value chain and do that from a scale perspective of what is the Google roadmap to help them accelerate their transformation.

Carrie Tharp:
So very different kind of feedback that you get, but at the center of retail and kind of how retailers are thinking about changing things in the context of you hear of the retail apocalypse and all the things that are going on. And so it’s really how do we change that? How do we create different store experiences and create better connections online store and in a way that allows brands to continue to connect in meaningful ways with their customers. So I really enjoy working with a whole kind of wide range of retailers across multiple retail subsegments at Google and kind of using my retail leadership experience and then combining it with the magic of Google and Google innovation to do something different.

Julia Raymond:
Certainly. I love how you called it magic because sometimes it seems like that, but we know it’s not magic. And you said that the day-to-day feedback is something you really enjoyed when you worked in retail and now you, the results take longer. I saw you shared on your LinkedIn at Etsy announcement that it completed its migration to Google Cloud. And I was a bit shocked because I read the article on their blog and it said they moved 5.5 petabytes of data from 2000 servers to Google Cloud and that is the equivalent, it said of moving 22 times the data in the Library of Congress. That’s huge.

Carrie Tharp:
Yes. I mean it’s one of those things, retail is advancing so quickly and the amount of data is just multiplying day by day. And that’s one of the big opportunities for all retailers is how do you take all that latent data sitting in many different places and do something with it that actually changes your experience with customers, helps you improve margin, etc. So Etsy is one of those stories that is very common to what we’re doing with a lot of retailers and how to take those terabytes and petabytes of data and activate them in a different way than they’ve been able to in the past.

Julia Raymond:
I’m sure Etsy’s leadership was nervous about that undertaking. It’s huge. It took I think two years, which is relatively quick for that kind of migration. But what would you say if a retailer is nervous about making a big move? I mean, can they wait any longer?

Carrie Tharp:
Yeah. The way we think about cloud solutions and from an industry-specific perspective is making sure that we’re accelerating the transformation that any given retailer is trying to drive in their business while trying to mitigate any risks that they have. A lot of these things that we’re migrating are core systems that affect whether or not the registers are running in a store or whether or not your site is being as responsive as it needs to be in the peak season. And we take that responsibility very seriously from a cloud perspective and enabling those migrations with kind of the power of what supports Google at large. So using our capabilities for that reliability and scalability that retail really needs throughout the year and through those peak seasons. So it’s us partnering with those retailers with an understanding of the dynamics that they’re dealing with and helping them manage that migration in a way that they come through it now able to drive that customer experience transformation.

Carrie Tharp:
And that’s actually really what I love about the Etsy story. It’s what retailers should aspire to in the sense of they were able to reduce the resources that they had working on core infrastructure, which I think of that as something that doesn’t really provide a lot of value in itself to a retailer and a customer experience. And they were able to take 15% of their engineers that were working on core infrastructure and shift them over to things that the customer would actually see and feel in their experience. And so to me, that is the heart and power of what we’re doing from a cloud perspective, making sure you’re mitigating any of those risks, but enabling kind of the rapid test and learn agenda that retail has today.

Julia Raymond:
And you said 15% of their engineers are now refocused on things that will impact the customer experience?

Carrie Tharp:
Yes. Yes.

Julia Raymond:
That’s very impressive. That’s a huge change and it’s great how technology is allowing this to happen even down to in store, right? With associates being able to focus on the customer experience because technology is enabling better checkout processes, payment processes. So I wonder though, when we’re talking specifically about websites, a lot of people have different opinions on personalization. First of all, what is your take? If someone just said, what do you think about personalization?

Carrie Tharp:
So personalization, you know as a former CDO and COO is a really important topic. It’s something from a business perspective, it’s allowing you to efficiently drive interaction and be relevant to your customer. And then from a customer perspective, that the research we have at Google is two out of three customers expect personalization. And so they want to be offered relevant products and offers that maybe get them exposed to things they weren’t thinking about in their shopping journey. Maybe help them convert or understand a product better. And so there’s a lot of opportunity for personalization to improve customer experience and provide a higher value.

Carrie Tharp:
I think it’s a really interesting topic at this time because there’s personalization in the context of privacy. And so have you really provides something that’s value to that customer and so whatever information they may have given you that there’s some kind of value exchange that they feel good about the information provided got them to better product, better service, things that were additive to that retail experience. And so for me it’s an area that is a hot topic, very important to customer journeys of the future. And a lot of retail is just kind of figuring out exactly what does this all mean in the future or kind of a focus on privacy and making sure we respect the customer and their information

Julia Raymond:
So is that’s something you help retailers navigate is the balance between personalization and privacy?

Carrie Tharp:
Absolutely. So we’re very focused on from a Google and Alphabet perspective, making sure that everything we do is in a privacy safe manner and that customer data is protected. And from an infrastructure standpoint in the cloud, we’re focused on how do we make our infrastructure very secure such that there’s not any problems with customer data being exposed. And then how is a retailer merging their first party data that they have permission on to use and activate in these personalization use cases in a way, as I mentioned, that provides value. So we have solutions that we work on in that space and then we also partner with a variety of partners that are driving innovation to help retail get to one-to-one personalization.

Carrie Tharp:
And so personalization has been a topic for many years. People kind of starting with segment-based personalization, getting to one-to-many, one-to-few and now one-to-one. And that’s also where cloud very much comes into play of how do you truly get to one-to-one personalization where you’re able to marry the right content with the right product and the right price and promotion information for a user in a way that it creates that positive experience and helps them in their journey.

Julia Raymond:
That’s great. And when you say one-to-one personalization, where do you think the industry sits? Are we 50% there to true one-to-one personalization? If you had to estimate.

Carrie Tharp:
Yeah, I mean I think we’re maybe 50% of the way there on the journey. There’s a lot of partners that we have that might do personalization and an individual channel perhaps in email or on-site and you might have bits of the journey that have gotten to one-to-one. I was working on one-to-one private promotions and offers when I was at Neiman’s, but really there’s quite a work left to be done getting to personalization that has context for that customer’s journey. So what were they doing yesterday with you? What are they thinking about today? You know, some products are short consideration cycles, others are long, but really kind of stitching that entire customer journey view together.

Carrie Tharp:
I think most retailers have a decent amount of work left to do there. They may have stitched a couple of pieces together with the journey, but that’s where we’re spending a lot of time with our customers talking about how you can use some of our infrastructure, our big query tool and spanner, which are some things that allow you to work around kind of legacy retail infrastructure and really get to personalization that allows you to understand that customer as a person and how they might interact with an associate. So as an example, an associate understands a question you might’ve asked this morning and then you came back in with your husband and had some more questions about that washer and dryer and they can have a continuous conversation with you. And so that to me is that next frontier in personalization of making it more human and conversation and journey-based

Julia Raymond:
And it’s that balance, right, of not revealing maybe all that you know about the customer to avoid coming off as creepy but enough that it helps them and lets them know that the retailer has a relationship with them. A one-to-one relationship.

Carrie Tharp:
Yes. And I think that’s how we talked about it when I was at Fossil of like don’t have the creep factor.

Julia Raymond:
Yeah, right.

Carrie Tharp:
I’m sure that, you know they feel like it’s something that was helpful and you feel like you’re building a relationship with the brand. Because really today you know what we see is brand loyalty is declining with only 60% of customers really reporting that they loyally go back to an individual brand and so that relationship dimension becomes really important of how do you make them feel like you know them enough to make them consider you more often than not versus a competitor.

Carrie Tharp:
And so to me that’s kind of where the magic starts happening of it feels kind of like that old school traditional retail where you went into a retailer and you knew the people that work there and they knew the types of products you were interested in and what price points you might be interested in. And the whole process just felt more like a engagement kind of a relationship, kind of check-in how are you doing versus a transaction. So everything that makes retail feel less transactional and more kind of human interaction-based I think is a positive step.

Julia Raymond:
I agree. And you mentioned the challenge that retailers face with brand loyalty declining. It’s not how it was even 10 years ago, I would say. What do you personally attribute that to? I know a lot of people have different opinions on this. Maybe it’s a generational thing, maybe it’s just a shift in consumer behavior because of the economy. What would you say is the main reason?

Carrie Tharp:
You know people point out a lot of different factors. Generational is one that you mentioned as well, but you know really as somebody that kind of took part in retail kind of mostly post the Internet happening. What I would say is digital really brought about access, access to information, access to product. It made product more ubiquitous. And so in the past, if you think about a mall experience, you might’ve walked into a Macy’s or a certain branded store and you might’ve found something you were interested in and if you didn’t want to purchase that item right there, you were faced with walking the mall and looking for a similar item and trying to see what the pricing was. And perhaps in some purchases you would do that. But there wasn’t a lot of instant gratification to that.

Carrie Tharp:
And the reality is today you can do that while standing in the store with your mobile phone using tools like Google Search affiliates that offer pricing and promotion information, etc. And so the customer is just much more empowered. And if you’re not providing some value kind of above and beyond the product itself and the price that it’s offered at, then there’s really not any specific reason for a customer to interact with you versus a competitor. And that’s why I kind of tie it back to the personalization part of the conversation we were just having, how do you create a relationship? Is your value proposition about high-end service? Is it about how you help set up a product in the person’s home? Is it that your associates have a superior level of knowledge on a complex product that perhaps is hard to discern from a e-commerce perspective of just reading product descriptions?

Carrie Tharp:
So really what is angle that you’re going to have as a retailer that provides that value proposition around just kind of the base having product available, which is where retail was several decades ago. It was about what did you have in your assortment and did that resonate with the customer and now it just has to be so much more than that.

Julia Raymond:
And you use the example of someone going to the mall and looking for a specific item and if they didn’t find it, walking the mall. A lot of times I think the department stores were the first places people would go for a specific item because they had a large assortment like you mentioned. What do you think about the future of department stores? Because I think the lines are blurring a little bit between what it means to be a retailer versus a brand in the conversation of having these relationships with consumers.

Carrie Tharp:
Yeah. So I actually have a belief and maybe it is shaded by my past department stores experience and kind of a passion for that space. So a shout out to my Neiman and Marcus friends. I still think the department store has a place. One thing that I’ve understood throughout my career and working directly in a brand and also working in a wholesale environment is that they’re a very different customer journeys that somebody wants to go on. And even for the same customer that does not look the same from each shopping journey and each product category they’re operating in. And so department stores still have this really nice value proposition of having multi-brand multi-category shopping experiences where you can actually go in there and efficiently shop at many different categories in different brands perhaps when you’re not all the way down the funnel in your journey and you don’t know exactly what you want or what brand you want or really even what price point you’re open to.

Carrie Tharp:
And so I think department stores have a lot of work to do as far as what that in-store experience actually feels like, how they hope customers engage with brands and really understand different brand dynamics of the offering they have. How do you bring a brand to life in the context of a multi-brand environment? And so lots of work to do there. But really in my experience, what I was seeing is for lots of segments of customers, that experience was still very compelling. They like potentially having loyalty programs across that store and kind of aggregating their purchases across categories and brands in a way that you can’t in a single-brand experience. And even if you think about how people think about their own fashion of really kind of having a variety in the assortment. So always, always saying that there’s opportunity there, but I think it still represents a journey that remains relevant and just how do you reshape that actual store experience to feel a little bit more modern and brand-oriented going forward.

Julia Raymond:
Sure. And like you said, there are lots of segments of shoppers who still appreciate having, you said multi-brand multi-category products in department stores. When I think about department store, the assortment is so large traditionally. Is it possible for websites, a lot of people have talked about this, to truly be personalized right when you go to the homepage?

Carrie Tharp:
Absolutely. So this is something that I was working on in my past experience and something that we’re working with a lot of our customers from a Google Cloud perspective. So really setting up their customer data platforms and their e-commerce architecture to be ready for one-to-one personalization. That homepage should not be generic. It should have an understanding of you as a customer, what categories you might be interested in, what price points are relevant to you. And really that front door to the digital experience with that brand should start with a point of view. And that includes basic things like curation that’s relevant to you, offers that are relevant to you, guided discovery that is relevant to whatever product category you’re looking at.

Carrie Tharp:
And so that is something that there’s a lot of pieces and parts that have to come together to make that happen. But that’s a journey that a lot of the retail partners we’re working with are very focused on. And how do you do that? How do you create guided discovery online? So you know, today if you go to a retailer’s website, there’s a search box and there’s navigation and the navigation may represent kind of a department-based structure of a department store or if you’re in a mono brand, kind of categories of dresses versus shirts and things like that. It’s very structured. And if you think about customer journey, it’s often not structured. You might pick up a pair of pants at J.Crew when you’re walking by and really came in for a sweater. And how do you create more of that kind of experience online that allows for discovery, that allows for these bigger basket sizes that are more consistent with an in-store experience and really enable a customer to have a more branded and store like experience?

Carrie Tharp:
That’s where, as an example, we have things we’re working on from a retail search perspective of how do you start with improving results people get from the search box but really that opens up how you change discovery online and kind of a suite of discovery tools that allow for these, I keep calling them guided discovery paths. You know, if you’re kind of mid-funnel or upper funnel and you don’t really know what you’re looking for, you might’ve seen some inspiration on Instagram, you might’ve been watching a video on YouTube and you’re kind of looking for something, but you’re not quite decided. How does retail better facilitate those kind of journeys? Because today, if you think about your own online experience, clicking through 20 pages of dresses or whatever you might be looking at isn’t really efficient and you can sometimes put a lot of work in and do some filtering and different things to try to make it better. But the reality is retail has a big assortment today.

Carrie Tharp:
And sometimes when you’re within mono brand you’re getting that more curated view, but frankly a lot of retail has a pretty robust assortment. And so how do you help customers make their way through that in a way that feels good, drives them to buy more items and have interests in things that they potentially weren’t thinking about when they landed on your site?

Julia Raymond:
Absolutely. And Search is a huge one. You guys are obviously the king of search. And was this thing recently added because I thought I ran across an article and it said Search AI and hosting was some new services that you guys added to Google Cloud.

Carrie Tharp:
Yeah. So as we focus on industry specific solutions, we have sort of communicating what we have in development. So it’s a little kind of early on from a Google perspective to expose publicly what we have in works. But with AI and machine learning-based product, we often co-develop these capabilities with some of our biggest partners. So, first is the area of helping drive digital and omni-channel growth. And so here are some of the things you mentioned around our e-commerce hosting and site reliability engineering programs. This falls in that bucket of helping make digital retailing worry-free. So if you talk to any retail executive, peak readiness is a big part of their annual processes and causes a lot of stress of do we have enough capacity for peak season, are promotions potentially going to crash our site? You know, there’s just a lot of prep that goes into it.

Carrie Tharp:
In Google, when we’re hosting that for a retailer takes on kind of all of that burden and has engineers kind of sitting shoulder to shoulder with a retailer’s engineers to make sure that they have the scalability and reliability they need through that peak season. So that’s a new program we’ve started recently and really pulled in some of our biggest retail partners to say, we understand the stress and complexity of omni-channel retailing and we want to make sure you are enabled and confident that we’re going to run that for you. Search is also another capability in that space that how do you reshape that online discovery journey? How do you make sure you’re getting the right product and information to customers?

Carrie Tharp:
The second big bucket of solutions that we have is helping retail be data-driven customer-centric retailers. This is a journey that all of retail’s on and how do we use our capabilities to enable that and speed people down that path. This is the concept of all this latent data. How do I turn data into insights and insights into something I can activate in the customer’s journey. So here we have things like our recommendations engines that you can kind of use the power of our capabilities to understand who your customer is in a permissioned way, get them the most relevant product offerings. That’s something we help Ulta with from their app perspective. They have a very loyal customer but there’s still always opportunity to make sure you’re getting the best recommendations to that customer.

Carrie Tharp:
And then the third bucket is operational improvement. So in retail, you’d be remiss to not talk about improving operations inside the retail organization to free up capital and expense and resources to go work on some of the more experience-based things. And so here we have a bunch of solutions that are focused on how do you improve store base operations, labor scheduling in the stores, for example, Macy’s we worked with on creating a new warehouse management set up for them to run their backstage stores, which is kind of a store within a store concept. And that’s just a perfect example where if they tried to do that kind of with their legacy ERP systems, that would have taken them much longer to do. But in a cloud-native approach, they were able to stand up a warehouse management system and kind of launched those backstage stores and support them appropriately within their stores. So really us looking across all the core elements of what a retail executive would be thinking about and making sure we have offerings in all those different areas.

Julia Raymond:
And it is so complex. So it makes a lot of sense that your goal focuses on the retail industry and the retail clients that Google Cloud has. Do you think the future is the cloud? Will everyone be on the cloud within 10 years or sooner than that? What’s your take?

Carrie Tharp:
I do think that the future is very cloud-based? So you know, having worked with cloud technology prior to coming to Google and then since being here, really understanding the full capabilities that are out there, it really just allows you to operate your business in a different way and not kind of focus from a retail perspective, not kind of draining resource or focus on infrastructure-based things that aren’t enabling or empowering that customer experience. And so when you really look at how its strategy is based on how you allocate and prioritize resources, I think Cloud is a great way to help accelerate the transformation in retail.

Carrie Tharp:
We see a lot of people at different points in the journey. They may be partially on the cloud, they may have completely migrated and now they are doing rapid tests and learn. I think as we see the competitive space evolve, you’re really going to see the winners be the people who able to do rapid tests and learn, change the customer experience, funnel money back into changing their store experiences. And so it really becomes kind of a race for all of retail to make sure there are on a roadmap for themselves that allows them to do that. And I think Cloud is kind of the foundation on which you can do that in retail.

Julia Raymond:
Certainly. And I like your perspective that we will see the winners and they will be the ones who can test and learn quickly using Cloud foundation that they have enabled. And from your perspective, because you have a unique background with retail and then also the technology side, are there any innovations that you’re most excited about or that you’re really keeping your eye on when it comes to retail technology?

Carrie Tharp:
Yeah, I mean there’s a couple of different areas that I’m thinking about quite a bit. First is a little bit of what we talked about earlier, the evolution of personalization and privacy. So what our CDPs, which is kind of a buzzword of today doing and how does that work in the architecture and what use cases does that enable? And so watching a lot of different CDP players in this space. But also then there are players like True Fit which is an example of, you know they have this fashion genome product and it’s considered to be the largest connected dataset where they have permissioned users. And then they also use privacy safe kind of aggregated information to drive customer experience and have a better fit and styling experience on thousands of retailers’ websites. And so it’s really interesting to see different companies pop up in that space and kind of try to figure out this intersection of personalization and privacy. So that’s a big one for me.

Carrie Tharp:
Second is really how people are going to start activating use cases in real-time. So there’s a lot of talk about dynamic pricing and personalization and marketing ROI and how do you drive different interactions with the customer. And so for us, as an example, one of the big items in this space is our recent acquisition of Looker. And so Looker provides advanced capabilities in data visualization. But then we’re also working on then connections back to activation. So data in itself and insight in itself doesn’t really help you. And retail is pretty complex from a functional standpoint. You have a lot of different cooks in the kitchen from the merchants, the marketers, channel leadership, people who are running the stores and how do you get information in a way that then can be activated on in a more automated way that is consistent with what the brand is trying to drive and meet their revenue and margin objectives.

Carrie Tharp:
And so there, we have Looker and kind of brought that in-house and we think it’s going to be a very powerful tool for helping drive retail in this space. But also there’s a lot of other partners we’re also watching very closely of how they create connections across a very complex retail tech stack to enable this activation of insights.

Carrie Tharp:
And then last, we haven’t really talked too much today about smart stores. This to me is a very interesting area. There’s a lot of conversation about kind of the Amazon Go store, store of the future, fully autonomous stores. And what I would say is not all of retail is interested in a fully autonomous store. A lot of retail and especially brands think of their store experience as their connection to the customer and they very much do want a connection. So there’s grocers and convenience stores and things that autonomous store can be a very relevant topic for, but then there’s a lot of rest of retail that it is about more smart stores. How do you start bringing technology into the store that can help with operations, that can potentially improve the customer experience, free up the associates to spend more time with the customer rather than doing operational elements?

Carrie Tharp:
And so here there’s a lot of different partners that work in this space and kind of instrumenting stores, getting AI and ML into the store. And I think it’s really early on in kind of the maturity continuum as to how a retailer can drive value. A lot of it’s kind of in testing and experimentation phase, but that’s a space where I’m watching it. I think there’s going to be rapid development and acceleration and it’ll will change kind of the face of retail stores in the future.

Julia Raymond:
So you said three things. I think CDP players keeping an eye on them, activating insights in real-time and then smart stores and I love your perspective that not every brand or a retailer will want a smart store or a fully automated store because I think we hear a lot about that. I know Amazon Go just opened a full grocery store with their technology, but if you look up, I mean the cameras are outrageous. They are everywhere. So I do wonder if that’s the future of all stores. But Carrie, thank you for joining today. I loved hearing all of your insights.

Carrie Tharp:
Great. Absolutely. It was a lot of fun. I appreciate it.