Retail Rundown: June 1, 2020 - The Big Innovation Episode

June 1, 2020: We hear from top industry thought leaders about the power of innovation during tough times – Valtech’s Shannon Ryan, Infovista’s Ricardo Belmar, Bob Phibbs, the Retail Doc, Forrester’s Nigel Fenwick, and Perch Interactive’s Trevor Sumner.

No time for news? We’ve got you covered. Welcome to the Retail Rundown, your go-to weekly podcast where RETHINK Retail teams up with industry experts to deliver the top trending news stories in retail.

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Hosted by Julia Raymond

Written and produced by Gabriella Bock

Edited by Trenton Waller



Julia Raymond:
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly every industry has had to pivot their priorities as they navigate the new normal.
But at RETHINK Retail, we believe there are always opportunities in times of crisis.
And although this crisis has not come easy for anyone, its circumstances have certainly lit the fuse on the acceleration of new technologies and sparked innovative thinking across the global retail landscape.
From the quick adoption of contactless and curbside pickup to Walmart’s 2-hour delivery, brands are thinking big about how to best serve their customers and thrive during these tough times.
Today we hear from thought leaders like Valtech’s Shannon Ryan, Infovista’s Ricardo Belmar, Bob Phibbs, the Retail Doc, Forrester’s Nigel Fenwick, and Perch Interactive’s Trevor Sumner as we discuss innovation and the resourcefulness of our industry.
To kick off today’s episode, we will first hear from Shannon Ryan. Shannon is the EVP North America for Valtech, where he helps leadership teams map, understand and execute digital strategy, mostly in the world of retail, CPG and B2B.


Shannon Ryan:
There’s no doubt that one area in particular that has been incredibly hard hit has been retail. And I’d like to talk a little bit about retail because as you know Valtech has a deep client roster in the world of retail and the world of luxury and direct to consumer. And this crisis has been especially vicious to that sector. But I think it’s been fascinating to watch those organizations who had a degree of digital maturity. Maybe not as fully advanced as they would like, but to a certain degree, certainly were stronger than some of their competitors. And they’re using this opportunity to go faster, to leverage technology to really drive competitive advantage. One of our clients, for example, in the luxury goods space, essentially growth hacked a solution within two weeks to allow personal shopping concierge services to take place to their high value customers in two weeks.
In a normal environment, would this solution have been rolled out? Possibly not. But I think the management team understood the lesson of speed and technology at this particular time.


Julia Raymond:
That was Valtech’s EVP Shannon Ryan from a recent webinar he hosted alongside Forrester’s VP Nigel Fenwick, who we’ll hear from later in this episode, on how to accelerate your Business Transformation. Find a link to the on-demand recording on our resources page at
Next we will hear from Ricardo Belmar. Ricardo is the Sr. Director of Global Enterprise Marketing at Infovista and a digital transformation specialist with decades of experience in the retail sector. Let’s hear what he has to say about retail transformation during the COVID-19 pandemic and an unlikely brand that surprised him with their digital initiatives.


Ricardo Belmar:
I was talking with a friend of mine who made a comment that retailers spent the last 10 years trying to touch-enable the store, and now they’re going to spend the next 10 years trying to remove all of that and make it touchless, and go to the other extreme. So, touchscreens maybe have seen their peak in retail, I think, as a result. In fact, a great example, I saw a Little Caesars’ commercial recently where they were highlighting their touchless and contactless pickup for pizza.
And they’ve got, if you’ve seen this right, where you scan your code from your phone without touching anything again and a door opens up and out pops the pizza box. That’s your order and then you grab it and take it. You never have to touch the kiosk, you don’t touch any screens. It’s all done by scanning a QR code on your phone.
I almost see it’s a slightly more advanced version of an Amazon pickup locker, in that sense. It just adapted for food in this way. I think it’s pretty clever, the way they’ve done that. So you could see more things like that.


Julia Raymond:
Now we hear from the Retail Doctor, Bob Phibbs. Bob is a popular motivational speaker, business consultant and has been named a top 3 retail influencer. His work has appeared in national news outlets and he’s been featured in articles in the New York Times, Entrepreneur and The Wall Street Journal.


Bob Phibbs:
I think the thing that stands out for me with the innovations is the way people are finding ways to encourage social distancing in various places. You know, there’s a Japanese zoo that puts stuffed animals at tables to promote social distancing and some other ones have used cardboard cutouts. And I think the thing to remember in all of this is you don’t want your retail store or your pub or your hotel to look like a medical office. And I think there’s a certain amount of people that think that innovating more with contactless apps so that we will drive up to the mall, that the valet scans it. And then we go to the mall and you scan there and someone opens the door for you and checks your temperature and you go in to have an appointment based at a retail store.
I don’t think that’s going to be possible. I don’t know who’s going to pay for that one, but the idea of we’re going to bathroom attendance again and elevator attendance, who’s going to pay for this in a time when margins are being squeezed. So, understanding that innovation is just because you can do it and some people think that you should do it. A lot of those innovations that we’re seeing, you know, drones spraying chemicals over Broadway audiences to disinfect. I don’t know how realistic they are. So I take a look at things like Canada’s Fairmont hotel that has come up with a social distancing wedding package. So they’ve re-imagined several of their event spaces. Do you want me to have to peep appropriate physical distancing measures? I think it was big last week—we saw the Maryland Fish Tales bar had social distancing tubes for drinkers and that can still be fun and keep it interesting.
But remember, brick and mortar retail offers one thing and that is hope. When people go out there and it’s a mass market industry, it is not an appointment-based business. So I think whatever innovations that people talk about on this show today, that realistically the smart retailers are gonna look at, is this a near term thing that we have to do? Or is this something that people think, “Oh, well, because we can, we should put it in there”. Because at the bottom line, someone is going to have to pay for it and it’s going to be really hard for most retailers to raise prices at a time when they have so much merchandise to cut back. And they’re looking at closing stores. And several of them were looking at chapter 11 reorganization. So I think when you’re talking about innovation, just being understood that there’s gotta be a price paid. And then also it’s got to support fun and hope when we go out into stores, not make us wary and scared and it feels like I’m going to visit my doctor. Well, that’s what I think the Retail Doctor sees this week for the Retail Rundown.


Julia Raymond:
Next we will hear from Nigel Fenwick. Nigel is the Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research. His latest research on digital business examines customer value and fundamental business changes needed in the age of the customer centric world.


Nigel Fenwick:
First of all, if you look at digital experiences, the advanced firms tend to be doing something very differently with how they think about just creating better experiences. They are much more likely to be building these new digital products and services that allow them to create value for customers and drive new revenue. They’re building new digital models like expanding and exploring new revenue models, new operating models. And they’re really looking at things like data and saying, “Are there ways that we can commercialize data to drive revenue by maybe creating a better data product for our customers, helping our customers get insight from the data we have or maybe even using that data to create a new product or service for a different set of customers?”
And all the while protecting the privacy of their customer’s data, which of course is paramount because you have to maintain trust with customers in a digital economy. So digital experiences become really important. But then if you look at operations and how they are operating, the advanced firms are much more likely to be expanding and training employees to improve the digital skills of their employees. So they really understand how important it is to invest in the employee’s future and build that digital skills. They’re also hyper-focused on re-engineering and building out business processes and really digitizing business processes. So understanding where the processes may be impeding a customer experience, looking at how to make processes more agile, improving the way they operate, even applying things like robotic process or process automation.
At the same time, they’re restructuring their organization. So not just saying, “Okay. This is the way we’ve always done it.” But looking at, “How do we change our organization to increase the agility of the business? How do we change the organization to operate in a way that when a customer’s expectations change or something happens in the market, we can really quickly respond and change the way we operate and deliver value to the customer?” And the ecosystem, when you look at how these firms are leveraging the ecosystem, they’re really looking at how to take advantage of the prebuilt software and projects that accelerate it as a partners brain to help them deliver volume much faster to customers. They’re taking advantage of the partner’s data assets to bring insights to their employees and bring insights potentially to customers to create value for their customers and help customers deliver a better outcome.
And fundamentally, the advanced firms are thinking about innovation as being a critical priority for their business. Much more so than say beginner firms who are more focused on improving customer experience. And it’s this real focus on continuous change, continuous improvement that often distinguishes the more advanced firms from the less advanced firms.
So when you wrap all this together, when we’re in this, think about this post-COVID world where we’re entering a new sort of era of business where advanced firms use technology to accelerate away from the less mature firms, right? So they’re going to take that leading advantage they had coming into this pandemic and use that to accelerate out as we exit in the next nine, 12 months, whatever that looks like. And they’re going to do it by creating new sources of value, often using the emerging technologies they’ve been experimenting with and will continue to experiment with to create value for employees, customers and society. And so as the pandemic reshapes what we think about is important and what is valuable to us as society, the advanced firms are much more likely to be thinking about, “How do we use the technology we have to great value for customers and in society and for employees going forward?”
This is an important way to think about the business. And what it really highlights is that it’s not just about creating great customer experiences, it’s really when you think about what the experiences do when we create great experiences, they start to shape customer expectations. But when you want to create value for customers, a perception of value, which let’s face it, is unique in the minds of each individual, we all have a perception of value based on expectations, is the degree to which those experiences can shape outcomes and deliver outcomes that have value. They start to shape value perception. So if a company can deliver to me an experience that delivers an outcome that I value, then I have a much higher perception of the value that that experience brings. So we have to focus on outcome delivery. And that’s a key component of digital strategy, is not just focusing on improving experiences, but can we use technology to change the outcome that we deliver for customers?


Julia Raymond:
And rounding out today’s episode is Trevor Sumner. Trevor is the CEO of Perch Interactive and a recognized leader in in-store product engagement marketing, interactive retail displays and augmented reality. Let’s hear what he has to say about technology and the retail experience.


Trevor Sumner:
I think just the way that digital can enhance the way we browse and connect with products, again, with shopping being this kind of discovery and serendipity, whether it’s on social media and content or in-store, how do we bring all of that great content in store? I mean, that’s a lot of what we do at Perch in terms of being able to bring every piece of content for every product on the shelf. But I think the other part about that is from a technology perspective is data. But the data that’s being unlocked by all these systems from online to in-store to be able to track customers, their shopping behavior, what products they interact with, what they consume is really going to allow us to become much more efficient in every area of the business to reduce costs, to increase convenience, to increase joy.
And that to me is what’s really exciting, is that I feel that in-store retail has been technology phobic for quite some time. And now that eyes are wide open as to the possibilities and their existential threats if you don’t adopt technology and leverage these technology browsing behaviors and content browsing behaviors, I think we’re, we’re going to see kind of a new age of retail that really melds the best of both physical and digital shopping. And it’s going to be enjoyable and engaging and entertaining.


Julia Raymond:
And finally, I’d like to leave you all with this reminder: true innovation always entails uncertainty.
Airbnb and Uber began during the Great Recession. Alibaba became the $500 billion e-commerce giant it is today due, in large part, to the 2003 SARS epidemic in China. But before the outbreak, e-commerce was still in its early stages. Alibaba saw opportunity in the lack of travel to China by foreign businessmen and launched Taobao that same year, which quickly surpassed eBay to become the largest C2C marketplace in China.
And while the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many weak spots in the West, scores of tech companies are already working hard to deliver solutions to get the retail landscape back in business while keeping the general public healthy.
Some of these tools include things like symptom-tracking solutions, contact-tracing technology for workplaces and warehouses, video plugins for e-commerce, and sanitizing robots.
So, to the retailers who are listening, let me ask you—is innovation a critical element of your post-crisis recovery? If not, you may want to rethink that.
Before you go, be sure to check out our new series called Shift Happens on our RETHINK Retail website and LinkedIn page. If you’d like to be considered to contribute thought leadership to our next release, contact us on LinkedIn or email I’d also like to take a moment to thank our team members who work hard to bring you this weekly podcast including Managing Editor Gabriella Bock and Audio Engineer Trenton Waller.


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