I was excited to head to eTail West this year to hear about the latest retail innovations from our clients. After visiting a friend in LA, I arrived on Monday at eTail in Palm Desert in an autonomous Tesla Model X. No, I’m not a tech billionaire who only drives cars with doors that open “like this” à la Russ Hanneman on Silicon Valley.

I had stumbled across this new ride share called Tesloop that allowed me to kick back with wi-fi while my “pilot”  Paul sort-of drove for 2 hours, all for less than the price of a rental car. Why am I telling you this? Because my drive to eTail West was the most futuristic part of my week. Well, that and the charismatic robot with whom I took an awkward prom photo.

eTail West Recap 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The conference’s opening slides set the stage with the too-familiar themes of omni-channel, mobile, AR, and content marketing, and I had flashbacks to Shop.Org 2013, or was it IRCE 2014? I felt cheated; I had seen these themes at every retail conference over the last few years. However, as the first sessions kicked off, I started to hear something different. At this conference, these weren’t just lofty, cliché ideas. They were actually being executed and creating strong contenders in the omni-channel war.

So, why did these things take so long to become a reality? I asked this question of my colleagues over Pinkberry, and we concluded that the “winners” were the companies that got out of their own way. To do that, they had to remove the roadblocks to innovation — here’s our eTail West recap on a few of the ways they did it.

Align organization to the customer

Your business goals should align with the needs of the customer — kind of obvious, right? Some variation of a customer centricity quote is stenciled on every corporate wall, including our own. However, organizations are often not structured to support omni-channel success. When it comes down to how executives and their teams are compensated, so often we see channel-specific KPIs that are in direct conflict of innovation.

In the kick-off keynote on Day 1 of eTail West, several of our clients spoke about the necessity of adjusting reporting structures and company culture to facilitate omni-channel. Kevin Moffitt, SVP of e-Commerce at Office Depot, said it best: “Channel-specific KPIs drive bad behavior.”

This idea was echoed in another session by Eduardo Frias, CIO of Bazaarvoice client Beachbody, on the evolving role of the Chief Information Officer. He spoke about the shift of the role of CIO from accountability of cost to accountability of revenue, in order for the role to be more aligned with marketing and customer experience.

eTail West Recap 2

 

 

 

In order to truly succeed in the rapidly changing world of retail, brands and retailers must look inside their own organizations to ensure that their company structure, goals and metrics, and culture support omni-channel innovation.

Act like a startup (or buy one)

With such a low barrier to entry for online-only retailers, the brick-and-mortar giants have new competition entering the market daily. While legacy retailers may have a head start on logistics and awareness, these digital-first entrants are building their business by challenging traditional business models.

Chieh Huang, CEO of Boxed Wholesale, spoke about his experience breaking the mold of the warehouse store. Boxed Wholesale was created with the millennial customer in mind. Like Costco, Sam’s Club, and BJ’s, Boxed Wholesale allows customers to purchase bulk goods at lower prices. Unlike these brick-and-mortar giants, Boxed Wholesale doesn’t have a physical store or require a membership; shoppers make purchases solely through the mobile app. Huang himself and the company’s first developer had a gaming background, which gave the app its distinct browsing experience. Push notifications, personalized product suggestions, and other gaming mechanics keep users coming back.

eTail West Recap 3

 

 

 

But even if you’re not a startup, you can think like one. Fred Argir, Chief Digital Officer of Barnes & Noble, has one of the largest transformations ahead of him, or his company will suffer the same fate of Borders. To align three distinct corporate functions, he created a Digital Steering Committee, which has allowed the company to innovate on a secretive digital-influenced prototype store the public has yet to see.

Similarly, Walmart’s investment in Walmart Labs wasn’t enough to pivot the 55-year-old behemoth to impact Amazon’s sales. They’ve upped their ante with the acquisition of Jet.com and the announcement of free two-day shipping without a membership fee. In a fireside chat, Matt Baer, VP / GM of Home at Walmart, explained how Jet fits in with Walmart values by creatively lowering cost by using smart cart technology that gamifies savings to customers.

Burn down data silos

Who needs a focus group when you’re sitting on millions of insights from real customer data? By not looking at data holistically, organizations often create data silos and fail to understand and influence the end-to-end shopper journey.

eTail West Recap 4

 

 

 

Michelle Lam, CEO of True & Co, talked about the ability to track her customers by seamlessly moving between online and offline using customer-centric data. She is now able to know what her customer did all day — from grabbing coffee and getting in an Uber to buying something online and eating lunch.

It seems like most retailers have barely scratched the surface of what they can do with this type of information, but those that are winning are creating more personalized online experiences based on their customers’ offline behavior.

Don’t be your own worst enemy

The key to all of these is to not leave innovation to chance. Build a team and a business with the freedom and flexibility to innovate like a startup, without the red tape. Use your cross-channel data to change KPIs from channel-specific metrics like online or offline conversion to holistic metrics like customer lifetime value. This shift will incentivize teams to work together to best serve the customer.

Yes, you need all the buzzy things to compete with Amazon: omni-channel, amazing content, and personalization, and artificial intelligence and virtual/augmented reality might help you get there. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of exciting possibilities with bots and machine learning, but they will be as anticlimactic as the hover board if retailers don’t learn to get out of their own way.

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