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EPISODE 032 : 10/14/2021​

Carl Boutet

Carl Boutet is the author of The Great Acceleration: The Race to Resilience. He is an executive advisor to retailers, global brands and leading businesses worldwide who want to leverage their use of technology, analytics and design to improve their business outcomes. Carl was recently named one of the Top 100 Global Rethink Retail most influential retail thinkers in 2021.

Host: Ned Hayes and Karen Jensen
Guest: Carl Boutet

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Topics discussed in this episode

  • The Great Acceleration (as opposed to the Great Depression) – Covid pushed many businesses (i.e., home stores) forward!  
  • It is not about a digital biz vs. physical biz but about a mind-shift in the way that we need to rethink the whole value prop of our businesses 
  • There is a need to become more sophisticated for small retailers

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Audio Transcript

Ned Haye [00:00:01] Welcome to SparkPlug, where we talk to smart people working at the intersection of business and technology. Brought to you by SnowShoe making mobile location smarter. SparkPlug is happy to welcome Carl Boutet to the podcast today. He is the author of The Great Acceleration The Race to Resilience. Carl is an executive advisor to retailers, global brands, leading businesses worldwide who want to leverage their use of technology and analytics to improve business outcomes. And Carl was recently named one of the top 100 global rethink retailer most influential retail thinkers in 2021. So we’re happy to have you on the podcast today, Carl. Welcome.

Karen Jensen [00:00:47] Welcome to the podcast, Carl, and congratulations. Could you begin by telling us your story? How did you arrive at your current role as an advisor to national brands and major retailers?

Carl Boutet [00:01:00] Yeah, it’s been like a twenty five year journey. The bulk of that journey was me actually owning and operating a chain of retail locations from coast to coast here in Canada. The first generation of wireless for those that are old enough to remember those, those old flip phones and all that stuff started as we were kind of coming out of that and getting into much, much more of a commoditized product segment. I had the opportunity to partner with Costco Wholesale and open those famous cell phone kiosks, but which were much more at that time that that had a full array of technology products. And then that basically led me down this path to sort of just really looking to have a deeper appreciation for the general dynamics of and the complexities of retail. And in the past 15 years now basically guiding other retailers and businesses and that support them to adjust to a marketplace, a consumer, a and all the trends that surround them, that they’re just always moving faster and faster. 

Ned Haye [00:02:07] And you’ve also been involved with helping people learn how to think smarter about retail. You’ve been involved at McGill University, up in Montreal for some time. So what did the students in the classes bring to? What benefits do you see as being part of that academic community? 

Carl Boutet [00:02:25] Yeah. So my involvement with McGill started back in 2017. What a press release came out that a substantial gift had been given to the university to launch a retail management school, a proper, fully integrated, multi-disciplinary retail management school, which was really a first and several levels, first of all, when there was focused on the retail sector. Although I want to get back to a very broad definition of retail, which I think is important to note also. So, so when that press release came out, it mentioned also that there was going to be a innovation lab tied to the school. And I’d been working, promoting or throwing around the idea for a couple of years of launching a retail lab here in Montreal. And when I saw that McGill University had plans to do one. I said, Well, there’s this is the perfect opportunity. So the day after basically that press release, I was in the academic director’s office saying, How can I help? How can I support this. Our industry really needs a more structured approach and more disciplined approach that academics can kind of bring. And in that depth that we’re sort of lacking in the gift for the Benson school, I mean, it was from Aldo Benson. And so if you’re familiar with Aldo shoes, the Aldo shoe group

Ned Haye [00:03:47] Yes.

Carl Boutet [00:03:48] They had there was a recognition that our industry needed a little more of that structure. And also, let’s be fair, I mean, to attract talent, too, because it’s an industry that’s been notoriously difficult to recruit into because the students would often just see our industry as a summer job, you know, when something to do in the meantime until they get the real job without knowing all the serious and very interesting and complex and challenging roles that could be waiting for them, you know, in the head offices or even on the floors of the organization. So I have to say that I got involved through that perspective, not necessarily as as a to teach, but then an opportunity came along at the beginning of the pandemic to teach that their executive, McGill’s Executive Institute, which is for noncredit executive education and teach marketing with them so not directly linked to the Benson School, but thanks to the Benson and school that I was able to make those contacts and I still stay close to advised Retail Innovation Lab at McGill, which is now a partnership with Circle K Couche-Tard, which I you’re familiar with another group here. And and and since I’ve actually started teaching as well in Asia, which is really interesting because that was through another opportunity not linked to McGill. But I was able to to connect with the dean of the Asian Institute of Technology. Last time I was in Bangkok, just a couple of weeks before the pandemic came out and and now teaching marketing at the MBA level there as well. And that’s also an amazing opportunity to learn from the students and to to engage with them and just get a better feel for a part of the world, which we know is influencing how we operate as well. More and more so lots and lots of learnings, and you nailed it. I mean, the key thing for me, what I’m most excited about is the opportunity to learn with the students and and I make up most of that by class participation and asking them to present and what they’re excited about in in marketing. And that’s where I often learn about new trends, new brands and especially in different parts of the world. So I love combining if it’s a recent thing for me in terms to do the teaching that was brought on by the pandemic and my openness to leverage in virtual education, but something I’m definitely committed to for the long term. 

Karen Jensen [00:06:18] So I’m curious about academia, especially retail academic study has been like during the pandemic you’ve survived COVID, but I’m curious, have your students? What’s that been like? 

Carl Boutet [00:06:30] It’s really interesting because in my case, more than I’ve thrived, right? So the opportunity to teach in Asia wouldn’t have happened. Although I’d had some conversations with the dean about maybe going in teaching over two weekends or something like that, flying down and doing like an intensive two intensive sessions. But if it wasn’t for the pandemic and the opportunity to do this virtually where I’m at 7:00 in the morning for me, six p.m. And I’m teaching my class because of the time difference. And then that evening we’re actually teaching another night class. So it’s really broadened the possibilities of the education and allowed, you know, students from all over the world to to connect much more so, for instance, and McGill in the last class, I thought we had it. We had some students from the Middle East, which we’ve never had before. And we’ve had, you know, sometimes we’d have students from Europe. I’m sorry, I’m told. But you know, the time difference is a little more a challenge for them, you know? And then we would have sort of teachings and we’d have to do a classes in Toronto, let’s say, in Vancouver, Calgary and things like that specific to those markets now we just through up and we had one class. But that all that to say we are going back as well and in-person and especially at the undergraduate level, that’s, you know, that’s a given. The experience is much richer to have to be able to combine the two, but it’s it’s a hybrid world. But I think the key learning and especially the executive level where they’re more, you know, there’s more experienced and probably have more stress on their time. The opportunity to be able to do online versus in class and be able to juggle the two is going to keep going for and for those students particularly appreciate the flexibility. 

Ned Haye [00:08:18] So let’s turn focus to your book The Great Acceleration. Can you give us a thumbnail sketch of your new book? 

Carl Boutet [00:08:25] Yeah. Well, I mean, I always use the word book in brackets because these are a couple of reasons. First of all, I you know, it’s a five year process that I started with a conversation with a business business school strategy of mine, and we’re over the reunion. And after a long dinner together, he finished with saying, You’ve got a book in you, which I didn’t know what that meant. And I just sort of like, I started thinking, Well, what does that mean and what can you talk about? And then five years later, with the pandemic and the word acceleration on everybody’s lips and during the launch of my friend Steve Dennis, who I believe you had on his own book launch, we hosted a book by Oliver Banks in London and myself hosted his book, his first book launch, and I coined the term great acceleration because I thought of it in the context of how well, especially with the first lockdown, these trends that we were all predicting became sort of pulled forward. And as we were jamming with Scott Galloway, who is who was there for the launch as well, another author. That’s where I sort of brought this idea and we look back at this period of time sort of in the same way we had a much Great Depression and the Great Recession. Could this be the great acceleration because of all the trends that we were forecasting to happen? Five 10 years from now seem to be happening in five 10 weeks at some point? Obviously, things settled back down a bit, but that’s where the race, the resilience or the subtitle of the book kicks in. Where it’s not just about digital or e-commerce versus physical commerce, it’s about a mind shift in the way that we need to rethink the whole value proposition of our businesses. 

Karen Jensen [00:10:09] Speaking of acceleration, you’re launching this book in a new way. How is this different from a typical book launch? And what has the experience been like for you? 

Carl Boutet [00:10:20] It’s first it’s it’s different in pretty much every aspect of again, quote unquote book launch. So the the first things I really wanted to own the process, so I didn’t feel I self-published, I control 100 percent of the distribution, meaning I’m not on on your traditional sort of Amazon and other platforms because I want to practice what I preach, which is owning the relationship with the customer and the opportunity to speak directly with that was at a cost, obviously of much, much more greatly reduced distribution and possibly sales but with an upside of being able to just stay engaged with the people that read the book. The reason why the books and I find quotations often is because the real value, I think, is what’s coming is the idea that we’re constantly updating, including all the data in the book. There’s a lot of data that was tracking in different markets, how digital adoption was playing out, and you sort of think so in those. Those data points are important to update because, you know, things are always moving. So I think we need to for the reader is it’s a it’s frustrating to have a book that just sort of starts and ends in a static way. Mm-Hmm. So I mean, those are sort of the main the main differences and the fact that the physical book was was part, you know, was launched yet were available only with an hour of my time. So a little more than your traditional book $250 to get the physical book, which was know in very limited supply, but came with an hour of my time because again I wanted to. You know, you can buy the digital version for $12.99, but I’d say if you wanted the physical version and really sort of get it. More importantly, I think the hour where we get to speak and have the sort of in-depth conversation around how the frameworks in the book could apply to your business reality because the idea too, is it’s very important to recognize these accelerations are not evenly distributed depending on where you are in the world and what you’re doing. So and at what time period and in this pandemic you’re doing it so. So that’s why I wanted to tie it to that. And now it’s also very much tied to my speaking engagements where what I’ll often do with the book as well, you’ve made available a certain quantity will be made available tied to a speaking engagement. So it’s really it’s sort of it’s an evolving process. I was literally updating content in the book 48 hours before I was printed, something I would have never been able to do if I’d gone the traditional route. And I’m involved in some more traditional projects right now where six 12 months out with publishers for some more academic sort of stuff and it’s not perfect far from it. I think, you know, there’s always things that are moving in shape, but at least it’s out there and I control it. So that was how it really deferred. 

Karen Jensen [00:13:17] Well, that is really unique, that you’re offering not one on one time for that package, and certainly not one solution fits all. That’s definitely not the case. 

Carl Boutet [00:13:27] So yeah, I mean, the frameworks are meant to be so generally accessible, but how you interpret them and more importantly, what you do with them afterwards. I think that’s that’s where the time becomes more interesting. And and and that’s, you know, that’s really what I wanted to do. I’m I’m not a I’m not here to sell books. I’m here to build relationships and hopefully engage with people that are curious and want to learn more about, you know, I perceive that what’s going on in the time I’ve dedicated in the past 15 years to really trying to understand that. 

Karen Jensen [00:14:00] So when some of your public talks, you’ve used the phrase digitally enabled commerce, what does this phrase mean? 

Carl Boutet [00:14:06] Yeah. So I’m trying to get away from e-commerce because one of my pet peeves and and, you know, even though the did a lot of the data in the book sort of tracks quote unquote right here with air quotes again with with E-commerce is it really tries to create this false juxtaposition between this is online commerce that you buy e-comm or that you’re sitting in your couch and you, you click away and you do everything virtually. And this is in store commerce, which you got to go into a store and you pick something off the shelf and you go to. And when we’re using those terms, we’re really, truly we’re really pulling the two things apart, which they really aren’t. Because what’s really happening most of the time is ones influencing you in either direction. So digitally enabled commerce. So the race to resilience is this notion that we’re heading to our 50 50 World War much more rapidly than we thought at first because we were. But it doesn’t mean we’re going to be 50 percent online, 50 percent in store as we’re we’re, you know, classically tracking this. It means that we’re heading towards a world that 50 percent of the customer journey is going to be predominantly digitally enabled, which in some cases. It already is. If you look at a QSR and are quick service restaurant business or in companies like Panera who have come out of 50 over 50 percent of their orders are done online before the person shows up and picks up their order. When I said a broad definition of retail earlier this way, I think these these behaviors apply to everybody across the board. We know click and collect is into more traditional retail formats has also increased significantly. These are new data points that we’re tracking. They’re being added as well to the content and we’re going to we’re going to be sharing that digitally enabled just means let’s get away from ecommerce. Let’s get away from this notion of these silos while your e-commerce and I’m in store and we’re competing for us for assets or resources in our organization. And let’s think about digitally enabled meaning, you know, we’re just facilitating the access to the transaction, whichever way or shape or form it takes. And that’s for me, is the most important part. 

Ned Haye [00:16:12] Right. So so so let’s double down on that kind of erasing binary thinking. Yes, and maybe we can do a lightning round and binaries that are no longer relevant. So, for example, you just nailed e-commerce versus brick and mortar. That’s a binary that that should be gone, right? 

Carl Boutet [00:16:30] Absolutely. Another binary. It should be going to sales per square foot to where we’re in a world where our square feet don’t mean anything anymore because the business than the surface of purchase, it goes well beyond the store or the surface of influence of purchase goes well beyond the store. So, so these are things that we have to rethink, and the analysts are still hanging, hanging onto and in their quarterly reports or same store sales. And another one that’s very difficult to to hang on to. And to be honest, there’s no sort of standard reporting on these because depending if you’re one organization will treat curbside as a e-commerce sale as another one will treat it as an in-store sale. Really? So how do you even unpack that? So they were always sort of curious as to how these analysts try to trend. And for instance, Nordstrom has been trying to get away from it. Nordstrom just wants to report sales. They don’t want to report any a sense because they just think it confuses the market. We just want to talk about overall sales, and I think that’s that’s where this is going. And if you want to take it one step further, the the metric or the KPI that I favor, which is a very progressive and it will take time you get there is customer lifetime value like how what can we do to build that metric and that will allow with that sort of breaks down these barriers and these differences that I think are culturally even in an organization important to to to disassemble, right? 

Ned Haye [00:18:02] How about single channel versus omnichannel? 

Carl Boutet [00:18:05] Yeah, I mean, that’s a peeve of the lot of us having in the industry, the word omnichannel was is always a buzz word. And again, I’m speaking at an event in a couple of weeks that has the word omni in it as well. So it’s something that conference, it seems 

Ned Haye [00:18:20] Kind of hard, hard to avoid, isn’t it? 

Carl Boutet [00:18:22] Yeah. And listen, it depends who you are. You are you more concerned about what it means or is it just, you know, or is it important the words we use? So I think the word omni sort of conveyed this idea at first that you were everywhere all the time. That was that was the promise of omni channel retail, and we realized that it wasn’t it wasn’t effective. I mean, it just just it was pretty much impossible. And B was, does it really what the customer was asking for? The consumer was asking to be served in a way that that suited them, that doesn’t necessarily mean you had to be on every new platform and every new social media and everything that every channel basically that would that would open to to you. I mean, you need to think about. So then you see you see things like Nike getting off Amazon and, you know, saying like, Yeah, we don’t need to. We don’t need that channel to fit our purpose. But, you know, single channel, I wouldn’t necessarily argue for either. I definitely don’t believe in digital only or physical only. So I would. So I would say it’s the combination of the of the two that really unlocks the best. But you got it has to be done with with a key, a key understanding of the purpose of why you’re doing it and where you are, where you are, depending on the digital or physical channels that you choose. 

Ned Haye [00:19:44] Right, right. And you just you just touched on that and speaking about customer service being more than just signing up for a bunch of a bunch of social media accounts. But you know, customer service isn’t necessarily opposed to automation but can use automation. And so the two in the past used to be this kind of curated small store experience where you actually have customer service versus something automated pinging you on your phone. But increasingly, I’m getting those pings from small retailers that are automated, but still make me feel like I’m in touch with the store. 

Carl Boutet [00:20:19] Yeah. Oh yeah. And I mean, I’m I’m a big fan of automation. We can automate away the mundane and let the human in the loop take or take over when when things you know are requiring that. But I think you have you have no choice but to to automate, automate the repetitive at least, and which we know is can be any more up to 80 percent of the journey and a lot of cases. Why are we using it? And I’m happy to hear it Ned you’re saying that, you know, the small retailers, because that’s something I think I know for me anyways. With the pandemic here and traveling less, I had more time to invest in sort of helping and supporting my local ecosystem here. And that was the first thing I was trying to do is just show them that even the smaller businesses can now have the resources to take on these these solutions that they probably thought were impossible to them and now are very much in the achievable for them if they just want to dedicate a bit of energy and time more than money and a lot of cases to to to to bringing them on and making the most of them. But I, yeah, I’m a big fan of where automation, when automation can do, and it also helps even if it’s just for for talent and those sort of things. 

Ned Haye [00:21:34] Absolutely. Well, of course, I’ll bring up the the big binary, which is enterprise class retailers like Wal-Mart and Amazon versus small retailers. Is that really a binary that’s still true? 

Carl Boutet [00:21:48] That’s a great question. It is still true, obviously, because if anything, I think it’s it’s polarizing. Even more so I’ve had this this theory that I still need to really, you know, get the data to properly back it up. But I think it’s pretty obvious that if you’re familiar with Peratos rule the, you know, 80 20 seems like that’s going to like ninety six, ninety 10. So I think the long tail of Independent is stretching out because I think people want to have these very specific high touch experiences and very in very narrow categories. But at the same time, I think the big the big players are also compressing where with this, you know, the fall of department stores, for instance, where these and all that that volume is sort of going to the top three, top three top four retailers, which basically are Walmart, Amazon, Costco, you know, sort of those ones are sort of compressing that which would have had before more. And then you have like, maybe we can debate out Khols and a couple of other ones. But then then the specialty comes in in between Home Depot and all that are still doing Best Buy. The big box are still around and kind of, but those numbers keep on shrinking right? I mean, in Phonix, we had three or four big box concepts. We’re down to one, hardware is down to two. I mean, department stores zero, you tell me not even sure which which we can consider really successful these days. So so I just feel like that of Peratos compressing in the long tail is stretching at the same time, so I’m not sure if it’s 90 10 or if it’s still 80 20 with just some longer tail. But it feels like that polarity is increasing because the big players are obviously leveraging and using the acceleration as a way to leverage the resources that they have. And and the logical advances is the long tail is going to it’s going to catch up, especially the good ones, the good indies that are out there, that want to remain relevant, that don’t necessarily want to replicate the big box business model and just want to really serve the heck out of a very specific customer base that they feel is near and dear and close to. 

Karen Jensen [00:23:56] So we have a loyalty program that use that’s used by hundreds of smaller retailers. And what does this acceleration mean for small retailers? How can they sustain relevance? 

Carl Boutet [00:24:09] Well, I think, you know, with your loyalty program to begin with, I think there’s there’s a need to become a little more sophisticated for small retailers are looking. They have to leverage data. I think they need to understand it’s no longer a big player game to be able to get a little smarter around. And we know that loyalty programs like yours are a wealth. I mean, some of the best tools you have to to learn more about your customer, and that requires maybe a little more sophistication around how to leverage the data that allows you to deliver on more personalized offers. And that’s I think that’s sort of key to the to the small businesses, and I feel for them. I mean, I mentioned earlier that I did a big part of my life, my retail hands on retail experience through the Costco, which I saw the I saw there the behemoth. But I then also spent the better part of six years working with a chain of co-op of independent retailers across Canada and also in the U.S. and very close to the mom and pop and quote unquote, dynamics. And the challenge. As they have on a day to day basis just to keep the lights on, so I know for them it’s very daunting. Any sort of new tool that they need to to to bring in, but to a great example with tools like yours, is it through the user experience for them is giving and the adoption is becoming so much easier. It’s no longer a big thing like it was 10 years ago or five to five years ago to have to adapt or even adopt these these new technologies. They need to learn and become a lot more agile and probably attract talent around them, even if they just have two or three employees working with them. One of those employees is going to have to be pretty digitally savvy, and that’s going to be the person that’s probably going to take the lead on saying, Hey, we need, we need to. We need to improve our our our tool, our toolkit here and probably wearing several different hats struggling with several different things at the same time. But that’s that’s where this that’s where this is going. If you’re going to be part of that long that’s successful long tail, you’re going to you’re going to have to take on these new ways of doing business. And that includes empowering, you know, empowering your business with the right technology tools. 

Ned Haye [00:26:22] So let’s talk a little bit about those technology tools. Which ones are really top of mind for you? What kind of technologies should we be paying attention to? 

Carl Boutet [00:26:29] Yeah, I mean, that’s that’s always the key question, and I think it comes down to what business you’re in and what segment where you go to market strategy is that around personalization? Is that around convenience? You know what are what are sort of the strengths in the play too. But some of the low hanging fruit like want in technology wise, the ones that I think that are a little easier and kind of are at least worth exploring. So obviously you have loyalty as a data gatherer in personalization to I think that’s really a hard one to avoid. I don’t think, you know, we live in a world where nobody wants to be treated like the next person. I think we all want to have feel a certain level of of of caretaking and personalization. And so the opportunity to leverage tools that are pretty straightforward to you to build that loyalty is really important. The the other one, I think the pandemic, because it’s depending on different areas where you are in the world and how severe lockdowns were. We’re in this new trend towards appointment booking and knowing if somebody is waiting for me at the other end. These tools are pretty straightforward as well and easy to easy to access. And then the one that I really pushed hard at the beginning of the pandemic, just especially, because I was coming back from Asia and was witnessing just the impact it was having. There is live shopping. I think live shopping is a really interesting tool that we’re still really far behind on the adoption and, you know, even in the western world. But it’s I mean, it really was sort of the key tool for for a lot of businesses in Asia, especially China, obviously, who are optimized for that for that particular technology, and we’re still struggling here to bring it on. So. But then there’s all the all there, all the others. I just, you know, be careful that some of these some of the these other tools could be pretty time consuming to to pull in. So I would look for sort of the tools that are that are in the, you know, where you can quickly measure the success rate and get a very quick understanding what the ROI is going to be. And that’s where the businesses today are looking to invest their time knowing they can quickly measure what’s going to happen versus those larger big infrastructure sort of level changes, which in some case, depending on the size of the business, might still be required. But short term always focused on the ones that you can quickly measure and see the results almost instantaneously. 

Karen Jensen [00:28:52] You just name some key tools and loyalty, personalization, customer service, livestream shopping, online appointment booking. These are used right now. So what’s coming next for us? 

Carl Boutet [00:29:06] I’ve been talking for a couple of years about and I think it’s it’s now really starting to take take shape is is the digital layer as this this sort of how we’re going to be more and more enveloped by this. This is contextual information that’s going to augment the customer experience wherever we are, in-store or not. And but I think even more so in store. So I think this is, you know, the technology is catching up 5G’s the hardware, all these things are starting to happen that are going to create more and more opportunity to really create some rich data layer digital layering around us and the example I’ve been using. And so for a couple of years already now around around this is how today you’d walk into a building or a store, and obviously you wouldnt be shocked to find out there’s no electricity running in that building. Well, I think in the not too distant future, we’re going to have that same reaction if we walk into a building that doesn’t have, you know, a pretty decent digital air, that’s going to give us a lot of context of information that’s relevant to us and. We got a lot of questions around the hardware of this, what you know, the Glass, the Google Glass and all these other things, what’s that going to be that the phone? Is it? Is it a headset is or whatever? I’m not quite there yet to to give you a prognosis on that. But one thing for sure is I don’t think the digital there is going to thin. I think the digital layer is going to thicken, but it’s going to have to be quality. It can’t be noise and how we find the right information, right place. And I’ll tell you back to loyalty again. I think I think the way that we get that information is often through through gathering, you know, the getting information through the loyalty programs that allow us to better understand how each individual shops with us or is engaged with us or interested in and being with us. And this applies again. I use the word retail, but remember, I’m I’m pulling this across a very broad spectrum of of industries that basically anybody who’s dealing with a client who can be health care, it can be hospitality, it can be any entertainment, you name it, they’re all going to be facing the same electricity pretty much supports all those industries. I think I think the digital layer will be as well. 

Ned Haye [00:31:20] Right. So you spoke about contextual information, contextual personalization. To me, that speaks to the promise of VR and augmented reality and really like creating my own little pocket universe of the things I want to see is that kind of where where the world is trending, you think?

Carl Boutet [00:31:37] I think there’s sort of two to opportunity? Yeah, definitely. And now we’ve got Facebook basically taking ownership of the Metaverse, which is going to be sort of one thing. So you’re going to getting too technical. I think we know sort of the differences between augmented and virtual. One is one is a layer, which is the one I think is the richer, shorter term one that where we’re still, you know, appreciating something that’s physical, but it just added value being created in the layer around it, in the digital layer, around it. The fully virtual, I think, is really interesting as well to it. I think that’s more the use cases are a little more narrow right now. They’ve been sort of more tied around gaming and stuff. I think there’s huge opportunities and I’ve spoken about this a couple of times where I find that we’re under utilizing that opportunity. Why? Why is it? And I’ve had this conversation just a couple of weeks ago with technology provider that we wanted to virtualized the store and just basically allow me to walk up and down aisles virtually and pick out product. And I was like, Why would I want it? Why? Why do I need to see another row of shelves? Like, Why can’t I take a Travis Scott Fortnite experience and travel galaxies and find those same products or be at the bottom of the ocean or on Mars, rather than than having to recreate what, what, what it would look like walking through my typical shelves store environment, which is really isn’t that exciting. And so I think we’ve lacked a bit of imagination around around the VR opportunity. I’ve seen some interesting why I think Adidas, Nike and these guys are playing around with it a bit more about the world. But there I think there are two different sort of opportunities. And will they converge? Possibly. I mean, the mixed reality is another thing as well. But but I think it’s there’s there’s no going back. I mean, there’s no there’s no I don’t think there’s any scenario where there’s less of either of those things. 

Karen Jensen [00:33:36] So data is important and yet data has changed over the years. Can you walk us through how data collection is changing for retailers now? 

Carl Boutet [00:33:47] You know, I remember back in 2017 2018 and just sort of landed on it wasn’t it wasn’t really in my wheelhouse, but data privacy really became quickly to my wheelhouse just because of the fact that I was working with a lot of technology companies and there were a gathering some pretty sensitive data. I mean, let’s be honest, the behavioral data center and especially those that are personally identifiable makes it that much more. So, for instance, the Retail Innovation Lab at McGill that I’ve been a part of this, that that these are academics where they wanted to want to track and research for, you know, for academic reasons, certain behaviors. But there’s also commercial applications to those. So you got to be very sensitive. And so I think that Karen is sort of the big shift and the transparency. Quite honestly, I think we as an industry weren’t transparent enough. The only time I have consumers are learning about how their data was utilized. It was after it had been hacked and it was too late, like, Oh my God, what are you doing with all this information on me? And now, how did that end up in there in back in the wrong hands? But then there’s also more contextual information, and we’re also getting better, I think, at aggregating it in ways that are relevant, but don’t don’t hurt the don’t hurt that privacy, the need for privacy. So we’re trying to find this this balance, which really is an easy. But it is very rewarding. So I think the idea of to your point, Karen, was, you know, the data be, let’s say, five years ago, 10 years ago was sort of very basic was it was it was just sort of demographic. Now we’re getting into psychographic. We’re, you know, we’re looking at. I’ve done projects trying to understand people’s facial expressions and how those two could or can’t translate to something meaningful or not. So we’re I think we’re just trying to unpack all that. It’s still very early days. I have a consulting practice as well at StudioRX, where we’re trying to use data to help small businesses as well trying to just because we know they just want to sell. We have the time. So how do you how can you quickly capture value with the data? Some things they already know that just feel sort of instinctual or around some of the unlocks. But often there’s things that you know, the data can quickly show them around, even just how their products are performing, how their store layouts are working. What what are the sort of basic AB tests that can be happening? And and that sophistication, I think, is also an important element to how how we use data and how it’s changing. 

Ned Haye [00:36:23] Right. So moving from kind of collecting all the PII you can to kind of zero zero party data or data that you’ve actually asked people to provide, that’s really a shift that we’re we’re undergoing right now. 

Carl Boutet [00:36:39] Absolutely. Yeah, primary data is key. And we go back, we rewind a bit to how about what was different about my book and how I collected it? I think you’ll see retailers doing that or businesses in general doing that more and more where they want to really do as much as they can to the court, you know, to own the relationship, not just because they want to have direct contact, but it means that the data is theirs. It’s that they’re not having to rely on on second third party, especially third party, second party. You can still you can still work in this way is a good way to work that and build trusted relationships, right? But you know, going out there and third party is getting very scary. And again, I think there’s still very early days around all this legislation. We’re trying to figure out what what makes sense and things are moving. The acceleration is not just in the consumer behavior, it’s the acceleration is on all fronts of the digital realities of how we leverage people’s data. So we need to catch up, try to catch up as close to that as we can. But it’s a tough race. But you you point out the right, the right thing there, and that is around. How do we go from collecting everything and anything? Because that’s what we were told to do at one point, we just like we’ll figure it out later. The algorithm is going to figure it out. The algorithm is going to tell us, right, if all this information we’ve been gathering the way on this noise that we thought was useless is worth something. Now to a point, I’m like, Okay, hold on. But instead of just collecting all this stuff sort of adhoc, you know, what are we going to do with it? What purposes or does it protect our customers privacy? As this thing clearly opted in, the customers understand why they’re giving us this data. And I would push back on something I’ve been doing for a while too is are we giving them value in return? It’s when all this data, but and we are, we all opt in, right? We all tend to these things and hoping that we’re going to get something out of it. How often do we truly get some worthwhile out of it versus just sort of sort of generic, lazy and, you know, sort of blanket approaches to all of us where we said, Hey, I’m just giving you all this data on my local grocer, but everything that I you know, why am I still getting? I’m a vegetarian, why do you keep sending me offers for steak? 

Ned Haye [00:38:52] Right? So, so.  

Karen Jensen [00:38:55] More personalized.

Carl Boutet [00:38:56] Right? So, so and that that upsets me, quite honestly, because I’m like, Listen, I’m you’re asking alot for me, OK, I appreciate the special offers and all that. But you’re asking a lot like I’m telling you, every time I’m in here, I’m telling you some pretty sensitive stuff. I’m telling you what I’m eating. It’s not. This is not sort of, you know, like you could you could interpret a lot of stuff from that. And then you’re not doing, you’re not serving me, even with the least amount of consideration. I mean, there’s and I’m generalizing, obviously, there are stories out there. They’re doing a much better job at that. But generally speaking, I mean, there was, you know, there was very little of that. But now another piece of the acceleration, honestly, is as the companies become more sophisticated around it. 

Karen Jensen [00:39:39] So if I could ask you to look far into the future, let’s say five, 10 years, what’s retail going to look like out there? I’m asking you to be a prophet. 

Carl Boutet [00:39:51] Be careful of the use of that term, and a friend of mine, I think already owns the trademark on that. But so, so it’s again not evenly distributed. So, and I don’t believe in a future of retail. I believe in futures. I think there’s a lot of different paths, and I think they’re going to be going in all sorts of directions in my book. I have sort of. I I have what I call Retail Relevance Index with sort of some specific attributes where, where, where retailers are going to want or businesses in general are going to want to differentiate. So I think those will sort of prove to be different paths forward. But if I need to sort of give you a prognosis, something a little more all encompassing in the race, the resilience, the idea that we’re going towards a world where it’s going to be harder and harder to top physical and digital apart. I think that is something you’re going to see five to 10 years really sort to take shape and digital layer we were talking about earlier and how this all sort of ties together and enriches the experience and hopefully personalize it and builds that relevance. I think that that’s something that we can we can definitely expect. And I don’t I don’t think it’s going to be fully virtual either, I don’t think there are five- 10 years from now. We’re just all going to be sitting on couches all day long, just buying stuff. I mean, I think physical retail is going to have is still very strong, actually stronger maybe than ever, especially for for branding considerations and building margin. I think the physical is going to play the biggest role in that, so it’s going to be an interesting ride, it’s gonna be a rich one, for sure. 

Karen Jensen [00:41:19] Well, thank you so much, Carl. I do have one last question. What is your personal mission and what do you hope to be remembered for? 

Carl Boutet [00:41:27] I mean, my personal mission really is is around helping businesses stay relevant. I think I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole life. So anything around helping the business remain remain relevant business that customers want to be engaged with, I think those are really important thing. And on the on the flip side, there’s also motivating and encouraging the next generation to be excited about the possibilities of working in our industry is something that I’m taking more and more pleasure in. So I gave you a two for one answer there, which is typical retail we’re always looking to to promote.

Ned Haye [00:42:02] fantastic, to talk to you today. Really appreciate your time. Thank you.  

Carl Boutet [00:42:06] Thanks Ned. I look forward to yours. Let me know when it’s up, but I’m sure we’ll make sure we, we we share the good word. 

Ned Haye [00:42:12] OK, have a good one. Take care. Thanks for listening today to the SparkPlug podcast and brought to you by SnowShoes. for smarter mobile location. SparkPlug is a wholly owned property of SnowShoe all content and copyright 2021 SparkPlug Media.