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EPISODE 023 : 08/12/2021

Carol Spieckerman, Spieckerman Retail

Carol Spieckerman is a frequent speaker, thought leader, consultant, and strategist whose organization puts on events, such as Platform Positioning workshops around the world. She conducts workshops, presentations and business development trainings that bring retail smarts and doable tactics to companies and trade groups around the world. As she says, she helps a “crazy diverse” group of brand marketers, agencies, solution providers, and tech companies navigate retail from now to next.

Host: Ned Hayes and Ashley Coates
Guest: Carol Spieckerman

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Topics discussed in this episode

  • Retail business follows patterns that are universal across different categories, channels, and business models
  • Positioning shoppers is key but also challenging for retailers
  • Retailers are equipped to shape consumer behavior
  • Data savvy retailers are more confident and successful
  • Loyalty is looked at differently in the current day

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Audio Transcript

Ned Hayes [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 Carol Spieckerman. She’s a thought leader, a consultant, a strategist whose organization puts on many events, such as platform positioning workshops around the world. She conducts presentations and trainings that bring retail smarts and tactics to companies and all sorts of trade groups. She says she helps a crazy, diverse group of brand marketers, agencies, solution providers and tech companies navigate retail from now to next. Welcome, Carol.

Carol Spieckerman [00:00:45] Oh, it’s great to be here with you, Ned and Ashley. Thank you so much for inviting me. 

Ashley Coats [00:00:49] We’re so happy to have you here. Thanks for being on Spark Plug. So to kick things off, Carol, will you share with us? What led you to start speaking in retail and how has your work evolved over the years? 

Carol Spieckerman [00:01:02] Sure. Yeah. Well, I actually started my my career on the wholesale side of the business back when that was a much bigger thing than it is now because of course, a lot of that’s being whittled away. But I’ve always been passionate about learning all aspects of retail, and I launch Spieckerman Retail after basically building multimillion dollar businesses for companies across all kinds of categories and business models, and in some cases, from the ground up because I became sort of the person they called or hired when it was time to try to book some big business with some of these retailers that were getting bigger by the minute and on a scale that people really didn’t anticipate. So I pulled all of that together. And, you know, after realizing that in addition to the successful business development that I also had a knack for sort of seeing ahead and connecting the dots and really identifying patterns in retail that were universal across all those different categories and channels and business models. So I parlayed all of that in 2000 into a consulting, speaking and training practice so that I could help others build their businesses and also scale those best practices. But basically, I work with those companies in three ways through thought leadership presentations. As you mentioned in the introduction, my retail trajectories, presentations to trade groups and corporate groups through my platform positioning workshops, which is where I coach companies on a five step B2B business development process for retail that helps them communicate their value, refine their messaging and also accelerate business development. And then the third leg of the stool is providing executive coaching and corporate communications strategy to these companies. But the one principle that drives all of it my speaking engagements, consulting all of it are what I call my retail trajectories, which you mentioned, and these are calls to action that I’m constantly creating, tracking and mapping across all kinds of categories borders, business models and touchpoints. But my trajectory is basically create a new vocabulary that allows me to merge all of these seemingly random, disconnected things that are happening in retail and distill them into clear calls to action for all of those different stakeholders wherever they play in retail. So I’m looking forward to sharing some of them with you today in our discussion. 

Ned Hayes [00:03:15] We’d love to hear more about the retail trajectories. So can you tell us about some, some specific current trajectories? 

Carol Spieckerman [00:03:22] Boy, you know, at any given time I’m tracking, you know, 40 or 50, so I sort of curate them for the occasion. But really, my evergreen fundamental trajectory is the idea of platform power and platform positioning. And this is the idea that retailers are no longer just places that sell stuff. They’ve quickly evolved into becoming lean, mean technology platforms that now contain products and brands as they always have, but also big data, acquisitions, partnerships, new formats and so much more and what I found is when you start looking at it that way and just embrace the incredible diversity of all of the retailers assets and what they have on their platforms, it really changes everything. And based on my day to day work, it certainly changes the way you position for retail opportunities and how you talk about your retail business. So that’s why I call my master classes and workshops platform positioning workshops because the opportunities really open up when you start positioning platform to platform rather than just thinking about selling stuff to retailers. So most of my, most of my trajectories are like that. They’re meant to withstand the test of time and they evolve over time. And in some cases, you know, it never ceases to amaze me how that manifests and how they can withstand the test of time. You know, for example, years ago, I was talking about how brand ubiquity was going to be the new exclusivity. And that was a really radical kind of point of view at the time because everybody was thinking about exclusive relationships, and that was how the business was done across licensing and lots of other things. But now brands have permission to be in many places and they’re exercising those options and it’s taking new forms. Everything from all of what we’re hearing about direct to consumer brands, opening stores, wholesale brands, opening stores, retailers and selling on other retailers marketplaces, retailers, even making their brands and solutions available to other retailers. So again, they’re exercising their options. It’s really interesting, though, that the openness to this concept of brands being everywhere has so radically shifted because consumer attention spans are so short. And there are so many shiny objects vying for everybody’s attention. You have to be in many places in order to even get noticed. So those are just a couple. 

Ashley Coats [00:05:42] Well, and we were interested to see that. You have said retailers will need to address the full spectrum of the shoppers needs. Can you elaborate on that and what that entails for retailers? 

Carol Spieckerman [00:05:53] Yeah, you know, going back to to all of those options and how retail has exploded, you know, I get asked all the time by the media. They’ll say, Carol, man, everybody seems to be all over the place. What are the two or three things that everybody’s going to just do? You know, what’s this all going to settle into? And my answer is always, we’re actually living in an all of the above world because retailers have learned the big takeaway is that they’ve learned, in some cases, the hard way that they can no longer offer afford to curtail choice or try to corral consumers into options that are easier for them to execute or even more profitable. The name of the game is providing choice and options. And that’s because now different shoppers define convenience and things like that completely different. They have different needs, and even the same shopper can have different needs, depending on any number of variables. So these days, the goal is really to keep going back to that platform proposition. The goal is to keep shoppers playing on your platform because if you give them any excuse to jump off, they have, of course, going at risk to enter somebody else’s ecosystem and maybe never even leave it. So that means yes, you’ve got a constantly building out those be, building out those options and going back to that spectrum, you have to be prepared to cover that spectrum of need states or again risk them jumping off of your platform. It’s not about narrowing things down anymore. 

Ned Hayes [00:07:15] Right. So during the pandemic, we saw a variety of new things come out, from hybrid shopping to brick and mortar acting as little shipping facilities to a whole lot of plexiglass and masks and a lot of on the fly changes. So what are some ways that we know consumers expectations are changing and may change permanently for the future? And what recommendations do you have for retailers to adapt to that change reality? 

Carol Spieckerman [00:07:40] You know, this really, I think this presents a good opportunity to do one of my favorite things, which is bust, a big myth, a big retail myth. And that myth is that retailers are scrambling to catch up and that they are constantly just scrambling to adapt to what consumers are doing now. That may be true for some retailers, but this idea that retailers are perpetually in a defensive posture is really just going by the wayside. So one of my top trajectories that flies in the face of that is that shaping is the new responding. In other words, retailers are now equipped to shape consumer behavior. They’re not just reacting to it. And as an outgrowth of that, retailers are actually the ones that are driving some of these new shopper behaviors, and they’re also the ones that are setting these higher expectations. So it’s not necessarily the consumer themselves, consumers themselves. For example, you look at Amazon, they set an expectation to have crazy like insanely fast delivery times. Well, that wasn’t a consumer demand at the time, but it’s become one, of course, because Amazon has made it table stakes for everybody else. You got dollar stores setting the expectation that you know you should have a general store just around the corner. You’ve got retailers like Aldi and their brother, if you will, trader Joe’s set in the expectation that private brands, you know, shouldn’t just be affordable, but they, they should be destination, high quality brands. So there are so many, so many examples of this, but I just want to disabuse everybody of the idea that retailers are on defense. They really are shaping what you’re doing, whether you know it or not or whether you like it or not. And they’re the ones that I think mostly are setting those higher standards that consumers have now. 

Ashley Coats [00:09:22] It’s really interesting. So let’s turn our attention to technology. Does data matter to retailers these days? And do you think that retailers are more conversant with data today and better able to use the data that they receive about their customers today? 

Carol Spieckerman [00:09:38] You know, that’s such an exciting exploding part of retail is all of these data capabilities. And yeah, they they definitely actually they’re much more data savvy. But it’s interesting. One of the reasons that they are isn’t because they’ve got all of a sudden, this homegrown expertise that they developed internally. It’s because they are relying on third party providers in a lot of cases. So some retailers, the good news is for a lot of suppliers that I work with, retailers are no longer, you know, thinking they can do everything themselves, nor do they think. It should or even want to. And data is a big area where they’re doing a lot of partnerships and acquisitions in order to accelerate their capabilities. But the result is, yeah, they’ve got a lot more data confidence than ever before. And because I know these partners have their backs, and that’s yet another way going back to that shaping concept data and these new data capabilities in the state of confidence. Is why they feel confident in being able to shape consumer behavior. 

Ned Hayes [00:10:39] How about augmented reality and shopping live streams and some of these new new ways of engaging customers in the retail experience? Do you think that these will continue to grow market share? 

Carol Spieckerman [00:10:50] Yeah. You know, absolutely. I mean, you know, there is a bit of a premise there of not everything that matters can be measured. So some of these efforts aren’t necessarily going to have a direct ROI, but eventually they will. And again, these data capabilities mean that most things can be measured these days. But I like to talk about a big shift away from just possibilities and thinking about priorities, because before everything was, Hey, what are the possibilities? What can we what can we even actually accomplish? But now, with all of these options, with all of these partnerships, the conversation is now, hey, we can do just about anything. So what are our priorities? And it really is a be careful what you wish for situation because retailers do have so many options available to them, the opportunity or the challenge. Retailers like to call them opportunities is to is to make better, make good decisions about where the hierarchy is, what bubbles to the top and is urgent. And then also to make really good decisions about one of my trajectories that I call, buy, build or bridge. When is it? What does it make sense to build it internally? When does it make sense to partner for it, which we just talked about? Or when does it make more sense to just make an outright acquisition? So yes, all of these technologies are very viable. Different retailers are going to be doing very different things because they’ll have different priorities and different goals for their brands, and a lot of times they’re going to be doing it through partnership and acquisition. 

Ned Hayes [00:12:18] So in that buy, build or bridge model, you’ve talked about how to effectively use third party vendors. And so at SnowShoe, our sponsoring company, a big part of our success is hands free  check-in devices that don’t require NFC, don’t require electricity and don’t require like a clerk to interact physically with a customer. And we’ve actually seen a big push for touchless and contactless transactions and loyalty check ins. And you’ve mentioned that third party providers can meet the needs of retailers for all sorts of technology, including POS systems, including loyalty systems. So can you build out a little bit more of the case for why retailers should look at vendors? 

Carol Spieckerman [00:13:00] Yeah, you bet. That’s my business helping people pitch their good stuff and tying it to current retail dynamics. But know what doesn’t even really require a pitch, because those are exactly the types of things that retailers, sometimes through some humbling experiences, have realized. They don’t have the time or the expertize to create internally. And a lot of times it’s just about time when I’m tracking my trajectories and I have all kinds of mind maps and things. I used to do it. It’s so funny on buy, build, or bridge that buy part of it was just like overloaded with content, and now it’s shifted wildly over to the bridge piece. So I see, yes, those acquisitions are still happening. Yes, retailers are still being emboldened to build some things internally, sometimes because they learned how to do it through a bridge relationship. And then they said, Oh, we’ll take it from here. They are now very much relying on partnerships, and because it’s a very agile model, they don’t have to necessarily make long term commitments. The trend is toward like very specific scope, so they can have accomplish very specific goals and shorter amounts of time. Yeah, this bridge building thing is a big, big shift from the past where when again, retailers were always saying We can do everything ourselves, we can build our own brands, you know, and so on. So there’s never been more opportunity, especially for solution and service providers to step up to the plate. And I always tell them to. No may just mean no for now, because just because they’re, you know, they show you the hand today, you know, there’s a revolving door retail new decision makers filtering in and out all the time. That can be a bad thing, but it can be a good thing too, because your opportunities are constantly opening up. 

Ashley Coats [00:14:43] So we’d also love to get your perspectives on loyalty Carol, in the world of omnichannel retail. How much does loyalty still matter in the customer’s decision making process? 

Carol Spieckerman [00:14:55] Well, loyalty is one of those words that’s been used in retail batted around for a long time, and it’s kind of tricky because, you know, not only do different people define it differently, but even some people will go as far as saying it doesn’t exist anymore. I don’t believe that. I think that’s much too radical of a perspective. But definitely loyalty has become a lot more fleeting. And because of these short attention spans. But it absolutely matters and in the process, but I always like to peel the onion and then say, Well, what’s driving the loyalty? You know what drives that loyalty? And what’s interesting is some studies have confirmed that now convenience is not only a huge loyalty driver, but it actually trumps price in many cases, which is a pretty big statement, considering price comparisons are just a click away these days. So it makes sense to focus on things like convenience in the name of loyalty. But the problem is it’s a moving target because one of my trajectories is the convenience conundrum, which goes back to that idea that different people look at convenience differently, and even the same shopper can look at it differently, depending on the time of day. It’s tough to zero in on it, but it’s important to focus on things like convenience, because that’s when you’re able to do more of a full margin business and it goes back to that power of choice. The more choices that you’re offering, the better, because then you’re offering more options for all of those elements that promote loyalty like convenience, and you’re also making them more impactful. So, yeah, loyalty is a is a is I think it’s alive and well, but it’s just really different than how it looked in the past. 

Ashley Coats [00:16:31] So if retailers are building a loyalty program, they may want to make sure if there’s a convenience factor built in, are there any other characteristics that tend to make a difference with loyalty programs? 

Carol Spieckerman [00:16:43] Yeah. And you know, the main thing is just to make sure you’re available to your consumers and going back to not trying to curtail choice available to them where they are and when they need help and where they need help. And retailers, I think, have come a long way in that regard, sometimes through partnerships, sometimes doing it internally because they’ve got, you know, chat bots and texting and all kinds of tools at their disposal now that that they’re deploying. But now we’re getting into another pitfall, which is that that can create a lot of confusion. You know, retailers have all these capabilities. They’ve got, you know, services, solutions, constant mobile upgrades. So I’d like to say that it’s a lot more not so much about what you do. It’s much more important to talk about how you’re clearly communicating the value of what you’re doing and you know how those programs are implemented, how consumers can navigate them. And another big challenge is awareness. Once again, it’s really hard to get folks attention. But it’s important because if if customers can’t find out what you’re doing, it’s just as you know, you might as well not do it at all. So I think it boils down to really three pillars that I just talked about. I would call it awareness, simplicity and clear communication. Those are the three elements that should be universal, right? 

Ned Hayes [00:17:58] We’ve been talking about some general characteristics. I’m curious if you could actually name some programs that you see in the market that you think really work 

Carol Spieckerman [00:18:06] like a lot of things I like to pick and choose, you know, and I see different aspects of different programs that I like a lot, you know, Gap. For example, I think as recently as last week that a big upgrade to their loyalty program that I thought was was great. I talk a lot about portfolio power and how retailers now are looking at taking more of a portfolio approach to their business rather than one offs. And Gap literally did that by looking at their entire brand portfolio and saying, How can we create a seamless loyalty program that floats between these brands? So I love that thinking it not only makes things simpler for shoppers, but of course it’s good for Gap’s business across all those brands. You’ve got retailers like Tractor Supply that flew under the radar for a while, and now they’re everybody’s darling. They’re doing so many things right. And I would have to say loyalty is part of that. They have, I think, 65% of their sales are driven by their neighbors club loyalty program members. 

Ned Hayes [00:19:04] Wow. 

Carol Spieckerman [00:19:04] Yeah. And get this 95% they have a 95% retention rate on that program, which is really impressive. But I think the big takeaways that we can learn from Tractor Supply is that, first of all, they’re constantly evolving that loyalty program. I think they just recently shift to a really simple points based system which checks that simplicity box and clear communication box. And also to hear you’ve got Tractor Supply with their business pretty much on fire right now, but they’re not standing still and being complacent. They continue to provide extra value and layer on the value on that loyalty program, which I think is a really great example to follow. And it kind of speaks to a best practice, which is to roll out constant improvements and iterative changes rather than front loading all the bells and whistles at the beginning of a loyalty program and making it just a big mess. And I would say Walmart’s Walmart’s, Walmart Plus program, which is fairly new, is I think it’s off to a great start in terms of pulling all of their platform assets together and making them understandable and beneficial to customers. And then, you know, you have to give props to Target Circle. That’s a new name, but it’s a loyalty program that’s been around for a while, has been wildly successful, really a big driver for them. And once again, you know, the key ingredient, the secret sauce is that they keep refining it and they keep bringing on the value.

Ned Hayes [00:20:36] Well in line with that constant evolution of loyalty programs, I was struck by a comment my 21 year old daughter made recently where she said, You know, why doesn’t the store just know who I am by scanning my face? And I said, well, that’s kind of an advancement in loyalty programs. And so I’m curious, just turning it over to you, Carol, where do you see loyalty programs going in the next five to 10 years? Are we going to evolve to just walking in a store and in the store knowing that you’ve already been there? 

Carol Spieckerman [00:21:04] That’s kind of a, you know, a separate thing. Then you start getting into, you know, privacy and all of those issues. And it’s fascinating to look at the data in terms of the generational embracing or resistance to those types of things. What they found is that, you know, younger, these coveted younger generations of shoppers, they actually look at it as a transaction. Hey, I give you this, you give me that no problem. Whereas some older generations of shoppers have have problems with that, it can get sketchy. And you know, you never how far never know how far they’re going to go. I think transparency and disclosure are really important elements if you’re going to walk down that path. But at the end of the day, I actually see a trend towards simplicity because feeding in benefits over time, as we talked about just a minute ago, rather than these huge big bells and whistles loyalty programs that can just be cumbersome and difficult for people to understand. So I think we’re going to be moving toward simplicity. And I do think that retailers are going to beta test scary things like face recognition to death before they deploy them, or at least they will if they’re smart. 

Ashley Coats [00:22:10] And so then continuing to look forward. What makes you most optimistic about the future of retail? 

Carol Spieckerman [00:22:16] I’m kind of a crazy optimist in general about retail. I’m just really super psyched about what’s happening and where things are going next. Because, you know, when I started in the retail business, if somebody said, What do you do and you said, you’re in retail, they go, yeah, it would be crickets, basically. You know, it was just considered a very sleepy, specialized industry. But now it’s morphed into this really exciting expanding ecosystem. Lots more companies are now adjacent to retail, which makes it even bigger and even creates more opportunity. So I’m excited about retail in general, and I’m particularly excited about opportunities for companies like yours and suppliers of all stripes because I think just a world of opportunity is is opening up as retailers continue to build their platforms. I think that just naturally creates opportunities for everybody. 

Ashley Coats [00:23:06] Well, thank you so much, Carol. We actually have one last question for you. Sure. Which is what is your personal mission and what do you want to be remembered for? 

Carol Spieckerman [00:23:16] My mission, I guess I’ll just have to say, is to just to keep helping companies own their value and own the great things that they’re already doing. Again, there’s so many shiny objects vying for everyone’s attention. All too often, one of the biggest problems I see is that companies aren’t just embracing what they already do so well and telling a relevant story about it. So I love giving companies the confidence to proudly tell their story to all of these new stakeholders that are going to decide their retail destiny. And I just want people to be as excited as I am about, you know, playing a role in retail. And, you know, one of the greatest compliments that I ever get when I give my presentations. I guess you could say this is what I love being known for is when people come up and say, you know, I feel inspired and excited, you know, because there’s so much gloom and doom out there about retail. And I, I’m not a Pollyanna. I see some of the dark side. But to me, it’s a world of opportunity. It’s exciting and it’s a positive story. So that’s my mission is to spread that story. 

Ned Hayes [00:24:17] Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for your time, Carol. 

Carol Spieckerman [00:24:20] My pleasure. Thank you, guys. I look forward to joining you again sometime. Thank you. 

Ned Hayes [00:24:26] Thanks for listening today to the SparkPlug podcast hosted by me, Ned Hayes and brought to you by SnowShoe for smarter mobile location. Spark Plug is a wholly owned property of SnowShoe all content. Copyright 2021 SparkPlug Media.