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EPISODE 054 : 03/24/2022

Melissa Gonzalez


Melissa Gonzalez is the founder of The Lionesque Group, as well as a Principal and Shareholder at global architecture firm MG2. Her clients to date have included Amazon, Nordstrom, and The RealReal. Melissa is the author of the book The Pop-Up Paradigm and the host of the Retail Refined podcast.

Host: Ned Hayes and Ashley Coates
Guest: Melissa Gonzalez

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Topics discussed in this episode

  • Melissa’s featured popup shop on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel  
  • How your physical retail space can help to tell your brand story
  • Key questions to ask to find the best opportunities in your retail space
  • The discovery shopping experience vs. the problem-solving shopping experience
  • What is immersive retail and what is that customer experience like?

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Audio Transcript

Ned Hayes [00:00:01] Welcome to Spark Plug, where we talk to smart people working at the intersection of business and technology. Brought to you by SnowShoe, your smarter loyalty leader. Today, Spark Plug is happy to welcome Melissa Gonzalez to the podcast. Melissa is the founder of The Lionesque Group, an award winning firm of experiential retail strategists and designers, and she is also a principal and shareholder at global architecture firm, MG2. Her clients have included Amazon, Nordstrom and The Real Real. Melissa is also the author of the book The Pop Up Paradigm, and her work is regularly featured in Forbes and Fortune and The Wall Street Journal and today featured on Spark Plug Podcast. So welcome, Melissa.

Melissa Gonzalez [00:00:45] Thank you. Thanks so much for having me. 

Ashley Coates [00:00:47] We’re so happy to have you here, Melissa. Let’s start off by having you give us a little bit of background yourself, specifically when you first became interested in the retail industry. 

Melissa Gonzalez [00:00:57] Sure. So before starting the Lionesque Group, I worked on Wall Street. I was in institutional equity sales, so I would say naturally, even though I was a generalist, the sectors I ended up gravitating to included retail, internet, alternative energy probably less relevant here and consumer goods. So it definitely was an area of interest always for me, even though I was intersecting in a very different way. And I was also producing indie films and very interested in the storytelling aspect of film and video. And so thats this happy accident that came into fruition when somebody offered me space in Midtown Manhattan to experiment on. This opportunity to bring the business side of it, which is the lens I used on Wall Street with the storytelling aspect of it, which is the lens I used in producing indie films, marrying them together. So it’s been a long time, but the way in which I intersect has evolved. 

Ned Hayes [00:01:51] So what led you directly to founding the Lionesque Group?

Melissa Gonzalez [00:01:54] It was definitely that experiment. It was all of 2009 when a gentleman named John Knowles said, “My family owns real estate in Midtown Manhattan, and we would like to experiment. Do you want to experiment with us?” And at first, we weren’t sure what that meant. It was definitely very story driven. How do you tell your story in physical space? And it was seeing the reaction on both the consumer side and the brand side that led me to want to further explore it. So I remember standing outside of our pop up. It was a rotating storefront one day and these women came, “Oh that’s that cool space where something new always comes up once a month” and to know that we gave that excitement to them and we were able to curate something that people were looking forward to what to discover next was really exciting. And then on the brand side, in the beginning, it was definitely a lot of more emerging brands. They weren’t as far along in their trajectory as most of our clients are today, but it was being able to help them unlock what is the translation of their story and value proposition and opportunity and physical space. And then now being able to bring that to a broader group of clients has really been what kept it exciting. 

Ashley Coates [00:03:04] Yeah. And through the Lionesque Group, you’ve now produced more than 150 brick and mortar experiences all across the country. Can you talk more about what kinds of experiences these are for customers when they walk into one of these physical locations? 

Melissa Gonzalez [00:03:18] For sure. So I think we have a really exciting blend, and that’s definitely was also a big part of the synergies that excited us. Merging with MG2 is that it’s a pretty comprehensive lens that we use. When we deep dive with our clients. A lot of them come to us with, I want to open a store, I want to update my store, I want to do a pop up. Some have broader strokes and others and what that means, but really being able to dive in with them and really make sure that we’re asking the questions while we have to have a holistic approach and this is a consumer journey, regardless of the channel on the touchpoint, what are the opportunities in physical? How are we learning from either what you know, from how you’re intersecting with your consumers online? What are the pain points? What are the points of gratification? Where are they dropping off? How can we utilize this touch point at maybe in a different but synergistic way in their journey. How are we telling story? So it’s really diving into all of those things, what is the purpose? And so that’s, I think, a really exciting part. And then for us, it’s anything from their first ever pop up store, and the purpose of that pop up could be testing the viability of physical retail, understanding what impact it has on customer lifetime value or what is it inform if they’re going to open more stores across the country or it’s doing a pop up for marketing purposes. They have a new product release, or it’s a pop up because they have a highly seasonal business and showing up 12 months a year doesn’t make sense economically, but showing up at key times of the year in certain geographies make a lot of sense for the brand strategically. Then the second bucket might be really play on the TLG brand side on smalls format. So there’s a lot of clients that are major retailers, a national footprint, and they’re re exploring the possibilities of different store format. Smaller store formats. So what’s the opportunity there? And so sometimes it’s thinking differently about physical retail than they had in the past because their average footprint in the past might have been thirty thousand, fifty thousand, hundred thousand square feet. So what happens when we show up in 5000 square feet? How do we approach that differently? And then we have worked a lot with real estate developers as they’ve thought about, especially mall developers, right? What do turnkey spaces mean for brands these days? What do they need out of out of that physical footprint? And how do we think differently, potentially how we package the opportunity for them to test the viability of our property for them? It’s pretty broad, which is exciting. 

Ned Hayes [00:05:38] Right. So as you’re speaking, I’m thinking of two very different retail experiences. One is, let’s harken all the way back to the 1950s where you have a general store or somebody comes in and talks to the clerk. The clerk take things off the shelf, takes them over to a central register. Then they produce cash and pay at that central register that was not connected to anything. It’s a piece of metal. And then once they give the cash, the cash is in the register, then the clerk hands and the material that they selected verbally. Right. So that’s very much a 1930s, 1940s, all the way through the 60s or 70s. And then on the opposite end of the spectrum, you have something like the Apple Store where you walk in and there is no central register and you’re immediately approached and you have an appointment. And so those two ends of the spectrum are two very different experiences of retail. Where would you say retail is going and is that spectrum a fair comparison to paint? 

Melissa Gonzalez [00:06:33] Yeah, I think it is, and it’s an interesting question. We actually released a survey of the thousand respondents, I think, where we asked questions around the shoppable showroom format, which is what you’re talking about when you talk about the Apple Store, right? It’s more about discovery. You can walk out with the products at the Apple Store. But if thinking about formats differently and I don’t think there’s a cookie cutter answer in that every single category is as successful as others. So within apparel, for example, the way men shop and the way women shop different. Right. So the bonobos format, for example, could be successful for a male because the pain points are does this fit me right? If it does, you’re like OK with how many colors does it come in and get that to my door? Whereas a woman, if each item needs to be different, there’s a point of discovery around and she has to walk out of the door with it, and she probably has events associated to it. And so what she needs out of that in-store experience is different. In footwear, it’s proven to be pretty successful to have a shop dedicated more about solving fit than you’d have more confidence to continue to shop that brand online, once you know, are you a size six narrow or wide, or how does the high heel fit of things that you had less confidence shopping online, but you’re okay continuing to shop that brand online once you’ve solved for those things. In the home category, like electronics, has that opportunity too, there’s very specific things you need to solve for and get answers around to just getting that level of confidence to continue to shop that brand. But when it comes to other categories, like women’s apparel, there’s aspects of that in-store discovery and cash and carry that you still expect. So it’s not a blanket answer, but there’s definitely an evolution happening and there’s a lot of conversations around it because it does inform how we design the store, the opportunities for how we utilize the footprint. And the other aspect that’s coming in more is as the store has needed to flex as a point of fulfillment in addition to a point of discovery. And how do we design a space that can flex for both. 

Ned Hayes [00:08:22] Right, the store itself is something very different than it was, say, 50 years ago or even 10 years ago. So did Big Apple and Warby Parker create that innovation, or did they just surf the wave of emerging retail paradigms? 

Melissa Gonzalez [00:08:35] I think there’s a number who have been pioneers. I think Apple, I think Warby Parker, I think Nike some aspects in Target, Nordstrom at Nordstrom Local. There’s definitely a number of them, I think can continue to push the industry forward. There might be small aspects of what they’re really leading into that was already existing in smaller ways, but then really taking the bigger leap of it, evolving the way they approach physical retail, experimenting with various formats like Nike has Nike Live, they have Nike Rise, the Community Hub stores, so there’s definitely some that I think are continuing to push us all forward. 

Ashley Coates [00:09:09] Absolutely. So let’s take a step back and define some terms for our audience. Melissa, can you define immersive retail for us? And is retail discovery the future of retail? 

Melissa Gonzalez [00:09:20] Yeah, I think immersion is really being able to dove into something very experiential about a brand. It could be education, it could be adventure escape. It could be a lot of different things. You could immerse somebody by taking them on some sort of VR experience in store. You could immerse them with scent. If you’re a perfume brand, it’s taking you deeper and beyond just scratching the surface of an experience or education around a product or the lifestyle of a brand. You see a lot more highly designed environments these days, taking you on a journey if you go to the Farm Rio store in Manhattan, you feel like you went to another country and you went to the beach and that put you in a mood right of this lifestyle that you can have if you wear these clothes, that’s much more impactful than just walking into a store with clothing on a rack. So there’s multiple levers you could pull when you think of the immersive. So I think it depends. That’s why there’s room for numerous store formats or more agile design within a store because it depends how you’re intersecting with the customer and that can vary throughout the time of year, and it can vary from geography to geography. If you look at certain brands like Nordstrom, for example, it creates a network effect. It’s in a certain geography there is a department store, there’s a rack. Those different touchpoints serve different purposes. One is the very discovery, based ones a little bit high touch transactional around fulfillment. But but you also get to meet with your tailor. But that’s not a discovery location, but it’s been a very successful, valuable format for them. So I think it’s like really thinking about your consumer and their journey, and maybe there’s not a blanket statement to every geography and how you approach it. But I do think there is an opportunity to create a real stickiness with your customer when you’re really mindful about that, how you’re best in service of them. I always say, like even though you’re a product company or service company says how you best in service of them, there’s definitely a ton of brands which have been very successful where the purpose of their store is really about building community around the brand. And within that there is a sense of discovery and formatting the store. So there’s a big brand ambassador community and there’s events with like minded brands with similar missions and complementary products, and that’s something that you can’t fully emulate in the same way online. So it’s really part of that strategic homework that’s happening in the beginning with the brand where they’re at and what the motivations are, what they want to deliver to their customers. 

Ned Hayes [00:11:48] Right. Speaking of brands, you’ve worked with some really interesting brands, and I was especially struck by The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. 

Melissa Gonzalez [00:11:56] Yes. 

Ned Hayes [00:11:58] What can you tell us about that fun and what that was like? 

Melissa Gonzalez [00:12:00] Yeah. So The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel pop up. If you’re familiar with the show, we were brought in to work on that collaboratively with Amazon Studio and a group out of California called Tools, so they work with them a lot on their more video and production, not as much as physical retail, and so is a partnership with all of us. And the goal was to build awareness around the show. And at the time, the show was just beginning to gain awareness. They had just won their first Emmy Award, but it wasn’t as mainstream as it became. And so we reincarnated the 1950s version of the Carnegie Deli, which if you’re from New York or know the Carnegie Deli, there would be lines down the block. And it was very nostalgic for us to reincarnate that in New York City in the 1950s version, so it felt like the set of the show. And so it was a really interesting study of what drew awareness to what it was. A lot of the recognition of the Carnegie Deli. We put the website live, I think, within 48 hours, if not earlier. All tickets were sold out and we served 11000 sandwiches in eight days and we had a waiting list of 6000 more and people got dressed up as if they lived in the fifties. We told the story from the outside in so the cars that were parked out front were from the 50s, the bicycle, the woman walking down the block with a baby carriage, everything the windows, the way everything was designed felt like you were being transported somewhere. And there’s a really deep emotional connection that’s created when you create something that feels transportive and people just wanted to participate and take a picture. And that’s when you really unlocked fandom. And then that’s also when you create all these natural brand evangelists that then become promoters of it as well. So we got through all their pictures and feeds and got all that amplification was really successful for Amazon to continue to gain awareness around The Mrs. Maisel show. 

Ashley Coates [00:13:45] Well, and congratulations to you because you also want a Cleo award for that design, can you? 

Melissa Gonzalez [00:13:50] Yes, it was very well received and there was a lot of fun to work on. 

Ashley Coates [00:13:54] Oh my gosh, I bet it’s such a fun show. So are there any other brands or stories that are clean that you can share with us? 

Melissa Gonzalez [00:14:01] Yeah, I think what we try to do as a firm, we don’t just specialize in just beauty or just food or just right. We specialize in building human connection physical space, so we’re able to lean in on something that might have been really productive or successful in one industry or one category and give it a twist and bring it to another, which is really fun. One of the earliest pop ups that we worked on that won our first big award was the Marc Jacobs Tweet Shop, and that was a social media currency store. It was new to the category, so it had been done in food, but it hadn’t been done in beauty and you paid for product with social currency. So you came in, you created content you posted on social or the designated hashtag. You showed the counter you did that, and that’s how you got a product. That was the first time of really illustrating the power of unlocking fandom and what that can do for amplifying a brand. Also, the formula that made it successful. It wasn’t about how popular were or how many followers you you just invited to participate, and people really got impassioned around that. So that’s always going to be one of the fave. Not only because it’s one of the first, but because it was so successful for the brand. But we also love rolling up our sleeves and working closely with fast growing DTC brands that are digitally native that are proven concepts at scale. We’re raising that next round of fun to go into physical retail, and we play their adjunct retail team because that’s not really what they have in house. They’re really well versed in the online world, and they’re bringing us in to help them translate what is the 3D manifestation of their brand in the physical world? Everything from the look, feel of it, the story of it, the merchandizing strategy, the operational strategy and really being able to help them figure out how they’re going to more successfully show up in physical and then also help them create a framework of what’s going to be measurable about it and how we can utilize those insights to either raise their next round of funding or to be able to release the funds that they have earmarked because we’ve proven certain metrics that there’s more confidence that they can go on to future locations. 

Ned Hayes [00:15:57] Wow. So it does seem like you might feel like brick and mortar is here to stay. Given the kind of environments that you’ve created 

Melissa Gonzalez [00:16:06] Good brick and mortar. So I think there’s less room for bad experiences, and that definitely raises the bar, not just in the way we design them, but the way in which they are operated, the staffing strategy, the way the store team is empowered and there’s a lot of elements the integration of technology, how are you using them as client telling tools and power connecting more of those digital environments? And that’s a pretty wide spectrum and there’s low tech and then there’s really high tech environments. And so I think there’s a lot of room in there for that evolution. But yeah, I think that we continue to see evidence through the pandemic that any time restrictions are lifted, people are out of their house as fast as they can be and restaurant reservations are booked and people want to get out. And they also want great experiences. So I think it’s an opportunity to do your homework, to do it right. You could really create a stronger relationship with your customers if you’re being really thoughtful and strategic about what your physical retail environment is. 

Ned Hayes [00:17:02] Mm-Hmm. Right. Well, is the Lionesque Group really focused on physical environment, or do you also bring into play all the different touch points that the customers experience today? 

Melissa Gonzalez [00:17:12] Yeah, it’s definitely a holistic conversation. So we say we build human connection physical space so it could be mobile pop up. It can be a physical retail pop up. It could be small format given that we have increased our footprint having merged with MG2 they could expand the spectrum of everything from the mobile pop up to a full line department store, taking the mindset of really understanding the journey. There’s aspects of how that translates with the look and feel and the materiality and everything, but we always start to try to paint the picture of I want to close my eyes and tell the story of what is the consumer experience going to be and painting that picture and understanding from the minute they park their car or they walk to the front door if it’s an urban environment, so they walk back out the door. What is this experience going to be that they have? 

Ashley Coates [00:17:58] Well, another part of the experience is also any interaction they have online with that brand or the physical store. So how do you create a really seamless customer experience from online to in-person? Just, you know, many of our listeners are retailers and trying to learn this exact skill. So any tips that you can offer them? 

Melissa Gonzalez [00:18:18] I think there’s a lot of opportunities to bridge the online and offline world when we intersect in those conversations. From a strategic standpoint, for sure, we’re getting a little bit more involved or might be helping them with their digital experience. But we think about things like, for example, when M Gemi did their first pop up with us when they were first introducing themselves to physical retail, there was a text ahead component so you could look on their website. You could see what shoes you’re interested in. You can text ahead. So as you’re making that appointment, the salesperson already knew what shoes you were interested in, so they can pre pull them and also give them insights. If you like these, maybe I’ll make these suggestions jumpstarted the experience that you were having before you even walked into the shoe store. I think any kind telling tool aspect is really powerful. If they’re somebody who’s already intersected with your brand online and has a customer profile and has made purchases, that in-store team should have insights to that so that they can better serve you. Also, inventory availability is critical that continues to come up. So making sure that whatever POS system they’re bringing into the in-store environment is one and they’re getting better and better. Shopify, all of them are getting better at this, but we want to make sure that the consumer is not going to have a frustrating experience. So it should be giving them insights of where inventory exist, regardless of store in another part of the city. If it’s online, they have to have a seamless being able to return and stores that automatically credited to the account. All of those things have to be as fluid as possible. And I think that those are expectations that consumers have more and more so we have conversations around that. The adoption of QR codes has opened a lot of possibilities of bringing those additional layers into the store without having a heavy lift of investment, just create that additional landing page or whatever it is to either unlock additional content, but even with something like that, it’s being as mindful as possible. Nobody wants to walk around the store, opening up a bunch of tabs on their phone just because with the QR code, so everything has to be with purpose. If you know that this is a certain product that unlocking the details of maybe it’s a coat that allows you to be in minus 10 degree weather, and there’s some description around why that happens or how that happens, or because you’re trying to figure out the best code to go hiking, and it’s emulating the ability to do that comparative shopping online. But now you do that store and your phone becomes your remote control to your experience, then that’s really satisfying to a customer. So whatever it is, these are all tools. It’s just how are we making it as gratifying as possible or removing as much friction as possible from the customer experience, 

Ned Hayes [00:20:51] Right along with removing friction and making it gratifying, it does sound like social responsibility is really a driver behind your work at MG2. So can you talk about the value of social responsibility? 

Melissa Gonzalez [00:21:03] Absolutely. So social responsibility has many factors its sustainability, its diversity inclusion. There’s a lot of aspects, and I think through the past two years, there’s been so much more of a captive audience really understanding the importance of environmental issues and social issues. So it’s really important that we as a firm and that we are being partners to our clients to help them have that lens as we’re thinking of the in-store experience that we’re creating. So from a sustainability standpoint, we have a very robust materials library and database. We’re actively researching around alternative materials so that we are as well-equipped as possible, financials still matter. So I think the industry has some catching up to do too, so that there is not always the decision, what we really want to be sustainable, but dollars and cents matter, right? So the industry has some work to do still as well, so we can close the intention to action gap. But it’s us being as well-versed as possible to being able to point out the opportunities within a footprint. Maybe we say within this footprint, maybe you can’t solve for all of it, but here are the biggest points of opportunity. If we if we address lighting differently, if we address flooring differently, if we address wall coverings differently, then we can start to show impact. And consumers really want to know that brands are taking action beyond their words. Maybe it’s the shopping bags are made differently. So those are some of the areas in which we’re being really proactive when we present opportunities to our clients. 

Ned Hayes [00:22:30] It sounds like what you’re saying is being a mission driven retailer is super important. 

Melissa Gonzalez [00:22:34] Absolutely. And there’s so much research around that, and I don’t think it’s just the Gen Z generation. I think it spans generations, but they’re speaking with their dollars as the brands that they’re gravitating to and they’re standing behind because they want to stand behind brands of purpose. And I think it’s because as individuals, we want to be more purposeful too. So buying from a certain brand that’s empowering me is also really important. They are helping me be part of change. And that’s really powerful to consumers. 

Ashley Coates [00:23:05] So earlier, Melissa, you were mentioning purposefully bringing in technology into retail, so I’d love to dig in more to technology and retail. You released a book a few years ago, now the pop up paradigm. How brands build a human connection in a digital age. So I believe this was released in 2014. I’m curious what changes you’ve seen since then and how brands can still benefit from pop ups today in an online world. 

Melissa Gonzalez [00:23:32] There’s a lot of use cases that still exist for Mac. Back then when I started, people ask me, Is this just a fad? And I think what we’ve seen is just another format and there’s multiple use cases. So the first is definitely marketing. There is pop ups for marketing, and I don’t think that’ll go away and that’s existed for a very long time. Seasonality the Halloween store is the best example for that. That’s exist for a very long time, and it makes sense for them to have a handful of stores maybe year round, but not as many as they do at the high point of the season. So there’s always going to be seasonality. What we learned through COVID is as a lot of brands had to hone in on their capital expenditures and they had to reevaluate their stores and they had to get rid of the lost leaders and put their money into those that were the most profitable 12 months a year. It didn’t mean that some of those cities that they had to walk away from aren’t important at key times during the year, so pop ups give them an opportunity to show up in a purposeful way at key times of the year. It’s also a really great way to test partnerships. For example, when Sarah Jessica Parker first launched her line of shoes, it was a great focus group. There was a very vocal audience that came to the store that put dollars behind the shoes. They were excited about posting them on socials and everything like that, so it gives them a great focus group to say, here’s where we should make the bigger buys. Here’s what we think makes more sense for national distribution because we had this group that was very open with us and told us what they thought and then the same thing with new product launches. And then I guess this falls under marketing, but there’s limited edition releases, we’ve done a number for Puma. We did three one year, two closed early because we sold out, but these limited edition releases that come out that need just a dedicated focus all about that release, it gives you the opportunity to have a story in a narrative just about that collaboration. That’s from the pop up front. Digital, we’ve had conversations for so long throughout the years of experimenting in digital. We brought Stylinity into Boo-Hoo back when. We brought a photo, it was a company that you could grab photos from the cloud. We brought photo forward into Marc Jacobs. We built an RFID shopping cube and we created IRL. So we’ve been experimenting for a long time. A lot of the challenges that you face are one the question Will consumers adopt this and do it? Two, can we handle the list and reprioritize a list that’s going to be needed from an IP standpoint? Three. A lot of times we can get the ROI out of it, and one of the silver linings over the past couple of years is this adoption of digital by consumers, so it answers the questions. For example, QR codes. You have to download a scanner app before, and that’s annoying and to take all these steps, but it’s intuitive behavior for a consumer to stand in the store and take a picture of something they like. So now when you open your camera, you get this like they think the next step of QR codes is to instead of it going to you, opening 20 tabs on your phone is being able to drop it, maybe into one profile, so you could see all the things as if you were shopping online, creating a cart. That’s why I think you could go, but it’s that natural behavior becoming more natural for people to interact with augmented reality for all this conversation around the Metaverse. So as those behaviors become more second nature, then it opens up the opportunity of bringing the technology into the store. And then you’ve seen a lot of the ecosystem coming together were in the past. It was a technology company that created hardware or somebody else created software. There was a reseller you had to deal with. The IT team had to figure out how to bring it all together was last thing on their priority list, and then it was hard to get a pilot off the ground. There’s a lot more of solutions in a box now with a little more plug and play. And I think a lot of the technology companies have created more in-house teams that are either helping with content creation or other aspects that are taking away the lift from the brand. So it’s making it more possible for things to get off the ground. And then lastly, different licensing and pricing schedules that allow for some of these shorter term tasks to happen versus requiring multi-year, multi-center roll out just to get it off the ground. 

Ned Hayes [00:27:26] So you mentioned bringing technology into stores. Some of the emerging technology we’ve seen recently include virtual fitting rooms and A.I.. Any of those things relevant to your work? 

Melissa Gonzalez [00:27:37] Yeah, for sure. So I don’t know if you know the company Fit Match. They just announced a big partnership with Fenty, so we did their first pop up stores in 2019, and it was to educate consumers around the tech. So you have a B2B company going B2C to educate around it. At the end of the day, if it creates value for the consumer, then it is an opportunity to be successful. So for them, it’s a seamless technology. Scans your body very quickly, collects all these data points. It creates an avatar, and it helps get you a step closer to finding the fit for you with a brand and fit is one of the biggest obstacles when it comes to shopping online or offline. So technology like that, it’s definitely one that’s got a ways to go, but that’s an area where you’ve seen a lot, and I think it’s interesting the openness of consumers to do stuff in a fitting room. The stat we had was 80 percent of consumers that came by the store were willing to do the scan and create the body avatar. But it was because there was value associated to it. And that’s always the key is that it’s create value and consumers are willing to try it. Seeing a ton of beauty, the opportunity to scan the pigmentation color of your skin and give you the best recommendations for that shade of foundation you need, it’s a huge pain point guessing how is this going to look on my skin again? The more they’re tied to value back, you’re seeing consumers at least be more open to experiment with it at least once, and then that one time needs to be a good experience. 

Ashley Coates [00:28:57] Well, another emerging technology we’ve seen is the use of computer vision as a purchasing mechanism, like with AmazonGo Stores. Is there any opportunity for computer vision with pop ups? 

Melissa Gonzalez [00:29:10] I think if the economics are there, it’s funny because I saw there was a pop up like Amazon Go at the NRF conference and I’m like, if I could do it at the conference floor. So it depends on the brand in the budget they have, honestly. But I do think that there’s more opportunity. Part of the survey work we did at the end of last year was around understanding consumers adoption of technology as a whole and their life and the opportunity that that opens up to the in-store environment. Because again, it’s like that intuitive behaviors that we’re beginning to adopt. We don’t expect that fluidity to just stop when we walk in the store. So if you wake up in the morning, you talk to Alexa to turn on the light or start your coffee or tell you the weather, what’s the traffic or you use ring to see who’s at the front door when you’re not home, or if you use a digital key to go in your hotel room. These are all the ways you’re interacting in your world now. You’re going to expect that fluidity to continue. In your life in general, so I still think we’re at early innings, and I do think it’s for many a heavy lift still to bring in the infrastructure that’s needed to create your version of an Amazon Go store for a pop up. But I do think we continue to get closer and closer to more adoption of it. 

Ned Hayes [00:30:15] Great to hear. I know that we’re on board for technology, getting more and more into retail. I’d like to shift gears to talk a little bit about your own podcast on your Retail Refined podcast. You’ve often explored the in-store technology of the future. So any technology that we’ve left out that you’d like to cover?

Melissa Gonzalez [00:30:33] Such a fun treat to host that podcast because I get to meet technology founders all the time, and we’ve been trying to bring in more brands to have the conversations as well of what they’ve integrated and the challenges and advice that they have. I’m excited of the opportunity of the future of the fitting room for sure, I think Crave Retail it an interesting one there in addition to Fit Match on that side. I have mixed feelings on the metaverse for the long term. I do think there is space for it, and I think what has been able to develop and obsess continues to be impressive at a minimum. If you think about the opportunity of expanding the reach of a physical store. That alone, I think, is pretty exciting. Shop shops with live stream and in stream shopping been really interesting to see that growth, and I think there is a lot of opportunity around lift and learn technology. And so I’m curious to see how that continues to evolve in the in-store environment. 

Ashley Coates [00:31:28] Absolutely. You mentioned shop shops. That’s interesting because we were actually able to get some insight into livestream shopping. Do you think this will be a real growth area? 

Melissa Gonzalez [00:31:38] I think so. I mean, I think you already saw it when China’s been ahead of the U.S., and that’s for sure, because again, it’s that inherent behavior of being so digitally advanced and connected. But I do think so. I don’t think it compensates for having a store, necessarily, but I think that captures the opportunity of this active online audience who want to feel a sense of community and engage in the moment and be able to empower and capture that is the opportunity there. 

Ashley Coates [00:32:06] Interesting. So our sponsor, SnowShoe really focuses on retail loyalty. And I’m curious to hear your thoughts, Melissa. Will loyalty programs matter in the future and does loyalty still matter now? 

Melissa Gonzalez [00:32:19] Oh matters more than ever. There is so much brand hopping throughout the past couple of years and became even more challenging to gain that stickiness. And so you see a lot of different approaches around how can we maintain loyalty? And that’s why, too, it’s we have to remember your product company, but your service, something else in the service of the consumer. So how are you best serving them? The way in which to capture loyalty is that you have to know your customer, too, and I think that’s where personalization is really important because what motivates me to be loyal and convert might be different than the two of you. For me, is it knowing that I get something fast? I get free shipping, I get rewards on every purchase I make, so I think the next step is really leaning into personalization, when it comes to rewards programs and understanding what keeps the customer loyal. That’s where you’re really going to unlock that lifetime value of each individual. For me, if I give an example, like Sephora, they probably have at this point, they’re pretty competitive offering to Ulta and some of their comps. But they have my profile in all my past purchases and they make it easy for me. I remember which shade eyeliner I got. I remember this that eyeliners out of stock. Here’s the best comp. Everything about it. There’s a rewards program. You always know my birthday. Everything about it makes me choose to go to them first because they’ve created that stickiness. So it’s about really using the data to understand your customer and give them that value. Add for staying with you. 

Ned Hayes [00:33:40] Well, as we look out at the future, where do you think retail technology will be in five to 10 years? 

Melissa Gonzalez [00:33:47] I don’t know yet. I do still think there is a big gap in emulating the advantages of online shopping in the physical environment. So, for example, there’s still a ways to go in capturing customer intent in store by shopping site. It’s so easy for me to just add things to cart that I’m interested. Save it for later. Go back to look at it. The retailer has insights to that. The customer has insights to that that still doesn’t really exist in store. So I think the ability to really be able to mirror that digital ability to create your cart and remember all of that and have it at your fingertips is the gap that it would be exciting if we can close that gap. So I think you’re going to continue to see acceleration of client telling tools. But what I just described, I think, feeds into that personalization. So knowing who walks in the door when you go to Starbucks, get your coffee after a while, the barista knows who you are and they know your name and they know what you always order that aspect of that and the in-store environment. When you walk in the door, people knowing who you are powered by technology, who you are, what you’re interested in while you’re there and just removing some of those friction points are some areas, some of these layers of the Cash App experience because you brought up Apple before being this one monumental on that, we’re already seeing that evolve, and that’s going to continue to evolve to be less of a singular experience and just be able to meet the customer wherever they are in that moment and be able to service them. 

Ashley Coates [00:35:09] Well, thank you so much, Melissa, for being with us today. We do have one last question for you, which is what do you want your legacy to be? What do you want to be remembered for? 

Melissa Gonzalez [00:35:19] Well, I always ask myself, why do you get up and do this? What do you love about it? And for me, it really is creating human connection. So my legacy is the joke has been like, Oh, the Pop-Up Queen, I don’t want to just be that. I want to be the person who is known to work closely with brands and retailers and help them unlock the possibilities of human connection and physical space. 

Ned Hayes [00:35:39] Great. Well, thank you. That’s short and sweet. 

Melissa Gonzalez [00:35:43] Thank you. 

Ned Hayes [00:35:44] Well, thanks for being on the podcast and have a great day. 

Melissa Gonzalez [00:35:47] Thank you so much for having me with the great conversation. 

Ned Hayes [00:35:51] Spark Plug is a wholly owned property of SnowShoe. All content copyright 2021 Spark Plug Media.