EPISODE 109 : 04/13/2023
With over 25 years of leadership experience in the retail industry, Mike Robinson is currently on the founding team of The Eighth Notch, a technology platform focused on sustainable last-mile deliveries. His expertise in digital retail growth, operations, and product management, gained through executive roles at Macys.com, Gap Inc., IBM, and PwC Consulting, make him a sought-after strategic advisor to several early-stage start-ups. Additionally, Mike serves as an Independent Board director of Vista Outdoors, Inc.
Host: Ned Hayes and Ashley Coates
Guest: Mike Robinson
Listen to every episode
Topics discussed in this episode
- Detailed small business insights from Olympia, Washington
- Small business resiliency and adaptation during COVID
- Doubling community outreach during the pandemic
- Opportunities for small business loyalty programs
Watch Spark Loyalty’s Small Business Success Channel
Ned Hayes [00:00:00] Welcome to Spark Plug, where we talk to smart people working at the intersection of business and technology brought to you by Snow Shoe. Your smarter loyalty leader, Spark Plug is happy to welcome Mike Robinson to the podcast Today. With over 25 years of leadership experience in the retail industry, Mike is now on the founding team of the eight notch technology platform that’s focused on sustainable last mile deliveries. His expertise in digital retail growth and operations were gained through executive roles at Macys.com and Gap and IBM and PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting. It’s made him a sought after strategic advisor to early stage retail startups, and he also serves as an independent board director on Vista Outdoors. So welcome, Mike.
Mike Robinson [00:00:45] Thank you. I’m really happy to be here this morning.
Ashley Coates [00:00:48] So happy to have you with us. Mike. Well, let’s start off with you’ve had such a long career in retail and so we’re curious what first interested you in this field and what fascinates you about the world of retail today?
Mike Robinson [00:01:00] Yeah, I’ve had that question before and I’ve answered it kind of the same way, right? I’m kind of an accidental retailer, right? I never I didn’t set out this way, and I’m not sure many people do set out to become a retailer. But, you know, I came out of college and I wanted to go to Wall Street and that didn’t work out. And so I went into corporate finance and then I went into consulting and I was in biotech and high tech and as having an interesting time. But now somebody knocked on my door and said, We’re starting this consulting company to help people build their digital channel. And you have a technology background, you don’t have a retail background. We’ll teach you that. And so I became kind of this accidental retailer, and what I found out is that I loved it, right? I mean, I love the immediacy of, you know, you know, if you’re good or bad the next day. Right. It is you know, there is it is the most binary industry I’ve ever worked in in terms of understanding whether you connect with a customer or whether you’re down. And I think that’s what I latched on to with the understanding of, you know, you’re in the needs and wants business, and if you’re in the wants business, how do you make it a need? Right? How do you transition that that person from just wanting it and needing it? And I think that is the psychology of retail that I kind of get connected to. Right. And whether that was great customer experience or great product or great content or great data, right? It was always something that that allowed us to be able to say, what can we do to transition someone from that desire to that need component?
Ned Hayes [00:02:25] Right. And I know at Macy’s you were in very senior leadership roles there leading a digital business. So what were some of the biggest evolutions at Macy’s during your time there?
Mike Robinson [00:02:36] Yeah, I was there from 2010 to 2018. So so you can kind of imagine that we were transitioning out of from just, you know, big web, the small web to mobile app. Right. Right. In terms of, you know, the devices were proliferating and people felt they had to have experiences on every single device. I would think mobile is right at the top of the list. Right. And really understanding how to convert someone that has, you know, a 13 inch screen down to a 5.7 inch screen and still give them a great experience that they can actually find what they’re looking for and transact and check out or get the service that they’re looking for. So mobile is at the top of the list. Then it was that transition of mobile into the store, right? Because, you know, obviously an omnichannel retailer like Macy’s needed to have those channels be healthy. So what did it mean to cross the threshold with that mobile device and that mobile experience to be able to assist the customer once they got into the store, being able to help them find product, being able to help them understand and arbitrate the offer that they had, being able to, you know, in some cases we experimented with self-checkout and intimacy store, which if you can think about just the size of most of the stores, is pretty hard to do. But it was our it was a point of experimentation for some digital it was grow the business as fast as possible, but experiment and innovate was absolutely at the top of the list.
Ashley Coates [00:03:54] Well, I also know during your years there, there are a few years where Macy’s closed several physical stores, I think especially in 2015 and 2016 is what I’ve read. So I’m curious from the digital side, how did your efforts in Macy’s digital business help to minimize the effect of those store closures on the company?
Mike Robinson [00:04:13] Yeah, some inside the company would say that I that I set up store closure by the transference of channel. Right. And I think what what it was is that there was a recognition that you know American retail is ever store to begin with probably somewhere in the you know the 3000 to 5000 store range. And so every retailer was going to start contracting in some way, shape or form. So what we wanted to do was make the experiences in the stores that were left right in terms of how do you make it as seamless as possible, that when you start your journey on the train and you walk into the store to be able to find the red sweater that you’re looking for, that you can find a way to be able to do that. I’m not saying that we solved it right. It’s a really, really hard problem. But that was the one thing that we were focused on Home Depot and they’re in their advertisements now. Talk about store. Right. You know, in terms of you know, you go into the store and and and the and the experience becomes personalized to that store. Right. To be able to do it. We’re doing that in 2015. Right. Doing it poorly. But we were doing it in 2015 because we recognized the value of a the ubiquity of the device that this customer was walking in with. How can you turn that into a self-help device? Because for stores that there were less store associates than ever. And so how do we help the customer on their journey because of the device that they’re carrying in their hand? So, yeah, we kind of sped up the store closure. But also, I think on the positive side, we were growing faster than the store channel. The storage stores were contracting. We were growing. Right. And so, you know, the goal was, can I grow fast enough to offset the store closure? And in some years I could and some years I couldn’t. But that was always part of the overall Macy’s strategy is, as we started to understand channel rationalization, how can we ensure that digital was growing fast enough to offset what’s happening in stores?
Ned Hayes [00:05:59] Well, one thing that has been really transformative for Macy’s, I think, is the Macy’s the Star Rewards program. That’s such a popular loyalty program. So how did Macy’s on the digital side support that loyalty program and really create that kind of seamless experience that you’re talking about?
Mike Robinson [00:06:14] It’s a really good question because Macy’s has gone through a pretty significant shift in terms of customer used to walk in with a fistful of coupons. Right. And go through the grand bargain at checkout in terms of playing the game with the associate to figure out which coupons could be able to get them the best discount. Now it’s about, you know, I have a I have a connection to the brand because I’ve purchased in the past and I’ve earned points and now I have a cashier, you know, star money that I can use on just about anything in the store. There are no exclusions and they’re on there and they’re augmented with special offers. Instead of you lead with coupons, you support with coupons. And I think it’s a massive, massive change. What we were doing on the digital side was how do you help someone carry all that? How do you help someone understand all of that? So the wallet concept, right, the ability to have all of your emotions in there, an understanding of your star rewards, balances and what that value creation was, how close you were to the next level in terms of going from silver to gold to platinum. And what would be the additional benefits that you would get by going up a level? It was the early stages. I’ve been really, really intrigued watching it grow over time. It’s become a really powerful program because it was intended to be the loyalty program that that ruled them off because Macy’s at that time had about 13 different loyalty programs and they said they’ve got to find a way of getting away from that because it’s confusing to the customer. And all it is is you’re just giving margin away to that one time customer. So how do you build a relationship with. So you build it through the app, you build it through the rewards program. And that was something that’s I think they’ve done a very, very good job with.
Ned Hayes [00:07:53] Right. Well, 13 different loyalty programs that that sounds like a complicated mess, frankly. How did you rationalize all of that?
Mike Robinson [00:08:02] There were some really brave choices that Jeff Kennett and team made. Right? Terry started this, you know, right before he left, but then Jeff kind of took up the mantle and said, we’re going to figure out how to change the nature and wean customers off the coupon cocaine. Right. And find a way to be able to get them to a point where they’re building a relationship with the brand because there’s value associated with that. And that’s what it became. And it was stick to it, right? Instead of saying, let’s throw it out after two years because it’s been hard and hasn’t had the traction it was it became a through line for the brand in terms of being able to say this is how we’re going to reinvent the brand image. And I think they’ve done a wonderful job with I mean, they’ve done so much since I left that I’m extremely proud as a shareholder. I’m still proud of it.
Ashley Coates [00:08:47] That’s so great. Well, while we’re talking about Macy’s, I can’t let us leave that topic without asking about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It is a treasured American tradition. I’m just curious, from the digital side, do you have any involvement in the parade?
Mike Robinson [00:09:02] Not as much as I wish we had. Right. I mean, I think this was you know, we were a commerce transaction engine. Right? Right. In most cases, we weren’t necessarily a content provision engine. There were moments where we would do a little bit of wayfinding on the parade route as to when certain balloons would be coming in, but it would be a partnership with a marketing partner and we would have a stub out to be able to do. We didn’t do as much. There were moments where we’d be like, you know, you know, you’re you’re definitely promoting the parade and you’re definitely promoting the opening of stores at midnight and you’re definitely promoting the sales associated through all the digital component trade and trying to drive awareness and get people to watch. Because it is it’s the greatest marketing event in the world if it’s done right. But but I would say that, you know, we didn’t do enough with it. I think that I think it’s still this unpolished asset that they can do a ton of things with. And, you know, I mean, not to be gimmicky, but, you know. Kermit’s Kermit’s my guy, right? So I’ve got him on my boom microphone and, you know, it is kind of my mini homage to the parade itself. Here, him here in my home office, because it is. And if you’ve never been to it, it is one of those things that you have to go experience because it really is a wonderful attack.
Ned Hayes [00:10:17] I’d have to agree. I always enjoy that Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It’s become an iconic experience. And I just had a question about how do you create and this is more for retailers in general, how do you move from just being a place that people visit to buy something to being an American icon? Maybe that’s a huge question, but I’m just curious if you have any thoughts on that.
Mike Robinson [00:10:40] Well, I mean, I think the beauty of Macy’s is that that’s how they started. Right. Right. If you go back through the history of Macy’s, I mean, it was it was the dry goods store that you got everything at. Right. It was the place that you came for that. And then the parade was, you know, an RH Macy’s gift back to the city. Right. In terms of being able to celebrate something. And then, I mean, I think it’s just grown and grown and grown and grown again. I believe it’s one of those you know, it’s it’s kind of like the flower show as well. If you’ve been to any local Macy’s during the flower shows that they have in the spring, they have iconic events that, you know, truly are marketing advanced. But but they’re intended to build an affinity and a love of the brand as well. And and I think that’s I think that’s you know, I think Macy’s has been doing the experiential nature of retail for a very, very long time. Right. It’s just it’s just they haven’t been recognized for what they’ve been doing.
Ned Hayes [00:11:33] Well, to switch gears away from Macy’s, you’re now a founding member of the eighth Notch, that technology platform that helps shippers and carriers to eliminate unnecessary delivery stops. So can you tell us about the name of the company? What is the eighth notch?
Mike Robinson [00:11:47] Sure, sure. And I love telling a good origin story because I think this one’s an interesting one. So the founder, Jamie Sapp, is a very, very, very good friend of mine and had the original idea, you know, brought me aboard after he’d been kind of digging at it for a little bit. He grew up in South Georgia and his dad was a railroad man. And the eighth notch is the most powerful setting on a locomotive. Right. And actually is the most efficient setting on a locomotive. And so it’s an homage to his father. It’s an homage to efficiency. And I also look at it through the lens of it’s an homage to an industry that has continued to somehow thrive. Even those people thought it would be obliterated over time. The fact that we still have railroads and it’s still an important part of our fulfillment and supply chain. So there’s a lot that they’ve continued to evolve over time. They really is based on Janie’s father and and it’s an homage to him.
Ashley Coates [00:12:44] I love that story.
Mike Robinson [00:12:45] Yeah.
Ashley Coates [00:12:46] And at the eighth notch, you focus on the final mile. So let’s just start by defining that term. We have certainly many retailers who listen to this podcast, but for anyone who doesn’t know what the final mile as.
Mike Robinson [00:12:57] Yeah, I think you can define it in a lot of ways, but the way that we think about it is the last leg of the journey, right, is when the package that you’re going to get is put on that on that delivery truck and it’s the delivery truck and that and the driver that brings it to your doorstep. That’s how we define last month.
Ned Hayes [00:13:12] Your company provides a solution to retailers who want to meet the demand of delivery speed, but also you focus on sustainability. So how do you do that? How do you balance those two needs?
Mike Robinson [00:13:24] Well, this was really kind of the hook that Jamie got in me, right. As he said, I got this idea and we kicked it around a lot. You know, it’s like, I think there’s a lot we can do with this. Now, I’m as I mentioned earlier, I’m a I’m a retailer that, you know, takes, you know, needs and changes them the wants. And at some point, I have to start feeling guilty about the consumption pattern that I’ve created over time. So is there a way to, you know, not necessarily change the consumption amount, but but affect the pattern that that people are doing? Because I don’t know if I’m going to get people to stop by, but can I get can I get them to purchase and have delivered more intelligently? And that’s what we really started with. So here it is in a nutshell. If I can give you just just the background on the product, you know, and it really started with Jamie. We’re out playing golf one day and we saw three delivery trucks go by and he goes, you know, he goes, how does that how does that happen in your neighborhood? And I said, well, you know, there’s delivery trucks that go up and down my street every single day. Sometimes they stop in my house, sometimes they don’t. He said, That’s the point. He said, I want to figure out a way that every time a truck comes to comes down your street, is stopping at your house because that’s the only time he needs to stop at your house. Instead of coming back three times, he’s going to come walks. And so what we do and I’ll I’ll give you a very, very quick overview of the product is each retailer has created this contract with their customer called their customer promise. Right. Right. You know, you place an order, you know, it’ll it’ll be delivered at some point in the future. Sometimes it’s a hard day, sometimes it’s a window. But internally, they measure that. And so what we said is, can we take that time and use all of it to be able to look for opportunity, to be able to say, can I take your package? And there’s a couple of scenarios. One is where you’ve got split shipments coming from different inventory locations. And I use the five white T-shirt example from Macy’s. I ordered five white T-shirts. It came from four locations and they were delivered on three days. Makes no sense. Right. Right. And it created tons of issues for me because I was like, where’s the rest of this stuff? What if I had those five white t shirts coming from four locations can be delivered on one day. And that’s what we do is we figure out the math associated with the time and transit to tell the retailer in each of those inventory locations when to ship it, because the network is incredibly predictable and allows that if you ship it on a Tuesday and it has a three day transit, it will get there on Friday. But if there’s another one that has a shorter transit time of two days, ship it on a Wednesday and it’ll get there on Friday, it starts to blow off this notion of surprise and delight, but it commits to a date that you can start communicating to the customer. The other scenario and the one that really, really once I understood that this was happening was, you know, the question was, hey, Mike, are you ever surprised that when you order something from Macy’s that there’s an Amazon package at the same time? I was like, Yeah, I just thought that was just volume driven. They got no, no, no, no. They’re finding a way to ensure that every time a macy’s package is coming there, they’re riding one along with it because it effectively gets delivered for free and there’s value created around it. And so the other part is in a multi retailer world, being able to look at all of the volume coming to each of your addresses and saying, can I create combinations to be able to tell the retailer that I have the relationship with? They say you’re something, go in there next Tuesday, ship this on the date that gets it there next Tuesday. And there’s value creation associated because then two packages get delivered instead of there are two days for one pack. That’s us in a nutshell is we’re trying to figure out how to minimize the number of times that a delivery truck stops in front of your house and drops off packages. We want them to drop off multiple packages every time that they can, because each time that delivery truck doesn’t need to stop in front of your house and the symmetrical throw at you, 768 grams of CO2 aren’t created in the stop start move function. And when you take that volume across the network, it’s millions and millions of pounds of CO2 that can be taken out. Ultimately, it’s trucks off the road.
Ashley Coates [00:17:32] That’s fascinating, Mike. And I’m so curious about the timing of when you and Jamie started the eighth, not because you founded your company in December of 2019. And then, of course, within months, the pandemic hit. How did that affect the trajectory of your company?
Mike Robinson [00:17:48] In many ways it helped it, right? I mean, because all of us were sitting at home and having everything delivered to.
Ashley Coates [00:17:52] Yeah, I was thinking that was the case.
Mike Robinson [00:17:55] And so all of a sudden the urgency on this became much more I mean, you know, there’s several graphs that talk about in one, an 18 month swing, you know, the e-commerce going up by 33%. I mean, it was this massive step function. We’ve seen it level off in terms of growth. We haven’t seen it come down. And so we’re at that. We’re still at that future step that I mean, it’s kind of a ten year jump in an 18 month period. And so all of a sudden the network is overtaxed, but the retailers are just getting crushed because the cost of free shipping is not free to them. And so they’re looking for alternatives to be able to do this. And then guess what? Social conscience is starting to grow in this. And there’s a recognition from from from an ASG standpoint that we’ve got to figure out more, more sustainable solutions. There’s the 2030 commitments, there’s the 2050 commitments. They’re all trying to do it through TV or packaging materials. This is one that just says he could manage of inefficiencies that are currently out there and create efficiencies from them because you do that by collaboration and cooperation.
Ned Hayes [00:18:56] Yeah, definitely requires cooperation. This is not kind of a11 person show, is it?
Mike Robinson [00:19:01] No, not at all. Not at all. I mean, you know, you need scale on this, right? I mean, the value and and one thing that I can partially share with you, our partnership is with one of the two largest package carriers in the United States. I can’t tell you which one, but you could flip a coin and you could tell me what you guess. And I’d tell you, you know, it’s the other one, right? So, you know, given the fact that we’re working with them, gives us access to most of the top 100 retailers in the U.S. So our ability, the hockey stick, this is highly accelerated by having that partnership. There are some challenges that go along with that, Right. I mean, if you talk about the pandemic has also created a backlog of projects for a lot of people in terms of what they’re doing. And so fitting another one in. And even though it’s a simple change that we’re asking for is one thing that we’re having, having to negotiate. But when people start to look at one thing I didn’t really articulate very well is we because of. That relationship with the carrier. We’ve negotiated a three way gain share model. So every time that the retailer ships it on the date that we tell them to, they benefit from the carrier in some way, shape or form, either through a lower shipping costs or a rebate or access to strategic allocation during holiday, etc., that there’s a lot of ways that they can benefit. We benefit because that there’s value associated with an event when we have a contract in place with the carrier. But all three parties benefit from that 768 grams of CO2 that I mentioned. Right. And it becomes a measurable item that you can start reporting on.
Ned Hayes [00:20:41] Absolutely. It really makes a difference in the world. And it seems like you’re also involved with the Ecosystem Integrity Fund, which is also a sustainable refocus venture capital fund. So can you tell us more about that as well?
Mike Robinson [00:20:54] Yeah, we met the folks from EDF in spring of 2022 and started having an extended conversation and it was going to be our first book, Money. So wanted to be smart, right? We wanted to figure out who we were going to give up a good chunk of ownership to, and we wanted to find somebody that also kind of connected with us and also could connect us to things that we felt that were valuable, right? This is an early stage fund that focuses on companies that are driving environmental sustainability. Right? And there’s a lot of ways you can do it. We’re I think we’re the first the software company in their fund. And I think that they were intrigued with us because they looked at it through that lens, that there’s a lot of inefficiencies, that if we just create small efficiencies, we’re talking final mile here. The final mile efficiency that we’re talking about has impacts that stretch all the way through the network and all the way back to the retailer and ultimately all the way back to the consumer. If you want to invite them into the conversation, which are planet. So they loved our story and we loved the fact that we were getting involved with our first b c that wasn’t going to just, you know, pound us on, you know, profitability and revenue, but was going to help us further the sustainability message as well.
Ashley Coates [00:22:05] So I’m curious if you can share with us, Mike, your view on the consumer’s perspective on sustainability these days. You were mentioning before that during the pandemic there became this great awareness that with all these deliveries, that’s not the best thing for the environment, where our consumers today, when it comes to how important sustainability is to them in their shopping.
Mike Robinson [00:22:26] Yeah, and this is the part of the conversation that I’ve been having with our PR firm is whether we should go out and do independent research on this. And what we found is the answer is probably not because there’s a large body of research that’s been done over the last two and a half years or so. And here’s some stats I’ll throw out. That one study talked about that When asked if eco friendly choices influence their purchase decisions, 67% of people said yes. And so we’re seeing a trend change. I mean, anytime you get past 50%, I take note of that. I think another one was 91% of people. Again, you can cherry pick a statistic, which I’ve done a little bit, but they’re starting to collaborate together. We’re asked if they had eco friendly shipping options, would they accept them? 91% said yes. And the thing that really struck me was that they asked the question that I always want to know, will they wait longer or have they? Right. And the answer was 84% said yes, I will wait up until two days extra than what you originally quoted me. If you’re going to do something in an eco friendly way. So our goal, you know, we we’re going to post checkout world right now, but our product works in a checkout world because it’s just as simple as here is your free shipping option. It’s eco friendly. And if you want something faster, I’m going to charge you a surcharge for it like you do right now with next day and and then same day as like you want. In three days, I’m going to charge you for it. But if you want to go eco friendly, I’ll give it to you for free because there’s value creation associated with it. So we think that we have a chance to reinvent both the economics and the nature of free shipping and invite the consumer into that conversation because the trend is showing that you can.
Ned Hayes [00:24:09] It’s great to know that people are really changing the game here and thinking beyond just how can I get things faster, cheaper.
Mike Robinson [00:24:14] I think that’s part of the inertia that we’re fighting against because the retailers have been conditioned that way. But free and fast is a fallacy, right? It’s just a fallacy. It’s fast and expensive. And the reality is, if you can somehow lengthen the time I mean, I told this story I used to work in, I did a consulting arrangement in dairy and the guys talk to me and there is there’s always this wall of milk, right? The cows they producing. And we got to figure out what to do with it. Right. Well, in this case, I think there’s this wall of packages. But can you schedule that wall with packages a little bit differently? And so the consumer isn’t always just assuming. And frankly, I think the consumer is assuming there’s always something coming to them. They don’t know when in some cases, it’s just there’s always something coming. So if it comes on a Wednesday instead of. Monday. Is that a problem? Maybe. But if they ultimately have control over the choice, which is where we want to go, then it’s their choice. I think there’s an unlock here that people haven’t necessarily fully thought through, and the fact that we’ve got this three way gain share model allows everyone to benefit and ultimately the consumer can be part of that choice as well.
Ned Hayes [00:25:18] Well, that really makes a difference when people are actually choosing to be part of that solution.
Mike Robinson [00:25:23] Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think about my own behavior, right? Yeah. I don’t like to be forced to do anything right. But if I feel like I’ve been informed enough to make a choice and I and anything that I’m doing right now and you know what? I’m a 57 year old man that has been a shameless consumer my entire life. Right. I don’t want to do that with the years that I have left. I want to be an informed consumer going forward. Right. I want to do things in a much smarter option. Right. I think that’s where the population is heading. Definitely the generations before me. And I’m hoping my generation will get the religion on that as well.
Ned Hayes [00:25:56] Well, so the consumer expectations around delivery speed and sustainability, if you’re choosing that, then you’re also choosing a particular brand. So does this contribute to creating brand loyalty towards particular companies or retailers?
Mike Robinson [00:26:10] I want to believe it does. Right, Right. I mean, I think that that is where, you know, brand equity can be mined. I think we’re seeing it with, you know, brands that start from a sustainable perspective in terms of materials, in terms of ethical manufacturing, in terms of, you know, you know, but but they don’t but but they stop short of fulfillment. Right? Right. In terms of how do I get the product to you? They talk about everything else up until this point. They have that piece. Then it becomes a truly sustainable brand. And I think people will vote with their wallet accordingly. I know I will.
Ashley Coates [00:26:41] Well, so let’s actually switch gears again and chat about technology and retail. So VR and AR have received millions or maybe billions of dollars investment over just the last couple of years. So I’m curious your thoughts on this, Mike. What do you think the long term impact is on retail with these technologies? And do you see the metaverse fuzing with the physical store in any meaningful way going forward?
Mike Robinson [00:27:06] I think if people can separate Metaverse from Metta, the company, I think they have a chance. I think also it’s about how do you enhance the experience? You know, I mentioned earlier about how we tried to make mobile enhancing omnichannel. I think this is another way of enhancing the in-store experience. And there were things that we experimented with, you know, during my time that I think will become part of the norm again because of the ubiquity of the device. Right. Whether it’s phone or whether it’s glasses or something of that nature. But being able to walk in a store and be presented with content that you didn’t have prior to that, whether it’s price, whether it’s promotion, whether it’s product ratings, whether it’s things of that nature that you get digitally, you can bring in to a physical store. And Terry Walgren always talked about this at Macy’s, because anything that you can do from a digital standpoint, you still can help the customer touch the product. And I think there’s always going to be something tactile because we’re tactile beings where I think if you really, really choose, you want to feel the fabric or you want to see the product, you want to pick it up. Is it is it well-made? Do you want to see it in operation? In some case? But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be augmented and and and having an air wrapper. I mean, frankly, I’m an angel investor in an air company in the UK that is trying to do, you know, really intelligent wayfinding in a retail establishment. I love what they’re doing because I think that is the next generation. But I think it’s fusion, not transference. I think it’s a fusion of experiences, not transferring the experience where I sit at home and do all my shopping in a virtual mall, somebody will do that. I don’t know if it’ll be a mass adoption.
Ned Hayes [00:28:43] Well, we’ve also heard a lot about, you know, recently, just in the last week or so, I hesitate to call this kind of chat bot style artificial intelligence, real A.I., but people are using it. It’s changing the world of plant and delivery and content creation and advertising. So do you have any thoughts about how I might change the world of retail and especially how retailers communicate with their customers?
Mike Robinson [00:29:05] I’m sure much like you, I was, you know, slightly terrified by the Bing article, but I got on the waiting list, right. So I’m waiting, right. Right. To have access. And in general, today, AI is a really interesting space. Right. And I think there is this whipsaw of it’s going to replace humans versus is it going to help humans? I’m more on the human side from a content creation standpoint, from an experience creation standpoint. Just asking questions, right? You know, like I’m a golfer, right? So what type of clothing should I take if I’m going to golf in New Zealand? I’ve never been to New Zealand. But wouldn’t it be great if there was an AI that could kind of give me a little bit of information and some suggestions around that because of the wealth of knowledge? Or build a basket for me. Right. Right. And allow me to be able to do that. So I think there’s significant value associated with it. But I do think it’s about how do we work with it instead of being replaced by it? I don’t. I enter the skin component of this yet? Not yet. Yet I hold the option to go. A conspiracy theory, but not yet.
Ned Hayes [00:30:05] Yeah, well, I love what you said about working with. Because if we just use this as augmenting our experience, much like people back in the day, I’m showing my age here. When retailers first encountered the Internet, they felt like, Oh, this is going to be a binary flip. We have to do internet or physical and it’s not true. You can actually use one to accentuate the other or to complement it. I think A.I. is going to be the same way that you need your human beings, but maybe they’ll be able to respond with templates faster that are generated by A.I., that have been groomed by the human beings. So being able to use the tool intelligently, I think is going to be the superpower in the future.
Mike Robinson [00:30:43] I couldn’t agree with you more on that. I mean, I think that example, the uses, everybody thought that there would be this massive transference. But what happened humans got in the middle of it said, I don’t want that right. Give me the best of both. Right. And I think what we’re going to have here is the best of both here. Help me be better at this. I mean, we still don’t have flying cars, but someday we’re going to.
Ned Hayes [00:31:01] Well, speaking of flying cars, I mean, what do you think we’ll see in the world of retail and final mile delivery over the next, I don’t know, 5 to 7 years?
Mike Robinson [00:31:09] Yeah, it’s a really great question. And I think my answers have changed over time and definitely changed as I’ve been involved with the technology and I started to truly understand sustainability. I mean, I think at the top of the list is that these are my terms. I don’t know if they exist in the industry or not, but social conscience driven consumption, voting with your wallet based on those brands that are doing good and doing less bad. So associated with that, I mean, I think that’s going to become a really real and and I don’t mean the greenwashing that happens sometimes. It’s truly just people making smart choices from a product and a product delivery and a product support perspective. I think the generative A.I. that we talked about, I think the fusion with how humans work to be able or how humans shop will become something that I think becomes a really, really powerful and useful. Just like the mobile device became invaluable in the shopping experience. I think generative AI will, by asking a smart questions and being able to get smarter answers that that no one’s gotten in the past. And I think the last one is mass customization, right? Right. This notion of really getting to bespoke of what I truly need and want, right? Not just somebody thinking what it is out there, but knowing me and being able to get to a point of the products that I will value the most, whether it’s across those lines or not, sometimes I’ll be surprised and some sometimes I’ll just be really excited that they got it right.
Ashley Coates [00:32:33] So a personalized flying car, that’s what you love it.
Mike Robinson [00:32:36] Well, but if you give me a personalized flying car that drives itself, I mean.
Ashley Coates [00:32:41] Sounds good. Well, Mike, thank you so much for being with us here today. We do have one more question before we let you go, which is, what do you want your legacy to be? What do you want to be remembered for?
Mike Robinson [00:32:52] It’s a lot different than it was in my twenties, right? Yeah. I mean, I think in my fifties, obviously I’ve got a lot more behind me than in front of me. I take a point away from an old mentor of mine who said, You know, everything that you experience, every person that you come in contact with, every relationship you have, leave it a little bit better than you found it. And if I get that right, 51% of the time I’ll feel like I’ve succeeded. I think I’m right on the 50% line, so I got to work a little bit harder. But I think that’s what I want to be known for, is that, you know, when people reflect on Mike Robinson, it’s like that there was some value in that relationship. There is some value in that experience. There was some value when he was the leader. So that’s what I’m looking to do.
Ned Hayes [00:33:33] Well, thank you for sharing that with us then, for sharing all your insights into the sustainability and speed of delivery. It’s fascinating to see that end of the retail supply chain. Thank you.
Mike Robinson [00:33:44] You got it. Thank you very much.
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