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EPISODE 014 : 06/10/2021

Steve Dennis, author of Remarkable Retail: How to Win & Keep Customers in the Age of Disruption

Retail industry thought leader Steve Dennis has authored a new book that unpacks the trends that are squeezing traditional stores. In our Spark Plug interview, Steve introduces eight essential strategies for visionary retail leaders who are prepared to reimagine the customer experience in the age of disruption. A remarkable retailer is digitally enabled, human-centeredharmonized, mobile, personal, connected, memorable, and radical

Read more: Remarkable Retail: How to Win & Keep Customers in the Age of Disruption

Host: Ned Hayes and Ashley Coates
Guest: Steve Dennis

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Topics discussed in this episode

  • Overview of Steve Dennis’s bestselling book Remarkable Retail: How to Win & Keep Customers in the Age of Disruption
  • The history of retail in a nutshell with a retail expert
  • How physical retail stores are resorting in the current era
  • Why e-commerce and your physical store should not be disconnected
  • Middlemen as essential to retail — and how DTC just doesn’t scale as easily
  • Retail cost structure and how to use this to your advantage
  • Building a remarkable retail experience in your store environment

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Audio Transcript

Ned Hayes [00:00:07] Welcome to SparkPlug, where we talk to smart people working at the intersection of business and technology. Brought to you by SnowShoe making mobile locations smarter, SparkPlug is happy to welcome Steve Dennis, author of Remarkable Retail How to Win and Keep Customers in the Age of Amazon and Digital Disruption. So welcome, Steve.

Steve Dennis [00:00:29] Well, hello. Thanks for having me. I’m happy to be here. 

Ashley Coates [00:00:32] We’re so happy to have you, Steve. Will you start off by telling us a little bit about your background, your career history and to share with us your your experience in the retail industry? 

Steve Dennis [00:00:46] Sure, well, I often say what a long, strange trip it’s been because I have worked in a number of different roles across the last 30 years or so. I’ve run a business, I’ve been in marketing, I’ve been in finance and in strategy. I’ve worked in, I think, pretty much every product category you can think of. And after my 12 years at Sears, I joined the Neiman Marcus Group as the chief strategy officer. So I also got the whole luxury fashion side. So just this incredible diversity of formats, categories and roles. I started working in ecommerce back in, like 1999. I headed up multichannel integration for Sears that I did essentially the same thing for Neiman Marcus, but for the last guess, 10 or 11 years now, I’ve been out on my own doing strategy and innovation consulting mostly for retailers, and that’s kind of morphed into doing keynote speaking and writing for Forbes. And then most recently, I guess, writing a book. 

Ned Hayes [00:01:42] Well, Ashley and I both really enjoyed remarkable retail. It was really a shot in the arm. Really fascinating insights. I do think it’s interesting that you had part of your career at Sears because, you know, 30 years ago, 50 years ago, Sears was an economic dynamo. I mean, at one point, I think in the 60s, Sears sales alone accounted for like 1% of the entire U.S. economy. So, you know, in some ways, Sears could have been Amazon. 

Steve Dennis [00:02:10] Well, that’s probably a six part podcast series. But but the short answer, I mean, one thing for sure. I mean, I do sometimes bristle a little bit at the suggestion that Sears could become Amazon. I mean, it’s absolutely true that they were kind of the first everything store. But then Wal-Mart really kind of took that over. And I think the dynamics of a company that had investors that could endure many, many, many years of very substantial losses. I mean, that’s just not something that any traditional company could do as a practical matter. But Sears is kind of the poster child, I guess, for a bunch of points I try to make in the book. I mean, one, which is perhaps obvious, though many younger listeners may not appreciate this. But if you go back 25 years or so, much less, when Sears was really ruling the roost, 98% or so of all retail was done in a physical store and the remaining was pretty much mail order catalog. There was no internet to speak of. But when Sears became popular, you know, they were the place, you know, malls were the destination. Sears and a few other folks were the best place to get everything under one roof. But if you look at the history of retail starting in about probably the 70s, you started to have all these discount mass merchants. Then you have the category killers, Best Buy, Home Depot and then all these specialty retailers. So little by little. What made Sears a preferred destination started to be eroded just in terms of that format. And then really, 20 years ago or so, the regional malls, or at least many of them started to lose their prominence. So some of it had to do with it just was a format that ran out of gas or started to run out of gas 25 30 years ago. And we did not make the sort of changes that that might have ultimately saved Sears. You know, a lot of people try to talk about it being the internet. It’s not the internet that killed Sears. It’s this idea of trying to sell a little bit of everything to everybody in a location that is not a preferred destination for the vast majority of purchases and customers. 

Ned Hayes [00:04:23] Right. But it seems like everything old is new again, because in the book, you say that digitally native vertical brands are now beginning to open physical locations. So, you know, Microsoft did it didn’t really succeed there, but Apple has done at Google now has some physical stores open. You point out that, you know, it’s difficult to scale an online only business. So are brick and mortar stores really where where a successful online business goes to to continue to scale? 

Steve Dennis [00:04:54] Well, not necessarily. I mean, two things I guess I’d point out. One is that, you know, there’s been this narrative of a retail apocalypse that software is going to eat retail. I mean, Marc Andreessen, some folks might know super smart guy made way more money than I have. But the statement that he said that every every bit of retail is going to be online within a few years is just obviously obviously wrong, like not even remotely close to being correct. So this idea that everything that could move online is going to move online and that physical retail is is going to go away just unfortunately doesn’t line up with the facts. In the U.S., physical retail has grown. Each of the last 11 years, it’s very likely to have positive growth this year, and thousands of stores continue to open, and many of the most well-known brands are brick and morter dominant and continuing to open stores, Target just announced are going to open a bunch of new stores, invest billions of dollars into physical retail, so that idea that physical retail is dead is just not correct. Clearly, e-commerce is growing at a faster rate. But if you look at pure play e-commerce, which is largely what Amazon was until the Whole Foods acquisition, you know there are certain types of purchases that online shopping kind of pure online shopping works really well for. You know, when you know what you want, you just want to do a search. You don’t need any information from a sales person or going to the store. You don’t need necessarily immediate gratification. E-commerce is great at that. That is the very small minority of retail. All the rest of retail tends to have some physical component. So one of the reasons why digitally native vertical brands are opening stores, some of that has to do with they just basically cleared the market on all the people that were willing to buy online, only that for them to grow. They were going to have to go into stores as a way to meet the customer’s needs. It also turns out, particularly in the case of apparel, that return rates are really, really high. And so you just start to realize that economically, there’s no way to make money as well as cost of advertising online is very high. So, so many of the Warby Parker openings and bonobos and untuckit and a lot of these companies have been driven both by we can’t grow the business without having a physical presence, but also the economics of scaling the business beyond a certain point are just very unfavorable. So as I say in the book, it’s sort of ironic because some of these companies raised money on the premise that stores were just kind of this unnecessary, pesky expense of things. And then, you know, here we are now with Warby Parker down at one hundred and twenty stores, bonobos at 80 on Typekit, it’s going to go over hundred 

Ashley Coates [00:07:41] Steve, in several places in the book, you mention that the customer that retailers should think of the customer as the channel rather than think about the channels that they’re selling through.. 

Steve Dennis [00:07:54] Right.

Ashley Coates [00:07:55] Yes. And you talk about developing a hybrid formula to meet the customer’s need any time, anywhere, any way. Can you share with us how that manifests into working and marketing planning. How do you start planning with the customer as channel mindset? 

Steve Dennis [00:08:14] Well, part of the reason why I say that is one of the most destructive, and I’ll get more directly to your question in a second. But one of the most destructive things that has happened to retail over the years is to have set up e-commerce as a separate business unit and basically put your second part of the business in competition with your physical stores. Not only are you competing with the wrong people, you should be competing for folks on the outside. There’s a lot of issues with setting yourself up that way. You know, most of retail, most customers are being informed by a digital channel, even if they end up buying in a store or folks are going to a store to buy onlinse later. Or, as we really seen during the COVID times, customers are buying online, but picking up in a store or the product is shipped from a store. So I don’t know. My experienced consumers really don’t think about channels. They think about buying from Crate and Barrel. I’m buying from whatever retailer. I may very well use a lot of different aspects of a website or mobile phone or whatever to inform my decision. And then I’m going to buy wherever my needs are best met. So. So retailers have to organize themselves that way. They have to measure things that way. They have to get the technology to make that all happen, which is, you know, which is complicated. But I think the to get a little bit back more into the specifics of your question. I think you have the number one, really. You know, it’s probably cliché thing to say, but it’s about understanding your customer really well. Who are the most important customers to acquire, to retain, to grow? What are they really looking for? What are the customer journeys they go through and buying from you? How does that vary? Depending upon could be the time of day. It could be this sort of product they’re buying from you. And then you have to orchestrate the customer experience to to deal with all those things. So I don’t think it’s I don’t think it’s easy at all. It can be incredibly complicated. But if you don’t start with the idea that the customer is the channel and b fundamentally channel agnostic, you’re very likely to get it wrong. And there’s just too many other people that are getting it right now to anyway. 

Ashley Coates [00:10:26] That makes so much sense, and you also talk about the middlemen in the customer journey. I’m just curious, what benefit do you see that middlemen provide for consumers? Is it about the experience, the curation? What is that role in the customer journey? 

Steve Dennis [00:10:44] Well. In general, every retailer has to figure out if they’re if they’re putting a lot of time and energy into something, what value does it add? Is it just keeping you at parity or is it providing real incremental advantage? The particular challenge in wholesale distribution has been and you know this, we see this across the board. We went from this. I mean, I sometimes I’ll do a little indirect way of answering your question, but I sometimes will ask people when I’m speaking, you know, particularly if they’re more like in their 50s or 60s to go back to 25 years ago and think about how many places they could buy, pick an item, a sweater that a dishwasher or whatever. And you know, if you lived in a big city, you had a few places you could look in a smaller city. Maybe you only had one or two. And the way you gathered information was to run around to those stores. For the most part, maybe you ask your neighbor, read Consumer Reports or whatever, but the retailer had the advantage. And there were just wasn’t a lot of abundance of choice and access and so forth. So as that has been largely eroded by by virtue of the internet, primarily at every retailer is sort of challenge was particularly challenging about wholesale now is that most of the brands have realized that it is to their great advantage to have a direct relationship with the end consumer. And so I think brands are going to keep pushing to the edges to maximize their direct to consumer business. And the smartest thing to do generally is to start to narrow your distribution through wholesale. So these pressures will will continue to customers, you know, certainly sometimes well, sometimes they need more convenience, and it’s never going to be the case that to pick Nike’s former client of mine, you know, Nike’s never going to have these massive Nike stores in every city in the world, right? So in some cases, just not going to make sense for Nike to have their own brick and mortar, so they’re going to sell through a partner. In other cases, you know, particularly the fashion industry, consumers want to put outfits together. They don’t necessarily want to buy one item at a time or dress head to toe in just one designer. So to go to like to a store like Nordstrom or Neiman Marcus, where you can see things to put together, where you can get sales help and you’re not brand dominant, you know, that’s value added for the consumer. And many manufacturers will want to maintain that distribution because if they were to pull out of there, they just would be missing incremental opportunity. 

Ned Hayes [00:13:11] Right. I want to circle back to what Ashley asked about is the point of the middleman to add experience. And I’m looking at your kind of eight essentials of remarkable retail and three of them are human centered, personal, memorable. So having that kind of real human connection seems to be an attribute that small retailers especially can really capitalize on, right? 

Steve Dennis [00:13:35] Absolutely. I mean, I think physical retail is advantages, immediate gratification, right? I can just run in and get it and take it home with me. But I would say most of the time, it’s that opportunity to see a variety of products to touch, feel, try them on depending or sit on a sofa or whatever you know it should be. The internet is not good at doing that right. At least not yet. Maybe someday we’ll figure that out. But I think in particular, for smaller retailers, it’s that local market knowledge, in some cases to have products that they know will work, which a big retailer or Amazon certainly is not going to be able to go head to head with them. It’s that in-person connection. So I think in a lot of ways, I think the struggle for but also the opportunity for smaller retailers is, yes, it’s hard to compete at the scale, you know, spend the money or have the technology or the talent or whatever to compete with some of these bigger retailers. But the flip side is that is that intimacy, that customer intimacy, that local knowledge and particularly you’re an owner, right? You’ve and you’ve got your your livelihood on the line. You’re there, though talking to customers all the time, you can reflect that not only in the service, but reflect that in finding products for them. Maybe that they would find interesting. So some bigger retailers, you know, they’re often just kind of serving the peak of the bell curve, right? Whereas the smaller folks are, the more specialty retailers can find those interesting subsegments, micro segments, whatever you want to call them in and try to do something really different that at Amazon and Walmart, others are never going to do. 

Ned Hayes [00:15:08] Right. It’s impossible for Amazon to compete with me as a small retailer who knows my clientele intimately, who service them for 10, 10, 20 years and can understand their buying patterns, not just their lives, but also what they might be interested in and actually stock to that specific niche audience, correct? 

Steve Dennis [00:15:28] Yeah. Well, if you think about Amazon in particular, but there’s other examples, actually. I was on a clubhouse about this the other day and somebody asked the question Why is Amazon so bad at personalizing the experience? They used to be good at it. And it was interesting question I hadn’t thought about very much, really, but certainly they have the technology to do a lot of personalization. You know, not the face to face stuff we’re talking about, but to use technology to make more powerful recommendations. But Amazon, I’ve heard somebody say, you know, Amazon is good at selling everything. They’re not good at selling any one thing. And I think they’re not trying to, you know that, you know, you go there because they have everything it’s going to be, you know, speedy experience. You’re probably going to pay a decent price. But there’s nothing really interesting on Amazon unless you’re, you know, you want to try to find the interesting, you know, endless aisle long tail kind of kind of thing, whereas a great specialty retailer, even if they’re pretty sizable like, say, restoration hardware. But certainly the small business owner is to have the ability to be more nimble to find places that are overlooked in terms of interesting products, interesting services. And so I think the danger you have to be careful and I think sometimes people got this wrong is to try to out Amazon, Amazon. You know, it was like, nobody’s going to out Amazon, Amazon, except maybe Walmart or in China, Alibaba. But there may be certain things which you have to kind of be at parity with because the customers come to expect, you know, easy checkout or fast delivery or or whatever. But you don’t you don’t want to chase your tail trying to go head to head in a place where you’re never going to win. Rather, you should really forge a different direction. You know, who are those customers I can focus on that aren’t ever going to consider Amazon or Costco or whatever for these sort of products. What is the thing that I can do because of my local knowledge or my face to face or just interesting, you know, visual merchandizing, whatever, you know, it’s a lot of things it could be, but it’s to those things that are really customer relevant and distinctive and lean into those. 

Ned Hayes [00:17:38] Right. We did a lot of retail research this year, and I remember talking to a gelato shop that had diversified their revenue streams during COVID and had actually built up their average revenue per customer over time. And one of the ways they diversified is they would hand deliver gelato to somebody’s house. Amazon is never going to be able to do that, and they’re never going to be able to call somebody up and say, Hey, I just created a new cart of my own gelato. Would you like it? 

Steve Dennis [00:18:08] Right? Yeah, yeah. 

Ned Hayes [00:18:10] This is a niche offering, but hugely appealing. And she was really able to build out her business this way by being able to double down on your her and her niche knowledge. 

Steve Dennis [00:18:21] Yeah, I think one piece of advice I got from a friend of mine and I’ll see if I could tie the switch were to say, but when I was writing my book, he said to me, Who are the 1000 people that must read this book? Now he didn’t literally mean, you know, write down a thousand people, but he meant, you know, if you had to only focus on a thousand people, how would you figure out who they are? So some people I would know by name, but it might be low the 50 CEOs of these type of companies or this reporter or whatever. But the message I got out of it and it’s it’s based on a blog post from a guy named Kevin Kline for Fast Company called a Thousand True Fans. Is it really forced me to not think about kind of maximizing my audience but really, really being meaningful to a relatively small group of people? And I think when you go through the thousands, a little bit arbitrary. But I think when you go through that exercise, you start to say, Well, gee, it probably means selling more stuff to customers I already have. Well, what would that look like? Is it a service like you mentioned or is it adding some new flavors that are not only will people buy, but maybe they’ll they’ll talk about it, you know, literally remark upon it, and that will get me more customers. But you know, who are the next set of people to kind of invite into this really special tribe, this really special group? So is it discipline about, I think, being more meaningful to a smaller number rather than necessarily sort of chasing growth for growth sake and then watering down what made you special in the first place? 

Ashley Coates [00:19:53] I’m kind of on that note, Steve. I wanted to focus it on one of your chapters Chapter eight optimizing to extinction. Yeah, this chapter is all about this practice of closing stores as a way to grow. You really discuss how that may not always be the right way to think about it, and that there’s this tendency to focus on the cost cutting side rather than the revenue side. 

Steve Dennis [00:20:21] I think it’s always helpful to look at your cost structure and to see if you’re doing things that don’t add value to the to the customer. But the main thing the point in that that chapter is, is this question, you know, what are you solving for if you know you have a compelling value proposition and you’re you’re growing share of wallet, you got, you know, great loyal. He, et cetera. But your costs are too high or you could do without a store or two and close the store, cut the costs. But what I see, mostly particularly with large retailers that have been in trouble for a while, is they haven’t figured out a way to grow revenue. They haven’t figured out a way to be more relevant to customers. And so the only thing they can do is cut. I’d have to do something. They haven’t figured out how to grow market share or share of wallet. And so that’s that’s the thing to do. And, you know, in some respects, it’s easy. But what I’ve observed and I often say I’ve been on, you know, I’ve been interviewed in the press podcasts over the years, much time and say, Hey, give me an example of a retailer that has closed stores and become more prosperous. And I have yet. I mean, some people say American Eagle, which is, I think, a questionable example. But you know, for all the stores that have been closed, you’d think somebody somewhere in the world could come up with one example where someone has successfully done it. And you know, I’m not saying they don’t exist, but I think the data is pretty clear on a lot of them. And and usually what happens is that when you close stores, you’ve not solved the underlying problem. You know, you’ve larger cost basis. But if the problem is customer relevance, closing a store does not make you more customer relevant. In fact, it probably makes you less customer relevant because now if I really like you, my store and I really like shopping at a store, I don’t have that store anymore. And maybe there’s one to go to, but it’s probably, you know, in a different city or 20 miles away. And so, so anyway, I mean, probably too much on that, but it’s it’s it’s really, you know, what are you solving for? And if you if the problem is customer relevance, you don’t have a competitive business model, that’s what you need to work on. It might be helpful to cut costs so you can reinvest, but most of the time you’re just starting a downward spiral. In my experience, 

Ned Hayes [00:22:42] Right, I found it really fascinating in the book that keeping a physical store open actually lifts online commerce. And also, 75% of shoppers want more human interaction. So brick and mortar is here to stay. But brick and mortar may exist for for for different reasons, depending on the customer is depending on their buying habits, right? 

Steve Dennis [00:23:03] Yeah. Well, I mean, it’s definitely the case. It’s really funny to me, number one, that it’s surprising to anybody, really. I mean, it’s nice to have quantified it, which the ICC did in the study that I reference. But I think it’s funny to me that people don’t realize that stores are actually great advertising. You know, I mean, so or that people will sometimes go to a store and then order online. I mean, most of the great catalog merchants Williams-Sonoma, L.L.Bean, Land’s End, I worked Land’s End, you know, they’ve known this forever Williams-Sonoma open stores where they had great catalog business, and it turned out the catalog business went up as a store business went up. So this is actually been known for a long time. Obviously, it’s different in the digital age. I mean, you still have to understand. I mean, I’m certainly not saying that you should never close stores. I mean, generally speaking, with the growth of e-commerce, you know, in aggregate, you need less square footage and that maybe you need fewer stores or it may mean the stores that you have should be smaller. So it’s going to be, you know, it’s like your mileage may vary, right? You can’t you can’t make a sweeping statement about all retailers. I will point out, though, some of the most successful retailers I mentioned this early earlier that are pretty traditional retailers Target, Best Buy, Tractor Supply Company, Dollar General know they’re all opening stores. So somehow, I guess the internet, you know, there must be something else going on because it doesn’t seem to be that the stores are the problem. I think the big thing that we learned through COVID, though it was evident before, is what I call the hybridization of retail. This merging of physical and digital is certainly not new. That was largely my job at at Neiman’s 15 years ago. So that’s not new. It’s been growing. But I think what we really saw by virtue of COVID is when stores shut down and this thing of curbside pickup became a thing. And also, many retailers decided to fulfill online orders from the store, whether that was local home delivery or putting it in a box and shipping it out. Suddenly, the role of the store really became different. Well, now what we’ve seen with all this curbside pickup and shift from store, as well as this recognition that stores are marketing for online as well, really have to start to think about how stores are configured, how they’re operated, maybe how you deploy stores in a given market because maybe you don’t want to have a store which is just filled with your employees running around, picking stuff off the shelves for home delivery. And you know, consumers have to dodge like maybe you need a store that’s fulfillment only in the store. That’s kind of consumer. Only, but anyway, this hybridization of the role of stores, I think, is we’ve kind of leapt to a whole new level. 

Ashley Coates [00:25:51] Absolutely. That, in fact leads right into a quote that I was going to read, that is a great illustration of what you just said, “What the pandemic taught us, or at least made it glaringly obvious, is that it is rarely a matter of online or physical, digital or analog. It is most often a blend, and those that smartly and sometimes surgically use digital tools to enhance this hybrid experience are best positioned to win, grow and keep the modern customer. Steve, do you have any top of the mind examples of businesses who are doing this right? 

Steve Dennis [00:26:25] I mean, the one that’s probably the most easy to understand is Target. A Target is a company that has, I mean, they’ve been investing in their stores. I mean, if you look at sort of the the shift they started to make a few years ago because they were kind of stuck in neutral for many years, and I don’t know exactly what prompted them to do this. But the first thing they did was they started to realize that actually stores are pretty important and taking care of the customer. And they started to invest in them at a time where a lot of retailers were basically saying the future is online. Why would you want to invest in stores? I mean, Sears is certainly a good example of a company that basically abandoned their stores in favor of dot com 10 years ago or so. And it turns out that didn’t work out. It wasn’t the only problem, but that didn’t work out too well. But Target, I think number one, upped their digital game for sure, but they also upped their physical game. But I think, more importantly, they focused on this on this blend, you know, what is the role of the store in meeting different customer needs? And in some cases, it’s still very simple, like where I shop Target. Most of the time I go to, you know, have a list, maybe I go to Target, I buy things on my list, I buy 20 other things I didn’t plan to buy as I’m walking around. All right. It’s not a very digital experience, but there’s also plenty of times where people are ordering online. Picking up in-store or Target is fulfilling those orders from stores to to shorten the time that the product gets to the customers and to help their economics. So I think they really understood the customer journey very broadly, how important digital which in many cases now means mobile to the customer journey. And then if they didn’t show up in a remarkable way, they risk losing that sale to Walmart or Amazon or, you know, bazillion other retailers. I think they’re a great example. I think Best Buy is a great example. That’s another company that a lot of people thought was going to get Amazon. I don’t know if that’s a verb, but Amazon’d out of existence. And, you know, I still think it’s a it’s a challenging business to grow over the long term, but they’ve had amazing results for for several years now because they upped their digital game. But mostly they focused on this blurred, blended world of shopping and addressed things that they needed to fix, but also have come up with some things that are that are pretty distinctive. 

Ned Hayes [00:28:42] Well, I’d like to do a little lightning round here. There are eight essentials you outlined in the book, and I’d love to go through them. And if you could give us a summary that can pique people’s interest to actually go read this this fantastic book that would be great on essentials that that I derive from the book first digitally enable. What does that mean in a nutshell? 

Steve Dennis [00:29:06] So this gets a lot to, I think, what we were just talking about, which is just digital technologies involved in some way, shape or form and just about every part of retail and the shopping journey. I guess the thing I’d add to that is I deliberately did not pick a digital first because I because I think it’s about being digital first, though many times clearly you have to be. It’s really figuring about out the role of digital and either making the shopping process more efficient or perhaps making it more effective and figuring out the interplay between analog and digital. 

Ned Hayes [00:29:37] Got it. Got it. And then, of course, we talked some about being human centered. But if you wanted to sum that up briefly, what would you say? 

Steve Dennis [00:29:44] Two things one, and maybe just in the spirit of trying to be different or provocative, this is kind of my my expansive or my expansion of being customer centric. So one is, I think customer centricity is great, but I think we need to think about a little bit more broadly about all the human beings that are involved in the process in our sales associates, our partners, the world, you know, the communities we serve. So I was just trying to get people to kind of open the aperture. I think I say in the book about what that means, but the one that’s probably most impactful from a strategy standpoint is the role. You know, we sell human beings and there’s a lot of retail that’s very robotic. And as we add A.I. and all this other kind of stuff, you know, it’s very left brain. But I think some retailers and again, going back to the small business example, you know, what’s the role of empathy? What’s like showing up as a human being and and being soulful using that term rather broadly? So I’m just trying to like push people a little bit more in the the art empathy side of the equation, not just the, you know, what does the algorithm say? 

Ned Hayes [00:30:41] And then you chose an interesting word for the next one. Harmonized. Tell us more about that. 

Steve Dennis [00:30:46] To me, it’s not very aspirational to say the shopping experience is unified or seamless, right? I think what we want is something a little bit more elevated. You know, what makes a good piece of music is the resolution of discordant notes. So you can think about that as friction or pain points in the shopping process, but also something that really stirs us. You know, that could be, you know, the way it’s orchestrated it or crescendo or, you know, solo or whatever. So one is I thought, it’s both right. You want to get rid of the bad stuff, the annoying stuff, but you also want to have something that really lifts you up. 

Ned Hayes [00:31:18] You’re trying to make people think different about this because I know I’m on page 85 in my edition you actually say it’s time to declare omnichannel dead. And so you’re trying to have people think in terms of harmonizing different aspects of the business rather than just saying we can slap an omnichannel term on it and call it good? I think the next one mobile kind of explains itself. 

Steve Dennis [00:31:40] I think it’s so important, and I think you really have to think very, very carefully about the role of smart devices in the whole customer journey, because so many customer journeys either start there or are people are using smart devices even when they’re standing in your physical store. 

Ned Hayes [00:31:56] Exactly. And personal was the next one that I got. 

Steve Dennis [00:31:59] Yeah. So there’s an aspect of this which is, you know, we’ve talked about for a while, which is really more personalized marketing, you know, one to one marketing, leveraging data to, you know, be more Targeted in your offer. So that’s definitely part of it. And I think that’s one of the ways in this world where there’s so much choice, you have access 24-7. Part of being relevant is to make it more personalized. It’s not for everybody. You know me. You show me, you know, me, those sort of things, 

Ashley Coates [00:32:25] And I’m going to take the last three, Steve. So your next one is connected. 

Steve Dennis [00:32:29] Yeah. Again, you know, maybe a little obvious at this point, but you know, the way we’ve gone from being, you know, our world’s being relatively small group of friends, family, coworkers, church groups, book clubs, whatever to being connected to just about anybody. This whole idea that people would pay more attention to a group of strangers to decide what restaurant they would go to by using Yelp or TripAdvisor, as opposed to, you know, asking a friend. But that’s become just a habit now. It’s this wisdom of the crowds that are being put together that’s become really intrinsic to a lot of shopping experiences. But it’s also things like Uber or Airbnb, where the power of of the internet is allowing supply and demand to be aggregated in a really interesting way in creating new business models. So. So the boundaries that existed in terms of getting information or even access to products or services have just largely fallen away in the last 10 years. 

Ashley Coates [00:33:27] And then you have memorable. 

Steve Dennis [00:33:29] Yeah. So I often say memorable is the one that’s probably the closest ally to this whole idea of being remarkable, remarkable, being highly distinctive and in the way that Seth Godin uses it in Purple Cow, something people will talk about. But I think the challenge, you know, to stand out in this world of abundance is, what are you really doing? That is is memorable, you know, that is different, highly customer relevant. But what I talk about is this idea of amplifying the wow, you know, what is the what is that thing or set of things that really sets you apart? 

Ashley Coates [00:34:00] And then your last essential of remarkable retail is radical. 

Steve Dennis [00:34:05] So sometimes I’ll say that memorable is helps guide you to how to become remarkable. But radical is really the way you get there in the first place or you, you stay there. 

Ashley Coates [00:34:17] Steve, this has been so wonderful and you just have so many good pieces of wisdom, suggestions, recommendations to offer to retailers. We have one last question for you, which is what is your personal mission and what do you want to be remembered for? 

Steve Dennis [00:34:34] I guess when I think about my mission, what I really enjoy and what I think I’m reasonably good at is I like inspiring people and organizations to do their best work. So I guess, you know what I want to be remembered for is that I made a difference, you know, in substantive ways, in a few people’s lives like that would be pretty good. But I also hope I’m just a good father. Like that would be enough for me, really. And it comes down to it. 

Ned Hayes [00:35:01] Really appreciate your insight. Thanks so much. 

Steve Dennis [00:35:04] Thanks for having me. It was great. Great talking to you guys. 

Steve Dennis [00:35:08] 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.