The Uncommonist: Highlights from Day Six of the ‘Big Show’

By Andrew Smith | Jan 23, 2021 | 0

Winning through vertical commerce in today’s on-demand world 

Friday, January 22nd
1:45 PM – 2:30 PM EST 

Doug MackFanaticsCEO
Erin Andrews  Sports Broadcaster, Entrepreneur, and Founder of WEAR by Erin Andrews
Matthew ShayNational Retail FederationPresident and CEO 

Fanatics is an online sports retailer specialising in merchandise for fans. The discussion with Fanatics cantered on their navigation of the pandemic. Doug said Fanatics prioritised their teams and community. To support the community, they converted their manufacturing facilities to produce masks and gowns. In addition, they organised an auction of sporting memorabilia donated by sports celebrities called the “All in Challenge” which raised $60mill. to provide meals for people in need.  

As a business Doug said the pandemic made him realise that agility is the most important competence a business can have (we agree). Fortunately for Fanatics agility is baked into their business model. There are three elements of this 

  • They are digital first and build relationships with their customers one to one 
  • They are vertically integrated focusing first on obtaining rights then on creating product. 
  • They have an agile supply chain with goods finished in the USA close to the point of demand.  

Sports businesses have a notoriously difficult time managing inventory. Each range is seasonal and must have colours, styles, sizesand demand will also be influenced by which teams win and lose. Fanatics model is about 50% vertical and minimises these effects. “Everything matters but if you don’t get the merchandise right nothing else counts” 

Doug made a few observations for the year ahead. He expects 

  • An “experiences” boom in H2 2021 (going to games, shows, theatre etc) 
  • The move to digital is a step change which is permanent 
  • Customers will give more regard to hygiene in their daily lives 
  • There is a reckoning to come in ecomm delivery. Amazon has set the bar and the rest of the industry will need to step up. Pandemic levels of service will not be acceptable when it is over.  

Session rating 7.5/10 (worth a look) Not the most high-profile names to end a Big Show but in a way the Fanatics conversation brought it all together. Erin Andrews was entertaining and full of enthusiasm for her sports apparel business but offered no real retail insights  


The innovation playbook: Driving technological and innovative change within an enterprise 

Friday, January 22nd
1:00 PM – 1:30 PM EST 

Halley Morrissey , XRC Labs, VP Business Development
Kate NadolnyPVH CorpSVP, Business Strategy & Innovation
Cheryl FriedmanLowe’s Companies Inc. VP, Lowe’s Innovation Labs
Melanie F. Nuce , SVP, Corporate DevelopmentGS1 US, Inc. 

This session featured three heads of retail innovation labs and was hosted by an innovation accelerator lab so a good one for innovation lab nerds.  

All agreed the pandemic hadn’t changed the roadmap, but it had changed the priority list.  

When asked what the biggest barrier to innovation are in their companies they said they are internal. They said the key to solving this is removing barriers between innovation teams and ops teams (we say in our book these barriers are a reason not to have dedicated innovation teams at all). The biggest overall barrier is that people don’t like change. (we agree but this is fixable). 

When asked is there a playbook for innovation they agreed that on balance there was not because there are so many different types of projects. (We would agree that projects vary but would say that the underlying process for deploying retail innovation and making it stick is constant).  

When asked what the ideal leader for a retail business in a period of innovation is they said one who has intellectual curiosity and a willingness to be wrong. Melanie from GS1 said she was proud to have run 20 projects last year , 17 of which were not pursued, because it means her organisation was not pursuing “shiny objects.”   

On the other hand, innovation does need metrics . “Activity is not progress” 

Session rating 7.5/10  Some interesting observations from the group but my enthusiasm was tempered by the fact that we believe Innovation labs should not drive innovation projects in a retail business.  

Keynote Session Power lunch: Mobilizing and succeeding in volatile times (Vitamin Shop, WW International, Wal Mart)

Friday, January 22nd

Glenda McNeal, American Express, President, Enterprise Strategic Partnerships
Sharon Leite, The Vitamin Shoppe, CEO
Mindy Grossman, WW International, President and CEO
Judith McKenna, Wal Mart International, President and CEO  

Another session in two parts. The first part was an interview with Sharon and Mindy and the second part was with Judith 

 Vitamin Shoppe and WW International 

Both businesses can be classified as being in the “wellness” category. (WW International is more commonly known as “Weight Watchers”). The two businesses have an alliance and their strategies to get through the pandemic were similar 

The overall strategy was to “meet the customer where they are”. This required a pivot to online e.g., WW converted 130,000 face to face consultations a week to online.  

They also felt an obligation to keep their teams safe and to help those in the community economically effected by the pandemic e.g., WW gave away 100,000 free memberships.  

Both said having a purpose driven business and purpose driven teams was a big facilitator of innovation because everybody knew what they were working for. Vitamin Shoppe discussed how they use their “purpose filter” to ensure only innovation that truly aligns with their purpose goes into development.  (This is one part of the “golden rule” in our ReFrame model)  

The other big facilitator of innovation were the existing digital platforms already in place. This gave them the opportunity to accelerate as required without having to build a platform from scratch. 


Judith said that her main priorities in the pandemic were; 

  • Take care – of associates, customers and the community  
  • Look after the business – in the here and now and longer term 

Some of the trends Wal Mart has seen emerge from the pandemic are; 

  • Digital Payments- people are preferring contactless in every market
  • “Nesting” – sales mix has moved to home improvement categories 
  • Conscious consumerism”- People are concerned about the impacts of the goods they are buying and the retailers they are buying them from 
  • Rise of e commerce and Omnichannel- Many customers tried these ways of shopping for the first time during the pandemic and research has shown 80% intend to try again 

Judith talked about the accelerator effect on innovation of the pandemic. Quoting Robert Kaplan, she said, “Crises are like wars. They put the future on fast forward”   

Retail has supported society during the pandemic and retailers have a duty to support the development of future leaders. In other words, retailers have an obligation to train. Judith talked about the new “$ a day college education” program which allows Wal Mart associates to study for degrees for literally a dollar a day or less. This is on top of the 200 or so academies they already run in the USA and Mexico.  

A key to surviving the pandemic has been keeping the communications up with the team. Wal Mart has introduced virtual store visits (some are good, some are bad) and also international town hall meetings which had never been tried before.  

The duty of a retailer leader is to create “hope and light in the dark”. One of the ways that this can be done is pursuing CSR initiatives. In 2020 this has included $100mill for the establishment of a Racial Equity Centre. Judith said “conscious consumerism” is here to stay and is not in conflict with business objectives. When talking of “Profit, purpose, culture” the right word to link them is ‘and’ not ‘or.  

 Session Rating 7.5/10 Some good insights but two weeks into the show there was not much new here 

Inspiring the new customer journey

Friday, January 22nd
12:00pm – 12:30pm

Aya Kanai, Head of Content and Partnerships, Pinterest
Jeremy King
, SVP Engineering, Pinterest

Hosted by Pinterest, a winner for me at last year’s show, this followed the company theme of seeing the trends of tomorrow, but inspire the trends of the future.  Aya spoke about two important things she’d learned since starting at Pinterest from her career as an editor at Vogue amongst others.  She said the big “ah ha” moments were the pinner mindset.  People come to Pinterest with a genuinely open mind.  A question they want to solve, or a project they want to do and their goal on the platform is to find that.

They described how it had been a proud moment to watch the user activity and the way the teams have built and scaled capability druing the pandemic in 2020.  During quarantine, global monthly active users grew 37% to 442million.  Online selling and shopping has accelerated. The need for retailers to have online shops and an online presence has driven considerable activity in the Pinterest space.   Aya told a personal story about missing the experience of shopping in stores.  She said that the curiosity and experiences that stores offer are still compelling, and Pinterest want to help the magic of the two worlds of stores and online presence really working well for each other.

Pinterest search data shows that amongst the pandemic, people are curating for joy.  Curating homes, DIY, anything related to a holiday or an event, entertainment, personal experiences.  A huge increase in the creation of boards (like a mood board), which shows people are planning for longer term ideas, rather than once off projects.  In 2020 they have launched so many new things in the shopping space to try and leverage this growth of consumers craving the chance to explore products in context, rather than the abstract of a product with a white background.  Innovations include the verified merchant programs, lens capability to assess images and identify matches, merchant storefronts, improved catalogue, improved search capability, and computer vision technology.

Fascinating insight: “Movie date at home” has increased by 110% in 2020.  This follows a trend that people are using the platform to make special moments more special and inspired. To find kids activities that are new and different.  Engagement on Pinterest is rising and it is fast becoming the first place for discovery.  Woman are often the CEO’s of the household and over 70% millennial woman are on Pinterest.  Pinners are often ahead of advertisers about looking forward and forging trends, and quite often, trends on Pinterest are used.  Aya then spoke about how on most platforms, any story style function expire after a 24hr cycle, but story pins on this platform live on in perpetuity and are always available in search, which is something that makes it a unique platform for brands and pinners alike.  In other words, you can put your product story up and it stays up forever.  You  just keep updating your product set.

Shopping increased dramatically in 2020 as well, people are coming for the visuals and inspiration, and making the product available with a click has meant that those 442million pinners now can easily turn inspiration into their real life.

It was compelling to listen about the mission Pinterest has about the curation is to take the amazing feeling you get when you walk into a store that feels just right, like it has been curated just for you and it speaks to you.  This level of brand storytelling is something that all brands should be aiming for with their digital presence.

The Uncommonist Rating 7/10 (Worth a look).  If you are in the visual merchandising or curation space, check this out.  The smart thinking about using the digital platforms in a more real world way was fascinating and it feels like Pinterest is leading the way in tech when it comes to using this platform most effectively for shopping.

For more inspiration follow us on twitter ThinkUncommon (@think_uncommon) / Twitter or LinkedIn:

Leave a Reply

No matter your innovation quest, say hello and let’s share stories of our adventures.

We work with retailers and providers big and small, and with individual leaders wanting to embark on an innovation quest. Start by simply saying hello.

What are you looking to make happen?

  • Let's Go



Already registered? Log in here

Please enter your email address, we'll send password reset instructions to the email address associated with your account.