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

By Andrew Smith | Jan 14, 2021 | 0

It was nice to get into some detail with retailers on day two.  Lots of insight from the day, with a focus on the deeper thinking about how retailers can accelerate growth out of a challenging 2020.

The Great Compression

Wednesday, January 13th
12:00 PM – 12:30 PM EST
Mitch Joel, Six Pixels Group Inc., Founder

Mitch opened with a passionate reminder that we have all just had a major shared experience.  People everywhere have had this radical learning curve of technology. Including kids just learning to read and write, suddenly needing to learn how to learn those basic skills online.  He referred to when Google talked about the Z mark.  The zero moment of truth where innovation is everything.  We have, in 2020, not only seen this rapid adoption of transformation, but this great compression of the timelines of those transformations.  What we expected to take until 2030, was deployed in months.

Mitch cleverly broke up the 3 stages of sudden revolution and how we think about it:

  1. Survival – Suddenly we had to go into survival mode.  What impacts us most.  What is considered essential. What products people want in another way?
  2. Sustain – how do we sustain this? How do we engage our employees and our customers and our teams an keep them sustained in this major mode of stress and discomfort. “I think we are still here”
  3. Strive – how do we accelerate out of this and strive towards growth

He then challenged us to reframe thinking about buying vs shopping.  The definitional challenge of putting retail sales into one bucket is often they have different purposes.  When it comes to buying, humans are more willing to shift to an online model, but the physical shopping experience that is social, it is an activity, it was something to do that created joy.  That is more likely to be elastic in coming back to a physical space when it is safe to do so.

Mitch invoked a Jeff Bezos quote to highlight how important it is to rethink where we invest our energy – “in the old world we devoted 30% of our time building a great service and 70% of the time shouting about it.”

Mitch shared an example that sounded like something we all do, but maybe is more about him, but still got his point across.  He said “how many times when things were more normal, would you walk down the street and walk in to a tee shirt store and a barista was there making a perfect coffee.” He summarized that the internet, when it comes to shopping anyway, hasn’t replaced these moments of joy. We are human and it is unlikely that we replace these moments with technology and you have to think about the inverse of the Bezos 30/70.

He highlighted a great example of this inverse thinking that happened in Europe.  A bank demolished the foyer of their HQ and replaced it with a café and a co-working space for their customers.  It meant they played a bigger part in their customers lives.  It created a space to share ideas, get advice, and be a part of their customers journeys.

In the survival mode we implemented things, in the sustain phase we evolved them in small iterations, it is the phase where we continuously improved.  Brands historically never operated in these innovation style of working, small increments towards the end goal but adding value in increments.  Now, we have all learned the value. The question is, do we hold on to these ways of working and use them to strive.

The Uncommonist Rating 9/10 (Must see) – Thoughtful and inciteful, with motivational ways to think about how you focus your energy and time.


Retail 2020: Wow what a year! produced by Microsoft 

Wednesday, January 13th
1:00 PM – 1:30 PM EST 

Shelley BranstenMicrosoft , Corporate VP, Retail and Consumer Goods
Chris Putur, REI , EVP technology & operations,  

 A presentation packed with information in four parts.

What a year 

This section was full of data and vignettes of how retailers innovated and showed resilience during the pandemic. Shelly said 2020 was the year in which  “Covid-19 became the new Chief Innovation Officer” because it stimulated so much change. Shelly upped the stakes on how much innovation was achieved in 2020 by claiming “10 years’ worth of digital innovation took place in 10 months”  

The four trends that emerged from the year according to Shelly were;  

  • Data – An explosion in the generation, collection and use of data to achieve tangible results 
  • Partnerships– Businesses that leveraged partnerships were said to have experienced a 10-15% lift in top line performance.  
  • Sustainability and ReCommerce  Despite the difficulties presented by the pandemic a number pf retailers like Wal Mart, H+M and Microsoft themselves have increased their commitment to CSR 
  • Loyalty Shocks – This was the year that consumers were forced to try new experiences and abandoned their traditional loyalties. 75% of consumers reported having a new shopping behaviour during the year while 4/10 reported having bought online in a particular category for the first timeOverall, Shelly said “retailers who laid digital tracks before the pandemic found themselves in a better position to cope” 

Out of those four trends from the 2020 pandemic Shelly identified four strategies to succeed in retail in 2021 

  • Know your customers  Understanding consumer behaviour will become more important as more data becomes available and usable. Shelly mentioned the example of Chipotle who prior to the pandemic had 80 million unique but anonymous credit card customers but have now been able to convert 15 million to a rewards program 
  • Empower – This applies to customers and team members. Customers need to be empowered to shop the way they want to shop with programs like curbside pick up 
  • Deliver Intelligent Supply Chain- Increasingly the efficient and effective supply chain will be the one that wins customers  
  • Reimagine Retail – New modes of retail need to be embraced like live video broadcasts. Shelly used the example of an Italian fashion show, but we saw many similar things in 2020 particularly in China. 


In this part Shelly talked again about the importance of partnerships and called out a number of Microsoft partners and the results that have been achieved. 

Fireside Chat  

This was a conversation with Chris Putur from REI. The insights on REI’s performance during the pandemic were very interesting.   

The pandemic caused REI to solve a lot of problems quickly. They already had click and collect but did not have curbside pick-up or contactless delivery. Demand for bicycles increased by x5 but this was an item that was not previously available online. This is because buying a bike is such a high involvement purchase and needs advice to be successful. REI developed online chat sessions to help buyers make their choice and a contactless system of delivery.  

REI embraced working from home. The whole contact center and HQ was sent home. They even sold their corporate office to help make the change permanent. To facilitate communications 17,000 team members have gone on MS Teams. The CEO and other key team members give a daily chat to ensure clarity of focus. The company has reduced the number of priorities it is working on but increased the team’s ability to act.  

The REI story is one I would like to know more about.  


Finally, Shelly announced the launch of the Microsoft Cloud for Retail which a bundling of mainly existing services but housed under a Retail umbrella.  

Session Rating 8.5/10 Definitely worth a watch especially for the REI interview. You may have to pause the recording because the information comes at a very fast pace. 


Retail responses to COVID-19 with lasting impact: Lessons from Shipt and other global brands produced by Scandit Inc.

Wednesday, January 13th
12:00 PM – 12:30 PM EST
Christian Floerkemeier, Scandit, CTO, VP, Product and Co-founder

I’m always a believer in letting your product talk for itself, and this session began immediately feeling much too focused on their own product rather than broader challenges facing retailers in a COVID world.  It didn’t leave that self-indulgent space, but in saying that, there were still some key themes that you can take from the session, including user stories and different ways to solve for them.

High level themes:

  • If you leverage smart phones, a device most people in stores know how to use, you can deploy and get value in record time.
  • Using smart phone apps means that most employees already have their own equipment to use and it reduces the amount of store equipment employees touch, which reduces passage of the virus.
  • Don’t overcomplicate the solution to some of your ideas, often you can leverage existing systems you have and scale solutions quickly.  Focus in on what the biggest opportunity/challenge is for you, and look not only to built from scratch or off the shelf complete stack replacements, and look at what solutions can augment your existing infrastructure
  • They deployed a contactless ID scan solution to INSTACART in 10 days by augmenting their existing systems.  That is great pace.

I think one of the most valuable parts of the conversation is the different areas to focus on to reduce the cost of in-store picking and packing.  With stores being increasingly used in the last mile delivery, and consumer trends demanding faster and faster deliveries, retail brands do need to look at how to do it in a way that minimizes the diluting of margin.

I’ve also learned that everyone doing webinars feels the need for a branded tee.

The Uncommonist rating 6/10 (If you have time) – it is a really nice articulation of what Scandit can do, which is some really amazing stuff, but felt too much like a commercial.  If you are interested in different solutions out there to make your processes more touchless and smart ways to augment your existing tech to be a bit smarter, it can provide some inspiration for that.  I would have loved to have had some of these customers on talking about their innerworkings of how they went about choosing this as the problem to tackle, and their experience in implementing the change.  This is a session you can add to your list if you have spare time.


Social responsibility initiatives at The Home Depot and Ulta Beauty build authentic relationships

Wednesday, January 13th
12:00 PM – 12:30 PM EST

 Stephanie Wissink  Jeffries, Managing Director, Consumer Research
Ron Jarvis, The Home Depot, Chief Sustainability Officer
Kendra Clarke, sparks and honey, VP Data Science and Product Development
Dave Kinbell, ULTA Beauty, President 

In this presentation 2 retailers and an agency discussed the process of implementing CSR into retail operations. The session came with a short downloadable pack that summarised the ideas discussed.  

The main out take from this session was that for CSR to be successful it must be embedded in the organisation’s values and into everybody’s work. It can’t be imposed top down or be implemented  by a separate department. In that way becoming a successful CSR organisation is the same as becoming a successful digital organisation.  

Ron Jarvis  said  retailers need to concentrate on identifying their impacts “..unless you are an organic farmer located by a river and delivering by buggy you have an environmental impact” Everybody’s impacts are different. He went on to say you cannot successfully chase an outcome until those impacts have been identified   

 Session Rating  7/10 Interesting conversation but at times slipped into motherhood statementsNevertheless, the short downloadable PowerPoint pack is useful, and the session is  worth a watch.  


React and adapt – Transformation during COVID-19 produced by Retail Zipline

Wednesday, January 13th
2:45 PM – 3:15 PM EST

Melissa Wong, Retail Zipline, CEO and co-founder
Taryn Rancin, American Eagle Outfitters, Manager, Store Communications
Jessica Siwy, BevMo! Senior Manager, Store Operations
Corey Bouyea, LL Bean, Director, Store Operations 

This session was sponsored by Retail Zipline who produce an app for store communications which sounds like apps deployed in Australia by McDonalds and Coles. Much of the presentation was extolling the virtues of clear, direct, consistent, and timely communications with a big network of team members especially during an event like the pandemic. Anyone who has run retail stores knows the problem. 

Some of the interesting insights were  

  • Both LL Bean and American Eagle have embraced virtual communication to the extent that they have both made store visits virtual by management virtual. (I applaud the enthusiasm, but it sounds risky to me).
  • LL Bean are now doing the induction that they normally brought people to a central location for virtually. (see comments above) 
  • LL Bean says customers are returning to physical stores in bigger numbers than before the pandemic 
  • BevMo! were able to accelerate their innovation processes during the pandemic and it worked. They realised it is possible to go faster if you are prepared to make a few mistakes and correct them on the way. (We have a chapter on this in our book) 

 Session Rating  7.5/10 Interesting conversation but a bit of an advertorial at time. Nevertheless, store comms is a real and perennial issue and the insights from the panel, particularly on the pandemic response are worthy of some thought.  

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