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

By Andrew Smith | Jan 20, 2021 | 0

Creature comforts: Serving consumers’ desire for life’s simple pleasures

Tuesday, January 19th
11:00 AM – 11:45 AM EST 

Bob Safian, The Flux Group, Founder and Editor in Chief
Sumit Singh, Chewey Inc. CEO. 
Heather Haddon, Wall Street Journal, Reporter
Claudia Pedro , Sonic Drive In, President 

This session consisted of two separate interviews with two businesses that have traded well in the pandemic. Both interviews focused on the effects of the pandemic on innovation in the respective businesses 

 Chewy Inc   

Chewy is an online retailer of pet supplies. Summit Singh said there were five keys to dealing with the pandemic and they were to; 

  • lead from the front,  
  • communicate in an open and honest way 
  • empower the team to do the job
  • invest
  • keep the focus on the customer 

In 2020 several years of growth came in one year. It was a year of ambiguity and chaos. Chewy had to pivot quickly to handle the volume, keep the team safe and deal with new customer demands. This involved accelerating the development of projects already in the pipeline as well as bringing new projects into development.  A new project was a virtual connect with a vet program that brought telehealth for pets to Chewy customers.  

Sumit said you can get a lot done in a crisis like a pandemic if you have already built a culture of innovation The ability to innovate is a core competency for any business but this should not change whatever your underlying purpose as a business is. (We write about this in our book  and in fact a whole chapter is devoted to innovation at speed) 

Sonic Drive In 

Sonic is a franchised drive-in restaurant chain which is part of the Inspire brands group (also includes Dunkin, Baskin Robbins and many others). Claudia said 2020 was the year Sonic had to “reframe” the way they thought about retail. It was also a year in which you had to be able to change your mind based on new evidence. She used the  example of the wearing of masks. At first it was not recommended but that advice changed and therefore so did Sonic’s policies.   

Claudia felt that Sonic were in a strong position going into the pandemic because some of the key building blocks they needed were already built. In 2018 Sonic launched their order ahead app. This became a vital advantage in the pandemic. During 2020 they added contactless payment and pick up to the app and have mobile tipping in development 

Session Rating  8/10 (Must see) Great reminder of the importance of innovation as a process even during a crisis like the pandemic. 


How sustainability is changing the retail landscape  

Tuesday, January 19th
12:00 PM – 12:30 P 

Jordyn Holman, Bloomberg, Retail Reporter
Abigail Kammerzell, H+M, US Sustainability Manager
Jennifer Keeson, IKEA US Sustainability Manager 


This was an interview with representatives of the US divisions of two of Sweden’s most important international retailers. Both have been at the vanguard of socially responsible retailing and the emerging circular economy.  

 For watchers of H+M and IKEA there was not much new in this session however, there were some interesting perspectives on some of the key issues about becoming a sustainable retailer. For instance, Jennifer was asked how IKEA addresses the challenge of growing revenue while simultaneously increasing sustainability. Jennifer replied that this can be done by increasing sourcing from sustainable and recyclable sources, repurposing existing furniture, prolonging the life of existing furniture and collaborating with customers in buy back and resell programs. IKEA also chose not to participate in Back Friday this year, instead running a campaign to encourage customers to live more sustainably at home with the products they already have.  

Abigail from H+M said that their scale in the supply chain gives them a chance to influence sustainable practices. She said sustainability cannot come without equity and therefore H+M insists that factories they deal with have democratically elected worker representatives with a voice in to the management team (sounds like unionization to me) Jennifer said from IKEA’s point of view “being a good business is good business” 

Session Rating  7/10 (Worth a look)  Nothing much new here but worth watching for the articulation of sustainability as a holistic business philosophy that even includes the promotion of unionization in the supply chain.  


 Is your last-mile strategy up to the challenge? 

Tuesday January 19th

Kelly Chen, XRC Labs Chief Operating Officer
Erik Logerquist, Uber for Business, Uber Direct Lead
Bill Thayer, Fillogic, CEO and Co-Founder
Stephen J Yalof, Tanger Outlet Centres, COO 

This presentation was about how the pandemic has accelerated the roll out of micro fulfilment centres in shopping malls. Tanger Outlet centres are about to open their first in partnership with Fillogic and Uber Direct in the next two weeks.  

All in the session agreed that while bricks and mortar shopping would come back when lock down restrictions are lifted, customers experience of online shopping during the pandemic would change their behaviour permanently. Bill Thayer said that in supply chain terms the effects of the pandemic mean the re-design of logistic networks to be more responsive. Stephen Yalof said that in his outlet centres contactless curbside pick-up had become standard and he expects virtual shopping of stores to also become normal. Erik Logerquist explained that Uber Direct have entered the last mile delivery market in part as a response to demand from SMB customers who were experiencing difficulties in getting timely service from traditional carriers.  

Bill said shopping malls are in a great position to take advantage of changing consumer behaviour to become micro fulfilment centresMalls have good physical assets which are in the right places in relation to consumers (which cannot always be said of traditional logistics hubs) and many have vacant space due to pandemic related business failures. As well as being in the right place, malls have the ability to aggregate to create valueThey can become a single point for dispatch, receipt, return, cross docking and do this efficiently through aggregation It’s not just mall tenants that would benefit Pure online retailers could also use the mall micro fulfilment centre as a delivery hub and perhaps test out the potential for a physical store in high volume delivery locations. Uber see themselves playing a part by consolidating deliveries from the mall based fulfilment centres (its more efficient to deliver 10 packages rather than 1) or by offering customers the option of a ride to the mall to pick up their goods and do some extra shopping.  

The biggest challenge in last mile was said to be transparency. Customers expect to be able to see the progress of a delivery in the same way that they can see a pizza being delivered or an uber ride approaching them.  

 The Uncommon Rating 9/10 (Must see)  This is a great business opportunity whose time may have come. Watch and learn.  


The retail cataclysmic event

Tuesday, January 19th
12:00 PM – 12:30 PM EST
Kate Ancketill, CEO and Founder, GDR Creative Intelligence

This session was a fascinating blend of original content and curated stories from others to reinforce the idea that we have just gone through an event that was one that we knew was coming, but we didn’t like talking about.  Kate referred to it as our black elephant.  The elephant was in the room, and it was dark.  However, there are stunning industry changing things that occurred.  The main one being that this event accelerate all the things we knew we had to do anyway.  It may have invented a few things that were new (sanitization etc.), but in the most part most brands knew ‘what’ to do, but had come up with reasonable reasons to avoid doing it.

It also spoke about the fact that it was not just the virus that impacted 2020.  Geopolitics have disrupted the way we operate, especially the way we set up our values and marketing strategies (including social issues like BLM and Climate Change), which have also influenced some form of disruption on retail.  Kate smartly referred to the learning that we can take from the year as a chance for us to refocus and reframe the way we look at everything that drives us.

Firstly, COVID-19 was the fire drill for the real fight to come (climate change events).  Kate couldn’t help but make me feel like no-one is prepared for what is coming, and COVID-19 allows us the opportunity to think more into the idea that the world changes, and disasters happen.  We need to be ready.  She provided some great tips there.

Secondly, Kate spoke about how we measure things.  Especially the economy. She described GDP Growth as a false positive and we need to reassess our goal.  The idea that it doesn’t deliver broad levels of value, nor does it guarantee that those who work hard are successful.  Working smart means productivity, innovation and rate of change lead to winning.

Kate also reminded us that we should not walk past the fact that we have adapted incredibly quickly to the new normal.  10x growth in organic and health product options. Bike sales have quadrupled.  In the space of a year, live streaming now accounts for 11.8% of e-comm in China.  Incredible growth and humans have evolved behaviours at incredible pace, and we should expect that to have built a muscle in us that means we (and consumers) can adapt to situations more readily.

Kate then pivoted to talking about the new come-to-me retail innovation trend, generating a kind of milkman model with a twist (re-useable packaging that are refilled in trucks that come to your neighborhood).  Worth watching this session for some interesting ways brands are responding to this customer experience trend.

I then got to get my nerd on as the session shifted to the values to retail that a broad 5G rollout can provide.  The key one being an ability to have remote viewing of store environments, potentially event hosted, some digital 3D spaces, some actual stores with a host, none of which could be achieved on the current networks due to latency issues.

The Uncommon Rating 9/10 (Must see) – really enjoyed the insights provided in this session and the way Kate linked trends and insights with actions brands have taken to respond.

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