Steve Dennis Essential Strategies for Retail Leaders – Grocery Podcast S3 E11

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Steve Dennis Essential Strategies for Retail Leaders – Grocery Podcast S3 E11

This episode we’re talking about Remarkable Retail, a new book by retail industry expert, Steve Dennis. We’re joined on the Digital Grocer Podcast by Steve himself, to talk about how retail leaders can win and keep customers in the age of digital disruption.

We consider what shifts have happened in retail that have led to digital disruption. But while digital commerce has been widely adopted, Steve notes that retail success lies in both digital and brick-and-mortar channels.

“A lot of eCommerce works really, really well and you don’t necessarily need a brick and mortar presence to make that happen. But shopping is inherently more experiential and that’s what brick and mortar really, really excels at…very few customers are purely channel specific in their behavior. Digital drives physical. Physical drives digital. There’s a ton of research that supports that now.”

And that success is tripled when these channels are thought of as one whole customer experience.

“Digital channels actually drive three times as many brick and mortar sales as they do sales that are transacted in the online channel. You just really have to think of digital as a way to engage with the customer. Some customers will choose to transact online. Some customers will use the digital channel to inform which stores they choose to go to, whether they buy online, pick up in store.”

So what can leaders do to create a Remarkable Retail experience that builds shopper loyalty?

Understand your shoppers and dissect their customer journeys
Identify pain points of points of friction and root them out
Focus on the part of the brand experience that is proprietary to your brand and build on that
“Ideally, which is like literally what I mean by remarkable in the book, people will talk about you. What are those things that the customer really cares about that creates a story for them that they will ideally share with others?”

To learn more about how retail leaders can create Remarkable Retail experiences, tune in to the full podcast.
Remarkable Retail is available in stores and online for purchase. Order your copy now!

Steve Dennis, Author, Retail Expert

Steve Dennis is a leading expert on strategic growth and innovation who speaks worldwide on how businesses can reignite growth in the age of digital disruption. His new book is Remarkable Retail: How to Win & Keep Customers in the Age of Digital Disruption

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Mark Fairhurst, VP of Marketing, Mercatus

Co-host on The Digital Grocer Podcast and as VP of Marketing at Mercatus, Mark brings to the show a marketer’s perspective on the rapidly evolving grocery tech landscape. He applies a strategic lens focused on a continual search for the next big trends and best practices. Mark enjoys exploring not just how things are changing in grocery retail, but also why they’re changing — and where they’re headed.

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Sylvain Perrier, President and CEO, Mercatus

Named as a Top 10 Influential in Retail 2020 and a 2019 Grocery Game Changer, Sylvain Perrier is a true digital retail trailblazer. As President and CEO of Mercatus, he is the driving force behind the leading digital commerce platform in grocery retail. As host of The Digital Grocer Podcast, he infuses these conversations with his vast understanding of retail, grocery operations and technology, as well as his quick wit and good humor.

Photo of Sylvain Perrier

Sylvain Perrier:
Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the Mercatus podcast Digital Grocer episode 36. I’m your host, Sylvain Perrier, President and CEO of Mercatus Technologies, and joining me remotely today from his dingy basement is Mark Fairhurst, not our Senior Director of Marketing because Mark was promoted to the Vice President of Marketing. Thank you, Mark, for joining me.

Mark Fairhurst:
Maybe I can get out of the dingy basement now.

Sylvain Perrier:
I don’t know, dude. It’s not episode 36. I mean, I think I’ve incremented by plus two for some reason.

Mark Fairhurst:
We’re doing a lot of these.

Sylvain Perrier:
We’re doing a lot of these.

Mark Fairhurst:
We’re doing a lot.

Sylvain Perrier:
We’re doing a lot.

Mark Fairhurst:
It’s good.

Sylvain Perrier:
We continue to practice our physical distancing, not our social distancing. It’s Friday here in Toronto. Spring is slowly settling in. We’re getting in the… Well, let me look at my watch here. It’s three degrees Celsius. The devil’s tool, the metric system. That’s more closer to almost 40 if you’re using the imperial system. We’re happy it’s starting to warm up. Normally when that happens here in the city, the sidewalks start to get busy. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with the pandemic.

Mark Fairhurst:
Fortunate people are heeding the public health advice and staying off the streets.

Sylvain Perrier:
Yeah. We appreciate that and thank you for those of you that are doing that. We’re all in this together, and we’re making the best of it. The strange thing through this pandemic is likely what we’re going to see is these we like to call here at Mercatus is the middle of the line retailers that have actually no sort of brand differentiation are probably going to collapse and not come back.

Mark Fairhurst:
Wow. That’s a statement. You’re probably right.

Sylvain Perrier:
Mark, you and I’ve talked about this on more than one occasion when we were chatting about when the economical crisis hit in ’08-’09 how some retailers literally lost their customers because they couldn’t afford to either shop there, so they traded down. When the economy bounced back, some of the customers traded back up. But I think the reality is at the state that we’re in today, any form of trading co-op dollars, I don’t care what it is, trying to borrow against your assets when there’s almost no liquidity in the marketplace, it’s not going to help you. I’m thinking Macy’s, JC Penney maybe. JC Penney had a pretty high profile departure. Shawn Gensch used to be the CMO over at Sprouts Farmers Market. Shawn’s an amazingly smart individual. I think when it comes to grocery, it could be the same.

Sylvain Perrier:
We’ve heard the unfortunate rumors that are circulating in the industry today. If we don’t really quash that curve anytime soon, that some state governors are actually prepared to close grocery stores and only let them be open if they can do click and collect and delivery. You have a string of independents who may or may not have that service or who may be dependent on a third party marketplace solution. If they can’t get people to come in and do any form of work, they’re having zero medical coverage.

Mark Fairhurst:
Because they’re so dependent on the gig economy in order to make that happen.

Sylvain Perrier:
This could be a problem for some of these retailers, and it would be sad because you have people that have invested their life savings. These are second, third, fourth generation businesses where the wealth is tied up in these properties. We can see some unfortunate things kind of happen. But nonetheless, there are some retailers that are out there that have just really carved a strong niche for themselves in terms of not just a brand experience, but really capturing the hearts and the minds of their shoppers. I’m thinking Farm Boy here in Canada around the Capitol area, which Sobeys bought not long ago, sprouts Farmer’s Market, and then kind of the darling right now on Wall Street. We know a few people over there. Layla Kasha, who’s the SVP of Marketing Grocery Outlet, have done quite well.

Sylvain Perrier:
I mean, you buy stuff there at Grocery Outlet that’s 40% less expensive than anywhere else.

Mark Fairhurst:
If you think about parallels with the 2008 recession, which retailers are going to be doing well coming out of the economic downturn.

Sylvain Perrier:
Well, the big ones will. I mean, if you think Kroger will do well, Walmart will be fine. I think there’s not just the economical aspect of what’s happening right now, but if you as a retailer take an approach where you care and you’re being authentic with your shoppers and you’re worried about them and you’re trying to help them, I think shoppers will reward that brand all day long. But I think if you get into… I’ve seen this in some of our provinces here in Canada where they’re taking advantage of them. God bless you, because I’m afraid for your brand when all this bounces back. It’ll be interesting. Part of what we do here in Mercatus is Mark and I and the entire senior leadership team, we try to impart this down to the team- there’s 92 of us now- is be a lifelong learner.

Sylvain Perrier:
We consume a voracious amount of content. I know Mark, do, I do, Kevin Kidd our VP of Product does as well. We read these publications and we read books and a lot of it is to leverage not only for our own benefit, but to educate our audience and inform our very own research. Now, thanks to Jeff Ketner, actually Ketner is our PR firm.

Mark Fairhurst:
Three years now.

Sylvain Perrier:
How many years now?

Mark Fairhurst:
Three years.

Sylvain Perrier:
Three years, yeah. Out of Austin, Texas. An amazing book came across my desk about two weeks ago and it’s an advanced copy. It’s written by Steve Dennis and it’s titled Remarkable Retail: How to Win & Keep Customers in the Age of Digital Disruption. Now, I’m blown away by this book. Why? Well, because it’s actually written by someone who’s been in the trenches. He gets it. The book is raw and honest. He doesn’t pull any punches. Quite frankly, this book should be an essential survival guide for any retail executive. You know how we all talk about… I know we do in the tech space, but we talk about our toolkit. We’ll have, hey, if I need an ops guy, call this person. If I need a marketing person, call this individual, I have this templated NDA, I have this, I have this, I have this.

Sylvain Perrier:
This should be the same thing. If you’re the CMO, if you’re the VP of digital, if you’re an eCommerce director or so on, this should be your book that’s on your desk where you’re making reference to.

Mark Fairhurst:
It’s a retail bible.

Sylvain Perrier:
Well, yeah. I mean, I’m not sure if I’ll get on my knees for it, but yes. It’s Friday folks and it’s Toronto. It’s been a long week. I liked this book so much that the author, Steve Dennis, is on the phone with us today to talk about his book that’s actually going to be released on April 14th. For those of you who don’t know Steve, he’s a consultant. He’s a keynote speaker and author focused on retail growth and innovation. He has been named a top a global retail influencer by multiple organizations, and his thoughts on the future of shopping are regularly shared in his role as a Forbes senior contributor, which is true because I’ve read some of it. Now, he’s had a 30 year career as a senior executive at two Fortune 500 retailers and more recently as a strategic advisor.

Sylvain Perrier:
Steve has worked with a dozen retail, consumer, luxury, and social impact brands to inspire, catalyze, and design their journey to remarkable results. He’s delivered talks on six continents, sharing his unique perspective on what it takes to reignite customer growth in a world of constant change and shifting consumer preferences and that is for sure in the last 18 months, if not in the last six months. He’s contributed commentary to Bloomberg Businessweek, the BBC, CNBC, CNN, the Harvard Business Review, and The Wall Street Journal, among many others. I did speak to my brother who works at Bloomberg, and for sure, he’s come across on some of Steve’s stuff. Steve is currently the president of SageBerry Consulting.

Sylvain Perrier:
Prior to founding SageBerry, he was the chief strategy officer and SVP multichannel marketing for Neiman Marcus Group. Steve, welcome to our podcast.

Steve Dennis:
Well, thank you and thank you for those very, very kind words.

Sylvain Perrier:
You’re more than welcome.

Steve Dennis:
I’m blushing. I’m blushing.

Sylvain Perrier:
Well, there you go. Great. Steve, can you share with us the overall premise of your book?

Steve Dennis:
Well, when I started it, the original premise was this idea that I thought physical retail isn’t dead, it’s really more than boring retail is, and then it kind of morphed from there to really be about how. I think by now maybe this is becoming obvious that you just can’t get away with being good enough or a slightly better version of mediocre anymore, than you really have to be remarkable to have any chance of survival, which I think is being made even more clear by what we’re going through right now.

Sylvain Perrier:
Yeah, absolutely. First of all, you’ve intentionally split the book into two parts, which is brilliant. When I was reading, I feel it gives the readers this kind of sense of context and application. In the first part, you titled it Shift Happens and you talk about this profound systematic shift that is currently happening. Can you share with us what this revolution is?

Steve Dennis:
Sure. Well, I think there are a couple components. I think the broadest one is, if you think about the way things were 10-15 years ago, a lot of retail models, and frankly a lot of businesses, were really built on scarcity. There wasn’t great access to distribution, to products, to information, to pricing, to reviews all, all these things that allow basically the brand or the retailer to be in control and the customer to be in a little bit of a weakened position and just have to select from a relatively narrow set of choices. Which if you lived in a big city, that wasn’t necessarily a huge compromise. The internet has just created this world of abundance, abundance of product choice, abundance of information.

Steve Dennis:
If you’re just good enough or even pretty good, you oftentimes are really an also-ran. I think digital technology just fundamentally shifted the basis of competition. Now we’re in this kind of everything now world where the customer is much more in charge and it just shifts the balance of power.

Sylvain Perrier:
I’m sure you hear this as much as we do now. There’s these so-called retail pundits that are out there, and they talk about the retail apocalypse, and specifically they’re citing brick and mortar. Every time there’s someone reducing the number of brick and mortar locations they have or somebody is going to shut down, they seem to re-materialize. We’re coming up on the holiday season, so Christmas and New Year’s, and then somebody is going to make the bold predictions for the next year, and then somebody brings up the whole notion of the apocalypse. What’s your opinion on these comments?

Steve Dennis:
One of the chapters I have in the first part is called The Future Will Not Be Evenly Distributed. I think one of the points is that it’s really I guess we’re attention getting to make these broad pronouncements. But I think if you look at what’s going on in retail broadly, physical retail is still by far the majority share of how people spend their money. Physical retail, I mean, it remains to be seen how the whole world of retail will turn out this year obviously. But if you look over the past 10 years, physical retail in the US anyway, I think it’s pretty much the same in Canada, has been positive. There are lots of stores that are being open, and there are lots of mostly physically-based retailers that are doing really well. I think the general narrative is greatly exaggerated.

Steve Dennis:
I think where things are fairly apocalyptic, not talking about the immediate future here, it’s really in the middle of retailers. The retail apocalypse is pretty concentrated among a relatively small number of brands, and there’s plenty that are doing really well.

Sylvain Perrier:
One of the challenges I think that companies in the same space as ours here in Mercatus is that not every grocery retailer treats eCommerce as part of the overall business.

Steve Dennis:
Right.

Sylvain Perrier:
It kind of sits off to the wayside. They give it some resources and not even the same… No merchants. Not even conversations with a core merchandising team. I know we try to do our best to kind of get them to think strategically in terms of it has to be conceptually one business.

Steve Dennis:
Exactly.

Sylvain Perrier:
Why do you think retailers, and in maybe not just in food and maybe that’s happening in the other parts of the retail vertical, but why are they so fixated as treating it as separate?

Steve Dennis:
Well, in my experience having worked for a couple of retailers that really struggled to see the channels as really one thing and some clients, I think a lot of it stems from most of the retail leaders have come up in a largely brick and mortar world and they established a lot of the way that they measure things as being very channel centric. When brick and mortar is your dominant channel, whether that’s grocery or whether that’s department stores, you tend to then bolt things on. I think what happened with a lot of retailers over the past 10 years is they basically added eCommerce as a separate thing and thought about it as a separate investment channel, oftentimes with its own P&L and own staff and so forth.

Steve Dennis:
Even if they invested aggressively behind it, which I agree with you, a lot of grocers didn’t, but if you look at other channels, there was aggressive investment behind eCommerce, but it was really thought about as a separate channel. That’s just not the way customers behave. It’s actually true. I’m not so sure for grocery specifically, but Forrester did some research a couple of years ago, which showed that digital channels actually drive three times as many brick and mortar sales as they do sales that are transacted in the online channel. You just really have to think of digital as a way to engage with the customer. Some customers will choose to transact online. Some customers will use the digital channel to inform which stores they choose to go to, whether they buy online, pick up in store.

Steve Dennis:
This whole separate way of thinking has really caused a lot of problems for a lot of retailers.

Sylvain Perrier:
Yeah, I agreed. There’s this symbiotic relationship, and again, I’m just pontificating from our own experience here, that there’s this symbiotic relationship that exists between your digital channels and your brick and mortar.

Steve Dennis:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Absolutely.

Sylvain Perrier:
The Forrester Research is bang on even with our own personalization engine that we used to send fairly unique content to individual shoppers. We don’t necessarily see the conversion occur online.

Steve Dennis:
Exactly. Right.

Sylvain Perrier:
There are still consumers that are very exploratory in the way they do things psychologically. They want to go touch a product. They want to go see it. They’re not necessarily destination shoppers. I don’t think everything’s been fully commoditized yet in the space of grocery, but I think that’s rapidly approaching. There is this symbiotic relationship. I think you talk well about this in the book that at the end of the day, if you’re a pure play dot com, and we see that with shoe vendors, dress shirts for men, whatever, that eventually they come around to the brick and mortar world.

Steve Dennis:
Yeah, in most cases. I mean, I’ve been saying for a while that, and I’m certainly not the only one, that I think there really is not going to be, for all intents and purposes, such a thing as pure play eCommerce in the future. I mean, first of all, even Amazon has something like $16 billion in brick and mortar sales right now. They’re already bigger than a huge number of retailers in North America and around the world. One of the things I talk about in the book is the difference between buying and shopping. I think that you can think about buying as more task and mission oriented and eCommerce is really good at that. If you basically know what you want, you don’t need to touch and feel it. You’re really just trying to be efficient in getting something off your to do list.

Steve Dennis:
A lot of eCommerce works really, really well and you don’t necessarily need a brick and mortar presence to make that happen. But shopping is inherently more experiential and that’s what brick and mortar really, really excel that. But you’re right. I mean, very few customers are surely channel specific in their behavior. Digital drives physical. Physical drives digital. There’s a ton of research that supports that now. I just think it’s really sad because back when I was at Neiman Marcus and we were doing a lot of this work in 2007-2008, we were already seeing this behavior be a significant phenomenon.

Steve Dennis:
A lot of people thought that luxury retail would be slow to see this because you’re selling very expensive stuff with a commissioned sales force and you’d think, “Well, people really want to try it on and get that direct interaction.” That was true, but they were starting their journey in a digital channel often and then going into the store. The channel centric thinking will really cause you to make a lot of mistakes I think.

Sylvain Perrier:
Does that not feed into your thesis that the customer is a channel?

Steve Dennis:
I mean, I’m hard pressed to come up with many places where it’s not. I mean, it seems like such a cliche, but we talk about channel centricity. I think if you were really starting your experience strategy with the customer, you would be really dissecting the different sort of customers you serve and the different sort of purchase occasions you are focused on, and you would understand those customer journeys really well, and you would design your experience to fit that. I think if you did that, I mean, every time I’ve ever done that, you almost never see customers that have this channel centric behavior.

Steve Dennis:
I think just as a matter of strategy you should start with the customer and think about it as all being one channel, but I think particularly with mobile devices now, I say in the book, the best location is really wherever your customer happens to be with their smart device, right? It used to be… Just kind of going back to the shift happens question you started with, even seven, eight years ago for the most part, if you were going online, that was a pretty intentional act that you were doing from your home or office or maybe a coffee shop. But since smartphones became widely adopted and obviously other technology following along, customers can be shopping whenever they want. It’s the second that it dawns on them standing in line or waiting for the traffic light or whatever.

Steve Dennis:
It’s not necessarily the most healthy thing, but they can be online shopping. Maybe that’s determining a product they’re going to put in their shopping cart and buy later, or it could be which store is closest to me to buy this thing I forgot to pick up. It just really blends the distinction between the channels and that’s why I talk about fundamentally the strategy of embracing the blur because I think the shopping lines have been blurred for a while and they’re just becoming more and more blurred.

Sylvain Perrier:
Yeah, it’s interesting that you say that because when I look at the retail landscape right now and I think of the proliferation of smartphone applications and kind of with the backdrop of the philosophical elements that you mentioned at the end of the day, serve your customers where they are regardless of time of day, there’s these business models that are coming out that are just… I can’t wrap my head around them how they make money.

Steve Dennis:
Maybe because they don’t.

Sylvain Perrier:
Yeah, and I’m pretty good because my first degree was in accounting, and so I can really run some ratios fairly quick. I look at some of these things and some of these pretty high Pos or these perspectives and I’m like, how does this stand up as just a cash grab for Wall Street? Explain to our listeners your chapter or your section on the Warby Parker of Whatever.

Steve Dennis:
Well, first of all, I should be clear that I like Warby Parker. I’m a good customer. I think they’re probably one of the few so-called digitally native vertical brands that I think are likely to be the enduring. But one of the things that happened, I don’t know, about 10 years ago probably was this whole idea that you could build powerful brands without these pesky things we call stores. That if you could avoid the rent and the inventory and all the complexity of operating brick and mortar stores, if you could just have this amazingly scalable business.

Steve Dennis:
A lot of people I think heard Marc Andreessen’s comment that a software eats retail in his prediction that there will be no physical retail in the future, which I think as much as Mark Andreessen is a super smart, successful guy, I think very soon he will look at it to be one of the most foolish statements made in recent times. But anyway, venture capitalists got behind quite a lot of these models that were basically premised on building great consumer brands without any physical assets to speak of. Venture capital piled in a number of these companies, Warby Parker, Bonobos, UNTUCKit, Wayfair, et cetera, raised a lot of capital.

Steve Dennis:
Then that started kind of the second tier of folks following behind them, seeing what was going on to try to build brands in a similar fashion and basically doing some version of disrupting a particular category with innovative product design, cheaper prices, great customer service. But along the way it seems that many of them forgot that they eventually have to make money. I think what we’ve been starting to see even before we got into the whole COVID-19 crisis is that many of these market segments are not big enough to support an online only model, so most of them are getting into physical stores, rather ironically. The cost of customer acquisition online has gotten, as you guys well know, just crazy expensive. Many of these brands have pretty high product returns.

Steve Dennis:
They just basically have built these profit proof models and have been setting fire to big piles of cash for the last few years. Even pre the COVID-19 crisis, I think it was becoming increasingly obvious that many of these brands had no chance of being as big, at least as the venture capitalists hoped that they would be. I think now it’s going to be harder for them to raise capital presumably. They’re obviously taking at least a short-term hit from the pandemic.

Sylvain Perrier:
Do you think Instacart is one of those?

Steve Dennis:
I don’t know as much about Instacart in particular, but I think home deliveries are really… I’ve worked a couple times in home delivery, and home delivery is just really, really to make happen, so I suspect they’re going to be pretty stressed throughout this. Amazon obviously is the best at home delivery, but they’re having a hard time getting the economics to work as well. I’m pretty skeptical. Not that these are all going to go away, but I think there’s going to be a real reset on the valuation and consolidation. Whether that’ll specifically hit Instacart, I’m not sure.

Sylvain Perrier:
It’s interesting you mentioned Amazon because you have… You can’t Amazon out Amazon, right? If you look at their numbers… It’s in your book quite frankly I think because I’m not going to make this up. I think it’s 27% of their cost of good sold is tied to a fulfillment and delivery.

Steve Dennis:
I think it’s actually a little higher. Well, we’ll see what the most recent numbers look like. They were trending upwards and that’s where it was I think at the end of 2018, early 2019.

Sylvain Perrier:
Yeah. If you look at it and you try to transpose that over to grocery where it’s not as if it’s chained as an Amazon, I mean, it’s tough to save any company doing pure delivery plays going to be super profitable. In the second part of your book, this is really where the rubber meets the road and you have this eight step program. It’s more like a 12 step program, but it gets you where you need to go as a retailer and it’s sobering advice, right? Because you’re setting up the landscape, you’re saying, “Hey, historically this, here’s where the mistakes have been, here’s what you need to be worried about, blah, blah, blah, blah,” on the first part. Then you start to kind of explain to them, “Here’s the eight steps.” Can retailers dig themselves out of the hole?

Steve Dennis:
Well, I hate to give you the it depends answer, but I think that unfortunately many retailers have dug such a big hole that I think it is going to be extremely difficult. I wrote a piece for Forbes a couple of weeks ago I think it was where I talked about the collapse of the middle. I said that the coronavirus is going to just accelerate further the collapse of the middle. These retailers that don’t have a remarkable value proposition and have terrible liquidity or capital structures, I don’t think many of them are going to be able to recover. But I think for the most part, COVID-19 is somewhat just accelerating the inevitable. But I think there are plenty of retailers if they’ve got at least a solid market position and they’ve got some of the ability to actually fund innovation, absolutely.

Steve Dennis:
Best Buy to me is a great example of a company that two, three years ago a lot of people thought was going to get Amazoned or whatever term you want to use. It’s a very mature business model, so I don’t think they’re going to just light up their growth or profitability. But when they rethought their business model and developed what I call a more harmonized strategy, so not getting so caught up in the separate channeling dynamics and understanding what digital is good at and what physical retail is good at and blending them, they’ve really resurrected themselves. It can be done, absolutely.

Sylvain Perrier:
I worked for Best Buy in the early two thousands on their psychometric analysis when they were trying to design their stores. I got to work with the team Best Buy Canada out of Vancouver and then the team in Minneapolis and then traveling to the major urban centers. It was great because they were extremely beta oriented and leveraging real time metrics to say, “Hey, this store in Fairfax, Virginia, this is the products we’re going to sell and here’s how we’re going to merchandise the store.” You push past 2010 and you kind of felt, whoa, these guys are losing their way.

Steve Dennis:
Well, I think that’s actually a great example. When I was at Neiman Marcus, we spent some time with the Best Buy folks. I think they were really onto frankly a lot of the themes that I talk about in the book, personalization, harmonized channel, treat different customers differently, et cetera. I do think that they basically decided to try to out Amazon-Amazon, and they lost their way for a few years. They basically got themselves into more or less a race to the bottom. I think I quote my friend Seth in the book, I said, “The problem with race to the bottom as you might win or worse, finished second.” They finished second, but I think they realized, I’m happy to go through some leadership changes to make it happen.

Steve Dennis:
But I think they really did reframe their strategy and been able to get their growth reignited I guess.

Sylvain Perrier:
Did you think of that Macy’s will bounce back?

Steve Dennis:
I’ve been very critical of Macy’s, and I think that they are counting on some incremental improvements being the thing that keeps them relevant. I don’t think they’re doing enough to stay relevant, but I will say I think they’re a little bit better positioned than say JC Penney is. They may benefit from being kind of the last man standing in that moderate department store space because I do think there is still certainly demand for that kind of store. It just continues to contract. I think they’ll probably be around in a smaller form, but I definitely don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that they’ll make it.

Sylvain Perrier:
I don’t know. I mean, I think you’re right on JC Penney losing Shawn and him migrating somewhere else is a big blow to that business, and it’s kind of a telltale sign. Today, amidst the pandemic, what would you advise a retailer who needs to reinvigorate their brand and somehow will lead at digital, what would you tell them?

Steve Dennis:
Well, I guess the first thing I should say is I appreciate that we are in unprecedented times and that the vast majority of retailers really have to manage for cash essentially. It’s sometimes hard. It’s like I think Mike Tyson supposedly said, “Everybody has a strategy until you get punched on the face.” I think it’s hard to perhaps think long-term and strategically at least for the immediate future. But one thing I liked that you said earlier is I think if you can possibly do it, think long-term about how you treat your customers, how you treat the people you work with, your vendors, your agencies, your partners, and not be so short-term sided and transactional. I think the long-term relationship and the things that are creative to your brand I think will serve you well if you can possibly do it.

Steve Dennis:
Obviously, you need to keep the lights on. But strategically, my general advice is… Again, it sometimes sounds so trite, but really go deep in understanding your customer and dissect those customer journeys as detailed a segmentation as you can muster and by the different types of journeys those customers engage in because I think sometimes people try to do like this one size fits all view of the world. I learned early on when I was in the furniture business a million years ago that the way people shop for a mattress is really different than the way people shop for a dining room table, right? Even though it’s all furniture.

Sylvain Perrier:
Right.

Steve Dennis:
The advice I give him the book is when you dissect those customer journeys, certainly you should look for those pain points or friction points or I call them just notes in the process and root those out. But I think most of the time rooting those out are more kind of table stakes, if you don’t do them, you’re behind. But then the hard work I think is to find those places where you can really kind of amplify the wow, what’s that thing in the customer experience that’s intensely customer relevant, is proprietary to your brand. Ideally, which is like literally what I mean by remarkable in the book, people will talk about. What are those things that the customer really cares about that creates a story for them that they will ideally share with others?

Steve Dennis:
Certainly easier said than done, but I think the deeper you go down in understanding the customer and dissecting the customer journey and the role of digital in those journeys, the better off you’ll be.

Sylvain Perrier:
Perfect. Well, that’s great advice. Steve, it’s been a pleasure having you on the show. How do people get ahold of you?

Steve Dennis:
Well, probably the best way is to go to my website, which is stevenpdennis.com. It’s Steven with a V. Steven with a V, I can’t talk today, and P like Peter, Dennis, D-E-N-N-I-S.

Sylvain Perrier:
Perfect. The book is coming out on the 14th, and I suspect all the usual channels, Barnes and Noble, Amazon.

Steve Dennis:
Yeah. I’ve been really fortunate that pretty much everybody’s carrying it. Yeah, all the usual suspects. If you want to support independent bookstores, which are really struggling, there’s a great website called bookshop.org, which gives money back to small independent retailers. There’ll be an audio book version also up on the major platforms in a few days.

Sylvain Perrier:
Fantastic. Thank you. Mark, how do people get ahold of us?

Mark Fairhurst:
Regular channel, regular way, www.mercatus.com. On the podcast page, we’ll have a link to Steven and his profile and where you can get his book.

Sylvain Perrier:
Thank you, folks, and we will talk to you soon. Keep your ear to the ground for our next episode. Peace.

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