In this episode:
Wendy Liebmann discusses how retailers have the opportunity to reintroduce themselves to shoppers as they move out of their COVID-cocoons with Steve Sadove, retired Chairman & CEO of Saks Incorporated, and current board member of Colgate-Palmolive and advisor to Mastercard and private equity.
- The new foundation for retail
- How to build relationships with shoppers in a mobile-first world
- How shopper data and analytics and perfect information will separate retail winners and losers
- The future of marketplaces, commercializing live-streaming, TikTok, and new payment methods that open up shoppers’ wallets
- The need to create a seamless total experience for shoppers
- Supply chain challenges and opportunities
Hello, I’m Wendy Liebmann. I’m the CEO and Chief shopper at WSL Strategic Retail, and this is Future Shop. This is where I chat with innovative thinkers about the future of retail to help us all understand what we need to anticipate next. And what we need to do right now. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today. The topic at hand is what I call retail after the splurge. And that seems sort of an odd topic considering we’ve been in the middle of a pandemic for over a year. And here I am talking about a splurge but I think most of us have begun to see what’s going on at retail right now. And as Americans, many of them have been vaccinated, and emerging from their cocoons, we’re actually seeing ourselves moving into a new phase of retail. So the questions are these, how long will that last? Is that an aberration? What’s this roller coaster ride we’re on? And what does it all mean to the future? And ultimately, how do we really pay attention to what’s important in all this noise? So who better to tell us to answer all those questions and more, but my guest today, Steve Sadove. He’s looking very quizzical if you could see him at this point, but let me introduce them first before he tells you what he can and can’t answer. Steve is the retired Chairman and CEO of Saks Incorporated. Prior to leading Saks from a regional department store chain to one of the most exclusive omni channel retailers in the world, he was president of the Bristol Myers Clairol division, where I first met him many years ago. Today, he’s in a very unique position, he has a very unique perspective, because he’s on the board of Colgate Palmolive, Aramark, he is an advisor and spokesperson for MasterCard, and he’s actively involved in the National Retail Federation amongst lots of other things, including startups and private equity and more. So who better to help us with all of this drum roll, if you will, he is the person to answer many of these questions. Steve, welcome to Future Shop.
Thanks. Happy to be here, Wendy.
You know, I’m always eager to hear what you’re thinking about things in life and read much of the coverage when you’re quoted, because you do have a really interesting view coming from that sort of CPG world, to the luxury retail world and all points in between. And so it just seemed really appropriate to have you here. So let’s jump right in. I mean, you and MasterCard have been talking a lot in the MasterCard spending pulse about the forecast for retail, as we come through the rest of this year back to school holidays, moving into the new year, and certainly the NRF has upped its forecast, you know, make sense of all this for us? What’s your view to all this?
Well, I think it’s important to step back from where we were. And before we get into where we’re going. And now the pandemic was a shock to the system. We forget right now that it was a little bit more than a year and a quarter ago, that world of retail just stopped and the consumer was declining retail double digit declines in overall consumption. And nobody knew where the world was going. It was first, how do you close stores? And how do you maintain your balance sheets? And what’s the world going to look like in the future and you weren’t a shutdown mode and survival mode in many ways. And a lot of things that happened during the pandemic really set the stage for the longer term in terms of the resurgence of and a lot of the trends that you saw, were already going on, but the role of the internet and omni channel and when you didn’t have a physical store that you could go to, what did you do, you went online, and the digital component of retail went from probably 12% of total retail to 20% of total retail and what the consumer found was, and it wasn’t just the consumer that had been savvy using the internet before it was all consumers that it wasn’t too hard to do. So the convenience of shopping and it was safe. And it was easy. And by the way that retailers were pretty smart about how do they now start using their stores as distribution centers and fulfillment centers so that you can buy online, pick it up at the curbside or making shopping as safe and easy as possible. And, you know, using inventory a lot more efficiently. All of that was the cornerstone of how the pandemic played out what has happened over the last six months to you know, let’s call it the last six months as the consumer has bounced back much, much more strongly than anybody anticipated and started really quickly. You know, I thought maybe this was going to be a hockey stick economy and it turned out to be much more of a v, so that you had these double digit declines early last spring, and then all of a sudden, by summer, you were flat. And then by fall and growing, and we’re now working since last September, the consumer has been on an accelerated growth path. So I don’t look at sales versus 20 anymore because of the pandemic impact, but you’re looking versus 19. And in many cases, you’re seeing double digit growth versus 19. So the consumers come back with a vengeance. And as you said, there’s been a lot of stimulus to the economy, and you’re seeing it at all price levels. So meaning that at the lower end consumer has had the government support, whether it’s unemployment or stimulus checks that have improved their well being and stimulated consumption, and at the high end, the stock market has done remarkably well. And that higher end because customer hasn’t had anywhere to spend, they’ve been at home over the year, they’re, you know, we’re in the splurge period, because people have saved so much at the higher end, and they’ve been have pent up desires to get out and do things. So you’ve had this resurgence of the marienthal economy. So I think that how the environment played out over the last year really has laid the foundation for what is the next stage of where retails going?
Yeah. So what companies need to keep their eye on now? Because it could be easy to say, you know, Oh, good. We’re going back to 2019 with digital lens. And so what I’m concerned about is I look and I hear that from some corporations. Oh, thank heavens, few. Now we’re back to normal. And yet, I think you and I know that’s not the case, things that were in the process, as you said before the pandemic now have been heightened to you know, the proverbial acceleration. So what it companies that you think about and watch really need to do now,
in some ways, it’s so simplistic to say, well, we’re back to where we were because we’re not the starting point is to follow the consumer, what’s the consumer doing, and you got to look at everything that we’re talking about through the consumer lens, and the consumer is far more digitally savvy. So that then leads you down an omni channel perspective, but the consumer, you know, the fact that the role of zoom are just sitting there and talk about the impact of the non in person meetings, or the hybrid workplace, or the impact of, I think that the younger, the Gen Z consumers had a big impact on their parents relative to things like sustainability, and environmental and impact. So you’re seeing changes in consumer, thinking about what they want the ecosystem to look like for products. So all of this has been excel, a lot of these changes, because people have been together a lot more. The digital savvy, let’s call it whoever might be in the family has helped train the rest of the family. So now you look at baby boomer data, and you find out that they’re using some of the same tools at even a higher rate than some of the younger consumers. Yes, it’s back to some of the trends that we used to see. So digitization of the economy, and mobile first had been well before the pandemic. But you’ve seen an acceleration, probably of several years, of many, many of the underlying trends doesn’t mean that the underlying trends aren’t, they’re still, you know, the trend towards you’re seeing opportunity for things like a department store, you had an underlying trend away from department stores for years. But now you’re seeing some traffic coming back to department store. So you have an opportunity to change the experience. But in the end, what you’re dealing with is a world that’s rapidly changing, and the consumer wants to try things. And success or failure is going to be delivering on what the consumer expectations are and whether or not you’re fulfilling or not fulfilling it.
Yeah, when you’re preaching to the converted, as you know, because our viewers always follow the shopper to see the future. And you made a very interesting point about the speed at which younger consumers shoppers in this very condensed world, often with older shoppers, parents, friends, whatever people they were shopping for, who couldn’t shop for themselves, have educated and sort of ramped up the knowledge of older shoppers, which I find is really interesting now. So that assumption that older people will be further behind in terms of, you know, their digital familiarity.
I’ll give you an example. The assumption is that Tik Tok is just for the 15 to 29 year old consumer. If you look at Tik tok, I’m finding that you’ve got a much older consumer who’s now using tik tok as a way to learn and experience things. So that’s an example of the parents are seeing their kids using tech and now it’s migrating over towards them.
Yeah. And I think they’re the nuances that sometimes, you know, we don’t pay attention to because we’re living with the old mythology, you know, older people are slower to do this. But I think that’s really interesting. You also, you know, start to talk a little bit about the kind of experiences that retail the conversation around, what does the department store need to look like now? Or is it a distribution center? I mean, as you step back, I actually have to interrupt myself here, which I often do. But I remember talking to you, this is why I wanted to have you on the room today, talking to you right at the beginning of the global recession. And I remember you telling me, you told me the story of how you stood on the main floor at Saks Fifth Avenue on the flagship on 50th and Fifth, and there was nobody there. And you knew that the people who normally shop there still have money, but they were not coming. And that seemed like the end of the earth is so it still resonates when I say that. And I think, how is this experience different from that? If you’re leaving a company today? How do you have to remind yourself it’s either not the same? Or how to think about things like this?
Well, you know, it’s interesting, if we go back to the recession, and I remember in September of 2008 and I was in Paris, doing fashion shows, I think and all of a sudden, you had the Lehman bankruptcy and the world came to an end and overnight, consumption went down 25%. And this was us, it was Neiman’s. It was the entire luxury sector. And we were sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars of inventory. That was a wasting asset, and you didn’t know what the future was going to be. And it was at that point in time, it was a survival question for an entire industry about what was the future going to be looking like? I like in that it was different causes. But March of last year, was very similar to that March, April, where we did not know what the future was, today, we’re thinking, Oh, we all have the vaccines and the world’s recovering nicely. But I remember watching CNBC and, you know, doom and gloom in the world is going to fall apart for different reasons, and we hadn’t had the stimulus, etc. So you really do have, we’re in a different place today. Because we’re a year past that. And we do have a much better picture in view of where the world is going to be. I’m not so sure I would have been so good. Last March or April, at forecasting what what it was going to look like. And I was stunned at how fast the stock market for example, recovered. But right now, a year later, just as a year or two later, after the oh eight recession, you had a resiliency and pretty decent understanding of where the consumer was going, you know, right now we’re in a mode of people want to go out and they want to go to restaurants, and they want to, they got the pent up desire to experience life, and they want to travel, you know, so they can’t travel yet internationally, really. But so there your domestic travel is booming, trying to get into a national park or get a reservation in a restaurant. That’s where you’re at today. But you do see fundamental changes that are affecting the the longer term because and it goes back with some of the trends that existed before, you know, the desire among people for experiences versus more stuff, the fast fashion retailers were having a hard time before the pandemic, and people are doing editing, they’re sorting, you have the growth in the rental economy, the growth in the resale economy, those trends were existing beforehand, and they’re only accelerating. Now. These are the kinds of things so I look at, 2008, 2009, is very similar. But the shock to the system, when I saw that nobody was on this first floor of New York was very similar to what I saw when we’re sitting in our apartment or our home. And you can’t go anywhere. Think about what desolate Time Square.
Yeah, absolutely. And so when you think about because you have this view, where you’re involved in CPG, everyday products that of course, took off, many of them with great fanfare is the wrong word. But you know, as everybody stocked up on toilet paper, and hand soap, and you know, hand sanitizer, and all of those things, very early in the pandemic. So we had that and then it’s sort of leveled off. And now, those industries versus the experiential industries. How do we have to think about that if I’m a CPG company now, what do I need to be thinking about as maybe my retailers are doing more order online pick up in store or, you know, what am I thinking about in terms of a display in campus, the typical sort of store tools, if I’m on the CPG side of the world,
if I’m a CPG player, I’m going to going back to the what what’s the consumer want one of the innovations, the conveniences the value added that I can bring to my category, you have underlying trends. towards premiumization that have been going on in CPG? How do we bring ease of use? How do we go back to some of the environmental sustainability? less waste in packaging ease of use? How do I bring those benefits to traditional CPG? categories? How do I make the product more sustainable? How do we make them cleaner? How do I better ingredients, what had been driving some of the CPG brands are going to continue to do so what you aren’t going to see is that blip of gosh, I’ve got to go, I’m going to frantically go get disinfectant that is, so you had a blip. And now you go back to a more normalized behavior in the CPG world, you had a massive shortage of aluminum cans, because everybody couldn’t go to a restaurant to have a fountain soda. So what they would do would be they drink at home. And so you had an aluminum cans shortage. Now what’s happening is people are going back to restaurants and you’re seeing an overall flip, going back to the trends. So it may not be every as much consumption in the grocery store. But you’re having it more in the out of home experience.
It’s interesting, too, because I think about understanding and all the work we do, how do I look at the whole shopper? You know, how do I look at their overall spending? And obviously, you do that as MasterCard does. But I think about that, because somebody told me this story the other day that they were very loyal Starbucks user, they went into their office every day, they wouldn’t doubt in the afternoon. So they bought two or three Starbucks, and they were part of the Starbucks program, all of those the loyalty program. And then when everything shut down, they went home, obviously now they’re still consuming Starbucks, they just order it, you know, their frappuccino comes in the can they order multipacks, they arrive at the door. Starbucks actually doesn’t know them anymore. They’ve lost track of that sort of whole shopper. So as I think about data and insights and the kind of analytics work that we need to be doing, I think that feels to me like it’s really important now, because I’ve got the order online, pick up in store, I’ve got the person who goes into the store, same person may be different trip, you know, the person who’s just pure play ordering online, it’s all it can all be the same person. So what are you seeing in that in terms of data analytics, whether it’s any of the new tools that you see with some of your clients investment areas? I didn’t mention that you’re involved in private equity and all of those things. How do you what are you seeing out there that would help us get a picture of the whole shopper?
Yeah, I think we’re in a world where data and analytics is so important in terms of understanding your consumer holistically, building loyalty programs, understanding what to offer the consumer from an assortment perspective. And I think that over the next several years, that’s going to be an area where the winners separate themselves from the losers. And there are a lot of analytic tools, whether it’s in test and learn whether it’s in segmentation, that are all now coming. And it’s a lot of big companies like the mastercards. And it’s smaller startups that are playing in this space, and providing services and value added for big companies and small companies. I think that some of the really good big companies have done really well at this and start with the airline industry who’ve really thrived on understanding their consumer and creating loyalty programs for them. But I think a lot of the big retailers have had the resources and have made investments to be able to do some of it as well. Now I see more and more tools that are allowing smaller companies to do this. And I think this is the next wave of especially in an omni channel world where you have to understand your consumer across all ways that they’re buying the product. And it’s the ability to customize tailor, whether it’s tailoring a website, whether it’s tailoring a loyalty program, the assortment that they see in the store for them. That to me is the next generation of where all of this is gone.
So hold that thought for a moment. Before we hear more of my conversation with Steve Sadove. Just a reminder that we have much more content on this subject on our website that will help you understand the whole shopper, how she and he are shifting their attitudes and behaviors across categories channels, and really understand what’s important to them now and in the near future. So take a look. Go to our website, www.wslstrategicretail.com and you’ll find much more. Now let’s get back to my conversation with Steve. It’s interesting to me too, because I think about all the work you did certainly at Saks when you really develop the whole saks.com business model and integrated that and it just feels to me now as I look at creating experiences digital experiences for Brands whether it’s you know, whether it’s a mass brand or it’s a luxury brand or retailer or manufacturer, that the need now to create a greater I guess emotional engagement with digital beyond the efficiency of it the click and buy is greater than before it’s not just click and buy that we need to build and enhance the kind of relationship and engagement a shopper can have with their website. Do you see that as real?
I think that is digital first on everything that you know mobile In fact, first and mobile, perfect information, whether it’s on pricing or on what’s being offered, you can now look at and there’s so many things you can do in a fashion and apparel world with your phone. To me the the important thing is that it’s about a seamless experience for the consumer. It’s not just about the digital experience, it’s about the total experience and you’re you know, you’re now using artificial intelligence to customize but you’re also using virtual reality to bring the store to the digital experience. So in the old days, we when we created stacks calm and you know, the team did a great job on that it was almost running off on its own now Sachs comm or any company is that omni channel you don’t think about just the.com you were sharing inventory you want to create buy it online, return it to the store, is that a store sailors at a internet sale, you’re now you know, they go and return some of the store, they buy something else, you find that this consumer shopping multiple channels buys a lot more probably three times as much. You have a company like a Warby Parker opens up a retail store, they get triple their.com volume in that geographic area. So it’s all blending. So it’s now about how do you create a seamless experience for the consumer. So it’s not just about the digital experience. It’s meshing the digital and the actual experience in a physical store. And then you start to have to ask what’s the role of the store? And what’s the role of digital? And how do you create for each brand, that optimal mix? And it’s different for every business?
Yeah. And so that’s the question I would ask right. So to you and I, I was thinking the other day, I remembered this amazing. And it’s exists still in Chicago, the store called Ikram, and I remember walking in the first time specialty fashion store and saying to somebody, I can smell the fashion. And when I said that to them, they said to me, oh, wow, what was the matter with the store? And I said, Actually, it was just the experience was totally you were just infused in this amazing experience of the people and the clothes and everything that was about this little special place. And I do think about that now the value of a store, whether it’s a Walgreens or a CVS or a Target or a Saks or, you know Warby Parker, what role does that play,
even today, if digital went from 12 to 20%, that still means 80% of shopping is being done in a physical store. So the store is critical. What I find most interesting and I separate the stores during the pandemic, which were the necessities the Walgreens or the CVS is or the Home Depot’s and the that everybody gravitated towards. And they had an opportunity during that period to showcase themselves. And they became indispensable and people went to Target or Walmart for the groceries and all of a sudden they found out hey, target does a great job with apparel. And it’s a fun and there’s a little bit of a the Tarjay back in Target and the sales boomed and they bought more than the groceries and they’ve continued to. So it shows that if you deliver they went there for a reason a need. But because they delivered such a good experience, the consumer stuck with them. And they were able to capitalize and build on that right now. You’re in this period of the what you opened up with the splurge, where people want to be back in a mall, everyone thought that the mall was dead? Well, there’s a lot of malls that are doing very well. And the traffic tried to get a parking space in some of the malls this in the last few weeks. And what you’re finding is that all of these stores have an opportunity, they have an opportunity to deliver on an experience. That’s better than maybe some people remember about what their experience was in store x or this department store or this specialty store. And they get that repeat behavior like the targets of the world we’re doing during the pandemic. It works the other way as well if they go in, and they don’t have a good experience or and they can’t find the labor or the help. And by the way, it’s not so easy because you have labor shortages. And if you don’t deliver on an experience that’s just going to accelerate the perception that hey, this isn’t a place I want to go back to some more. So you’re in this period today, where everyone has this opportunity to reintroduce themselves to the consumer. As to whether they want to be in this next period of time.
It’s interesting. You said that because last couple of weeks ago, and I was talking to a professor from FIT, and he raised the point of, you know, retail at its most elemental, from, you know, drugstores and grocery stores, and whatever, have become such a part of the community through this pandemic, especially to the point of vaccinations and things like that. It raised the question, as we move out of this, what will they be when they grow up? What will that transition look like? And I think you’ve just raised that in terms of everybody has an opportunity now.
Yeah, the CVS is in the Walgreens are finding that they’re benefiting enormously with this massive number of people coming in and getting vaccinations and they’re able to say, hey, CVS really has a pretty interesting beauty setup, and they’re introducing next generation brands. And we can create something that may be different than my old drugstore perception of what that brand or what Walgreens is all about. But you’re in this moment where they have to deliver on that now.
Yeah. And when you think about things like categories, and that I was taken the other day not to make this a department store conversation. But I was taken by how Selfridges in London has added. they once had a flower play a flower shop, but now they’ve sort of expanded into a gardening motifs. And so do you see this, whether it’s a essentials retailer, or a more experiential luxury retailer, do you see this as an opportunity to be adding to getting into new categories and services?
What you know, everything’s new again. So best by selling luggage, the department stores are selling toys. So it’s follow the consumer. And they like one stop shopping, they want to know, the malls one stop a target or Home Depot, you know of anything related to gardening or home. So they’re going to test and see what the consumer wants. And some things are going to work and some things aren’t going to work. But clearly everybody’s looking to say how can I fulfill more of the consumer needs? And you know, what we haven’t talked about is, how do I use that brand. So let’s pick one Walmart, what Walmart is selling in their physical store, you know, you have this big growth of marketplaces. And you know, Amazon is a marketplace. It’s not they’re not buying all the products that they’re selling much of their product is that third party marketplace where they’re selling other people’s products. Walmart has a marketplace. So you have an endless aisle where brands come on and they build off of the Walmart or the Amazon name, they come in for the traffic and they can then offer a wide array of store. So who says what is Saks can be a luxury Emporium that is spun off sacks calm is a separate company and they now become a marketplace. If are more of a marketplace, Macy’s can be more of a marketplace. So what these retailers are, when you say entering more categories, are they entering more categories on an own basis, or they’re going to use it as a marketplace where they basically are providing access to the consumer, and it’s a dropship product that is the inventory is never owned by the retailer.
I noticed you know that Walmart on its marketplace just introduced its line of Gap homewares. And I immediately went on and looked and I thought Wow, look at that Gap China, I could use some new China and it’s you know, for affordable price. Well, there you go. Click Thank you very much. And in the beginning, I was thinking Gap at Walmart or you know, being made maybe snobby sell for the moment. And then I thought, Wow, this is great. So I’ve already done that to your point. So the ability to you know, I was looking for a blender, I went to Walmart, and guess what I found a whole new China a new set of China from The Gap.
Yeah, so each brand has to decide where do they want to be what’s consistent with their brand, obviously, you know, if you’re a luxury, creating the luxury marketplace, then there are certain brands that can fit there and other brands that aren’t going to be appropriate. If CVS wants to become health and wellness, there are a whole bunch of them. You know, I my perception of the CVS fundamentally changes not just the old drugstore, it’s where am I thinking about wellness and wellness can mean all kinds of things. It can be mental wellness, it can be physical wellness. I mean, there’s a lot of ways of thinking about how you evolve some of these brands.
And I also think and as we wrap up, you know, you do a lot of work with startups and you’ve introduced me to organizations that, you know, develop talent in that area. You know, the question I asked myself now is sort of, where will the startup start up in the next you know, 12 months so we go in to see not again, you giving away anything confidential, but, you know, where do you think we’ll be seeing change across any aspect of retail with new startups emerging?
I think you’re finding it across the entire spectrum there. There are startups going on in every category that you can think of any kind of marketplace and he Kind of white box, how do you make the ecosystem easier in rental in resale in your brand x and you want to do your own resale, and you don’t want to go to one of the big real rails or whatever. And you know, providing the capability there startups doing almost all of the things startups that are, I looked at one today, that is very heavily into how do we really bring commerce to live streaming? in every aspect of retail, it’s a world of innovation, whether it’s going to be in fit, whether it’s going to be on, how do you make the transaction easier, we haven’t talked about financial payments, when I look at things like multiple pay the after pays, are the corners of the world, fundamentally transforming something as simple as Gee, I want to do it in four easy payments, that’s had a big impact on volumes.
Yeah, in many ways, what we’ve come to adjust in this conversation is, as we move through this, and hopefully will continue to move in in a safe and secure way. There is so much opportunity, and there’s so much excitement around retail of any kind, right?
Well, I think retail is one of the most exciting industries that you can imagine, because there is so much innovation, whether it’s in product innovation, or technology innovations, you know, this was an industry we’re used to think of as being the merchants go out and just find some product. And it was all about the buyer. Now, it’s about technology. It’s about analytics. We haven’t talked that much about supply chain, how do you shorten lead times on supply chain, and it really is complicated, and an industry that’s very much innovating in real time.
Yeah, it’s interesting, a supply chain has become my passion. But as much because I see it as the solution to everything from speed time, from a sharper lens when I want it where I want it, but also localization, all of those things, customization that with the right supply chain, it’s not just the sort of typical value that that brings to a company. But the ability to create something much more personalized, rather than commoditize. Not just the right product, the right place right now, but also the right experience and for a shopper to really feel engaged with a business and a brand. So yeah, you’re right, there is just so much to talk about, well, I knew you would capture this for me, I knew capture it in a moment. I thank you for that. I do not wish you another moment where you have to stand on the selling floor virtual off or physical and go What the heck just happened. So it’s great to see you. And I look forward to continuing this conversation because clearly there’s an awful lot more to talk about.
Happy doing, enjoyed.
Thank you, Steve. So here’s the thing, as Steve said, we are now in a very exciting time for retail. Now, every retailer, every brand has the opportunity to reintroduce themselves to shoppers as they come out of their pandemic cocoons. But that means you have to deliver, you cannot disappoint, which means you need to understand them, their needs, their new shopping ecosystems, you need to consider all the tools at hand analytics, of course, also all the ways to engage them holistically, seamlessly. Of course, you need to innovate, to think like a startup to understand the new places, marketplaces, live streaming and more, of course, and you need to understand things like the new payment vehicles that open up shoppers wallets, you need to recognize the ever growing importance of supply chain, not just about getting product to people efficiently, but also as the way to personalize, customize, build loyalty, and deliver satisfying and timely experiences. Of course, and last, we cannot we must not assume that what we knew about shoppers before will hold now. Remember that example that Steve gave about boomers and tick tock? Never assume about shoppers. It’s an exciting future for retail innovation opportunities abound. So be ready after the splurge champion jump now. See you in the future.