Retail Prophet's Doug Stephens & Valtech's EVP Shannon Ryan
Global Perspectives

Industry Insiders: Retail Prophet’s Doug Stephens & Valtech’s EVP Shannon Ryan

Exploring connected experiences in retail

We caught up with Retail Prophet’s Doug Stephens and Valtech’s EVP Shannon Ryan in Toronto to explore the topic of connected retail and why these experiences and spaces are so important for retail brands.




Julia Raymond:
We’re seeing a lot of retailers and brands investing in connected experiences, connected spaces. Why is this so important for retailers and how would you define this moving forward?

Doug Stephens:
I’m sure Shannon’s going to have a lot to say on this and with good reason because that’s his stock and trade. But for me, I look at it in pretty general terms, to be honest with you. I think that what retailers are up against is the idea that consumers now have at various points in their consumer journey will be confronted with cognitive dissonance. So what I mean by that is we live in a world where we’re in a swipe culture. So if something doesn’t load in two seconds, I’m hitting the back button. If I don’t like something or it doesn’t appeal to me within two seconds of opening an Instagram post, I’m onto the next one. So when we, as consumers, now are confronted with cognitive dissonance, we have to stand in an aisle for five minutes trying to locate a particular product.
And a staff member doesn’t know where that product is and they have to go ask someone else who has to go ask someone. I mean that’s just a crazy and fixable problem that retailers are putting consumers through. So I think the starting place, let’s forget about, you know, oh we want single view of customer and we want to track this customer through the whole experience. I think, you know, well, I’ll just quickly tell you a very quick story. I travel a lot as, as you both probably do. And so I get a lot of overtures from one particular airline. I won’t say who, but I will say Canada has one national airline, so you can figure it out from there. But I get a lot of marketing offers. I get a lot of promotional offers. Yet I sat down one day on a plane to go to Miami and I looked to my left and there was duct tape around my window. Well, which appeared to be holding the window in place. I’m not an engineer or a physicist, but something tells me…

Shannon Ryan:
Yeah, probably another level there that they should have…

Doug Stephens:
Yeah. So, what struck me though is I thought, you know, with all the marketing overtures and all the time spent trying to convince me to do more business with this airline, how many people walked by that broken window and just turned a blind eye to it and said, we’ll fix it later. And that’s what happens in most retail companies. So my advice is before you get on to single view of customer, single view of inventory and this omni-channel utopia, let’s identify the places that are just broken. And let’s fix that first.

Shannon Ryan:
What was it, the Michael Dell story. Where, you used to Michael Dell in the early days of e-commerce equated a broken link to a broken window in a store. And that he went through this, you know, sort of vigilant period of combing through the Dell website to look for broken links because he equated that to literally someone throwing a rock through a store window. And he’s right. He was absolutely right. We, we have a tendency to, you know, misalign our understandings of what’s important. Um, primarily because things like those marketing programs they just run, right? They just continually run and yet big sort of moments of interruptions, like a broken window held together with duct tape – which I’m glad you’re still here, Doug, you didn’t get sucked out the window – seemed to go unnoticed for sure. This, to pick up Julia, your point around this idea of connected experience.
So it’s really this merging of the physical, digital world and, I think, you know, as a student of digital who’s been doing it for, you know, X amount of years, we see that this comes in waves and we really went through a wave where we were focused on the browser. Everything had to run through the browser. And that was really where it’s, I can’t help but feel we’re entering this next wave where it’s less about a physical computer and a device and more about sort of connected experiences of things and people and devices all meshed together in a way that blends this physical, digital world. It’s like a shifting of the tectonic plate of the internet right now. We’re about to engage in this whole new world that unleashes a whole bunch of new possibilities. One of them, of course, we can’t have this conversation without talking about data, right? That the digital link, if you will, that’s leftover through engagements. How are retailers thinking about data, Doug?

Doug Stephens:
I think they’re thinking about it from the standpoint of accumulation. The capacity now to accumulate tons of data is there, and so I think a lot of retailers have latched onto this idea of big data being primarily about the volume of data. And so, they’re all very interested in, you know, going out and spending a lot of capital and engaging…

Shannon Ryan:
They’re hoarders…

Doug Stephens:
And to, you know, let’s just get as much data on consumers as we can. The problem with that…the first obvious problem is that it’s really not about the volume. It’s about the degree to which you can parse the right data to really pick up on those broken windows along the experience.

Shannon Ryan:
The actionable moments…

Doug Stephens:
The actionable moments, exactly. And you can deliver to consumers the tools and information that they need in those moments to really make that experience with your brand joyful.
The other problem is that because we have this hunger for as much data as we can get, we often take nefarious routes to getting it. And even if it’s not nefarious, it’s a bother for the consumer, right? It’s just give me as much information as you as you can. I want all the information I can get about you, but the best brands actually work at it from the other way. The best brands say, I’m going to give you something first and it’s going to be so good and it’s going to be so enjoyable for you that you’re going to want to share more information with me. Whether that’s the Nike running club app, whether it’s Amazon prime, sometimes it’s a very simple exchange of value that will prompt a consumer to say, ‘you know what, that was pretty good. You said it was going to be here Tuesday. It was here Tuesday and it was exactly what I ordered. So that’s cool. Yeah, I’ll give you some more information if that makes this relationship even better’. And that’s where brands have to start from, I think, in this whole conversation around big data.

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