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SHIFT HAPPENS: Retail Executives Share ‘New Normal’ Insights

As part of our #ShiftHappens series, we asked top retail executives and industry thought leaders to share what’s top of mind in today’s current retail climate.

This month, you’ll hear from:


Ken Wincko, VP of Marketing at Barnes & Noble College

Carrie Tharp, VP of Retail and Consumer at Google Cloud

Erik Saltvold, Founder of ERIK’S Bike Shop

Oscar Sachs, CEO of Salesfloor 

Sucharita Kodali, VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester

Courtney Hawkins, Former VP of Stores at Old Navy 

Kate Giovambattista, Founder of Beyond Main

Marie Driscoll, Managing Director of Luxury & Fashion at Coresight Research 

Vinod Bidarkoppa, SVP of Technology at Sam’s Club




Carrie Tharp: Today’s retail landscape has surfaced both existing and new challenges for retailers. While the new normal is still being defined, the industry’s shift to digital has been universally accelerated. Retailers are sprinting to cover gaps in omnichannel capabilities, customer experience, and supply chain responsiveness that have come to the forefront in the last few months. Retailers must rethink their digital playbook and focus on creating operational improvements, capturing digital and omnichannel revenue, and leveraging real-time insights to make data-driven decisions.


While the new normal is still being defined, the industry’s shift to digital has been universally accelerated” —  Carrie Tharp, VP of Retail at Google Cloud


Vinod Bidarkoppa: The pandemic is obviously driving a lot more e-commerce penetration. Our motto is to meet the member when, how, and where he or she wants to meet us. Keeping that in mind, I think safety is the biggest concern for all our members. And that’s why Scan and Go is a fantastic app. We also have our direct-to-home channels and club pick up options. And we will only continue to innovate and improve upon these options and make the shopping experience convenient.



Couple uses Scan-and-Go to shop for groceries — Image courtesy of Sam’s Club


Courtney Hawkins: The changes in retail today are being accelerated by problems that have plagued retailers for years. Executive teams are being forced to confront challenges that have drained profits in areas like real estate, product assortment, technology, pipeline, and staffing. Now that retailers are being forced to face each one of their burning platforms, I predict that those who embrace the possibility of meaningful change and make the tough decisions for the short and long term will come out thriving.  



Sucharita Kodali: Things are changing and consumers are changing. One day stores open, the next day a pandemic closes entire chains. Retailers must be nimble—they simply can’t operate in the same way that they were operating before. In this regard, things are accelerating toward nimbleness, and they’re accelerating toward being adaptable.


Retailers must be nimble—they simply can’t operate in the same way that they were operating before” — Sucharita Kodali, VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester


Oscar Sachs: The customer experience is being replaced by store associates serving customers online. Our recent data shows that the average in-store associate is serving 94 customers online each week—and they’re converting at around 14%, which is much higher than traditional e-commerce. The number one strategy for retailers is to implement these new use cases to create engaging experiences. We’re going to see a lot more options for customers to engage with brands, and I think that’s a good thing. 



Erik Saltvold: The challenge has been in the acceleration of adapting staffing in order to serve the customer. I’ve talked to retailers in many different industries and everybody is having the same challenge of adapting staffing and customer service levels as they move from an in-store experience to a digital experience. That said, the physical experience is still very important for our business, and always will be, but it will be enhanced by the digital experience.


Ken Wincko: Our Student Pulse research shows that, while Gen Z is the first generation to grow up digitally, they really love to meet with people from a social perspective. And we see a large majority of them shopping in-store. Post-pandemic, I believe this generational preference for shopping in-store will continue.




Marie Driscoll: As we go back to work, we have the ability to think about recreating our industries to look differently. There will be more digital focus, less physical retail, and safer physical retail overall. And then we can rethink the supply chain. And then, as we rethink the supply chain, we should think about, “Are we working with suppliers that are practicing sustainability?”


Kate Giovambattista: Consumers are thinking about what’s really important to them. Frivolous purchasing went out the window with COVID while consumer staples and sales of all things related to being-at-home skyrocketed. Retailers and brands need to find a compelling reason and ways to connect with their loyal customers and attract new ones. In terms of retaining and acquiring new customers; trust, transparency, and values-based buying will continue to strengthen as a priority for consumers.



Sucharita Kodali: There’s a lot of waste in retail, especially in the manufacturing process, and often even once inventory comes to the store, we have a significant percentage of products that are returned that end up in landfills. So there are many problems regarding supply chain transparency that technology will hopefully fix. I think that one of the biggest challenges is that solutions are often driven by what technology is able to do. It’s not driven by “what are the needs” and “let’s build a solution that solves those needs.” That hopefully will change.


Courtney Hawkins: Customers are expecting more transparency and empathy from retailers today. The questions have always been there about ethical sourcing, pricing, and labor practices. The pandemic, equality, and unemployment have accelerated wanting change and seeing that change in marketing, product assortment, and the shopping experience. 

Value is shifting from being defined as ‘less expensive in price’ to ‘sustainable and will last’. Fast fashion will have to reconsider what it means to them and their value proposition. The shift to casual comfort is one that will be here to stay for the foreseeable future. The brands that are able to shift and meet the new demand will gain market share.


Value is shifting from being defined as ‘less expensive in price’ to ‘sustainable and will last” — Courtney Hawkins, Former VP of Stores at Old Navy