The Future of Retail and Brands is Truly Exciting!!

Each year, the Wharton Graduate Retail Conference draws upon the best and brightest from the worlds of retail and brand to share their experiences and insights with Graduate students who truly represent the potential of our retail and consumer businesses.

This year, Steve Goldberg, President of TGC, had the privilege to moderate a panel focused on customer loyalty through innovation. The conference also featured extraordinary leaders and entrepreneurs from retail and brands who shed light on the fundamental issues surrounding our consumer world today.  Discussion topics included breakthrough technology, the concept of connecting with customers through “authentic experiences”, and the process of inventing and reinventing businesses; all of which reveal important leadership lessons of how to succeed in business in today’s hypercompetitive, multi-channel marketplace.

We left the conference optimistic that the future of our brand and retail leadership is very bright indeed.

So what were the key learnings from this extraordinary group?

Brands and Retailers must be authentic, provide a unique experience – a true “raison d’etre” – and connect with the customer in ways that transcend just price

  • For Bart Sichel, CMO at Burlington this means providing/fostering “the hunt” for a unique value
  • For Bloomingdale’s Customer Loyalty VP Sean Duffy, and L’Oreal’s Sarika Rastogi, VP of CRM and Loyalty , it means building sophisticated customer segments that provide personalized ways of communicating with the customer that will connect with them on an individual level
  • Craig Fleishman, SVP of Corporate Development at Rebecca Minkoff, demonstrated how they have developed dynamic, disruptive ideas; including the breakthrough digital dressing room and the See-Buy-Wear, concept, which was unveiled at Fashion Week last month and is resonating throughout the fashion industry

Brands and Retailers must invent, reinvent, and reinvent again…but it takes drive and passion

  • Pamela Baxter, President/CEO of Dior Couture (LVMH) demonstrated the magic and power of drawing from the past to inform and reinvent present and future design sensibilities; a strategy that has ensured that Dior is relevant to the most important influencers of every generation
  • Andy Dunn, Founder of Bonobos, invented a way to connect with the consumer by offering an online solution to buying great fitting pants, he then reinvented with the concept with the development of the “Guide Shop” in which he emphasized the need to “listen to the customer in a profound way”
  • Rachel Schechtman, Founder, has invented an entirely new retail format at STORY, which has attracted product developers, global sponsors and influencers from around to world to participate in their ever changing retail “stories”

Technology will be the key to the future of retailing and connecting brands to consumers

  • At Shoes of Prey, Michael Knapp, Co-Founder, has created an entirely new approach to “mass customization” that enables customers to design their own shoes. Using a “3D virtual tool,” shoppers can choose a shoe shape, color and height for their custom made shoe
  • Sarika Rastogi, Lancôme, and Sean Duffy, Bloomingdales, shared the power of CRM methodology and how they are enhancing connections with their customers through personalization tools
  • Healy Cyper, Founder, shared how Oak Labs has seamlessly enhanced the shopping experience at Ralph Lauren and Rebecca Minkoff through the reinvention of the “fitting room” using digital personal engagement technology that allows the shopper to customize his/her experience and easily ask for help and complete purchases. Healy also discussed the interactive windows at Kate Spade that have captivated the retail community and redefined the concept of “window shopping”. Not only can shoppers use the technology to browse styles and complete purchases, but it also allows the retailer to showcase a wide selection of items otherwise unavailable for a small store space

Leadership is the key to our future…but it’s different now

  • Brendan Hoffman, CEO of Vince, shared his philosophy of leadership; being prepared to make courageous decisions both professionally and personally; he emphasized that surrounding himself with the best and brightest talent has been critical to his success
  • Andy Dunn discussed that while leadership often feels like a “burden”, it is a true privilege; and that leadership today requires empathy to truly connect with associates, and customers alike

In an era where the customer often comes armed with more product knowledge than sales associates, all panelists agree that, today, our associates and employees must be empowered differently.  Providing great, informed service, starts by ensuring that associates are hired with strong filters for “skill and will”. Leadership must make it clear that we expect to deliver great service and a fresh customer experience. But, we as leaders must provide the training, tools and information necessary to allow them to make informed decision, and truly serve the customer.