Rethinking Retail: Experts from Jet, eBay and Warby Parker discuss people who shop and the titans of retail
Here are highlights from a recent discussion hosted by Out In Tech and Jet.com, featuring some of the industries most innovative leaders. Shelly Banjo from Gadfly, Bloomberg's new fast commentary site, moderated the panel with Bradford Shellhammer, eBay’s Head of Curation and Merchandising, Chris Maliwat, Warby Parker's former Head of Product Management, and Jet’s very own Chief Consumer Officer, Liza Landsman.
Bradford Shellhammer is eBay’s Head of Curation and Merchandising. He is one of Fast Company’s ‘100 Most Creative People in Business’ and was coined the ‘King of Quirk’ by Forbes Magazine and the ‘Eames of E-Commerce’ by USA Today. Prior to eBay, he was the founder of Fab.com and Bezar, along with serving as the Chief Design Officer at Backcountry.com.
Chris Maliwat is currently part of DevProgress, the first joint technology initiative for a presidential candidate, national candidacy and volunteer core (Hillary for America & Democratic National Committee). They assembled 300+ technology volunteers (coders, designers, leaders and researchers) in 30 days and are working on dozens of projects.
Liza Landsman is Chief Customer officer at Jet.com. Prior to Jet, Liza was Chief Marketing Officer at ETRADE and was responsible for their marketing initiatives, including customer engagement, analytics and insights, advertising, direct online and offline marketing programs, and branding campaigns. Prior to joining ETRADE, Ms. Landsman held the position of Global Head of Digital at BlackRock, where she was responsible for firm-wide digital marketing.
Shelly Banjo is a seasoned business news reporter and writer covering consumer and retail. She got her training over eight years at The Wall Street Journal and cut her digital teeth at Quartz, Atlantic Media's global business news publication. She now spends her days as a columnist writing and making charts on retail and consumer news for Bloomberg Gadfly, Bloomberg's new fast commentary site.
The four experts joked and talked about retail’s transformation over the last decade, the ever-fickle consumer, and why people just cannot let go of the physical storefront. Read some of the most memorable highlights below:
On Walmart acquiring Jet
Liza: Well, honestly it was a series of blind dates that turned into...mad passionate love pretty quickly. And really I think it was about everyone was really surprised at how much we had in common.
Shelly: Tell everyone who doesn't know what the special sauce is about Jet.
Liza: Ah, well, besides our fabulous offices.
Bradford: People. Your people are amazing.
Liza: That's true, the people. It's the people.
Bradford: Everyone is smiling here.
Liza: I think the thing that is unique about us is super unsexy, which is that we really thought about all of the drivers of inefficiency and expense in e-commerce, really starting with supply chain...we engineered that piece of the equation through using technology. That is not something we typically express in our consumer claims because the reengineering short of shipping and minimizing last mile cost doesn't really lend itself to postcards. But that's what we're doing behind the scenes. It's super hot.
On the retail mammoth Amazon
Shelly: Can anyone take on Amazon? Does someone need to take on Amazon?
Chris: Does anyone need to take on Amazon as a whole...that's perhaps a question back to all of us, right? I think Amazon as a company is so diversified across at least two major or at least four type of services and...it is difficult for one entity to take on the entirety of what Amazon is. That said, I think what has been proven by Jet, even Walmart's innovations, things that eBay is doing, folks like Warby Parker...there are opportunities for entrants to come into the space and own different parts of the consumer, that consumer life cycle...logistics to me is sexy but there's also the manufacturing side of this and that's where these completely vertically integrated companies like Warby Parker are entering what you haven't seen Amazon come into a lot. They're doing a fair amount of private labeling. I think there are opportunities for companies but I can't think of any company that will also take on the AWS side of the company.
Bradford: At eBay people have a great deal of admiration and respect for Amazon, and we don't want to be Amazon. EBay is a marketplace grounded in heritage, which is people connecting with other people, people connecting with brands, people connecting with stores and it's a marketplace where we don't compete with our sellers. We let them, it's an open market.
Liza: The bar they have set in terms of innovation and really embedding technology and not making their own operational constraints consumer problems are great bars for us all to look at.
On conversational commerce
Shelly: It is just shopping versus buying, how do you replicate the shopping process?
Bradford: Buying is something you have to do. Shopping is something you feel. That's my answer.
Shelly: When there's a Jet for example and there's no branch. There's no place to go to. How do you still create that connection with your customers?
Liza: I think a lot of it for us really comes from two places. One, we invested early and heavily in real customer service, so 24/7 human customer service...We promote it prominently. If you want to talk to a human being you can because historically e-commerce has been very remote, very transactional, highly functional in its focus and we're like no...shopping can both be fun, it can be utilitarian...if you have a problem or question and just want to talk to somebody you should be able to talk to a human. That is really important to us. And the other thing is we don't think we're curing cancer. Like we have a sense of humor about this. If you read our shipping policy we have the zombie apocalypse thing there.
Shelly: It could happen.
Liza: Totally could happen.
On the customer today
Chris: I think we're in this golden age of consumer experiences. I'm excited that we're at this point in our history that we can really not just value the products and things that we own and love but also really get some value and emotional attachment to the experience of actually buying and owning a product.
Chris: Yeah, I think innovators have two things always on their side. One is that technology is moving extremely fast and that consumers are extremely fickle and get bored very quickly. Those two things combined mean innovators can come in with new technology that consumers demand because they don't want the same thing they wanted 3 months, 3 quarters, 3 years ago.
Bradford: It is about freaking people. It is about people. Yeah, it is cute that you go and get to try them on so you know the frame is not too big or too small on your head but really what you want is a person working there with a mirror telling you how great you look. That's why you're wearing an electric salmon dress. And you have gladiator cuff and you pinned a fly fish on your thing and passed it off as a broach. We want people to notice us because that's what humanity is about. It is not saying that I want all the lights on me. It is just saying I want people to appreciate me and that's the problem with e-commerce. It is about people appreciating the little things.
On the necessity of brick and mortar
Liza: [With Warby Parker’s popup shops,] e-commerce sales that happened in that same geography actually go up, just because awareness goes up in that area and people who first trusted the company to buy in-store make their subsequent purchases they're more likely to do that online.
Chris: Physical retail will never die but what it needs to do is transform...the shopping malls that's defined today, the big box retailers as it was ten years ago, all these things had to change because of technology and that's not just because of e-commerce certainly...whether it's companies that started as e-commerce and coming more online channel or likewise, you have to lean to the technology and historically not a lot of retailers have taken on technology as a strategic investment. They've taken it on by hiring consultants to build on existing platforms. I think it is a joint responsibility for the existing companies and the emerging ones to really lead into technology and to transform themselves in order to work, to make it work. The consumers can't transform faster. They will continue to evolve quickly and if companies don't respond to that they're going to lose the battle.
Shelly: In today's world people and the salespeople at places like Macy’s are even more important because the whole reason people come to a physical store is to talk to somebody. What Macy’s and other companies can do is really appreciate that and look at moving more people away from those back office jobs and onto the floor where people actually need them.
On the new consumer journey
Liza: I think it is just a testament that retail presence isn't just about selling in retail it's really about recognizing that customers are unified shoppers. They don't look at channels separately, they look at Instagram and see that people posted about their glasses and they go to retail locations, take some snaps and go home and see who liked what and then actually make the purchase at home. That's a consumer traversing through all these channels without thinking it's all these different departments within different companies.
On how to build brand loyalty that lasts
Shelly: All three of you guys have talked about one thing that cuts across all three is the brand and creating that brand loyalty, creating habits amongst your customers and you're seeing more and more fickle consumers. How do you build a brand going forward that people love? Like truly love?
Chris: So you don't start with loyalty, you start with creating a feeling or atmosphere or moment or series of moment that are important to people. It harks back to what you said of buying. Buying is put that on my credit card. That's the transaction, but the romanticizing of the browsing process and comparing it with other people and actually being seduced through the flow of finding things and making choices and getting opinions. That's where the action is and I think it's those feelings instead of emotions that leads to loyalty, right? And leads to people thinking about it. It has to be more than just the commoditized item. It has to feel more powerful than that.
On retail trends to watch
Shelly: In three words, top three trends in retail to watch in the next 5 years and I'm imposing a ban on the words millennials, omni channel, digital and innovation.
Chris: Recommendations I think is really incredibly important as the access to goods increased and price of goods decreased. Getting the right product in the hands of the right people at the right time is something we definitely haven't tried. So, those three things.
This panel discussion was made possible by Jet.com, Uber and innovative programming by Out In Tech.
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