Episode 8

What's Next with Steve Dennis

We speak to Steve Dennis, author of 'Remarkable Retail How to Win & Keep Customers in the Age of Disruption'.

Steve gives us an overview of the retail industry; the impacts of shopping mall oversupply, lack of diversified shopping experiences and the evolution of e-commerce. Steve also takes us through 'The 8 Essentials of Remarkable Retail', a framework that guides brands in the design of enduring, highly profitable and intensely customer-centric growth strategies.


**ABOUT STEVE DENNIS**

Steve Dennis is a leading global retail influencer, keynote speaker & consultant, Senior Forbes Contributor, and bestselling author, ‘Remarkable Retail'

Steve Dennis is a consultant, keynote speaker and author focused on retail growth and innovation. He has been named a top global retail influencer by multiple organizations and his thoughts on the future of shopping are regularly shared in his role as a Forbes Senior Contributor. His new best-selling book is "Remarkable Retail: How to Win & Keep Customers in the Age of Digital Disruption" and he is the host of the Remarkable Retail podcast.

During a 30 year career as a senior executive at two Fortune 500 retailers–and more recently as a strategic advisor–Steve has worked with dozens of retail, consumer, luxury and social impact brands to inspire, catalyze and design their journey to remarkable results.

As a sought-out keynote speaker, Steve has delivered talks on six continents, sharing his unique perspective on what it takes to reignite customer growth in a world of constant change and shifting consumer preferences.

He has contributed commentary to Bloomberg/Business Week, the BBC, CNBC, CNN, the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal, among many others.

Steve is currently the President of SageBerry Consulting. Prior to founding SageBerry, he was the chief strategy officer and SVP, multichannel marketing for the Neiman Marcus Group.

Steve received his MBA from Harvard and a BA from Tufts University.



**FOLLOW STEVE**

stevenpdennis.com

twitter.com/stevenpdennis

www.linkedin.com/in/stevenpdennis/

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Transcript
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- [Steve] Well, hi, I'm Steve Dennis.

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I'm a consultant, author and speaker

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on retail strategy and innovation.

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I've been in the retail industry a really long time.

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I don't really like to talk about it.

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And I'm also the author of "Remarkable Retail,

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How to Win & Keep Customers

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in the Age of Digital Disruption."

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- [Karim] Thank you, Steve, for joining me today.

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- [Steve] Thanks for having me.

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- [Karim] So, the book, "Remarkable Retail"

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it's coming out at a...

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It's very timely,

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obviously not only over the past number of years,

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have we had a growth in e-commerce,

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but this pandemic has really changed people's buying habits.

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And I know one of them has been and I know many people

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have taken advantage of calling up or going online

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and ordering groceries or whatever the case may be.

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And then picking them up curbside, right?

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There's this curbside pickup phenomenon

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that we've been seeing this year.

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And you mentioned...

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You obviously mentioned that in your book,

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but you also mentioned in your book about the customer

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is the channel.

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And you do reference consumers picking up groceries

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or shopping curbside.

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And I'm wondering if you could explain more

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about this customer as the channel thing.

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- [Steve] Yeah, well, one of the biggest mistakes

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that a lot of retailers have made over the years

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not just during the pandemic is thinking of e-commerce

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and brick and mortar as largely distinct operations.

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And I think what the pandemic has done is number one,

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really reinforced the idea and accelerated the stats

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around how consumers start most shopping journeys

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in a digital channel even though the vast majority

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of those digital shopping journeys

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end up involving a store in some way.

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But in particular what happened with the pandemic

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is yes, we saw more kind of traditional e-commerce growth,

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but we saw a lot more of this behavior

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where stores are involved in what people call e-commerce.

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So that's the curbside pickup that's buy online

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or return to store.

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It's online orders that are fulfilled by stores.

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So if anything, it's actually

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kind of ironically turned out that stores are going to be

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even more important for a lot of retailers,

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even though we've obviously seen

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a growing shift to e-commerce.

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But you know that shift to e-commerce

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has been going on for 15 years.

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Like that in itself is not new.

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- [Karim] Yeah.

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- [Steve] So the idea of the customers as the channel

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is not to think about e-commerce versus brick and mortar,

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it's to say, well, it's the focus on the customer

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and our job is to figure it out how to reduce the friction

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between shopping across those channels

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but more particularly really elevate that experience

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and in away that is truly remarkable,

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which is really the thrust

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and underlying principle in my book.

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- [Karim] And previous to this pandemic,

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the discussion around e-commerce has always been

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e-commerce will grow at the detriment of bricks and mortar

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but I think we've seen that one sort of needs the other.

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E-commerce for grocery stores,

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at least here in in Canada and in Toronto

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needs the grocery stores in the neighborhoods

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to fulfill that.

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- [Steve] Yeah I...

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Right. Oh, I'm sorry.

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Go ahead.

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- [Karim] No, so I was wondering whether or not

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you had always thought in this way

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and whether this will continue even post-pandemic?

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- [Steve] So I think couple of things are going on there

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that's important.

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One is there's an aspect of online,

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which e-commerce and sort of,

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I hate to say traditional e-commerce

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'cause that sounds a little bit funny,

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but if you think about e-commerce,

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at least in its early days,

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it was sort of a better catalog,

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mail order catalog business.

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It basically use technology to automate ordering

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but the basic fulfillment was very similar

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to what catalog company has been doing forever

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which is to pick, pack and ship a product

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in the central distribution location and mail it to you.

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I think that was e-commerce

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that has been the bulk of Amazon's business for example

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other than digital downloading.

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So that sort of e-commerce is really great

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for certain kinds of products,

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largely around where it's just convenient to order it online

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and have it show up at your home or office.

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So, and that part of e-commerce for the most part,

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doesn't really involve a store.

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You may go to a store to check out the product

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and order online,

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but a lot of e-commerce and particularly

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what's happened in the last several years

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and really accelerated by the pandemic

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has involvement from the store

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because the customer is either going there

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to talk to a sales associate or get ideas

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or put an outfit together or whatever and or I guess,

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the store has a role in fulfilling that order.

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So it's been going on and I think just generally people

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have been a little bit too black and white

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about talking about e-commerce and the main thing

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is really blended altogether.

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The kind of pure e-commerce

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for the most part doesn't really exist.

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Even some of these newer brands that started online

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they're all opening stores

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because they realized that there's a big aspect

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of commerce that is a merger or a hybrid

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of physical and digital.

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- [Karim] I know e-marketer recently was talking

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in one of their episodes about the future of shopping malls.

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And so when you think of adjusting

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a black and white framework you think,

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"Okay, shopping malls are going to end,

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no need to go into store and walk around and stuff."

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But I'm curious whether there's a reinvention

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of shopping malls when to keep this in mind.

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- [Steve] Well, I hope so.

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I think, again, there's a little bit of the devil

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in the details.

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I mean- - [Karim] sure.

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- [Steve] Shopping malls have been losing...

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I mean, well, one in the US in particular,

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but I know in Canada in some other markets,

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there was a real boom in building shopping markets

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and shopping malls and shopping centers

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for the past 20 years.

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And so one of the things that happened in general

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was that the capacity that was developed

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in malls and shopping centers was much greater

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than the demand overall.

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So there was going to be a reckoning at some point.

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And the pandemic is really forcing that.

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But the other thing is that a lot of this shopping malls,

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not all but a lot of the shopping malls really

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were highly dependent on apparel and were highly dependent

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upon department store anchors.

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Most of which have really been struggling

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for many, many years.

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And in fact, a lot of people say,

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"Oh, well, e-commerce really is what has caused

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these department stores or malls to get in trouble."

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And actually, if you look and particularly

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until recent years, most of the market share that was lost

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by department stores actually went to off-price retailers

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and discount mass-merchants and fast fashion companies

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and other specialty retailers.

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It wasn't so much that it was captured by e-commerce

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plus all of those stores could have e-commerce themselves

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like a e-commerce didn't have to be the reason

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that some of these stores or some of these malls

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got into trouble.

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But it is absolutely the case that a lot of these malls

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were overly reliant on concepts

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that really didn't innovate enough

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and consumer preferences just switch

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to many more off-the-mall formats

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and then more so on an e-commerce.

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But I think what you generally see is

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that the very best malls,

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particularly the ones that are more,

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have a stronger tenant mixes

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and maybe a good mix of restaurants and entertainment,

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I think most of those will do pretty well

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without a tremendous amount of change.

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But the malls that didn't reinvent themselves

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and have just a ton of space devoted to retailers

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that are really dinosaurs in this era,

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I mean most of those are either going to get bulldozed

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or really need to reinvent themselves.

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So we'll see.

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I mean, it's hard to attract capital,

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I think to invest in some of these more mediocre malls,

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the malls that have a good customer base, a good tenant mix.

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I think, they need some reimagination

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but I suspect that the top 20% of malls will do pretty well

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once we get beyond the pandemic.

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- [Karim] That's really interesting.

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And I'm curious about this one.

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So small independent companies,

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they may or may not have a retail location.

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Maybe they are working with your traditional grocery stores

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to get their product on the shelves,

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but they've started to open up

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their own e-commerce capabilities, right.

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So yes, they might have some product on Amazon

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but they've got their own Shopify store.

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- [Steve] Yeah.

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- [Karim] I'm wondering if there's an opportunity

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in e-commerce outside of Amazon,

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outside of being reliant on shelving fees

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that these companies have with their own store.

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Can they compete even with free shipping

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and things like that that Amazon provides?

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- [Steve] Well, it's certainly it's certainly tough

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for the smaller guys to compete with the big guys.

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And what I generally say is that you need

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to really make the different or understand the difference

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between what I call and talk about a little bit in the book

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as table stakes and differentiators.

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And by that, I mean there are some things

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that you just have to do to be in the game.

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So it's pretty hard to imagine how a retailer of any size

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can have at least basic e-commerce capabilities.

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And so thankfully, there is Shopify and there is BigCommerce

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and there are ways to get those basic functions.

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But you have to be really careful not to chase your tail

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and gauge in a race to the bottom essentially,

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trying to out Amazon Amazon.

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- [Karim] Yeah.

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- [Steve] So generally, I think figure out

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those basic features that keep you in the game

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but then it's going to be more about leaning into those things

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that can really make you different.

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So how can you focus maybe more deeply

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on a particular set of customers

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or offer unique and different products or offer service?

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What's that thing that can be different enough

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that a set of customers care about

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that Amazon really for the most part or it could be Walmart

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it could be whole host of other big retailers.

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What are those things that customers will value

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that you can uniquely deliver on?

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Because if you start in a race to the bottom

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or start in a race with Amazon,

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I mean, you're basically going to get to this race

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to the bottom

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and Amazon's always going to have lower prices

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and be able to kind of out supply chain.

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So- - [Karim] Yeah.

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- [Steve] Pick your battles, pick those basic things

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to keep you in the game

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but pick those places where you can really win

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over the long-term.

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- [Karim] And wondering if this delves

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into to this next question.

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In the second part of your book,

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you outline and you go into detail about

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what you call the eight essentials.

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- [Steve] Right.

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- [Karim] And so I'm wondering Steve,

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if you could quickly go through these eight essentials

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and I'm wondering if there was one

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that might be the most underrated one.

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One that's most overlooked I would say

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by brands or companies.

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- [Steve] Sure. So I'll just quickly mention what they are.

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So the first six I do talk about as being table stakes.

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In other words, if you're not pretty good at them,

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you're probably at a disadvantage.

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So number one is digitally enabled.

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So this is the idea of really using digital technology

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to enhance the customer experience.

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Number two is human centered,

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which is just a little bit different spin

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on thinking about customers, I guess, in a broader way.

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Three is harmonized,

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which is some of what we were talking about earlier

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which is really understanding how to blend digital

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and physical in interesting ways.

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Fourth is I'm probably going to screw them up in the order,

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but fourth is mobile.

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This really is a recognition of that mobile is,

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when we talk about digitally-enabled shopping journeys

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more and more of that is because customers

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are shopping wherever they happen to be

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on sort of some smart device.

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Fifth is personal, which is idea of treating

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different customers differently

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and personalizing the experience.

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Six is connected which is really leaning

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into just how we're more connected to people,

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whether that's through social media or getting reviews

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and other things.

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And then the two differentiators I talk about are memorable

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which is how do you create an experience

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that is really so much better

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than what the competition can do

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that literally customers will talk about

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which is the key idea of remarkable.

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And then eighth is radical

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which is mostly about needing to constantly innovate

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and build a culture of experimentation.

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As your question about which one is the least appreciated.

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I think it's probably personal.

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I think particularly for smaller retailers,

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well, I guess really retailers of all sides,

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the really big guys sometimes tend to lean on

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a one-size-fits-all approach.

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And that often doesn't meet customers in a more...

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As a customer intense and relevant way

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as they would like to.

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I think for smaller retailers, the opportunity is

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if they've got that local knowledge

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that has some unique products,

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they have the ability to do more personal experience.

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They can really leverage that.

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But I think there just oftentimes tends to be this tendency

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to do the easier or more efficient thing

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which is to tend to treat customers a little bit

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like they're all the same.

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And that's where you can really get into trouble

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as a big guy by allowing interesting segments

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for competitors to go after.

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As a smaller guy, it's sometimes just chasing your tail

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trying to out Amazon Amazon, or out Walmart.

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- [Karim] Steve, thanks so much for this conversation.

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I've really enjoyed and appreciated it.

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If people want to get ahold of your book

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to read more about your thoughts as it pertains to retail,

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where can they go?

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- [Steve] Well, all of our social media generally,

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@ Stephen P. Dennis.

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My website is www.stevenpdennis.com.

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And my book is available on Amazon

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and just about anywhere else books are sold.

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So you should be able to find it anywhere again.

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- [Karim] Again, thank you so much, Steve.

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- [Steve] You bet. It was great talking to you.

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About the Podcast

Show artwork for What's Next
What's Next
Big Ideas and Innovative thoughts on the future of Marketing, Media, Advertising and more!

About your host

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Karim Kanji

We all need to be thinking about and preparing for What’s Next in order to achieve more - and that’s what this podcast is all about.

We are seeking to gain a more diverse perspective on what will shape the future of marketing & advertising, one 15-minute conversation at a time.

We are excited to share talks Karim will be having with thinkers around the world. If you’re as curious as us about What’s Next, join me and invest 15 minutes of your day exploring big ideas and innovative thoughts.


ABOUT KARIM

Karim has been successfully podcasting since 2010. First with the ‘Social Media Show’ and then the popular ‘Welcome with Karim Kanji podcast’ and a co-hosted show with Gregg Tilston, ‘Welcome to The Music’.

2021 sees Karim launching this new show ‘What’s Next’ with support from Active International where Karim is currently the Director of Emerging and Social Media.

In his role within the advertising and marketing industry, Karim has worked with brands such as Popeyes Canada, Melitta, Ricola, 3M Canada, eOne, Nikon Canada, Jamieson Vitamins, Mark’s, LG Electronics Canada, Muskoka Brewery, Post Cereals, Nestle Canada, Dell Canada, GE Canada, Scotiabank, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, Microsoft Canada, and many others.