Our panelists dive into the biggest challenges and opportunities women in retail are currently facing and what that means for the future of retail.

Panelists:
Anne Mezzenga, Co-CEO of Omni Talk Retail, Women in Tech Podcast
Cathy Hotka, Principal – Cathy Hotka & Associates, LLC, Connecting Retail Insiders
Marie Albiges, Senior Editor at Women in Retail Leadership Circle, Spotlight PA

Moderated by: Libby Saylor Wright, COO, US Retail & Consumer Goods, Microsoft

 

TRANSCRIPT:

Libby Saylor Wright:

Okay. Thank you. Thank you everyone for joining. I’m Libby Saylor Wright, the Chief Operating Officer of US Retail & Consumer Goods for Microsoft. We are excited to have a panel of transformative women in retail. Shortly, I will let them introduce themselves to you. Over the last few years, changes in consumer behavior and advances in retail technology solutions have drastically changed the way retailers do business. With more options than ever before, shoppers have become increasingly more selective and difficult to capture through traditional marketing tactics.

Consumers also want the convenience of omnichannel fulfillment and retailers are tasked with developing an agile workforce that can adapt to changes in demand. On this panel, we will identify key actions that retailers can take to stand out in an oversaturated market, empower their frontline employees, and meet the growing consumer demand for relevant, personalized, and convenient experiences. So here to dive in is an impressive roster of dynamic women leaders that have their finger on the pulse of the retail industries. I’d love for you guys to introduce yourself, beginning with you, Anne.

Anne Mezzenga:

Thanks for having me, Libby. I’m Anne Mezzenga. I’m one of the cohost of the Omni Talk podcast and the co-CEO of Omni Talk. And we are a media platform focused on the future of the retail industry.

Libby Saylor Wright:

Thank you. And Cathy.

Cathy Hotka:

Hi there. I’m Cathy Hotka. I invented retail networking back in 1996 when I created the NRF CIO council. And I’ve been continuing that practice ever since.

Libby Saylor Wright:

And last but not least, Marie.

Marie Albiges:

Hi, thank you for having me. I’m Marie Albiges. I’m the senior editor of Women in Retail, which is a membership-based association that caters to executive leadership development of women who are director level and above in the retail industry. And then I also work on another brand, Total Retail. It’s a digital publication for about 50,000 retailers, focused on the strategy side of retail and we offer live and virtual events, podcasts, webinars, all that great content.

Libby Saylor Wright:

Awesome. Thank you. It’s wonderful meeting all of you. Now, let’s jump into our questions, and I’d love to hear from each of you as it relates to this beginning with Anne. So the first one is really around consumer shopping habits. So we talked about consumer shopping habits and motivations are changing a lot due to the pandemic, but also there’s a changing face of the average consumer. So what are the characteristics you would say of the 2022 consumer, and how do you expect that to evolve over the next decade? Anne, I’d love to hear from you first.

Anne Mezzenga:

Yeah, sure. I mean, when we all love to know. I wish we could look ahead to the next decade, but I think one thing has really come to the fore for us at Omni Talk. And that is that, you should bet on … Whenever you’re making predictions bet on the things that aren’t going to change, convenience being number one on that list. And I think what we saw throughout the pandemic was this shift of fulfillment options. How consumers are getting the products has really come to the front of the funnel. You’re making decisions about who you’re going to shop with, where you’re going to go, what kind of products you’re going to buy even, based on how they’re available, and how that meets your needs and your schedule. And I think that’s not just now. On the front side of things, “Can I get this curbside pickup same day? Can I get it delivered to my house in 15 minutes?”

But now we’re also is starting to see this. And I think we’ll continue to see this on the post-purchase side. So who has the most convenient returns options? “Do I have to go to the store or can I drop it off at a locker that’s in front of my grocery store?” So I think all of those things are going to continue to play into the mindset of the consumer of how are you betting on what’s making the most convenient shopping or returns experience for me as a customer.

Libby Saylor Wright:

Absolutely. Convenience is key. Marie, what about you? I’m curious on your perspective.

Marie Albiges:

Yeah, I had very similar thoughts to Anne. I think what retailers are really focused on is continuing to provide and even enhance the engaging personal fun experiences that customers have shown that they want in shopping while also keeping safety and convenience at the forefront. I think customers, especially the next generation coming up, they’re going to want nothing less. They want that seamless experience. Like Anne said, they want to add products to their virtual shopping cart. And then, as they’re scrolling through TikTok, they want to try it on virtually. And then they want to pick it up curbside. So they’re incredibly comfortable with picking up in the latest technology, and they’re going to be the first to embrace or dismiss any new retail technology. So I think convenience again is going to be … We’re going to continue to see that.

And I think the other thing that I’m looking at is that the 2022 consumer is a very conscious consumer. They’re realizing that they can vote with their money. They’re shopping more sustainably. They’ve got secondhand stores and resell at their fingertips, going back to their comfort with technology. And they’re also a lot more vocal about the things that they care about. They’re responding to companies who are their purpose clear, and they’re calling out companies who aren’t making it clear.

Libby Saylor Wright:

Absolutely. I know earlier in my career, we talked about the whole notion of the brands owning themselves. Now consumers absolutely own them. Cathy, do you have anything to add to that?

Cathy Hotka:

I do. I’m struck by the new consumer. So the people who are setting up households these days are digital natives, and they’re going to do it the way they want to do it. And they have certain expectations about how that retail experience is going to happen. They want frictionless. They want a wide selection. They want quick delivery obviously. They’re very concerned about brand authenticity and curated selections. I had my daughter with me, and I opened the door of a department store. I won’t say which one. And she looked in and went, “Ah.” Because those consumers see items four at a time, not 10,000 SKUs at a time.

Libby Saylor Wright:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Wow, incredible. So you guys all touched on this in your previous answer, the whole notion about digital really being incorporated into the shopping journey and the end to end. I’m curious as to what challenges you think this has brought forth specifically for retailers. And I’d love to hear from first, Anne.

Anne Mezzenga:

Yeah, I mean, I think number one, digital is the part of the shopping experience now and has been for a while. And I think that the number one thing for retailers to be paying attention to is the transparency in pricing and product availability. Because consumers can see now what your competitor is charging for the same product, how much they can get it on Amazon for. And again, that plays into what I was saying earlier. It’s not necessarily about getting something to me the fastest like it doesn’t have to be 15 minutes or less, it’s what’s the most convenient.

And I think we haven’t talked about this, but price does play into it still. Yes, I think the consumer is more conscious about who they’re buying from, but price, no matter what is always going to be a factor. And there was some studies from IRI that were saying, even that you’re holding it up, who’s got a more sustainable product, and who’s got a more affordable product. Even the next generation is still choosing that affordable product because it’s the reality that we’re living in especially post-pandemic here. So I think it’s going to be key for retailers to invest in platforms. And Libby, with Microsoft, platforms that are bringing all these platforms together so that retailers can offer real-time visibility into, “Is this product in stock? If it’s not in stock, when can I get it to you? How quickly can I get it to you? And how much am I willing to compromise on price?”

Libby Saylor Wright:

Absolutely. Thank you. So Cathy, with these shifts in mind, what changes do retailers need to make now to ensure that they are effectively empowering their store teams to support everything that we’re just talking about?

Cathy Hotka:

I’m glad you asked me that because I manage the Store Operations Council. We have a meeting once a year. And it’s fascinating to hear what these people are doing. One of the main things that they’re looking at is communications with store associates. During the early days of the pandemic, associates were told one thing, and then the next day they were told something else. And the next day after that, they were told something else. And keeping track of that was very difficult. So communications between management and associate is really key at this point. So is flexibility to accommodate workers who may need to take an afternoon off or get a substitution. We’re seeing some really amazing things in the industry around continuing education for associates, look at what Walmart is doing. It’s really exciting. And the other thing is these associates need to be empowered to make common-sense decisions.

Libby Saylor Wright:

Yeah, absolutely. That freedom within the framework is what I like to call it. And absolutely empowering the store associates in the frontline work is to have exactly what they need aid. So there’s a common school of thought among industry insiders that brands and retailers need to deliver experiences not just products to capture the attention and interest of today’s consumers. These experiences occur within the store on a brand’s website and carry through even after the purchase. And I know we talked about that a little bit earlier.

Consumers are increasingly shifting to digital. And so with that in mind, outlets and … Come to … Aah. I’m going to restate that people. Sorry. But let me start all the way back from the other part. Sorry. Okay. A common school of thought among industry insiders is that brands and retailers need to deliver experiences not just products to capture the attention and interests of today’s consumers. These experiences occur within the store on a brand’s website and carry on even after purchase. But as we touched on earlier, consumers are increasingly shifting to digital, and with that shift and nontraditional outlets to discover and engage with brands. So when you think about that Anne, what does a thoughtful and engaging marketing experience look like in 2022?

Anne Mezzenga:

I’m really glad that we’re talking about this because I would have to say, even within the last few weeks, I feel like my thoughts about this have changed. We saw this huge rise in social commerce over the course of the last couple of years, especially Discovery happening on Instagram. And now, Twitter just announced they’re opening up Shops. I mean, I think that where the customer was discovering the product and buying product was happening on other people’s platforms. And I think now we’re going to start to see this shift where we’re going back to brands in retailer’s site.

That’s where brands and retailers have the best engagement with their customer. Consumers are staying engaged. We interviewed a company called Firework that’s helping brands like Albertsons, Bosches, and more, do live streaming on their sites. So they’re able to take the content, have the influencers drive people from Instagram onto the retailer’s website onto Albertsons.com.

And then, they can find out the recipes. They can get all the products that they want, not just in that little Instagram post, but then the whole world of Albertson’s product is now open and available to the consumer. And then that post-purchase point. Now you have the first-party data coming in from those consumers who are engaging on your site. And I think that that’s really where retailers are going to start to see an ROI that they can’t see with influencer marketing. They can’t see with a Super Bowl commercial. And so, I think that’s where we’re really going to start to see more marketing and engaging happening with that 2022 consumer.

Libby Saylor Wright:

Awesome. Thank you. So data-driven marketing is not a new concept, but there are new limitations around consumer privacy. And so, they’ve changed the way and the types of data that retailers can collect. So how is first and zero-party data making up for a loss of third-party cookies? I’d love to hear from you Cathy first.

Cathy Hotka:

I think the interesting thing is that retailers are taking their brand back and they’re giving consumers new reasons to engage with them. Look at what Nike has done with the Nike stores, with the apps, with companies buying technology companies to engage these customers in ways that make customers want to give them information because there’s a positive … I’m just really messing this up. Can I start again?

Anne Mezzenga:

Good thoughts though Cathy. I’m with you.

Marie Albiges:

Yeah, just back from the start, I would say.

Cathy Hotka:

Okay, good. Retail companies are finding new ways to incent customers to provide their information. They’re providing meaningful offers beyond merely a discount. And there are new ways for customers now to interact with the company, either digitally in the store, as Anne said on the website, and just a completely different approach to communication. So that it’s not just one-way communication from the retailer to the consumer, but back from the consumer to the retailer as well.

Libby Saylor Wright:

Awesome. Thank you. So, Marie, I know you’re particularly passionate about this. What are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities that women particularly in retail are facing, given the discussion that we’ve had or are having today?

Marie Albiges:

Yeah. That’s a great question. I’ll speak generally to women in retail across the industry. And the first thing I’ll say is that these women are starving for social interaction. They’re looking to build communities and connect and talk about all these challenges and pain points that they’ve had over the past two years. And they’re dealing with on a regular basis, supply chain issues, hiring issues, burnout, work-life balance. They’re dealing with Zoom fatigue. I mean, we all are. But they’re ready to get back out there. That’s what they’re telling us, and socialize and commiserate. We’ve had requests for people to do meetups and have ambassador programs, so they’re ready to get back out there and socialize.

The other thing I’ll say is that we just had a great conversation with our C-suite members on our peer group call yesterday about recruiting and retaining employees. Now, this isn’t necessarily specific to women in retail, but it’s definitely top of mind for our members because they’re trying to find the right balance between keeping their staff motivated and happy. And also trying to bring back some semblance of workplace culture. The ones that have mandated a hybrid work schedule, they’re finding that just the social interaction of bringing people in the office two, three days a week has been super helpful for the workplace culture. But then you struggle with, “How do I offer that job to someone and mandate that they live in my city when across the field the employee has so much flexibility in where they’re working, and they can demand so much more?” So it’s a really fine line and fine balance that these women are struggling with.

Libby Saylor Wright:

Absolutely. And I think we’ve seen such of a step back a little bit for many unpaid caregivers that mostly happen to be women during this last time. So it’s really important about how we engage in the opportunities now. Anne, do you have anything that you’d like to add to that?

Anne Mezzenga:

Yeah. I think that this time also is presenting a lot of opportunity. Once women get to be back into the workforce, things start to get back to normal a little bit. I think women are so critical to the development of retail technology, not just working in the field, but also their experience being partners, being mothers, being working mothers, being sisters, friends, like all of these things that go into creating better retail experiences are really still coming from the woman’s perspective. And I think now that our voices are being amplified, there’s more of us in C-suites. We’re really able to affect the change that happens from knowing the consumers because you are one of them. And so I think that’s a huge opportunity that we have as women, especially in this next decade.

Libby Saylor Wright:

Absolutely. We like to say that a lot within retail and consumer goods, we know our customers because we are their consumers.

Anne Mezzenga:

Exactly.

Libby Saylor Wright:

And so, with women, they are the consumers. They make it real in the marketplace. So for all of you, this is your final question. I’d love to start with Cathy, but what retail trend are you most excited about, and what are its implications for the future of the industry? So, Cathy.

Cathy Hotka:

I love what’s happening with labor and store associates and the fact that they’re being empowered. They’re able to do things they never were able to do before. The industry is now thinking about longevity and hanging on to these people and having them make retail a career. That’s very exciting.

Libby Saylor Wright:

Absolutely. Anne, what about you?

Anne Mezzenga:

I have to say visual AI is probably the trend that I think is going to have the most impact. It’s powering everything from making things like checkout-free stores possible, all the way to the less sexy part of it which is helping retailers assign better product data, and cataloging, and therefore creating better shopping experiences for me as a consumer. So I would say that’s first, and the close second, if I can throw one in, would be personalized fit technology, what we’re seeing companies like Fit:Match and others doing to redefine that experience, Amazon too. But to really be able to create my own personal avatar of my body, and then use that to get the perfect fit across retailers.

Libby Saylor Wright:

Love that too. And Marie.

Marie Albiges:

Yeah, I would agree with Anne. I was just listening to your podcast where you talked about the Fit:Match, and it’s so cool. I think, I’m… Yeah, most excited about the evolution of try-on technology. You know, yesterday I was sitting on the couch with my husband talking about getting a new tent for a backpacking season, and all of a sudden, I’ve got my 3D tent in my living room simulated, and I just think that’s so cool. And I think retailers are still working out the clunkiness of it and if the pandemic hadn’t happened. We would maybe be a few years out from that still, but I think it’s just going to continue to evolve and get better. And I think the implication there is that retailers need to get on board. They really need to consider this, especially I think that 2022 consumer is going to embrace that AR and that AI really well.

Libby Saylor Wright:

Well, thank you to everybody. This has been an engaging and empowering conversation, and we hope you learned a lot from this discussion. Have a great day.





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