Magazine Article | August 29, 2017

Ask The Board

Retail Executive is honored to present its Editorial Advisory Board, which is comprised of some of the retail industry’s best and brightest. Keep your eyes on our EAB that will continue to grow to include additional retail industry luminaries.

Q: What’s your best advice for retail’s C-suite regarding partnering with early- and growth-stage retail technology companies?

A: FIRST, RETAIL EXECUTIVES should never look at technology companies just because they’re trendy. There has to be a specific problem (e.g., optimizing store-level merchandise mix and inventory level vs. improving store sales), and then the executives should be looking for a technology that could help their teams solve that problem. Second, it’s people who solve problems, and technology is just an enabler. Executives must make sure they have the team and process to implement the technology. Finally, once a technology vendor is selected, executives need to make sure that their teams fully utilize the technology. No matter how powerful a technology platform is, if it’s not properly used, it won’t generate the desired results.

Janie leads deal sourcing and manages portfolios at Fung Capital, whose investments focus on early- to growth-stage B2B technology companies that enable omni-channel commerce and improve supply chain efficiency.

Q: According to, “By 2019, robotics and IoT technologies will increase in-store, in-warehouse, and in-distribution center productivity by 1.5x for early-adopting retailers and by 3x for later adopters.” How does this vary among tiers-one and -two versus small to midsize retailers?

A: THERE ARE MANY CONSIDERATIONS that impact precisely how much more productive an organization will be after implementing robotics or IoT technologies. Companies with tens of thousands of items under management and with rapid inventory turnover will find that robotics and IoT reduce complexity, improve accuracy, and increase customer satisfaction, while increasing productivity, and are essential to keeping the business running efficiently and profitably. Small to midsize retailers may find that robotics and IoT are essential to meet customer expectations and maintain a competitive edge, however. How the individual retailer defines ROI for robotics and IoT will likely depend on business complexity — not revenue.

Leslie Hand is responsible for the research direction for IDC Retail Insights. She provides fact-based research and analysis for IDC Retail Insights Omni-Channel Retail Execution Strategies.

Q: What is the most promising retail technology and why?

A: IF YOU ARE A RETAILER faced with operating and growing your business today, you may think that technology may — at best — address only some of your moves. That’s where you would be mistaken. The technology and retail worlds are colliding, and new retail startup technology is emerging and making its way into the marketplace. Getting the most out of your store is no longer about location, location, location, but rather community, community, community. The challenge is how to engage with your community through physical and digital (and even virtual) channels. Today you can find physical store technology that uses data-driven techniques such as intelligent and interactive mirrors and displays. Technology like actiMirror gives a real-time, content-powered, personalized experience for shoppers. Oak Labs has started transforming the in-store experience starting in the fitting room. Retailers like Bonobos and Warby Parker are using their understanding of their communities as they enter physical markets, and new omnichannel technologies like Bulletin are emerging to provide e-tailers with a real-world solution.

Today retailers are faced with a post-retail world, and it’s no simple task to take advantage of the opportunities, but the emerging technology from Silicon Valley will be found in stores soon and will help retailers make a lasting impact in their stores and communities from Main Street to High Street.

Saeed founded Plug and Play, the ultimate startup ecosystem, in 2006. Since then, the Plug and Play portfolio has raised over $4B and created thousands of job opportunities in the tech sector.

Q: Overall, is retail’s C-suite tackling digital transformation? Why or why not?

A: ALTHOUGH OVUM HAS SEEN RETAILERS APPLY their digital strategies to existing business processes, they often do so without assessing the interconnected omni-channel nature of the deployment throughout all facets of their enterprises. Retailers that can evolve their business processes to fully leverage digital technologies to deliver seamless cross-channel, cross-device customer engagements will establish a foundation for revenue growth. In doing so, they must also not overlook the importance of culture in successfully digitally transforming their enterprises. True digital adoption means that employees, partners, suppliers, and customers clearly understand their individual roles and potential in helping to facilitate digital change.

Mila is a principal analyst in Ovum’s customer engagement practice. She specializes in enterprise customer experience, omni-channel engagement, as well as digital marketing and customer service.

Q: According to RSR’s recent research, what’s the one stat that shocked you the most and why?

A: THIS YEAR, I WAS MOST SHOCKED by how much retailers have lost their way around brand value to customers. It’s no wonder stores are in trouble when 40 percent of retailers say their biggest internal strength is powerful brand marketing, and yet their primary value proposition to customers in stores is low price and convenience. Only one retailer can win in a fight for low price, and that’s either Amazon or Walmart. Retailers need to have more confidence in their brand value — and need to do a lot more to bring it to life in stores.

Nikki is a managing partner at Retail Systems Research, an industry market intelligence firm specializing in retail and technology. She focuses on trends impacting the consumer-retailer relationship, along with their marketing and operational implications.

Q: Other than the members of your own team, what other C-level executives (and departments) do you learn from most and why?

A: THE COO, BECAUSE HE OR SHE understands all operational initiatives and challenges facing the folks in the trenches — what’s working, what’s not working, and the inevitable impact (i.e., customer satisfaction, cost, inventory turns). In my experience, the COO “lives the brand” and understands all the moving parts of the business. Staying close and attuned to the COO means you are directly and positively impacting sometimes thousands of associates and millions of customers annually with IT efforts.

Thomas is currently CIO of hhgregg. Prior to joining hhgregg, Tom was chief technology officer for Luxottica’s Americas & Asia Pacific enterprise. Tom has 30 years of retail and healthcare technology experience with companies such as Macy’s, Hudson’s Bay, Lord & Taylor, and more.

Q: As CFO of Cavender’s, what is your number one goal for the remainder of 2017?

A: WE HAVE SEVERAL KEY GROWTH INITIATIVES in progress in operations, marketing, and business development. Our number one goal is to bring them to completion as soon as possible. We don’t like to have too many things undone as we head into the fourth quarter. Second, there is a road map of initiatives for 2018 that we need to begin planning for as we bring 2017 to a close. With all of the uncertainty in retail, our teams have to be focused on strategy execution, knowing that things may change fast. Our goal is to give them the information and tools they need to be nimble but stay on course.

Jim has been CFO of Cavender’s since 1998. He has over 30 years of financial professional experience in public and private company environments and has worked in retail, wholesale distribution, and public accounting.