Listening to Retail Executives

    

In antuit.ai’s inaugural CAB meeting with over 20 executives from 12 retailers, we discussed key retail topics affecting retailers today, including the customer journey, AI/ML emergence, sustainability, and omnichannel. Here are the highlights.


"When people talk, listen completely. Don't be thinking what you're going to say. Most people never listen. Nor do they observe. You should be able to go into a room and, when you come out, know everything that you saw there and not only that. If that room gave you any feeling, you should know exactly what it was that gave you that feeling."

― Ernest Hemingway, Across the River and into the Trees 


It's hard to have people in a room today. It's harder to get people together, observe, and listen. Unfortunately, most people like to talk.

Look at me.

Listen to me.

Learn from me.

Even listening techniques, such as active listening, teach you to listen so that you can talk. Kind of funny when you think of it in that context.

So, in our Retail Customer Advisory Board (CAB) meeting, we listened to executives from 12 retailers facilitate topics that included:

  • The Customer Journey
  • The Emergence of AI/ML
  • Managing for Profitability 

The meeting felt more like a user conference than the typical CABs that I've attended. While there were many incredible conversations, I'll touch on some key moments that came up.

Forecasting and AI

Forecasting grabbed much of the attention, especially from our fashion customers. But there is a "once bitten, twice shy" feeling about it. There was extensive interest in AI and forecasting for demand planning, promotions, and planning. Yet, their previous experience with other solutions has created hesitation and healthy skepticism. 

Early forecasting solutions focused on high volume, repeatable sales. They largely neglected the seasonality, one-time buy, changing assortments of fashion. And those solutions that did, often required impractical attribute maintenance or manual "like-style" association. Is a different shade of blue still blue? Are both shades sold? I have four boys and shades of blues matter, even to the 4-year-old.

Fashion retailers are incredibly intuitive and technologically savvy. They may not know all the "how" things are done, but they understand the technology and its benefits and limitations. They are also remarkably inquisitive about the advancement of forecasting techniques and "get it" when they see solutions addressing their problems.

Omnichannel

It was fascinating to hear about how omnichannel has affected their businesses. One mentioned they added new fulfillment capabilities in their technical stack in two weeks - a monumental achievement. However, they did have to wait longer to reskill their store employees. Other discussions steered toward managing inventory levels given the stores' role. The consensus was that they had the correct inventory levels, but they were not necessarily in the optimal locations. Given the chaos of last year, this isn't surprising.

Sustainability

This discussion showed how human we all are. You could feel the passion for this topic as everyone wants to do the right thing yet avoid "greenwashing." The questions were practical – such as, "How do you do a one-hour, sustainable delivery in London without risking people on streets with bikes?" Sadly, we didn't come to an answer, but we did share ideas.

Forward-thinking Retailers

Amazon receives immense praise for being forward-thinking and making investments with long-term payoffs – [Prime membership]. Forward-thinking retailers are more than words. You can feel it in the presence, attitude, and perspective of the person and their organization. It is a nuance, here and there, but things pop out.

  • They're going to try things, and if they don't work, oh well. 
  • They're going to learn and not regret trying it. 
  • They're going to do projects that support what they believe.
  • They're going to play the long game.

But by far, the best comment came with, "You have to invest in the brand. You have to invest in the company. And if you don't, you're going to be gone." We love you CFO’s, but you know, trust…

Summing it up

We kicked off our Retail CAB with the message that we wanted to learn from retailers. We were not interested in focusing on our solutions or what we do but learning so we can do better. Retail is fluid, with brilliant people. Magic happens by bringing people together and allowing conversations to flourish. It felt like a great start.  

Thanks Mr. Hemingway, for the truest sentence.