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[STORE 2016] What Saks, Sephora, Frank & Oak know about retail that you don’t

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At the end of May 2016, the Retail Council of Canada (RCC) held their annual conference,

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STORE is a great conference to attend  if you’re looking to take the pulse of the Canadian omni-channel retail sector. STORE is always interesting to attend; it’s usually the place where consumer, business, and regulation makers’ ideas on the retail industry intersect. And the outcome of that intersection always leaves us with something to talk about.

STORE 2016 was particularly interesting, with quite a few big American retailers taking the stage. Saks, Sephora, and Frank & Oak‘s presentations had the largest impact thanks to the way they frankly addressed omni-channel and ecommerce retail in Canada: how Canada is likely getting things wrong in a number of facets, and how we can learn from our mistakes and create a great omni-channel retail economy in the very near future.

Keep reading below for short synopses of the presentations given by Saks Fifth Avenue, Sephora, and Frank & Oak, accompanied by my thoughts on the issues they raised and how businesses can actually apply the speakers’ teachings.


Quite a number of retailers – both Canadian and foreign – took the stage at STORE 2016, but these three following presentations stood out the most.

Saks Fifth Avenue

Marc Metrick, President of Saks Fifth Avenue

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Marc Metrick, President of Saks Fifth Avenue, took the stage early in the first day of STORE 2016. Focusing most of the presentation on the opening of the first Canadian Saks location within The Bay at the Eaton Centre, Marc wove the conversation of the importance of omni-channel commerce throughout.

Did you know: Saks Fifth Avenue at the Eaton Center took a return from their online store

5 minutes

after they had opened?

The constant theme of STORE 2016 was “the Millennial”, but Marc took a more enlightened approach in addressing what “Millennial” means to omni-channel retail: it’s a mindset. 

Not limited to any particular age group, as the trends that Millennials inspire influence older generations in a way that hasn’t been seen before, Marc opened with a story of how their first Canadian retail store took a return from their online store within the first 5 minutes of the doors being officially opened. This set the tone for the rest of his talk, focusing on omni-channel and the highly integrated nature of the consumer’s ideal retail experience.

A number of trends that Saks includes in the strategy on how they approach everything they do was outlined for the audience, but a common theme throughout all elements was accessibility, customization of service, and unification. According to Saks, today’s consumer wants to be able to access the same products and the same level of service at every touch point, and they want to feel as special online as they do in store. The customer wants the same experience at every touch point, full stop. Your customer should find it easy to interact with your brand at all touch points, and the experience should be meaningful to them.

My take:

Marc absolutely hit the nail on the head. He addressed what a brand/business needs at the consumer-facing touch points in order to have a successful omni-channel business like Saks: high quality data integration.

While Marc spoke on creating a great customer experience at all touch points, his shortcoming was providing actionable insight to the audience on how to achieve this. Consistent customer experience across all channels is directly informed by the quality of your data integration. Ensuring that all customer data is everywhere a customer can interact with you goes a long way towards creating and maintaining a consistently great customer experience.

Sephora

Calvin McDonald, President & CEO of Sephora Americas

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Calvin McDonald, President & CEO of Sephora Americas, followed Saks Fifth Avenue’s presentation, and kept the momentum of the omni-channel, fully integrated customer experience discussion going full speed.

Within minutes of Calvin taking the stage, he commented on the state of retail across all channels in Canada:

Canada is behind the US, and sheltering ourselves from international competition is hurting us more than it’s helping us.

We’ve become complacent.

This is interesting, because this statement stands in direct contradiction of one of the underlying themes of this year’s STORE – ‘protecting’ Canadian businesses by keeping the de minimis value at $20 instead of raising it to $200.

Calvin delved further into this subject by directly comparing the omni-channel retail economies of the US and Canada. He presented how competition in the US (who has a $800 de minimis value on foreign imports) is driving retail innovation and diversity. He spoke on how Canada has lots of retail space, but they’re all the same with no diversity.

Canadian and American consumers are startlingly similar in their needs and shopping habits. The fact that 72% of Canadian consumers shop abroad should encourage all Canadian retailers to stop and take pause, because it speaks to the condition of our retail economy: it’s boring. 

Competition spurs innovation, and innovation has been core to Sephora’s ongoing success.

My take:

Calvin rounded out his presentation by speaking about the channels Sephora shoppers use, and how they ultimately expect that consistent experience, echoing Saks’ presentation. This experience is highly informed by data, and the quality of your integrations. He ended the presentation by emphasizing that retail is no longer about one channel, but about all the channels through which you interact with your customer.

There’s absolutely no doubt that Sephora’s customer experience is made possible only through highly sophisticated data movement, made possible by great data integration. I can’t applaud Calvin McDonald long enough for his courage in standing in front of the STORE audience and the RCC, and openly criticizing on our closed borders and protectionism that is ultimately hurting our retail economy incredibly.

The secondary thread to Calvin’s presentation – the importance of providing a consistent customer experience, and understanding how your customers interact with each channel – spoke again to the underlying importance of good quality data integration. Encouraging Canadian businesses to branch out into multiple sales channels is what the audience needed to hear, and that complex strategy is only made effective and sustainable over growth through partnering with high quality customized data integration service providers like VL.

Frank & Oak

Ethan Song, Co-Founder & Creative Director of Frank & Oak

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Ethan Song of Frank & Oak, an omni-channel retailer, was the first speaker at STORE 2016 to directly address the elephant in the room the other speakers can only skimmed: the importance of integrating physical and digital retail. He also openly addressed one of the biggest biases Canadian retail has today:

“[Frank & Oak] weren’t invited to [STORE] last year. Now that we have stores, we were invited this year.”

– Ethan Song, STORE 2016

Ethan spoke on how agile changes in experience based on data is one of the cornerstones to Frank & Oak’s ongoing success internationally. Now, with bricks-and-mortar stores open, Frank & Oak is honing in even more on data. They see their data as two types: consumer value data, and business value data. For maximum impact, the two types of data have to come together across all channels. And, of course, everything needs to be customer-centric.

My Take:

Growth and innovation were again a theme of this STORE 2016 presentation, but Frank & Oak more directly addressed the enablers to a great customer experience: data and how it’s moved, translated, and used across channels.

Even though Ethan spoke more from the “we’re already integrated and this data is ready to be interpreted for better results” perspective, his talk hopefully inspired the STORE audience to more carefully consider how they tie their channels together with customer experience in mind.

In Conclusion

Each of these three speakers provided unique perspectives on omni-channel retail, and provided great insight into how each of their respective businesses are capitalizing on new trends and changes. I’m heartened to see that the discussion at STORE 2016 has continued to grow from 2015, and is now encompassing more discussion around omni-channel, ecommerce, and integrating everything together to achieve the best possible outcomes. I’m also inspired by the openness in dialogue and highlighting shortcomings in the Canadian retail economy – here’s hoping Canadian businesses and our Government were listening!


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