Steve Dennis on why it’s a really bad time to be boring

Steven Dennis was the chief strategy officer of Sears. He now consults retail and luxury brands on growth strategy and writes for Forbes about retail in the modern era, often lamenting the fall of department stores in the US.

You focus on reinvention of retail in the age of digital disruption. Who or what do you believe will be the industry’s next big disruptor?

For the foreseeable future Amazon will continue to be the single biggest force disrupting retail. But over the next few years I see artificial intelligence starting to have significant impact on many aspects of retail including marketing personalisation, merchandise selection and allocation of labor.

In your article Flailing retailers need to learn to ‘sell the whole’, you stated “Product is important, but creating an intensely relevant and remarkable experience is what will allow struggling retailers to get back in the game”. Where are retailers going wrong?

The first thing is many retailers do not understand their customers well enough so they don’t have a good sense of where they need to focus their energies to command attention, reduce friction and create a “wow” in the customer journey. The second issue is most retailers don’t really have an innovation process, so by the time they realize they are losing they are already years behind.

On the flip side, can you name a brand you think is winning in this space? What are they doing well?

Certainly Apple is a great example of a company that consistently delivers a wow experience both with product and their stores. Nordstrom, Best Buy, Sephora and Ulta are brands that have done an exceptional job of creating what I call a “harmonised” retail experience, by getting away from a channel focus and integrating the digital and physical realms in a way that helps customers.

What do you believe it takes to succeed in this ever-changing climate?

I believe a few things are key for most retailers. First, a commitment to deep customer insight. Second, a willingness to break down the silos between different sales and marketing channels and create a harmonised, remarkable experience. Third, a process of radical experimentation.

You have got plans to release a book next year. Give us the elevator pitch re: what it’s about and why retailers should grab a copy.

I’m calling it “A Really Bad Time To Be Boring: Reinventing Retail In The Age of Amazon.” I lay out the most important factors that will determine retail success over the next decade, what most retailers get wrong and present a framework for creating a more remarkable and relevant success model for the future.

Lastly, for those attending Inside Retail Live 2018 – why should they catch your session?

Three reasons: First, I’m going to challenge a few pieces of conventional wisdom. Second, I’ll highlight the 7 key steps to creating a remarkable customer experience that can fight and win against Amazon. Third, I’m likely to make at least 2 really bad jokes.