Innovative Retail Technologies

MAY-JUN 2017

Innovative Retail Technologies (formerly Integrated Solutions For Retailers) is the premier source for innovative yet pragmatic technology solutions in the retail industry.

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eye to Finnegan's claim that he's spent a "ton of time" observing customers in stores. We chronicled the results of that observation during his time at Build- A-Bear in a series of articles about the merchant's store-of-the-future concept back in 2012 and 2013. The development of that concept was based on an intensive customer observation initiative, and while the ensuing store model boasted some fun and functional technology, its success was more dependent on people and process than it was on hardware and applications. "We were at our measurable best when we successfully facilitated human-to-human interaction in our stores," says Finnegan. "When I was CIO at Build-A-Bear, there I was advocating for more human interaction and the sparing deployment of technology. There were those who accused me of being anti- digital," he says. In fact, history has proven that nothing could be further from the truth. Human interaction is the foundation of digital's purpose in commerce and communication, says Finnegan, and social media offers undisputable proof. "Only once we had determined what sort of a connection and tone we wanted to establish between our associates and our customers did we begin to think about in-store technology and how we were going to design it," says Finnegan. Old Brand, New Thinking When he considered joining Orvis, Finnegan harbored a concern that the brand's heritage might hold his innovative side hostage. The Build-A- Bear gig gave him the latitude to hone his startup chops. Orvis, he feared, might prove a creativity-stifling old boys' club. His first meeting with its leadership team put his anxiety to rest. "It was like walking into a room full of the Dos Equis guys," he says. "We're all committed to the history of our brand, but if it's interesting and innovative, this team will chase it." Interesting and innovative could have something to do with the integration of predictive analytics and personalization in Orvis call centers and stores. Or it could mean saving the Everglades. "Perk just came back from a meeting with the governors of several Deep South states, where the discussion centered on our involvement with the Now or Neverglades Declaration and other resources we've dedicated to saving the Everglades," says Finnegan. It's a simultaneously altruistic, selfish, and capitalist endeavor. The Everglades, and its fish, are suffering. Orvis executives love to fish the Everglades. Orvis sells a lot of fishing gear to folks who also love to fish the Everglades. Okay, it's mostly altruistic, but the point remains that Orvis, the brand, is far from stodgy and stuck in its ways. It's in tune with its customers, and Finnegan is making strides toward ensuring that's reflected in its customers' experiences. " The best retail experiences are low- or no-tech," says Finnegan. They happen when a customer walks into a haberdashery and is recognized by the shop owner, who keeps a little black book of his most valuable customers' data, or when a child's face lights up on entry into a store full of teddy bears that they can customize and make their very own. " The kids who visit Build-A-Bear are the most digital native generation in history, but the interaction they value most in those stores is human-to-human," says Finnegan. At Orvis, Finnegan admits that, while his company's store managers beat industry on-the-job longevity averages by a long shot, reliance on human interaction alone simply isn't scalable in a 100-store enterprise. " Technology won't replace human interaction, but it can aid and enhance it. It can make it more meaningful, timely, accurate, and clear," he says. " Tech is just one part of the customer experience-nurturing equation." That's his current focus at Orvis. "We have really good people in our call centers and stores, people who care about the interaction," he says. "We're working to augment that interaction with personalization — putting data about what the customer has shown interest in, and what they've purchased, into the hands of good interactors. We surprised even ourselves by the 'concierge' feel we were able to create by combining good technology with good people. That's where the magic happens." The Product Pinnacle Finnegan says the importance of the product itself can't be overestimated as another part of that customer experience equation. "All great brands start with an amazing product," he says, "and products are the innovation engine for our business." That's why Orvis is investing in predictive analytics technologies designed to help it determine which existing products are truly successful and anticipate how new products will fare in the market. Of course, the vast majority of products introduced by any company are misses. "Poor product performance feeds cottage industries of markdown and liquidation solutions," says Finnegan. "Collectively, we don't often get it right." Transformation of that paradigm, he says, will come to brands that can put predictive analytics, crowdsourcing, and consumer insight to work to change their percentage of misses, then identify kick- ass products, and, finally, put marketing and operations behind the effort to create incredible experiences. That's Finnegan's task at hand, to create experiences inspired by experiences. Like a cool morning on an isolated trout stream. Or, perhaps, a chance encounter with a Vermont salamander. We surprised even ourselves by the 'concierge' feel we were able to create by combining good technology with good people. That's where the magic happens. Dave Finnegan, CXO, Orvis May-June 2017 26

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