At Xcelerate 2017, I spoke with Joan Lewis, Principal, Joan Lewis Consulting; Former SVP of Consumer and Market Knowledge, Procter & Gamble, and a member of Symphony RetailAI’s board of directors. She stressed the importance of consumer insights driven by data for retailers and CPGs to succeed.
From your perspective, what has been the biggest change in retail and CPG industries over the last 10 years?
I thought about this answer in terms of the last two decades, 1999 – 2007, and then from 2007 – 2017. In the first period, the major shift for retailer and CPGs was in using data that retailers gathered – really, using it at all – and bringing to bear other kinds of data that had a consumer view into retail decision making. And that was a really new concept in 1999. No one was using the data very effectively. Those that leveraged data at all had big advantages, mostly around the low-hanging fruit—assortment, adjacencies, promotions, and some broader areas like category design, and store designs. But it was a very straight forward application, and there were some early adopters.
By contrast, in the most recent 10 years, every retailer is thinking about how to leverage data for better in-store experiences and easier buying for shoppers. Many are looking for ways to monetize their data, and simply being engaged with data is no longer an advantage. Data has evolved in light of the global recession. Retailers are using it more for pricing and managing profit margin. CPG and retailer relationships have evolved and are using data for higher order applications in those same areas. So, instead of just adjacencies, they might be working on the role of their private label and expanding the position and the levels/tiers in which their private level operates. Retailers are also doing more on pricing and more on what is added value to shoppers – adding gas stations or making the pharmacy a bigger part of their destination. There’s been a huge evolution that has spawned a whole industry and has really taken retailing into a much more sophisticated, more data-based business where they’re getting more value per shopper.
From where do you think the next significant change(s) or area(s) of focus will come?
The biggest shift is clearly e-commerce. It’s lagged in a lot of CPG categories, but it’s growing very quickly. This is going to reshape everything that stores do, and, obviously, the Amazon acquisition of Whole Foods will be something to watch closely. Retailers need to play in e-commerce where people are shifting, but they also need to identify a unique reason for people to come into their physical stores. When someone shops online, we expect that the data given up to the retailer will be helpful to us, the shopper (the vendor remembers credit card information, makes affinity suggestions, remembers an entire order so you can replicate it if you wish). The physical retail experience takes all your data and does nothing to help you, beyond some targeted promotions. There’s a wise and right evolution here to put the data more in service to consumers. E-commerce will reshape everything, including big industry shifts, such as:
- how much retail space will be needed in the physical world.
- how to make the e-commerce environment less about pricing comparison more about branding, both for the retailer and for the supplier’s brands that are the source of a lot of that retailer’s income.
- how to make better experiences a real differentiator online, as much as in person.
Another quick point I’ll raise is around digital advertising. People in this industry understand the pressure on digital advertising and the lack of transparency around whether it’s viewable, exposed to real humans (or bots), in a safe environment for the brand, whether there was engagement or not etc. Retailers have explored the idea of being media platforms for a while now (for instance, in-store TV in the past), but it’s not caught on broadly. As media become more complicated in the many-step process of buying it and hoping it gets in front of a consumer, the physical retailer is still the only place you know—for sure— that people are going to encounter your brand. There’s a major opportunity to provide more communications there and it’s appealing to CPGs, but it’s difficult for retailers, as it can result in a lot of clutter. Those who can figure out how to take media dollars and bring them effectively into the retail setting are going to make a lot of money.
Why did you agree to speak at the 2017 Xcelerate Retail Forum?
I’m a huge believer in consumer-based growth. I believe in consumer insights, well applied, leading to business growth and the value of consumer data when harnessed effectively. I’ve spent my life in consumer research, so expanding its impact is important to me. Secondly, for EYC, I’ve been very impressed with their vision of bringing joint value to the retailer and supplier. They believe that it’s not just about monetizing the data, but about bringing value to both sides of the relationship. You must do this well, or it becomes adversarial. Symphony EYC (now the Customer Intelligence Division of Symphony RetailAI) makes a commitment to being a broker that provides a common language, access, and common goals that help the retailer and the supplier.
Please summarize a few key points from your presentation at Xcelerate.
- What does it mean to be consumer-centric? Consider this question as you think about the consumer through the eyes of the retailer and supplier who have the common goal of benefiting a shopper who has many choices.
- What are the key factors that are changing in the data and consumer insights world that can enable us to make better decisions and leverage the data more effectively?
Describe yourself in three words or tell us something about yourself that others might be surprised to know.
Curious, committed and caring.
I think you must be endlessly curious to be in the consumer insights and analytics business and to find learning about new business, human needs, and new models to be rewarding. I’m extremely committed to consumer-based growth and the belief in that being a really important driver of all business. And the caring part is that it’s important that we always keep a human sense at the center of our work, even when what we’re dealing with is data. The data represents people, their needs, and their behavior. And when you forget that, it can be a very transactional world that doesn’t actually benefit the people who pay our salaries. In the end, those are the people that pay all of us to be in the business at all.
Obscure fact: I’m a big fantasy/sci-fi geek.
Learn more about Xcelerate Retail Forum.