This article is part of CMO.com’s November series about commerce and consumerism. Click here for more.
With 1.2 billion active users, Facebook Messenger could very well be at the beginning of a tipping point. The social network has been aggressively investing in the development of its messaging platform, most recently with the acquisition of artificial intelligence startup Ozlo and its natural language processing technology.
Brian Seewald, vice president of digital at DSW, shared with CMO.com his retail perspective on Messenger’s value in meeting customers on the channels they prefer most. He also discussed his strategic priorities, why he no longer uses the word “omnichannel,” two emerging technologies DSW is most focused on, and what he looks for in new hires.
CMO.com: What’s your mandate as DSW’s president of digital?
Seewald: Our job in a nutshell is for DSW to deliver an experience that is competitive and/or exceeds expectations in a world where customer expectations are increasing all the time.
When you think about it, my team and I are incredibly lucky. You only get so many chances to be in a retail environment where things are changing the way that they’re changing now. And it feels like it’s really challenging sometimes between the shift to e-commerce and the shift that Amazon is creating for the industry. But, at the same time, what could be more fun than working at a time when things are changing this much?
Our job is to ensure that the DSW digital customer experience–and, to some degree, the overall customer experience–keeps up with this always-evolving, always-increasing set of customer expectations.
CMO.com: What does your typical day at work look like?
Seewald: There really is no typical day, but what I will say is that, throughout the course of the week, Mondays are typically about what is happening in our business, a little tiny bit of looking backward to see what happened, and a whole lot of looking forward to see what we’re going to do about it. We look at what’s selling, what isn’t, what adjustments we need to make, and, most importantly, what we’re hearing from our customers, whether it’s through analytics or direct customer feedback that we get from a number of inputs. We’re also looking at what changes we’re going to make based on these metrics, which results in a constant reprioritization of what we think is most important from an experience point of view. We are always listening to our customer and iterating.
We launched our digital experience about six months ago, and we’re at a point now where we are just making enhancements based on what the customer is telling us. And we’re really happy with the customer reaction we’ve gotten. But, as you know, the retail environment is fast-paced, and customer preferences are constantly changing, so we continuously work on improving this experience.
CMO.com: What are your three strategic priorities over the next 12 to 18 months?
Seewald: No. 1 is the reinvention of our loyalty program, and that’s owned and run by our chief marketing officer, Amy Stevenson. The digital experience is a big piece of that reinvention.
Consumers can sign up online for DSW's rewards program.
Priority No. 2 is all about creating personalized experiences. With the new website we’ve created, along with our app, we’ve come a long way in our efforts toward driving a more personalized rewards experience. So if you come to our website and you’re a rewards member, you’ll know exactly what certificates or offers you have, your wish list, etc.– all that stuff is elevated to the front of the web experience. That’s a great first step.
The next step needs to be about the one-to-one personalized experience. So, if you come to the website and you search for “I need heels for an event that I’m going to,” all of your favorite brands and silhouettes automatically populate at the top of the search result. Our goal is to create a personalized experience that feels so tailored to the person that they don’t realize we’re working hard to do it.
Priority No. 3 is going to be investigating the potential and opportunities that arise with new emerging technologies, specifically voice and augmented reality. Those are the two we’re most focused on.
CMO.com: Why those two?
Seewald: Voice is extremely important and doesn’t have a ton of great retail applications now, outside of replenishment orders on Amazon Echo, but we know it’s coming. With augmented reality, there’s just all sorts of possibilities, from how you locate shoes in a DSW store when you’re shopping, to how to find shoes to go with the outfit you’re wearing simply based off of a selfie. There are a few different things that we’re tossing around from an augmented reality perspective.
CMO.com: You’ve recently added Facebook Messenger to your customer experience strategy. Could you talk about that?
Seewald: We are working with Narvar to assess the value of Facebook Messenger as a communication vehicle. The test we’ve done is really about giving customers the ability to get very simple questions answered about where their order is, in an automated way. It feels like a conversation. Every time I order something from DSW, which I do frequently, I opt in for Facebook Messenger alerts at checkout because I like to keep checking up on the experience–and it’s a really solid experience.
We have also tried some of the other Facebook Messenger chatbots as well. Last year, during the holidays, we tried a gifting chatbot. We’re going to continue to experiment and try to push the envelope with Facebook Messenger.
Upon checkout, customers have the option to receive Facebook Messenger updates on the status of their packages.
CMO.com: So what has this test taught you?
Seewald: We found that about a third of our customers are opting for Facebook Messenger [package tracking] alerts, with the remainder choosing text messaging. I’ll be honest: For our demographic, I’m really happy that a third of the people are going to Facebook Messenger. I thought we might see more people be a little bit traditional about it and go with SMS. Messenger opt-ins have increased over time, and I think they will continue to.
CMO.com: Can you talk about DSW customers? How do they shop?
Seewald: Our customers are extremely digitally engaged. They love to shop online, they love to purchase online, but even more so, they love to preshop online. The idea of shopping our website before you visit our store is definitely something customers are engaging in.
All of the omnichannel options that we have created have made the DSW shopping experience so much easier for our customers. We make a concerted effort not to use the word “omnichannel” anymore because that’s really just retail at this point.
When our customers want to order a shoe, whether they’re online or in a store, we’re going to find that shoe somewhere in our supply chain, and it’s going to get to them–and they appreciate that. If they want it that day, they can go pick it up at a store–and we’ve made that experience much easier from a digital inventory look-up perspective. If they’re in a store, sales associates can find it in that store and deliver the shoe that way as well. They love that convenience.
Our customers value convenience, and they value the selection that we can provide. That has also dictated a number of the things that we have done digitally around giving our customers the ability to sort of curate their own assortments.
Just to give you an example, we have roughly in any given DSW store 2,000 to 2,500 shoes to choose from. But on our website you’re looking at over 25,000, right? So [it's about] the ability for the customer on our website to not get overwhelmed, to be able to curate their own assortment, filter a number of different ways, sort any which way they want to, find what they want, and then automatically be able to filter at the store level and go pick it up at a store. That’s what we’re after, and our customers value all of those capabilities.
CMO.com: You mentioned that you recently revamped the website. Can you tell me about any cool, unique functionality you added?
Seewald: When you think about shopping online, a picture can say a thousand words. Pictures are the new ratings and reviews. We recently added user-generated content to our website so that when you’re shopping and looking at a product, you can see all of the great product information you always could see, and ratings and reviews, and then at the bottom of the page you can also see customer photos. If a customer posts an image to Instagram using the hashtag #MyDSW, the photos appear on the website, so customers can get product information and see how real people are wearing a product.
Online shoppers can see what DSW shoes look like on real people.
CMO.com: What do you look for in new hires? What skill sets do you find most valuable?
Seewald: Passion for the customer is No. 1. Retail is incredibly demanding, e-commerce is incredibly demanding–it’s sort of a 24/7 gig–and if you’re not incredibly passionate about giving the customer a great experience and moving that experience forward in a challenging environment, you won't be successful.
Outside of that, I would say we obviously always look for people who are smart and driven. And I would say curiosity: really wanting to understand the why behind behavior, and being able to dig for it from an analytical perspective is extremely important as well. That’s the one skill set I think will definitely be in the highest demand over the next couple of years, whether it’s data scientists or just analytics, in general, in order to really get into what the customer behavior is and also be able to help us communicate with the customer in a more personalized way.
CMO.com: If you could give your younger self one piece of career advice, what would it be?
Seewald: I would say, just take risks. Be even more open to the twists and turns that your career might take. I did a six-month rotation here at DSW reporting up through our CIO in IT, and I was really nervous because I never considered myself to be an IT professional. I learned so much doing that, and there was no reason for me to be nervous or scared.
It was nowhere in my career blueprint to ever be in digital or do any of the things that I'm doing now. So, my advice is just to be able to take a chance and be wide open to possibilities--I think that’s the biggest thing.