Some people have retail in their blood, and Ryan Craver seems to be one of them. When CMO.com recently spoke with Craver, the former SVP of strategy at Hudson's Bay Company and Lord & Taylor made that pretty clear.
"I had an eBay business in high school. Those were the days when you had your own merchant account and you could buy a listing on the home page for $99.95," he said. "You could actually make some decent money then; now it’s all about volume. Well, I fell in love with supply chain management and the whole idea of procurement and selling goods."
Supply-chain management ain’t easy to love--unless you have a retail heart. Craver is now "in stealth mode," as he puts it, working to bring an e-tail startup to life. Read on for his thoughts on retailing--both on- and offline.
CMO.com: Even though we just found out you are leaving the role, how did you end up at Hudson’s Bay Company and Lord & Taylor? What’s your background?
Craver: I started my career in supply-chain management on the procurement side of the house. My first industry was technology, in semiconductors, and then I moved to Accenture, where I did sourcing, procurement, outsourcing, and supply-chain optimization across a number of industries, including retail. Once I had the chance to work with big-box and specialty retailers, I figured this was it. I have always been fascinated with commerce, digital, and transacting.
Eventually I fell into an opportunity at Hudson’s Bay Company, where I started as a vice president in a profit improvement and procurement role. I then moved to the front of the house, working for the current president in a strategy role for Hudson’s Bay and Lord & Taylor.
CMO.com: Was that considered a digital marketing role or something else?
Craver: The role was a bit of everything. The role hinged on developing the department store strategy over the next five years. How were we going to grow the overall business? Specific brands? A new customer segment? Do we use capital for new stores? For digital initiatives on our ecommerce sites with initiatives like mobile? It was a mix of things.
In my mind, the No. 1 question was how do we make the two longest-operating department stores in North America relevant in a digital world? For example, and as you can imagine, a lot of our spend in marketing was in offline. And a lot of the positioning that we needed to do was to shift that into digital, whether it was via click-through ads, retargeting, mobile app install ads, or evaluating the best way to utilize each social media channel.
Emerging marketing tools, such as beacons, were most exciting. As retailers, we had to figure out how to bridge online and location with offline stores. We started to ask: How do we show attribution from a customer researching a product on Google to evaluating that same product at a Lord & Taylor store? How can we show that attribution for the entire life cycle of offline to online to offline?
CMO.com: Clearly, there’s no getting away from the fact that companies in the retail space have their work cut out for them.
Craver: Every two days, the world creates as much content as we did all the way up until 2003. Think about that. Gaining consumer attention and interest in a specific brand is difficult with the amount of choice and customer empowerment available today. Table stakes is understanding the niches your retail brand will fill to differentiate yourself from all the noise, and, just as important, understanding how your retail brand will distribute the brand messaging, availability, and product across an extremely fragmented marketplace of store locations, Web sites, mobile apps, and social media platforms. Again, you are marketing against an unprecedented amount of choice to the most empowered, informed, and smartest customer we’ve ever seen.
CMO.com: What should marketers in the retail space be paying attention to today?
Craver: Personalized location. Last year was the year of location. We saw beacons in many stores. We saw push notifications based on proximity to stores. This is the year of personalized location. How can retailers push personalized offers or content to customers using location as the basis? Several startups are using the location of phones mixed with previous browsing history, social likes, or purchase history of customers to drive a high level of personalization. Imagine sending a notification to a customer saying, “We saw your interest in Michael Kors on Pinterest or Facebook, so here is an exclusive offer,” or, “We saw you left this handbag in your shopping cart online. Come in the store to check it out in person.” This is highly personalized, in-the-moment advertising.
CMO.com: And mobile plays a big part in that as well, right?
Craver: Mobile is the catalyst. Mobile allows customers to understand and interact with information in a new way. Mobile provides location awareness, the ability to serve amazing content, and provides customers a level of self-sufficiency.
The second thing that I think retailers should take particular notice of is social media. In 2014, social media was still broken. Social media—historically, for retailers—is a link to a product on a site. Typically, retailers see very, very low engagement rates or conversion rates. It’s a great marketing or customer-service tool, but it really doesn’t convert to sales. In 2015, all of these various social media outlets will allow for simple conversion, buying the product right then and there within the app or within the site. So the customer will technically never, ever have to leave Twitter or Pinterest or Wanelo. The customer can quickly press "Buy." You will use your fingerprint to autopopulate billing/shipping/payment information. As checkout becomes less laborious for the customer, conversion will pop and social commerce will have officially arrived.
CMO.com: Underlying all of this, I would imagine, would be data and analytics. That must be an area you keep an eye on, right?
Craver: The customer experience is No. 1, and data plays an objective role in alerting retailers about how successful the experience is. Retailers able to collect the data, analyze the data, and, most importantly, react to the data will clearly differentiate themselves from the pack by providing the most impactful and engaging experience possible.
Data collection continues to evolve. As offline brick-and-mortar stores are brought online, the level of analytics grows.
CMO.com: What do you think of the idea of online businesses going brick-and-mortar? That’s sort of an odd turn of events, isn’t it?
Craver: I believe all e-tail eventually goes retail. Customer preference for in-store vs. online by category of product and the point in the purchase decision cycle—research, trial, purchase—varies considerably. No customer is the same. You have a continuum of customers that range from casual to showroomer. Casual shoppers browse leisurely, enjoy printed coupons, and might do a bit of research on desktop. A showroomer might shop multiple stores online, only utilize mobile, and purchase several sizes without stepping foot in a store. The leading retailers understand they must provide access to their brands across the fragmented marketplace that exists today.
CMO.com: What’s your take on the showrooming/webrooming idea?
Craver: I believe the showrooming and webrooming trends are part of the new normal for retail. Again, mobile and digital tools have provided the customer an unprecedented amount of choice and empowerment. Customer elasticity to price, convenience, and in-the-moment need will vary greatly. The best weapon for retailers is to provide product at a value with a strong experience within both digital and in-store. Those that don’t will be used as a showroom or lose valuable in-store sales to e-tailers.
CMO.com: Right. So what would you predict for e-tailing now that we’re in the new year?
Craver: First and foremost, I think you’re going to see all of your growth within e-commerce from m-commerce. Mobile will remain hot, and conversion will continue to improve. Next, you will see traction in the payment space. POS equipment is being upgraded due to chip/PIN requirements and data breach concerns. This will bring NFC- and Bluetooth-enabled equipment in the brick-and-mortar world at scale. In the m-commerce world, Apple Pay and other wallet services will drive easier conversion within apps. It’s not just Apple Pay; Android is responsible for more than 50% market share. Google Wallet is already experiencing a tremendous surge on a small base. And, lastly, I believe you will see interconnected services become the norm—delivering the services and experience of three or four independent apps within one app.
For example, the OpenTable app allows you to book a reservation to order to pay with Apple Pay to hailing an Uber all through the app—seamless and self-sufficient. How are retailers going to provide a similar level of service?
CMO.com: What didn’t I ask that you think would be of interest to our readers?
Craver: One topic I find incredibly interesting is how will what has happened in other industries impact the industry I am in? For example, the wave of disruption that’s happening from mobile has impacted the transportation industry and fast casual food industry faster than retail. How do I ensure I take those learnings and apply them to retail? The wave of disruption that’s happening by putting creative design into the hands of consumer will eventually impact every single industry in some way, shape, or form. The impact to retail may come through 3D printing once textiles are able to be 3D-printed in a more developer/creator friendly way. Truly fascinating.