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Episode 102
April 12, 2019

The Modern Consumer Has Trust Issues

Are digital experiences the gateway to a more accessible luxury experience for millennial consumers?

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Are digital experiences the gateway to a more accessible luxury experience for millennial consumers? Scott Emmons opens up to us about his successes at Neiman Marcus, the future of technology adoption at retail brands, and how he's bringing that culture of innovation and technology leadership to other brands in his new role at Current Global.

Phillip: [00:01:16] Hello and welcome to Future Commerce, the podcast about cutting edge and next generation commerce. And today we have an amazing interview. Still can't believe that we interviewed Scott Emmons over two and a half years ago, right as we started Future Commerce. And at the time he was heading up the innovation lab for Neiman Marcus. And in that time, wow the show has grown and evolved, and retail itself has grown and evolved. In fact, Scott now is CTO at the Current Global, and we're super excited to have him back on to hear about his plans, his journey over the last few years. And I really can't wait for you to hear this interview. That being said, we had him on via Skype, and we had some connectivity issues. So what you're going to hear is the best of our interview with Scott Emmons. And it's edited down to about 45 minutes or so. And there were some blips and bloops along the way, but I think we captured the absolute best parts of it. So without any further ado, let's get into the interview with Scott Emmons from Current Global.

Brian: [00:02:21] Today I am so excited because we have a repeat guest on the show who was actually our first retailer that we ever had on the show, our second interview ever. Way, way back in the day. Scott Emmons who is now CTO at Current Global, formerly head at the innovation lab at Neiman Marcus. Welcome, Scott.

Scott: [00:02:41] Thank you for having me again.

Phillip: [00:02:42] Yeah. Thank you for coming on the show. And I know it is a prestigious show to be a part of. So I hope you are excited about that.

Scott: [00:02:52] I'm very excited to have a repeat performance.

Phillip: [00:02:57] Now, that's awesome. So there have been some big changes. I think the news dropped while we were at NRF earlier this year. We've covered it on the show a couple times. But you've had a recent job change, which is kind of an exciting thing. Tell us a little bit about yourself and a little bit about your background for those who haven't caught that episode a couple of years ago when on.

Scott: [00:03:20] Sure. So I've been in kind of I.T., you know, my whole career and around, you know, around really 20, 2009, 2010, I started doing some innovation work at Neiman Marcus, which led to founding and leading their innovation lab and program in 2012. And, you know, that was my opportunity to come out from the background, delivery services in I.T., to actually stepping out as really a part of the message, and being part of the spokespeople, for the brand. When it came to getting our message out to the world we were a leader in innovation, and we were embracing and adopting technology as one of the channels we were going to use to innovate new solutions and solve problems for our customers. So, around that time is when I began getting requests like, "Hey, why don't you come be on our podcast?" which was not something that I had been asked to do previously. And also, again, to go around the world and do a lot of speaking about innovation for several reasons. For one reason, I think it was just important for retail in general to talk about what we should be doing, what we weren't doing right, and things we should be trying to do. But it was also way for me to go out and meet new partners in innovation and technology. And, so I used that to my advantage and tried to bring new faces and new ideas from around the globe into my lab at Neiman Marcus and actually make a difference for customers.

Scott: [00:05:17] And I continued on that journey with it's through the end of 2013. I resigned my position and left December 31 and joined the Current the very next day. We purposely sort of kept it quiet until NRF. We thought that was the right time to announce the move when you had, you know, pretty much, every retailer in the US and a lot of retailers from around the globe all together. And so it was a strategic move on our part to make that announcement at that point, and really let people know that the things that I'd been doing at Neiman Marcus for innovation that were working were the things I was going to continue to be doing with the Current. I was just going to get to do it with a lot more brands as opposed to only having one customer. Right? I had to tell you, that's what drew me to the Current in the first place, was the ability to sort of broaden my horizons, to think about new and different problems and try to apply new and better technology solutions to them. And to really work, you know, with a brilliant existing team at the Current and be able to feed off of all the great things they'd already been doing prior to my arrival.

Brian: [00:06:41] That's really cool. So you're the CTO at Current Global, which is pretty, pretty amazing. I think one of the questions I had was specifically, does that mean you get to continue to work directly with brands? Are you sort of helping guide your team and find stuff for your team that they're bringing out to different brands? Are you still getting that direct retail and merchant interaction that that I think that you really enjoy?

Scott: [00:07:10] Look, I think that's one of the reasons why the leadership at the Current Global were interested in me was that piece. That was something I could bring to the table, that I came with the perspective of being on the inside, not consulting or third party trying to look in at was happening inside of brands and retailers. I've been on the inside at brands and retailers, so I could bring that perspective to the conversation. And, you know, as conversations progressed, I make sure that they progressed in a way that the results were something that were actually deliverable in a retail environment.

Brian: [00:07:54] That's great. Yeah, I think that's really needed right now. Deliverable innovation. A lot of aspirational innovation. There's a lot of innovation for the sake of press releases.

Phillip: [00:08:10] Press release focused innovation...

Scott: [00:08:14] There's nothing wrong with a little bit of press release innovation. I use that to my advantage to help pay the bills for the stuff, for the entire program. So I think you can use that as the icing for your cake. It just shouldn't be the cake.

Phillip: [00:08:32] Yeah.

Brian: [00:08:33] Oooh I love that.

Phillip: [00:08:36] I've sort of had a history over the last couple of years of the shows of being, you know, sort of cynical about brands ability to execute, because I think there's really, there's two very wide, there's two poles or two opposite ends. There is the sort of not invented here syndrome where it's not good unless we've done it ourselves and we built from the ground up and we can bring it on internally, which leads to being seen as a laggard in many cases, unless you're really adept at being a technology company, those things can be pretty tricky to pull off and still be aspirational. We've seen a lot of brands sort of blow their lead, you know, early on as being seen as technology innovators by going hard on doing things all on their own. And then there's the other end of the spectrum, which is we partner on everything and we do everything. And then, you know, there's no real focus. There's no depth. They don't have ownership of the data. So, Scott, do you think there's a happy medium and in your role and in helping brands kind of decide who they want to be and how they're gonna apply technology? How do you help them decide what parts or what pieces of technology to partner with external third party companies to bring to the table? And what parts do you build in-house? How do you approach that?

Scott: [00:10:14] I think that there definitely is a happy medium. It is easy to fall into the trap of only looking internally for your solutions. I think there's several things that can happen that are not the desire outcome, including you tend to recycle the same ideas, similar ideas, ideas that are a good solution for the company, but maybe not a good solution for the customer, and are all possibilities from that scenario. I was really fortunate at Neiman Marcus to work within a very, very capable technical take. Top notch with lots and lots of capabilities, which meant that the answer often was we're just going to go build it ourselves. And they certainly had the capabilities to go build it themselves. There was no doubt about it. They could do it. Where the problem lied with that was the supporting net as it became an ongoing thing and keeping it up to date and keeping up the pace with what was happening outside of the walls? Technology and ideas progressed at maybe a faster rate than what was going on internally. And so, you know, you end up... But I think in some cases with this sort of technology debt that you had a hard time servicing when going that approach. So that was not always the answer. Sometimes there was no other choice. There just wasn't anybody out there doing it. You want it or need it? And so the only choice was to go build. That's fine.

Scott: [00:12:02] I think that it was easy to fall into the "we always build it" answer. And I didn't believe that was right. And I think the approach I took with the innovation lab there was that we should go find partners to help us build it. And that's where the happy medium comes into play. I didn't mean we just completely buy it off the shelf and, you know, we're done. I mean, you know, we partner with the capable partners that can collaborate and build a solution that was right for this particular organization. I think that's what the philosophy I carry with me to the Current, that we bring in this outside perspective when we're working with our clients, but we're listening to what our client has to say, as well. It's part of how the solution is developed is through a collaborative process of understanding their wants, needs, and perspectives and applying our own expertise and the expertise of the partners we bring with us to the problem.

Phillip: [00:13:17] I'm just to kind of come back to our preshow question review... I love the way I sort of wrote this question out and it's like right in my vein. Basically, not to call Neiman Marcus a department store, but like for lack of a better word. Why not? And if I had to use air quotes with department stores, do you think that the department stores as a whole as being a steward of their own brand and then stewards of other brands... Do you think they're capable of tech innovation? Are they capable of experiential retail or is that at odds with sort of their core mission? How does that sort of play out broadly?

Scott: [00:14:02] You know, I think it's fair to say that technology has not been the core mission in the past. And then I think you saw sort of a scramble as smartphones and other things came of age. And now technology and data was being delivered at the point of need on the customer side. And the retailers kind of needed to match that to stay current and stay relevant. And I think that a lot of brands and retailers discovered that that's not easy. You know, when that's not your core value, when you're not technology company at your core, you're a retailer at your core. So I think it was necessary to bring in some help in a lot of cases to stay up to speed.

Brian: [00:14:58] Do you think that... Do you think that's getting more challenging with the labor market being what it is? If you see something out there that you want to do, and you can't really find a partner that you're excited about or maybe you just... Do you think it makes sense right now in this current environment to actually go acquire a head of A.I., like Levi's did, and build out that practice internally?

Phillip: [00:15:24] And not everybody is on the verge of an IPO. Right?

Brian: [00:15:28] Right. Right. I mean, especially in the A.I. world right now, like finding qualified individuals is extremely expensive. So what's your view there?

Scott: [00:15:39] Well, the first thing I'd say is that it's not only organizations the size of Levi's that need expertise and A.I. or whatever other current, hot technology you want to name is. And not every organization has the resources to go and acquire a company or acquire top talent to bring it internally, to build it themselves. So, you know, if you're fortunate enough to have the resources to go out there and do it, and that offers you an opportunity to differentiate yourself from your competitors and to have something unique that nobody else has, then you know that can make a lot of sense. But I think that for a lot of innovation projects, you're really, you're testing and iterating and trying things, learning to get the good stuff and throwing out the bad stuff and trying again kind of approach. And, you know, I think that, you know, the open innovation approach where you're working with partners to go through these iterations, and to try these different things, and to gather these different earnings is a more efficient way to do it.

Brian: [00:16:58] Would you say that innovation is experimentation? I was just reading an article by Chris Walton over an Omni Talk, and he had a big point he wanted to make about that. So do you think that experimentation lives outside of innovation or are they kind of one in the same?

Scott: [00:17:23] Well, you know, I think that a lot of the things that you're trying to solve with an innovation approach are maybe solutions that have never been tried before. So you're applying a hypothesis, right? You know, I think if I do this, this, this and this that it's going to result in something great. And often when you put these things out in the real world, you discover things and conditions and environmental factors and other things that make it not as great as you thought. And you need to adjust, so if that's your definition of experimentation, then yeah, the answer is yes. That is part of it.

Brian: [00:18:02] Got it. Yeah, that makes sense.

Phillip: [00:18:04] I'm curious how others might define experimentation. There's interesting, not to keep kind of coming back to the same topic, but I look at other high end retailers in in the world, like Barney's. And they're experimented pretty heavily with assortment and category because their customers are changing with the times. And the things that used to be considered luxury are probably not really luxury, or aren't traditional luxury. Right? We've got, you know, Jerry Lorenzo and Fear of God and interesting brands that are, you know, more in the streetwear space that are being considered luxury brands now and probably rightfully so. I mean, they're at the right price point, but that's also just a different type of experimentation. Do you think that a traditional or a modern retailer understands that experimentation isn't just technology? They probably understand that elsewhere in their business, right, with category and assortment?

Scott: [00:19:04] No, I think they do. Technology is not some silver bullet that goes out and solves all your problems. Technology is one component of lots of things you need to be doing to stay relevant with your customer and offer the customer the experience that they're looking for when they walk in the door or browse through your e-commerce site. And I think that the reason I sort of hedged on the word experimentation was with so much ability to gather data and collect information about customers, in some cases we ought to be able to fairly accurately predict what it is that they need and they want and what we should be doing. But I think in other cases it takes a little trial, learn from your errors in that trial, and adjust.

Brian: [00:20:00] That makes sense. I think that to follow on a little bit from that... Do you think... I'm just thinking about the specific case that Phillip brought up now and diving into the weeds a little bit. But do you think that millennials right now are even interested in luxury as it exists today? Or would they rather go out there and just go direct to designers or artists and brands that are going direct to consumer now? I guess maybe a better question would be how would you define luxury right now, as well?

Scott: [00:20:37] That's interesting. And you realize you're asking this type, the technology guy, right?

Phillip: [00:20:46] Yeah. No, I can characterize why I think that it applies to you. But I'd love to hear your first blush answer.

Scott: [00:20:54] Yeah. So, look, luxury is about quality and scarcity and providing a bespoke product that has uniqueness to it. That's to me what luxury is, and my personal definition of luxury is probably very different than, you know, the next person that you ask. You know? I think in the end it's about that personal experience. It's about items that not only speak to you in an emotional way, in a visual way, but state who you are when you know when you acquire and use this item.

Phillip: [00:21:46] I think that technology helps us to deliver that, helps brands to deliver more than ever before.

Scott: [00:21:53] Well... I was going to jump right in and answer your question, but you weren't finished talking, so that was my bad.

Phillip: [00:21:59] No, please go ahead. Yeah. Answer the question.

Scott: [00:22:02] Well, I think that I didn't hear the whole question, by the way. So I'm going to ask you what I think the question is. But what technology is helping me to do... It's helping me to deliver that personalized experience to customers that are not cookie cutter. They're not personas. We've tried lots of different things in the past to try to speak to a customer individually that weren't necessarily precise enough. So you were making mistakes in that presentation and conversation. Yeah. And by that, I mean, you were talking with the customer or showing the customer things that weren't really interesting to that particular customer. I think, with technology, we can start to be better and better at knowing a wider circle of customers and not making those mistakes in the conversation.

Brian: [00:23:03] That's actually interesting. One of the big trends that we've seen this year, that we've been kind of calling as a big trend for this year is the idea of clienteling and not like sort of in the traditional sense, but sort of an omni channel clienteling, if you will. And do you feel like like luxuries...where do you feel like luxury is in terms of having clienteling solutions that exist beyond the personal relationship in the store that they perhaps built in the past and what do you see as enablers to help build that relationship into the digital world and other channels?

Scott: [00:23:44] I think that, you know, everybody's chasing that. I think that we had a V.P. of customer insight and analytics at my previous job that said that personalization is the new loyalty. And he was the data guy, and it was all about what insights can we gather about the customer in a non creepy fashion and use that data to deliver a better experience for the customer.

Phillip: [00:26:15] You know, around the technology line, what we're seeing, especially, you know, especially in the scarcity of luxury goods today, we are seeing more app enabled purchasing. We're seeing more customization of products. We're seeing a lot of like just in time manufacturing that's happening. Supply chain is getting closer to the actual last mile delivery to the customer. And these all sound like tough technical problems to solve. And they're now consumer expectations because big brands are engaging customers in a meaningful way. I think it's an interesting and brave new world that technology is basically the new luxury, because all of the luxury experiences that we have and all the customer experience that we keep hearing about at shows like Shop Talk, are being powered...they couldn't be powered any other way. You couldn't have that experience any other way than by some sort of technology investment. And I think that's what makes you and others like you and your role in advising brands on what to do and where to put that investment so valuable right now, because it's... We're at the frontier. Is that really what how you see it and your new role at Current Global?

Scott: [00:27:42] Yeah, I think I agree completely with what you just said. I think that one of the things you saw happen, over the last decade, is that the rate of change and the expectations of the customer because of all the things they were doing with technology when they weren't it social media, etc. and mobile phones and so forth... Changed not only the way they shop, but changed their expectations in terms of how fast they can get the product. And by that, I mean be available in the store, as well as how fast it could be actually delivered to them if they actually bought the product online. Companies like Amazon obviously had an effect on that, as well. And the only way for retailers to keep up with that was to deploy and apply technology to the problem. It's too much data. If you think about this see it buy it mentality. The whole six month seasonal changeover in fashion, for instance, is no longer how it works. And so now the entire supply chain is disrupted as they figure out how do we get this stuff manufactured quickly and then to a place where the customer can actually get their hands on it. So lots of work going on there trying to figure out how can we do that? And then something we got to really broached in this conversation, but all that affects sustainability and other kind of environmental factors that are smart and important to the next generation of customers.

Phillip: [00:29:34] That's probably the least touched on topic on our show that I think that brands care most about, which is sustainability, and technology powers sustainability. Brian, I think you were about to jump in there, as well.

Brian: [00:29:50] Oh, no. I was just thinking about Amazon and how they had committed to get 100% renewable on energy for AWS and how much that stalled out on them recently. And I know that they're trying to...

Phillip: [00:30:04] And his thoughts and opinions are his own as a former Amazon employee. We are not to be held liable.

Scott: [00:30:11] Well, nobody said it was easy.

Phillip: [00:30:14] No. That might be some of the PR based innovation that we were just talking about.

Brian: [00:30:18] Yeah, they're recommitting to it. I didn't mean the dog on them. There's a lot of people that are struggling.

Scott: [00:30:24] And kudos to them for doing it. And the same for I think all types of brands, all the way down to the actual manufacturer and lifecycle of a garment, which turns out it's something not a lot of people thought of up until, it feels like, relatively recently. But the way fashion gets manufactured, worn, and discarded was wasteful at every step of the process. And there are ways to be better at that. And you can even... We did an event at South by Southwest where Levi's innovation guy came and spoke about what they're doing in trying to reduce water usage as a manufacture jeans, as an example. So, I mean, it's you know, there are lots of different efforts to address that going on across the industry. You know, I tended to spend my time thinking about beauty, luxury, and fashion because of the Neiman Marcus background. But it's not just beauty, luxury and fashion that are trying to apply technology to this problem.

Phillip: [00:31:33] Absolutely. I think Back to the Future, Back to the Future Two, right? And and you have this scene where the pizza arrives. And, you know, Marty McFly puts it into, the older Marty, puts it into the Black and Decker rehydrater. And that's the first thing that I thought of, you know, is how there are brands now specifically in and cleaning and sanitization that are shipping only concentrated versions of their products, because shipping water around the country is expensive and it's bad for the planet. And we might get to the consciousness of a consumer that says, I don't want my pizza to have any water in it. I need to rehydrate it when I get it...that last mile rehydration.

Scott: [00:32:21] It appears to me that the consumers, and especially the younger generation of consumers, are really thinking about that, and the brands that are authentically trying to address the issue resonate with that. I think that if you're just sort of, trying to make a PR play with it, you're going to get a call out on it. But the ones that really are putting forth the effort are gaining a leg up.

Brian: [00:32:49] It's amazing.

Phillip: [00:32:50] And it seems like venture capital and private equity seem to care about those things, too, because, not for nothing, a lot of the vertically integrated or digitally native brands that we see that are reaching unicorn status are ones that are backed by VCs that care about sustainability. And they all have an important story to tell on that front. Sorry. Go ahead, Brian.

Brian: [00:33:14] Oh, I was going to switch gears a little bit. I was gonna say, speaking of a press release versus reality, I wanted to ask Scott... So just to shift gears a little bit, thinking back to your time at Neiman Marcus. You did a lot of stuff, a lot of really cool stuff, some of it was a little splashier than others. But I wanted to hear from you personally. What are a few of the innovation initiatives that you championed that you felt like we're the ones you're the most proud of? This is your opportunity to brag a little bit about yourself. Not necessarily like PR splashy but like that you personally thought were just really transformational for Neiman Marcus.

Scott: [00:33:59] Yeah, I mean, look, there's a few. Before I ever even had the lab, I was part of a group that went out and championed and fought for buying iPhones for all our sales associates and empowering them with the Smartphone. That was a game changer. It wasn't an easy thing to pull off. There was a lot of pushback because it wasn't cheap to go do that, right? That was a significant investment to go purchase thousands of iPhones with data plans and all the things that came along with it. And I feel like that day was an innovation platform that they're still innovating on today. Right? It had staying power. It was definitely not a PR stunt. In fact, we didn't even talk about it outside of our four walls for the first several years that the program was in place. It was there strictly to empower sales associates with the data they needed to service their customers and to make that customer inside a corporate resource and not a resource that was distorted away at one associates little black book. Right. So, it was a game changer.

Brian: [00:35:21] I love that. Did you empower your sales reps to really go beyond the data that you had captured through kind of official channels and make a more personal connection even up to social connections and deeper, longer lasting, almost business to business like connections?

Scott: [00:35:43] We had to grow into that, I think. There was a lot of old ways of thinking mindsets that had to be changed. When those phones were implemented, I believe the corporate policy at that time was no social media at work, right? No Facebook, no nothing. You're wasting your time. You're not doing your job if you're on social media. And you know that was the old kind of P.C. in an office mindset that was going on. And, it turns out that, social media was a great way for associates to connect with and communicate with customers. And those ways changed from you're not allowed to do it to us offering classes on how to be great at it internally... It completely went full circle. I think there was even an article, even today I was reading, they were talking about some of the innovative ways Neiman Marcus was enabling their associates on social media. Yeah. So now it's as a pitch point, not a problem with organization. You know, I think that we're not the only organization that had to go through that sort of change in mindset. So but it was fun to watch it happen, and it was fun to watch a lot of the things that...when I first came there, that folks said, "Oh, this will never change," or "It will never be different from this," all became different as technology and our customer base drove us to adopting new ways to do things.

Brian: [00:37:26] That's awesome. So is that is sort of what led to the innovation lab then? That initial...

Scott: [00:37:33] I think it didn't hurt. I think that being a champion for in-store digital capabilities, and that means networking and Wi-Fi and all the things, all the infrastructure that you need to do that. The iPhone project also was a part of why I got invited to start the lab. That was all sort of added up to, "Hey, why don't we do a technology lab, and see what we can do?" And then onc we got into the lab, we did some splashy things. Memory mirror is probably the splashiest thing I did. You know, if someone asked me what the biggest project we did, I have to say that just because I still get asked questions about it and it still appears in articles to this day, for something that we literally started working on in 2013 and launched in 2014. And here we are in 2019 still talking about it. So, and the new store at Hudson Yards, opened with memory mirror capabilities in it. So it's still an ongoing technology at Neiman Marcus. But then I go back to things I love, as well, behind the scenes, like empowering our online chat agents with this amazing kind of visual system that let them view customers like they were a shopper in a store, to speak to them with similar contexts that a live sales associate talking to a customer in a physical brick and mortar store would have.

Brian: [00:39:11] Is that a specific... Sorry, go ahead...

Scott: [00:39:12] Yeah, it is, it's a product that we deployed with a partner company called Power Front. And, basically they gave us a platform that changed the game on online chat for us from, "Where's my order?" situation, which is what the old chat system was basically good at, to "Hey, I see here you're looking at red shoes and that you had a question about those yesterday, and it turns out I have some additional information I can give you that that may help you make a decision about whether to buy them or not." In other words, now I'm a sales associate, and I can serve with different information that can actually help the customer and have a real conversation with the customer and not just be, "Yeah, I can find your order, or I can help you with your return" types of interactions.

Brian: [00:40:06] Did you ever relate that data back to data gathered from the store like essentially, a consistent account of interactions?

Scott: [00:40:16] That was one of the points of the system, was to be an aggregator of those interactions. It was in-store email, text, etc. And it's our agents that we're dealing with our customers to have that broad picture of those interactions, as opposed to everyday that you came to shop with us, either in-store or on one of the digital channels. If you had a question, it was like a do over. Right? You have to go find the whole story from the beginning. We wanted it to be more like a conversation in real life with somebody that you know. And our associate had the context to interact with you in a meaningful, helpful.

Brian: [00:41:01] As you were leaving Neiman, you wrote an article in Business of Fashion, and you talked about what was going to be required for retailers to innovate. And you talked specifically about roadblocks there, and the three roadblocks were poor strategy, lack of buy in, lack of resources. And so I wanted to ask you, could you maybe detail some examples of how you've seen this in the past at a different retailers? You don't necessarily have to use names, but like just stories of how you've seen this happen.

Scott: [00:41:46] Oh, let me do it this way. I'll explain to you why I wrote the article.

Brian: [00:41:50] Great.

Scott: [00:41:51] Which was which was from the heart. And I didn't write anything that I didn't experience personally or truly believe. Oh, by the way, it was not intended to be some kind of indictment of Neiman Marcus. What it really was about is what I was seeing with my interactions around the United States and even around the globe where, if you think about it, kind of folks in my role at the time, being kind of head of retail innovation program, that is a pretty small group, actually. So we would cross paths a lot and of course, like in any job, when you meet somebody that does your job somewhere else, you trade stories about, you know, what's going great, what's not going great in your life. And it was those things that I called out were almost kind of a universally the story when I would talk with other folks that are doing my job. You know, we would just look at each other, go, wow, you know, I thought the grass was greener on the other side. But it's actually exactly the same on your side of the fence as it is on my side. It's you know, there is a demand and a hunger for innovation, but there is not the same hunger to fund it. It was a problem that I constantly ran into. It was always a struggle to get the funding, and so I got very creative at it. Basically I stopped trying to fight city hall, and I just went and figured out how to self-fund the projects.

Scott: [00:43:32] And that's why you saw me at such a heavy speaking schedule the last couple years at Neiman Marcus, because those were all opportunities to go out and gather partners that were willing to come in and invest in doing innovation projects with me and allow me to get the projects out the door and actually see what the results were. So, I mean. Yeah. So that was part of it. You know, I think that you can say that I started that lab and I had very, very strong support of the lab. And over the years, there's been big changes, and towards the end I don't feel like the support was there that was there at the beginning. And in some ways, it's because the leadership decided to go a different direction. And that's why they're leaders. They, of course, are empowered to make those decisions. And I just felt like, "Hey, you know what? I feel like we've contributed a lot of things for the greater good here. And I'm losing the opportunity to continue to do that. So I'm going to go somewhere where I have energy to do it."

Brian: [00:44:46] Very interesting. Yeah, I hear exactly what you're saying. It's interesting. I think one point, one takeaway here is the importance of consistent leadership and long term vision. I think that, you know, that a lot of initiatives, whether they're innovation initiatives or just general business initiatives, can often lose steam without consistent leadership or consistent vision that buys into the idea of a five year, ten year ROI on a very specific approach to something. And so it's interesting. You know, Katie Finnegan just left Walmart Labs, right? Yeah. And I know that when she went in, initially her goal was to have a 10 year vision and not really see the kind of return that retailers expect to see in just like two years. It was more of if we keep doing this over a period of time, it will return results. I don't know if that's why she left, but I just think it's interesting that your experience went down the way that it did. And, you know, I found your article really interesting. I love hearing the insight about other people experiencing similar stories. And I think this is a good lesson and a good, really important thing for retailers to pay attention to right now. If they are going to invest in innovation, be ready to getting into it for the long haul.

Phillip: [00:46:26] I think that it's also it's a lot to ask and you have to... The long haul is really... It's easy to say that we're in it for the long haul. It's really hard to actually walk it out. When you think back to what 10 years ago was like, the iPhone itself was not commonplace. It was not. It was a luxury item. In fact, we didn't even have copy and paste on the iPhone. So a lot changes in ten years. And it's amazing that we are where we are now...

Brian: [00:46:56] Let alone 10 years... Look at 2.5 years.

Phillip: [00:46:59] Right. I know. Since the last time we had Scott on.

Brian: [00:47:03] Yeah. We...

Scott: [00:47:05] I think that the innovation effort is... It can't be siloed, right? It has to be kind of a corporate mindset to work. And the bigger the enterprise, the harder that is to achieve. You know, and I think that the way I ran my lab, it was as a center of excellence that was a place for these kind of disparate parts of the business to come together and deliver on projects. And as things change and new faces came in, I lost some of the ability to do that. And I could see that perhaps the effectiveness wasn't as good. And I wanted to go someplace where I could continue to practice that because I feel like that works, and I feel like by being a part of the Current Global, it gives me the opportunity to going to be a catalyst for that collaborative approach, the approach of partnerships from within the brand and from external sources can come together and produce something where one plus one equals three.

Brian: [00:48:30] Wow.

Phillip: [00:48:31] That's an awesome final word if I ever heard one.

Brian: [00:48:32] Phillip, do we want to ask our last question that we always ask before get off?

Phillip: [00:48:39] Yeah, let's go for it.

Brian: [00:48:41] All right. So, as always, give us your top near-term recommendations for merchants right now. What do you see coming in the next six months to a year that they should be working on right now? And then give us one trend that you're super excited about that you see coming to fruition the next five years.

Scott: [00:48:58] Well, look, so I'm going to keep that pretty general. I think that traditional ROI is morphing. And so merchants, retailers need to be trying to figure out what the new ROI is, right? And how are they speaking to their customer? The days of just having great product and a great environment being enough to be a great retailer are gone, but going too far the other way is not helpful either. Not everybody wants...turned their retail experience into the ice cream museum. Right? You have to balance actual ROI and actually generating revenue in your stores with delivering the experience that your customers are looking for. You know, I think that what I'm preaching as CTO of the Current, in terms of open innovation and partnerships, is a way to try to avoid this kind of a never ending copy paste sort of approach to innovation that you get if you're only using the same voices to bring opinions to the table. What's going to happen in the next five years? You know, I think that the modern consumer has trust issues and well deserved, maybe, in terms of if you think about data breaches and other things that have happened at retail and even in government. Right? So, over the next five years, what we need to be focusing on, and technology can help with this, is how do we gain that trust back? And how do we make sure that all this massive amount of data that we have been and probably will continue to collect from our customers is safe and secure and being used in a way that's helpful to the customer and being used with their permission? And if they want to rescind that, permission can be purged, life goes on for that customer that doesn't want to be part of your program anymore. I would also think... I'll go back to sustainability as being a big deal over the next five years. I think we're just at the infancy at this sustainability discussion.

Phillip: [00:51:27] Thank you so much for listening today. We want to thank Scott for coming on the show and lending that beautiful brain of his and his awesome thoughts on the future of retail. And we want your thoughts on the future of retail. We want you to join us and join our community of pragmatic retail futurists. And you can do that today at You can also like and subscribe anywhere where podcasts are found. You can do that at Apple podcasts, Google Play, Google podcast. You can do it at Stitcher Premium or Spotify or any smart speaker device with the phrase play Future Commerce podcast. And I want you, I want you to do it right now. I want you to tell two friends about Future Commerce. We are growing our community, and we want you to be involved. You can get involved over at Instagram or Twitter on LinkedIn. We are actively putting out content pretty much every day. And I think it's worthwhile and worth your time. OK.

Phillip: [00:52:19] As we always say. Retail tech moves fast, but Future Commerce is moving faster. We'll see you next week.

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