Retail Relevancy has never been more… relevant. In part one of my conversation with my friend and business partner John Andrews, we touched on Alexa, Amazon, and the evolving way that consumers experience retail. In part two, we’re continuing that conversation, and digging into how the modern retail experience (when it’s done right) should empower both employees and customers to engage on a human level. Let’s dive into some of the highlights:

Caffeine by Drone, Please: The Rising Expectations of Retail Consumers

Ted: I’m driving to my niece’s wedding, stuck in terrible traffic, and all I’m thinking about is Starbucks. Deliver me coffee in a drone! I’ve got my skylight, I’ve got it open, I want coffee. I don’t want to pull off the road and lose my precious spot in the traffic.

I’m saying it as a joke, but I’m telling you… a few people asked seriously, why not? And that’s a huge challenge for the whole retail industry (where this is going).

John: The industry’s consolidating; more people are buying stuff online. I’m an outdoor guy. I like to hike, and when I order gear, where do I go? I go to Google, and I look at gear. I just bought some hiking poles that way. Those hiking polls came from REI, ultimately, but Google was the “shelf.”

Car Shopping is the Worst. Tesla Begs to Differ.

Ted: Even Cadillac now has showrooms where you can experience their products without a sales rep hanging over your shoulder. I don’t know about you, but I hate buying a car. And now they’re trying to change that experience.

John: Tesla pre-sold over 400,000 of a model they’re not even producing yet. Think about that. The largest selling car in America goes back and forth between the Toyota Camry or Honda Accord, and Tesla sold almost as many cars as those guys, pre-sale. People are putting down $1,000, and doing it without any dealerships.

Ted: This is, to me, is where it’s all going. Just like AirBnB, overcoming the regulations, and the people lobbying to keep new business models out will eventually fall away.

The Importance of Engagement, and Empowering Employees

John: Now there’s been a lot of talk about Jet, but I think the most important money Walmart spent this year was the $3 billion it spent on its own people. Because, look, if you’re going to go to the store today, you’d better have a good experience.

Ted: By the way, it’s not just people in the store. It’s people digitally; allowing employees to interact and engage with people. My buddy David was recently telling me about a terrible experience his wife had with brand of sneakers that she’d purchased for a long time. She ordered a pair of sneakers that basically fell apart, reached out for help, and got a robotic response. They probably lost a customer for life.

What’s happening with these online tools – and it makes me crazy – is they’re trying to automate everything and make it robotic. People don’t want robotic! They want empathy. They want someone to just be a human. Half the time all they care about is somebody listening.

John: Imagine the difference in what happens in that negative situation. David tells you about the incident, and now you’ve told some people. David’s wife tells some people, too. Now, what would have happened if they said, “We’re sorry about the shoes, and we’re happy to send you a new pair. Just drop the others in a box and send them back.” Totally different outcome.

Quality Customer Service Quiets Doubters and Converts the Skeptical

John: Now my wife is famously skeptical of the internet. If I order a product, can I return it? She wants to avoid buyer’s remorse more than anything. So we’re doing an outdoor project, and she orders a fan. When we finally got it installed, the fan didn’t work.

She’s worried that because we ordered it from Amazon, we won’t be able to return it. I said, “Why not trying emailing them?” So we send an email, and they send a replacement. Problem solved! Now she has no trepidation about making that order.

Ted: Amazon has billions of dollars to put these things into place, but even for small retailers, it’s just the part about being human.

John: And small retailers have an advantage. They know your name and face!

Ted: What happens is there are so many rules: we don’t do that, or that’s not the way it’s done. Or there’s an efficiency expert, saying “They can answer this many queries this fast, if they only say what’s been pre-written.” You’re losing the people, because all they really want to know is that you actually care.

I see it happen every day. At e.l.f. Cosmetics, we used to send people a replacement order if anything in their shipment was damaged. I mentioned it on social way back in 2009, and ownership started going crazy, thinking everyone’s going to start telling us that their orders came damaged.

Our complaints about damaged orders went up .001 percent, and we got a ton of positive social feedback and sales.

How Retail Has Come Full Circle

Ted: It really is about connecting with people, and I like to say that commerce has come full circle. We used to go to our neighborhood vendor, and they knew us.

John: You go to the butcher, and the butcher knows your mom, knows to save the ham bone for her stew, right?

Ted: Those people knew you. They recommended things to you. They knew if you didn’t like something, or made good recommendations. Then everything got anonymous.

Now, it’s okay. Customers are willing to give information if it makes their life easier. And they want good recommendations of stuff they’ll actually like (and to be able to take it back if they don’t like it).

Better Relevancy in Ads (Finally) 

Ted: I feel like Facebook does the best job of anyone online of targeting me with relevant ads. I’m going hiking, and all of a sudden, ads for hiking boots start to show up in my feed. I’ll actually click on those ads. They do those ads because it’s relevant, contextual, and makes sense to me. It’s not just something randomly sent to my feed.


If you’ve followed John and I, you know we’re big on building relationships. The same level of consideration, respect, and courtesy that makes you a good friend or colleague will also do wonders when engaging retail customers. Too often, retail employees are so restricted in what they’re allowed to say, that they don’t wind up saying anything at all. Empower your employees to engage on a personal level, and never assume that automation can take the place of real, meaningful interaction. #RetailRelevancy #PPath

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