Advancing Retail through Innovation with Sterling Hawkins, CART

This week on the Tech Cat Show:

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Speaker 2: Welcome to the Tech Cat Show with host Lori H. Schwartz. Each week, we hear from established leaders in the technology and consumer industry, finding out the scoop should never be this much fun. Now here is your host Lori H. Schwartz.

Lori. H. S.: Hi everybody and welcome back to the Tech Cat Show, and we have another exciting show this week. We are talking to the fabulous Sterling Hawkins who I’ve known for many years, but I feel like we broke up and we just got back together. Sterling is the co founder of an initiative called CART which is the Center for Advancing Retail and Technology. He’s really responsible for evaluating all sorts of new technology in the retail sector every year, and helping people understand the innovations in the retail space, and what consumers are doing, and what exciting things are happening in commerce. Let’s have a big Tech Cat welcome for Sterling Hawkins.

Sterling H.: Thank you Lori great to be with you yay. It has been so long since we’ve had a chance to catch up, I’m glad we’re doing this.

Lori. H. S.: That’s right and you have been busy, busy, busy over the years moving the retail needle forward if that’s the right metaphor for it. Give us a whole background ’cause when you and I met, you were obviously doing what you’re doing now but in a different form. Tell us about your background and then we’ll dive right into some of the trends things that you’re looking at. This is such a hot space right now so hot and so interesting.

Sterling H.: Oh my god, there’s so much new cool things coming out that aren’t just technically possible but are getting into being economically viable, that’s where we get to see some of these changes. I’d love to tell you 10 years ago or so whenever we met right it was a while ago I had this master plan for how this was going to come together, but it’s really been something driven by industry need. What are retailers looking for, brands looking for, consumers looking for in this world of innovation that we live in right?

Lori. H. S.: Right, right.

Sterling H.: It started because one fifth generation retailer, my family’s got a grocery store in Central New York, and it’s where I grew up. It started as a roadside produce stand, was really a fundamental piece of the community and grew into the full size store that it is today. I remember and I’m sure a lot of your listeners remember, retail used to be different when I was a kid. We knew our customers and their families and their likes and their dislikes. There’s this funny story, I even remember putting groceries in the back of our minivan or station wagon or whatever it was back in the 80s and dropping off groceries at our customers’ houses that couldn’t make it in that day because well that’s what we did. Today delivery is a thing, and it wasn’t a thing back then.

Lori. H. S.: Right, right, right, right.

Sterling H.: We were one of the first stores in the US at least to launch a loyalty program at retail. What it looked like then is those little plastic cards with barcodes on them so we could identify consumers. That really started this whole wave of retailers, at least they didn’t used to be technology companies, so we just started trying these things out, and understanding how it all worked, and it’s grown into the business that it is today which is looking at 1000 new retail tech companies every year and getting them matched up with the best retailers and brands that are using the stuff.

Lori. H. S.: God it’s crazy. Were you looking to become a resource to other retailers, or did it just kind of naturally happen?

Sterling H.: Yeah it naturally happened because we’re on that leading edge of loyalty and really not just implementing loyalty but understanding how to gather, really gain some insights from it and use that data with how we were going to market, we had retailers and brands for that matter reaching out to us saying, “Hey can you help us with this? We’re trying to do that, or can you advise us here or speak at this conference?” Then that naturally segued into everything else. As digital screens grew and biometrics and augmented reality and all these things, we were just like, “Yeah, yeah let’s put it in the store and try it out and invite all of our friends” which is now a network of about 30000 retailers across the US.

Lori. H. S.: Wow and it’s not specific to any particular retail category, it’s just anyone who is selling a product basically or a service? How do you distinguish who is a retailer?

Sterling H.: That’s right. Yeah so CART today is really a media company, where we look at all of these solutions and then run a webcast, in person event, different programs for individual retailers to bring in the kinds of solutions that they’re working with to solve the problems that they have. Our sweet spot and my sweet spot is definitely what I call fast moving consumer goods, anywhere that’s selling Procter and Gamble products right or Kellogg’s products, and specifically grocery stores, but we’ll have the stuff translate. I’ve done work now really probably across every major retail vertical with the specialty still being grocery.

Lori. H. S.: Is the business constantly changing right now because of all these other trends that we keep talking about on this show which is like immersive content and that people aren’t physically going into stores anymore and blockchain, and pretty much any them we’ve discussed on a show about technology trends. Has it changed the business forever?

Sterling H.: Yeah I think so. I think what it means to be a retailer you were pointing at a second ago is actually changing. It doesn’t have to look like it always has looked. I remember I think it was just over a year ago that Amazon announced they were buying Whole Foods. I got all these calls from friends and other retailers saying, “Oh my God, it’s over” right, “The retail industry is done, Amazon is taking it.” What happened is that it created all of this excitement, all of this movement, bigger budgets than I’ve seen being spent on innovation from a lot of the big retailers, new entrants into the market, venture capital dollars coming in. I would say right now is one of the most exciting times in commerce that we’ve ever seen because it is changing so fast and there’s so much of this opportunity.

Lori. H. S.: I’m asking this ’cause I’ve been, I’m curious both as an avid shopper-

Sterling H.: That’s something we all have to do.

Lori. H. S.: …. right exactly, and also as someone that is talking to a lot of brands who are trying to figure everything out. Are there certain categories right now do you think in the space that are poised to do better with what’s happening just because of the nature of the category they are, or is this world pretty much open for everybody to explore?

Sterling H.: The world’s definitely open. The great thing about let’s call it “emerging technology” that isn’t so emerging anymore so robotics, computer vision, IoT, all those buzzword-y things, is that all these different technologies can be applied in different ways, and some might be appropriate for certain retail categories, and others might not be, right? That doesn’t mean that some of the others aren’t going to work and literally transform industries. We just had a pitch event we were doing earlier today where we looked at hundreds of different emerging technologies, and one of the things that came to the top was Internet of Things and how we all have connected homes and connected worlds. Some of those repeat purchases that we’ve got like our laundry detergent or our water filters might just be completely automated thereafter right?

IoT for those repeat purchases is probably great technology to get interested in. At the same time, the margins tend to be a little bit lower with those things, so a virtual reality experience might not be the best emerging technology to look at for that right? It’s a little bit of being smart about what technology you’re using and how they get used, because there’s limitless customer experiences we can make these days.

Lori. H. S.: Right and so many different choices. I try and figure out even as a consumer when I’m wearing my working mom hat, and when I run out of the K cups or when I run out of shampoo or any of those things, how can I automate that more so that I’m not stuck being out of something and having to run to the store? There’s nothing I hate worse than running to the store for one product. Are you constantly also looking at new consumer behaviors?

Sterling H.: Oh of course, and it changes. The great thing about it from where we sit though is it predictively changes. As the technology changes which is more unpredictable than consumer behavior right, as the technology changes and what’s possible changes, we can start to see, “Oh yeah there’s a huge increase in value here”, and when that happens, consumers will move towards it, or like you were just saying, there’s a breakdown in high volume repeat purchase things like your K cups. “I don’t want to go to the store to buy one thing.” As there’s solutions come into market with the caveat that they’re economically viable, oh yeah well why wouldn’t consumers do something with that? Have you played with the Amazon dash button at all, that button you can press to reorder some of those things?

Lori. H. S.: Yeah, yeah and I’m afraid of it because I dropped it once and stuff showed up.

Sterling H.: Yeah it’s got a ways to go, but it’s so interesting that now integrated with a lot of these things. Well as the coffee machine whatever else gets smarter, you don’t need to press a button, it’ll be like, “Oh you’re low on K cups, we’re going to order new ones and then they’ll be on your front door step.”

Lori. H. S.: Cool, cool, cool. Well we have to take a quick little break. When we come back, I want to get a little bit deeper into some trends that you’re seeing in the space, that you are tackling with some of your clients, what we can expect either as consumers or also as potential clients, what should we be looking out for. We’re going to come back in a moment with the fabulous Sterling Hawkins, 10 years later still a superstar in retail, and we’ll dig more into some of the trends that he’s seeing in the commerce space, we’ll be back in a moment.

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Lori. H. S.: Hi everybody and we’re back, we’re talking to Sterling Hawkins who is a business leader and entrepreneur and an investor living at the intersection of in store and online and also he has co founded CART which is the Center for Advancing Retail and Technology, really looking at new retail tech for companies every year. Sterling, can you take us through something you would do with a client, and how you would help them identify some of these technologies to integrate into their business?

Sterling H.: Yeah for sure. I was actually just out with a client on the east coast and with a retailer that’s I would say mid size, several billion in sales every year, and they’re in the middle of the same conversation the rest of us are was, “How do we handle all of this innovation that’s coming to market ’cause there’s so much of it?” I’m a big fan of not just using technology for the sake of technology of because your competitor has, but add a service to your customer. How do you extend your existing business, your existing culture to do new things in new ways right?

Lori. H. S.: Yes.

Sterling H.: The first step is to really work with all of the leadership, all the stakeholders around hos the business is currently run, to get underneath of well what are the problems that you’re currently having, and what are some of the solutions either you’re looking at or wanting to look at, that you think can close that gap right? I don’t want to come in from 50000 feet and be like, “Okay here’s five or 10 things we have to do” right? It’s really driven by their culture and what they want to do and how they see doing it. We don’t want to bring in innovation that’s going to die after a expensive pilot right?

Lori. H. S.: Yes, yes.

Sterling H.: Once we’re there and we’ve got some direction, we will actually run a program across our network, and I’m looking at like I was saying 1000 or so new retail solutions every year believe it or not, it’s like a fraction of what’s out there from all over the world. We find the right solutions that are going to support that retailer’s culture, what they’re up to, what they’re interested it, and support them around pilots and trying different things. I think there’s probably a couple of key areas if you want to get into that, I’m seeing as commonalities across all the different retailers and brands we’re working with yeah.

Lori. H. S.: Yeah is it also that the ’cause I remember doing this for brands and clients in the past too, to your point, if you overwhelm them too much, they shut down and they’re not open to whatever you’re bringing into the situation.

Sterling H.: Totally yeah which is why the cultural piece is so important right? When they’re asking for things, they’re actually looking at their business, considering their problems, looking at new technologies, it’s got to fit with let’s call it their view of the world or it doesn’t, overwhelming just like you said, too much stuff, you’re throwing the future at me and I’m not ready for it.

Lori. H. S.: Right, right, right. Give us an example of whatever you’re allowed to talk about ’cause I know clients’ businesses are proprietary. Give us an example of something that you helped a client with.

Sterling H.: Yeah well one of the main areas I’m talking with a bunch of clients around especially this one that we were working with out of the north east is how does computer vision affect our physical stores?

Lori. H. S.: Okay got it.

Sterling H.: I think most of retailers have grasped this idea that online is coming together within store, and they’re looking for a lot of the tools and capabilities are going to facilitate them doing that. How do we bring that ease of experience that we see online with Amazon’s one click check out into the store? What that looks like and Amazon made a great road map for a lot of us to look at is using computer vision for check out, like their Amazon Go stores. You’ve probably seen some of those right?

Lori. H. S.: Right and they’re freaking some people out, and some people are really excited about them.

Sterling H.: Yeah and what’s so great is I remember back when retail launched credit cards, and people tended to spend more on credit cards because well it didn’t feel like money. When you’re walking in and walking out of stores and not transacting at all, at least physically, well it almost feels like stealing and walking out with more stuff, not only a vastly improved customer experience ’cause nobody likes lines, but the retailers gain a ton of benefit as well. Amazon’s spawned this entire industry of computer vision based check out companies which are in the early days, but I’d say very, very viable. I can’t give you the specifics of some of the pilots I know with some of the different start ups going, but I can point towards one company called Standard Cognition, which has a great approach. Instead of building stores from the ground up to fit with all this technology like Amazon has done with their Go stores, they’re like “Well there’s thousands, tens of thousands of stores already laid out across the US, we can’t build them all newly at least overnight.”

“How can we use computer vision to retrofit or bring those more legacy stores up to date?”

Lori. H. S.: Can you also just for the audience define computer vision?

Sterling H.: For sure, yeah, yeah I’m so steeped in the technology world, I use some of these buzzwords off of the top of my head. What it is, is it’s basically the computer’s ability to see. It uses a camera and through that camera lens, the computer can actually make sense of what it’s looking at. If you were to point it at a box of cereal, it might recognize that as a box of cereal not just a cereal but Kellogg’s Corn Flakes for example. They’ve taken it a step further to recognize, “Okay we’ll it’s Lori walking into the store and she’s picked up that Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and she’s picked up K cups and some water bottles and a couple of other things.” Instead of you having to check out and scan all those bar codes on your way out, you can literally just walk out. This company Standard Cognition has actually opened their own demonstration store that’s open to the public, it’s called Standard Market right in San Francisco.

It’s the coolest thing, you walk in, grab stuff and walk out.

Lori. H. S.: It’s just to demonstrate the technology to other retailers?

Sterling H.: That’s right.

Lori. H. S.: That’s so cool.

Sterling H.: Yeah they’re really a software company, a computer vision company and they’ve seen what we’ve all been seeing. Nobody wants to talk about any of the pilots that they’re doing, they’re like, “Oh we’ll open up our own store and show everybody how it works”, “Yep great idea.”

Lori. H. S.: That’s such a smart, smart thing to do to demonstrate it especially too as we were saying too retailers who are intimidated by change not sure. When you have a store like that, is it how the credit card was? Are you seeing increase in the wallet because people don’t have the friction of actually realizing what they’re doing, spending?

Sterling H.: Yeah, yeah that’s exactly what’s happening combined with the fact that you no longer need as much front end staff to check people out.

Lori. H. S.: It’s similar to what happens to me say at a Disney or Carnival I think is doing this too with their wristbands, the bracelets where you scan the RFID tag and it adds it to your wallet, so you’re having a party.

Sterling H.: Exactly, right, and then you see later how much you owe.

Lori. H. S.: Right, right. Is that, so I don’t know if you’ve seen any research on this yet, but are consumers getting pissed off because of that, because they’re being sort of accidentally tricked into spending more money? It’s not really an accident, but is there a sensitivity to that or any push back on that from consumers?

Sterling H.: That’s a good point. All of these technologies, computer vision, otherwise, as we start to look to change consumer behavior, or we’re changing it in the manner we’re doing our business, it becomes a value exchange. The cost of something or the risk of something right giving up your privacy, spending more, things like that has got to be less than the benefit of not waiting in lines anymore in this case right? That value exchange can potentially change over time. I love the social media example, 20 years ago, nobody would think about posting all their family pictures and their vacations and everything else online, and today it’s commonplace.

Lori. H. S.: Right so it’s just like us adapting to these new environments.

Sterling H.: That’s exactly it yeah. To take it a step further, I grew up in my family’s store right? I was very connected to our consumer and our community. I actually think a lot of these technologies take away some of the more remedial jobs or some of the more back office tools that give us as humans an opportunity to interact with other humans more effectively, right? We’re not trying to build a future for the Terminator, we’re building these things, we’re creating these stores and these experiences so we can have better lives and our employers can have better lives and enjoy what they’re doing with our whole community that’s shopping with us.

Lori. H. S.: Now we have to take a break in a moment, but before we go, one of the thing that I’ve been sort of enjoying say at parking lots in LA is not having to deal with a person and sticking the ticket in, but it does take jobs away. Are we seeing a loss of the terrifying loss of jobs that everyone is so concerned about, or are there new jobs being created because you need software to run this and you need technology to make it happen, and so it’s a different kind of job that’s happening?

Sterling H.: Exactly, that’s exactly right. Now just technology jobs, but there’s this whole specialization area opening up where yeah you might not want to work with a parking attendant to pay your parking bill, that makes sense to automate, but if you’re maybe throwing a high end dinner and you want to put a really nice show on for your family, friend, business associates whoever coming in, you might want to interact with a chef or the meat manager in your retail store to really talk about what that experience is going to look like.

Lori. H. S.: Right, right, right, right. It’s really fascinating, yeah go ahead.

Sterling H.: It is, yeah I was just going to say, it’s kind of experiential right? You go to the airport, and you want to get on that airplane as fast as you can, automation there makes sense. In other places, you do want some hand holding and it does open up some new jobs, not just highly technical highly specialized, but human interaction jobs that I think are much more fulfilling and engaging for all the be with to begin with.

Lori. H. S.: Yeah that’s a really, really good point because I always talk about killer robots to set the tone for our presentation. This story is really much brighter than all of that. All right, we’re going to take a quick break and when we come back, we’re going to talk more to Sterling Hawkins who is the co founder of CART, which is an initiative that’s really focused on the future of retail and as it relates to new technologies. I want to talk a little bit about what have been the biggest surprises for you in all of this, what companies do you think are doing it right, and also, what does it take to be a Sterling Hawkins.

Sterling H.: Perfect.

Lori. H. S.: All right, so we’ll be back in a moment in the Tech Cat show with the fabulous Sterling Hawkins in a moment.

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Lori. H. S.: Hi everybody and we are back talking to the real Sterling Hawkins. As we were talking offline, there’s another Sterling Hawkins, but we like this one. This one is an expert in the future of retail. I wanted to ask you just ’cause you are talking to so many companies both on the side of innovating around retail and then the actual clients who need to figure out how to keep their businesses from being disrupted. What’s been the biggest surprise for you over the last few years as you’ve moved through this?

Sterling H.: Yeah there have been a lot of them, but I think the biggest one is that retailers or even businesses don’t even do what might make sense, right? You look at something and it’s economically viable, and it’s going to save you dollars or make you X dollars, and it’s going to cost you something less than that, it would make sense to use that or at least look at it. Intellectually, that still does make sense right? It makes sense to do things that make sense, but businesses don’t operate that way, especially big businesses. It’s been surprising to me in retrospect I should have known it right, but it’s been surprising to me is how much culture drives what’s possible and what’s not possible inside of all businesses especially retail. Some have very open cultures talking about well, “Here’s what we can do and they’re piloting new technologies and they’re learning new things.” They may roll some of those things out, they may not, but they’re open to it.

Others are, “Nope we don’t need that, we want to wait till it’s proven. We need to wait till 80% of the market’s already done it until we can do it.” I think it’s vastly understated in the conversation we have about technology and how everything works how much culture plays a role because it’s like everything.

Lori. H. S.: Right, right, right. I used to find that it was consumer brands who were dealing with younger audience that were the most open to innovation. If you were dealing with say a packaged goods company that was dealing with a product that had no emotional connection, at least the marketplace hadn’t developed it yet, you would have talked about that maybe with toilet paper or tissue paper, but then they came out with all those spots. You can look at it right now with produce right? Oranges and tangerines are finally getting a brand right? Now you have like Cuties all these different and clementines, now that you have a brand, then you can tell a story around a brand, you can create an emotional connection. Then if you have an emotional connection, then you can start to story tell and you can start to experiment. For those brands that can’t do that, those were the folks that I thought were the slowest moving.

For you, it’s more, for your clients it’s more cultural, it’s not necessarily the actual product, it’s more of the institution itself.

Sterling H.: Yeah and I’d even say a lot of the big brands coming up with Cuties and Halos and those kinds of things culturally they’re geared to look for those kinds of things, to find meaning, to find purpose, and then build a brand in the story, eventually a marketing plan, go to market plan around it. Retailers or really all businesses have that same opportunity, and some use it, and use it quite effectively, like a Kroger a Walmart, or a Warby Parker, they’re really taking that brand and making it mean something, and others just not quite as effective, but the opportunity is there, really equally I think for all of us.

Lori. H. S.: I love hearing that. I remember talking and I did a talk at a produce convention six months ago, and they were just all so scared about the future because they weren’t used to it, and they are all looking at such new models like groceterias and places like Whole Foods and Gelson’s and all these other places now that have eating areas, and have really put a premium on making hot available food for people to hang out, and the changing nature of how now I get Sun Basket delivered to me once a week with all the food I need to make the recipe. The models are changing so fast and so quickly that I have to think they have to culturally be open to disruption right or else they’re just, they’re not going to be in business, they’re not going to be in business right?

Sterling H.: They don’t necessarily have to but probably a good idea. What you’re pointing towards I think is a great point. A lot of retailers and business I work with will be having conversations about roadmap planning, what’s next year, five years going to look like from now. It almost always starts with, “Well we did this last year so we can do 10% better here. We’re going to open up 2% more stores. We’re going to be 25% more efficient, we have to do that, right?” We have to do that not just as businesses but as humans, what did we do and how can we make that incrementally better. If that’s all we’re looking at, if we’re only looking in the rear view mirror so to speak of what did we do last year, five years ago, six months ago, that’s going to give us what to do in the future, the best we’re going to do is slightly better than we have already done right?

Lori. H. S.: Right, right.

Sterling H.: It does take something to get out in front of things, and it is a little scary to talk about that future and to look at more forward facing things, not as the only thing that you do, but certainly a component of it.

Lori. H. S.: Got it, got it. It’s so interesting, I would think now you have to be willing to try new things because the world is changing so much now. Now are there any clients that you are in deep admiration of because of what they are doing, or maybe not even clients ’cause we love all of our clients but-

Sterling H.: Right.

Lori. H. S.: … just businesses, brands, retailers that are leading the charge, and you’re impressed by what they’re doing?

Sterling H.: Yeah well the first one that comes to mind at least I can share their name publicly, is I’ve been really impressed with what Walmart’s been doing.

Lori. H. S.: Interesting.

Sterling H.: They went from the 800 pound gorilla back in the let’s call it the late 90s, to playing second fiddle to Amazon more recently. They have literally shifted their culture 90 degrees to the right where they are now I’m not going to say neck and neck with Amazon what they’re doing in innovation there, but they’re in the innovation game, they’re trying new things, they’ve got a lot of press releases about it, and it’s starting to change the underpinnings of how they’re going to market, with the automation they’re looking at, new store formats, delivery and everything else, so I do have to hand it to them, that’s one of the big players that I think everybody’s got to know.

Lori. H. S.: Right and they’re so I think in need of positive messaging and great consumer relationships just because of other stories about them over the years. What about on the product side? Any sort of well known brands or holding companies on the product side that you think are really doing interesting work?

Sterling H.: Procter and Gamble’s always on the leading edge of these things, and a lot of the agencies that you probably know better than I do, do great work for them. There’s a small brand based here on the west coast that’s got distribution I think just within four five states over here. They’re not massive and the margins are decent, what you’d expect in consumer goods retail, but the technology that they’re using and their openness to them is transforming how they go to market, where they’re using not just mobile tools, but they’re using virtual reality to understand what their product looks like on the shelf. They’re using different communication infrastructure with the people that are delivering the products in store, so they can actually make sure it’s on the shelf. They’ve got a collection tool for understanding consumer feedback when they’re doing sampling in store. I think it speaks to innovation doesn’t have to be the game that only the big guys play, it’s really open to everybody especially with all these software and service and Cloud services and everything else.

These guys I think are really doing something.

Lori. H. S.: Now I love that. I love that you identified them, that you recognize it, that it can be talked about that way because that’ll hopefully inspire other clients to jump in. One last question ’cause we’re going to take one last break, but have you found also that when you’re dealing with retailers, when it comes to learning new things, that they do not want to hear about other business categories, or are they open to seeing what other business categories are doing to innovate?

Sterling H.: Yeah well I think there’s a mix of what they’re looking at generally, right? I think the smart ones, the ones that are really more effective in how they’re using some of these tools and how they’re going to market are definitely looking at other categories, not just other retail categories but entirely different retail operations. Well how is Tesla going to market totally different than Procter and Gamble, but what can we learn from the experience in store there that a brand or retailer might be able to take away right?

Lori. H. S.: Right, right, right?

Sterling H.: Understanding some of those parallels of what’s the technology in stadiums for example today? What’s the technology in cars that we can maybe not pick up and drop into our own businesses, but it will start to open our minds to well what could be possible and what could we bring back, or what could we learn from them that’s out of our space, but we can still get something from?

Lori. H. S.: God I love again I love that because I firmly believe in looking at other categories for clients, and some of them are so terrified of not being laser focused that they miss the larger piece. I think it’s really important to do that. All right we’re going to take one more break, and then when we come back, I want to hear from you about what you’re up to next, where you’re speaking, what’s coming down the pipe that we can look forward to, any predictions about some major moves in the space or retailers or brands that are going to be making some big announcements, or anything that you’re not allowed to tell us that I’m going to trick you into saying.

Sterling H.: Fair enough.

Lori. H. S.: When we come back with Sterling Hawkins, the Sterling Hawkins, Mr the future of retail himself on the Tech Cat Show, talk to you guys soon.

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Lori. H. S.: We are back with the fabulous Sterling Hawkins, we’ve been digging into retail innovation. Sterling has a whole business about helping brands and retailers understand what’s coming down the pike and how to best leverage some of these new technologies, not rock the boat too much as you’ve been saying, really play within the culture of businesses. Speaking to that, where are you finding your information? How does someone like you who is really charged with understanding the future in this category, where do you go to learn? Are there certain blogs? Are there certain events? How do you keep up to date with everything?

Sterling H.: Yeah, yeah and I’d add really growing the cultures to become cultures of innovation. Today I spent a lot of time talking with working with retailers and brands directly. I get not the PR version of something, but what’s actually happening, what’s working, what’s not working, what are their problems with it technically and culturally and otherwise. A couple of big shows in retail though that are almost like must attend is of course National Retail Federation in New York come January.

Lori. H. S.: That’s often referred to as NRF.

Sterling H.: That’s right, just a massive, massive retail show. For younger smaller companies, certainly recommend you go, it’s worth walking the floor, going to some of the receptions and hearing from the education ’cause that is the epicenter where a lot of this conversation takes place. The other one is Shoptalk. They’ve done the same thing, and have really taken it up a notch to be more specifically about how in store is coming together with online, so that’s a great event. Then specifically for grocery, the National Groceries Association or the NGA has a fantastic show, even more fantastic ’cause we do a bunch of stuff and help support some of their content. It’s in these conversations, at these shows and with more specifically the individuals at the show that we drive a lot of the knowledge base that we’ve got and get inspiration for where we’re all headed.

Lori. H. S.: Yeah I love that, I love both those shows. Usually I can’t go to NRF because I am recovering from CES. A colleague does the tours at NRF while I am recovering from CES, so it’s always like which show do you get to, but I love all that too. What about you yourself are someone that’s blogging, tweeting? Where can we keep up with some of what you’re publishing?

Sterling H.: Yeah well I’m glad you asked. The best place to see all the solutions we’re looking at and what we’re writing about them, the website is advancingretail.org. Personally I do some writing and so on myself and talk about a number of the keynotes I’m going into and what we’ve gotten from them, and you can find all of that stuff at sterlinghawkins.com.

Lori. H. S.: Sterlinghawkins.com, the sterlinghawkins.com. What about any-

Sterling H.: I need to buy that URL.

Lori. H. S.: You really do. What about any, are there any Twitters or other leaders in the space that you would recommend we follow?

Sterling H.: Yeah I think the big associations are great to follow and some of the things that they’re talking about, the major publications I would say in grocery are Winsight Grocery Business, and Supermarket News. I’d also steer you towards Progressive Grocer. There’s a number of writers, industry pundits that get involved in some of those conversations and picking them up there, and choosing people that are not necessarily agreeing with everything that you have, but that you’re getting something from, you can usually find them all right in those feeds.

Lori. H. S.: Oh that’s great, that’s part of this too is keeping yourself updated. Now is there anywhere that you yourself are speaking at? Any big event you’re holding that people can find out more about coming up soon?

Sterling H.: Yeah let me think for a second. I’ve got a bunch of private events coming up. I’m going to be at XPRIZE next week which I’m pretty excited for.

Lori. H. S.: Oh wow that’s so cool.

Sterling H.: I know I am a bit out there. It’s a 45 minute drive from my house, really looking forward to being with the whole team out there, what they’re up to, their next prizes, the next [inaudible 00:49:23] yeah.

Lori. H. S.: To me it sounds like to me it feels like you would be one of those people that has the first flying car and you would get in that yeah.

Sterling H.: I don’t know if I want the very first one, but maybe like the third or fourth I’ll jump in, especially in the LA traffic right?

Lori. H. S.: Yeah exactly.

Sterling H.: Yeah I am at the Mobile Innovation Summit coming up the beginning of December, I think that’s the next open to the public event I’ll be at. Not only am I keynoting, but I’ll be emceeing the whole thing so that’ll be a blast to see anybody that could make it to that, certainly come and say hi.

Lori. H. S.: That’s awesome. Then lastly I always like to ask guest this but are there anything that we should be looking out for on the horizon in retail or in technology that you think is going to be a game changer that you know about? Anything in the next six months to a year? A year or two ago it was VR, VR, VR. A lot of people are talking about blockchain and the impact it’s going to have on infrastructure, but anything that you’re seeing that you’re thinking a lot about, maybe it’s keeping you awake at night, or maybe it’s something you’re dreaming about and it’s helping you sleep better, however it goes down for you.

Sterling H.: Yeah well one that comes up in every conversation I have and it’s not just going to change what we’re looking at in six months, but it’s changing what we’re dealing with today is artificial intelligence, and using artificial intelligence in all aspects of our business. Where I’ve seen it most effective and the biggest ROI has been around something very simple, using it for pricing. When you can use a tool like that to literally boost your top line sales by three four percent reliably, then it almost becomes a game changer, a cost of entry of, “Oh yeah you have to do this” especially in the lower margin retail businesses, so that’s the big one for sure. Automation in all its shapes and forms, automated warehouses with piece picking robotics taking commerce orders, as well as delivery to home I think is something to really pay attention to not that it’s going to take off in the next six months, but it’s worth looking at pilots, talking to companies around what that looks like.

The third piece is computer vision which we covered a little bit and all the different flavors of that, managing out of stocks, but especially check outs.

Lori. H. S.: As we wrap out Sterling, tell us again how we can find you and learn all about ’cause I know you have CART, and you also have Advancing Retail. Give us all your different connection points.

Sterling H.: Yeah for sure, so I run what’s called the Center for Advancing Retail and Technology, and the acronym is CART. Our website to keep people thinking is advancingretail.org. Everything retail related especially all the solutions we’re looking at and the latest writing about it can be found there. What I’m doing more personally what I’m considering on the technology side, all of my keynotes, things along those lines and general musings on innovation you can find to sterlinghawkins.com. Certainly reach out to me on either one of those platforms or on Twitter or Instagram, I think we’re probably at all of them, and we’d love to be in the conversation with folks ’cause that’s where these things happen.

Lori. H. S.: I think you are the man to talk to right now if you are a retailer or if you are brand trying to navigate smarter in this space, because you really do meet with everyone and look at everything, so you have a really good 10 foot or elevator perspective, whatever the expression is on what’s happening right?

Sterling H.: Yeah, yeah all the way them and then tactically where the rubber meets the road in store and how these things actually get implemented so thank you for that. I love doing it.

Lori. H. S.: Yeah and I’m so excited to talk to you, and it’s so good for everyone to hear all this sort of wrap together and understand that there is thinking and strategy and tactics that you can do as a retailer, as a brand, as a company moving forward that you don’t have to be overwhelmed, and that there are real practical business solutions for all of this. We have been talking to Sterling Hawkins, the co founder of the Center for Advancing Retail and the man to know to understand technology and retail in the future. We’re looking forward to watching Sterling move through the space, and hopefully we’ll have just as an engaging speaker next week on the show as well. Thank you so much Sterling Hawkins, and thanks everybody. Join us again next week on the Tech Cat Show.

Speaker 2: Thanks so much for listening to the Tech Cat Show. Please join Lori H. Schwartz again for another great program next Wednesday to 4pm eastern time, 1pm pacific time, on the VoiceAmerica Business channel and syndicated to the VoiceAmerica Women’s channel.

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