PROFILE
  • Samantha Alston
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Samantha Alston

Founder, Big Lives
Samantha Alston has spent her career creating engaging retail experiences that provide a tangible return on investment. Underpinned by a BA in visual and environmental studies from Harvard University and an MBA from NYU, Alston’s background in retail management soon led her to the buying department at Urban Outfitters, where she bolstered their thriving denim business. From there, she spent six years at Louis Vuitton where, most recently, she was the Client Development Director at Maison Fifth Avenue, NYC. At Vuitton, she headed up the client experience for the luxury house’s Americas flagship, and in the process learned and influenced what it takes to inspire, excite and build lasting relationships with clients. In November 2017, she left luxury to launch Big Lives, which cultivates emerging designers through reimagined retail experiences. As a retail expert and aficionado, Alston is passionate about an industry currently in flux, and has set out to disrupt the way we shop, making it meaningful and better attuned to the “big lives” of those who appreciate beautiful items, and see shopping as a ritual that’s about much more than just buying.
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  • Posted on: 08/21/2018

    How much do e-tail algorithms need humans?

    Agreed on the general consensus that hybrid models are the best solution. I'm particularly in line with Ken and Seth, who both point to the danger (or irrelevance) of algorithmic input when recommendations generated are purely based on historical patterns. Stale assortments and boring product recommendations are a symptom of over-reliance on automation and backward-looking merchandising strategies. Paradoxically, as the retail industry struggles, buyers often become more conservative and less willing to take risks based on gut when predicting what customers will want. And companies become more reliant on computer-generated "bets" because they feel fully validated by data. Human input is crucial, if for no other reason than to inspire customers with unexpected recommendations that push them out of their comfort zone when it comes to personal style and consumption. This is part of the value we look for as customers when shopping. A bit of surprise and delight builds trust and creates a foundation for relationship with a brand, and can be difficult to nail without human perspective.
  • Posted on: 08/14/2018

    Can H&M finally become a serious online competitor?

    I tend to agree with Lyle here: H&M’s challenges run deeper than a quick fix through digital functions or enhancements. Challenges are rooted in issues of customer relationship and broken trust tied to product assortment. Ultimately, inventory problems are a symptom of assortment problems. Until the brand gets a better grasp on what consumers desire and expect from H&M, it will be difficult to rebuild that relationship and fully activate a game-changing digital strategy. That said, features that create a dialogue with customers (live chat, #HMxME, rate and review) indicate a move towards listening to consumers, so hopefully the beginning of a cultural shift for the brand.
  • Posted on: 08/13/2018

    Hy-Vee opens fitness-focused grocery store concept

    This is a super interesting idea and certainly only the beginning in terms of growth potential. I agree with Lee-- I love that this is coming out of the Des Moines market. As a consumer in NYC, it feels like innovators in the retail health ecosystem are either "luxury" players (Equinox + Juice Press), or one-off or mom-and-pop concepts (HealHaus Brooklyn). Very interested to see a larger/mass chain delivering a self-care "lifestyle" destination and I'm curious to see what this sparks in the market. It seems like a no-brainer!
  • Posted on: 08/10/2018

    What’s the ideal soundtrack for grocery shopping?

    I love this idea, Jennifer! Or themed tracks depending on the day, season, or product push. Important elements aside from volume, tempo, mode and genre include: variety, cadence, music as a tool for customer and employee engagement. Consumers who make the effort to grocery shop in person most likely appreciate experience, and knowing store music is curated with intent might add value to shopping. It's interesting to think about how music choice is communicated to staff and customers, and whether a feedback loop would enhance loyalty.
  • Posted on: 08/10/2018

    Walmart.com to offer easier returns for marketplace purchases

    I fully agree with Jeff's point on this topic. Yes, seamless returns are a consumer expectation and integral to better service. Beyond that, returns are not only a cost but an opportunity. In a brick-and-mortar environment, returns are considered a chance to dialogue with customers on what didn't work, \solve a problem (which often increases loyalty in the long run), re-convert, and up-sell. Online returns should be seen in the same way. They represent an additional transaction (albeit a "negative value" one), and a shot at building stronger customer relationships through empathy and trust. This move from Walmart.com could certainly have a big impact. It will ultimately depend on how the opportunity to engage return customers is leveraged ... how information is captured and used.
  • Posted on: 07/25/2018

    Lessons from Comic-Con – the world’s biggest pop-up store

    I appreciate this idea that Kenneth points to: “the experience for the fans is what they all strive for and they know the purchases will come.” This is about how retailers measure performance and how it drives strategy. Part of the challenge for retail at large is our orientation around traditional and transactional KPIs. What if we were to replace measurements like sales per square foot or daily transactions with the degree to which our customers become evangelists? From that perspective, revenue is a consequence of service, margin a consequence of experience, and customers a consequence of community. I would be curious to understand exactly how Comic-Con thinks about performance or defines engagement, and how the organization’s goals or “report card” evolve with each event in order to continually delight its customer base.
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