Shawn Harris

Global Innovation Strategy Lead, Zebra Technologies
Shawn is Global Innovation Strategy Lead for Zebra. Shawn leads innovation strategy for Zebra, with a specific focus on Zebra's Top 4 global customers across retail and T&L. Shawn helps to navigate the ever changing retail and T&L landscape, providing thought leadership, pragmatic insights, and innovative human-centered solutions for issues pertaining to customer experience, and staff productivity. Shawn's passion rests in brick-and-mortar and digital retail technology experiences, operations, and supply chain management . Shawn has been involved with store systems, ecommerce, and order management technologies for over 15 years, having held management positions in, or consulted to, numerous Tier-1 retailers including, TJX Cos, Staples, and Uniqlo (Fast Retailing). Shawn also founded a luxury menswear brand, ECC Life&Style, which most was known for designing and making clothing for some of New England’s most regarded corporate executives and professional athletes across the country. Shawn keeps a keen eye on what’s potentially next, by staying closely involved in the Boston, New York, and Silicon Valley startup communities. Shawn recently served as the program lead for the Startup Leadership Program, and has participated in startup programs through Techstars, New York Fashion Tech Lab, MassChallenge, and New York Fashion Tech Lab. For 8 years Shawn honorably served in the Army National Guard as an infantryman and armored personnel carrier (APC) driver. Shawn has a passion for culture and language. He speaks conversational Japanese, and has traveled extensively through Europe, Africa, and Asia for business. Shawn earned his MBA from Babson College, and a bachelor's degree in management information systems from the University of Massachusetts. Read Shawn's blog at:
  • Posted on: 10/11/2018

    Re:Store concept mixes co-work and co-retail

    WeWork just announced a similar plan; at scale. It makes total sense for such spaces to leverage their supportive and captive audience of entrepreneurs, freelancers, startups, and small businesses. This will allow them to further monetize the platform they've created beyond "rents"; provide exposure to aspiring brands and provide a convenient shopping experience for their community.
  • Posted on: 08/08/2018

    Can retail compete for computer science graduates?

    This is not just a competition between the retail industry and the tech industry; this is a competition with every industry. I've asked retailers in the past, "are you a technology company, or a retailer?" Most answer, "I'm a retailer." -- to me that's the wrong answer, especially given the differentiating experiences, capabilities and skills required to be successful in today's digital world. Retailers need to let it be known all of the "cool" things they are working on; there is a marketing for talent that needs to happen. Also hiring people who are burned out from the tech industry, who can help in bringing a different cultural ideal, will help in retention. And retailers should partner with academia and technology vendors to indirectly onboard talent while also creating a potential pipeline.
  • Posted on: 08/06/2018

    Are outsiders required to tackle disruption?

    Outside hires bring a fresh point of view. Diverse thinking in the C-suite and throughout an organization yields more swings on bat with respect to innovation. Quantity counts when it comes to idea generation to drive innovation, or to develop thoughtful responses to disruptive forces. External hires can inherently bring a fresh take.
  • Posted on: 07/31/2018

    What can retailers do about consumer’s AI concerns?

    Retailers need to be mindful that the view of the world their AI-based tools have is the data used to train the system, not the world itself. Retailers need to be mindful of biased data. Bias could potentially come in the form of diverging customer interactions/treatment based on say fit size, or customer ZIP code. The thing about current machine learning is that many algorithms provide predictions that often times we as humans could never cognitively conceive. This could leave retailers open to unintended outcomes, from judgements made on misunderstood predictions. For retailers, on one end the feature engineering of data will be critical, while on the other the importance of judgement will increase. In customer-facing interactions, it would be wise to tell consumers when they are dealing with a human-like AI. It's OK to anthropomorphize chat bots, text and voice-based, just communicate to the consumer that they are dealing with a "smart" bot.
  • Posted on: 07/31/2018

    Walmart still trying to figure out home delivery

    Current retail supply chains are still optimized to maximize profit by pushing the largest shipping unit to a destination. That's why retailers would love to drop a pallet on your doorstep instead of a box or boxes of eaches. I think the innovation to drive the profitable deliver of eaches will come through the resetting of cost models via the accelerated use of automation (robotics and ML/AI). What needs to happen is a supply chain system reimagination, not just a new piece of software. Ocado has rethought the grocery supply chain system; Kroger will benefit from that as they look to enhance the last mile, profitably.
  • Posted on: 07/26/2018

    Study: Online retailers losing billions in sales to out-of-stocks

    Out-of-stocks are a material issue for retailers. Consumers today are list-driven; having what you say you have, or what a consumer expects you to have in inventory is critical. Brick-and-mortar retailers require a holistic approach to maintaining high inventory accuracy. In-store, merging RFID, video, location and POS data with machine learning can yield incredible results of inventory accuracy, nearing 100 percent perpetually. This allows for smarter replenishment models, which leads to higher customer satisfaction and conversion, thus higher revenue, for in-store shoppers; while also realizing almost guaranteed hit rates for BOPIS and ship-from-store orders. The store needs to be digitized too.
  • Posted on: 06/29/2018

    Will Amazon’s PillPack acquisition disrupt the retail pharmacy business?

    Amazon's first-and-foremost obsessive focus on the customer as a core principle, and the courage to take chances, keeps them in the role of defining the future. PillPack had been rumored a target by many, Amazon took the action. This will disrupt the retail prescription drug market.
  • Posted on: 06/04/2018

    Does it pay for retailers to price-match their own websites?

    Why don't the prices just match without a shopper having to effectively call out the retailer? A shopper having to constantly check a retailer's online price, to validate their in-store price, erodes trust. It also wastes a shopper's time, which degrades convenience. It's not customer-centric, and if retail is about price, convenience and selection, you now negatively impact the former two.
  • Posted on: 05/03/2018

    Macy’s latest acquisition is all about STORYtelling

    The opportunity here is to scale STORY's presence, not attempt to create a new attraction within the existing box. However, I fear it will be the latter. We'll see, and congrats to Rachel!
  • Posted on: 04/03/2018

    Why are there so many employees in a cashier-less store?

    Amazon Go is all the above; it's a testing lab, marketing vehicle and a truly viable concept. The fact that there is a large number of employees speaks to Amazon's continued desire, even in the real-world, to make sure the customer experience stellar. It's a transformative concept, so shoppers will need guides. Also, with the exception of the employees in the prepared foods section, as this humanizes the experience, I can see this concept going fully autonomous to include replenishment activities. Also, don't forget Amazon is a hardware company too. The cost to R&D the tech was certainly significant; the "tooling" is now done. Amazon Go will extract out the most significant cost in retail, labor; the ROI is clear to me. It does this while also increasing the customer experience, a classic retailer's dilemma solved.
  • Posted on: 03/14/2018

    What does Ring mean for Amazon?

    Amazon acquired Ring for edge data. This data will help them improve customer experience through a more integrated delivery assurance, including better management of false no delivery claims. This immediately expands Amazon's IoT at-home solutions making Alexa your personal doorman; with ingress and egress knowledge, including the leveraging of face recognition and identification for access control and other smart notifications. Lastly, I can only imagine what can be teased out from the collateral data capture of video and sounds, utilizing deep learning. Back in 2016, I predicted this would happen: I wouldn't be surprised if @amazon bought @ring. #retail— Shawn Harris (@SmarterRetailer) December 18, 2016
  • Posted on: 01/29/2018

    Are ethics compatible with AI?

    AI, including robotics, raises a number of ethical considerations from issues mentioned in the article surrounding data bias, to the impact AI and robotics will have on a workforce. To help with the former, I would recommend keeping a human in the loop. In most cases, you will not know how an AI landed on any given prediction; what you know is the elements of the data the system was fed. If you have attributes that could lead to bias (e.g. zip code, education level, etc.), you may want to consider ensuring a human is in the loop to provide judgement, and thus training; and initially maintain a conservative stance with respect to what prediction confidence level will lead to immediate action, no action or go in to a review state. Robotics pose similar decisioning concerns; retailers should also consider what the introduction of robotics mean to their workforce. There is an ideal of collective intelligence, that is the pairing of robots and humans where each does particular tasks they are more adept and efficient at in the pursuit of meeting a job requirement. I see this way of working leading the way in the near-term; inevitably robots will take more and more tasks over, leading to the obvious need to reset workforce requirements. I think it will be incumbent on retailers and government to develop ethical solutions for what may be an increase in unemployment. Lastly for robotics is how human should they be. Many believe the anthropomorphizing robots is critical to acceptance and effectiveness in the workplace. That is, give a robot a human name, a smile, a story and something to make it feel less alien. This raises numerous ethical issue as you could imagine. We are in exciting times, no question; the advent of thinking machines introduces a new ethical dynamics that retailers will not be able to ignore.
  • Posted on: 01/19/2018

    Can Wakefern crowdsource away its out-of-stocks?

    This sounds like it could be an effective solution to monitoring for out-of-stocks, while having the potential to reduce labor hours. If the equipment/service's CapEx/OpEx is competitive with legacy and emerging solutions, and it achieves its performance goal, I do not see why this would not gain some traction.
  • Posted on: 01/18/2018

    Could ‘platform thinking’ be a blueprint for retail success?

    Those are all great ideas, but unfortunately can all be easily copied by big platforms. The big platforms are winning because they are successfully executing on assortment, price and convenience at scale, and have strategically focused on developing well-curated "walled gardens." I think retailers should focus on the three fundamentals of assortment, price and convenience with respective attributes being localized and personalized, competitive and truly frictionless. In addition, retailers should devise a way to federate customer data outside of Facebook, Google, et al., potentially standing up a decentralized model for permission-based access to shared customer data, where the consumer is rewarded for sharing.
  • Posted on: 01/12/2018

    Will retailers go on the road with self-driving mobile stores?

    This will enable the ultimate in localization of goods, allowing for supply to literally follow demand. These bots will revolutionize supply chain design, taking on more of an Uber-esque ideal. Level 4 autonomy (autonomous in specific environments) will be adequate to get started, and would allow for material reach.

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