PROFILE

Steve Dennis

President, Sageberry Consulting/Senior Forbes Contributor

Steve Dennis is a strategic growth advisor, international keynote speaker and writer on retail innovation and the future of shopping. He was recently named a top 5 global retail influencer by two leading organizations and is a Forbes senior contributor.

His first book — “Remarkable Retail: How to Win and Keep Customers in the Age of Amazon & Digital Disruption” —will be published in April 2020.

During a more than 30 year career as a senior executive at two Fortune 500 retailers and as a strategy consultant, Steve has worked with dozens of retail, luxury and social impact brands to inspire, catalyze and design their journey from boring to remarkable.

Steve has delivered keynote talks and led growth & innovation workshops on six continents. His industry and consumer insights are regularly featured in the media including Bloomberg/Business Week, CNBC, CNN, Fortune, the Harvard Business Review, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, among many others.

Steve is the President of SageBerry Consulting. Prior to founding SageBerry, Steve was the chief strategy officer and SVP, multichannel marketing for the Neiman Marcus Group. Earlier in his career he held senior leadership roles at Sears, including VP, multichannel integration and VP/General Manager of a $600MM operating division. He also serves on several advisory boards.

Steve is the President of SageBerry Consulting. Prior to founding SageBerry, Steve was the chief strategy officer and SVP, multichannel marketing for the Neiman Marcus Group. Earlier in his career he held senior leadership roles at Sears, including VP, multichannel integration and VP/General Manager of a $600MM operating division. He also serves on several advisory boards.

Steve received his MBA from Harvard and a BA from Tufts University.

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  • Posted on: 10/16/2019

    Is BOPIS a good fit for Dollar General?

    This question won't age well. BOPIS is becoming table stakes in providing a well harmonized shopping experience. The bigger question, notwithstanding others' comments about some of the operational challenges is, what took them so long?
  • Posted on: 10/03/2019

    Zulily thinks it can beat Amazon and Walmart on price

    Everything else being equal, price is a way to differentiate a brand. The problem is competing on price is typically a race to the bottom, and as my buddy Seth says the problem with a race to the bottom is you might win. Or even worse, finish second.
  • Posted on: 10/01/2019

    Do retail metrics need to be reinvented?

    I have been on the warpath on this topic for years and Brent Franson and I wrote a Forbes piece on just this topic early last year. There are two major thrusts. The first, as is alluded to, is to have the metrics be more customer-centric and less channel specific. Retailers need to both be able to measure increase in lifetime value (or a proxy) by customer and by customer segment. Comparable customer growth (sales and profits) will become increasingly important. The second is to move from store productivity measures to trade area measures. Given (most often) the critical role of stores driving online and vice versa, it is far more useful to look at overall brand format performance in a given geography than to get hung up on channel-centric measures. This will also aid in store closing analysis. One big implication, which I don't think the commercial real estate industry is really dealing with yet, is how to get paid for the role of physical stores as both advertising for the brand (much of what will be consummated in an online sale) and a service center for pickup and returns where the sale may not be rung up in the brick-and-mortar location. Operationalizing this is far from trivial, but we must largely let go of traditional measures if we are to make sense of the blurred world that is shopping today.
  • Posted on: 09/16/2019

    How profitable is online selling?

    While there is not a consistently reliable source of data, we can easily surmise that the answer is that most of e-commerce is not very profitable, as I've previously called out in a Forbes piece. We know this because Amazon, which represents about 40 percent of online sales in the U.S., has low profit margins, Walmart is reportedly losing about $1 billion per year, the biggest digitally-native brands for which we have data collectively lose quite a lot (particularly Wayfair) and venture capitalists continue to plow significant dollars into private fast-growing brands to cover operating deficits. As mentioned, as brands scale they often face daunting customer acquisition costs while the lifetime value of the customers added declines. Basically the more they grow online the more they lose. This is nearly impossible to change as the competition for eyeballs becomes more intense and Google, Facebook, Instagram et. al. improve at optimizing their rates. Another issue is that direct-to-consumer is a variable cost business to fulfill. It costs about the same to pick, pack and ship a $15 order as it does a $200 order. Companies with generally low value orders and high returns (online returns are often north of 30 percent) that offer free shipping both ways are largely profit proof. The move into physical, while expensive on the fixed cost side, has the promise of lower CAC and lower returns. It is this mix that allows many brands with a strong presence in brick-and-mortar and digital to make the total equation work.
  • Posted on: 09/04/2019

    Simple answers to fix retail’s loyalty marketing mess

    The mantra of any customer growth strategy is to treat different customers differently and efforts must be aligned around winning, growing and keeping the customers with the greatest current and future lifetime customer value. The shortcomings I typically see are two-fold. First, there is not enough differentiation among the offers in terms of customer needs and value and the offers rely too heavily on discounting. This is more akin to bribery than loyalty, where you spend more time chasing promiscuous shoppers than those with the propensity to have high CLTV. The second issue is confusing frequency and spend behavior with loyalty. Loyalty is an emotion that is evoked when a retailer gives the customer a remarkable story they can tell about themselves based upon experience. It's unlikely that accumulating points for a gift card will ever create a memorable program.
  • Posted on: 08/29/2019

    Lord & Taylor to be sold to Le Tote

    It turns out, as we should know by now, that combining a mediocre brand with a lousy one rarely creates something remarkable. This feels like it could be Sears/Kmart 2.0. Or is it 3.0?
  • Posted on: 07/30/2019

    The clock is ticking for J.C. Penney

    The fundamental issue here is that better is not the same as good. The moderate department store sector has been in decline since I was a young executive at Sears in the '90s, first hammered by the rise of discount mass merchants, then category killers, then by trading down and the explosion of the off-price market. Along the way various specialty stores and the rise of Amazon took some share too. There is no reasonable scenario where the sector does not continue its slide. But aside from long-term trends, the bigger issue is the bifurcation of retail and the resulting "collapse of the middle." Good enough no longer is and J.C. Penney finds itself irretrievably stuck in the boring middle. It will take a massive amount of creativity and cultural change to transform the company away from boring to remarkable. It will also take a massive amount of investment and a fair amount of time. Sadly, they don't seem to have much of either ...
  • Posted on: 07/22/2019

    Walmart shakes things up, further integrating online and physical store teams

    First and foremost, we have to remember that increasingly, the customer is the channel and the distinction between channels is typically not very helpful. To be truly customer-centric and deliver on a harmonized retail experience a high degree of integration is a must. Underneath a harmonized retail organization structure, merchandising and marketing should have some degree of specialization reflecting that certain categories have more pronounced shopping channel dynamics that others. But the overall organization should be organized around the customer, not the channel.
  • Posted on: 07/18/2019

    Amazon and rivals report record Prime Day results

    Like the endless ratcheting up of promotions, Amazon Prime Day is yet another gimmick where the beast from Seattle gets other retailers to bite the hook. Sales data for a couple of days tells us nothing new or useful about overall sales trends or, more importantly long-term loyalty or profits, as I point out in this Forbes piece. Amazon is great at getting other retailers to "bite the hook" and engage in a race to the bottom, which Amazon will ultimately win. The prescription for department stores is to work on being more remarkable, not to chase promiscuous shoppers or compete on the lowest price.
  • Posted on: 07/16/2019

    CEO says Walmart’s stores are the answer to Amazon – at least for groceries

    It's not a matter of online or offline it's about embracing the blur that is shopping today and delivering a harmonized experience. As I write about often, the key is to understand the customer journey and eliminate the discordant notes and amplify places where a brand can be intensely customer relevant and remarkable. For retailers with vast store networks it's also about seeing their physical locations as assets rather than liabilities and making the investments strategically to leverage them to competitive advantage as there are many ways brick-and-mortar is superior to a pure e-commerce transaction. So ... grocery is an obvious place for Walmart to lean in as so many categories have a physical component as a differentiating factor in the customer journey.
  • Posted on: 07/11/2019

    Is Nordstrom staring at a ‘no-growth’ retail future?

    Nordstrom has consistently been one of the best managed retailers on the planet for decades and one I use often in my keynotes as a positive example of "remarkable retail." Having said that, they are a relatively mature brand having nearly maxed out on new full-line and Rack locations and already being deeply penetrated in commerce. But the no-growth future is too harsh. I believe with a few adjustments, as well as realizing the potential from more Nordstrom Local stores, they can continue to grab market share albeit at a slower pace than the last few years.
  • Posted on: 07/10/2019

    Is Primark ready to bust out in the USA?

    Primark has a had a relative competitive advantage in its initial markets where direct competition hasn't been as strong. In the US, the competition is much stiffer and the market has to be approaching saturation as well established off-price players add more stores, discount mass merchants up their omnichannel game and Kohl's, Sears/Kmart and J.C. Penney try to find a long-term reason for being. Bottom line, I have modest expectations for Primark's success. A measured approach, as other players fall by the wayside and they fine tune their model to US tastes and expectations, is likely the best course.
  • Posted on: 07/08/2019

    Is Walmart at an online crossroads?

    First of all, the notion of an e-commerce business vs. a brick & mortar business is how many got into trouble in the first place. Virtually every customer is active across all touchpoints and, digitally-influenced physical store sales dwarf e-commerce. Second, the way to look at this is not by channel, but first, by customer and second by trade-area with the understanding the physical influences digital and vice versa. The customer is the channel. Third, no one will ever be able to out Amazon Amazon and the problem with a race to the bottom is you might win, or worse, finish second (Seth Godin). Walmart should not scale back its ambition per se, but they should focus them on growing their customer base and customer lifetime value, regardless of channel. That will guide which digital, physical and harmonized investments make the most sense.
  • Posted on: 07/03/2019

    NRF study says customers dig retail tech

    In my experience consumers don't care about technology they care about outcomes -- the customer jobs to be done, the remarkable stories to be told. Technology is a means to an end.
  • Posted on: 07/02/2019

    Are offline experiences becoming more important to online performance?

    They are not becoming more important, there is just growing awareness. The first iteration of catalog merchants opening stores (Williams-Sonoma, Sur La Table, Eddie Bauer, et al) demonstrated the critical interaction between D2C and brick & mortar decades ago. Those of working at physical store-dominant retailers (in my case at Sears and Neiman Marcus) during the initial growth periods of e-commerce understood that digital drives physical and vice versa. So it's no surprise that the digitally-native vertical brands that are opening stores are experiencing the same phenomenon. The only reason that one could argue that offline experiences are becoming more important to online performance is that many of the pure-play e-commerce brands are seeing diminishing returns from their digital strategies and are now becoming more reliant on their brick & mortar strategies to drive overall brand performance.

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