Steve Dennis

President, Sageberry Consulting/Forbes Contributor

Steve Dennis is a strategic advisor, keynote speaker, organizational catalyst and writer on retail innovation and the future of shopping. He was recently named a top 10 global retail influencer by two leading organizations.

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 strategy workshops on five continents, sharing his unique take on what it takes to win in the age of Amazon, Alibaba and digital disruption. He is also a contributor to Forbes magazine and his perspectives and 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 received his MBA from Harvard and a BA from Tufts University.

Read Steve’s Blog: Remarkable Retail In The Age of Amazon

  • 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.
  • Posted on: 06/26/2019

    Three experiential retailers doing store design right

    As I've written about, the term "experiential" retail gets thrown around a lot but is poorly defined. In my mind a remarkable experience occurs at the intersection of memorable (unique, intensely customer relevant, authentic, scalable and delivering a real "wow) and making an emotional connection. It's not a distraction, it's not a gimmick, it's not merely trying to get posts on Instagrams. There are plenty of examples of retailers doing this well, including Eataly, Hema and Canada Goose.
  • Posted on: 06/20/2019

    Kroger sees rivals’ one-hour delivery and raises it a half hour

    As my friend Seth says "The problem with the race to the bottom is you might win. Or worse, finish second."
  • Posted on: 06/19/2019

    Do direct-to-consumer digital brands have advantages over traditional retailers?

    That data that is public (and some I have seen that is not) shows that the majority of DNVB's see rapidly escalating CAC while CLTV is decreasing (Wayfair, as you point out is the posted child for this). Few have demonstrated their ability to generate significant market share without much lower gross margins as well. So it's clear they are buying market share. That has a limited life span.
  • Posted on: 06/19/2019

    Do direct-to-consumer digital brands have advantages over traditional retailers?

    Digitally-native brands have a number of potentially important advantages over legacy brands. First, they start from the place of understanding that the customer is the channel and have never gotten caught up in creating (or needing to undo) the silos that undermine so many retailers efforts to be truly remarkable. Second, because they started online they are fundamentally data-driven. Third, as they open stores they get to pick the locations that are right for today and size their stores to today's potential demand. They are also not burdened by worrying about "cannabilization" and other cultural barriers that hinder legacy retailers' innovation. There are a couple of big cautions though. Many built their models based on moon shot economics, funded by risk seeking venture capitalists and most are discovering the scaling beyond $50 million or so is not so easy. We also have very incomplete data to assess their sustainability. Most lose tons of money. Many have only opened a handful of stores. Great sales productivity in the most dense urban markets with a high concentration of neophiliacs does not automatically suggest that these businesses can be profitably scaled.
  • Posted on: 06/18/2019

    Are Shark Tank-like competitions a path to retail innovation?

    They are necessary, but hardly sufficient. What most retailers get wrong about innovation is they think it's about ideas. You need great ideas, but you need an innovation process, funding and skills. You need to cultivate a culture of experimentation. You need practice. You can have all the great ideas in the world, but if you don't know how to scale them you might as well not get started. I worked with a retailer recently (and know of another) that had dozens of pilots and proof of concepts in the works. They had more ideas coming inbound than they could vet. Their issue: everything was stuck in discovery mode. A good innovation process starts a lot of small experiments, shoots the losers quickly, builds and pivots as we learn and proves and moves quickly on the concepts with promise.
  • Posted on: 06/17/2019

    Does self-checkout make sense for Costco?

    To provide a remarkable experience every retailer should have a deep understanding of their key customer segment's journey to purchase and aim to eliminate the friction points (what I call "discordant notes" in my harmonized reimagined retail framework) and find ways to "amplify the wow" in the moments that really matter. If their data shows that a substantial number of high-value customers would not only welcome this but it would lead to a more memorable experience AND Costco can execute it reliably at a reasonable cost then the answer is a resounding yes!

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