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: 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!
  • Posted on: 06/14/2019

    Will empathy training take Walgreens to a new level?

    I believe we need to move from customer-centricity to human-centered retail, which is all about bringing empathy to the aspects of the customer journey. Customers buy the story before they buy the product and often, particularly in the beauty and fashion industry, this means understanding how a product makes the consumer feel. The more we tap into that emotional want or need, the better we are able to deliver in remarkable ways.
  • Posted on: 06/13/2019

    Indochino bets big on showrooms

    We need to define what we mean by showrooms. As the distinction between online and brick & mortar shopping is increasingly blurred, a brand's website is often a showroom for the store, and vice versa. This is why so many so-called digitally-native brands are opening physical locations, whether they are made-to-order or not. So the answer to the question is no, of course not.
  • Posted on: 06/12/2019

    Has Barnes & Noble found its savior(s)?

    I'll weigh in with a decisive "maybe." The good news is their potential new owners have some synergy to bring to the table. That will be helpful but certainly not enough by itself. Barnes & Noble needs to do a better job executing against the blur that is retail today by delivering a more harmonious experience. They need to make their stores more memorable by providing new, unique, customer relevant experiences in store. They need to better leverage customer data to create a more personalized experience. And on and on. The other issue is that their stores are generally way over-spaced for what they do today. Whether the answer will be to selectively add new related items to sell (a la Indigo) and/or add more theatre to the store is hard to say without more data. But unless they can grow their trade area penetration (in store and online) markedly much of their real estate will not make sense over the longer-term.
  • Posted on: 06/11/2019

    Will a credit builder program create a new legion of loyal Amazon shoppers?

    This is very reminiscent of how Sears (and Montgomery Ward) built its relationship with younger customers just starting out decades ago. Not only do you potentially acquire new customers with high LTV at a comparatively low cost, you deal with a real point of friction. Seems like a very sensible idea.
  • Posted on: 06/10/2019

    Who still thinks one-size-fits-all mannequins make sense?

    There are two primary reasons why I've abandoned talking about "customer-centricity" (or "customer obsession," "customer first" or any of its derivatives). The first is that for most retailers it's merely a slogan, not true value leading to action. And the slowness of the industry to reflect their actual customer base in how they go-to-market is evidence. The second is, "customer" is flat and presumes the brand is already engaged with them. "Human-centered" is the way to go as it gets to the emotional connection brands needs to make with customers, prospects, associates and the community at large. Besides, one-size-fits-all has never been a smart strategy. When we understand and respond to people's humanity, we see them in all their dimensions (literal and figurative). If more retailers operated this way plus-sized mannequins would be common. As they should be. This move is way overdue.
  • Posted on: 06/03/2019

    Experience is overrated, hire talent

    I hate to go the "it depends" route but in my experience (heh, heh) working across a spectrum of retailers including Sears and Neiman Marcus, a lot has to do with the nature of the outcome a brand seeks. Certain product and service sales ideally require a baseline of "technical" knowledge (fashion stylist, consumer electronics sales person and so on). In other cases hiring for talent should absolutely be the key driver where it fairly easy to teach the content. The issue is exacerbated by the high rates of turnover. We had some success at Neiman's hiring primarily based upon "hospitality" experience and overall relationship talent, knowing the fashion selling knowledge could be gained. But we had much lower turnover than most retailers, which meant we had time for that investment to pay off.
  • Posted on: 05/30/2019

    Can department stores shake themselves out of the doldrums?

    The moderate department store sector is the poster child for what I frequently refer to as the boring middle. It's been true for a while that good enough is not good enough and department stores need to work on all elements of my 8 Essentials of Remarkable Retail. But the two they generally need to focus on are "Harmonized" and "Memorable." With regard to Harmonized (my upgrade to "omnichannel") -- the notion that the customer is the channel and the goal of any retailer is to eliminate the discordant notes in the shopping journey and amplify the wow across the full range of touch-points. Here most department stores are still stuck in channel-centric thinking and have a long way to go in breaking down their various silos. Though it's important to note that Nordstrom (and to a somewhat lesser degree Neiman Marcus) excel on this dimension and have generally delivered pretty solid results. They big issue for them is their format is very mature. With regard to Memorable, the department store remains mired in a sea of sameness, selling mostly average products to average people. They must be provide more unique, highly customer relevant products and services. They must realize that a slightly better version of mediocre is never going to be a winning strategy and that better is not the same as good.
  • Posted on: 05/17/2019

    Do treasure hunt experiences provide the key to discounters’ fortunes?

    There is a big difference between" buying" and "shopping," the former being more task and mission focused, where price and convenience tend to dominate. Shopping is more emotional and experiential. Once we understand this it's not surprising that e-commerce does disproportionately well in "buying" and not well at all in "shopping." The use of the term "discount" here is misleading. Online does well in plenty of commodity-oriented discount segments, hence Amazon's large share there. The off-price industry thrives because of the treasure hunt.
  • Posted on: 05/16/2019

    Why does loyalty program ROI remain so murky?

    There are a few issues here. One has to do with semantics. Too often what is commonly referred to as a "loyalty" program is a frequency buying program and they're not the same. As Shep Hyken points out "loyalty" is an emotion and the best program is actually none at all. If your brand is truly remarkable and customers not only seek you out, but concentrated their category spending with you AND are ambassadors for the brand, then you've got loyalty and the things you measure are different then simply a frequency program. In terms of the difficulty of measurement, one challenge is closed loop attribution. In a harmonized shopping world (my term for omnichannel) where most customer journey start in a digital channel, it's often hard to really understand cause and effect. The other issue is isolating the marketing treatments. There are so many overlapping stimuli and many companies are terrible at setting up appropriate test and controls that there is plenty of faulty analysis in my experience. Having led the re-design one of the most prominent retail loyalty programs I can tell you that were many beliefs going in that were not only totally wrong, they drove the wrong implications.
  • Posted on: 05/14/2019

    Lands’ End is looking to get out of Sears like a bat out of hell

    Having led the acquisition I'm admittedly biased, but the strategy was not only sound, it was much like what is happening now with DNVBs. The original plan was predicated on the Sears stores needing to upgrade significantly (which obviously never materialized under Lampert's leadership), for Lands' End to become a (mostly) exclusive differentiating brand in apparel (like Kenmore and Craftsman) and to build Lands' End's free-standing store presence. What happened was new management ignored the strategy we presented to the board and opened too may Lands' End shops at Sears, putting too much inventory in most of them and grossly under-marketing the launch. The plans to roll out Lands' End stores were abandoned. In the meantime, Sears disinvested in store visual merchandising and staffing. And then Lampert showed up. Obviously one can never know what would have happened, but to this day I still believe the essence of the strategy was sound. Of course I don't possess a time machine.
  • Posted on: 05/14/2019

    Lands’ End is looking to get out of Sears like a bat out of hell

    Having led the Lands' End acquisition when I was at Sears it's hard to be totally objective. But given that Sears never managed to mount a turnaround it is shocking that they hung with Sears as long as they did AND managed to survive some misguided brand pivots. The key to Lands' End success has always been knowing its core customer, being obsessed with quality/fit and understanding direct marketing (which started in catalogs and now has obviously migrated to the the online word). The key going forward is to carefully broaden their audience (avoiding what I call the "customer trapeze") and to lean into a harmonized retail experience with a much stronger physical presence (owned stores and potentially a partnership which is more on-brand).
  • Posted on: 05/13/2019

    Petco opens in-store kitchen for pets

    The headline is wrong. They didn't open these stores for pets. They opened them for pet parents.
  • Posted on: 05/13/2019

    Why is Party City closing profitable stores?

    Without seeing the data, it's hard to make a clear call on this. There is a clear benefit to focus, but in most cases when I see a retailer close stores it's not because they have too many stores, it's because they don't have enough brand (i.e. customer relevance and trade area market share). Many also use the wrong metrics to make these decisions. 4-wall productivity and sales/square foot are increasingly outdated metrics in a world where the role of the store is fundamentally changing.
  • Posted on: 05/08/2019

    Will Walmart’s new online pet pharmacy and vet clinics draw more pet parents?

    With the size and scale of Walmart just about anything that's remotely "on brand" that they set their sights on will become material as quickly as they can roll it out. What's worth focusing on is the question of for which customers and for which "customer jobs to be done" they will find success. They are virtually certain to capture customers that are buying (that is, focused more on efficiency). They won't do well where experience is concerned, and where identifying with the brand as part of a lifestyle is concerned. Don't expect the true, more affluent, pet parents to switch.

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