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.

Steve Dennis is a strategic advisor, keynote speaker and writer on retail innovation and the future of shopping. He has been named a top global retail influencer by multiple organizations and is a Forbes Senior Contributor. His new book--"Remarkable Retail: How to Win and Keep Customers in the Age of Amazon & Digital Disruption"--is available for pre-order at major online book retailers. 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. Steve received his MBA from Harvard and a BA from Tufts University.
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  • Posted on: 03/05/2021

    Will Tonal shops help Nordstrom strengthen its fitness cred?

    To me, this is more about improving their "fitness cred." It's a broader trend to improve differentiation by showcasing more exclusive offerings, attracting new customers and giving new reasons to visit their stores.
  • Posted on: 02/24/2021

    Macy’s says it will recover and rebuild coming off a tough 2020

    What struggling retailers need to remember is that customers don't switch for a slightly better version of mediocre, or even very good, particularly if you compete in a very mature category. You can bribe them with discounts for a time, but they are not the customers needed to build and sustain a profitable business. The middle continues to collapse and a lot more needs to be done for Macy's to profitably grow share of wallet and share of trade areas. The comment about stores being important to online is a blinding flash of the obvious. I've been speaking and writing about this for at least a decade.
  • Posted on: 02/18/2021

    Is suburban retail (malls, too) primed for a comeback?

    Like so much of what has been going on in retail in recent years--and has been clearly accelerated by the COVID-19 crisis--the outcomes we are seeing are highly bifurcated and the gaps between the winners and losers are growing only more pronounced. The very best malls (most of the so-called A malls) will continue to be successful without wholesale changes, and those in the suburbs will get a lift, albeit I believe a quite modest one. The unremarkable rest will continue to be hit by the forces that have been driving declines for two decades (the shift to off-mall discount mass merchandisers, off-price retail, online shopping and more, the collapse of the moderate department store sector, etc.). If they are in the suburbs they might see a bit of a rebound from the emergence from COVID-19 restrictions, but most of them will need to be massively repurposed (or bull-dozed) to achieve any longer-term success.
  • Posted on: 02/17/2021

    Should retailers just say ‘no’ to Instacart?

    There are many strategic issues to sort through in deciding whether to outsource home delivery or maintain more control--and there is no one-size-fits-all answer. But clearly Instacart can offer scale and scope advantages that most retailers can never match. The big issue, though, is all about margin. So long as most home delivery involves human beings picking and packing products and then driving them to someone's home or office in a vehicle, it will always be materially more expensive than consumers doing the work themselves. During COVID-19 many retailers did not price this in, so it remains to be seen the degree to which pricing will become "more rational," both to the end consumer and from Instacart (and others) to their clients, how much demand will persist at higher levels and how retailers will merchandise their way to better margins.
  • Posted on: 02/15/2021

    Poshmark’s secondhand sales platform goes to the dogs

    Having planted its flag initially in fashion, Poshmark needs to manage its brand positioning carefully as it pushes into new categories. But certainly there are a number of adjacent areas that can both leverage existing customer relationships (and having already spent the often high cost of customer acquisition) and its operating model. The total addressable market sounds large at first blush, but there are a few important things to consider. One, most of the pet industry is consumables. Second, non-consumable pet products don't have the same pace of obsolescence as apparel and accessories do owing to fashion cycles, wear and fit. Third, resales for pet products is not an existing habit for consumers. All of this adds up to an interesting, but likely rather small incremental volume opportunity. But it can solidify more customer engagement.
  • Posted on: 02/08/2021

    Nordstrom is determined to get closer to its customers

    I've been a big fan of Nordstrom's channel-agnostic approach to retail since I was at Neiman Marcus and this pushes it to the next level by even further embracing the blur that is shopping today. Nordstrom Local, in particular, is a great concept that allows Nordstrom to literally get closer to the customer while creating an omnichannel (or "harmonized" as I like to say) service hub. More retailers would benefit from developing trade area and major metro strategies that are about local market share and share of wallet growth irrespective of how and where clients decide to shop. The customer is the channel. It's all just commerce!
  • Posted on: 02/05/2021

    The retail apocalypse didn’t happen last year, despite the coverage

    As the great retail strategist Mark Twain has said, "reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated" and, as I said recently in a Forbes article and on the Remarkable Retail podcast: "Physical retail. Still not dead." What's been going on for years -- and was accelerated by the COVID crisis -- is both a hollowing out of the mediocre middle of retail (i.e., as I talk about in my book, unremarkable brands) and a correction to better balance the supply of retail space and the demand (caused by overbuilding and a shift to e-commerce). The undeniable fact is that brands with a strong value proposition are opening lots of stores. The reason Coresight missed the mark is largely due to government stimulus propping up demand (for now) and a better understanding of the role brick-and-mortar locations play in not only being places to buy things, but the key role they play in being advertising for a brand and fulfilling digital orders (be that curbside pickup, BOPIS or ship-from-store e-commerce). Two things can be true at once, those who have been swimming in a sameness for years will close lots of stores (and perhaps liquidate completely); those with a strong reason for being will both open and transform their stores for a shopping world that is inherently blended, blurred and in need of harmonization.
  • Posted on: 01/22/2021

    NRF 2021: Saks doubles down on its ‘luxury disrupted’ strategy

    I'm sure their decreases were similar to Neiman's, 40% + down
  • Posted on: 01/22/2021

    NRF 2021: Saks doubles down on its ‘luxury disrupted’ strategy

    As someone who has been writing, speaking and consulting about in-store and online connection (harmonization, embracing the blur) for more than a decade -- and led initial efforts at Neiman Marcus 15 year ago, I can only say: congrats on catching up. Overall, Saks is taking the right actions, but there are a few issues which provide strong headwinds. First and most obviously, the pandemic largely obviates many of the buying occasions that drive high-end spending. While their comps will be easy, luxury is going to stay contracted for some time. Second, the move toward casualization may help a little, but neither Saks nor Neiman's has been good in driving their business through increased transactions. It's been mostly about raising prices. For that strategy to work they need to attract a lot more customers, particularly younger ones, who haven't generally become big spenders at traditional luxury department stores. Third, the competition is intense, both from the usual suspects, but also newer models like FarFetch, Rent The Runway and their own vendors (finally) leaning into DTC. I fundamentally believe that there is too much traditional luxury department store space chasing too little spending. The best way for this business model to get back to really good returns is still likely a Saks/Neiman's merger where real estate could be rationalized and major cost savings could be achieved.
  • Posted on: 01/21/2021

    Do boutique hotels and housing make sense for RH?

    It's impossible to answer the question definitively without a deep dive into their customer data, but I'd lean strongly toward yes. Particularly for higher-end brands, people buy the story before they buy the product. RH is merely telling the story of their remarkable brand in new and different ways that allow customers to more clearly be reminded, as Seth Godin says, "people like us, do (or buy) things like this." It's also a reminder that physical spaces (be they more traditional retail stores or what RH is doing here) are becoming hybrid in nature, serving as both brand advertising (irrespective of how or where customers ultimately transact) and places to buy stuff.
  • Posted on: 01/18/2021

    What is Marc Lore’s legacy at Walmart?

    I was initially pretty skeptical about the Jet.com acquisition and subsequent DNVB bolt-ons, primarily because investing over $3 billion for a demonstrably bad (and cash incinerating) business, and then dropping probably another billion to buy Bonobos et al. and fund their operating losses seemed a poor alternative to what Walmart could do -- and should have done years earlier. When seen as standalone brand purchases they were clearly unsuccessful, but when the longer view is taken, as much as we might argue about how Walmart could have gotten to where they are today faster and with lower cash outlays, the impact that Lore and his team seem to have had on moving Walmart to a much more digitally savvy and harmonized customer experience appears dramatic. Doug McMillon is to be praised for taking risk and embracing the blur that is shopping today.
  • Posted on: 01/15/2021

    NRF 2021: Retailers make an appointment with the future

    Appointment-based shopping is hardly new. Plenty of luxury fashion stores have done it for years (it was quite common when I was at Neiman Marcus more than a decade ago), as have retailers like Apple. Any brand that is looking to deliver a remarkable, harmonized shopping experience should always be dissecting the customer journey of its most important customer segments seeking to remove friction points (what I call "discordant notes") and discovering ways to amplify the wow. While much of the new adoption is driven by safety concerns, I suspect a lot of it will persist in the post-COVID-19 economy as consumers are finding it to be a highly useful feature and retailers will have already made the investments to digitally (and operationally) enable it.
  • Posted on: 01/04/2021

    J.C. Penney is searching for a new CEO

    The J.C. Penney model has been broken for nearly 20 years and nothing of any consequence has been done to grow share of wallet with its core customers and to win new customers at the rate they need to in order to make the business viable over the long term. It's a mistake--and has been a mistake--to believe JCP has a cost problem, or a too-many-stores problem. It has a relevance problem, which mass store closings and cutting into muscle will not fix. Bailing doesn't fix the hole. The new owners do have the benefit of a low cost basis and the ability to exert more strategic control. But if they think they can cost cut and store close their way to prosperity, they have learned nothing from the lessons of the past two decades of retail.
  • Posted on: 01/04/2021

    Will store closings in 2021 beat last year’s record total?

    We're far from done yet. Prior to COVID it was clear that years of overbuilding and the failure of unremarkable retailers to fix their out-of-date business models was creating a growing mismatch between physical store capacity and consumer demand. The overdue reckoning that began in 2017 has clearly been hastened by the pandemic and it's a mistake to blame this largely on the growth of e-commerce. The COVID crisis has obviously favored online shopping (though much of this incremental growth is actually supported by physical stores) and a shift of traffic to "essential retailers." The underlying drivers of this will not change materially until wide spread vaccinations. The two by two matrix is easy to grasp. Essential and Remarkable: few if any store closings (in fact, probably store openings, see Tractor Supply and many others). Non-Essential and Unremarkable (see J.C. Penney, et al): store closings galore.
  • Posted on: 12/28/2020

    What happened this holiday selling season?

    Sales seemed to fall in line or slightly below where most folks expected (except NRF, whose predictions I always just multiply by 0.6 to get what the real number is likely to be). Spikes in COVID-19 and shipping delays likely explain the slight shortfall. Of course we must remember that we really don't know what the holiday season looks like until returns get sorted out (which are likely to be higher this year than in the past) and gift cards get redeemed (which are also likely to be higher than past years). Overall it's likely pretty solid, but as I point out in my recent Forbes article, it's a tale of two cities.

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