Susan O'Neal

CEO, Dabbl
Susan O’Neal is the founder & CEO of Dabbl. Dabbl captures inefficient national media dollars and gives them to consumers to spend in their favorite retailers. After 20+ years in brand strategy & loyalty marketing, O'Neal realized the marketing strategic and tactics she used to create relationships between consumers and companies wouldn't go over very well in the world of real, human relationships - she would have no friends! This inspired her to get curious. What if you could help evolve a consumer relationship the same way, using the same values as our most loyal, trustworthy personal relationships. The result is Dabbl. Since launching its first white-label retail solution with Wakefern in August 2017 ("Downtime Dollars"), and its own consumer-facing app ("Dabbl") in January 2018 - the company has driven over $1MM in value to consumers, and driven $3.5MM in incremental retail sales. O'Neal’s experience in the field of consumer marketing is uniquely suited to this challenge, including consumer research, branding, targeted marketing, promotions, retail loyalty and digital consumer engagement as a Consumer Analyst (Grey Worldwide), B2B Marketer, Business Strategist (Catalina Marketing) and General Manager responsible for the P&L of two different digital coupon destination properties (Q Interactive/Coolsavings, CouponNetwork).
  • Posted on: 10/15/2019

    Why are grocers still missing the mark with small food brands?

    It's dangerous to generalize all "grocers" as it is still a very diverse and fragmented space in comparison to other retail verticals. That said, the "pay to play" model that has evolved over the past two decades to the favor of large national and regional grocers which creates both financial and cultural barriers to small company innovators =- whether that innovation is in the form of a consumer good or a new solution/technology vendor. Smaller or newer companies cannot afford to pay to play in that culture - whether it's funding the retailer's marketing or other initiatives, funding staff to keep the products/relationships top of mind with the retailer or something even more direct and overt as has happened in recent years.
  • Posted on: 10/14/2019

    Is BOPIS a good fit for Dollar General?

    If BOPIS works for QSRs like McDonald's and Starbucks, where item counts are even smaller than traditional dollar or convenience stores, it can work for Dollar General. Furthermore, Dollar General has an above-average basket size compared to a true "dollar store" because of its broader merchandise selection - filling in gaps in rural areas where the nearest grocery store is 30 minutes or more away. As such, it is by its nature a seller of convenience as well as price. BOPIS would be an extension of that same value proposition. Dollar General has done an excellent job with its digital service offering and I believe they have the customer trust to make BOPIS successful.
  • Posted on: 08/28/2019

    Innovation: Are retailers trying to do too much?

    At various times in my career I would have a very frustrating conversation with my father. He would ask me how work was going and I would begin telling him a complicated story. He would interrupt me, forcefully and repeatedly, with a single question until I could answer it in one simple, succinct sentence (often shouting it out of frustration). The question was "what are they payin' you to do?" Of course, as soon as I said it my whole world simplified, my to-do list and my worries shrank. I call it "the one sentence job description." The retail equivalent is "why are my customers coming to me?" Ask it and then - as the author recommends - nail it.
  • Posted on: 08/20/2019

    Is technology really making stores more like the web?

    Online shopping would never have gotten anywhere if it didn't have to compete with the benefits of in-store shopping: product recommendations/knowledge, having it now (or as close to now as possible), assortment, etc. Over the last decade, it makes sense that retailers with a brick and mortar advantage would try to compete with the benefits of online shopping: near infinite assortment, reviews, easier access to deeper product information (various kiosks and such). This would be, however effective and logical, a very simplistic view of how to compete in retail. The reality is a consumer wants what they want, and they want different things at different times and in different circumstances. Sometimes they're going to want something (an experience perhaps) that is only possible in-store, other times they are going to need something that is always going to be better online. If a retailer's customer values them mostly for something that can only be delivered in one environment or the other, focusing their resources and innovation accordingly would be the best strategy.
  • Posted on: 08/15/2019

    Is it time for retailers to tier up their loyalty/reward programs?

    Trust (the marker of what I call true human loyalty) is highest when interests are aligned at a fundamental level -- so fundamental that you don't have to think about it, you don't have to calculate the cost/benefit more than once, and definitely not at every transaction. If a retailer has an offering comprehensive enough, and that offering is relevant frequently enough, then the "premium service for a one-time fee" model works and the outcome of it is more akin to real human-to-human loyalty. But not all retailers have a comprehensive enough value offering, or they may not be relevant frequently enough, to justify a one-time free for premium service offering. In those instances, the transactional incentives (the "buy nine, get one free") would be dangerous to remove altogether.
  • Posted on: 07/18/2019

    What’s the recipe for de-stressing entrepreneurs?

    "You know that old saying that you have to hire people smarter than you? Yeah. It’s garbage. You need to hire people who share your vision for how to achieve success. then everyone is rowing in the same direction. If you hire people smarter than you, then everyone has an opinion and you add the stress of dysfunction." I don't know whether it's a question of "smarter than" or not, but absolutely true that a start-up cannot afford a bunch of smart people pontificating and debating ... more than doing ... not to mention the total waste of energy it is to manage that chaos, in addition to all your other stresses, as a CEO. Having this happen is a greater risk if you hire people whose sense of self-worth comes from being right, being deferred to or being "smarter than" the others in the room. It doesn't necessarily mean they are smarter than you, but if you hired them because you believed they were - you're probably in the danger zone.
  • Posted on: 07/18/2019

    What’s the recipe for de-stressing entrepreneurs?

    Been here, still here, still deciding every day if it's worth it (obviously, I most often come to the conclusion that it is). For me, passion around the idea that marketing could be better, more human, more authentic in its delivery and form - not just its message - is what drove me to leave the relative comfort of corporate life on the heels of a divorce, with three young children in tow. I believed in the vision and if there was a company that would have hired me to pursue it, I probably would have gone that path - but there wasn't, and so I started Dabbl (almost five years ago). My advice: Be clear on WHY you're doing this. If your deeper "why" isn't something big, you will burn out fast - you won't be able to pick yourself up off the floor on a bad day, or still believe after the 1,000th no. For me the deeper "why" was the chance to prove not only that deeper connections between consumers and brands are both possible and beneficial for both, but to show via example to my children that hard things are worthwhile especially when they are aligned with your truth and (this is important) regardless of the outcome. Surround yourself with a neutral support system. Mine was paid - a therapist and an executive coach. It's hard to justify this expense when you've also likely cut your income to launch your company - but it's as important as any other investment you are making. I say "neutral" because your pain causes people who love you to feel pain too - and they will not want to feel that, it can make you feel guilty (for causing them pain) and/or they may encourage you give up to stop your pain. Anxiety about finances can also complicate a close friend or spouse's ability to support you in your mission. Neutral support helps YOU take the emotion and other "noise" out of the issues you face, so you can see and think about them more clearly - go about your day more efficiently - and get through the high highs and the low lows with less trauma. Create space to think. Start-up or not, many of us find ourselves filled with anxiety (or guilt) when we're not busy. The pressure in a start-up is even greater. Vacations are really important, but so is taking the long (back road) way to work or home or on a road trip - walking around and around the soccer field (without your phone) during your kids' soccer practice - watching the sunrise while enjoying your cup of coffee (again, NO PHONE). Finally, it's worth it to try hard things. "All progress depends on unreasonable people" (did Steve Job's say that?). For me, regardless of Dabbl's future - we've made consumers feel valued and important, and that has translated into value for brands and retailers (yay!). And along the way, I've been given the gift of humility (the world is so much more interesting when you don't think you know everything already) and empathy for those in charge, even when I don't agree with them (more love in my heart for more people, of all types and stripes). We're all just doing our best, but nobody more so than the intrepid entrepreneur.
  • Posted on: 07/15/2019

    Can the Publix customer service experience be brought online?

    (Love the phrase "shopper history program"). Only one point I might disagree with -- the high-low pricing strategy (a necessary defense against Walmart EDLP, et. al) has exacerbated the consumer behavior of moving between chains and shopping the TPRs - but I wouldn't call it effortless for the consumer. Honestly, it really stinks for the consumer (very very few consumers actually want to shop multiple stores for their groceries, especially for working parents). Robinson Patman legacy + growth of Shopper Marketing dollars make it hard for a smaller or regional retailer to compete any other way, but that doesn't make it the best thing for consumers.
  • Posted on: 07/15/2019

    Can the Publix customer service experience be brought online?

    Completely agree Ken, Publix customers need a reason to self-identify consistently across touch points and transactions that they don't have today. To stay consistent with their brand (and protect the great relationships they have), that reason (to self-identify) has to be something greater than discounts, or even temporary price reductions - in essence a value proposition evolved beyond discounts. As home delivery of grocery grows both in frequency of order and overall HH penetration, the trust Publix has built up through their employees could be a big part of the equation.
  • Posted on: 07/15/2019

    Can the Publix customer service experience be brought online?

    There are two very different questions posed by this article. The first, "are there ways for Publix to effectively extend the elite customer service found at its stores to the online experience?" - absolutely. In fact, online is really "in-home" ... where real human, interpersonal connections are more important than in-store. Regarding the second question about whether Publix's lack of a "conventional loyalty program" hurts their online positioning - absolutely not. In fact, I'd say that while other retailers have confused reward systems with "loyalty" Publix has remained focused on what creates real loyalty in people - enjoyable ("pleasurable") experiences, consistently delivered over time, person to person. There is a real risk that an attempt to translate that kind of loyalty into technology terms will change the nature of it, along with real opportunity to enhance their quality of service across different touch points. The net takeaway - real loyalty is a complex, delicate, HUMAN thing and if I were to start somewhere, I'd rather be at Publix's starting point than just about any other.
  • Posted on: 07/01/2019

    Can mobile sensing tools boost worker productivity?

    Putting the creepiness factor aside, I can't figure out what the purpose of this is - to encourage employees to focus on their well being (thereby improving productivity), or to discourage what the employer believes are unproductive attributes (like not spending enough time at a desk). Are behaviors consistently predictive of productivity? Are the same behaviors equally predictive for all people or do some of us do better with some alone/thinking time vs. others who need to be constantly "on the go" to be productive? This idea is ready for research purposes only, to better understand the nuances of what influences productivity for other people, but it should not be tied to compensation or evaluations.
  • Posted on: 04/26/2019

    Should (can) rivals meet the free one-day delivery bar being set by Amazon?

    Once again, Amazon's super power is both being there at the point in time that a consumer thinks "I need or want X" and then satisfying that need/want as quickly as possible, which happens when the product is in the consumers' hands. Of course one-day delivery strengthens that super power. What makes this challenging is the comprehensiveness of the offering. No other retailer can afford to make that same offering as comprehensively as Amazon. It reminds me of the impact of Walmart's comprehensive EDLP (everyday low pricing) strategy. The only way competitors could respond was through a high/low pricing - strategically lowering pricing on specific items below the point of profitability but making up that profit elsewhere with the trip. The only way other retailers will be able to compete with the Prime offering is to strategically offer something significantly better - likely via in-store pick up. Another consideration is the fact that Amazon subsidizes the cost of Prime by charging suppliers for being Prime eligible. In a perfect world, that up-charge shows up as higher prices for Prime eligible products on Amazon. In that case, it will be a question of whether low price beats convenience, or vice versa, and how often for how many consumers.
  • Posted on: 04/15/2019

    Can Walmart beat Amazon, Facebook and Google at the online ad game?

    In significant segments, like grocery and household products, Walmart's data set is vastly superior to that of Amazon, Facebook and Google - specifically related to who buys what. Linking that purchase data to ad exposure definitely strengthens their bottom funnel competitive advantage. However, competing for a top three ad platform position will require Walmart to establish a "top of funnel" competitive advantage as well. They can do this by strengthening their top funnel data set (preference, intent, psychographics) to compete with Facebook the search dominance of Google and Amazon. They can also drive growth by leaning into the need for better digital video ad options to compete with YouTube and Facebook who are constrained by their audiences acceptance of ads. Net net - given the speed and agility with which the Walmart media team is executing, I expect to see them in the top three very soon.
  • Posted on: 03/26/2019

    McDonald’s to use tech to make drive-thru menu recommendations

    This is brilliant. The underlying promise of personalization is solving for the paradox of empowering consumers with near infinite choice, while simultaneously simplifying the decision making process. Not only will McDonald's win with more sales, they'll win as a preferred stop for the busy drive-thru customer.
  • Posted on: 03/14/2019

    New shoppable ad tech creates opportunities across AR, search and voice

    Closing the gap between a consumer need/want and the satisfaction of that need/want is where retail sales will be won or lost. To the extent that a consumer knows precisely what they want, efficient shoppable tech - like voice or basic search - will win that sale. To the extent that the consumer knows what they want but not as precisely - say they know what the product they want looks like, but they don't know what it's called - adding imagery to search will win the sale. If the consumer has a need, but doesn't know which product is the best to satisfy the need - a more involved context will be needed to win the sale. And finally, to go all the way up the funnel, inspiring consumers toward a need/want state will involve something different entirely. Moral of the story - the opportunity of all of these technologies is to better serve the consumer in different need states and contexts and they will all have a role to play. The only ad - shoppable or not - that no longer makes sense, is the banner ad.

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