Don’t Call it a Recap! Highlights and Smart Tips from Narvar Summit 2019

What happens when retail’s brightest stars gather for one day of discussion and learning in San Francisco? We rolled out the red carpet to find out, welcoming executives from Rothy’s, Sephora, Purple, Kendo, TUMI/Samsonite, Modsy, Costco, Fleur Marché, Levi’s, Neiman Marcus, and many other retail leaders at the Narvar Summit.

Together we explored what customers really want, the value of brand authenticity, the future of ecommerce, organizational design, maintaining a culture of innovation, and ways to capitalize on data intelligence. Here are some of the highlights.

Amit Sharma, CEO and founder of Narvar, kicks off the Narvar Summit, offering a state of the state of customer experience in retail and announcing the launch of Narvar Concierge.

Purposeful + Thoughtful + Authentic

What customers really want, according to just about all the retailers and industry experts, is authenticity from brands. This includes experiences and moments that reveal a brand’s ideology and point of view, as well as transparency when something has gone wrong.

Narvar founder and CEO Amit Sharma kicked off the day with a state of the state in retail, explaining that, ”We have higher and higher expectations when it comes to shopping and experiences. Consumers are expecting every moment to be perfect.” Core to these perfect moments is a seamless, flexible, and convenient experience.

He announced how Narvar is meeting these challenges, unveiling Concierge, a partnership with Walgreens and Nordstrom that creates a network of over 8,000 locations across the U.S. where retailers on the Narvar platform can offer convenient pick-ups and returns of online orders. Thanks to Concierge, consumers can choose to pick up or return their online orders closer to where they live or work, as part of their regular errands.

(L-R) Joe Megibow, CEO of Purple, leads a discussion on loyalty with panelists Ashley Lewis, CEO and co-founder of Fleur Marché, Meghan Laffey, COO of Brandless, and Meredith Dunn, COO of Modsy.

Future-proofing your organization

Whether a company is an edgy newcomer or a legacy brick and mortar, building a culture of innovation and evolving its approach to recruiting and organizing the team will give a retailer an advantage in meeting customers where they are and developing the experiences that delight them.

On staying nimble: Keep teams small to ensure quick decision-making and avoid pushing a consensus that may never come. “The team should be small enough that two pizzas should be enough to feed everyone on the team,” explained Elad Gil, entrepreneur and author of High Growth Handbook.

On building your team: “No one person can know it all today,” said Amy Lauer, VP of Digital at Kendo. “Things are moving too fast. Hire people from diverse backgrounds and find ways to bring everyone together, build trust, and avoid group-think.”

Hire people from diverse backgrounds and find ways to bring everyone together, build trust, and avoid group-think.
Amy Lauer, VP of Digital, Kendo

On embracing change: “We’re living in a world that’s constantly changing, so the ability to attract people who understand that and can be the right amount of uncomfortable so that you’re growing is really key,” advised Anne Raimondi, board member at Asana. “Not so uncomfortable with change that they’re panicking, but not so comfortable that they get complacent.”

On finding your audience: Elad Gil coached retailers at Narvar Summit on how to build innovation that scales and find your consumers in a crowded market. His advice included, “Most big things start small. A small delighted user base is a market signal,” and “Things that look weird and niche are worth learning about.” He also offered, “Until a customer tries your product everything is a theoretical, philosophical debate,” and “If it takes longer to debate something than to try it, you should probably try it.”

Retailers and industry experts weigh in on what it takes to ready your business for what lies ahead. (L-R) Ryan Sweeney, partner at Accel Ventures, moderated the discussion among Clark Scheffy, partner & managing director at IDEO; Amy Lauer, VP of digital at Kendo;  Elad Gil, entrepreneur and author; and Anne Raimondi, board member at Asana.

Human interactions vs. automation

Data, data, data, AI, and data were top of mind throughout the day, with discussions about how to leverage automation to improve customer experience, when a human interaction is best, and how to create a strategy that includes both.

On the power of automation: “Customers are telling us more, and more, and more every day,” said Charlie Cole, CDO and chief ecommerce officer of TUMI/Samsonite. “We have the ability to ingest that information to create predictive experiences, not just to guess what they want next, but to have an algorithm that knows.”

What our customers really want is to come see my cofounder and I and say, ‘I have this problem, what do you recommend?’
Ashley Lewis, CEO & Co-founder, Fleur Marché

On meeting customer need: After all, customers aren’t one-size-fits all. “You can’t out-Amazon Amazon,” said Meredith Dunn, COO of Modsy. “So when we think about loyalty and the customer experience, we have humans to do what humans do best, which is understanding what customers want and creating a vision for customers who can’t articulate what they want.”

On finding a balance: Ashley Lewis, CEO & Co-founder of Fleur Marché, also recognizes that, as an emerging CBD brand in the wellness space, they need a strategy that includes technology and the human touch in order to scale.  “No matter how much information we put on our site, what our customers really want is to come see my cofounder and I and say, ‘I have this problem, what do you recommend?’ So, what we’re trying to figure out now is how do you replicate that with technology online.”

The ones that embrace a portfolio approach rather than concentrating their efforts on that one big win will be best positioned to harness the transformative power of artificial learning.
Kartik Hosanger, professor, The Wharton School

On using AI to transform your business: Kartik Hosangar, professor of technology and digital business at The Wharton School, offered a roadmap for how to embrace and benefit from data and artificial intelligence. He advised, “The companies that will succeed with AI are the ones that focus on creating organizational learning and changing organizational DNA. And the ones that embrace a portfolio approach rather than concentrating their efforts on that one big win will be best positioned to harness the transformative power of artificial learning.”

How can retailers create customer-centric experiences? (L-R) Aaron Cheris, partner at Bain, poses this question to Dharmarajan K, Chief Customer Officer at Tata CliQ; Amy Eschliman, SVP of eCommerce at Sephora, Heidi Isern, Sr. Director, Customer Experience Innovation at Gap; and Charlie Cole, CDO & Chief eCommerce Officer at TUMI/Samsonite.

Creating repeat buyers

Regardless of which path a retailer takes to better understand consumers, at the end of the day, a company will only succeed if it creates the emotional stickiness that keeps their customers buying again and again. How retailers approach this can be as unique as their business, though our speakers revealed that there’s a lot to learn from each other.

On having a mission: Megan Laffey, COO of Brandless, a brand that aims to democratize access to good-for-you products, finds that their most loyal customers align with their mission. For example, every third day of the month, the company triples the number of meals they donate upon checkout on behalf of their customers. “So we see customers come to our site and build their cart over several weeks and wait until the third of every month to check out, because it’s so important to them to feel like they’re making the most impact.”

When we think about loyalty and the customer experience, we have humans to do what humans do best, which is understanding what customers want and creating a vision for customers who can’t articulate what they want.
Meredith Dunn, COO, Modsy

On moving with your customers: Scott Muety, AVP of Viceroy Hotel Group, explained how his organization is matching their operations with how consumers interact with brands today to drive loyalty. “We’re looking for ways to create conversations outside of the norm,” said Muety. In some hotels, they removed the desk for the concierge and instead mobilized those employees. “That might mean that they’re hanging out in the bar and interacting with the guests from 4 p.m to 6 p.m. It might be they’re in the dining room working the floor.”

On standing out from the crowd: Joe Megibow, CEO of Purple, explained potential frameworks for earning customer engagement and loyalty. “One is differentiated supply, so think of The RealReal, Cherish, or ThredUp. Two is differentiated product, so you’re vertically integrated and sell a product that only you sell and customers want. And three, differentiated service offerings, where you have something that you offer above and beyond, that can engender a real attachment to your brand.”


We thank our speakers and attendees for helping to make Narvar Summit 2019 a stellar event. To learn more about how Narvar can help your brand meet evolving customer demands, get in touch.