What We Learned at the Narvar Summit

Despite unseasonably soupy weather in San Francisco, about 100 retail industry leaders made their way to Terra Gallery near the base of the Bay Bridge for a full day of inspirational thought-leadership and networking, hosted by Narvar. Some had made the trek from as far as New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, Southern Cal, and elsewhere across the country, though getting across the Bay Area was certainly no small effort either. Ultimately, those who braved the storm were treated to an engaging program all about the Art & Science of Customer Experiences. And a dedicated all-day espresso cart.

Common threads

Over the next few weeks we’ll provide more detailed insights and video clips from each of the panels, but there were a few key themes which threaded through the day:

  1. Curation is the next level of personalization.

Jenny Lefcourt of Freestyle Capital highlighted that the browse experience is still overwhelming - you can click 3 filters to drill down to what you’re seeking and still be presented with 3000 results. Retailers should certainly have a strong POV to help establish their brand, but customers are expecting retailers to do a lot of the work for them to make their shopping experience simpler and more relevant.[caption id="attachment_787" align="alignnone" width="726"]

Narvar Summit - Future of Retail panel

(l-r) Jenny Lefcourt - Freestyle VC, Joe Megibow, Samantha Lee - Tailored Brands[/caption]Joe Megibow pointed out that the big ugly missing piece of personalization is the human side. Most personalization systems are very mechanistic and algo-driven, but need humans to create relevant content and context. This is exactly what Stitch Fix does by using a mix of algorithms and human stylists to curate customer selections. Mike Smith, GM of Stitch Fix Men said they request a lot of data from customers, both structured & unstructured, to get to that level of customization, which also leads to an obligation for them to use all of it wisely to deliver on client expectations. Adam Pressman of A.T. Kearney said ultimately it’s important to talk to customers and really understand their journey - they want you to help them help themselves.

  1. Data is key, but data silos prevent 360 customer insights.

There was a lot of talk about the incredible amount of data we have available to us, but with no common keys to pull all the different sources together and get a full picture of the consumer, it’s nearly impossible to provide the experience our customers expect. This was met with a lot of heads in the room nodding vigorously - we are all grappling with the same issues. Companies that have the advantage of starting from scratch rather than dealing with legacy systems have a better handle on their data, but for everyone else this is a key area of investment to enable the level of personalization and more intelligent interactions customers demand.[caption id="attachment_792" align="alignnone" width="800"]

Narvar Summit - Kirsten and Mike

Kirsten Green - Forerunner Ventures and Mike Smith - Stitch Fix[/caption]

  1. Physicality is the new omnichannel conversation.

Joe Megibow said that great retail is about serendipity, aspiration, inspiration, discovery. It’s the people around you, the overall context -- not just price & product. Re-thinking the in-store experience and why customers should come to buy a product from you versus anywhere else is obviously critical. Companies like Finish Line are thoughtfully getting to the heart of what their customers care about with services like an elevated shoe care experience involving thrones and tunes. Anisa Kumar at Levi’s looks at combining tailoring shops & stores in Asia, adding personalization of clothes in other markets.But how do we replicate that digitally? How do we make the intangible world of online shopping more tangible? Katja Schurtenberger at said unboxing videos are still important for electronics, as well as post-purchase support which includes ensuring that customers get the most out of all the features of their product. Samantha Lee at Tailored Brands said they’re working to replicate the high touch of men’s styling in the high tech world.

  1. Loyalty is not about points or discounts.

Danielle Quatrochi of Finish Line said the key to fostering loyalty is understanding what’s meaningful for your customers and making that the focus. For example, Finish Line will personally invite select customers to visit the NYC Jordan destination Terminal 23, knowing it’s an opportunity to surprise and delight based on specific interests. It’s definitely more work at that level but at the end of the day it’s about so much more than just a point system.[caption id="attachment_788" align="alignnone" width="800"]

Narvar Summit - CX panel

Audrey Leibovich - Hudson's Bay Company and Danielle Quatrochi - Finish Line[/caption]Amit Sharma, Narvar’s Founder & CEO, said that in general the way companies are thinking about loyalty is changing. Good ones make the most of micro moments to build the relationship. For example, first time loyalty members at a hotel may get a free welcome drink, instead of having to work through a year-long commitment before feeling acknowledged. Emily Fan of Madison Reed said that building loyalty starts with making an emotional connection and delivering on promises. Since emotion is inherent in the beauty category since those products are very personal, she focuses on setting delivery expectations up front and being accurate to develop trust with customers.

Fun facts and tidbits

Best moment of the day hands-down...was actually a hands-up moment:To make a point about consumers choosing many methods of communicating with brands, most of which don’t involve actually talking to anyone, Katja of asked the audience to hold up both hands. Then she asked us to put a hand down if, before coming to the summit that morning, we had used any of the channels she rattled off: tracking a package; ordering anything via mobile including a product, Starbucks, Uber; using a chat app…it didn’t take long before everyone’s hands were down.[caption id="attachment_785" align="alignnone" width="800"]

Narvar Summit - interactive audience

Sarita Yeldandi - eBay and Katja Schurtenberger - lead the audience in a quick poll[/caption]Sweetest inspirational story:Mike Smith of Stitch Fix gave a great example of small things businesses can do which build emotional connection with customers. There’s a coffee bar near his office which he goes to periodically. When he was having a bad day, the barista started chanting his name like a cheer - “Mike! Mike! Mike!” - just a little thing that was meaningful.Most surprising insight:The Retail Ops panel talking about the concept of speeding up refunds to customers, but slowing down the return shipment with more visibility into what’s coming back so you can plan and be more efficient with disposition of the inventory. These women are operations geniuses.[caption id="attachment_783" align="alignnone" width="800"]

Narvar Summit - Retail Ops panel

(l-r) Janie Yu - Fung Capital, Emily Fan - Madison Reed, Anisa Kumar - Levi's, Jessica Fortier - The Gap[/caption]Best Silicon Valley gossip:Kim Scott of Radical Candor recommends soliciting better feedback as a leader during one-on-ones by using a good question. She said that Andy Grove, CEO of Intel who was famous for getting people to tell him the truth, used to end the meeting with “now there's one more thing”, which she thought he got from Steve Jobs. He said, “no, we both got it from ‘Columbo’, the detective show!”Most oft-mentioned best-in-class example of effortless commerce:Domino’s -- both their emoji pizza ordering when discussing one-click, voice-activated effortless commerce (h/t Adam Pressman of A.T. Kearney and Michael Scharff of e.l.f. Cosmetics), and their pizza tracker as a model for transparency & speed (Katja at said “If they can track where your pizza is in the process, why can’t we do this with your PC?”).

Setting the stage for 2017

[caption id="attachment_789" align="alignnone" width="800"]

Narvar Summit - Amit and Narvar mission

Amit Sharma - Narvar[/caption]In his closing presentation “Narvar: The Path Ahead”, Amit talked about how Narvar is strategically approaching the evolving retail landscape. “Customers are already there; we need to be there,” Amit says. “One thing is constant, and that’s change. We need to start making really thoughtful bets in engagement and shopping behaviour."[caption id="attachment_791" align="alignnone" width="800"]

Narvar Summit - cocktail party

(l-r) Harsh Jawharkar - Narvar, Jheel Jawharkar - Macy's, Kerry Cooper, Janie Yu - Fung Capital, Corey Harris - ipsy, Anisa Kumar - Levi's[/caption]

Andria Tay

Andria is Global Director of Marketing & Communications at Narvar. She grew up in entertainment at iconic brands like EMI & MTV before pivoting to ecommerce, most recently at

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