business news in context, analysis with attitude

Notes & comments by Kevin Coupe

PORTLAND, Ore. - We may be in Portland, Oregon, but much of the collective wisdom at yesterday's Portland State University (PSU) Center for Retail Leadership 19th annual Executive Forum was coming from Cincinnati … or at least from two senior and influential executives who work for companies based there. (Though, to be fair, both have deep roots in the Pacific Northwest … which, in my opinion, accounts for their perceptiveness.)

Todd Ruberg, vice president of Customer Business Development Strategy at Procter & Gamble, started the day off with a discussion of what he called "the omni channel evolution," suggesting that "we are at a real inflection point in our business," and that "an inflection point, like a disaster, is a terrible thing to waste."

The industry has to adapt to a consumer base that increasingly wants a seamless, relevant experience that begins in pre-shopping mode and extends through the actual shopping experience (whether it is in a bricks-and-mortar store, on a computer, or on a mobile device) and into the post-shopping experience when people are both using products and sharing the experience with their friends. Because the shopping experience can be defined in such broad terms, he said, marketers have to pay attention to the whole continuum.

And, Ruberg said, everyone is part of this shift - it cuts across demographics and generations.

The challenge to retailers, he said, is that the expansiveness of choices actually tends to narrow the list of stores with which they do business. "The stakes are high," he said, and "it is critical to be relevant and present when the shopper is planning the next shopping trip."

In the evening's keynote address, Mike Ellis, president/COO of The Kroger Co., made similar points - saying that it is a high priority for Kroger to "increase the speed at which we make decisions," and "increase the rate of disruption" engineered at the company's various banners. "We're going to make people really uncomfortable," he said, suggesting that Kroger can only continue to be a 131-year old growth company by being so nimble and customer-focused.

One symbol of how things have changed: "Kroger serves eight million customers a day," Ellis said, and just recently, Kroger passed a significant benchmark - more than one billion digital coupons have been downloaded from its site and app. The pace is accelerating: "It took us two years to hit 500 million downloads,:" he said, "and just another six months to hit one billion."

The industry has to focus on "the datafication of everything" and "real time everything" - using customer data to offer relevant and real-time solutions to shopper needs and wants. And he echoed Ruberg's comments when he said that to the consumer, "Where you buy doesn't really matter … there are too many choices."

Which, I think, is the kind of thing we talk about a lot here on MNB. These trends ratchet up the pressure on marketers to change the way they do business.

Old-world thinkers need not apply. The good news is that here in Portland, old-world thinkers seemed in short supply.
KC's View: