The Retail Shift Podcast | Customer Experience
Host: Mitch Black
Guest: Andrew Pierce, CEO of MINT
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Mitch: Hey everybody, this is Mitch Black, and welcome to another episode of the Retail Shift. Today our guest is Andrew Pierce, the CEO of MINT. And they help retailers design, build-out, and utilize the right technologies to create the best customer experience. I think you’re going to like this one. We talk a lot about lifetime value and customer engagement. So, sit back, listen, and enjoy it, and have a great day.
Mitch: Hey, Andrew, how are you doing today?
Andrew: I’m doing great Mitch, thanks for having me.
Mitch: Glad to have you here. Now remind me again, you’re calling, I believe from the Boston area, is that correct?
Andrew: That is correct.
Mitch: So how’s the weather in Boston today?
Mitch: We’re recording this actually on Monday the 19th. I assume that fall weather is in it’s full bloom up there, man?
Andrew: It is, it’s beautiful. You know, cool nights, warm days. Which is one of our favorite times of the year up here as northeasterners.
Mitch: Great. Yeah, I agree. It’s very similar up here in Indianapolis.
Mitch: Well, listen, Andrew, tell us a little bit about yourself and your company to kick us off.
Andrew: Sure, so MINT has been, and I’m the CEO of MINT; we’ve been servicing the retail industry for about the last two decades. And specifically in the fields of retail design, retail build-out fixtures; and then in the last five years, have taken a very deliberate step of incorporating technologies into the environments to help our clients, that I know we’re going to talk about some of those topics today, so we’ll get into that a little bit deeper.
Mitch: So, did you start this business, or did you have partners? How was MINT formed?
Andrew: That’s a great question. So, from an evolutionary standpoint, and you might remember this from our dealings years ago, Mitch, we had a company called New Retail.
Andrew: And that was founded back in 2004. We rebranded to MINT because we really wanted to introduce a new suite of experiential and smart environment solutions and felt it was a good opportunity for us to take the team and sort of put a new face on it. We rebranded three years ago to the MINT brand, tagged us with a URL called experiencemint, which helps define who we are, what we are all about, and clearly very much in line with our topic is going to be about today.
Mitch: If I remember correctly, it was back in my days at Bright Point, and we were, we had moved into the activation business, the master agent business if you will, and I think we were trying to build out maybe Sprint, Virgin Mobile stores at the time, with some of our dealers. And I think that’s where we first came in contact with you. Does that sound, right?
Andrew: Yeah, that’s correct. That, and the boards I think you and I both served on at the Consumer Electronics Association.
Mitch: That’s right; that’s right. The CEA. Those were the good old days. Exactly, exactly. So, now, today, you deal with a variety of different types of retail entities. Obviously, it’s evolved beyond wireless. Um, you know, maybe give us kind of some examples of some other retail type entities that you know our listeners may be familiar with. Maybe not by name, but by industry if you feel comfortable.
Andrew: Absolutely. So, we’ve stayed true to the wireless industry, and in that light, we do a lot with what we call CE, consumer electronics. So that can be anything from computing to wireless to full-blown electronic stores. We have one particular client who essentially sells very experiential-type products, and most of them have some electronic piece or component to what the product does for the consumer.
Andrew: But we’ve done fashion, we’ve done cosmetics, we’ve done apparel, big box, retail, home improvement, you name it. We tend to do a lot with specialty retail. So if you think about a white box, that would be between a thousand and three thousand square feet. That’s a typical client for us.
Mitch: Ok. So in terms of retail design, maybe let’s use the example of 1,000 to 3,000 square feet. How does the retail design kind of either define or influence the customer experience?
Andrew: It’s a great question, and it has changed significantly. What we preach to our clients and to the industry is that it used to be; what does the design look like? You know? What does it look like when you walk by the store? And today it’s not that, it’s, what does the design do? And what I mean by that is what does it do for your customer? What does it do for your employees? What does it do for your operations? And if you deliver a design that does all the right things, for all those right categories, then you have a successful design. But the interesting thing about design as it relates to the customer experience really is this: it needs to be a compelling environment that makes you or I want to put our phone down or our laptop down and go into the retail store to complete the transaction, to shop. The reality is that if it doesn’t do that, if the design and the environment don’t do that, then we’re just going to do what’s easy, and we’re just going to order it off our mobile device, right, or our computer, and just have it shipped to our house.
Mitch: How are you helping these retailers then? You know, you’re almost talking about an omnichannel now type of environment of where now I’m… What, what do you do at MINT to help me as a store owner get people in the door, as opposed to buying online? What are some tactics or just some general strategies around that?
Andrew: Sure, yeah, and it’s a critical opportunity for us to help the customer understand. Because brand loyalties, in general, are actually shifting pretty quickly to brands who deliver that experience. You know, who are able to embrace the omnichannel solution. Customers used to be very loyal to a specific brand. You know, it could be Nike or any other big brand. And today, they’re more inclined to go with a brand that delivers an experience. Um, and I’ll share a couple of stats with you that I find to be just really compelling in terms of the omnichannel experience and how important that is. The stats, there’s a couple we use regularly. One is that 15 to 30 percent, um, you will see a 15 to 30 percent increase in transaction size with an effective omnichannel solution. And you’ll also see a 30 percent lifetime value of the customer increase with a strong omnichannel solution. The industry experts, this isn’t anything on our team, but the industry experts now say that the lifetime customer relationship is the new measuring stick for success.
Mitch: Yeah. I think about; I guess it goes in line with, you know, where, and I think wireless retail a lot, so if a customer goes in, buys a, wherever, a Verizon store, AT&T store, T-Mobile store, they buy their initial device there, they upgrade there. The opportunity then is to be able to have touchpoints with those customers. Where, number one, they come back in. But also they may go on to your website or related website to buy an accessory. I assume that all is categorized in lifetime value, right?
Mitch: Right. And I think of myself, as a consumer, that is more likely if I’m going to make a big purchase like an iPhone, or if I go to a hardware store and I’m going to make a big purchase like a new Weber grill. I’m not going to buy that online. I want to buy that there. But when it comes to buying accessories or other things, I may choose to simply buy online for convenience. And so, let’s talk about technologies then. What do you guys recommend to help customers in the retail space with, to help kind of have higher engagement with customers, and use technology to maybe differentiate and drive lifetime value?
Andrew: Yeah, great. Another great question. And so, one just sort of thing to rewind the clock a little bit in our conversation. I did mention we invested in an experiential and a retail analytics technology platform five years ago. And so that’s one of the things that we’ve really used as a separation tool against our competitors. Is that we can offer all of those things as part of a turnkey solution. But to answer your question. If you think about how customers shop on their mobile devices or their computers, right, first of all, it’s very digitally driven. It’s touch, it’s a lot of colors, and you know, animation. And things that really make the experience on those interfaces to be exciting and compelling for consumers. So you have to think about the digital interface as an important part of creating that sensory environment in brick and mortar. The advantages that brick and mortar has is there are things you can do with touch and sight and sound and even smell that you can’t do online. So if you imbed digital solutions into the environment, you’re providing right out of the gate a comfort zone for the way people shop at home. Right. Or at work, through their mobile devices. And so having that digital interface, there is an important part of the way of accomplishing that. But it’s got to go beyond that too. I mean, anybody can throw a digital screen up in a store and say, ‘hey, I’ve got a digital interface.’ They need to be interactive interfaces. They need to be; they need to have tools in them like social media integration so that a customer who’s in your store can share the product they bought or the experience they had right from your store. Right. And that goes out to their network, and you’ve immediately captured all those people’s attention. Um, you need to use technology, so when Mitch Black walks into the store, it automatically identifies you even through your mobile signature or maybe a loyalty program. So it knows, hey, what does Mitch like? What did he buy last time? What could we recommend to him that might be a compliment to the grill he just bought? And so you’ve got to use technology to accomplish some of those things, and certainly, there’s many more, but those are top-of-mind examples.
Mitch: So, I’ve got a question. So with MINT’s business model, you said you offer this retail experience technology. Do you offer that in the form of a subscription to your customers?
Andrew: It is. It’s all clog-based. Yep.
Mitch: See, that’s nice. It’s good to see. You know, you think about a lot. You know, I’m actually patting you on the back for your own business here. Where I love to see, this recurring revenue model being applied into what traditionally was a single opportunity, single sales model where you guys have this ongoing connectivity with your clients. So, I think that’s very, very cool.
Mitch: Um, so let’s talk a little bit about COVID. I can’t help but talk about it when it comes to retail here on the podcast. But, you know, that’s changed a lot. So things like, you know, we’re seeing so much more around appointment setting to come into stores because of limiting the number of people. Or you know, in-store pick up. And I’ve seen some companies that do that. Can you talk to me a little bit about how you guys are addressing that? And what you’ve seen as best practices?
Andrew: Absolutely. And you are spot-on about COVID. So the interesting thing that most people really didn’t pay attention to is there’s a trend or an evolution in shopping behavior, and that is that online behavior is now dictating what offline, otherwise known as brick and mortar, should be doing. It used to be the other way around. It used to be that online complimented brick and mortar. Now it’s becoming the opposite. And COVID poured gas on that fire because people wanted to be able to, you know, order online and pull up to the location, and in a lot of cases, they don’t even want to get out of their car. They just want to send a text message or somehow communicate with the retailer that they’re there. Someone comes out. They pop the trunk, they put it in, and they drive away. Today, in the last six months even, I mean BOPIS, which is buy online pick up in-store, has been around for several years. But today, three out of four consumers prefer a store with a contactless BOPIS solution. Which is pretty powerful. So MINT has a solution, by the way. And there’s a lot of people who do. But having a robust BOPIS solution, where consumers have a seamless experience of making their purchase online, pulling up to the door, being able to quickly communicate they’re there, and have the product brought right out, is a huge win. But it also is an opportunity for retail staff, right? Because sometimes it’s not curbside, and even if it is, there are opportunities. But a retail staff, having the right people there with the right skill set at the right times. So that when Andrew and Mitch walk in to pick up their product, they’re already strategically thinking about, ‘wow, he came in to get the grill but let’s make sure we present these other three things to them that compliment the use of the grill and maximize the experience of the product.’
Mitch: Yeah, yeah, that’s a good point. So, one of the things we’re thinking about here at Shift Lab is, you know, we’re all about performance-based scheduling in terms of making sure that you’re optimizing your schedule, so your best people are in your stores at the best times. So we’re thinking through ideas around, like, in a situation where you’re going to have a lot more schedule pick up. Or stores. Are some of your sales employees in the stores more effective in those roles? Or what type of talent do you need if a lot of it’s presales online and then pick up in the store? So, I’m just kind of curious about your thoughts around that? And how you guys might thoughtfully consider, maybe that consideration?
Andrew: Yeah, no, it’s critical. I mean, we are constantly preaching: right staff, right time. Typically, and when we’re having those conversations, much like you guys using an analytics platform to help your clients have the right people there at the right time, we’re doing the same thing. And preaching to them, that hey, you’ve got to be able to take the intel from the analytics. You’ve got to be able to compare it to the store traffic to actual sales and conversion rates and look at what types of people are coming in, for what things, at what times. And make sure you’re maximizing the right people there at the right times. We don’t want our top sales guy running out to the curb to drop off a box and put it into someone’s car. Vice versa, we don’t want that delivery type of caliber person, you know, trying to upsell somebody on a product or services. So, I think the big message from us is in today’s environment you have, in most cases, you have lower margin, you have more competitors, you have online pressures, and you’ve got to capitalize on every single customer that comes in that door.
Mitch: That’s right, yep. Do you guys work with, or either suggest, different types of traffic analytic solutions for your customers?
Andrew: We do. There are several, and there are a lot of good ones. We have our own platform, but we’re not really focused on selling our platform when it comes to analytics. It really depends on what the customers’ needs are. I mean, if you take a company like Retail Next, who in my mind has the most robust analytics platform. It’s an exceptional product. It does everything that you’d want it to do and more. But some people don’t need all of that. Some people need something that’s a little simpler, a little less costly. And so, depending on what they’re trying to accomplish and what the needs are, we will align them with whatever the right resources. And if it’s not ours, then we’ll just bring in one of those partners to implement their product.
Mitch: So with COVID and kind of the changes in some of the practices inside of a store that enhances customer experience, do you see this, I’m just kind of curious, good for your business? Is this kind of a re-engagement? Or has it been kind of quiet because some retailers are very, just heads down right now, focused on just trying to get out of the weeds? How has it been for you?
Andrew: Yeah, it’s interesting. So, I called it right now, we are actually seeing more and more opportunities every day. When before COVID hit, there was a change. There was an evolution in what retail was all about. And there were a lot of things that needed to be done that most retailers weren’t doing. So we were actually really excited because we almost see this reset opportunity. COVID came in and, of course, for probably 60 to 90 days, really put the brakes on. Because nobody really knew what was going on. But now we’re getting on the other side of that, and people want to change the way that they retail. Like, they want to figure out how to have the right people in their stores to service their customers. They want to understand how to deliver that customer experience in a way that’s effective. And so we’re actually really excited right now because we’re getting more and more conversations, opportunities where we can really help people. And I’m sure it’s similar to what you guys are doing. It’s the same thing. It’s a new tool that helps people be more successful.
Mitch: So, like, in terms of, like, designing stores and so forth. I assume that there’s an architectural component to this as well. Where you’re helping kind of lay stores out. It is almost now, like, common practice of thinking of COVID. Of where you have to have something that guides traffic in certain areas, right when you walk in the door. So you’re either compliant, or you’re keeping people safe or you make people feel safe when they walk in the store now.
Andrew: That’s exactly it. And there’s multiple ways to do it. But you hit it right on the head. You have to make people feel safe. When a customer walks in a retail store, they make a decision in three to five seconds whether they’re comfortable shopping in that store. And this fact existed before COVID. So if you don’t execute on that, it doesn’t matter what else you’re doing. Because they’re either immediately going to turn around or in their mind they’ve already said, ‘I’m not buying something here.’ And they might kill a minute and finish.
Mitch: Yeah. Getting out. I’m hightailing it out of here.
Andrew: So, the design is a huge part of the success of a retail store. In creating an experiential environment, you’re going to see stores become smaller. So they’re not going to be, have as many products on the floor. So they’re going to have to use digital interfaces to offer solutions like endless aisle. Which is something where you can browse all their products, and even though they’re not on the shelf in the store they can ship it to you next-day, if it’s not there. Customers are also showing much more immediatification . And you can see this trend in everything from grocery stores to retail. For the desire to have a self-service option where they can walk into a store and make a purchase and not even talk to somebody at certain levels. So, between those things. Between things like social media integration in the store, beacon technology where you can pick up on who’s walking in the store, what their purchase history is, how to personalize that experience. And personalize is becoming a huge word in retail. You know, eliminating that barrier between the POS counter, the sales associate in the store, and the customer. And having it be that as soon as that customer walks in the door, it knows who you are. It knows what you typically buy in there. What you might even be in there for to purchase again. And then to make a real authentic experience for that customer. There are experts out there, and we’re starting to see this – when I first heard it, I was like, hmmm, because I’m a sales guy – who would say, the new priority in retail is customer engagement. And they would follow that with: not sales. Now for me, I had a hard time with that one. But as I digested it, as we saw that more and more, talked to more people, and talked to more of our customers, if you get the customer engagement piece down, you get the sales.
Mitch: Yeah, it follows it.
Andrew: But if you don’t, you won’t.
Mitch: It’s foundational. That’s a great, great point. So, one question I try to ask a few of my guests here, and you being a guy with a ton of retail experience. What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen in retail? Whether as a vendor, a customer, a partner, whatever. What’s kind of the craziest thing you’ve ever seen?
Andrew: (Laughs) Well, this is an easy one because it stuck in my mind the last year and a half. There is a cosmetics retailer in the UK called Lush. And one of their stores was trying to draw our attention to the fact that Lush is really big on sustainability and eliminating unnecessary packaging. And their employees in this particular store showed up one day with nothing on but aprons. And what I mean by nothing on, on the backside, they were not necessarily tied tight. So, um. And they took a picture outside the store, and they showed they literally ran the store that day dressed like that. So, I’d have to say that that would be the craziest thing.
Mitch: Careful if you drop something in that store, and people are picking it up, right?!
Andrew: They sent the message, that’s for sure. And they got attention.
Mitch: That’s for sure, yeah. Well, hey, Andrew. I appreciate your time. Very insightful. I think just the concepts you talked about with engagement and lifetime value are awesome. Especially in this day and age. Really appreciate you coming on today, Andrew.
Andrew: Hey, listen, it’s our pleasure. We love what Shift Lab is doing. We really believe that you guys have a great product to service, and it dovetails nicely into where retail is going. So congratulations to you guys, as well.
Mitch: Alright, well thanks, Andrew. Have a great day, buddy.
Andrew: You too, take care.
Andrew Pierce is the CEO of MINT, a team comprised of industry leaders and highly experienced executives in the best practices for retailers.