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The Not-So-Far-Out Future with Rightpoint’s Chief Commerce Officer, Phillip Jackson

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Okay, so sitting around trying to predict the future can be a pretty fun challenge. But for Phillip Jackson, the Chief Commerce Officer at Rightpoint and the Co-founder of Future Commerce, there’s no better way to spend a day — or an hour on a podcast. 

On this episode of Up Next in Commerce, Phillip and I went deep down the rabbit hole of all the crazy trends we’re currently seeing in the ecommerce world, and where we expect the industry to head next. From spotting innovation in the gaming community, building the ecommerce metaverse, or working with disruptor brands on high-risk, high-reward ideas to grow a digital community, we touched on it all. Plus, if you think big retail is dead, tune in to hear Phillip’s interesting take on how that is anything but true, and how the D2C brands currently praised on Twitter are nothing in comparison to the private revolution happening in places like Target and Walmart. Just check out the GMV if you don’t believe him! This was such a fun interview, and I loved getting the chance to pick the brain of another smart, forward-thinking podcast host and ecommerce enthusiast! Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Main Takeaways:

  • Retail Takeover: The private label revolution is all around us, you just have to know where to look! Hint: Check the quarterly earnings..
  • Coming Together: Brands love to say they built a community. And while that might be true, the problem is that all brand communities are currently siloed. The future of commerce will be more unified as brands continue to experiment with ways to create an ecommerce metaverse by blending different digital properties, platforms collectibles, and other elements together and making them available more broadly outside of specific channels.
  • Game On: To get a look at where the future of commerce and technology is headed, the best place to look is often in the gaming community, where innovation happens constantly and those innovations often find their way into the real world.
  • Failure is Always An Option: Ecommerce shouldn’t be boring, it should be filled with experimentation, risk-taking, and big swings. Historically, bigger brands have played it safe and stayed on the prescribed path, which has meant they have been left behind by the disruptor brands that are more willing to try, fail, learn, and try again.

For an in-depth look at this episode, check out the full transcript below. Quotes have been edited for clarity and length.

Key Quotes:

 

“There’s something really unique about commerce. We cannot live in this world without engaging in commerce. Commerce is a unifying power. It brings people of all income strata together, it brings people of all backgrounds together. You cannot live and participate in this world in any way without engaging in commerce. So if that’s true, and I believe that to be true, then commerce also has an incredible power to change the world.”

“There’s an evolution coming in that there are things that brands are testing right now, if you look like Gucci and Fortnight, there’s digital collectibles, digital identity, digital wearables. There’s all of these sorts of things that are siloed into their own respective little corners of the universe and there are some technologies… [like] NFTs and crypto, which could… allow for the migration of these kinds of things to port from one universe to the next.”

“​​Most technological innovation begins life by looking like a toy. So I think that Web 3 is certainly going to look very different to Web 2. I think it’s already here, but it looks like a game because you know what? It literally is. Most of these things are happening in gaming communities right now.”

“​​When we talk about the way we buy things, there’s still a lot of innovation left to be had in Web 2. I talk a lot about skeuomorphism, and the way that we build digital experiences largely parrot the analog and real life versions. I’ll give you a great example, for those who don’t know what skeuomorphism is, just a primer, it’s the desktop metaphor. It’s you have a desktop with files and folders and a recycling bin in your personal computer because that’s what analog workspaces looked like or maybe still look like. The longer that we have digital adoption, the more those metaphors begin to break down because we don’t need them anymore. Everybody understands now what an app is, and so if we think about the way that ecommerce has evolved, we have a very similar paradigm. We have categories which are virtual aisles and they drive to product information which could be the box that your product comes in and then we put that in a cart and we take that to a virtual checkout where we pay —it’s skeuomorphic. It is an analog of the real world. Now we have one click purchase which is like sort of the breaking down of the walls of that”

“A really interesting challenge in that point of view is me trying to understand the modern customer journey. Because I think there’s this hard-coded default of I grew up with Best Buy. I grew up with Target. I grew up with Walmart. I think there’s a lot of people like me who grew up with physical retail manifestation and those are the brands that you tend to reach for. In fact, they’re all ones who have performed dramatic turnarounds in ecommerce in the last 10 years. So what I think the direct to consumer era will remember, we will collectively remember the direct to consumer era as having done is really create incredible platforms for big retail to have exceptional branding and to find product-market fit with the consumer.”

“There’s something to be said about being intentionally absurdist in order to rise above the conversation and to distinguish yourself.”

“For those historical brands, big, beloved global conglomerates… it’s their first foray into ecommerce and ecommerce is a channel wherein …every single thing that you do can be quantified. Because everything can be quantified, we can measure and prove out hypotheses. The problem is that other parts of the business maybe aren’t so quantifiable and you have to adopt the mentality of a product management philosophy to operate ecommerce well, and you have to be willing to fail sometimes to learn. That’s the struggle here. That’s where disruptor brands have the advantage — the early movers and disruptors have zero fear of failure. They’re willing to take big swings and big risks. That’s why so much of ecommerce, especially at the global brand level, is so boring, it’s because they are not willing to take risks and make big swings and learn from failure.”

Mentions:

Bio:

Phillip Jackson is the Chief Commerce Officer at Rightpoint and the Co-founder of Future Commerce. As Chief Commerce Officer, Phillip acts as head of strategy, partnerships, and evangelism. He helps brands to define commerce goals, create digital strategies to meet those goals, and align tactics that drive results. With over 15 years of experience creating unique online customer experiences, he has both built and managed eCommerce for some of the world’s most recognizable brands.

Up Next in Commerce is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. Respond quickly to changing customer needs with flexible Ecommerce connected to marketing, sales, and service. Deliver intelligent commerce experiences your customers can trust, across every channel. Together, we’re ready for what’s next in commerce. Learn more at salesforce.com/commerce

 

Transcript:

Stephanie:

Hello and welcome back to Up Next in Commerce. I’m your host, Stephanie Postles, CEO at Mission.org. Today on the show, we have Phillip Jackson, who currently serves as the chief commerce officer at Rightpoint and the co-founder of Future Commerce. Hello. Welcome to the show.

Phillip:

Thank you Stephanie. It’s a pleasure to be here and for once I’m off the hook and I’m not having to host my own podcast. I get to be on the other side of the table. This is quite an honor, thank you.

Stephanie:

Yeah, how does it feel? Whenever I get invited to shows I’m like, “Oh, I don’t know. I’m used to asking the questions.” Like I don’t know how I feel about that. So how does it feel for you?

Phillip:

To be honest with you, I’m actually sweating a little bit. I’m kind of nervous. I don’t know what to do with myself if I don’t open with, “Welcome to Future Commerce, the podcast about cutting edge [inaudible].” I’ve got a whole pitter patter.

Stephanie:

Yep. Yep. I love that.

Phillip:

So yeah. I’m vulnerable right now.

Stephanie:

[inaudible] vulnerable, that’s what I want. So I want to hear how you even got into the world of commerce because everywhere you look, you’re deep in that world. You can tell you love it, you can tell you’re very knowledgeable. Tell me a bit of background of what do you think got you interested in this world?

Phillip:

Well, so I have some high-minded responses to that. The way I got started was I accepted a job at a startup in 2005 which was doing B2B online ecommerce and they … They were like in the web to print space. Everybody was doing that at the time, Snapfish was increasingly popular, and they were trying to break into B2B. I was a developer and I found that that was like a really interesting little niche to be involved in and believe it or not South Florida is actually kind of a hotbed for startup activity. It doesn’t get enough credibility but especially in wellness, there’s a lot of wellness that came out of South Florida, especially digitally native brands in the early aughts. So you had like Vitacost and Garden of Life and a bunch of others and they were cutting their teeth in ecommerce before anybody else was. I say like wellness brands are like the new pornographers, they like increasingly … They try everything, they’re very rapid adopters of any kind of technology and like the stack that you deploy today, the playbook you put into … The direct to consumer playbook was something that I was building in businesses back in 2007-2008, back when we had to build everything from scratch.

Phillip:

That’s sort of how I got started. Then we had like the platform revolution where the platform sort of solved all those problems where ecommerce was custom software for the longest time, and that’s sort of how I came up into it. I realized along the way, just to answer your actual question, that there’s something really unique about commerce. We cannot live in this world without engaging in commerce. Commerce is a unifying power. It brings people of all income strata together, it brings people of all backgrounds together. You cannot live and participate in this world in any way without engaging in commerce. So if that’s true, and I believe that to be true, then commerce also has an incredible power to change the world. Because it touches everything and so I really feel like if we take a step back, the way that we engage in commerce as merchants and the ecosystem that’s around merchants and the technology that powers the way that we market and the way that we deliver products to customers and the way that we retain and nurture those relationships is actually one of the most important forces that we have in this world to do good or to do harm.

Phillip:

So that’s what got me interested is like there’s a big problem to solve here for, it’s not just about buying stuff, it’s about how we can exert a force for good on the world and yeah. So I’m doing that in a bunch of different ways today.

Stephanie:

I love that. So tell us a bit about some of the different ways that you’re engaging in that arena.

Phillip:

On one hand, there’s sort of the right now of ecommerce, and the right now of ecommerce is a lot of things are changing. We’re coming through an era where more brands are trying to go direct than ever before, they want to implement platforms and software to do that. So big global CPG companies need guidance there and they don’t want to take risks unnecessarily, they want some certainty around the way that they go to market there, and they’re looking for partners to do that. So through Rightpoint Commerce, I’m helping to create offerings and lead solutions and strategy for those kinds of brand, the big globals, the chocolate and water companies of the world, who are trying to go direct.

Phillip:

That’s not to say that there aren’t companies doing other things but that’s a good portion of what we do. So that’s what’s happening right now. I also have … It gives me a strategic vantage point where you … I see the RFPs of who’s going to be spending money on what in the next two to five years and sort of kind of think about where the market’s going. But I think that then there’s sort of what happens after that, and that’s really what Future Commerce is all about. My co-founder and I Brian Lange sort of accidentally founded a media startup.

Stephanie:

I love that.

Phillip:

As one does, where we accidentally … We created a podcast just to have these conversations about what might be happening in the world of commerce and what’s next in commerce and we were really thinking out five or ten years of like where is the world going, how is technology powering it and what does the next commerce experience sort of look like and we kind of … We told those stories over now five years. We realize though that everybody has a different perspective on that and everybody has a different part to play in it and so we’re at 260 some odd episodes of Future Commerce as a podcast and these days we publish media five days a week across a slew of properties.

Stephanie:

Wow. That’s awesome. That’s a lot of content.

Phillip:

So yeah. So it’s two sides of the world and at the end of the day it’s sort of either delivering a service or telling a story that helps someone else to deliver on a promise.

Stephanie:

I love that. So when thinking about the crazy ideas around commerce right now, like you said you got to see these big RFPs, you see what some brands are betting on. You can kind of see where things are headed. What are maybe some surprising trends that our audience maybe hasn’t even heard about yet or they should maybe be prepping for?

Phillip:

It’s hard to say that this audience probably hasn’t heard about something because I think we are all tuned in to some of the same outlets. You’ve probably heard a ton about the metaverse recently, which is … Sort of makes me squint a little bit because it’s another market buzzword that doesn’t mean much of anything. Metaverse actually touches three or four different unique concepts. I think one is … There’s certainly an element of digital identity and the importance of digital identity today. Digital community certainly has a part to play in that as well, and digital communities in particular is kind of a pillar for creating a modern brand today. So I think that as those things grow, they’re all extremely siloed. So you see a lot of direct to consumer brands say they have a community. What they have is a Slack or a Discord. Let’s just be really honest, right? I’m part of one of them. Tracksmith is a brand that I love. I’m a runner, I spend too much money on running clothes, and I shop with this brand called Tracksmith. They tell amazing stories. Matt Taylor, the founder, just a really genuine person and they have some of the best photography and their clothes are pretty good.

Phillip:

Their Slack allows me to connect with other people. I don’t idle and I don’t live in it forever, I’m not there all day long every day. That community is incredibly siloed from other brand communities that I’m part of, and I think that there is an evolution that’s coming and this is where everybody … It gets very confusing about what metaverse means. There’s an evolution coming in that there are things that brands are testing right now, if you look like Gucci and Fortnight, there’s digital collectibles, digital identity, digital wearables. There’s all of these sorts of things that are siloed into their own respective little corners of the universe and there are some technologies which everybody will probably collectively gag at when I say NFTs and crypto which could, I don’t know if they will, which could allow for the migration of these kinds of things to port from one universe to the next. So when you say metaverse, it’s how does my identity in the Tracksmith community to take some portion of my identity at Tracksmith and the community I have there and now bring that into another space. I would love to have Tracksmith running clothes on in Fortnight. Wouldn’t that be freaking cool?

Phillip:

But whether consumers want that or not is a whole other thing and I think we have a long way to go and a big hill to climb there but I think when you think about what metaverse means, it actually … There are things that we are doing today that I think pave the way for what the next iteration of commerce-centered activity could be. So we’re thinking a lot about that. Some of that is fractional ownership. Some of that is the concept of like the digital commons and like what we all owe to each other in digital spaces and like how we participate in online versus offline and IRL behavior in the world. Yeah. So these are things that we think about and that’s one thing we talk about on Future Commerce that I think is … One of those real head turners.

Stephanie:

Yep. I love that. I mean anyone who listens to this knows I’m very bullish on all things crypto, I always try and get my guests to talk about it. NFTs, I’m still trying to fully figure out. I can definitely see really good use cases. I had on someone from a headphone company called Dome and they’re doing these like interchangeable headphone covers with like brands and work with Gucci and all these other brands. I’m thinking like, “Okay, there could be an amount of 10. Like you have 10 of these types of designs, you can put them as NFTs. Download them and get them on your cover.” I can see use cases but it’s hard for me to see a ton right now and maybe it’s because of the hype and no one was talking about it and it’s kind of back now. How are you thinking that ecommerce companies can think about using NFTs or where do you even see them being able to play with that outside of just designs and music files and things like that?

Phillip:

So I mean the short answer is I don’t think we really know. NBA Top Shot was certainly the consumer awareness inflection point around NFT. So that’s our Pokemon Go moment. It’s like, “Oh, we have this idea of what something could be.” Unfortunately, it also kind of digs a little bit of a trench as to like this is what it is. Like digital collectible is one thing. What I see happening with some of the launch of the new NFT projects is the way that they’re gaining traction or the way that they’re amassing an audience is by ceding some of their digital collectibles of like the first round of new issuance of NFT tokens. They’re ceding it to people who are already notable collectors in the space because you can just do that. If I want to do who owns a CryptoPunk or a [inaudible], I can do that. I can find out who that is today. I may not know who’s behind it, but I know their wallet address, I know who they are.

Phillip:

Because they coalesce into communities, and what’s really powerful here is imagine launching a podcast, Stephanie, where you can go to your most prolific consumers of podcasts and cede to them the most recent version of an episode. Like that is a thing that today podcast discovery is only happening via really word of mouth. You can spend money on performance, you can try to do a bunch of organic SEO, you can try to hype it up on Twitter, literally everybody has a podcast, nobody cares. You’re not just competing with stuff that’s being made today. You’re competing with the totality of all information that’s ever been made ever, and nobody has to be bored anymore. So the way that you get things into people’s hands is really like this public exchange of like wallet and ownership. I think that there’s something there around the way that these communities become very public in the way that they frequent and maybe co-own brands in the future. Because part of NFTs is built on smart contracts, and smart contracts are a part of the Ethereum network, which means … Which also has a concept of decentralized, autonomous organizations and these DAOs theoretically could group people that are like-minded into organizations that you could cede your next podcast to.

Phillip:

So I do think that there are use cases that exist outside of just like digital collectibles, but we’re a decade away from really understanding if that’s even possible or whether consumers are going to really want it. I do know like … It’s not an original thought, but most technological innovation begins life by looking like a toy. So I think that Web 3 is certainly going to look very different to Web 2. I think it’s already here, but it looks like a game because you know what? It literally is. Like most of these things are happening in gaming communities right now.

Stephanie:

Yep. Yeah, I’m continuing to watch them closely and also watching like how Cardano is kind of rising in popularity now and like what is that going to do to the NFT game and at what point can you actually rely on other smart contracts?

Stephanie:

The other interesting thing to think about is I’m imagining us looking back in 10 years at people buying emails and like going to emails that are just bad and buying phone numbers and then just thinking about the amount of contacts people have that are usually bad ones if it’s just all associated with one address, like you said knowing that when you have an email there, it’s because someone wants you to have it and there is no just sending things out in bulk or mailing things out, whatever it may be. It seems like it will be an interesting time looking back when it is very much a one to one relationship, which is what everyone wants, but like you said, the early days of how technology looks, it’s either a game or it’s so dang hard to use. I mean I remember buying bitcoin back in 2011 and it was such a weird process. I was like, “I could be doing something illegal here but I’m going to try it anyways.”

Phillip:

Congratulations on all your success by the way, bitcoin in 2011.

Stephanie:

Thank you, yeah. It was actually a great story because I was working at Fannie Mae for the chief economist there and I said, “Hey, I think we should look at this because there’s so much money that’s wasted on like checking titles and like land and all these things.” I’m like, “If you could [inaudible] in a blockchain we should at least explore it because there’s so much money wasted here.” He literally laughed at me. I was kind of like an intern and he essentially was like, “You’re crazy. That’s a scam.” I was like, “Great. I’m going to go buy a couple of them now.” Okay. We’ll see.

Phillip:

Yeah, that’s exactly all the confirmation I needed. I agree with you. We have just actually talked … Not to cut you off, but I think that when we talk about the way we buy things, there’s still lot of innovation left to be had in Web 2. Because we struggle in building online … I talk a lot about skeuomorphism, and the way that we build digital experiences largely parrot the analog and real life versions. I’ll give you a great example, for those who don’t know what skeuomorphism is, just a primer, it’s the desktop metaphor. It’s you have a desktop with files and folders and recycling bin in your personal computer because that’s what analog workspaces looked like or maybe still look like. The longer that we have digital adoption, the more those metaphors begin to break down because we don’t need them anymore. Everybody understands now what an app is, and so if we think about the way that ecommerce has evolved, we have a very similar paradigm. We have categories which are virtual aisles and they drive to product information which could be the box that your product comes in and then we put that in a cart and we take that to a virtual checkout where we pay …

Phillip:

These are all, it’s skeuomorphic. It is an analog of the real world. Now we have one click purchase which is like sort of the breaking down of the walls of that … What we don’t have is online price clubs, and I see that there’s … Through the research that we’ve done at Rightpoint, we just put out this research piece called Stocking Up and Seeking Out. We found that currently right now, there’s two behavioral modes that customers are engaging in which are underserved by online ecommerce experiences. The first is there are customers with a certain sensibility in certain categories who are not being served in the stocking up buying modality. When I go to Costco, I am in search of a product that I already know and love and trust and I just want a whole bunch of it and that’s my buying mode. It’s typically the kinds of products you’ll find at a Costco. It’s your daily use, high frequency, fast moving consumer goods, and they’re generally made by large brands. It is not a subscription, which is what most ecommerce wants you to do. Ecommerce builders today will build a subscription model and say, “Congratulations customer,” but it’s self-serving because that serves the brand, it doesn’t serve the customer. What the customer wants is maybe not to create so much waste in the world and maybe they want to have a pantry full of Degree deodorant, like that’s just what they want.

Phillip:

So I feel like that’s very underserved and what we find is that there are certain product categories wherein we … That presents to be true, beauty and wellness in particular, there are … You see this expressed, my spouse. She has the same mascara for 20 years and she cannot be convinced to change it. It works for her and she doesn’t want to … She’s not going to muck it up. But she will actively, when she wants to buy a new black shirt, she’ll buy from seven different brands and have a little home try-on and then probably never return any of them. So the way that we purchase is very different from category to category and then even more different based on household income and stage of life.

Phillip:

Then there’s the seeking out, and I feel like we are also very underserved in a lot of these digitally native brands where we would be persuaded to want to shop from other like-minded brands and you’re seeing this sort of play out in post-purchase co-selling and the seeking out behavior is I could be convinced to purchase from another brand that would be complementary in a low risk way. Certainly if it was before the buy box or even after and post-purchase, and you see some folks out there that are in the startup space that are proving this out now with post-purchase upsell, co-op commerce is one of them. There are plenty of others that are trying to prove this out. I think in the next four to five years, we’ll see a lot more direct to consumer brands transform more into marketplaces where they’re co-selling, co-acquiring customers together.

Phillip:

Just all that to say, sorry, I went on a big tangent there. All that to say is that those are the same types of buying modalities that you see in NFTs and crypto too. There’s people that are seeking out new projects and there’s people that are doubling down on the proven ones. So there’s no behavioral change from one version of the web to the next. I think it’s understanding how those buying dynamics are actually shaping how those communities form that will change in the next 10 years.

Stephanie:

Yep. I’m even thinking about this article now. I mean when you’re talking about these co-ops and brands all going together on marketplaces, I’m thinking about this great article and it was all around like bundling and unbundling and for a while everything was like getting unbundled and maybe one big product would turn into five. But now it seems like the reverse has to start happening because there’s so many products that have launched over the past couple years. Discoverability seems really hard. You can go even on Amazon and there’s like five of the same different types of tank tops and I’m just like your wife, I’m like, “I’ll try all five.” I actually returned though. I don’t just sit on all five, not normally.

Phillip:

I’ll connect the two of you. She could probably learn how to figure that out.

Stephanie:

Step one, just return them. But yeah, it just seems like there’s a lot of room for that. But then you have seen these marketplaces popping up and we’ve had a couple on this show. But I don’t see a lot of them maybe fully taking off and I don’t know why. I’m trying to think about why aren’t people … Maybe they’re not ready yet to go to a marketplace and buy because they’re still kind of in this hype, excited phase of like, “I just want to find the brands with the best stories and buy directly from their website or wherever it is.” But I haven’t seen the marketplaces doing what maybe I would think they should have done by now with all these new D2C consumers.

Phillip:

I mean let’s not forget that … I believe that we have hard, hard coded and ingrained defaults. I feel I’m of a prior era. I’m old. I’ll just admit that right now. I’m a Zennial, not a Zillennial, but a Zennial. I’m like a cusper.

Stephanie:

A Zennial?

Phillip:

Yeah, I’m a cusper. I was born in 1980. I was between the Gen X and millennial eras. I grew up in a world that had MTV and then also AOL. Like I was kind of between having a life that was purely not digital and then a career that was purely digital. So I remember what the world used to be like before. It’s a really interesting challenge when you think about

Phillip:

A really interesting challenge in that point of view is me trying to understand the modern customer journey. Because I think there’s this hard-coded default of I grew up with Best Buy. I grew up with Target. I grew up with Walmart. I think there’s a lot of people like me who grew up with physical retail manifestation and those are the brands that you tend to reach for. In fact, they’re all ones who have performed dramatic turnarounds in ecommerce in the last 10 years. So what I think the direct to consumer era will remember, we will collectively remember the direct to consumer era as having done is really create incredible platforms for big retail to have exceptional branding and to find product-market fit with the consumer. There was a new pet food launch at Target which you could have convinced me was like the new venture-backed. It’s called Kindful, new venture-backed darling pet food brand. There’s a private label revolution that’s happening in all of these, whether they’re acquired or created from within, both in Walmart and Target respectively. Each of them individually have GMV of those brands that far eclipse any of the direct to consumer darlings that we praise on Twitter all day long. Those brands barely, barely ever clear $20 or 30 million online and wind up having to go Omni Channel for them to be able to grow and succeed.

Phillip:

So physical retail and those latent defaults that we have for physical shopping also then translate to digital. If you don’t believe me, just go look at quarterly earnings and how much of it’s coming from ecommerce revenue shift for a Target or a Walmart or a Lowe’s or Home Depot and it proves the point. Customers who shop in real life will shop digitally within real life brands, and I think that that’s a thing that for us to succeed in ecommerce, we all have to just sort of recognize that this direct to consumer era is really proving out of a concept that there can be 150 brands in the same category that a consumer is aware of and will frequent. The pie is growing bigger for everybody, but at the end of the day, big retail is going to succeed and big retail will probably be the chief benefactor of that era.

Stephanie:

Yep, yep, yeah. I completely agree. I mean I think about … It definitely seems like a media issue too. Like you said around a lot of these brands, kind of like the hype around [inaudible] and like don’t go on Amazon, don’t do Omni Channel, like this is the way of the future. I’ve always just thought like, “Well why wouldn’t you try?” Like if you can get into Nordstrom, you probably should, because I’m so loving Nordstrom right now. I’m so going to go there and if anything now I’m seeing kind of a big shift in people kind of going back to where they were. I even read a whole thing in like Austin right now, like people don’t want to stay working from home. I mean they thought they did, they did a whole survey, it’s like people want to get back in the office. I know me especially, three kids under four at the house, no thank you. I had to get a different office.

Phillip:

Get me out of here.

Stephanie:

Yeah, like help, SOS, anyone hear me? So I just think that a lot of people are going to kind of go back to where they were, and pull back the model, like they want in-person, they want events, they want to go shopping, and now there’s just a new added way to do that and getting even better brands, like within the Targets and the Walmarts that they just weren’t thinking that way before.

Phillip:

I had a founder on our Future Commerce podcast. She operates this online … It’s called Bar and Cocoa, it’s a fine chocolate retailer. She was talking about how we form preferences around things like chocolate before … At a very, very, very early age. When you’re quite young, you can eat chocolate and the kind of chocolate you eat when you’re young creates this preference and an understanding of what you think chocolate is or should be, and therefore it’s like really hard to change your perception of what chocolate can be at a much later stage in life. Unlike beer or wine or coffee, which are all acquired tastes that come much, much later in life. But chocolate is a thing that you eat at two, three, four, five years old.

Phillip:

When I talk to my kids about buying, like my kids, who are nine and ten, even though their dad is in ecommerce and we get an Amazon package every flipping day of the week on our doorstep and I buy direct from two dozen plus brands, I already admitted my affinity for Tracksmith here. Like I buy from brands all the time, I get stuff in my mailbox and on my doorstep from every brand under the sun. My kids believe that shopping is something you go out of the house to do, and I think that there’s something that’s really, really interesting about that as a thought experiment is that our defaults, our habits are formed and our preferences are formed around things like that, at a much earlier age than I think we even realized. They’re spending money that is not theirs, they’re spending my money, and that’s the kind of thought that led us to create this consumer persona at Future Commerce called CARLY, which is sort of a send-up of HENRY, you’ve probably heard of HENRY, which is High Earner Not Rich Yet. CARLY is Can’t Afford Real Life Yet. There is a tremendous amount of buying power that happens for children that are under the age of 18 who spend lots of money and their social setting is in a place of retail and maybe in the future in a metaverse context my kids hang out in [inaudible], right?

Phillip:

But there are purchase decisions that are being made around that, and I think that’s going to be incredibly hard to disrupt. So the brick and mortar naysayers I think are going to be in for a little bit of a surprise and by the way, most of them also happen to be investors in direct to consumer brands, so consider the source, right? But that’s our take. And probably not a very controversial one to be honest with you.

Stephanie:

Not anymore. Maybe like a year ago it would have been.

Phillip:

Maybe, yeah.

Stephanie:

Yeah, I completely agree with all that. I’m even thinking about too, when these big brands are acquiring D2C companies, it also helps with like the brand trust issue. I mean you guys wrote this whole article on future commerce about how … Like I want to trust the brand like the [inaudible]. It’s got a huge label with a thousand things on it and maybe two years ago, people would be like, “Oh, what is that?” But now that’s kind of like a source of trust, seeing those brands and being like, “They gave me so much information. They’re like a small mom and pop brand.” I’m doing air quotes because they’re not today, but that also gives these big brands kind of a different kind of trust that maybe they didn’t have a year or two ago because you’d see labels where you’re like, “I’d actually rather go for the small thing, and it’s not a D2C world yet but I’d rather choose that because it seems more trusting than a huge brand.” So big benefits all around.

Phillip:

I think so. Well think about it this way too. It aligns with a little bit of a maximalist aesthetic that’s happening at the moment that’s a little bit … Something I would have probably called like brutalist design. Like something intentionally counter-cultural. If my co-founder Brian Lange were on here, he would be talking about Ben Schott’s Blanding article and sort of this idea of … This homogenization of millennial aesthetic. The fact is is that … There will always be the need for visual design to distinguish itself to stand out from the pack, and things come in cycles so … You look at these brands like Dr. Bronner’s or Ms. Meyer’s and they didn’t come in primary packaging. Like the label was the package, and from a prior era where you had to cover a lot of ground purely on the label of like here’s the use cases. I mean just look at a box of Jiffy cornbread. It’s got like the provenance of where it came from, it has like three recipes on it. It covers a lot of ground and we try to do that through content marketing and performance today and like UGC and in reality I think there’s a lot to learn from them in the way that they had to succinctly and … Well maybe not so succinctly, like cram all of that onto a label.

Phillip:

The maximalist thing, that maximalist aesthetic is a counter-cultural reaction to the elegance of minimalism that has been happening in the millennial aesthetic over the past few years. We dub that at Future Commerce as like the new dadaists. There’s something to be said about being intentionally absurdist in order to rise above the conversation and to distinguish yourself. I think those are … I might be conflating a few, we could have a long conversation as to why I’m conflating a bunch of different ideas, but just to give you a flavor of … They are standouts for a reason and they are becoming trustworthy for a reason and that’s because they are markedly different from everything else that you are being fed at the moment. So yeah, the pendulum is certainly swinging back.

Stephanie:

Yep. What are some examples of absurd marketing or labels or just companies you’re watching where you’re like, “Yep. That’s the perfect example.”

Phillip:

Yeah. Okay, well gosh, there’s no shortage of absurdism. The one that everyone’s going to hold up and certainly was going to be hard to not to talk about in this context is MSCHF. I think from a cultural touchstone, with the Lil Nas X Satan shoe, they certainly were able to create a viral moment in the culture that garnered a lot of attention. But the fact is is that … Like if I had to label a brand, if you want to call them a brand, as like a true dadaist. Dadaism by the way for those who aren’t up to speed was an artistic movement with folks like Marcel Duchamp and some others that sort of intentionally made art that was provocative as a reaction against an otherwise gate-kept elegant art movement. Very famously there was a piece, especially if you read the Wikipedia article about it, there’s a piece called Fountain which was a urinal turned on its side. If you were to have used it, you probably would have urinated on yourself. That is an artistic expression of art is … That art was absurd and to make a statement on using the medium as a meta-statement as the … Just the moment that was happening in art at the time.

Phillip:

I think MSCHF does that quite well in that they’re using the medium of products and brand to make a statement on the current state of products and brand and Gabriel Whaley who’s the founder there is I would say a true dadaist. But when you think about just maximalism in general or absurdism in general, I mean KFC certainly comes to mind. Absurdism as a means of attention grabbing. They had a short run web series with Mario Lopez as like a heartthrob version of Colonel Sanders last year.

Stephanie:

Oh, I think I remember this. Yeah.

Phillip:

You can pretty much count on KFC doing something over the top every month or so. There was a gaming PC that they put out with a chicken strips warmer and a tray in the bottom. There’s a movement on Twitter, a few folks who are sort of famous for it in the BC space like Alex Cohen, [Trung Phan], Turner Novak, who literally everything they say is absurd and cannot be taken seriously and that’s part of their brand. If they were to post in earnest or if they were to be sincere, no one would believe them because that is core to their brand and who they’ve created a personal identity around. You’re not going to see Mrs. Meyers try to be absurdist because no one would believe it. It would come off as being … It just wouldn’t believable. You have to almost create an entire universe wherein your brand exists to be absurd. That is actually quite interesting right now because you’re seeing it everywhere from fast food to product startups to even CBD brands.

Phillip:

I think it’s going to be really interesting to watch that play out but you have to kind of world build and again, like it’s not just brands, and I think that’s the thing that we’re trying to not talk about. It’s not just about those trying to sell products to you. I think this is actually a cultural expression. There is a Facebook group I got invited to, Stephanie, that was … People that were just pretending like they’re part of an ant colony.

Stephanie:

Can I join? It sounds like –

Phillip:

Yeah, you should. It’s two million people who are … They’ll post a picture of a Tootsie pop and be like lick and let’s carry it back to the queen.

Stephanie:

Oh my god. First, why did you get invited to this? How did they know? [inaudible]

Phillip:

I need new friends, that’s why. I have some strange friends. But I think it’s just happening on every level. I mean certainly even I would say sort of the revival of Crocs, even some folks are trying to bring JNCO jeans back. I think all of it is just how can we revolt against what’s happening now and what is mainstream now in a way that visually and maybe even spiritually distinguishes us from everybody else. It’s not just a branding thing. I think it’s just a natural reaction of people in the culture.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). So when you’re at Rightpoint, do you have big brands coming to you, saying like, “I want to be absurd. I want to do crazy things.”

Phillip:

Absolutely not.

Stephanie:

No? Okay, they’re like, “I don’t want to do anything outside the box,” and then you’re telling them to be absurd? What does that look like when you’re consulting with them?

Phillip:

The conversation isn’t how do we be more absurd. I think the conversation is definitely how do we set ourselves apart. The setting yourself apart is really a conversation about risk tolerance. It’s we have to adopt, especially for those historical brands, big, beloved global conglomerates, who don’t want … It’s their first foray into ecommerce and ecommerce is a channel wherein everything is incredibly measurable I should say. Every single thing that you do can be quantified. Because everything can be quantified, we can measure and prove out hypotheses. The problem is is that other parts of the business maybe aren’t so quantifiable and you have to adopt the mentality of a product management philosophy to operate ecommerce well, and you have to be willing to fail sometimes to learn.

Phillip:

That’s the struggle here. That’s where disruptor brands, pardon me, disruptor brands have the advantage is that the early movers and disruptors have zero fear of failure. They’re willing to take big swings and big risks. That’s why so much of ecommerce, especially at the sort of global brand level, is so boring, is because they are not willing to take risks and make big swings and learn from failure. So they’re not coming to me saying, “How can we absurd?” But I am certainly going to them and saying, “How can we take bigger risks? How can we fail faster and try to do things a little bit differently or to do things that don’t scale in order to try to prove whether we should be putting an investment into it.” They’re all trying to figure out what a five year plan is and not what a five month plan is and unfortunately, you can really … A lot changes in five years. Think about where we were five years ago in ecommerce.

Stephanie:

I’ll trust five year plans.

Phillip:

No, you shouldn’t. They’re garbage.

Stephanie:

[inaudible]. Or a one year plan. Like tell me what you’re doing in three months.

Phillip:

Even a one year plan. I do think some things need to be five year plans. I’ll give you a good example without mentioning the client. There are global brands here today who are actually quite invested in ecommerce but the way that they’ve gone about it is to license their ecommerce work out to partners all over the globe. If you are that kind of a brand and you’re thinking about what the future of your ecommerce growth looks like, maybe your plan is to bring all of that back in-house under a merchant of record program, and that means you need to hire and build an organization and you need to have some strategy and you need to execute that from end to end, it’s not just about customer experience, it’s also about order to cash and accounting and how do we fulfill and what’s cold storage. It becomes like an incredibly complex program and you’ve never been a merchant before. Ever. You think, “Oh, we’re just going to turn on ecommerce.” Well you’ve had a partner running your ecommerce in every different region, 24 partners all over the world who have been doing that for you for years and you’re just starting.

Phillip:

Some things can’t move so fast. The problem is that like the evolution of that brand, or the products in that brand, at the brand management level, is changing so quickly and yeah. By the way, if you’ve worked with those folks and I’m sure you have, there is a whole lot of thinkers and visionaries and very few doers, and we really are struggling in ecommerce, especially with all the growth recently, in like staffing projects. Like there is so few hands to actually do work. That’s going to be a big challenge especially coming into Q4 next year. We don’t have enough people to handle the amount of demand that we’re having in digital commerce right now. That’s across the board, it’s marketers, it’s copywriters, it’s everybody. It’s logistics and supply chain, it’s developers, it’s everybody. I think that that will severely hinder our ability to be able to move at the speed that the consumer wants you to move. So that’s going to be a harder challenge to solve for and I think it’s going to require a whole lot of cross-disciplinary and career shift in our industry and like wouldn’t it be amazing if we had more humorists and comedy writers and people who are adept communicators in other ways, like moving to ecommerce to help us tick up CX to the next level so it’s not just install this tool and set off. We really need more of the creative type. I digress, sorry.

Stephanie:

I always do think there’s pockets of people that we just can’t see how they relate or we can’t get to them. So like they’re all out there. It just might not be in your industry. Like you said –

Phillip:

I’m going to ask you, I have to turn this around because I have a thought which is … There’s the sort of like up next in commerce, the future commerce. There’s like a lot of places where you could spend your attention in retail trade media or business-focused media. How would you characterize trying to activate someone into listening to podcasts or consuming business-focused content who isn’t prone to do so already? Is that something that’s on your mind? Like how do you do that?

Stephanie:

Yeah. I mean I think one, thinking about building out that network. So we have a network of 17 shows and I think being able to bring people in in different ways is a great place to start because you have a lot of shows but also similar people writing them and we have a very nice network of guests that we can bring on. So I think right there you can kind of bring people on even if they wouldn’t maybe always think about listening to a commerce show and they were at a marketing trends show for instance. Still pretty similar, they just might not have thought to go there. So I mean I think that’s one way that we’re thinking about it, and then … I mean the other way is social is always helpful. I think discoverability can be great there if you lean into that big. We haven’t always because we go after … For a lot of our shows, like executives, we’re bringing on CMOs and CTOs and CIOs and so we’re going after people who want to hear from them and learn from them. So it’s a little bit different, not a lot of executives are always on Instagram per se, so we have to think about a social strategy a bit different.

Stephanie:

Then I mean ads are still a big thing like you mentioned early on. That’s still the best way for us but we’ve also built up our entire own ad network to even do that. We never do traditional ads anymore, we don’t do Facebook ads and Google ads, it’s too expensive. We can’t even get to the people that you want. So we just end up building our own thing. So I think that’s kind of the way of the future is like building your own thing for whoever you want to get in front of to be able to find your audience, find your people, connect with them in different ways, and then I still think events are a big thing. I think they’re going to come back really strong and people get to really see your personality and interact and do some wine tastings and we’ve had huge success with doing events and recording them, so I’m bullish on that coming back, even though things feel crazy right now. Still bullish on that.

Phillip:

All of those answers I think are … You have direct parallels to trying to acquire an ecommerce, digital commerce customer. It’s the same challenge, like there is I think a fixed pool of people that listen to podcasts and specifically like business media and we all share that from that pool. It’s not a growing pool I don’t believe, not after eight years of doing podcasts and so like my challenge that I’ve leveled to our team is how do we create the next generation of a prolific trade media consumer? Because no one’s trying to create that listener, they’re all just trying to get more attention from the same pool. I feel like that’s the same challenge that we have in ecommerce is how do we create a digital commerce customer? How do we create someone who is not prone to buy online who needs an externality like a COVID to actually be … To have their hand forced to be able to dabble in it. How do we take that same sort of … They’re the same challenge. They’re different expressions of it, but it’s the same challenge. Anyway –

Stephanie:

Maybe going back to the basics then. [inaudible] I was like how can you go back to the basics of when thinking about podcasting. Okay, radio is still huge. So how do you get yourself syndicated on radio? Like that’s something we’re currently working on right now because a lot of people still listen. People say radio’s dead, it’s for sure not. So like maybe going there. Same thing with ecommerce. Why not about going the mail stuff to people’s homes? Everyone’s home now, everyone’s working from home. Get back to the basics of maybe what was popular because I can see a lot of that coming back right now and then also focusing on the big new things. The fortnights, the clubhouse, I don’t think that’s really cool anymore.

Phillip:

I don’t know if that’s cool anymore.

Stephanie:

[inaudible] I’m very sorry.

Phillip:

I was super excited about it for a minute.

Stephanie:

Yeah, I was for a minute as well. Then I was like, “And I’m out.” But I think there are some platforms that are always fun to experiment on and kind of just imagine like what could it look like if you were to bring your brand there and yeah. I do think the VR aspect of that could be very cool if you can operate not only as a brand but also a media company where people want to come, interact with you, consume your content, and possibly by your stuff as well. Like you have to have that full … Yeah, how to think about that. A full experience.

Phillip:

Yeah. I agree fully. This has been so good for me to not have to be in the host chair. I really have appreciated it. I will say this. Like the thing you just said is I think sort of the key right now which is we as a … So we’re building a media brand, you operate a media brand. All of media is trying to become, is trying to move towards a world wherein you have … I shouldn’t say all of media. I’m trying not to use blanket terms and it’s not going so well for me. But I think media has this opportunity to move more towards commerce, and commerce has this opportunity to move more toward retail and I think give it a few years and it’s going to become really indistinguishable of what any brand is because they are seamlessly both media and retail. We are well-positioned right now to be at the intersection of both. Because we are creating the commerce experiences of the next five years right now and we are talking about what those commerce experiences will look like in the future and I think that that’s a really exciting place to be in the world at this exact moment.

Stephanie:

Yep, yep. I agree. Well Phillip, this has been an awesome conversation. I’ll definitely have to bring you back for round two or join your show. We’ll find a way to hang out.

Phillip:

We’ll do it.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Where can people find out more about you and learn from all the cool work you’re doing?

Phillip:

Yeah. Futurecommerce.fm or anywhere where podcasts are found, Future Commerce and subscribe to [inaudible] which is our weekly newsletter and Insiders which is my very long form essay I put out every week, deep dive, and hey, we would love to … If you’re looking to build one of those commerce experiences that are a bit absurd maybe question mark, we don’t know.

Stephanie:

Question mark.

Phillip:

Then yeah, visit us over at rightpoint.com and I’d love to have a conversation about CX and commerce with you.

Stephanie:

Amazing. Thanks so much.

Phillip:

Thank you so much.

Episode 139