The Future of Retail Leadership | Future Shop Podcast EP18
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In this episode:
Wendy Liebmann discusses the expertise, mindset and agility retail leaders will need in the future with Professor Stephan Kanlian, Chairperson of FIT’s Master’s Program in Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing and Management, and Morgan Hagney, AVP, Maybelline New York.
- Critical capabilities required in the new phygital retail environment
- The urgency to build consumer- and shopper-centric organizations
- How to deal with a fluid and fast accelerating channel strategy
- The need for a broader global perspective as context for change
- The social role brands must play today
- The future of supply chain and emerging agile technologies
Hello, I'm Wendy Liebmann, CEO and Chief Shopper at WSL Strategic Retail and this is Future Shop. The topic today is leadership -- specifically, who are the new leaders we need in our organizations to show us the future of retail and even more importantly, to lead us to the future of retail.
Retail is at a crossroads. During the pandemic, a lot of retailers and a lot of retail chains in the United States became a part of the social fabric, even at the basic level of helping to distribute vaccines. So now, retail leadership needs to be asking itself “who are we”? And “who do we want to be in the future”? Because you have been given the opportunity to become an integral part of the fabric of society. But when the pandemic goes away, or ebbs... What is that going to look like? And who do you want to be? And what role do you want to play as citizens in the business community?
That was the voice of Professor Stephan Kanlian. Stephan is the Founding Chairperson of the Master's Degree Program in Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing and Management, from the School of Graduate Studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Say that in a hurry. Stephan created this transformative program that has become a Think Tank that works closely with industry to develop future leaders. I must say I'm biased because I'm on the advisory board. That said, however, this is an extraordinary program that you'll hear more about in a minute. My other guest today is a product of that program. Morgan Hagney is the Associate Vice President of Omni Channel Marketing at Maybelline New York, a division of L’Oréal, and she oversees e-commerce, shopper marketing and merchandising functions for the Maybelline brand in the United States. She's also a graduate of the Class of 2017. And she's the Chair of the Alumni Association for the program at FIT. So welcome to you both. It's lovely to have you here.
Lovely to be here.
Thank you so much for having us. Normally, Wendy, I would say it's always a pleasure to get out of the office and across Seventh Avenue to your office. But of course, during COVID, we are stuck with podcasting.
Yeah, I must, I must say to everybody, our office, as Stephan said, is directly opposite FIT, which makes it wonderful in terms of working with the students, being engaged with the thinking, and actually getting a good cup of coffee up the street when we can do that again. So we all look forward to that one. Stephan, over the years, executives who are students in the master's program have delivered much well researched and provocative thinking about the future of retail. You've done the Future of Brands. You've done, as Morgan led, the Future of Retail, Wellness, Consumerism. You even created a new metric to replace GDP, which I thought was incredibly provocative and wonderful. So can you just give us a snapshot of the program and the executives who participate?
Sure. It began about 20 years ago as the brainchild of Leonard Lauder, who, when looking at the recruitment sort of track record, at the Estée Lauder Companies, of recruitment from the top five MBA programs in the United States, discovered in the late 90s, that only one of those MBA recruits was still with the company. And it was a realization, I think probably of something we all know in the beauty industry, and that is that product is king. And the culture is a very special one. And so I think bringing people in, even with consumer-packaged goods backgrounds, from some of the top MBA programs in the country, didn't always necessarily align with corporate culture and with the needs of the business. And so what had happened in the industry was there were a great number of young talents at the manager level, at the assistant manager level, who were in a sense training these folks having come in with, of course, wonderful insights and educational tools. But it was burning out a layer of very important young leadership that every industry depends on for new ideas and intrepreneurial spirit. And Mr. Lauder being ever the visionary that he is said, we need a homegrown option. We elevated that thinking beyond to not just a graduate business degree, but a Think Tank for industry that would give back by presenting cutting edge research to industry, in exchange for a board full of C-suite executives, from industry and even outside, including companies like Google and trade associations and major trade publications, major media houses, to put forward their best and brightest to build an incredible kind of think tank in the classroom, and in turn to produce research for everyone's benefit. And of course, Morgan is a great example of a product of the program. I think her research for her Capstone year in the Future of Retail, which she co-led really helps her every day in the role that she's in, in looking at insightful ways to capture consumer attention, drive growth, with capturing consumer data insights, and, you know, really reorganizing resources during the pandemic to try and capture the growth of all of the digital platforms that have accelerated so exponentially during COVID.
Yeah, I think one of the things that strikes me in my exposure over the last five or so years, and especially as the vice chair of the board, every board Vice Chairperson, I think it's valuable for our you know, for all of you listening to know is that these are executives who are high potential executives within their organizations, and are actually paid for by their companies to attend this program. It's really important to know that this is this is the research that's done and the thinking that’s done is at a very high level.
So yes, handpicked by their companies, as future leaders. And that juggling between full time work, and Business School is unwieldy, and it's done so for a reason. Because generally, after the two years, they catapult out of that graduate business school experience into new assignments, new stretch projects, and a very different frame of thinking about their companies as change agents. And so it is important that they are handpicked by industry. And I think the other thing that is important to say that you would want me to mention is that we don't spend a lot of time looking at best practices in beauty. We spend a great deal of time, which is why we value our partnership with WSL, looking at best practices in all types and channels of both physical and digital retail -- in the food industry, which has so many marketing and consumer insight corollaries to beauty. We look at technology, we look at fashion, but we're really looking across the CPG spectrum. And the recommendations that they come up with are equally applicable across the consumer spectrum.
Yeah. So as I think about that, and I think about the work you did Morgan in the 2017 Capstone project about the Future of Retail, it seems life changed a lot since then. But in fact, some of the research and insights that you developed with the class were very relevant to today.
Our Capstone research was 2017. Back in 2017, and what was happening, you know, is this whole conversation about retail is dying, you know, brick and mortar stores were closing we saw a lot of the big chain department stores shutting down when you think about foot traffic, people were shifting towards experience versus like general shopping. When you think about that, headlines that were happening in the news, it was the death of retail, retail is going away. So it was almost like this hyperbolic topic of conversation. And you know, fast forward to 2020, it happened. You know, that actually happened in a much larger scale than we probably had anticipated. When you think about some of the things that we were, we were talking about on a macro level, from a consumer needs perspective, we were talking about time being the number one valued consumer need. And I don't think that's changed. If anything, I think that's been exaggerated even more. When you think about supply chain, that was another thing we were talking about, and retailers using their stores as warehouses, when you think about all of the retailers that were successful during the pandemic, maybe that had a brick-and-mortar store, and component to it, that's what they did. Not to say that we were the ones that predicted the future. But I would say when you were thinking about some of the conversations we were having, it was so relevant to 2020. I think the whole idea of experience definitely changed. And I'm really looking forward to seeing how that manifests in 2021. And in the future, as things start to open up. I think one of the things that's still on my mind today is really thinking about the difference between shopping and buying, because those are two very different things. When you think about consumerism and products, you know, one is more of an enjoyment and experience versus the other one being an action and a necessity. And I think as we go into the future, we need to think about both and the experience that we're giving the consumer because they're going to do both, but the needs are going to be very different.
That work in its own way was prescient, and in some ways, you did define the future. And I think that's the boldness of the program that, you know, you get lots of encouragement to, you know, speak truth to power, as I would always love to say. As you think about this now, particularly with your responsibility in omni channel, how are you seeing this as the retail physical retail world opens -- beyond, you know, the grocery store and the drugstore? How do you see this physical world opening up? And how are you thinking as a leader in your area? About? What are the key issues? And what do you need to know? And what do you need to do?
Sure. I mean, I think if we learned anything over the past year is that, you know, consumer behaviors are going to change, I think they probably changed in a more extreme way, in a very short amount of time this year, we're now adopting and I think when you think about expectations, and needs, and everything that we change, as our habits change, some are going to stick and some aren't, you know, you think about you know, we stay at home and made sourdough bread, do we think everybody's gonna stay home and make sourdough bread? I don't know, some people will, some people won't. But I think the whole idea of this fluid channel strategy is going to continue to accelerate. So when you think about online grocery pickup, you know, and you think about the fact that people are only shopping on ecommerce, you know, I think there's going to be a need for people to go back and store I think it's going to be something that we're going to, we're going to see probably even bigger than we anticipated, people are going to be excited to go back out in the world and kind of go back to some of the things that they enjoyed. So I think people are going to find joy and shopping again, probably in a new and different way. And then your point, there is going to be the buying side, which they'll probably more rely on ecommerce. But I think there are other things, you know, I think safety and reliability are still going to be a big need for consumers when they're in store. So you know, we were talking about big box retailers and foot traffic and big stores closing down. I think that's going to actually be helpful in the next couple of years as we think about social distancing, giving people room to breathe and shop. But I think reliability and consumers relying on retailers and brands to have the products in store when they go in store. I think there's going to be less of an appetite for people to then you know, shift, and buy something else. And I think you're the consumer demand for product availability is going to be even bigger.
It's interesting you say that because one of the things that struck me over this last year, and certainly in a lot of these interviews and discussions I've been having is this notion of supply chain as people want more personalized, customized localized offer, and assurance that they can get what they want when they come into the store, that means the supply chain, which is available today really needs to work hard to say to a retailer, you don't have to have all stuff on the shelf, you can think about it in a more curated kind of way. But you got to have a really spectacular supply chain. To deliver against that I think about that in leadership and in what are the skills we really need,
I was just gonna say, it's not like, Oh, you know, your product isn't on the shelf. So then I'm going to go to X retailer dot com and buy it, how do you make it that much easier, if you don't have the product for them, the consumer to instantaneously buy it, right there versus having them to go in a circle to spend five minutes buying it, you know, time is still going to be a necessity and ease of shopability. And so it's making sure that your product really truly is available in whichever way and however the customer wants to get it.
And to your point, about time, this was something we saw, actually in the 2017 year in our own research that shoppers even then were so focused on, I want to get my shopping done fast so I can get it off the list, so I have time for other things. And sometimes those other things are shopping in areas that I really want to spend time on. So you know, Stephan, when you think about the work that you're the class of 2021, is now working around. And some of these the values that shoppers have the new in the index that you created in 2020, which I'd love you to tell us about. How are you thinking about the capabilities and the experiences that the executives need to have to get on in this brave new world?
Well, clearly, that's the hardest part of trying to train both innovative leadership and also help create an environment where they can ideate research that will actually lead industry conversation that will spark discourse across consumer goods industries, to you know, in a lot of senses not to be pious about it, but to drive industry in the direction that maybe industry knows it needs to go in. And even on issues where, you know, we might feel that the industry needs a little nudge, to go in a direction...
Or a big nudge, a very big nudge...
to go in the direction that they need to go in. And so not surprisingly, it is very often our own research that leads curriculum innovation. So, for example, to take supply chain that we were talking about just a minute ago. When we did research on the Future of Innovation, both internal and external, internal intrapreneurship in the corporate environment, as well as external entities that support and nurture innovation in the corporate sector, governments, NGOs, think tanks, academia, we realized the incredible impact on supply chain of what was happening in the marketplace. And the incredible value to internal innovation of supply chain innovation. Then either the next year or the year after we did the Future of Technology. And so much of that research was focused on the supply chain, and the building of a fourth wave of technology and 5G and quantum computing and what would what that change would rout for RFID technology in the supply chain system and blockchain technology that we added several years ago, of course, in global supply chain management, to the program. Similarly, very early on, we realized that in an industry with as high a creative level expectation as ours, even though it did not exist anywhere else in the MBA world, we needed a course in specifically in creative management, how to manage the creative process, how the elements of the creative process added to an animated the marketing mix in a marketing and business plan, how to manage creative types, and creative personnel, how to work with outside agencies, how to be the keeper of the brand and the storyteller of the brand. So very often it's our own research that says to us there's a huge whitespace opportunity here for thinking for leadership. So why not put it into our own curriculum?
Yeah, I think that's having that business centric lens, and developing talent for an industry rather than developing education, for wherever, and maybe I'm biased and all of that. But I think about the practicality of that, you know, Morgan, you are the practical example of all of this. So when you graduated from the program, how did it, what were the things that came out of the program that were instrumental, in obviously, your success in a very big global company?
My career completely changed, you know, I was, I was in marketing on the product side. And after really, diving deep into the future of retail, I realized that I had a passion for retail and consumer experience, which is kind of how I got to the place that I'm in now. After the program, I shifted, I was still on the marketing team, but I took a job managing all of the merchandising and retail experience for Maybelline. So that in and of itself was a game changer for me. But I would say that I kind of became on the team, this person that people would go to as an, as an expert for insights on the industry. And for you know, the bigger, the bigger retail environment in general, people were asking me what was happening, thinking about, you know, macro consumer trends, and really being that person that was able to bring a more macro perspective back to the brand. And then lastly, you know, just thinking about my own personal growth, I really found my voice and who I was as a leader within the company, and wasn't afraid to, to speak and express my opinions.
So hold that thought. As Morgan mentioned, critical to her success has been developing a broader view, and a context, insights that set the context for the future. And that's what we do, as many of you know. So don't forget, go to our website at www.wslstrategicretail.com and there you can access our broader view, you can access our proprietary shopper and retail research, our retail innovation work from around the world and our deep understanding of what shoppers and retailers are thinking about the future. So now let's get back to my fascinating conversation with Stephan and Morgan.
What strikes me as I think about the future of retail is that for many of the people, and maybe I'm going to say our generation, Stephan, or our generations, that we think about the future in still quite traditional ways. I know, Stephan, you and I don't. But a lot of the industry, and not just beauty industry, a lot of the industries, do and it's very hard for them to shift to this new vision of what retail is going to or is already looking like. How do you both envision it in a snapshot? And then what are the skills that we all are going to need here to deliver against that?
Morgan and I both together have been mentoring, the 2021 Capstone study on the Future of Global Consumption, a big pillar of which is the Future of Retail. I remember, like it was yesterday, a particular influential conversation I had with you, Wendy, at one of my favorites, I remember that we were walking down 27th Street. And we both chuckled because we were having the most bizarre and only Wendy-Stephan kind of conversation about organized religion, and retail, and how institutions in society at that point in time, and it was probably the year that Morgan was working on that study, that there was so much change happening in fundamental constructs and institutions of society, that how could retail leaders not expect that there would have to be similar and parallel, foundational changes in retail. And I feel that way as strongly four years later, when I look at the research that we're doing now, retail organizations and retailers are now much more than they ever were. They are brands, we learned that five or seven years ago. Some of them are global brands. They have to reflect value systems that consumers can see themselves reflected in. And in the last year or two especially that's been a very tricky road for brands and retailers to walk. So leaders need to be facile enough to deal with the complexities of that. But I think more importantly, what we've learned during COVID is that retail is a community at a time when society desperately, and consumers desperately, want and need community in all the senses of that word. So if I have 45 minutes, or I have a meeting that has 30 participants where I know I'm just listening, sometimes, if I have just been locked in my office in Connecticut for too long, I shouldn't give the secret away, but I will, you know, I put on my iPhone, plug in to the Wi-Fi at Terrain [garden and home store] in Westport, because there's nothing like the genius of Glen Sank when it comes to retail, and put in my earbuds and walk-through Terrain for an hour while I'm having a meeting. Because I crave community. I crave external inspiration. And I need a touchstone every once in a while, of a retail environment that is doing everything to provide the consumer opportunities to select from their product mix, to be a part of their apostle community, and take a piece of that experience home and become a part of the brand community. And you know, Terrain does that so incredibly well.
It's interesting, you say that, because I interviewed Paco Underhill recently on this podcast, and he talked about retail as the dipstick of social change. And I think one of the things that concerns me a lot, when I think about both, what retail will look like and who will lead us there, which little children will lead us to the future. I worry that a lot of senior management, to your point of the old school, do not understand that context. And particularly through COVID, what worries me is exactly what you just raised, as we've been locked in our homes, and had the luxury to be locked in our homes, that ability to touch and feel is blown away, the community has been very dramatically shifted. One of the things Paco talked about was, you know, good leadership in the future, you know, the CEOs will not be in the back, the CEOs will not be in their glass offices, the CEOs will be, as Sam Walton was, on the selling floor, and understanding both their people and the communities they serve. So, you know, you can tell I feel strongly about that as well.
One of the other pieces that of course, is critically important as a as a toolkit for future leaders and current leaders in retail is the ability to shift frictionlessly through the new phygital environment between physical retail and brick and mortar, which if retailers think about it coming out of COVID for this period that we predict of and economists predict of revenge, travel, revenge shopping, the opportunity to create trust between the consumer and your retail brand by making sure that your associates are wearing masks, providing masks, cleaning the store, making sure that the merchandise is clean. Of course, in beauty in particular, that's a huge issue because of hygiene, but just across the spectrum and CPG, what an opportunity that presents in the next few months. And then the other extreme, there are small boutiques in towns I often visit that I never knew existed, that I have discovered during COVID because I've begun to follow them on Instagram. And now I've gone out of my way as I visit those places to find these little boutiques and shop there. And so understanding the power of not only digital media, but that seamless wall between physical retail and digital retail, and how to create a frictionless experience for consumers on par with what we see in some of the Scandi countries where you know, they've become cashless societies. That is a skill that is not only necessary in retail leadership, I predict that within a very short period of time, if you're unfortunately of a certain age, you may not be capable of seeing that vision completely and leading in the retail environment.
So Morgan, I mean you live in this world for a very, you know, big global brand went through a lot of to your credit transformation in the early stages and throughout the pandemic. How is this impacting, you know, the way you think about running the business? And what you see for the future of, if not your business directly, but what you see for the future? And what skills when you're hiring, are you looking for now, both for yourself, but obviously, for the people you bring into your team?
I think the first thing is we talk about this online, offline, digital component of the future, I think it's not just about being online and having a digital presence and being able to sell, it's about doing what's right for the consumer, and really thinking about how the in-person shopping in the online person shop or online shopping fits into your specific consumer journey. So thinking about, do you have the agile adaptive technology and the right platforms to even start by understanding the consumer journey? You know, thinking about in your organization, you know, are the organizational structures free of silos, which may be right now, in the traditional sense of marketing, you know, which isolate e-commerce, merchandising store operations, everything's isolated? Because I think moving forward, all of these things are going to be so connected. And I think just structurally, those are the things that we need to consider. You know, it's really thinking about what is the consumer experience online? And what is it providing to the consumer? I think the second thing is we think about the impact of COVID. And thinking about the future. It's, you know, brands are no longer brands. And this is what Professor Kalian was saying, it's we now need to really think about the impact that we have on the society and the community. You know, social changes, environmental changes, where we can't just be brands that are selling products anymore. We really need to be listening to what's happening around us, and really addressing and providing an important role within all of the changes that are happening through our actions every day thinking about. You know, diversity and inclusion, impact on society, how we speak to consumers, all of that needs to come through and how we go to market versus just speaking about better.
But what I am thinking about when you the way you were describing that is, in the days when we started to see sort of retail centric teams built on the sales side, and you'd have the Target team or the Nordstrom team, and you've got the different disciplines within a manufacturer side company that supported the retailer, is it that we need to have those kind of multidisciplinary teams supporting the business in a brand more effectively now? Or is that going on in your world? Is that already happening?
There's always going to be the product expert who creates the product, right? I don't think like that's going away. I think you're still gonna have the experts who manage supply chain. I don't think that is going to go away, you know, you're still gonna need specialized people. But what I think and we're starting to see it now, we're seeing it with the structure of Walmart, we're seeing it with the structure within Target. And we're also starting to see it within L’Oréal is that you can't be an in-store marketer anymore. And you can't be an e-commerce salesperson or -- there needs to be an omni channel approach where you're looking at the business holistically and having those conversations as one consumer touch point versus them being so siloed.
I remember a conversation with a very large retailer, very recently, where in that company, they've combined the merchandising that e-commerce and the physical store merchants under one, and his lens was so different because he came from the e-commerce side. And he talked about small brands as traffic drivers, and big brands as sales drivers. And he was looking at how did he think about a space in the physical store for those small brands, Instagrammable, people would come in and look for them, and then the big brands were going to be the sales drivers. And that made me think well, that's going to force change really fast. Will the retailers lead the way here or are they ahead of us?
I think it's a partnership. I you know, I think in the beauty space specifically and, but I think consumer packaged goods overall, is that there needs to be a partnership and I think both sides of the business, bring different perspectives and expertise to the table. And I think there needs to be probably an even closer partnership that it's not just about sales and space, you know...One of the things I was going to bring up at some point and this is shifting from an ROI return on investment to return on engagement. And I think if both sides come into the business looking at that, I think that's where you will find success.
So define what you mean by that return on engagement.
For you to drive business at the end of the day and drive a sale, you need to have a consumer engage with your brand. And so in thinking about, you know, what are you getting out of it from a sales perspective, you need to think about it through the lens of the consumer, what is the consumer getting out of it? What is going to drive engagement with the consumer for them to then purchase your product.
You're preaching to the converted there, because you know, our view is always follow the shopper, you'll see the future and you'll get there too, so,
Can I just build on that? I would, I would say from a global perspective, because you know, how much we travel and, and how much we value, retail site visits, in new markets all over the world, when with the students in the program. This concept of the little brands being the traffic drivers and the big brands being the sales drivers, is an even bigger phenomenon. For example, when you look at the Spanish market, which is probably the culture globally, where the consumer has been trained to expect, thanks to Zara and others, quality at an affordable price. You know, in the grocery and beauty and other kind of chain drug categories, in Spain, they refer to it as the Mercadona effect. And Mercadona being an omnipresent retail force in the Spanish market in the same way that on the department store end, you know, the role El Corte Inglés fills. Mercadona, as also as has El Corte Inglés, built an enormous business in private label. And so I would take it a step further to say that if brands and retailers don't keep their eye on the global marketplace, and take a lesson from that, then the brands are going to be the losers in that battle, because retailers will begin to create what they need, whether it is in partnership, as Morgan is talking about and envisions as it should be with their brand partners, but if that's not forthcoming from their brand partners, they're going to create it in house because there is margin and profitability to be had. And I think that is something that that retail executives are very conscious of, and that brand leaders need to be very careful about.
It's one of the things I found so compelling about the program and the students who the executives who come out of the program is that you create a cultural context, not just with the US market, but around the world with a lot of the study tours that you do now virtually, as well as physically. Global sensitivity, how important do you see that as we move forward?
Well, I would love for Morgan to answer that because she is in the thick of it. But I will preface it by saying I think one of the great gifts and secret strengths of Maybelline, the brand that she works on, was for years that they operated as a chain drug brand in Europe and the US, in perfumery and other channels in Europe and Latin America, and in department stores in China. And the learning that that afforded the Maybelline global team in the approach to consumers, in the way that the brand was presented, I always thought that was one of Maybelline secret weapons.
Morgan, you want to talk about the importance of that perspective?
I think we as a brand have had more conversations over the past year with our global Maybelline counterparts than ever before. We're sharing, we're learning, we're adapting. We're leaning into our global marketing team to also provide insights and expertise on what is working across the globe. The world as we know it is becoming that much more connected. Brands even in the US need to have more of a global mentality and really learning from each other in different countries, embracing diversity and what's working. Even thinking about you know what's working in the UK, we're taking learnings from the UK and bringing that back to the US. And our retailers are also doing the same when you think about Walgreens and Boots, they are one company as well. So it's really sharing best practices and what's working.
One of the things that I'm very conscious of is what I don't know. Now even more, I was always conscious of not what is the answer, but what is the question I should be asking. Now, there are one or two things, I'm sure there are a ton, one or two things that need to we need to center our mind on as we move forward?
I think it is exceedingly important, if not critical, that retail leaders take what they have learned during COVID, and not allow a slowdown in the spread of the pandemic to cause them to go back to old thinking and old ways. This has been a gift. If you could call such a crisis and tragedy and loss of life. Crisis and times of disruption, our gift to the business community. The learning during COVID has been the unbelievable acceleration of digital and watching latent trends and counter trends with the consumer explode. They will go back; the pendulum will swing somewhat to a bit of leveling out. But if you make the mistake of going backwards in your way of thinking, to business as usual, and not forwards as though you're preparing for those trends to become permanent in six to 12 months, that's a mistake. Because you've been given a view of the future. And it is marching towards retailers at a very rapid clip.
And Morgan, you're on the front lines here. Your thoughts on that as we wrap up?
I think one is that we really need to be futurist and not necessarily thinking about one way of doing things. And is it really thinking about multiple ways. I think we learned that we're the world is continuing to change in a more sometimes this past year more extreme ways than other, but really considering multiple scenarios and thinking through new possibilities, staying on top of trends, you know, staying connected to our networks, continuing to learn new skills, I think are going to be crucial for the future and thinking about leaders. And I think the second thing is almost really engaging in the latest technology and this idea that you know thinking about Tik Tok and I'll give that as an example. We see that as a Gen Z platform. But the reality is that it's not and it's really impacting the way that we do business thinking about the influence that these Tik Tok influencers have on our products and our brands. And, you know, I don't think everybody needs to be an expert in the practical application of every single platform. But really embracing technology and really thinking about how to leverage that to serve the company and the brands, we need to be tech savvy and digitally fluent. And really thinking about digital being the first touch point of the consumer journey.
One of the things very clear in all our research on How America Shops® research, is that these core trends that were actually so well established a year, two years, five years before COVID, and COVID has just you know, as we all say, accelerated it. But this is not going away. There is as I keep saying there is no going back here.
If I if I could just interject one more point. I think the other thing that is critical looking forward as retail leaders, I think that the consumer has now decided who they are. And in the research that we're doing this year, the students have coined the term "chameleon consumer". The consumer is completely comfortable with fluidity and nuance and complexity. They’re comfortable with it and the retailer needs to be comfortable with it.
There is no better ending than that. I thank you both for the thinking and I thank you both for the work you're doing to move all this forward and Morgan I feel incredibly proud of being part of this program but just feeling like we're in good hands if you're leading the way.
So here's the thing... my conversation with Stephen and Morgan clearly define what leaders in this new retail world must think like and act like. First and foremost, leaders need to put shoppers front and center. And while that is something we at WSL have evangelized for decades (yes, really) now you need, we have to pay attention because there is a new shopper journey that has aggressively emerged from this pandemic. Business leaders need to be able to shift frictionlessly through the new phygital environment between physical retail, the old brick and mortar, and digital retail. You have to understand that this fluid channel strategy will just continue to accelerate. It's not going away. The second thing that leaders need to recognize is the importance of supporting innovation not only in product, but in supply chain and the next wave of technology from RFID to blockchain, that will enable you to deliver what consumers want, including more personalized, customized, localized products and services, and the assurance that they can get what they want, whenever and wherever they shop. Third, leaders need to recognize that it's no longer relevant to consider ROI, return on investment, as the key measurement to drive success. It's now ROE, return on engagement, engagement built around doing what's right for the consumer all day, every day. And last, new modern leaders need to understand the impact that retail and brands have on the society and the community as a whole. We cannot just be brands that are selling products anymore, we need to be listening to what's happening around us. So that's the thing. As Stephan said, during the pandemic, retail became a part of the social fabric in ways that it had not before, even at the basic level of helping to distribute vaccines. So now as we think about the future of retail and the leaders who will define that future, we need to ask ourselves, who do we want to be in the future? And how will we support our consumers as shoppers and their communities in more meaningful ways? That's the question. See you in the future.