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January 20, 2020

From Deepak’s neuroscience desk, new research finds that our brains can detect songs in a matter of milliseconds.



  • Our Bryan Gildenberg joined CNBC’s “Power Lunch” to discuss retail sales after the holiday shopping season.
    • Consulting POVThat guy again? In all seriousness, the season played out much as we forecasted it would.
  • New research revealed at the NRF’s annual “Big Show” last week find that while there is clear appeal, consumers see room for improvement in self-checkout, including the ability to automatically identify items being purchased. Speaking of the Big Show, many companies debuted in-store technologies that have the potential to boost stores’ operations and future performances.
    • Consulting POVNRF is a giant technology show masquerading as a retail conference. Self-checkout will undoubtedly get better as technology improves and a big story of the 2020s will be sorting the work of retail into “robot-able” and “non-robot-able” – designing processes to allow technology to do as much as possible.
  • Microsoft’s Satya Nadella reiterates the power of data in retail, the parameters which make that data actually useful, and the applications most valuable to consumers.
    • Consulting POVNadella’s basic point here is to harness the data you collect as a retailer and make it more commercially valuable.  Makes sense. The part of the speech where he makes fun of retailers for just “partnering with the cool kids” in technology to make themselves look more tech-savvy was a little rich, given that Microsoft issues a press release a day for retailers doing exactly that.
  • Mark Ritson tears into the mirage of DTC, citing Casper as a case in point, while Allbirds, a DTC itself, shares what it’s learned about Chinese eCommerce, consumers, and its feedback culture.
    • Consulting POVMark Ritson can be pretty reactionary when he wants to be, but his basic point is that DTC is a tool. If it doesn’t solve a problem, that’s a failure of management, not an indictment of the tool. Applied to a business problem it makes sense to solve (like reaching consumers in a monopoly-constricted value chain like eyeglasses for Warby Parker) it can be super effective. It also solves a problem of brands that have to start small to become big – this difference (between just building big brands and growing small ones) will be a big theme of our conversation in 2020 (see Bryan Gildenberg’s Insight Forum presentation). 
  • China’s Luckin Coffee is embracing “unmanned retail”, which includes smart vending machines, in an effort to densify its network and get closer to customers.
    • Consulting POVSee above on “robot-able” vs. “non-robotable.”
  • The Gap has cancelled its plans to spin off Old Navy, citing the cost, complexity, and lower expected ROI of such an effort. This comes as Bose plans to close over a hundred stores around the world given the “dramatic shift to online shopping.”
    • Consulting POVThe Old Navy spinoff cancellation has a lot to do with the weakness of the business it would leave behind. Bose simply failed to create a reason to go to its stores.
  • One company saw a real opportunity in the $369 billion “returns boom,” capitalizing on the unwanted items sent back to some of retail’s biggest players.
    • Consulting POVAnything that helps solve the reverse logistics issue in retail should be taken seriously. 
  • Ben Evans shares a thoughtful perspective on the size and scale of Amazon – specifically, whether its market share is 35%…or 5%.
    • Consulting POVBen makes a point we’ve made quite often, which is that retail in general and US retail in particular is still a deeply fragmented industry.