Purpose finds a way
Interview with Matthew Alland, Chief Experience Officer, Olivela
Q. Let’s talk about this “cookie cutter” approach to retailing. It seems like brands can no longer create a one-size-fits-all retail experience for their customers. What do you think is leading to its end?
I think it’s a combination of two factors: consumers have more choice than ever, and they know what they want. These factors have contributed to a much savvier and more knowledgeable consumer that the cookie cutter approach simply doesn’t appeal to any more. Consumers have a plethora of options via a seemingly infinite number of channels – constantly informed and influenced by brands, social media, friends, celebrities and even total strangers. We didn’t have this before. So they know what they want, but in a much grander way.
One other macro trend we’re witnessing is that millennials are prioritizing experiences over products. We know that, from numerous studies, millennials say that “doing good” matters to them. When making a purchase, consumers are more sophisticated and consider what is important to them when making a buying decision; from environmental impact, ethical treatment of animals, healthy and safe working conditions and giving back. The more retailers can authentically tap into these decision-making factors, the more they will connect with the modern consumer. Operating with the cookie cutter model can make this challenging.
Q. And do brands believe that the demise of the cookie cutter is a good thing?
I believe so. It’s forcing us as brands and retailers to think more about the customer’s needs. It used to be that companies would design what they thought customers wanted, but now we have to learn and understand what customers want and bring it to them. We have seen examples of retailers who originally achieved success by doing everything that they thought the consumer needed, but inevitably declined because they couldn’t – or wouldn’t – adapt alongside the changing needs of the consumer.
Interestingly, in almost every consumer research survey, the top 3 brands showcase a dedication to truly understanding what their customer wants. And crucially, these top 3 brands must also be authentic, and must truly believe in giving back. Olivela is at the forefront of this. We proactively understand what is important to our customer and deliver on that promise in a unique and authentic way. It’s actually embedded in our business model; we’re constantly speaking to customers and we learn so much from interacting with them.
When we opened up our first store last year, the senior team were all there. The CEO, the Chief Merchant and other senior leaders spent two months on-and-off there, interacting with customers in the store itself. We invested so much of our time into it because we needed to understand what was going to work for our customers. And I think that was part of the reason behind its success. Because we broke away from the cookie cutter model. Obviously, this isn’t possible with every store opening, but it’s proven to be invaluable in understanding our customers’ desires.
Q. What are the challenges, and what are the rewards to doing this?
It’s a bit of a design and innovation challenge – how do we meet the needs and desires of our customers (when all have different needs, changing at warp-speed) and how do we do it in a scalable way? It comes down to the right mix of flexible design, customer understanding, personalization, customization, technology and curation of product. Another challenge is being truly authentic. At the very heart of Olivela is our belief in giving back. It’s not a once-a-year campaign; it’s in our DNA and core to our business model.
Customers know when you’re being authentic, and they tend to stay more loyal to your brand. Our brand is seen as authentic, and we organically acquire the most amazing brand ambassadors and champions.
Q. Can you think of any brands in this space that are doing well, or not so well?
A few – specifically in the direct-to-consumer space. Warby Parker, Everlane, Casper and Allbirds are killing it. They’re connected to their customers – identifying the unmet needs of the modern consumer. Glossier is also amazing; they’re smart, brave and authentic. Macy’s recently bought the Story brand and already rolled out discovery-led concept shops in 36 stores. I love it; so fresh, creative and fun. They change themes every few months, curating a completely new, narrative-driven edit of the most unique items from around the world – encouraging discovery and delight. All of this gives the customer an unparalleled experience, and most importantly, a reason to go back again and again throughout the year to discover something new they didn’t even know they needed.
As far as the ones that aren’t doing so well, I’d say they are trying to adapt to the needs of the new, modern consumer and hopefully will evolve and not be left behind.
Q. What would happen if retail organizations don’t change? Or if the industry doesn’t change?
Consumers will continue to have more options and refine their desires, leading them to choose those brands that meet and exceed their expectations. Brands that don’t understand and deliver on their customers’ needs will be challenged. Consumers are changing, and their desires are changing at an unprecedented rate, so companies must evolve too