A Rapidly Evolving Retail Landscape is Leaving Marketers Adapting on the Fly

Victor Lee, President of Advantage Unified Commerce

A Conversation with Victor Lee, President of Advantage Unified Commerce

By R. Larsson, Advertising Week

It isn’t an understatement, says Victor Lee, President of Advantage Unified Commerce, to say the retail industry has reached a pivotal moment where brands are no longer in a position to solve one strategic challenge at a time, “it’s time for a total reset of what it means to succeed in commerce.”

From Lee’s perspective, pre-Covid eCommerce was viewed mostly as an alternative place to buy and sell. It was scalable and highly effective given its ability to track data and access consumers. It was a 24-hour retail store. What is often overlooked, he says, is that eCommerce created a shift in how brands need to think about distribution and sell-through. Brands are no longer fighting for the same three feet on a shelf. The digital shelf is endless. Today the fight is for first-page slot placements.

Advertising Week spoke with Lee about this, as well as the state of retail at large, the drastically changing eCommerce environment, and the problems with ‘The New Normal.”

Q: Tell us more about yourself, your experience, and your role at Advantage Unified Commerce?

I’ve been fortunate to have spent half my career on the agency side and the other half as an executive on the brand side. This has provided me a unique perspective for my role at Advantage Unified Commerce — I’ve been both the buyer and seller of our services and understand the nuances that brand executives, retailers, and manufacturers face today and can help shape our agency solutions to solve for that and avoid the standard cut-and-paste solutions that most buy and sell today.

Q: Can you talk about the state-of-the-state of the retail industry? There must be lots to digest given rising inflation, a baby formula crisis, and ongoing supply chain issues. We are living in interesting times now aren’t we?

Pre Covid, the big push in retail and at the brand level was the notion of Omnichannel and eCommerce — be where everyone is and be seamless and frictionless — but most had a conservative timeline to get their planning done in 3–5 years. Covid made that timeline irrelevant, and retailers had to solve it right then and there. Today, marketers and executives have been forced to become experts in the supply chain and pricing due to what’s happening in the world. I think between 2020 and today; the world has forced retailers and brands to throw out their old playbooks and create something more fluid, prepared for today and what may happen tomorrow. Whether it’s the supply chain, inflation, eCommerce, omnichannel, marketing, retail media, or DTC, the ability to see the entire system work seamlessly between each other is vital to stay relevant and slightly ahead of what the world throws at us.

We are at a pivotal point in retail. Too much data, not enough data, attribution or indirect attribution, shifts in media to retail networks, winning in DTC while trying to stay current, we are no longer in a position to solve one strategic challenge at a time, it’s time for a total reset of what it means to succeed in commerce.

Q: What’s happening with eCommerce? It seems to be dramatically changing once again, post-Covid. How is that affecting manufacturers and retailers and consequently marketers?

In eCommerce there aren’t season sets, you can buy a Xmas tree 12 months a year, and people do. We went from being dictated to what we should buy and when for almost 70 years with a single mass-market retail solution to buying anything, anytime, and anywhere. The effects this has on brands, retailers, and marketers are profound. It was only five years ago we observed the behavior known as retail research when consumers would walk the aisles and then do online research for better pricing, ultimately buying online but doing the research offline.

That has reversed a bit today. Consumers are now so versed in online research that most will start online, but it doesn’t mean it ends with an online sale. The main point of eCommerce is that it opened what was once a closed retail system and brands, and retailers no longer can build one road that gets their products sold. Consumers decide which road to take, and, in some cases, they build their own roads and brands, retailers and marketers have to adapt to their behavior vs trying to change it.

Q: Talk more about the ‘New Normal’. What do retail marketers need to do moving forward to unlock future growth? What’s the opportunity?

Have we really seen anything close to normal in the last few years? Adapting and accepting that nothing will truly be “normal” anymore is key. Don’t get too comfortable because it will change soon and winners don’t lament how it used to be. They adjust, adapt, and pivot. Retail marketers of the future understand all dynamics of consumer behavior, influence, and access. They understand the indirect power of what society does to create news. They have a system in place that reads and reacts to behaviors at the on and offline distribution level and how they work together. They don’t rely on 100% attribution because 100% is a myth, there’s always a variable. Instead, they rely on micro trends that influence behavior patterns.

For example, a change in a product image could have a direct effect on positive sales conversion online, one word added to an online product page headline can capture more intent, or relying too heavily on a ROAS as the endgame to define success. Every decision retail marketers make has a cause and effect and most ladder up to make a larger impact. My opinion on moving forward is to not get comfortable, be curious, and innovation of retail and marketing isn’t solely dependent on big rocks.

Q: Any final thoughts?

One area that I think is often overlooked is the connection between sales and marketing organizations. Most manufacturers operate in a very bifurcated structure. One group sells in, and the other group sells through. And it has worked very well. Today lines are blurred, but organizations aren’t. From who owns the budgets and who decides on programs, to what items should be featured, I think as an industry we look outward to omnichannel or omnicommerce as a solution that solves the consumer behavior. However, we should also look inward in the same way to solve how we operate more efficiently and effectively.