In October, Merkle appointed Pete Stein as global lead for Experience & Commerce, overseeing a global team focused on customer-experience transformation through experience and commerce technologies. We asked Pete a few questions to learn what he is focusing on in the new year.
1. What should brands be thinking about when it comes to experience and commerce as we enter 2021?
There are so many things for brands to consider. eCommerce has risen from around 12-15% of sales to 25-30% of sales in a very short amount of time. Trends like curbside pick-up will continue to be big. As 5G kicks in, I see Augmented Reality and voice taking off. There will be a general trend towards really valuing the customers you have. Of course, brands must continue to focus on new customer acquisitions, but they should put more energy and focus into creating the right experiences to drive deep loyalty from their bases. Social commerce is massive in China and will grow in the West. Brands will continue to experiment with pop up retail as well as the role of the store evolves.
2. 2020 was a big year for consumer behavior disruption and some brands were able to respond quicker than others. What brands do you think stood out during this difficult time?
Small businesses have pivoted to provide new services. During the original height of the pandemic, some stores in NYC pivoted to selling groceries at a time when they were hard to come by. Some restaurants pivoted to canning their food and others pivoted to only providing takeout. To make things more efficient, a restaurant in my town started selling only a few dishes in larger quantities to allow them to make some margin during this difficult time when they were no longer selling much alcohol.
Many of the big businesses either succeeded or failed based on their ability to move quickly. Those that bet on digital and had the ability to adapt their digital products and services quickly were the big winners. In the US, Target and Walmart did so well because they supported delivery and pick up in-store (curbside pickup). This demonstrated that investing in systems and ways of working that allow you to be nimble is critical. Grocery has crushed it because people aren’t eating out and are buying more per trip. But, can they sustain this post-pandemic?
Watching the data is key. Early in the pandemic, with people staying at home, Spotify saw a massive spike in uploads of podcast content. It quickly doubled down on podcast content, signing some big exclusive deals.
3. What excites you most about leading Merkle's commerce and experience practice?
Our legacy of understanding how to capture, store, and activate customer data is such a massive differentiator. The business of customer experience is not easy – new technology drives consistent behavior change and being good at experience design, content, strategy, tech integration, and program management is hard! Beyond internal challenges, our clients have their own massive challenges not least of which is working across siloes, but our history gives us such an important advantage.
4. People would like to know how you got here, leading experience and commerce at a customer experience management company. What was your journey like?
In 1996, I was headed off to business school in Austin, Texas. I deferred for a year to join an Internet startup as the eighth employee. After several acquisitions and lots of growth, we became Razorfish which is where I stayed until 2014. I loved the growth and excitement of Razorfish but wanted to get back to a startup. So, I joined Fullscreen, a blend of talent management, social agency, branded entertainment production company and OTT service. We were bought by AT&T, and I then joined Huge as their CEO. Huge was an amazing agency but the opportunity to join Merkle and be part of the team leading towards Merkle 5.0 was too much to pass up.
5. What brand have you worked with that inspires you the most?
Wow, that’s a tough question. The companies I have enjoyed most were those that took bold swings at driving change towards the future. Mercedes-Benz USA had a CEO (he has since moved on) who asked us to go big. We did just that and he always supported our bold ideas. Similarly, I was lucky enough to work directly with the CEO of UNIQLO, Yanai-San. He built the company from one store to a $19B global leader and he really understood the importance of brand as part of the commerce experience. Finally, at Huge, I was able to work with Google and I was blown away by its thirst for innovation but also its investment in creating a culture that was amazing. Not just the free food, but understanding how to create true diversity, equity, and inclusion with a willingness to take a hard look in the mirror.