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5 Lessons on Thriving in the Face of Retail Disruption

By Sarah Cascone

Our top takeaways from the 2017 Bluecore Explore Summit

In the face of massive disruption, how does a retailer decide what to do next?

That was the question of the day at last week’s Bluecore Explore Summit, and we certainly got our answer. With presentations from retail and marketing leaders like SVP of Retail Strategy at NRF Cristina Ceresoli, New York Times Best-Selling Author Jay Baer and VP of eCommerce at Jockey Tim McCue, there was no shortage of advice on how retailers can succeed even in the most tumultuous environment the industry has ever seen.

Among the many lessons learned from our expert speakers and roundtable discussions with the marketers who joined us, the following five stood out:

1) Amazon won’t be the only winner

Yes, Amazon is one of the biggest forces disrupting the retail industry right now, but it’s not the only one. And, more importantly, it won’t be the only winner.

In fact, Amazon is only the latest in a series of industry disruptors that dates back to the launch of Sears and the catalog business in 1886 and the introduction of the modern grocery store by Piggly Wiggly in 1929.


Retailers have weathered the storm before, and they’ll weather it again. The key in doing so is to have a strategy for co-existing alongside the disruptor and adding value for customers.

2) We should equate disruption with innovation, not extinction

Too often, we think that disruption is a sure sign of extinction, but as we’ve learned in the past with the rise of disruptors like Sears, Piggly Wiggly, Walmart, QVC and now Amazon, that doesn’t have to be the case.

Instead of shying away from disruption, retailers should steer directly into the eye of the storm and innovate through it. And when that happens, we’ll find that disruption actually creates a big opportunity for retailers to change — and ideally improve — their relationships with customers. That’s because disruptors are raising the bar on what’s expected, and while it might be intimidating at first, it can ultimately help everyone come out stronger.

3) Software and AI will empower marketers, not replace them

Technology isn’t just advancing, it’s also changing. Specifically, we’re moving away from un-intelligent, task-oriented technology toward intelligent, goal-oriented technology.

This goal-oriented, AI-backed technology will change the game for marketers by helping them make decisions and find signals within all the noise that big data has created. However, this intelligent technology will not replace marketers. Instead, it will empower them to do their jobs better and focus more on strategic and creative initiatives that add value for customers rather than getting bogged down in the mundane behind-the-scenes tasks.

4) Put your customer and product first above all else

We believe the customer and product always needs to come first, and that was a recurring theme throughout the day. And while people have said “customer first” for a long time now, adding in the product aspect provides the context needed to deliver value to those customers.

All of our speakers agreed that marketers will be best served prioritizing customers and delivering value to them, even ahead of making a sale. That’s because if you get the customer relationship right and you add value by delivering the right product, the sale will come.

As Jay Baer puts it, marketers needs to expand the story beyond the confines of the brand in order to provide the ultimate “Youtility,” or marketing so useful and so relevant that people are willing to pay for it.

And according to Alex Hunter, former Head of Online Marketing for Virgin Group, this type of value and relevance is necessary today more than ever because the relationship between consumers and brands has changed. He argues that retailers need to be honest with customers, even if it means exposing competitors, because ultimately that honesty will add value in a way that creates a stronger bond.

5) Make testing and experimentation a priority

Finally, as we learned from Tim McCue, VP of eCommerce at Jockey, the key to staying innovative — even for 141 years and in a vertical as commoditized as underwear — is data. And, more specifically, using that data to experiment with new opportunities.

Without a doubt, Cristina Ceresoli said it best: “If you’re wrong and you’re the first to be wrong, who cares? But if you’re the last one to be right, you lose.”

What To Do Next

That’s a wrap on the Bluecore Explore Summit until next year, but there’s plenty of learnings still to come! Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we continue to share insights from our speakers and all of the marketers who participated in our roundtable discussions.

Until then, be sure to check out our full blog for even more advice on thriving in the face of massive disruption.

sarah cascone headshot

Sarah Cascone

With 10+ years of marketing experience, Sarah has a passion for connecting the human aspect of marketing to business growth. As the Director of Marketing at Bluecore, Sarah’s mission lies in the strategic development of brand awareness to influence company revenue goals and support go-to-market initiatives, with a specific focus on Events, PR, Advocacy, and Analyst Relations.

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