Remarkable Retail

Fixing The Leaky Bucket in the Post-Purchase Customer Experience with Narvar CEO Amit Sharma

Episode Summary

Our special guest this week is Amit Sharma, Founder & CEO at Narvar, the post-purchase platform for e-commerce. Amit brings tremendous experience to his current role, having held leadership positions at Williams-Sonoma, Walmart and Apple. Narvar was recently named to Fast Company's annual list of most innovative companies.

Episode Notes

Our special guest this week is Amit Sharma, Founder & CEO at Narvar, the post-purchase platform for e-commerce. Amit brings tremendous experience to his current role, having held leadership positions at Williams-Sonoma, Walmart and Apple. Narvar was recently named to Fast Company's annual list of most innovative companies.

We unpack why so much of the industry's historical focus has been on demand generation and customer acquisition while largely neglecting customer retention and engagement throughout the whole customer lifecycle. In a fascinating and expansive discussion we learn about opportunities to increase customer lifetime value through technology that helps to better manage customer expectations, proactively engage customers for improved cross-sell and upsell and reduce returns. We also explore why not nearly enough is being done to achieve sustainability objectives.

But first we kick-off with the retail news that caught our attention, including a big week of earnings reports from Dick's Sporting Goods Macy's, Best Buy and many more, which all seem to point to a dampening in consumer demand owing to inflation, a growing inventory glut and tepid e-commerce growth. We also dig into Nordstrom's somewhat surprising results and what to make of

Amazon trying to unload excess distribution space. We wrap up wondering whether layoffs at Getir, Gorillas and Klarna could be the canary in the coal mine.

Lauren Thomas episode

Scott Galloway episode


About Us

Steve Dennis is an advisor, keynote speaker and author on strategic growth and business innovation. You can learn more about Steve on his       website.    The expanded and revised edition of his bestselling book  Remarkable Retail: How To Win & Keep Customers in the Age of Disruption is now available at  Amazon or just about anywhere else books are sold. Steve regularly shares his insights in his role as a      Forbes senior contributor and on       Twitter and       LinkedIn. You can also check out his speaker "sizzle" reel      here.

Michael LeBlanc  is the Founder & President of M.E. LeBlanc & Company Inc and a Senior Advisor to Retail Council of Canada as part of his advisory and consulting practice.   He brings 25+ years of brand/retail/marketing & eCommerce leadership experience, and has been on the front lines of retail industry change for his entire career.  Michael is the producer and host of a network of leading podcasts including Canada’s top retail industry podcast,       The Voice of Retail, plus  Global E-Commerce Tech Talks  ,      The Food Professor  with Dr. Sylvain Charlebois and now in its second season, Conversations with CommerceNext!  You can learn more about Michael   here  or on     LinkedIn. 

Be sure and check out Michael's latest venture for fun and influencer riches - Last Request Barbecue,  his YouTube BBQ cooking channel!


Possible links?


Lauren Thomas episode


Scott Galloway episode

Episode Transcription

Michael LeBlanc  00:05

Welcome to Remarkable Retail podcast, season 4, episode 20. I'm Michael LeBlanc.

Steve Dennis  00:11

And I'm Steve Dennis.

Michael LeBlanc  00:12

Steve, back on the mic again. We got a great episode, we have a guest episode, Amit Sharma, founder and CEO of, at Narvar and a great discussion around adding value and returns. And, you know, it's a really wide-ranging conversation. So, and, and he's winning all kinds of interesting awards. So, as a company, we were thrilled to have them on podcast. But first of all, how are you feeling? Like last episode, we were talking about your, your, your trip to, (crossover talk), -

Steve Dennis  00:42

trip to the emergency room. 

Michael LeBlanc  00:43

Your trip to the emergency room is, is the cocktails, where, are you shifted types of cocktails yet? Or how are you feeling?

Steve Dennis  00:49

I am, I was going to say mostly drug free just to kind of create a little bit of suspense. But no, I am, I am through my, (crossover talk), -

Michael LeBlanc  00:57

Oh, that's great.

Steve Dennis  00:58

My antibiotics. And they seem to have worked reasonably well. Not quite 100% but, but, I'm getting there.

Michael LeBlanc  01:06

That's great. 

Steve Dennis  01:07

Yeah. Very good. (Crossover talk), - 

Michael LeBlanc  01:08

Strong like bull. Oh, that's great news. Let's jump into the news of the week since, let's just, you know, just plow right ahead. I mean, it's, is a lot going on. There's a lot of earnings. There's some movement in and around how retailers are starting to react or being forced to react, I guess we could say to the, the variations in both the economy and changing consumer demand. Let's start with, let's start with the results, which I guess are kind of a leading indicator. There's a whole bunch of retailers that, that put out results keeping our friend Lauren Thomas quite busy.

Steve Dennis  01:36

Yes. I think this had to be like the biggest retail earnings week of the season. So, yeah, we had Best Buy, DICK's Sporting Goods, Nordstrom, Macy's, Dollar General, you name it, seemed to report this week.

Michael LeBlanc  01:49

Yeah. So, what, what, what are your you know, we don't want to go into the details of all of them. But what, what jumped out at you from the results that we saw so far this week?

Steve Dennis  01:57

Well, there were, there are a few weeks. I mean, they're still for the most part, there's some indications that consumers are willing to spend. But there's just like we talked about, I think with Target and Walmart last week, Home Depot and others, there's definitely signs that, that a lot of the retailers are pretty worried about the rest of the year. A number of retailers basically took down their, their forecast, forecasts. Couple of exceptions, but, but generally, looks like there's signs of, of a pullback. The other thing that's, I think, pretty interesting. And you know, I never miss an opportunity to say bifurcation. 

Michael LeBlanc  02:34

Another angel just got its wings. 

Steve Dennis  02:35

I know, we're, we're as it relates to apparel, accessories, those sort of categories, pretty strong growth really now, for the most part, comparing to pretty weak numbers last year. So, you got to keep that in mind. But you've also got off price apparel doing pretty well. And I think that has a lot to do with the economic conditions, you know, inflation, causing people to trade down. 

Steve Dennis  02:54

So, kind of the high end doing well, off price, doing pretty well. So, just kind of this overall kind of rebalancing we've talked about where the categories that are kind of post COVID categories that were really depressed starting to do well, whereas those kind of COVID categories, the, the home office products, the casual wear, that we’re so robust, now starting to trend, to trend down. 

Steve Dennis  03:18

Now, the interesting thing is, so many of the retailers reported their eCommerce sales to be, you know, more or less flat, or even in some cases to be down. So, that kind of moderation definitely is, is that, you know, we've seen sort of from the big picture numbers, we're definitely seeing that bear out on the part of many of these retailers’ reports. 

Steve Dennis  03:37

And then the other thing I think, which we'll be talking about, probably for the rest of the year, is I keep hearing about this inventory glut, you know, that they just have taken in more receipts than, than they were able to sell this past quarter. But presumably, that could be really risky going forward, as, as consumer demand starts to wane. So, look for, I think we mentioned this last week, good, good time perhaps be in the market for, for certain categories of goods.

Michael LeBlanc  04:02

Yeah, I think that's, it's such an interesting because, you know, I think retailers are, are, have still kind of got the, you know, we're not just in time inventory, we'd rather have it than not have it kind of phase. I think that's still exists. And there's lots of retailers who brought in things, some arrived late. So, I think the retailers are, I wouldn't say nervous about the amount of inventory they're carrying, but they're, you know, they want to make sure that they're going to action, whatever they get, they're going to action sooner than later. 

Michael LeBlanc  04:27

Because I think inevitably, and we've been talking about this for many months, almost right back to the beginning the pandemic. Eventually consumers will shift to more normal patterns of going out and traveling and, you know, less goods more travel. Hey, I got a question for you. So, how much do you pay per gallon for gas in Texas where you are? I'm curious. 

Steve Dennis  04:48

$4.50 I want to say. 

Michael LeBlanc  04:50

$4.50 a gallon, right? 

Steve Dennis  04:52

Yup. Yup.

Michael LeBlanc  04:53

To give you an order of magnitude. We of course have liters and to do the tran-, to do the conversion, we're paying today $7.95 a gallon. When you think about how much money goes into the tank, and how much is coming out of discretionary spending, I mean, it's just not insubstantial, particularly at, at any wage rate, at any value equation. But, you know, just to put a point on that, like we're, we're seeing some significant draws down on discretionary spending, right?

Steve Dennis  05:23

Well, between, yeah, between, between gas and, you know, I think food inflation, at least in the US has been, you know, in the order of 9-10%. So, you know, you think about those, for a lot of people, those are very big categories such as discretionary spending, or, you know, semi-discretionary spending, you got to eat, and you got to get to work so. So now, I think, I think the squeeze there is, is going to be pretty, pretty tough. 

Steve Dennis  05:47

But you know, if you look at just a segue to one thing, we're going to talk about you know, if you look at Nordstroms earnings performance, they surprised the street. The stock was up quite a bit. I'm not sure why it was such a surprise you know, everything we're talking about, about people going back to work, people going out, people traveling, you know, that bodes well, for Nordstrom also because they have a very high end customer, you know, that high end customer and they talked about in their earnings call is not as squeezed by gas, by, by food. So, I think it's, it's a, it's a good, you know, (crossover talk)

Michael LeBlanc  05:54

They might drive Tesla’s for example. 

Steve Dennis  06:19

They might, right. Those, those Tesla people are so annoying.

Michael LeBlanc  06:22

All right. Well, looks like Amazon is hoping for something less apparently, in the news. Amazon intends to sublet warehouses. Now this is from the brokers more than it is, as always is the case for Amazon. They're not commenting, but they seem to be flexing the amount of warehouse capacity. So, one of two things is going on. One is they got, you talked about exuberance they bought or arranged for too much, or two, their sales are not growing the way they anticipated, or three a mix of the both. What do you, what do you make of all of this?

Steve Dennis  06:53

I mean, there's a couple different ways to look at it. The, the square footage that's being talked about, and I've actually heard that the number that was reported is actually lower than what is actually being, being shopped, but I can't completely verify that. But even the bigger number that's being shopped, it's still quite a small percentage of their total square footage, (crossover talk), -

Steve Dennis  07:10

But it is, it is interesting, the last quarter, Amazon talked about how they, they had quite a bit of extra expense, because they had way too much capacity. So, you can understand their desire to try to manage that down. I would have assumed, but it sounds like I'm wrong, I would have assumed that they would be able to grow into that space over time. 

Steve Dennis  07:33

Obviously, it didn't manifest the way they thought but I would have thought well, you know, they're 40% of eCommerce, eCommerce is going to continue to grow. Ah, you know, they have to carry some extra cost for a few quarters. But if they're really trying to get out of these, these leases, and you know, it seems to me like they've, they've got a, they, they both went a little bit too crazy in terms of building capacity, which I think was more Bezos kind of style as opposed to Andy Jassy sort of style. (crossover talk)

Michael LeBlanc  07:59

Well, now they, they're, now that brings. Now that brings up an interesting point. And you know, you listen to our friend Scott Galloway, he, he's surmising that, that Bezos is going to do a Howard Schultz, he's going to come back and back and back into the business because he, I don't know if this is enough of an indicator, but there's certainly a different style here. It's kind of like the jobs versus, you know, the next generation where they're a little more focused on cost containment. Do you think there's a bit of that going on? Or (crossover talk), -

Steve Dennis  08:27

Well, you know I, I know Scott's been speculating Bezos might come back. I don't, I don't have any information on that one way or another. But I think it's pretty clear, Jassy's style is, is considerably different than Bezos, he certainly seems generally more conservative. He seems to be more interested in making money in the short term. 

Steve Dennis  08:44

I mean, some of the things they've, they've started to do, you know, closing even though I think the, the physical stores they closed were clearly not working. But you know, one of his first moves were to close the, those experiments that, that weren't working, which, you know, not huge to the total but,

Michael LeBlanc  08:58

It does send a message though, right? It does send a message.

Steve Dennis  09:00

Right. Right. It does send the message. So, I, I do think that, you know, he is more of a, of an operating financial titan than, than a, (crossover talk), -

Michael LeBlanc  09:08

He's more of a Tim Cook than a Steve Jobs.

Steve Dennis  09:10

Yeah, for sure. For sure. And, you know, maybe that's what Amazon like, I don't, I don't have an opinion, strongly on that one way or another, but, but it is, it is certainly interesting that the, the biggest operator of eCommerce supply chain is, you know, unable to grow into, you know, millions, many millions of square footage. 

Steve Dennis  09:30

So, you know, I don't know what this, this says about, you know, do they know something? I mean, we've obviously been talking about the, the kind of irrational exuberance around, around eCommerce growth in that it was starting to moderate quite a bit. And I think in Amazon's case, it's, it's clear that they are, you're getting to a point of maturity in some of their categories, which is why they're making the big push into physical retail because I think that's, that's an unlock for them. But that's going to be interesting to watch.

Michael LeBlanc  09:57

Last couple of quick things. So, there's a couple of developments, let's call them footprints in the sand around ultra-fast delivery and buy-now-pay-later. So, both in the news not for the right reasons, so to speak. A couple of lays, some layoffs and some layoffs. So, are we seeing lead,- leading indicators here or just a blip and moreover, exuberance. What do you think between, what is it the Gorillas and Getir and Klarna?

Steve Dennis  10:22

Well, you know, there's, you know, we've talked about whether or not this ultra-fast delivery is economically viable on the sort of scale that would be implied by the number of companies that have been started and the sort of funding that's gone into it. And I've certainly been a skeptic of that, as. as a number of people have been in it. And it's starting to look like some rationalization is starting to come into the market, because we have seen some exits from major metro areas on the part of some of these players, we've seen some layoffs. 

Steve Dennis  10:51

So, just this past week, both Gorillas and Getir, did some pretty major layoffs. So, there's, there's a sense that some of these guys are really getting closer to running out of cash, and they're having a hard time. Like, the idea that they might go out and raise a bunch of money is starting to look pretty sketchy. (crossover talk) So, I think, I think we're in a rationalization mode going forward. 

Steve Dennis  11:11

You know, buy-now-pay-later. You know, there's, there's a number of these companies, many of them have gotten incredible valuations. And I think the combination you and I were talking about off mic, you know how much there is there, are there are too many players, even if it is a pretty sound model. But I think a lot of people are also getting spooked about the credit rescue. 

Steve Dennis  11:32

Interest rates are going up, you know, lower income customers getting more, more stretched that, that suggests that they're, you know, profit, there could be a considerable profit squeeze, a lot of write downs, that sort of stuff. So, this might be a little bit of a canary in the coal mine, but Klarna, one of the big pair, players did do some big layoffs. And you think some of this, you know, just kind of like we had in our last episode about the, the digitally native brands hitting a wall.

Steve Dennis  11:56

It's not necessarily that some of these brands aren't viable businesses, it's whether they can operate at the scale. I mean, Afterpay got bought by Square for $39 billion, you know, that's just one of the players, right? So, so, when you think about, you know, this segment being valued at one point, you know, hundreds of billions of dollars with, you know, relatively small revenues and no profits, you know, you just kind of wonder like, well, maybe that's not, not that it's all going to go away by any stretch of the imagination. But you know, could it possibly be as big as, as many people thought it was a year or two ago?

Michael LeBlanc  12:29

Or are we partying like it's 1999? You and I lived through that, right? These crazy valuations that just went

Steve Dennis  12:35


Michael LeBlanc  12:36

Boom. All right. Well, listen, that's a lot of news going on. Let's, let's leave it there. And let's get to our interview, which dives into a bunch of different elements that I think will really resonate with the listeners with Amit Sharma, founder and CEO at Narvar.

Amit Sharma  12:53

Well, Michael and I are excited to welcome Amit Sharma to the podcast to talk about returns and all sorts of other, other things. Amit, welcome, how are you today?

Amit Sharma  13:03

Great, Steve, thanks for having me.

Amit Sharma  13:05

You and I sort of kind of know each other for, for a little bit now. And you've been on our radar screen. So, it's, it's great to get you on the mic. What we usually like to do, just to kind of kick things off is just have the guests just briefly share a little bit about their personal and professional journey, and then we'll, we'll jump into the topic at hand.

Amit Sharma  13:24

Yeah. So, you know, I started my career and the first half of my professional experiences, were in the space of data and engineering, and a very different space in financial and investment banking, actually. And then the second half of my career has been in retail eCommerce and an intersection of supply chain and logistics. 

Amit Sharma  13:47

I started with William-Sonoma, and Pottery Barn. Spent a few years there as a, a supply chain analyst. And then I went on and joined Walmart, where I was looking at their eCommerce business, from transportation shipping omni-channel, and, and, and in the US, domestic business. And then last tour of duty was at Apple more on the customer experience globally. Shipping, delivery, returns all those areas for a few years before I started at Narvar almost 10 years ago, 2012.

Amit Sharma  14:26

So that, that seems like some pretty amazing experience. So, so, tell us how you came to start, Narvar and what was, what was the inspiration? What problems were you trying to solve? And then, you know, we'll dig into a little bit more as to how it all works.

Amit Sharma  14:41

Absolutely. I think first from the, as a consumer, as a shopper myself, and second is being in the retail industry for a decade. So, both of those factors and played into me starting Narvar. Now as a shopper you know, I wanted to have a consistent, convenient experience throughout the customer journey, not just on the shopping but all the way to delivery and beyond. 

Amit Sharma  15:06

And I was observing and experiencing quite a few friction points and, and, and challenges and overheads that as a consumer, we have to deal with when we shop online. So, that was one piece that informed my decision to starting the company. And second is that you know, as companies as big as you know, Walmart and Apple, they were, you know, focusing on more on the customer experience. 

Amit Sharma  15:34

So, from the shipping and logistics, it's not about, you know, cheaper and faster, but even meeting the consumer needs and giving them the choice and convenience. So, those were the few things that were, that were in my mind, and how do we build tools and solutions that can be used by various businesses and eCommerce companies to really engage customers and throughout their eCommerce and shopping journey.

Amit Sharma  16:03

When you first got started, did you have a particular specific idea or technology as to how you were going to address things? Like what, what was that, I guess, foundational piece of, of Narvar, when you got started?

Amit Sharma  16:17

Foundational piece actually was more on the business and the product side, less on the technology side. And the, and the thing that, that I was focusing on is that there are various tools and technologies and companies where investors and public markets have spent you know, billions. Tens and hundreds of billions of dollars, where these tools are helping businesses to really, for demand generation and user acquisition. 

Amit Sharma  16:46

However, I could not find tools and technologies to really retain shoppers and really engage shoppers throughout that lifecycle. So, it's less about customer acquisition, it's customer retention and expansion. And as big as Walmart and Apple I couldn't find specific tools and technologies that were available back then for, that companies can leverage. That was the exact business problem that I was, I had in mind to solve with, at Narvar.

Michael LeBlanc  17:18

You know, it's super interesting. I mean, we've been the three of us have been in this game one way, shape or another for, for quite a while. I mean, the industry, whether it's catalog industry, William-Sonoma, eCommerce for, for decades. I, it feels like we'd be farther ahead than we are today in solving some of these problems. 

Michael LeBlanc  17:35

It's not like you lacked at your prior places’ resources, you know, Walmart and Apple have, have extensively unlimited resources. So, so, let's step back and say for the audience, what's the big picture? The friction points in the customer journey and the returns problem? And, and how do you dimensionalize, that problem and, and kind of a sub question is, How come we're not farther ahead this far along?

Amit Sharma  17:56

Yeah, I think so, if you look at a typical customer journey, especially in a digital commerce, and that is a lot of time, energy and money is focused on upstream funnels. So, that means homepage and landing pages, category pages, and then really focusing on driving that optimization, from product detail pages to shopping cart and checkout. And that's where most of the time energy and money is spent. 

Amit Sharma  18:22

And, and driving that conversion rate, pick your favorite number between one and two percent, that's where the conversion rate is online. So, what, what is missing there is that when the transaction is complete, where customer is expressing their intention, and value exchange happens in terms of completing that transaction where money exchanges hand at the time of checkout.

Amit Sharma  18:47

However, in, in my opinion, the transaction is not complete, until you have the full value exchange, that means delivering the goods and services to the end consumer. I think, I see that as a big disconnect with merchants and customer brands believe that they have taken the order and order is complete at the time of checkout. And consumers and shoppers believe you have to deliver the goods and the services around it. And that's where I saw the gap and the friction point. And most of the companies are focusing on the front of the funnel from homepage to checkout where consumers are expecting from checkout to delivery.

Michael LeBlanc  19:25

Okay, so you're in front of prospective clients, you've got a great roster of clients, but you're in front of a prospective client who doesn't see Do they see this challenge? Like how do you, how do you sit in front of them and dimensionalize the opportunity? Because as you said, they may being approach it from there's nothing wrong. I mean, what, what is it that you're here to fix for us and what are you going to fix for our consumers and, and is there an environmental sustainability part? 

Michael LeBlanc  19:50

So, so, you know, talk about that for a little bit that kind of I don't want to, I don't want to call it an elevator pitch, but, you know, you've got to get to the core value pretty quickly with I'm sure your prospective customers. What is it that you lay on the table and say, You need to understand this and we fix this problem? 

Amit Sharma  20:07

Yeah, in the typical, talk about, you know, how are you thinking about really driving that customer lifetime value. So, that's one way to think about it, that you know, you may have a leaky bucket where you're spending anywhere between 200 to $300, to drive that first transaction, but how many customers are coming back? 

Amit Sharma  20:29

And, and you know, having that RFM model and have repeat purchases. And there's tremendous amount of research, and data already exists between Accenture and Bain and others, that you know, you're highly you know, lifetime value customers are your most, not only spending more, but they are highly efficient in terms of cost as well. 

Amit Sharma  20:50

So, the you know, the orientation is more about customer lifetime value versus customer acquisition. And that's where typically we spend time that what strategies and initiatives that you have to really drive that customer lifetime value versus customer acquisition.

Michael LeBlanc  21:07

Now are you finding that conversation easier or harder or the same? I mean, as, as we all, you know, many retailers have been tied up just trying to get through the COVID era of supply chain challenges, which continued today. Are they starting, do you find on the whole to turn their minds as a, as an industry to these kinds of higher order metrics, if I could call it that way?

Amit Sharma  21:28

I think this is hard. First of all, you know, when you have key metrics that are already set, that are typically, talk about either of your stock store comps, or even, even over here, your online growth comps. So, it's hard to pivot and talk about customer lifetime value. 

Amit Sharma  21:47

But having said right, regressive companies and businesses are slowly orienting to look at not only how we grow our business, but how do we grow our business pragmatically, and profitably? Which is really, really hard for last 20 years, you know? Three of us can count only like a handful of companies who have even attempted or even delivered results on a consistent basis. Fromm, from that perspective.

Amit Sharma  22:12

So, Amit, can you give us a handle? So, it sounds like there's a, you know, there's obviously a particular part of the, the value model for retailers that, that you take a look at it and, and it sounds like you, you help retailers uncover where there may be this leaky bucket or, or some upset opportunities. But let's dig into a little bit more about, you know, how the Narvar model works, I think you've got a, a few different value propositions. Part of it, as I understand is around returns reduction, but I think there's more to it. But can, can you kind of set the stage for us and then kind of dig into how, how your solution works?

Amit Sharma  22:48

Absolutely. So, since we just discussed what we do is really driving that customer retention and engagement. So, let's talk about how do we do it. So, there are three things that we actually build our solutions and our products that, that we offer to the industry.

Amit Sharma  23:05

One is setting the right expectation on product detail pages, or shopping cart and checkout. Really not just when you place an order, and when it's going to ship, but really giving them the choice and convenience on hey, if you place an order if you're in Portland, placing an order at 10am on Thursday morning, when can we really deliver it to you versus if you may be in Hawaii, or if you're in New York. 

Amit Sharma  23:30

So, really giving that in a more, setting that promise and expectation and convenience, whether you want to pick it up to, in a store or a third-party location, such as UPS or FedEx stores. So, that's where we really help businesses to drive convenience and conversion rate by setting the right expectations and giving the consumers choice and convenience. So, that's one product line. 

Amit Sharma  23:54

Second is that now once the, the order is placed, how can we really engage customers proactively? That means whether, whether customer needs an SMS notification or WhatsApp or email, how can we proactively inform consumer that you have Yes, you have placed an order, order has three items, those three items may come in two shipments, either whether those are early, on time, or late. 

Amit Sharma  24:20

So, we can avoid first of all, any call to the call center and use those opportunities to really engage customers and talk about how to use the products, what are the things that they may need to know from setup or installation, or any other product recommendation or marketing opportunities. So, really, proactively communicating in that waiting period between order placed to order delivered. 

Amit Sharma  24:48

And then the third product line is really post-delivery, which is in the space of returns and reverse logistics. So, similar to shipping, we believe consumers are looking for the choice and convenience, how, when and where they can return their items, whether item is broken or not as intended, or their order in two different units. So, whatever may be the case, how do we give that choice and convenience, while balancing the SKU profitability for that merchant. 

Amit Sharma  25:18

And that's where the operational cost and operational rigor also comes into picture so that we can balance the business needs as well as consumer expectations. So, those are the three high level product solutions that we have in the market to help businesses to deliver a, a more convenient consumer experience while balancing their P&L needs.

Amit Sharma  25:44

So, it sounds, just to make sure I'm understanding this. So, it sounds like, and I guess this would depend quite a lot on the particular client, and maybe, maybe there's a case example or two you could give us, but it sounds like part of the return comes from fundamentally having happier customers, you know, higher NPS scores, you know, which is going to increase their retention, increase their probability of spending in the future. 

Steve Dennis  26:07

But there's also kind of the hardcore expense reductions, because I think we know that returns can be extremely expensive, both from the shipping cost, merchandise depreciation, as well as obviously there's some negative environmental impacts. Is it, is that right? It's sort of two sides of the ledger, right? Happier, happier customers leads to more spending, greater margin, product margin, and on the other side, you're potentially saving a lot of expenses in, in product ending up in the, in the landfills, that fair?

Amit Sharma  26:34

Exactly. So, I think three, you write down the three key business metrics. What are, can we drive higher customer satisfaction scores? So, that's one thing branded experiences throughout the customer journey. That's number one. Number two, when you're a happy customer when they're returning so you can drive up additional upsells and cross sells with that, that shopper. And third, while you take care of first and second, how can we do and reduce the operational cost and drive that business profitably? So, those are three specific KPIs that we work with a merchandiser to drive the businessman.

Amit Sharma  27:12

I'm curious, I'll let Michael jump back in here in a second. But one thing that's just kind of popped in, into my head, as I hear you speak and kind of talk more about the details. I've worked well, I've been on the buy side of this, but I've also worked with a fair number of technology firms that have very good overall value propositions, I think. But they often struggle to figure out exactly who the right client is within the company, because of the way responsibilities are distributed, or where the value comes, you know, for example, on the customer satisfaction side, right? 

Steve Dennis  27:44

That might be somebody who you know, a merchandising person or a marketing person, whereas the cost savings that come out, you know, that comes out of supply chain or store operations is that, are you finding that? And, and if so, how are you overcoming that, if that is a real challenge?

Amit Sharma  27:59

So, you are correct, and, and some of that is also the size of the customer. If you are a small mid market growth brand. So, you may have a head of digital you know, who may lead all of these functions. But if you go to a true enterprise, omni-channel retailer, then yes, then these responsibilities are distributed among two or three or four functions. 

Amit Sharma  28:23

You touched upon customer service, eCommerce, supply chain and logistics, and maybe even product or engineering. So, you know, just like anything else, you know, you have to, you know, work across the functions and show value you know, in, in their respective business area. So, yes, it becomes more challenging, but then there is the unlock, that we can offer to multiple functions.

Michael LeBlanc  28:49

You know, you're, you're in the middle of a, I don't know, if you're in the middle of is the right description, but you're part of a vast ecosystem that moves around product, product returns, and as products move around, how do you or do you work in concert with other tech firms that kind of focus on other parts of the problem? How do you, how do you fit in and, and would you describe it as that ecosystem? Is it, is it that where you over the years have connected or are adjunct or are you replacing some of the parts in that ecosystem?

Amit Sharma  29:19

Yeah, I mean, so, you know, we are a net new solution in the ecosystem. So, very rarely, we will rip and replace any existing infrastructure. And you are correct Michael, you know, in especially in, when a bigger, an enterprise business and are you have to have this approach of better together because they may have a marketing cloud already or a customer service solution already. 

Amit Sharma  29:46

So, we have to show an incremental value not just the independently how are we driving business but incrementally. So, case in point for us to help reduce Where is my order, or When can I get my shipment? By the way, that is the number one call in the call center or the inquiry that comes in. So, 30 to 40% of inquiries that are coming in, where is my order, where is my shipment? 

Amit Sharma  30:11

And those are accentuated in the COVID era because of Labor and Workforce constraint as well as supply chain limitation. So, in that particular example, yes, we do work with existing solutions, whether it is Salesforce Service Cloud, Zendesk, or even up and coming solutions like Garcia’s in, in the SMB market. So, we have embedded our capabilities in both directions to give that incremental value to our common customers in this particular example,

Michael LeBlanc  30:42

How has the, the business and the industry evolved in your mind? I mean, you both got COVID. Of course, we can speak to that you brought you just mentioned that over the past couple of years, the COVID era has certainly, you know, to some degree, moved things around a brief acceleration and kind of a, as Steve often describes that the Great Moderation. 

Michael LeBlanc  30:59

But are you seeing any, the evolution of the business in terms of you know, there's third party depot's now where people can drop off returns, like there's a lot of people, it seems to me turning their minds to try and to solve, in different ways, the problems that you're solving. So, how have you seen the, this particular element of the industry evolve?

Amit Sharma  31:21

Yeah, I think in, in, in especially in the returns and reverse logistics, I do see a change in my mindset in last couple of years. And the context, as I was just describing is a constraint in workforce. That means they don't have enough labor in their fulfillment centers or even in their stores. And also inventory delays and, and limit you know, limited inventory available.

Amit Sharma 31:48

So, progressive retailers are seeing returns as, not just to give that consumer the choice to return it, but they're seeing as a new source of inventory. As we all know that inventory sitting in my closet, every day you are losing the sales opportunity. So, instead of just looking at sourcing from the manufacturers, now progressive retailers are looking at you know, inventory, how do we get it faster from customers and shoppers’ closets? 

Amit Sharma  32:17

And what we have seen that if you give them the choice and convenience, Hey, give this QR code, you don't even have to print a label at home. Or you might even have a packaging, and our research says that as not 25 but 35% of customers don't even have a printer at home. So, if you want to get that return faster, you can give them the convenience of going to a local drop off point, whether it is a UPS access point, or FedEx location, and you can get that inventory faster by 25%. And, and actually put that back on stock. So, these are the things that we are seeing in the market where retailers are paying more attention now how can they run their operations more efficiently?

Steve Dennis  32:57

Amit, I think I saw, if I’m right that you guys won a Fast Company award for sustainability? Do I have that somewhere close to right, or am I dreaming that?

Amit Sharma  33:08

No, you're right? No, we were thrilled to be part of the innovative company in the sustainability category. And you know, there are a lot of things going on there.

Steve Dennis  33:19

Well, I guess I'm curious before I kind of, we start to get towards wrapping up and just kind of understand a little bit where you're going overall, but, but do you feel like this, this interest in sustainability in particular, is causing more retailers to take a look at, at the whole returns and exchange process? Is that really a significant change or, or not?

Amit Sharma  33:41

No, I mean, sustainability is in their mind. But we haven't seen any concrete steps that industry is taking yet. There are more coming from, as you mentioned earlier, in your comment that consumers have higher expectations, and coupled with more cost in supply chain is the driving factor. And especially in the returns and reverse logistics, not as much that brands are certainly looking to meet their goals or their milestones for sustainability yet. We haven't seen that play a key role so far, at least.

Steve Dennis  34:24

Well, it'll be interesting to see how that changes because it does seem to me, not to get too off the topic here, but it does seem like there has been I mean, we know that in general, particularly with the growth of eCommerce that, that product returns are going up. And I think there's been quite a bit more coverage in the media about what happens to those, to those products that get returned. I think people think maybe they end up in an outlet store but as you know that's not, that's not even close to being always the case. But in any event, perhaps a topic for another day but so, so, what's next for, for you guys that we haven't touched on yet?

Amit Sharma  35:01

No, I think I love first of all, I'd love to talk more about the sustainability and returns you're right, at least 30%, if not more, depending on the category, it just goes in the landfill. So, it's not hitting any shelf by any means. Now, what's next for Narvar? 

Amit Sharma  35:16

You know, as I look at reflecting back on last decade or so, and what is in front of us for next 5 to 10 years out, you know we are really excited to, to really bringing personalization, not just on the product, not just in giving more loyalty and rewards in terms of driving the shopping, but how do we curate the, the experience in the post-purchase world. 

Amit Sharma  35:44

Today, you know it is, for the most part is free for all whether it is shipping, or returns, it does not take into consideration the merchandise or art or the customer themselves. And I think there's tremendous opportunity to curate that experience based on the product based on the customer and the audience in that post purchase world and using data and intelligence to drive that end-to-end customer experience and a curated experience, something that we are really excited about.

Amit Sharma  36:15

Well, it's a really fascinating business. Thanks for sharing more about it. I agree with you 100%, that there's not been nearly enough attention paid to the whole post, post-purchase, experience and environment. So, thanks for joining us, and great luck to you for the rest of the year.

Amit Sharma  36:35

No, thank you for having me. Thanks again.

Michael LeBlanc  36:37

If you like what you heard, please follow us on Apple, Spotify, your favorite podcast platform so you can catch up with all our great interviews, like our discussion with Target, SVP, Nancy King on their innovative approach to harmonize retail. New episodes will show up each and every week. And be sure and tell your friends and colleagues in the retail industry all about us.

Steve Dennis  36:55

And I'm Steve Dennis, author of the bestselling book, ‘Remarkable Retail: How To Win and Keep Customers In The Age of Disruption’. You can learn more about me, my consulting and keynote speaking at

Michael LeBlanc  37:08

And I'm Michael LeBlanc, producer and co-host of the Conversations with CommerceNext podcast, The Voice of Retail podcast, keynote speaker and host of the all-new Last Request Barbecue cooking show on YouTube. You can learn even more about me on LinkedIn or 

Safe travels everyone.


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