Remarkable Retail

AWS's Tom Litchford and the Amazon Technology Revolution

Episode Summary

This week our special guest is Tom Litchford, Head of Worldwide Business Development for Amazon Web Services (AWS). We cover a lot of ground, touching on the key benefits of cloud-computing (turns out there are quite a few), how AWS fits into the Amazon eco-system (spoiler alert: quite nicely), why it takes a crisis for retailers to innovate (don't get us started) and why a culture of experimentation is so important. We also tackle the proverbial elephant in the room.

Episode Notes

This week our special guest is Tom Litchford, Head of Worldwide Business Development for Amazon Web Services (AWS). We cover a lot of ground, touching on the key benefits of cloud-computing (turns out there are quite a few), how AWS fits into the Amazon eco-system (spoiler alert: quite nicely), why it takes a crisis for retailers to innovate (don't get us started) and why a culture of experimentation is so important. We also tackle the proverbial elephant in the room.

Then we move on to our fast-paced weekly segment    “Remarkable or Forgettable?” where we give our hot takes on retail headlines, and deem them wow-worthy, best ignored or somewhere in between. This week's big stories include Jeff Bezos' final letter to Amazon shareholders (and some of the fun facts contained therein), Amazon's first hair salon (say, what now?), Walmart's move to quell our robot overlords, Lord & Taylor's return from the great beyond and Nike and Lululemon's resale ambitions.


Tom Litchford, Head of Worldwide Retail at Amazon Web Services (AWS)

As head of worldwide business development for the retail industry, Tom Litchford leads and manages AWS' industry strategy including marketing and sales enablement, channel development, and solution offerings required to address customers' business requirements and challenges.

Litchford has more than 35 years of experience in systems engineering, sales, product management and marketing of technology business solutions for the retail and hospitality industries. Prior to joining AWS in 2017, most recently he led the National Retail Federation's (NRF) technology communities and its cybersecurity program. Prior to NRF, he served in various roles with notable technology firms including Microsoft and NCR.

Litchford was instrumental in driving the development of the OPOS application program interface (API) set – now a defacto industry standard for point-of-sale application-to-peripheral connectivity. Working with organizations such as ARTS and NAFEM, he has also been influential in establishing XML messaging standards in the retail and foodservices sectors.


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  and       The Food Professor  with Dr. Sylvain Charlebois.  You can learn more about Michael       here  or on       LinkedIn. 

Episode Transcription

Michael LeBlanc  00:05

Welcome, Remarkable Retail podcast, Season 2, Episode 13. I'm Michael LeBlanc.

Steve Dennis  00:10

And I'm Steve Dennis.

Michael LeBlanc  00:12

So, you know, Stephen, I talk about in my keynote presentations about five key technological forces that are driving change in retail. They're not discrete, they kind of intersect, but the most important one of these, I think, is artificial intelligence. Are you getting a sense for how powerful that could be and that can it be a differentiating element, I mean, and even, can we define it more and are we seeing it and where do you think it fits in retail and do you think it's going to be important?

Steve Dennis  00:40

Oh, I think it's going to be important. I think, what one, one thing I've heard, and I would say, this is a little bit outside of my, my wheelhouse, but I hear from some folks that are working in artificial intelligence that a lot of companies claim they do artificial intelligence. That really isn't it's kind of advanced statistical stuff. So, there's that I'll, I'll leave that to the technologists to Yeah, to parse the parse out. But I think the ability for artificial intelligence, machine learning to routine-ized tasks to save money, but I think the more powerful thing is the predictive power to do more personalization, dynamic, you know, site dynamic site adjustments, and all those kinds of things. So yeah, I think I think we're in the early days, but I think, yeah, it's absolutely gonna be,

Michael LeBlanc  01:26

I mean, there's lots of use cases I've heard, I mean, you know, anything from prescreening and a call center, which can be kind of clunky, but every now and then I guess it's using artificial intelligence. I've seen it in merchandise planning. I think there's great potential in that. Yep, and I've seen it in, in LP that, and I'll talk about that much, but some, you know, you've got all these cameras and how do you detect a pattern that's different than other patterns.

Michael LeBlanc  01:51

I was speaking with the retailer, he said, ‘You know, these, these cameras detect sudden changes in movement and flow and sometimes they don't mean anything, but it could mean 10 people just rushed into the store to steal from you and, you know, you need that processing horsepower, to alert you in real time that something's different like that machine vision meets AI’. So, this, this episode actually isn't about AI, per se, but it's about the enabler of AI, cloud computing, because a lot of folks, retailers say, ‘Listen, we couldn't do what we could, we can't even imagine doing what we could do with AI without way more horsepower than we could really afford. It would make sense’. So, we're going to the source on this episode, a company that started at all as a solution for their own computing problems, Amazon.

Steve Dennis  02:35

Yeah, I've heard of these guys seem to be, they seem to be pretty successful. Well, it's really fun to be talking about Amazon Web Services, not only to, kind of, get into the details, which we will but you know, I think a lot of times we've, we've talked about Amazon, we've talked about this idea that Amazon retail doesn't make any money that all the money is made in Amazon Web Services, which isn't so much true anymore. But certainly, AWS has been a huge enabler for Amazon's overall growth and continues to grow at crazy rates and have dramatic impact. 

Steve Dennis  03:12

So, we're gonna get to hear a lot more about Amazon Web Services, because we've got Tom Litchford, who's the head of worldwide retail at Amazon Web Services, also known as AWS. And Tom is a long-term retail and technology veteran, and he'll tell us all about their incredible cloud based computing platform, how it all came to be, what their capabilities and scale our capabilities and scale look like. But also address the elephant in the room is AWS, the right partner for retailers. So, let's bring on Tom.

Michael LeBlanc  03:50

Tom, welcome to the Remarkable Retail podcast, how are you doing this morning? 

Tom Litchford  03:53

Great, Michael, thanks for having me.

Michael LeBlanc  03:55

Well, thanks for joining us, it's a real treat. Listen, big world, such great innovation, really excited for this, for this interview. So, why don't we, why don't we start at the beginning tell us a little bit yourself a little bit about AWS retail and what's your background? So, let's start there.

Tom Litchford  04:13

Oh, yeah, well Okay, great. So real quick well, so I'm the global lead here for retail at AWS now and pin here mom on my fourth year, but, but I'm a 40 year plus retail guy, I kind of grew up in retail. In fact, for those old timers around, if they even remember, moss brothers in some of those old federated brands kind of got my feet wet there as a stock boy back when I was in college and, and then tied it tied that to two computers and just fell in love with computer science and, and of course, retail gets in your blood and now here I am. 40 plus years later, but, but yeah, so from that aspect, again. Lots of things mostly on the vendor side started with NCR. I did a stint at Microsoft, was the VP for Retail Technologies at NRF in my last job and then moved over here to AWS to help them build out their retail industry.

Michael LeBlanc  05:14

Well, you know, we've, we've, kind of, it's funny, you're one of the brands that have, that have successfully climbed the mountain AWS, but what is it, for, the odd person might not actually know, what does AWS stand for?

Tom Litchford  05:25

Yeah, so great is its Amazon Web Services and it was the pioneer of cloud services. I'm going to get it wrong here, Michael, but what is it about 13, 14 years ago, when, when Andy Jassy working for Amazon, retail, did some infrastructure work for them, and, and saw the vision that, you know, this is something that would help any business, not just retailers and, and in similar to the way Amazon works for what we call a narrative, or a six pager for the business, got approved by the leadership team and often go, he goes as CEO of AWS, which is now as you know, the leading cloud provider in this space.

Michael LeBlanc  06:13

And is that the case, is this true that really you, you built Amazon built it because they couldn't find anything to take care of all that horsepower that they needed, so that it was conceived to help, initially, the horsepower that Amazon was needed as a retailer, but then conceived of, as you said, as, as a, as a whole other product, is that is that story accurate, is that how it kind of broadly evolved? 

Tom Litchford  06:35

Yeah, I think, I think that's pretty close. I mean, in fact, if you're familiar with what we're doing in retail, or our, you know, we don't, we don't shy away from that heritage, we think it's our differentiator and in our tagline is actually born from retail built for retailers. So, you know, one of, one of Amazon's, the kind of the culture and the way we work here is, is you'll hear, is working backwards in the customer obsession, and 90% of what AWS services are out there. Today, we're done at a customer request of, of course, one of those very large, demanding customers being an Amazon retail.

Michael LeBlanc  07:13

Right, right and so, let's, I think, in some ways, the reason to move to the cloud at this point in 2021, is fairly straightforward. You might want to touch on that, but what, what would make retailers hesitate about moving into the cloud, like moving, they're all that, taking advantage of all that processing power, what kind of objections would you run into, just in general, you know, cloud-based computing?

Tom Litchford  07:35

Yeah, no, I, you know, honestly, Michael, I don't I don't see, you know, you know, in my 40 years, retail retailers, pretty much have been the laggards in adopting new technologies, whether, you know, that they wanted to wait to see proof that they worked, or, or maybe some of this kind of risk averse type mentality that, that we've had in the past. But, you know, to be honest, I don't know that there's very many retailers out there today that aren't moving into the cloud. So I don't know that there's, there's any more hesitancy other than, you know, starting to get their feet wet or where do we start, you know, how do we get started, I get that question a lot and you know, what I would, I would argue on that one, the easiest place to get started is just to get your feet wet, and start in, you know, the classic DevOps, but you know, I've changed the term DevOps now to be more get into this culture of experimentation. 

Tom Litchford  08:29

So, you know, if you, if you recall, in the past, it might take us 12 months to, you know, have a great idea. And by the time, you know, we've procured hardware and software and got our act together, you know, 12 months later, we're testing it. Well, the beauty of the cloud is you can have services up and running and you know, an hour and start testing to see if your ideas work and your associates have some of the best ideas in the world about how to take care of your customer. So, why aren't you trying those and testing them to see if they work, and the clouds a beautiful place to maybe get your feet wet there? 

Tom Litchford  09:02

And then, and then eCommerce is the classic, you know, low hanging fruit that I see or, you know, most retailers as they start getting their feet wet and get comfortable with these technologies, then e-commerce is usually the first app to be what we call lifted and shifted into the cloud and the reason there is for something called auto-scaling, right. So, again, back to, you know, my learnings in my 40 years, I don't think I could reference a retailer that did a good job of provisioning an e commerce system to where that iron isn't sitting there idle for nine months of the year, and then overtaxed when the holidays came around. So, you know, the beauty of the cloud, there is, it auto scales, so it puts resources into the app as it's needed for the holidays. And then as that demand ramps back down, it brings those resources down so you're not sitting there idle. And by the way, you're only paying for the time the services are running. So again, you're not Paying for idle iron sitting there.

Steve Dennis  10:03

So, Tom, I imagine that with, with all the benefits of going on AWS, you must get some pushback or at least concern from retailers that by going with AWS, they are, in essence, supporting a competitor, does that come up a lot, and if so, how do you, how do you, how do you handle that?

Tom Litchford  10:23

Yeah, yeah, it's a fair question. And we do get it a lot. I mean, there's a, there's a few vocal, particularly us retailers that, that like to put that foot out in the marketplace. And, you know, to be honest, I mean, just right up front, you know, I work with 1000s of retailers around the world today, in terms of using AWS services, to innovate, and move their businesses forward and at the same time, you know, you just look at reports like from Gartner, that show that we are the preferred cloud provider out there in the retail industry. So, you know, I think, really, when it comes back to having that conversation, you know, with, with our customers and our prospects, you know, to me, if, if you were breaking into three areas, you know, the most important thing, by far is not to be focused on your competition, or what the competitive dynamics are, but to listen carefully to what your customers are saying matters. 

Tom Litchford  11:19

And then, you know, if you were doing that number two was, you want the ability to unleash your builders to build that, and you want to be able to do that really, really fast and then the final thing is you, you want to constantly be iterating, and experimenting, and, you know, AWS cloud services make that happen and, you know, if you if you were focused on those three things, instead of the, the competitive dynamics, you know, that would give you more of a chance of building the lasting business and have a chance to sustain yourself and then I would argue, you know, there's no better platform than AWS out there today, that gives builders the ability to evolve that customer experience, or customer experience.

Steve Dennis  12:01

So, you've touched now a few times on, on this flexibility, culture of experimentation, I guess, more broadly, being, being agile, I'm curious, and maybe this is a broader question around the impact of COVID, but I'm wondering what you've seen change in terms of what retailers are looking for, by virtue of COVID and maybe you could also touch on what you think is likely to persist as we hopefully get back to some semblance of business a bit more, as usual.

Tom Litchford  12:31

Yeah, good. Yeah and hopefully, we're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel here, right and we won't, hopefully, maybe, be talking too much about COVID anymore, but you know, you know, ironically, even though I mean, obviously, retail got hit pretty hard, depending on you know, what segment you were in, whether it was grocery or fashion or whatever and, you know, that the irony there or what surprised me is I didn't see a slowdown, you know, across, if you look across three key areas, you know, this, this accelerated move to the cloud.

Tom Litchford  13:05

So, moving more systems into the cloud and the reason I think we saw retailers, double down on that is because of the cost savings alone, you know, so again, that's the kind of, the knee jerk reaction. Anyway, when something, a crisis happens, in retail, is to cut cost, right, well, the cloud is beautiful there because you know, you're seeing anywhere from 30 to 50% cost savings and then on top of that, as they started, you know, start taking these monolithic systems and decomposing them into you know, more modern architectures, you know, based on you know, microservices and purpose built databases and then running them in what we call a serverless environment, you know, we see another 30 to 50% cost savings so that whole acceleration into the cloud I didn't really see much of a slowdown second was investment in digital transformation. 

Tom Litchford  13:57

You know, I think, I think you saw a lot of retailers get caught and you know, kind of with without the capability to do you know, things like buy online, pick up in-store, or pick up at curb and they were rapidly trying to figure out how to do that while the cloud you know, was able to come in and help them you know, get those types of services or get those types of capabilities out there quickly and again, this, this kind of even goes back to, you know, my first comments around you know, working with AWS, I mean, we had already pioneered by online pickup at curb at the Amazon Fresh doors, where you know, literally you do nothing you drive into the parking lot and park in a parking designated parking space, you know, for pickup and we know you're there and we kick off an event and bring your groceries out to you. 

Tom Litchford  14:43

And in this case, it can be totally contactless, right, you don't have to roll your window down, just open your trunk and have the person put them in your trunk. So that was a beauty there so that, that whole idea around digital transformation we're seeing, seeing retailers really double down on that and the third area The use of ML, AI, ML which is you know kind of a hype term in retail today and again it's, it's almost like the cloud or you know our customers as, where do I start where do I get the most value you know what's the use case I should be focusing on and you know the problem with COVID is it just it just accelerated not it didn't create the problem it actually just exposed and accelerated the problem we have specifically in supply chain and grocery right where you saw you know, just you know, basically and again I don't understand the human nature here and why you know, we ran out of toilet paper of all things. 

Tom Litchford  15:36

But, but anyway you know, caught grocery with an inability to do good demand forecasting, it caught them with the inability to allocate to the stores that needed the product the most and now on the back end of that you know, when you as they started focusing on, on those items that, that more being in high demand and turn their attention away from the slow movers well now they're being hurt on that side of the business too because they're out of stock of stuff they could be selling that you know, even though we, we might call it a slow mover, it still is, you know, could be worth billions of dollars of business to the industry, right.

Steve Dennis  16:11


Tom Litchford  16:12

And so this whole idea about you know, how do I start using ML to get you know, more insights as to what's really going on in my business or even counter intuitive insights, you know, to help me get better at, you know, whether that's, you know, on the customer side and personalization, or on the back inside with things like demand forecasting or allocation.

Steve Dennis  16:34

One of the things, just maybe stepping back a little bit one of the things that Michael and I have, have gotten into, probably, I don't know, maybe about a third or half of our podcast episodes and I dig into in the new edition of my book is this idea of why does it take a retail, why does it take a crisis for retailers to innovate and I'm curious you know, you mentioned earlier that, that retailers are slow to adopt technology and so, part of me is like well obviously COVID was you know, we could call it black swan event or whatever you know, it was not anticipated and had massive impacts in a very short amount of time.

Steve Dennis  17:08

So, I get that retailers, you know, needed to obviously in some cases for survival but just to pursue opportunities innovate right very, very rapidly, but at the same time, it's you know, it's not a new thing that ecommerce has been growing 15, 16% a year you know, I was working on buy online pick up in store at Neiman Marcus, you know, 12 years ago, you know, the blending of channels, you know, what I call harmonization or omni channel, but you know, all these things are things that have been out there for a long time and gaining traction. Yet it seemed like so many retailers were really caught flat footed. So, I'm curious, not just from your AWS experience, but your, all your time in the industry, number one, I mean, do you agree with that, what do you think's behind it and is there some particular advice you might give to retailers to, to build that culture of experimentation and agility?

Tom Litchford  17:58

Yeah. Well, you know, you just hit on it. In your last copy there. It's all about culture. You know, again, I, I came up in, you know, maybe in your career, you can, no sense to this, but at least on the vendor side, you know, I grew up in a culture where if you screwed up, you got fired, right, and I mean, we're talking about really risk averse mentalities here, versus customer focused mentalities, right and so, if you were truly focused on, you know, trying to, you know, do what your customers are asking you to do, then you, you would totally change your culture, culture, to be more of that culture of experimentation. 

Tom Litchford  18:40

You want to be constantly experimenting and, in fact, I think, I think Jeff Bezos once said, you know, if you already know the answer to what you're doing, then it's not an experiment and you're just doing the same old stuff, right.

Steve Dennis  18:53


Tom Litchford  18:53

And Steve, even in Steve's, you know, book, he talked a little bit about, you know, that, that I forget exactly the terminology. It was on that one, Steve, but the three-year mentality where you know, you can't be looking back, well, look, I've been doing this for 25 years, so I know how to do this, right.

Steve Dennis  19:11


Tom Litchford  19:11

You know you've got to, I mean, things are changing so fast, you've got to be constantly wanting to renew yourself and if you don't have that culture, you know, to where you're constantly experimenting, you're learning from that experiment. If things weren't getting it rolled out rapidly, then you're gonna get left behind and again, I can just go on example, after example, I've learned just by moving here to AWS. You know, I don't know Michael, do you even remember something called the Fire Phone?

Michael LeBlanc  19:43

I do, actually. 

Tom Litchford  19:44

Yeah. I mean, I mean, you talk about a failure. I mean, you know, it's so today, I think it's, it's Amazon's biggest failure. Although Bezos has said, you know, you haven't seen big yet. So, you know, you know,

Michael LeBlanc  19:58

There, there are those rockets that every now and then don't go where they’re going.

Tom Litchford  20:01

Yeah, well, we'll but the point is out rapier, you know, on the on the Fire Phone, you know, whatever the write off was, you know, no one got fired for that, by the way and the learnings from that was all the voice technologies and when they got those voice technologies, guess what that became Alexa right and now you've got a huge business over there in devices with Alexa, you know, if you were risk adverse, you wouldn't be doing things like this. So, you know, you know, change that culture, look for where you're causing friction to your customer, and go attack it and that way, I think you'll be successful.

Steve Dennis  20:38

It's actually funny, you mentioned the Fire Phone, because many times in my keynotes, when I get to the last section, talking about developing a culture of experimentation, I often asked the audience, you know, everybody take out, you know, take out their fire phone and hold it up. And, you know, it's like, looking at each other, but. you know, but, but I use that point because I think Amazon is a fantastic example of a culture of experimentation and, you know, I love to, quote Seth Godin around you know, failure is not, is not an option that neither is success, so.

Tom Litchford  21:06

Great example of the friction point is the ghost tours, are you familiar with the ghost tours?

Steve Dennis  21:11

For sure, yeah. 

Tom Litchford  21:12

So, you know, the innovation there was, you know, you know, the NGO team, or the NGO business unit came to AWS and said, hey, we want to eliminate checkout lines. So again, that's, that gets back to that comment I made earlier about, you know, be working backwards from what it is you're trying to do and so, you know, we worked with them for, I don't know, I forget what it was four or five, six years it had started before I joined here and. you know, they had eliminated all sorts of technologies as, as not being viable as an example RFID would not really solve the problem and they landed on, you know, we, we think computer vision is going to do this, but there was no computer vision technology, per se to solve the problem.

Tom Litchford  21:54

So, so, AWS had to pioneer something called Kinesis Video Streams, which is the capability to simultaneously take feeds from hundreds of cameras and figure out what Michael is doing in that store, right and, and they did, and they didn't stop there. So, they removed the friction, it is truly just walk out and that's what the technology is called now that we've externalized any of our customers. 

Tom Litchford  22:19

So, we've removed that friction from the, you know, being, being, having to stand in line and checkout, but what we saw was we put friction at the front of the store. Now it took time to get in the store, people were queuing up and having to get their phones out and open an app and get to a 2d barcode to show to get in the store and so we attack that problem, and I don't know if you saw last November, a product called Amazon One was announced, which was the palm reader. So, now, now to get in a, in an Amazon GO store, you don't need your wallet, you don't need a phone, you need nothing but yourself to show your palm, it opens up the gates, it lets you in, grab what you want, and you just walk out. So, that's what I mean by constantly looking for where you're putting friction in that customer journey that's going to impact their experience and their view of you as a brand.

Michael LeBlanc  23:09

It's a great example of, it's a great example, the technology, right, I can't imagine the amount of computing horsepower that's necessary to drive all that, you know, 20 years ago, or even, you know, without the cloud based, just pure horsepower, the pen, and scale. 

Michael LeBlanc  23:24

So, last question for you and when I think about AI and ML, so, you know, artificial intelligence, machine learning, I think of it as a predictive model, a predictive engine. And do you think that we'll get to a point, I mean, you're sitting at a particular place where you have this fantastic view of capabilities, and you're hearing, you know, you're seeing things in the market, do you think we'll get to the place where, whether its supply chain or whether it's to the doorstep that you can get to this anticipatory retail horizon, where like, I don't even know I want it, but it shows up at my door and, hey, by the way, yeah, I was thinking about that. I mean, I could see a world where it gets close. Right, but from your vantage point, is that a realistic point of arrival? 

Tom Litchford  24:04

Yeah, I think this, the Star Trek holograph, or what, what was it called, that's what we want, right? 

Michael LeBlanc  24:10

Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Tom Litchford  24:11

You know, that's a great question. I, you know, I think you know, we're already we're getting there we're taking steps I think you know, when you look at what retailers are doing today, you know, in terms of personalization and again, it's not like back to the what's old is new again, right, we're going back from the old neighborhood retailing trying to get back to that one to one personalization in that relationship you have with your customers and ,and I think we're starting to get there I mean, we're seeing things or we're, you know, if not really true personalization. 

Tom Litchford  24:41

Yeah, but like, for example, that shoe store out of the UK, Footasylum, we were able to at least help them get better at, you know, segment-, segmentation and targeting customers, to where, you know, they were seeing things in upwards of around, you know, 28% uplift in campaigns. Revenue just using AI to do better targeting of a segment. So, like, for example, you know, I want to sell, you know, this particular shoe to, you know, females 25 to 35 years old, and they were seeing really strong uplift in sales just by doing, you know, that kind of baby step. 

Tom Litchford  25:18

And, you know, I think the beauty that some people are missing too, is the counterintuitive learnings you get from that and, you know, we, you know, working this was with a partner called Peak, out of the UK, you know, this was all basically on mostly online type stuff that we were working with them on and we started seeing product affinities online that, that I guarantee you that merchandiser that's been there for 25 years, using Excel still would not have seen and we were able to coach them to say, Well, why don't you start merchandising your stories based on the affinities you see on the web and they started seeing the same uplift in their stores, right. So, you know, again, it's not always about that direct one on one relationship of ML telling you to go do this, but it's kind of learning some of those counter intuitive insights behind the scenes too.

Steve Dennis  26:12

Amazing. Well, I'll tell you, Tom, there's so much that we could delve into, but this has been great. I really appreciate you joining Michael and me on the remarkable, Remarkable Retail podcast, I guess, last thing is, if folks want to learn more about you, learn more about Amazon, learn more about Amazon Web Services, where should they go?

Tom Litchford  26:30

So, it's easy to start at and / or reach out to me, I'll take your call too. I'd love you to, love to talk to you.

Michael LeBlanc  26:41

Well fantastic I'll put that I'll put both those things in the show notes so folks can find those and, and Tom, thanks so much for joining Steven and I on the, on the Remarkable Retail podcast was just so interesting. just scratching the surface as Steve said into, into what you do and thanks for, for joining us and the listeners.

Tom Litchford  26:58

I enjoyed being here and love to hear your voices and look forward to maybe seeing you guys in person again here in the new fut-, in the near future.

Michael LeBlanc  27:06

All right, it's time for Remarkable or Forgettable. This almost feels like the Amazon episode. There's so much to talk about. We actually skipped a week last week. We had Tom just now on the podcast and Jeff Bezos' last letter, we've got, you know, some news out of that, we've got some, some palm checkout stuff, all kinds of news from amazon, not unusual, but there seems to be a nice cluster. What's going on, what do you think, remarkable, forgettable?

Steve Dennis  27:38

Well, Jeff's letters are always remarkable, I think, if people don't read or haven't read Jeff's annual letters, this is the final one. So, they're all super worthwhile, but they're just a great summary of the past year and, kind of, what's ahead. So, there were a few things in there that I thought were, were worth mentioning, curious to hear yours as well. The one that really jumped out at me was this heading about his advice to create more than you consume, to think it's just, kind of, a great, a great philosophy, I've used some similar kind of language myself. 

Steve Dennis  28:14

So, that, is, really resonated with me, but then there's a ton of just interesting stats, and I won't, I won't go through them all, but one was 200 million Prime members. I think that's the first time they've updated that number which is just massive. He did this calculation, which I won't even try to get into where he tried to estimate all the customer value they've created and just on the retail side he talks about that 28% of Amazon customers' purchases are completed in three minutes or less and when you add up all the time, they save not going to a store that's about 75 hours per year or $630 per Prime member and then there's just a bunch of other stuff that somehow gets you to billions, and billions, and billions of dollars, but that's pretty fun. 

Steve Dennis  29:07

I guess, the other one I call out is he talks about Amazon becoming the Earth's best employer and the Earth's safest place to work which are pretty bold goals and I think certainly speaks to some of the challenges that and criticisms they've been, been getting, what did, what did you find remarkable in the letter?

Michael LeBlanc  29:27

Well, certainly the 200 million number, in print, was, was remarkable. I mean, he, he talked already about vaccinating the supply chain, like dedicating billions of dollars to that early in the in the COVID era, that's, you know, it's, it's a tough task, right, here in, here in Ontario, Canada, they had to close one of their plants actually, one of their big VCs because they,

Steve Dennis  29:47


Michael LeBlanc  29:47

They needed to get their arms around and so it's, it's tough for everybody. They employ a lot of people and so, you know, that was interesting. The best employer was an interesting course they, just, they won, I guess, you could say, that unionization drive, so that's, that's interesting that it's going their way. So, there's always so much going on and then, they, they're opening up a hair salon in London.

Steve Dennis  30:09


Michael LeBlanc  30:09

Came out of, like, nowhere.

Steve Dennis  30:12

I will say, I will say I did not see that coming and when I saw it I thought is this like an April Fool's story I somehow got to several weeks late.

Michael LeBlanc  30:24

It's, It's funny, you know, I was going to, I was going to post, but I thought it would be, I was going to post a picture of an Amazon Basics bowl, is that, is, is that the haircut, is it the Basics haircut, like, what it, but no, it's, apparently it's pretty slick, I don't know, it just shows you got endless resources practically and endless imagination, you can, you can do some interesting stuff, right?

Steve Dennis  30:43

Yeah, it appears to be, like, I don't think this is remarkable in the sense that this is some bold new business strategy for them to me this feels like yet another of their dozens, and dozens of, of experiments. This one appears to be an attempt to see augmented reality put into place, and they've got this point and learn technology which I'm not quite sure I understand, but I know some people think this is more, this is both a tech experiment, as well as to, kind of, raise their credentials among, the more, the b2b, you know, selling things to the professional style. So, I don't know, interesting, probably not, not remarkable in the scheme of everything Amazon's got going on.

Michael LeBlanc  31:24

All right, well, let's, let's move off Amazon, it's been a lot, a lot of content on, on Amazon in this episode. Let's talk about Walmart and what struck me interesting, I wanted to get your Remarkable or Forgettable is, kind of, going a little backwards on, on technology in the store, the robots talk about that.

Steve Dennis  31:40

Yeah, they're taking out these, these big towers for customer pickups, I think, I think, 15 out of them out and focusing on curbside pickup or outside the store, you know, put it in your trunk, kind of, kind of, pick up. You know, I'm not sure about this, Walmart's been putting a lot of effort into, kind of, digitally enabling, to use, you know, one of my favorite phrases, the, the customer experience is a ton of investment into stores, but, yeah, this is this is a little bit curious. I, you know, I guess it's responsive to what customers are, are telling them but I'm not sure I love not having, kind of, all the service in one place.

Michael LeBlanc  32:18

Yeah, it feels like it's offering less choice than more. I use that kiosk, Canadian Tire has them as well, Walmart here as them, I like them because I'm going in, pick up something else, that's not.

Steve Dennis  32:28


Michael LeBlanc  32:28

You know, just, or I'm doing a return and anyway, so anyway, interesting and they, also, started pulling out those bossa nova robots that were scanning the aisles. They said that the humans were doing just a fine job. So, 

Steve Dennis  32:39

And, it was creepy, probably.

Michael LeBlanc  32:41

I thought they were cute. You know, little googly eyes on the top. I thought they were cure. 

Steve Dennis  32:44

One man's cute is another man's creepy apparently.

Michael LeBlanc  32:47

All right, Hal, Lord & Taylor returns from the dead. What's going on there?

Steve Dennis  32:54

This is, I guess, a very US centric story, but Lord & Taylor, I learned, is the oldest department store in the United States. They closed up shop a couple years ago, closed all their stores and then, this Saadia Group, I'm not sure that's the right, Saadia Group, how do you pronounce it, but they bought Lord & Taylor's assets out of bankruptcy for $12 million and now they are relaunching as an online only brand, and I think this is extraordinarily forgettable. I don't know. I don't, I think Lord & Taylor has been on the decline for, you know, a long, long time. I don't know what they are offering that is unique. I looked at their website and yeah, I don't, I don't get it at this point, but I guess if you only paid $12 million for something, like, you don't need that much upsell to.

Michael LeBlanc  33:39

You know what the question is, is, are brands ever truly dead, maybe we'll get into that in another episode, right, can, is, is there, is there a point of no return at some point for some brands, right.

Steve Dennis  33:49


Michael LeBlanc  33:50

That'd be a good, good discussion. Let's talk about returns actually, or re-commerce. Nike and recently Lululemon announcing they're going to take some stuff back, used product back and get into that business.

Steve Dennis  34:01

Well, I'm sure a lot of people know this re-commerce, resale sector has been pretty hot for a number of years with, with, firms like the RealReal and others, Poshmark, recycling product. This is Nike's first move, they're, as I understand it, they're only doing like 15 stores and it's only for sneakers and I think in their case, which talk about I think Lululemons' going for, but in Nikes case, I think this is a little bit to participate in some of the competition they have like stadium goods, which is, which makes a big markup in, on the more unusual Nike items, more into, kind of, collector's edition's. 

Steve Dennis  34:40

So, this seems a little bit more mainstream, but it's a, it's an interesting pilot. So again, not at a scale to really go wow, this is incredibly remarkable, but I think, I think pretty interesting and then what Lulu is doing is also taking back gently worn yoga pants, and the like, and this appears to be more part of their overall to become a more sustainable company, they've set some corporate goals, you know, across a broad spectrum and I think this is a piece of it you know how big an opportunity it is, I'm not sure, so from that perspective I think it's, you know, it, you know, not totally forgettable but certainly not a major move for them.

Michael LeBlanc  35:19

So, less a merchandising strategy and more a corporate social responsibility strategy.

Steve Dennis  35:24


Michael LeBlanc  35:25


Steve Dennis  35:25

That's a good way to put it. Yeah. 

Michael LeBlanc  35:26

Yeah, that's, that's the way it came off to me. So, anyway, we wish, we wish them luck and, of course, they're talking about the resale market is bigger than fast fashion, 10 years, or at least the people who, you know, our resellers

Steve Dennis  35:37

You're talking about trying to raise money. Yeah, absolutely. 

Michael LeBlanc  35:39

I’m of two minds is the pandemic tailwind or headwind to that because I don't know if I want somebody else's stuff, but there's value, I don't know, sustainability, I do think's going to come back fast and furious. So, we'll see, we'll see. All right, well, that was Remarkable or Forgettable.

Michael LeBlanc  36:03

All right, Steve, take us home.

Steve Dennis  36:04

If you like what you heard, please follow us on Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music or your favorite podcast platform, so you can catch up with all our guest interviews and insights and new episodes will show up every week and please take a minute to drop us that elusive five-star rating and tell a friend in the retail industry. I'm Steve Dennis, the expanded and completely revised second edition of my best-selling book, ‘Remarkable Retail: How to Win & Keep Customers in the Age of Disruption’, is now available on Amazon, Indigo, or just about anywhere books are sold.

Michael LeBlanc  36:39

And I'm Michael LeBlanc, producer and host of The Voice of Retail podcast and you can learn more about me on LinkedIn or on 

Michael LeBlanc  36:46

Steve. Have a safe week.


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