The Retail Influencer Network has been formed to bring retail, technology and financial leaders together to help retailers and Silicon Valley understand what each sector needs, serve as a source of information and ideas for the industry and the media, and simply learn from each other.
Participants also said the new network is geared to help retailers and brands apply nontraditional strategies to traditional retail and navigate the convergence of digital commerce and physical stores.
Business influencers are emerging as critical to retailers and brands understanding of fast-changing industry dynamics with traditional retail merging with new commerce and rapidly changing consumer buying patterns. But business influencers are leading the conversation and their insights will help retailers and brands tell their stories and educate the market.
“This is an interesting group that brings diverse thinking and experiences to the conversation about the current and future state of retail affairs,” said Matt Shay, president of the National Retail Federation, who is participating in The Retail Influencer Network. “I believe it’s a place I would learn from and where NRF would benefit. You will see this network engaged in a variety of retail topics and delivering content and thought leadership through multiple channels. It could take the form of programs, podcasts, conferences, written thought pieces, blog posts, collaborative research. It can go in a lot of different directions.”
The network was organized by and is being managed by the Berns Communications Group.
“Just as consumers have grown reliant on brand influencers to help inform their style and purchase decisions, retailers and brands have found that educating business influencers and tapping into their expertise can be critical in helping to close the knowledge gap,” said Stacy Berns, president of Berns Communication. She added that the network will function much like a speakers’ bureau and serve as a resource for retailers, brands and journalists.
“For me personally, this is another way of staying relevant,” said Stephen Sadove, principal of Stephen Sadove and Associates and the former chairman and chief executive officer of Saks Fifth Avenue, who is also participating in the network. “It’s bringing the tech world and the retail world together, and it will serve as a resource for anyone looking for an expert. There’s a lot of people out there who don’t know where to go for information.”
“This group that Stacy has put together is pretty cool. It brings together people from different walks of life and perspectives,” said Keval Desai, a Silicon Valley investor at InterWest Partners and investor and board member at The Real Real and Cuyana.
Desai, another member of the network, said he can be tapped for his expertise in machine learning, robotics, autonomous transportation and personalization, but he’s also expecting to make new connections, especially in Asia, and get engaged in “a more comprehensive discussion on the reimagination of retail. I don’t know anybody in China, but there is a lot going in Asia we can learn from.”
Sucharita Mulpuru, retail and commerce analyst at Forrester, is also part of the network, which she said will help fill “the large void in the market for a critical dialogue between Silicon Valley commerce innovation and traditional retail. Retailers have been offered new kinds of technologies so quickly that they struggled to figure out which kinds of tech are ‘must-haves’ and which are ‘nice-to-haves.’”
Alibaba, the largest retail commerce company in the world, believes it could benefit by the network. “Most know Alibaba the brand. That said, the Western world does not use our products and services, as we are focused on the Chinese consumer. Because of this, having relevant “influencers” or experts, in the area of retail, commerce, China, technology, and small business are very important to us,” said Jennifer Kuperman, head of international corporate affairs for Alibaba Group. “They serve as an echo chamber for us to help educate our key stakeholders in the West who want to know us more intimately. For example, when retail influencers understand how Alibaba partners with U.S. brands to help them reach the more than half a billion Chinese consumers on our platform, this advances our business objectives and helps American brands access the China opportunity.”
Other industry leaders participating in the network are Gilbert Harrison, chairman of the Harrison Group and founder of Financo; Pano Anthos, founder of retail and consumer goods accelerator XRC Labs; William Susman, managing director of Threadstone Advisors; Steve Dennis, former Neiman Marcus executive, Forbes contributor; Richard Kestenbaum, retail investment banker; Marigay McKee, consultant, former Harrods and Saks Fifth Avenue executive; Matthew Rubel, former ceo at Collective Brands and Cole Haan; Dana Telsey, ceo at Telsey Advisory Group; Stacey Widlitz, founder SW Retail Advisors, and Janie Yu, investor in retail, supply chain and logistics technology at Fung Capital.