100 People Transforming Business Presents Shopping and Retail Leaders

Online retailers have found that better levering customer data is the key to building brand

  • Online retailers have found that better levering customer data is the key to building brand loyalty.
  • The industry was already headed in this direction, but the pandemic has accelerated the trend.
  • Platforms like Amazon and TikTok are also introducing mass audiences to innovative brands.
  • Visit Insider’s Transforming Business homepage for more stories.

As COVID-19 restrictions slowly lifted over the past year, retailers realized that consumer shopping habits created in lockdown were here to stay.

Today’s shoppers increasingly favor brands with a unique e-commerce experience that is personalized to them. If a company lacks the tools necessary to meet customers’ in-store and online needs, retailers are expected to partner with a variety of platforms to fill in the gaps. 

To be sure, the industry was already headed in this direction, but the pandemic has accelerated the trend.

Those featured in this year’s shopping vertical, part of Insider’s 100 People Transforming Business in 2021 list, have adapted to these shifts in consumer preference and are advancing their companies and industries, from beauty and fitness to grocery. 

Putting customer data first

Retailers have found that levering customer data is the key to building brand loyalty and the seamless experience shoppers want.

Take Ben McKean’s Hungryroot. The CEO of the grocery delivery company has invested in AI technology that uses consumer data to recommend grocery items and recipes to them. That includes tracking users’ preferred choice of meats and level of spice in meals.

“When you walk into an offline grocery store, it obviously can’t be personalized to you,” he told Insider. “What we see is the service as your personal grocer, and it does all the work for you.”

Dollar General’s Chief Merchandising Officer Emily Taylor has similarly relied on customer feedback in expanding the dollar store chain’s pOpshelf concept. The chain’s 16 pOpshelf stores, aimed at more affluent shoppers, currently sells party supplies, home decor, and holiday trinkets.

And Dollar General has added digital tools like a Cart Calculator that lets shoppers scan products for discounts, with their input.

“By listening to our customers, we have a pulse on what they want and need most,” Taylor said. 

Perhaps the best example of a brand owning its customer is Peloton.

Part of the fitness brand’s meteoric rise during the pandemic derives from COO and cofounder Tom Cortese’s efforts to expand the company’s R&D department — leading to new features for its 5.9 million subscribers, such as updated progress tracking and new scenic rides and runs for treadmill and bike users.

Such investments have enabled Peloton to lower the cost of its flagship bike by $400 in August, Cortese said.

“We’re taking 10 years of manufacturing, learning, and scale to produce units at better cost and pass that on to our members so that we can continue to aggressively grow our member base and welcome more and more folks into the Peloton family,” he said.

Shopping meets entertainment

Established platforms like Amazon and Shopify to newer options like StockX and TikTok are transforming shopping by helping retailers broaden their audiences in new ways. 

With 1 billion monthly users, TikTok is quickly becoming a shopping juggernaut, with customers discovering new products daily. Sandie Hawkins, general manager for North America, global business solutions, at TikTok is largely responsible for this.

She has helped lure brands onto the social media app with ad formats aimed at companies trying to cash in on the online shopping boom. It also helps to have a tagline, “TikTok Made Me Buy It.”

Meanwhile, Dan Dan Li’s PopShop Live has focused on the live shopping trend, helping e-commerce companies set up online shops and interact with customers in real-time.

And as more Americans turn to reselling during the pandemic as an alternative source of income, StockX has used that demand to expand beyond a haven for sneakerheads. Led by Vice President of Strategy Shervin Moghaddam, StockX’s resale marketplace now offers electronics like the PlayStation 5 and home goods. 

“People don’t just buy sneakers, they have interests beyond that,” Moghaddam told Insider. “Gaming, sneakers, and streetwear go together really well, so we started with some experiments and saw real interest from our users in electronics, particularly in consoles.”

Critical decisions made by these executives above and others featured on this year’s list have helped their companies navigate the headwinds of the pandemic and come out winners. This comes as the industry remains plagued by labor shortages and supply chain delays that are driving up costs.

As for what comes next for shopping and e-commerce, Shopify President Harley Finkelstein may have put it best, recently telling Insider that Shopify is now focused on helping companies capture international sales. 

“If the pandemic exposed one thing, it’s how global commerce truly is,” he said. “Online shopping has no borders.”