Andrew Laudato, EVP and COO for The Vitamin Shoppe, will give the opening keynote at the upcoming Interactive Customer Experience Summit, hosted by the ICX Association, in June. In an interview with Retail Customer Experience, he shares insight on how innovation is driving the retailer’s success and tips for retailers striving for the same result.
The characteristics of a successful retailer are well known — robust sales, expanding customer loyalty and the ability to weather huge challenges, such as the COVD-19 pandemic while remaining innovative when it comes to the customer experience.
t’s a strategy that The Vitamin Shoppe, which sells healthy supplements, weight support products, herbs, natural beauty items, proteins and aromatherapy items in over 700 U.S. stores as well as to customers in Asia, South America, and Central America markets through local retail and e-commerce partners, knows well.
“We’re always looking for innovative ways to serve our customers,” said Andrew Laudato, EVP and COO, who will deliver the opening keynote at the Interactive Customer Experience Summit, June 1-3 in Columbus.
He recently chatted with Retail Customer Experience about how the chain has implemented a variety of platforms, including Instacart, ship-from-store and curbside pickup, to do just that.
“To improve our operations, we use robots in our distribution center,” he said. “In the stores, we’re migrating away from a fixed-cash register to mobile POS. This not only lets us check out customers right on the sales floor, it allows us to “take” the store on the road to events.”
In 2018, the retailer hired its first chief customer digital experience leader and a year later debuted interactive digital kiosks to drive product trial efforts in nearly a dozen stores to engage consumers.
That same year, 2019, The Vitamin Shoppe leveraged Aptos solutions for point of sale and CRM strategy. After a successful pilot it also launched a nationwide Healthy Awards loyalty program.
Last yearm it expanded its market reach with a franchise strategy. Its first franchise opened earlier this year in Greensboro, North Carolina. At the same time the retailer has been expanding globally, most recently into the Korean market with an online presence and marketplaces.
Retail Customer Experience reached out to Laudato, who has authored a book, “Fostering Innovation: How to Build an Amazing IT Team,” to get a peek at what he will be sharing during his ICXA Summit keynote address.
Q. So let’s start first with your role at as EVP and COO. What are your top focus points, and can you provide some insight on the latest innovations at The Vitamin Shoppe?
A. We’re always looking for innovative ways to serve our customers. In the past 18 months we’ve implemented: Instacart, Ship from store and curbside pickup. To improve our operations, we use robots in our distribution center. In the stores, we’re migrating away from a fixed-cash register to mobile POS. This not only lets us check out customers right on the sales floor, but it also allows us to “take” the store on the road to events.
Q. When it comes to retail innovation you recommend these initial steps: you must build a firm foundation, create psychological safety, and take good care of the team. Can you provide insight on building that foundation — does it involve a cross functional team and what’s the reason for creating ‘psychological’ safety?
A. Just as Maslow taught us that you can’t fall in love if you’re being chased by a bear; companies can’t innovate when the basics aren’t working properly. Ensuring the books balance, the paychecks process, and the emails are emailing, are table stakes for all IT leaders. You can only innovate on a stable, robust, and secure infrastructure. Innovation means risk and risk means failure. If you want your team to be comfortable with failing, then they first have to feel safe.
Q. What are some common pitfalls/stumbles retailers experience when striving to create an innovative culture/environment?
A. Saying you’re for risk, but then only approving projects that are safe. Secondly, letting the urgent have priority over the important.
Q. Can you share any best practices/tips from your own success at The Vitamin Shoppe?
A. Celebrate successes and learn from failures! This way regardless of the outcome, something good is gained.
The Interactive Customer Experience Summit is a two-day event featuring keynotes and panel talks from industry leaders, such as Safelite, Hilton Hotel & Resorts, Under Armour, Mall of America and many others. The mission of the Interactive Customer Experience Association is to connect the brands, suppliers, agencies and more who are working to create transcendent customer experiences. Anyone who works for a brand whose customers are mainly consumers (B2C) is eligible for a free ICX Association Brand Membership.
Laudato initially began his career as a computer programmer and soon realized he was as passionate about business as technology. He also quickly learned that the intersection of business and technology is where innovation happens. He previously served as CIO at Brookdale Senior Living and at Pier 1 Imports.
To hear more from Laudato and how to drive innovation attend the Interactive Customer Experience Summit. Registration is now open.
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