SoulPancake CEO Shabnam Mogharabi delivered the opening keynote at’s Online Merchandising Workshop in 2015.

Hot topics in digital retail: Agility

Consumers are changing and adapting quickly, and expect retailers to keep pace.

Disrupt your business or risk being disrupted by emerging competitors. What can retailers — established multichannel brands to young digital companies — learn from the startups and small businesses that are rethinking e-commerce?

High stakes

Up until six years ago, we couldn’t reliably access the web on our phones. Now we’re constantly connected, and we even have a new word — “nomophobia” — to describe the fear of not having our cellphone. Bebe’s Erik Lautier points to the demise of companies like Polaroid, Blockbuster, Kodak and Borders to show how rapidly businesses can be disrupted. Whether you’re a startup or an established organization, your ability to adapt to and exploit change is the difference between feast and famine. Emerging, disruptive brands aren’t afraid to “fail fast, often and cheap,” Lautier says.

Sketchquote by San Diego-based artist Anne McColl.

Virality bias

An appetite for experimentation isn’t the only ingredient in Lautier’s recipe for success. Certain brands are predisposed to rapid growth because of what he calls “virality bias.” In a world that’s constantly connected, brands like GoPro succeed because of factors like:

  • Target demographic: Millennials who are gregarious social media users make the best possible brand evangelists.
  • Founder and brand voice: Consumers connect with compelling, interesting founders who are financially and emotionally invested in the brand. (Think Tory Burch and Sophia Amoruso.)
  • Product and delivery medium: Is what you’re selling something that customers want to show off, and is it easy to visually showcase the product online?
SoulPancake CEO Shabnam Mogharabi

Good, fast and cheap

“Good, fast or cheap: Pick two,” is an old adage among creative types. But “in the digital world, you have to make it good, fast AND cheap,” says SoulPancake CEO Shabnam Mogharabi. A video is posted online every .001 second, so brands that want to stand out have to be relevant, timely and interesting.

In January 2015, The New York Times published an article saying that four minutes of uninterrupted eye contact can increase intimacy. SoulPancake wanted to test the theory in a video … in time for Valentine’s Day, which would mean a highly compressed production schedule. The team released its “How to Connect with Anyone” video on February 12. Because SoulPancake responded quickly, they were able to capture an audience while the conversation was still trending, and the video now has more than 5 million views on YouTube.

The need for speed

To get from idea to iteration more quickly, Jason Broughton and the UX team at Zappos adopted Google Venture’s design sprint process that allows for defining a problem and testing a solution in a one-week period.

Zappos’ design sprint process, borrowed from Google Ventures.

Thinking like a startup

“We’re working hard to evolve a startup mentality in a large company more than 100 years old. It requires bold action, decisiveness and the willingness to take risks in search of big wins and major accomplishment,” JCPenney’s Lance Thornswood says. Read our full interview with Thornswood to find out more about the high-velocity project that set out to create a mobile commerce website and iOS app in just 90 days.

This story was originally published as part of the Merch 2015 Playbook, a post-event summary of the most important ideas and tactics from’s annual Online Merchandising Workshop. Download this and other free retail playbooks from the NRF Retail Library, and learn more about the 2016 Digital Experience Workshop.

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