The Retail Prophet Speaks

Tim Denman
Editor in Chief
a man wearing a suit and tie
Doug Stephens is one of the world’s foremost retail industry futurists.

Associates are the life-blood of the industry. They have the power to make or break the shopping experience and are the execution arm retailers rely upon to make customer-centric retailing a reality.

At the NRF Big Show 2019, industry futurist Doug Stephens and Liz Thompson, chief people officer at Southeastern Grocers will discuss the importance of engaging store associates to deliver the remarkable experiences today’s shoppers expect. Their “How Your Store Associates Will Make or Break your CX Transformation Strategy” session will be held on Sunday, January 13, 9:15–9:45 at the Jacob Javits Center’s Stage 2, EXPO Hall, Level 1. They will explore how retailers can communicate openly and regularly to train associates to feel competent, rewarded and aligned to the brand’s mission.

Thompson is a leading-edge culture ambassador with proven results in improving engagement, trust, retention, and elevating the customer experience. She is known for developing innovative people-first programs and experiences to expand organizational capabilities.

Stephens is one of the world’s foremost retail industry futurists. His intellectual work and thinking have influenced many of the world’s best-known retailers, agencies and brands. Prior to founding Retail Prophet, Doug spent over 20 years in the retail industry, holding senior international roles including the leadership of one of New York City’s most historic retail chains.

Earlier this year Stephens was named one of RIS’ Top 10 Movers and Shakers in Retail. As part of the feature he granted RIS an exclusive interview, below is part of that conversation:

RIS: What is one thing most people don’t know about you? Special hobbies, interests, activities. 

Stephens: When I was in my twenties I trained as a stage actor.  I am also an avid boating and auto enthusiast.

RIS: What is your biggest accomplishment to date in the field of retail technology?  

Stephens: Helping brands such as BMW, Walmart, Google, Microsoft and others understand the emerging future of retail and how technologies across the spectrum will enable it.  My work over the last decade has also promoted the idea that physical retail is, in fact, becoming a powerful media channel, something that brands like Macy’s for example, are now acting on.

RIS: What new/emerging technology are you working on now? 

Stephens: I am very closely watching the release of Magic Leap’s mixed reality product in the market. I believe that MR is going to have a profound impact on the future of our online experiences ― including how we shop!

RIS: How do you influence you team? Is there a favorite piece of advice you like to give to get the most out of your staff? 

Stephens: My “team”, as it were, are the remarkable clients Retail Prophet works with. The most important piece of advice I offer clients is that the role of a “futurist” is not to predict the future.  Rather, it’s to deeply understand what’s happening today and its likely progression and based on that knowledge, engineer the future they want. In this sense, we all have the capacity to be futurists and become the architects of our future success.

RIS: Who was the biggest professional influence that helped you get where you are today? 

Stephens: I have had numerous positive and brilliant mentors ― many of which I call out specifically in my books. Aspects of each of them show up in everything I do.  However, I would say that the people who most shaped my success were the people who told him that it would be impossible. 

RIS: If you could change one thing about the retail industry, what would it be?

Stephens: The thing I would most like to change about the retail industry is the willingness of retail leaders to embrace uncertainty and change. Without a willingness to challenge the status quo and embrace the uncertainty that lies outside its bounds, true innovation is impossible.

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