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PODCAST - Unpacking the digital shelf

Roundtable: Giving Thanks at the DSI

From robots to the evolution of ERP, we drop some gratitude for what we think are some of the coolest, best, most significant events in digital commerce in the past year. Featuring host Peter Crosby, as well as all three of the founding members of the Institute: Rob Gonzalez, Molly Schonthal, and Justin King.

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Transcript

Peter

Welcome to Unpacking the Digital Shelf where we explore brand manufacturing in the digital age.

Peter

Welcome to the very special Thanksgiving episode of Unpacking the Digital Shelf where we are going to drop some gratitude for what we think are some of the coolest, best, most significant events in digital commerce in the past year. So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I am grateful to have all three of the founding members of the Institute on to give commerce based Thanks. Rob Gonzalez is here in the studio as always. Hey Rob. 

Rob

Hello. Happy Thanksgiving. 

Peter

Molly Schonthal from New York. Happy Thanksgiving, Molly. Gobble, gobble!

Molly

Happy Thanksgiving. Peter

Peter

And Justin's in his home studio in Baltimore. Hey Justin. Gobble, gobble! 

Justin

Happy Thanksgiving. It's also my favorite holiday Peter. 

Peter

Oh, that's awesome. It really is. So let's dig right in then with the thankfulness. Rob, I want to start with you. What tops your gratitude list in commerce? 

Rob

Well, for me, my wife and I we both work. We're both busy. We don't have time to go to the grocery store even though we, we enjoy going from time to time. So we do a lot of our shopping online and I'll say, I'm thankful for the Instacart shoppers. That seems to me like a tough job. My wife orders a lot of food that nobody recognizes. It's a type of stuff that you get up to the checkout aisle and you're like, what is that vegetable? I don't know. 

Peter

And the woman at the, or the man at the checkout thing is like searching through the book, trying to find the code for that particular thing.

Rob

And you know, my wife lived in China. She speaks Mandarin, she speaks French. So this stuff that she picks up on the store is just random right?

Peter

You totally married up. 

Rob

Oh, so true story. 

Peter

It'll be another episode. 

Rob

But I'm also thankful for marrying up, but the instant card shoppers, those poor people that are just, that are picking our orders and then delivering them to our building. I'm really thankful that they exist. That it just makes our live’s better and it's, I know it's a, it's a tough job, so I appreciate it. 

Peter

I have never had a problem with any order done through Instacart shopping or any of those kinds of service. I've been super lucky. Yeah, I think it's a great process. That's Awesome. Molly, how about you?

Molly

I am thankful for the wish app. Have you guys seen the wish app? No. Okay. So it is an eCommerce app that offers super deeply discounted stuff from China essentially. Ranging from a bucket of worms for $2 to $180 designer bag, knock off for $18. This thing gets a half a million reviews a day. In its last funding round, it was valued at more $8.7 Billion. It follows this mall metaphor where you kind of swipe through and you look at, you know, from random thing to random thing and I just bought our Halloween costumes for eight and $10 respectively. I'm going to be Pikachu all due to this new model of commerce, which is sort of like the discount shopping, but over an app.

Rob

I want to, I'm listening to a, the Macklemore thrift store in my head right now as you're talking about this. “It was 99 cents!”

Molly

You kind of just want to see what's available. Like you just, you know, what, what other weird thing are they going to offer me, you know, salad bowls, ramen, hoodie sweatshirts. It's the craziest thing.

Peter

So, you know, we're going to have to post a picture of you as Pikachu on our show page. Now that you've mentioned you're going to be Pikachu.

Molly

I mean, if you must.

Peter

Well, tell me how do you feel when you're going through the Wish app? Do you have concerns about fraud? Yeah, fraud or, I mean, how do you make yourself feel comfortable? Is it, cause it's only eight bucks, so who cares?

Molly

Absolutely. So I use PayPal and you know, at this point in time my credit card is down for so many things that I've signed up for. It's, it's just another risk to add to the book. But this idea of almost like a Bazaar or a flea market or this heavily discounted, highly random curated shopping experience available to you is pretty amazing. And the other thing is that you know, we're so used to Amazon delivering to us within 24 hours or 48 hours on the wish app. Your thing could get there in three days or like in three weeks and that doesn't seem to stop them.

Peter

And do you know at the time whether it's going to be three days or three weeks or is it just like...

Molly

Not really. So they give you an estimate or for Halloween costumes it'll say like arrives before Halloween. And then your estimated time of delivery will be like November 5th.

Justin

It sounds like shopping roulette.

Molly

It's totally like that. And it's totally flies in the face of everything that we preach about, which is like accuracy, integrity, like you know exactly what you're going to get, you know exactly when you're gonna get it. You know that your data being handled responsibly. It just, yeah, it's shopping roulette and people love it. And I gotta admit I love it too.

Rob

There's, there's a, there's other major stores that have that same philosophy. Like TJ max I think intentionally doesn't super organize their racks because they want peopleTo hunt. And Costco, a big part of the Costco rush is you go in there and you don't, you never know what they're going to have with what's going to be on sale this week. Right? So I think, I think there's something very human about that. 

Molly

Or like Trader Josie. I mean, even though we're not worried about her, our information at Trader Joe's, there is this, yeah, this sense that you're on the hunt. Something special and quirky.

Peter

The delight of discovery. All right, Justin wishes are over. What, what do you have for Thanksgiving? 

Justin

You know, based on that last one though, I'm going to create an app called Hope cause I, it feels like that app should have been called Hope. Like “I hope it arrives. I hope what I get is…” So as usual you guys get to talk about all these cool things like Instacart and wish. And my, my thankful note here is something very, very boring. So guys, how much do you guys know about ERP? 

Peter

I know they exist and that people find them, companies find them very useful.

Molly

I know that when I’m in a conversation and someone says ERP, I, I run!

Peter

By the way, “erp” is also the sound I make when I've eaten too much at Thanksgiving dinner! 

Justin

So ERP in my world of B2B, I mean the ERP is the lifeblood of the entire company. Right? And I am thankful today for companies that are actually starting to rethink how ERP works in relation to digital. I think it's really cool. So here's a question for you guys. How long do you guys think it takes for an employee of a manufacturer, not on average to learn the ERP or like how many and how many days is the average employee able to be trained on an area ERP?

Rob

Well, the CIA says that you can go from zero to fluent in Spanish and like three or four months with total immersion. So I'm going to say four months. 

Justin

You got 90 days? 90 to a hundred. 120. Got it. How about you Peter?

Peter

Wow, I software is hard. So I've gotta I've got to kind of chime in with Rob’s thing. It's not days I thinking it's months. So I'll say just like on the prices, right? I'll top Rob, I'll say four months and one day. One day. 

Justin

Molly? 

Rob

I'm not thankful for Peter. 

Molly

Six months! 

Justin

So it was a trick question. It's not in days. It's actually 12 months on average 

Peter

Oh my God. 

Justin

Not to learn the business, not to learn the business, to learn the ERP. Like when you do an order, you have to shift F seven C to do this kind of order button. This already hit shift F seven F four. I mean, that's literally what the ERP is and what I'm most thankful. So I keynoted at an event yesterday and in this event there was an amazing there's amazing conversations happening how companies are now starting to rethink their ERP because the ERP, it takes so long to learn. They're starting to abstract that or build apps on top of the ERP, like ordering apps and customer service apps and in our digital world, while I'm most thankful for it, is it starting to allow for better integration with this lifeblood of our company? So I am thankful today for companies starting to rethink the ERP. My boring topic for you today.

Peter

That is so inspiring. No, I mean I actually, it's that is the, as you said, the lifeblood and a lot of that software is coming from a prior generation and it hasn't, a lot of it hasn't really done that transformation to the kinds of things we talk about do to be able to work at the speed of commerce today. Right? 

Justin

And look, look at the ERP, I mean the ERP does what it does well, right? Supply chain, warehouse management and, and all that, right? General ledger. But it was never built for this transactional age that we're in. And so to have sort of have those changes started to happen I think is pretty amazing. 

Rob

So I'm going to go back, I'm going to follow on this lifeblood theme here. And say, I'm also thankful for the Amazon warehouse workers that make all of my ridiculous one item purchases possible. We got Molly and I were on a Mel Amazon fulfillment center tour a few months ago. And one of the things that we witnessed was the packing. So there was a woman sitting or standing on a platform and it was like box shape, tape pack, go box shape. I mean it was just boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. It's hard to imagine a, a human, it's like watching a precision athlete, right? For hours at a time, do something at high speeds and high precision. It was really, really impressive. 

Peter

Why aren't robots doing something like that? Did you get a sense while you were there? 

Rob

Oh yeah. There's a bunch of tasks that robots are just bad at. So if you think about Amazon's assortment, Amazon sells like literally hundreds of millions of different products that are all different shapes and sizes and have different like tensile strength in which like you would squeeze the thing and break it. And like, there's just so much variation in them that training a machine to be able to pick up every single different shape of product and fragility of product and, you know, treat it and like, there's just so much judgment that goes into that, that it's just a problem that we're not close to solving from robotics.

Molly

It’s funny because you know, Amazon talks about all the automation that they have at their fulfillment centers. And we know that in China they have these quote unquote fully automated or people as fulfillment centers. But when you walk into a facility like we did in New Jersey, there's a lot of people there. A lot of people there. And the robot areas are kind of fenced off, like with these big chain link fences so that they don't run over people. 

Peter

Yeah. Are they protecting the people from the robots or the robots? From the people. 

Rob

It's a fail safe from when, when Skynet finally launches, right. The only thing holding them back will be the chain link fences. 

Peter

So wow. Rob has given 2 very human empathy centered Thanksgiving things. The holiday must do something miraculous.

Rob

The heart is three sizes bigger around, around Thanksgiving. 

Peter

That is impressive. All right, Molly, what do you got?

Molly

So I'm also, I'm thankful for, have you guys heard of..Sso I'm going to go down sort of weird things that you can get online. I don't know, a month ago, someone sent us this article about exotic meat being offered on Facebook marketplaces. Do you remember this? So evidently there are these marketplace groups on Facebook that are centered around the discovery and sale of rare cuts of meat. I think the example they gave was like Spanish octopus. And these groups also extend to whiskeys that you can only get in certain parts of the U S or other countries.

Rob

You gotta have whiskeys with your Spanish octopus!

Molly

So I'm grateful to the, the internet for the democratization of, of the long tail and like weirdo interests. Like rare meat and rare whiskey and, you know, all of the things that I can now get through a global community of other weirdos who like this stuff.

Peter

Yeah. We were talking with an Amazon expert, someone who had founded a, really been in on the beginning of Amazon marketplace the other day, and he was talking about how one of the amazing things that he experienced while watching the growth of the marketplace was just how some random person who had this specialty in something could end up standing up a $2 million business practically overnight because Amazon is the search engine where you can find stuff. And so I think that capability to, as you said, expose the long tail to the entire globe is really transformative.

Molly

And peer to peer selling, I think is a, is a rising force. So we see it now with influencer stores, I think influence stores. We're in China several, a couple of years before they were launched in the US “Oh, Instagram influencer stores.” But this idea of these connected networks of people who can do business with each other I think will, will become more frequent and more scalable.

Rob

I'm a big believer actually in the speaking of connecting peer-to-peer in the rise of Shopify and millions of direct to consumer brands. Toby, the CEO, founder of Shopify keynoted an Underscore VC conference in Boston a few weeks ago. And just hearing the types of businesses and types of people that, that show up on Shopify is pretty inspiring. And I actually, after that, I went through my own spending for 2019 and more than 50% of my online spending is direct from brands. It's not actually not, not through retailers. And so on some, some of my favorites are like, there's a, there's a new one for this fall that was in a list of, you know, up and coming Shopify sites and new Shopify brands called Haus, which is like an American Liquor MRO producer out in California. It's a husband and wife company. 

Peter

How do you spell that? 

Rob

H-A-U-S. Okay. And so I, I ordered a couple of bottles and it's excellent. It's like the most refreshing stuff ever.

Peter

And you're going to have it at your Thanksgiving table. 

Rob

And this is just one of like literally dozens of different sites that I go to to buy direct from brand so that the long tail, the long tail is real. It's good. Especially good for nerds like me that don't necessarily fit into the mainstream. 

Peter

All right, Justin, bring us back to earth now with your next piece

Molly

Yeah, where do you get your Spanish octopus Justin?

Justin

Yeah, back then. I will admit that I do like different cuts of meats and I perhaps have perused to Facebook groups that sell such things. 

Molly

Ah ha. I knew there'd be one of us.

Justin

Perhaps hypothetically speaking. 

Molly

You know, someone, you have a friend of a friend 

Justin

It brings up an interesting thing that I was just talking to a couple of people about because like I guess struggle to tell like what people like what you do, your family members, like what you do for a living. Is that a struggle for you guys? Like, this is explain your job to someone is really difficult I think. Right? 

Rob

I mean, my family gave up.

Molly

I make candy. 

Justin

That's right. I so now I basically just told people like I help companies sell their stuff online. And my mom, I always have to tell my mom like all the things I don't sell online, like all the bad things I don't help companies sell online.

My thankfulness. But my next thin is again, kind of bringing it back to the boring. But thank you to Amazon business. I, I've had so many conversations with companies where we were trying to convince them: “Hey, this is, this is why you should be doing this online. It's why you should be investing. This is why you need people.” And all those reasons are great. But then whenever I talk about Amazon business, their ears perk up and they're like: “Wait, $10 billion? Amazon business did $10 billion?” So we actually need someone like Amazon in the B2B world to prove out to companies because there are still people out there saying that “People buy from people not from machines.” And Amazon business is helping kind of drive this message just like they did in the, in the retail side.

But believe it or not, we still have to have those conversations. So I'm thankful for Amazon business for continuing to push my message and our message about why digital is important. 

Peter

Yeah. And they'd probably, I've found that they look at those distributors or manufacturers look at it in two ways. One with fear, like, “Are they going to take over my business?” Which is a motivator, we all know. And then secondly: “Wow, what, how could I use that to, to also be part of the way I make money?” So it's worked on, on both sides. And, I agree with you. I mean, when we were at B2B next conference, we, we, I totally noticed the shift in the market and it felt like that Amazon was sort of the impetus of forcing that shift in thinking, even if Amazon didn't affect their category, you know, so it was useful in that way. 

Justin

There was a big article this week in B2B news about, about Georgia Pacific selling on Amazon business and being able to sell and, and they're really kind of push into the Amazon business world and there hasn't, there haven't been a lot of companies that have talked about their Amazon business strategies. So to have a large company like Georgia Pacific do it again, just kind of given credence, kind of pushing this ball down the Hill I think is important. 

Peter

All right Rob, the gratitude merry-go-round swings back. What do you got?

Rob

I am the last merry-go-round to be grateful for something. 

Peter

I don't know how merry you are but you know... 

Rob

Honestly so, so I'm going to, I did two people oriented thank-yous/ I'm going to end with a market oriented thank-you. And it's related to the stuff that Molly was saying about how the internet sort of allows us all to be our own kind of special kind of freak is when I was a kid, I, I was growing up in the UK and I liked Warhammer 40,000. There are these little pewter miniatures that you would paint and there's a whole strategy game where you would actually build the table top with hills and trees and fortification that your troops could hide behind and stuff like that. And I absolutely loved that came and when I came back to the U S it did not exist. There was one comic book store two hours away that sold anything having to do with Warhammer. And there was nobody, nobody did it. Nobody played the game. It just wasn't a thing. And now a days. So I had to give it up. Right. And nowadays you never have to give it up. Nowadays, if you love something, if you find something that is you, you can find your people and you could find your tribe and you can keep doing the thing that you love. And that wasn't, you know, that's a generational change. That's not something that was true 25 years ago. It is true now. And I'm just so happy about that every day. I mean, there's so many little things that I appreciate in my day that are just not mainstream. Things that are me. And that's a good thing in terms of what the internet has allowed.

Peter

Yeah. And when it comes to being thankful for tribes, I'm actually super grateful for the tribe that we're creating here. You know, when I, when I talk to executives and the people on their teams that are creating this new world of brand manufacturers, they are super courageous and really scrappy no matter the size of the company that they work at. And they are leading their organizations in this change. And that's a really difficult place to play sometimes because of resistance to change, internal politics. It's not all figured out. So there's not a great roadmap. You can't necessarily point to KPIs that are set. And that's a really uncomfortable place in companies that are used to more stable businesses. So I'm grateful for that. And for that, this hopefully this Digital Shelf Institute coming together to bring all those people together.

So you can stop the music now, Shaun! But that's, that's my gratitude for guys and for this whole community that we're building together. 

Rob

I feel like we need to balance out this episode with like an episode of things that we really hate. It's time. 

Peter

All right. I'm going to look for the next holiday opportunity to have our Hate podcast. So with that schmaltzy gratitude, that is our show for today. Please follow us on the Institute LinkedIn page. We'd be super grateful. And tweet @WinDigitalShelf and if our content is useful, please leave a review wherever you get your podcast and share it with your colleagues. We're thankful you are part of our community.