Episode 7

Leading Retail Teams From First Principles

Ujjwal Dhoot
CEO, Allivet

Episode Summary

Retail is filled with a constant stream of industry jargon, whether it’s a strategic play like “omnichannel” or a C-suite title like “Chief Digital Officer”.

Staying on top of everything can be overwhelming. But if you’re Ujjwal Dhoot, CEO of Allivet, first principles and fundamentals matter more than industry jargon. 

Ujjwal has led marketing, digital, and executive teams in retail for 15+ years in a wide range of industry verticals, including apparel, fashion, health, and pet. Prior to his time at Allivet, Ujjwal was CMO at Destination XL Group, where he played a pivotal role in their recent turnaround. 

In this episode, Ujjwal talks to Chris about his approach to retail marketing, strategy, and leadership. Topics they cover include:

  • How enterprises can operate like startups
  • The 80-20 rule of marketing experiments
  • Why marketing attribution isn’t really a problem
  • How the Chief Digital Officer role will evolve

As you’re planning for 2023 and beyond, Ujjwal’s perspective will help you get back to basics. We were thrilled to have him on the show. 

Connect with Ujjwal on Linkedin

Connect with Chris on Twitter and Linkedin

Check out Allivet

Ujjwal Dhoot

About The Guest

Ujjwal is a DTC, eCommerce and Retail expert obsessed with influencing the optimal customer journey and has spent building engaging customer centric organizations and platforms for over a decade. Having successfully compounded eCommerce business trajectories and managed $10’s of millions in annual marketing budgets multiple times, he strives to keep building fast-growing marketing and product driven organizations. From when a customer first experiences a brand to managing and extending lifecycle, he loves to emphasize the need to change and measure customer behaviors to increase customer lifetime value. He has diverse experience in aspects of direct & digital marketing, retail, eCommerce, business development & advanced analytics.

He is currently President and CEO at Allivet, a fast growing and leading pet pharmacy retailer in the US. He was previously Chief Marketing Officer at DXL Group (NASDAQ: DXLG), the leading retailer of men’s Big + Tall apparel in the United States. Prior to that, he was Chief Marketing and Product Officer at Health E-Commerce (FSAStore), a hyper growth eCommerce company that was acquired by Beecken Petty O’Keefe & Company.

Ujjwal has also held marketing leadership roles at Charming Charlie, an omnichannel retailer with over 350 stores, 20x200, an online retailer for limited edition art, and at PetCareRx.com, a fast-growing omni-channel retailer for pet medications. In his many roles, he has managed the entire brand, direct and digital marketing driven P&L’s, along with product, business development and customer insight functions.

Ujjwal completed his MBA in Marketing from Syracuse University in New York, and when he’s not at work, he spends his time exploring the great outdoors with his wife and son.

Episode Transcript

Chris Grouchy (00:05):

Hey everyone. Welcome to season two of the Legends of Retail podcast. Brought to you by Convictional. We talked to leaders in retail and e-commerce, so you can learn from them about retail strategy, leadership management, and take their insights back to your company. I'm your host, Chris Grouchy, co-founder and president of Convictional. What is Convictional? In short, retailers use Convictional to connect to vendors for ship and curated marketplace.


My guest today is a retail veteran who has worked as a marketing and executive leader in apparel, pet and healthcare. Ujjwal Dhoot is the CEO of Allivet, an online pet pharmacy. Prior to his time at Allivet, Ujjwal was the CMO of the apparel retailer, Destination XL, where he played a pivotal role in their recent turnaround. Ujjwal has also led marketing teams at retailers like Charming Charlie and Health-E Commerce.


Ujjwal and I had a fascinating conversation. We talked about how enterprise retailers can move faster and operate more like startups. We also talked about how the role of a chief digital officer is changing in retail, what Ujjwal has learned over more than 10 years as a marketing leader in retail, and so much more. If you're a marketing leader in retail, this conversation is for you. Ujjwal, welcome to Legends of Retail. We really appreciate you coming on the show.

Ujjwal Dhoot (01:32):

Thank you. It's my pleasure.

Chris Grouchy (01:34):

Awesome. Well, congratulations as well on joining Allivet as it's CEO. I'd love to learn a bit more about Allivet and why you joined the company.

Ujjwal Dhoot (01:48):

So there's three primary reasons why I think I'm very excited about Allivet. The first one being, we are a mission driven business and there's nothing more empowering and more impactful than being part of a mission-driven business. The second one is the team that is so passionate about serving our customers and the pet parents we serve that it's inspiring to see what the team does day in and day out to serve that customer. And we truly believe in a level of service and a level of customer engagement that I don't think I have seen many places.


And the third one is the opportunity available to us as an online retailer and online pet pharmacy is tremendous. So I'm very excited about the team. I'm very excited about the opportunity, but more than anything, it is the mission that does drive the level of engagement that I have already seen in the team.

Chris Grouchy (02:54):

Being mission driven is also a way for team members leadership to go long on something and to really compound the market opportunity that could be in front of a company. And you've spoken in the past about being pushed to your limits earlier in your career and how those experiences helped you grow exponentially later on. That really resonates with me. At Convictional, we have a line in our team handbook that says, "Discomfort leads to growth." Can you share why you think that's the case and share an example of it from earlier in your career.

Ujjwal Dhoot (03:35):

Two or four things to say out there. By the way, also worked with a leader who would often say, and he wrote a book and he mentioned it in there, being comfortable being uncomfortable. And I have always thought of my career as something I've always enjoyed being in situations where I did not know enough and I had to extend myself and overextend myself to learn. So that's the first point. The second one is, if I had to give anyone advice, early in your career, you have to put yourself in many, many different situations that you're not comfortable with. And the amount of learning that you'll get from it, it's the hockey stick effect of learning. You need to keep moving and keep evolving towards things that are unfamiliar territory because that's the best way to learn. I don't think there's another better way to learn.


And what that also helps you do is it helps you become good at many things versus a master of none. To become the master of something, you need to spend a lot of time doing one thing and repeat again and again to get better in it. And the level of incremental marginal returns you get by getting better at over time, keep going down so you can really focus on one thing and get really good at it or early in your career. For example, spend time at a few startups, spend time at a few fast growth companies and you'll automatically be exposed to so many different things that will expand your horizon, expand the way you think, and start to open up new avenues that you did not think of early on or you did not think of at the beginning.


But I think you have to think less about what's in it for me and more about how do I learn every day and opportunities will present itself. And the last thing related to this is when you work for organizations where you do a lot more versus less, it helps you experiment with many different things and fail much faster. How do you know you're not good at something until you try?

Chris Grouchy (05:56):

Yeah, I mean early on in your career you want to focus on optimizing for learnings as opposed to earnings. The earnings will come. And I think the point around learning starting by being a generalist, putting yourself into uncomfortable situations where you don't know anything, gives you the opportunity to learn skills and those skills become part of a skill stack which can then be repurposed and be translated into earnings later on in your career. I think that's really well said.

Ujjwal Dhoot (06:30):

I think just to add to that, there's a tipping point in everyone's career and you have to decide what that tipping point is when, and the tipping point I'm trying to define out here is the level of risk you take and the level of stability where at some point you will say, I need to be... It's like investing your 401(k) or your investments where you need to have a good mix of equity and debt instruments. When is it that point in your career that you need to have debt take over and actually it's debt but it's not debt in this case. It's conservatism take over to make sure you're not overextending yourself beyond a certain point. But it is high risk and high reward to do that.

Chris Grouchy (07:19):

One follow up to that is any tipping points that come to mind for you is the jump from, for example, chief marketing officer to chief executive officer, a tipping point.

Ujjwal Dhoot (07:33):

I don't know if the tipping point in terms of learning has come yet. So I don't think the tipping point exists in terms of learning. It just exists in terms of your prioritization of how you spend your time. But for me, at least in my mind, I'm clear that I would like to be in situations where the learning curve is steep so that I'm not getting accustomed to a certain level of this is how it's done. Because the day, I start saying this is how it's done and this is how it's always been done, I know I need to move on.

Chris Grouchy (08:13):

And a great example or a great forcing function of constant reinvention is what you said earlier about working in a startup. Change is constant. So that forces you to have to reinvent yourself. And if you're an executive at one of these startups, your job is going to change every three to six months. Just when you start to maybe get good at it, you have to start over and apply your skill stack to a whole new set of challenges.

Ujjwal Dhoot (08:44):

I think situations take over. So you have to bring out a different situational leader every single day to solve different situational challenges that come up every day. Some good ones, some bad ones, I think or not so fun ones. But at the end of the day, as a leader, your goal is to be able to create the best path possible even in situations that aren't as great or things aren't that rosy, and I heard this somewhere, but everyone can be a great leader when things are good. The true test of leadership is when things are tough and that's when you really find out who a true leader is versus someone who is just put in the position because of their knowledge and experience, but not as much their leadership.

Chris Grouchy (09:38):

I think this idea of situational leadership is so salient, especially in the current macroeconomic environment because now you have peacetime leaders who are determining whether they have the gumption, the stomach to be a wartime leader in many ways. And that's just a different operating code than the conditions under peace time. And I want to ask about how you enable this within your team. So you've said in the past that one of the most important things for a leader is to have an entrepreneurial team. And I'm sensing this is a bit of a theme, being able to adapt. As someone who has led teams at large retailers, how do you create entrepreneurial teams or get an existing team to become entrepreneurial?

Ujjwal Dhoot (10:30):

Most individuals come into retail without retail experience. If you think about someone who's starting in retail or someone who's starting in e-commerce, I started an e-commerce 15 years ago without any e-commerce experience. And for me, it was always about when you're starting without any relevant detailed information about the sector or about how things should be, you can have leaders that tell you the what and what needs to be done. Or you can have leaders tell you the why and why is it important. I think when you are hiring teams and when you are trying to inspire teams, I think our job as leaders is not to say what needs to get done, but here's why we're doing it, here's how we're going to do it, and here's what needs to get done and help individuals navigate the process of decision-making.


And I'll go back to my MBA days when someone said, an MBA is not meant to teach you what to do. It's meant to teach you how to think, so that when I'm not around tomorrow you can think about how to solve for the same problem and build that level of experience. And those are the leaders you actually remember. I've been fortunate to have a few of those leaders in my career and those are the leaders you take with you wherever you go.


And the entrepreneurial culture has also built when you inspire your team to challenge the status quo versus I said earlier, this is how it's always been done. We need to very carefully construct an approach that is not about, this is how it's always done. And to do that, oftentimes you need to hire teams that are smarter than you. You need to hire individuals on your team that are subject matter experts in different things where I might not be a subject matter expert and I am truly a generalist, but there are individuals on the teams I've had in the past and right now that are truly much better at what their functions and roles are than I am.

Chris Grouchy (12:45):

We talked about great leaders, being able to communicate the why, not just the what. The why goes back to the mission, which Allivet clearly has. And you clearly communicated that was one of the reasons why you joined. We've seen this with retailers in the past as an example, when it comes down to the what, there's some resistance specifically to change, they don't want to change. It's hard. This is the innovator's dilemma and that fear is understandable. As someone who's worked in companies of all shapes and sizes, what advice would you have to leaders, just even use retail leaders as an example, around moving fast, and is it possible to operate like a startup inside of some of these large organizations?

Ujjwal Dhoot (13:45):

I think about that often and having been at companies that... I have not worked at Fortune 500 organizations, but I've worked at organizations as little as five or 10 million in revenue all the way up to over 500 million in revenue. And obviously I would say it is tougher to navigate the larger organizations. I think having executive sponsors that are very thoughtful in their approach along with I think it's a balance of being thoughtful, being pragmatic, but also building a culture of innovation.


And I think I understand the pragmatism in saying, you're the true and tried and tested approach, but it needs to be balanced with, but here's a new potential way of doing things. And if you veer too far down one side, you're never going to give the other side to win. So I think it's a balance of trying to do what consistently has proven right, and that's what differentiates great leaders is they have intuition into what truly those differentiators are that are time and tested true things that make the organization tick compared with the new innovation that needs to be stirred in the mix of that organizational growth that needs to happen.


But a great leader and a great executive team for sure helps and they really need to drive and inspire challenging the status quo every single day. The simplest thing I tell people is we need to be able to involve individuals at all levels into the thinking and the ideation for new ideas. Because the more you involve everyone and the more it becomes an exercise of trust and an exercise of everyone doing their bit to create a new future, the more people get engaged and the more they start becoming believers. And you need to start with small wins. When you do try new dramatic things, have measurement frameworks to make sure you can measure the impact of those new things and you're going to turn your teams and peers into believers.

Chris Grouchy (16:09):

Involving folks at all levels of the organization has multiple purposes. Not only do you get different perspectives, but to your point, you also gain buy-in by involving people. And that's so critical because big ideas they may seem scary, they may seem threatening, and in order for people to naturally buy-in, they need to be involved in the construction of those ideas, not told what to do.

Ujjwal Dhoot (16:40):

It goes back to the goes the, what versus why. And I was smiling out there about involving everyone. And the reason I was smiling is because it's such a delicate balance between... I'm going to call it analysis paralysis or I'm going to call it death by committee. And you have to know the right instances to involve individuals based on your experiences. And certain times when you have to almost race and say this is something that should happen, needs to happen, what's the best way to get to the finish line without having a lot of debate around things. But I totally think involving everyone is the right thing to do. It's just a balance of action versus discussion and debate. And at the end of the day, it's the discuss, debate and commit attitude that you need to inculcate in your team and your team needs to have and you need to have.

Chris Grouchy (17:50):

One of the roles that we're seeing retailers create of an executive who has decision-making rights across multiple silos in an organization is the chief digital officer. And we recently did a conversation with Rick Watson who's just a fantastic retail consultant and influencer and he recommends that retail has come up with a chief digital officer role. You've been a chief digital officer. So given that that's a natural horizontally aligned role with decision-making rights, what is the role definition of a chief digital officer in retail today? And I'm curious how you think that role will evolve over the next five years.

Ujjwal Dhoot (18:41):

Over the last five years, chief digital officer started off as, I think the term was really popularized by around 2015. We were seeing our first chief digital officers around a decade or so, especially in the e-commerce and retail vertical. And the initial role of the chief digital officer was to think about all things analog and think about the digital transformation strategy. It turned into digital transformation strategy for the organization along with the e-commerce P&L. I think where it is heading towards is almost a CMO and chief digital officer combined along with actually the service organization.


And I think it's going to become the chief customer officer because at the end of the day, most of our engagement, most of our interaction with any brand is happening on digital mechanisms. And if that's the place where all of our engagement is happening, it is customer interaction, it is marketing to drive the customer back and it's happening on digital organizations. So the service organization combined with the digital organization, combined with the marketing organization, I almost see them merge into one organization called customer function over the next five to 10 years.

Chris Grouchy (20:11):

It's interesting. It's parallels to this idea that's becoming popular now around there being no omnichannel. There's only the customer and how you connect to them. There is no omnichannel. And I think that's just such a powerful statement and it applies to what you're saying about the chief digital officer that hey, actually the fact that there is a chief digital officer may actually point to this idea that there's actually a failure going on to recognize the customer within the organization.

Ujjwal Dhoot (20:47):

I think omnichannel is something that was, again, coined around 2010 when there were better systems to integrate online and offline world within retail, and it's mostly used within retail. I think retail has turned and pivoted from omnichannel to customer-centricity and customer centricity being defined as serving customers on their terms based on their requirements on the channel of their choice based on the permutation and combination of how they like to engage with your brand.


So a customer might want to buy on the app and pick up in store, or the customer might want to buy in store and have it shipped from another store, or the customer might want to buy in store and have it shipped to their home, or the customer might want to do a buy online pickup in store. There's just so many ways to engage a customer that it's less about the channel and more about what is it about you as a customer that makes you engage in a certain way, and how do we engage with you differently based on that?

Chris Grouchy (21:54):

Well, marketing is a pretty important point or an important consideration in thinking about how we connect with customers. In addition to being digital leader, you've also worked as a marketing leader across different retailers in apparel health and now pet. How have you tailored your marketing strategies based on the verticals that you've worked in or does that not matter as much there?

Ujjwal Dhoot (22:21):

There's two ways to think about it. The first one is obviously we need to understand the customer and by understanding the customer, I mean not just who they are and their demographics, but also what really motivates them about your brand. And once you recognize what motivates a customer about your brand, then you can say, here's the promise that we're trying to fulfill for the customer and here's how we're fulfilling the promise with concrete action items about what we're doing for the customer that makes us truly differentiated in the customer's mind. And that's the first part of what we're discussing, which is the understanding of the customer along with how we message the customer, talk to the customer and build a value proposition.


The second part of all the economic functions of marketing within any brand or retailer e-commerce organization is more of the left brain thinking, which is what is our CAC, what is the unit economics? What is the ROAS we're aiming for? What is the KPIs we want to focus on? And that's really a very left brain, straight down unit economics and P&L focus function on saying, "What is it that we can spend to acquire a customer? What happens if we retain X amount of more customers, and how does that turn the flywheel faster to grow the business faster?"

Chris Grouchy (23:48):

So it's an art and science, you mentioned it's the right brain and left brain thinking there, which I love that framework. And we also want to understand the motivations of our customers and we think we might, but we in a lot of cases may not and they're changing. What recommendations do you have for marketers who are strong, maybe on one side say they're strong on the left side or right side, but need help enhancing brain function on the other side?

Ujjwal Dhoot (24:21):

I think about that often because I am a left brain marketer, admitted a left brain marketer, and as a left brain marketer, it's a very intuitive and organic and natural for me to spend more time on what I'm more comfortable with. But it is challenging yourself to spend more time thinking about... It's like going to the gym where... I'm a runner by the way. So running a 5K five times a week for me or four times a week isn't a challenge. But strengthening a muscle that I'm not good at or that I'm not strong at is very important and if you don't exercise, you're never going to get stronger at that muscle. So one of the things I have consciously done is surround myself with some mentors slash individual/industry events or people I engage with that are just much better at the muscle and weak at so that they can share more of their knowledge with me and I can grow that muscle where I am weaker.

Chris Grouchy (25:32):

One of the themes I'm noticing from this conversation is how intentional and curated you are with the people around you, both in terms of your own personal learning around being more right-brained, but also around getting ideas through a larger organization to create buy-in. I think that's such a smart point. Is there anything else that you would like to say about how intentional you are about the people you choose to surround yourself or do you have any tips or tricks that other leaders could use to ensure that they're rounding themselves out with folks who bring new perspectives?

Ujjwal Dhoot (26:13):

I think once you have a kid, you automatically have to decide where you spend your time. And if I'm out networking, that networking better be of great value, otherwise I'm spending time away from my kid. So I do think it's intentional from the perspective of at a certain point in time you do realize your time is finite, and your time is limited and you focus and spend time on the things that are most important. And that combined with the fact that you get experience going to so many of these, I'm going to call them events or dinners or having conversations or networking calls or connecting with people that you do get intuitive and very purposeful with, this might not be the best way to spend my time and do I really want to do that? But it's prioritization of time and it's prioritization of mind share, at the end of the day.

Chris Grouchy (27:10):

You have to also give consideration to where you can get leverage or maximize leverage. And one of the frameworks that you've often talked about on the point on the note of leverage is the 80/20 rule of experiments or 80/20 rule of decisions. Could you explain the 80/20 rule for our audience? It's a very helpful mental model to have, whether it's testing a new idea or choosing how to spend time.

Ujjwal Dhoot (27:37):

The easiest analogy I would give is, you're playing baseball and you have to swing and you have three strikes and you're out. You can perfect that swing and swing just once and the odds are 33%. But maybe because you perfected the swing, your odds are 60%. But if you swing all three times with a 35% odd each time, your odds are much better than 50 or 60% one time. So if you don't swing, you're not going to know. Just like initially we spoke about if you don't try things, you're not going to know what you're not good at. Similarly, you have to swing to be able to see whether something works or not. Now you have to be careful from an organizational perspective whether it's to get buy-in from peers in the org or it's to have executive sponsors or make sure that the mistakes or the tests are not fatal in the outcomes.


And as long as they're not fatal in the outcomes and you have the best organizational interest in mind, I think it is about coming up with a thesis, trying things and iterating from there. But you have to also consider the fact that MVP doesn't mean you can put anything up and run with the test. You have to minimalize the friction for the customer. And the definition of minimum viable product it is minimum viable product from a functionality perspective. It is not minimum viable product from how the customer perceives it perspective. The customer perception of that minimum viable product still needs to be 95% and the amount of effort that gets you to from zero to 95% in effort versus 95% to completion is probably the same amount of effort. So customer experience versus functionality is the difference you need to look at when building a minimum viable product.

Chris Grouchy (29:44):

One of our investors and legends of retail guests, Scott Belsky is the chief product officer of Adobe. He talks about a similar notion around the quality bar for an MVP is so much higher today than it once was, especially for digital products or digital experiences. And one of the points he makes in his book, the Messy Middle is something that's again paraphrased by you, which is that because the bar is so much higher, it's not just shipping the first instantiation of the product out the door and hoping that people will use it. You actually have to meet a degree of quality expectations with that MVP in order for customers to have a like experience to the eventual complete product. I just think that's a very salient point because oftentimes we underestimate what is true about the MVP and how much it needs to be complete in order to ship it. It's actually probably a lot bigger than people often think.

Ujjwal Dhoot (30:42):

It truly is.

Chris Grouchy (30:44):

Just shifting gears a little bit, one of the things that I know a lot about is advertising. We talked about ROAS earlier. One big advertising change is the rise of retail media networks. We looked at some data and preparation for this. Retail media networks are estimated to capture 20% of digital ad spend by 2023. I'm curious if you can talk a little bit more about this change and what the playbook should be for retailers who are maybe adapting to this.

Ujjwal Dhoot (31:16):

You said 20%, you have to look at what off that 20% is being captured by the top 10 versus the rest. And that's where my contrarian point of view comes in that off the 20%, probably 17, 18% or most of it, 90% of it is probably captured by the top 10. So organizations really need to understand the purpose that they serve and based on the purpose they serve, does the retail media network bring any strategic value for their stakeholders? It could be the shareholders, it could be the customers, it could be the employees, it could be any stakeholder, it could be partners on the manufacturing or the brand front, but what strategic value is it bringing?


And the short way to summarize the way I think about it is that the short-term benefit from the cash flow generation does not necessarily equate to the long-term value that you are creating for your stakeholders by just having a retail media network. And it is almost of no value if it doesn't serve a strategic purpose. I'm going to say something, but it's herd mentality right now and you really need to think and question why is it strategically important to you?

Chris Grouchy (32:42):

The Rene Girard's Mimetic Theory around this is that people would be effectively copying one another in order to basically avoid having to think about from first principles what the actual strategic rationale is for maim these types of decisions. So one helpful framework that you've posited here is to think about what is the long-term value creation I want to make for my customers? And then make decisions independent of what others are doing that align to that long term value that you want to create.


Speaking of herd mentality here, promotions and discounts. We're really getting into the season of the holiday shopping, the Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and there's lots of excess inventory that people are trying to clear and they're using promotions and discounts as a way to do that. But we're seeing, unlike other holiday shopping seasons discounts that are 50, 60% plus on many retailers e-commerce sites, and part of that must be excess inventory. So I'm curious about how you think about promotions with the current inventory and inflationary environment for retailers.

Ujjwal Dhoot (34:08):

I have so many things to share on this front that it's probably going to take us a lot of time. But in 2020 when the world shut down for a few months, we had a demand shock and that demand shock quickly converted into a supply shock. And all throughout 2021 we had a supply shock. And because of that, a lot of retailers really I would say try to prepare for that. And this year what we're having is a little bit of it's this constant struggle between the demand and supply and retailers that are best managing their inventory are going to be the winners. But it's not just about the inventory, it's about managing your inventory combined with the ones that are managing the brand perception the most.


So the first one is managing inventory, the second one is managing brand perception. And the third one is trying to retrain your customers. If you are doing a promotion every single weekend, you've really lost the script and good luck trying to retrain your promotions or retrain your customers to not use a promotion two weekends or three weekends or four weekends that you do it. It's difficult to retrain a customer to not be used to that then.

Chris Grouchy (35:36):

It makes total sense. And you see this right now with large publicly funded retailers where they've just trained their customers to wait to buy until there is deep-

Ujjwal Dhoot (35:50):

Not everyone, but some of them have.

Chris Grouchy (35:52):

Not everyone, but some of them have. So it's really this important thing to get right and it starts with inventory. If you have too much of it, you might be caught in that vicious cycle.

Ujjwal Dhoot (36:01):

But also I think strategic intent, you have to think about why are you doing a promotion, and what is the audience that you're doing it for? I think marketing technology has gotten pretty smart where not everyone needs to get everything all the time. And you can very selectively and from a segmentation and personalization perspective, target sets of customers, but it goes back to the question of what is the strategic intent? What are you trying to solve for? And based on that, what is it that you're doing promotionally to have an impact not just on inventory and not just on the financials and the EBITDA, but also the long-term customer behavior. And I say long-term, ignoring the short-term customer behavior.

Chris Grouchy (36:47):

Well, on the note of personalization, lots of strategies that retailers are taking now to avoid this promotional cycle is to offer personalized assortments to customers as opposed to discounts. So it starts at a SKU level. How do we actually package up a category, a campaign to a customer around specific assortments instead of just saying, "here's a 50% off discount code for everybody." Actually adding value to a customer as opposed to training them.

Ujjwal Dhoot (37:19):

Yeah, I think there's so many mechanisms within the digital world to help show why you create more value than just discounts. The simplest one I could think of for anyone within the apparel space especially is showing customers how to outfit. And there's tools available these days to help you show customers how to outfit themselves. And we know that that's a challenge that retailers are trying to solve for with trying to get more share of wallets. So maybe if the customer can buy three things that turn into a great outfit with you, they don't care about going somewhere else because just because they're giving a 30% discount. But what is it that you're trying to drive in value? How do you drive that value and how do you change the long-term customer trajectory?

Chris Grouchy (38:08):

Makes sense. I'm sure there's probably some interesting ideas there for the pet industry as well to offer more personalization, more value to customers with the assortment or how they experience the assortment for their own pets.

Ujjwal Dhoot (38:25):

There are so many ideas. I'm still in my sixth week out here and exploring, but one thing is pretty clear to me that the level of utilization of analytics and data science to help you manage your pet's life and extend your pet's life, the possibilities are endless.

Chris Grouchy (38:47):

That's fascinating. We'll have to save that one for a part two conversation. I've got one more question and then we'll get into the rapid fire round, but my last question as part of this segment of our conversation is really around marketing attribution. There is an attribution problem and it plagues the customer journey no matter how big you are as say a retailer, what are the common mistakes you've seen marketing teams make with attribution and what recommendations do you have for them?

Ujjwal Dhoot (39:21):

You just defined the attribution as a problem and as a marketer, we've done that to ourselves where we've defined attribution as a problem. I don't see attribution as a problem. I see attribution as a fact. I see attribution as a way customers engage with us and customers interact with us, but it's less a problem and more about the customer browsing behavior and the customer buying behavior and engagement behavior, which in this world we live in today happens across many mechanisms. I think what you're trying to get at with attribution and is how do we associate the impact of something we're doing with the outcome that we're trying to create?


And the impact and the outcome can be tied together through testing. It can be tied together through incrementality, it can be tied together by having control groups. And all of these mean the same thing, but really what I'm trying to say is I don't think attribution the way it was defined 10 years ago holds the same meaning. I think it's really evolved and the way I think about it has evolved where 10 years ago, and I've used a few of these attribution platforms, it's science until it's not because all it is a black box in a lot of cases. Because you're not trying to solve for a mathematical problem, you think you are. But what you are trying to solve for is the association and impact of different levels of spend.


And it really is about the baseline. What is the baseline today? What do you do today? And if you change things, if you turn the dial up, if you turn the dial down and if you play around with all the gears and controls in the marketers flying machine, you can try and see how that's changing customer behavior.

Chris Grouchy (41:14):

Yeah. I think that's a very balanced perspective on what the ultimate goal of attribution is among modern marketing campaigns, experiments, and even what teams should optimize for. I'd love to move into our rapid fire round. I will ask you a short question and you'll give me your immediate thoughts. How does that sound?

Ujjwal Dhoot (41:38):

Sounds good.

Chris Grouchy (41:39):

All right. So the first one is the most exciting opportunity in retail post COVID.

Ujjwal Dhoot (41:45):

I would say understanding the customer and brand differentiation.

Chris Grouchy (41:48):

A brand you love and why?

Ujjwal Dhoot (41:51):

Chipotle. I love Chipotle. I love the food, but I also love how they've grown and really they've evolved from the instances of food safety concerns and health concerns into the behemoth that they've become when it comes to organic food and just the level of engagement that they have with their customers and the loyalty.

Chris Grouchy (42:18):

Couldn't agree more. Love Chipotle. I think that's a very interesting example. A lot of people say Apple or something, but I think the Chipotle example is one that a lot of folks could get behind for many reasons. And my last question is the kindest thing someone has done for you.

Ujjwal Dhoot (42:34):

Have great mentors. I have great mentors and I enjoy talking to them. I wouldn't say it's the kindest thing someone's done for me, but just keeping in touch with people and learning from them and always engaging with them is very helpful. By the way, I still keep in touch with my MBA university professors and a couple of them just to keep them updated on my career. And when you stay in touch with someone for 15 years after the fact, they reach out and they say kind words and it just makes your day and makes your week. So it's not about the kindest thing, but it is about trying to build a circle around you that... It's like happiness, where it's not one giant thing that you're waiting that'll make you very happy, but it's a small things in life that add up to what converts or makes you a happy individual.

Chris Grouchy (43:38):

I think that's a fantastic place to wrap, Ujjwal. Mentors is one of the reasons why I love doing this podcast. It's a selfish excuse for me to talk to leaders like you and learn your secrets and then apply them into my own life.

Ujjwal Dhoot (43:53):

I enjoyed it. Thank you for having me.

Chris Grouchy (43:55):

It's awesome. Thank you for coming on the show and being so generous with your time. This has been an MBA in leadership, in gaining buy-in, and also how to innovate inside of organizations. So thank you so much. It's been an absolute pleasure to talk to you today, Ujjwal. Thanks again to Ujjwal for coming on the show and thank you for listening. To catch the latest episodes of Legends of Retail, please subscribe to the show on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also stay updated by following Convictional on LinkedIn and on Twitter. Finally, I'd love feedback on the show, so you can DM me on Twitter @ChrisGrouchy or you can shoot me an email, I'm chris@convictional.com. Thanks again for listening.

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