Blake Lawson is a Fractional COO at FullViz, where he provides operations leadership to growth-stage companies. With a track record of scaling businesses and building teams, he’s worked in operations and product development roles with industry giants like Target, Amazon, and SAP. Blake’s insights stem from firsthand experience in cutting-edge retail practices and transformation strategies. 

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • [0:00] Data-driven leader Blake Lawson on scaling global businesses
  • [0:52] How Blake contributed to Amazon’s grocery business
  • [3:35] The role of data in understanding and adapting to customer behaviors 
  • [5:51] Amazon, Walmart, and Target’s strategies and value propositions
  • [16:52] What is the future of return policies in the online retail world?
  • [28:06] The evolution of cashier-less shopping and its implications for retailers and consumers
  • [34:00] Blake’s take on how inflation has driven a noticeable increase in the grocery industry’s revenue 
  • [40:13] How retailers can manage costs in an ever-changing market environment

In this episode…

With inflation on the rise, retailers must develop strategies to retain consumers while maintaining profitability. This includes integrating new technologies to address consumer needs and adapt to a shifting market. What strategies do retail giants concoct behind the scenes, and what can you learn from their efforts?

With hands-on experience driving profitability for Amazon’s grocery and apparel arms, Blake Lawson discloses the operational secrets of AmazonFresh and Prime Now, including their banana alarm strategy that alerted the retailer to critical stock shortages. This inventory management approach drives sales consistency and customer retention. Retailers can also integrate AI and augmented reality into their operations to personalize the shopping experience and lower costs. Additionally, while offering free returns is considered a fundamental customer service strategy, they’re often costly, so finding a balance by incorporating limits is crucial to long-term sustainability. 

Join Rolando Rosas in this episode of What The Teck? as he sits down with Blake Lawson, the Fractional COO at FullViz, to talk about the winning strategies of prominent retailers. Blake shares the positive impacts of inflation on retailers, how to leverage data to understand customer motives, and the future of cashier-less shopping.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Quotable Moments:

  • “We had this banana alarm that would go off in the middle of the night…it became really important to us because customers could rely on the fact that Amazon was always in stock with bananas.” 
  • “Technology will just continue to undergird retail and having a real clear, unified data strategy is going to be the winning piece for the foreseeable future.”  
  • “Retailers are being forced to find ways to offset the cost of returns. I think free returns are going to be a dwindling economic model for retailers.” 
  • “If customers are shopping for groceries, they’re probably going to buy other things on the platform as well.” 
  • “I’m a believer that for every job that’s automated, more are created further down the road. It’s about how the workforce is being upskilled.” 

Action Steps:

  1. Invest in real-time stock management tools, like banana alarms, to avoid running out of key products: Effective because keeping essentials in stock directly influences customer retention and sales consistency.
  2. Consider integrating AI and augmented reality into retail operations: Lowers costs and creates a more personalized shopping experience, aligning with the future of retail trends.
  3. Develop a customer-centric retail strategy that relies on data to understand and predict consumer behaviors: Tailoring experiences to customer needs drives loyalty and maximizes revenue.
  4. Carefully reconsider return policies to find a sustainable balance between customer service and profitability: Returns are a significant cost to retail businesses, and managing this effectively is crucial for long-term success.
  5. Embrace innovation and adjust business models to manage rising costs without compromising ethical values: Retailers must innovate to survive economic challenges and evolve with the market while maintaining ethical labor practices.

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Episode Transcript:

Blake Lawson 0:00

With AmazonFresh, and Prime Now, we had banana alarms. So we have this banana alarm that would go off in the middle of the night, you know, go play some quarters to make sure we never run out of stock. So the banana alarm became really, really important to us because

Intro 0:14

Blake Lawson, a data driven leader in global retail operations and product development with experienced scaling businesses and building teams with some of the world’s most recognizable companies, including target Amazon and SAP. They tell

Blake Lawson 0:27

us continue to change prime now and Amazon Fresh, we’re kind of at the forefront of how we think about what that was going to look like the secret name of the project, cherry Amazon was trying to figure out how do we make the grocery business a profitable one. But what they were doing is they were losing those lower cost items that were dusted filters and so they called it crap can’t realize a profit grocery is a huge part of the customer experience. And so the customer is shopping for groceries, they’re gonna buy other things on the platform as well.

Rolando Rosas 0:52

Do you think the day of free returns? On

Blake Lawson 0:56

the wardrobe side, I was tasked to really try to figure out how to make that business profitable. No, during the pandemic warehouses were so backlogged turn trucks and Amazon was just having to ride off truckloads of returns that cost anything that’s being passed on to consumers.

Rolando Rosas 1:10

If your name is not Amazon, Kroger, Costco or target, how do you stay competitive?

Blake Lawson 1:17

I think those technologies will continue to help drive improvements, whether it’s robots stocking the shelf, two things happening behind the scenes to help inventory move through the stores and emerging technology like AI and augmented reality. And so retailers really have to think about the future of their business because

Rolando Rosas 1:36

Welcome to What the Teck?, your gateway to business strategies and tech secrets, shaping today’s workplace. Today, I have the pleasure of sitting down with a former Amazonian Blake Lawson, who has first hand knowledge on what it’s like to be behind the scenes at Amazon Fresh and Amazon Go. So a lot I want to ask him about, like, what’s the future of shopping? Where are we going with all that? Is it all going to be cashier lists from now on? Can other places implement this technology? Is it just is it a boondoggle? And what all of this means, as well, for those businesses that are at retail? Should they be paying attention to this? Or is this just a big hype to do about nothing. So I want you to welcome to the podcast, Blake Lawson.

Blake Lawson 2:31

Thanks for having me.

Rolando Rosas 2:32

Awesome. Thanks for coming in. We were just nerding out about coffee, just before we started rolling. And it looks like we’re two coffee nerds that we are two peas in a pod or not in the K pod either.

Blake Lawson 2:48

Exactly, exactly. We’re going we’re going single origin somewhere in Northern Africa, you

Rolando Rosas 2:52

know, your light roast a more of a medium roast guy. And, you know, I got started going down this rabbit hole during COVID. And I’m hooked on on trying to make the perfect cappuccino or espresso and I play around with a little bit of milk sometimes and a little bit of I like maple syrup with mine. I’ve been messing around with that. Doing it straight, maybe a little bit more water. So I haven’t quite come up with the perfect blend. I’m still chasing that. But I was hoping maybe you can help me along the way while we’re talking about we’re going to talk about Amazon and products and groceries and shopping. But no, with that background you’ve got maybe you can give me some pointers as we’re talking about.

Blake Lawson 3:35

You know, being a data person, I can break things down pretty fundamentally but with espresso or coffee in general, it comes down to grind temperature and time. So it’s really how high is your grind and that will crease your resistance because you want that to take longer to go through the puck of grounds you got you want to make sure that got the right temperature settings that’s going to depend on the region and the type of coffee that you have and how old it is coffee expires at a certain point in time. And then lastly, it’s going to be less time temperature and you want to have that typically on the espresso machine you should be pulling your shot like 30 seconds. And you know you’re also looking at how fast the water’s coming through. And you know the ratio of how much beans and water are coming out at the same time. So

Rolando Rosas 4:14

it’s water the water is really important I realized I’ve been playing around with different types of water like a love Voss water. Yeah, okay. In playing with Deer Park Why don’t love Deer Park but it’s just more economical. Yeah, especially as much espresso has been going through but anywho I know I know I didn’t bring you on to talk about espresso although we could probably spend another hour we could spend a whole episode just talking about that maybe we did we do something on on a live Instagram or a live tech talk about it. I

Blake Lawson 4:46

like a slice of us standing orders or special machines

Rolando Rosas 4:49

like that. That’d be great. Or a note that down somewhere we do a live tic tock just side by side on on pouring out expresso and tips about that. I really liked that. So, you know, one of the things that I was getting ready to talk to you, I’m looking at the places you’ve worked, you’ve worked at Target, you’ve worked at Amazon, and now you’re at SAP, these are all great companies, household names, people know, the, they’re very recognizable. But one of the things about them that strikes me is that all of these three, these three companies are all pushing the envelope of where they want to go with technology. And they’re using technology to, to leverage data to, to advance, also, in the case of some of these is to advance where they are in the marketplace. But more specifically, I want to know, where you think technology sits in terms of its role when it comes to retail?

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