Torben Valsted on Monolith, retail innovation and more

Meet Torben Valsted. Torben has been our dedicated coach and mentor from the start. He has years of experience in the FCMG as well as the sports and performance wear industry. How does he reflect upon the past 2 years?

*Why did this concept appeal to you when you first heard about it? *

I always like to be on the forefront, part of something new. Change and build things only a few imagine possible. And now I could tap into this huge potential.

Stores have always been this black box.

I believe everyone in retail likes to measure the facts. How does a change affect my sales? Everyone would like to understand how they can improve. But so far, stores have always been this black box. There was a lack of insight in to how shoppers behave in stores and how you can interact with and influence them.

The desire to get the facts was always there, but because there was a lack of anything better, we trusted our emotions and gut feeling. When the opportunity came along to open the box to the world and drive an understanding, I wanted to be part of it.

Moreover, I’ve worked in the FMCG sector for years. There we were already more advanced and many years ago we started doing tracking. For instance, how do shoppers move around stores? How much of the purchases were planned versus impulse buys? And how could you influence different types of shoppers? When I joined the sports industry, I realized insights were lacking and it was less scientific.

What is the reason that fashion retail is behind?

There are two reasons for this. First of all fashion always had higher margins. The margins in food are much lower, so you’re always looking into how you can optimize every 0.1% and drive efficiency. But with the rise of digital, fashion retail has also become more competitive. Of course fashion retailers would have benefitted from understanding their shoppers before too, but there was no level of urgency.

Secondly, fashion retailers attach more emotional value to their products. It’s mostly about experience and emotions and there’s less of a scientific approach to it. But I believe it’s not necessarily one way or the other. Working with retailers we need to understand that influencing shopper behavior is not just about driving more money from shoppers: squeezing them. It’s about making sure you drive the best shopping experience possible. Satisfied shoppers will return and drive future repeat sales leading to profitable and sustainable growth.

*In your view, what will be our biggest challenge? *

The industry needs to be convinced that science can squeeze out the best of performance from the art and emotion. It’s a mental shift and it’s a real challenge to get people on a bicycle that they’ve never driven before. Even though the bicycle might be faster and take them further, it’s scary for people to do things in a different way from what they’ve always done before. And it’s not easy, because everyone has their own convictions that are based on emotions or experience. The industry needs to be convinced that science can squeeze out the best of performance from the art and emotion.

The industry needs to be convinced that science can squeeze out the best of performance from the art and emotion.

To give an example, I always thought that products could better be placed on the beginning of a shelf. I watched some video footage and studied the shoppers and that seemed to be how they behaved. But then supermarkets started to create wider aisles. I still held on to my old belief, because that is what I knew. I needed really strong evidence to be convinced otherwise: it turned out that in the wider isles people tended to pick the middle products. It’s important for people to realize that when going with gut feeling, you’ll end up making mistakes.

What have your experiences been working with the team?

Through my retail and business experience I’ve been able to always push the bar higher. I could see how far this could go. Though for me, it was never about pushing the team in a certain direction. It’s rather about creating the ‘aha’ moment, where the team finds the solution themselves and everything falls into place. That’s the beauty of it and why it’s important for me to work with young teams. I can open the window for young people and then they can fly out themselves. I can open the window for young people and then they can fly out themselves.

I can open the window for young people and then they can fly out themselves. I can open the window for young people and then they can fly out themselves.

Overall, this whole adventure has been a short, but long journey. It’s extremely exhilarating to see how the team has been developing. The fast evolution in a start-up is also what to me makes it sexy and exciting. I’ve seen the team take very big steps; beyond what they themselves might have thought was possible. To get to a solution that really drives strategic and actionable insights, takes lot of understanding. And of course if you’re in the moment, you always feel it’s not fast enough, but if you take a step back and look at what has happened over the last years, it’s amazing and it’s all been going super fast.

What would you advise to retailers that want to start using solutions such as Monolith?

I want to remind every retailer that technology by itself means nothing. It’s all about how people, process and technology come together. Retailers that will understand this will gain a tremendous advantage. And I do strongly believe that by nature brick-and-mortar retailers have an advantage over digital. You can try on the clothes, shop with friends and be indulged in a unique store experience with helpful staff. In my opinion the rise of digital was rather caused by the lack of shopability and customer-focus of brick-and-mortar stores than the appeal of digital. When stores don’t focus on optimizing their staff and store experience, the advantages of brick-and-mortar stores vanishes. But I believe that with more insights – used in the right way – the whole industry can change for the better of shoppers.

*How do you see the future? *

I’m not sure whether every single retailer will use these types of solutions in a few years, but I am sure that every retailer that’s not using it will have a severe disadvantage compared to others. I really think that the kind of solution Monolith is developing now and that will be revealed soon will be a complete game-changer for the industry

I really think that the kind of solution Monolith is developing now and that will be revealed soon will be a complete game-changer for the industry

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