Joe Jensen: “Creative ways to meet customer expectations”

In the long-term, retailers will continue to rely on seamless, convenient solutions like dark stores to cost effectively serve delivery customers. To be a ‘winner’ in the changing retail space, retailers must transform production methods in creative ways to meet customer expectations. As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the […]

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In the long-term, retailers will continue to rely on seamless, convenient solutions like dark stores to cost effectively serve delivery customers. To be a ‘winner’ in the changing retail space, retailers must transform production methods in creative ways to meet customer expectations.

As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Jensen.

Joe Jensen is vice president in Intel’s Internet of Things (IoT) Group and general manager of Retail, Banking, Hospitality & Education. Over 97% of enterprise retailers (above 500 stores) use Intel technology worldwide and Jensen leads the team responsible for helping them leverage technology to better serve their customers. A 30+ year veteran at Intel, Jensen joined the company in 1984 as a product engineer and rose through the ranks to lead multiple organizations in the embedded and digital home markets. He is well known across the industry and serves on the board of directors for the Retail Industry Leaders Association, advocating priorities and standards across the retail sector.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Growing up in rural Iowa, I wanted to be an architect. But in high school, the guidance counselor persuaded me to go the engineering route which required one less year of school and had a higher starting salary. So, I enrolled in mechanical engineering classes at South Dakota State and later switched to electrical engineering. I’ve always been curious about how things work and enjoyed my engineering classes. This curiosity has stayed with me, fueling innovation as I progressed in my career at Intel. I now spend much of my time with our partners and customers, learning about their challenges and helping them arrive at the right technology solutions.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Well there have been many, but one that comes to mind is the story of a brilliant technology that when first proposed seemed out of reach. The concept of 3D mammography, designed to provide higher quality images for radiologists, a more comfortable experience for patients and enhanced workflow for technologists. At the time I first met with a technologist in this field, years ago, the initial processing time for one image was 24 hours, due to the compute needed. This was not compelling for an investment community from a turnaround time perspective. But this technologist was so fearless in his response and referring to Moore’s Law, he knew that by the time the FDA approved the technology, compute would be radically faster as well as more affordable. Can you imagine the field today without 3D technology?

This for me was a real reminder of not being limited by our current understanding, but rather to be future thinking, and the rest will follow.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?

I wouldn’t say this is a funny mistake, but early on as a business leader, I made some fairly big bets on new solutions that ultimately failed to take off. I do believe that we must continue to innovate and try new things and if we fail, it’s ok as long as we learn from it.

Early in my career, I believed we were close to seeing graphical user interfaces deployed on a wide variety of industrial machines. So, Intel built an integrated display computer module that was easy to attach to any machine. But unfortunately, we were too early for the industry and the project failed to take off.

Nowadays, those graphical user interfaces are built into essentially any machines that are worth more than a few thousand dollars. So, we were correct in our technology assessment, but our timing wasn’t right for the market.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Experience and maturity make you better equipped to handle burn out, because you can learn to adapt to situations. Personally, I’ve learned that worrying is fundamentally wasted energy. So, now I only worry about the things I can control.

I encourage my team to only put energy, time and brainpower into the things that they can affect. For example, I’m not worried about what COVID-19 is doing to the business, because I can’t change the situation. But, I can change how we’re positioning ourselves and how we treat each other, while ensuring we’re ready for many different outcomes and the possible impacts of the pandemic.

As I mentioned earlier, I grew up in farm country and I saw that farmers were constantly worried about the weather. Too little rain, too much rain, too hot, too cold… they’re completely at the mercy of the weather. As I’ve progressed my career, I’ve learned not to worry about things out of my control, like the weather, and I instead build contingency plans, so that we always have options, regardless of what “the weather” does.

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share examples of different ideas that retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?

Before the pandemic, there were retailers experimenting with delivery and ‘click and collect’ curbside shopping options. These retailers were already well on their way to what we used to call “omnichannel.” When the pandemic hit, these retailers were well positioned to expand these programs, while keeping their doors open. For example, Hudson News was already on the digital transformation path, and leveraged the pandemic to greatly accelerate their deployments.

On the other hand, retailers that hadn’t yet enabled their backend systems to integrate online with the store inventory found it much more difficult to adapt. They either had to close their doors or quickly pull together solutions to serve customers on-demand, without all of the infrastructure in place.

Digital transformation and changing consumer expectations have had a profound impact on retail for more than five years. During the pandemic, this digital shift has greatly compressed that timeline. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella earlier this year said the pandemic has compressed two years of digital transformation into two months. We’ve seen this with new retail solutions available that leverage AI to track occupancy, monitor social distancing, ensure mask compliance and receive real-time alerts for health and safety.

Retailers that hadn’t yet committed to these capabilities or services for their consumers were really forced into a “do or die” moment.

In your opinion, will retail stores or malls continue to exist? How would you articulate the role of physical retail spaces at a time when online commerce platforms like Amazon Prime or Instacart can deliver the same day or the next day?

While many high-earning workers may do most of their shopping online, the reality is that shopping is actually a pastime for the majority of people, who enjoy browsing their favorite malls and stores. And the in-store shopping experience is one that online shopping cannot fully replicate.

Let me explain. Prior to the pandemic, 60 percent of purchases in the United States and Europe were items that people didn’t plan to purchase. But after they went into the store, they saw a display and decided in the moment that they wanted to purchase the item. This real-time demand is created by the retailer through the in-store experience, the placement of the goods, the sales associate, etc. This is why it’s important for retailers that have both an online and physical presence to convince shoppers to keep coming into the physical store — so that they can create more demand.

At the beginning of the pandemic, many malls and specialty stores had to close their doors, but stores like Target and Home Depot remained open and saw their sales increase. While consumers could only spend their money in half of the locations that they used to, they spent essentially the same amount of money year-over year — spending only two percent less during the pandemic. Nearly every dollar that they would’ve spent at restaurants and hotels funneled into a brick and mortar stores or online purchases.

The bottom line is that consumers like to spend money, and people enjoy shopping and discovery. While brick and mortar stores will persevere, the nature of retail is changing. We used to find out about trends and the latest fashion styles through physical stores and seeing what’s new on display. Now, we discover new things through social influencers and online channels. The value proposition of discovery in-store is going away and is shifting to a value proposition of curation. You can go to stores like Ralph Lauren Home or Restoration Hardware, which have very curated looks and styles, and if you like that style, you can furnish your whole house at that one store, rather than going to multiple locations.

Curation will continue to be important, especially for physical stores, to provide great shopping experiences for their customers.

The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?

In the case of Lululemon, they’re selling all their own products. Everything is high quality and well-made and you can’t find their clothes anywhere else. They also manage their pricing so customers can’t just go online to get it cheaper, unless it’s a close out. Lululemon has created a unique in-store experience with a community space and free yoga classes taught by instructors wearing Lululemon clothing.

There are several lessons that retailers can consider. One is price. Price is a primary motivator for many shoppers and lowering prices can improve business margins. Another is reducing friction for consumers. If there are two stores with similar prices but one has shorter lines and a better stock of items, consumers will likely choose the latter. Finally, to create interest on-demand, it’s important to have things that consumers won’t find elsewhere. Make the shopping experience a discovery opportunity for your customers.

Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. What would you advise to retail companies and e-commerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

Consumers want to remove all the friction and hassle from their life. They’ll gravitate toward what’s easiest every time. So, while price is important, experience is even more so.

For example, recently one of my engineers from China was explaining how he does everything from home. Pre-pandemic, he didn’t really go out except to go to work. He said, “If I’m going to bother to put my pants on and go out, it better be worth it.” I think more and more, that’s the point. If you’re just going to go buy mouthwash and toothpaste, do you want to get in the car and spend 30–40 minutes just to pick something up? Or would you prefer to go online and order what you need?

Retailers may blame Amazon for the challenges they face, but in reality it is rapidly changing consumer expectations. Online retailers like Amazon have been nimbler in meeting these needs, and so they present an example of how to succeed in evolving. Analytics and technology make these innovations possible.

Do you have any predictions for how else the retail industry will change this year?

Micro-fulfillment centers have enabled smaller retailers to keep up with online retail giants during the pandemic. I believe we will see the ‘warehouse-ization’ of retail — with retailers shifting focus to fulfilling orders, whether they be groceries or consumer goods, at micro-fulfillment locations. This will provide a savings and operational boon especially for smaller retailers, for enabling decreased rents and customer foot traffic.

In the long-term, retailers will continue to rely on seamless, convenient solutions like dark stores to cost effectively serve delivery customers. To be a ‘winner’ in the changing retail space, retailers must transform production methods in creative ways to meet customer expectations.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

There’s a Sheryl Crow lyric that I love and believe is the key to life. It’s, “Not having what you want,

it’s wanting what you’ve got.” The biggest key to life is people and relationships and caring for others. Owning stuff should be way down the list. The movement would be encouraging people to want what you have, and derive satisfaction from personal relationships and experiences rather than material goods (which may sound ironic for a professional focused on the retail space!)

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can follow me online at Twitter or LinkedIn, where I often write about topics like technology and the future of retail.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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