Ever wondered why does a customer choose one retailer instead of other? In this week's episode, Simon chats with Richard Hammond, founder & CEO of UnCrowd, who has devised a solution that helps retailers get the best business by answering this particular question.
Richard Hammond is the CEO & Founder of Uncrowd.
Richard Hammond spent his whole career thinking about why customers love some retailers and hate others. Sounds simple. Richard and his team at Uncrowd are experts in understanding preference measured through customers’ experience of friction versus reward.
Richard wrote a book on Friction/Reward, which is centred on a new metric FvR. At Uncrowd, they offer the very best exploitation of that metric in the shape of Friction/Reward Indexing (FRi).
So if you want some of that reality; and the awesome insight and actionable change tools that come with it, then go and speak with Richard Hammond
Simon Dell: So, welcome to the Cemoh Marketing Podcast, Richard Hammond. how are you today?
Richard Hammond: Very good. Thanks, Simon. Although it is freezing cold here in the UK right now.
Simon Dell: My parents who are in Tunbridge Wells keep sending me photos of the snow on the back garden. And I keep telling them to go out and make a snowman and they’re having none of it.
Richard Hammond: Fact.
Simon Dell: So, a couple of quick questions. Number one, you’re obviously not the Richard Hammond, you must get that a lot.
Richard Hammond: What I tend to do when I do conference speeches is I’ll come out on stage and say, “Look, I’m sorry. I let myself go between seasons.” And diffuse the tension on it. I sell more books than him right now, so I’m happy with that.
Simon Dell: And whereabouts are you based? I believe it was Oxford, Oxfordshire or somewhere around there?
Richard Hammond: Yeah, the business is in King’s Cross, London. But then we got two founders I come in from Oxford. So yeah, everybody assumes that you’re intelligent if you come from Oxford. I was just born here.
Simon Dell: So, tell me about Uncrowd, because I’ve done the introduction to you, I’ve probably not done you in the slightest bit of justice. I have a million questions, but give us the elevator pitch.
Richard Hammond: Sure. So, it’s kind of worth giving a bit of background really. I’m a retailer. I’ve been a retailer for 34 years, started when I was 15. And I’ve been obsessed with one single question, and it’s turned out to be a bit of a holy grail question which is: Why does a customer choose this retailer instead of that one?
You know, and you’d think, particularly from the marketing team’s perspective, that would be the first question we look to answer. It just turn out there wasn’t at all that could adequately answer it.
NPS doesn’t, CSAT doesn’t, feedback surveys, they don’t answer that question. They don’t get the customer truths.
So, long story short, we set out to create a solution to that, very simply, an answer for retailers and brands to that question: Why would a customer choose me instead of somebody else? And we deliver a platform behind that, basically.
Simon Dell: We’ll obviously get straight into that. I want to take you back to when you were 15. Tell me about that first retail experience. Where were you, what were you doing, and then what made you fall in love with the whole retail thing?
Richard Hammond: Yeah, it’s an interesting one, isn’t it? Retail tends to be something that you kind of end up in it by accident, you know? It’s something you do because want Christmas money or you want some experience, but you want to do something else and you end up in retail.
So for some of us, it’s the only job you can get. A lot of people end up in retail roles in their gap year on university. And you see people abandoning great degrees because they get this bug, this thing happens. For me, I wanted a video recorder, and the best way to do that was to go and work for an electrical retailer in Oxford, where I lived.
And if you worked 10 hours a week over Christmas, you could make £500. And in 1985, that was nuts money. And that would pay for a Mitsubishi video recorder, they don’t even exist anymore. And so, I went and did this.
And by the end of the second week, I was just intoxicated by it because you had this thing where other human beings would choose to come and wave money at you. And they would toddle past other stores, they would come into your store and they’d go, “I want this, I want that.”
And I just looked at it and thought, “There’s got to be a life in this somewhere.” And didn’t look back, didn’t stop since. And I’m one of those people who didn’t even bother to go to university because I said to myself literally [INAUDIBLE 00:05:52] thousands, I’ll put off going to university. I’ll wait.
And for various reasons, I ended up in a retail head office at 18. In a retail head office at 18 before computers, that sets it into context. We have one big one. I don’t know what it did, but we have one big one, you didn’t have your own.
I had a secretary in a northern British city called Hull, who I used to have to phone up and she would type out letters for me to send off. It was Jackie, her name, she was brilliant.
Simon Dell: Obviously, you’ve never fallen out of love with it. And obviously, you’ve seen it change over the years. If you’re talking about an experience where there was one computer in an office and now we’re all carrying them around in our hands like this, is that the biggest change you think you’ve seen over the years?
Richard Hammond: This is interesting because I’ve ended up – I did 20 years on the consultancy side before Uncrowd. And generally our specialism was to build new formats. So you know, a great big oil company, we did that [INAUDIBLE 00:06:52] future project.
Banks, we’ve done the same thing for, troubleshooting, essentially, and formats. And over that time, you really start to build an understanding of what makes people want to engage with a thing.
And the thing about that is is that as long as you start agnostically about what that thing is, then changes like online, offline don’t really matter to you because you just put that thing where it’s most appropriate. It’s a bit like Amazon’s philosophy incidentally, is Amazon never, Bezos never said, “This is an internet company.” He never said, “This is a pure play online e-commerce company.” He always said, from the start, “This is a customer business.”
And a customer business goes where customers are. For Amazon, customers were online for a long, long time. But Amazon are opening hundreds of physical stores and are really putting their weight behind that.
It’s a roundabout way of looking at that question, “What the biggest change is?” The biggest change, the biggest single change was availability of information. And I’ve talked about that computers thing and I remember two things. The first thing that’s very clear is 1988, 1989 possibly, even.
We got our first JDA terminals in the business. And what JDA was is it’s a software business, it still exists now, it’s very powerful. They just their name to – I forget off the top of my head.
But that first JDA terminal did something we didn’t have before, which was suddenly, it would give us a read of our performance across the whole of the country, twice a day live.
Before that, you’d have on a Sunday night, the store managers would ring their area manager, the area manager would then ring the regional manager, the regional manager would then ring the territory directors, the territory would then, Sunday night, finally ring the sales director. And Monday morning, he could wander in – it was always a he back then.
If we talk about changes, one of the best changes we’ve had is that. And the movement to understand that you’ve got to reflect your customers has really changed in retail, that you can’t just be dominated by frankly male egos kind of chesting up to each other in some sort of battle.
You have to be representative of the people that you’re selling to. You must be diverse, you must be equal. Not just because it’s the right human thing to do, which it is, but also because that’s the way to succeed.
And then it comes back to customer truth, doesn’t it? It comes back to the most effective marketing businesses understand who are their customers and what makes their customer want to interact with them.
Simon Dell: Do you think there is still a fundamental difference about how men shop versus how women shop?
Richard Hammond: Not even slightly. It’s all dependent on mindset. Again, this is one of the big mistakes we make as marketers, is reliance on segmentation. Let’s say, for example, somebody will say, “Well, the male millennial in this kind of job, in this kind of postcode, shops like this.”
That’s just horseshit. It’s just not true. For a start, that same person, their mood changes during one day. How you woke up this morning is sort of your baseline.
So, you woke up this morning as Simon. But then, you read an article first thing in the morning about sustainability. For the next three hours, you’re much more sensitive to sustainability issues than you are normally.
Then maybe, at lunchtime, you’ve got a podcast to record straight after lunch. The way you’ve gone by your sandwich, totally different from the way you would normally shop for food. You know, somebody in the family gives you an urgent request, lets you know that we haven’t got eggs in stock for tonight for food.
The way you shop for that changes. And so, segmentation has been one of the great bait and switches, one of the great misdirections of marketing over the last 20 years. The idea that we can group together somebody’s behaviours by gender, the car they drive, the street they live on, the education they’ve got, what that gives you is a group of people who are more different from each other than they are similar.
And actually, that’s where our name comes from. That’s where the Uncrowd bit comes from. Because we’ve recognized that if you look at customers by the mind state they’re in when they’re shopping, they’re an uncrowd. They’re not a group of similar people. They’re not a dinner party of people who live on the same street.
You could have a member of a motorcycle gang who shops for his new knife in exactly the same way as a middleclass vicar shops for her new vestments. They both want the look and feel. For both of them, it represents them. They’re both not price sensitive in that purchase because it’s more than price.
They both want to sample it first, they both want to feel the width and weight. You know, no marketer would put those two people in the same segment. And yet, they’re in the same mood when they’re buying.
Simon Dell: So, you’re pretty much throwing – I mean, throwing out the whole segmentation thing is obviously a big call.
Richard Hammond: It fucks up advertisers, doesn’t it?
Simon Dell: Absolutely. And I will give a say, 99.9% of marketers advertising out there would probably have a heart attack, listening to what you’re saying, and probably have a good old argument with you about it as well.
But I can completely see where you’re coming from, but if you’re throwing that out, what are you replacing that with, or are you replacing something?
Richard Hammond: Two things; missions and mindsets. What’s the person trying to do and what mood are they in when they’re trying to do it? You know, those two things, you can build a comparison set. And the thing is, this should be a release, this should be the end of a jail sentence for marketers.
Because what you can do is you can say, “Look, I don’t need to know that Simon is in segment X” and address Simon as segment X. “I just need to know that segment X exists around my business. If I know it exists around my business, I can make sure that I have an experience that segment X or mind state X will respond to.”
And that’s why we exist. What came first is the need, not the business. I first talked about this, academically, I wrote about it in my last two books, but I had no intention of building anything behind it. It was just, “This is a fiercely held academic view.”
And the view was that what you could do on the one hand is you could objectively, and quantifiably, understand a reality in a customer experience. So, you can count the things, you can work out whether or not the signage is going to be visible, you can work out whether it’s hard to search a website.
You can work out a bunch of signals and you can do it objectively. You don’t have to say to somebody, “Do you like the colour of that logo?” You can just say “Does that logo do this? If it does, how much of this does it do?”
And if you get that as granular as you can, the lowest level as you can, you can build up a picture of truth without bias in it.
So, you’ve got that on the one side, that’s just raw data. So, you start with that and you say, “Okay, what can I find in that?” Well, you can find two very straightforward things, you can see how much effort it is for a customer to shop you, and you can see what they get back for doing so.
So, you can see, “Right, I have to queue a lot, but actually this service is amazing. It’s a really easy place to shop, but it’s all a bit bland.” Do you see where I’m going with that?
So, the effort and the return is what you get from it. What you can then do, once you’ve got that reality, is you can then say, “Right, let’s build the things people are trying to do and the moods they’re in on top of it.” And you can then simulate on top of that data to your heart’s content.
You can say, “If Simon happens to be in this mood while he’s trying to buy a telly, this is how he responds to all those frictions and rewards, those efforts and games. This is how he’s most likely to react to it.”
And that’s a way of getting away from [INAUDIBLE 00:14:09] and segmentation, is you’re not having to work out which segments do I have around my business, it’s, “What mind states might people be in when they interact with us?”
You know that, you build to it.
Simon Dell: You’ve mentioned the friction reward. I watched the video on your website. Lovely, lovely piece of animation, that. And I think that really helps. So for anyone who wants to kind of go understand what Richard does in a nutshell, go to the Uncrowd website and watch that two-minute video because I think that really helps.
But explain a little more about that friction reward because that’s fascinating to me, from someone who’s had quite a lengthy retail background as well.
Richard Hammond: Yeah, think of it as shopper effort and purchase gain. Or even shopper input, shopper output. If I’m a customer, what do I have to put in for what I get out of it? Great example, Supreme, the fashion brand.
When Supreme have a new range dropping – and there you go, dropping, I’m getting on now and I’ve learned the word drop from the athleisure marketplace. The other one they taught me recently was drobing.
Drobing’s brilliant, that’s where you’re adding something to your wardrobe, it’s called drobing, which is just mental, isn’t it?
Simon Dell: My wife is 10 years younger than me, I’m going to tell her than I’m into drobing. She’ll be looking at me going like… Anyway.
Richard Hammond: But those queues you see out of Supreme, when that new line is about to drop, that new collection is about to drop. That queue is not a friction, it’s a badge of honour.
The people in that queue are saying, “I know fashion so well that I’m going to get this stuff before you do. I’m getting something special.” So suddenly, that queue becomes not a friction at all, it becomes part of the experience, part of the reward. And that’s what I mean by shopper effort and purchase reward, is you measure the objective.
Okay so, on the objective measurement, you say queueing outside of Supreme for four hours. I have a number of four hours for queue. Then you lay over it, what are they trying to do and what mindset are they in while they’re trying to do it?
And suddenly, that big, horrible friction of four hours goes [INAUDIBLE 00:16:11], doesn’t matter. Actually, what overtakes it is inspiration, discovery, first access, gratification, they all dominate that side of it. And in practical terms, if you’re a grocer for example, what we end up doing there for those business is we’re able to say to them, “Look, what’s the optimum level of X?”
So, is it worth putting £15 million into knocking 14 seconds off a queueing, or is it better spending that £15 million on changing the way we communicate? Or creating a new proposition in some area, or funding price offers? Where does it have the most impact on those missions and mindsets that we’ve modelled?
Simon Dell: The business, Uncrowd’s business, when you watch the video, it talks about 87 data points or 83 data points?
Richard Hammond: Yeah. So, every sector has a slightly different combination, but grocery is a good one. Grocery has roughly 80 variables, friction, reward variables. So, it’s about 41 frictions and 39-ish reward variables.
Simon Dell: I’m obviously not going to list them all, but give us an example of some of the key ones that you’ve got.
Richard Hammond: Yeah. So, on the friction side, wayfinding, layout, communication, access to information.
Simon Dell: Like, “Where are the fucking eggs?”
Richard Hammond: Yeah, exactly that. Exactly that. And in two areas, so, the wayfinding took to help me to where eggs might be on the website or in the store. And the search is “Okay, specifically, how do I find eggs through those things?” But each one of those variables is then supported by what we call signals. So wayfinding, you wouldn’t just go, “How easy is it to walk around here?” You’d factor in a number of different signals.
So, what’s the clarity of each section messaging? Physically, how much spare is there for me to walk through? What can I see from the entrance? How long does it take me to get – each one of those is a signal, and they, combined, will give you a score for wayfinding. So, from our perspective, what we do is we gather incredibly granular, deep, deep level data using quantitative researchers that we send out into the world, and dozens of visits.
So, if we’re talking about a supermarket, we’d have visited each one of those supermarkets 30 times, possibly more than that on different days of the week. And what that gives you is a cluster of scores around the reality. So, in your looking for that clustering, you’re looking for that understanding that we’ve actually have definitely got the right number, we’ve got the credible number here.
And then, what you’re able to do with that is you essentially then have this unbiased base point. You know what the reality is, so you know where you’re starting from. But of course, that data – and this is typical with so much of the things we do with data.
That data’s worth nothing to us unless it’s contextual, so just measuring the quantity of something tells you the quantity of something. It’s like looking into your cupboard and saying, “I’ve got two kilos of sugar and I’ve got three kilos of flour.” It means nothing.
What you need to understand is, well, it turns into a cake, or that turns into a batch of biscuits or that turns into baking with the kids on a Saturday morning and having a lovely family experience. You know, the raw ingredients are meaningless. The mission and the mindset is what brings that to life.
Simon Dell: You mentioned user researches. Are you just using humans to do this, or is there some kind of whiz bang tech that’s tracking people, heat maps and all that sort of stuff?
Richard Hammond: What we did is when we first built the platform, we assumed our customers would be a bit further on with some of those things like computer vision, like sensor technologies.
So for example, Microsoft has some really interesting products that are looking to monitor the shelf edge reality. So you know, what’s happening with availability, what’s happening with those sorts of things. We’ve built our platform to ingest that kind of data, it can take that data in.
What we found in reality, is that particularly marketers are frustrated because it’s tough to get access to that, and it’s tough to rely on it, and it’s tough to be consistent with it. And more importantly, you can’t put cameras in your competitor’s store.
So, what we do with physical researchers is we send them – we have a smartphone app that looks like a chat application, looks like a messenger, and they wander around a store looking like they’re talking to their mates. All the time, they’re answering questions, they’re on observations all the time there.
And we track it, we geolocate them around the stores. So, if they’re answering a question about fresh fruit, we’ll only take that data if they’re stood in front of fresh fruit in that store, and so on.
And so, that means you can do that in all of your competitors. And you can have an even view because – and marketers will recognize this, I think. It’s very easy to be overcritical of yourself, so you might give your competitors a break where they don’t deserve one.
And you might over-index your own flaws, and that’s because we know our own flaws, we know ourselves. We’re always harder on our own bad bits than we are in other people’s bad bits because we assume their life is slightly better than ours.
And that’s been one of the key problems with market research in general. Not just in retail, but across the piece, is that we get a view that’s biased towards our own perspective, and that’s no good to us because the whole point of having research is not just to what you already know or your own beliefs, but it’s to challenge them.
It’s to find the thing you didn’t know so that you could be the awesome person who does something that your peers have not done because they’ve not spotted it.
Simon Dell: I guess my next question is a fairly obvious one, but who’s doing this well? Who is in your mind is consistently delivering a high-end retail experience, either online or offline, or both?
Richard Hammond: Yeah, there are some examples of retailers who are so close to their customers and who happen to kind of match who their customers are in such an accurate way that they are ahead of the curve.
Warby Parker is a great example of that because they recognize that although they began as an internet business, that they could bring that customer closeness to a physical environment. And their stores are fabulous.
Just before lockdown, back in March last year, a founder and I, we were wandering up and down the California coast talking to clients. And there was a blizzard. This was not California, this was Pennsylvania. There was a blizzard and we ended up in the King of Prussia Mall.
And there’s snow, hardly any cars. This is a massive, gigantic mall. And there were two stores that had any customers at all. One was a company called [sp] Sur la Table, and Sur la Table is a cookware, but sold experientially.
So, you have classes, then Sur la Table have got this lovely idea which is, “The best time to sell you an incredibly expensive steak knife is just after I’ve given you a piece of the steak that I’ve just cooked in front of you. You take that off the knife.”
Simon Dell: It sounds like I’d fall for that. Yes, absolutely.
Richard Hammond: Doesn’t it? That was packed, and Warby Parker was packed. And Warby Parker was not only packed, they had loads of associates in, so there was so many staff.
And I could see, if I was taking other retailers into that space, you’d have other retailers crying because it was just, “How on Earth can they afford 12 staff in this space right now?” They can afford it because they’ve worked out that that’s what means they can sell a shit ton of glasses, spectacles to people in a short period of time.
They’re not frightened of it. And then the other example is Walmart. Walmart have just done this brilliant thing, they’ve left their egos at the door. They’ve said, “We’re not our customers. We’re not the core of this business. We shouldn’t dictate. What we need to do is with open arms, is getting our stores and watch, observe, understand, see what the reality is.”
They’re not sitting in an ivory tower in Bentonville in Arkansas. They’re not sitting there and saying, “Well, let’s just do some surveying. Let’s just get some feedback data and let’s some NPS numbers in. And if it’s high, we’re doing fine.” No, it’s go and fucking look, you know? Go and see what’s actually happening. What we do is essentially a way of making that possible every day and seeing further in that lens.
Walmart, you know, they’ve been doing it for so long. Their founding principles from Sam Walton downwards were to do that. The reality is most marketers, most retail execs join businesses that already developed a ton of bad habits, they’ve already lost their visibility of their customer, and that’s why we need to exist.
And so, it’s no surprise that the areas of most activity for us. So, with the major international grocers and with the eight very large consumer package goods businesses, because they recognize that there is that depth that they need.
Simon Dell: So I guess then, the flipside of the coin is you don’t necessarily have to name names here, but who do you go out and see and frustrates you that could be doing this better, from a retail experience?
Richard Hammond: Yeah, and again, it’s those same grocers. That’s not a fault of their own, it’s that business has changed so dramatically and the grocers are also the most responsive across any part of retail, and you have to be.
When you’ve got an operating margin of a couple of percent, you have to be. And so, that’s not a criticism in way of those grocers because they are the ones that go, “Things are changing, things are changing. Find me the best, coolest stuff and the best…”
And then the grocers are doing this so well because they are the ones that are looking, changing, trying, experimenting. Look at what they did over the last year when stores were faced with these extraordinary hardships. They innovated, they changed, they moved.
And actually, we’ve had, I hate to say it because it’s a time of great tragedy and challenge for us, for people, but we’ve had a great lockdown because traditional customer market research collapsed within six weeks of the lockdown hitting because suddenly, you couldn’t find out what the reality was.
There was no way to get to it until you looked to a tool like ours where we were able to say, “You don’t need to be surveying customers, you don’t need to be intruding. You just need that understanding of reality, and then you can model on top of it.”
What are people trying to do now? They’re trying to get the basics, they’re trying not to starve. How does that affect the way they shop? Well, these variables suddenly become over-indexed. What mood are they in?
Frightened, some people. Frustrated, other people. Angry, some people. What does that do to price sensitivity? What does it do to all those relationships?
I hate it when people say this when they come from a vendor, but it’s true, ours was the tool that worked. And that’s meant that we’ve spent the last year almost batting people away because the volume of work has been way beyond what we can handle.
Simon Dell: Taking it from the bigger retailers, a lot of people that listen to this podcast, I actually know one lady who listens to this podcast who’s a client of ours, just owns one small sweets shop, confectionary store or whatever, being in the family business for about 30, 40 years.
She’s looking for new ways to innovate. Last year, she opened their first website which we’ve built, and e-commerce store and all that kind of stuff, which was just completely new territory for her.
What about the small guys, what are they doing? Is there a couple of things that you could sit there and say look at this, or do this, or try this?
Richard Hammond: There’s a couple of things. And the first thing is, independent retail is the most important part of retail. My clients are all big retailers, and so, it might be a surprise that I say that independent retail is the critical part.
And that’s because independent retail creates the flavour of high streets, the flavour of the internet as well, you know? The idea that there’s a small corner of the internet where I can get my favourite sweets or a bespoke sweet that I can’t get from Woolworths or I can’t get from Krogers.
The independents are the most important part of this landscape. They’re also the people that are closest to their customers. They really are the ones who don’t need market research in quite the same way because they are living it and breathing it. They’re also the sector of retailers that had the worst year.
The lockdowns have been appallingly hard on independent retail. I don’t know what it’s like in Australia but in the UK, the government have behaved appallingly towards independent retail. They’ve let landlords bully those retailers with closed stores. They’ve provided hardly any support for devastated business, and it’s going to bite this country on the ass over the next four or five years and I’m devastated by that.
So, what can you do to fight back? Obviously, adopting digital tools is critical. You’ve just got to do it and you’ve just got to use tools like yourself. People should come to you, should come to those services that can help them quickly and credibly get themselves access to customers who can’t access them physically.
Long term, the principles I’ve talked about that fuel our business, friction versus reward, is a really good tool for anybody. Forget buying it from us, get a blank sheet of paper, and on one side, write down all the frictions in your business or what are all the ways you make it hard for people to spend money with you. You know, is your till a bit shitty? Is it hard to move around your store? Is it difficult to pick out? You know, all that.
And on the rewards side, list, “Okay, what do we do to inspire people? What do we do to make somebody pick something up? To physically, when they walk around our store, to pick something up and look at it?” We call that discovery. “How well do we wear our sustainability values on our sleeve? Who the fuck are we? What do we stand for?”
Get those in two columns and then start to think about your optimum combination between those things. And then do practical stuff, take three of those frictions and together with one or two staff, if you’ve got them, get your heads together, get a couple of customers involved. Buy them a cup of tea and sit around a table when it’s possible to do it. And ask them, “What can we do to make these three frictions easier? What can we do to get rid of these barriers?”
Do the same with rewards the month afterwards. Take three of the rewards and say, “If we did this…” and what you do when you do that is you chip away at your ability to be easy to shop and fabulous to shop. And you just get better and better and better over time.
And I have a book that’s behind me there, Friction/Reward, grab a copy of it. It tells you how to do this without needing any software, without needing anything. Although there are a couple of downloads that if you get the book, there’s an unlock for downloads of free materials that you can use to plan that out on.
Because we don’t just – this relates back to the question you asked earlier on. I only started this as a business because people started bullying me to do so after having read about the idea in the books.
Simon Dell: It’s a good enough reading to start a business.
Richard Hammond: Oh, I’ll tell you what, this bean was less grey two years ago before I started. There’s a movement behind it, and the movement is towards customer truth. We all deserve to get to our customer truths, it should be open to everybody. And it just so happens that we’ve created and built the metric that helps you do that, friction versus reward, but everybody’s entitled to it.
So, like in the book, I lay it out. Totally clear, there’s nothing hidden in this. This is how you do that. You know, a rival software company can grab the book and do it themselves if they want to. And more power to them because the more of us that do this, the better it is for customers to get better experiences who get what they want more often, and the better it is for retail, particularly independent retail.
Simon Dell: And that Friction/Reward idea, that idea of writing all that down on a piece of paper, that applies beyond retail. That applies no matter what you do, service based businesses, you know, not-for-profits, whatever. That strikes me as a fantastic exercise for anybody to write down.
You know, potentially even in their personal life. What are the frictions in my life? What are the things that I find rewarding in life?
Richard Hammond: Yeah, and that’s a really good point. And when I wrote the book, we’d talk about those wider circumstances. The reason we pitch Uncrowd to retailers is because I am one, and it’s nice to be able to do that. But the brand started coming quickly, the most fun we’ve had is that British intelligence came to us.
And it turns out, if you understand behaviours, you understand behaviours. We’ve been asked to look at building a model that looks at what happens, what are the mindsets and missions that come out of an adverse political decision.
I guess, well, that might be in the UK, you know, it’s not like we’re not knocking one out every five flipping minutes at the minute. But yeah, it’s exactly that. And train companies we’re talking to, and banking, and all those different sectors. Because you’re dead right, it’s a decent way of understanding your relationships to the things around you.
Simon Dell: Mate, it’s been fascinating. And I say this with no exaggeration, one of the reasons – when people ask me about this podcast, they say, “Why do you do it?” I don’t get thousands and thousands of people listening to it. There’s a sort of a hardcore people listening to it here.
And the thing for me is that I’ve learned so much in 104 podcasts. If nothing else, it’s educated me. So, you know, screw everyone else. This is helping me.
You know, just some of the things I think you’ve said today, especially for myself from a retail background. My retail career started in 1995, my first job out of university was a Topshop, a Topman. Selling men’s clothes in Southampton, middle of Southampton which I’ll never forget. And I lasted about three months.
And then I got a job at PC World selling PCs. Those were the days. So look, last couple of questions, you’ve mentioned the book a couple of times. There’s two books, isn’t there?
Richard Hammond: Yeah. So, you got Smart Retail, and it’s a really good resource for any retailer, any size. Your sweets shop owner friend, she’ll get a lot out of it. One of the things I believe in is that if you’re a small indie, you shouldn’t limit yourself to what you see as small independent tools.
Use the tools that the big players are using against you. Turn their weapons on them, and that’s what the book could do for you. I mean, if you walk into any British head office of a big retailer, you’ll find copies of it all over the place.
But actually, I want your sweets shop friend to use it to put Woolsworth’s arm up their back. Yes, that’s called Smart Retail, and other one that’s current at the minute is Friction/Reward which just really goes under the skin of how to apply friction versus reward to your business.
Simon Dell: And I’ve checked before we spoke, but the first one is available on Amazon here in Australia, I didn’t check the second one. I did also read some of the reviews as well, which I guess you must find highly entertaining when there’s a one star review.
Richard Hammond: Ah, yeah, those are fun. There’s a brilliant one. I had two reviews alongside each other. The book sells the most in the US. On American Amazon, I had two reviews next to each other. One review that said “This book is far too British.” And the second review underneath it was just, “This book is far too American.”
And you go, “Well, make your minds up. Crikey.” I’ll take one of them or the other, but you can’t have both criticisms from two different people. But yeah, the best thing about it is you can’t use success in numbers. So, the Smart Retail book is in its Fourth Edition, 22 languages, sells all over the planet.
It’s very kind of gratifying now. I’ve travelled the world on the back of it, doing speaking works over the last… When we were allowed to travel, I’ve done the US, Kenya, Moscow, Kazakhstan, all over Europe, North Africa. It’s just brilliant.
And you’re always doing the same thing, you always bring in a message to retailers that says, “It’s okay. It’s easier than you think. This life is really hard. Retail never stops. As you know, it doesn’t matter if you’ve had a good Saturday because you’ve got to open the doors and start paying the bills again Sunday morning. So it never stops, but there are things you can do to make life more straightforward.” And that’s what I do with it.
And the best feedback you get, every week, without fail, I get a couple of emails from somewhere in the world that say, “Thank you. I’ve changed my life because I didn’t think I could do this. I’ve read this book.” Or somebody will say, “My business was struggling.”
And they come from interesting places like Lebanon, Vietnam in the last week. It feels special to think that somebody might have read something. And like I said, it’s not mine, this is retailers’ successes, that’s what I’m sharing. It’s not because I’m some clever dick, it’s that this is just how it works. That’s awesome, that feeling.
Simon Dell: You’ve obviously met a lot of people and you’ve been at events. You know, you’ve spoken and you’ve probably had other people on stage with you or in front of you or behind you, whatever. Who’s impressed you the most? [INAUDIBLE 00:35:35] of all the people that you’ve met out there in retail, whose impression [INAUDIBLE 00:35:38].
Richard Hammond: Yeah, Ron Johnson, the guy who created the original format for the Apple Store, and who has important in Target’s success. And Ron Johnson, he had a big fail at JCPenney, but that hasn’t changed the fact that there are few more intelligent, more communicated, more connected retailers on the planet. He’s a genius.
Jane Shepherdson. We talked about Topshop, Jane Shepherdson would be the other absolute retail hero for me. She was the person who took Topshop from a MeToo copycat, slightly scruffy clothing store, to something that was so customer-focused that it became part of people’s lives, and routines, and their fashion religions.
And you can tell that somebody is brilliant by what happens after they go and the reason why they go. She left because could see that the new owner, who will remain nameless, he’s not the owner now, he’s the one that’s just had to pile out of it with his tail between his legs. She could see that the new owner would break what she had created. And not because of an ego, but because she would the break the connection with customers.
But what she did for while she was there, just phenomenal. Every time I see Jane speak, I’m kind of like, “Oh!” in the audience because she’s a hero. Amazing.
Simon Dell: A bit of a fanboy?
Richard Hammond: Yeah, totally.
Simon Dell: It’s funny you should mention Topshop. Obviously, it was… You know, growing up from it, it was a major brand, it was the high street stalwart. It was interesting seeing it suffer and die eventually here in Australia.
Richard Hammond: Oh, right. Yeah, [INAUDIBLE 00:37:15].
Simon Dell: Yeah, no. I mean, it came here in a blaze of glory. They opened a big Sydney store. I can’t remember how long it lasted, but it didn’t last long, but they had one here in Brisbane.
And you just walk into it, you just go, “This isn’t…” I mean, I get I’m 20 years older than perhaps when I used to shop there properly, but you felt the – and that was maybe me, I go, “Maybe it’s just not relevant to me anymore. The connection with me is not with me.” But it just didn’t feel… You’re right, it lacked something.
Richard Hammond: It went back to being cynical. So what Jane did that was genius for the time was she took over and Topshop was still run by a bunch of old guys in gray suits. And the tells this story of she got everybody and across the business, but very early on when she started to say, “Bring me your most important piece of clothing. The thing we sell that is most important to you and tell me about it.”
And then one of the buyers came in with this particular – I think it was just a top, I wouldn’t swear to it. He came in and said, “This is my most important.” She said “What makes it the most important?” He said “Because we make a ton of money on it. It’s rubbish, but we make a ton.”
And she said “Sorry, sorry. Roll back a little bit. What do you mean it’s rubbish?” He said, “Well, you know, it’s made by one of our partners and so and so. It’s not the best, but kids will get a good couple of weekends out of it.”
And she said, “No. Okay, right, I want you to take that off sale immediately and put it out to the jobbers, get rid of it.” And then they go, “Why?” “How can you stand in front of me and tell me that you want your customers, our customers, to wear something that you believe is rubbish? How can you do that?” And that was the first big shock.
And then what she did is she said, “We’re going to have a lot of fun here. We’re going to go to Milan as a group. We’re going to pull people out of stores’ staff and send them to the world’s great fashion shows to immerse themselves. We’re going to have fun. We’re going to go on the jollies. We’re going to wear our clothes. We’re going to live it and breathe it. And every single thing we sell, we will sell because it is bang on, because it’s the best.”
And that’s what made Topshop this extraordinary centre of customer-focused fabulousness. Philip Green comes in and says, “I’ve done a deal with Kate Moss. We’re doing a Kate Moss range.” And it has no credibility, it just has celebrity against it.
And what was fascinating about that is once the Kate Moss range came in, you watched on a Saturday and on a Saturday, Kate Moss stuff would sell like hotcakes. Nothing else did.
So, the Kate Moss area would be just kids flocking. And everything else sort of lost its sheen, lost its specialness because suddenly there was a hierarchy that didn’t relate to what customers did.
From that moment, you would see the numbers behind it and then of course, you know, they failed to invest in digital tools, they didn’t build out. And they didn’t put themselves where customers wanted them to be, and that’s why that fell over.
Simon Dell: I think the one word you just said there, that, to me, disappeared was the word fun.
Richard Hammond: Oh god, yeah.
Simon Dell: It felt fun, you know? And again, maybe that was just my age, maybe that was just my… You know, back then, it felt fun. It felt fun to go in and even if you weren’t going to go and buy anything, it felt fun to go in and wander around, see what was in there, and yeah. You know, obviously something that I think it – when it lost it, never managed to regain it.
Look, I won’t keep you any longer. I do have one last question which goes right back to something you said at the start. Did you get the Mitsubishi camera in the end?
Richard Hammond: I did get the video recorder. Yeah, I did it.
Simon Dell: And what did you record with it?
Richard Hammond: Oh, man. See, this was the thing about getting close to your customers, is that if back then, if you saw a video recorder, it’s just another thing to have in the house as something, that just meant you could take the telly – you were missing the point.
What video recorders meant to my customers, when I was in store, is it meant people could time shift. Families could get together and watch things. If Dad’s on night shift, in Oxford, we had a big car factory that’s still here, but at the time, 20,000 people working there in a city of 160,000.
And it meant that your dad could watch those funny things, those favourite programs with the kids and mum together. It meant the things, moments that would’ve been lost and missed, and your friends would’ve got and you would’ve missed out on, it also meant – I was 15, 16 at the time – that we could videotape the young ones my mum wouldn’t let me watch.
And the video recorder would flicker on, “Mum, I have no idea what it was doing.” But that’s the thing about understanding what people do with this stuff. A video recorder is just a box of electronics. The mission, that’s special, that changes stuff.
And I also won 500 quid in an incentive that first Christmas which they paid in £5 notes straight out of the till, and I had them in my bedroom, and I did that thing of throwing them up in the air and then raining down, which was amazing. So yeah, I got it.
Simon Dell: It’s been very, very informative. Mate, I really, really appreciate your time and wish you all the luck in the future. And hopefully, we can do this again because I suspect there’s about another thousand quid I’ve got for you.
Richard Hammond: Absolutely.
Simon Dell: So Richard, thank you for being on the show.
Richard Hammond: Thanks for asking, Simon. I really enjoyed it. And it’s lovely to talk these things through, really appreciate it.