The Candid Voice in Retail Technology: Objective Insights, Pragmatic Advice

Aptos Engage 2022: Up-Close And In-Person

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It’s been a long two+ years since most user conferences went “virtual” as a result of the pandemic, but as we all slowly emerge from the global health crisis solutions providers and their clients are starting to meet again in the flesh. And let’s be honest: even the best virtual conference is no replacement for a physical event. Retail practitioners crave those opportunities to catch up with colleagues in person, exchange points of view, and get some new ideas for improving the business back home. After all, that’s why so many of us descend upon one of the most expensive cities in the world (New York City) in the dead of winter to attend a giant trade show. It’s a gathering of the tribes.

At the Aptos Engage 2022 conference last week, attendees were excited to be back. It didn’t hurt that the venue itself was gorgeous (the Westin Kierland in Scottsdale, Arizona), but the positivity in the air came from the fact that people seemed genuinely happy to see each other again.

Right out of the gate, Aptos CEO Pete Sinisgalli found just the right note by saying that Aptos is “a pretty cool company in pretty cool times”. And perhaps unlike some technology company execs who tout their companies’ solutions being “leading edge innovation”, “transformational”, etc. etc., Pete simply stated that Aptos is “a pretty good enterprise software company on track to become a great partner”.

The CEO then went on to outline how the company plans to achieve that goal with five objectives in 2022:

#1 To improve customer satisfaction

#2 To improve colleague satisfaction

#3 To deliver on the roadmap

#4 To improve quality

#5 To meet financial objectives

Listening to Pete, I was reminded of a piece in RSR’s Retail Paradox Weekly in 2019 entitled “Customers, Employees, Stockholders: CEOs Are Finally Worried”, when I commented on a statement issued by 200 of America’s top business executives that attempted to realign American businesses to a theory first articulated by management guru Peter Drucker in his classic 1954 book entitled The Practice of Management. The short version of Drucker’s theory is that if a company focused on satisfying their customers and on developing (and paying) their employees, the company would be successful, and the owners would be rewarded. In the piece, I commented that “it’s clear that the CEOs are getting worried that businesses have gone too far in maximizing shareholder value at the expense of employees and customers, and that the discontent is on the rise”.

The objectives that Mr. Sinisgalli shared line up perfectly to Drucker’s guidance, and that was really refreshing – given that in early 2020, just at the start of the pandemic, Aptos was acquired by investment banking giant Goldman Sachs

The new CEO’s leadership philosophy was clearly reflected by the go-forward strategy he presented. For example: 20% of company employees’ bonus is tied to customer satisfaction; 15% of the company’s top line goes back into R&D; acquired companies LS Retail and Revionics are encouraged to “do their thing” while operating under the Aptos umbrella (by way of example, Mr. Sinisgalli mentioned that the LS Retail user conference was happening at the same time as when we were all meeting at Aptos Engage).

As for the roadmap, the CEO highlighted the “unified commerce” approach the company is following in 2022:

– Aptos continues to improve Aptos Store (POS: according to the CEO, “90% of the retailers at Engage are using this”);

– The company continues to invest in its Order Management System (OMS: “it’s pretty good, but it could be better”, Pete explained);

– The company will extend the capabilities of its WMS (warehouse management), CRM (customer relationship management), and sales audit systems;

– Aptos ONE is being positioned as the next-generation unified commerce solution suite; and,

– The Revionics price lifecycle management solution is a few weeks away from a major announcement regarding its “PIE” (pricing insights engine).

Proof Points

As the saying goes, “the proof is in the pudding”. I had the chance to sit in on several user case studies that featured how retailers are using Aptos solutions to solve operational challenges:

At a presentation by L.L. Bean, speakers Crissy Atwood (Sr. Project Manager at LL Bean) and Dan Tarkinson (Director of Enterprise Applications) shared how the company has been able to handle huge increases in customer orders, while reducing backorders, improving handling time, and reducing markdowns.

Another case study featured New Balance. NB Product Manager James Hawkins shared how the company has been better able to balance wholesale and retail channel inventory needs with Aptos Merchandising and Analytics. The company’s “digital first” positioning has resulted in double digit sales improvements (and a parallel increase in the number of returns), synchronized price matching, and implementation of BOPIS (buy-online-pickup-instore) and BOSFS (Buy-online-ship-from-store).

Boot Barn VP of IT Julie Ting shared what the company has learned about the reasons why shoppers return products (25% are fit/sizing issues, and 20% are “changed mind”), and how it is handling them. The company is encouraging customers to return items to stores to create cross-sell/up-sell opportunities.

Aptos leaders Nikki Baird (VP of Strategy – and RSR alumnus!), Karthik Mani (Chief Product Officer), and Ian Auerbach (VP of Product Management) all shared insights about the product roadmap and progress to date, focusing on their efforts to deliver on the “holistic unified commerce” message articulated by CEO Sinisgalli.

I had the opportunity to moderate a “great debate” between Mike Hughes of Aptos and Matt Pavich of Revionics on the subject of localized or channel specific pricing vs. consistent pricing across the enterprise. Revionics VP of Sales Enablement & Business Strategy Aditya Rastogi handled audience questions to the debaters. The discussion was lively and fun; the good news for Aptos/Revionics customers is that the technology can support either direction – the issue really is a business one more than a technology one.

A Plug For A Friend

One of the best sessions of the conference featured RSR friend and Vitamin Shoppe COO/CIO Andy Laudato. Andy has just published a new book entitled “Fostering Innovation: How To Build An Amazing IT Team”. Andy’s insights and wisdom come from years of success as a CIO at Pier 1 and Vitamin Shoppe – the book is full of practical insights about how to build, develop, and maintain a high performance IT organization.

Final Thoughts

Aptos has a good story to tell, and the company’s focus on customer satisfaction and keeping promises is right on the mark. But most of all, the event felt like a community celebration, as in “Yay! We’re here!!” I hope that energy carries us all through these tumultuous times.