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

Manhattan Momentum 2022: A Seriously Good Show

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Never thought I would say this, but man… do I miss conferences.

Manhattan Associates recently hosted their annual Momentum meeting in Florida, and it wasn’t until I was on the plane there that I realized that a) I hadn’t been to a show of any kind since February 2020, and b) because Momentum is held in the spring, it was one of the first shows to get cancelled at the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak. Meaning they hadn’t had this show since spring of 2019.

Three years without being able to gather the tribe is a long time in our industry, and right from the onset of this show, I could tell the folks at Manhattan had been thinking up exactly what they wanted to do when the “party back on” light was finally lit.

I was genuinely impressed with the entire thing, from top to bottom. There is not enough room here to recap it all, but here were some of the most important things I took away:

This Is A Time For Pragmatism

From CEO Eddie Capel’s opening words to the closing bell, Manhattan consistently displayed that it is a company that is not interested in the theoretical. Virtually all of the messaging I was able to take in the few days I was there was rooted in practical applications that helped answer a question that’s been gnawing on both Brian and I as of late: if supply chain technologies are so advanced, why is everyone’s supply chain still so thoroughly bollocksed up that teenagers are talking about it – intelligently, no less – at family dinner?

From the baby formula debacle to Operation Iraqi Freedom’s shortcomings with M-1 tanks that had inappropriate wheel and treadbelt combinations (a fascinating presentation from retired 2-star general Vincent Boles, which also included a lot of content about recent vaccine rollout challenges and missteps), much of what was shared was forensic in nature, and resulted in lessons Manhattan has been able to learn from, sense in the future, and react to better when the next unknown occurs. This wasn’t a pie-in-the-sky show, it was a nuts-and-bolts kind of affair. And in my estimation, no one did a better job of laying out how the company plans to utilize this type of thinking in its growing-to-do list than SVP of Product, Brian Kinsella.

Kinsella’s roadmap presentation on the company’s vision for Manhattan Active Omni (which is 5 years old now) lies at the intersection of OMS and POS – not just because it sounds nice, but because the process of shopping across channels is still so painful for us all. Shoppers’ growing instances of changing their minds with things like, “I ordered some stuff online and wanted it shipped to the store, now maybe I’d like to change the store it ships to. Or maybe have it shipped to my house” – once the item is already in flight – is making life incredibly difficult for any retailer. Every retailer. The company’s current undertakings with retailers like LampsPlus to try to adapt was very interesting, but here’s what Kinsella shared about the company’s current plans for improvement with things it is “cooking up in its labs”:

  1. Many of us might still hate them, but apparently some people love them when they actually work. Manhattan is partnering with Google to get that to be the case more often
  2. A complete reinvention of the customer contact center. I’m actually speaking on a webinar next week about this very topic, and after a harrowing experience trying to buy an HP laptop recently, have a lot to say about why this is so important.
  3. RFID for the store. In his own words, “you can roll your eyes at this all you want”, as we’ve all gone a few rounds with this long-toothed technology. But Manhattan is clear-eyed that stores still – on a good day – have visibility into their accuracy roughly 70% of the time. That 30% represents a lot of opportunity.
  4. Dynamic store tasking. We’ve just written a full report on this topic – and if we’re honest, we’re all asking too few workers to do too many things with too little training and compensation. If you’ve read that report, you’ll know that legitimate focus on this issue (not just continued lip-service), was nothing short of music to my ears. In continuation of the pragmatic theme, “The least we can do is send workers a list of tasks so that they don’t have to try and figure things out on their own.” Well said.

Again, maybe it’s just been a while since I’ve been to an event, or maybe it was just the amount extra time that Manhattan had to prepare for this show, but the theme of pragmatism throughout the entire agenda was something I just wasn’t expecting.

Happy Customers

DHL, L’Oreal, Belk – representatives from several clients attested to their happiness with the vendor, the relationship, and it’s solutions. But Mike Relich, who serves as Co-CEO of PacSun gave a presentation rooted in candor and transparency that I won’t soon forget. “We lost $400m in revenue during COVID when our stores were closed,” and as you might imagine, the company didn’t want to stuck with dated seasonal inventory that would be all-but-useless once malls re-opened. Relich made the decision to send store managers into its 330 closed locations, tasked with fulfilling online orders that shipped directly from the shuttered shops. The result? Hundreds more orders being fulfilled every day than the company had ever experienced, and when stores were finally allowed to re-open, not only were they not stuck with excess inventory, but the brand was struggling to keep up with demand. “Inventory accuracy is the problem when you’re using 330 stores as distribution centers,” the CEO shared.

Having come from a technology background, Relich spoke in a way those of us come from IT easily understood: “When I started, I was a tech guy in the age of the merchant prince, and I basically couldn’t show my face. I was shoved in a back room and allowed to eat pizza every so often. Now I’m CEO – that should show you how important tech has become.” He also shared that over the course of his journey, he’s learned that companies no longer fail because of bad technology – they fail because of bad decisions on the part of management. The man was refreshingly forthright for his entire time on stage, and I downright enjoyed his rapid-fire delivery style. As an audience member, it becomes readily apparent when a speaker is far more concerned about the content than they are about a delivery style. This “tech guy” shared his company’s plans for social media campaigns (the ways it is engaging on TikTok in particular, which has shrunken shopper’s attention span to a robust 8 seconds long), the metaverse – all of the ways in needs to reach its customers how and where they live online. It was an honest-to-goodness look behind the curtain of a retailer whose client base may well represent the future – but is very much living what the rest of us would call a “future lifestyle” today.

Lastly, Something Totally Unexpected

The final session that I attended was something I almost skipped in favor of getting to the airport home a little early. Speaker Jon Dorenbos was listed as a magician – I can miss that, right?

I won’t ruin any of the surprise in case you ever get a chance to hear him speak, but the man is a whole lot more than a magician. His personal story of triumph in the face of adversity had many audience members (no names) in tears. And his message of positivity had the entire crowd in full standing ovation mode before he could say his final words. I’ve never been so moved by a presenter – anywhere – before.  

In the end, Manhattan was able to put together a conference agenda that had something for everyone: the curious retailer who may or may not be completely up to speed on how AI works and just wants it explained in no-nonsense way to separate today-capability from futuristic hype. It also had deep (really deep) content for the hardened technician wanting to know how a true “no code, low code, your code” solution can be implemented with as little pain as possible. And in the end, it also had a presentation-for-the-ages for anyone looking to be inspired by a speaker whose story makes you realize that yes – we’ve all been through a lot in our lives, that it’s not a competition for who has been through the most, and that we all have a genuine choice in how we react to unforeseen tragedies.

It was a show built with intent. And it showed. Bravo!

Newsletter Articles June 7, 2022