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50 Innovative Companies to Watch 2020

An interview with Unefi CEO Sam Vise: "When we partner with brick and mortar retailers, we see an average top line growth of 10% and average bottom line improvements of 30%"


Technology is revolutionizing the retail industry much-like it is redefining our world. But there are challenges associated with the evolving brick-and-mortar retail industry as technology ushers us into the future. Toronto and New York-based Unefi is helping these businesses and future-focused organizations optimize their retail operations through its innovative platform.

Since the pandemic hit, Unefi has seen a 25% increase in sales due to interest from retailers across virtually every industry who are looking to strengthen their bottom line and find cost savings and efficiencies at the store level, including reducing non-sellable hours. We interviewed Sam Vise, the President and CEO of Unefi, to understand how the company’s platform is helping retailers tackle the pandemic-induced challenges. Here are the excerpts from the interview:

Q. What motivated you to address the challenges faced in retail management?

From day one we have been motivated to partner with retailers who want to address challenges head on, working with them to leverage technology to optimize retail in every way including improved localized marketing, digital communication, dynamic pricing and store profiling. As the industry has evolved, so too has our platform which now empowers retailers to optimize each store by giving them the visibility and local insights needed to confidently manage stores and outsmart challenges facing the industry.

Our team has been in the in-store communications business for more than 25 years. We have seen first-hand the evolution of the industry, and both the challenges and opportunities facing retailers with their marketing execution, fixtures management, communication between headquarters and stores, and the ability to curate an engaging and personalized in-store experience.

Q. What gap in the merchandising technology field are you filling?

The insights that retailers gain using the Unefi platform are truly game changing. The platform provides insights that give our clients a competitive edge in a constantly evolving brick-and-mortar retail industry.

When empowered with visibility into trends and consumer behavior, our clients can proactively use that data to their advantage to personalize the customer experience, confidently manage their stores, localize merchandizing, identify efficiencies that lead to cost savings, and increase associate productivity through a better understanding of level of effort (LOE). This allows them to be more strategic with employees’ time and energy. There is no other platform on the market that empowers retailers to optimize their operations in the way that Unefi does.

Q. How does your platform benefit retailers?

When we partner with retailers, we see an average increase in traffic of between 25-30%, average top line growth of 10%, and average bottom line improvements of 30% - all within the first 12-18 months. Those numbers are significant and are consistent across our client base.

The success our clients experience is the result of many things, including the advanced tools we use to collect and analyze multiple sources of data. This allows us to gain AI-driven behavioral-based insights into our clients’ stores. The local insights we glean inform the development of store-specific profiles that our clients use to localize and personalize products, messages, and campaigns, which in turn drive traffic and conversion rates.

We also work closely with our clients to optimize their retail operations through Workforce Management and SKU Optimization tools, improved automation, and enhanced store management that strengthen and optimize go-to-market efficiencies.

Q. How has COVID-19 changed things for retailers?

Before COVID, some brands still managed retail somewhat ad-hoc, with operations at the store level being relatively consistent from store-to-store. The retailers that focused on localizing their marketing/merchandising and operations had a competitive advantage, but in a post- COVID world, understanding and leveraging local data and information– including municipal and state laws on social distancing and post-COVID consumer behavior insights – has become critical as brands figure out how to offer customers an engaging shopping experience while also offering them a safe and contactless experience.

The drop in consumer spending experienced at the outset of the pandemic – coupled with new investments required to meet health and safety guidelines – has also led to retailers prioritizing revenue drivers and cost efficiencies in a way we have not seen before.

Q. Retailers have been giving more priority to frontline staff in recent years. How have you seen their role and importance change and evolve in recent years?

I couldn’t agree more. In recent years, the majority of retailers have come to understands that frontline staff is uniquely positioned to assess, manage, and adjust a customer’s direct experience with a brand. We have seen the frontline become a top priority in planning and executing local go-to-market strategies as a result.

That shift has resulted in many retailers engaging the frontline as decision makers who provide strategic input and feedback, and involving them in problem solving which can pay dividends for retailers in terms of impact on same-store sales and customer engagement. When our team onboards a new client, we prioritize frontline training which reflects our view – and that of our clients – that the frontline is a strategic asset.

The global pandemic has further elevated the role they play. As stores go contactless, it will be important for employees to be armed with knowledge, training and messages that allow them to meaningfully engage with customers in a way that keeps them coming back.

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The Innovation Expert

Sam Vise, President and CEO: Having worked for over 25 years with executives from many of the world’s best-known retail brands, agencies, and technology companies, his knowledge and understanding of corporate analysis and consumer behavior is immense. He is the board member and President of Unefi which is an enterprise retail management software and marketing automation platform empowering retailers with the visibility needed to evaluate their business, and the data-driven insights to plan for success.

Before launching Unefi, he was a Partner at CV Studio. He is an active advisor and board member at various adtech and martech companies.

“When we partner with retailers, we see an average increase in traffic of between 25-30%, average top line growth of 10%, and average bottom line improvements of 30% - all within the first 12-18 months”