Retail Customer Experience: An Interview with Juanjo Llopis, Director of Operations at Nike

Juanjo Llopis, Senior Director of Operations at Nike, is a seasoned leader with decades of experience managing brands, developing and implementing commercial strategies, overseeing retail customer experience and marketing activities, and much more. 

Specifically, in his role at Nike, he directs processes, experiences, and technologies for stores. His role lives between labor, operations, loss prevention, and service excellence, directing in-store labor according to store-by-store KPIs while ensuring the right P&L ratios. “You can picture to yourself,” Juanjo says, “a hypothetical situation where a consumer enters a Nike store to shop. They have an interaction, a connection with the store team, and team members must be ready with product knowledge and omnichannel capabilities, so they can securely and efficiently deliver the experience they want. I ensure all of that goes smoothly from the corporate level.”

“We are a human company,” he adds, “we connect people with people. But there’s a scientific component, for instance in determining the level of product knowledge that we expect the store team to have, and then implementing that. My role is very human but it’s also highly analytical and data-driven.” 

How the Pandemic Transformed Nike’s Operations and Retail Customer Experience

The COVID-19 pandemic changed retail customer experience, and consumers themselves, in ways we are only now beginning to understand. Any honest discussion of our new omnichannel reality must start with this monumental transformation. “To be honest,” Juanjo says, “the pandemic boosted and drove our digital revolution – one which we were already having. I’m not talking about eCommerce here. I’m talking about a broader concept. It’s how we as consumers interact with brands – whether we purchase or not is becoming more irrelevant, while the more relevant question is: what is our relationship with those brands?”

Following the pandemic, Juanjo explains, traditional KPIs like the price of the product and the logistics of delivery became less relevant while retail customer experience grew in importance. “The ones that are winning are the ones that can connect in a highly personalized way. We speak to our consumers in a one-to-one way, and the companies that succeed can make this personal connection regardless of where this transaction happens. This is the importance of omnichannel, the interactivity of digital and physical. The beautiful thing about working in stores is that you can make that connection on a personal level, face-to-face, where you can’t with eCommerce. Both are necessary. Both need to interact and click, to help each other.”

Interoperativity and Omnichannel Shopping Redefining Retail Customer Experience

Of course, the question here is how do you make them click? How do you make sure that physical and digital are “interoperative,” are meshing together? “It’s all about the digital teams and store teams having as a KPI this connection, not the transaction,” Juanjo says.

“For Apple, for example, their biggest and greatest KPI is their overall CSAT (customer satisfaction store). This is why they are thriving, they have been very sharp in the last years targeting that experience. Whereas, if you don’t have that personalized experience, the store team is going to be pushing you to make a transaction happens – and that’s not a winning strategy today.”

Enabling In-Store Connects for an Evolved Retail Customer Experience

So how do you enable store teams to create that connection? Here Juanjo is quite clear-eyed. “I can tell you what I am doing on a daily basis,” he says. “You need to think about the profile that you are hiring, today, for stores. Gen Z doesn’t care about tangible things as much. They don’t care if you pay them more or less salary necessarily if they don’t have a sense of purpose. They need to feel useful, not bored, and connected. So having that in consideration is important. And we have been experiencing very good engagement from the store teams, whether it is LGBTQ+ engagement, sustainability, BLM, whatever is purpose-driven they respond very well. They are moved by values, not materials.”

This naturally leads to the question of the consumer and retail customer experience. How do you ensure that the connection the associate forms with the consumer is the right one? 

“You have to know the consumer as a person. You have to be nonjudgmental and approach them that way. Whether they’re trying to do a sport, or start running, or just trying to live a better life – a man like me, for instance, how am I going to start running again after many years? Whether you are underweight or overweight, how are you going to get a better version of you? That connection should involve the associate understanding that problem and being able to empathize, and that’s where having those values to move the associates to connect is so important. 

“How are we going to enable the consumer to get off social media, avoid bullying, be themselves – make the planet a better place? What is your legacy, my legacy? These are the questions that we want associates to ask themselves, and that they want to ask themselves, because they’re so value-driven. It’s not about opening X store to make Y amount of profit. The soft human touch, rather than hard numbers – that’s why Nike is winning, to be honest.”  

How did that culture emerge? Was it already part of Nike, or did it have to be developed intentionally? 

“All of these purpose-driven initiatives were already in place, but in a way, the moment of truth was the pandemic. There it was a lot about, what what are we doing here? Do we just want to survive this nightmare or do we want to shape our strategy to make a real change? 

“One of my contributions was to emphasize BLM, for instance, instead of the pandemic, or woman’s pride when it was necessary, instead of focusing on reducing hours during those years. Talking about LGBTQ+ rights – I’m gay myself – was important for me as well in establishing a sense of openness with the team.”

With Nike such an established sportswear leader on a global scale, why don’t many companies follow their lead in retail customer experience, prioritizing positive brand identity over “transactionality”? “I don’t blame them,” Juanjo says. “It’s difficult to make these choices when you’re under pressure, and this is what we’ve been taught to do in retail – let’s win market share at any cost, etc. But looking at the younger generations, they don’t care if your business is doing great. They think, ‘Yeah, good for you, but I don’t feel proud to work here, to shop here.’ So if there is a real purpose for them to be proud of, that is going to enable them to create those connections.”

Juanjo predicts that these dynamics will only become more important in the near future. “Those who have not been thinking about how to continue to grow are the ones being left behind. They will need to move to a different place. Sustainability is more important than ever, that’s a good example. So if companies don’t embrace purpose in addition to P&L, they will become dinosaurs. We proved the old approach does not work anymore.”

Digital Technology, AI, and the Future of Seller Enablement

There has been a great deal of discussion (including on this blog) about the role of digitalization and AI for in-store shopping. Some have claimed that these technologies’ significance is overemphasized, while others say that a revolution is underway. Juanjo’s view is more nuanced.     

“If you think about how our younger generations behave,” he says, “they are extremely connected, so social, but most of social life happens on a screen. They have everything they want on the screen, everything in the ‘here and now’ is very interconnected with their mobile devices. So if you want to reach them with values you need to do that in their language. It needs to be a corporate app where they can share daily achievements, their daily life, as they do on TikTok and Instagram.

“This is something we also boosted during the pandemic. We needed to be connected so we created an app where you can post your running or cooking or other updates, which enables open communications between leaders and store teams. There is a direct channel for them to engage each other and share their daily lives.”

Juanjo makes clear this is not a magical formula. “Whatever you create needs to be visible through the screen and to give answers fast. There’s more, though. Tech has a very big role to play, especially AI. If you implement AI for store staff you are going to have a much more engaged team. Nowadays you can have anything you want created with AI. You can have the toughest two-mile run and AI can guide you. If you live in New York, in TriBeca, AI can tell you that if you go this way you’ll burn this many calories. If you go this way the views will be amazing. Or you can put on VR glasses and play tennis with your idol, Nadal. Giving associates access to these tools will make them want to work with you. Or in the world of fashion, you might have a VR experience trying a new dress on with Kim Kardashian. This AI usage is important for consumers of course but it’s also going to be used to engage the team, the next generation of staff members.”

Juanjo’s Predictions for 2024 and Beyond

However, Juanjo does foresee some major obstacles in the world of retail – obstacles that might, however, fly under the radar. “Retail is becoming more stable rather than explosive,” he says. “2024 is going to be the year of – in fact, it already is the year of change, where a lot of information is available for everyone, the good and the bad. The responsibility of the brand is to offer the most possible transparency with consumers, speaking to not only strengths but weaknesses and struggles and how we fix them – rather than offering a great product at a great price. The appetite for consumers to focus only on the product and price is gone.”

In Juanjo’s eyes, consumer choices are more connected to identity than ever, both the customer’s identity and the brand’s. “It’s more about, ‘This is who we are. This is our purpose.’ Of course, P&L is still important. We have to pay the bills and you don’t pay with purpose. If you prioritize the purposeful component, the transaction will come. However, if you obsess over the transaction, it might not happen because your consumer is thinking of other things. So, this is going to be the year of realization for a lot of people, a lot of brands, in terms of how to accelerate in the world we’re describing.”

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