Retail After Pandemic: Ampli’s Darby Sieben on the rise of local and the problems of e-commerce

Retail After Pandemic: Ampli's Darby Sieben on the rise of local and the problems of e-commerce

With physical stores closed to the public and consumers confined to their homes, COVID-19 is radically reshaping the way retailers do business. So what can they do to stay competitive? This week, we released our Crisis Manifesto: How retail will change post-Coronavirus report to help retailers navigate their new reality. As part of our series on retail innovation we sat down with Darby Sieben, Head of Ampli and RBC Ventures’ Business to Consumer Experiences to talk about how to survive this shifting market and why improving the e-commerce experience could be the answer. 

Ampli's Darby Sieben

Can you share a little about Ampli, what it does and how it works? 

Ampli is one of the newest cashback apps to launch in Canada. We allow Canadians to earn cash back and win experiences that money can’t buy on everyday purchases from brands they love. For merchants, Ampli is a platform that combines elements of a loyalty program, a marketing platform and an affiliate network. It’s really for everyone. Any Canadian over the age of majority can join Ampli regardless of where they bank 

What’s your role at Ampli and what was your experience leading up to it? 

Right now, I lead the team at Ampli and I also work with Business to Consumer Experiences at RBC Ventures (where Ampli emerged). 

I came to this role with over 20 years of experience in product development,  partnerships and digital marketing. Prior to joining RBC Ventures, I led the digital transformation of Yellow Pages Group (YP) from a print organization to a digital services provider for small and medium-sized businesses. I’m also an investor and an advisor to multiple startups and I’ve successfully sold two companies in the past. 

How is what’s happening with COVID-19 impacting your approach to loyalty and driving value to Ampli’s partners?

Retail After Pandemic: Ampli's Darby Sieben on the rise of local and the problems of e-commerce
Meet Ampli, the Canadian cash back app that gets you more from your everyday purchases

COVID-19 has definitely impacted our partners. There are really four types of challenges our merchants have seen: some are temporarily fully closed, some are seeing a significant slowdown in business, others are doing roughly the same as before COVID-19 and some merchants have seen revenue increases. On the Ampli front, we’re using our app to educate users about which businesses are currently open and which have reduced their operations. 

You have a lot of experience in local commerce and supporting local businesses. How do you think they can come out of COVID-19 not just still standing, but strong? 

Local businesses are definitely being hit hard right now. I witnessed firsthand the devastating impact of the 2008 financial crisis on local businesses through my work at Yellow Pages. It’s encouraging to see something a bit different here. There’s a lot of support building around local businesses at this time. I think there are three things that will come out of this moment that really favour local commerce: 

  1. New respect for local businesses and business owners. It seems like there’s more awareness about the importance of local businesses and more consumer investment in the people behind them. We’ve been talking about the advantages of buying local for a while, but I think this crisis has really solidified the human and community benefits of “going local” in people’s minds. 
  2. Increased interest in environmentally friendly spending. We know consumers are doubling down on their commitment to businesses that are working to prevent climate change. Buying local has many climate benefits including lower emissions from transportation costs and these benefits coupled with supporting your local neighbourhoods will be more top of mind for consumers.
  3. Technology has been commoditised. Now more than ever, businesses can easily leverage tools and resources to engage their audiences in cost-effective ways. 

Crisis Manifesto: How retail will change post-Coronavirus — a report by Highline Beta

Retail is now staring at industry-wide disruption. How can companies stay competitive in this changing landscape? Highline Beta has put together a report on retail innovation trends to help retailers thrive on the other side of the pandemic.

What are you seeing brands and retailers do in these difficult times to change how they service customers, deliver value, etc.? Do you think it’s mostly a push to e-commerce or is there more to it than that?

This one is interesting to watch. As much as I really feel that the moment for e-commerce has arrived, we can clearly see how important people are to making e-commerce work. The spike in demand has meant delivery times are longer, websites are crashing and in certain cases you can’t even get expected delivery dates. 

Coming out of this, many businesses are going to have to really think about the entire end to end experience and determine how to best deliver on this promise. Of course e-commerce will get a big push, but organizations need to look at the big picture and consider their overall operations and strategy. 

What are you seeing from startups in the retail tech space or ecommerce space in terms of how they’re reacting to the crisis, and how they’ll plan to succeed in the future?

I don’t work with a lot of startups specifically in this space. However, I think this is a great opportunity for startups to really look at the end to end supply chain of e-commerce, order fulfillment and delivery – and go deep on solving the problem. There are a lot of opportunities here for companies to solve some big pain points, and within that some startups are well-positioned to grow quickly or get acquired. 

Do you see the opportunity for increased collaboration between startups and big companies in retail like Ampli? And if so, where? 

I do. I think big organizations will be looking for a competitive edge and I think that competitive edge is going to come from innovation in delivery/e-commerce. The companies that will be able to manage a high-capacity of orders and fulfill them timely will be at the forefront. This creates an opportunity for startups to really throw themselves into solving the problem – whoever does it best will be attractive to large organizations. I personally think we’ll see a lot of activity in the broad space of e-commerce in the next few years. 

We know that shopping dollars spent are decreasing significantly during the crisis — when we come out the other side, what do you think happens? Do people go back to spending the way they were before, or do you think consumer behaviour will fundamentally shift? 

People will start spending again, but different industries will come back at different rates. I think people will travel again, they’ll go to movie theaters, attend fitness classes et cetera, but what will change is capacity in these spaces and the  pricing models. Will planes and movie theatres have less seats? Will group classes go from 30 people to 20? Will consumers demand more space, thus creating new cost structures for organizations?

Whatever consumers value more – spending less vs social distancing – could have interesting impacts on business models.

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