Savanna Riley (MBA '19) Shares Her Insights on the Future of In-Person Shopping and Her Role at Macy’s

Photo of Savanna Riley (MBA '19)
Program: Fashion & Luxury MBA
Company: Macy’s
Role: Senior Strategy Lead
Industry: Retail, Luxury
Savanna shared her insights into what consumers will be expecting from in-person shopping and how the retail industry is adapting, what she is focused on with her role as a senior strategy lead at Macy’s, and what she loved about the Fashion and Luxury MBA at NYU Stern.  
Tell us about your current role at Macy’s. What areas are you focused on? 
I work in corporate strategy where our team functions as an in-house consulting arm focusing on projects that are cross-functional and concentrated around enterprise priorities. Our team provides project management, thought leadership, and structured problem-solving. For most of my tenure, I have predominantly partnered with the merchandising function, working on projects in kids and our private brand portfolio. I am currently focusing on supporting Holiday 2021, which at Macy’s, is like working in Santa’s workshop!

How would you define the challenges facing brick and mortar stores, and how can they adapt? What are consumers looking for from in person shopping experiences? 
Any retail player with a physical presence is focused on using the channel to engage customers by providing meaningful reasons to come into stores. With digital fostering convenience and endless choice, stores really have two areas of focus.
First, they should look to support the digital channel and act a vehicle for convenience with alternative fulfillment capabilities, store/curbside pick-up and same day delivery. Stores have a unique set of qualities and should be primed to integrate into an omni network, foster important services and build credibility with the customer.
Secondly, retailers and brands with stores will need to evaluate what their store portfolios should look like over the next several years. Stores will have to be nimbler with space, flexing between customer-facing and fulfillment as necessary. Ultimately, the store portfolio will be, and should be smaller so that investments can be streamlined and garner improved ROI. Whatever the resulting cohort of stores is, it will need to be focused on meeting and really superseding customer expectations. The strongest players will leverage flexible supply chains networks, and technological developments in product, service and customer acquisition.
While some customers are currently more hesitant to visit stores, there is still a desire to be delighted in a way that only in-store shopping can provide, and it will only continue to come back post-pandemic. Customers might expect convenience to be executed flawlessly in stores when needed, but they are still looking to browse a curated, compelling assortment, receive amazing service and even be delighted by something they didn’t expect like an in-store experience, a new brand partnership (not a pop-up) or a feature that isn’t tied to traditional retail like gaming or food.
What do you think in-person shopping will be like in 5 years?
I think luxury will continue to have a clear place in the world of in-person shopping. The experience and product within the space naturally lend themselves to customers wanting to be welcomed into boutiques and showered with unparalleled service and product presentation that can’t exactly be replicated online. The shopping bag/packaging effect, while half in jest, remains an important part of the customer journey when shopping luxury.
What will be more interesting is the rest of the industry. In 5 years, I think there will be fewer in-person stores for some retail players, but those locations that remain will be optimized for omnichannel experience and fulfillment. The data is clear – yes, customers like the ease of online, but even when the returns process has been extremely simplified, many customers (across age groups) prefer to shop in-store. Whether it is trying on the item they saw online, happening upon something they didn’t know they wanted, or being inspired by a great outfit they saw on a mannequin, there will be a drive to come in and visit.
The real points of differentiation will come in the form of what can only be offered in-store. While we across the industry race to perfect online foundation color matching technology, there are experiences that can be brought to life most effectively in stores and those that execute in this area will create longevity. We see this already in the reverse with digitally native brands opening up in-store locations so customers can further engage with the product. Meeting the customer where they are is crucial and will continue to be a cornerstone of retail strategies in the future.
Stores are emporiums of choice and service - bastions of the American lifestyle and while footprints might be more tailored, store portfolio might be smaller, and checkout might look nothing like it does today, we will still want to experience the joy of shopping.
What drew you to Stern for your MBA? 
I was looking for an MBA with hands-on retail industry exposure, so the Fashion & Luxury program made sense as soon as I learned about its focus on experiential learning and access to industry leaders through the F&L council. I was already living in New York and wanted to stay in the center of fashion so going to school downtown was the only option. Most importantly, I was looking for a community in addition to a compelling curriculum. I went to a very small liberal arts college for undergraduate, so it was key to find a school that offered a version of life outside of classes. Stern wasn’t joking about IQ/EQ – it was beyond worth it to find a school that values both equally.

What were your most valuable Stern experiences and favorite memories? 
Working on Stern’s Luxury & Retail Conference at the beginning of the program was the best way to get thrown into the throng of school and the community – meeting industry leaders, Stern alumni and fellow students right after classes started in the summer made for an easy transition into MBA2 come the fall. I really enjoyed consulting for Belvedere Vodka and Dolce & Gabbana – both hands-on projects became cornerstones of discussion as I went through recruitment. Lastly, I have to mention our trip to Milan. Between the food, the experiences we had (read: Lamborghini factory tour), and the shopping, it was such a highlight.

How have you stayed in touch with Stern since graduating? 
I really appreciate the updates we get as alumni through emails and publications – it is always so great to see what current students are doing and how our program in particular, is evolving. It is cliché but seeing what they are up to makes me miss being a student.
Additionally, I made some lifelong friendships at Stern so a part of the community will always be in my life and for that, I am truly grateful.

Fun facts:
Any new hobbies that you’ve taken up since the pandemic started?
It is not new, but I have been able to read so much more. I have also been dabbling in art projects and slowly working on an apartment face lift, which I feel like everyone is doing.
Favorite shows you are streaming? 

No surprise, I jumped on the Bridgerton train immediately, but my go-to shows are Gilmore Girls and West Wing – they never get old and serve as excellent reminders of simpler times.

Last place you went to for a vacation? 
Right before the pandemic I went to Paris for a long weekend and then flew to Naples, Florida a few days later for some sun – feels like a lifetime away when we did those things and I can’t wait to get back to it.