Innovation Junkies Podcast

Lucinda Foss on Innovating the Consumer Experience

Lucinda Foss of Narvar joins the Jeffs to discuss streamlining consumers’ journey through problem solving & innovation. They discuss meeting consumers’ needs, staying curious in your problem solving, & reverse logistics & how to streamline the process.

Lucinda Foss:
Yeah. Because I look at it as like, everybody sees Amazon and they’re like, “This is amazing. They’ve got Prime, they’ve got same day delivery, they’ve got this.” Well, if you’re a small Shopify store, you’re never going to have the money, or the time and the resources to do that. So can Narvar provide some of those same experiences for these smaller, and even large businesses—even large businesses are not going into that themselves. They’re not tech first.

Speaker 1:
If you want to drastically improve your business, learn proven growth strategies, and generate sustained results for your organization, you’ve come to the right place. Welcome to the Innovation Junkies podcast.

Jeff Standridge:
Hey guys, welcome to another episode of the Innovation Junkies podcast. My name’s Jeff Standridge.

Jeff Amerine:
This is Jeff Amerine.

Jeff Standridge:
How you doing?

Jeff Amerine:
You know, pretty good. Pretty good. I’m just excited to be here. I know we’ve got a fantastic guest on today. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about who we have?

Jeff Standridge:
We do, Jeff. Lucinda Foss is the vice president of product at Narvar: the post-purchase platform for e-commerce, serving over 125 million consumers worldwide. She has a deep passion for removing friction from user experience, and has led transformations across multiple industries, including construction, personal finance, human capital, and now with Narvar e-commerce. Lucinda, great to have you with us today. We’re going to learn much more about you and Narvar as we go through the episode today. So great to have you.

Lucinda Foss:
Great. Thank you. Nice to be here.

Jeff Standridge:
Very good. Very good.

Jeff Amerine:
Yeah. Sometimes, before we get started, we like to have sort of a random musing as a bit of an icebreaker. And today’s random musing is what is your favorite activity outside of the office? We’ll start with you Lucinda, if that’s okay.

Lucinda Foss:
Sure. So I am a big snowboarder. In fact, I pretty much relocate from San Francisco, where I spend most of my time, to Truckee, California in the winter. And I’ll be up there… I’ve been up there for three months, I’ll be up there for a couple more months and try and get out to the slopes as much as possible.

Jeff Amerine:
Wow. That sounds like a lot of fun for those of us who never got beyond regular slalom skiing to snowboarding. Good on you. That sounds great. Jeff, what about you?

Jeff Standridge:
Well, as you know Jeff, for the last couple of years, maybe three years, it was really cycling. I really got into road biking and gravel biking, and since I’m such a specimen of human physical fitness, I don’t feel like I need that anymore. I had a little joke for you, for those who are only listening via the podcast. If you’re watching on YouTube, you can actually see that’s not the case. But recently I’ve gotten into flying, over the last year or so. And so I look for every opportunity. I’m constantly looking at the clouds and seeing what the winds are doing, to see if it’s going to be an appropriate day to go fly.

Jeff Amerine:
Your arms ever get tired when you do that?

Jeff Standridge:
They do. My arms get terribly tired, but again, being the specimen of physical condition that I am, I’ve kind of built up the stamina.

Jeff Amerine:
Yeah, I mean that’s great. And I’m envious. I’m envious on the flying. I would have to say my favorite thing to do outside the office when I have time is to trail run. We’ve got fantastic soft surface trails here in the Ozarks, in Northwest Arkansas. They’re great for cycling, but they’re also really great for trail running. Haven’t been able to do that much recently, but I love it.

Jeff Standridge:
I kind of subscribe to George Carlin’s theory on running, and he goes, “Running’s not a sport. Running’s a way to get somewhere.”

Jeff Amerine:
Or to get away from something, right?

Jeff Standridge:
He said, “Riding a bus isn’t a sport. Why should running be a sport?”

Jeff Amerine:
Excellent, excellent point.

Jeff Standridge:
Lucinda, great to have you with us today. I know we’re going to learn a little bit more about you and your background in civil engineering, but tell us a little bit about your background to start with, and then a little bit about Narvar.

Lucinda Foss:
Sure. I started, as you mentioned, as a civil engineering major and I picked my major the way people did back in the day. It was the only professor wearing jeans, and I thought, “That looks like a great thing to study.” All the other professors came out wearing suits, but the civil engineering professor came out with blue jeans and a big old belt buckle. And I thought, “That’s it. I’m a civil engineer.”
But I really kind of moved my way into product management, just starting with really solving my own problems. I found that within civil engineering, most of my day had nothing to do with what I studied in school. It had to do with chasing down all the questions coming from contractors. I’m dating myself; they’d come in via fax. I would look at them, I’d fax them to the architect, who’d fax them to another engineer and they’d come their way back. And a lot of them got lost in the shuffle, and each one of those lost questions was thousands of dollars for my clients. So school districts who don’t have that money.
So my first job in product management, I built a database. I didn’t know what I was doing. I sat down and I’m like, “There’s got to be a better way.” And I built a tool, and within three months of launching that tool, my job was no longer building schools. At the time I was working for Pasadena Unified School District, my job was putting this database in all of these different project sites, up and down California, for all of our projects.
I suddenly was rolling this out, and next thing I knew someone told me, “Oh. You’re a product manager.” And I thought, “Yeah. I’m a product manager.” I worked my way from there through a series of different paths, and made myself here at Narvar in product management.

Jeff Standridge:
Tell us a little bit about the company Narvar and where you guys play predominantly.

Lucinda Foss:
Yeah. Narvar, it’s one of those things where I say that if you haven’t heard of us, just check your email and search for Narvar, and probably if you’ve bought something online, you’ve interacted with our solution. So Narvar really powers the post-purchase experience for consumers. We were founded in 2012. Prior to that, when you would buy something online, you bought it and you kind of hoped and prayed that it was going to arrive. And when it showed up, you’re like, “Great.”And if it didn’t, you didn’t know what happened and you’d have to contact the customer service desk.
Since then a lot of different companies, UPS and FedEx, they’ll send you tracking information, but it doesn’t tell you what’s in the box, just tells you when a box is going to arrive. So what Narvar really did is bridge that gap. It said after you buy something, we’re going to show you the whole journey of that package. From the time you hit buy, until it arrives on your doorstep, in a fully branded experience. We’ll send you branded emails that are coming from, whether it’s Sephora, or GAP, or any number of our customers, you’ll get that experience all the way through because customers that are seeing that are more engaged, they’re happier, they’re going to buy from you again.
And the whole thought is all that money, and marketing dollars you spent to acquire the customer, we can reduce that for next time. If we give you a good experience after you purchase, you’ll buy again. So that’s really the whole thought of where we started. So really focusing on that post-purchase; starting with tracking, getting it from… One of our customers called from “click-to-porch” as the metric. How long does it take from the hit buy button till it gets to the porch?
But we also really focus in on if you do need to return it as a consumer, how do we make that as easy as possible? How do we give you the choices that consumers want? We’ve recently launched home pickup. You don’t even have to go to the store, we’ll send somebody to your house, pick up the package, take it for you back to the store for return. So giving those choices to consumers to make that process as easy as possible for every one of our customers.

Jeff Amerine:
How big of an opportunity is that reverse logistics piece? Because that seems like a major pain. As e-commerce grows, and as people get more and more stuff shipped to their house. Particularly, I think about apparel. It doesn’t fit right, I want to send it back. Talk about where that’s going, that reverse logistics piece.
Lucinda Foss:
Yeah. I would say it’s fairly controversial, right? It’s growing fast, and it’s growing fast in a lot of different ways. I think we can all thank Zappos way back when, for free shipping and returns. And that got us all used to it as consumers. “Oh. If it doesn’t fit, we’ll just try it on, and we’ll send it back.” So it is growing, hand over fist. I mean every year the number of items that are being returned is significant. But we want to provide consumers that choice.
So yes, more and more items are being purchased online. Pandemic absolutely accelerated online shopping. But as you mentioned, it also increased online returns. It’s definitely growing, and we’re really focused on a couple things. So one is how do we help you buy the right thing the first time? And then if we can’t, how do we make it as seamless as possible to return it? And then if we can’t return it, what are your other options? And that’s really where you’ll start seeing a lot of companies moving to more sustainable options.
If they can’t resell it, they might offer you to keep the item even if you want to return it, or we might just pick it up from you and send it to an actual third party location who can recycle it, or resell it in another market. There’s really a lot of different areas that are exploding in this space. Retailers are absolutely trying to figure out how to do it.
And I think the one thing that we learn, the way I look at it, is it makes a ton of sense for a retailer to take an item off the shelf, put it in a box and send it to you as a consumer. It makes zero sense for a retailer to get a bunch of boxes individually, back from you. They don’t want people picking these things up and opening individual boxes. So even thinking about consolidation, how do we put them in a bigger package? How do you put them on a pallet? Distribution centers are used to receiving large pallets of goods, not individual items. And so really focused on streamlining the operational side on the reverse logistics as well.

Jeff Standridge:
Narvar’s primary customer would be e-commerce companies, people that are selling and shipping, right?

Lucinda Foss:
Yeah.

Jeff Standridge:
Yet you’re trying to also impact the customer experience for the actual end users, the customer clients, the consumers?

Lucinda Foss:
Yep.

Jeff Standridge:
So being a B2B2C kind of business, talk about some of the challenges there with regard to impacting customer experience.

Lucinda Foss:
Yeah, it’s interesting. I mean, my past, I’ve spent the majority of my career in what I would call HR technology. So, whether it’s employee experiences, or candidate experience, and applicant tracking systems, they’re all faced with the same thing. Our customer is the business, and their customer is the consumer. How do you balance those? They’re not always aligned, right?
So retailer doesn’t want you to return anything. So one thing they could do is provide a ton of friction to make it hard to return, but then you’re not going to come back as a consumer. And so how do we balance those is definitely a challenge. But at the end of the day, most of them were aligned. I think the bigger struggle is retailers don’t always know, or even any customer doesn’t always know, or wants to be able to give, I would say, a white glove experience.
They can’t afford to give white glove experience to everybody. And technology is our opportunity to really provide white glove-like experiences, through technology, to the end consumers. And so what we’re really trying to do is empower retailers to still maintain their brand. This is why you don’t know who Narvar is, because when you buy something, you’re just seeing the retailer’s brand. It’s fully branded. And then based off the items that you purchase, we can tailor the experience for that individual consumer. So if you bought a pair of black shoes, we might show you recommendations for other things you might like associated with that.
So it’s taking the branding, taking the consumer information, and really bringing them together to try and buy the best experience for both, as much as possible. But it is a little bit of a venn diagram. We’re trying to figure out where are the overlaps? Where are you both interested, and how do we provide that through technology?

Jeff Amerine:
I got to ask, where did the name come from? Narvar.

Lucinda Foss:
Narvar, it’s interesting. The CEO, I don’t know why he came up with this name, but apparently, I think it’s in Sweden, it’s in one of the Scandinavian countries, there’s a yearbook called när var hur, I think it’s called. Which is what, where, when. So if you think about a package, “what did I buy and where is it” is really where the name came from. So it was trying to take that concept of what was being used for, I think it was Swedish yearbooks, and translate it into the retail space.

Jeff Amerine:
If I watch again, an episode of Vikings, I might queue in to hear that.

Lucinda Foss:
I’m pretty sure all the Viking universities, in the Vikings, probably have yearbooks.

Jeff Standridge:
Yeah. Probably.

Lucinda Foss:
Narvar. I think it’s när var hur. I’ll probably get the name wrong.

Jeff Amerine:
Very cool. Thank you for that. That’s super interesting.

Jeff Standridge:
Let’s shift a little bit to product innovation. You’re the lead of product there, how do you go about making sure that Narvar is innovating in the various products that you all create?

Lucinda Foss:
Yeah. I mean, I think it’s always easy, I would say Narvar is definitely the market leader in a lot of these spaces, so it’s easy to kind of feel like you’re coasting, but reality is we’re constantly looking at how to improve, how to make better customer experiences. And like I said, balancing that experience of what does the consumer want versus what does the retailer want, and really, how do we find the opportunities within that?
Some of the things that we tend to do is we’re just looking. I think the best product managers are the ones that are curious. And really thinking about how do I take something that maybe was applied to one problem and use it to solve another problem. When I was at Intuit, we even taught a class on this. And one of the examples we gave is how can you take the concept of an all-you-can-eat buffet and apply it to something else. And at the time, that was when the USPS flat rate boxes came out. Anything you can fit in that box is $14,99. It’s the same concept of an all-you-can-eat buffet. I’m going to pay one fee and I’m going to get it, right? Prime is now that way, a lot of times, for Amazon.
But starting to look at and just think about these different situations. So with home pickup for returns, it’s not like we invented the concept of a courier coming to your house. We’ve all gotten used to that from DoorDash and UberEats, people bringing us the food. Same-day grocery delivery. It’s like, that’s so convenient and great, can somebody just come pick up my stuff? It’s just that in reverse.
And so taking a solution that was designed for one use case and applying it to another use case that makes sense, and testing that out. And so those are just some examples of things that we’re trying to do. Look at what’s happening and look at how trends are changing, and how do we take advantage of that?

Jeff Amerine:
Lucinda, from somebody that’s got a bit of a motor freight background and supply chain background, all this conversation feels a ton like you’re really a 4PL or supply chain company, or supply chain technology company in many respects. How far down into that stack are you going to go as it relates to autonomous systems, autonomous vehicles, drones, and all those other things that are definitely going to be part of the conversation on normal forward logistics and reverse logistics? What are your thoughts about that?

Lucinda Foss:
I’m not sure how far we’re going to go. I always look at it as we’re just connecting retailers to the technology. We’re not going to invent the autonomous home pickup. Even with home pickup, we’re doing it through partners, but rather than our retailers having done one by one, city by city negotiate deals, we can negotiate what’s going to be the best option for this… For San Francisco, who’s available who can pick up your item, do the return? And we’ll provide that layer in-between to make it easier for all of our retailers. So when they go autonomous, we’ll be happy to tap into it. But Narvar, we’re not going to move into that space ourselves.

Jeff Amerine:
Makes perfect sense. Asset light, enabling technology.

Lucinda Foss:
That’s right.

Jeff Amerine:
So all the people with the CapEx in those areas can do what they do better.

Lucinda Foss:
Yeah. Yeah. Because I look at it as like everybody sees Amazon and they’re like, “This is amazing. They’ve got Prime. They’ve got same-day delivery. They’ve got this.” Well, if you’re a small Shopify store, you’re never going to have the money, or the time, and the resources to do that. So can Narvar provide some of those same experiences for these smaller, and even large businesses? Even large businesses are not going into that themselves. They’re not tech first. And so we can really offer to plug those holes for them.

Jeff Standridge:
So, going back to the concept of product innovation for a moment, what’s your favorite product innovation story?

Lucinda Foss:
Oh boy. From just in general, or something that I’ve done?

Jeff Standridge:
Maybe something you’ve done, or been involved in, or maybe been peripheral to.

Lucinda Foss:
Yeah. For me, I get really excited… As I mentioned, I feel like that trying to think about how do we provide white glove-like experiences through technology. When I was at ServiceNow and we were building out onboarding, as an example, of a new application, I’d been in the HR space for a while. And I’m like, “What are we going to do differently here?” Like how is this different than what Workday, or any of these other HR companies are doing?
And then I realize, as I’m going through onboarding, first my boss calls me up and says, “Hey. What kind of computer do you want?” And then somebody else is like, “All right. Which office are you going to be in?” And I was like “Why can’t I just do this myself?” Why can’t I make these choices myself? And so what we ended up doing is just building through workflow and personalization. Really every decision that you made in the onboarding process, we continue to tailor that onboarding experience.
And so now, as soon as I picked a MacBook pro, now when it’s time to pick my peripherals, or software, it was all tailored to what was available then. And if I chose my insurance being Kaiser, or United Healthcare, then my next choices are going to be based off of that. So we took every single item that you chose in that process to really continue to personalize it. And the reason I was really excited about when I talked to Amit, who’s the CEO of Narvar, is it’s exactly the same thing that we’re trying to do here.
As we’re thinking about it, it’s like what is the item in the box that you just purchased? How do we tailor this further? How do we make the message very specific to it? How do we think about what additional services you might want because this is the item that you purchased. So taking those same kinds of cues and listening posts that we captured in an onboarding experience, and thinking about it for the whole end-to-end journey.
It just shows you how powerful technology is. And if we just think about it the right way, and remember the choices you’ve made in the past, we don’t have to ask you every single time if you have a printer and you’re going to print out this label. You’ve done printerless returns 10 times in a row, I’m going to guess that you’re going to want to do it the next time, and then continue to tailor that experience. That’s just one example how I made the leap, as well, into e-commerce, and seeing those connections between the two.

Jeff Standridge:
Do you see any common mistakes that organizations make when it comes to innovation, particularly product innovation?

Lucinda Foss:
Absolutely. I think the number one thing is listening to people’s solutions. As a product manager, everyone comes to you with the solution, and when you go and implement that solution you really quickly realize that it’s not solving anybody’s problem at all. I’ve seen that over and over and over again. The best product managers are the ones who really keep asking why till they truly understand what it is that you’re trying to solve.
Just to give an example, when I was at Jobvite, one of our customers was Twitter, they’re obviously in the news a lot. I took a feature away from our product that said you couldn’t move all your candidates from one job to another job. And Twitter recruiters called me up and they were just so upset and they were like, “We need this feature back.” And then we’re asking a few more questions.
Well, it turns out that the reason they wanted it back was that they had 500 postings for engineers on their career site. They closed one job, they wanted to move all the candidates over to the next job. And the real question is why do you have 500 postings for engineers on your career site? Why don’t you have one posting for engineers on your career site and hire 500 positions against it? So it’s about asking why you’re trying to do something, and then coming back with a better solution than what they may have proposed in the first place.

Jeff Standridge:
Very good.

Jeff Amerine:
I mean, that is very insightful. We spend a lot of time working with concept stage startups, and startups at every stage. Inevitably they want to start with the solution. They don’t understand the depth of the problem or the unmet need, and they’ve done no customer discovery at all, other than maybe family and friends, which is not particularly useful. That’s really good insight.

Lucinda Foss:
Yeah.

Jeff Standridge:
So Lucinda, where can our listeners connect with you and learn more about Narvar?

Lucinda Foss:
Well, you can definitely come to narvar.com and see what we’re doing there. I’m on LinkedIn, so the benefit, I think, of having an unusual name like Lucinda, unlike the Jeffs of the world. Just lucinda.foss@narvar.com, or you can find me on LinkedIn/lucindafoss. I’m pretty easy to find. I think if you Google my name, I’m probably going to be the only one you find.

Jeff Standridge:
Very good. Very good. Well, it is a pleasure having you with us today. We appreciate you taking the time to spend with us.

Lucinda Foss:
Thank you.

Jeff Amerine:
Thanks so much for coming on. And have fun next time you get to Truckee to do some skiing.

Lucinda Foss:
Heading back up on Saturday. As long as the snow doesn’t melt, I’ll be out on the slopes.

Jeff Amerine:
Enjoy.

Lucinda Foss:
All right. Thanks.

Jeff Standridge:
This has been another episode of the Innovation Junkies podcast. Thank you for joining.

Jeff Amerine:
Feedback from listeners like you helps us create outstanding content. So if you like this episode, be sure to rate us or leave a review. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to get the latest growth and innovation strategies. Thanks for tuning in to the Innovation Junkies podcast.

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