Skip to main content A Lesson in Becoming a Perennial Success

There’s an advertising campaign depicting a husband who’s trying to stay out of the dog house by asking Amazon’s Alexa to order flowers for his wife. While transacting this type of commerce via voice might still seem like a new concept for a lot of people, it’s really just bringing the company at the heart of the ad full circle. was at the forefront of technology when it established the easy to remember phone number in the 80s.

Speaking at this week’s NRF Big Show, CEO Chris McCann highlighted the company’s track record of innovation and served as inspiration for brick-and-mortars needing to find ways to evolve with today’s consumer.

“The customers are leading us into these new technologies. If the consumer is going there, we have no choice but to go there,” he said, noting his company pioneered commerce on AOL and was among the first batch of businesses to sell via bot on Facebook messenger. “That’s where the consumer is spending time. They’re not necessarily coming to our website.”

Today, McCann is bullish on artificial intelligence.

“Voice is the UI of the future,” McCann said. “AI is allowing us to recreate that one-on-one relationship with the customer but for many more people at a significant scale.”

The company used the technology to develop a customer engagement concierge to match shoppers with the perfect gifts. It has also expanded its voice commerce to include Google.

[Read more about how brands are using AI to forge personal connections: Consumers Aren’t Out of Reach, Your Marketing is Just Out of Date]

McCann said he’s rolling out these capabilities at a rapid clip for a reason.

“We’re feeling the pressure to go even faster and faster. Mass adoption of these conversational technologies is happening at a speed much faster than anything else we saw,” he said. “When we embraced 800 service, that had been in the market for 10 years already but it took a while for the consumer to catch on. We think mass adoption of these capabilities is happening in a span of about 18 months.”

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To keep up, the bud business has adopted a process for evaluating and onboarding new technologies. McCann takes each through the engage, learn, adapt and commercialize phases—though most, he admits, are still somewhere between learning and adapting.

“We want to get involved early to learn along with the consumer knowing that what we get involved in isn’t going to be the right solution right away,” McCann said. “When you’re trying to experiment, we try not to predict winning technologies but to get involved with as many as we can so we’re there when the consumer decides.”

To position the organization to launch new technology, McCann recognized he’d need to dedicate people and resources to getting them off the ground, as he did with voice commerce. But he said the innovative spirit needs to permeate the whole organization. “There’s always a couple of people that we have who are looking at the forefront of emerging technologies but I never want it to be just one team to feel it’s their responsibility,” he said. “I want everyone to feel it’s their responsibility to innovate and change how they do their job every day.”