by Karen Alberg Grossman
James Mullan
James Mullan

It was a fabulous gathering last week at the beautiful Goldsmith showroom (thank you gracious host Dan Evins) for the 18th edition of Tom Beebe’s Round Table, based on Dorothy Parker’s legendary literary get-togethers at the Algonquin Hotel. While far less rancorous than Parker’s “vicious circles,” these meetings are always informative, entertaining and more than a bit provocative.

This evening’s keynote speaker was James Mullan, senior VP of GDR Creative Intelligence. His topic was Channel-Agnostic Retailing, a movement from multi-channel to selling across all channels. “We don’t go online anymore,” Mullan told the group, “we live online. Walls between online and brick-and-mortar no longer exist: the two have become totally interchangeable.”

Delta’s Fake Travel Backgrounds for Tinder

Today’s retailers, he explained, must offer one of two things to be successful: extraordinary convenience or an amazing experience, where interaction with the consumer is made more meaningful. “We’re in an arms race now for total seamlessness, and expectations are being raised as we speak. Walmart is competing with Amazon with ‘direct to fridge’ delivery: they go into your home and stock the fridge while you’re monitoring it from your office. If this sounds freaky, who would have thought ten years ago that you’d tap your phone and get into a stranger’s car to get from point A to point B?”

Mullan cited numerous examples of companies becoming channel-agnostic with much success. All new GM cars now show you the location of the nearest Starbucks so you can order your coffee with one click on the dashboard. Budweiser offers an auto-replenishment feature so your refrigerator knows when you’re almost out of beer and reorders for you. They also know your favorite sports teams so, at every touchdown, your TV notifies you that “your team just scored; have a Bud…” At certain bars, the ice cube in your drink can identify exactly when you’re about to run out and ding the bartender who makes and delivers your next drink before you have a moment to decline…

Budweiser’s auto-replenishment beer fridge

The new CEO of Domino’s Pizza (whose share price is outperforming Google and Apple) has declared that they’re not a pizza company; they’re a tech company that happens to sell pizza. Customers can order through TV or Twitter; they can literally tweet a pizza emoji and their pizza will be on its way. If they open their Domino’s app and do nothing for 10 seconds, their favorite pizza will be on its way. So it’s no longer one click, it’s zero clicks! (Fortunately, they’ve also improved the pizza!)

According to Mullan, it’s all about anticipating desire. He describes a moveable (soon to be self-driving) store in China: you order through your phone and the store comes to you, filled with groceries, fast food, sneakers, etc. but minus a sales associate. He talks about Delta’s Dating Wall in Brooklyn featuring fake travel backgrounds (the Eiffel Tower, the Swiss Alps) for Tinder (since well-traveled singles get more swipe-rights…) Sometimes it’s something as simple as stores providing selfie sticks in their fitting rooms, knowing young people will post their favorite try-ons on social media. Or a mattress store offering sleeping pods so customers can actually take a nap.  “Shoppers aren’t consumers anymore, they’re participants,” sums up Mullan. The future has arrived.

Moby’s Self-Driving Store in China

James Mullan can be reached at