“So far nobody cracked what an ultimate store should be like”

Sefi Gabay of  SEBO a customer experience consulting firm feels at the epicenter of a retail coup: “The distribution revolution will connect everything – autonomous cars, drones, what a warehouse looks like and the way people shop

Sefi Gabay is senior partner at SEBO, a company that specializes in research, consulting, and design of customer experience in commercial spaces. Among SEBO’s clients are Unilever, Nestle, Henkel, Nesperesso, James Richardson Duty Free, and Ahava.

Who are your biggest influences? Who do you value in your field? Who inspired you to do what you’re doing now?

“I’m a student of Paco Underhill, he’s both my spiritual guide and my teacher, and he is a member of the board of my startup. When it comes to retail, he’s the leading global “guru”, who developed what we call the shopping science. His book, Why We Buy, is in the syllabus courses in  the best universities. This book changed my life, it got me and my business partner Boaz Yariv acquainted with this field, and that’s how we started working in it. We’ve conducted similar research of our own, and when we realized Paco Underhill had already done it and modeled it, we started studying him, invited him to Israel met with him, and he’s became my main inspiration.”

What is your professional vision?

“Ourcompany’s professional vision is to change the face of retail so as to provide the easiest, most pleasant, fun and worthwhile experience for the shopper. Retailers often act based on an internal perspective rather than the perspective of what’s good for the shopper. Our vision is to turn shopping into a shopper-oriented process.” 

How do you approach a new project? 

“Basically, anything you do, someone else has already done. It doesn’t mean you can’t redo it or improve upon it. Especially if it’s here in Israel, which is different  than other countries in the sense that it’s a great market for pilot programs and  experiments. It  has a small population over a small area, which means logistics is  cheap, everybody knows everybody and it’s easy to get to decision makers.

We conduct worldwide cross-sectional studies, gather information on what has already been done, and then we try to improve on it. We strive to gather multidisciplinary information when we encounter local, unique, fundamental problems that we need to crack.

For example, the lines at the Ben Gurion Airport duty-free shops. We identified a unique set of problems, that only exist here in Israel, that stem from a regulation that mandates displaying your passport, giving a flight number, etc., at the cash register . This ,means that  Oonce you get to the cash register, you may encounter between thirty and sixty problems, which are very hard to predict. So you need to change the entire system, not just the cash register.

Another example is a large soft drink company, which told us the retailers are losing on it’s combo deal where they give you a discount on any purchase of food and one of the company’s beverages. In such cases we’ll usually try to offer a solution from a different discipline. For example, we had an alcoholic drinks project, where we were asked to predict the effects of the alcohol reform in Israel  on the amount of new alcohol businesses that will pop-up. In order to make such a prediction, we borrowed a gravitational model from physics. This model measures the gravitational force of a certain interest point in a crowd. We built a model that amazingly and accurately predicted what would happen to the market. We predicted the growth factor would be pi, which is a crazy answer.

We know that cities grow in a circular manner – you start with the center, and then when people recede from the center, they organize themselves within a minimal distance from it, so they’re in fact creating a circle. We found a direct connection between physical math and population distribution.

When you have a problem, a lot of people from your field already took a crack at it, and the only way you can solve it is with tools nobody else used, and that’s not just me saying it, it’s Albert Einstein. When you approach the problem from a different angle, that’s your chance to do disruptive things.”

How do you keep up with new technologies and innovation?

“We don’t really care for conferences. We read a lot. Lots of Linkedin. Over the years, I’ve collected a list of excellent, trusted information publishers, and the best, most up to date, coolest information I get is from them. Whatever makes its way to the trades is already out of date. I have to keep up with the source, that’s where everything happens. My business partner must have read at least ten thousand papers.

Going over 60-100 papers is basic in order to conduct the kind of research we need to undertake. But you have to know how to read papers, or else you have no chance of ever finishing them.”

 Where do you see the future of your field, and yourself in it?

“Our future is very unclear in a very interesting way. Retail is where everything’s at. Paco Underhill says retail undergoes a revolution once every 50 years on average.  We’re in the midst of two crazy revolutions – the information revolution; the Internet and the distribution revolution, a much more serious one, as it will connect everything – autonomous cars, drones, logistics, what a warehouse looks like, multiple product return points and the way people shop.

The shopping and distribution of commodities are about to change. You will no longer need to deal with repeat-purchases, like bread and milk, which constitutes 70% of shopping. The interesting game will move on to the special items, to things that require experience, to luxury, hobbies, areas with stronger shopper-involvement. We’re currently trying to figure out how to design the current shop, which is already a future shop. So far, nobody cracked what tha  ultimate shop should look like, one that’ll make you want to shop in it. We’re taking part in a race to organize and build the new shopping experience. It involves a lot of digital, full connectivity, multiple point control, content. The second thing is to understand how the shopper changed. The third thing is to predict the future – how all of the technologies will combine holistically.

Retailers have invested way too much in growing and way too little in adapting to the changing shopper. The way shops are organized can change their revenue by 40-50%. But retailers would rather shut down shops than re-plan them, because such planning costs money.”

 What’s the best advice you ever received?

“I’ll tell you the best compliment I got: Paco said, ‘I’ve never seen such a great partnership.’ The best compliment and advice was to keep up this partnership.”

 The Future of Retail Design Is…

“…understanding the shopper.”

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