A retail industry journalist, Susan Reda is used to being the one doing the interviews. We turn the tables as she opens up about her own career path—and her views on the future of retail.
Tell us about your background and how you first got your start in journalism.
I studied journalism in college. After graduation from St. John’s University, my first job was with Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in the group that published trade magazines. Believe it or not, I started as assistant editor for Hosiery & Underwear magazine.
I wondered how I would ever come up with eight stories a month on tights, socks and undergarments. But this was the mid-1980s—a real heyday for hosiery. New colors, patterns and fabrics like LYCRA® meant there was a lot going on.
In 1991, I started as a freelance writer for STORES magazine, and have been here ever since.
Having followed the industry for so long, what’s your secret for finding fresh content ideas?
I can say there has never been a dearth of ideas. We’re covering a dynamic industry where there has always been so much going on. I rely on my public relations contacts to help me shape story ideas. I’m committed to reading as many of the emails I get from them to find ideas that are good fits for STORES. Sometimes it is just a matter of having a phone call with one of my contacts to spark great ideas. They are invaluable to me.
I also read as much as I can about the industry. I have a long list of favorites, and sometimes I have to stop myself because I can get lost in things. I sometimes feel guilty too since I’m not doing my task list when I’m reading. But I remind myself that reading IS part of my job.
Is there a particular story or interview that you enjoyed working on the most?
Every January, in conjunction with the National Retail Federation’s annual convention and expo, STORES magazine honors retail leaders in a number of categories. I’ve had the pleasure to interview award winners over the years. It’s amazing to talk with retail CEOs who are true visionaries and to hear how they built their businesses. I was so inspired by my talks with Gordon Segal [Crate and Barrel] and Charles Lazarus [Toys “R” Us], among others.
For many years, I had been nominating Costco’s Jim Sinegal for a gold medal, and last year, he won. I could not wait to finally be able to interview him, and the discussion was wonderful. It’s fascinating seeing how such visionaries think and how their ideas unfold.
Can you tell us your views on the 2014 holiday season?
The National Retail Federation has reported that we are looking for holiday sales to increase by 4.1 percent this year.
Last year, we saw a lot of growth in online and mobile sales. This year, I think we’ll see growth in these areas leapfrog last year’s patterns. Consumers are time strapped, and once they have a taste of the convenience of these channels, there is no turning back.
The real challenge for retailers will be in their ability to solve for the delivery problems that we saw that marred last year’s holiday season. The retailers I’ve talked to are taking steps here.
Moving into 2015, what are you tracking in terms of top retail trends?
I continue to think about mobile. And mobile payments are reaching an inflection point. There is no clear winner yet, but a few solutions have risen to the top of the heap. Just think about how people love their Starbucks app—it’s not a true mobile payments solution, but they see it that way. Once people get the mobile payments bug, there will be no turning back. The challenge for mobile payments providers will be to give consumers a better reason than speed to adopt mobile payments—they’ll be interested in rewards and loyalty.
Big data is another clear trend in retail, and one that I wrote about for STORES recently. What’s interesting is that between big data and the cloud, retailers can get data faster than ever to understand customers and shape the customer experience.
What retail innovations are you most excited about?
What excites me is seeing the energy that traditional brick-and-mortar retailers are bringing to their efforts to bring technology into the store to transform the in-store experience. So it’s not just about technology innovation on the back end, but innovations that can make the shopping experience better, more personalized and contextualized.
I’m seeing stores launching innovative pop-up models, using tutorial videos to show consumers creative ways for using their products and beacon technology to enhance the in-store experience.
When you go shopping, can you just shop, or are you looking for the next great story?
It’s definitely hard to shop without having the editor hat on. I’ve done it though. I try to turn off the spigot, but I’m always looking for the next trend. Recently, I left my husband in the mall while I talked to people in a new jewelry store—which became our concept to watch in the next issue of STORES.
I have to say that there are times when I allow myself to disconnect. I like to enjoy the experience for myself, and I enjoy watching my two grown children react to things we see while shopping. After all, they are millennials!
In my job there is always an excuse to go shopping, but I need to learn not to be so chained to my desk.
What’s your shopping weakness?
I am a junky for beauty products. I could spend hours in those stores, spraying, trying, touching and smelling. It’s so much fun.
To close off on a personal note, please tell us about your hobbies and interests.
People might be surprised to know that I love hockey, and I am a huge New York Rangers fan.
My son played lacrosse from the time he was in third grade through college. And while I tend to be a person who is mild mannered, I used to get surprisingly aggressive while watching him play. I think sports just make us crazy sometimes.
I also love to cook. But I’m not the type to improvise with new ingredients. I always use cookbooks. And don’t get me started on my thing for pizza.