Anna Tolmach

CEO, Fuse Inventory
Anna is passionate about e-commerce and was inspired to start Fuse when she found that many of the growing businesses she loved were using Excel and Google Sheets to manage their inventory. Anna has an MBA from Stanford's Graduate School of Business. She was a Marketer at Getty Images and an Investor at the Carlyle Group before earning her MBA at Stanford. To learn more, go to:
  • Posted on: 08/25/2017

    Are off-pricers discounting their online opportunity?

    A key challenge to moving online is inventory. By definition, off-price retailers have a limited number of unique pieces which is what makes the consumer experience so exciting. The risk is that either the online experience would become less exciting because the truly unique pieces would remain in-store or the in-store experience would be diluted to support online. Perhaps a middle ground of some sort can emerge, but the most likely outcome is that the online experience would be more consistent with that of traditional retailers than the in-store experience of off-price retailers today.
  • Posted on: 08/03/2017

    Can vending units help Uniqlo achieve success in the U.S.?

    Unfortunately, Uniqlo has always been a brick-and-mortar company in a digital world. Their huge, oversized stores are completely inconsistent with new models and consumer behavior. They were late to the e-commerce game and continue to be behind despite having significant appeal to Millennials who are online. Vending machines won't help solve this problem and if anything they will dilute focus from the core issue.
  • Posted on: 07/26/2017

    How much did Amazon’s Prime Day hurt rival retailers?

    As the article says, it depends who you are as a retailer and when and where your shoppers shop. Since traffic rebounded for most retailers, there are ways to bookend Prime Day with attractive offers and promos. It also depends on if you're competing directly with Amazon or not as Prime Day has a different focus each year. As a retailer, it would be hard to go head-to-head (this year in electronics) but it's certainly possible to focus on other products not emphasized by Amazon.
  • Posted on: 07/14/2017

    Will an AR try-on app cut down on online clothing returns?

    Unfortunately, returns are deeply entrenched in the customer psyche. While AR may help, it is unlikely to eliminate the problem because buying extra product and returning it costs the customer absolutely nothing. With AR, there is likely to be a trust gap for some time during which customers continue their current behavior because they aren't sure how accurate the portrayal is. An alternative could be to incentivize the customer not to return. For example, if the same item in different sizes is added to a cart, an app that automatically prompts the customer to receive a 15 percent discount if he or she orders only one item could be a better way to get at the problem.
  • Posted on: 04/24/2017

    What customer service lessons can be learned from United Airlines?

    This highlights a broader issue in corporate America (whether retail or airlines). A lack of empowerment. Because of corporate policies and stringent punishment for violating them, employees are afraid to use their own judgement over the corporate playbook. But think back to your own life experience. I bet everyone has a story of someone making an exception for you and treating you like a fellow human being that fostered tremendous brand loyalty. The big issue is a lack of empowerment which leads to policies that don't make common sense in practice being acted upon instead of ignored or flagged.
  • Posted on: 04/18/2017

    Will Amazon pull a Quidsi on Zappos?

    It seems surprising that a company which on the surface has never been focused on profitability closed a business unit because it was unprofitable. The more likely scenario is that Quidsi was always an acquihire. Given Amazon's victory in the diapers battle, it's hard to argue that they were even legitimately worried about the company as a competitor. The great talent has probably left and/or dispersed throughout the organization. Zappos, on the other hand, only agreed to be acquired if it could operate independently which creates a very different dynamic. Further, the data shows that its performance continues to be a substantial contributor.
  • Posted on: 04/17/2017

    Are outlet malls an outlier?

    Outlet malls exist because on the one hand retailers have trained customers to expect discounts and, on the other hand, they've been overproducing the wrong products and need somewhere to offload them. Outlet malls have only recently stopped being a place for overflow stock and started carrying stock of their own, but that's because of the success they've had and the customer's association with outlets as a discount. There may be no real way to course correct at this point, but this is a self-created institution and its good performance shows breaks in other parts of the value chain.
  • Posted on: 04/13/2017

    Are retail CEOs ready to ‘disagree and commit’ like Jeff Bezos?

    Instituting a culture like this is nearly impossible at large, consensus-driven organizations. That being said, I love Bezos' approach. At other companies I've worked for they've attempted to solve analysis paralysis by delineating who had input on an issue vs. who had final decision making power. Those who had input had to "disagree and commit" if they disagreed with the final decision. The issue was that consensus was so ingrained that it never actually ever worked out this way. The company circled forever on the most basic decisions. There's always more data you can get, but I think it's important for decision makers to hear things like, "The analysis you're asking for will take another two months, do you feel comfortable holding up our decision by nearly a quarter?" When it's put into stark perspective, most decision makers would probably choose to go with what they have. In business school, our professors would always ask, who wants more information (about a case)? Almost the entire class would raise their hand and the inevitable response was, "Sorry, there is no more information." It's hard to have complete certainty in your decisions, but that's why business leaders get paid the big bucks -- for their judgement given a world of limited information.
  • Posted on: 04/10/2017

    Are daily deal sites obsolete?

    There are two key problems. First and foremost, the novelty has worn off. Both Gilt and Groupon should have shifted to more traditional models over time. In Gilt's case, that would have been traditional e-commerce. In Groupon's case, that would have been a marketplace for activities and experiences rather than encouraging deal driven, one-time, non-repeat purchasing. At this point, there is likely nothing Groupon can do to win its way back into the hearts of consumers and gain back the trust of businesses.
  • Posted on: 04/04/2017

    Will Jenna Lyons’ departure help or hinder J.Crew’s turnaround efforts?

    Not only that, but as brands grow they become victims of their own success when they develop a distinctly "J.Crew" look. Many consumers don't want it to be so obvious that they got something from J.Crew, Gap, Coach, you name it. In addition, as the brand identity becomes established, it can serve to narrow the target market in that some consumers will look at a product and say "it's not for people like me." Whereas before, they may have tried and even liked the product.
  • Posted on: 03/31/2017

    An open letter to retailers from a Millennial: Fix your omnichannel!

    So many retailers deliver a terrible customer experience in large part because their back-end tools and systems don't talk to each other. You shouldn't be advertising a jacket that's out, much like you shouldn't be telling a customer that the purchase they made online can't be returned in-store. Siloed inventory is a huge problem for brands not only because it creates a suboptimal allocation problem between channels, but it also bleeds into a poor customer experience. Nothing is worse for a brand than a customer wanting to buy something and not being able to.
  • Posted on: 03/28/2017

    Do retailers need middle men to match them up with tech startups?

    One great opportunity is for retailers to get involved in retail tech-focused accelerators early on. Not only is it a great opportunity for the founder and the startup, but instead of getting an off-the-shelf software that doesn't work, the retailer can be a critical partner in early development and get a product that's made for their needs. The team can then take the product and scale it beyond the retailer, but that's the only way to develop great software. Too often, products are made in a silo without enough consideration of the end-customers' needs. So ultimately outsourcing R & D can work, but it needs to be done thoughtfully and as a true partnership.
  • Posted on: 03/23/2017

    Is social media influence the new key to building brand loyalty?

    Social is not just about content, it's about creating a forum for engagement and conversation with your brand. Social is absolutely critical not only as a channel in and of itself but also to amplify other efforts. One great example was the Levi's campaign in which they hosted a concert in Brooklyn and the ticket for admission was wearing your favorite Levi's. This created an opportunity for organic social sharing in a way that was completely authentic and resonated with the customer and the brand. The critical piece is the exchange and the back and forth as a way to foster loyalty -- sharing in and of itself is likely not enough.
  • Posted on: 03/22/2017

    What do know-it-all shoppers want?

    Not all types of shopping experiences require an associate. In areas like luxury goods they are indispensable, but in stores with lower-priced products the value-add of an associate is more muted. It all comes back to siloed data and omnichannel. When a customer walks in all the associate has access to is what the customer says when, in fact, the customer may be a loyal shopper who's provided a lot of insights into what they value from the brand by shopping online. Unfortunately, there's currently no way for the associate to access this useful info. There are startups trying to solve this problem, but we still have a long way to go and no one has made a major dent.
  • Posted on: 03/17/2017

    Will Uniqlo beat Zara with speed and customer focus?

    I think there's room in the market for both solutions. Uniqlo is very focused on basics and comfort while Zara is more focused on keeping up with the latest trends. There's demand for both in the market, but in recent years, Americans have come to see the value of comfy basics -- think of brands like Everlane as well as the recent rise of the athleisure category more broadly. It's important to note that Uniqlo did not begin selling online in the U.S. until 2012, significantly lagging the industry. Notorious for having completely disconnected systems on the e-commerce vs. physical retail side, this puts Uniqlo at a relative near-term disadvantage.
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