PROFILE
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Holden Bale

Head of Commerce, Huge
Holden Bale is responsible for leading the global commerce practice at Huge, a cross-functional team of strategists, technologists, and creatives who thrive at the intersection of business strategy, user experience, and technology and product innovation. He partners with ambitious brands to develop strategies, drive digital transformation, and craft innovative experiences in B2C and B2B commerce, including travel, hospitality, beauty, retail, grocery, real estate, and CPG industries. At Huge, he has partnered with brands including Ulta Beauty, Spotify, Shipt, Kate Spade, Canada Goose, McDonald's, and M&Ms on some of their most important initiatives. Prior to his current role, Holden was an Executive Principal at ThoughtWorks, a global engineering firm, leading their strategy and product practices in the Americas across retail, hospitality, and travel industries; a consultant at Accenture Strategy, where he led their omnichannel and change management groups; and a management consultant at Kurt Salmon. He has been lucky to work in a diversity of roles with brands domestically including Nordstrom, Target, J. Crew, and Kroger, and internationally including On Running, Rakuten, Burberry, Cencosud, and L’Occitane.
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  • Posted on: 08/11/2022

    Is inflation transforming dollar stores into bigger grocery destinations?

    There's a cultural disconnect here, in my view. Dollar General, as well as C-stores, which we're not talking about as much in this article -- ranging from Casey's to QuikTrip to Wawa -- have been moving into prepared and, in some cases, fresh food for YEARS. Inflation may accelerate it, but the underlying trend is the bifurcation of high-end speciality items vs. staple commodities, and while many generalist grocers might get stuck in the messy middle, dollar stores and convenience stores are solving a real and unmet human need -- inflation or no inflation. ~13-14 years ago, when Target doubled down on grocery, there were a number of critics. But they were thoughtful about the mix of private label and national brands, and they played to their strengths. As inflation (possibly) starts to level off, we'll see this isn't a trend where there's going to be pull-back -- there's an underlying structural shift happening that's been evident to people spending time in rural and even exurban communities for quite a while.
  • Posted on: 06/15/2022

    Has online grocery shopping hit its sales ceiling?

    It’s not a zero sum game. We did some consumer research on this recently in North America, which is behind the curve on grocery eCommerce historically, and while it was clear almost every generational cohort preferred things like picking their own produce or prepared foods, many were now 1) invested in eCommerce for the “set it and forget it” replenishment items (including some center store staples, but also “ancillary” products like cleaning supplies and pet food), and 2) leaning into grocer digital experiences for discovery and trip planning. If the composition of share of wallet changes substantially, or the expectation of “hybrid” trips grow (pickup of reserved bulky goods at the end of a "normal" trip), it’ll still change the dynamics of the grocery retail experience.
  • Posted on: 06/10/2022

    Will AR try-on sneaker tech put Amazon a step ahead of its rivals?

    Virtual try-on of shoes has limited ROI, based on what we've seen from retailers who've tried it. AR for home and beauty are "killer features," though, for sure. If Amazon could solve virtual shoe SIZING and fit recommendations across brands, then they'd have the holy grail. Remember Body Labs? It was apparel, not shoes -- Amazon acquired them in 2017; their tech would match a database of detailed body type data (like in-seam) using deep learning by looking at a regular 2D photo you could submit. But even having the tech to know your shoe size still assumes an incredible depth of product data to match to (for each given style, as lasts can vary), and a relatively simple UX experience (like what Warby Parker does with virtual try-on using Apple's TrueDepth).
  • Posted on: 06/10/2022

    Driverless trucks to keep Sam’s Club in-stock around the clock

    While I agree with everyone that autonomous freight is going to be a real unlock, we have to remember there's still a patchwork regulatory quilt for autonomous vehicles that are in some way as much a blocker, if not more, than some of the technical issues with more nimble "last-mile AV" (e.g., stuff that can deliver to your doorstep where routes aren't consistent/as pre-configured). Governments need to get ahead of this technology and start thinking about what it looks like for freight to move inter-state at scale or else these pilots are going to stay "pilots" and hyper-local in their impact.
  • Posted on: 05/25/2022

    Nordstrom is staffed, stocked and ready to serve as store traffic increases

    When I was at Nordstrom, I remember some of the meetings around the Local concept. I also remember how many people in the market said they were crazy for spending so much on a New York flagship. And then COVID hit. In the same way Target has gotten a great deal of credit for realizing investment in experiential, physical retail is a pillar of success, Nordstrom deserves the exact same credit. What's more, the core of their business is certainly somewhat recession-resistant (beauty up into "masspirational" luxury;). I'd expect them to do substantially better in the coming quarters than slightly down-market competitors. They've also be shifting to more of a concessions-based model over the last year or so, and while that won't totally insulate them, it'll certainly reduce some short-term risk. Keep an eye on their half yearly sale (live now), and if foot traffic is up around holiday, I'd see those as indicators of their FY performance.
  • Posted on: 05/19/2022

    Is the retail sky falling?

    We know how this works from past lessons. Beauty, household commodities, center store in grocery, etc. -- generally tend to be recession "resistant" (of course nothing is recession proof, except for absolute necessities outside of retail). And one of the first shifts is some price substitutability as share of wallet moves toward private label, which will buoy retailers that have worked hard to build a robust private label offering (your Kroger, Target, Wakefern, etc.) that feels elevated instead of like "the store brand." But unlike 2012, employment numbers are strong, and the "re-opening" of society post-COVID-19 is a variable no one knows how to model for. There's absolutely going to be margin pressure - there has to be in an inflationary environment - but people want to go to movies and sporting events, they want to travel. They've stored up cash and are ready to spend it. Which is all to say - there's a "buffer" on the pain retailers are going to feel. For at least a little while. The sky isn't falling, but it's getting cloudy.
  • Posted on: 05/19/2022

    Are shoppable ads finally ready for prime time?

    While I agree with the general commentary that the technology is still its infancy ... we’ve been talking about shoppable advertising for over 15 years. At a certain point, it needs to crawl. Our best prediction is that by ‘27, most advertising will be natively shoppable, either through the device (the TV) or through a device “tethered” to a media device (a wearable, a phone). The rise of connected TVs is one part of it, so was people steaming on their laptops -- but the seemingly overnight adoption of QR codes in North America with COVID (pre-COVID, QR codes were at best a novelty, and even younger demographics barely used them) is another part of it. The kind of advertising that some brands have done on Hulu with a QR code at the end has performed well. The real unlock will be when more consumers tether their phone to their TV to control it, like some people do with the Apple TV or Roku app. Then it’s not a question of pausing a “show,” it’s you having in your hands access to a stream of the products you saw or ads that were placed and you can navigate them for purchase, in the moment or after the fact. When this really arrives, it’s going to be an avalanche.
  • Posted on: 05/12/2022

    Will Kohl’s make a better deal for itself after an activist investor loses board vote?

    Spinning off eComm from retail is already an outdated move, and it makes no sense in this context. The most valuable consumers for Kohl's are omnichannel consumers, and eCommerce penetration and growth rates have fallen back in line with pre-pandemic growth targets. Bifurcation guarantees a poorer cross-channel user experience. Also, Kohl's isn't to expand their eComm into a long-tail marketplace, and from all indicators doesn't need a large capital raise to substantially evolve their eCommerce platform (but all these factors are reasons why it made sense for Saks). A revamp of an already successful loyalty program has just rolled out, the Sephora move has been successful. It's possible to there's a merger or acquisition that makes sense for them, but nothing stands out from what we're all publicly hearing.
  • Posted on: 05/03/2022

    Does resale make sense for Dick’s Sporting Goods?

    For quite a while, Patagonia as a mono-brand and REI as a multi-brand retailer have "cornered" the market on sustainability in outdoors generally (so, a bit adjacent to sporting goods). Not that they've owned it completely, because it's very relevant to many brands in that space, but there's no doubt they've been the leaders of the movement at scale. We've seen the inflection point in our research over the last 18 months or so where consumers are increasingly considering resale as first or second-choice buying options across many apparel and accessories categories, especially in more technical equipment (e.g., mountaineering). When fashion, which is all about identity and culture, leans into resale (the Vestiaire's of the world; existing brands like Farfetch debuting their Fix service last year), you know it's become a consumer norm. If you take the cultural/consumer preference variable, factor in economic (all the capital flooding the market in the resale space, the growing specter of inflation + supply chain shocks) and potential regulatory variables (the growing likelihood select governments will mandate more sustainable business practices), resale becomes an obvious business move. I think the test will be how well they're able to operationalize it — leaning on a partner like Out&Back makes a lot of sense — and if they find helps them realize their business goals (incrementality of existing customers, one would suspect, and possibly greater cross-category penetration), as well as delivers on the actual principle (it proves to be a net positive from an environmental impact and it scales well across their fleet).
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