Off the Record with UPS and Three Five Two


This month, we welcomed Sean Flaherty, Vice President of Global Retail and e-Commerce Strategy at UPS to Off the Record. This conversation, highlighting the UPS experience with the evolving retail and customer experience, was facilitated by 352’s SVP of Strategy, Kacie Lett.

UPS has seen huge changes since its founding as a messenger service in 1907. Through the company’s close partnerships with customers, UPS has had a front row seat to the rapidly evolving retail and e-commerce landscape. Sean shared the rich insights with the Off the Record audience, fostering a healthy dialogue about the future of e-commerce.

(Retail is) a very disrupted space. It’s now in the hands of consumers, who are dictating the winners and losers.

Even in the early days of UPS, the company recognized that pivoting as the market and customer needs shifted was critical to company survival. By tapping into the core competencies of the business, “moving stuff from place to place” in early days, the business model was able to evolve from a consumer focus into B2B as consumer mobility and retail options changed. Today, the booming e-commerce model is driving UPS to think again about who their customer is, and what the company can do to empower e-commerce players, particularly small businesses, to be successful.

There is an extinction level event happening in retail. If retailers don’t pivot and change what they’re doing now, there’s a looming risk of going out of business.

UPS is moving to thinking about their role in the entire shopper experience as a value-add, not just a service provider. Small retail players are vulnerable; over 6,700 retail store fronts closed in 2017. Amazon is setting a new bar with one-day shipping, a standard that small retailers struggle to meet and stay financially sound. It’s leading UPS to think about new ways of adding value throughout their customer base, such as exploring drones as a way to make last-mile delivery in rural areas more feasible. By leveraging insights from the big players, UPS is able to think about how to translate value to smaller players in an approachable way. It’s this constant desire to explore new solutions that helps drive the UPS innovation pipeline.

UPS is moving to thinking about their role in the entire shopper experience as a value-add, not just a service provider.

If you had asked UPS who their customer was in 2001, you would have heard them talk about the entity shipping the goods. There wasn’t any consideration at the time of the end customer as “customer”. Today, that mindset has been turned on its head, and UPS has recognized that the services they provide are a critical part of their customer’s value chain, and the end customer’s total experience. This realization has led to innovation such as the My Choice(r) program, which allows customers to customize their shipping preferences, and is helping UPS and their customers continue to grow in partnership.

The best innovators start small scale, solving on the ground problems.

Over the past 10-15 years, UPS has taken a more formal approach to innovation. But they recognize big companies can’t do everything, and often solving problems in the field provide the most effective approaches. Enterprises should be looking at the small players who are nipping at the edges of problems, and think about how to incorporate the best thinking, and the best partnerships, into their ecosystems.

If you missed this event, we hope this recap was helpful! Join us for our next Off the Record event!

About Off The Record

In 2016, what started as an experiment to bring together 30 corporate innovators turned into the largest corporate innovation community in the southeast. Our community of 800+ innovators convenes at Off The Record monthly for unique content, best practices, networking and swapping war stories. To learn more, visit


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