Q&A with Marine Layer COO Adam Lynch

RL Pro chats omnichannel retail, in-store technology and stocking strategies with the apparel retailer
Elizabeth Christenson
Editor, Retail Leader
Elizabeth Christenson profile picture

As a growing, eco-minded apparel retailer, Marine Layer has embraced technology with AI-enabled intelligent stores to reduce out-of-stocks, optimize staffing levels and gain visibility into in-store customer behavior to optimize merchandising. Retail Leader Pro tapped Marine Layer's Chief Operating Officer Adam Lynch to share insights from the brand's omnichannel evolution.

Retail Leader Pro (RL Pro): With shopper behavior continuing to shift rapidly, how is Marine Layer evolving the physical store experience to engage with today’s consumers?

Adam Lynch
Adam Lynch

Adam Lynch: We’ve always believed that our stores represent the best our brand has to offer.  We expect our customers to have an engaging experience with our associates, and come away with their new favorite shirt or pair of pants. But with rapidly changing customer expectations, in 2020 we realized that our in-store technology has not kept up with the underlying tenets of our brand.

We embarked on a complete re-platform of our in-store experience that year, which led to our partnership with NewStore. From a customer-facing standpoint, our stores are now powered by mobile technology — iPhones and iPads — and our associates engage with our customers anywhere in the store, not just tied to a traditional point-of-sale.

More importantly, we now have true omnichannel inventory capabilities —100% of our inventory, regardless of where it’s located, is available for sale by our associates on the floor. And the same is true for online: our business aggregates all of our retail inventory for sale online and routes orders to retail stores for shipment based on geolocation of the customer.  

RL Pro: How does Marine Layer view the role of the physical store? How does this fit into the omnichannel shopper journey?

Lynch: Our stores are incredibly important to our business. First and foremost, they allow us to provide a physical manifestation of our brand in a given market. We can bring the brand to life in a brand-right way in some of the best shopping streets in the country.  

They are also incredibly important to our business. In total, they represent about 45% of all new customers acquired by the brand. This allows us to reduce our dependence on sometimes volatile digital acquisition environments. 

We also know that customers we acquire in-store, who move online, are our most valuable customers by far — as much as 2.7 times more valuable over a 5 year lifespan.  

RL Pro: What trends are you currently seeing gain momentum in the retail tech landscape?

Lynch: Universal inventory: This is sort of table stakes now. Customers want the product they want, when they want it, shipped to them immediately, likely for free. We have to run a frictionless tech stack in our stores that enables this functionality. 

Personalization: The technology we’re able to deploy in stores now is allowing our associates to see real-time transaction history, sizing, who they got gifts for, and returns right on the floor with the customer. We can also communicate with clienteling through our platform to let our best customers know when products they love are back in stock.  

RL Pro: What digital technologies/innovations do you think every retailer should have in their toolkit?

Lynch: Full cross-channel inventory availability. Light, easy, intuitive tech that does not tie a store associate to a traditional point-of-sale.

RL Pro: How is Marine Layer using tech to improve store operations, especially with the ongoing staffing challenges in the retail industry? 

Lynch: For a few years now we’ve combine real-time, in-store traffic with sales data, and we’re able to flex into and out of retail payroll to meet local peak demand.  

More importantly though, by leveraging each of our stores as a mini-warehouse, we’ve been able to send more inventory to our physical stores, without the fear of it being stranded there at the tail end of a season. This increases in-stock rates on our floor during peak seasonal moments, which has significantly helped conversion and basket size.   

Adding store-level fulfillment has also allowed us some additional role flexibility in hiring in a tough environment. It’s opened up new positions like stock leads to team members who enjoy that side of the business versus direct sales on the floor. 

RL Pro Rapid Round:

For this last segment, we asked Lynch to fill in the blank for these rapid-fire questions below…

The future of in-store experience is: Rich, engaging brand moments with a frictionless buying experience.  

The best career advice you ever received: “I’m a great believer in luck, and find that the harder I work, the more I have of it.” [Quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson.] Ok, maybe technically that wasn’t advice meant directly for me, but I’ve always felt that hard work and luck, which is to say some good fortune and a few breaks, tend to go hand in hand. 

Piece of media (podcast, book, movie, etc.) that’s inspired you recently: David Halberstram’s “The Fifties.” As a child of the ’80s, it’s incredible to me to see how much of what we have become as a country was born in these early post-war days.