Data Alone Will Not Save You: Q&A With 1-800-Flowers' Digital Guru

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Amit Shah
Amit Shah

Amit Shah, senior VP-online, mobile and social media at, is tasked with managing the gifting brand's digital touchpoints. Over the course of his six years at the Carle Place, N.Y.-based retailer, Mr. Shah has seen data and technology transform the brand into a cutting-edge retailer that even boasts its own artificial intelligence concierge. Ahead of his appearance at the Ad Age IQ Conference on Jan. 17, Mr. Shah talks about the company's transformation and the role of data.

Advertising Age: The company has several brands beyond flowers -- Popcorn Factory, Cheryl's Cookies and Harry & David to name a few. How has technology helped you integrate your brands?

Amit Shah: It has been a very important part of our DNA to make sure we are moving with our customers in adopting, ingesting and then leveraging not just the right technology but the right experience built with the right technology. What the customer ultimately is looking for is consistency of experience. We have a multi-branded portal where you can easily toggle between each of our brands. We want to make sure that as your recipient set changes, we provide fluidity and ease of expectation also consistency.

Ad Age: How do you make sure the experience is consistent across all brands?

Mr. Shah: We have a very robust, Amazon Prime-like shipping program called Passport that can be used across our family. If you buy from one brand, the reward points can be used at any of the brands. The core connective tissues that empower experience are common to all of the brands, but the brand pages express brand individuality.

Ad Age: 1-800-Flowers recently unveiled its own artificial intelligence system, a concierge that helps consumers find gifts. How has the system been performing thus far?

Mr. Shah: It is still very early. Even though the systems themselves are nascent and consumer adoption is growing, we foundationally believe conversational commerce is going to play a big role in the future. We look at it as building the right learnings.

Ad Age: During your time at the company, how has data has changed marketing at 1-800-Flowers?

Mr. Shah: We have moved from a very basic plumbing in using data to inform marketing to a point where most of the plumbing that exists is really well built out now. You can leverage that much more deeply compared to the nascent state where we started. Very few marketing decisions should be made where data is not a critical part of that decision-making process.

Ad Age: Can we ever be too data-dependent? What are the dangers?

Mr. Shah: A lot of people have started believing that the data is the panacea—it will answer all the questions, we should only do things the data tells us to do. I fear we will get ensconced in a self-led bubble. Sometimes marketing is equally about these incredible creative insights that data has nothing to do with. Internally now, we literally try to look at something from a point of view of not having data—what would you do if you had to take a leap of faith, what does that look like? I'm surprised still by that equilibrium between data-led and data-informed and creative-informed—the equilibrium that most brands are trying to find.

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