Meet the Woman Who Could Turn Jet.com Into the Digital Era’s Ultimate Challenger Brand

Will Walmart's backing help unseat Amazon?

Liza Landsman loves a challenge. For the past year and a half, she's taken on a massive one: overseeing marketing, branding and analytics as chief customer officer of ecommerce startup Jet.com as it attempts to compete with the retail Goliath that is Amazon. In August, Jet got some major firepower when it was bought by another retail giant, Walmart, to the tune of $3.3 billion.

Landsman is building the Jet brand around the promise of making shopping fun through a gamified process that aims to shake up the way people shop for everything online: from household products to books, music, appliances, electronics and groceries.

On Jet, shoppers can save money by paying with debit cards or opting out of free returns. The idea is to appeal to baby boomers and millennials with children, who make up the bulk of its audience—and snag a larger slice of the online retail pie in the U.S., which Forrester predicts will surpass $500 billion by 2020. With a background that blends financial services, data science and marketing, Landsman believes she is well positioned to help Jet shape the future of retail.

"I've said before that [building Jet] felt like we were pulling a sequoia out of the ground with our bare hands," Landsman says. "It's a mental image that has come back to me a lot over the last year or so. It's a cool, big, majestic, noteworthy thing that we're doing, but it's a labor of love."

Landsman wants to make shopping fun. Andrew Eccles

Why Walmart?

No doubt Walmart felt the love for Jet. The retail behemoth's acquisition was surprising and speedy, as the deal was officially closed just a month after being announced. Jet will remain a separate brand post-acquisition, but the marriage offers Walmart an instant education in appealing to millennial shoppers, access to next-gen digital technology for its own site and an instant injection into ecommerce business. In return, Jet essentially benefits from Walmart's purchasing scale, sourcing capabilities, distribution footprint and digital assets.

Jet was an attractive target for Walmart because of its growth in its first year of business (it reached $1 billion in gross merchandise value in May 2016) and because the two businesses have similar ecommerce goals.

"Who we're going after in the market and our values and culture as a business are complementary," says Landsman, "and so are a lot of our cultural values, like transparency, fairness and treating the customer with respect."

The Jet story is similar to that of Dollar Shave Club, another online startup that was acquired by a major player in its field, Unilever.

"Jet is going off of the Dollar Shave Club idea, which is that saving money can be fun—which can be extremely successful," notes Brendan Witcher, analyst at Forrester Research. "The Jet acquisition makes a lot of sense. There are opportunities for Walmart to reach another segment of the audience that may not have been Walmart-specific shoppers. It gives them another revenue channel, while offering brands they don't carry. And it has a separate branding message that has a lot of value."

Math geek to marketing exec

That's where Landsman fits in. She started with Jet in March 2015 after a nearly two-year tenure as CMO at E-Trade, where she oversaw the brand's first post-talking-baby ads with the campaign "Type E," featuring Kevin Spacey. "Until that job, I never thought of myself as a marketer," Landsman explains. "I always thought of myself as a customer-focused businessperson."

Still, her pre-E-Trade career contained elements of marketing. Landsman spent a year as global head of digital at BlackRock where she headed the investment management company's digital marketing strategy. For the decade prior, she held senior management and customer engagement positions at Citi.

Landsman's unique blend of experience makes her well suited to her role at Jet, says Hema Widhani, CMO for digital and customer marketing at Prudential, who worked with Landsman at both Citi and E-Trade. "Jet is a totally different spectrum than Citi or E-Trade, and she's succeeding in all of those different roles because of the core skill sets she has," Widhani says. "Liza's one of those super-versatile business leaders that finds a way to make every business environment successful."

Rob Hughes, managing director in the global credit card business at Citi, who also worked with Landsman at Citi, agrees. "Sometimes when people move across different jobs, they can become generalists, but she really demonstrates a commitment to go deep into what she does and still has versatility that's pretty unique," he says.

Landsman also has had leadership roles at IBM's ecommerce and personal systems group units, and worked at a now-defunct payments startup, Flooz.com, in the '90s. Her first job was leading the new media practice at the literary agency Writers House.

    

"As I think about the connective tissue of my career, all of my jobs come back to the fact that I'm a big math geek and lover of data," she says. "I have a real focus at Jet of using data to inform better decision making. What has happened over time is that marketing and customer-facing functions have become more guided by smart use of data."

Jet.com, which went live in July 2015, was founded by CEO Marc Lore, who also started Soap.com and Diapers.com and later sold those sites to Amazon. As a relatively new-stage startup, Jef seemed like both a risk and an opportunity for Landsman. "Its future, while very ambitious in its scope, was clearly very uncertain," she says. "I hadn't worked in a startup environment for 15 years. It was a risk in terms of, would I be good at it, could I adapt to that kind of nimble self-service environment? The opportunity piece of it was really compelling. It was an ambition to help democratize ecommerce, to do something very disruptive, to do something basically from scratch at scale. Those are two things that don't often go together."

 

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