PROFILE

Ken Morris

Principal, Boston Retail Partners

Ken was CEO and President of LakeWest Group and founder of CFT Consulting and CFT Systems, a retail software company. Earlier in his career, he held retail information technology executive positions at Lord & Taylor, Filene’s (Macy’s), Talbots, Stop & Shop Supermarket Company, and Sears. His experience is with strategy, selection development and deployment of retail management systems and processes.

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  • Posted on: 02/16/2018

    Walmart reimagines in-store shopping for mobile

    Mobile apps have the opportunity to improve the customer experience in unlimited ways. The challenge retailers have is to include as many valuable tools in the app as possible so that more consumers are compelled to download and use it. Consumers get app fatigue and they don’t want to sacrifice their precious screen space for an app unless they plan to use it frequently. Including things like loyalty, payments, product locators, special offers and games all help improve the success of the app.Walmart’s new feature that will bring consumers the most value is the product locator map and it will be even better when the app plots the most efficient route through the store based on the customer’s shopping list. Whether you are a fan of Walmart or not, they are becoming one of the most innovative retailers. What’s next?
  • Posted on: 02/15/2018

    Grocers hit restaurants in the gut with hot bars

    Prepared foods is a hot opportunity for grocers. Busy consumers value the convenience and many are willing to pay premium prices for upscale options. Prepared foods is also a high margin segment for grocers. Many upscale grocers, like Whole Foods, have been offering a creative mix of unique and tasty offerings in their prepared food sections and it shows by the massive crowds at lunch time.For any grocers that haven't tapped this segment, it is a prime opportunity.
  • Posted on: 02/14/2018

    Grocers say Trump’s SNAP plan would screw up a well run program

    While the intentions of the proposed changes to the SNAP program are sound -- to help encourage healthy food choices for low-income people -- the plan has some serious flaws. Beyond the concerns for how it will impact the revenues of grocers and dollar stores, it limits the ability for consumers to make independent choices and I am certain that the “value and quantity” of food that recipients receive will be significantly less. From a choice perspective, a one-size-fits-all approach does not make sense. Some consumers have allergies or dietary restrictions that make products like peanut butter a poor food choice. And from a value and quantity perspective, the government is not an experienced food retailer and does not have the efficiency of grocery chains. As with any government agency, they are not as cost effective as the private sector and it will impact the cost of the products recipients receive and the net impact will be less food for the poor. This is not good for retailers or our citizens.
  • Posted on: 02/13/2018

    Will Instacart and Shipt give Amazon a run for its money?

    Competing against Amazon is difficult – any way you look at it. The one advantage that local retailers have against Amazon is local inventory. Leveraging a third-party delivery service that is focused on optimizing the processes for efficiency and costs is a smart strategy, as this is not a core competency for traditional retailers. There are still several challenges that need to be solved for successful and profitable same-day delivery: efficient processes, accurate real-time inventory, cold chain break issues and cost effective delivery models. Retailers need to staff and train employees to efficiently pick and pack merchandise for orders, as this is a new role that you can’t just add to current employees’ responsibilities. Accurate real-time perpetual inventory is critical for same-day delivery and this has been a thorn in retailers’ side for years. Now it is a retail imperative -- real-time retail is ... real.Lastly, shaving costs off the last-mile of delivery and strategically pricing the service at rate consumers will accept and is profitable for the retailer is essential for sustainable success.
  • Posted on: 02/12/2018

    L.L.Bean ends its famous ‘lifetime replacement’ guarantee

    While the lifetime returns policy was memorable, what is really legendary is their commitment to quality and standing behind their products. An unlimited return policy is not sustainable from a financial perspective. The only negative repercussions from ending the lifetime return policy will come from the people who have been abusing the policy. Frankly, it will be good for L.L.Bean to get rid of those “customers” that are abusing the system. I have personally witnessed the abuse 1st hand and overheard people discussing that they were on their 3rd return of their worn out duck boots over a 10 year period. True customers will continue to be loyal to L.L.Bean, as they know they can count on outstanding quality products. L.L.Bean will always stand behind their products and honor reasonable returns for products that are defective due to materials or craftsmanship. I think adopting more realistic returns and shipping charges policies are imperative for retailers’ long-term success.
  • Posted on: 02/07/2018

    Will a CEO without department store experience transform Hudson’s Bay business?

    Department stores are one of the most challenging segments in retail, as much of their product mix are commodity products sold at many other stores and online marketplaces. It is easy for consumers to price compare these products online, which makes it difficult for department stores to compete. In addition, the customer journey and associated expectations continue to rapidly evolve -- driving a major transformation in retail. Disruption and adaptation are changing the customer engagement model and blurring the lines among retailers, brands and wholesalers. Online pure-plays are opening brick-and-mortar stores and traditional retailers are experimenting with new store models: stores as showrooms, theatre, distribution centers or pop-ups. To enable the new customer experience and support its rapid evolution requires a different retail approach. Whatever most departments stores are doing – it isn’t working. They need radically different ideas and approaches. Helen Foulkes is a great choice for Hudson’s Bay, as she is willing to take risks and is a proven transformational leader. The two areas that she will likely impact the most is reshaping the customer experience and product mixes. I hope she returns the theater of department store shopping that seems to have died in the United States, but has continued to thrive in Europe with folks like John Lewis, House of Fraser and Galleries Lafayette with results that reflect that trend. HBC's purchase of Galeria Kaufhof in Germany, Galeria INNO in Belgium make perfect sense and perhaps they are signaling a move away from the American Department Store model. It will be interesting to see the new Hudson’s Bay.
  • Posted on: 02/06/2018

    Is digital performance getting too cloudy?

    The benefits of multi-cloud and native cloud architectures are enormous. While it does add some complexity from a system monitoring and performance optimization perspective, it is worth it.Leveraging AI and other system analysis tools will continue to make this process easier. This will be a great opportunity for an entrepreneurial company to automate these processes with innovative solutions and services.
  • Posted on: 02/05/2018

    Amazon launches “$10 or Less” store

    What doesn’t fit into Amazon’s strategy? Amazon appears to be on a mission to own retail and no category is off limits. Low cost items are a challenge for online retailers, as often times the cost of shipping is more than the cost of the item. The “$10 or less” category can work for Amazon if they build in a little extra margin and leverage their vast distribution network and shipping economies of scale. Walmart may be able to compete with Amazon in this segment given that 90% of the US population lives within a 10 mile radius of a Walmart but for other retailers to compete in this segment, they will either have to incorporate a membership model or have minimum order levels for free shipping. It's not just dollar stores that are being treated by this move. I believe this is also a test bed for the the soft goods treasure hunt made famous by TJ Maxx.All retailers should feel threatened by Amazon!
  • Posted on: 02/02/2018

    Will acquiring Kroger’s c-stores be more than Casey’s can handle?

    I think it is a smart move by Casey’s, as it will allow them to spread their administrative and operational costs across more stores to reduce the overall overhead per store. With more stores, it may also give them more buying power to achieve better pricing from suppliers. While these operational efficiencies driven by increased size are helpful, they will need more changes to be successful. Casey's has a great niche in the markets it serves and certainly has the vision for the future based upon our experience with the chain. This move signals "game on" for Casey's.
  • Posted on: 01/30/2018

    FMI says switch to online grocery sales going faster than expected

    Consumers continue to demonstrate their appreciation for convenience. In today’s fast-paced busy lifestyles, consumers are looking for ways to save time and online grocery shopping is a logical choice. Makes it easy to replicate shopping lists and for consumers to reorder items they routinely order on a weekly basis. Building an online ordering site for grocers is probably easier than adopting all of the operations tasks that are necessary to successfully execute online orders and ensuring that real-time inventory is accurate. Where most breakdowns occur in BOPIS and BOHD (buy online, home delivery) is fulfilling the orders in the store, which are tasks employees are not accustomed to performing. Additional staff is needed to pick and pack the merchandise and if the order is delivered, that adds more costs to the order. Employee training is imperative. Retailers need to factor in all the additional costs into the pricing model to ensure profitability.
  • Posted on: 01/29/2018

    Robots are not the answer to store challenges

    While automation and robots can be a way to cut overall costs, there is a fine line in where it makes sense to deploy. Some highly personal product decisions and luxury brands will be the last, or maybe never, to adopt automation to replace humans. The real-time retail trend of identifying a customer and guiding the customer through the sale via human interaction won't soon be replaced by automation. The process of customer engagement, context (time of day, how the customer is dressed, what department they are shopping, if they have a wedding ring, if they are well dressed, etc.), as well as cross-selling and up-selling requires a finesse that today’s robotics cannot replace. Much of the focus has been on reducing the dependence on cashiers, however, with robot technologies, companies are looking to automate warehouse processes and even associate assistance (Lowe’s robot example). Any task that is repetitive and predictable can be automated and we will see new ways of tapping automation to reduce costs and, hopefully, improve speed of service. Using robots to monitor inventory and visually identify out-of-stocks on shelves may be an option in some formats. While there is a fascination with robots in retail, the adoption will be a slow process and the point in the article above about staffing humans to monitor and maintain the robots is a good point the makes the cost justification more difficult. This could be a case about much ado about nothing ... self help via smart phone will replace more associates than robots will for the foreseeable future.
  • Posted on: 01/23/2018

    It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s an electric, driverless concept vehicle!

    I believe that innovations in transportation have always dramatically transformed retail and e-Palette-like concepts will have the same powerful effect that the U.S. highway system had on the development of retail malls in the mid 20th century. Drones will not just be deployed from a distribution center but from e-Palette-type vehicles and constantly rotated and recharged in the vehicle between stops for home deliveries of practically everything of reasonable weight. Mobile QSR will be the norm of prepared foods, fruits, snacks, drinks, etc. The autonomous food truck, DC or manufacturer-to-store distribution will be automated as the technology matures. We are at the beginning of a revolution in both transportation and retail that will forever change the market.
  • Posted on: 01/19/2018

    Can Wakefern crowdsource away its out-of-stocks?

    Minimizing out-of-stocks is obviously a critical issue for grocers. Using cart-mounted cameras to identify out-of-stocks is a great way to improve inventory on the shelf, but it has some drawback. For example, for items on the top shelf, if the front item is missing, it probably won’t be able to see that there are still 10 items further back on the shelf. It is a good monitor of potential out of stocks that can be used to alert store staff to check the shelf and restock as appropriate. This tool combined with RFID and POS transaction data could definitely improve out-of-stock instances and help prevent lost sales and reduce shopper frustrations.At the NRF show there were a number of technologies focused on out of stocks, some data driven, robotics, WFM based Business Process Management products, etc. I believe a hybrid approach is best but really requires the retailer to have a real time infrastructure to sense and respond to the condition. That is the real power of this technology to sense it in real-time and react before you create a bad customer moment with an out-of-stock situation.
  • Posted on: 01/05/2018

    Can progressive web apps solve the app vs. browser dilemma?

    As progressive web apps (PWAs) “progress” to include more robust features, they may eventually replace native mobile apps. However, today, they have different strengths and weaknesses. PWAs are less expensive to deploy and are faster and more frictionless for consumers to access than native web apps. However, native mobile apps have some advanced features that are not currently available on PWAs, such as: GEO-fencing, NFC support, camera capabilities, and connectivity with other apps like Facebook. Which approach is best for a retailer depends on their customer base and how committed they are to the brand. Many retailers may opt to offer both options. For loyal customers, they may want a native app that consumers are willing to download and use and for a broader reach, PWAs may be the best option. Different strokes for different folks.Over time I do believe this technology will be ubiquitous but the PWA market has to mature before that will happen.
  • Posted on: 01/04/2018

    Consumers want their digital promos and print circulars, too

    While many have predicted a rapid demise of print flyers, the decline has been very gradual. It is similar to predications of the demise of physical stores, which still account for 90% of total sales. Consumers are creatures of habit. What will drive the eventual extinction of print flyers is the younger generations that have grown up in a digital world and will never purchase or read a physical newspaper. As the percentage of total consumers becomes a higher percentage of the population, print will eventually decline at a more rapid pace. Today, the balance of print vs. digital depends on the target audience and the product category. Products targeted to younger demographics can rely on a higher mix of digital marketing. Fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) retailers, such as grocers, will continue to rely more heavily on printed circulars. For products that are not impulse or frequently purchased items that require more contemplation or research are better suited for digital marketing strategies.The flyer that promotes a local store’s latest products and specials—has the farthest reach for marketing. Other forms of print, like catalogs, will continue to play a role in some segments of retail as showrooming and what we call catalog-rooming, where consumers browse a catalog before completing purchases either online or in store.

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