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: 05/24/2017

    What does it take to thrive in an over-stored marketplace?

    In today’s competitive retail climate, retailers need to be hyper-strategic in new store expansion and site selection, as mistakes can be costly. They also need to be careful not to close stores prematurely based on flawed analysis. Sales attribution is becoming a complex issue with the advent of cross-channel shopping. Omnichannel retailing is, or should be, changing the way retailers evaluate their business performance. We shouldn’t be attributing sales to a specific touch point like the “last-touch” model, as the consumer’s decision process is often impacted by many brand interactions — not just the last one. A better approach is to look at it from a holistic perspective — measuring sales by “markets” instead of individual stores or online vs. in-store. The risk is that retailers may close physical stores that are unprofitable on paper but may be contributing to online sales – via showrooming.
  • Posted on: 05/23/2017

    How should retailers balance personal versus impersonal experiences?

    From a cost and labor scheduling standpoint, retailers realize the benefits of automating the in-store experience, but depending on the product category and customer demographics they must be careful not to alienate their customers with a frustrating experience. Younger generations that have grown up in the digital age are more likely to prefer to engage with technology than people. While many Baby Boomers are slower to adopt new technologies and non-personal services, they will eventually jump on the digital/self-service bandwagon. Offering incentives for customers to choose the self-service path may help accelerate adoption. However, in the meantime, retailers need to understand their customers and offer multiple engagement options to accommodate their customer preferences.
  • Posted on: 05/22/2017

    How should self-checkout be incentivized?

    Self-checkout has had its ups and downs over the years as there is a fine line between convenience and frustration. Millennials and younger generation are much more accustomed to using technology than Baby Boomers and The Silent Generation (born between 1924 and 1945) and many young people prefer to interact with technology more than with people. Many retailers initially embraced self-checkout for high-volume, low-touch items such as grocery, but now we are seeing luxury fashion such as Rebecca Minkoff experimenting with self-checkout. From a cost and labor scheduling standpoint retailers realize the benefits, but depending on the product category and customer demographics they must be careful not to alienate their customers with a frustrating experience. Until nearly all consumers adopt self-checkout, retailers will need to offer a hybrid approach of a combination of traditional associate-staffed checkout with self-checkout. Offering incentives to accelerate the adoption of self-checkout is a good idea, even if it is just a 1 or 2 percent discount. With the cost pressures and difficulty finding available labor, self-checkout is likely to increase in the next five years until we move to the next evolution of checkout -- scanless checkout.
  • Posted on: 05/19/2017

    Is Walmart on track to offer customers a seamless shopping experience?

    While Walmart was a laggard in its online presence, they now realize the critical importance of digital shopping and buying. In the past couple of years, Walmart has been laser-focused on optimizing its product offerings and the user experience online. Through acquisitions like Jet.com and its organic efforts, Walmart’s online growth has been impressive. Walmart has also done a great job of adding omnichannel services to provide its shoppers flexible fulfillment options, including the use of its stores as distribution centers. I am sure some of the increase in same-store sales was helped by the number of customers that purchased online and picked up in the store. When the customers visit the store to pick up their online purchases they are likely to purchase additional impulse items while they are there. Omnichannel shopping is the new retail imperative and those retailers that fail to respond will be the ones we read about in the news. Walmart has an opportunity to change the game by supplying same-day delivery to, as they say, the 90 percent of the U.S. population that lives within 10 miles of a Walmart store. These distribution points will be their not-so-secret weapon.
  • Posted on: 05/18/2017

    Is the $400B prescription drug business ripe for an Amazon disruption?

    Amazon has a strong track record of expanding into new areas of retail and disrupting the traditional retail model. With the added complexity of pharmacy Amazon will likely acquires some smaller online pharmacy businesses to quickly obtain the skills and processes that are unique to prescription sales. The added benefit of a greater knowledge of its customers, based on their health issues, will provide Amazon more intelligence and insights that will enable incremental opportunities to recommend products that are relevant. We have said before that any commodity market that Amazon enters they will own and that is true here. Some day perhaps we will allow an open market for prescriptions in the US ... if that happens, Amazon, who has financial weight greater than many countries, will be able to drive prices down for their prime customers.
  • Posted on: 05/17/2017

    Are digital CX initiatives being lost on Baby Boomers?

    While many Baby Boomers are slower to adopt new technologies than Millennials, there are some segments that are engaging with digital innovations such as mobile pay and AI services like Siri and Alexa. As their peers and children socialize the benefits of digital engagement, more Boomers will eventually jump on the bandwagon. However, in the meantime, retailers need to understand their customers and offer multiple engagement paths to accommodate their customer preferences.
  • Posted on: 05/15/2017

    Will mobile wallets replace plastic loyalty cards?

    Linking loyalty programs to mobile payments is smart strategy. Digital loyalty programs are the way of the future and the transition is likely to be fast. The key will be if a retail-specific app or a wallet-based app will be preferred by customers, and that probably depends a lot on the brand/category and the individual customer. With growing app fatigue, many consumers don’t want to add another app to their phone unless it is for something they will use very frequently. Wallet-based mobile loyalty programs give consumers another choice in how they interact with a retailer’s loyalty program and don’t require separate apps for loyalty and payments app. Retailer-specific loyalty mobile apps will still appeal to very frequent shoppers of brands, as they enable expanded features like gamification, geo-location and use of consumers’ photo capabilities on their phones. Starbucks is a great example of of retailer doing this very well. Most retailers will continue to offer multiple interaction models for their loyalty program — physical cards, apps and wallet-based mobile programs — so consumers can choose the method that works best for them. When mobile wallets can be tied to a cash-back or loyalty program, while remaining frictionless, it significantly increases the chance that the consumer will remain loyal to that brand. Once retailers get customers hooked with faster checkout and compelling rewards, they are more likely to increase both the number of visits and the spend per visit.We need these apps to be auto launching, voice activated or maybe via customer-facing Wifi ... it needs to be easier. Too many apps to maintain, one for each retailer, is not the way to go.
  • Posted on: 05/12/2017

    Will Amazon dominate the online furniture market?

    With new competitors entering the fray of the furniture market -- like Amazon and Alibaba -- with an online approach, and several start-up companies, the competition is heating up. We will likely see some bankruptcies and/or consolidation shaking this industry in the next few years. While the online giants will take a chunk of the market share, the brick-and-mortar players that succeed are the ones that personalize and differentiate the shopping experience. Furniture purchases are often omni-channel shopping journeys with a combination of showrooming, webrooming and catalogrooming impacting the final purchase decision. Savvy retailers are focused on optimizing the cross-channel experience and capitalizing on the benefits of the physical store experience that can’t be replicated online.Just look at what RH Gallery has done. Building showrooms in major metro areas by leveraging fabulous real estate with truly amazing catalogs they have clearly differentiated themselves from the pack. Low end good looking furniture may be susceptible to disintermediation but touch, feel and smell is a must for higher end product. The end result may be an online purchase, but it starts via the catalog, online, store visit and final online purchase that are all part of the customer journey.
  • Posted on: 05/11/2017

    What makes consumers so loyal to Publix, Wegmans, Trader Joe’s and H-E-B?

    If you look at the top two on this list, Publix and Wegmans, customer service is a cornerstone of these organizations. While you need to have the right assortment and reasonable prices, what really makes customers loyal is the way you treat them. We have all been in stores where the associates make us feel unwelcome or that we are bothering them, but the stores that we want to frequent are the ones that make us feel appreciated and special. If you treat your customer like a king or queen, you will earn their loyalty, even if your prices may be higher that your competitor. Both these chains feature prepared foods that have insane loyalty. People dream of Publix fried chicken and submarine sandwiches while a recent Massachusetts opening of a Wegmans store had 1,400 peoples queued up to enter. I can’t argue with this list, but there are probably some small regional grocers not on the list that would give these large chain a run for their money!
  • Posted on: 05/10/2017

    Has Fabletics bridged the digital/physical divide with its omnicart tech?

    Adding items tried in the store to the customer’s online shopping cart will likely inspire incremental purchases after the customer leaves the store. While it may be a little labor intensive for sales associates today, once the concept catches on, the item scanning step could be shifted to the customer to scan from their phone. I also see additional uses for this technology such as consumers adding items to their online shopping cart from home and when they visit the store they have a shopping list of items to try on. These omnichannel shopping tools are a good fit for any product that consumers like to touch, see or smell in-person or items that consumers want to think about before they make their final decision. Furniture would definitely be a good fit for this technology. Attribution of sales is key to Unified Commerce success and anything that transcends channels is a boon to sales ... online/store/call center (catalog) sales are no longer pure because shopping by showrooming, webrooming and catalog-rooming is how people shop today.
  • Posted on: 05/09/2017

    Will next day delivery make Target an omnichannel force?

    Today’s consumers expect everything right now! Amazon and Walmart are raising the bar by continuing to offer faster delivery options – even same day. This move by Target to offer next day delivery is a direct response to competitors’ offerings – they need to do it. Target will also need to add fresh, refrigerated or frozen foods categories to next day delivery to be on par with Amazon and Walmart. Target seems to be playing catch-up and not leap-frog. Perhaps moving to same day within a reasonable proximity of their store locations, adding staffing and allocating product via geographic web movement might be a better strategy. While this is a good move for Target, competitors are upping the game which will continue to put pressure on Target and others to find ways to offer faster delivery services.
  • Posted on: 05/08/2017

    Can Walmart dash past Amazon with its own product replenishment system?

    IoT and home replenishment has some compelling possibilities, but they all depend on convincing consumers of the value of these services. Some of the predictive analytics around usage are interesting, however, will it be accurate enough to make it relevant for consumers? Will the usage predictions be more accurate than tracking how often individual consumers historically purchase specific items? My guess is that historical patterns are today just as accurate and less intrusive for the consumer. The other aspect of predicting need based on tracking usage may be a little creepy for some of us. Just like other tracking technologies such as customer identification, you need to understand what customers will accept and appreciate. There have been recent concerns about IoT hacking that has many people concerned. As I always say “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” The IoT has many useful potential applications, but I believe replenishment may not be one unless my milk carton is communicating to the retailer. As home appliances change to leverage the IOT there may be many replenishment opportunities similar to how printer companies now operate. If I could load all detergent, food, drinks, etc. into dispensers, then item replenishment will make more sense.
  • Posted on: 05/03/2017

    Will Five Below strike gold in California?

    It appears that Five Below has identified a lucrative niche that seems to be untapped. The fun environment built on young consumers’ thrill of the treasure hunt has more options than dollar stores and the products are geared towards their specific demographic. Discount and off-price stores have been one of the hottest retail segments for several years. Five Below’s focus on a specific demographic may start a new trend of more targeted discount stores. They appear to really understand what their customers like and have created a fun environment that has created brand enthusiasts among teens and beyond. The biggest challenges to aggressive growth plans are location and product. It is always critical to select the right location based on demographics and lease costs. Fortunately, there are a lot of open spots in malls that are probably a good fit for Five Below. From a product perspective, the challenge is to understand regional nuances and adapt to new trends.
  • Posted on: 05/03/2017

    Will giving associates mobile devices enhance the shopping experience?

    Retailers need to think mobile first, as mobile devices are ubiquitous in our lives -- dramatically changing how consumers interact with each other, obtain information and shop. According to the 2016 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper report, purchasing on mobile devices is increasing with 77% of the shoppers surveyed using smartphones as part of their shopping journey, up from 67% in 2014. Having a constant, virtually unlimited amount of information at our fingertips has changed consumers’ shopping behavior and elevated our expectations for customer service. Consumers now use mobile devices to research products, compare prices, complete purchases online and increasingly to pay for in-store purchases. The proliferation of tablets and mobile phones has also created new opportunities for retailers to enhance customer service. Associate mobile devices enhance the shopping experience with access to real-time inventory and customer data and the ability to service customers and process can enable many transactions including real-time inventory visibility across the enterprise, customer service and transactions anywhere in the store. Customers have become accustomed to utilizing mobile technology and researching information on their own, which creates the need for retailers to offer expanded customer-facing mobile services to enhance the shopping experience. While the shift to mobile tools can dramatically enhance the shopping experience and reduce retailers’ total technology costs, it brings its share of challenges. As with any new technology, these innovative mobile approaches require a fundamental change in processes and corresponding training to educate sales associates and customers to convince them to try and use the new processes. You only have one chance to make a first impression and you don’t want to frustrate or disappoint your customers or associates.
  • Posted on: 05/01/2017

    Is omnichannel a retail margin crusher?

    While ship from store has added complexity and cost, retailers are almost forced into providing this service because consumers have come to expect it. Rather than avoid it, retailers need to take a critical look at their processes and find ways to shave as much time and cost out of the process as possible. One area that may provide the greatest cost savings is shipping. Most retailers pick one shipping method and use it for all shipments from store. While FedEx might be the best option in some cases, other cases might have better options like USPS, UPS or even Uber-like services. Retailers should explore third party shipping and allocation (or even re-allocation) tools that analyze the best option based on the shipping costs and delivery times. If retailers could figure out how to reduce omnichannel returns, the cost savings would be tremendous as 30% rates are the norm, seriously limiting margin potential. From a labor perspective, retailers will be continuing to look at ways to make the process more efficient and minimize the time valuable sales associates are spending on non-selling activities.

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