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.

  • Posted on: 09/18/2017

    Retailers: Beware the Equifax breach

    The Equifax breach won’t directly affect retailers, but it will have an impact on consumers’ ongoing concerns for payment and data security. This is another wake-up call to retailers that security is a serious matter. Data and payment security has been a hot topic for the past few years and most retailer have made great strides in bolstering their security, but this is an ongoing challenge. While there has been a significant reduction with in-store fraud, online fraud, including mobile applications, has risen dramatically. Fraudsters are also looking to exploit e-commerce transactions to capture credit card numbers and other personal data. In general, online transactions have much more information than a brick-and-mortar transaction. They usually include customers’ names, home address, email address, and phone number. This additional rich PII data makes these transactions much more valuable to fraudsters. Given the uniqueness of each retailer’s environment, there is no single strategy that can entirely eliminate the risk of a data breach. Recent industry best practices dictate that the most effective strategy is a multi-layered security approach which includes components of the following: integrated EMV-compliant payment terminals, strong e-commerce controls, network segmentation, secure communication protocols, E2EE, tokenization and a thoroughly documented and comprehensive internal set of security policies and practices.
  • Posted on: 09/14/2017

    Millennials, not Boomers, say associates are key to shopping experiences

    Younger customer segments have grown up in the digital age where they have access to everything at their fingertips (their smart phone), and they have high expectations for service. They expect everything wherever and whenever they want it. They expect the same level of personalized recommendations they receive on Amazon when they visit the store. With higher expectations for a personalized experience, they expect sales associates to cater to their needs. As long as they get the information and service they expect, they don’t care if is delivered by a human or a robot. And actually, some consumers might enjoy the novelty of the robot, as long as it is quality service. While automation 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 robotics will not replace in my lifetime.
  • Posted on: 09/12/2017

    Nordstrom tries a no-merchandise store

    Nordstrom Local is a new twist on the trend for smaller store footprints and limited to no inventory. RH Gallery stores have been a success with its showroom approach with no inventory on hand to purchase. Many consumers are beginning to think of stores as showrooms and use them to try on or test products in person and then order online from the comfort of their home or anywhere from their mobile device. This showrooming concept which requires minimal space lends itself well to affluent urban locations where real estate is expensive. If the first Nordstrom Local takes off, look for more location popping up in other major cities. Perhaps Nordstrom will also embrace the high-end catalog approach used by RH Gallery to drive traffic to the "Local" location. The Nordstrom Local concept seems like a perfect venue for virtual dressing rooms. Since there is no inventory on hand, other than what was pre-ordered from local stores based on the request of the customer, having the ability to see other styles and colors virtually on your body would be a fun way to shop. Consumers love the theater of shopping and Nordstrom certainly understands the customer.
  • Posted on: 09/11/2017

    Will lower everyday prices boost Target’s traffic and sales?

    Competitive prices are imperative to survive in the battle for the share of the consumer wallet for commodity grocery and other convenience items. Most consumers have identified their favorite stores for certain product categories like produce, meats, paper products and staple items. With their favorite stores identified, they become creatures of habit and shop a specific list of stores on a weekly basis and have a standard unique shopping list for each store: traditional grocery (discount or upscale), discount warehouses/department stores, specialty produce stores, butchers and dollar stores. When it comes to products that consumers purchase on a regular basis, they know what a fair price is. If they see it priced noticeably higher at Target than what they can get if for at another store, they will not include that on the weekly Target shopping list. I think Target’s new EDLP strategy is a smart approach to keep more items on consumers’ Target shopping list and not alienate customers with items that seem “over-priced.” The days of Target being know as "Targé" are over and they need to agressively compete.
  • Posted on: 09/01/2017

    Is Selfridges anachronistic or retail’s ticket to recovery?

    Selfridges and several other European retailers like Harrods and Galeries Lafayette have a strong reputation for infusing entertainment into the shopping experience. These companies have done a phenomenal job of making their stores a destination for consumers that enjoy the theater of shopping. John Lewis is now offering their customers "sleepovers" to test out their products saying, "We are not just selling you a mattress; we are selling you a perfect night’s sleep." In the U.S., one company that stands out in offering a truly interactive, entertaining experience is Bauer Hockey. The have opened a few “Own The Moment Hockey Experience” stores that are amazing. With all of Bauer Hockey’s latest innovations and technology under one roof, the retail experience features Personal Fit Experts to guide you through a one-of-a-kind process, customizing your gear based on your level, and style of play. In addition, there’s an indoor rink where you’ll get an opportunity to try the gear on ice to ensure you’re getting the best fit for you and your game. With brick-and-mortar stores and the mall feeling the heat from the ongoing shift to e-commerce, the retailers that survive will be those that deliver a unique, personalized and entertaining shopping experience that can’t be replicated online.
  • Posted on: 08/31/2017

    Is outsourcing a better option for in-home tech help?

    While it may make sense to outsource installation and repair services, I think the sales process is important for brands and retailers to perform with their own dedicated staff, if at all feasible. Installation and repairs are a very technical skillset that can be effectively performed by trained technicians. These services can be very cost-effectively outsourced to companies like Puls who have a trained network of technicians. However, most of these networks are not nationwide and available in remote areas, which may limit the scope of services offered to major metropolitan areas. Sales is a different story. I think is important for companies to "own" the customer relationship and control the sales process to protect the reputation and maximize sales conversions. Cross and up-selling is an art that requires CRM data, customer context, purchase history and customer preferences that are all critical to success. Capturing the expert capabilities of an A associate and sharing that with B, C and D associates can only be done effectively with permanent associates. Smaller retailers or brands that don’t have a vast network of sales associates won’t have the luxury of using their own staff and will need the help of outsourced services.Whether it is outsourced repair, installation or sales, companies electing this approach will have to actively monitor the performance of the services to protect their brand reputation.
  • Posted on: 08/30/2017

    Will smart homes be sold in living rooms?

    Demonstrating smart home devices in consumers’ homes will bring the products to life. While some smart home devices can be demonstrated in the store, some will be more impactful if consumers can test-drive them in their home. Best Buy has a strong network of existing stores and staff that can serve as a home base for a team of home consultants with easy access to inventory of products. Theoretically they are probably better positioned to roll out home consultant services. However, Amazon has made it abundantly clear that they want to "own the home." And we all, know that we can’t underestimate Amazon! Brick-and-mortar retailers have an opportunity to make their stores more relevant by reinventing them to be not just a retail outlet but a center of excellence for in-home sales and service. Retailers need to think creatively about how to leverage their real estate.
  • Posted on: 08/29/2017

    Is thrifting going mainstream?

    The off-price category is one of the hottest segments in retail. The allure of the treasure hunt is even pervasive among affluent demographics. The Real Real is the “real deal.” With very upscale merchandise and more than 5 million users on their e-commerce site, they are bringing thrifting to some of the wealthiest people in the world, including the Kardashians and Saudi princesses. Larger chains could extend into the thrift segment; however, it creates some challenges. The thrift segment would compete with its traditional retail offerings and dealing with thousands of suppliers (everyone who consigns merchandise) would be a completely new process that they would need to learn and refine. Maybe leveraging the "vintage" moniker would help move this to the mainstream as well as moving to a consignment model with more sophisticated technology to track suppliers and royalties and automatic markdowns. This segment will be hot going forward!
  • Posted on: 08/28/2017

    Are vendors delivering better online experiences than multi-brand sellers?

    The disintermediation of retail is well underway and the only way to counteract this trend is for multi-brand retailers to create private labels that can't be disintermediated and to provide extraordinary services. We are seeing many brand manufacturers extending into retail selling and it is definitely putting pressure on multi-brand retailers. This appears to be a growing trend as brand manufacturers look for ways to increase revenues and profits. The traditional retailers that survive will be the ones that either create their own brands that aren’t available anywhere else or offer value added services above and beyond the competition, like curated product assortments; personalized recommendations, promotions and assistance; and same-day delivery. The other advantage multi-brand retailers have is a broader assortment from other brands. While they don’t have the depth of assortment of a specific brand like a manufacturer does, they offer their customers the option to shop and compare multiple brands from one site or store.
  • Posted on: 08/25/2017

    Are off-pricers discounting their online opportunity?

    With consumers’ love of the thrill of the treasure hunt, it makes sense to find ways to bring it to the online experience. Off-price retailers are beginning to experiment with this and we are likely to see more creative approaches. Some strategies may include flash sales, exclusive online only deals, curated deals based on individual preferences and browsing history, etc. Driving customers from online to stores is a smart strategy, but I don’t think that should be the main focus of off-price retailers’ e-commerce site. Many consumers that shop online may prefer to make their purchase online and if the product isn’t available on the retailer’s site, they will likely end up finding and buying what they want on a competitor’s web site. The challenge for bricks and mortar off-price retailers is to mark their merchandise at the color/size/vendor/style level. Today they mark at a higher department/class level and have little visibility to the detail which works when all you need is visual representation, but for online eCommerce sales you need the detail.
  • Posted on: 08/24/2017

    Why don’t more retailers ‘get’ curation?

    Curation, essentially a form of personalization, is one of the best ways to differentiate your business and effectively compete against Amazon. While most retailers realize they need to do this, only a few are doing it well. Why? Because it requires a lot of work to get all the necessary systems and content integrated and assessable in real-time. The ability to deliver a curated experience to consumers requires retailers to gather, analyze and disseminate customer, product, pricing and inventory data across all channels in real-time. Combining real-time data and analytics with customer context enables retailers to personalize the shopping experience for each unique individual. Customer context, as defined by BRP, is the interrelated factors of customer insights and environmental conditions that make the shopping experience relevant. With advances in technology (networks, Wi-Fi, mobile, NFC, beacons, etc.) retailers have the ability to access more customer information than ever before and in real-time. Retailers have the ability to know what a customer has in her closet, what she previously purchased, what she browsed on the website and abandoned in her online cart, when she is near the store and even exactly what she is browsing and where within the store. The technology is readily available and now is the time to take action – before Amazon or other retailers steal your customers.
  • Posted on: 08/23/2017

    Will TJX’s Homesense repeat the success of HomeGoods?

    Consumers love deals and the thrill of the treasure hunt. TJX is a smart retail organization that has figured out what consumers want! While many people questioned the logic of Marshalls and T.J. Maxx in close proximity and “competing” with one another, it appears to be working. Consumers’ appetite for off-price options and their willingness to shop multiple stores during their treasure hunt has made off-price one of retail's hottest categories and TJX a very successful company. My last trip to HomeGoods was an event ... the store was packed and all registers were ringing, the queuing was very efficient (one line, like the airlines) and there were 40 people in line to check out. I believe if these stores were co-located they would still do well given the treasure hunt mentality of the customer.
  • Posted on: 08/22/2017

    Will Amazon’s two-minute pickup service appeal to students?

    Consumers’ expectations are getting more demanding as retailers continue to raise the bar on customer service and speedy delivery. Amazon has been the leader in pushing the envelope on fast and convenient delivery and as soon as other retailers like Walmart and Target catch up with Amazon service levels, Amazon changes the game. Amazon Instant Pickup is a great way to increase the loyalty of consumers that want everything immediately. While college students are a captive audience on or near a campus, the desire to have immediate access to products extends to many other demographics. The new Instant Pickup concept is essentially the convergence of vending machines and convenience stores. It is like a vending machine on steroids. As consumers get accustomed to instant pickup services, it will force other retailers to offer similar fulfillment options. The keys to success of the instant delivery concept will be location and product assortment. The campus question is really about how quickly the college book stores react to this as they can essentially offer the same service with better access so I'm not sure this is a collegiate solution, but it certainly is for the general public and I guess it would be called a "store"!
  • Posted on: 08/18/2017

    Will the ‘SmartStockUp’ program drive replenishment sales for Boxed?

    The SmartStockUp program for Boxed is a smart strategy. The use of analytics and artificial intelligence to predict when consumers are close to running out of a consumable product is a valuable tool for both retailers and consumers. Busy consumers will value the reminders and convenience of reordering staple items.However, shipping products that haven't been ordered by the customer is tricky. If the consumer signs up for a reoccurring order then it makes sense. Otherwise, Boxed might be hit with a lot of returns which drives up operating costs.
  • Posted on: 08/16/2017

    Will more promos fix Dick’s Sporting Goods pricing challenge?

    Dick's and every other retailer selling commodity products has to be extremely price competitive and differentiate on personalized services. When customers can get the exact same products from many competitive retailers and online marketplaces, Dick's has to take an aggressive approach to pricing such as its "best price guarantee."With comparable prices to its competitors, Dick's is on the same playing field. However, to win, they need to excel at services like personalizing the in-store shopping experience and offering omnichannel services such as BOPIS. Using their stores as distribution centers is a smart idea.

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