Mark Ryski

Founder, CEO & Author, HeadCount Corporation
Mark Ryski is the author of two books on retail analytics, Conversion: The Last Great Retail Metric and When Retail Customers Count – books that are widely considered the definitive reference guides for the retail industry. He is also the Founder and CEO of HeadCount Corporation – the leading authority on retail traffic and conversion analysis. Founded in 1994, today Mark and his dedicated team work with retailers across virtually all categories and sizes from independents to large chains.
  • Posted on: 04/27/2017

    Is Trump’s tax plan right for retailers and their customers?

    Thanks for the additional context Rick. Notwithstanding competing views on what the facts on this are, I suspect most would agree that lower taxes would be welcomed.
  • Posted on: 04/27/2017

    Is Trump’s tax plan right for retailers and their customers?

    The proposed changes represent “notions,” not a plan. It’s factually true that the U.S. pays among the highest tax rates, and lowering them would be welcomed by all, including retailers. However, without any detail about how the cuts would be implemented and the consequences of doing so it is extremely problematic. There’s nothing wrong with the administration presenting a notional/directional tax proposal, but for this to be seriously considered (let alone enacted), it will require a considerable amount of analysis, consideration and deliberation.
  • Posted on: 04/26/2017

    Will artificial intelligence replace CEOs?

    Science fiction is well on its way to becoming a reality. AI and robotics will impact every aspect of human experience including retailing. AI has already surpassed human capabilities to analyze and interpret massive amounts of data and is well on its way to self-learning.There is no question that Jack Ma is correct in his assertion that AI and robots represent a profound change for humanity (Elon Musk and other big brains are in agreement on this). Many corporations have already started using AI -- in fact, it’s quickly becoming mainstream for the largest corporations. And while no one can argue with the benefits AI can/will confer on humanity, there’s also peril. As Ma said, “ ... unlike human CEOs, they will not be swayed by petty emotions.” To me, it’s these "petty emotions" that make us human and a lack thereof should be cause for concern.
  • Posted on: 04/25/2017

    Will omnichannel make the J.C. Penney and Sephora partnership more successful?

    Sephora is a category winner and it was a brilliant move by J.C. Penney to forge a relationship with them. This is a classic example of "cool by association." J.C. Penney’s omnichannel approach is helpful but probably not revolutionary. However, J.C. Penney's stores get an enormous amount of traffic (even in an environment of declining traffic), so additional exposure to new customers is good for Sephora and traditional Sephora customers have many more locations to buy the products they love. The only caution for Sephora is that a close affiliation with J.C. Penney could hurt their image -- as cool as Sephora makes J.C. Penney, the flip side is that J.C. Penney may make Sephora seem less cool.
  • Posted on: 04/24/2017

    Should Bloomingdale’s sales associates receive commissions for online sales?

    Yes, I believe that retailers need to find ways to compensate and incent store staff to serve customers that originated from online sales. The importance of the in-store experience regardless of where the purchase originated is well understood. While retailers have focused their attention on how to deliver a seamless omnichannel experience, they have given less consideration to the impact this will have on store staff. It’s unreasonable to expect store staff to gleefully serve online-originated customers when doing so negatively impacts their income. Retailers need to carefully consider how to fairly compensate staff for their work and to suggest that there is no way to track and attribute a sale -- regardless of where it originated -- sounds like an excuse.
  • Posted on: 04/21/2017

    What’s needed beyond KPIs?

    KPIs are useful snapshots, and exploratory/predictive analytics have a place too, but this is not an either/or proposition. As someone who has spent more than 20 years analyzing store traffic and conversion data, the issue I see is that there is a dearth of expertise in extracting insights from data and in interpretation. Collecting data is relatively easy and there’s never been more at the disposal of marketers, but producing reams of graphs and charts doesn't necessarily lead to insights.In my experience, data interpretation is more akin to meteorology where trends and patterns inform insights and general conclusions about probable outcomes. While sophisticated modeling tools are important and helpful, they need to be used by someone who has the expertise to know how to interpret the output. Rarely are the answers black or white.
  • Posted on: 04/20/2017

    Will Amazon’s on-demand manufacturing create trouble for fast-fashion?

    As Zara and H&M have proven, fast fashion has been a successful disruption to traditional apparel manufacturing/retailing and it seems reasonable that this can be done in other categories as well. Amazon’s patent and plans for on-demand manufacturing are telling and, as is so often the case, if Amazon’s doing it other players up and down the entire value chain should pay attention.
  • Posted on: 04/19/2017

    Will Walmart reap dividends from training academies?

    Walmart has rightly realized that investing in employees is a good investment. I applaud Walmart’s commitment to educating and compensating employees and I’m not surprised that they are seeing meaningful, measurable improvements in their service/HR metrics. I believe that these investments will help make Walmart even more competitive on many fronts: customer service, recruitment, retention and more. In my experience, many retailers have cut or minimized staff training and instead focused investments on technology -- algorithms can’t execute and technology without a trained and engaged workforce to use and apply the technology is pointless.
  • Posted on: 04/18/2017

    Are consumers’ AI fears rational?

    Fear and preference for human interaction will no more hold back AI than the horse-and-buggy held back trains, planes and automobiles. AI is already becoming integrated into the human experience in ways that are so subtle that many people don’t even realize that they’re experiencing it. AI cannot and will not be held back and its application in virtually all parts of our lives will not only continue but, I believe, will significantly accelerate. Retailers and brands can minimize apprehension by being transparent about how AI will be used and especially how it will benefit customers. Apprehension is often underpinned by ignorance which can be significantly reduced by informing and explaining.
  • Posted on: 04/17/2017

    Should retail employees have board representation?

    Having open and honest communications with workers is important, but I’m not sure that including a worker on the board will accomplish this. Ultimately, the board’s responsibility is to its shareholders and some of the decisions it makes may be in conflict with workers -- like needing to close stores for example. It will be interesting to see what impact Sports Direct’s decision to include a worker on their board has if it has any at all.
  • Posted on: 04/17/2017

    Are outlet malls an outlier?

    Outlets are not immune to the challenges of traditional malls, however, they do enjoy a slight advantage. The perception of having access to one-offs and reduced “factory outlet” pricing is a big part of the allure despite the fact that this is more perception than reality in many cases. Outlets will face similar challenges that mall-based retailers face. However, emphasizing the "treasure hunt" experience will help.
  • Posted on: 04/13/2017

    Are retail CEOs ready to ‘disagree and commit’ like Jeff Bezos?

    Yes, I agree with Bezos on this. As the CEO of a smaller business, I’m faced with decisions that need to be made but where information is missing, will take too long to acquire or simply doesn’t exist. The majority of the very important decisions I make reside in a grey zone. In my experience, making a considered but faster decision without all the information has generally delivered better outcomes than when deliberations and information gathering dragged on. I do subscribe to the idea of “disagree and commit” and I do rely on the input from my senior leadership team, however this is far easier to do as a smaller company than it would be in the multinational corporations at which I have worked in the past -- so size makes a significant difference in if or how Bezos’ doctrine can be applied.
  • Posted on: 04/12/2017

    Will an in-store pickup discount give Walmart an edge over Amazon?

    It's a smart move by Walmart to leverage their brick-and-mortar advantage. Marc Lore and team have rightly targeted the high cost of shipping and turned it into an opportunity for their stores. While some customers will still want home delivery, many Walmart shoppers will appreciate the additional discounts. Furthermore the in-store pickup activity will create additional in-store sales opportunities beyond the initial online order. While I don’t believe this is a significant edge over Amazon, it is a great example of leveraging a strength.
  • Posted on: 04/11/2017

    Are ‘Employee of the Month’ programs worth it?

    Employee recognition is very important, but I’m not a fan of “Employee of the Month.” The formulaic nature of this type of program can be awkward for management and create resentment among employees. While management feels compelled to "spread it around" finding reasons to award everyone for something, I think it sends the wrong message to true top performers who might likely be awarded more frequently based on merit. Of course, too many awards going to the same employee(s) (even if they rightly deserve it) can create resentment in other employees.
  • Posted on: 04/11/2017

    What will retailers gain from HHGregg’s loss?

    HHGregg is yet another example of retail Darwinism at work. While the business from their 220 stores may provide a small blip for competitive retailers, I don’t believe it will have a measurable impact for Best Buy or any other one retailer. Given HHGregg's relatively small size, I don't believe there's much other retailers could or should do.

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