Vahe Katros

Retail Innovation Consultant, Palo Alto, CA

I’m a Palo Alto, CA based consultant working on a range of technology based projects outside of retail, but I love sharing thoughts here to help keep me thinking about a great industry. Some recent highlights follow and then a long list of former activities that were great to remember.

  • Deal sourcing for Athena Advisors, a Silicon Valley angel firm where I’ve reviewed start-ups launched at leading SV incubators. I sourced iTriage a mobile personal health diagnostic application acquired by Aetna.
  • April 2016 Quora Knowledge prize winner answering – What innovation, if any, could help physical retail stores stay relevant and maintain market share? Found here…
  • For Stanford’s Center on Stress and Health and Dr. Ernie Rosenbaum. I successfully lobbied for, designed, built and currently manage a patient focused portal to help folks cope with the emotional aspects of a cancer diagnosis. The process of building the site required hands on work developing with Adobe Experience Manager and develop chops around social media marketing, Google Analytics, and lots of thinking around identifying finite audience segmentation. This site is in the process of a makeover – find it here…
  • With Dr. David Spiegel of Stanford, created and run a podcast, “Doctor One More Question”, currently in beta. It’s planned to be a series of interviews with experts aimed at helping people understand the unknown/unknowns relating to the cancer crisis. Find it here…
  • Business ethnography and design research, notably: (1) For the USDA, development of guidelines for Web-enabling Farmers Markets that was test by the Massachusetts Farmers Market Association; (2) marketing strategy and shopper experience designs for a publically traded quick serve restaurant; (3) design research for a collaborative shopping application targeting teen shoppers, (4) Narragansett Beer – in-depth interviews to help relaunch an iconic New England brand.


Earlier in my career, I served as a retail technology person involved in a range of innovations in roles that included IT manager, programmer, network manager, consultant, analyst, journalist, standards committee member, newsletter editor, conference developer, industry marketing, and speaker across a range of retail segments.

Highlights include:

  • Retails first clienteling and customer feedback system in 1986 at department store Filene’s (now a part of Macy’s).
  • POS programmer and store rollout management for the first large scale IBM 4680 GSA implementation at Federated Department Stores/Filenes. Attended the second programming class run in Raleigh, NC.
  • Business justification for then start-up, Symbol Technologies, on their first large scale non-food implementation. First person to remove scanners from stores after May Company’s acquisition.
  • Youngest board member and technology manager at the oldest credit union in America; the Filene’s Credit Union.
  • Retail Systems Alert – co-founder and technical editor during their first four years – an experience that allowed me to analyze and write on many major technology developments.
  • Retail Systems Conferences – First conference designer and director for what would become the largest independent retail technology conference.
  • CFT Consulting – Employee #2 at CFT Consulting where I worked at Melville Corporation, Thom McAn, The Harvard Coop, and Swank (the retailer, not the magazine) among others.
  • Java in Retail – Working with Sun Microsystems, I helped launch Java-in-retail working group.
  • Barnes and Noble from 1994 to 1996, reporting to CIO on distributed store systems, data warehousing, and (personally registered in the weeks after the internet was commercialized, if only).
  • Hired by SAP Retail prior to their retail launch to develop sales and consulting resources to justify and validate the ROI of their enterprise software. Speaker at Saphire’97.
  • With Internet Capital Group, engaged to access the viability of investments in CFAR (Collaborative Forecasting and Replenishment) start-ups. The project that involved in-depth interviews with a who’s who of supply chain leaders from leading CPG brands, grocery and mass merchandisers, category killers and thought leaders in the ecosystem.
  • ecommerce for grocery at Publix – working alongside QRS and Blue Martini, managed the development of visual and product information for their web-based shopping initiative.
  • Java POS, evangelist working for Cornerstone, 360Commerce founders who built one of the first web-accessible in-store POS and web platform.
  • Blue Martini, joined founding team as a retail specialist to help build, and grow the retail industries first ecommerce enterprise application. I joined as their 7th employee and we grew to 1000 employees worldwide in 18 months. After a very successful IPO we reached a market capitalization of nearly $7 billion. And then Alan Greenspan uttered the now infamous phrase: “irrational exuberance.”
  • At Blue Martini, organized and led an advisor board that included a former department store CEO from Macy’s, a leading professor in retail and others.
  • Helped design the conference launched by that eventually merged with
  • Multichannel retailing – with 360Commerce and Blue Martini – sold and organized developer resources that led to the first demonstration at NRF Annual, 2000, of a Web-to-Store POS transaction using ARTs XML standards for buy-on-web, pick-up-in-store.
  • Web Ready Merchandise, Supported by NRF, partnering with QRS, and headed up by Reebok’s CIO, the initiative sought to develop web content sharing standards initially focusing on images specifications and content between suppliers and retailers to help reduce the content development burdens faced by retailers, and enhance the brand experience for customers.
  • Brand Marketing Magazine – weekly technical column covering CPG and Grocery technology solutions and standards.
  • Network World – co-authored a comprehensive overview on the future of Networking in Retail in 1990.
  • Published author in the peer reviewed Elsevier academic journal: Technology and Society; titled “A note on retail industry Internet technologies and trends’; 2000.
  • Joint patent holder of “Local Area Multiple Tracking System”, patent number 6,204,813 B1; a radio frequency positioning system that began as an instore position tracking system designed to track and deliver category specific advertising to screens on shopping carts that eventually morphed into Trakus – a system demonstrated during an NHL All Star game in the early 2000’s, issues with the player’s association led to another pivot that led to a successful solution now in use in horse racing. You saw it during this year during the Triple Crown races.
  • Participant in the early standards activities run by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) (while working for Bentley College). Successfully argued for the use of internet protocols (TCP/IP) vs. the not so Open Systems Interface and our benefactor DEC and DECNet.
  • Finally, by being a ham radio operator starting in Junior High, I developed a cultural connection with innovators and alpha geek’s during a time when it was not cool to be a nerd. WA1QQK.
  • The fortune of working with real merchants from and others from back-in-the-day.
  • Posted on: 11/21/2017

    The RetailWire Christmas Commercial Challenge: Big Lots vs. Kohl’s

    The guy in the kitchen belting out “joy to the world” was all the convincing I needed. Was there another ad? Oh yeah, the one with the Handmaid's Tale/Hunger Games motif -- I go with "joy to the world."But then again, Kohl’s dystopian Christmas targets Xmas-sketptics where Kolh's tells their audience: we are all hip to the scam, the kids shake down their parents and the parents get cash. Everyone’s happy. Oh, Merry Christmas. Wink wink.
  • Posted on: 11/01/2017

    Would store associates benefit from acting lessons?

    Moments of truth can spin out of control when someone's tone and body language is off. Acting classes can teach this kind of self awareness.I learned years ago that the University of Michigan drama department was asked to provide lessons to the staff of the cancer hospital there to help lessen the impact of bad news. The program was called: "Every word matters."I would focus on training folks to at least know how to handle delivering bad news. Like theater, the reviews can kill you.
  • Posted on: 10/20/2017

    Drone-to-hand delivery could become a thing

    There's boring detailed stuff going on behind the scenes for years on all matters relating to enabling "Urban Air Mobility" being done by the best people in NASA, the FAA, the Military, and private companies. It looks like this is really going to happen.As for an idea, how about enabling deliveries to people living off-the-grid or drones to ship things to under-served rural areas. I think an emergency delivery of medications will happen early or perhaps the use of a drone to be a first responder -- with video and audio/voice recognition, they could help with triage.Cannabis drone delivery may also help in the future to answer these types of futuristic questions.That silly idea of Cannabis delivery has been outlawed in CA but it led to a more useful thought: Emergency delivery of naloxone to deal with overdoes. The future will be interesting.
  • Posted on: 10/13/2017

    Are retailers shortchanging the digital transformation?

    In the spirit of digital transformation, here's my video answer from the movie Apollo 13. It's only 1:03 in length. Find it here:Work The Problem
  • Posted on: 10/11/2017

    Meijer cuts IT staff as it moves to the cloud

    Clouds and hybrid clouds, and apps that sit on top of said clouds, are the basis for future "wows", if not the minimum consumers will expect from modern companies (whose partners include a variety of mobile apps).But to be sure, the cash management application built on an Excel macro will remain operational as will the RS232 printer.
  • Posted on: 10/05/2017

    Retailers lack of trust undermines predictive personalization’s potential

    You'll be losing money on each transaction but that's okay -- you'll make it up on volume! It's the Amazon strategy, trust me.Or as Stanley Marcus never said: "It's not what it costs, it's how much my algorithm thinks it can sell it for!"Just kidding. Discussions around lack of trust are complex and are usually grounded in history. Perhaps these two obvious jokes might be a way for breaking the ice -- that's my advice to those providing this technology, specifically: use unorthodox means to get to the truth.
  • Posted on: 10/04/2017

    Thrive Market co-founder: ‘Data and storytelling go hand in hand’

    Tip O'Neill is know for saying: "All politics is local" and for retailers with stores, we exist locally, whether on the coasts or in the middle -- so what to do when faced with commerce polarization? Fiercely serve your local market (read: people) while being in-tune with the global impact of the products you sell. Doing that authentically and helping people live a better life is a defensible position. It’s Alright, Ma (It's Only Retail)
  • Posted on: 10/02/2017

    IKEA buys TaskRabbit to give consumers relief with furniture assembly

    There are two items: a. If you've done it before, you can do it again much quicker. b. If you've done it before and you pick an unforgiving piece, you many never buy from IKEA again.Item "a" speaks to what TaskRabbit will be able to achieve (thankfully). Item "b" speaks to what TR will/may prevent (and I wonder how many people fall in this category).Regarding item b, have you ever tried to make the IKEA Galant File Drawer? I am a pretty good kit builder and, back in the days of HeathKit, I built everything, including their huge color television, so understand where I'm coming from. The point: When I went back to IKEA to buy a drawer liner (an obvious cross sell that was not offered to me), I brought it up with the salesperson in the department and he looked at me with respect, no words, just respect. As with all traumatic experiences, I shared my thoughts relating to one of the steps that showed no mercy if you failed to follow their hieroglyphics to the letter. So good move IKEA, and a final thought: there needs to be an IKEA Olympics — perhaps sponsored and presented on Netflix or Hulu — and if there is such a thing, I propose a category for the Galant.
  • Posted on: 09/25/2017

    Would a radical partnership help Walmart thwart Amazon?

    This was an interesting piece, thanks Ken. I want to blurt out some thoughts to just get them out!In the next war, the ammunition is AI -- The objective is transformative customer experience at all parts of the experience (physical and virtual).The not so obvious/obvious enabler is talent. A’s hire A’s, B’s hire C’s -- Steve Job’s got that rightIn this future, The Google/retail federation is a good bet from the talent point-of-view. Google has the A's Geoffrey Hinton and Jeff Dean. Hinton and GPU's changed the game in 2012, and Dean is a god of everything and brought us tensorflow. (And so many more).If you believe that the GPU is the next strategic platform, then you are into the NVIDIA ecosystem.I Googled and found the the following: “Walmart is building a "GPU farm" that will be about a tenth of the size of rival Amazon Web Services "GPU" cloud.”Generals always want to fight the last war, perhaps Linda Dilman's attempt to push RFID ended the last war. (Entire sidebar -- I couldn't resist).
  • Posted on: 09/15/2017

    Do retailers need teen consultants to really understand Gen Z?

    First, if any of your local Gen-Z customers grew up with and love your brand and have fathers who've written best selling books on the nuances of generational marketing and if those fathers managed to convince their kids to co-write a book on the same subject and the kid later sets up a consulting business ... then consider hiring them to help you understand that audience.But if that person is not available, perhaps retailers might tap the wisdom of their own Gen-Z employees, who may actually be working at your store because they love your brand and want more than health care. To execute on this, consider running a contest to staff your own advisory board.Finally, the real opportunity lies with members of the BrainTrust with Gen-Z family members, why not do the same? Or -- RetailWire might consider creating a Gen-Z panel drawn from the BrainTrust family! I'm not kidding -- college is expensive! Monetize your kids! (A book idea, if only....)
  • Posted on: 09/13/2017

    Is BOPIS degrading the in-store experience?

    BOPIS always struck me as an extension of the supply chain vs a demand-side strategy. A demand side strategy might yield other service solutions like "buy online, pick up at hotel, or school, or name your relevant touch point. If you apply a demand side (customer side/shopper centric) mindset, then BOPIS is a tool to design new patterns. Retailers with stores have a great opportunity to engage the BOPIS shoppers to understand more, but it's so much work intellectualizing and innovating around the demand side, never mind all the scripting and training around micro segments. BUT...I loved this article! Thanks Retail Dr. Bob!
  • Posted on: 07/21/2017

    Will customers use an Amazon app to chat?

    The conversations will include not just commerce related traffic, but things like usage tips, recalls, upgrades, enhancements specific to a brand. That's a real revenue stream for AMZN and that means that a brand needs to think like a publisher -- always collecting stories relating to the product for the various audiences and use cases. This development will create a Renaissance for individuals who know an obscure computer language known as English (etc, for lack of another word).
  • Posted on: 07/21/2017

    Will Walmart’s innovation strategies pay off?

    For the rest of retail, the strategy might be to join forces with other retailers and struggling tech companies because this is not easy to pull off.
  • Posted on: 07/21/2017

    Did Amazon just send Sears a life line with their Kenmore deal?

    Alexa: "Vahe, based on your purchases and habits, we'll give you 40% off on a refrigerator, it will also reduce the number of food shipments and help us save money too!Vahe: Whatever, ok...
  • Posted on: 06/28/2017

    Will AI make better hiring decisions than humans?

    "Software Is Eating the World, But AI Is Going To Eat Software."Jensen Huang CEO, Nvidia
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