PROFILE

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.

Retail

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 BN.com (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 NRF.com that eventually merged with Shop.org.
  • 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.
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  • Posted on: 06/21/2017

    Will Amazon Prime Wardrobe change how Americans shop for clothes?

    Ricardo, no it's not, and in thinking about it some more I thought of the following imaginary headline:Amazon partners with the Fashion Institute of Technology to develop on-demand CAD standards. Said Sally Student, "Finally, we can design clothing like music! When I first published my Chanel-Dior mash-up, I only wanted to pay homage to classic hits but when I learned that my styles were the leading "streamed" fashions, I was like..cool, I just paid for college."Amazon's FashionCloud is also available to Prime Customers, etc etc.Jeff Bezos was also in the news when he announced the CAD digitization of every garment made between 1900-1950, "we invite designers to mix and match without concerns for copyright violations, but if it's sold, we take a small cut."
  • Posted on: 06/21/2017

    Will Amazon Prime Wardrobe change how Americans shop for clothes?

    ...and then one day, AMZN announces the on-demand ultra-fast fashion service...Shopper: "Alexa, I decided I want the jacket Casey Affleck wore in Manchester by the Sea. I bookmarked it while watching." Alexa: "I got it, good choice, clothing seen in our movies are 20% off this month!" Shopper: "Oh, and I'd like the following Instagram as well, in black." Alexa: "Anything else?" Shopper: "How about the alarm clock from Ground Hog Day?" Alexa: "Sure, the Panasonic RC‑6025 Flip Clock, do you want to bid on a vintage clock or should we print up a copy?"
  • Posted on: 06/21/2017

    How did mobile become the ‘glue’ in the Sephora shopping experience?

    Technology changes culture, retail reflects culture, eventually technology becomes part of the fabric. Consider the following:"On average, approximately 1 million selfies are taken every day for individuals in the 18-to-24-year-old demographic. On Instagram alone, there are 58 million photos with the hashtag of selfie."Vanity and aesthetics, fueled by social media and the need to always look good makes Sephora's focus on mobile a natural. It's where it's at.
  • Posted on: 06/20/2017

    How effective are Jet.com’s efforts to better understand its customers?

    The methods described sound like things I've heard from Mark Hurst. His company is called Creative Good and he has a methodology built around "listening labs." He's also the author of the book, "Customers Included." He's been frustrated about this stuff since 1997. Google him ... but there are other options as well -- Ken's sounds like one since it is true. This is UX101, but that's okay, this stuff is in the DNA of retailing. If only we used our stores as labs, but that's a digression.At the end of the day, the issue becomes making choices on what to build and how to build it, since observational research yields so many ideas. As they say -- cryptically and not so cryptically -- the best ideas are in the empty space, the unintended moments.Sounds fancy, but sadly, in 2004, I went to a conference held by the Nielsen Norman Group (Evidence-Based User Experience Research.) I was ready to learn the methods and he proceeded to put up slides of retail stores and told the audience, "If you want to learn about customer experience design, study retailers!"Bonus content: regarding the what to build part, the movement around pretoyping ("faking it before making it") is worth passing along -- find more here.
  • Posted on: 06/19/2017

    Did Amazon just patent tech that could end showrooming in its stores?

    One more thing. Talk of Amazon's interest in acquiring Slack speaks to the future of "conversational applications."If you are throwing a BBQ, planning a party, installing a home theater, seeking advice about a purchase, getting a second opinion regarding a piece of furniture from your friends and/or interior decorators, doing a home renovation, talking to folks in a store, or a supplier hotline and your handyman and the person whose review you loved on Amazon, and so on ... you'll be having a temporary set of conversations across multiple channels. Those that may include Alexa, or the voice system in your 2020 automobile (because auto companies are working on the problem of distracted driving). If you consider this patent in that context and AMZN's interest, you can see that the future of retail and shopping and life in general will get more interesting. And thinking otherwise speaks to the famous quote about “Fighting the Last War.”
  • Posted on: 06/19/2017

    Did Amazon just patent tech that could end showrooming in its stores?

    Jeff Bezos has chutzpah! He also may have supplied a few of you with something to post on the lunch room wall as motivation.When I looked at the patent and noticed that it was filed on May 4, 2012 -- and I’m not sure how long it took to write the patent -- but let’s say that somewhere in early 2012 or maybe even 2011, Jeff challenged his people to find how retailers can thwart showrooming.One thing that's true is Amazon must continue to grow, so while we should necessarily review this rationally, as a thought experiment perhaps we might examine a scenario where this reveals that Amazon has spent years thinking about things.Perhaps it's my paranoia, an aspect of culture in retail and here in Silicon Valley but as I recall, Amazon started with books and video, improved the experience and expanded to new categories.What if they do the same now? What if they've spent the last five years thinking about executing the same strategy offline, again, because they need to grow? Might they take the software they mastered running grocery and adjust it for each sub segment?It's crazy thinking to assume that the endgame is that every segment will be redesigned as mostly showrooms and that they'll have best-in-class solutions in every category (along with patents). But to consumers, will they really care?If you feel anxious that’s good. If you feel stress, that’s good. Those are normal reactions when you face a new unknown.Existential crises are usually a byproduct of an event that throws a monkey wrench into your immortality story. Yes, AutoZone, you can feel sorry for Kroger, but you're cool. Right?But if this has a seed of value, you might want to think about this alternative framing.I was at Barnes & Noble in 1994-1996. I registered BN.com so I suppose it's just PTSD. But I thought I'd pass it along.
  • Posted on: 06/16/2017

    What happens now that Amazon is acquiring Whole Foods?

    ..."this is going to require erasing all the current white boards and approaching retailing with genuine creativity, a real commitment to modernity, a radical recommitment to innovation and a profoundly different understanding of the “Four Cs” — change, customers, consumers, and competition."Ryan channeling Churchill. Very nice.
  • Posted on: 06/16/2017

    What happens now that Amazon is acquiring Whole Foods?

    Nice Jamie, oh and could you consider the following:Alexa: "It's time to take your medication Jane!Jane: "I can't find it!"Alexa: "A drone will be delivering a replacement in 5 minutes, United Health has been notified. Would you like to speak to your primary care doctor?"Jane: "No, but can you make sure my lunch is delivered with hot sauce?!"It's an exciting time to imagine. My other question is: I wonder what the folks in the center aisle think about this?I have to pass along a tweet I just saw:@JesalTV: Jeff Bezos: “Alexa, buy me something from Whole Foods.” Alexa: “Sure, Jeff. Buying Whole Foods now.” Jeff Bezos: “WHA- ahh go ahead.”
  • Posted on: 06/16/2017

    What happens now that Amazon is acquiring Whole Foods?

    Omnichannel is going to get better. Healthy eating lifestyle changes will be easier for that segment. What's next? Pharmacy (Walgreens/CVS down as well). Last-mile options and a presence in demographics that resonate. Wow. Quick thoughts.
  • Posted on: 06/12/2017

    Is Walmart’s innovation leader right that the AR revolution is a sure thing?

    AR without content is just plain R. So ... how do they get the content?Hypothetical: Walmart has all these networked relationships. What if they were to do the same thing they did on the supply chain side and create a set of content standards for each category and each product?Instead of Vendor Managed Inventory, we can call it Vendor Managed Interactions.Do you think they can charge vendors for the AR visual real estate they occupy -- based on the premier spaces on the lens perhaps? Instead of end aisle, it would be end iris?And what if they tagged and set rules on the content so the augmentation is personalized using the famed trading area attribute richness evolved over the years from their store data model.And what if the take their Partner Knowledge Base and create a set of API's for the knowledge base so that our vendors only need to enter data once?!And what if they enabled customers and third parties to enhance the content?And what if they used deep learning to decide what content is the best to present?(Oh, and of course the content would be multichannel.)Wouldn't that be something? But they would need a leader who gets new content models ... let's Google "Imran Ansani"... hmmm....Additional: Update on the iPhone AR Zeiss CES rumor based on last week's reported Foxconn leak....
  • Posted on: 05/25/2017

    Are some retailer CEOs too old to learn new tricks?

    I think this particular response from the recent "NVIDIA (NVDA) Q1 2018 Results - Earnings Call Transcript" speaks to the issue of change. The entire transcript is worth a listen/read. The world is transforming again -- it's not a place for peacetime CEOs.Jen-Hsun Huang - NVIDIA Corp."Now that's kind of a first inning thing. The only trouble with a baseball analogy is that in the world of tech, things don't – every inning is not the same. In the beginning the first inning feels like – it feels pretty casual and people are enjoying peanuts. The second inning for some reason is shorter and the third inning is shorter than that and the fourth inning is shorter than that. And the reason for that is because of exponential growth. Speed is accelerating.And so from the bystanders who are on the outside looking in, by the time the third inning comes along, it's going to feel like people are traveling at the speed of light next to you. If you happen to be on one of the photons, you're going to be okay. But if you're not on the deep learning train in a couple of two, three innings, it's gone. And so that's the challenge of that analogy because things aren't moving in linear time. Things are moving exponentially."======= The entire response to the question:Jen-Hsun Huang - NVIDIA Corp.Let's see here. It's a great question, and there are a couple ways to come at it. First of all, AI is going to infuse all of software. AI is going to eat software. Whereas Marc [Andreessen] said that software is going to eat the world, AI is going to eat software, and it's going to be in every aspect of software. Every single software developer has to learn deep learning. Every single software developer has to apply machine learning. Every software developer will have to learn AI. Every single company will use AI. AI is the automation of automation, and it will likely be the transmission. We're going to for the first time see the transmission of automation the way we're seeing the transmission and wireless broadcast of information for the very first time. I'm going to be able to send you automation, send you a little automation by email.And so the ability for AI to transform industry is well understood now. It's really about automation of everything, and the implication of it is quite large. We've been using now deep learning – we've been in the area of deep learning for about six years. And the rest of the world has been focused on deep learning for about somewhere between one to two, and some of them are just learning about it.And almost no companies today use AI in a large way. So on the one hand, we know now that the technology is of extreme value, and we're getting a better understanding of how to apply it. On the other hand, no industry uses it at the moment. The automotive industry is in the process of being revolutionized because of it. The manufacturing industry will be. Everything in transport will be. Retail, e-tail, everything will be. And so I think the impact is going to be large, and we're just getting started. We're just getting started.Now that's kind of a first inning thing. The only trouble with a baseball analogy is that in the world of tech, things don't -- every inning is not the same. In the beginning the first inning feels like -- it feels pretty casual and people are enjoying peanuts. The second inning for some reason is shorter and the third inning is shorter than that and the fourth inning is shorter than that. And the reason for that is because of exponential growth. Speed is accelerating.And so from the bystanders who are on the outside looking in, by the time the third inning comes along, it's going to feel like people are traveling at the speed of light next to you. If you happen to be on one of the photons, you're going to be okay. But if you're not on the deep learning train in a couple of two, three innings, it's gone. And so that's the challenge of that analogy because things aren't moving in linear time. Things are moving exponentially.
  • Posted on: 05/08/2017

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

    "Sure Walmart, you own the technology that makes the product smart and track everything so we can continue to ship soap powder like we did in the 1800s and you can manage and own all the data," said no CPG company or manufacturer.
  • Posted on: 04/28/2017

    Will chatbots drive a ‘conversational commerce’ trend?

    Yes! FB recognized the problem with the tedious chats and incorporated the inline menu that changes the UX. This question relates to bots and commerce not bots and FAQs (are you open? etc) which it has been said can lead to "60-80% automation within six months." The challenge for retailers is when shopping bots can answer the following question: "what the best store for me right now to buy x?" and have the bot choose the retailer.
  • Posted on: 04/27/2017

    Will artificial intelligence replace CEOs?

    Retailers will have AI, customers will have AI and commerce will consist of robots finding, negotiating and returning products -- they'll coordinate and resolve all the headaches involved in retail to such a degree that shopping will no longer be a hassle. Retail will be a marketplace of infinite choice from around the world. It will be a new golden age for retailers. And yes, the CEO will be a robot managing other robot CEOs and at the top of the food chain will be the Chief Creatives who will amaze us with the wonders of the mind and the heart. The future will be amazing -- stay healthy so you can enjoy it (and they'll be robots to help you with that as well!) @BotSupport
  • Posted on: 04/14/2017

    Are retailers missing the social marketing boat if they’re not on YouTube?

    Video takes time and effort, and then time and effort -- it's evolutionary. You may end up with Wayne's World as the idea, but it takes awhile before you stumble upon "schwing!" Before Schwing (BS) there is a period of forced authenticity -- it's the period where you find your voice, and most projects die before that because without a commitment to the medium, you'll burn bout and be disappointed. You may pray for an agency to bail you out but that's where it gets really expensive trying to find your video brand. My recommendation is to find folks within your company (customers or in the stores) who have translated their passion into the seeds of a shtick.When I see the word brand I think of the "rehabilitated" scene from The Shawshank Redemption as in: I have no idea what that means. I know what it means but the truth as it relates to your YouTube videos needs to be discovered and when it is, your customer will stamp your brand: rehabilitated. Here is the video for those who are still on this thread.Oh, one more thing, the story starts off with a statistic: "80 percent of internet traffic will be video" and I wonder if that's just because it takes a lot of bits to send video. Probably. There is something there however -- like 90% of human body weight is water, or without carbon, life wouldn't be possible. So, this is not just a late Friday rant -- it's not volume, it's impact. 99.999% of all video will be forgotten, but .001 % of the right message will lead to action. I don't know, I think I need to think about making a video to explain this.

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