Ananda Chakravarty

Retail Thought Leader
Ananda is a retail thought leader. Currently Ananda is Director, Retail Omnichannel Solutions Strategy at Oracle. Ananda was a senior analyst at Forrester advising c-level leaders on digital store, digital store technologies, retail enablement, digital in-store analytics and Digital Grocery. Prior to Forrester, Ananda served as Director of Enterprise Digital Strategy at The Hartford and executive and product roles at Staples, Talbots and Opinions reflect those of the author only. Ananda holds an MBA from Northeastern University, a Masters in Electrical Engineering from University of Massachusetts, Lowell and a Bachelors in Electrical Engineering from Clemson University.
  • Posted on: 09/18/2019

    Retailers approach tech’s cutting edge with caution

    Have to chime in on this thread. Of course retailers should proceed with caution. All business decisions should proceed with caution. The real question is whether retailers should proceed with caution on widespread distribution and adoption of the tech. Right now, most of these techs are POCs. Scaling the tech across thousands of stores will be the real test. It will also define what’s tried and true.
  • Posted on: 09/16/2019

    How profitable is online selling?

    Don’t think that will happen — what you're suggesting, Jeff, is that customer behavior will change because retailers don’t like the precedent. I doubt customers who enjoy having packages delivered to their door after buying online will accept anything less. The cats already out of the bag. What will happen is the omnichannel trend where the advantages of store buying overtakes the pure play — with acceptable losses by those unwilling to accept that you need both to run a strong retail business.
  • Posted on: 09/16/2019

    How profitable is online selling?

    Pure-play e-commerce can be profitable but it is difficult to scale and grow. Most of the BrainTrust agrees on the direction of online selling as challenging. Issues such as free shipping, overall fulfillment costs and more notably skyrocketing customer acquisition costs definitely make it a challenge. However, there are models that work and looking back to the days of mail order, there are models that thrive. Online pure plays are still just a business model and dissecting an entire business model is hard to do in a few paragraphs. The real issue here is not whether they are or can be profitable, but whether they can grow profitably. Steve Dennis has a great Forbes article on the scaling woes of pure plays. Just to add a bit of food for thought: at the early levels, pure play e-tail can be profitable. Amazon has more than 25,000 companies driving more than $1 million in sales each year on their marketplace.
  • Posted on: 09/09/2019

    Ace Hardware builds through acquisition in the do-it-for-me market

    First a hats off to Jeff Sward for formally joining the BrainTrust community. I believe he’s been commenting and sharing his wise and thoughtful responses before I joined. Service is an integrated part of retail merchandising. The shift is important and is tied to the challenges of big box players (not just in DIY). The best retailers bring a host of service functions to the customer. Lowe’s and Home Depot are surviving because of their customer and servicing capabilities. Buy a fence, here are 3 qualified fence installers. Buy a garage door, here are two local firms to install it for you. Step back to Walmart: for instance, do you need eyeglasses? Here’s the store in-store ophthalmologist. The service component is a key factor in the retail experience. Why? Because customers are looking for a problem to be resolved, not just a product to be bought. For Ace, this becomes a tool to solve customer problems along a service spectrum and not just a single stopping point.
    • Assessment - this is the fixing blueprint
    • Tools - what you need to execute the fix
    • Training - how to use the tools
    • Support - advice/people to help me fix it.
    • Task Completion - we’ll do what you want to fix it
    • Full Job - we’ll figure out the blueprint and do it all for you
    Great move by Ace and depending on the quality of the service, will deliver the right experience to customers.
  • Posted on: 09/05/2019

    Whole Foods wants a hand from shoppers at checkout

    I still recall the first time I visited a police station. I was on a Cub Scout field trip and the police sergeant pulled out his ink stamp and a small 5x5 card with five boxes for each finger. He demonstrated how to roll the fingers in the ink and then reverse roll it onto the card. He then mentioned that this fingerprint lasts forever and it tells us who the bad guys are. Giving this kind of power to a corporation who then digitizes the same data that goes into your passport, the same fingerprint you use to open your iPhone and modern laptops will be a challenge for later generations, and will be scary for the current gen who know their identity is closely tied to their biometrics. For Amazon/Whole Foods the game is deeper embedding into the private lives of consumers. The trade off of 3-4 seconds of convenience doesn’t justify the risk.
  • Posted on: 09/04/2019

    Will miniature Meijers be a big hit?

    Mini-Meijer won’t be a hit unless it brings a differentiated value. Several have already mentioned that this is not purely about the size of the store, but its function and relationship within the local neighborhood. It’s an important trend for retailers as it defines competitive areas, delivery costs, and assortment for customers. The best stores will leverage store experiences, select assortments, or engage in proactive cost management to stand out from the retail crowd -- but they will need to start with strong localized demographic assessment to find out what they need to build and where. It’s the giant supermarket shifting to become a specialty retailer -- and that’s not a walk in the park.
  • Posted on: 09/03/2019

    Will Lowe’s score with its ‘homegating’ game plan?

    Tapping into sports themes is always good marketing. For Lowe’s this is an opportunity to further lock in and expand in markets -- like home decor -- in which they already have a leg up on the Home Depots of the world. However it doesn’t tap into benefits for their contractor community nor expand value outside of metro areas with strong NFL franchises. Lastly, it’s a short lived effort that fades as the NFL season ends in February. It's a good step for a seasonal marketing campaign - even with 10,000 SKUs - but it’s not revolutionary in the sense of being something deeper and broader.
  • Posted on: 08/29/2019

    Lord & Taylor to be sold to Le Tote

    The personalization factor here is in the ecommerce side. These advanced personalization techniques are tied to the nature of Le Tote’s filled out customer profiles. Other than expanding assortment brands to use in its own model, there are only a few advantages for the in-store experience -- returns and fitting showrooms for Le Tote. This is not a brand revitalization play, but an expansion play for Le Tote to thrive. Rental has met with mixed success and this will give a store presence with some advantages in managing their costs. For HBC, they still will influence the L&T brand with 2 board seats and some equity. L&T may take a shot at personalization in the store, but the merger is not designed to increase in-store sales. $100mm for a $1.1B sales company is basically a fire sale price, so this seems more of a white knight funding play including taking over $174mm (3 years of $58mm expenses) in rental obligations off the books rather than a real takeover. The real rental models will start at the store side and move to online rental -- thinking of tux rentals.
  • Posted on: 08/23/2019

    Will the next recession devastate mall-based retailers?

    The retail market is growing at a healthy 3.4% according to the US Census last I heard. More important, the current health of the market has little to do with the Great Recession -- every recession was unique and causality was specific to the times. There’s no reason to believe in a new real estate bubble right now causing a subprime mortgage crisis. We don’t have a run up in excess investor funds as there was from 2000-2007. Mall based retailers have some of the best websites, have accounted for excess physical space and continue to take steps to make sure they are not caught in difficult business scenarios. Of the top 1,000 retailers, how many have actually gone out of business? We’re talking about numbers you can count on your hands. The top 100 retailers alone have over 150,000 stores, with an estimated 3.8 MM retail stores in the US. Store closures in the thousands are less than a tiny percentage. Retail in the US alone is comparable to the GDP of Germany. This is not an industry that even a major recession will hurt significantly -- mall or not. We will always need to buy goods.
  • Posted on: 08/22/2019

    Will shoppers thank heaven for mobile checkout at 7-Eleven?

    For 7-Eleven and other convenience stores this is more about loyalty and bringing customers into the store. Around 70 percent of c-stores are attached to gas stations which is the bulk of the business. Driving customers into the store is the primary focus of such tech and in 7-Eleven’s case, the focus is really about fostering loyalty. The checkouts at convenience stores are by design short because basket sizes and number of items purchased are few. The value is there, but the convenience factor here is not speed as in an overcrowded grocery - it’s still immediate 24/7 access or late hours access to products customers need - e.g. motor oil, antifreeze, basic tools, beverages and snacks. This is more of a loyalty builder to encourage repeat customers (think morning coffee or weekly gas) to expand share of wallet.
  • Posted on: 08/21/2019

    Organizational culture shapes digital transformation

    Digital transformation is such a misnomer. No matter the amount of tech involved, it’s always about cultural change, which inherently introduces a headwind. As others have identified, it’s about mindset and how much people are willing to make the moves from the top on down. Most important, that’s where you see real leadership -- not when the ships coordinates are already punched in, but when you need to move it in another direction. Also not a fan of the layer cake analogy. It misses the entirety of the culture piece and most important, the constant change in the culture. An organization is fluid, not a static entity. Not only internally but also externally with the market, customers and more. An adaptive culture means thinking about culture in a more dynamic way.
  • Posted on: 08/20/2019

    Is technology really making stores more like the web?

    James -- well posted. In store sensing such as people counters and IoT will continue to improve the level of data retailers have inside the store and in turn, improve customer experiences. But anything similar to online will not be in the customer experience, but the back-end understanding of how to engage or service the customer.
  • Posted on: 08/20/2019

    Is technology really making stores more like the web?

    Ben, I think you hit the real change spot on. The online experience just doesn’t fit in the store. The ability for retailers to provide anything close would be challenging anyway. What is becoming more prevalent is data collection about the customer to rise to the same level as clickstreams. As Bob stated, retailers are using tech to enhance experiences across all channels including the store. Can’t forget the hilarious Google Analytics online-in-store adventures: Check out Search Definitely different from the HD experience Bob had....
  • Posted on: 08/14/2019

    Nordstrom’s Local concept needs work

    Local is a scalability concept and a great way to expand without buying inventory or a full store location. Consumers are smart enough to pick up on the fact that it’s a showroom - and they’re used to trying out the merchandise at a car dealership - including test drives, so why not with luxury items or apparel or handbags? Great way to test the waters for Nordstrom. The data and experiences should drive the improvements and changes.
  • Posted on: 08/13/2019

    Grocers develop their own tech responses to Amazon Go

    The Go tech is not revolutionary and it’s been around for decades. It’s the application in the store that makes it innovative. The value will come with repeat, consistent experiences that make current shopping behavior obsolete. Amazon has tinkered with white labeling its tech capabilities in Go. However, the grocers are just experimenting -- and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not game changing now. Companies like Kroger rolled out Quevision in 2012 -- seven years ago -- to track customers in the store and optimize cashiers to customers at the checkout lines. Those technologies were supposed to upend the market then. The challenge with Amazon’s intermediary stages towards development is that they are intermediary, not the end state (though Amazon’s marketing machine makes it sound like this is the biggie). The grocers that can move themselves faster along this path may have a slight advantage when the market adopts. But for this tech the universal demand isn’t there yet. Customers will experience Walmart many times more than they experience Amazon Go and until that changes, there will be no tipping point for the concept. How many customers have entered an Amazon Go store? Not even close to the 265MM that enter your local Walmart.

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