PROFILE

Ananda Chakravarty

Retail Thought Leader
Ananda is a retail thought leader. Currently Ananda is Director, Global Retail Lead & Software Strategy at Diebold Nixdorf, the premier firm in European retail and progenitor of the ATM. Ananda also served as 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 Monster.com. 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.
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  • Posted on: 01/27/2022

    Will Americans go to Lowe’s to buy dog food?

    Great move for Lowe's and Petco. The success has already been proven through the examples of TSC and Menards. There will be key locations -- Midwest, Southern US, and more non-metro locations where it will prove more popular at first, but the concept is still a store-in-store which had only taken a hiatus due to the pandemic. This type of collaboration will continue to expand opportunities for retailers. Competitors will follow suit. Stay tuned for a Home Depot partnership in this arena.
  • Posted on: 01/25/2022

    NRF 2022: Grocers stay prepared for tomorrow’s new and unexpected challenges

    Mr. Kohli brings up some great points and does a thorough analysis of the retail food ecosystem, but he also suggested in a presentation at FMI about a year ago that grocers need to reduce personnel costs by 20-30%. This can't be achieved without some important steps. He brought up some great ideas on being bold, and many of them resonate with the industry -- personalization, ecommerce/digital, supply chain optimization -- all of these are good steps, but a more intrinsic theme runs through all of these. What resonated with me was his thoughts on automation -- in the back office and in the store. Grocery is undergoing the "Great Automation" as we speak with new engagement towards intelligent retail (both AI powered as well as data-based decision making). This means automated warehouses, shipping routes, supply sources. This means autonomous checkouts, self-checkouts, automated kiosks and store engagement. This means automated merchandising, product selection, reordering, and planogramming. This means automated delivery, simplified fulfillment, and optimized last mile options. This means digital optimization of customer engagement, personalized experiences, and customer-focused options based on customer needs at the time. We'll continue to see these evolve with testing, innovation, and partnerships and begin with taking bolder steps and executive decisions that commit spend in digital, in automation, and trying out new things. The Krogers, Albertsons, and Walmarts of the world that are willing to drive innovation through labs and idea validation will have the advantage in these unprecedented times.
  • Posted on: 01/24/2022

    Why is user generated content missing from physical retail?

    UGC customer reviews already have been a significant part of the in-store shopping experience, supported mostly by the fact that mobile phones are so ubiquitous. Shoppers type in the name of the product they're looking at into any search engine, social media site or even Amazon.com and can quickly pull up comparators, specs about the products they’re interested in or reviews from other customers. Which brings us to the fact that just a year or so ago, a high percentage (>55% according to Forrester) of in-store sales were influenced by online engagement first, especially for specific items to be purchased. The fact that this is provided by the customer's own mobile provider in the store doesn’t make it any less impactful. It also shows why stores like Amazon's 4-star haven’t taken off as the added value is limited. Basically, content and reviews are already embedded in the shopping process.
  • Posted on: 01/21/2022

    Amazon says first clothing store will be a fashion and technological revelation

    The nature of fashion makes automating selection difficult. Despite online engagement and selection, it’s not the same when people have taken the time to travel to a destination to browse and select fashion. At Talbots, the key was associates and curation through engagement. The experience for the average customer here will be quite a lonely experience, missing the entire social scene when it comes to clothing selection. Even with popular assortments, fashion is not a tech play but a social one. The effort will drive a certain segment of customers, but competitors won’t mind as they sell differently and in a far more personally engaging manner. The fashion value will deteriorate without the social component.
  • Posted on: 01/20/2022

    Will Meijer’s free grocery delivery gesture be rewarded by customers?

    The gesture is grand, but it eats away at Meijer's profitability so it will be unsustainable over time. This is a try before you buy customer acquisition play, not a customer retention play, so it won't affect NPS. The concept is grand, but unless customers are wowed by the service and the delivery itself, they will revert to earlier habits. Great way for Meijer to test the market and establishing a value for delivery.
  • Posted on: 01/19/2022

    NRF 2022: Albertsons’ CEO sees frequency driving grocery loyalty

    Grocery brings several factors to the loyalty game that other retailers don't. Grocers have higher frequency of engagement, more essential product purchases, more immediate product purchases, and more consumable/perishable product purchases. Grocers also have close proximity to customers, can have more personalized services, usually higher in-store traffic, and usually more employees in the store than most retailers. Frequency of engagement is certainly a critical piece. Grocers have more opportunities to succeed or fail with a customer, and given the essential nature of products, more second chances. Unlike many retailers, grocers with a poor experience may still have customers returning because of proximity to their home and the essential nature of products to buy. "Relationships" can be formed with the brand, with the store, with the deli or bakery, with associates, even with a parking space in the lot for regular customers. Too often however, brands squander this potential or take it for granted and a new grocery store down the street can quickly sap business (and loyal customers) away. It's great that Albertsons' is thinking about the customer and their life cycle with specific moments. Customer-centric thinking will give Albertsons a substantive market advantage -- servicing the customer when they need to be serviced.
  • Posted on: 01/18/2022

    December retail sales were strong, no matter what the clickbait headlines said

    We had a supply chain shortage, an Omicron virus surge, and staffing shortages across retail and retail still achieved the highest ever sales in the US for the year, for the quarter (q4) and for the month. I'm surprised firms like Reuters could call the 1.9% drop in Nov-Dec sales a "plunge."
  • Posted on: 01/18/2022

    December retail sales were strong, no matter what the clickbait headlines said

    Complete agree with Paula, Nikki and Cathy -- 2021 was a crazy year that didn't follow normal seasonality rules anyway. Take a look at April numbers! More important, these have been the highest ever retail sales from previous years -- with the highest growth in decades. YOY it's been the best year ever, and across Q4 2021, the best retail holiday season ever. If you have to look at MOM numbers (Source:NY Times): Nov 2019: $522.8B Dec 2019: $523.9B (0.2% growth MOM) Nov 2020: $542.6B Dec 2020: $536B (-1.22% growth MOM) Nov 2021: $639.1B Dec 2021: $626.8B (-1.92% growth MOM, but 16.3% YOY) Seasonality suggests earlier retail sales that are spread across December. You still have to remember, December has fewer shopping days and the new trend of a slight dip in December from 2020 has carried through to 2021 -- not that it was much different in 2019 (only 0.2% growth). Regardless, the overall numbers show dramatic increase in overall sales for 2021, the holiday season for 2021, and for December 2021, with double digit growth. Remember -- we had a supply chain shortage, an Omicron virus surge, and staffing shortages across retail. These retail numbers are phenomenal.
  • Posted on: 01/14/2022

    SCOTUS strikes down OSHA’s COVID vaccine/testing mandate

    Retailers will continue to own this decision and smarter ones will mandate vaccination. Frankly, businesses where the mandate is not enforced will have greater exposure to the virus, an increase in the number of employees taking sick days, increase in concerns for unvaccinated colleagues, and decrease in morale that their business is protected from this awful disease. This is even more pronounced for front line retail workers. From a strictly business sense, this impacts productivity. However this decision should be in the hands of business leaders, not necessarily OSHA. If future variants have increased morbidity, this can become a much more real problem and maybe the federal government should intervene. Companies should still make sure their workplaces are safe and unvaccinated employees make that a harder and costlier concern. These companies have every right to reduce their costs and push this cost to employees who don’t vaccinate. But companies subsidizing this cost will attract employees and generally have more employee support.
  • Posted on: 01/13/2022

    Has ‘just-in-case’ replaced ‘just-in-time’ inventory management?

    Just-In-Time methods are supposed to have redundancies built in, including alternative supply sources, and secondary suppliers with contracts in place. The supply chain crisis didn't necessarily expose risks of JIT, but it did highlight that not maintaining proper planning and contingency planning is risky. Eliminating JIT doesn't make sense, especially as inventory carrying costs range from 20-30% of the total inventory value. Holding onto excess stock (capital, inventory handling, storage, insurance and risk) translates into much lower profitability and in some cases can even become a loss. JIT is a powerful technique that's carried over from the Japanese car development days and it's used in everything from Agile development to on-the-fly manufacturing. The technique isn't the problem, the execution is.
  • Posted on: 01/12/2022

    More Americans are making Target runs

    Target is still a target store. It keeps all the basics and isn’t about fluff. Clean, minimalistic decor, straightforward staffing who can help, and stocked shelves with fixed structure. Customers know what to expect entering a Target store, and they bolster this with a strong and convincing loyalty program that maintains consistency. Lastly, they’ve executed masterfully in location selection and customer engagement online and offline - maintaining a comprehensive grocery section that drives inherent and more regular traffic. Others have done the same, but Target has usually done it better. The in-store warehousing bet is paying off in spades on the back end and that slowly translates to availability and meeting customer expectations on the front end. Cornell and team have kept a consistent shopping experience that will continue to attract customers. They’ve done this without sacrificing their focus on digital engagement.
  • Posted on: 01/11/2022

    Reality hits omnichannel retail with a hard truth

    Sorry Gib, not on board with your hypothesis, though it may be partially correct. Branding is a key element for any retailer in the market, whether they’ve formed it through millions spent on Super Bowl ads and locations or through years of consistent customer engagement. Customers do care about who is handling their purchases, questions, and returns, otherwise businesses like IKEA wouldn’t drive $40B of business, and there would be no such thing as a luxury market. The second half of your question is about profitability -- the integrated market for omnichannel is really an in internal metric and operation. It has little to do with the customer, other (and here’s where you’re right) than enabling fast, reliable, convenient service. That said, it’s the complications of running partner-based operations rather than a vertically integrated operation that changes both profitability and the efficiency of the service. Yes it can be attained, but at what added cost? An internal question for most retailers for sure, but those with more verticalized operations under a single banner (Amazon, Walmart, Target, Costco, Home Depot, etc) have shown more resilience in the market and more retail success.
  • Posted on: 01/10/2022

    Has BOPIS lost its pandemic boost?

    Despite the survey results, BOPIS continues to have a future simply because it is cheaper and more immediate than delivery. BOPIS will continue to be an option for consumers who are not interested in paying retailer delivery costs or waiting for a box to arrive. BOPIS will continue to serve the consumer interested in the cost of their products, when they will receive their goods and the condition it arrives in. Few customers care about none of these things. The pandemic boost for BOPIS will be balanced by a return to store and online shopping, but retailers are maturing their BOPIS services. It’s all about the easiest way for the retailer to do business.
  • Posted on: 01/06/2022

    Is retail ready for the phygital future?

    The real phygital future is not in AR, VR or XR, it's part of real experiences customers encounter and don't need to be 'immersive'. The digital component needs to be relevant more than it needs to be glittery. If the customer can use digital to make their selection process easier, enable appropriate buying, and provide an experience that enhances brand, product, purchases, and loyalty, then it makes sense. In most cases, digital is just a convenience factor for the consumer, not the main purchase reason anyway. The real phygital experience still relies upon both the digital and physical worlds combining -- but usually at different times, where a customer would see the digital purchase, review comments, understand the specs, validate availability dates, or access size charts to help make a decision, then a physical experience in the store to touch, review, compare and make their purchase. How the new digital innovations contribute to making shopping easier and customer centric -- any way the customer wants it -- will be the benchmark for the phygital future.
  • Posted on: 01/05/2022

    Walmart says it’s ready to deliver groceries inside 30 million American homes

    What I love most about Walmart is that they don’t bundle the entire consumer market into one and call it a day. There is clearly a market segment for in-home delivery. InHome customers have already bought into the solution, have established ways to reduce worry about their food supply through designation of lockers, garage space, a porch or patio. While I don’t believe they will saturate the 30 million household market (~20 percent of all residences) they will have enough business to justify 3,000 drivers and charge $148/year. There will be an overlap between this service and those of ultrafast grocery delivery services like DoorDash, Instacart and the VC backed emerging players -e.g. Buyk, Gorillas, Jokr and more - though the differentiator won’t be delivery time.

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