PROFILE

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 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: 07/23/2019

    Will Google’s new shopping platform steal product searches away from Amazon?

    Google entering the product search and marketplace arena is nothing new. Who remembers Froogle from years ago? The debut of a new version of this is important however - particularly because Google/Alphabet is a much stronger powerhouse globally. The potential for Google’s success starts abroad - particularly in EMEA, and the nature of their testing in France suggests this is capitalizing on more than Amazon’s local presence. In the U.S. we may see some exciting competitive back and forth all to the benefit of the consumer. Google can understand the customer better - but it’s not clear yet that will be enough of an advantage to push Amazon’s marketing machine out of the way. It may also open the door to new marketplace players. For Amazon, it’s just another Day 1.
  • Posted on: 07/19/2019

    What does it take to develop top retail store managers?

    In an interview with the manager of the flagship store for a national chain store in the US, I was able to pick up a few pointers she shared with me:
    • Growth path for managers to leadership roles, regional leaders, functional units
    • Spotlighting, e.g. conferences and leader event participation
    • Building innovation into the store through process and handling, giving employees the ability to be part of the "cool" stuff
  • Posted on: 07/16/2019

    CEO says Walmart’s stores are the answer to Amazon – at least for groceries

    Grocery won’t drive online -- at least not yet. Online grocery is a tiny part of the market, <5 percent, and Walmart may be able to surpass Amazon here but it will move along at the same or slower pace of growth as overall e-commerce. For a variety of reasons the logistics for grocery are more challenging - including managing cold chain, waste, and regulation to name a few. For Walmart, who has this infrastructure in place already, it does give them a step ahead -- but for a tiny online grocery presence that’s not moving exponentially, it won’t be a kingmaker for Walmart.
  • Posted on: 07/15/2019

    What makes great retail leaders?

    Leadership is quite broad, and there are many ways to lead. Retail leaders are more beholden to the customer than other industries. Most retail employees are customer facing. Hence, retail leaders must be able to lead employees with that factor in mind. Other than that, there is a wide diversity across retail leader traits that exceed far more than the narrowed viewpoint shared by GlassDoor.
  • Posted on: 07/12/2019

    Will free, same-day pickup give Sam’s Club the edge it has been looking for over Costco?

    This won't lower acquisition costs, but it has already proven to be popular enough with existing members to launch it nationwide. For small business, this convenience can be powerful -- especially those who use Sam's club as a primary supplier. Reduces time for pickup, allowing delivery to their own SMB customers faster. As for competition, the experts on this thread have already stated there will be little movement on the needle. I would argue that the offering serves to lock in the existing customer base and improve loyalty. Most important here is that Sam's is staying true to their customer centric focus- offering conveniences that customers have asked for.
  • Posted on: 07/11/2019

    Is Nordstrom staring at a ‘no-growth’ retail future?

    Nordstrom is still recovering from the passing of its visionary leader, but it will take a lot more to snuff out such a strong market beacon. I can’t remember the book I read it in, but quality matters. The example was, would you pay $100 to buy a new, high quality product (I think it was cookware) that will last 10 years or $10 to buy a product that lasts just one? Nordstrom has quality. I seriously doubt there will ever be a real shortage of weddings, graduations, celebrations or even business dealings that will be more than a slight bite into their business model. There are whole new untapped growth markets for Nordstrom’s such as international, omnichannel services and more. If retail is moving towards experience, the focus on casualization if the product is already less important and hence will have less impact. Doesn’t Nike already sell Air Jordan’s at a premium? Nordstrom will adapt as needed.
  • Posted on: 07/10/2019

    When does marketing cross an ethical line?

    Ethics is a whole other field of study, and people typically lie 10-90 times a day. There is a spectrum of ethics, not just ethical and unethical. For my view of retail marketing, the line is usually crossed when it become a legal tort or harm coming to others in part or in full because of the marketing. With customers becoming aware of and more clearly setting expectations, the consequences are becoming ever more pronounced. Take the VW emissions scandal -- a $4.3b cost, real degradation of the brand and execs being prosecuted. The vehicles actually drove several environmental awards for VW and Audi until it was realized that their ratings were high because their emissions control system would only operate when being tested. The actions of the company were reprehensible. However, would the unknowing marketer who advertised winning these environmental awards be acting unethically?
  • Posted on: 07/10/2019

    Will Amazon Live video light up sales for Lamps Plus on Prime Day?

    There’s a reason the TV ad market still exceeds $100 billion. The multi sensory engagement with video exceeds anything print, radio or other mediums can provide through sound and sight. Within online marketplaces, this method is a great way to stand out when you don’t always have the buy box on the crowded Amazon market. This drives customer attention. The cost/per metrics Lamps Plus use are fine to get started, but they really need to focus on sales lift and most importantly, longitudinal sales lift. This effort translates into more than immediate conversion, but is especially strong as a long term brand awareness play -- for a regional brand looking to operate in a global marketplace. Good move on expanding their marketing horizons -- including leveraging the marketplaces.
  • Posted on: 07/09/2019

    Is Primark ready to bust out in the USA?

    Just like other European retailers like Aldi and Lidl, entering a new geo market can be fraught with difficulties -- and retail is built one store at a time. The slow moving expansion is just fine and shows they have the smarts to play it right in the US, especially when starting off. For fashion there will continue to be tremendous competition including from manufacturers and apparel brands beyond other fast fashion retailers. When starting out, location matters -- and that’s what they need to get right first. Will be a retailer to watch.
  • Posted on: 07/08/2019

    Target expands its college tour

    The question really is about whether retail chains want to move in convenience. The nature of college campus stores goes beyond the bookstore -- which effectively are running a feverish semester-based sales cycle. Throughout the year however, c-stores drive purchasing on college campuses. Retailers that can design and adapt to c-store conveniences with a little expansion of their assortment have a leg up.
  • Posted on: 07/08/2019

    Is Walmart at an online crossroads?

    $1 billion is a lot of money but, for Walmart, with $129 billion in gross profits, it’s less than a 1 percent cost that not only stems the tide of customers rushing over to other online players (not to be named) but also drives critical services for customers. When combined with their overall customer offering and their low price strategy, e-commerce still makes sense for Walmart. No, this isn’t a crossroads. With great Q1 results, it’s the perfect time to remove the non-performing inefficiency found in its side businesses and it provides a way for Jet and ModCloth, etc. to truly be merged into the broader Walmart machine. E-commerce is here to stay and continues to grow -- linearly, so Walmart needs to keep it in its portfolio for customers -- linearly.
  • Posted on: 07/02/2019

    Are offline experiences becoming more important to online performance?

    Most of the experts on this thread have covered the key differences in offline-online experiences. I’ll add another twist: the physical presence is important because the online presence is highly volatile. The online experience is a hop, skip, and a click away from "poof!" Gone. It still takes a few minutes to walk out of a store and out of view of a parking lot sign.
  • Posted on: 07/01/2019

    Will a new BOPIS option boost Amazon’s results?

    Amazon’s move here is way overdue. UPS has its Access Points program at numerous localized pickup spots, FedEx with Delivery Manager program at many Walgreens locations. The effort by Amazon here is tied to localized, last mile delivery, not really tied to its selling or even availability of products. Rite Aid is hurting, with not so stellar 1st quarter results, so an appropriate deal with Amazon on distribution completely makes sense. That said, it’s not a win for everyone and for all intents and purposes, 100 or even 1500 locations for Amazon will hardly move the needle. The top 2 US drugstore chains have around 10,000 stores each. What it does do is reinforce the value and importance of BOPIS for retailers.
  • Posted on: 06/27/2019

    The data and analytics talk that must stop

    Unfortunately, we will practically never know everything about a customer. However, we can know relevant pieces to connect together concepts that matter. We have the capabilities to know enough about a customer to provide them improved experiences. Holistic experiences come from more than just prescience about the customer but also interaction with the customer -- soliciting new and relevant information in the moment. The idea that we have to "stop" this talk about analytics because it’s not holistic enough is absurd. Not only do customers expect retailers to use the information they have, they are willing to provide more to improve their experiences. The holistic nature of data is important and the closer we get to it the better and more successful you’ll be, but you never abandon what you know already on that path. If a customer comes into your store, that data point alone speaks volumes and clearly qualifies the customer more than others. Data is supportive to understanding the customer even if incomplete. Holistic customer experience for retail is about understanding the customer in the way they intend/prefer to interact with you. This is very much omnichannel.
  • Posted on: 06/26/2019

    Is complaining about customer service becoming America’s national pastime?

    Let’s be frank about complaints. Customers usually don’t give this kind of feedback. Given that the average American buys 65 garments per year (and that’s just garments -- a tiny % of their 300,000 items owned), that 48% that file at least a single complaint a year doesn’t amount to much feedback. It’s so rare, retailers should be more appreciative of the feedback they get, negative or not. Those that give it care enough about the brand to make it better or enough about the experience to share immense frustration. There will certainly be the immature feedback as well, but even these serve a purpose. Most customers don’t have the time or interest to complain to others, they will vote with their wallets first.

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