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: 03/19/2019

    Are Amazon’s private labels falling short or just getting started?

    Amazon is the brand, not the private labels they are clearly not building. Not only are they falling short, the actual sales they’ve driven has nothing to do with branding specific products and everything to do with branding their platform and underpricing competitors. Taking advantage of data and their captive audience of sellers, they can easily find the best opportunities. They’ve had many years to work through and optimize their private brands -- and not sure that more investment at this point would have significant impact in the market. More importantly, real branded retailers have been honing their response and engagement to counter any Amazon inroads. This market has plateaued or will have slow growth for Amazon and is probably not really where they want to go anyway.
  • Posted on: 03/18/2019

    Can location intelligence provide a lifeline for retailers?

    Geolocation needs to find applicable scenarios that will change the value prop for the customer. An example might be delivering geo information in parking lots for store pickup where the customer’s experience is improved. The value of geolocation can also extend to personalization of experiences. The hurdles are not necessarily around privacy but more around complacency of solutions offered. Investments here and ROI depends on the retailer and the maturity of their capabilities such as BOPIS. It will grow over time as new applications and where customers are located. Lastly, retailers shouldn’t underestimate the value of collecting data through geolocation. Combined with time stamps and product info, specific retailers can gain substantial customer understanding.
  • Posted on: 03/14/2019

    Will an IPO help Levi’s conquer the world?

    IPO decisions by well established companies is about money or control. Levi’s has made their decision having full faith that they will be able to continue making the necessary decisions to ensure future growth. Given the speed of change in retail, the pressure for growth will be there whether it’s coming from Wall Street or retail competitors. This is Levi’s management leveraging their current growth trend to add in a safety cushion. A rapid market downturn might change the trend with greater liability to the public, but I’m certain that’s been factored in. It’s better to ask for money when it’s not needed.
  • Posted on: 03/11/2019

    7-Eleven to take a page from Starbucks with a café concept

    With over 1000 new stores in the US also selling fuel, 7-Eleven is expanding their mix of stores. About 70% of c-stores also sell fuel, and the opportunity to engage customers and bring them into the stores remains a key factor. If the cafe concept can bring in even a tiny percentage of customers it can be successful. Highway rest stops are part of the retail overhaul and 7-Eleven will participate in this engagement. The fact that they are testing new options outside the typical localized c-store is all about growth. For franchisees, the response will be mixed and they would need proof that these services are worth the investment.
  • Posted on: 02/27/2019

    Should retailers blame slow sales on the weather?

    In the case of Home Depot, they knew exactly what’s going on with the weather and attributed accordingly 85 basis points of negative impact from weather for Q4. They also identified that issues such as storms and hurricanes are a positive influence as most of these communities require substantial rebuilding and usually on short notice for infrastructure, buildings and municipality charges. In the broader scope, retailers usually have a good handle on weather impact, except perhaps one-time events, which are usually positive for Home DIY chains. This understanding begins at the store level with managers understanding local weather conditions and its impact on their stores. More important, localization is a factor that many retailers already incorporate into demand forecasting as well as cost structure. Weather remains one factor of doing business. Retailers that don’t incorporate weather in their thinking either are minimally impacted by it or are at competitive peril.
  • Posted on: 02/22/2019

    Home design site opens house to showcase brands

    It’s one design and the concept is not new. Almost all retailers in design and home goods from TJX to Ikea have a format that showcases designs — including Home Depot and Lowe’s. The key difference is the storeroom in the back and the POS out front that lets customers take the products home. There may be certain opportunities for highly specialized or rare goods, but it’s difficult to see it as a mainstream model. At best, it will replace or supplement the circular.
  • Posted on: 02/22/2019

    Why is shelf management getting short shrift in supermarkets?

    Where’s the sparkle? Where’s the sizzle? For grocers, the shelf is not the main concern because they’ve been optimizing it for hundreds of years. The fact that it’s not doable in real time has limited data accuracy and metrics beyond t-logs and misses the "profitability" factor when optimizing makes it ever more difficult. Few stores have aisle resets more than once or twice a week, and resources are scant when it means operating the store or managing a line at the registers. Add to that the tiny margins grocers have now, it becomes clear why dynamic planogram technologies just haven’t taken off. Lastly, most tech being used for shelf mgt has yet to prove its weight — especially on an enterprise scale across thousands of stores. The few examples I have seen are in optimizing point of purchase displays, which is less shelf mgt and more marketing spend mgt.
  • Posted on: 02/21/2019

    Lego brings AR to an empty store

    Virtual stores are not a complete novelty, but they drive branding and interaction far more than actual transactions. This may slowly change over time -- but LEGO is a master at branding. What this does do is engage mobile tech more than before while encouraging the subset of customers that are using apps like Snapchat to become engaged in the process. For LEGO, the branding is evident in the concurrent releases of their Lego 2 movie and the enormous amount of merchandising and entertainment.
  • Posted on: 02/20/2019

    What will it take to transform BOPIS ops from just okay to great?

    So many retailers are tripping over their own feet to make BOPIS work. It’s still just growing pains. The main pain point for BOPIS customers is the lack of reliability, standardization, and adoption across the retail industry. Once customers see it working, the more it will be ingrained as another option for purchasing and fulfillment. Just like any initiative, retailers need to invest in the back end and infrastructure to make it work. The tech component will not matter as much as the people and process components will.
  • Posted on: 02/19/2019

    Are disappointing holiday sales numbers a harbinger of things to come?

    The retail sector is continuing to grow. There were some breaks in the path -- crash of the stock market, wary spending, and pre-buying in November instead of December, and a government shutdown. Not sure who identified this already, but +2.1% from last year and -1.3% from November. November had only a small gain from Oct 2018 numbers as well. This was just a small blip in the economy from several factors and doesn’t contradict the success of the overall season. I would be surprised if it didn’t happen after a shutdown and market drop. Check the $505.8B details here.
  • Posted on: 02/14/2019

    America has too many retail stores

    Let’s put this in context. If you had a jar of 1,000 pennies and five fell out while three more were put in later that day- would it matter? The top 500 retail chains alone in the U.S. have in the range of 180,000 stores. The minute changes we’re seeing are part of the regular updating and optimizing of store locations. These are part of the regular operations of real estate teams at most retailers. A better look would be square footage of stores- especially as we’ve used metrics like dollars per square foot and comp. store sales usually based on similarly-sized stores to measure performance. The store sizes are what’s changing far more than the count. It will be interesting to see if we can move towards elasticity and on-demand stores or store space in the future.
  • Posted on: 02/08/2019

    Product and promo knowledge won’t make the sale

    Salesmanship is a critical skill for retail -- steeped in integrity, authenticity, and a genuine effort to help others. The human element of retail is sometimes completely missing from discussions about new tech solutions. Sales associates need to prioritize these skills to be brand ambassadors -- which they are, just by standing at a register or stocking a shelf. As for examples, I’ll pick on Walmart that had its greeter program, manager scenario training and more -- but the challenge is to make it stick. Apple is moving in the right direction by integrating Deirdre who also runs HR to head up retail. Personalization comes from more than just tech.
  • Posted on: 02/05/2019

    Walgreens tests tech that sort of recognizes you in-store

    Doesn’t help the shopper much, but it can help the retailer, especially in avoiding poor quality displays, out-of-stocks for certain products and damaged packaging on items. It also reduces the time needed to update/manage the coolers by staff members in the store. Identifying the customer is an add-on to capture personalization at the same time, but the risks here will result into this just devolving to standard digital signage. Still not sure how valuable that will be -- even with high quality screens. Customers still like to see the product.
  • Posted on: 02/05/2019

    Will Target’s dynamic pricing strategy erode customers’ trust?

    Typically not Target's style and the response was lackluster and not trustworthy. The only redeeming fact might be a test (given this was in their hometown) and they were exploring, or... a low level mistake. In either case, the general consumer consensus has narrowed down to consistency in pricing across store and online. They need a solid public statement and to halt the practice as soon as possible. Not like Target at all....
  • Posted on: 02/04/2019

    Did Trader Joe’s make the right decision to end grocery deliveries?

    Sound decision on Traders Joe’s part -- especially for their metro stores (and perhaps their parent company Aldi). For them, brand matters. Private labels matter. Store experience matters. By stepping out of the delivery space they continue to build on the loyalty and current branding of their products and services -- including the down-to-earth pictures and comments splattered across the store walls. They’ll return if/when it adds to their bottom line and when down-to-earth is synonymous with delivery.

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