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: 05/24/2019

    Questions abound about the value of net promoter scores

    It’s not really a word of mouth growth metric. Despite the negative press on NPS it is, however, a solid measure of customers' feelings toward your brand. As a matter of fact the largest challenge with NPS is tying it to immediate business results. The metric is long term and changes in NPS scores can indicate a souring of public perception or improvement of branding in the marketplace, including cultural changes. Successful companies continue to use the metric and it serves a distinct purpose as a canary in the coal mine in addition to its customer focus assessment. Lastly, it serves as a way to communicate to customers that the company values customer opinion and cares about them -- even if not used as a metric. It plays a critical role in PR.
  • Posted on: 05/23/2019

    BBQ Guys and Lowe’s discuss best practices for implementing AI tech

    This is all about communication. Anything that rocket/data scientists do must still be translated into concepts that are easier to understand. More importantly, these must be shown to positively impact the business and customer. However, AI/ML is very much a black box scenario. Not everything is visible and in many cases, data scientists are testing out variations to their algorithms and training with different sets of data. It’s great to inform and outline the "Why are we doing AI?" question to departments, but giving them a say in what to test and improve is better still. Lowe’s newsletter is a scalable idea that is a good starting point. But it can’t end there. When improving business ops, employees must be involved and understand what’s happening, which means "Data Science Training 101."
  • Posted on: 05/17/2019

    Do treasure hunt experiences provide the key to discounters’ fortunes?

    Customers still shop mostly in stores. Well operated discounters still can pull in lower costs for customers and continued growth. It’s those that are unable to adapt to the customers needs (e.g. omnichannel) or have other baggage like debt or poor management that fall flat -- like any other business sector. Some top stores will continue to be the warehouse clubs, dollar stores, and niche players that offer more than just low price but also convenience and customer needs without sacrificing a solid operating model -- Dollar Store, TJX, Ross, BJs, Costco, Sams Club, Walmart and more ... far more successes than failures in this sector, especially because they have a larger demographic. Volume becomes key.
  • Posted on: 05/16/2019

    Study says Whole Foods is the priciest grocer of them all

    The whole Whole Foods concept has been whacked out of proportion because of Amazon's marketing machine. They are a mere 1.1% of the grocery market (or in that range). It's also very much against the grain of Amazon -- where Amazon is commoditizing products, Whole Foods attempts to build premium branding. As many on this thread have already stated, this is not new news, and consumers have already factored Whole Foods pricing into their decision on whether to shop there. Ideally, Whole Foods needs a new angle, as their original premium organic play in the market has been copied by tons of large and regional grocers, diluting any brand image edge they had. They still have the "status" value for some customers, and I believe most of their locations are in more affluent neighborhoods, but it's a deteriorating image that needs to be revamped. Amazon still hasn't done much to enhance it.
  • Posted on: 05/15/2019

    Why is Amazon paying employees to quit their jobs?

    From the sound of it and the fact that the DSP was announced over a year ago, pushing employees in this direction sounds more like a PR-enabled severance package to reduce workers in warehouses, not engage them for last mile delivery. There might even be some cost savings by limiting employees to 3 months pay, certainly not enough time to launch a solid delivery business. If there’s any increase in delivery efficiency, it won’t be from warehouse workers delivering goods. In the course of a year only 200 business were formed for DSP, so even a 10x increase in businesses started will cost Amazon almost nothing. This is all PR and employee relations. There’s no indication that other retailers will follow suit, nor is it in their best interest to move more vertically, as costs and time would be overwhelming.
  • Posted on: 05/09/2019

    Are machine learning and AI the path to enhanced personalization?

    AI/ML’s number one value add for personalization is scalability. It allows for a machine to figure out what kind of messaging, options, customer path, and incentives to offer a customer based on a myriad of parameters. What makes it better than outright rule-based delivery of personalization is that it also has the ability to adjust its rules based on changes in circumstances and customers- allowing for scalability of the maintenance and support of personalization across wide and diverse audiences. That said, it’s still very early in the game and AI/ML has a long road ahead. Retailers have to invest heavily in the right people and tech to shift their financials and see results.
  • Posted on: 05/06/2019

    What companies need to know before using AI

    I'll share my offsite blog with the RetailWire audience to answer this question - feel free to partake or not. I’ve condensed some key points I observed about AI below. I believe the 8 realities of retail AI are:
    • It's early days
    • Digital to ops
    • Many applications in retail
    • Invisible to the public
    • Not always ROI based
    • Data dependent
    • Talent deficit
    • Many variations of AI including natural language processing, machine learning, forecasting, pattern recognition and more.
    Please read my blog on this for more depth on each.
  • Posted on: 05/01/2019

    Are smartphones making sales associates obsolete?

    As Paula mentioned, apples and oranges. The top questions asked to a retail floor rep are "where’s my product?" or "where’s the restroom?" But this happened long before smartphones came along. Some retail industries have turned their employees into consultative sellers, but most retail employees are not customer engaging. Instead, they’re marking up at the receiving dock, stocking shelves, doing cycle counts, doing quality checks, cleaning the floor, putting up promotions, reconfiguring an end cap, or manning a register. Mobile is nowhere near to the actual tasks of a retail employee. Some have been able to use mobile tablets, etc, for POS and similar, but these are not self-service and mostly tied to productivity of tasks the employee already does. For this issue, the question the retailer must ask is, "where do I spend my limited profit margins?"
  • Posted on: 04/29/2019

    Walmart’s Intelligent Retail Lab store runs on AI

    For customer facing engagement, these are the places to start -- out-of-stocks, lines, and physical carts. Why? Because that’s what the customer engages with. They don’t see the behind-the-scenes operations, logistics, or employee productivity parts. Transparency by Walmart is a great move and differentiates from closed systems in-store where all the customers know about is a black box system that powers the store convenience (e.g. Amazon Go). Customers already know tech is there, making it open fosters trust and reduces concerns about privacy. As customers understand the data being collected is to better their in-store experience, it becomes a non-concern for them. Great lab setup for Walmart and will provide them with a good perspective for focusing on the right store tech.
  • Posted on: 04/25/2019

    What’s really driving disruption? (Hint: it’s not technology)

    So many folks are saying "it’s the customer" that drives disruption. Yes, but how did it get to that point in the first place? Are we saying that 30 years ago the customer was NOT the key factor in retail success? Michael Decker touched on this earlier. I will venture that it WAS technology that brought about disruption in the market. Not the tech applied in the retail environment, but the tech advances made in non-commerce areas -- internet, mobile phones, social media, etc. Matter of fact, it’s technology that has empowered customers to know more, access more, and have more information in their pockets than anything else. Today’s disruptive changes are direct consequences of yesterday’s innovations and most important -- they are interrelated.
  • Posted on: 04/12/2019

    Why consumers are breaking bonds with their favorite brands

    Brands are being tested in today’s market - because the earlier advertising and PR-driven messaging is now supplemented by access to tons of data and millions of customers, all of whom had different experiences with a brand. In the past it was what you and perhaps your neighbors or work colleagues knew about a brand. Today it’s what a family on the other side of the planet knows about it. Brands have to reinvent themselves and be more diligent in managing their relationships with the public. PR is becoming a more important and less controllable environment. The digitalization is on the consumer side -- with access to far deeper information about brands, including where the bodies are buried. Legacy brands have to re-establish themselves or risk losing business. The best brands are rebuilding their customer relationships including highlighting successes from their nostalgic past.
  • Posted on: 04/12/2019

    Should retail rivals see Amazon’s $15 minimum wage and raise it $1?

    It’s great that Amazon is jumping on the minimum wage bus. But they are certainly not first. Many retailers have already made significant strides here. This does fall into Amazon’s opportunistic mindset however. Many retailers are ill-equipped to raise wages or provide added employee services without ripping into their profits. Surely Bezos knows this. From the outside it looks like Amazon is using capital to eliminate market competition and even push low margin retailers out. Internally, maybe he’s become more magnanimous now that he’s the wealthiest of all. Retailers won’t be following his lead on this one though -- they can’t afford to.
  • Posted on: 04/08/2019

    Should uniform pricing be the norm for large chains?

    Unfortunately, this study, though I’m sure has been well developed, has just too small a sample size to apply to the retail industry, and moreover is tied to an outdated product that has been trending downward since the smartphone (digital cameras). This product hardly reflects the massive variety of products in today’s market. They looked at three chain stores and two used uniform pricing while the third was localized. The issues in pricing deficiency may have arisen from so many factors including branding and management of the single chain that was examined that used localized pricing. Just not enough data to project this to any part of the retail market except these three chains and digital cameras. Uniform pricing value is dependent on the savings in complexity it eliminates at the risk of potential profits, which I haven’t seen any researchers delve deep enough into -- yet.
  • Posted on: 04/05/2019

    Will Amazon, CVS or Walgreens win the speedy Rx delivery race?

    Rx delivery will grow. However, most PBMs already push 3 month script delivery with mail order prescription companies like ExpressScripts and others that have been engaged in this market for years. The race is not so much tied to delivery time as it is to convenience and in some cases, trusted branding. It’s not all about the aging population needing scripts. There are ongoing challenges for the pure play in customers who are switching providers (almost every job change), advice at the counter, store presence (almost every shopping center has a drug store), and medical provider-insurance provider relationships that will drive presence and customer preferential change. Why else would CVS and Aetna be merging? No, this market will not be lost by CVS and Walgreens -- but it will become more efficient in delivery, where customers who want it can have it.
  • Posted on: 04/03/2019

    Okay Google, how can you help grow Walmart’s online grocery business?

    No earlier than 3 years out. Jon Polin hit the real challenge with conversational commerce on the head -- especially for grocery and regularly consumed goods. People can’t remember long lists and they don’t have the patience to have the device recite their lists back to them. Even small setbacks in a list such as a stock-out of a common brand will make it challenging. This whole idea of add one, take one off only works when you know what’s on it. Maybe other folks have great memory, but I won’t have a clue what’s on my list after a day at work, nor will I have the time to listen to it recited. Lists are visual devices and hence this is not the way into conversational commerce. For Walmart it’s setting the stage for the future, and making sure they jump in the right bed, which for them is not Amazon’s.

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