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: 11/14/2019

    Shoptalk makes a statement with a conference featuring only women speakers

    Controversy, publicity, and advertising. Despite the hoopla, the women retail leaders of today can and do stand on their own - in the same room as men. This effort by Shoptalk to capture parts of the #MeToo movement and diversification at the retail level is a clever and notable gesture, but the real changes need to start at the board level for retail organizations with decision making, not speaking engagements. Less than 20 percent of corporate board directors of the S&P 500 are women and globally less than 14.7 percent are women.
  • Posted on: 11/06/2019

    Food halls drive mall traffic, not clothing sales

    The suggestion that customers are buying apparel online vs. in the store is still way off base. Even with growth of online, over 70 percent of apparel sales are in the store. Level A malls drive plenty of traffic and plenty of transactions. Not sure the survey is causal and as some have already mentioned, many other factors affect the sales numbers for mall stores. Typically customers who are grabbing a meal still have to walk a half mile from the parking lot to reach the food hall - which for most malls is located in the middle of the mall forcing a march with screaming kids in tow past the stores and shops. This is by design at many malls. The shops are getting the visual aids, shoppers see the window dressings, and when possible making a mental note to visit one store or another on the way out. Mall owners need to think broader- The food hall is one element to help drive traffic and certainly not replacing the apparel shopper with food shoppers.
  • Posted on: 11/05/2019

    Is Amazon starting to fall out of favor with American consumers?

    Too much Amazon? Not sure that’s really in the minds of consumers. Saturation of the market is more likely. Just as with any market, the cost of acquiring new customers and retaining earlier ones go up over time. There’s a smaller available market and competitors are catching up in terms of tech and convenience experience. The surveyed changes are minimal -- 5% drop in members, 5% drop in pre-shop are still rounding errors at Amazon. We forget this game can be pretty long term and Amazon’s got a long haul truck with their build team on board. What is happening is other retailers providing at least as much in their customer experiences.
  • Posted on: 10/31/2019

    Are retailers out-of-step with consumers when it comes to price?

    Retailers are pretty quick to adapt, and the best retailers can figure out what their customers care about most. The retail exec doesn’t want to drive price wars and a race to the bottom. They understand the importance of price, but are seeking all alternative ways to provide value for that price. What the study finds is not misplaced however. It outlines that perception of prices overall are going up. This is different from what the exec is thinking. The fact is, the survey is missing the active indicators as customers are responding so strongly about price. The evidence is multi fold. Consumer confidence has remained flat at one of the highest levels in years. The retail market is thriving with >3% growth and unemployment remains unfettered at its lowest levels. Pricing might be rising, but customers are still buying, suggesting that price is not as important as customers response to a survey might be. Consumer actions speak volumes and that’s where the smart retail execs have their pulse.
  • Posted on: 10/30/2019

    Will free deliveries for Prime members make Amazon the driving force in online grocery?

    This is a real game changer -- but attached to a huge cost. This will only work if Amazon can sustain the losses for an extended period of time. Its biggest challenge will be adoption rate by Prime members and unless this is hockey stick style, it will be forced to reevaluate grocery aspirations. They won’t have the option of increasing pricing on Prime without a potential backlash. Due to demographics, mostly this change will affect the affluent grocery market, so expect some internal cannibalization of Whole Foods with lower foot traffic. Rivals, especially serving less affluent markets, may even see a bump in shopping. In shopper terms, the convenience will be great if promises are kept and Amazon can deliver within the timeframes. If Amazon halts or charges for the service again in the future, they will lose the grocery race (at least this round). Landry is definitely taking a bold step, but if they’re willing to eat the losses for as long as it takes and there is rapid, broad adoption - they have a chance to change the industry.
  • Posted on: 10/29/2019

    AI needs to be more than just a bright, shiny object

    AI is not for the faint of heart and requires deep understanding of data, both customer and operational. The best analogy I can think of is a precise surgical tool to solve very specific issues. It can be applied more generally, but you can use a kitchen knife instead, as well. In retail there are specific examples where AI has shown success: demand forecasting, automated recommendations, and similar. Applying the tech to other scenarios takes time, data scientists, and clear understanding of the problems that need to be solved. The best AI solutions won’t be sold as AI but as an embedded part of a data or analytics solution. It will be invisible but impactful to the bottom line. Retailers are typically not being taken for a ride. Smart execs already understand how to think through the best avenues to apply, test, and validate the success levels of AI or alternatively purchase the tech as part of a broader set of solutions to mitigate risk. It can be a powerful value for retail, and the silver bullet facade has long ago fallen away. The questions being asked now are much more focused on the application of AI to support a business value.
  • Posted on: 10/28/2019

    What makes voice assistants creepy?

    The inherent fear of individuals who don’t have clarity into what’s being done with their data is a scary proposition. Would you as a consumer ignore someone looking over your shoulder and eavesdropping on you 24/7? Studies show people who believe they are being watched or listened to have much higher levels of stress. I believe voice commerce will struggle. The conveniences don’t make sense for retail except for replenishments scenarios. The expectation the machine will know what your preferences are or can cater to your preferences usually requires some kind of sensory factors, such as visuals or descriptions. Enabling this through voice eliminates the convenience factor. Add to that the "creepiness" of 3rd party organizations having full transcripts of your conversations berating your kids or sharing bank account or health information and digitizing things that have been traditionally highly personal, the scenario becomes even less compelling in terms of real convenience. At this time, voice commerce doesn’t provide adequate conveniences and doesn’t alleviate fears of highly personal information security access. Until both of these take place, we won’t see it in the mainstream.
  • Posted on: 10/22/2019

    What should retailers do when brands post fake reviews?

    The retailer choices are plenty, but most retailers don’t intend to closely monitor reviews. It’s an added cost and a hassle to monitor. The FTC has taken stronger actions in the past, and their job is to enable fair practices when it comes to trade. In one similar example this year, the FTC fined a company $12.8MM with a reprieve based on certain qualifying events. However this is relatively new for the FTC. The retailers themselves are in the best position to outline policies when partnering including delineating what is an acceptable review. There are review tools that allow for confirmed purchases and identify potential fraud. Retailers can take advantage of these. Most consumers are trusting reviews less than before and the reviews are not the only decision making tool. For the retailer, it’s table stakes to have reviews, but active monitoring isn’t usually impactful enough for the retailer to concentrate on it.
  • Posted on: 10/18/2019

    Have Giant Food and Stop & Shop nailed ‘frictionless’ checkouts?

    The scan and go checkout has many flavors but at its core it no longer drives customer excitement or novelty. It’s about performance and execution now. Even the store-provided handhelds - which Giant has been testing for years - haven’t shown great adoption with device maintenance being a common issue. Putting the task back to the customer, the challenge is that the device capabilities of personal devices don’t match the 3-D laser bar code trackers at the register in speed or capability, and cashiers are scanning items all day long compared to consumers in terms of scanning efficiency. There will be pockets of advancement and retailers will continue to test, but mass scale adoption will require something that can match register performance before it happens.
  • Posted on: 10/17/2019

    Is e-grocery less convenient than shopping in stores?

    I still can’t imagine how grabbing a plump bag of chips while walking through a grocery aisle can give me anything close to an online experience of seeing a picture of the bag online and clicking a button- no matter how tastefully done. So the question really is not whether we’re bringing customer store experiences online, but whether we’re changing customer experiences to select or prefer the online experience over the brick and mortar one. There will be some customers who will be more adoptive of making their 100 item online list and sticking to it, but even grocery shopping comes with a huge amount of impulse buying. Walking through the store and seeing the juicy tomatoes or a beautiful cake on the countertop drives a different experience than any recommendation engine. The biggest misconception around shopping is the expectation that humans are rational and all they care about is the purchase and end state, not the journey. This is a societal behavior change and the online experience provides only selective conveniences at specific times. I believe the end result will be like many items in the world -- coexistence.
  • Posted on: 10/15/2019

    Will customers give Walmart the keys to their homes?

    Walmart will learn whether home access concerns outweigh convenience with grocery products. They will learn whether a set of customers are willing to invest monthly for this type of service and the level of demand. They will learn about some of the geo-operational concerns of offering this kind of service- e.g. rural/urban, bulk/individual, fresh/shelf. They’ll learn about the cost structure and management of this kind of service. They’ll learn whether it makes sense to launch it nationally or in select regions. They’ll learn more about why customers prefer to select their own food products and when they’re willing to pass. Walmart will learn whether this type of service means heavy education and changing customer behavior and/or how to insert the service into existing behavior. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. As for adoption, that’s hard to tell. The grocery market has been moving slower than other markets. A recent Gallup poll suggests slow slow growth. The assumptions of single home residences vs. rental properties. Temporary arrangements vs. ongoing needs for say, the elderly. This is all fluid and part of what Walmart is trying to figure out. At the beginning adoption will certainly be minimal - but over time, convenience can open many refrigerator doors.
  • Posted on: 10/10/2019

    Personalized promos add up to a ‘win-win’ for retailers and consumers

    I'm not sure how prevalent personalized pricing can become, especially because of the general trend that information disseminates quickly. People will know if there are differing rates. The study covered a broad set of customers and found a 1 percent to 3 percent lift for buying frequency, AOV, etc. in China specifically. For specific retail verticals and other markets the impact may be different. More importantly, consumer behavior will only change to the degree that consumers can get better prices or game the system. There may even be sites that crop up to offer consolidation of pricing and enabling "best price" options for the customer. For some who are seeking a bargain, this will be exciting and another opportunity to save, for others it will be an annoyance. Large price differentials will be hard to achieve and I surmise differentials will sink and plateau to the same levels that retailers gain: 1 percent to 3 percent. I can’t imagine customers paying 20 percent premiums on a product because they received personalized pricing -- especially with so much online research and availability of information and customer reviews.
  • Posted on: 10/09/2019

    Why is Target helping Toys “R” Us get back online?

    $27 billion. For starters. It’s the size of U.S. retail toy sales ca. 2017, with 7 percent growth even as Toys "R" Us was crumbling under debt pressures. The many players who’ve been scrambling to pull in Toys "R" Us's customers expand to just about all the major retail multi-merchant stores. It was inevitable that some major player would pick up the branding of an iconic name tied to this industry. Target's move is win-win. Toys "R" Us would most likely return on top of a more efficient retail model and Target is a perfect choice.
  • Posted on: 10/07/2019

    Should Amazon rent out its Just Walk Out tech?

    Biggest motivation = concept viability (although money comes a close second). For Amazon, there are substantial challenges with scaling its Go concept. Why? It’s a closed concept. Only Amazon could deliver it and it would guarantee Amazon enormous market potential as Brandon writes. Amazon's retail business is lower margin and driven by their marketplace relationship, which they’re hoping to replicate again but in this case, the retailers are already wary and "Just Walk Out" is not the flavor of the month. Whoever Amazon pays (through incentives and low cost) to roll out these solutions will be in an unenviable position of being a scalability test case. Even if adoption becomes more widespread, there will be new competition from players in the IoT and sensor areas that will present options that are more open and less dependent on Amazon as a central piece to the model. Lastly, some tech such as scan and go will be a far cheaper, less risky and almost as sufficient a solution for retailers taking the cashier-less model seriously. Narrow market and narrower options for Amazon in retail. But Amazon has no incentive to fund retail real estate and infrastructure at scale themselves.
  • Posted on: 10/04/2019

    Kroger makes unusual donation to prevent a food desert

    The business roundtable companies donate over $8B to charity last year. This move by Kroger is reflective of their values. While it won’t impact revenues dramatically, every company, especially larger ones or highly branded ones have PR firms on retainer. There is only upside to this for Kroger and the closer to believing this mantra of supporting their community at large they are, the more public support it will drive for them.

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