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 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: 11/13/2018

    Will right-sized stores drive bigger returns for Macy’s?

    An interesting play here is the change in how customers will flow through the store -- store layout. Macy's will now have a single point of engagement for checkout per floor rather than customers searching for an associate or walking in circles to find checkout. The smaller footprint allows for fewer associates and an easier experience for less frequent customers unfamiliar with the store layout. This is all upside for Macy's and fits nicely with their lower performing locations by also lowering staffing costs and making these stores more profitable.
  • Posted on: 11/13/2018

    Walmart puts AI to the test in an in-store lab

    AI is up and coming and will become more prominent as companies like Walmart experiment and validate investment returns. The key places where AI has seen success in retail is in demand planning and inventory management. Other companies are trying to find ways to map in-store labor, but these solutions are more business-rule focused than mapping to predictive AI systems. The challenge remains the dynamic nature of such solutions. Forecasting will drive AI value, but will take time to expand to specific problems first, then later expand more generically to issues. There will be some applications in personalization as well, especially as part of larger commerce solutions. However, it will impact the back office and operational side long before consumers know it's there. Conversational commerce might be another public avenue that has potential -- but even here the returns are not immediate.
  • Posted on: 11/12/2018

    Why do Millennials love private label groceries so much?

    Millennials really aren't loving it -- per Cadent's survey, 76 percent of a typical basket is not private label products, and I suspect with further in-depth review you'll find that frequency of purchase is even less. Millennials' income levels are still far below that of the average Boomer -- as a matter of fact almost 25 percent behind them on median income. Frankly, they can't afford the premium pricing for most private label products. What they do find however is status and brand value for select products. Connecting with friends and engaging on specific branding might be why the ratios of private label products in typical baskets for Millennials and others differ by ~7 percent. Part of this can also be attributed to stores like Aldi expanding -- who sell only private label and are also seeking to corner lower pricing on select products. The store selection probably matters more than the private label nature of the buy.
  • Posted on: 11/12/2018

    Amazon and Apple get co-opetitive

    Standard co-opetitive play. Apple already sells its products everywhere -- from Target to Best Buy -- Amazon would prefer more "legitimate" sales from Apple rather than third-party resellers -- approved or not -- resulting in higher sales, the right target market and the opportunity to capture data about Apple users. For Apple, it gives them expanded reach plus control over what is distributed in the Amazon universe. This may affect some rival players, but Best Buy's success is a testament that it won't be adverse.
  • Posted on: 11/08/2018

    What will Instacart’s new grocery pickup service mean for home delivery?

    Curbside pickup is yet another option for consumer convenience and a strong move by Instacart to offer adjacent services to delivery, countering home grown curbside programs like Clicklist et. al. It gives grocers who don't have the resources, skill set, or motivation a chance to play with the big guys. Good move with staying power.
  • Posted on: 11/05/2018

    Did Amazon just crush Target and Walmart’s free holiday shipping moves?

    Free shipping is a primary discount offered during holidays. Nothing has changed. This just narrows the field down to execution. Walmart still has the broadest logistical network and stores to match. Amazon has expanded their logistics. Target has done the same. Free shipping has always been a staple of the holiday season -- and you can add to that Free Shipping Day coming up on December 14th this year across over 1000 retailers.
  • Posted on: 11/02/2018

    Why do landlords say they’re happy that Sears is shuttering stores?

    Part of this is really about the long-term contracts and renewals for malls (usually between five and 10 years). Sears has been such a long and storied company, they were able to negotiate long duration contracts and low lease rates for many of their properties. Retail is soaring right now, and malls will be happy to find tenants who will pay more -- especially as they are always trying to expand and find more revenue sources for their malls. The shuttering of stores opens up mall space to immediate, new, higher price contracts with more attractive retailers instead of long-term lock-in. Other tenants would be pleased to see the possibilities of attracting and catering to new customer bases, especially with the introduction of other types of tenants such as supermarkets and fitness centers -- that bring in reliable traffic.
  • Posted on: 11/02/2018

    Are Target and Walmart customers dreaming of a mobile checkout Christmas?

    Mobile checkout is an add-on to express lines, self-checkout, pre-order, and BOPIS. It's about allowing customers to shop their way (Sears?) and convenience during a frenzied store experience. For retailers like Target and Walmart, it endears them to the store associates (Check Out With Me) and handles overflow -- certainly needed during holiday seasons. Chains will see success based on how well they've executed and rolled out their in-store solution, how well they've trained their associates, and how well they've integrated their tech with the backend -- especially inventory. Holiday season is when mobile checkout will shine by improving the customer experiences in the store.
  • Posted on: 11/01/2018

    Is there a failure to communicate between retail HQs and stores?

    Communication is such a key factor for retailers. Store walkthroughs, internal audits, operational standards and district and regional team gatherings are critical for district and regional managers to work with individual stores to build not just relationships but the ability to communicate well. Setting a new POP display rollout when stores are already underwater throws stores into a frenzy -- with many store managers just abandoning whatever instructions were forwarded from HQ. Marketers at HQ then start wondering why their nationwide marketing campaign performed so poorly. Companies like Reflexis, Opterus, Tulip, et. al. and some of the larger time management vendors have optimized HQ-store communication solutions that can be critical for retail.
  • Posted on: 11/01/2018

    Will Albertsons have robots filling online grocery orders in its stores?

    Last-mile delivery from the store can be valuable in specific cases, but it's not a panacea. The entire supply chain is still required for the delivery to happen. This can only work if there is excess inventory at store locations (otherwise, it's just a co-located DC), and that in itself increases days sale outstanding as well as inherent inefficiencies in the supply chain for storing product. It also suggests poor demand planning by the retailer -- all of which contribute to lower profitability, making price per unit higher not lower. Inside the store we see added problems such as increased costs to manage in-store picking and packing (added training and hiring). Add to that the cost of the tech. The pros: faster time to deliver to customers (albeit at higher expense). Grocery will most likely have a hybrid version of distributed and centralized last-mile delivery options over time that will improve in efficiency.
  • Posted on: 10/31/2018

    Will Goodyear roll over rivals with new Millennial-friendly showroom concept?

    This concept is all about the other person's showroom, not Goodyear's. Bring customers in, drop off the keys, and shop other stores. It is also about location. This can generate business, but very dependent on the rep on the floor. It takes away inconvenience by allowing customers to multitask and bundle their car service with more exciting shopping. Car service is tied to time in store. Jiffy Lube, Pep Boys, etc. all have internal timing requirements for their services -- Goodyear is doing something a bit different to eliminate the time constraint. Not sure of the ripple effect -- it will be a watch and see for most competitors.
  • Posted on: 10/31/2018

    Has CVS found an answer to blunt Amazon’s move into the pharmacy business?

    CarePass is a good loyalty move that's been a moving target until recently. Companies like ExpressScripts have been delivering mail-order pharmaceuticals for years. Drug retailers like CVS and Walgreens have been engaging mail order as well - with substantial repeat buyers in this space. Amazon's PillPack will eventually come up against the wall of customers who want to speak and consult with their pharmacist or ensure that appropriate charges are being handled through their insurance companies. CVS will continue to add services like MinuteClinic, Flu Shots and market their program to the point that it adds value to customers in the store. Add to that almost 10,000 CVS stores, and the purchase of Aetna, there will be a much tighter relationship for CVS and the customer.
  • Posted on: 10/30/2018

    Is Sam’s reimagining the future of warehouse clubs?

    This is a great opportunity for Sam's Club to go deeper into understanding their customer and customer needs. Competing against Costco and BJs is a challenge with similar models. Sam's Club now has the opportunity to validate customer preferences, understand new ways of associate-customer engagement, and establish the value of technology in various parts of its operations. Good move on its part. Costco and BJs have their own methods of testing the market, for instance mobile and apps at BJs. There will be continued investment in experimentation -- but this store opening won't trigger rapid investment, or a reaction from competitors.
  • Posted on: 10/29/2018

    What if artificial intelligence is biased?

    What a great set of thoughts already. Big concern -- yes. Biases, if uncovered, can topple brand value rapidly, especially as it dehumanizes engagement with customers. We are still at the early stages of AI and the problem that occurs is that our bias corrections are not objective enough to be bias free, so we just introduce another set of biases into the training data or apply fixed business rules on top of results, diminishing the value of AI tools to uncover things that humans wouldn't normally find easily. AI is quite promising, but we're not at a point where the concerns are well founded nor can we deliver results that can be used readily in retail -- except in select cases such as logistics or demand planning.
  • Posted on: 10/25/2018

    Black Friday is too late

    Interestingly, Black Friday has really only been around since the late '80s.

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