PROFILE

Ananda Chakravarty

Retail Thought Leader
Ananda is a retail thought leader. Currently Ananda is Director, Global Retail Lead & Software Strategy at Diebold Nixdorf, the premier firm in European retail and progenitor of the ATM. Ananda also served as 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: 06/22/2021

    What does it take for stores to satisfy their pickiest customers?

    For the sales associate, none. Nod your head a few times and move on. The picky customer will drain time and resources without closing a sale. Trying to make a pitch or even suggesting a product will generate a barrage of criticism about the product or your service and an overall bad experience. For most sales reps, it’s not worth their time or morale to engage. Thankfully, these types of customers are not frequent. Preferably, you’ll be able to focus on providing better services to customers who will pay and will not be as critical. In most cases, the picky customer really doesn’t need the associate’s help and can establish whether items are in their wheelhouse on their own.
  • Posted on: 06/17/2021

    What does it take to make omnichannel marketing work?

    You can make omnichannel marketing work with partial data -- and for all intents and purposes you must. The ability to completely understand a customer and their situation is near impossible. Despite the enormous amounts of data collected, purchased, and shared, customers can be quite elusive. They may be paying at competitor stores in cash. Their kid can visit a site on their account days before for the marketing ad you paid for. Their neighbor may have loaned them the new lawn mower they were planning to purchase. They may have decided to close down their loyalty card due to a competitor data breach. The constant dynamic nature of shopping is the real issue, and the best retailers are ready with offering any mechanism the customer seeks at that time to address. Those best able to connect with the customers needs in the moment gets the business. Iyengar’s comment about context is spot on. Behaviors change -- all the time. This means a partial solution -- you’ll never see the whole customer journey, but you should plan for all of them.
  • Posted on: 06/15/2021

    Amazon scales its Just Walk Out tech for a full-size grocery store

    It will be a slow rollout — maybe to Fresh, doubtfully to more than a handful of Whole Foods. Amazon wants to sell shovels and picks in this case and not be the retailer with this tech, so their purpose is to showcase JWO more than broad scale deployment, although they might have to do the broad scale deployment to bring retailers on board. The challenge with the tech is that it’s tied to a single brand or chain or store. Most shoppers buy from many different stores, and pulling out and plugging a credit card in or tapping a wireless enabled credit card is a single process replicated in ALL stores they visit. Amazon is requiring they abandon their modus operandi for just one set of stores and there’s no other competitive reason to go into these stores other than the novelty- the time/convenience saved is a few seconds. This will slow the adoption of no-checkout until there’s a noticeable point of inflection. That point is still several years out.
  • Posted on: 06/14/2021

    UPS entry could even the same-day delivery playing field

    Same-day delivery is a high cost logistical nightmare. Only the major delivery services have the capability of reliably servicing this market and would need to do it at the expense of existing business, hence incentive is low. There is also a limited set of customers demanding this model so market potential is reduced. That said, capturing this space could drive dramatic market change and hence the reason why UPS, DHL, FedEx and even Amazon pursues this next rung in the delivery game. The shift to same-day will continue to be steady and slow until it reaches a tipping point. A great article on this can be found here. For UPS, their shipping focus has reset to the SMBs anyway - higher profitability. The large retailer market is one the carriers need but are unable to push for higher profits. As same-day scales up (under a separate banner for UPS) there will be adoption, but not uniform. Let there be no illusion, only a subset of the population will digest the additional price for a package coming a few days later, and it may not be a substantial price. The carriers (and consumers) will decide whether it’s worth the cost regardless of Amazon’s delivery presence.
  • Posted on: 06/11/2021

    Retailers expected to ace the back-to-school sales test

    Will definitely echo my colleagues on this thread. Bounce back in apparel, office supplies and electronics. We’ll see sporting goods doing well too. What might be a little different is the nature of clothing and returns. Lots of stockpiling went on, followed by dumping clothes to discounters and liquidators. So the market cycle begins again, but apparel will be buying less as discounters are paying less and either the retailer has stowed away last years apparel or has sold it off at high discounts, so there’s excess clothing inventory in the market. The demand has shifted as well towards WFH apparel so formal wear will be far less a focus. That said, everyone’s anticipating the bounce back and it becomes self-fulfilling at that point for retailers. Watch the TJ Maxx’s of the world doing especially well as they’ve sourced at fire sale prices.
  • Posted on: 06/10/2021

    Will grocery basket sizes be cut down to their former size?

    The pandemic drove some key changes in grocery shopping: increased sales of masks, hand sanitizer, and health kits; reduced traffic to the store; increased safety precautions at the stores; home eating patterns; and more online grocery deliveries. These conditions contributed to increased basket sizes at lower in-store frequency. Removing these conditions, which has already begun in parts of the world, we will see less shopping for masks, more store traffic, slightly less precautions at the store, and certainly more eating out and visiting restaurants. Online grocery deliveries will also diminish - if only because the delivery costs are high for consumers and the supermarkets are just down the street. The bulk purchasing will start to diminish as customers are more comfortable returning to their stores to pick up their favorite brand of food or beverage. There may be some residues from online shoppers and customers still highly health conscious, but these will be transient and select niches. The customer is pining for a return to the “old normal” which might not be there in its entirety, but they still want it. Some new trends like work from home and the general trend for in-house kitchens, delis and added perimeter shopping for grocery will experience a boost as customers find new ways of preparing lunch and midday meals. Expect a return to a lower basket size and higher frequency of purchase by fall/winter.
  • Posted on: 06/09/2021

    Is now a good time for retailers to open new stores?

    No conclusions. The store chains that are opening the most new stores have been the same ones opening the most stores a few years back as well. For them, online is not as important and for dollar stores with constantly changing inventory and low cost items with freight costs that match the product price, not profitable either. The pandemic's impact has been profound, but retailing is still retailing -- there will be a slight bump in online, but the trend will shift back towards a majority of business happening in the store. Most retailers with physical stores have hunkered down (apparel, etc.) or have been taking in record year sales (grocery, etc.). Neither lends itself well to physical growth scenarios as those making money know there will be some reversion to the norm and it remains ambiguous.
  • Posted on: 06/08/2021

    How fast can stores fill curbside pickup orders?

    Bob is on the right track — demand is not yet clear for many retailers, and getting customers in the store remains a key marketing goal, last I heard.
  • Posted on: 06/08/2021

    How fast can stores fill curbside pickup orders?

    There are actually two sets of timings for customers when it comes to curbside — the availability after a product is ordered (post order) and the availability once the customer arrives at the store for the pickup (post arrival). Post order timing is variable enough to set to a longer time clock, especially to meet logistical demands. However, competition is stiff and anything more than 24 hrs will be a real issue with large swaths of customers. In today’s market of same day delivery, a rapid turnaround here will be helpful — but won’t be the end of the world for retailers. Customers have high rates of pickup later and in some cases not at all, where the product needs to be restocked. Post arrival pickup times should be less than the time it takes to find the product and go through a checkout line. This is the convenience customers are seeking and, missing this timeline would drive customers to think, “I should’ve just gone inside and picked it up." Challenges will be mostly on in-store BOPIS processes, employee availability and training, and how the retailer manages stock and availability — especially for high demand items. One big risk is stock outs at the store. Cross-order to DCs and SCs and fast ship to store will be a challenge for many retailers to make a 24 hr timeframe.
  • Posted on: 06/07/2021

    Walmart gives associates free phones and a mobile work app

    This is an amazing step because it’s done at scale and it’s done for for effectively the top physical worldwide retailer. All of the app features are relevant and they’ve integrated pieces from several industry stalwarts who offer similar services for retailers into a single app (and device). Managing these would be the real hassle, but employee engagement is a win for Walmart that competitors will be hard pressed to duplicate. Especially interesting is the push-to-talk feature where employees can communicate with colleagues. The benefits of inter-store communications are critical. Knowing when to head to the loading dock when the truck pulls in or how to help a customer when perplexed will be productivity boosters. Great reinvestment in their employees.
  • Posted on: 06/04/2021

    Voice assistant takes orders from McDonald’s drive-thru customers

    Even with the kinks, this will be a hit provided there is some video (digital signage) confirming purchases for the drive thru customer. Banks, customer service centers and more have been using voice activated and language processing IVR tech for decades and it’s getting smarter and smoother. The nuances of deploying on scale is one issue, especially with different menu items -- but these can also be resolved locally. The need for escalations will still be there, so former QSR staff who asked the questions can service the customer, manage payments more efficiently, and even deliver products to the customer at the window. Depending on system costs, there is the potential labor savings, however many such technologies are still relatively higher cost products so staff replacement will take time as many QSRs will be reluctant to move to the model if the $12-$15 intercom handler is just as easy to find.
  • Posted on: 06/01/2021

    Best Buy puts multi-taskers to work

    Labor is a non-scalable resource. Too much will translate into poor quality engagements, less time for customers and missing what’s right in front of you. Although this is only a single instance, a friend related his recent experience in a Best Buy store where he waited 45 minutes for an associate to assist in making a locked-in sale - even after speaking with two associates at different points in the store. He just gave up and being a loyal Best Buy customer, said he’d buy it online after looking at the reviews. The customer in the store is more valuable - they’ve taken the time to leave their home, drive to the store and enter the store with their wallet or purse open. For commodity products like electronics, the customer online can jump sites in an instant - there is less stickiness and investment or “skin in the game.” For Best Buy it’s a balancing act, with strong online sales - but the store needs to have strong service otherwise the best customers will vanish.
  • Posted on: 05/28/2021

    Retailers and brands are using the wrong KPIs to make digital and social media buys

    Yes, oftentimes there is a disconnect. When it comes to digital and social, views or visits have dominated and in places where outcomes are harder to measure accurately, e.g. marketing, costs have become the driving mechanism. The perfect example is watching a repeated ad on a streaming medium where we just watched the same ad moments ago. Which ad is worth more? The metrics being used don’t roll up to the higher level $ value of customers. We all know metrics like conversion have so many nuances that only the change has any real impact. Business must take into account the ongoing context, which is often removed from the metric. The best route is to build a set of metrics or an index based on these to measure performance -- this performance must be tied to the set of levers that are being adjusted up or down. If not, either the metric or the data is faulty, and either will mean you can’t make a good decision.
  • Posted on: 05/27/2021

    Will Walmart and Gap be good partners or strange bedfellows?

    This is a win-win and actually a pretty simple deal compared to most. Gap has huge advantage here, limited brand risk as they’re launching a new line in an adjacent market (home) and they will access Walmart’s immense universe to restore flagging online sales. Suresh brings up the point of “why do it” from Walmart - and my take is that Walmart’s internal home product lines are lagging and not meeting up to target selling opportunities. The deal diversifies the Walmart assortment and adds a reasonably well branded product set to their portfolio. If Gap just began selling as a third party supplier on the Walmart marketplace, the launch and marketing value of the line wouldn’t be there. Good move, but relatively small in the larger scheme of retail.
  • Posted on: 05/26/2021

    Do micro distribution points (AKA stores) give Petco an edge over Chewy and Amazon?

    Per their CIO, Petro’s $9B+ business is driven by services, most of which is in person: Petco offers grooming, day-care, training, and veterinary care. Their stores are the distribution channel for these services. Petco stores will continue to drive value because locally, that’s where customers can engage. The physical presence enabled the advantage over Chewy and Amazon precisely because customers can’t take their kids or in this case their dog for a haircut online. See this article: How PetSmart IT grooms the customer experience.

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