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: 01/23/2019

    Lowe’s kicks off NFL deal in the biggest game of all

    This deal is about reaching a new audience, not about awareness. The NASCAR efforts had been spent. This deal is multi-year with a focus on attracting professionals and contractors. As a marketing strategy it will revitalize a community in a new way and that always brings more attention. The question is whether it also dilutes the dollars spent, which we won’t know until post 2020. The NFL ratings will continue to over index any other sport out there, but finding the right customers really does depend on their ad copy more than the medium. Lowe’s is looking for exposure and there’s nothing better than the Super Bowl.
  • Posted on: 01/22/2019

    Tech lets shoppers say ‘Optimize Me’ when ordering groceries

    The concepts are compelling but complexity gets in the way. Tracking the stuff I will replenish separately -- even if the apps help me find what I want to select -- becomes yet another task to execute, keep track of, and spend time on. If this can be made simple it might work. If a large percent of the customer's shopping is indeed replenished, it also might work -- but I’ve yet to see data that shows that consumers are not continuously changing, e.g. kids, home, partners, moving, preferences, new routines, jobs, habits, and conscious decisions (like avoiding foods for diabetics) over time. This inherently makes simplicity and regularity in purchasing all the more difficult. After some testing we might see results for select communities. The driverless delivery is also exciting, but needs infrastructure and community acceptance first.
  • Posted on: 01/15/2019

    NRF: Consumers prefer self-service, but associates still have a role to play

    Just to reinforce the point -- the customer has already also chosen the store and the expectations of availability for the product they are seeking in the store, long before they ever take a step into the store. Once they are in the store, it's up to the associate to enhance this experience, and sometimes it's just a "may I help you?" as a trigger.
  • Posted on: 01/15/2019

    NRF: Consumers prefer self-service, but associates still have a role to play

    George is seldom wrong and he has the pulse of the consumer in terms of sophistication. Consumers have access to most of the data an associate might have. But if the experience is so poor when engaging associates across the board, imagine the differentiation that retailers can attain with great training and tools (and to some degree wages) to make their associates shine. With such widespread information and enormous assortments, the associate who can curate and guide customers to better decisions will drive personalization and engagement. Labor continues to be the highest cost, but they are pushed into routinized tasks rather than customer facing skills. Retailers who can build skills and importance for their associates will have the edge plus a return on their human capital.
  • Posted on: 01/14/2019

    Whole Foods halts 365 concept’s growth

    It's a good decision, given that it's a second branding that didn't see rapid adoption or scalable success. Managing two brands with opposite characteristics under the same umbrella is challenging. WF will continue to struggle with the "whole paycheck" issue, even under the auspices of Amazon -- primarily because most products at WF remain more expensive. The only way to address this is by adding value, not reducing price -- which is what Amazon is shooting for with Prime, etc.
  • Posted on: 01/14/2019

    NRF: What’s the next step for omnichannel grocery?

    Love the baseball metaphors. Will offer my thoughts on the second question first. Grocery is falling short on omnichannel in places like cross-channel integration, cultural acceptance, investment resources and $ for omni, and centering on the customer. The individual customer doesn't pull as much weight in the grocery yet, and that's changing, but slowly. Execs, whether they know what omnichannel means or can deliver, still fail to push their teams to put a customer perspective on everything, both digital and physical. It's like watching the outfielder throw to first base when the advance runner is rounding third. Instead of playing to stop the run, they're playing to the guaranteed out. The game, however, is not one inning long. The Freshippo concept can possibly work, but will fall into and compete with club stores first -- Costco, BJs and Sam's Club -- before affecting the rest of the grocery space. Reminds me of Service Merchandise from pre-1999 (and pre-internet) -- not digital, but definitely a catalog showroom which grew to over $4B.
  • Posted on: 01/10/2019

    Some question if digital assistants will ever live up to the hype

    Mid-line importance by those who actively decide to adopt them. Here’s the rub with personal assistants -- they are fixed, constantly listening, aren’t standardized for multi-devices, non-private and non-visual.
    • Consumers are not home all the time, and the devices compete with mobile devices which are already an extension of the consumer and more critical to being able to engage in the moment.
    • Privacy is a real issue and not everything needs to be heard. The consumer doesn’t really have a grasp of what information is collected -- for instance an argument between spouses shouldn’t be influencing their purchase options later in the day.
    • Standardization is not yet there across so many variations of commands and requests nor can a device at the office identify (today at least) who the speaker is out of hundreds of voices and pull up relevant, personal information without performance degradation.
    • I can’t walk into my local store and use the device without announcing to not just the device but also to everyone in audible range what’s going on.
    • Lastly there is visualization of products for commerce- a critical need for many products.
    All problems to be tackled, but no easy solution for personal assistant vendors. By the time they are able to solve these, visual monitoring that includes both sound and gestures or robotics or even expanded functionality on the mobile phone will be the new innovations.
  • Posted on: 01/09/2019

    Is Lowe’s doing it right with its new tagline?

    Lowe’s has been an innovator in using tech and that will continue in some form or another. The removal of underperformers works. The new slogan hits home with the do-it-yourself customer but also for the customer who needs a bit of handholding. Emphasizing the expertise at Lowe’s with the “do it right” part of its messaging is a powerful push to highlight the workforce’s ability to also help the customer and higher quality outcomes for projects -- a different story than its competitors. Unique -- maybe not. Properly targeted -- definitely.
  • Posted on: 01/03/2019

    Will smart shelves work for Hannaford and its customers?

    There are multiple parts to the smart shelf -- both the sensor where it can be used for determining who picked what and the display where it’s an extension of digital signage. The latter has been a constant and is growing slowly and in places where digital signage is economical such as QSR menus. The former is more powerful as an internal tool for the retailer to determine what customers are actually doing in the store. Are they picking up items and putting them back? Are they purchasing? How long do they need to review something to make a decision? Hannaford's test is a good move in better understanding their customer and customer habits, but the tech isn’t designed for driving significant value yet. We’ll see a combination of these tech tools with things like dynamic pricing in the future store. The ROI for smart shelves is a bit further out, except maybe in POP displays or centralization of in-store marketing, with limited screens and scale.
  • Posted on: 12/28/2018

    Has retail figured out last-minute holiday fulfillment?

    Pain points remain the same, for holiday and off -- just at different levels. Issues such as cost, timing, shrink, efficiency and accuracy will continue to affect last mile delivery. Tech, Bopis and ship-from-store allow other options than direct fulfillment to addresses, slightly reducing the volume burdens. But the same problems continue -- incorrect addresses, porch thievery, out of stocks, weather (certainly), transparency and improper tracking, and of course the expense of shipping the goods whether passed onto the customer directly or indirectly. Free shipping shouldn’t be a goal for any retailer. It's basically just an extension of a pricing discount. The goal should be fulfillment the way the customer wants it.
  • Posted on: 12/28/2018

    Are dollar stores bad for cities?

    This question is more closely tied to gentrification than anything else. Just as homeowners in a high-end neighborhood don’t want low priced housing built near their homes, cities with higher value districts don’t want to attract customers buying cheaper stuff. There is an expectation that dollar stores bring fewer $ and will deteriorate rents, average incomes, and encourage unhealthy living standards. Everyone wants to live uptown. This will cause a slight bump for discount stores but nothing more. Even rich people like to save a buck -- and not everything needs to be made of platinum.
  • Posted on: 12/27/2018

    RetailWire Christmas Commercial Challenge: The Finals

    Most of these commercials tap into the spirit of Xmas -- love and the hearth. Many of them are well done. Multimillion views for so many of these. The Petco commercial taps best into the sacrifice and giving that is part of the Xmas season. Amazingly done in stop motion, no less.
  • Posted on: 12/26/2018

    Delivery drivers land on Santa’s Nice List

    Gifts have been left for centuries to our postal carriers, but that doesn’t mean postal delivery is the best or only format. This is about goodwill by recipients during a time when goodwill is top of mind.
  • Posted on: 12/21/2018

    Is Amazon Prime not what it’s cracked up to be?

    Amazon provides an ecosystem of services and has been touting (and adding to) this system regularly. However, the fact that it succeeded with retail shipping options should be an important indicator -- most users are not after the ecosystem. The ecosystem benefits are not as mission critical as getting a package delivered. I also believe adoption is slowing down. Beyond 100 million worldwide, developed nations don't have the population density and the U.S. adult population of 279 million has almost exhausted the segments that can afford Prime. Places where Amazon is putting its efforts such as India blocks out huge chunks of customers that cant afford $119 per year -- but it's a sizable market. Based on current data, it seems growth has slowed but continues -- the challenge for Amazon is to maintain reliable service across its Prime base. Customers will realize if they're not receiving packages in time, and they will self-select whether they stay in the Prime program. More importantly, it deteriorates Amazon's marketing message and pulls back on things like same-day delivery, etc. So they will need to buttress their services -- especially during peak holidays -- to keep customers happy. Third parties are less controlled and Amazon needs to either better enable their partners or own the logistics for them -- FBA style.
  • Posted on: 12/20/2018

    Why are holiday gift returns spiking before Christmas this year?

    Nikki and Shelley covered the key reason for the spike -- e-commerce grows and returns grow with it (the U.S. Census including auto sales shows an increase of ~15 percent year-over-year for Q3 2018). Retailers are also more lax this year with restocking fees and confirmation of purchase while also offering deeper discounts later in the year pushing up replacement returns. And retailers are enabling returns in-store allowing shoppers to continue their shopping experience. Costs are increasing for retailers to manage a return, but so are the tools needed to make it seamless and level the costs. It does come back to execution by the retailer, especially as customers who have a great return experience makes for a great loyalty play (I think a Shopify report suggests 97 percent retention in purchases..)

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