Gary Sankary

Retail Industry Strategy, Esri

I am a 45 year veteran of the retail industry. My career started in the back room of my father’s shoe store. His advice to me when I went to college, “Don’t go into retail”.

After 27 years in executive leadership at Target, I now work for Esri. Here, I get to survey the retail industry holistically. I evangelize location intelligence and help retailers unlock the local insights the need to better engage customers, preform local market analysis and make key decision about store and facility optimization.

Everything in retail happens in a specific place for a reason. Location intelligence can help you understand that reason.

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  • Posted on: 05/05/2021

    Are retailers making it too tough for seniors to shop online?

    Simple always wins. Great points Ryan.
  • Posted on: 05/05/2021

    Remote work is rough on big retail districts

    There has a been a massive shift in traffic away from traditional downtown hubs. I don't believe it's going to ever go back to the way things were in the "before times." This doesn't mean that the business went away, it means it moved, the market changed. The speed of the change may be unprecedented but the result is the same from a retail perspective -- loss of business. I would argue that these sorts of changes happen all the time, only at a much slower pace. I would also suggest that when they do happen slowly, they are often even more difficult for retailers to track and react too. A neighborhood may change over the course of years and if a retailer isn't able to understand and adapt, they won't survive. This really speaks to the importance of being able to track and analyze the variables in a market that drive changes in consumer behaviors and traffic at a precise local level. Change in a market is a continuous process. The lesson from the pandemic is applying tools and resources to understand the impact of change, and the ability for retailers to be nimble and adjust tactics where they can to react. Don't assume that things are going back to the way they were.
  • Posted on: 05/04/2021

    Kroger takes flight with drone delivery test

    I think the tipping point will come when drone flights are fully autonomous and will not require a pilot, as the article implies. I also feel that autonomous devilry vehicles make more sense in the long run for final mile fulfillment. Weight limits, the single out and back delivery from origin to destination and back will significantly hamper the ability for companies to use drones at scale. I could see certain items that are highly time sensitive and lightweight -- prescriptions come to mind. I expect most of my deliveries in the future to come from autonomous, self-piloted vehicles that can handle multiple deliveries on one run. Maybe with a drone to get from the street to my porch. Like I said, in the future.
  • Posted on: 05/04/2021

    Will CVS make a breakthrough as it expands in-store mental health services?

    I'm sorry, your comment perpetrates that stigma you are calling out. I think there are areas of mental health and counseling that CVS customers would be interested in -- smoking cessation and weight management come to mind. For more serious conditions, just like I wouldn't go to CVS for an EKG or surgery, I wouldn't go there for a serious mental health problem. That leaves a TON of room for more maintenance and routine care that probably don't require an ER or Crisis Unit.
  • Posted on: 05/04/2021

    Will CVS make a breakthrough as it expands in-store mental health services?

    I think this is great that CVS has recognized a critical need for Mental Health services in our communities. They deserve a lot of credit for helping to make them more accessible. From a business sense, demand will dictate if these services are successful or not. The investment CVS has made in many stores to build out their clinical services is impressive. It gives them a lot more credibility, in my opinion, when compared to other stores that have a small, converted closet next to the pharmacy as an exam room. Clearly CVS is banking on a future where their neighborhood locations look more like health center than a retail store. I do wonder a bit about counseling services. Typically these require a different type space than a clinical exam room. I also wonder how patients will feel about privacy. But if they can market the right services, these are patients who's treatments involve several sessions over time. It makes sense to me as a way to be more engaged with their customers and pull marketshare away from competitors.
  • Posted on: 05/03/2021

    Do retailers have to catch up to Amazon’s logistics powerhouse?

    I find it interesting that the title of this is article is about how retailers need to catch up to Amazon. A great lesson here is that not so long ago the threat of Amazon was discounted by retailers who didn't see a need to invest in logistics. Today of course, learning from the very market they are disrupting, Amazon has clear advantages with local logistics infrastructure with warehouses, fulfillment centers and fleets of trucks that reach 99 percent of American homes in the same day. That said there are companies that are successfully competing with Amazon across the retail spectrum. The succesful competitors are those who remain focused on their strengths. Target is turning around curbside orders in an hour, from order submission to putting the product in your trunk. Dick's Sporting Goods is creating in-store experiences for customers that bring back concepts of touching and feeling merchandise before you buy it. Best Buy is offering dedicated personal services for technology buyers. Key is to focus on differentiation and build great relationships with customers.
  • Posted on: 04/30/2021

    Should retailers welcome vaccine passports?

    Given that we have a significant percentage of the population who refuses to believe in modern medicine and has turned vaccines and mask wearing into a political statement, it does seem that some measures need to be created to ensure their right to be stupid doesn't affect the rest of society's health and safety. I like the idea of vaccine passports, they do seem to be effective in Israel. I struggle with how they would be enforced exactly and I don't want to put the front line retail teams into yet another position to have to confront ideologues and bigots. I think there needs to be more consideration about how this might be enforced. Schools, universities, employers, travel - those venues have much easier mechanisms for screening and enforcing vaccinations. Maybe they will have enough influence on the population to make this happen.
  • Posted on: 04/30/2021

    7-Eleven spending $70M to promote the convenience of its new tech

    I do think these ads will reach the intended audience. The campaign is fresh and focused on their key value prop - convenience, fast service and a great assortment. For the franchisees this is such a competitive market, 7-Eleven's continuous innovation in services and products is their secret sauce. If you choose to stay stagnant you are doomed.
  • Posted on: 04/28/2021

    Report: Amazon will surpass Walmart as America’s biggest retailer by 2025

    I do see Amazon surpassing Walmart. That said the Amazon stores will continue to be a minuscule part of the mix. Apples to apples, Walmart's penetration in the digital channel, which by their own admission isn't where it should be, is still light years ahead of Amazon's penetration into the physical retail space. For now.
  • Posted on: 04/28/2021

    Report: Amazon will surpass Walmart as America’s biggest retailer by 2025

    I agree with your question Gene. Is Walmart online going to be able to challenge Amazon? To compare Walmart and Amazon, or really any retailer and Amazon is a bit of an apples and oranges comparison in my opinion.
  • Posted on: 04/27/2021

    Why did Amazon open a hair salon?

    My first response was "because they can." Snark aside, there is a bit truth to that statement. If Amazon really sees themselves as the primary purveyor of all goods and services for their customers, this makes sense. They are creating new opportunities for commerce which blend physical and digital retail.
  • Posted on: 04/27/2021

    Are consumers getting less creeped out about being tracked online?

    There's an adage that I like use; "It isn't a problem, until it is." Consumers sensitivity to privacy online is fickle. It depends a lot on the headlines and the latest data breach or unethical behavior with customers' privacy from a beloved brand. Most consumers are not aware of how they're bring tracked and where that data goes until something pops up on a screen that seems a bit too personal, or feels creepy. I do think the discussion of privacy and personalization that's happening right now between Mark Zuckerberg and Tim Cook has the potential to really shape future applications in this space.
  • Posted on: 04/22/2021

    Say goodbye to Walmart’s robotic towers

    Automation certainly has a place in retail for operational, repetitive types tasks. We're still working through the growing pains for sure. The benefits are obvious: workforce reduction, accuracy, and 24/7 availability. For tasks like inventory scanning in aisles -- the test that Walmart has walked away from -- it's difficult to balance the cost of the a robot, which can only preform a specific task with a team member, who is flexible and can interface with customers as needed. I give Walmart a lot of credit for trying different types of technology in their stores. I also give them credit for stopping tests when they don't think they're getting the desired outcomes.
  • Posted on: 04/16/2021

    Can omnichannel be as profitable for retailers as in-store sales?

    Target is a great case study. Early in the pandemic they became laser-focused on improving their capabilities to support digital commerce. They had the already built the infrastructure, but prior to March/April execution was still a bit of a work-in-progress. Customer service in particular was a bit dodgy. Target knew that it was critical for them to improve their customer experience and make this strategy work, and they invested heavily in human capital and technology. As a result they incurred a significant hit to their operating expenses and margin. As the year rolled along, by the third and fourth quarter they had made significant headway in streamlining operations and their expense line improved. They haven't completely recovered, there is no way around the fact that these capabilities are more expensive to execute. But, like every challenge, if the value is there, and in this case it certainly is, innovation and scale will go a long way to solving the issue with expenses.
  • Posted on: 04/15/2021

    How should grocers decide which SKUs to bring back?

    One of the few benefits of the pandemic for grocers, in my opinion, is that they were forced to optimize some of their assortments due to supply chain and availability issues. SKU rationalization has been a hot topic in grocery and mass for a long time. There has been in many companies, however, a reluctance from the merchants to actually implement SKU reduction. In my experience it's been a "makes sense, just not in my categories" discussion. Now we've learned, due to circumstance, more about where deep assortments make sense and where they can run their business and serve their customers more efficiently with fewer choices and more streamlined presentations. Which is right? I think this is a perfect exercise for deep analytics and insights that technology can provide. I would hate to see a blanket return to over-assorted shelves. I believe we now have the tools to look at data and find discrete correlations between performance, depth of assortment and location. These tools are moving the needle on assortment planning. I hope to see more retailers start to take advantage of them.

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