James Ray

LoyaltyCIO, Client Service Associates
Retail omni-channel and CRM systems guru, interim IT executive & management consultant; husband; father; boomer; championship winning club racer & pro driving coach!
  • Posted on: 06/19/2019

    Can Sam’s Club’s new app really cut tire shopping down to 5 minutes?

    I fully believe an app can help consumers make the best decision quickly on what tires to buy, but the problem will be is that tire retailers actually make more money by selling you more expensive tires than you need plus additional cost services (tire re-balancing any time during life of tire), warranties (puncture & blowout), etc. Upselling the customer takes time and requires skill, the app likely won’t do that as well as skilled humans without it being obvious the app is padding the retailer’s wallet.
  • Posted on: 06/17/2019

    Does self-checkout make sense for Costco?

    The answer to these questions has always been about what does the customer want! An increasing number of consumers prefer to do it themselves; I am one of them. For a big shop, it’s not convenient because the space to scan and continue isn’t adequate, but for a half basket or less merchandise, it’s preferable.
  • Posted on: 06/05/2019

    Walmart’s checkout pilot puts shoppers in the fast lane

    I learned many years ago, every bottle has a neck! Everyone's definition of "fast" is different, hopefully they can fulfill their customers' expectations.
  • Posted on: 05/13/2019

    Petco opens in-store kitchen for pets

    I admire the creativity and think it's an idea well worth trialing in a market like NYC. $6-12 will be fine as an occasional experience, but not likely to become recurring dining. What I'm really curious about is if the kitchen is human food grade; will pet owner and pet order and eat their meals? Perhaps there are many pet owners cooking for the pets at home already and I just don't know it?
  • Posted on: 04/11/2019

    Amazon Go doesn’t want to leave cash on the table

    If they are wise they will accept cash at their “retail” locations, save the cash balance on account for the customer and then allow in-store and online shopping for those without digital payment accounts.
  • Posted on: 04/11/2019

    Amazon Go doesn’t want to leave cash on the table

    When you imagine the Amazon Go store is just a giant vending machine it becomes easy to understand why accepting only digital payments is a non-starter, even without the regulations It's just too easy to accept cash in a machine and save the cash balance on account for the customer. Kiosks are already doing this in micro markets all over the country. Kiosk and smartphone based micro markets are appearing in more locations replacing traditional vending machines. Most of these micro markets accept cash and manage the customer's balance on account.
  • Posted on: 03/11/2019

    Will other cities follow Philly in banning cashless stores?

    The problem addressed by this legislation is easy to solve with a kiosk device accepting dollar bills and loading value on a customer’s personal account. The stored value can reviewed, consumed, or supplemented using only a barcode paired with private PIN, unique fingerprint, or an UID identified smartphone as customer credentials. The popular kiosk equipped micro-markets found in the break rooms used by many employees working in many office buildings, factories, and warehouses are examples of cashier-less retail stores that have been in operation for many years. Accepting cash is easy enough, returning change is a bigger headache. I don’t see this legislation being a significant deterrent to the industry trend towards self-service checkout and growing use of electronic payments, but I can understand why Amazon might lean in with political pressure to help curb any legal requirement for a device costing $5-10K each location.
  • Posted on: 02/20/2019

    What will it take to transform BOPIS ops from just okay to great?

    Taken to the ridiculous extreme, customer-friendly BOPIS will evolve to being a parking space(s) outside the Amazon distribution center(s) that are located around every major metropolitan (high population density) area. Customer buys online, drives to designated location, uses phone app to activate direct-to-car delivery thereby eliminating the delay and cost of waiting on third-party logistics. When Amazon’s much talked about drones finally work, customers will no longer even drive to the DC, but instead await “dronemail” delivery of packages. IMHO retailers who have decided the “pick up in store” part of BOPIS is key to their solution have already decided to ignore what customers want and instead are choosing what they think is best for themselves. In the long run this is a fool’s strategy, but it may be necessary to survive another day with a mediocre solution until a real competitive answer is available. As a customer population of one, I feel the biggest problems with BOPIS are the unfulfilled customer expectations. 1.) I order online, go inside the store, wait in the queue at the register or special desk but learn my order hasn’t been picked. It takes just as long to wait for my order to be picked in real-time as it would for me to just shop and buy it myself. 2.) I order online, arrive at an outside parking space, signal via my mobile app that I’ve arrived and am waiting, but athe ssociate delivers order incorrectly, e.g. missing items due to out-of-stock, unacceptable substituted items, incorrect item quantities picked, etc. It takes just as long to wait on resolution(s) as it would for me to have gone inside and shopped myself. In the case of out-of-stock or unacceptable substitutes it’s quite possible my whole trip to the store for pickup is a wasted effort, because now I have to go somewhere else anyway. Too many retailers have notoriously bad perpetual inventory counts and/or carry inadequate inventories (safety stock) to guarantee an acceptable BOPIS service level. As Dave Nixon mentioned above, it’s not acceptable to sell products online and then when the picker goes to pull the order there isn’t adequate stock. The customer may already be driving towards the store and therefore disappointment is guaranteed! I have tried BOPIS with many retailers and to date my anecdotal results are about 60/40, mostly good, some bad! In truth the statistics may be biased on the good side because I won’t even bother to try BOPIS if I suspect the inventory levels are razor thin or I know from experience incorrect substitutions are probable.
  • Posted on: 02/20/2019

    What will it take to transform BOPIS ops from just okay to great?

    You can say that again! "... it’s crazy to ask associates to pick and package BOPIS orders when the sales floor is busy and already understaffed."
  • Posted on: 02/08/2019

    Will a new rewards program expand Target’s circle of guests?

    A 1% reward for getting customers to provide their contact info, accept direct communication for sales and promotion, and permit tracking/storing their personally identifiable transaction data is a huge bargain for Target. 1% is not enough to have a real impact on changing customer behaviors or creating true loyalty, but this program is a no-brainer in terms of being easy to generate a positive ROI. At the very least, every chain store retailer should have a similar loyalty program, otherwise they are overspending on their marketing and leaving profits on the table!
  • Posted on: 01/03/2019

    Will smart shelves work for Hannaford and its customers?

    Data empowered IOT devices like the smart shelf are the future of retail. Consumers will accept them as a convenience and the retailers will utilize them as part of their loss prevention solution when selling in vending micro markets and cashier-less environments.
  • Posted on: 12/19/2018

    Can Barnes & Noble’s in-store experts beat algorithms?

    One of my previous clients in the outdoor sporting goods business segment struggled to hire/retain retail associates with authentic experience. The desire for store personnel who actually used their products and engaged in one or more running, hiking, mountain climbing, skiing, bicycling, camping , hunting, you-name-it activities often conflicted with the reality that retail sales staff compensation doesn't afford most an adequate income to be passionate aficionados of these various activities.
  • Posted on: 12/19/2018

    Can Barnes & Noble’s in-store experts beat algorithms?

    In spite of many physical store-based retailers’ desire to survive by providing superior customer services and an excellent shopping experience, I fear commodity products like the book are ultimately doomed as a mass market retail business. There will be instances, for example Barnes & Noble can survive in selected geographic areas serving large populations. A small slice of a big pie is still satisfactory dessert for some retail operators, but the hand writing is still on the wall! If you don’t believe me, type in “camera store near me” or "office supplies near me" and see if you can find any recognizable chain store brands nearby. If you’re successful, my guess there are over a million people living in your local geography.
  • Posted on: 12/19/2018

    Will 7-Eleven’s cashier-less store take hold?

    In the new trust economy, many if not most consumers now have a uniquely identifiable and trackable device (smartphone) accompanied by financial payment credentials (cell phone linked to a credit card or DDA/debit account). The proposed 7-Eleven change is essentially the same metamorphosis that began forty-ish years ago when bank tellers began to be replaced by ATMs. I see cashier-less convenience stores as nothing more than a giant-sized vending machines with a digital identification and payment interface. Cashier-less convenience stores will work in many locations, but just like all bank tellers’ jobs were not eliminated, neither will cashiers disappear from all c-stores. This is especially true in stores locations prone to high-shrink (theft) and/or with the large population of cash and credit challenged customers lacking internet enabled cell phones and/or financial payment accounts (dr/cr cards).
  • Posted on: 12/11/2018

    Will ‘Practice’ make for perfectly loyal customers at Lululemon?

    I like the sounds of it, but I don’t see this being a loyalty program as much as it is paid admission to their VIP club. For a store-based retailer, this approach would fail to capture the shopping masses’ contact details most retailers want about their loyalty program membership. For an online retailer who already has those contact details, it’s a great way of letting customers segment themselves into the “prime” customer cohort. It sounds like the program is self-funding and therefore should be a no-lose proposition for identifying the really elite class of Lululemon customers.
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