PROFILE

Ken Morris

Principal, Boston Retail Partners

Ken was CEO and President of LakeWest Group and founder of CFT Consulting and CFT Systems, a retail software company. Earlier in his career, he held retail information technology executive positions at Lord & Taylor, Filene’s (Macy’s), Talbots, Stop & Shop Supermarket Company, and Sears. His experience is with strategy, selection development and deployment of retail management systems and processes.

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  • Posted on: 03/19/2019

    Are Amazon’s private labels falling short or just getting started?

    Building a private label brand across multiple categories takes time. Costco and Trader Joe’s have done a phenomenal job building the reputation of their private label brands and now they can put their private label brand on almost anything and consumers will trust that it is good quality. Amazon’s reputation is built on its marketplace to find the best products and prices across multiple brands and they are the best of the best at product search. That is why 50 percent of consumers start their product search on Amazon. While Amazon has done very well with its Echo voice-activated speaker product line and Kindle tablets, most people don’t have an affinity to any other product categories that carry the Amazon brand, as they don’t have experiences that have built the trust in the brand for those products (e.g. Amazon Fire Phone). Also, most every other category has established brands with often loyal followings (apparel, grocery, drug, cleaning supplies, etc.) and it is difficult to penetrate these categories with a new brand. Amazon’s private label success will most likely come with the introduction of new product categories or the acquisition of successful existing brands. However, don’t understate the power of Amazon.
  • Posted on: 03/18/2019

    Can location intelligence provide a lifeline for retailers?

    Geo-location analytics and analysis will likely continue to grow in the next year. Special attention to privacy concerns and opt-in policies that allow consumers a choice to participate or not are key to limiting the creep factor. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. As long as you give consumers something of value for opting in to a retail mobile app, you will garner higher participation rates. The value may be a loyalty program, personalized discounts, enhanced services, product locator capabilities, etc. While there is a technology investment, the value of geo-location intelligence is extremely valuable, especially for grocery and general merchandise retailers.
  • Posted on: 03/15/2019

    Will 5G bring the tech benefits that consumers and marketers expect?

    The rollout of 5G networks will finally usher in the age of "real-time retail." The speed will allow for IoT connectivity between all the smart devices, products, infrastructure and people so they will communicate in real time and create a sense and respond retail environment that responds to the slightest flex in the market. Customers can get the Amazon experience at store level, retailers can know when the lights are out in aisle three, the shelf is empty in the coffee section, product in stock is not moving because it is in the back room or the sales signage has not been placed in-store. They will be able to do this in real time without concern for bandwidth limitations. It will allow us to run big chains as if they are a single entity run by a combination of technology and a central organization (brain) that controls the many parts. 5G is the enabler of the next generation of retail!
  • Posted on: 03/14/2019

    Will customer hosts raise the shopping experience bar at Walmart?

    Returning products at stores, especially Walmart, is a dreaded part of the retail experience. In fact, according to a BRP consumer study, 57% of consumers would choose to shop at a retail store that offered an automated returns process instead of one that doesn’t offer this service. Using customer hosts to handle returns and refunds sounds like a good idea, as long as everything works smoothly. It is interesting that the hosts will have a cash drawer/bag to offer cash refunds. This poses some potential other risks, including theft/robbery, as these employees with cash will be at the front door. I applaud Walmart’s efforts to improve the unpleasant returns process and hope it works well.
  • Posted on: 03/13/2019

    Does new retail need a new prototype?

    Personalization extends beyond the customer experience. Personalizing store layout, design and technology is the next phase of customer personalization. With different customer demographics and cultural nuances in each region and even within a metro area, store designs should reflect the distinctive characteristics of each store’s customer personality. Their color palate, their style, their closet, pantry or refrigerator. In a real time technology environment retailers can bring the Amazon experience to the store and match the cadence of the customer coupled with technology that varies assortments, planograms, and inventory to the market. In this instance size does not matter but substance does. While there may be unique differences in each store, there will need to be a core set of features and branding that reflect the retailer's brand image.
  • Posted on: 03/11/2019

    Will Costco’s new $15 minimum wage hurt or benefit the chain?

    Costco pays a fair wage and has created a cult-like following among their employees and customers. It is critical to their success to maintain the culture that has fostered this. Customers want to shop where they know the employees are treated with dignity and respect and where they know their money is being reinvested in the community where they shop. Membership is where stores like Costco are able to thrive -- everything else is a loss leader.
  • Posted on: 03/08/2019

    Will new Scan & Go tech turbocharge Sam’s checkouts?

    Using machine learning to identify products without locating and scanning the barcode is a great convenience for shoppers that will make scanning easier – if it works as expected. Self-scanning is still in its infancy from an adoption perspective, even though it has been around since Stop & Shop introduced Shopping Buddy 15 years ago (2004). For early adopters, they will try any new technology, but if it isn’t truly more convenient, they won’t embrace it. Self-scanning is a desired feature, especially for younger generations. According to BRP’s Consumer Survey, 67 percent of Gen Z and Millennial consumers would be more likely to shop at a store that offered a self-scanning mobile app instead of a store that doesn’t offer this service. However, the interest level of older consumers (Gen X and older) was only 33 percent. When Scan & Go gets more accurate and more convenient than self-checkout and staffed checkout lines, we will see a significant increase in adoption.
  • Posted on: 03/07/2019

    Will attribute-based product recommendations be a game changer for Walmart?

    Using filters to simplify and improve the experience for viewing consumer product reviews will be valued feature for consumers. Leveraging this intelligence for attribute-based product recommendations will also provide consumers more targeted product recommendations that match their personal preferences. While this is static today and requires customer voice input, when this is coupled with real time context about the customer like what is in their closet or pantry it will be an incredibly powerful tool. It will unleash the power of analytics, new math aimed at the customer. While most consumers won’t realize that there is science behind the recommendations, they may notice that their product recommendations seem more aligned with what they are looking for. This improves the customer experience and hence loyalty. Walmart continues to push the envelope and anything they can do to improve product search will help them better compete with the product search leader – Amazon.
  • Posted on: 03/07/2019

    Do retailers need to reevaluate their omnichannel strategies and tactics?

    Omnichannel services have become “table stakes” for retail, as consumers now expect it. In fact, some will choose a retailer based on the availability of omnichannel offerings. According to BRP’s consumer study, 68 percent of consumers will choose to shop at a retailer that offers the ability to order products from inventory across stores, online and mobile -- instead of one that doesn’t offer this service. The need for an omnichannel presence is no more evident than in the recent trend for many e-commerce retailers to open physical stores – Amazon and other online-only retailers. The store is not dead! It is much easier and more economically feasible for a physical retailer to launch an e-commerce site than for e-commerce retailers to open physical stores. For smaller e-commerce retailers, they may start their move to physical stores with a smaller, co-location space with an existing retail chain to reduce the expense and allow for faster development. Shopping is still theater and people love to go to the theater for a "live" performance. You must match the cadence of the customer, the rhythm, the tempo, the flow of what customers want and that turns out to be a "back to the future" in-store journey.
  • Posted on: 03/05/2019

    Where are chatbots falling short of consumer expectations?

    From a consumer perspective, the benefit of using chat bots is 24/7 support and getting quick answers to simple questions, like account or order status. For retailers, the benefit is the cost savings of replacing humans with AI-driven chatbots. The savings reported by some retailers exceeds millions of dollars. While the benefits can be compelling for both consumers and retailers, the main drawbacks are the difficulty of chatbots correctly handling complex requests or misunderstanding what the customer is saying (accents, too slow or fast speech, mumbling, ums, etc.). When chatbots need to keep asking a question over and over again or misinterprets request, it is extremely frustrating for consumers. Chatbots are continuing to get much better at solving the speech and predictive problems above and when they get much closer to human levels, they will become more pervasive.
  • Posted on: 03/04/2019

    What will Amazon do with a conventional grocery banner?

    Launching a new grocery concept or acquiring a chain, or multiple regional chains, is essential if Amazon wants to challenge the grocery leaders. Expanding Whole Foods locations, is not the answer, as the brand does not have broad enough consumer appeal because it has the reputation of being too expensive for middle and lower income groups. Beyond its perception of being too expensive, Whole foods only has approximately 500 stores, throughout Canada and in 42 U.S. states. To compete with the leaders, Amazon needs a lot more stores, as Kroger has approximately 2,800 stores and Walmart has around 5,300 stores in the U.S. The additional store locations will also provide Amazon more local distribution points for merchandise pick-up lockers and home delivery of grocery items. This is a smart move for Amazon and a bad day for the other big players. Amazon can bring more healthy choice options to traditional grocery shoppers, expand their Amazon Prime footprint and expand their point of presence to the majority of US households. They need the Walmart type point of presence by having Walmart type brick and mortar options within a 10 mile radius of 90% of the U|S population.
  • Posted on: 03/01/2019

    Retailers take on massive legacy system challenges one module at a time

    With the rapid changes in customer expectations and stockholders that are scrutinizing quarterly results, retailers need to act fast. Most retailers don’t have the budget or time for a “rip and replace,” multi-year ERP implementation project. There are new options to achieve the advanced features of a connected enterprise, even if you have legacy systems. Implementing middleware platforms that can connect disparate systems is often the fastest and easiest way to offer retailers real-time visibility to information and systems across the enterprise. With the middleware in place, retailers can quickly deploy best of breed applications that have quick ROIs and offer significant operational and customer experience improvements. This middleware strategy coupled with an Agile implementation methodology has achieved ROI in weeks rather than years. Implementing a minimum viable product strategy (MVP) with short cycle Scrum framework and Kanban lean methods applied to packaged implementations has worked extraordinarily well for our clients. The days of big expensive retail ERP implementations are numbered.
  • Posted on: 03/01/2019

    Brands see voice ordering as more opportunity than threat

    While there is a legitimate concern that voice ordering using Amazon speakers will be in direct competition with Amazon brands and many other retail brands, the opportunity outweighs this threat. Amazon’s domination of the smart speaker market is definitely a concern for everyone, as it gives Amazon an unfair advantage with voice ordering when they control the platform. Today, retailers need to accept that there are some pitfalls with voice ordering, especially with the Amazon smart speaker, and move beyond their concerns. A bigger threat may be to not participate in voice ordering. It is still in its infancy, but voice ordering is becoming increasingly more important to consumers – especially younger consumers. According to BRP’s Consumer Study, 46 percent of younger consumers (Gen Z and Millennials) are likely or very likely to choose to shop at a retailer that has a voice-activated app over a retailer that doesn’t have this feature. While only a few retailers currently have this capability, the interest from consumers shows that is a desired feature.
  • Posted on: 02/27/2019

    Will security concerns handicap IoT devices?

    IoT security may be the new security issue that eclipses credit card and personal data issues of the recent past. With the explosion of IoT devices and chipped products and no clear security standards enforced, it is a big issue for manufacturers of IoT devices, consumers and the retailers that sell to them. Retailers selling these devices should be leery of unknown brands and larger retailers will likely develop IoT security teams to screen products they sell to consumers. Retailers should enforce their own standards to avoid the potential lawsuits that this technology is sure to generate. This will be an interesting issue to watch.
  • Posted on: 02/26/2019

    Will a curated marketplace strategy be an online game changer for Target?

    If the products “curated” from third-party best-in-class specialty and national brands are available exclusively on Target.com, then it will help increase Target’s online market share. However, if these products are also available on Amazon and Walmart.com’s marketplace, then it won’t be a significant bump for Target. The challenge with limiting its offering is that it makes it difficult for Target to be the first place consumers look for products. With more than 50 percent of consumers starting their product searches on Amazon, other marketplaces are competing with this top-of-mind status. Once a consumer finds the product they like on Amazon, oftentimes they will just buy it rather than shop around. Being the first place the customer looks really matters.

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