Mark Ryski

Founder, CEO & Author, HeadCount Corporation
Mark Ryski is the author of two books on retail analytics, Conversion: The Last Great Retail Metric and When Retail Customers Count – books that are widely considered the definitive reference guides for the retail industry. He is also the Founder and CEO of HeadCount Corporation – the leading authority on retail traffic and conversion analysis. Founded in 1994, today Mark and his dedicated team work with retailers across virtually all categories and sizes from independents to large chains.
  • Posted on: 02/19/2019

    Are disappointing holiday sales numbers a harbinger of things to come?

    The revised numbers do suggest more headwinds than the initial, much rosier projections for the holiday season. But while the economic data is mixed, overall I remain cautiously optimistic. Walmart is an important bellwether and today they announced Q4 comp sales of +4.3 percent (The Street was expecting +3.2 percent), and their online business grew +43 percent. On their earnings call they suggested that the tariffs haven’t yet had a significant impact and they reiterated positive fiscal 2020 guidance. I think this is a good sign for 2019.
  • Posted on: 02/15/2019

    Will Amazon’s decision to bail cause a New York backlash?

    I’m very surprised Amazon bailed out on HQ2. After all the effort they spent during the selection process, you would think that Amazon leaders would have understood that not all stakeholders would be agreeable to a project of the size and scale Amazon was proposing. And the first sign of public push-back -- they fold their tent? I think there’s a lot more to this story the public doesn’t fully know.
  • Posted on: 02/14/2019

    America has too many retail stores

    It’s a documented fact that the U.S. has significantly more retail space per capita than any other industrialized country. Yes, U.S. retail is over-built and the store closures we’re seeing amount to "pruning for excellence" as retailers rightly rationalize their store base to ensure they remain strong and profitable.
  • Posted on: 02/13/2019

    Retail leaders need to care more about tech

    There’s no question that CEOs today – in retailing and virtually any industry – need to have a solid understanding of how technology can be applied to benefit the business. These are mandatory and essential skills. However, the reality is that there are so many tech-enabled solution providers pounding on the doors of retail executives, claiming that if the retailer subscribes to their service or buys their solution, it will rain money, that it can be overwhelming and annoying. In my experience, lots of these “solutions” have yet to be proven and it’s completely understandable for retail executives to be skeptical and demand some assessment of the value the solution delivered.
  • Posted on: 02/13/2019

    Will the new plan for Sears work any better than the previous ones?

    It’s hard to understand what Eddie Lampert’s true motivation is regarding Sears. He says all the right things about saving the iconic brand, and yet his actions seem to run entirely counter to this. Given the tumultuous history of Sears and Lampert’s erratic maneuvers, I think he's going to have a challenge hiring a new CEO that has the capability and experience to turn the business around. Whoever the new CEO is, this gig will not be for the faint of heart.
  • Posted on: 02/12/2019

    Barneys to become first major retailer to open legal weed shop

    I get the avant-garde angle, but I’m not sure this will lead to anything meaningful for Barneys. Cannabis is now legal nationally in Canada and in 10 U.S. states. Cannabis has already started to move into the mainstream, and so I expect to see more retailers looking to add this to their product mix. But retailers shouldn’t be considering adding cannabis just because there is demand for the product – it still has to fit the brand image and direction the retailer is going. Cannabis at Barneys? I don’t get it and I’m not sure many of Barneys' customers will either.
  • Posted on: 02/11/2019

    Foot Locker makes $100M leap into the sneaker re-seller space

    By acquiring GOAT, Foot Locker is attempting to build an ecosystem for sneaker fans. I think this move is a smart and strategic move for Foot Locker. Today, the sneaker resell market is large and growing, and I expect the combination of GOAT and Foot Locker to help create an even bigger market for resale sneakers. Just like Game Stop has been able to turn used game resales into a very sticky, strategic advantage, I think the same potential exists for Foot Locker.
  • Posted on: 02/08/2019

    Product and promo knowledge won’t make the sale

    Sales or more generally customer service skills are becoming a lost art for many retailers. Ultimately, store staff should be focused on serving the shopper in a way that leads to a successful visit -- in most cases, a successful shopping visit is one that ends in a sale. The fact is, selling/service skills will be highly dependent upon the store environment – we don’t expect service at Costco, we want fast checkout lanes. There are retailers who do an excellent job of finding the right level of engagement with shoppers, and one of the best examples is Lululemon. They have found a way to connect with their shoppers in a way that is completely authentic – and their consistently excellent business results reflect this.
  • Posted on: 02/07/2019

    Are legacy retailers on the right track or heading off the tracks?

    There appears to be a knowing-doing gap -- retailers know what to do, but they just don’t do the right things. The level of distraction among retailers is acute. This is particularly the case for the application of technological solutions that they hope will drive their business along with paranoia of Amazon and market pressure to find a way to out-compete Amazon. Ultimately, it comes down to leadership or lack thereof. There are some very capable and brilliant people running retail operations, but part of the challenge is how they are incentivized -- not on long-term growth or customer experience but rather, quarterly results, comp-sales and stock price which can easily be boosted by stock-buy backs and other financial engineering.
  • Posted on: 02/06/2019

    What will Angela Ahrendts’ departure mean for Apple’s retail business?

    Interesting move. It’s hard to imagine what would cause a seasoned pro like Ahrendts to leave the most valuable company in the world. As good as Ahrendts is, Apple transcends any one person, including Steve Jobs, so I don’t believe her departure will be especially problematic. Apple’s new retail leader is an unknown quantity, but what seems to be clear from the article is that she is close to Tim Cook. My advice to O’Brien – you just took over one of the most successful retail operations of all time…don’t mess it up.
  • Posted on: 02/06/2019

    Is Amazon Vine a win for all?

    Acquiring faster and more meaningful product reviews is good for shoppers, vendors and Amazon. However, if positive reviews are “bought” via free product and other inducements, then this program won’t be very useful at all. It’s hard to say exactly how this program will be received, but if it becomes obvious that Vine reviews are merely sycophantic blogs by incentivized reviewers, it won’t deliver the true value Amazon (I think) is hoping for.
  • Posted on: 02/05/2019

    Walgreens tests tech that sort of recognizes you in-store

    Customer reaction will vary from “cool” to “creepy.” The use of facial recognition will continue to move forward, regardless of the privacy concerns since there is a lack of regulations to ensure this data is not misused. But as much as I am concerned about the potential misuse of facial recognition, it feels like a Pandora’s Box that has already been pried opened – I think it’s unstoppable, the same way it seems to be impossible to regulate privacy concerns and tracking online. I feel that Walgreens has an obligation to explain how its technology works, but there’s a downside to explaining – it draws unwanted attention that could create more negative press than saying nothing at all. Facial recognition is a very slippery slope -- that we’re already on.
  • Posted on: 02/04/2019

    Walmart to offer bonuses for good attendance

    Incentives work, and I like Walmart’s program to incentivize employees for attendance. Ultimately, people matters are unique and need to be considered based on the specific circumstances of each employee. It’s difficult to come up with policies that will please everyone, however, those that include incentives for the desired behavior tend to be most effective.
  • Posted on: 02/01/2019

    What motivates workers in the gig economy?

    I think the gig economy offers some interesting possibilities for retail in the long-term. One of the great challenges retailers have is aligning labor to shopper traffic in their stores. Retailers are often in a state of over-under staffing. The mismatch in labor to traffic often leads to conversion rate sags, poor customer experiences and general shopper dissatisfaction. The most powerful attribute of the gig economy is the ability to deliver "on demand." There's no doubt that having knowledgeable, dedicated employees who have been trained on internal systems and are immersed in the company culture should deliver a superior experience. However, lots of retailers struggle with executing this consistently. Clearly, a gig worker would not have the same skills or expertise of a dedicated employee, nor perhaps the same level of dedication, but there are functions that gig workers could potentially do, like processing BOPIS orders. I know that the idea of deploying gig workers in a retail may seem an anathema to the traditional retail model, but I wonder which would produce a better overall shopping experience -- a lot of gig workers who are enthusiastic, attentive and available on-demand vs. too few, dedicated employees? Do I think the retail floor will become the next Uber? Not a chance. But do I believe that there are interesting possibilities? Absolutely, yes.
  • Posted on: 01/31/2019

    Can sentiment analysis improve merchandising calls?

    While the potential benefits of sentiment analysis are many, today it’s still more art than science. Forecasting demand is tricky at the best of times, and including sentiment data inputs doesn't necessarily make this any easier. The key challenge of sentiment analysis is the diversity of data sources and reliability of this data. The true value of the insights will ultimately be contingent upon the retailer's ability to identify the signal from the noise in the data. There’s no doubt that sentiment analysis will continue to evolve and will likely play an increasingly important role in product and other important decisions.

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