PROFILE

Nikki Baird

VP of Retail Innovation, Aptos
Nikki Baird is the vice president of Retail Innovation at Aptos, a retail enterprise solution provider. She is charged with accelerating retailers’ ability to innovate. She has been a top global retail industry influencer for several years, with a background in retail and technology. She is a regular contributor to Forbes.com and has been quoted as a retail subject matter expert in The Economist, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Huffington Post, and National Public Radio, among many others. Nikki brings perspective from all sides of the retail technology equation: she has been an industry analyst for nearly fifteen years, co-founding Retail Systems Research, the premier boutique analyst firm focused on the retail industry. Prior to co-founding RSR, Nikki was an analyst at both Forrester Research and Retail Systems Alert Group, where she covered retail industry and technology topics. Prior to that, she was director of marketing for StorePerform, a store execution management software provider, and director of product marketing for Viewlocity, a supply chain software provider focusing on adaptive supply chain execution and exception management. Nikki came to Viewlocity from PwC Consulting, now IBM Global Services, where as a senior manager she led IT strategy consulting engagements for retail and CPG clients. Nikki has an M.B.A. from the University of Texas, Austin, focusing on operations and IT. She also holds a bachelor of arts in political science and Russian, with a minor in physics, from the University of Colorado, Boulder.
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  • Posted on: 04/16/2019

    Will Walmart’s KIDBOX help kids look good and do good at the same time?

    I think this is a great idea - with one caveat. I like the idea of a subscription box for kids, but would want to understand how they ensure that they grow the sizes with the kids. I can say that my Stitch Fix subscription turns out to be a great motivator for remaining the same size for ME, but kids grow - fast, and unevenly. Having a box arrive just as a boy pulls on pants that are suddenly three inches too short would be a miracle of convenience - if it actually works that way.
  • Posted on: 04/08/2019

    Should uniform pricing be the norm for large chains?

    You can't really have this discussion without knowing two things: what is the overall inventory availability of the item? And how much does it cost to ship it? Looking at digital cameras - that is a high-value item that costs relatively little to ship. So it's easy for that to be something that ought to be priced nationally because if someone finds a lower price somewhere else, it doesn't cost that much to get it shipped. Any time there is a variability in price for no reason other than the location, you will get consumers who will try to game it. I agree that uniform pricing can stifle some consumers who get priced out of the market and also leaves money on the table with more affluent consumers who would pay more. However, there's something to be said for a third way here, which is yes, a high uniform national price, and then "your price" - offering discounts to consumers based on who they are, how they behave, and what their expected lifetime value is. I say that while keeping in mind that such pricing may ultimately be difficult to execute without running into accusations of discriminatory pricing. But pricing by location, especially for cheap-to-ship items, is probably dead.
  • Posted on: 04/02/2019

    Which data sources should be driving personalization?

    How about the data that customers are willing to share? I'm continually amazed at how reluctant retailers are to just ASK their customers about their preferences. Customers understand the quid pro quo - you track my data, but in return I get personalization and relevance. The only reason why consumers would be reluctant to share is because they're not seeing enough value out of the relationship. And that should be a warning sign to retailers that they're not doing enough to keep customers engaged for the long haul. Which means rather than shy away from asking consumers what they're willing to share, retailers should embrace it - if a lot of consumers opt out, then you've got a much bigger problem than those opt-outs. You have a value proposition challenge. I do think in-store data will become part of the data that is used, beyond transaction logs. But retailers will have to be careful about tying PII to in-store visits beyond the purchase - that definitely seems to cross a threshold into "creepy."
  • Posted on: 03/26/2019

    Who will win the Sephora vs. Ulta beauty competition?

    I think it's emblematic of the problem in retail - there are two companies here, and two winners, because there's really only room for two - one that caters to the high end, and one that caters to the low end. Sometimes that translates into "older" vs "younger" - Sephora is for me, and Ulta is for my daughter. But what's most important in this dynamic is that there is no room to win in between the two. The middle is a very precarious place to live for brands, and beauty is a perfect example of how it ultimately plays out.
  • Posted on: 02/27/2019

    Will security concerns handicap IoT devices?

    It will become a headache when consumers show up with the device haphazardly shoved into the box, with receipt in hand, to say "This device got me hacked. I want my money back." Retailers don't want to be in the business of regulating IoT devices, and on the surface I don't blame them. But retailers also want to benefit from the services they can garner by offering things like smart home implementation help. If you're going to offer services around IoT, then you'd better have your act together about which devices you are willing to sell and support - because if you help consumers implement IoT that has security holes the size of manholes in the street, then you're going to be perceived as complicit in those holes. And what a value-added service - "we've tested and verified that all of the devices we sell meet these 10 minimum security standards, so that you can buy from us with confidence." Unfortunately, most retailers prefer to abdicate any responsibility. I call it "ships passing in the night syndrome": retailers expect the tech vendors to take care of it, and the tech vendors expect the retailers to demand minimum expectations from them, and when neither do, then consumers are the ones who lose.
  • Posted on: 02/22/2019

    Will the ‘c’ in c-stores soon stand for cannabis?

    As someone who has lived through the legalization in my own state, I can say there are still many many hurdles to overcome before you can pick up THC sodas next to the beer. Heck, we only just now made it legal to sell beer in grocery or c-stores (beyond individual mom and pop shops). The banking problem in the U.S. has to be solved before any major corporation is going to touch it. But every major player is sitting on the sidelines like a sprinter waiting for the gun to go off. I'm just pretty sure it's going to take a couple more years - at least - before we get there.
  • Posted on: 02/21/2019

    Is long lastin’ the new fast-fashion?

    I think there are a lot of conflicting factors at play here. Gen Z in particular has whatever money their parents are willing to spend on them. But they're starting to turn over into paying for their own stuff. The wallet pressure of $100 for a pair of jeans that you still might outgrow vs. $25 for a pair of jeans that will fit you for about as long as they will last is still pretty real. However, I do think the backlash is coming. When you look at the trends of: experiences over things (spending less on clothing overall but on things that last a lot longer so that I can fund experiences), small-scale living (not wanting to "own" so much), social awareness (the human rights impact of fast fashion), environmental awareness (the ecological impact of fast fashion)... It's getting to be a pretty long list of factors working against the industry. I think it is no coincidence that H&M accepts old clothes in order to recycle, as one way of addressing the issue. That alone, though, I don't think will be enough.
  • Posted on: 02/20/2019

    Samsung brings its own ‘Experience’ to first U.S. stores

    Samsung has been experimenting with retail locations for years now - just, without the retail part. The Samsung 837 location in New York offered a lot of the play and experiential elements that appear to be going in to Samsung stores. The only difference is that the 837 location didn't sell anything. All you could do as a consumer was "play." So, my answer is: Samsung is maybe a little late to the game. But they're not starting from scratch.
  • Posted on: 02/14/2019

    Will Mastercard’s sonic identity connect with consumers on a new level?

    I have to admit, when I first saw this question, I thought this was pretty silly. I'm not sure that I've ditched that point of view entirely, but perhaps it's fair to say that there are some nuances worth exploring. I agree with the notion that sensory experiences are powerful and when you can connect them to a brand, it's a very effective way of creating brand connections. But I don't think that's new at all. As noted, NBC pretty much has a lock on their tri-tone. And Intel has theirs. For companies that have managed to pull it off, it's very powerful. But it's not revolutionary. It's not like MasterCard has done something no one has done before. I also agree that with more voice-driven interactions - I'm not sure that I would call it all "shopping" quite yet - paying attention to sounds and how they connect to a brand is important. However, I also think they need to be careful to give consumers control, so that we don't start living in the sound-equivalent of billboards in Times Square. Great, it's cute that it chimes when my Mastercard has been accepted. But what if I want to turn it off? Quiet - and control over the quiet - can be just as powerful of a brand statement as noise.
  • Posted on: 02/07/2019

    J.C. Penney dumps appliances

    It's a lot of space -- in some expensive real estate -- to house appliances. And even under Ellison, I didn't see a whole lot of effort being put into driving sales in that space. Other than the initial "we've got appliances!" there wasn't a lot of media devoted to driving awareness, and definitely execution -- at least in the stores I visited -- left a lot to be desired. It was so devoid of assistance that I felt like I could've wheeled an entire refrigerator out the mall entrance and no one would've stopped me. That's not a good sign in a category that is big ticket, and big commitment on the part of the customer. They want hand-holding and reassurances that they're making the right decision. So I understand the math. Ellison was placing a bet that Sears would be completely dead by now, and there was an opportunity to step in and capture that spend. I think the reality didn't match the plan. Whether that is because it was the wrong strategy, or just the poor execution, I could not say.
  • Posted on: 01/31/2019

    Social media responsiveness builds Millennial loyalty

    I believe social media presence in general is a key driver of loyalty in retail today. It's not just about customer service - though that is the most important part - it's about responding to consumers who have chosen to engage with you there. If you have a presence, then you better be fully present. But I also agree that retailers are going to have a challenge with the upcoming Generation Z. Neither of my kids (14 and 17) are on Twitter or Facebook, nor have any desire to be. Slack, yes. Instagram ("Insta"), yes. And surprisingly, Pinterest. But these aren't really designed to be customer service channels. Instagram and Pinterest are good for engagement at the front end of the customer journey, but not so good at the back end. Right now, it's not mostly their own money that Gen Z is spending, and thus they aren't so ready to vent or seek customer service redress. Maybe when THAT part changes, they'll join Twitter or Facebook just to be able to vent. I wouldn't bet a lot of money on that, though...
  • Posted on: 01/28/2019

    Cloud and AI seen fueling digital transformation

    I see still some retailers who see cloud as "nice to have" or feel that the subscription cost is "too high" vs. what they can wring out of a license/maintenance deal where they sit on the software for five years before investing again. I think what these companies are missing is that the pace of the consumer has become so fast, that not being in the cloud with your technology solutions, and not making the commitment to keeping up with the latest updates/upgrades is taking an enormous risk around your company's ability to keep up. I do think it's interesting to encounter companies who are anti-cloud, but very pro-AI. You can't have AI without the cloud - the computing power alone would kill any AI project, let alone the development costs of trying to do it all yourself. AI is possible *because* of the cloud. So, yes, I see cloud and AI solving problems that retailers have today. Cloud delivers immediate benefits, and AI, longer-term. From what I've seen, we'll have to go through some kind of trough of disillusionment with AI, where hype meets reality. That is still coming. But once we get through it, cloud and AI hand-in-hand have a lot of potential for retail.
  • Posted on: 01/25/2019

    How much inventory visibility do retailers need to give consumers?

    I have pointed many times to IKEA's inventory visibility for consumers as the gold standard for how to share inventory. Not only do they show you today's inventory, they give you an assessment on how much that means the inventory will likely actually be there (a red-yellow-green risk assessment), and they project that inventory level two days out into the future. Now THAT is inventory visibility. The intent should be to give consumers the confidence to know that if they come to the store, the items they're looking for will be there. That's it. Whatever it takes to do that should be plenty. Sometimes that's just an assessment of risk all by itself - there's a high probability of it being there, a medium probability, a low probability. Sometimes that means giving specific inventory levels. With IKEA, sometimes you're selling things like chairs, and just "some probability of it being in stock" is not enough. Do you need two chairs? Four? Eight? That's when you need specific inventory levels. And it's important to note that you don't have to have one policy for all items - you can vary it, for all the reasons above. Whatever visibility customers need in order to have the confidence to come to the store: that should be the bar.
  • Posted on: 01/24/2019

    Amazon takes multi-pronged approach to owning the last mile

    The thing with Amazon is, they're not afraid to throw a bunch of crazy ideas at the wall to see which ones might stick. When everyone else demands a 50-page business case and three-level deep ROI analysis, Amazon is busy trying all kinds of things, learning from those and iterating multiple times - before anyone else gets one new idea off the ground. So when it comes down to it, I don't think it matters what Amazon tries or which ideas succeed. I think the prototypes and tests that are rolling on the streets today will look nothing like the ultimate answers to last-mile fulfillment (I'm betting on Star Trek replicators myself!). But no one will get to that end result unless they take the first step, and Amazon and a few startups are really the only ones out there trying anything, and for that, they deserve the leg up they will undoubtedly get.
  • Posted on: 01/23/2019

    What will it take to dramatically reduce risk in the retail supply chains?

    Data sharing and transparency is definitely key to reducing supply chain risks. But after spending a long time on the execution side of supply chain management, I would say I'm biased towards the idea that it is impossible to eliminate "risk" specifically. You can hedge against it, but unless you can predict the future, there is no way to eliminate risk. Also, we need to keep in mind the context of this discussion. We spent the last 50 years building "efficient" supply chains with almost no recognition of the risks that just this idea of efficiency creates, let alone "standard" supply chain risks like weather or contamination, etc. People may be trying too hard to push the pendulum completely to the other side - "eliminate all risks, and who cares about efficiency" - but I think the reality is, it has to come down to somewhere in between the two extremes - a balance of risk, efficiency, and flexibility. That takes more than just data transparency.

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