PROFILE

Nikki Baird

VP of Retail Innovation, Aptos

Nikki Baird is Managing Partner of Retail Systems Research. Formerly, Nikki was a principal analyst at Forrester Research, where she covered extended retail industry topics like supply chain, RFID, retail operations, POS, and in-store management.

Most recently, she was director of marketing for StorePerform, a store execution management software provider, now RedPrairie. Prior to that, Nikki was 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: 08/14/2018

    ‘Less is more’ when competing with Amazon

    I don't think it's about "less is more" so much as doing a better job matching the assortment and the presentation of the assortment to shopper needs. Amazon sells stuff. If retailers want to differentiate, they should focus on enabling shopper objectives, for which "selling stuff" becomes an outcome. For example, I tried out Bright Cellars, which is supposed to match four bottles of wine per month to your tastes based on a quiz that is driven by an AI algorithm. I just cancelled my subscription. The wine was fine. But it was a highly repetitive assortment every month. And for all the technology behind the curation, there was no explanation of why those wines were selected for me. So "less" turned out to be just "less" and not more. I thought I might learn something about my tastes and preferences, and instead I learned that while Obscura reds are okay, they get tiring after six months straight. The curation was not matched to my objective. Curating the assortment is a fine way to differentiate. Putting a brand's expertise behind that curation is also a fine way to differentiate. But execution makes all the difference in the world in actually being differentiated and just having less, even if you have a good reason behind it, is not enough if it doesn't match consumers' objectives.
  • Posted on: 08/13/2018

    J.C. Penney goes after Babies ‘R’ Us customers with new shops

    I think this is a great idea. Baby items are a whole new world, especially to new parents where reviews alone are not going to be enough. To me, the question is, will J.C. Penney staff the section with people who can show new parents how to use the car seat/stroller/rolling cart? Or will they leave parents to fumble through awkward controls they aren't used to using -- or leave them searching for the magic button that collapses the beastly thing into something that somehow fits into your pocket? There are definitely opportunities opened up by Toys "R" Us's exit from the market -- if electronics can make it with at least one brick-and-mortar player, then toys and baby stuff should be able to make it too. Good on J.C. Penney for recognizing the opportunity -- hopefully they put everything in place they need in order to ensure the move's success.
  • Posted on: 08/10/2018

    Can on-demand sales stabilize Blue Apron?

    Well, if they are listening to their customers, and that's what their customers want, then I would say that makes sense. I'm not a big meal kit person (with a family of five and some picky eaters in there, I've found we don't "fit" the kits), but I've definitely seen the benefit of my local grocery store offering kits for "I don't want to eat out but I don't want the burden of creating a meal from scratch." If Blue Apron can make the logistics work -- profitably -- to capture that need, then more power to them. But that said, I think there are other opportunities that offer more in terms of connecting to consumers as well as operating profitably -- serving as a resource for creating and delivering kits to local grocery stores in a partnership seems a heck of a lot easier than delivering last-minute kits to individual consumers. Blue Apron has also experimented with a store, and I thought they got that concept all wrong - they should be looking at something similar to Kroger's restaurant concept, Kitchen 1883, so that consumers can get a better feel for what the meals are supposed to taste like and feel comfortable exploring a broader range of tastes they might not be familiar with -- which would expand Blue Apron's appeal.
  • Posted on: 08/09/2018

    Consortium is made-to-order for people who want customized brands

    I think you have to separate fashion from beauty when it comes to personalization. While there has been a definite trend in fashion away from "looking like everyone else" -- which personalization could easily enable -- most "customized" fashion sits at luxury-level prices, and so it's still a bit more of a novelty. In beauty, I think this is the future. We've already seen beauty brands like L'Oreal experiment with custom-mixing foundation colors, and Alibaba enabling personalized beauty shopping experiences that start with getting a skin profile -- a profile that then drives all of the product exploration and recommendations that follow. I think endpoint manufacturing -- whether 3-D printing, engraving or custom-mixing -- will be much easier to pull off in beauty where a foundation base, for example, can be customized with a tint and with additives based on your skin needs, than in fashion, where you're looking at large scale machines whether you're talking about knitting or shoe forming, even when it's just to manufacture one piece.
  • Posted on: 08/08/2018

    Can retail compete for computer science graduates?

    If retailers want to attract and retain developers, they're going to have to promise not just a strong starting salary, but a commitment to keeping up with the pace of salary growth in other industries, too. They also need to commit to keeping skills cutting edge through training, continuing education support and through Google-like "free time" on the job to explore projects that develop cutting-edge skills (and deliver new innovations to the business). I think HQ location is also increasingly something to look at as part of the offer -- many retailers may not be located in "sexy" locations, but that also means there's lots more affordable housing to be had than in the typical tech centers. However, that also means that the company should be prepared to do some "selling" of the city too, and not just the company.
  • Posted on: 08/03/2018

    Will in-home 3D scanner drive online clothing sales?

    I saw this too. While I do believe that familiarity with a technology makes consumers more likely to use it and accept it, I think this one is still a ways out. Everybody was up in arms over fingerprint technology, until it showed up as the security on a smartphone. Everybody has been up in arms over facial recognition -- myself included -- until it made the fingerprint on the phone look quaint and obsolete. So, sure. Body scanning could get past consumer objections by, one, being something they do in the privacy of their home and two, being something they may feel like they have more control or ownership over, vs. a scanner set up in a mall or even the airport body scanners. But this thing is $1,400 and takes up a lot more space than a scale, and from the company's comments it looks like it's probably going to be available in gyms first, not too many homes. And while some investors may see the potential in using the data to tap into fit from an apparel perspective, the people at Naked Labs are more focused on providing a more comprehensive view of health and fitness than they are on selling you clothing. As many of the "fit" companies out there will tell you, there are a lot of parties involved in putting together the body measurements with the clothing design and manufacture, distribution and selling. So like the fingerprint and the face scan before it, acceptance of a new capability through a consumer product can definitely make a difference for body scanning. The real question is, is this the product? It's a good start, but until it's closer in price to a high-end scale, my answer is going to be no.
  • Posted on: 08/01/2018

    Publix takes on service dog tag abuse

    I know this seems like maybe a petty thing to be harping on about, but my brother volunteered for years to train service animals, which takes a lot of effort and time and devotion. It also involved a lot of hassle because service animals in training are supposed to get the same treatment as service animals in service (otherwise, how do you expose them to the situations they'll be working in?) -- and he often had to fight for the right to take his trainees pretty much everywhere. People who abuse the access that these working animals are supposed to get make it harder for the people who really need these animals -- not for general "emotional support," but acting as a missing sense (seeing, hearing), or even alerting to dangerous health situations like seizures, debilitating anxiety attacks or falls. I applaud Publix for taking a stand on this. But really, this is a government regulation issue -- local governments need to issue real permits and real ID cards for real service animals and the people who need them in order to truly reduce the abuse. Some states are making progress, but there's still way too much abuse going on, which just makes it harder for the people who really need the service.
  • Posted on: 07/31/2018

    What can retailers do about consumer’s AI concerns?

    One, I think retailers need to be open and up front that consumers are interacting with an AI, rather than trying to fool them by presenting a "person." What consumers don't like is feeling like they've been punked. If retailers tell consumers up front what's driving the interaction, and give them an escape button for if the interaction goes off the rails, I think most consumers are willing to give it a go -- as the study found. Two, I don't see consumer fears holding it back. While most of the activity and investment by retailers seems to be in customer-facing channels today, the real value and power of AI will be behind the scenes, where consumers feel the benefit but aren't directly interacting with it. The only way a consumer backlash might come is if retailers disrespect consumers, like in point one where they try to pretend they're not actually using AI when they are. Three, the biggest challenge for retailers is making sure they have good data and that their AI is making the right kinds of inferences about that data, so that the AI does not start making conclusions that relationships between data are causal when in fact they are only coincidence -- until they're not. AI is still in its infancy. The AI that is powering chatbots is really on the natural language processing side, not in putting real intelligence into the responses -- that's still mostly brute force. So probably the biggest challenge in the industry is a tendency to ascribe a lot more capability to what AI can do and how well it does it than what is truly available -- and in play in interactions with consumers -- today.
  • Posted on: 07/27/2018

    Having little luck with Millennials, J.C. Penney refocuses on middle-age women

    I don't agree. I think the business has been hurt because it tried to attract a new customer, but could not successfully make the transition. There are always two customer segmentation strategies for every retailer: the segmentations they have, and the segmentations they wish they had. You can move from your "core" segments to more aspirational ones if you want. I'm not saying it's easy, but just because you HAVE a certain set of customers it doesn't mean you are stuck with them. I was there for the decline and fall of Montgomery Wards, which made the decision to live with the customers it had -- low income, aging women who, as they said "still wanted to shop at a department store but couldn't afford it." That's not exactly a growth demographic right there. J.C. Penney needs to target growth demographics. If it sticks with the customers it has, it will follow the fate of Wards. The company MUST demonstrate that it can attract new customer segments. Hopefully that's a proven skill of the next leader for the company.
  • Posted on: 07/26/2018

    Study: Online retailers losing billions in sales to out-of-stocks

    What I would like to know is how the out-of-stock in stores was calculated. Is it out-of-stock percent for each store, averaged across all stores? Or was it the aggregate inventory level across stores and then calculated at that level? Because I suspect that the average store is not out-of-stock on only 8.3 percent of items -- I would expect a higher out-of-stock number for individual stores. And then there is the whole "actual" out of stock vs. "perceived" out of stock -- and I would bet that stores suffer way more here than online does. If a consumer can't find the item in the store, even if it's there, they believe the retailer is out of stock and that shapes their overall perception of the brand. I once saw an estimate of this phenomenon, and it was as high as 30 percent perceived out of stock, when the actual out of stock in the store was less than half that. This is why showing store inventory online is so important, even if it is only a guideline like "high availability" or "running low." An online DC might carry more inventory than a store, but not that much more -- probably not more than three to five stores, for your "average" retailer I'm guessing (could definitely be wrong though). So you're only going to have so much availability if you're only pulling from the online DC. But when you can tap into store inventory, even if it's only to direct consumers to go to their local store, you have a much wider pool of inventory to play with. I think the most important thing to remember with out-of-stocks, though, is that in this day and age, consumers are much less likely to switch brands and stick with the retailer than they are to ditch the retailer in search of the brand. I see it in my own behavior too -- outside of very low consideration items like bags of frozen peas, if a store doesn't have it, I'm opening the Amazon app next. And online, there are a ton of competitors who might have specifically what I want that are only a tab away.
  • Posted on: 07/25/2018

    Lululemon goes shopping and finds its new CEO at Sephora

    While the most recent results for Lululemon specifically are good, athleisure as a category has definitely had its ups and downs, with a continuing fear that yoga pants in general may have jumped the shark. So I guess I would re-frame the question: can a CEO who successfully led a company like Sephora through the rise of digital beauty brands and the pretty rapid globalization of beauty (beyond luxury beauty) convince another successful company that may be coming up on some rocky roads ahead to act ahead of any disruption, rather than wait until results tank? It seems to me that McDonald has exactly the right level of credibility to be able to come in and protect what's good while also keeping the company from getting complacent.
  • Posted on: 07/23/2018

    McDonald’s offers free fries for mobile orders

    From what I've heard from QSR restaurants that have invested in mobile ordering, it's totally worth it. It keeps the lines down, it makes the incoming orders a little more predictable (especially if you can get them to order well in advance of arriving), and the upsell opportunities alone pay for the software and implementation. Taco Bell, somewhere, reported that consumers were adding on things that they had to pay for -- like guacamole or sour cream -- at far beyond the rate they were adding them in stores. I remember them saying at the time (though it could've been another one, it's been a little while) that it wasn't just employee training or any kind of language or accent barrier or anything like that -- it was really the pressure of the line behind the customers that made them just "go basic" at the register in a way that they did not repeat when using their phones and having no one standing behind them. And if you can get customers to set up highly customized orders that they then repeat with frequency... those become much higher-margin customers than anyone who walks through the door and just orders "a number one" and that's it.
  • Posted on: 07/13/2018

    Did Build-A-Bear destroy its brand with a successful promotion?

    I have no idea why Build-A-Bear thought this was a good idea. Unless they were trying to clear out some awful inventory, there is absolutely no good reason to undercut your brand value that much. I mean, forget about the lines. If they set the expectation that this may ever happen again, they will have instantly trained their customers to just wait to buy anything. If they were really determined to do this to themselves, they should've waited for Prime Day and pulled all those parents into the mall on the day they could've been home shopping for extreme deals via Alexa or that big desktop experience. I know it wouldn't have stopped them from shopping on their phones, but you know -- that's still a tougher experience on a smaller screen. You get what you get, especially when what you're trying to get is bottom feeding, ultra-price-sensitive shoppers who care little about your brand.
  • Posted on: 07/11/2018

    Is your culture your brand?

    In this era of transparency, companies (especially retailers) who are trying to sell a lifestyle to consumers had better live and breathe that lifestyle, or they will be called out as fake - consumers increasingly look for authenticity, and it's just too easy to see who lives what they're selling and who does not. You can operate within that framework and avoid touchy topics - "I'm about helping women look good" - but if you want to be meaningful enough to your customers that they are no longer price sensitive and become deeply loyal to your brand, then you have to stand for something much deeper than just the lifestyle, and that's where things get tricky. If you stand for helping women look good, for example, that's not enough to be meaningful (some would argue it's the definition of superficiality). But if you use that stand to, say, help homeless women get interview clothes to get jobs, now you're talking about something with a lot more meaning. Where I pause, not because I have an opinion yet but because I think I'm probably going to have to have one at some point, is the balance between building an organization based on this deeper meaning and crossing some line into cult or group-think status. If my company stands for, say, mental health in teens, then do I insist that every new hire care about that and buy into that? What if they don't? And with current high awareness of diversity - its challenges and its values - then by demanding buy-in to a company's deeper meaning, are you locking yourself out of opportunities that would come from different world views and perspectives? I don't have an answer to that, but it's something I think every company needs to think about.
  • Posted on: 06/29/2018

    Is making burgers now a job for robots?

    I have a lot of mixed feelings about automation in retail, especially of the "will we have a completely automated store with no humans in the near future?" kind. Someone has to load Creator. Someone has to make sure it's working and not, I don't know, setting the restaurant on fire. I'm pretty sure someone still has to assemble the meal - the fries, the drink, the burger, etc. And if Creator somehow makes a mistake, there needs to be someone there to talk to about it (unless you want the restaurant vandalized). I once did a project with a fast food company that I won't name here, where an executive at the time told us that their hiring pool was pretty much "drug addicts and homeless" because that was all they could get for what they were willing to pay. This person also said their own children flat out refused to work in the company's restaurants because the work sucked and the pay was worse. So, I hate it when the discourse about automation is presented as a zero-sum game: oh no, 3 million cashiers will lose their jobs, oh no, all the food prep people will get fired. But what is the actual employment profile of a store or restaurant with automation? It's actually better than the store without it, because automation does not mean the end of employment - unless the only way you're looking at it is through the lens of the jobs that are replaced, rather than any new jobs that are created around it. Fast food restaurant jobs as they exist today are awful jobs that no one wants. So why not automate that part, and replace them with jobs that lead to technical skills, better people skills, supply chain skills, etc.? And better pay. And do a better job satisfying customers while you're at it? That doesn't seem so bad to me - as long as the industry does its part in helping to retrain the people who are disrupted. That's the big caveat for me.

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