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 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.
  • Posted on: 12/04/2018

    Are subscriptions an untapped gifting opportunity for retailers?

    I am an admitted subscription junkie, and one place where I see an enormous amount of untapped opportunity is to tie subscriptions more strongly into the store. One, sell subscriptions in the store (Macy's, Target, you are guilty of not doing this). Two, feature full-size items in a display in the store for that month's subscription, especially if you're talking beauty items. While I think fatigue is a real thing, and every subscription box is a judgment call on whether the value is worth it to continue for another month, I don't think subscriptions are tapped out yet - in part because the store is so under-utilized in driving the benefits of subscriptions.
  • Posted on: 12/03/2018

    Payless scores with mock-up luxury shop

    I would say you have to be very, very careful any time you want to pull a stunt like this. It could go horribly wrong. Embarrassed people can react in unpredictable ways. Payless was lucky that everyone was pretty good-natured about it and played along after the stunt was revealed. More interesting to me, is how much the store environment changed people's perceptions of what they were getting. It wasn't that Payless's shoes are really that much better than they used to be (I'm not convinced that *I* would be fooled by a $20 shoe with a $200 price tag, but I would never seriously entertain buying a $200 shoe in the first place). It was that a $200 price could be supported when you took the shoe out of the $20 ENVIRONMENT. But that only works when you can create that environment end-to-end -- from the social media presence to the website, to the store.
  • Posted on: 11/28/2018

    Can customer lifetime value scores work against retailers?

    There are very few things that retailers do or keep around customers that should not be made transparent to consumers. If you're making a calculation or a decision in such a way that you don't want to make that transparent to customers, then you should probably seriously rethink what you're doing. Retailers don't have to disclose the algorithms they're using to make their calculations, but by all means they should provide feedback to customers. Don't position it as a negative - it's just like a loyalty tier. We have no problem telling consumers "Hey, if you spend $200 more, you'll move up a tier" (both DSW and Sephora - not to mention Delta - are telling me that right now). So why not share, "If you keep returning things at this rate, your status is at risk" or "If you visit my store three times in the next six weeks, you can improve your status"? The one big caveat: if you're going to reward high status with perks and benefits, then you better make sure those are worth it. But it comes down to this: if consumers are going to game the system anyway (don't we all?) why not just give them the rules and let them play?
  • Posted on: 11/26/2018

    Are Black Friday results a sign of Christmas 2018 things to come?

    My local - and not low-end - mall was so busy on Friday, around lunch time, that we had to park at the defunct Sears outlet store across the street and walk in. Which makes me wonder if average traffic might've been flat, but traffic at specific places was out of control while others were empty. But I think the overall take-away from the weekend is that sales were up, with digital sales and digital connections into stores driving most of the growth. For me, the question is, "Is this because of retailers' investments in omnichannel and store experience and digital transformation - or is it in spite of them?" My feeling is that the economy is good enough that retailers are benefitting, regardless of their progress towards digital transformation. But any retailer who looks at this holiday season and thinks "thank goodness all that disruption stuff is finally over" is making a big mistake.
  • Posted on: 11/15/2018

    Will displaying produce by season set a new grocery concept apart from rivals?

    I think this is a great idea. Consumers have become way too disconnected from their food. This is an ideal way to help educate consumers about the reality of where their food comes from. I don't know how you handle grapes from Chile in the spring - are those "in season" even though they came from a hemisphere away? But I think regardless of your income level, there is a demand among consumers to be more educated about their food and where it comes from - and that this has a direct tie to their well-being and health. I just will never forget Jamie Oliver's series on school food in the U.S. (trying to replicate what he'd done in the U.K.), where kindergartners did not know how to use a fork and knife, and could not identify basic vegetables. I hope that was a rock-bottom moment for the American diet, and that it is only upward-bound from there. But for retailers, this is a very simple move that actually conveys a lot of information and education for the consumer. Every retailer should do it.
  • Posted on: 11/15/2018

    Is last minute absenteeism playing havoc with retail store performance?

    I really wish I could remember who did the study, but I very much remember the results. A university looked into the work habits of retail employees, specifically I think in Chicago and New York. This was maybe five years ago? What they found was that employees are absent mainly because of: 1.) Transportation failures, either that the bus schedule doesn't work or the bus didn't come. 2.) The fact that they work two or three jobs, and employers were not willing to be flexible to accommodate those schedules. 3.) The lack of support at home -- so, a sick child, or a sick caregiver who suddenly can't come in. The net of it is, for the "average" retail worker it's incredibly hard and stressful to meet the demands of what is usually more than one employer. So, if retailers want greater participation, this isn't about technology. This is about livable wages and empathy for the people they depend on to be the face of the company to customers.
  • Posted on: 11/12/2018

    Is it time for U.S. retailers to embrace Singles Day?

    There are a couple of things here. One, Alibaba themselves are trying to rebrand Singles Day to "Global Shopping Festival." I think they recognize that they can one-up Black Friday by coming in a couple of weeks earlier if they can broaden the appeal. In the U.S., it happens to coincide with Veterans Day, and globally there is now higher awareness that this also coincides with WWI Armistice, as we just celebrated the 100th anniversary of that yesterday. Those are two events that don't really mesh together well -- honoring selflessness with a "treat yourself" mentality? I just don't see that working. Two, with $30+ billion in GMV trading hands on that one day, I don't see how it can be ignored, even with the Veterans Day complication. The Chinese market, and the Chinese diaspora is large enough that I think this will ultimately have global power, and meaning beyond China. Three, it's in U.S. retailers' interests to embrace a global shopping festival that happens earlier than Black Friday. Concentrating so much U.S. spend on one weekend so close to the Christmas holiday creates almost as many problems as it solves. By shifting that earlier, they have the opportunity to give themselves some breathing room in the supply chain, and in terms of labor -- November becomes "global festival month" and in the U.S., if you don't get your shopping list done before Thanksgiving, there's still always that uniquely American holiday of Black Friday ...
  • Posted on: 11/09/2018

    Retailers need to focus on customer lifetime value for long-term success

    One practical issue that needs to be addressed right away is the challenge of measuring costs and investment against a boost to CLV. Part of the reason why so many retailers focus on acquisition costs is because it is easy to measure the investment and the return. Retention investments always get tangled up in arguments about whether customers would've spent the money anyway - even when there is study after study that shows it's cheaper to keep a customer than to get a new one, and the value of moving a customer up a loyalty tier is exponential when it comes to measuring CLV. The internal metrics and the culture has to change - an emphasis on a long-term view over the short-term hit to sales. In this day and age of living and dying by the quarterly report, the pressures against making the move to CLV are enormous.
  • Posted on: 11/08/2018

    Will Walmart’s bring your own device policy work for it and its associates?

    From what I've seen of teens, they are more than happy to use their own devices, even as store employees. However, there are a couple additional things to think about besides data security. If you've seen a teen's phone lately, odds are its screen is smashed and barely usable. So even if an employee prefers to use their phone, if they pull out a phone that looks like it was run over by a car (which it might've been), what kind of impression does that make for customers (and I realize I'm talking about your average Walmart shopper here, but still)? The other thing that makes me uneasy is from a value exchange perspective. Walmart is saving thousands per device by letting employees use their own, and employees get -- a discount on their monthly bill? The power dynamic between employer and employee is indeed still way too skewed to the employer if employees are enthusiastic about that. BYOD with the right guardrails can definitely work, and employees are using their own phones on the job anyway, even if it's just to check texts. I'm not sure that a measly discount on the monthly bill will be enough to make it stick, though, even if employees are willing.
  • Posted on: 11/07/2018

    The RetailWire Christmas Commercial Challenge: Kohl’s vs. Macy’s

    Well. How do you even compare these two? Macy's is going straight for emotional resonance and trying to connect that to the brand, while Kohl's is going straight for the wallet. Macy's is a long-format piece (which has been cut down for TV play), Kohl's is a straight-up 30-second spot. But while Macy's makes a strong emotional call, the connection to the brand is very weak. I like that Macy's features a mother-daughter connection, and a mother doing amazing things. But will it get me to think of Macy's for my holiday shopping? Probably not. So I have to give Kohl's an edge there. In terms of building brand over competing on price -- it's definitely more points to Macy's there.
  • Posted on: 11/05/2018

    Consumers say online recommendations are the worst

    I think Huaca got it right: personalization is not just about identifying attributes or characteristics of shoppers. It's about recognizing intent and context, which is far more subtle to detect. However, there is one surefire way to get around that issue: just ask. If you think about it, what's the question that most store associates ask when engaging with consumers? "How can I help you today?" Online, that question never really gets asked. And if it was asked, would the site be smart enough to do anything about the answer? AI gets smarter all the time, but it's still not that smart. There's a big difference between "I'm here looking to replace something that broke" and "I'm here looking for a gift idea for my niece." Even personalization algorithms that are more heavily weighted on current browsing over past behavior aren't going to be able to keep up with that kind of behavior shift from shopping visit to shopping visit. Consumers know that online recommendations come from tracking their activities, and that sets their expectations high. I think it's ironic that physical stores could probably do a better job - if only retailers staffed their stores to actually have someone there to ask the question in the first place.
  • Posted on: 11/01/2018

    Is there a failure to communicate between retail HQs and stores?

    Where is Reflexis when you need them? Pretty much, this article sums up all of the challenges that company addresses. Corporate initiatives are planned in isolation of each other - marketing vs. merchandising vs. store ops vs. everyone else. Everyone at HQ thinks they have a say in what happens in stores. The reality of that view is chaos - 10 lbs of work in a 5 lb bag, often without clear prioritization for the store and without all the pieces in place in order to execute, and not designed to execute in that store's format, forget about the labor available to do non-selling work. The solution has been around for almost 20 years now. But the hardest part of selling it is getting corporate to recognize the ridiculous and competing demands that are thrown over the wall at stores. You can't solve a problem if you can't admit you have one, and if multiple corporate resources don't walk a mile in a store's shoes, they'll never have the visibility to help them develop the empathy they need to see it from the store's perspective. Short of investing in software, every corporate leader should have to work 40 hours in a store at least once a year. Sometimes that seems like it might be more trouble than it's worth, but just like the TV show Undercover Boss proved over and over, you won't understand the front line unless you live it.
  • Posted on: 10/31/2018

    Survey: Time is the biggest barrier to personalizing marketing messages

    I think there's a lot to parse through in answering this question. The most important question is, at what level do you actually need to personalize? Is it the image, the message? Those are the hardest ones. But you can also create a sense of personalization by looking at the time of day the communication is sent, which channel is used, things like that. AI can easily handle the latter. I think it still struggles with the former. And then the next most important question is, how much does it really need to be personalized? More often than not, I think there is a library of "offers" that can be made, and it's more about selecting the right offer for the right person. But are we really going to get down to a unique offer for every person? Probably not. Even wildly different shoppers can have very similar objectives -- everybody needs to eat, for example. So there has to be some rationality and strategy applied first, before you can expect personalization to really pay off. AI can only do so much.
  • Posted on: 10/30/2018

    Why are Foot Locker and Nike sending ‘sneakerheads’ on AR scavenger hunts?

    This was the perfect convergence of trends -- AR-style games like Pokemon Go, sneakerheads, scavenger hunts, and limited editions. Other products may not be able to bring together all of these exact elements, but brands should easily be able to bring together enough of a combination to replicate the success. One thing to keep in mind, though, the sneakers would've sold out anyway. But the word of mouth, the customer engagement, the fear of missing out that they generated by engaging fans to get them -- that's priceless.
  • Posted on: 10/29/2018

    What if artificial intelligence is biased?

    Everyone should be highly concerned about latent biases. We don't fully understand our own biases, and without that understanding, we can never assume that AI won't "learn the wrong things." This is why I think there will be an "AI 2.0" in our future - one that has been developed specifically to make its assumptions or lessons learned clear to an end user, who can then better monitor the things that AI learns. The reality is, we WANT AI to learn "ideal" behaviors, but we've released it into a world far less than ideal. And it will do with that data what AI does -- draw conclusions and apply them going forward.

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