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 <i>The Economist, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Huffington Post</i>, 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: 09/16/2021

    Should Banana Republic revisit its safari past?

    Well let's talk about the driving, urgent need to make a transition to something new: workwear as we know it is dead, and before the pandemic Banana Republic was so much the epitome of knowledge worker drone workwear as to be a cliche. I guess kudos to them for recognizing the peril (although chewing through 150 of your 500 stores to come to that conclusion suggests they came upon it on the border of "too little, too late"). The big question is, will this move abandon/reject their current core shopper (a la J.C. Penney in the Ron Johnson era), or do they think that this move will bring them closer to that current core? It's one thing to revamp your brand, it's another thing to revamp your brand while also completely changing who you target with that brand.
  • Posted on: 09/09/2021

    Will Just Walk Out tech work for Whole Foods?

    The fact that this is going into new store builds only speaks volumes as to the limitations of the technology. Amazon is being aggressive about trying to take the tech to market to all kinds of retailers (I suspect they need volumes of scale to bring down the overall costs). But showcasing a new-build install isn't going to reassure much of anyone, especially in the current challenging physical store environment.
  • Posted on: 09/08/2021

    Higher wages can boost retailers’ bottom lines

    I have long said that front line workers are not stupid. If you pay them $7/hour, they will only give you $7/hour worth of work, and rightfully so. Retailers have sub-optimized themselves into crappy wages for crappy jobs delivering crappy service. If nothing else, this great experiment we find ourselves in right now with front line wages will show what might be possible if you start opening up those constraints.
  • Posted on: 09/08/2021

    Will Gen Z ditch Brandy Melville for wanting only pretty, thin, young, white workers?

    Rumors have long been flying around Brandy Melville for exactly the accusations described here. One thing I will say - Gen Z is by no means a monolith. BM's positioning had already significantly limited their market to a small subset of Gen Z. As awareness of the toxicity behind the scenes grows, I think it will limit it more - but a lot of Gen Z had already rejected the brand. This is more like the nail in the coffin, rather than the beginning of the end.
  • Posted on: 09/07/2021

    Nordstrom ain’t what it used to be before the pandemic

    It's definitely strange to see Nordstrom struggling where Macy's and Dillard's are not! It's one thing to say that department stores are struggling and Nordstrom is a part of that, and another thing to say that Nordstrom is struggling when other department stores are not. And Nordstrom has been more aggressive in trying to find new ways to reach consumers, and tapping into more digital ways too, so you would hope they could reap the benefits of those investments. My take is that there is a lot of weirdness going on in the supply chain, and to understand any retailer's results you really need to look there first. If Nordstrom had lower price points because that's all they could get, they could sell the same amount of units as before and make less, both revenue and profit. Macy's, etc. all had great results because they had no inventory, so they sold all they had without having to mark it down. Nordstrom does not typically discount as much as other department stores, so they didn't have an opportunity to benefit from fewer discounts. Ultimately, 2021 results are going to be just has challenging and inscrutable as 2020 - there's just too much disruption on both the supply side and the demand side to really blame one clear miss in one area for any retailer.
  • Posted on: 09/03/2021

    California aims to mandate gender-neutral toy sections

    Non-gendered toy section ought to be good business for retailers. When you look at the history of gendered toys, you get to the 1940s pretty quickly, when gendered toys first emerged as a marketing ploy to get consumers to buy more toys - because they have to have the pink one for girls and the blue on for boys vs. just having one that both could play with. That's evolved to a total extreme where you can't find a play kitchen in anything other than pink, because a play kitchen is a "girl's toy" - with all of the discriminatory implications of that ("housewives cook" even though "men are chefs"). Parents of today are very aware of the unfair/unequal gender expectations that come with a lot of toys, and are actively seeking ways to get around that. Everyone cooks. And anyone can be a chef if they want to be. And I do think parents and educators alike recognize that there are harmful impacts to society by letting gendered stereotypes get perpetuated just to drive a company's sales, which is why governments are getting involved. But I think in general the market is heading in that direction anyway.
  • Posted on: 09/02/2021

    Can 14 and 15-year-olds solve the labor shortage?

    I know several kids who would've been more than happy to work at 14 and 15 but could find no one willing to hire (or train) them. I think the workforce management solutions of today can do a lot more to help prevent the potential for abuse or illegal scheduling of younger workers than the manual scheduling practices of the past. One caveat to all of this is, they must be TRAINED. Retail has for too long relied on either demanding already-experienced workers (and how are they supposed to get experience if they don't already have it somehow?), or throwing untrained people into the deep end to see if they can learn on their own how to swim. I think companies will find that younger teens are very moldable and can be highly motivated. But they need to have the programs in place to do that.
  • Posted on: 08/31/2021

    Best Buy builds a virtual store to assist customers remotely

    I always thought there should be a virtual component to every store - that community shoppers should be able to more easily connect to their local store. I didn't think it would go this direction first, though. However I can see how it makes sense. This is a more controlled environment - both for sound and bandwidth quality, as well as customer privacy concerns (you aren't video chatting with customers unknowingly walking behind you). The one thing this misses, though, is that local connection. Best Buy made a big deal out of investing more in full time roles and making their retail big box stores more stable from an employment perspective. Why not reap the benefits of that by investing in your local store employees' ability to form lasting connections with local community shoppers?
  • Posted on: 08/23/2021

    Are Home Depot and Lowe’s about to hit a sales wall?

    I think there is a lot of pent-up demand for home improvement projects still, some of which has been held off by sky-high lumber prices that are starting to come back down. So I agree that there is still a lot of upside ahead. However it will be interesting to see how the market reacts to these companies that had outsize gains during the pandemic and how that impacts how they fare in the market when they inevitably come off of those highs. Theoretically the markets price in that this was a temporary surge, but then, the markets are not always rational...
  • Posted on: 08/19/2021

    Do downtown shopping districts need their own loyalty programs?

    This is an interesting take on coalition loyalty programs, in part because the benefits to consumers are being partly funded by outside forces like the CARES Act rather than from the retailers themselves. The challenge historically for these programs has long been how to balance funding the loyalty benefits against spreading those benefits across retailers. If you're a retailer funding loyalty points, great - you're benefiting from additional sales. If you're a retailer redeeming loyalty points, not so great, especially if it doesn't drive additional basket size. When you get this imbalance sustained over time, then the coalition falls apart. By having a commerce group, non-profits, or funneling of economic stimulus funds into funding the points/offers/benefits, it takes a lot of pressure off the retailers themselves. A win-win!
  • Posted on: 08/10/2021

    Amazon may have a different kind of review problem on its hands

    This problem isn't limited to Amazon. It's been happening for Yelp and even Glassdoor - just saw an article yesterday about a company suing a former employee for defamation over a Glassdoor review they refused to take down. I think for Amazon, the issue isn't going to be this new review problem piled on top of the others, so much as the challenge of third-party sellers in general. The fact that there are thousands of harmful products and fraudulent listings available on the site at any time (see regular reports from NYT, WSJ and Consumer Reports on products listed as children's toys that don't meet U.S. safety standards), coupled with the whole seed fraud thing over the pandemic last summer (a fascinating read by The Atlantic), and the heightened awareness of the power and lack of responsibility from major platforms (not just Amazon but Facebook, Twitter, etc.) - all of these are going to come together to create an environment ripe for going after platforms that enable third-party sellers. THAT will be Amazon's problem. This year? I doubt it. In the next five to 10, yeah, I could see that.
  • Posted on: 08/09/2021

    The hunt for warehouse help heats up

    I think retailers are trying to keep it a short-term challenge by focusing on bonuses and trying to limit wage hikes as much as they can. But I agree with Ken that the longer this is a challenge, and the more structural the cost increases are (actual wage hikes, for example), the more there will be pressure to automate. In this case, I'm not that opposed, though there would be major structural impacts to a workforce that has moved from primarily store employees to primarily warehouse employees in a very large retail enterprise. The work, as noted, is very hard, even when companies aren't being awful about it (as Amazon is rumored to be). It's more than just pay that makes it hard to find people for warehouse jobs.
  • Posted on: 07/01/2021

    Is self-checkout tech the answer for DSW and other retailers facing associate shortages?

    Look to Japan, which has turned to automation in response to labor shortages and I think you will find the answer is YES. However DSW has some particular challenges that I will be interested to see how they work around. The cashier checks every box to make sure that the shoes match the box (and the barcode/price). They also check to make sure both shoes are the same size. DSW is either giving up on these practices, or I have no idea how you don't still end up with associates doing most of the heavy lifting on the transaction - computer vision is good, but I don't think it's quite that good yet!
  • Posted on: 06/30/2021

    Impulse shopping is a family/social affair

    I feel like this is deserves some kind of Captain Obvious award. I mean, I've seen tech startup pitches aimed at connecting consumers in stores to their friends online to get immediate feedback on whether they should purchase something, which is trying to recreate the totally in-person experience and inherently acknowledges the value of the experience. I guess it is interesting that no one has actually studied that?
  • Posted on: 06/21/2021

    How should (and shouldn’t) retailers honor Juneteenth?

    I think Gen Z and Millennials are savvy enough now that they want to see retailers put their money where their mouths are. I could very well see this holiday becoming a combination of sales bonanza and reflection - where retailers are held to account not just for Juneteenth offers but for how they have invested and supported Black-owned businesses and the community throughout the year. Pride Month is leading the way - the first week of June was full of memes calling out companies that wrap themselves in rainbow flags at the beginning of June but do absolutely nothing else the rest of the year. Consumers are too savvy - an approach that recognizes disadvantaged communities only in the moment isn't going to work for much longer.

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