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: 06/12/2019

    Kroger is high on the CBD sales opportunity

    I feel like this is a fad. Right now, CBD is being attributed to snake-oil levels of benefits, with no supporting evidence that it can actually do any of those things. Once studies start coming through and more rigor is applied to what can and can't be said, interest will collapse to whatever level of benefits actually exist. That's not to say retailers shouldn't get in on it, though. Fads have their place in retail, and as long as you know when to get out, you can make a lot of money selling the products that consumers want to buy. In this case, will CBD be a 2-year fad? A 6-month fad? A 10-year fad? Answering that question is the hard part!
  • Posted on: 06/11/2019

    Is Amazon really out of the restaurant delivery business for good?

    Either Amazon is planning on replacing it with their drone delivery program, or they did not find it something that could be automated enough to be worth their time, is my take. Sometimes I think Amazon gets into businesses just to spur other people to dive in and invest money that might otherwise have been actually competitive to Amazon. The company certainly has enough free money from the market that they could afford that as a strategy.
  • Posted on: 06/10/2019

    Should CMOs be more prevalent on retail boards?

    I think it's more than just customer insights that are at play here. Retailers talk a big talk about being "customer centric" but I find way too many retailers who don't know what that really means and who don't have strong enough voices at the top to push on making customer centricity a reality. CMOs should be bringing the customer to the table with them -- should be the defender of doing what's best for the customer (vs. just what's best for the company's short term profits). And, by the way, that alone is not enough -- let's add the CIO while we're at it, to be a voice for digitizing the business and embracing digital transformation. Because you need both of those things to win in retail today.
  • Posted on: 06/07/2019

    Macy’s balances plusses and minuses of free shipping to loyal customers

    Getting inventory right the first time is definitely one way to control free shipping costs. One aspect of this that is missing, though, is the speed of shipping. Because while Amazon does offer free shipping, it's also free shipping in two days (and often even faster). Buy online/ship to store works great, *if* customers' expectation is they're going to wait a week for their items to show up. I've found that it's not the "free" part of the shipping that is killing retailers - it's the "in two days or less" part. That means stores still can and should play a role in instant gratification - and the fashion shows with trunk show-style stock levels are a good way to do that. But free shipping is here to stay, even if it's managed through thresholds or loyalty tiers. It's more about managing customer expectation for how long it will take to get their "free shipping" stuff.
  • Posted on: 06/03/2019

    Experience is overrated, hire talent

    Totally overrated. The problem here is that retailers do not want to invest in training employees in front-line retail jobs. But it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: poor training leads to low job satisfaction, which leads to high turnover. If you look for people who have the right personality and attitude, and take the time to teach them how to actually do the job (and don't make it hard to work there with constantly changing schedules), then they might stick around longer and actually be good, aligned brand ambassadors while they're at it...
  • Posted on: 05/06/2019

    What companies need to know before using AI

    I'm one of the first people to embrace a new technology, but I gotta say - people need to be way more careful about AI than they are being. The impact is more dangerous in other industries - medical diagnostic AIs that start using incidental, rather than causal factors in making a diagnosis, or AIs that identify likely crimes using nothing better than the biased profiling shortcuts that humans make today. In retail, AI that you can't explain, and that is not supported by a robust dataset that explores all possible scenarios, to make sure the model really learns what is possible, can lead to discrimination rather than the personalization it's trying to achieve. AI is not a silver bullet. It's not as sexy as the advertising makes it out to be, and if you don't do it well, you are codifying biases that you can't identify or control against. And that's ultimately bad for everyone. Retailers need to temper their enthusiasm, and take a cautious and controlled approach.
  • 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.

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