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: 10/17/2019

    Is e-grocery less convenient than shopping in stores?

    I am eternally fascinated by this question and have used my own household many times as guinea pigs. My husband does our weekly grocery shopping, but I'm the one that does the meal planning. Plus we have three other people in our household who have strong opinions about what they want from the store. Finding a list app that works for all of us has been nearly impossible. My husband - by all rights a tech-boy - refuses to shop online for groceries for reasons that I don't understand beyond "it's way easier to just go to the store." And definitely the amount of work that would be required to maintain an inventory of my pantry makes using recipes as a starting point for a shopping list also impossible. I feel like this is an area that is ripe (haha) for new approaches. Many grocery e-commerce sites are still very low on product content, which inhibits the ability to use facets to get to what you want, and many facets don't take advantage of the decades of behavioral science that has gone into shelf approach (what's the most important facet for coffee? It's if it's whole bean or not, not actually whether it's caffeinated). Different sizes in packaging are easy to convey physically, difficult to convey online - resulting in a lot of price confusion. Retailers with club cards have decades of data they could use to personalize and help give consumers a leg up in building a shopping list, but few of those initiatives have stuck - as if retailers are afraid of revealing what kinds of insights they could potentially get from customer shopping data (assuming they ever invested enough in it to get insights out). So... that leaves a lot of room to make online grocery shopping better. But there's a lot of legwork needed to get there.
  • Posted on: 10/10/2019

    Personalized promos add up to a ‘win-win’ for retailers and consumers

    It's interesting to me that the effects fade over time. Even though they found you have to "be patient" and give it like nine months to get the full benefits of personalized promos, it's still something of a sugar-hit, rather than something that is sustainable. I have long been a fan of personalized pricing, especially as a way to overcome price transparency challenges, where zone or segmented pricing is exposed thanks to online. "That may be THE price, but here's YOUR price." However my enthusiasm for it has declined some, given the rise of AI in personalization and the lack of significant guardrails to prevent AI from making bad assumptions - for example, not offering discounts on premium items to people who live in poor communities (as some retailers got in trouble with in the U.K.). If there is any discriminatory bias in the person or the offer, then retailers are at risk of violating regulations - and wrecking their reputation with consumers.
  • Posted on: 10/07/2019

    What if stores innovated like restaurants?

    It is easy to dismiss the Taco Bell hotel as a PR stunt and leave it at that. But that is missing so much of the point. Taco Bell could have spent the money they spent decorating that hotel on advertising and saturated every digital and media touchpoint, and it would not have yielded anything close to the buzz, the free press - every travel blogger in the world was obligated to report first hand - and the boost to the Bell's reputation that they're cool and fun and not afraid to try things, all a result of simply buying "hot sauce throw pillows" (which they can now probably auction off on eBay). Consumers' hearts and minds may be won by high quality service or low, low prices. But you never get an at-bat if you can't break into the bubbles of their lives. Advertising isn't enough to do it, even digital advertising. It has to be something that has personality, that shows that you're more than just a corporate straitjacket, that you know how to connect with consumers long before they walk into your store. THAT is what retail is missing. As to why: I've long held a theory that because retailers operate so publicly (in no other industry is your strategy literally on display) they tend to be overly protective of everything else. You can almost never get a retailer to talk about their technology investment successes ("but it's our secret sauce") and, likewise, their social media is locked down tight - safe, bland, not offensive to anyone. And also not engaging in any way.
  • Posted on: 09/30/2019

    Will consumers go for Kroger’s food hall concept?

    I would say that food halls are definitely a natural complement to downtown areas these days. Whether grocery stores can find enough customers there now to also be successful remains an open question. Whole Foods has opened an urban location in Denver, and there are various food hall-like locations nearby. That Whole Foods location kind of feels like a food hall in its design, in that even for them it offers a lot more emphasis on prepared and grab and go, even restaurant style take-out. So that part of Kroger's strategy makes sense - you have to serve a greater range and meet the demand for "do it for me" everything, from packaging it together so I can make it at home to just making it for me and serving it to me. As far as the potential competition goes, you have to think more about the food hall as the traffic driver, and the grocery store serving the "fill in trip" function that people go to after their meal - "Oh yeah, I forgot I need tortillas for tonight's dinner" (or whatever it may be). No urban location is going to serve a big pantry/full shopping cart run, so you might as well embrace capturing whatever other trips you can, even if that means people fill one meal need by paying a nearby restaurant for that meal before they go shopping at your store.
  • Posted on: 09/24/2019

    Do retailers need better business intelligence tools or a better analytic strategy?

    I still see too many retailers who approach analytics as a free-for-all. Business functions get to define their own metrics, often based on what they can get out of reporting off of operational systems, with IT along for the ride, trying to reconcile different ways of defining the same metric across multiple areas of the business. And when operational reporting isn't enough, because there is no common language for sharing results across the business, they turn to spreadsheets as the expedient approach to get what they need, rather than wrestle with IT to do it right in the first place. If ever there was an area of the retail enterprise that cried out for top-down leadership, it's analytics. Letting each department define how they want to track their business area for themselves is like letting the accounting department say they want to operate in Spanish, the merchandising department in Chinese, the store ops group in Russian, etc. If that sounds ridiculous, just try asking each of those groups to define "sales."
  • Posted on: 09/10/2019

    Will a loyalty program give Americans more reasons to shop at Target?

    My Target store has been trialing the Circle program for the last few months, and I have to say at this point all I am is confused. I don't understand the benefits, I don't understand what it gives me that is different than Cartwheel, I just don't get it. I use the Target app and the mobile wallet to pay, and at this point just ignore everything else because I don't want to have to invest that much time in figuring it out. I would take that as a bad sign overall for the program's prospects to move the needle in anything more than the short term. I sure seem to be down on Target lately! But there are several things they've done recently that just have not resonated with me, and Circle is definitely one of those. Let's hope they resonate better with other customers.
  • Posted on: 09/09/2019

    Will Apple’s texting tool create more personalized shopping experiences at Burberry?

    I think key to this kind of capability is providing a way to connect directly between consumers and associates without violating the privacy of either group. Burberry tackled this by connecting one app to another, I assume in a way that masks the contact info of both the associate and the consumer. Also key to the success of an initiative like this is providing management and corporate visibility into the chats that happen - to make sure that nothing inappropriate happens from either side, and to learn from the best and most engaging associates, so that all associates can benefit (and shoppers too!).
  • Posted on: 09/04/2019

    Simple answers to fix retail’s loyalty marketing mess

    I would add one more: a focus on experiences. This is a little bit different than too much focus on deals. Yes, that happens - loyalty programs become "pay for your data" programs. But loyalty programs don't have to be about the discount at all. If you can put together fun experiences for your loyalty shoppers, you might spend the same (or less) vs. what you'd spend on a discount, and get so much more. Even something as stupid-simple as little thank you bags of free samples at the register for the top 20 loyalty customers at a store. All you need is a tag for when they swipe their loyalty card, prompting a cashier to hand over a bag and you have instant delight for the customer, a "ooh, wait, why did they get that?" moment for the person behind them in the line - and instant credibility demonstrating that you care about and appreciate your loyalty shoppers. Why oh why are these things so hard and out of reach?!?
  • Posted on: 08/28/2019

    Innovation: Are retailers trying to do too much?

    I think a more fundamental problem is that the core value proposition of most retailers has been destroyed by online shopping. At its heart, retail used to be about bringing multiple brands together to make it easier to shop. A grocery store means I don't have to go to a baker, a butcher, a dry goods shop, a cosmetics shop, etc. A department store means I don't have to go to multiple brands to get an outfit. But when all of those brands are merely a tab away on a browser, then that calls into question the purpose that retail actually serves. So I think the short answer to the question is yes, retailers are trying to do too much, but it's because they have no idea what they *should* be doing. Because everything they ever did to make themselves successful is suddenly in doubt and unreliable. Which means that the other half of the answer to this question is, "but they shouldn't stop trying," because I don't think it's really about going back to their "core." I think it's about discovering for themselves what the new core needs to be. That does require knowing shopper needs and wants and focusing on those (rather than "spray and pray"). But it also means a concerted effort on experimenting - experimenting with purpose.
  • Posted on: 08/26/2019

    Will Disney shops entertain guests inside Target’s stores?

    I know shop-in-shops work - Sephora seems to be the only thing working inside J.C. Penney these days - but I still struggle with the whole concept, and I don't see anything here that stands out. If I want the "Disney experience" I'm going to go to a Disney store. If I want to shop for toys, I don't want to have to go to 30 different themed areas, which is the natural evolution - if Disney gets a shop-in-shop, then when does Mattel get theirs? This departmentalization is the exact opposite direction of where mass and department stores need to go. Instead, they should be focusing on integrative experiences, the "Target" experience, and owning a position on what the "Target" lifestyle is. I feel like in the end this is more about easy money for Target than it is about delivering something meaningful to the Target shopper.
  • Posted on: 08/09/2019

    Can Victoria’s Secret recover from its founder’s past relationship with Jeffrey Epstein?

    That relationship sounds more like a symptom than a cause of the issues at VS. The problem has long been that Millennial (and younger) consumers have moved on from sex and objectification when it comes to their lingerie choices and VS has not. A coincidence that this is becoming a crisis-level issue for VS? I don't think so. Culture starts at the top. One-off issues can be dismissed. A pattern of behavior is much more difficult to do the same.
  • Posted on: 08/05/2019

    The Container Store debuts new custom closet store concept

    As someone who has spent way too much time in the Elfa section of the Container Store (their custom closet brand), I would say this is an excellent idea - as long as it is staffed to match the number of customers coming in. It takes a long time to get through an Elfa order, especially when you're using store associates as design experts to start with. It's a good idea to build a space that is better designed and staffed to meet those needs. However, that said, whenever I've been waiting to meet with an Elfa designer, I am always wandering the full store and inevitably pick up other things, so the trade off of better Elfa sales may come at the expense of some of those browsing items that will no longer be there. It may be that this shows just how important convenience is as a factor in serving customers, that it's more important to make sure that customers don't wait, even if that means missing out on other sales.
  • Posted on: 07/29/2019

    Is private equity ownership killing retail?

    Correlation is not causation. It may well be that PE firms step in because they smell blood in the water already. Could some of these retailers be saved? Maybe. But that requires investment, not cost-cutting, and that's not what PE companies do. Should they be regulated? Perhaps a better way to look at is having requirements around how much third parties can actually make off of a company's demise. If we could make investing in the company a more positive alternative than sucking it dry, then efforts might be better aligned to keeping companies going. I will say this, though. A PE buys your company - that's not a good sign.
  • 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.

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