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: 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.
  • Posted on: 02/07/2019

    J.C. Penney dumps appliances

    It's a lot of space -- in some expensive real estate -- to house appliances. And even under Ellison, I didn't see a whole lot of effort being put into driving sales in that space. Other than the initial "we've got appliances!" there wasn't a lot of media devoted to driving awareness, and definitely execution -- at least in the stores I visited -- left a lot to be desired. It was so devoid of assistance that I felt like I could've wheeled an entire refrigerator out the mall entrance and no one would've stopped me. That's not a good sign in a category that is big ticket, and big commitment on the part of the customer. They want hand-holding and reassurances that they're making the right decision. So I understand the math. Ellison was placing a bet that Sears would be completely dead by now, and there was an opportunity to step in and capture that spend. I think the reality didn't match the plan. Whether that is because it was the wrong strategy, or just the poor execution, I could not say.
  • Posted on: 01/31/2019

    Social media responsiveness builds Millennial loyalty

    I believe social media presence in general is a key driver of loyalty in retail today. It's not just about customer service - though that is the most important part - it's about responding to consumers who have chosen to engage with you there. If you have a presence, then you better be fully present. But I also agree that retailers are going to have a challenge with the upcoming Generation Z. Neither of my kids (14 and 17) are on Twitter or Facebook, nor have any desire to be. Slack, yes. Instagram ("Insta"), yes. And surprisingly, Pinterest. But these aren't really designed to be customer service channels. Instagram and Pinterest are good for engagement at the front end of the customer journey, but not so good at the back end. Right now, it's not mostly their own money that Gen Z is spending, and thus they aren't so ready to vent or seek customer service redress. Maybe when THAT part changes, they'll join Twitter or Facebook just to be able to vent. I wouldn't bet a lot of money on that, though...
  • Posted on: 01/28/2019

    Cloud and AI seen fueling digital transformation

    I see still some retailers who see cloud as "nice to have" or feel that the subscription cost is "too high" vs. what they can wring out of a license/maintenance deal where they sit on the software for five years before investing again. I think what these companies are missing is that the pace of the consumer has become so fast, that not being in the cloud with your technology solutions, and not making the commitment to keeping up with the latest updates/upgrades is taking an enormous risk around your company's ability to keep up. I do think it's interesting to encounter companies who are anti-cloud, but very pro-AI. You can't have AI without the cloud - the computing power alone would kill any AI project, let alone the development costs of trying to do it all yourself. AI is possible *because* of the cloud. So, yes, I see cloud and AI solving problems that retailers have today. Cloud delivers immediate benefits, and AI, longer-term. From what I've seen, we'll have to go through some kind of trough of disillusionment with AI, where hype meets reality. That is still coming. But once we get through it, cloud and AI hand-in-hand have a lot of potential for retail.
  • Posted on: 01/25/2019

    How much inventory visibility do retailers need to give consumers?

    I have pointed many times to IKEA's inventory visibility for consumers as the gold standard for how to share inventory. Not only do they show you today's inventory, they give you an assessment on how much that means the inventory will likely actually be there (a red-yellow-green risk assessment), and they project that inventory level two days out into the future. Now THAT is inventory visibility. The intent should be to give consumers the confidence to know that if they come to the store, the items they're looking for will be there. That's it. Whatever it takes to do that should be plenty. Sometimes that's just an assessment of risk all by itself - there's a high probability of it being there, a medium probability, a low probability. Sometimes that means giving specific inventory levels. With IKEA, sometimes you're selling things like chairs, and just "some probability of it being in stock" is not enough. Do you need two chairs? Four? Eight? That's when you need specific inventory levels. And it's important to note that you don't have to have one policy for all items - you can vary it, for all the reasons above. Whatever visibility customers need in order to have the confidence to come to the store: that should be the bar.
  • Posted on: 01/24/2019

    Amazon takes multi-pronged approach to owning the last mile

    The thing with Amazon is, they're not afraid to throw a bunch of crazy ideas at the wall to see which ones might stick. When everyone else demands a 50-page business case and three-level deep ROI analysis, Amazon is busy trying all kinds of things, learning from those and iterating multiple times - before anyone else gets one new idea off the ground. So when it comes down to it, I don't think it matters what Amazon tries or which ideas succeed. I think the prototypes and tests that are rolling on the streets today will look nothing like the ultimate answers to last-mile fulfillment (I'm betting on Star Trek replicators myself!). But no one will get to that end result unless they take the first step, and Amazon and a few startups are really the only ones out there trying anything, and for that, they deserve the leg up they will undoubtedly get.
  • Posted on: 01/23/2019

    What will it take to dramatically reduce risk in the retail supply chains?

    Data sharing and transparency is definitely key to reducing supply chain risks. But after spending a long time on the execution side of supply chain management, I would say I'm biased towards the idea that it is impossible to eliminate "risk" specifically. You can hedge against it, but unless you can predict the future, there is no way to eliminate risk. Also, we need to keep in mind the context of this discussion. We spent the last 50 years building "efficient" supply chains with almost no recognition of the risks that just this idea of efficiency creates, let alone "standard" supply chain risks like weather or contamination, etc. People may be trying too hard to push the pendulum completely to the other side - "eliminate all risks, and who cares about efficiency" - but I think the reality is, it has to come down to somewhere in between the two extremes - a balance of risk, efficiency, and flexibility. That takes more than just data transparency.
  • Posted on: 01/22/2019

    Can grocers sell produce without plastic bags and boxes?

    I have been contemplating this problem myself, as a shopper dedicated to using less plastic. We bring reusable bags from home, which works great - except when it comes to produce. Part of the problem is that the items have to be handled multiple times - going into the basket, coming out of the basket, getting weighed and scanned, going into the bag to go home. If you want to buy 10 apples, well, that process really sucks. And has a much higher potential of damaging the fruit, thus causing additional food waste, which is almost as bad as the plastic. This is a great opportunity for someone to be innovative. Some kind of tray? I don't know - but I know if we truly want to eliminate plastic, this problem will need to be solved. As for the use-by dates, I think that is partly a uniquely British challenge. In the U.S., we don't really "pre-package" things like bananas, for example, and if you don't pre-package, then you don't need a use-by date on it. So I don't think that will be nearly as big of a push-back for U.S. shoppers, but maybe I'm missing something there. I do think there would be value in having greengrocer experts around, because as a society we've been trained to disregard "ugly" fruit and vegetables, which is also a terrible and unnecessary source of food waste. And finally, let's not forget that this is a rich people's problem. In the U.S., at least, we'd be doing ourselves a bigger favor if we could figure out how to eliminate "fresh food deserts" and just make fruit and vegetables more widely available in general.
  • Posted on: 01/02/2019

    Why are retailers publishing paid-subscription magazines?

    I think the operative word here is "trust" -- as Ms. Rubio comments, that Away's customers trust them for guidance on all things travel. Products alone aren't enough to generate trust these days -- it's not about trust in a brand from the old "quality" perspective. It's about trust that a brand will be a helpful partner in the consumer's lifestyle goals. That's a whole other thing. And putting out a high-production value magazine is a pretty asset-intensive way of saying, "See? I'm really dedicated to this."
  • Posted on: 12/27/2018

    What are the takeaways from the best holiday season in six years?

    Definitely more external factors, though I agree with Neil that it looks like retailers behaved themselves overall when it came to inventory and were fairly disciplined about that through the season. However, I think the most important take-away from the season is that retailers should NOT be patting themselves on the back, or walk away from this holiday thinking they have "solved" omnichannel. If anything, retailers should look at this holiday season as a windfall, and invest it directly back into building the next generation of customer experiences. I think 2019's holiday will be the story of those who do that - and those who don't.
  • Posted on: 12/21/2018

    Is Amazon Prime not what it’s cracked up to be?

    I have noticed that I am getting more "Sorry, your shipment will be delayed" notices, not just for the holidays, but over the last year in general. But I've also unexpectedly received packages on Sundays, and in less than 24 hours. The reality is, $119 even just for free shipping in general, let alone two-day (let alone everything else you get with the membership), is still worth it to consumers, and there are plenty of rumors that abound that even with the additional loyalty that Amazon gets from Prime shoppers (and the membership fees), it does not offset the shipping costs those shoppers generate. And I am definitely guilty of that -- placing an order, and then within the same day, placing yet another order. Why not? The shipping is free, and whether it gets here in two days or four, it'll still get here faster than most other places I might order from. Amazon is simply facing the reality of the monster they created: a consumer who expects fast shipping free, when executing on that expectation is anything but free. At some point even Amazon, which has subsidized those costs with their virtually-free capital and AWS and marketplace revenues, has to find a way to make it profitable, or at least cost-neutral.
  • Posted on: 12/20/2018

    Why are holiday gift returns spiking before Christmas this year?

    I thought the answers outlined in the article addressed most of the issues (self-gifting, for example), but I wouldn't overlook an important one: mismatched expectations from buying online vs. what you get in reality. Pictures, reviews, and Q&A can all help prevent these issues, but they still occur quite often, and as online shopping grows, the volume of returns from those issues will grow alongside, as retailers figure out what each product needs in order to be able to assure shoppers that they're getting what they thought they bought.
  • 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?

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