PROFILE

Raj B. Shroff

Founder & Principal, PINE Strategy & Design

Prior to founding Pine, Raj was VP of Brand, Strategy & Design at a global experience design firm. During his tenure there he led many turnkey research, strategy and retail design engagements and was a specialist in digital-retail integration; consulting clients and teams on mobile, VR, AR and the application of technology in experience. He has run many large-scale initiatives, having served in account leadership roles at Fitch (WPP), in the areas of Research, Retail, Brand and Product design and at Resource (now IBM iX), in Digital Experience & Marketing.

Clients he has served include Intel, P&G, Mars Wrigley, Unilever, Target, Walmart, Dollar General, LG (South Korea), Pernod Ricard (Mexico), Reliance Retail (India), Aditya Birla (India), Mahindra (India), Nestle, Tyson Foods, The North Face, SC Johnson, Gatorade, Carhartt, NFL and others. Raj is an industry speaker on topics such as the future of retail, branding, digital engagement and consumer behavior.

He is Adjunct Faculty at CCAD (Columbus College of Art and Design) in the Masters of Design and Undergraduate Design Programs.

He enjoys spending his free time with his wife and two sons. He is an avid runner, reader, mentor and compulsive traveler. He started undergrad in Chemical Engineering but ended up in a self-directed program and holds an MBA in Strategy & Marketing from Ohio State University.

To learn more, visit: pinesd.com

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  • Posted on: 07/30/2021

    What’s holding consumers back from adopting AR/VR shopping tech?

    I don't think the slow adoption should cause concern. AR/VR can create great experiences, but the hardware interfaces are clunky. When the AR/VR provides real fun or function, people are willing to overcome the hardware hurdles (small screens, goggles on the head, etc). I am fully confident they will be used for ecommerce shopping (or meta-commerce) it will be the younger generation and likely Asian markets that will adopt it at a more rapid pace. As for "widely," like Gibson said, "The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed." Like Melissa said, look how long we talked about BOPIS before retailers made it possible. As tech savvy folks get more involved in retailers and as tech platforms like FB push into the space, we'll see the change. I think the social connections people made across video during covid helped us realize how close we can be to someone far away. I think that idea will come to shopping very soon and AR/VR tools will enable that. While shopping in person with friends is fun, I can't fly to London today to shop with my friend, but I will soon be able to do that virtually.
  • Posted on: 07/27/2021

    McDonald’s reorg focuses on the fast feeder’s customers

    Great move. I'd say it's necessary as the way organizations are structured don't align with where experience is headed. Many organizations still don't realize this or act on it; can't believe we are actually still talking about this. One opportunity is to get a singular view of the consumer and then act on that singular view in a way that resonates as one McDonald's. I think the challenges will be building relationships across teams and getting different disciplines to bond in order to better address issues, the nature of it being a franchise so creating consistency is hard, and the global nature of the business means that difference consumers have different expectations. MyMcDonald's is a data play; while they might collect more data, they'll have to figure out how to use it effectively at scale.
  • Posted on: 07/14/2021

    7-Eleven expands mobile checkout to thousands of U.S. stores

    I don't see how mobile checkout can become table stakes in the c-store channel over the next year. I think a few more might be running tests. Most retailers are too far behind technologically and while I believe there is a need, it's likely not a high priority for many of them. Most shoppers are probably OK with a traditional SCO machine or just waiting in line for a minute. And with the high percentage of alcohol purchases in this channel, mobile pay doesn't work for a large percentage of trips. Amazon Go opened to the public in 2018 and three years later 7-Eleven is making me scan purchases with my phone. Their effort is a step in the right direction but it would be more exciting if they were rolling out their Just Walk Out tech at this scale. As for 7-Eleven having an edge, maybe with their scale and traditionally forward-thinking mentality, yes.
  • Posted on: 07/13/2021

    Will ‘Scan & Ship’ give Sam’s a leg up on club competition?

    I shop both Sam's and Costco. My assessment is that Sam's is taking advantage of technology effectively. They are building tools that help the shopper, not just doing tech for PR's sake -- that's refreshing. With this new test, they seem to be aligning their assets well. In retrospect, this ship to home offering seems like a no-brainer. Good for them.
  • Posted on: 07/08/2021

    Could Dollar General become a go-to healthcare resource in rural America?

    I agree, Venky. I think there's a huge opportunity in pet and vet services.
  • Posted on: 07/08/2021

    Could Dollar General become a go-to healthcare resource in rural America?

    Similar to the other views in this discussion, I agree that this is a really smart consideration by Dollar General. They are a trusted brand with locations that few can match. Whether they have physical staff in stores or engage in some type of telemedicine via their app or through other means and pair it with local fulfillment, I am excited to see how this pans out. Like anything worthwhile there will be hurdles. Building equity and trust in this area, figuring our how rural areas engage with healthcare, staffing for these locations, likely low digital engagement among the general cohort. However they are able to test and learn so efficiently and, with an experienced leader at the top, it could turn into something remarkable. I had to laugh (in agreement) when reading Venky's comment as I've often wondered when they'd get into pet more aggressively. I think there is a huge opportunity for them to service pet needs via pet health care/mini vet clinics. Kudos to DG for their continued thoughtful and disciplined approach to retail.
  • Posted on: 07/07/2021

    Has Lego built an unforgettable retail experience for kids and adults?

    Yes, now is always the time for brands like Lego, and others who can, to create play-heavy retail. But Lego works because it's also created suites of products that are relevant to today's media consumption (e.g. Star Wars, etc). I think that more holistic view keeps them top-of-mind and kids can relate. They've also tried to integrate online/digital so there is likely more to come on that front overall. I do see an experiential strategy working in smaller markets for them. But they really need a finger on the pulse of those locations that are most aligned with their goals. This may seem obvious but I am not convinced others get it.
  • Posted on: 07/06/2021

    Is Domino’s two-minute curbside wait guarantee a big deal or no big deal?

    I do think time guarantees should be made around curbside or in-store pickup. It gives employees a goal, forces operations to streamline processes, satisfies convenience demands of shoppers and is good leverage for marketing. I think a two-minute guarantee for pick-up makes sense until someone comes out with a one-minute guarantee, then a 30-second one. (reminds me of the 7-minute abs scene in There's Something About Mary) As for a 30-minute overall turnaround, sure, that seems to be the default in shopper minds.
  • Posted on: 07/01/2021

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

    Labor challenges might hasten the expansion of SCO. However it is pretty much the norm now at mass. I do think providing the choice of SCO is necessary for parity of expectation. As for the most sustainable path, move staff to where they add the most value in terms of creating an experience-oriented environment, which is out on the floor; it's not at checkout. Or station one employee near SCO to help aid multiple shoppers. By the time people decide what they want products and are ready to buy, they don't need to wait in line to be serviced by a human -- those days are gone. And if technology can replace a non-value added function, invest, test and learn how viable and scalable it is.
  • Posted on: 06/11/2021

    What distinguished e-commerce winners and losers during the pandemic?

    I agree, Venky. I think familiarity played a huge role.
  • Posted on: 06/11/2021

    What distinguished e-commerce winners and losers during the pandemic?

    The winners likely align with non-discretionary purchases and those with familiar brands. Trust and reliability undoubtedly played an important role. During the pandemic, smaller retailers likely didn't have the items people were shopping for and if they did, had operational issues. To cross from loser to winner, those retailers will have to work on awareness, ensure they have a compelling assortment and can be at parity with delivery time expectations. To generate awareness, they'll want to figure out their social media advertising strategy among other drivers. Finally, they will need to think about their overall e-commerce experience. Is it easy to shop, easy to purchase (e.g. few clicks), easy to view reviews, easy to return items -- things that shoppers of leading retailers have come to expect.
  • Posted on: 06/10/2021

    GameStop’s digital transformation to be led by former Amazonians

    If you read the letter, you see RC Ventures wants to make it a technology company. Changes will be in vision, design (user experience), marketing, language and back end use of data for optimizing experience, assortment, pricing, etc. It is highly likely they will build this into something for today/tomorrow and then possibly sell it to Amazon. Amazon is already in gaming with Twitch. GameStop could gain many efficiencies under the Amazon umbrella. Amazon would build more credibility and put out its own hardware, potentially gaming systems and build more LTV around the current and future PowerUp members. It could also integrate Prime video and Twitch into a gaming streaming service like Netflix. And Amazon/GameStop could leverage the retail footprint to do something innovative with the experience, like a gaming cafe or trade space.
  • Posted on: 06/09/2021

    Membership gets you 24/7 access at new grocery store

    I think it's great. Shoppers can choose when they want to go and aren't inhibited by store hours. We all wish some of our favorite retailers were like that when online isn't enough. And it's great for the owner who doesn't have to staff 24x7 to cover low traffic times. I don't see any disadvantages since it's a paid membership, minimizing it only being a purely transactional the way vending is. The users of the off-hours are likely savvier shoppers. As they scale there will be operations issues such as maintaining cleanliness during off hours, addressing shopper questions, all surmountable for a cost. Cheers to them for taking a stab at this.
  • Posted on: 06/08/2021

    Will prescription med discounts help Walmart+ gain ground on Amazon Prime?

    I think the pharmacy perk will be extremely popular with current Walmart+ members. In theory, prescriptions will cost less and consolidating purchases to a single source addresses the convenience factor that is appealing to everyone. I do think it's good bait to pull new members into Walmart+. Pharmacy retailers are still so convenient and use their footprint to their advantage. They might still win for immediate need medical related purchases as it's easier to jump into a WAG or CVS versus getting in and out of Walmart. However if Walmart continues to offer speedy delivery and can make its pharmacy easy to access (quick in and out), they will certainly pull more people away from pharmacy retail for certain purchases. A slow erosion of basket from pharmacy retailers.
  • Posted on: 06/04/2021

    Voice assistant takes orders from McDonald’s drive-thru customers

    Yes, I see voice-ordering drive-thru technology being widely used. Why wouldn't it be? Multi-unit chains (except Starbucks), rarely have associates creating any personal connection with the guest. Starbucks is the only drive-thru where people actually say anything more than "here's your order." As labor costs rise and profit pressures on these public companies grow, you'll see more adoption of technologies like these. The downside is job erosion but I don't think that is avoidable in our society. I'm not sure creative ways to mobilize drive-thru staff make sense, they'd probably cut drive-thru staff hours and use the remaining for QC. This all seems aligned with McDonald's brand. It's a very transactional business and I don't think customers mind as long as they get cheap, tasty food.

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