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: 01/12/2022

    More Americans are making Target runs

    Target put the consumer at the center and went from there. They have won a place in customer hearts but supports that with great utility. Leading store experience, strong omni, right assortment, right value, they made health and safety a huge priority (especially at the beginning of the pandemic) and shoppers can use them as a single destination, minimizing the number of trips while still having an enjoyable experience.
  • Posted on: 01/06/2022

    Is retail ready for the phygital future?

    I think Levavi is spot on in that the virtual 3-D will improve e-commerce experiences which have been the same since my first agency built e-commerce sites in 1999. E-commerce is dull, uninteresting and hard to shop. As for whether 3-D will be integral within five years, depends on the brand and channel. Do I need a 3-D grocery experience like the concept Walmart just put out? I don't. Would I want to experience a Nike 3-D flagship and then shop for shoes in a different way, ordering from NBA 2K24 in a meta-type environment? Absolutely. More importantly, my kids (11 and 8) would. To them, being online in these environments IS social. And they don't care about touching and feeling things, they order from the Nike app after seeing a shoe on Hypebeast. I think we have to be careful evaluating future possibilities through the lens of our current feelings and biases when a digitally native cohort doesn't think that way -- or when a "meta-native" cohort gets spending power.
  • Posted on: 01/05/2022

    Walmart says it’s ready to deliver groceries inside 30 million American homes

    That's a brilliant idea, then they use the free (smart) fridge to collect data on usage too. They have a patent on a vending system that is essentially a Walmart pantry in your home that is auto-replenished by a robotic delivery mechanism. I would assume this whole program is an early stage in their long game.
  • Posted on: 01/05/2022

    Will Alexa get customers cooking with Blue Apron?

    As much as I like this idea, Blue Apron and other meal kits come with pretty easy-to-follow recipes printed on a card stock easy to reference in the kitchen. If someone has an Echo Show and the steps can sit on screen until you tell Alexa to flip, I can see some utility. As for the one-off ordering, when you tell Alexa to order Blue Apron, not needing a subscription is nice but you still have to browse recipes. I would argue that's easier on a phone, tablet, etc. In all of this, I don't know what Blue Apron provides that others can't easily duplicate, thus rendering Blue Apron obsolete. I think that meal kits are here to stay. Retailers have added them to stores, either to inspire recipe ideas or to get shoppers to buy the kits. As grocery (and other) retailers get more sophisticated with digital ordering and branding, meal kits seem a viable alternative to restaurant via dine-in or delivery. The retail marketers also need to do some work with the value proposition over just ordering Chipotle, Applebee's, pizza or whatever. Get the serving sizes and prices right too.
  • Posted on: 12/15/2021

    Why did Nike buy a crypto collectables studio?

    What's behind it is that the RTFKT team is ahead of aspects of this techno-creative strategy and Nike likes that combination and believes it can add value to its business. The retail opportunities for NFTs and the metaverse are impossible not to see. Retail opportunities today are around collectibles and for sure, some hype, and tomorrow, around wearing those collectibles that people can see thru A/R while walking down the street (for example). And the metaverse, exploratory stage that will work with the "physical" world, not against it. One of the biggest things the metaverse will bring is to enable or become an ecommerce experience worth experiencing. Ecommerce has been the same 2D static experience for 20 years. This is the very early stages of another large evolution in the "web" and experience. Discount it at your own peril.
  • Posted on: 12/09/2021

    Will consumers ever get over the price hurdle for sustainable goods?

    Few consumers are willing to pay a more for sustainable products. What other panelists have said about these surveys is spot on. I think as sustainable products become more entrenched in our everyday lives and as the cost of source tracking becomes less (using blockchain technology), the increased awareness of what is and isn't sustainable will lead to 1.) a further increase in the amount of sustainable products 2.) lower costs, some of which will be passed along to consumers. And as some point, consumers will have to pay extra for non-sustainable products (like charging for grocery bags). What's explained above isn't new, it's the same thing any new product, service or concept (organic, etc.) goes through.
  • Posted on: 12/08/2021

    DSW finds ‘narrower and deeper’ to be the right fit for its business

    It seems like a smart move by DSW. As long as their team keeps its finger on the pulse of what customers want, it will work. Going into a DSW store (brick-and-mortar or e-commerce), you still get the sense they have a breadth of assortment so it is doubtful that a majority of customers would even notice any difference. And if they can increase conversion by having the size and style in stock, the customer leaves satisfied; that's the goal.
  • Posted on: 12/06/2021

    Dollar General’s Popshelf expansion shifts into high gear

    The overall appeal is great. In this space is a hodge podge of retailers like Michael's, Jo-Ann, Hobby Lobby, T.J.Maxx, etc. but the former are not really value players and with the latter, you never know what you'll get which is good and bad. Seems that Dollar General has found a white space niche and is smart to continue to fuel it. Sub-200 stores is still really small in the Dollar General context so the expansion pace seems wisely calculated. As for competitor pressure, it will be hard to tell over the next few years as there will be really small slivers from the aforementioned competitive set. I don't think it is stealing trips, just stealing basket, but it will depend on the occasions people use Popshelf for.
  • Posted on: 12/03/2021

    What are self-checkout’s pain points?

    I think from an overall experience standpoint, queuing at self-checkout has some retailers baffled. Meijer finally evolved their self-checkout to make it at parity with expectations. As for the machines, gone are the days (mostly) of having the machine freeze if you bring your own bag. Alcohol date check is expected for the near-term. If you compare self-checkout to manned checkout, there are hardly any issues. If you compare it to Just Walk Out, the problem with self-checkout is having to use it at all.
  • Posted on: 11/24/2021

    Will fans visit Nike in the metaverse?

    The metaverse opportunity is real. As for how I rate it, depends on your time horizon. Early tests build the internal capabilities, knowledge helps to identify gaps, figure out metrics, etc. On one hand we have retailers who still can't get BOPIS right, so if you rate it for those retailers, then sure, metaverse seems far off. But Nike is on the front end of pretty much everything. I think Nikeland is an opportunity for all mentioned. Brand to build awareness, insights to understand audience, behaviors, engagement and for sure both physical and virtual goods. There's minimal downside here, it's a no-brainer in my view. You can sit in a room and talk theory all day, but you've got to test and learn from what you believe are viable future opportunities for your business. Happy Thanksgiving!
  • Posted on: 11/23/2021

    Walmart is going livestreaming for the holidays

    I totally agree with the other panelists, great move by Walmart. I think the future of retail lies in engaging consumers where they are, not only in social commerce. A well thought-out strategy includes multiple points for engagement, distributed retail which is not only focused on traditional e-commerce or stores. What I can intuit is that they understand this reality. Stick to traditional and you leave money on the table. Stick to traditional and you miss reaching younger audiences and/or different types of audiences. Glad to see Walamrt flexing some creativity and boldness in this space.
  • Posted on: 11/22/2021

    How big a win is Sephora for Kohl’s?

    Encouraging signs include the percent of new Kohl's shoppers Sephora is bringing in, and that they are younger and more diverse. And the fact that Kohl's is opening more stores signals strength too. As for being transformative, I think the other panelists are right, Kohl's has to work on their store experience and merchandise adjacencies on the path to and within sight of Sephora and ensure they impress those new shoppers. I think understanding the insights into new shoppers and their consideration of other Kohl's offerings is important. They should then act on those insights in a constructive way. You don't want people coming in, making a beeline for Sephora and then leaving. Kohl's is making other good moves in the business operations. I am traditionally a Kohl's naysayer but I think it is a viable shopping place for many and they appear to be trending in the right direction.
  • Posted on: 11/18/2021

    Starbucks and Amazon open first joint concept store with more to come

    I think the concept can be a big winner for both companies. Starbucks benefits from giving their shoppers a wider breadth of convenience items and from the added foot traffic brought in by Amazon Go. Amazon shoppers benefit in case they want quality coffee products as part of their convenience trip. The design is really ugly, it looks like a dated Panera concept, definitely seems like Amazon influenced this more than Starbucks. Compare this concept to the Shanghai Roastery or even a nice Starbucks store and it's like they are two entirely different brands. Definitely a thing to watch out for, in my opinion, for a business who has mastered design (Starbucks). I also think Starbucks has to be careful that they aren't losing the intimacy and emotional connection to the business. It will be interesting to understand shopper sentiment with this experience as it evolves. As for other potential partnerships, I think c-stores can step up their game. They've stuck to the same routine but as EVs advance and delivery grows, they'll definitely need to be bold and really beat up their value and models.
  • Posted on: 11/09/2021

    Does Facebook, er Meta, now need stores?

    At this point in the story, stores and advertising are no brainers for awareness, education, experience and excitement building of XR/meta. From a messaging standpoint, they should show both entertainment aspects and utility aspects. Each has a strong pull to help drive intrigue and adoption. Be realistic about timing so they get people excited but then ladder back to what it might mean nearer-term. Aside from the typical store placement strategy, I would put stores or some type of experiences in major airports in large markets; maybe even something on airplanes. A large captive audience, generally bored, often looking to kill time and have the financial means to spend then or down the road.
  • Posted on: 11/02/2021

    Walmart’s latest acquisition to give voice to its UX aspirations

    Conversational technologies will make engagement more natural and intuitive. Much like face ID unlock on iPhone, users can more easily interact. Yes, I see voice, chat and text technologies continuing to rise to the forefront. Chatbot agents on websites make support easier to deliver 24 x 7 from a business perspective. The early stages after support will be more shopper engagement, suggestion, etc. In the next evolution you might be asking a package on the shelf where the ingredients are sourced from. There are many potential applications that remove the barrier to formal back and forth with humans or keyboards.

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