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: 03/04/2021

    EQ is the special ingredient to feed entrepreneurial success

    I think the high uncertainty and ambiguity of entrepreneurship might be better handled by people with higher EQ. Although looking at the world's top billionaires, Musk, Bezos, Zuck, Google guys -- they likely have very high IQs. One of my professors in business school said in his experience the most successful over the years are the #1 student and the last (lowest grade) student. I suspect each of the guys listed above were at the top or close to it. I think the significance of EQ vs. IQ depends on the industry and the size and scale of the business. For some of these innovative companies, you need high IQ, EQ can be a seat in the C-suite to bring in more balance. Don't get me wrong, I've always felt EQ is more important but can see the argument for either being overrated.
  • Posted on: 03/03/2021

    Will seniors trust CVS to keep them safe with in-home IoT?

    Amazon is the only retailer who is truly in the home (70 percent of smart speaker users, use an Echo) today. The next battle will be for ownership of the home and it will be easiest for Amazon to continue to add smart tech to our homes. Other retailers need to pay attention to the Trojan Horse and find ways to be better integrated and I think CVS is smart to jump in. CVS is a brand many elderly people trust, they have the expertise and ability to build a health and in-home services ecosystem that could then be used for younger generations as they age. At the same time, Amazon could elevate their in-home game because they are already in the home. I'll be curious to see how this plays out and if CVS can evolve it into something more -- can they think three or four steps ahead and really make this a competitive advantage?
  • Posted on: 02/24/2021

    Can making deliveries once a week make e-commerce sustainable and more profitable?

    Near-term the value proposition will have to be for the sustainability-minded. Getting a box daily isn't a pain point for many. So in that niche, this has some value. Less compelling would be any significant incremental costs passed on to the buyer. I would expect to pay less to wait longer, that seems to be the model Amazon is priming us for. I do think the immediacy of non-perishable delivery will wear off. However there has to be a benefit to the consumer beyond being more sustainable for this to scale. The easy returns element might do the trick to incentivize more beyond sustainability. I love the thinking on this and while I am not convinced it has legs in its current state, it is a glimpse into an area that will be lucrative when someone solves it effectively with stronger incentives.
  • Posted on: 02/16/2021

    Digital gains are changing how Best Buy puts its associates to work

    I think Best Buy's move to trim in-store staff is to address the shift in how shoppers are interacting with Best Buy. If sales volumes are shifting to BOPIS or ship-to-home, in theory, fewer people are needed to roam the aisles. The people you do have in-store should be more versatile and able to help in purchase decisions. Was this swinging the pendulum a little too far? Hard to say at this point. I am curious what shopper behaviors are. Are people coming into the store to browse models and then going home to place an order for future pick-up? Or are they doing research purely online based on trusted sites and ratings/reviews and not visiting the store? To me it seems the store is a differentiator. In this commodity space, Best Buy would be wise to beef up Geek Squad and, as mentioned in the above, get more support online via chat or video to help the shopper. Seems like a race to the bottom unless retailers like Best Buy come up with uniqueness to shift the conversation beyond lowest price and quickest fulfillment.
  • Posted on: 02/12/2021

    Should retailers ask workers to return to their offices?

    Salesforce recently announced that they would have all three; flex, fully remote and office-based with the latter being the smallest part of their workforce. I don't see most corporate workers returning 40 hours per week. I see a lot more hybrid - with teams using tools to figure out agreed upon guardrails. And if workers do return to the office, being their will be much more flexible. Corporate staff might lose some chemistry aspects but so many of us are figuring out how to adapt to work and create culture remotely. I adjust at a design school and the students are all well-versed in virtual collaboration tools like Miro and Teams. In-person might be reserved for team building and bonding/social events, etc., whereas work will fall into hybrid.
  • Posted on: 02/11/2021

    Starbucks’ meatless store pilot ran in stealth mode

    I doubt Starbucks even saw this as a standalone concept, it was done for the sake of testing; menus/recipes, operations, etc. I don't see an ALL plant-based food offering having wide appeal for the foreseeable future. Even in India, a predominantly strict vegetarian culture, multi-national chains offer both meat and meatless. To me it will always be about choice and putting the decision making power in the hands of a shopper. The practice of engaging in experimental concept tests is a must. Smart of them to test and learn. They will undoubtedly apply the successful elements.
  • Posted on: 02/08/2021

    Will same-day delivery pay off for dollar stores?

    To be competitive there are certain things retailers have to be at parity with. Same-day delivery in today's environment is one of those things. This makes me think of the Kahn Retailing Success Matrix in which she talks about the importance of being at fair value across her matrix. It was smart to test and learn, also wise to partner at this stage. It will be interesting to see how this plays out and if, eventually, the timeliness becomes less important and some items just move to subscription delivery.
  • Posted on: 01/25/2021

    Will Godiva’s stores ever come back from the pandemic?

    I think a reset could be wise for this storied brand. It makes sense since most of their stores are in malls and malls are facing headwinds, only amplified by COVID-19. Going forward they could be more selective about physical locations, possibly thinking the way Sephora or Ulta have, but being careful not to cheapen the brand. I believe physical locations will play a role, location strategy just needs a reset and new formats and/or creative partnerships also have to play a role going forward.
  • Posted on: 01/21/2021

    Albertsons’ pilot is latest part of the plan to supercharge omnichannel ops

    Without being in their ecosystem it is hard to say. Knowing that they have a test and learn mindset and seeing them act on it signals that they are taking omnichannel seriously. The kiosk idea, piloted by Walmart over two years ago seems like it could make sense for smaller orders. Giving shoppers choice is smart and if I just want to grab a few things but don't want to go into the store, nor wait to call an associate, then there could be adoption. But as delivery grows, at some point, something will get squeezed out, probably kiosks. The physical presence should be focused on the fresh, prepared meals, alcohol, and dine-in concepts sides. The more rote elements go back of house for in-store pickup or to direct-to-home fulfillment.
  • Posted on: 01/12/2021

    Convenience retailers aren’t letting the pandemic get them down

    I believe convenience stores will come out stronger, COVID-19 has forced them to accelerate digital efforts which will help them longer-term. And it has exposed weaknesses which will allow management to take various scenario planning exercises more seriously. While having the right alcohol assortment and some general merchandise will help, they also need to be thinking about the next generation. Fresh food, healthier assortment. Adding EV charging stations, seating options, drive-thru, delivery to car, maybe not be married to their standard box on a postage stamp with pumps out front. Who knows, maybe Uber AV or Tesla will start their own c-stores to become modern day hubs like the old bus depots. Don't ignore the near-term but think more broadly about the future.
  • Posted on: 01/11/2021

    Did Amazon Pantry outlive its usefulness?

    There is probably room for essentials bundling if Amazon can use data to find patterns in usage cycles. But realistically, I use paper towels at a different frequency than Windex. Why wait for my bundled order if I can order one item and get it here in an hour? What drove it is Amazon noticed people would rather purchase single items on demand than wait for bundles. And the incentive wasn't great enough to get them to wait. But now Amazon knows with little money lost and maybe some knowledge gained.
  • Posted on: 01/07/2021

    Will meatless burgers moo-ve in on beef’s market share as prices fall?

    I think adjusting prices will help because at grocery they are more expensive. For those who have considered but do see cost as a barrier, it might entice them. From a marketing standpoint, the idea that an alternative can complement regular meat consumption is smart, they should continue to do more of that to get people who want to eat less meat to try and add it to their regimen. Merchandise it with other meat, make it easy to find and easy to shop. Show comparisons with signage so shoppers can make informed decisions on trade offs. As for restaurants, ones I order from do a great job of making it taste great, I am not at all jealous of my family as they eat their hamburgers because my alternative tastes great, has all the toppings theirs does, etc.
  • Posted on: 01/06/2021

    How did QR codes go from DOA to killer app?

    Yes, I see QR codes remaining popular but they will eventually be complemented by image recognition. QR will be used for more functional things like menus and IR for more creative campaign type of engagement. After seeing QR so heavily used in China years ago, it's amazing it took so long but the need and native QR scanning capabilities finally came together here. As for how retailers should leverage them, I think the ways outlined are sensible, contactless transactions, sharing information, etc. Smaller retailers might benefit from putting them on shopping bags or other collateral to drive people to review sites, loyalty sign-ups, etc. They could also strategically place them on in-store graphics to tell broader stories or get shoppers to wider assortments quickly -- there are many tactics depending on what retailers are trying to solve.
  • Posted on: 01/04/2021

    Will store closings in 2021 beat last year’s record total?

    Happy New Year! Let's hope the happy part of that rings true. I think there will be more pressure for store closings. More than a handful of retailers continue to look at underperforming stores and struggle to be relevant near-term due to stay-at-home restrictions and work from home realities. Factors influencing these trends besides COVID-19 are: being too small to hold out, having too much debt to spend on needed updates, being slow to convert to omnichannel, a lack of omnichannel talent and maybe just some bad strategies that were possible to overlook during better times.
  • Posted on: 12/16/2020

    Should c-stores go healthy for the sake of kids?

    Historically for c-stores making money on healthier foods has been difficult. Typically, people say they want to eat healthier but their purchases don't always align with that. However the market is slowly changing. Ultimately people want choice and are open to mixing in a healthier option now more than ever. C-stores can balance any conflicts by introducing healthier options to complement, not to replace, traditional snacks. Continue to talk to shoppers, test items, see what sells and optimize. If a c-store skews too far "healthy," too fast, it will damage their business unless that's what their shoppers want -- rather than what their shoppers just say they want so they don't feel guilty.

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