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: 09/22/2021

    Ron Johnson loves stores but says retail is moving to ‘commerce at home’

    I think there is room for commerce at home, humans love choice (not too much though). For some people, like that perfect upper class family in the video buying Apple products, an in-home experience over a store one makes total sense. However like the others on this panel, I don't think people want to huddle at home all day and have these intimate 1:1 experiences with retail associates in their home. As for consumers and retail heading in this direction, maybe a percentage. For mass brands like Nike and Apple, sure, I can see it working. For higher end brands an at home component definitely makes sense. But the majority of shoppers and shopping is regular people buying regular things on e-commerce sites or in stores. There is room for this concept but I don't see a massive shift over to it any time soon.
  • Posted on: 09/22/2021

    What’s the best way to reap the benefits of consultants?

    The advice I would give is to make sure you have a clear understanding of the actual questions or problems, take time to write them down in a brief. A written brief requires thought and would usually be passed around to different stakeholders which helps to gain alignment on expectations. Clearly identify what success looks like and how it will be measured. Be open to being wrong in your assessment of the questions or problems. The consultant should have the guts to redirect you, not be "yes-men." Consultants often answer the question being asked, even if it's the wrong one, because it benefits their own business versus pushing back on the prospect and suggesting there is another way of looking at it. They don't want to risk losing the business and the client only realizes that when it's too late. Consultants also often don't push enough on what success looks like and how it will be measured. Consultants often overlook getting out into the field and walking the store, doing their own observations, talking with people in trenches. They rely on HQ and often there is so much clarity from the front lines. Get that insight in the beginning, even before responding to a brief when possible.
  • Posted on: 09/21/2021

    Buybuy Baby creates digital platform to help parents raise healthy and happy babies

    I assume success for them is becoming a trusted source of information that translates into purchase and higher LTV. They can be successful as long as people aren't looking for information on products and then hopping over to Amazon to find them for less. I definitely think there is a gap in the market, no other retailer owns a more holistic approach to new parenthood. Trust will be a huge component of this. My wife relied heavily on our pediatrician and her mom's group for everything with our kids, and still does. I think they should find ways to partner with hospitals and doctors' offices to being the "relationship" early on. Immediately after birth is very stressful so ideally the seed is planted before, during the planning stage with things like registry. The live streaming and virtual education is interesting. I think that might drive high engagement. They will have to find a way to get closer to the shopper. The days of one-size-fits-all are gone. People look to bloggers and other experts who are "like them" so a retailer program runs the risk of being too generic. This is a move in the right direction if they can execute well and keep a pulse on the authenticity and trust connections.
  • Posted on: 09/16/2021

    Should Banana Republic revisit its safari past?

    Yes, it's great to see a brand with a POV. So many of these brands turn into "blah" because they lose their original POV, get diluted, then stand for nothing and mean nothing and are designed for nothing. Banana Republic did some soul searching and discovery to figure out why they exist in the first place. Bring that to the modern era and to me, if done well, this can reinvigorate the brand. My advice would be to mean something to someone and not worry about turning others away -- that's called a stance and it can be a great thing. Digital marketing in the modern sense of how new brands are being discovered is important. Maybe some guerrilla-style marketing (pun intended) like Oatly in a way that's right for them can bring in new, young audiences.
  • Posted on: 09/14/2021

    Will Kohl’s be known for something other than its retail partners?

    I don't see Kohl's as having a brand identity. It is a pretty vanilla, one-size-fits-all type of place. In this thread Chuck calls it a platform, that seems about right. The addition of Sephora and Amazon are likely just functional connections shoppers have with Kohl's. If Amazon returns were easily available elsewhere, people would migrate there. There is no loyalty to Kohl's in that sense. I do think it has a distinct place in the market. Regular people can go there and find a good selection of brand name clothing, footwear and accessories at an affordable price. You can't say the same thing of Walmart or Meijer. Target stands on its own but I still can't get as wide of a selection there as Kohl's has. I think Kohl's has a good pulse of regular people and they should continue to own that space, keep a pulse of those trends and align with those brands.
  • Posted on: 09/10/2021

    Restaurant chains roll out virtual brands to reach new customer groups

    I think the idea is fine if those restaurants can pull it off. They are doing whatever it takes to survive, especially as food delivery explodes. But part of me thinks it's a distraction from their core businesses. And if their brands have great equity, why not tap into that equity? They can do consumer testing before going through the expense of creating these "new" brands. Real innovation seems stifled across all industries; part of me thinks this is an excuse to just throw things out there and see what sticks. Is that good business? I guess we'll see.
  • Posted on: 09/09/2021

    Will Just Walk Out tech work for Whole Foods?

    The potential for Just Walk Out is great, it gives shoppers another way to check out based on their needs for that particular trip. If it works exactly the same way as Go, I don't see any limitations for the shopper. For the retailer, dealing with training the shopper on the tech will be an issue. It works at Go because that has attracted savvy shoppers and the basket is small. At Whole Foods, with a larger basket, the added complexity might make shoppers head to SCO or traditional as they choose the path most familiar. Over time that should change as more retailers adopt this tech. Monitoring theft with larger baskets could be an issue. The loss of impulse sales is also a potential limitation, impulse at checkout is a profitable area for stores. So far, JWO is the most effective means for eliminating checkout pain. The best way is to never set foot in the store and have it available curbside or delivered. ;)
  • Posted on: 09/08/2021

    Will its Public Lands concept store help Dick’s conquer the great outdoors?

    I think Public Lands is in-tune with the needs of consumers. It sounds like a mass REI. There must be a whitespace for PL, for consumers who want a more approachable and affordable REI (I'm an REI shopper) and don't want to visit a "hunting/camping store". Their flagship will have to lose some of the features like climbing walls, etc. Similar to REI which enters smaller markets and just has no frills stores with lots of gear and knowledgeable staff. Having passionate and well-trained staff will be key. REI has a purpose and loyalty which attracts pretty solid staff. I don't see Dick's or PL as being anything beyond mass merchants. So the risk is that staff is transactional. That experience will dictate the type of shoppers they get. Still plenty of room to be successful in that space if they stay realistic about who they are.
  • Posted on: 09/07/2021

    Why does Amazon want a branded TV?

    TV seems like a no-brainer because they have the brand recognition, can compete on price and have the audience. Beyond owning the living room, they want to own consumption; food, products, and media. I struggle to think there is a major disruption coming in this category. I think they see an opportunity to get into this category and believe, like the article says, they can broaden Alexa's reach. Maybe there is a play within media purchases but those types of innovations always take way longer to adopt than anyone ever thinks. If Apple was making this announcement, I'd think there was something cool happening. Amazon doing it makes me want to yawn. And don't get me wrong, there is a ton of money in yawns. While I'm yawning, they'll make a billion dollars.
  • Posted on: 09/02/2021

    Allbirds simplifies growth drivers to three trends

    I think the use of natural materials and having the right product mix are key. Great design goes a long way too. If they seem overly functional and look ugly, no matter how Earth-minded they are, it won't matter. I think the seamless, cross-channel thing is just parity now, we shouldn't even still be talking about it, really. Unfortunately, we still are. They will have to figure out how to scale without dumbing their product down for that scale. Some brands are great at that, like Nike and Starbucks (for now). But they have to be wary of losing that passionate connection with customers. Continuing to mine insights and translating that into action will, as always, be important.
  • Posted on: 08/31/2021

    Does peer-to-peer resale make sense for Urban Outfitters?

    I think it makes sense. As for a big sales opportunity, not sure how "big." Although it's open to all brands, my gut is lots of the supply will be URBN clothes. Their assortment fits well with the thrift audience, it's cool and in aggregate, used URBN clothes would make for a fun treasure hunt. I don't see a risk of cannibalization, I actually see it bringing in new audiences and exposure.
  • Posted on: 08/30/2021

    Can IKEA’s store layout still amaze without a maze?

    I love this idea for IKEA. Maybe they looked at the appeal of RH stores and felt something different could be a success. And I agree with the other comments that IKEA should be applauded for moving beyond the maze. Though I wonder what the downside of lingering is. Now people continue to flow through spaces and although it can seem crowded, I rarely have to wait much to sit in something. When dwell is promoted, they'll have to figure out how best to manage traffic on busy days otherwise it might be a turn off to have too many people in an open space just lingering and relaxing, hanging out and taking selfies. Thoughtfulness will be key in improving the experience, not damaging it. I have faith IKEA can pull it off.
  • Posted on: 08/26/2021

    Should grocers take a lead role supporting weight loss efforts online?

    I think it's a great question. It probably doesn't happen for a number of reasons. Number one is that it's not a priority for grocers. Unless there is a macro level shift in the grocer's philosophy, like what CVS did to transform into CVS Health, you will only see small efforts here and there. They have probably tested it and it did poorly. Either because what people "say" and how they "behave" is different -- or because a good plan was not executed well. There are likely credibility issues with grocers and there is so much noise in the space, people get confused and by the time they are ready to shop, they just punt those healthy choices down the road (to the next trip). If someone can get this right (likely an upstart or Amazon) and when there is more of an ecosystem (Whoop, Apple Fitness) and integration and food is easier to track, the guidance area will explode. The online features cited are great. But "healthy shopping" is subjective. I do think adding better filters could help the hurdle of subjectivity in terms. Near-term this is probably bad for grocers but over time, probably a better, smarter play for loyalty and trust if done well. An approach that feels effortless and really puts the shopper in the driver's position without making them feel bad or not in control.
  • Posted on: 08/18/2021

    Will new cash-back cards deliver healthy returns for Walgreens?

    I believe both the financial benefits and consumer data will be of value to Walgreens. Getting 10 percent back on eligible Walgreens private label products seems compelling and 5 percent back on front of store. I can't think of anyone else giving 10 percent back, the standards seem to be 1, 2 and 5 percent. So if people switch to Walgreens private label, they stand to get a good amount of money back. And even if they don't, the perceived value of getting 10 percent back from a marketing standpoint could be potent. Add the health and wellness marketing halo and it can't hurt. As for the health and wellness angle, I think it could be a draw for sign-ups. People feel good about themselves when they enroll in something aligned with health and wellness, even if their long-term purchase behaviors prove otherwise.
  • Posted on: 08/16/2021

    Are four drive-thru lanes better than two?

    I think the concept is a winner for Taco Bell, it knows its base customer well. Kudos to them for always trying different tactics. In the distant future, might they have a smaller kitchen fully automated with no staff? In that case, they could probably shrink the second floor down a bit. In the next few years, I think QSRs will be studying how to maximize production autonomy, using fewer humans, and buildings prototypes around that type of operation.

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