PROFILE

Ananda Chakravarty

Vice President, Research at IDC
Ananda is a retail thought leader. Currently Ananda is Vice President, Research - Retail Merchandising and Marketing Analytics Strategies at the premier market intelligence firm, IDC. He formerly served as Director, Global Retail Lead & Software Strategy at Diebold Nixdorf, the premier firm in European retail and progenitor of the ATM. Ananda also served as Director, Retail Omnichannel Solutions Strategy at Oracle. Ananda was a senior analyst at Forrester advising c-level leaders on digital store, digital store technologies, retail enablement, digital in-store analytics and Digital Grocery. Prior to Forrester, Ananda served as Director of Enterprise Digital Strategy at The Hartford and executive and product roles at Staples, Talbots and Monster.com. Opinions reflect those of the author only. Ananda holds an MBA from Northeastern University, a Masters in Electrical Engineering from University of Massachusetts, Lowell and a Bachelors in Electrical Engineering from Clemson University.
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  • Posted on: 05/23/2022

    Do consumers want highly-personalized fridges?

    There might be a small niche of folks interested in this level of customization -- but for the most part, magnets, calendars, 5x7s and personal stick figure drawings from the kids are quite sufficient for most fridge buyers. Stainless steel has been a generic and attractive trend for years. Experimenting with touch screen controls and integration across appliances, especially when items are out of stock (milk/eggs/etc) might be a better and more profitable alternative.
  • Posted on: 05/20/2022

    Will smart shopping carts transform the shopping experience at Albertsons?

    The Veeve carts are convenient and can make a real change to D-I-Y shopping in the store. However, it misses on cost -- in the range of $6k for stores that typically buy $200 carts. There needs to be some added benefits to justify the retailer price and rapid adoption. The industry will take some time to acclimate to using these types of carts because the trend is slow and costly.
  • Posted on: 05/13/2022

    Does virtual selling make for lonely salespeople?

    Virtual selling is a slightly different skill but, having worked with teams of telesales folks in the past, there are experts in the space that can manage the sales process effectively and build relationships. Customers have also learned to trust over Zoom sessions as not only sales is affected by teleconferencing. Frankly, most companies couldn’t have survived and grown their sales in the last few years without effective Zoom selling. As for being lonely, un-motivating, or morale-depleting because salespeople are unable to engage physically - well, all of these aspects are traits of how you feel, not necessarily how you sell. Sellers can succeed even with these conditions - and then hang out with family and friends in their local jaunts.
  • Posted on: 05/12/2022

    Will Kohl’s make a better deal for itself after an activist investor loses board vote?

    The Kohl's board is truly an amazing (and diverse) group -- from all walks of retail, leaders from Kroger, Dennys, BCG, Hyatt, and many others. Plus it includes finance, strategy, CIOs and HR folks from strong functional backgrounds. I have no doubts that talent like that will be able to find the right combination and truly represent the other 95% of shareholders that don’t fall under the activist investor influences. The board must look at offer price, but also at long term value and Kohl's as an ongoing enterprise. This is a fight the current Kohl's board can win.
  • Posted on: 05/11/2022

    Do Netflix subscriber headwinds hold lessons for retailers?

    Yes. Many consumers will be thinking about their subscription plans and how to reduce costs, but usually entertainment subscriptions won’t be on the chopping block - partially because they’ve been household fixtures for some time and in most cases are regularly used. It will be the limited-use subscriptions that go first, including magazines and newspapers (online). Netflix has already established patterns around their offering - and have a relatively diverse offering with regularly programmed new episodes and new content. This will keep them in the game. The retailer lesson is that loyalty and usage of the service needs to be established long before it gets brought out onto the customer's chopping block if retail wants to keep subscription customers. Less than 1 percent of customers seem to be exiting Netflix - any slowdown happened long before this shift. What they do need to do is revitalize their programming now that there are more competitors.
  • Posted on: 05/10/2022

    Is inflation the true cause of recent supermarket closures?

    No. Not inflation driven at all. The number of changing stores is tiny given the total number of stores and can be attributed to the normal closing, opening and repositioning stores that most large chains go through every year. Consumer sentiment is still higher than the benchmark and customers still need to eat. Inflation would be affecting all supermarkets at the supply level, not just select ones. Some larger chains may have some supplier scale advantages over smaller grocers, but these existed long before inflation.
  • Posted on: 05/09/2022

    Grocers fret over how to pass higher costs onto customers

    Pricing tools can help simplify this but grocers will most likely have to push these inflationary costs back to their suppliers or on to their customers. One suggestion listed above is an interesting one - changing package sizes and quantities, better known as shrinkflation. This method can help maintain prices by offering lower quantity of goods. It has proven to work in less frequent and larger, usually bulk purchasing options, but not everything can fit into this boat. This is an opportunity to bundle products and move slower selling products with faster ones with slight discounts as well. Grocery is unique in its high frequency of purchase, regularity of purchase, and necessity of purchase. This makes inflationary pressure hit much more close to home for consumers. The low price providers in this space will see some upticks in volume - but that can turn into a race to the bottom.
  • Posted on: 05/06/2022

    Which personalization techniques work best?

    An essential challenge with personalization is 360 degree data. Even for predictive tools, data that’s not shared but may be highly relevant are ignored - causing consternation for the consumer. For example, Sue is looking to buy a new sweater, she clicks on various search engines and spots one that she likes. She heads over to the retail store and purchases it. Retargeting tools push more sweater options in all of her ads, which becomes annoying. The store purchase (offline) wasn’t registered in the predictive analytics. Even with AI tools, Sue’s lack of desire for a sweater is not captured - because it might not be a digital input. Expanding this further, even digital data might not be shared across different retailers and online sites. Until AI tools can predict timing accurately (which is being worked on) there will be a continued challenge in predictive personalization.
  • Posted on: 05/05/2022

    Are Americans getting ready to hit the brakes on spending?

    Not yet. There will be some segments of the population holding back because of their inability to pay, but we have a tight labor market and even some bounce in wages. It’s more likely that folks will be a bit more parsimonious with their cash, but not enough to upset the apple cart. There is still a pent up demand to go outdoor dining, entertaining. Many travel options are opening up and retailers will see the middle-upper classes dipping into the retail markets. The largest sector adversely impacted will be the lower end of the market, which will translate into enormous value and market share capture by discounters and off-price retailers.
  • Posted on: 05/03/2022

    Does resale make sense for Dick’s Sporting Goods?

    Sports is an important place for resale as equipment and apparel can be very specific to a sport and hand-me-downs are an inherent part of managing sports. When even vendors like Play It Again Sports thrive and SidelineSwap bartering and selling sites (along with eBay) make up a substantial part of this secondary market, it’s a surprise Dick's hasn't jumped in sooner. Add to that a viable avenue for reselling difficult to refurbish returns, it’s a no-brainer. Depending on the retailer and types of product sold will determine whether reselling only store sold products make sense. For Dicks, their breadth of relationships means a broader option makes more sense.
  • Posted on: 04/28/2022

    Is timing more important than speed for grocery delivery?

    Absolutely. Delivery times matter more than how quickly customers receive their goods. The ability to receive something quickly is not always in line with the needs of the consumer - who seeks delivery for convenience. What matters more to most customers is that their pizza is piping hot when it arrives or their new fancy deck chair arrives before their in-laws. The actual speed doesn't matter as much, so long as the customer objective is met. Perishables are an interesting case and, presently, delivery in this space is clearly not meeting customer needs more than in-store shopping, otherwise there would be a far more dramatic increase in e-commerce grocery and a rapid drop in BOPIS and in-store sales (which was the prediction years ago at the outset of e-commerce). Delivery is another way to meet grocery customer convenience, and grows more mature day by day.
  • Posted on: 04/26/2022

    Are JCPenney’s owners a good fit to take over Kohl’s?

    Just to be clear -- these are quarterly numbers and YOY quarterly numbers mentioned.
  • Posted on: 04/26/2022

    Are JCPenney’s owners a good fit to take over Kohl’s?

    My first impression is that this is a land grab for property. Kohl's owns about 35 percent of their real estate and the portfolio is worth over $7 billion. Simon and Brookfield’s $8.6 billion bid doesn’t seem to take into account the $6.99 billion revenues from 2021 or the profits earned last year. Kohl's is not struggling as much as other retailers and hence the high interest in their operations. I’ll be surprised if Kohl's doesn’t put in a poison pill to increase the bids. There would be a challenge to integrate JCPenney - if that is the intent for Simon and Brookfield. Alternatively, Simon’s interest could be as simple as filling out vacancies by bringing Kohl's into the mall. Whatever the case, Kohl's is actually doing well, breaking a profit across this pandemic with $340 million and $299 million in profit the past couple of years.
  • Posted on: 04/22/2022

    Amazon brings Prime power to other websites

    Amazon attempts to pull itself into other retailers' online traffic, as traffic grows. Limited risk to Amazon, but huge risk for brand name retailers. This offers DTC for brands but at the cost of losing the customer channel. Moreover this enhances the media play for Amazon. Consumers and Amazon will benefit the most. Smaller retailers will jump on for the Prime branding. Larger ones will consider why handing over their media stream and online traffic to Amazon makes any sense at all.
  • Posted on: 04/18/2022

    Will Amazon’s fuel surcharge irritate its marketplace sellers?

    Fairness is a matter of perspective, especially in this case where small sellers will either absorb the costs or push them to consumers. It will definitely be a thorn in the side of sellers and it is unlikely, even after COVID-19 subsides, that Amazon will remove this charge altogether (though they may adjust it substantially). Just as telcos have added their government tax component, this will now be a part of the new price structure for Amazon sellers. Sellers will be looking for alternative selling opportunities to support (but not replace) their margins and, if anyone can hustle -- they can.

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