Ananda Chakravarty

Retail Thought Leader
Ananda is a retail thought leader. Currently Ananda is 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 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.
  • Posted on: 12/03/2019

    Why are brands so bad at identity resolution?

    Who is the shopper? The standards are limiting, making it difficult to determine the identity of customers online, and this is exponentially more difficult offline. The strongest programs are loyalty card-based ones that explicitly identify a customer with a profile and use incentives that drive customers to present their information up front when logging into a site or entering a store. But these are typically incomplete and riddled with flaws as to the action steps that come with knowing who a customer is. The last point is that customer needs are fluid and changing. The real problem here is even if identified, the retailer will have very limited data about the customer motivations and in many cases will get it wrong. They just won’t know where else the customer shopped, offline purchases, etc. Something is still better than nothing. There will always be new customers and returning customers -- and just identifying this set is difficult enough, especially in the store when customers are making selections and impacting the sale.
  • Posted on: 12/02/2019

    Mobile jumps out as retailers get a mixed start to the holiday season

    Mobile is more than just a purchasing channel. Almost 50% of transactions are impacted by online research (browsing, etc) and mobile makes up the majority of this, so over 1/4 of all retail transactions are influenced by mobile. What retailer is willing to sacrifice 1/4th of their business just because they didn’t want to invest in mobile-first solutions? Mobile is in, for so many reasons.
  • Posted on: 11/27/2019

    Big things are happening as Small Business Saturday turns 10

    Unfortunately, small business Saturday rarely holds a focus on small business as all the large retailers are raking in the cash on this Saturday. Each of the Saturdays leading up to Xmas is a high selling day for traditional retail and the small business component of that remains just that-small. Recently put out a blog on the trending for some of these holidays here if you care to look. There is a local flavor that is appealing, but it’s still retailing as usual -- typical marketing, etc. Perhaps some of the tech can help small business scale up. With few resources, it’s a challenge at that level to compete with the ads, discounts, loss leaders, and marketing that the larger retailers push during this season.
  • Posted on: 11/26/2019

    Will IoT reinvent the supply chain?

    The supply chain thrives on all forms of data and the more you have (and use) the more pliable it becomes. The nature of the supply chain, whether deterministic or probabilistic, is optimization and based on data. IoT can impact fast routing, establishing appropriate safety stock, avoiding stock outs or improve in-store counting productivity. However, IoT is just a tool -- a bunch of sensors to bring in added data -- it can tell you where products are, what pallets contain, when things arrive, and whether containers are filled. With the right platforms and data science they can increase efficiency, but (right now) by themselves they only automate current ways of measure and share the data to centralized points. Retailers who can harness the collection of data (via IoT) and simplify the data to combine with optimization algorithms to use the data will be the winners.
  • Posted on: 11/25/2019

    Is secondhand gifting a holiday disruptor?

    This is more a style issue than one of sustainability. Specifically for young folks, no one will know if that Cartier watch was secondhand or not. If anything it pushes up the value of high-end luxury brands. There are so many items people can’t afford, especially when they’re early in their careers (or later -- that pre-owned Ferrari sounds exciting...). I’m not sure this is the trend with lesser known brands, and typically extends brand value for the brands that are gifted. Window-shopping still exists. Not large enough of market to make a huge dent in holiday shopping and most likely accretive.
  • Posted on: 11/21/2019

    Is Target killing department stores and specialty clothing chains?

    There’s plenty to go around this holiday season, but some like Target will take a larger share. Main reason: food business + private label brands. These are not revolutionary, but Target continues to improve and adjust. Food is a draw and private label is a cost savings. For customers, the combination is convenience and the play may be just right for this market.
  • Posted on: 11/14/2019

    Shoptalk makes a statement with a conference featuring only women speakers

    Controversy, publicity, and advertising. Despite the hoopla, the women retail leaders of today can and do stand on their own - in the same room as men. This effort by Shoptalk to capture parts of the #MeToo movement and diversification at the retail level is a clever and notable gesture, but the real changes need to start at the board level for retail organizations with decision making, not speaking engagements. Less than 20 percent of corporate board directors of the S&P 500 are women and globally less than 14.7 percent are women.
  • Posted on: 11/06/2019

    Food halls drive mall traffic, not clothing sales

    The suggestion that customers are buying apparel online vs. in the store is still way off base. Even with growth of online, over 70 percent of apparel sales are in the store. Level A malls drive plenty of traffic and plenty of transactions. Not sure the survey is causal and as some have already mentioned, many other factors affect the sales numbers for mall stores. Typically customers who are grabbing a meal still have to walk a half mile from the parking lot to reach the food hall - which for most malls is located in the middle of the mall forcing a march with screaming kids in tow past the stores and shops. This is by design at many malls. The shops are getting the visual aids, shoppers see the window dressings, and when possible making a mental note to visit one store or another on the way out. Mall owners need to think broader- The food hall is one element to help drive traffic and certainly not replacing the apparel shopper with food shoppers.
  • Posted on: 11/05/2019

    Is Amazon starting to fall out of favor with American consumers?

    Too much Amazon? Not sure that’s really in the minds of consumers. Saturation of the market is more likely. Just as with any market, the cost of acquiring new customers and retaining earlier ones go up over time. There’s a smaller available market and competitors are catching up in terms of tech and convenience experience. The surveyed changes are minimal -- 5% drop in members, 5% drop in pre-shop are still rounding errors at Amazon. We forget this game can be pretty long term and Amazon’s got a long haul truck with their build team on board. What is happening is other retailers providing at least as much in their customer experiences.
  • Posted on: 10/31/2019

    Are retailers out-of-step with consumers when it comes to price?

    Retailers are pretty quick to adapt, and the best retailers can figure out what their customers care about most. The retail exec doesn’t want to drive price wars and a race to the bottom. They understand the importance of price, but are seeking all alternative ways to provide value for that price. What the study finds is not misplaced however. It outlines that perception of prices overall are going up. This is different from what the exec is thinking. The fact is, the survey is missing the active indicators as customers are responding so strongly about price. The evidence is multi fold. Consumer confidence has remained flat at one of the highest levels in years. The retail market is thriving with >3% growth and unemployment remains unfettered at its lowest levels. Pricing might be rising, but customers are still buying, suggesting that price is not as important as customers response to a survey might be. Consumer actions speak volumes and that’s where the smart retail execs have their pulse.
  • Posted on: 10/30/2019

    Will free deliveries for Prime members make Amazon the driving force in online grocery?

    This is a real game changer -- but attached to a huge cost. This will only work if Amazon can sustain the losses for an extended period of time. Its biggest challenge will be adoption rate by Prime members and unless this is hockey stick style, it will be forced to reevaluate grocery aspirations. They won’t have the option of increasing pricing on Prime without a potential backlash. Due to demographics, mostly this change will affect the affluent grocery market, so expect some internal cannibalization of Whole Foods with lower foot traffic. Rivals, especially serving less affluent markets, may even see a bump in shopping. In shopper terms, the convenience will be great if promises are kept and Amazon can deliver within the timeframes. If Amazon halts or charges for the service again in the future, they will lose the grocery race (at least this round). Landry is definitely taking a bold step, but if they’re willing to eat the losses for as long as it takes and there is rapid, broad adoption - they have a chance to change the industry.
  • Posted on: 10/29/2019

    AI needs to be more than just a bright, shiny object

    AI is not for the faint of heart and requires deep understanding of data, both customer and operational. The best analogy I can think of is a precise surgical tool to solve very specific issues. It can be applied more generally, but you can use a kitchen knife instead, as well. In retail there are specific examples where AI has shown success: demand forecasting, automated recommendations, and similar. Applying the tech to other scenarios takes time, data scientists, and clear understanding of the problems that need to be solved. The best AI solutions won’t be sold as AI but as an embedded part of a data or analytics solution. It will be invisible but impactful to the bottom line. Retailers are typically not being taken for a ride. Smart execs already understand how to think through the best avenues to apply, test, and validate the success levels of AI or alternatively purchase the tech as part of a broader set of solutions to mitigate risk. It can be a powerful value for retail, and the silver bullet facade has long ago fallen away. The questions being asked now are much more focused on the application of AI to support a business value.
  • Posted on: 10/28/2019

    What makes voice assistants creepy?

    The inherent fear of individuals who don’t have clarity into what’s being done with their data is a scary proposition. Would you as a consumer ignore someone looking over your shoulder and eavesdropping on you 24/7? Studies show people who believe they are being watched or listened to have much higher levels of stress. I believe voice commerce will struggle. The conveniences don’t make sense for retail except for replenishments scenarios. The expectation the machine will know what your preferences are or can cater to your preferences usually requires some kind of sensory factors, such as visuals or descriptions. Enabling this through voice eliminates the convenience factor. Add to that the "creepiness" of 3rd party organizations having full transcripts of your conversations berating your kids or sharing bank account or health information and digitizing things that have been traditionally highly personal, the scenario becomes even less compelling in terms of real convenience. At this time, voice commerce doesn’t provide adequate conveniences and doesn’t alleviate fears of highly personal information security access. Until both of these take place, we won’t see it in the mainstream.
  • Posted on: 10/22/2019

    What should retailers do when brands post fake reviews?

    The retailer choices are plenty, but most retailers don’t intend to closely monitor reviews. It’s an added cost and a hassle to monitor. The FTC has taken stronger actions in the past, and their job is to enable fair practices when it comes to trade. In one similar example this year, the FTC fined a company $12.8MM with a reprieve based on certain qualifying events. However this is relatively new for the FTC. The retailers themselves are in the best position to outline policies when partnering including delineating what is an acceptable review. There are review tools that allow for confirmed purchases and identify potential fraud. Retailers can take advantage of these. Most consumers are trusting reviews less than before and the reviews are not the only decision making tool. For the retailer, it’s table stakes to have reviews, but active monitoring isn’t usually impactful enough for the retailer to concentrate on it.
  • Posted on: 10/18/2019

    Have Giant Food and Stop & Shop nailed ‘frictionless’ checkouts?

    The scan and go checkout has many flavors but at its core it no longer drives customer excitement or novelty. It’s about performance and execution now. Even the store-provided handhelds - which Giant has been testing for years - haven’t shown great adoption with device maintenance being a common issue. Putting the task back to the customer, the challenge is that the device capabilities of personal devices don’t match the 3-D laser bar code trackers at the register in speed or capability, and cashiers are scanning items all day long compared to consumers in terms of scanning efficiency. There will be pockets of advancement and retailers will continue to test, but mass scale adoption will require something that can match register performance before it happens.

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