PROFILE

Ananda Chakravarty

Retail Thought Leader
Ananda is a retail thought leader. Currently Ananda is 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: 12/03/2020

    Are endless aisles more trouble than they’re worth for retailers?

    The concept of endless aisle is as complex as the retailer decides to make it. They own the medium, especially when in the store. There are also ways to push lower priority items to the back burner. As with search engines, customers are typically focused on searching the first page, maybe the second, regardless of how many thousands of skus are available for a product. Smart retailers will use smart data combined with smart physical inventory to capture the smartest (most profitable) outcomes.
  • Posted on: 12/02/2020

    Were record Cyber Monday/Week sales enough to help retailers salvage 2020?

    Nope. The year has been plagued with a terrible fallout of retailers unable to cope. If you look at the market as a zero sum game (not actually the case, but for illustrative purposes), this has been more of a business handoff in many avenues. Restaurants to grocery; Apparel to home fitness; Travel goods to home improvement; hospitality to electronics; and so on. Companies with necessities such as grocery or convenience will see great turnout. Online sales just isn’t a separate factor -- retailers are still looking for in-store traffic, putting up with added safety costs and training and encouraging purchasing. All these things continue to move the market with essential companies boosting profitability. Curbside is maturing and we’ll see customer experience (and service) continue to become more pronounced.
  • Posted on: 12/01/2020

    Dick’s Sporting Goods to test new ‘Public Lands’ outdoor concept

    The fact that Dick’s was looking into launching this prior to COVID-19 suggests that it will be long lasting. Looking forward to see this movement grow and companies like Dick’s who embrace this key outlet -- both emotionally and physically -- will be leaps ahead of the competition. Besides, darts and indoor table tennis just aren’t cutting it for me.
  • Posted on: 11/30/2020

    Was Black Friday a bust?

    As many studies and reviews have shown, the single-day event has given way to month-long or even season-long sales events. The whole point of Black Friday was to drive shopping and by offering crazy deals at long hours retailers were able to see revenue impact. The shift due to COVID-19 and consumer response (such as increased online sales) suggests a move. Retailers like Target, Best Buy and Walmart have been seeing strong quarters that reinforces the flattening of Black Friday across a longer time period. We can’t see the future, but I suspect there will be less focus on shopping on particular days in the U.S., although online, Cyber Monday, Singles Day, etc. will continue to see some upticks until COVID-19 goes out of focus.
  • Posted on: 11/25/2020

    Retailers show essential workers their appreciation with promotional perks

    This is powerful for public relations and building marketing strength, at a relatively low cost (free donuts). Most retailers already put in place similar perks for their own teams (usually in the form of employee discounts on their products). For public consumption, these efforts are great. They also show support for many who don’t receive the accolades they deserve. Most important is the immediate connection to the localities in which they operate. Expect to see smart retailers engaging in more of this.
  • Posted on: 11/24/2020

    Target CEO points to one-stop shopping as key to chain’s success

    For Target, it’s more than just one-stop shopping - though that certainly helps. Target’s reputation as a clean store is just as important in current times. The pandemic has brought out fear of smaller establishments that might not have a strong reputation for cleanliness, bright lighting, associates cleaning registers and carts after each use and precautions to keep customers safe. One-stop shopping also plays into the equation, but only after the customer enters the store increasing wallet share of a loyal customer base. No clue what will happen after COVID-19, but that’s some time away. Unless retailers have a similar business and a wide assortment, it would be challenging for them to match Target. People forget retail is rarely a copycat business - each retailer is unique. Target's size, culture, customer focus, store format, assortment and policies make them successful during trying times.
  • Posted on: 11/23/2020

    Big chains are raising pay and more retailers are likely to follow

    Can’t disagree with the concept Gene, but a price increase usually also comes at the cost of demand. It could very well be that the 10 cent increase in price drops demand enough to translate into substantially less revenue. This means the company needs to believe the investment in its employees are worth enough to warrant the drop in income and profit. Especially holds true of the market when it’s highly price sensitive and where retail margins are razor thin.
  • Posted on: 11/23/2020

    Big chains are raising pay and more retailers are likely to follow

    The big chains are supporting their workforce and building stronger associate-customer relationships. After all, the highest costs for most retail is labor and the highest turnover rates are also in retail - edging over 60 percent. The larger, more successful chains are looking to take a page out of Costco’s playbook and offer ways to keep their best talent and ensure that the omnichannel experience shines. Retailers now need their associates to handle curbside deliveries, customer service, new pick and pack, new ways of store safety, and cover the challenge of having a potentially more dangerous work environment. The experience with the associate in-store has become a real differentiator and competitive pressures online without the store are pulling a frayed and challenged market. As for minimum wage, the smart retailers will set these wages locally for their own stores to be competitive. I doubt a $15 minimum wage would pass muster in Congress or that it matters for retail.
  • Posted on: 11/20/2020

    Should landlords get a cut of online sales?

    Regardless of how interesting it is, it doesn’t align with the value to the retailer. The only piece that might make sense is the advertising or brand value appeal for having a physical location. Don’t expect retailers to dive into this option unless they are distressed or are able to cull a fire sale deal from their landlords. If anything, it will result in successful retailers increase buying of property rather than leasing. Percent of sale is not a common or sought after model for many businesses, not just retail (though there are exceptions) -- and to focus on just the digital sale as a non-digital entity makes it all the more misaligned. Where this will work is where landlords or PE already have some level of ownership of the retailer or retail brand.
  • Posted on: 11/19/2020

    Walmart goes to the dogs (and cats, too)

    As always, the service component is an important factor for the customer. Retailers like Walmart will continue to append their products with services that support making customers lives easier. This drives value and in turn loyalty -- Amazon’s whole prime program is based on added services. Partnering for these services reduces the cost of building up the service and in some cases acquire new customers. All smart, but expected moves by Walmart. You’ll see other retailers offering more services to match, lest they be left behind.
  • Posted on: 11/16/2020

    Costco makes everybody mask up

    With the increasing numbers of COVID-19, mask acceptance will continue to be less and less of an issue. Customers in regions heavily impacted will have little difficulty complying with something they’ve been doing all along. With the new revelations that it’s protective to the wearer, it will make it even easier. Accommodation should be treated the same way as any disabilities regulation - if they can offer elevators and ramps, a few extra face shields and masks at the customer service desk should be no problem. The rules that Georganne points out - no shoes, etc. is the right of any proprietor. They need to protect their employees and their customers.
  • Posted on: 11/11/2020

    What makes a great retail store manager?

    Soft skills are important for all managers, store managers being no exception. Hard skills are important insofar as they allow managers to lead others and show how things need to be handled or managed. However it requires employee motivation to push them out of the break room and onto the floor, behind a counter, or into the stock room. Successful store managers build successful stores - and in most cases must have the focus on ensuring good operations through motivation and situational awareness. The complexity of the role varies tremendously by sub-vertical and each chain has its own nuances. What can be said is that COVID-19 threw a wrench into the difficulty of the role, with new policies to enforce, new tasks to train, and new ways of engaging customers.
  • Posted on: 11/09/2020

    What will President Joe Biden mean for retail?

    Benefits:
    • Reduced volatility in market
    • Focus on addressing Covid-19
    • Stimulus (hopefully, but congress driven, not admin.)
    • Organized Industry support, with fair benefits. PPP continues to be a challenge to justify with many not sure if small businesses are just gaming the system.
    Drawbacks:
    • Regulation
    • Time to get up to speed post transition
    • Challenges in enforcing Covid-19 standards
    • Tax relief
    The key here is change. A new administration means a shift in policy and process. Nothing suggests that underlying structure between the government and retail businesses will change much because of the shift. However, once the pandemic has hit its apex and begins to pull back, we might see more relaxed customers and more open wallets. Unification, if possible, will mean a great deal toward restarting the economy.
  • Posted on: 11/04/2020

    How do online reviews build trust?

    Have to admit I feel like the odd person out here. I’ve personally written reviews (usually book reviews) and once in a while a product review. The thing is, retailers automate sending out review requests to customers via email at times just after they’ve received the product (both as a marketing tool and review building tool). For sites with high traffic (Amazon, Walmart, Target, etc) these become a numbers game for those willing to mention something about the products. Depending on the customer base, sometimes the respondents will pan out to be those looking for a complaint medium or a way to praise their product or experience. In either case, the reviews are enormous learning opportunity for both retailer and consumers.
  • Posted on: 11/04/2020

    How do online reviews build trust?

    Online reviews are an inherent part of the ecommerce experience. There is some herd mentality to reviews, but in many cases, just having reviews increases the credibility of products, and there is a positive impact whether reviews are negative or positive. Matter of fact, products with no negative reviews are immediately suspect as there is a suspicion by customers that customers don’t have adequate information and the reviews may not be genuine. More common norms include confirmed purchases and quantified product characteristics, so issues such as delivery time and sizing are evaluated by the customer separately. Meaning a poor delivery time doesn’t reflect poorly on the product quality. The nature of trusting reviews is allowing dissemination of all types of reviews -- negative and positive. The only exception is review fraud where people are paid to provide positive reviews or paid to post negative reviews on competitors. If anything, retailers can maintain trust through keeping fraudulent reviews off their platform but allowing complete transparency (with decency of course) to customers posting reviews.

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