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: 10/29/2020

    Do retailers need to make price optimization a priority right now?

    At the retail level we’ll see less investment in price optimization - unfortunately. The market tightens available spend and precautionary measures in stores for COVID-19 are gobbling up any residual cash and profits that are realized. Retailers won’t see the results of price optimization instantly and therein lies the rub. Most retailers will be more focused on marketing, discounting, and traditional, well-established mechanisms to drive sales, especially holiday sales. Price optimization can be immensely valuable, but it won’t be moved to the top of retailers' focus pile. For the pricing transparency aspect of the question - if anything, price optimization separates customers through deterministic segmentation. This will introduce less transparency rather than more for customers, especially for dynamic pricing. However techniques will be introduced that can capture personalized price points over time - just the opportunity is limited for consumers to see gains, and hence adoption will be slow. It’s smart technology, but not yet ready for the mainstream, especially as customers are wondering why their neighbors were able to buy their hand sanitizer at 30 percent below their costs.
  • Posted on: 10/28/2020

    Will Shopify merchants go viral with their TikTok videos?

    The move is risky given the TikTok ban and the potential overtaking of operations by Oracle. It remains to be seen how Shopify plays to the extended risk. The move might also be looked upon as a way to strengthen the case for TikTok's survival in the courts. Whatever first mover advantage Shopify has gained will vanish quickly without intervention. U.S. merchants operating on Shopify will certainly miss the mark and customers in other countries may see a tainted environment to advertise. Regardless, video will be a key factor in the future but success wasn’t the word of the day for merchants when YouTube and others introduced product placement with a shopping interface. Google is also attempting to drive customers to Google Shopping. It may be that the market is a bit early and only companies like Douyin (China's TikTok) has seen adoption - though video has been in works for several years by Amazon, Walmart and others. It is too early to guess an outcome - but first-mover advantage is not a substantial edge in the fast moving e-commerce space.
  • Posted on: 10/27/2020

    What does a good shopping experience look like for Christmas 2020?

    A good shopping experience for consumers will be safely and conveniently getting the products they want the way they want it. For retailers, this means ensuring in-stock of gift products and efficient fulfillment through delivery, store stock, BOPIS or curbside. The problem with holiday shopping still resides in the fact that e-commerce is still for all intents and purposes just a catalog online while the stores still drive a special value for customers both in the discovery of the right gifts as well as the festive shopping experience. With the COVID-19 issues, safety becomes an inherent part of this fulfillment process for retailers and we’ll see retailers who’ve established the safety and convenience mindset as those that have a step ahead of others.
  • Posted on: 10/26/2020

    Where are curbside and BOPIS services falling short?

    From a consumer perspective, curbside and BOPIS continue to be powerful conveniences - but their promises are not always being met. A snapshot from a local Target is proof positive that these operations are in full force. Consumer expectations of speed and delivery are dependent in part on a time delay and email or text communication to the customer indicating their stock is ready for pickup. The retail challenge is containing the costs to introduce and maintain the services, where added labor, supplies, and management costs have built up the processes but reduced margins. Also the customer service expectations are inconsistent- even within similar chains. There are added costs for holding and managing the inventory as opposed to delivery (higher costs) and many retailers haven’t yet figured this out. In-store BOPIS management becomes more challenging with pick, pack, store, and restock issues. Retailers don’t seem to be out of the woods when it comes to no-shows, but it has improved. The consumer expectations are being met - whether through a manual process or technology investment, but it is still a mostly inefficient process that needs further streamlining-especially for retailers that started post COVID-19.
  • Posted on: 10/23/2020

    Trader Joe’s and Wegmans satisfy, others falter, through the pandemic

    TJ's, Wegmans, etc. have established loyalty and in some cases, almost fealty from customers, through unique sets of products and experiences. The experience in a Costco or Wegmans is vastly different than others. Combine that with specific unique values stores like TJ's provides -- e.g. private label and non standard products not found in other stores -- and you have ingredients for success. TJ's has that natural guava juice you just won’t find at your local supermarket. Costco with super attentive associates paid higher than the market, or Wegmans with unique store formats in the mall. The fact is, these stores have established unique characteristics that make them memorable, valuable, and customer centric -- making customer satisfaction an afterthought as it’s part of their very DNA.
  • Posted on: 10/20/2020

    Albertsons offers a new refrigerated take on store pickup

    It’s great that they’re testing the model. Cold chain is one of the more expensive last mile delivery scenarios. However, not sure lockers are the way to go. As some have mentioned, they’ve been around for a while, have had limited adoption, and with COVID-19 brings up concerns about reusable lockers. Not sure consumers want their raw steak in the same box as someone else’s frozen carp and exotic cheese, even if wrapped in plastic sitting around for a few hours. Albertsons will need to convince customers that they maintain clean and regularly disinfected lockers on the inside and out. Some customers will try it out and it can still supplement other engagement options.
  • Posted on: 10/19/2020

    Should local book stores be taking on Amazon?

    Also check this article.
  • Posted on: 10/19/2020

    Should local book stores be taking on Amazon?

    David - book sales have been successfully growing since 2019 and make up over $20 billion in the U.S. and over $110 billion globally. This industry is still an important part of our retail ecosystem and the digital age has served more to advance it than degrade it.
  • Posted on: 10/19/2020

    Should local book stores be taking on Amazon?

    For indie booksellers, it’s advertising and just plain marketing. Playing on people’s guilt is certainly not new and taking advantage of the sheer size of Amazon will attract customers who already have a dislike for large business. I see little in the way of adversity to push their stores with such a campaign. However the question of whether it is the best way to draw in customers is the real question - the campaign only articulates a few benefits, e.g. personalized curation vs creepy algorithms. This doesn’t change the scenario - indie bookstores have been struggling to survive so they’ve been taking on Amazon for some time. To quote Gregory Peck, “You’re in it now, up to your neck.”
  • Posted on: 10/16/2020

    Amazon follows record-setting Prime Day with Holiday Dash Deal events

    Amazon numbers focus on third-party sellers. This suggests Amazon’s own numbers weren’t super growth events. There is a shift and the Prime Day impact has been substantially muted. The timing and dispersion of promotions over the seasons will have limited impact. This trend has been ongoing for several years with less importance placed on Black Friday, Cyber Monday and yes, even Prime Day as a single day event. We’ll see that promotions will be distributed over longer periods. Retailers have a whole season to sell - but consumers are more cautious with their cash. Holiday revenues can actually see a bump based in specific categories. Sectors such as grocery, healthcare, toiletries and personal space become more critical for the end of this year and addressing the next wave of this abysmal pandemic.
  • Posted on: 10/15/2020

    Is YouTube a shopping powerhouse waiting to happen?

    YouTube has great potential to convert to a shopping platform, but at present it’s too cluttered with videos, most of which are not professionally done or even review quality. The challenge will come from curating the huge video libraries to accommodate specific items and to enable search capabilities that are more to the point of encouraging sales and product review. Lots of potential, but there needs to be a more formal shopping outlet, especially geared towards the act of shopping rather than product placement, or byproducts of box openings and recipes. They won’t compete with online shopping sites nor directly with Qurate. The advantage it can bring will be found in its ability to be interactive and build community. Amazon is primarily a transaction engine, YouTube Shopping needs to be a community/social media/interactive video portal -- different audiences and different motivation to shop.
  • Posted on: 10/13/2020

    Has Walmart come up with an answer to Best Buy’s Geek Squad?

    The Walmart move is a smart move to reinforce their consumer electronics department. Not necessarily going head to head with Best Buy, but more catering to their own customer audience and competing with the likes of Target by offering a service in addition to the product. A good service add-on with talented associates would influence much stronger electronics sales.
  • Posted on: 10/12/2020

    What’s behind the Amazon/SpartanNash deal?

    Smart for Amazon to buy into SpartanNash and a close fit to Amazons ongoing MO -- verticalization. Amazon has been eyeing grocery for such a long time, and this purchase helps lock that in further -- perhaps even helping reduce some of the costs over time. This also impacts some of their competition as suggested, with the ability to provide preferential treatment to Amazon shipments. The question is really whether it will be a new driver for Amazon grocery products or just another way to reduce expenses from their last mile delivery to stay in the grocery game for the long haul.
  • Posted on: 10/09/2020

    NYC startup promises 15-minute grocery delivery

    Scalability will be a substantial issue. The current limitation of a one-mile radius - even in NYC - means dramatic growth to expand to the scale of an Amazon or Walmart. The challenges will become untenable as the organization grows. Assortment size will also contribute to the inability to scale and compete as it expands to 3,000 items. The typical grocery store has over 40,000 SKUs. Fridge No More will need to shift their business dramatically if they want to expand outside of metro areas or expand beyond a one-mile radius. In addition, cart size will be limited to what they can fit on the bikes - much smaller than a typical drive to the grocery store - so it’ll fit more into convenience goods.
  • Posted on: 10/06/2020

    Are bookkeeping systems ruining retailers’ ability to serve customers?

    It’s not as bad as outlined - depending on the retailer. However smart retailers don’t use their accounting tools to manage inventory or track online vs. offline sales. Systems exist today that are designed for integrating easily with ledgers and the best retailers don’t use accounting as their master record when engaging customers. Retailers will drive a secondary process for updating their ledgers, usually batch and on a daily basis - especially if sales are in multichannel. Exceptions abound, but the author’s suggestion about accounting being a limitation are found only in retailers that haven’t matured their financial processes or are new to commerce.

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