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: 01/22/2020

    Has BOPIS changed holiday selling?

    During the holidays, retailers with BOPIS have the advantage, even if online players could deliver same-day. Holiday BOPIS shopping gives customers the choice of picking up, wrapping and adding their own "personal" touches to gifting such as cards, ribbons, flowers, and more. The last minute guarantee is just as powerful, with reliability that the store has the product you’re looking to gift. Add to that the saved shipping expenses and being able to hide the gift from the recipient instead of having them spot it on the porch, retailers and customers have a win-win. To improve BOPIS, retailers to need to optimize pick and pack, have clean inventory and up to date real time access to inventory, and have products available for pick up in convenient ways -- scheduling, curbside, and more. BOPIS will continue to grow in popularity.
  • Posted on: 01/21/2020

    Does convenience trump price for today’s consumer?

    Both price and convenience matter to the customer and the importance depends in part on the customer’s circumstances. It’s very dynamic, fluid, and individual. When looking for paper towels on the road for a picnic, it will come down to convenience. When it’s buying in bulk for the year, it’s price. While selecting new jewelry for an anniversary, it’s price (and quality). But having it delivered because they forgot to order it in time is all convenience. The retailer needs to address the customer’s context, any attempts at generalizing which is more important doesn’t make much sense. What retailers must do is find ways to address as broad a scope as possible per their own business strategy. For a c-store for example, it’s about offering convenience in the store. For an electronics gaming shop it’s price online. The mix is fluid per the retailer’s own strategy.
  • Posted on: 01/20/2020

    Is Bose doing the smart thing in closing its stores?

    With the technological edges from the 90’s-00’s erased, the stores are not as critical to Bose being able to sell their most advanced technologies. The cost of operating these stores would be a cost that no longer brings in conversion in the speakers and headphone markets. Bose can continue to put their dollars to marketing tasks such as on the NFL coaches' headsets or in prime Best Buy locations -- plus offer their products through online direct-to-consumer channels. Good move on Bose’s part to reduce investments that were most likely break even, freeing up needed cash.
  • Posted on: 01/13/2020

    Is ‘re-commerce’ going mainstream?

    This is not going mainstream, but it will continue to grow. Despite the hype and market innuendo, predictions, etc., fashion is driven by daily engagement. The best products are not the ones where you buy the apparel to wear it at a special event. Rather the best product is the adored fashion item you go to the special event to wear. Re-commerce will not replace the fashion trends and the eco-consciousness is not the savior. Department stores like J.C. Penney are not turning around due to the ThredUP relationship. Companies like RealReal are struggling to make a profit. The business model for re-commerce is missing the business component. At best, it will turn out to be something like the used aftermarket auto parts industry. An important part of retail, but not the driving institution by any means.
  • Posted on: 01/10/2020

    Will endless aisles and better supply chain management negate Amazon’s edge?

    Amazon will continue to have an edge. Why? Because they have deep vertical integration into the supply chain through FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon) and supplier vetting programs and a competitive supply chain where suppliers are competing for the business. That said, Amazon’s engagement and treatment of their supplier ecosystem is still taxing and even minor mistakes or circumstance can drive poor performance for suppliers for short periods of time. Retailers need to think about their own houses and not worry about Amazon. Despite growth, it’s not overwhelmingly eating into retailers' businesses - that shakeout has come and gone. Retailers have the advantage of optimizing their own, typically smaller supply chains. The endless aisle scenario and better supply chain management are table stakes and need to work, but will give little advantage over Amazon’s business model. Retailers can use some innovation in application and strong supply chain management tools as a push - but the first step is collecting and understanding data about what and to whom they are selling.
  • Posted on: 01/09/2020

    Will coffee drinkers miss single-use cups?

    From a strictly business perspective, this doesn’t change much except increase costs for those who don’t bring their own cups. However I can see less trash, less in-store space needed, and less branding opportunity as everyone will have their own cups. Carrying the cup back and forth can be a hassle. As someone else on this thread mentioned, regular customers will continue to use the services and may get used to the new reusable cups they use with the deposit fee. I suspect location will matter most as to whether there's any sizable backlash -- and customers unwilling to pay $3-$5 extra will be hunting for a new coffee shop. Noble journey, but they’re opening themselves up to competition on convenience and that depends on the rest of their business model.
  • Posted on: 01/07/2020

    Will 3-D printing tech change the footwear industry?

    3-D printing is still a novelty for the most part and it’s not gained enough momentum to hit critical mass. However, the potential is there. Ironically, not only is it about comfort and experience, but mostly about price and scale as Matthew notes. A 3-D printer, even industrial grade, will take far longer to create shoes than other manufacturing methods. Add in the cost of filament, infill, and layer density, and the costs can be quite high for the custom made shoe in plastic (or other materials like liquid rubber). We’ll see the opening up of this industry in the future with increased adoption and lower costs - but not anytime soon. I suspect it will evolve something like self-published books if done at the consumer level. There will be some that knock it out of the park, but most will be hidden gems, customized for uncle Fred’s spin class.
  • Posted on: 01/06/2020

    Study: Digital commerce sites competing and collaborating with Amazon

    For online competitors the game is already skewed against them - especially if they don’t have a physical presence. The survey left out some critical options -- most important being the one that successful online vendors have taken advantage of, partnerships and deeper vendor relationships with physical store chains. Partnering like Disney and Target, Macy’s Story, Petco and JustFoodForDogs, and Nordstrom and Nike, et. al. have taken advantage of pop-up stores, store-within-stores and relationships with larger chains to engage customers where Amazon can’t. As a matter of fact, Amazon has done the same with Whole Foods and Kohl’s. None of the items on the survey list are defensible (for growth) for an online retailer and only options where they can own the relationship with the customer will matter. Loyalty is the closest to this, but also the most difficult to attain for an online vendor. Finding and creating partnerships is a key factor for success. Coopetition is real.
  • Posted on: 01/03/2020

    Which retailer will rule in 2020?

    Costco. This chain has ~788 stores, with each of them earning over $183 million in 2019 based on Kantar estimates. They’ve been able to expand into China where other retailers haven’t. Despite a dip in earnings at the end of 2019, they still grew at over 5 percent with little sign of slowing down. Globally other players for top retailer include Schwarz Group (Lidl/Kaufland), Aldi, and Ahold Delhaize - all of which have a majority of sales outside their home markets. Global expansion will be an important component. I would add Target and Best Buy to the list for ongoing growth and innovation as honorable mentions. Some of the other larger ones are also growing substantially (Walmart, Kroger, JD, Amazon) but I'm not sure they fit the retailer of the year designation. We’ll also see continued success with discount retailers--TJX, Ross, Dollar Tree, Dollar General et. al. Can’t wait to see what 2020 brings across the retail sector.
  • Posted on: 12/27/2019

    Holiday bonuses are tricky (or nonexistent)

    Unfortunately what Bob mentions is true -- it’s difficult to track down the influencers of the sale. However, for end of year bonuses, it really comes down to the company as a whole. For holidays, bonuses should be companywide and a general appreciation of employees for the ongoing growth and profit of the company. Non-holiday specific bonuses should be distributed for bringing in more dollars -- preferably against prior goals. Such bonuses should be immediate, not postponed and given as soon as performance is known. These should be separate from holiday bonuses. Management are not always the influencers, but sometimes they are. With high turnover in the industry, it will always be a challenge to manage compensation for management. The best retailers work with comp experts to define comp structures that are both motivational and have results towards continual improvement.
  • Posted on: 12/23/2019

    Is BOPIS over its growing pains?

    BOPIS is just getting started. Retailers have started to figure out that it truly provides a powerful incentive for many customers - and retailers are finding ways to optimize it within their store and distribution structures. Many of these structures are highly unique with requirements from warehousing in offsite locations, integrated inventories, attribution and updating of in-store inventories and in-store pick and pack for the customer. None of these are trivial and as BOPIS gains traction, retailers will continue to build experience. The biggest factor for BOPIS still comes down to price across the year and availability during holidays. The challenge for retailers will continue to be maintaining availability of products locally when customers want them. Watch for AI to become a differentiator here.
  • Posted on: 12/20/2019

    Shoplifting gets wild and goes viral

    For community service Target has a powerful program. This builds and feeds into reputation as well as impacting shrinkage positively. The trends are tying loss prevention to organized crime - maybe not syndicates, but definitely groups who coordinate crime against retailers. Organizations like LPRC attempt to work on solutions to address this, but are also seeking technology solutions to fighting shrink. It’s almost on par with employee embezzlement. At large retailers, teams of people managed security in the past. Today it’s a single person in a camera room with a radio. Employees are instructed not to engage with the criminal and the expectations are post-event engagement by the police as larger thefts are typically committed by known suspects. The community is always the source as retail theft is mostly local.
  • Posted on: 12/17/2019

    Why is Amazon banning FedEx ground delivery?

    For Amazon, this is tied more to operations and on using the lowest cost provider, which currently seems to be Amazon. Already well known is the fact that they’ve been upping their logistics game for some time now -- new fleet of planes, freighters, drivers, and more. FedEx is either unwilling to drop prices or reduce time to deliver. Basically, Amazon is not FedEx, which has 10 times the air fleet as Amazon, and has an 85,000 vehicle truck fleet -- at least 4x the size of the proposed Amazon truck fleet of 20k vans they plan to purchase or the 100k trucks on pre-order. Amazon is great at pre-announcing and setting the marketing stage, which may just be what they are doing here. To some degree, Amazon might also be able to point to FedEx as the scapegoat for late arrivals during a heavy delivery season. Whatever the differences, the timing will not be too impactful as most regular Amazon customers have moved to Prime already. This can serve as a further incentive/persuasion to shift to Prime. It was already indicated that this will affect a small number of shippers. For impact, little tarnishing of any brands, but it does uncover the true nature of Amazon as fiercely business focused -- their business of course.
  • Posted on: 12/13/2019

    Is there any limit to how many stores Dollar General can open?

    Unlike larger stores, convenience, dollar, QSR, and gas stations have a substantial amount of impulse buying, smaller store influence radius and are usually not destination sites. The smaller format stores will be a welcome addition in many communities and with modern tech like BOPIS and scan and go, will offer true expansion of Dollar General’s commodity merchandise. A good move for a fast growing retailer. The store format effectively reduces opening, hiring, and leasing costs while the company will have an easier time optimizing their store locations over time. Other discount retailers like Dollar Tree, Walmart and TJX with their recent digital launch at Marshall’s also experiment in omnichannel services and this will be a new area of competition that they will need to navigate better to stay ahead.
  • Posted on: 12/11/2019

    One of the best Christmas commercials ever cost almost nothing to make

    Kids in grown up roles have always been popular. The "When I Grow Up" Super Bowl ads from 1999, for example. Cost $4MM to make and was a significant factor in turning from a $40mm company into a $1B one. The magic is about going viral and that’s where it becomes a challenge. The Haford commercial really brings out heart, caring, and dedication -- something that all retailers are chasing through personalization and other ways. Those who have it and can harness it for public consumption will have the advantage.

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