PROFILE

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 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: 06/02/2020

    Will dollar stores be the biggest post-COVID-19 winners?

    Although dollar stores will continue to do well, the opportunities to gain market share will be on hold for a while. The dollar store is not focused on opportunities like apparel or other non-essentials, the places where the greatest market share can be gained. They will still compete with strong players like Target and Walmart and grocers, and the downward trend in employment and similar may be offset by stimulus and some recovery. They still might come out as the big winners in growth and sales, but not at the expense of some of the other winners in terms of market share. For question two, there’s not much to take advantage of. Chains with other store formats would be hard pressed to make the same changes from a format perspective and the underlying growth for dollar stores is still heavily tied to price. Going low cost will be difficult for those not already there.
  • Posted on: 06/01/2020

    Retail ensnared in nationwide protests

    Moving words Ryan and nicely put. This is a societal issue at its heart. The problem is that nothing changes. This cycle will repeat itself, even with the extremes of wanton destruction. The action steps taken in the past have been polished so much that they have little actual impact or effect.
  • Posted on: 06/01/2020

    Retail ensnared in nationwide protests

    What an enormous tragedy. But it is not new, and the proverbial camel’s back has broken yet again. The community leadership of retailers like Target’s Brian Cornell serve to set the right tone - but it is not enough. There is injustice that needs to be righted, restitutions to be made, and changes to take place. It will require all leaders to revisit diversity and inclusion and make it part of a new path to reconstruction. Widespread looting doesn’t provide retail with many options. Closing stores and making it more difficult to loot without putting people in harm's way is the only option. Anarchy doesn’t have a defined counter action plan - except maybe letting it fizzle out and then introducing strong leadership.
  • Posted on: 05/29/2020

    Is purposeful giving an answer to retail’s inventory glut?

    Although a noble gesture, and perhaps even positive for corporate brand image, retail giving doesn’t really offer the right solution. It sometimes doesn’t really move the inventory at all, at least in terms of holding costs. Almost 80-90% of donated clothing ends up in a landfill anyway according to the EPA. In addition, organizations like Goodwill or Goods360 don’t have the warehouse space to manage such large quantities of apparel and other goods, much less organize and distribute it. The world consumed (pre COVID-19) about 80 billion pieces of clothing every year.
  • Posted on: 05/28/2020

    Retailers focus on making safe spaces for customers and associates

    @Phil -- clearly many options for retailers to adopt, but customers will still take some time readjusting to the new steady state. What you describe sounds like something that could be done even without a pandemic, and catering to the almighty customer experience (CX). I’m still surprised that retailers haven’t recognized that there are clear parallels between responding in a crisis as to responding during normal operations -- the key factor is CX. I think it’s more about delivering what the customer wants rather than reducing time in store. Customer needs differ and she might be seeking communication, safety, excitement, product availability, expert advice or even company. The grab and go convenience can certainly be part of it. But the basic premise hasn’t changed; retailers' ability to deliver the right experiences will matter the most, regardless of whether there is a pandemic or not.
  • Posted on: 05/27/2020

    Are store brands set for a big growth spurt?

    Private label will continue to grow. Since 2015 through mid 2019, private label grew by $14B in the US. Interestingly, it has grown more in stores with many premium brands than those that sell primarily private label brands such as Aldi or Lidl. Basically a factor of 11% growth vs 4% decline for grocery. As with any downturn, lower costs remain attractive and private label will thrive. What is needed are solutions that can help spur private label goods on beyond just organic growth, especially with the "premiumization" of private label in the market. Target has set a trend by not skimping on quality for their Good and Gather label. Other retailers will follow, and the pandemic will provide a slightly positive bump in accelerating this trend.
  • Posted on: 05/26/2020

    Should Apple and other stores require shopper temperature checks?

    For what it’s worth, temperature checks have some innate flaws:
    • Symptoms such as fever take 4-6 days from infection to occur;
    • Temperatures as a symptom don’t always show. Customers can be asymptomatic with this particular virus;
    • Temperature checking devices (contactless) are expensive and inaccurate;
    • Customers can easily bypass the check by taking medication or even a piece of ice.
    • The costs outweigh the value of the check for employee management, risk to employees, and customers' inconvenience;
    • Those with a high fever probably won’t be going to the store anyway.
    It’s a measurement without a control or clarity into impact -- almost a useless test. However, it might catch a couple of people trying to sneak in or some that don’t know they are sick yet. Is that enough to justify it? Depends on the retailer and their management team.
  • Posted on: 05/26/2020

    Lowe’s and Home Depot get a boost as customers stay-at-home

    Short term: accessibility to stores. Despite the general safety trends, there’re still many close encounters at both Lowe’s and Home Depot and 6 foot rules are hard to enforce. Accessibility includes BOPIS and online product availability as well as market presence. Regionally, the home supply stores are doing well as evidenced by the data Tom shared. Medium term: Delivery capabilities. Typically, the stores have three delivery options -- pickup, ecommerce delivery and direct-from-store delivery (usually through a 3rd party) usually via truck. These have to improve scheduling and ensure that the service can deliver on time. Same-day, 1-2 day, or scheduled delivery needs to be worked out. We’ll see new opportunities in how delivery, tool rentals and on-site work is set up and executed as DIY turns into larger jobs and contractor jobs.
  • Posted on: 05/21/2020

    Bob Mariano has plans to create a great ‘next-gen’ grocery store

    This will be an exciting experiment with several factors that make it significant:
    • Opening a chain in the throes of a recession and pandemic;
    • Building an experience-focused store when customers are under house-arrest;
    • A focus on small format stores;
    • A focus on localized assortments.
    I can’t wait to see this one out the door - any of these factors would be amazing and any level of success here will lead to a very strong business foundation, given the challenges. The stores will be nicely tied to local communities and locked into the both e-commerce and physical purchasing - including BOPIS and curbside. Lastly, a clean start avoids the baggage of existing property contracts, distribution constraints and access to customers. This will be one to watch...
  • Posted on: 05/15/2020

    Are Amazon’s at-cost face shields an act of goodwill or predatory behavior?

    Frankly it doesn’t matter. They’re making them for an urgent need. If it’s for PR or just magnanimity, the end result is positive.
  • Posted on: 05/14/2020

    Should grocers keep paying their associates like heroes?

    The retail industry and grocery in particular have always had high employee turnover. Despite the value provided, the current economy, especially with loss of jobs in the transportation and hospitality industry (think Uber or Hilton) will have many workers ready to step into the grocery retail space with little job specialist skills needed. Everyone is learning as they go. Although disappointing from a purely economical point of view, there is excess manpower -- even for risky jobs. The PR backlash is the key concern, but while consumers are thinking about themselves and their own health, it’s unlikely that the PR backlash will be substantial. However for companies that do take the long term view, they will be rewarded with a workforce that will be highly loyal and committed to great service and delivery. Companies like Costco - who already compensated their employees well - and perhaps in the future Walmart and other retailers can boast a higher level of talent ROI and lower turnover.
  • Posted on: 05/13/2020

    Americans are shopping more impulsively online

    I found little data supporting or denying this phenomenon other than this study. The pandemic introduces risks to purchase in the store and the nature of online still allows buying impulsively. Without a doubt, those who can afford it will probably indulge some of the time. The inherent obstacles of getting in your car, driving to a store, parking and engaging in the store environment with the products in front of you as a form of retail therapy are just not there online - and effectively, product recommendations are replacing the retail therapy (at least temporarily) that customers acquired from their store impulse buying experience. Personally, I believe this is definitely a way to at least pretend that we’ve gone on a shopping trip.
  • Posted on: 05/12/2020

    PepsiCo launches direct-to-consumer sites for its brands

    Pepsi is smart to jump on this trend. According to eMarketer, D2C has been growing for the past five years and grew almost 18 percent YoY in 2019. Although it’s predicted to slow down a bit, there is still double digit growth expected in D2C. Companies like Pepsi will continue with high demand in grocery without D2C, but it provides a new avenue to sell and less reliance on the retailer. For other types of manufacturers, especially those not in a grocery or c-store distribution model, it becomes almost a necessity as their distribution networks have effectively been shut down during the pandemic and purchase orders have come to a standstill. We’ll see more suppliers resorting to their own commerce sites as D2C continues to grow, pandemic or not.
  • Posted on: 05/11/2020

    Neiman Marcus must survive both bankruptcy and COVID-19

    The luxury market was heavily hit by COVID-19, in the range of 25-35%. But this doesn’t push out select players as actual growth numbers vary worldwide from +40% to negative percentages, according to an April McKinsey article -- meaning some retailers were substantially affected more, even within the same segment and price points. More important is that luxury customers still have resources, money, and a will to purchase luxury goods. They are the wealthiest of all groups and the limitations of COVID-19 are primarily skewed towards accessibility. This means retailers in this space need to adjust their ways of connecting with customers and offer easier and alternate ways to shop. Neiman and other luxury retailers will continue to have customers going forward and for most luxury retailers, the high margin products will support the decrease in customers. This is more a slowing of growth than an exit from business.
  • Posted on: 05/07/2020

    Is curbside pickup just getting started?

    Ditto. Customer connections are enhanced -- it’s the personal touch and how they hand off the goods that forces a contact and a personal greeting, maybe even a callout by the customers name, where before they may have just gone through a self-checkout or watched as the cashier rung up goods. Curbside improves the customer experience.

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