Gary Sankary

Retail Industry Strategy, Esri

I am a 45 year veteran of the retail industry. My career started in the back room of my father’s shoe store. His advice to me when I went to college, “Don’t go into retail”.

After 27 years in executive leadership at Target, I now work for Esri. Here, I get to survey the retail industry holistically. I evangelize location intelligence and help retailers unlock the local insights the need to better engage customers, preform local market analysis and make key decision about store and facility optimization.

Everything in retail happens in a specific place for a reason. Location intelligence can help you understand that reason.

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  • Posted on: 10/30/2020

    Will Walmart’s new lab stores cook up something big?

    Back in the day there was an adage in retail that the worst job to have was a department manager in the flagship store that was in the same building as the buyers. Your department was the test site for the rest of the chain. Any tactic that provides a retailer with more real data about what their customers are experiencing when they shop is a good thing. This gives them a more controlled environment to test new concepts and monitor customers' reactions. I would expect that this would accelerate new ideas and allow Walmart to bring innovation to their customers even faster. And to be honest, I'm sure the store managers around Bentonville are pretty happy about this as well, as I'd bet they've been the test labs for a long time.
  • Posted on: 10/29/2020

    Will J.C. Penney be renewed under new ownership?

    I would be more optimistic if this were a merchandising company with experience fashion retailing rather than a commercial real estate company trying to keep anchors open in their centers. J.C. Penney finds themselves in the unenviable position of having to recover market share from competitors who have done a better job being relevant and interesting to their core shopper. To implement the strategy laid out by Ms. Soltau, they have to do a better job of understanding who their customers are and what they really want. Doing same thing over and over again, as was the pattern at J.C. Penney, will not produce the results they need -- for J.C. Penney or Brookfield.
  • Posted on: 10/29/2020

    Kohl’s triples down on active lifestyle categories

    Apparel is a trend driven business. At the moment casual athletic wear is the hot topic. Kohl's knows this well and their assortments reflect that trend. For now. The more important questions to ask are, how successful are they at identifying fashion trends quickly and how well do they know their customers and connect with them and the fashion trends they think are going to be important? My observation is they do a really good job in this space, so I think this is a pretty low risk strategy. Who knows, In 12 months we may all be longing for opportunities to get out of sweats and put on suits and ties again. Yikes.
  • Posted on: 10/28/2020

    DTC brand Mack Weldon proves a good fit for consumers living through the pandemic

    One common attribute that is apparent about successful retailers during the pandemic is speed. Organizations that are nimble and able to adapt to changing consumer buying patterns and demand signals have been able to find success. Kudos to Mack Weldon for being able to pivot successfully. The pandemic has compressed adoption cycles for consumers in digital and touch free commerce. Retailers who responded have been rewarded. Retailers who have stuck to a business-as-usual strategy, treating the pandemic as something that will pass so we can get back to normal -- they are struggling.
  • Posted on: 10/27/2020

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

    We have been waiting for retailers to announce their plans for 2020 Black Friday. Last week Target came out with a plan that spreads Black Friday over the entire month of November. They're also offering shoppers the option to check lines at their local Target and, if they're long, they can book an appointment and then receive a notification when it's their turn to shop. I'll be curious to see how this works, but on the surface it seems very interesting. I would guess we'll see announcements from other retailers about beefed up support for curbside pickup and faster level of service commitments for online orders. I'll also be interested to see how they handle returns after the holidays, that's also a pinch point in stores. Can there be touch free returns?
  • Posted on: 10/27/2020

    Chipotle battles escalating delivery costs

    I honestly think consumers expect there to be a premium for delivery. The delivery services are transparent about their charges. I think it makes sense for the restaurant to charge more for delivery as well. It would make sense for them to line item delivery fees instead of trying to manage two menus, and would give customers the transparency they would like to make decisions about ordering in or going out for pick up.
  • Posted on: 10/26/2020

    Google Shopping makes price comparisons easier

    I seem to have to remind myself from time to time that Google is an advertising platform first and foremost. This service gives Google excellent insight into individuals' buying habits in exchange for deals on products. Back in the Dark Ages my mother would open the Sunday paper, put all the grocery ads on the table and make her list by store, cherry picking deals. This is the same service, via an app, with an important difference, the consumer is leaving a trail behind of what they look at. For Google that's the Holy Grail.
  • Posted on: 10/26/2020

    What’s the best recipe for holiday ad messaging during a pandemic?

    Well said, Cathy.
  • Posted on: 10/26/2020

    Where are curbside and BOPIS services falling short?

    Scaling these capabilities continues to be the most acute pain point. As the demand for online pickup picks up, some retailers are struggling with level of service commitments. I've seen two approaches to mitigating this, neither of which are great - requiring the customer to schedule their pickup during a open window sometime in the future, or limiting items available for pickup to non-perishable items. I've also seen inventory issues that affect the online and in-store experience. I think the inventory issues have more or less resolved. Replenishment tools have adjusted for increased demand and product availability is much improved. The good news in my opinion is that it will get better as demand signals are more predictable. I also think retailers have built more flexibility into their inventory planning on key items to better react to volatility in demand. To scale I see retailers thinking about their fulfillment processes in-store more like they do in their warehouses; they're consolidating orders, routing pickers through the stores to be more efficient and they're doing a better job with staging in the back room to drive down costs. This is going to be critical in the long run as I do believe customers like these services and will continue to demand them even after the pandemic abates.
  • Posted on: 10/23/2020

    Can Target assure customers they’ll be safe shopping for the holidays?

    Target had been reporting outstanding results during the pandemic. I have to believe that at least part of this has to do with their ongoing commitment to guest and team member safety. They were early adopters of mandatory mask rules and nightly deep cleaning. They were early with touch free options. They really beefed up their curbside capabilities, and they're one of the few grocers that I know of who does not require an appointment to pick up an order. We've all be wondering how retailers are going to balance customer safety with holiday promotions and traffic. Target has a plan and they've been early to communicate it. This is spot on for Target's brand and message during these times. These new measures make a ton of sense and I believe we will continue to see Target rewarded by their guests.
  • Posted on: 10/23/2020

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

    They remained focused on their value proposition. These were well thought of retailers before the pandemic. They continue to do the things that differentiate them now. The key is to understand your customers and to understand your strengths and figure out how to continue to deliver on those strategies in a way that's safe for customers and employees.
  • Posted on: 10/22/2020

    How crucial is last mile fulfillment to 7-Eleven and the c-store channel?

    From a loyalty and engagement perspective this is a win for c-stores. The issue, as it is in other classes of trade, is how to scale it profitably. I think this presents a bigger problem for c-stores where frequency is a key value proposition. These stores typically run on thin margins and very small staffs, adding this to their capabilities would be difficult. They'll need a process to consolidate orders for efficiency, and there will be an impact on in-stocks. Using a third party is an option I'm sure they're looking at, but that doesn't solve the inventory issue. This might be an opportunity for small, localized fulfillment centers in high traffic, urban areas where demand will be heavy. That would take the pressure off the local store to have to manage additional capability and still offer customers the service they're demanding.
  • Posted on: 10/22/2020

    Are immersive technologies ready to build online buying trust?

    In the right categories this makes a lot of sense and is already being implemented. I'm thinking high ticket items, especially items that have to match colors or patterns in a home or office. I don't think this will be the primary online experience however. For most shopping like grocery for example, consumers want to be fast. Walking virtual aisles shopping virtual planograms adds friction to the experience. I have a list, I know what I want, many items are a repeat purchases, I just don't think virtual experiences add value to that shopping trip.
  • Posted on: 10/21/2020

    Will Whole Foods draw more Prime shoppers with one-hour curbside pickup?

    I think this will be popular with Prime customers. At the same time it exacerbates the capacity bottleneck that has been a problem at other grocers. If my next available appointment for pick up is in three days, am I willing to wait? Grocery tends to be a need it now sort of product. If anyone can solve this issue it's Amazon.
  • Posted on: 10/21/2020

    COVID-19 Essentials is a startup designed to end with the pandemic

    This may be a niche too far. The products that people need to protect themselves from COVID-19 are masks, face shields, hand sanitizer, and gloves. These are all products that are available at drugstores, big box stores -- almost everywhere. The initial shock to the supply chain for these items has for the most part, been resolved and availability doesn't seem to be much of a problem. That leaves this retailer with custom masks -- is that enough to make a go in mall? I don't see it.

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