Nikki Baird

VP of Retail Innovation, Aptos
Nikki Baird is the vice president of Retail Innovation at Aptos, a retail enterprise solution provider. She is charged with accelerating retailers’ ability to innovate. She has been a top global retail industry influencer for several years, with a background in retail and technology. She is a regular contributor to and has been quoted as a retail subject matter expert in <i>The Economist, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Huffington Post</i>, and National Public Radio, among many others. Nikki brings perspective from all sides of the retail technology equation: she has been an industry analyst for nearly fifteen years, co-founding Retail Systems Research, the premier boutique analyst firm focused on the retail industry. Prior to co-founding RSR, Nikki was an analyst at both Forrester Research and Retail Systems Alert Group, where she covered retail industry and technology topics. Prior to that, she was director of marketing for StorePerform, a store execution management software provider, and director of product marketing for Viewlocity, a supply chain software provider focusing on adaptive supply chain execution and exception management. Nikki came to Viewlocity from PwC Consulting, now IBM Global Services, where as a senior manager she led IT strategy consulting engagements for retail and CPG clients. Nikki has an M.B.A. from the University of Texas, Austin, focusing on operations and IT. She also holds a bachelor of arts in political science and Russian, with a minor in physics, from the University of Colorado, Boulder.
  • Posted on: 01/23/2020

    Are online advertising platforms a must for retailers?

    Ugh. No. Yes there are some retailers that are large enough to be their own media platforms and monetize traffic to their sites without cannibalizing their own sales in the process, but those are few and well-known: Amazon, Walmart, and take your pick of any of the other marketplaces out there. But outside of companies that exist to sell other people's brands, there is nothing in it but distraction. I don't go to a retailer's website to be advertised to, I go there to shop. For the products they sell. If I wanted to be assaulted by ads, I'd visit I'm sure that brands and the retailers who have the traffic will find some kind of mutually beneficial relationship here. The question is, does the customer win? My answer is no.
  • Posted on: 01/03/2020

    Better-for-you foods produce healthier results for convenience stores

    I saw the most fascinating analysis of the future of c-stores a couple years ago that built its predictions off the rise of electric vehicles, which take longer to charge than it does to fill a gas tank. So their theory was that c-stores will have to become more like cafes or third spaces, rather than the more transient stopping locations they are today. Attracting shoppers with healthier choices seems like a start to that trend. Now we just need to see if electric charging stations start popping up, alongside seating designed for those who need 10-20 minutes to wait, instead of 2-3...
  • Posted on: 12/09/2019

    Why do so many people say ‘no’ to retailer loyalty programs?

    When the programs are too complicated, or it's difficult to track the benefits, I think that's when people are more likely to just opt out all together. I think it's also important to remember the "rule of seven": people in general can't hold more than seven things in their mind and that translates to loyalty programs too (as well as credit cards). If every retailer has a loyalty program, and consumers are only willing to participate in up to seven of them because that's about all they can keep track of, then there are going to be retailers who are going to lose no matter how straightforward their benefits are. Rather than asking, "how do I get more consumers to sign up?" retailers need to ask "how do I make sure my loyalty program is the most important loyalty program to the consumers I care about having the most?"
  • Posted on: 11/13/2019

    Retail apocalypse? How about a disruptor meltdown?

    I'll add one more angle that hasn't been explored yet. Disruption comes from innovation. You can argue whether an innovation is sustainable, or has a strong enough barrier to entry that prevents others from copying the innovation, or whatever. Steve does a great job in pointing that out. But a lot of the challenges facing some of these traditional brands that have acquired these upstarts is the fact that it is really hard to take an acquired innovation and turn it into lasting business value. It is probably THE singular most difficult way to innovate -- acquire another company and try to bring it in house. Perhaps the WeWork implosion and Walmart's write-downs will help people be more considered and a little less enamored of these bright shiny objects, and a little more critical not just of the disruption itself, but also how they could possibly take advantage of it themselves.
  • Posted on: 11/04/2019

    Should McDonald’s CEO have been fired over a ‘consensual relationship’?

    I have to say, out of this story the most surprising part was that the company forbids relationships with employees. That seems a bit draconian. As long as one employee is not in a position to control the fate of the other’s employment, there seem to be plenty of companies who have figured out how to make that work. Even for a CEO, just have someone else be responsible for reviews and evaluations. The fact that a CEO completely ignored these rules - when he had a high probability of being able to change them - speaks to a very large lapse in judgment. That McDonald's chose not to sweep it under a rug as so many other companies have, is important. But I also feel like the company needs to get with the times. People thrown together are going to form relationships. Rather than ban that and expect something inhuman, maybe just try to manage it a little better.
  • Posted on: 10/31/2019

    Are retailers out-of-step with consumers when it comes to price?

    I think there are two things at play here. One, I don't think retailers have fully grasped just how much the order of selection has changed because of the internet. What I mean by that is, consumers used to select WHO to buy from, before they would select WHAT to buy - because they were pretty much only going to go to one place to get the majority of what they need, and there was no other way to figure out who had what other than going there. Today, consumers have reversed the decision: WHAT to buy comes first, and then WHO to buy it from comes next. If you're an exec of a branded manufacturer, you don't really care about the WHO, so long as you win the WHAT. For everyone else, you better care a lot about how you can stand out when it comes to WHO, or else the only way you can win is by offering a better price. Consumers are aware of this - in fact, they can be very sophisticated about gaming this. The other factor at play is brand. Consumers' price sensitivity is highly dependent on whether brand is a part of their decision factor. Sitting in sub-freezing Denver right now, Uggs have become a central brand in my life. Sure, I want the best price I can get for them, but "best price" and promos for Uggs is a very different conversation than best price and promos for someone who doesn't care about Uggs per se. So you have to keep the power of a strong brand in mind always when talking about how price sensitive consumers really are. It's still relative.
  • Posted on: 10/29/2019

    Will six fewer holiday shopping days matter to retail performance?

    What shorter selling season? Didn't you know - holiday shopping starts with Singles Day (11/11) which also happens to be Veterans Day in the U.S. No matter when Thanksgiving falls, there will always be 44 days between 11/11 and 12/25. Retailers who do not plan to that cadence risk leaving value on the table every year.
  • Posted on: 10/28/2019

    REI’s new #OptOutside message: Save the planet

    I think the stakes are higher than they were when REI first started the campaign. The apparel industry is increasingly under fire for wasteful and harmful practices, and for a company that banks on its credibility as a promoter of the outdoors, just saying "go outside" will rapidly not be enough to maintain that credibility. I do believe that REI will have to take a careful approach - to focus on being helpful rather than some kind of enforcer or shamer. But tips and tricks is a good way to manage that, and I like that they're taking a long view, beyond just Black Friday. REI was groundbreaking in #OptOutside. It looks like they're not willing to rest on their laurels with that one - and that is a credibility generator all by itself.
  • Posted on: 10/17/2019

    Is e-grocery less convenient than shopping in stores?

    I am eternally fascinated by this question and have used my own household many times as guinea pigs. My husband does our weekly grocery shopping, but I'm the one that does the meal planning. Plus we have three other people in our household who have strong opinions about what they want from the store. Finding a list app that works for all of us has been nearly impossible. My husband - by all rights a tech-boy - refuses to shop online for groceries for reasons that I don't understand beyond "it's way easier to just go to the store." And definitely the amount of work that would be required to maintain an inventory of my pantry makes using recipes as a starting point for a shopping list also impossible. I feel like this is an area that is ripe (haha) for new approaches. Many grocery e-commerce sites are still very low on product content, which inhibits the ability to use facets to get to what you want, and many facets don't take advantage of the decades of behavioral science that has gone into shelf approach (what's the most important facet for coffee? It's if it's whole bean or not, not actually whether it's caffeinated). Different sizes in packaging are easy to convey physically, difficult to convey online - resulting in a lot of price confusion. Retailers with club cards have decades of data they could use to personalize and help give consumers a leg up in building a shopping list, but few of those initiatives have stuck - as if retailers are afraid of revealing what kinds of insights they could potentially get from customer shopping data (assuming they ever invested enough in it to get insights out). So... that leaves a lot of room to make online grocery shopping better. But there's a lot of legwork needed to get there.
  • Posted on: 10/10/2019

    Personalized promos add up to a ‘win-win’ for retailers and consumers

    It's interesting to me that the effects fade over time. Even though they found you have to "be patient" and give it like nine months to get the full benefits of personalized promos, it's still something of a sugar-hit, rather than something that is sustainable. I have long been a fan of personalized pricing, especially as a way to overcome price transparency challenges, where zone or segmented pricing is exposed thanks to online. "That may be THE price, but here's YOUR price." However my enthusiasm for it has declined some, given the rise of AI in personalization and the lack of significant guardrails to prevent AI from making bad assumptions - for example, not offering discounts on premium items to people who live in poor communities (as some retailers got in trouble with in the U.K.). If there is any discriminatory bias in the person or the offer, then retailers are at risk of violating regulations - and wrecking their reputation with consumers.
  • Posted on: 10/07/2019

    What if stores innovated like restaurants?

    It is easy to dismiss the Taco Bell hotel as a PR stunt and leave it at that. But that is missing so much of the point. Taco Bell could have spent the money they spent decorating that hotel on advertising and saturated every digital and media touchpoint, and it would not have yielded anything close to the buzz, the free press - every travel blogger in the world was obligated to report first hand - and the boost to the Bell's reputation that they're cool and fun and not afraid to try things, all a result of simply buying "hot sauce throw pillows" (which they can now probably auction off on eBay). Consumers' hearts and minds may be won by high quality service or low, low prices. But you never get an at-bat if you can't break into the bubbles of their lives. Advertising isn't enough to do it, even digital advertising. It has to be something that has personality, that shows that you're more than just a corporate straitjacket, that you know how to connect with consumers long before they walk into your store. THAT is what retail is missing. As to why: I've long held a theory that because retailers operate so publicly (in no other industry is your strategy literally on display) they tend to be overly protective of everything else. You can almost never get a retailer to talk about their technology investment successes ("but it's our secret sauce") and, likewise, their social media is locked down tight - safe, bland, not offensive to anyone. And also not engaging in any way.
  • Posted on: 09/30/2019

    Will consumers go for Kroger’s food hall concept?

    I would say that food halls are definitely a natural complement to downtown areas these days. Whether grocery stores can find enough customers there now to also be successful remains an open question. Whole Foods has opened an urban location in Denver, and there are various food hall-like locations nearby. That Whole Foods location kind of feels like a food hall in its design, in that even for them it offers a lot more emphasis on prepared and grab and go, even restaurant style take-out. So that part of Kroger's strategy makes sense - you have to serve a greater range and meet the demand for "do it for me" everything, from packaging it together so I can make it at home to just making it for me and serving it to me. As far as the potential competition goes, you have to think more about the food hall as the traffic driver, and the grocery store serving the "fill in trip" function that people go to after their meal - "Oh yeah, I forgot I need tortillas for tonight's dinner" (or whatever it may be). No urban location is going to serve a big pantry/full shopping cart run, so you might as well embrace capturing whatever other trips you can, even if that means people fill one meal need by paying a nearby restaurant for that meal before they go shopping at your store.
  • Posted on: 09/24/2019

    Do retailers need better business intelligence tools or a better analytic strategy?

    I still see too many retailers who approach analytics as a free-for-all. Business functions get to define their own metrics, often based on what they can get out of reporting off of operational systems, with IT along for the ride, trying to reconcile different ways of defining the same metric across multiple areas of the business. And when operational reporting isn't enough, because there is no common language for sharing results across the business, they turn to spreadsheets as the expedient approach to get what they need, rather than wrestle with IT to do it right in the first place. If ever there was an area of the retail enterprise that cried out for top-down leadership, it's analytics. Letting each department define how they want to track their business area for themselves is like letting the accounting department say they want to operate in Spanish, the merchandising department in Chinese, the store ops group in Russian, etc. If that sounds ridiculous, just try asking each of those groups to define "sales."
  • Posted on: 09/10/2019

    Will a loyalty program give Americans more reasons to shop at Target?

    My Target store has been trialing the Circle program for the last few months, and I have to say at this point all I am is confused. I don't understand the benefits, I don't understand what it gives me that is different than Cartwheel, I just don't get it. I use the Target app and the mobile wallet to pay, and at this point just ignore everything else because I don't want to have to invest that much time in figuring it out. I would take that as a bad sign overall for the program's prospects to move the needle in anything more than the short term. I sure seem to be down on Target lately! But there are several things they've done recently that just have not resonated with me, and Circle is definitely one of those. Let's hope they resonate better with other customers.
  • Posted on: 09/09/2019

    Will Apple’s texting tool create more personalized shopping experiences at Burberry?

    I think key to this kind of capability is providing a way to connect directly between consumers and associates without violating the privacy of either group. Burberry tackled this by connecting one app to another, I assume in a way that masks the contact info of both the associate and the consumer. Also key to the success of an initiative like this is providing management and corporate visibility into the chats that happen - to make sure that nothing inappropriate happens from either side, and to learn from the best and most engaging associates, so that all associates can benefit (and shoppers too!).

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