PROFILE

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 Forbes.com 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.
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  • Posted on: 03/30/2020

    Should working in retail warehouses be safer than stores?

    If it were up to me, I would assign a worker to every row (or a specific section) and put drop points at the end of each row for someone else to sweep and pick up, in order to deliver to sortation or consolidation. This requires a lot of rework in how waves are designed, and how orders get consolidated for pack and ship. But it's the safest way to minimize contact inside the building. Amazon is famous for not using any traditional wave methods that minimize worker travel - there are reports of people walking 10 miles or more during an 8-hour shift, all across giant warehouses, which is ridiculous and makes for easy spread of the virus if someone is sick and doesn't know it. Likewise, Amazon acquired Kiva Systems which would also minimize contact because it brings the items to sorters - provided the sorting stations are far enough apart. But that technology is no longer available to anyone else. One last thing - Amazon is also famous for creating choke points out of their locations by requiring employees to go through metal detectors (and Amazon doesn't have to pay for the wait time, which can be up to 45 minutes). I wonder how those are going right now?
  • Posted on: 03/23/2020

    Costco is refusing returns on hoarded items

    I thought this was a very good move and people who were attempting to profiteer or hoard just for the sake of hoarding deserve to get left stuck with a lifetime supply of goods they can't return. I also think Costco and others who can should put limits not just on single-visit purchases, but on repeat buying. Like, "you have exceeded your monthly allotment of toilet paper" in addition to "you can't buy more than two packs today." They have the data and shopper visibility to do it. An uncontrolled free market leads to people getting shot in parking lots or aisles. Let's not let it get to that point!
  • Posted on: 03/17/2020

    Retailers act to protect seniors from coronavirus shopping chaos and contamination

    In my neighborhood (and, it seems, many others around the country), this is already happening. After seeing stories of elderly people crying in the parking lots of grocery stores because they're afraid to go in, not only have stores responded by having morning hours exclusively for those at greater risk from the virus (which gives them first pick of essentials before the hoarders rush in), but younger generations in the neighborhood have stepped up to be personal shoppers so that at-risk people don't even have to leave their homes. While several retailers here offer home delivery, those services have been overwhelmed so even volunteers doing the shopping for their neighbors have made a difference. There's only so much that retailers can do - the pressure is on CPG and grocery, leaving a lot of other retailers with completely closed stores and real questions about what to do next or when they can do anything at all. I think when we come out of this, people will remember the companies that did everything they could -- even if it is only to make people smile or consists of having hours that help the most at-risk -- vs. the ones who do nothing at all.
  • Posted on: 03/10/2020

    Will rival retailers buy Amazon’s ‘Just Walk Out’ technology?

    To me this smells a lot like trying to copy Alibaba's New Retail concept. The problem is, Amazon has not been a friend to other retailers or brands for so long that I just don't know that they can overcome the trust factor by simply saying "we promise we won't use your data." With Alibaba, they came up with an offering that helps the SMB retailer become more connected, and then separately also helped much bigger chains put more digital experiences in stores. To me, Just Walk Out feels more like something that addresses the former - the mom-and-pop shop - rather than having an impact at a chain store of significant volume. But they're going to have to be turnkey if they're offering it to mom-and-pops - there's no way they can implement this on their own. And that bodega in Manhattan might not have the power or the internet access to realistically make it work anyway.
  • Posted on: 03/02/2020

    Will coffee subscriptions raise some dough for Panera?

    I have to imagine that they did this with eyes wide open after running their loyalty program for a few years. If the benefits they got in their test scale as they expand the program, then I would say kudos to Panera for demonstrating how to use loyalty data wisely: identify a pattern of behavior that you can target to shift in a way that drives the results you want. Even better, do it in a way that makes customers feel delighted, special, and appreciated, and you've got a winning combination...
  • Posted on: 02/28/2020

    Are email marketers adapting to modern realities?

    While I would love for intelligence and differentiation in frequency, timing, and subject line from the brands that I would like to hear from, the reality is still far away from this being "table stakes" - as my personal inbox reveals, and everyone else I talk to as well. "I can't wait for my email from XX Retailer!" says no one, ever. And while email still pays, I just don't know that it will hold as the primary driver of engagement with consumers in the future. Teens just don't check email. Will that change as they enter the workforce? Will employers have to just give it up and move all communication to Slack? Does that mean brands need to figure out how to be there for customer groups too? Or just Facebook Messenger? I think that's a bigger question than whether the content is engaging - it doesn't matter how engaging the content is if no one opens it in the first place.
  • Posted on: 02/26/2020

    Will a CEO’s crowdsourcing plea save Modell’s Sporting Goods?

    This is the big question for retailers in the next decade: do you have the capital to make the investment it is going to take to modernize (read: digitally transform) your company? I don't know in the case of Modell's specifically, but you have to ask: how is this money going to be used? If it's just to stabilize business as usual, that's throwing good money after bad. It's okay to tap into passion for a brand - if consumers really love the brand then they should be willing to put some money towards trying to save it. If the crowdsourcing fails, though, that's pretty telling as to the obstacles that Modell's faces - far more than structural issues, if consumers don't see the company as relevant in their lives then there are very few actions the company can take that will save it in the face of that level of disaffection.
  • 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 Buzzfeed.com. 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.

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