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: 07/09/2020

    How blemished are beauty retailers by COVID-19?

    While "make-up" has taken a hit, "personal care" definitely has not. If a retailer or brand is defining themselves too narrowly, then they will feel the pain of these consumer shifts. But if a company is taking a broad view, they should be making internal shifts to center more on skin health than on "beauty products" per se. The challenge of consumer shifts is a way bigger problem than the challenge of in-store trials. Beauty boxes and trial boxes had a heyday and then kind of faded away, so maybe it's time to start those up again, but I would definitely focus on care over beauty. Will that change when people start going back to the office? I've seen beauty influencers do things like emphasize eye makeup, since that's what you can see over the mask, so I don't think it's a total loss for makeup.
  • Posted on: 07/07/2020

    Has the pandemic changed shopping behaviors forever?

    I think it is a mistake to build lasting plans around lasting consumer behavior shifts. The one thing retailers and brands should take away from the pandemic is not specific customer changes, but the fact that customer needs and expectations can change at a moment's notice. The retailers who will win aren't those that make "permanent" decisions and investments about "permanent" consumer shifts. The retailers who win the future will do so by building organizations that can keep up with these rapid shifts over the long term.
  • Posted on: 07/02/2020

    Do Americans want retailers to keep their social distance after COVID-19 is gone?

    It's very easy to worry that these things will make it harder for retailers to sell because they limit the retailer's ability to engage with (upsell/cross-sell) consumers. But I've long contended that if you make a customer's life better, they will give you more loyalty. That includes if you make their lives safer and more convenient. Curbside pickup might result in reduced basket size, but it might translate into higher retention rates and frequency of purchase - and higher lifetime value as well. Plus there are opportunities to get creative here. I know one retailer who, if the opportunity presents itself, will have store associates call or text customers while picking the order they're coming in to pick up to offer an upsell. It's auto parts, so it's a pretty easy upsell: "Hey, I saw you're buying new wiper blades. I just wanted to check, do you need wiper fluid too?" I'm not sure that this translates to fashion, for example. But new constraints imposed on how consumers want to interact with a retailer just means that retailers need to get more creative.
  • Posted on: 07/01/2020

    Anti-mask shoppers find themselves publicly shamed

    When talking to Aptos customers about how they planned to handle this, by far the majority opinion was that they did not want to force their employees to be "enforcers." They would provide masks as much as they could to people who don't have them, and they would ask people to wear masks, but would not take direct enforcement action unless store associates' safety was threatened. However, with rising numbers of cases and the risk of infection spiraling out of control, the stakes are higher than ever. Masks are the reason why stores could possibly be open in the first place. I think retailers need to be very blunt and use a very large font on signs at entrances to set expectations: to come inside, you MUST wear a mask. If you're not able to wear a mask, call this number and we will help you shop. If you enter the store without a mask, you will be trespassing and told to leave. If you do not leave or become belligerent, the police will be called. People keep crying "freedom" over not wearing masks, but they need to be reminded that stores are not public spaces. They are private businesses that welcome the public - and that welcome is not a right and can be revoked at any time. The sad state of affairs is that if retailers don't take this on, their stores will become infection hot spots and will be forced to close - again.
  • Posted on: 06/29/2020

    Does Microsoft need stores?

    At Park Meadows mall in Lone Tree, CO, a tale of two cities unfolded daily. At Apple, a store packed to the gills, classes, talks, training, people shopping and even more importantly, people buying. One level up, the Microsoft store, same size, maybe even a little bit bigger, and -- empty. My question is, *what* hardware sales that happened in stores? I will say, though, I'm glad to hear they're keeping the Experience Centers. I don't know that I would turn off all sales out of there, I think they could still capture a lot of tourist traffic (when tourism is a thing again). But regarding the rest of the stores, I think it's safe to say they were never successful.
  • Posted on: 06/26/2020

    What can retailers do for 2020’s graduates?

    I feel uniquely qualified to comment here, as my son is a high-schooler in the class of 2020. I have a couple of pieces of advice. One, the moment has passed. While they have appreciated the recognition, at this point it's starting to feel more like salt in the wound than anything that makes up for what they've lost. So I think one thing that's important to emphasize in any going forward messaging would be "we know this in no way makes up for what you missed out on." Two, be careful in your giveaways. My son went to get his free donuts from Krispy Kreme but came back shaken, because there was no crowd control and it was early in the easing of lockdown. He left without getting any because the crowd scared him away. It would be really bad to have your giveaway turn into an outbreak event. Three, retailers should consider things that actually help these kids on their way. I'm speaking mostly of high school students here, but while donuts or tacos are cool, a job would be even better, or if you have an idea for a gap-year program since some are putting off college for a year. Or as we start turning the corner towards "move-in week" at college (assuming it even happens), staying closely aware and supportive of kids either moving in or stuck at home for their first semester - this may vary school by school. The feedback from my son and his friends has been "I can take missing out on prom or graduation - it's tough to be sad about those things when people are dying. What I can't take is not getting to go off to college to start the new life and experience that I just worked so hard for." I think these kids are going to need even more encouragement and support for when they have to deal much more directly with a life put on hold vs. needing the support for missing out on the end of their senior year. That's not every kid's perspective, but hopefully adds a dimension to the discussion.
  • Posted on: 06/18/2020

    Can a box of pancake mix be racist?

    There has always been a line. And the communication from actually a very large segment of consumers is, that line is in the wrong place today. What a unique opportunity to refresh and modernize a brand -- and broaden its appeal.
  • Posted on: 06/18/2020

    Can a box of pancake mix be racist?

    I had an interesting conversation with my son about this last night when he saw the news report. As someone who had no connection to the brands in question other than seeing the face on the box, he asked how it was racist, and wasn't it helpful to show diversity in the faces featured on brands. I said there is a difference between showing people of color as users of a product, associating the brand to someone who was genuinely the founder of a brand, and starting from a racist premise as the origination of a brand that actually has no cultural ties to the people or culture being represented. It's beyond time to erase all of those brands in the last category. It's beyond time to ensure representation among the second category. And it's beyond time to be diverse and equal in the first category. Brands shouldn't just be focused on the last, but on all three.
  • Posted on: 06/16/2020

    Will grocers maintain COVID share gains as restaurants reopen?

    I don't think grocers should anticipate keeping all of the gains they've seen from the behavior shifts. From what I've seen one of the desires consumers tend to express about "back to normal" is to be able to eat out again - to sit in a restaurant or a bar. That "normal" may not feel normal at all until there is a vaccine, but to me it says there is pent-up demand that will pull away from grocery spending. This is a black-swan type of event - while some of the behaviors will stick, it won't be to the degree we saw when there were no other choices. The big question for grocers is not how to keep the new demand they've seen, but how to anticipate and move with the shift back to restaurants as they reopen - and how far that shift will go back.
  • Posted on: 05/20/2020

    IKEA’s play fort ads illustrate what’s good about times like these

    This is exactly the right kind of messaging for the times. First, it's digital, so targeted at exactly the right channels for where consumers are going to look for advice and inspiration. Second, it's light-hearted and helpful, aiming to help people make the most of this awful situation. Third, it takes advantage of elements that are central to the brand - IKEA's instructions, the goofiness of Wassup, etc. For a lot of brands, the goal is to stay top of mind in a positive way when their ability to sell (and consumers' ability to buy) is limited. If they do a good job now, they stand a chance of being top of mind when those limitations change.
  • Posted on: 05/11/2020

    What should retailers do about social distancing renegades?

    This is one of many, many concerns about reopening. It is not right to ask a store employee who was hired to stock shelves or ring sales to suddenly become a store enforcer. You need people who have training, and who have the enforcement skills and also the judgment to know when and how to use those skills. I've seen retailers post signs that detail government orders, sort of as a way to say "It's not me - I'm just following the rules and you need to as well." I've seen more prominent security both in stores as well as in strip mall parking lots. I will also say, I think some of the tension comes from people who had it in their heads that reopening meant getting back to "normal" and are dealing with the unpleasant shock of realizing that this is not going to be the case. I think some sympathy can go a long way - "It's weird. None of us are used to it. It's okay that you're not sure what to do, that's why I'm here. I know it sucks to have to do these new things, but it's why we're able to be open at all..."
  • Posted on: 05/05/2020

    Can J.C. Penney make it without Sephora?

    I have always wondered what Sephora saw in that relationship in the first place, so I'm not surprised that it is coming to an end. In addition to the attraction of foot traffic to J.C. Penney, those shop-in-shops are typically very prominent in J.C. Penney stores - usually you can see them from far away in the mall itself. So there is the added issue of taking on a major remodeling project in the stores where Sephora goes away - it was very on-brand to Sephora, and J.C. Penney can't really get away with just shuffling some racks into the empty space. This will definitely hurt in more ways than one!
  • Posted on: 04/16/2020

    Is virtual selling set to take off?

    To paraphrase Tesco, "every little bit helps." Certainly it's a good combination of being where customers are - on their phones, while also mixing selling with something that consumers increasingly need - entertainment. In China, livestream selling definitely had an impact for retailers, so much so that some are organizing to turn what was an emergency response into a fully supported strategy of the business. I know of one Chinese retailer who anticipates nearly half their growth going forward coming from livestreaming. That said, in China it was a perfect storm of things: a platform that made it easy (WeChat), a consumer audience already primed to shop that way, and store associates also already primed to make the transition to sell that way, just because they're already good at it as consumers. That perfect storm does not apply so well in the U.S. market. It is possible to make the transition, but retailers here should not expect it to be as easy as it has been in Asia. If you're going to go this route, I would recommend anticipating having to do a lot of education on how it works and what to expect, both for customers and for the people delivering the content. It's not just a natural extension of what employees do in stores.
  • Posted on: 04/13/2020

    When should non-essential retail stores reopen?

    Looking at how China has gone about reopening non-essential retail, I think we can expect requirements to limit the number of people in the store, to create wide enough spaces for consumers to pass each other at socially-distant lengths, wear masks in stores, perform daily or even hourly deep cleans, and yes, even temperature checks before entering stores. Based on Chinese consumer behavior, it looks like we can expect demand for contactless commerce to remain high, even as consumers come back to stores - ordering online or via mobile for going to the store, sustained use (at least in the short term) of home delivery or curbside pickup, and BOPIS that doesn't involve interacting directly with a store associate. Retailers might also need to expect limited hours at first, or new staffing requirements - as governments increase their ability to rapidly ID someone who is infected and perform contact tracing, one potential impact is the need to quarantine an entire store staff that might've had contact. In China, retailers started instituting controlled shifts so that they aren't mixing different workers on different shifts. That way, if one shift was exposed, it doesn't potentially require shutting down the entire store.
  • Posted on: 04/09/2020

    Will selling groceries help restaurants ride out COVID-19?

    My challenge with that is that when I look at the number of meals my family eats at home now vs. before, now I have to buy for and produce 21 meals x 5 basically full-grown adults = 105 meals. Before, my son and my father-in-law were out 2-3 nights per week, both my kids were eating lunch at school, I was traveling 3-4 nights per week, my husband and I had a standing date night out ... we were fielding roughly 50-60 meals at home, max. The retail side of food delivery was built on the back of this level of demand across many, many households. Now, it's facing twice as much demand and no immediate way to tap into more supply easily. We NEED restaurants to be part of the food supply chain, and if we want them to be there when this is over, we need to do what we can to keep them on their feet -- rather than make the structural changes to shift over so much restaurant supply to retail -- which there is still a risk the actions we have to take now permanently undermines the industrial side of food. It's not as simple as "not panic buying" -- there's a fundamental demand shift happening that stores can't keep up with.

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