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: 09/22/2020

    Can Rent the Runway move past unlimited rentals?

    If they have priced it right, it shouldn't be that much of a hurdle. I think I saw somewhere that something like 10-15 percent of Unlimited Swap customers actually use it in an "unlimited" kind of way. So there aren't that many customers at risk from this shift. I think overall it reflects a big slowdown in luxury fashion, and a greater recognition of the sustainability impact of fashion. It's smart of RTR to appeal to consumers on this basis.
  • Posted on: 09/01/2020

    Will the late Prime Day sabotage or catapult holiday spending?

    Historically, retailers have not been able to get consumers to think about holiday any sooner than, say November 15th. Holding a big event like Prime Day in November is really just promoting at a time when people are already starting to think about spending. I think most important for this holiday season is going to be capacity. Parcel shipping capacity, and retailer fulfillment capacity. We still can't run DC's (or stores, for that matter) at full capacity. Which means getting consumers to spread out their spending beyond the usual concentrated holiday season is going to be critical. My advice to retailers: jump on an October Prime Day bandwagon as soon as possible. Not just to make sure Amazon doesn't dominate the mindshare of consumers, but also to make sure that you can spread holiday demand over a wider period - simply so that you have the ability to fulfill it all.
  • Posted on: 08/31/2020

    Will other booksellers follow Powell’s in just saying ‘no’ to Amazon?

    I don't think it has to be all or nothing. I'm very sympathetic to the idea of supporting local businesses, and that this is a contributor to strong communities and neighborhoods. But I think a differentiated assortment strategy will ultimately include marketplaces (and Amazon is not the only one) for most products that are easy to ship (and books are definitely that). For a bookseller, unloading used books that are not moving could be a great use for Amazon, one that we see fashion brands using more and more. Some companies are turning those engagements into marketing tactics to entice customers to shop with them more directly, with some success. It's not guaranteed, you have to be creative and put some effort into it, but I believe there is a spectrum of opportunity here. It just depends on your inventory, and what you can do with the data you get from selling through the platform.
  • Posted on: 08/24/2020

    Should restaurants charge a pandemic fee?

    I'm always fascinated by the psychology of these kinds of decisions. People looking at a menu may or may not register that prices have increased - and seeing the prices increase for things like meat in their grocery stores, I'm pretty sure you wouldn't have to say anything in order to explain that costs are rising and you're going to have to pass those along to the customer. Calling out an extra fee, with basically an asterisk at the bottom of the menu or a sign on the wall, alongside the ones about masks and social distancing, etc. - I think that is taking a risk it will be overlooked. The cost is the cost. People want to support restaurants and bars, but they're also managing their own budgets - no one wants to be surprised at the end of the meal. And "temporary" in this case could extend well into 2021. So just raise the prices and avoid any confusion.
  • Posted on: 08/06/2020

    Are pop-up shops more relevant in a pandemic-altered world?

    Pop-up shops are for sure one area of store-based retail that is actually a bright spot - even if all we're talking about is a tent in the parking lot. But time is short. Winter is coming! And Isaias and the daily 3 p.m. squalls that are now rolling off the Rockies and wreaking havoc out east are proof that pop-ups are not a sure thing. They won't be enough to offset the challenges in physical stores. Only a vaccine or a virus under control can do that.
  • Posted on: 08/04/2020

    Will diversity pledges be followed by results?

    Two things from me: one, I think that's the wrong question. You should not treat racial diversity separate from gender diversity. It's diversity. Period. Diversity doesn't begin and end with either gender or color - and keeping them separate only penalizes people in both categories, who end up being marginalized even more so. It might be hard to break through as a woman. And it might be hard to break through as a person of color. But it's exponentially more difficult to break through as a woman of color. Two, I am hopeful that Gen Z will indeed keep these companies accountable and not let them off the hook. They are certainly paying close attention, and not just to gender or race, but to all kinds of diversity. They are the most diverse generation in the U.S. - and they know it, too. That's not to let other generations off the hook, but it's Gen Z dollars that companies will be courting the hardest in the near future, so their perspective carries more weight.
  • Posted on: 08/03/2020

    Is the future of malls outside?

    I thought open-air malls ("lifestyle centers") were already the future of malls! Certainly in my neck of the woods, it is a tale of two completely different outcomes: Aspen Grove, the open-air style mall, was never really shut down, as at least its restaurants could be open for curbside. And now every shop can be open, because they all have external doors. July saw a return of the "Paris Street Faire" weekends where shabby chic and antiques sellers set up tents in half the parking lot. The best that Park Meadows (the big traditional enclosed mall) has managed is a temporary drive-in in the Nordstrom parking lot. The part of the mall that is doing the best is -- the open-air restaurant row it added maybe seven years ago. The mall put a great amount of effort into their reopening strategy, maybe one of the most comprehensive out there, but even today capacity at the mall is still limited and not a lot of people are excited about going there. Definitely some creative thinking is needed on how to get around these constraints so that everyone can operate - and shop - safely. The real problem, however, is weather. It may be August, but in Colorado it'll be only about one more month before weather has to be considered as a potential major factor. Winter is coming!
  • Posted on: 07/22/2020

    Will Walmart, Target, Kroger and other chains fix America’s plastic bag problem?

    I really thought we were making great progress here -- until the pandemic. I like that the consortium is launching now instead of waiting for things to "get back to normal," to try to get ahead of when consumers (and retailers) can feel comfortable moving away from single-use plastic once again. I tried to go plastic-free in retail a couple of years ago, and it was nearly impossible. Consumers can make some gains on their own, and more determined consumers can make bigger gains, but it won't be until retailers design stores to support the elimination of single-use plastic, most especially produce and checkout bags, before any changes can really stick. The pandemic has necessitated a return to plastic, but it's just not sustainable -- literally and figuratively. Retailers have been pushed into using the stick (bag fees). It's time to start thinking about carrots for the future.
  • Posted on: 07/14/2020

    What will retail’s back-to-school season look like this year?

    There are two chunks of back to school spending: K-12, and then the "off to college" spending. I now have one foot in both worlds. For my college-bound son, we went ahead and bought the dorm stuff, etc. because I was worried that if we didn't buy it over the summer, he wouldn't have it when he needed it. I'm not convinced he's going to be living in a dorm fall semester, but I'm hopeful that he will for spring. So for those purchases, I didn't wait because I didn't want to have to scour clearance racks for Twin XL sheets. For my high school student, it appears it's going to be a hybrid approach (at the moment). But it is totally a hedging/out-wait game. I'm not buying anything until we know for sure what the situation is going to look like, and it appears that many other families are making the same decision. I can't imagine what school uniform purchases look like right now - if my kid's not going into a classroom, there's no way I'd invest in school uniform clothes for Zoom (but I'm not a huge advocate for school uniforms anyway). Bottom line, it's a mess. And while normally I wouldn't advocate for using BTS to judge holiday, I think this year we're going to have to look closely at BTS shopping behavior and see what can be learned for holiday, because it's pretty clear holiday spending is now going to be a total mess as well.
  • 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.

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