PROFILE

Nikki Baird

VP of Strategy, Aptos
Nikki Baird is the vice president of strategy 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: 11/09/2022

    Is transactional data the key to understanding retail customer behavior?

    Well, you have to first take into account whether you actually know your customers or not and can build a basket history over time. Retail's ability to do that has grown significantly in this area over the last 20 years, but also took some hits (Apple tracking, for example, and the reduced ability to ID shoppers if they have not volunteered that identification). But otherwise, definitely - how can you claim to be customer-centric if you don't know what your customers are actually buying? The only drawback to looking at purchase data is if it takes up so much of your time that you don't look at other things. Purchase history is the center, but you need to look at leading indicators (social sentiment, for example) and lagging indicators too (customer sat), to see how it all comes together.
  • Posted on: 11/07/2022

    Is it time to shut down the free returns party?

    Like free shipping promos, I think free returns are going to be hard to shake - while retailers definitely want to save on these costs and even work to prevent the things like "bracketing" and "webrooming" that drive high returns in the first place, I can easily foresee offering free returns to loyalty customers or as a "surprise and delight" moment for a one-time high value shopper.
  • Posted on: 09/27/2022

    Is the customer really the most important thing in retail?

    LOL, Ron, I love it! I agree with your point on product - you can have the best customers in the world but if you have nothing to sell them, what's the point? But I would add one more wrinkle to this. Everyone talks about "the customer" but they're all mostly talking about what they want to do TO the customer. It's not about understanding the customer, or enabling the customer, or solving the customer's problems or delighting them. It's about getting the customer to do what retailers want them to do: getting them to spend more or devote more attention. Those are outcomes - if you can delight a customer or save them time or money, they will freely give you more of their attention and more of their spend. But you can't just demand those things! I agree - "the customer at the center" has become a mantra almost without meaning.
  • Posted on: 09/26/2022

    Rivals take notice as ads account for five percent of Amazon’s retail revenues

    I think of this as convergence of in-store co-op and digital. Where a CPG may pay for shelf placement in the store, they now achieve the online equivalent through paying for placement and targeted advertising on retailer e-commerce sites. The intent of the consumer is very high and very focused, so the payoff is much better than the Wild West of the wider internet. But at the end of the day, the success of this "new media" will depend largely on the regular traffic that a retailer can sustain, and whether they can prove that converts for an advertiser.
  • Posted on: 09/21/2022

    Will electronic carts help Kroger fulfill curbside pickup orders more quickly?

    One piece that you have to keep in mind is that grocery stores and cold storage are not designed for BOPIS or for curbside. Cold storage is in the back of the store, and unless you've flat-out remodeled the store to put more cold storage in the front, then either you're sending employees on an expedition to fulfill these orders (which definitely wastes time and money), or you need something that brings cold storage closer to the front. I say this having watched my daughter work for a grocer/GM retailer not to be named - the one job she hated most of all was "Flex" - online orders/curbside pickup because she could literally end up walking 5-6 miles on a 4-hour shift. Why? Because of cold storage. And Flex had a timer countdown that impacted her performance - "If I wanted to be treated like that, I would work for Amazon."
  • Posted on: 09/15/2022

    Will on-the-job training become a new norm in CEO succession planning?

    When the change is planned for and predictable, this definitely makes sense. Though, from my experience, the shift still happens very quickly even when you plan extended time for a transition - people need to know who to go to, and the leader headed out loses relevancy and impact very quickly. But having them hang on in a consultant/available for advice role can be extremely helpful. The most carefully planned transition can still overlook those "oh, yeah, I forgot that was hanging out there" things that inevitably come to the fore at the worst time.
  • Posted on: 09/02/2022

    Will Americans get started earlier or later this year on their Christmas shopping?

    I think the combination of budgeting discretionary dollars that don't go as far and fear of supply chain shortages of popular items will get consumers to spend earlier - really, to spread their spending across more months than typical. What I'm not sure about is how much promotions will play a role in influencing consumer spending. We're in a weird place right now where retailers have too much of the wrong things and not enough of the right things, and I think that will extend into the holiday season. I have to share, though: while walking through Costco at the end of August and seeing all the Christmas stuff that is out already, along with product clearly intended as holiday toys and gifts, my husband asked me, "Is that all from the stuff they ordered for holiday last year but didn't get in time?" And I'm guessing he's probably right. So it definitely feels like holiday is going to be a really mixed bag this year!
  • Posted on: 08/29/2022

    Should retail worry about the ‘quiet quitting’ trend?

    I saw another take on quiet quitting where they described it as more about "acting your wage." I think this sums it up pretty well and, especially for retail, I suspect this is really nothing new. If you're going to pay $7/hour, then you're going to get $7/hour worth of work - that's happened in retail for decades, especially for front-line employees where there is very little available to them in terms of payoff for hustle culture anyway. Especially in the context of front-line associates, I think employers who are worried about the negative impacts of widespread acceptance of "phoning it in" culture are pretty out of touch with what they do and don't get out of those associates already. It also shows the potential where if you do pay better than the bottom (which, to be fair, effectively seems to be $15/hour today, not $7), you actually might get more out of your employees for it. The question is whether the productivity/retention/engagement benefits offset the higher wages.
  • Posted on: 07/28/2022

    Will the ‘Buy Now, Pay Later’ model overcome economic and regulatory challenges?

    BNPL will be around forever and always, at this point -- it is definitely part of the shopping experience and it has distinct benefits. But it also has pain, and these pains are to be expected -- like, without appropriate regulatory oversight, getting a reputation for luring people in over their heads on debt. At the end of the day, BNPL isn't going to radically alter the landscape of retailing. This is exactly like the trajectory of companies like Gilt. They happened to be at the right place and the right time for a huge spike in use, but ultimately it will fall back to something more realistic -- a role, but not a critical one.
  • Posted on: 07/25/2022

    When will supply chains return to normal?

    There is still too much backlog clogging the supply chain -- I've heard from retailers that they've been receiving things now that they had ordered for Holiday 2020. So when we talk about "inventory pile-up" it's both a combination of the classic bullwhip effect in the supply chain (over-ordering in expectation of getting less wreaking havoc by signaling way more demand than actually exists), and still working through the backlog that built up during the early part of the pandemic. But I question the idea of the supply chain going back to "normal" -- it was not normal before the pandemic, so returning to 2019 really shouldn't be the objective. Before the pandemic started, supply chains didn't adequately price risk into cost, they were too stretched and fragile, and their carbon footprints were already being questioned (and now being questioned even harder). There's a new normal ahead for supply chain: more resilient, shorter, more responsive, more sustainable. But it's going to require a lot of work -- work that is more difficult because of political and economic uncertainties -- to get there.
  • Posted on: 07/18/2022

    Should Amazon ax its private labels to appease regulators?

    It sounds like it's more complicated than just a case of regulatory risk - but that is surely a great story to tell, that "regulators made us" rather than "we haven't been able to make it successful." At the end of the day, what Amazon does IS different than other companies, because its marketplace is such a huge part of its business. It's not like a grocer who uses private label to exploit gaps in national brand coverage. The grocer is taking the inventory and sales risk across both national brands and its own, which serves as a bit of a check and balance. With Amazon, they're using marketplace data - where they take no inventory risk - to pick off successful products with copycats. It would be like Etsy rolling out competing Christmas ornaments against its best seller - which it would never do because Etsy is not a retailer too, just a marketplace. With that much noise, if it's 1 percent of sales and not delivering like they anticipated, then sure, throw that into the negotiation with regulators...
  • Posted on: 07/11/2022

    Should Costco raise its food court prices?

    I'm curious what role the food court actually plays in the shopping experience at Costco. It's one thing when your $4.99 chicken drives people all the way to the back of the store to get it, giving you maximum opportunity for many other things to end up in the cart. The food court is at the end of the shopping journey, and accessible whether you're a member or not. So keeping that cheap almost doesn't seem to matter - unless it does serve another role. I guess maybe it's a temptation to bring other family member along and just have a meal at the end of the shopping trip? That would surely expand the basket. Maybe it plays a role in building customer trust that Costco is looking out for them? The comments seem to support some of that thinking - the end result is that consumers don't get as upset when Costco raises prices in other areas because they feel like the company is keeping things as low priced as possible in other, highly visible areas. And I would just like to say, I really wish they'd bring back the supreme pizza. :-(
  • Posted on: 07/07/2022

    Time’s up for TikTok’s U.S. livestream shopping plans

    Yes, I was fascinated when this was launched because it really did feel like a Chinese company not understanding a lot of cultural barriers to U.S./UK adoption of livestream shopping. It just has not had the same success here as in China. Some of it is the integration required to make it easy to buy, but I think a lot of it is also just how much more mobile-first Chinese consumers are, and also how much bigger super-apps are compared to equivalent "super-apps" in Western countries. Facebook probably comes the closest and it's not anywhere near having the breadth or impact of WeChat or AliPay. For Western retailers to adopt it in their home countries, they have to figure out whether or how to spread across four or five apps (like TikTok, FB/Instagram, Pinterest, Snap, etc.) to get the same reach of one Chinese retailer investing in WeChat, for example. It's just too hard to make it successful for retailers and brands, and consumers just are not as into it as they are in China.
  • Posted on: 07/06/2022

    H&M discovers it’s not easy being green

    The industry cannot rely on trade associations as the arbiters of sustainability or eco-impact scoring. Huge conflict of interest, in my opinion. If brands want to avoid more of this kind of investigation in the future, they need to engage directly with organizations exclusively focused on reducing environmental impact and increasing the sustainability and reuse of products. There's just no other way around it - When it's not your direct and exclusive focus, it's too tempting to let some things slide or employ statistics to make things look better than they are, and it's a slippery slope from there. On the other hand, I would also note that those organizations that want change from the fashion industry would do well to offer paths forward for companies like H&M - especially after getting caught up in greenwashing accusations. Exposing and vilifying alone is not enough to create the change that consumers increasingly expect. There's a real opportunity here to offer to be a partner, and for retail brands to take them up on it.
  • Posted on: 07/05/2022

    Is Amazon taking its foot off the Prime Day marketing pedal?

    It doesn't really feel like they're pulling in their marketing efforts to me, but maybe I just happen to be in the target zone for those ads, because I feel like I see them everywhere. At the end of the day, if the demand is already there for what you have to offer, why spend money generating more? In past years, Prime Day felt more like a giant sidewalk sale anyway, so I'm sure that supply chain and the recent past challenges of getting inventory will play a role in what's available. And inflation will play a role in what consumers are willing to spend. But I definitely wouldn't count this year's data point as "a trend" regarding the future of the sales event. And I will be very interested in seeing how dollar volume of sales compares to the number of transactions/orders. That will say a lot about inflation and consumers' willingness to spend.

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