PROFILE

Raj B. Shroff

Founder & Principal, PINE Strategy & Design

Prior to founding Pine, Raj was VP of Brand, Strategy & Design at a global experience design firm. During his tenure there he led many turnkey research, strategy and retail design engagements and was a specialist in digital-retail integration; consulting clients and teams on mobile, VR, AR and the application of technology in experience. He has run many large-scale initiatives, having served in account leadership roles at Fitch (WPP), in the areas of Research, Retail, Brand and Product design and at Resource (now IBM iX), in Digital Experience & Marketing.

Clients he has served include Intel, P&G, Mars Wrigley, Unilever, Target, Walmart, Dollar General, LG (South Korea), Pernod Ricard (Mexico), Reliance Retail (India), Aditya Birla (India), Mahindra (India), Nestle, Tyson Foods, The North Face, SC Johnson, Gatorade, Carhartt, NFL and others. Raj is an industry speaker on topics such as the future of retail, branding, digital engagement and consumer behavior.

He is Adjunct Faculty at CCAD (Columbus College of Art and Design) in the Masters of Design and Undergraduate Design Programs.

He enjoys spending his free time with his wife and two sons. He is an avid runner, reader, mentor and compulsive traveler. He started undergrad in Chemical Engineering but ended up in a self-directed program and holds an MBA in Strategy & Marketing from Ohio State University.

To learn more, visit: pinesd.com

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  • Posted on: 01/12/2021

    Convenience retailers aren’t letting the pandemic get them down

    I believe convenience stores will come out stronger, COVID-19 has forced them to accelerate digital efforts which will help them longer-term. And it has exposed weaknesses which will allow management to take various scenario planning exercises more seriously. While having the right alcohol assortment and some general merchandise will help, they also need to be thinking about the next generation. Fresh food, healthier assortment. Adding EV charging stations, seating options, drive-thru, delivery to car, maybe not be married to their standard box on a postage stamp with pumps out front. Who knows, maybe Uber AV or Tesla will start their own c-stores to become modern day hubs like the old bus depots. Don't ignore the near-term but think more broadly about the future.
  • Posted on: 01/11/2021

    Did Amazon Pantry outlive its usefulness?

    There is probably room for essentials bundling if Amazon can use data to find patterns in usage cycles. But realistically, I use paper towels at a different frequency than Windex. Why wait for my bundled order if I can order one item and get it here in an hour? What drove it is Amazon noticed people would rather purchase single items on demand than wait for bundles. And the incentive wasn't great enough to get them to wait. But now Amazon knows with little money lost and maybe some knowledge gained.
  • Posted on: 01/07/2021

    Will meatless burgers moo-ve in on beef’s market share as prices fall?

    I think adjusting prices will help because at grocery they are more expensive. For those who have considered but do see cost as a barrier, it might entice them. From a marketing standpoint, the idea that an alternative can complement regular meat consumption is smart, they should continue to do more of that to get people who want to eat less meat to try and add it to their regimen. Merchandise it with other meat, make it easy to find and easy to shop. Show comparisons with signage so shoppers can make informed decisions on trade offs. As for restaurants, ones I order from do a great job of making it taste great, I am not at all jealous of my family as they eat their hamburgers because my alternative tastes great, has all the toppings theirs does, etc.
  • Posted on: 01/06/2021

    How did QR codes go from DOA to killer app?

    Yes, I see QR codes remaining popular but they will eventually be complemented by image recognition. QR will be used for more functional things like menus and IR for more creative campaign type of engagement. After seeing QR so heavily used in China years ago, it's amazing it took so long but the need and native QR scanning capabilities finally came together here. As for how retailers should leverage them, I think the ways outlined are sensible, contactless transactions, sharing information, etc. Smaller retailers might benefit from putting them on shopping bags or other collateral to drive people to review sites, loyalty sign-ups, etc. They could also strategically place them on in-store graphics to tell broader stories or get shoppers to wider assortments quickly -- there are many tactics depending on what retailers are trying to solve.
  • Posted on: 01/04/2021

    Will store closings in 2021 beat last year’s record total?

    Happy New Year! Let's hope the happy part of that rings true. I think there will be more pressure for store closings. More than a handful of retailers continue to look at underperforming stores and struggle to be relevant near-term due to stay-at-home restrictions and work from home realities. Factors influencing these trends besides COVID-19 are: being too small to hold out, having too much debt to spend on needed updates, being slow to convert to omnichannel, a lack of omnichannel talent and maybe just some bad strategies that were possible to overlook during better times.
  • Posted on: 12/16/2020

    Should c-stores go healthy for the sake of kids?

    Historically for c-stores making money on healthier foods has been difficult. Typically, people say they want to eat healthier but their purchases don't always align with that. However the market is slowly changing. Ultimately people want choice and are open to mixing in a healthier option now more than ever. C-stores can balance any conflicts by introducing healthier options to complement, not to replace, traditional snacks. Continue to talk to shoppers, test items, see what sells and optimize. If a c-store skews too far "healthy," too fast, it will damage their business unless that's what their shoppers want -- rather than what their shoppers just say they want so they don't feel guilty.
  • Posted on: 12/15/2020

    Starbucks sees even more stores in its future

    Yes, newer formats and features will amplify expansion opportunities, clearly they have insights into consumer engagement with their business and quickly fill gaps when appropriate. I agree that post-pandemic we will see a rush to reconnect socially and businesses such as Starbucks will benefit from that trend.
  • Posted on: 12/14/2020

    The North Face called out for ‘virtue signaling’

    I can see both sides of this one. While they might be reliant upon fossil fuels to run their business, they aspire to become fully sustainable and this is an effort to take a stance, it has to start somewhere. While it would been easy enough for The North Face to fulfill the Innovex order, Mr. Anderson can just as easily order from another brand and move on. I don't necessarily agree with the decision but must respect it, these are complex issues too difficult to resolve by trading headlines. But there is no debate when no one takes a stand, even if we don't agree.
  • Posted on: 12/11/2020

    Are stores going to turn into ghost towns?

    Totally agree, Lee.
  • Posted on: 12/11/2020

    Are stores going to turn into ghost towns?

    2020 has been a wake up call. We have been pushed to realize the efficiency of online shopping, the possibility of remote meetings and the great feeling of not making frivolous trips to the store. In the near-term those drops lessen the likelihood of impulse add-ons and much easier to build baskets in a physical setting. That will hurt. And it's easier to order online and have a gift sent than to buy in-store, package up, then ship to family. I do think Black Friday traffic is a bit of foreshadowing for holiday foot traffic, especially with rising cases. Longer-term, retailers should be concerned about the drops if they aren't preparing for the continued shift to e-commerce and any other changes in post COVID-19 consumer behavior.
  • Posted on: 12/04/2020

    Meijer gives curbside pickup customers an early Christmas gift

    I agree with fellow panelists, I wouldn't call this a promotion but an act of good will which happens to generate publicity. It's a great idea. I am a frequent shopper of Meijer and think they do so many things well, except checkout. I don't think promotions build loyalty, they build transactions. Loyalty is built by having convenient locations, parking availability, clean stores, quality assortment, appropriate pricing, etc. This is a heartfelt gesture from a thoughtful, privately-owned company living its values.
  • Posted on: 12/02/2020

    Sephora to set up shops in 850 Kohl’s stores

    This seems an odd partnership in my view. From a brand perspective, Sephora does so many things well whereas Kohl's is neutral at best. Kohl's seems like the place brands go to become vanilla. Sephora will gain access to a large shopper base and Kohl's will elevate an area where they have a gap. Maybe there's an Amazon play lurking in here with the Amazon + Kohl's partnership. With declining mall traffic and mall reinvention a work in progress, Sephora is going to where the fish are. The question is, are those the fish they should invest in catching? Maybe they had no choice. It certainly won't help J.C. Penney. I am not sure why we are still talking about them. We can only hope someone finds a compelling RTB for JCP.
  • Posted on: 11/30/2020

    Amazon aims to keep holiday deliveries ‘spoiler free’

    Ironically I just shut my Alexa delivery notifications off this morning. Our kids heard their scooters had arrived at our relative's house last year and we were ticked to have forgotten to turn the notifications off then. I think Amazon is on point for thinking about this - they can promote Household too which separates family orders and notifications. It's definitely tricky to keep gifts secret when getting lots of items ordered to your home. Lockers are a good alternative but less convenient. I do think other retailers should think about how best to manage households but it's too late for 2020 if they aren't already dialed in.
  • Posted on: 11/25/2020

    Can category management catch up to the omnichannel shift?

    This is a topic near and dear to my heart. Yes, I see opportunities for category captains to guide. The first is pushing retailer top management to set internal structures around the shopper, not around digital or physical channels. For optimal success, CPG need retailers to break the silo and CPG needs to live that in their structures too. The second is education. While some in this space are digitally savvy, many are not and it's hard for teams to talk with each other when they don't speak the same language. We see silos all the time in our work. Near-term you'll see not enough people versed in both the physical and digital worlds. You have people coming up in one or the other and few have had enough time to spend time in both, either agency or customer side. Near-term there are systems issues too, disconnected creative, tools and data sets, etc. Longer-term I think you'll have the reverse issue with digitally native retailers trying to figure out the physical space. However I am hopeful that over time the challenges will be related more to the work of winning shoppers and less internal/structural.
  • Posted on: 11/20/2020

    How can retailers avert a holiday returns catastrophe?

    In order to push shoppers to doing returns in person there has to be something in it for the shopper otherwise they'll choose the most convenient option. And if that happens to be shipping, that's what they'll do. The pop-up and other aggregated returns are great ideas to attempt to curtail an onslaught. I would think retailers could incentivize shoppers to return at store, hoping shoppers will end up buying other things while there - foot traffic is valuable. Perhaps others will get more creative and try to stage returns over set periods of days or weeks through incentives to manage traffic flow. E.g. Return your item this Thursday for [promotion on toys,] Friday for [promotion on electronics.] Get creative, find the opportunity to try something and see what works.

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