PROFILE

Raj B. Shroff

Founder & Principal, PINE

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: 10/27/2022

    The new boss is the same as the old boss at Bed Bath & Beyond

    Bed Bath & Beyond needs to pretend it was gone and then go shop for the things they believe makes up its unique selling proposition and figure out what they can realistically own. What assortments to those places carry, what types of designs, what price points, how are their ecommerce sites, what are the gaps? And when it was first announced that Tritton was joining, I suggested they figure out what their brand purpose they had. I doubt anyone has explored that concept or if they did, couldn't bring that to strategies to be taken across the business. They have to do that, coupled with the above. Maybe at this point, the best they can do it sell the assets to Tai Lopez & Co and his team can optimize the website, make it an ecomm business and grab what is left of its equity.
  • Posted on: 10/20/2022

    What would adding smell to virtual reality tech mean to retail?

    I've always thought it would be cool if I could email a scent or a digital banner could deliver a scent (caution below). Adding smell seems like a natural evolution of a much more rich web experience, the web has been boring long enough! As for what it could mean to retail, depends on how it's integrated. If advertising companies just start loading scents in ads then it could become pretty annoying. As for the metaverse, set that term aside, scent and touch will be integrated into the next-gen web for a much more rich experience. Long overdue but hopefully cost and technical hurdles to scale will be overcome in the next 10-15 years.
  • Posted on: 09/28/2022

    Walmart enters the metaverse on Roblox

    I am pleasantly surprised that there is so much positive sentiment among fellow panelists. However, I am not as enthusiastic if this is really an effort to get a younger audience. There is no passion for the Walmart brand, it is probably hard enough for Nike to pull off a Roblox success and there is tons of passion around the brand. There are likely better ways to be relevant to younger consumers; bring some interactive tools into the education system, make the stores more interesting with pop-ups, do something interesting on Youtube, bring concerts into the stores or parking lots, elevate the conversation about causes the younger generations care about. I don't think there is any harm in them pursuing a Roblox or metaverse experience. Great learning for internal corporate on what some basic terms are, what's possible, etc. But I think this it is a delusion passed between a highly paid agency and Walmart corporate executives without any sense of connection to actual younger consumers. Hope I am proved wrong.
  • Posted on: 09/27/2022

    Is the customer really the most important thing in retail?

    One reason you might hear it so much is because human-centered design, shopper-based design, consumer-centricity, etc. are what consulting firms have been using as the foundation for their shopper-facing work for the past 15+ years (actual time might be longer but that's not the point). And they were brought in when the "stack them high, let them fly" mentality wasn't enough anymore. Soon you'll see that human-centricity model even more with systems thinking and service design, which look to improve and drive that type of thinking and behavior across the entire value chain. There is no doubt that the whole value chain has to be well thought-out and executed well for any business, not just retail. And while the customer-centricity point is true, I am sure Ron is right that it's just an all-too-often used buzzword with, in some cases, no clear understanding of what it means or could mean.
  • Posted on: 09/26/2022

    Can Instacart marry in-store and online grocery shopping experiences?

    Maybe there is something I am missing but how does this bridge online and offline? This uses technology to make the in-store (offline) experience more convenient. I don't think grocers should have concerns over Instacart as a technology partner for now. I think they can be a tool in the toolbox for continued test-and-learns, at least on the store technology products. I am less familiar with how effective their new acquisitions are re: e-commerce.
  • Posted on: 09/21/2022

    Do grocers need a new approach for selling plant-based protein alternatives?

    It doesn't seem any retailers have a thoughtful strategy; the category just doesn't seem that important to them. I am a vegetarian and am pretty engaged in this category. I shop Giant Eagle, Kroger, Meijer, Fresh Thyme and Target. The plant-based categories are all in different locations, have vastly different assortments, are frequently out-of-stock and rarely are signed at all. First and foremost it has to be treated like a category, it doesn't seem to be, it's really a mess. It seems like integration intro traditional sets makes sense as it makes it highly visible to mainstream shoppers. Maybe it's why Annie's is next to Kraft at Kroger, whereas several years ago it was only in their "organic/healthy" aisle. From a messaging standpoint it seems like the reason people try it is to have one less red meat meal ... so communicate what it is, a meal-alternative. For out of store, seems likely there are visible patterns of shopper evolution into plant-based, you look to affinity items and then market to those folks with the right language, in the right spot. It is clearly not a high-priority for retailers and until it becomes that, the category captains have to really work hard to fight for strong placement, better packaging, better messaging, better integration into grocery recipes, better shopper marketing.
  • Posted on: 09/20/2022

    JCPenney’s beauty makeover is going chain-wide

    I struggle with knowing what JCPenney's value proposition is at this point. If shoppers are already going to JCP, Beauty might be something they visit. However I doubt shoppers seek it out; their better options include Ulta, Sephora, Target, Macy's and e-commerce. I think the "inclusivity" angle is so ubiquitous now, I'm not even sure consumers know what it really means. And if Thirteen Lune becomes more popular, they'll want to bail on JCP because the partnership will only inhibit their growth.
  • Posted on: 09/16/2022

    Where is Starbucks’ NFT odyssey heading?

    To address the first question, they used Polygon to address the energy use issue. So it was on their radar in terms of how audiences might react. I think most of what they are doing is a marketing gimmick. It might provide some internal learning but we are so early in this and far away from most consumers even understanding (or caring) what NFTs are, what Web3 is, and especially not from a brand like Starbucks where people are mostly thinking -- I just want my drink. I would have rather seen them use "Web3" to do some good in the communities in which their coffee is sourced. Something creative whereby the works could contribute to creation of some artifacts and then share in their profits -- or an entire community. There seems to be the potential for a lot of utility but brands are doing these (sorry to say) ridiculous projects that have no depth. In my view, Starbucks really missed the mark on this, I would have expected them to bring a more thoughtful idea to market. Not that their audience cares much about the origin of their coffee but the idea of raising up those distant communities would seem to be 1.) a good thing to do and 2.) more aligned with what the young generation supposedly cares about. By the way, I'm still rooting for Starbucks, sipping my brew now.
  • Posted on: 09/06/2022

    What should Starbucks’s new CEO’s priorities be?

    I agree with the panel that the top priorities should be the people, especially those on the front lines, and revisiting their brand purpose to find meaning in it in today's context. I do think the new CEO could get his team to think about how data/analytics can come into play to smooth operations. And that can work in tandem with automating some more mundane tasks. Many orders are routine, and yet Starbucks acts like I'm a unique visitor each time. They could probably do more to manage the process by more accurately predicting daily drink orders, etc, or building out their loyalty program to gain more insights into these habits. This has the potential to aid the already-overworked staff who constantly appear to be on the verge of collapse.
  • Posted on: 08/22/2022

    TikTok turns Costco into a fashion magnet

    Costco fashion is going viral because who doesn't love the inside track on great deals on great brands? And what I find interesting about Costco is that it seems like a retailer that is on the shopper's side -- bring the deals to us, for us. The wholesale mentality, the food, the brands at great prices, the treasure hunt, all the ingredients that make something like this work organically. As for whether they could take action, I think the best action is to continue to put great product at great prices out there and let the earned (and free) social media run its course.
  • Posted on: 08/19/2022

    Are retailers missing opportunities to leverage location-powered experiences?

    I think David is right in terms of retailers having other priorities. There are a handful of third-party apps which target shoppers based on their locations and push coupons and marketing messages. I think other factors are lack of savvy in the C-suite with digital tech, legacy systems, silos, no burning platform (look how many dragged their feet on BOPIS) and shoppers not seeing good examples of it so not discussing it in research. Location-based solutions such as geo-fencing, when coupled with a strategy and permissions, could offer huge benefits. The examples above, BOPIS, promotional messaging, payment and visit insight are among the best uses to date.
  • Posted on: 07/26/2022

    Best Buy offers a new way to shop with its first-ever digital-first small box store

    It's an ok idea that could have easily launched years ago. However, I still think it's too early to scale. There aren't many consumer electronics stores where you can see a large assortment of options "live." Part of the compelling experience of Best Buy for me is to wander the assortment and look at my options. Doing this in a smaller store will require them to have a pulse on (1) the right curation (2) not too narrow so a shopper thinks their choices are limited. I wonder if the more interesting experiment here is in the virtual shop-along assistance. Imagine walking through a new TV with a remote agent in Iowa who is lending her expertise from her home. If shoppers warmed to that concept, not only could it help Best Buy, it could help other retailers that need expertise (THD, etc) and overcome the labor hurdle.
  • Posted on: 07/22/2022

    Is Amazon on the verge of reinventing American healthcare?

    The retailer-led pushes into primary healthcare make sense. Like food, people will always need healthcare. As for the impact of Amazon's acquisition, too early to say, but with their size, there are only a few verticals that can fuel the growth engine and there is space in the market for better service, no doubt. All the comments in this discussion have focused on reactive health. I'd like to see Amazon go after more preventative care, health monitoring, etc. We've not been very good in this area but we are very close to having great tracking and predictive tools (e.g. Apple watch, AI, etc). The real innovation will come from someone truly approaching healthcare differently (a real disruptor) which I don't think Amazon will do. They'll streamline the mess for now, their effort is getting closer to parity with WAG, CVS, WMT, etc.
  • Posted on: 07/19/2022

    Will Toys“R”Us kids help Macy’s have a very merry Christmas?

    I am sure Amazon is excited, this will be a wonderful showroom for them! Macy's better have their assortment, inventory, pricing structure and e-commerce sorted out. Will they pick up some sales? Sure. Will it make a dent? Unlikely.
  • Posted on: 07/18/2022

    Should Amazon ax its private labels to appease regulators?

    I agree with Stephen, it's Amazon's platform. I am sure this is pervasive, it's a smart business practice. Take a legacy business like Kroger; it likely favors its brands on kroger.com having its private label equivalent pop up under relevant searches. And at the end of the day, shoppers still have a choice to choose whichever brand they like. If they are that influenced by web searches on Amazon.com, maybe we have other issues.

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