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.

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  • Posted on: 06/24/2022

    Is the metaverse opportunity getting any clearer?

    I think retailers should understand the insights into why people would opt for a virtual world when they don't want to head to a store. There is probably something in the metaverse around making e-commerce better, perhaps you could shop with friends more easily a la during an e-commerce experience. I think they need to understand the technical aspect but more importantly the insight into why humans would want to engage in this medium or might want to down the road. If there is a tension it solves or might solve, or an unmet need, they can do some experiments around that. I think the hype versus reality will become clear when there are more articles in the press around utility -- in gaming, content (Netflix/etc.), retail, healthcare, education -- versus these ho-hum marketing campaigns as of late.
  • Posted on: 06/22/2022

    Can Lowe’s build something tangible in the metaverse?

    I think this is smart, in my view it's paving a way for an evolved commerce experience. If they had chosen an existing platform, it would likely fall into the hype cycle as in my experience most of those are either vacant or used only by a niche at this stage. Lots of possibilities could come from this. The only drawback might be timing. Their experiments will likely infuse smaller incremental learnings as they go rather than a huge windfall. Adoption of the metaverse at scale is, unfortunately, still years away. I am pleasantly surprised that Lowe's is trying to find utility instead of building a space where people can throw hamburgers into a basketball hoop.
  • Posted on: 06/16/2022

    Instacart has a family plan to build shopping carts

    This is a feature that should have already existed. In my opinion it doesn't warrant a name change or any PR hype. I suspect a majority of list making is being done by one person and that person knows what the family needs and wants or it's easy enough to just ask them. In our house it's usually my wife, I doubt she wants to have to monitor the list of things our kids add to the cart. Households are also getting smaller so communication is as easy as asking your spouse or partner what they want to add to the list. Again, in my opinion, it's just a feature -- hardly worth mentioning.
  • Posted on: 06/14/2022

    Has online grocery shopping hit its sales ceiling?

    I think online grocery shopping will stabilize with no major shifts either way over the next few years unless we have another pandemic or other anomaly that drives shoppers online. I think grocers should continue investing in e-commerce to make the experience better by adding more value to the shopper to address their needs (meal ideas), better use of less data to drive more suggestion or prediction engines (helps the first point), also invest in stores to ensure they are enjoyable to shop. I think I'd also tie up with developers, communities and tap into some more creativity to have formats that are integrated into a larger lifestyle areas. Most grocery stores are pretty dull, just warehouses with a few elevated areas. People like to be social; take some risks -- create some more interesting concepts that break the mold.
  • Posted on: 06/13/2022

    Should retailers charge for curbside pickup?

    This reminds me of the minimum order required for paying with a card. I doubt many people are going to care if they are loyal shoppers and the charge is nominal, especially tied to a minimum purchase threshold. However for non-grocery I could see annoyed people just saying, "Next time, I'll just order it on Amazon." As for special requests and other anomalies, it just depends on the business. This question might be a boogeyman.
  • Posted on: 06/08/2022

    Should retailers prepare to serve customers in ‘post-car’ suburbs?

    I can definitely see communities like this becoming more common -- or at least I hope so. Maybe today's mall spaces, like Easton in Columbus, will do a better job of integrating residential spaces and others, in larger cities, will follow. Ideally, retailers would be involved in the planning stages of these concepts. This would allow them to rethink their entire experience versus just plopping down a store and then having delivery available. Imagine an IKEA concept you could live above or a fully furnished IKEA concept in which you could rent an apartment turnkey from them -- and have your meatballs and a slice of cake delivered to you fresh. Better integration in the planning process will lead to better experiences for the entire community. "How" will depend on the retailer but I could see building lobbies having mini-shops, subscription programs, basically easier access to goods and services and things being less transactional. Lots of possibilities. However a truly post-car U.S. won't happen in our lifetime.
  • Posted on: 06/03/2022

    Circle K’s new self-checkouts are kicking barcode scanners to the curb

    When SCO works well it makes much more sense than having an associate, especially in a c-store chain where the basket size is small. As for impact, a positive one for shoppers for sure, likely for associates too. They will still need someone to assist with lottery, fuel, and tobacco so that support will help with any shopper hangups. I would think this would also help operational performance, enabling more transactions, faster with fewer people. I think SCO is table stakes so rivals without it need to figure out how to get it done. Others might be working on their Just Walk Out technology to leapfrog this, although that hasn't gained the traction I would have expected by now.
  • Posted on: 06/01/2022

    New members re-up at Costco in record numbers

    Mark's observation is spot on. Costco delivers on its promise and with the economy facing headwinds, people realize its value in their wallets. Based on lines for gas at Costco, I suspect that savings on fuel had a lot to do with people wanting that access via their memberships. It's definitely the right thing to hold off on increasing membership fees, it's a no-brainer.
  • Posted on: 05/17/2022

    Which exec role should guide the path to the metaverse?

    I think it should fall under a chief digital officer. While I don't like the siloed nature of this role, this person would be more holistic in their view while understanding "digital" and "tech," likely better than the CMO/COO roles. Perhaps the CMO/COO would have people on their teams as part of a metaverse task force, creating provocations across the total value chain. As for prioritization, I think you have to take the metaverse topic seriously, make sure key stakeholders are educated and understand the implications. Build relationships in the space, meet with key leaders in the industry MSFT, FB, NVDA, etc. Have executives experience anything and everything that's happening. Bring aboard some junior stakeholders and give them access to senior leadership for "reverse" mentoring. Then do some small pilots, experiment, maybe those small pilots can be infused into existing parts of the business.
  • Posted on: 05/10/2022

    Can Starbucks replicate the ‘third place’ in the metaverse?

    I don't think this is a zero-sum game. Physical and digital can and will co-exist. Pursing the "digital third place" for the purposes of learning and connecting is smart. But if this effort takes away energy from other, more pressing issues, that's a red flag. With 30 percent on-premises and my Starbucks drive-thru packed daily, what are the implications? My pre-teen kids and their friends are enamored with the product with the equity of the brand. In places outside of the U.S., Starbucks are often full of people talking, relaxing, and drinking coffee. But are things slipping? Perhaps. Keep a pulse on the physical and don't let that slip away -- also stay on top of what's happening in this emerging space.
  • Posted on: 04/28/2022

    Is timing more important than speed for grocery delivery?

    Yes, time accuracy is more important, have we not learned anything from the endless jokes about cable repair time windows? Speed is a race to the bottom, few things end up being that sensitive outside of medical care.
  • Posted on: 04/22/2022

    Will workouts drive loyalty for Lululemon?

    I think the two-tiered element makes sense. Free covers new customers or those who are slightly engaged but curious. The more loyal fan base will want to be a part of the ecosystem and for them, it's a small price to pay. Lululemon could probably add a higher tier down the road. The keys to success will be compelling content, personalization, ease of engagement and listening to the conversations to keep a pulse on what's working and what's not.
  • Posted on: 04/18/2022

    Will Amazon’s fuel surcharge irritate its marketplace sellers?

    Yes, it is fair. I'll assume they ran the numbers to determine if that was the right percentage in terms of actually contributing to their costs and what sellers would tolerate without raising hell. As for where they are vulnerable, nowhere at this point. Amazon packages are delivered multiple times daily to neighborhoods across America. For independent sellers, unless they are very Facebook/Instagram savvy with their own Shopify stores, there won't be many chinks in Amazon's armor anytime soon. But Amazon's website is a cluttered mess that is very functional. If someone applied Apple's design sensibilities to an efficient e-commerce network, I could see people using that for certain products.
  • Posted on: 03/02/2022

    2022 could be the breakout year for mobile AR shopping

    I don't think the use of AR will "take off" this year, nothing really "takes off" in retail -- pandemic influences aside. It's still clunky. When Apple comes out with a user-friendly way to engage and their tool is applied to real tensions or for entertainment, it will take off. Right now it does seem that the virtual "try-on" or "what does this look like in my room" provide the best use case because AR in this instance solves a real pain point. We've used the Best Buy app for TV fit three or four times. It is cool technology that will take more time to spread in B2C.
  • Posted on: 02/24/2022

    Does any retailer do curbside service better than Target?

    I think the service enhancements will make Drive Up more appealing to existing Target shoppers. I think other things they do in aggregate help them gain more customers. Target is head and shoulders above the rest. Now they have to get the parking lot fixed and make sure in-store shoppers aren't robbed of precious parking spots by Drive Up. Lots of exciting opportunity to rethink exteriors in tandem with landlords.

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