Up Close is Sourcing Journal’s regular check-in with industry executives to get their take on topics ranging from personal style to their company’s latest moves. In this Q&A, Nikki Baird, vice president retail innovation at retail technology company Aptos, discusses how companies can encourage loyalty and why retailers need to get creative with overstocks to avoid mass markdowns when they reopen.
Name: Nikki Baird
Title: vice president retail innovation
Which other industry has the best handle on the supply chain? What can apparel learn?
I think retailers should be open to looking at every other industry to see what they can learn. I’ve found that overall the industry can get pretty closed-minded about what other industries have to offer. But it’s not about finding “the best”—it’s about sifting through other practices to identify things that might work for you.
Do you consider yourself a typical consumer?
No—I know too much. But I will say I try very hard not to let that color my interactions with retail employees. I remember one time at a grocery store, the cashier asked if I had found everything I needed, and after being frustrated about exactly that issue, and with three people behind me in line with full carts themselves, I said, “What would you do if I said no?” She blushed and said, “I don’t know.” And then I felt bad, because she was just doing what she’d been told to do. The fact that the question had no value was not her fault. And that’s why I just try to keep my mouth shut and shop.
As a consumer, what does it take to win your loyalty?
Delight me. That means surprise me with something good. It doesn’t have to be something that costs money, like a discount or a freebie. Though I think Zappos perfected the art of delight when they would randomly expedite the shipping of items for good customers.
What’s your typical uniform?
These days? Jeans, T-shirt, hoodie, which is transitioning to shorts, T-shirt, hoodie.
Which fashion era is your favorite?
The 1940s. I love Modcloth for that reason because you can find lots of great fashion that evokes that era.
Who’s your style icon?
Cate Blanchett. I would love to be able to pull off as many looks as she can, so effortlessly.
What’s the best decision your company has made in the last year?
I would say the best decision my company has made in the last year is to take the novel coronavirus seriously early, and move swiftly. Fashion and apparel has been hit the hardest outside of travel and hospitality. We pivoted very quickly to focus on how we could help.
How would you describe your corporate culture?
Scrappy. We’re not afraid to do hard things, and we’re willing to scrap to get them done.
What should be the apparel industry’s top priority now?
Controlling inventory. I really hope that the industry does not resort to mass, universal markdowns and looks instead to alternatives, like pack-and-hold or creative ways of extending lines across seasons. The mass markdowns of the financial crises in 2008 created consumer price sensitivity and demand impacts for years after. I suspect the current markdown event, once stores reopen, will be even more severe, with even more impact on consumer sensitivity in the long term.
What keeps you up at night?
That the shutdowns necessary to fight the pandemic have to last long enough that real, permanent, structural change happens in the industry—consolidation, store closures, long-term impact on consumer demand.
What makes you most optimistic?
Seeing things open up without the subsequent spike in infections—hopefully that lasts. Seeing the leaves and blooms as spring turns to summer.
Tell us about your company’s latest product introduction:
Aptos has invested significantly in our PLM (product lifecycle management) solution for fashion and apparel that takes a different approach to the discipline. Instead of a horizontal solution that has been adapted to retail, we have integrated PLM very deeply with the retail planning suite, and delivered it with an industry-leading user interface.