Retail Q&A: Nikesh Patel on Innovation, Analytics and Online Shopping

January 22, 2019 Ginna Hall

Digital adoption is sweeping the globe. The uptake of mobile phones and increasing access to the internet have huge ramifications for businesses in all industries. Retailers can’t afford to ignore this new reality.Nikesh Patel, Nielsen Visual IQ

Shoppers around the world no longer simply go to the nearest store; they grab the nearest digital device. Retail ecommerce sales are expected to climb 15% this year to $605.3 billion, according to eMarketer.

We caught up with Nikesh Patel, SVP, Product Management, for his views on the power of analytics for retailers and the future of the industry.

VIQ: How did you get into this field?

Nikesh: Seven years ago I was fortunate enough to go straight from finalizing my degree to putting my passion for analytics to professional use with Nielsen.

Early in my career, I joined a product innovation group — running comparisons of spend on circulars versus digital media tactics for a retail client to help them understand effectiveness and optimize their marketing budget.

Analyzing big data and discovering key factors necessary for success cemented my interest in smart performance evaluation, and I haven’t looked back since.

VIQ: What has been the highlight of your role so far?

Nikesh: I’d say my greatest highlight to date is seeing our innovations in action. It is fascinating to see our products function in real-world settings and bring data to life for our clients, especially when our analysis helps them improve their decision-making.

For instance, I was recently involved in a project with an airline that was caught between its sales team, who wanted to lower prices for an upcoming flight in order to hit their sales targets, and its media team, who wanted to invest in promotions to encourage more bookings.  

Empowering them with the analytics they needed to decide which route will ultimately drive the best results for the business was really exciting.

VIQ: In terms of technology developments, what have you got planned for the next 12 months?

Nikesh: There are a couple of cool things we’re working on. The first involves using data to get a more holistic view of the consumer. Today’s marketers require a 360-degree view of each consumer’s path to purchase if they are to deliver the tailored and effective experiences. But stitching disparate data together can be complex when individuals aren’t assigned the same identifier (ID) across systems.

For instance, a single shopper might click on a brand’s retargeting ad on their desktop, visit their website on their mobile device, and engage with a store’s app on their tablet before ultimately making a purchase in the store. At Nielsen, we're looking to reconcile varied sources of consumer and interaction data to better link every touchpoint in an individual’s journey to give marketers a more granular and accurate understanding of their customers.

The second revolves around the future of retail. Today, brands, merchandisers and manufacturers use retailers as channels through which they sell their products, but rarely do these groups work in collaboration. We’re looking to turn these traditionally cautious partners into modern-day allies by providing measurement solutions that enable retailers to provide insights back to brands, so they can work together to optimize performance.

VIQ: Would you say that the future of retail is mobile, online, physical stores or a mixture of all three?

Nikesh: I think it will be a mixture of all three, as the characteristics of each platform are better suited for different aspects of the shopping experience. For example, mobile is more suited to the rising appetite for convenient and spontaneous shopping, while the desktop is better for comparing options and doing research for purchases that are more thought out.

Meanwhile, consumers are still heading to brick-and-mortar stores for high value items that they want to see, touch and feel before buying. The reality is that the path to purchase is both digital and physical, and I can’t see that changing anytime soon.

VIQ: What has impressed you about one of your recent online shopping experiences?

Nikesh: I recently bought a dress online for my partner for her birthday. I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for, but after clicking on a few styles that I liked, the site began recommending me a few alternatives based on what I was searching for. I ended up buying one of the recommended dresses - although I may have discovered the item on my own, the personalization was genuinely helpful and improved my overall shopping experience.

VIQ: Who in the industry inspires you and why?

Nikesh: I find Hubert Joly, current CEO of Best Buy, to be truly inspirational. Joly has been able to successfully level the playing field in an industry upended by Amazon by creating shopping experiences that are uniquely suited to the brick-and-mortar environment, such as the Geek Squad.

VIQ: What technology can’t you live without?

Nikesh: It would be cliché to say my smartphone so it would have to be my smart assistant. I have a Google Home that has essentially become a part of my daily routine: I ask it questions about the weather and traffic each morning, and use it to catch up on the news in the evening. I wouldn’t say I can’t live without it, but if you took it away, it would certainly impact my life.

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