Archive for the 'food retailing' Category

More on combating the Amazon grocery juggernaut

Another timely discussion at RetailWire about the best ways for grocers to fight the Amazon-Whole Foods tie-up. To me, it’s not just about price competition but a lot more:

Most of the spotlight on the Amazon/Whole Foods acquisition has focused on price cutting, but these were necessary to make WF more competitive. Look for more cuts to come, to help Whole Foods overcome its “Whole Paycheck” brand reputation.

But longtime observers of Amazon know that the keys to its success are its assortments and its mastery of logistics. If I were a competitor, this is where I would focus my efforts before being run over by the Amazon juggernaut. Improving the efficiency of the shopping experience — whether through faster checkout, better execution of home delivery or higher in-stock rates — will go a long way toward dealing with the looming challenge.

Advertisements

“Whole Paycheck” no more

As soon as Amazon closed the deal on its Whole Foods acquisition, it dropped prices on several best-selling staples (with more to come). This sent a shudder through the rest of the grocery industry, especially with Amazon’s history of losing money to gain market share. I argue (on RetailWire) that Amazon had to move fast to overcome Whole Foods’ perception as an overpriced place to buy groceries:

I did a fast price check at the site for Metro Market (one of the Kroger’s divisions operating here in Milwaukee, and the sister brand of Mariano’s in Chicago). Its prices on organic bananas, eggs, butter and Fuji apples are already at or slightly below the new pricing at Whole Foods. (Its price on lean ground beef is 50 cents higher as of this morning.) What this points out is that Whole Foods had a pricing problem (“Whole Paycheck”) that Amazon is taking aggressive steps to correct.

Based on what happened to Costco’s and Walmart’s stock prices since Friday, there is a typical overreaction to the steps that Amazon is taking. Just keep in mind that Walmart and many other grocers are already competitive and Whole Foods is just joining the party. Also keep in mind that the Whole Foods brick-and-mortar footprint has a long way to go before it catches up with its competitors, despite the smart moves that Amazon is likely to make.

Groceries are battling too much space too

Excess square footage in general merchandising has been well-documented, especially with 2017’s wave of store closures. The trend hasn’t swamped grocery retail — yet — but don’t be surprised if the advent of online grocery shopping will take a toll. Here’s my comment, from a recent RetailWire discussion:

The grocery business is suffering from the same “overspace” problem that has plagued general merchandisers for years, leading to waves of store closures this year. The retailers in the middle — the old standbys like Kroger — are particularly vulnerable to increased competition from discounters, small-format stores and retailers doing a better job engaging with “foodies” and Millennials. (At least Kroger has a winning concept with Mariano’s in Chicago.)

There is no doubt that shopping behavior is changing. Some shoppers are opting for more frequent but smaller trips for fresher food, while others are bulking up at warehouse clubs. Aldi, Lidl and Trader Joe’s are offering smaller stores with curated assortments, and now Amazon is lurking in the background with its purchase of Whole Foods. As a regular shopper at Kroger’s “Metro Market” chain in Milwaukee, I can tell you that the overwhelming amount of choice (to fill all that space) makes even a simple shopping trip harder than it should be.

While some mid-tier chains are in a better position than others to survive, some industry consolidation is probably long overdue here. Meanwhile, here’s a related post about mall developers looking to fill empty space with food retail:

It’s ironic that we’re talking about food stores taking over vacant mall space today, after discussing excess square footage in the grocery business yesterday. There may be specific malls where it makes sense to add a small-footprint store like Fresh Market, but it’s hard to see how full-line mid-tier stores like Kroger can make this work on a large scale despite its test in Ohio. Presumably the grocery store would be the “last stop” on the shopping trip, if the shopper visits the rest of the mall at all.

The entire issue comes down to mall developers and how they reinvent all that real estate. Southdale (outside Minneapolis) is replacing a JCP store with a three-level fitness center; other malls are adding more dining and entertainment. But pulling off-mall retailers (TJX, Costco) into the fold may be a more viable solution if the price of entry is right.

Can Amazon execute grocery delivery better than the competition?

A lot of the conversation about the Whole Foods acquisition centers on Amazon acquiring a bigger brick-and-mortar footprint. My RetailWire comment suggests that Amazon also has a chance to take home delivery of groceries to a higher level:

I think Amazon has the chance to bring a level of execution to online grocery shopping that doesn’t appear to be in place yet. I don’t want to judge an entire industry from my experience with Safeway last week, but it may be typical. While on vacation, I ordered groceries to stock up our rental house for a week. The order did not show up in the scheduled delivery window (in fact, Safeway was running 3 hours behind and I canceled the order) and would have been 1/3 short-shipped. What I thought would be a convenience turned out to be a customer service nightmare, after spending nearly an hour on hold to fix the problem.

Again, it’s a small sample size but the combination of stock-outs and late delivery is not exactly meant to inspire confidence in the process. I believe Amazon has the capacity to make this work, and they won’t roll it out aggressively until they are ready.

On Amazon’s bid for Whole Foods

Talk about breaking news: RetailWire panelists had a chance today to weigh in on the announcement of Amazon’s bid to acquire Whole Foods. While many panelists see it as a way for Amazon to gain a bigger toehold in brick-and-mortar retail, I view it differently:

First, the move can help grow Amazon’s brick-and-mortar footprint, but it’s more about taking the Whole Foods brand to every household in America that may order groceries from Amazon. It gives Amazon’s fresh food businesses (meat, produce, organics) instant credibility in homes without a Whole Foods location in sight.

As to the skeptics about whether Amazon can handle the logistics — can they deliver organic produce and Cheerios at the same time — this is the smartest logistics management company in the world that we’re talking about.

Finally, Amazon has a longstanding willingness to lose money in a new business where it is trying to grow market share. The days of “Whole Paycheck” may be over.

Target’s continued struggles with groceries and supply chain

I’ve combined a couple of recent RetailWire comments here — first about changes at the top of Target’s grocery business, and second about new hires on the logistics front — to reflect my concern that the company continues to have problems executing. First, about food:

It’s hard to judge Ms. Dament’s performance based on less than 18 months on the job and the possibly insurmountable challenge she faces. Maybe she underperformed, maybe it was a bad cultural fit or strategic clash –who knows? Anybody trying to turn this around quickly has not been dealt a winning hand.

Brian Cornell wrote off the Target Canada fiasco very quickly, but I’m not sure he can walk away from the grocery business so easily. The company spent billions on remodels and infrastructure to establish the business, and it doesn’t appear to have a replacement strategy waiting in the wings.

But how does Target fix it? It’s not a “top of mind” business and doesn’t have the critical mass needed to draw weekly shoppers. Perhaps Target should hire somebody from a more disruptive grocer (think Aldi or Trader Joe’s) who can offer up a more innovative, curated approach to the category.

Second, about logistics:

I’m no expert on supply chain management, but it’s clear that Target recognizes a logistics problem when it hires executives from two of the best in the business — first Amazon and now Walmart. I also don’t know whether Target has spent competitively over the years on logistics (compared to its competitors) but this is a longstanding issue. One of the biggest problems that doomed Target Canada was its inability to keep the store shelves filled, and anybody who shops Target regularly sees plenty of empty pegs on a regular basis.

Target has long pushed the idea of inventory turnover at the expense of satisfactory in-stock rates. If their new hires can accomplish both goals, more power to them….but the company needs to commit to higher service levels first, not just more speed and lower cost.

Walmart shows modest Q2 gains

Walmart stood out from most other retailers by reporting a comp-sales gain for the 2nd quarter, instead of a decline. (There continues to be strength in the off-price segment, too.) I think part of the reason is Walmart’s success at the food and commodity businesses while Target continues to struggle. Here’s my take from a recent RetailWire discussion:

Walmart veers from underperformance to overperformance over time, and the latest “overperformance” is really only in contrast to competitors like Target. A very modest comp-store sales increase is nothing to write home about when Walmart continues to lose share to Amazon, dollar stores, and other competitors. That being said, Walmart is doing a consistently better job drawing in regular food shoppers than Target, and some of its investments in store improvements are starting to pay dividends. But a 1.6% same-store increase isn’t cause for celebration, even in today’s tough environment for general merchandisers.