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The State of Retail 2017 – The Unstoppable Force of Change

What is the state of retail in 2017? What are the movers and shakers doing? And are there any retail stores left to close?

You can hardly keep up lately with all the news, good and bad, about the state of retail. News about customers shopping more online, and using mobile phones to do so. The expansion of Amazon.com to the physical retail channel and Walmart’s effort to mimic Amazon’s online business are also headlines.

Reports of thousands of retail stores closing in the US and elsewhere keep industry commentators and opinionists busy. Many suggest that retail technology may help to stop the rot…

Let’s look further at the matters that influenced the state of retail during 2017.

Retail customers continue to shop more online

There is no doubt that more retail customers are shopping online. The U.S. online sales are expected to reach more than $459 billion in 2017, rising 14% from last year and accounting for 12.9% of the anticipated $3.56 trillion in total retail sales, according to Forrester Research.

And retailer customers shop more online using mobile devices. In fact, according to Justin Smith, CEO of OuterBox,. He said that significantly more people are accessing the web from a tablet or smartphone than a desktop, and they’re doing it with more eCommerce intent than ever before.

The online shopping experience clearly has a major effect on eCommerce sales: The Forrester 2016 Customer Experience Index found that digital retailers delivered 17 positive experiences for every negative one, compared with just 13 among traditional retailers.

Amazon.com is making big moves while Walmart is trying to stay relevant

Amazon.com has made huge progress towards establishing Bricks and Mortar businesses during 2017. According to Dennis Green, writing in the Business Insider, Amazon.com has opened bookstores in major cities like Seattle, Chicago, and New York. He says that the stores operate exactly the same as Amazon’s online bookstore, since they allow visitors to browse a curated selection similar to how it appears on the site. There are currently 11 stores open, with two more on the way.

Even more significant was Amazon.com’s acquisition of natural foods store Whole Foods. Whole Foods was already a national chain with more than 450 stores, but with the power of Amazon behind it, it has the potential to be something even larger (Business Insider).  By the way, Amazon.com paid $13.7 Billion for Whole Foods (Bloomberg). However, with the acquisition of Whole Foods, Amazon.com was entering Walmart’s territory.

So what was Walmart doing during 2017? “Walmart has an annual turnover of $170 Billion and has largest share of US grocery retail sector by far” writes Phil Whaba in Fortune. That means that they really needn’t have to worry about Amazon.com, or do they? Walmart is worrying, and doing something about it…

Walmart is taking the battle with Amazon.com on the latter’s own soil – ecommerce.  “The e-commerce competition between Walmart Stores Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. is heating up, and Walmart executives are saying “bring it,” with plans to continue investment in its online and multi-platform capabilities” reported Tonya Garcia in Market Watch.  For the second quarter, e-commerce sales, which include purchases that are shipped to customers’ homes as well as transactions that are fulfilled in stores, such as the online grocery service, were up 60%, conclude Tonya.

But what was happening with the other retailers during 2017?

The apocalypse of retailers

The apocalypse of retailers refers to the closing of a large number of American retail stores since beginning in 2016, according Wikipedia. There was no respite for the industry as the apocalypse of retailers kept going on during 2017. Derick Thompson (The Atlantic) suggested that there are three explanations for the demise of America’s storefronts:

  1. People are buying more stuff online than they used to.
  2. The USA built way too many malls.
  3. Americans are shifting their spending from materialism to meals out with friends.

However, there are different opinions about the severity of the apocalypse of retailers. Glenn Taylor in Retail Touch Points writes that the retail apocalypse is more like a retail transformation. He suggests that while many retailers remain in flux, it appears more brands are getting the right tools in place to engineer a turnaround. Some commentators recognize that retailers shouldn’t seek the answers for the problems outside their organisations…

Matt Townsend, Jenny Surane, Emma Orr and Christopher Cannon suggested in Bloomberg that the problems with US retailers are of their own making: “The reason isn’t as simple as Amazon.com Inc. taking market share or twenty-somethings spending more on experiences than things. The root cause is that many of these long-standing chains are overloaded with debt—often from leveraged buyouts led by private equity firms. There are billions in borrowings on the balance sheets of troubled retailers, and sustaining that load is only going to become harder—even for healthy chains.”

If the retail apocalypse can be countered by turning your company around, which usually involve spending more money, but there is no money, well then…

So, will retail technology keep the retail apocalypse in check?

How did retail technology affected the state of retail during 2017?

The adoption of the latest retail technology is proposed as one way to stop the demise of retail stores. Especially is the use of learned machines, data, and virtual- and augmented reality seen to make the in-store shopping experience of customers more pleasant. That, some says, will bring the feet back in the stores.

“With shoppers’ expectations rising, the proliferation of data and new touch points, and increasing competitive pressures, retailers must focus on delivering the most relevant customer experiences possible in order to succeed”, concurred Jeff Barret in Inc. That’s where the problem is with retailers – they have the data, but they don’t know how best to use it…

“Many businesses are failing to make the most of the technology available to them, gathering only a tiny fraction of the available data. They are using valuable manual resources to process and analyze the data they do get and presenting the findings in an incomplete or unnecessarily complicated way”, writes Patrick Reynolds in his blog eTech.

Thus, although retail technology was around during 2017, it seems that most retailers missed the opportunity to use it effectively.

Concluding

Now you might be asking: “What will the state of retail be in 2018?” It may be ‘same old, same old’ or a barrage of new pleasant (or unpleasant) surprises. I don’t know. May it is time that we go back to our customers and ask them. I’m sure they will know the answer…

Happy 2018!

Images:

  1. Georaph.org.uk
  2. Pixabay.com; Pixabay.com
  3. StaticFlickr.com

Read also: Crossing the digital threshold – adding Clicks to Bricks for sustainable retail outcomes

Thinking About Competing With Amazon.com? Think Again…

Competing with Amazon.com may prove to be a difficult if not an impossible challenge. You are up against an extraordinary company led by an extraordinary leader.

“Your margin is my opportunity”, dares Jeff Bezos, the founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Amazon.com. According to Jessica Stillman, contributing for INC. , Jeff sees a competitor’s love of margins and other financial ‘ratios’ as an opportunity for Amazon. Says Jeff: “The competitor will cling to them while he focuses on absolute dollar free cash flow and slices through them like a hot knife through butter.”

The migration of Amazon.com from a sole online retailer (Clicks Only) to physical locations (Bricks and Clicks stores) is perceived by many retailers, big and small, as a threat to their existence. However, incumbent retailers can learn much from how Amazon.com conducts their business. Amazon.com is now an omnichannel retail giant that makes the most of the opportunities that digital technology in the new economy offers – showing the way for others to follow.

George Parker has recently converted from an Amazon hater to an Amazon admirer. George writes in Business Insider: “But perhaps the thing that impresses me most about Amazon’s unconventionality is its ability to structure its business model in unexpected ways. Because of the massive volume of product it sells 24/7/365, Amazon maintains 80 enormous warehousing and fulfillment centers scattered around the known universe.” Amazon.com is an uncompromising competitor with an unconventional business model.

How on earth can retailers compete with that?

Where is Amazon.com coming from?

Amazon.com was founded during 1995 and started as a website selling only books. They started out as an online bookstore and grew patiently but significantly to be the world’s largest online retailer. Being one of the few companies that survived the “dot.com” crash during 2000, Amazon.com made their first yearly profit during 2003. Net profit came in at $35 million, or 8 cents per share, compared with a net loss of $149 million, or 39 cents per share, in 2002 (Quora.com).

NASDAQ reported Amazon’s net income for 2016 was an impressive $2.37 billion. This income was mainly coming from its online retail business. RetailDive recently reported that Amazon dominates online sales traffic with an equal or greater share of sales compared to all other e-commerce sites combined, when measured across 11 retail categories. Indeed better than all the rest.

What is Amazon doing now?

Amazon.com is on a buying spree in the Bricks and Mortar retail market. They’ve also came to realize that adding Bricks to Clicks is the future of retailing. Richard Kestenbaum, contributing for Forbes concurs: “Now even Amazon has recognized that online alone is not going to work. In order to succeed in grocery, there will have to be a symbiosis of online and physical stores.” There seems no stopping from Amazon buying Bricks and Mortar retailers.

Competing with Amazon.com is getting more difficult. The Seattle giant launched a radical assault by acquiring a brand-name high-end grocery chain with 456 stores in the U.S. (436), Canada (11), and the United Kingdom (9). Whole Foods also owns three distribution centers (Brad Thomas, Forbes).

So, Amazon is now becoming a true Bricks and Clicks retailer and you will most probably have to compete with it. What are Bricks and Clicks retailers up against when competing with Amazon?

Competing with Amazon.com – the last crusade or new horizons for retailers?

Amazon’s business model is a formidable one, with deep moats on multiple fronts that make it tough for competitors to gain ground. The only way to stop Amazon is to either beat AWS [free Amazon Web Services], which holds a commanding lead in the cloud platform market, or replicate Amazon’s multi-layered Prime strategy [offering tons of benefits on Prime memberships]; (Leo Sun, The Motley Fool).

Kavadias, Ladas and Loch, (2016) have identified six recurring features in the business models of companies (also Amazon.com) that were successful in transforming their industries:

  1. A more personalized product or service – many new models offer products or services that are better tailored than the dominant models to customers’ individual and immediate needs. Companies often leverage technology to achieve this at competitive prices.
  2. A closed-loop process – many models replace a linear consumption process (in which products are made, used, and then disposed of) with a closed loop, in which used products are recycled. This shift reduces overall resource costs.
  3. Asset sharing – some innovations succeed because they enable the sharing of costly assets, e.g. Uber shares assets with car owners. Maybe independent retailers can share assets across the supply chain – what about sharing warehouses, or delivery services?
  4. Usage-based pricing – some models charge customers when they use the product or service, rather than requiring them to buy something outright. The customers benefit because they incur costs only as offerings generate value. The company, on the other hand, benefits because the number of customers is likely to grow.
  5. A more collaborative ecosystem – some innovations are successful because a new technology improves collaboration with supply chain partners and helps allocate business risks more appropriately, making cost reductions possible.
  6. An agile and adaptive organization – innovators sometimes use technology to move away from traditional hierarchical models of decision making. In order to make decisions that better reflect market needs and allow real-time adaptation to changes in those needs. The result is often greater value for the customer at less cost to the company.

Independent or small retail chains need to “think outside the box”. Maybe you should pool your resources and thereby establishing a critical mass to counter the likes of Amazon.com. Also, your location and local knowledge may be a substantial niche – be the first to explore it!

Concluding

Competing successfully with Amazon.com will probably be not viable for independent or small retail chains. Best is to learn Amazon successes and failures and use that knowledge to compete locally in a niche market.

Further reading: Amazon.com and Walmart – Set to Face Off in the Omni-Retail Channel Space

Note

1 Kavadias, S., Ladas, K. and Loch, C. 2016. The transformative business model, Harvard Business Review, 94(10):90-98.

Image

Flickr.com

 

Amazon.com and Walmart – Set to Face Off in the Omni-Retail Channel Space

Amazon.com and Walmart are busy reacting to challenges in their retail channels. The outcomes of their strategies are setting up these retail titans for a massive collusion in the Omni-channel retail space. “Amazon and Walmart have become the disruptive titans of today’s business world” says Jim Tompkins, CEO of Tompkins International. The rest of the retailers are playing catch up as they create benefits for their customers at a phenomenal rate.

But what are Amazon.com and Walmart now doing? Amazon.com – by far the leading online retailer is opening physical stores. Walmart – the biggest traditional (physical) retailer is frantically trying to compete with Amazon.com in the online retail channel. In short, Amazon.com is adding Bricks to their Clicks and Walmart is adding Clicks to their Bricks. However, they will both end up as Bricks and Clicks retailers.

Both Amazon.com and Walmart has entered the Omni-retail channel simultaneously to achieve the ultimate title: The World’s Biggest Retailer…

The paths that Amazon.com and Walmart took to the Omni-retail channel

Although the paths that the two retailers took leads to the Omni-Retail channel, they took different routes to reach their destination.

Amazon.com – adding Bricks to Clicks

Amazon.com, the most successful online retailer by far, is now opening physical shops of all kinds – and fast. That begs the question – why? Amazon wants to enjoy the advantages that a physical shop offers.

According to Trevis Team writing in Forbes, Amazon is opening physical stores to: 1) provide a more personal shopping experience to its consumers; 2) reduce shipping costs by providing a store pick up facility; and 3) integrate the online and offline shopping experience for its consumers in addition to creating a strong brand image. It is adding Bricks to Clicks then…

Nathan Cohen-Fournier and others from Tufts University suggest that Amazon’s ability to maintain its dominating position in e-commerce is under threat. Once competitors catch up with Prime and same-day shipping (Walmart and Ebay already have similar offerings), consumers will demand even lower prices and differentiation. In this regard, Bricks-and-Mortars have the lead, due to immediacy, trial-touch-feel, and ease-of-return. Also, essentially, Amazon is choosing growth over profits says Mac Bartine in Quora.

“Does this mean that Amazon will have to open more Brick-and-Mortar stores than just the one in Seattle?” asks Wayne Rash writing in eWeek. Perhaps, but it’s unlikely it could reach the penetration of Walmart.

The ultimate answer likely will mean more innovation from both companies—and that means consumers will benefit.

Amazon.com is masters of online retailing

Amazon.com is masters of online retailing

Walmart – adding Clicks to Bricks

Walmart has a long history of taking the best of what other companies do and incorporating it into their own business model. It is now doing its best to oust Amazon. But, in a world that has quickly gone digital, where Amazon has continually refined and improved its delivery options, Walmart has not quite come up with an answer to challenge the online leader.

Wayne Rash suggests that Walmart did not succeed to challenge Amazon with online sales. Products on Walmart’s website rarely were cheaper than Amazon’s and fast delivery only happened if the desired product was already in a store near you. Walmart’s online offerings were broader than one usually finds in their brick-and-mortar stores. However, Amazon always had more offerings to choose from.

For a long time, Walmart had an edge over Amazon simply because it had a network of stores. “However, by building up its Prime membership, which offers free two-day shipping, and increasing its shipping capacity and options, Amazon has made that edge less relevant” writes Daniel B. Kline in the Business Insider.

All Bricks-and-Mortar chains, not just Walmart, have struggled because they haven’t sufficiently adapted to the fact that retail on the web is a harsher environment compared to what they face on land.

The clash of equals in the Omni-retail channel

So, if Amazon.com and Walmart will face off in the Omni-retail channel, what will happen?

Both retailers are treading on each other’s strong points, challenging each other’s competitive advantages. For Amazon opening physical stores it means it customer’s expectation can be met regarding the shopping experience. Amazon’s customers can now enjoy shopping at their physical stores, using their senses to experience the products. They will however still enjoy the advantages that Amazon offers as a leading online retailer.

Walmart, on the other hand, has hundreds of physical retail outlets, with proficient staff that know how to please customers.  Walmart is the master of merchandising and decorating and fitting a shop to encourage customer patronage. What Walmart however realise, is the need to do business online the same or even better than Amazon. Walmart doesn’t have the skills or the organisational culture to confront Amazon successfully on its own. It is therefore unsurprising that Walmart acquired Jet.com to jump-start their online sales.

Who will be the winner of this epic battle? It will probably be the retailer that knows and satisfies the needs of their customers the best. As Jim Tompkins remarks that there are five elements that every counter-offensive must have for retailers to thrive nowadays:

  1. Omni-channel
  2. Store Fulfillment
  3. Same-Day Delivery
  4. Planning-Execution
  5. Demand-Driven Value Network

Tompkins notes that it is not about how much you sell online, but about the impact of online sales. Therefore, as a small Bricks and Clicks retailer – don’t even bother to compete directly with the Amazons or Walmarts in the Omni-Retail channel. Rather identify a niche market and develop your brand to provide the customers the best Omni-retail channel experience they could ever wished for.

Note:

Nathan Cohen-Fournier, Adolfo Gatti, Angelica Nouhi  2016.   AMAZON VS WALMART – REAL VISION CASE COMPETITION, Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, Tufts University

Images:

wikimedia.org and flickr.com