Consider the Cost: Why Free Shipping Is a Shared Expense

Free shipping is basically expected nowadays. When shopping online, you may be caught off guard if you see a shipping charge added at checkout. At that point, you have a couple of options: decide if the product is worth paying $5-10 extra to have shipped; search online at another retailer who does offer free shipping; or, take advantage of in-store pickup if there’s inventory near you.

Free shipping is an incredibly powerful tool to motivate a purchase, but it isn’t really all that ‘free’ – it’s just a matter of who covers the cost. And in a cultural climate more concerned with protecting the environment, retailers and shoppers aren’t the only ones sharing the burden.

The Sliding Scale of Free Shipping

I mentioned the motivating power of free shipping and the role it plays in the buying journey. If I know a retailer offers it, I’m more likely to spend my money there, and that translates to my increasing loyalty. The way I see it, free shipping is a bit of a sliding scale, where the retailer or the shopper covers a smaller or larger portion of shipping expenses, depending on the scenario. The company may eat the cost at one time to win consumer affinity, but through devoted shopping dollars, the consumer helps to lessen the blow.

What immediately comes to mind as an example is my identity as a Target REDcard holder. I don’t have to pay for unlimited, free two-day shipping, as one does with the membership cost for Amazon Prime, but Target sure does get a chunk of my budget each month. Big picture: I see it as a great deal. The retailer is rewarded with my loyalty, and in the end, we’re both pretty pleased.

Because of my work with Ketner Group client OrderDynamics, I watch the industry closely for trends related to order fulfillment and shipping. Our friends at OrderDynamics put out a study this year called Omni-2000, in which they found that 75.7% of retailers with an eCommerce site provide free shipping with a minimum purchase. In cases like this, the retailer foots the bill to deliver your goods. However, the cost to you as a consumer is often spending more than you intended. And because you’re increasing the size of your order, the added sale helps to reduce the hit the retailer will take for covering shipping costs.

It all costs someone something – it’s just a matter of how you look at it.

A Greener Future for Free-Shipping Shopping Habits

Financial costs aside, retail fulfillment has become increasingly complex, and the associated logistics have ramifications for the environment as well. Turning orders around more quickly means more trucks are on the road. In the name of timely and convenient delivery, those trips aren’t optimized to fit the most boxes in one vehicle at a time. Plus, there’s the additional waste associated with cardboard boxes and packing materials.

With Earth Day right around the corner, this is an interesting conversation to have in the industry. I found this short five-minute video extremely insightful, discussing the environmental cost of two-day shipping, if you’re interested!

I believe because of present discussions around global warming and carbon emissions, we’ll start to see retailers become more vocal about their proactivity to reduce their global impact, while still coming through on omnichannel convenience. And if it’s an important issue in the heart of its customers, retailers ought to gain even more loyalty in the process.

I’m also curious to watch for the emergence of other fulfillment channels as retailers work on efficiencies, cost savings and waste reduction efforts. Will there be wider availability of BOPIS, BORIS and ROPIS offerings, perhaps? Incentives besides free shipping to nudge conscious consumers to select a “greener” option? Driverless cars and drones? We’ll have to wait and see.

All Is Fair in Love and Retail

Valentine’s Day is upon us and love is in the air at Ketner Group. Some of us will be watching romantic comedies (such as Crazy Stupid Love – objectively the greatest rom-com of all time). Some will be enjoying a nice dinner (now that KG has a New York office, perhaps Adrienne will enjoy a beautiful candle-lit dinner at my favorite dining establishment – White Castle). And others will be finding their own ways to celebrate (or not).

Regardless of our plans on Feb. 14, one thing will remain consistent for all of us here at Ketner Group: our love for retail. So, what can we expect this Valentine’s Day from our one true love?

NRF Projects Fewer Lovers but More Dollars

According to NRF, not everyone in the U.S. is feeling the love. Only 51% of Americans plan to celebrate the holiday, down from 55% last year and well below 2007’s high of 63%. It’s not all gloom for retail though. According to NRF’s release, “it is unclear why the number of consumers celebrating has trended downward over the past 12 years, but spending, while varying with the economy, has generally trended up.” In fact, the data shows that respondents plan to spend $161.96 on average. That’s a 13% increase from last year’s $143.56 and tops the previous record of $146.84 set in 2016. Total spending is expected to reach $20.7 billion, a 6% increase over last year’s $19.6 billion. This breaks the previous record of $19.7 billion, set in 2016.

What about those who aren’t celebrating? More than a third of those under the age of 35 who say they are not “celebrating” still have plans to spend money on themselves or spend time with other single friends. This might include buying a little something for themselves, going out to dinner, or splurging to celebrate Galentine’s Day right (What’s Galentine’s Day?).

If you’re without a Valentine this year, at least take comfort in knowing an important group will be pampered. According to the NRF data, a quarter of celebrants under the age of 35 plan to purchase Valentine’s Day gifts for their pets. And can you blame them? Dogs deserve it (cats, I’m not sure).

Looking Forward

When Valentine’s Day is over and the roses wilt, so too will the love for retail? Between this year’s government shutdown, tariffs and worries of an economic slowdown, some are concerned about the state of the industry throughout 2019. However, according to NRF, the “state of the economy is sound.” The organization estimates that retail sales this year will increase between 3.8% and 4.4%.

This growth would result in total 2019 retail sales of between $3.82 trillion and $3.84 trillion. Based on last year’s 10-12% online sales growth, e-commerce sales this year could reach between $751.1 billion and $764.8 billion. Fortunately, the success should continue, even if the candy hearts won’t.

This Valentine’s Day, the Ketner Group team will be thankful for the undying love that retail provides us with all year long. Will retail be as kind and tender to others during the rest of 2019? The numbers look promising, but as we all know, all is fair in love and retail.

NRF 2019

Ketner Group Takes on the NRF Big Show 2019

In retail, we know that the holiday madness doesn’t end once the ball drops in Times Square. Even those of you who identify with “A December to Remember” more than “Ford Truck Month” – and are still reconciling the fact that no one in your family loves you enough to shell out a year’s salary on a front-wheel-drive convertible parked in a snowy driveway – know it’s time to take one more deep breath from the bottom of your newly built Saint Nick belly and get ready for NRF 2019 in New York.

Although Austin isn’t exactly the North Pole, we’ve been hard at work the past few months getting everything ready to knock it out of the park for a major mid-winter event. And this year, building on years of experience our team’s had at the event and given that our agency experienced pretty incredible growth in 2018, we’re collaborating with our largest cohort of retail technology innovators to date – representing 18 clients in total. Therefore, we’ve coordinated meetings with media and analysts, promoted their presence via social media, overseen email campaigns and used every other conceivable medium to get us ready to take on the Big Apple with the enthusiasm of Buddy the Elf.

What’s In Store

We’re excited to feel the energy in the expo hall as we move another year away from the doomsday ramblings about the ‘retail apocalypse’. We’ve seen firsthand how innovative retailers partnering with innovative vendors have established a bulwark against Amazon’s encroachment. We’ve seen how enigmatic executives have rallied an industry in need of optimism and vision to become a catalyst for even greater change. We’re excited to hear stories of recent successes and learn about what the future holds for the industry and for the everyday consumer.

Although NRF stands firm as the last hurrah before we can officially call the holiday season quits, I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t be excited about having more time than anyone else experiencing The Most Wonderful Time of the Year…

Meet Us at NRF!

So, if you’ll be at NRF and would like to meet us to learn about our agency, our services or our clients – or would like to meet with any of them – please don’t hesitate to reach out! You can find us at [email protected] or feel free to find us helping our clients at their booths, including:

  • Columbus Consulting – Booth #3083
  • DisplayData – Booth #1910
  • DynamicAction
  • Elo – Booth #3655 (with partner and Ketner Group client, Shoptelligence)
  • GK Software – Booth #3267
  • GroupBy
  • Kibo – Booth #4419
  • Mercatus – Booth $4560
  • Mirakl – Booth #206
  • NGC Software – Booth #4523
  • Opterus – Booth #4911
  • OrderDynamics – Booth #240
  • PlumSlice – Booth #1200
  • Shopgate – Booth #551
  • Symphony RetailAI – Booth #3036
  • Theatro – Booth #1517
  • Zynstra – Booth #230
HEB Scan-and-Go Inside Look

An Inside Look at H-E-B’s Scan-and-Go

At Ketner Group, we keep close tabs on what retailers are doing to make the checkout experience as frictionless as possible, such as the expansion of Amazon Go stores and the launch of Macy’s and Target’s scan-and-go apps. So when I heard that H-E-B, our Texas-based local grocery store, was piloting a new scan-and-go app, I knew I had to go try the technology for myself and see what the hype was all about!

Technical Difficulties

When I arrived at H-E-B, I sat in the car to download the app, expecting to easily scan and go, as the technology implies. However, I wasn’t off to a great start. I tried registering and logging in, but I kept getting the same error message over and over again. Finally, I decided to go into the store and ask for help. The store associate didn’t know what was going on, saying that it must be a server issue. I ended up leaving the store, disappointed that I couldn’t try the app out that day.

This was not a good first impression. I learned how important it is for retailers to deliver a seamless app that is easy to download and set up. Or else, it’ll leave customers even more frustrated, going against everything the app was built for. Of course, technical difficulties happen from time to time. But when they do, stores should have trained associates in place to help shoppers who are encountering problems with the app and quickly fix any issues that may occur.

Convenient and Fast

A couple of weeks later, I was in Gruene, a small city in Texas, for a friend’s bachelorette party. Before we went on a hike, we decided to stop by the nearest H-E-B to pick up a few picnic supplies for lunch. Turns out, that store was also piloting the scan-and-go app. I opened up the app and voila, I logged in successfully!

We pick out a few items for the picnic, including apples, salads and sandwiches. I used the app to scan each item’s barcode. To my surprise, the scanner was super fast! I didn’t even need to hold the phone to the barcode steadily before it read the item. Since all the items we bought had barcodes, I was able to easily scan each product and put everything into the cart.

Feeling Like a VIP

Once we were ready to check out, I walked over to H-E-B’s dedicated station for scan-and-go kiosks. All I had to do was scan the barcode on my app and it printed a receipt for me. A store associate came over as I was walking away to verify my receipt and after that, I was able to quickly leave the store.

My friends were amazed that we could skip the checkout line, and it was definitely fun testing out a concept that I often read and write about myself. I’m excited to see this technology play out as more and more shoppers use scan-and-go as their primary checkout option. There’s definitely a few hiccups and challenges that retailers should be prepared for, but I think with the proper technology and training in place, scan-and-go will help remove the primary pain point for customers. Because like we always say, no one likes waiting in long checkout lines!

The Holiday Season Is Upon Us: Top Retail Trends in 2018

As the year comes to an end, retailers have one thing on their minds: maximizing the peak shopping season. Between consumers shopping for Christmas gifts and preparing for holiday festivities, sales spike in November and December. Even more so, NRF expected this year’s retail sales to increase nearly 5% over 2017. In addition to a higher percentage of sales, more competition between retailers also ensues. Vying to stand out, notable retailers and brands have proved their value to consumers with a few innovative trends.

Taking the cake in 2018 are those who understand what their customers want and deliver the highest quality in response.

A Personalized Approach Goes a Long Way

In today’s on-demand economy, traditional deals won’t capture shopper’s attention alone. Instead, customized apps and email promotions help on-the-go consumers know what discounts are available ahead of time.

In my own personal holiday shopping this season, Nordstrom’s app has helped me stay up to date on which products are on sale. Furthermore, the app creates a personalized “looks” page that generates outfits based on a profile I’ve created. As I shop for friends and family and snag last minute outfits, the app has been a lifesaver. Browsing online gives me insight into what items are in stock at the store closest to me. When I’m in a crunch and know what I want, I can easily place an order online. If I’m unsure about a size, I can reserve up to 10 items online and swing by the store to try them on. Needless to say, personalized apps go a long way when the holiday season rolls around.

Apps are taking over, but email marketing isn’t a lost cause either. While clogged inboxes aren’t exactly a shopper’s dream, I’ve enjoyed receiving specialized discount codes from my favorite retailers this month. In many cases, I’ve bought something online or stopped by the store to browse because of the emails I’ve received.

Social Media Drives Results

The cellphone is an integral part of the modern-day shopping experience. Specifically, social media platforms have a dominant hold on users. According to the 2018 Holiday Social Marketing Trends report, 56% of consumers said a brand’s social media presence affected holiday purchase decisions. Additionally, 79% of marketers planned to run a holiday campaign on social this year. Out of those who ran a holiday ad campaign last year, 88% of marketers said it was effective. Hence, the strategy seems to work in most cases.

This year, retailers from various industries are getting in on the action. Companies are using relevant hashtags and Instagram stories to capitalize on increased shopping. Target, for example, features a “Gift Ideas” highlight on Instagram to offer some ideas based on who shoppers are buying for from babies to teachers. Though this is a practical approach to increasing awareness among customers, some brands are going for a more emotional effect.

Air Canada pulls on heartstrings with an ad showing emotional reunions as airline passengers come home for the holidays, associated with the hashtag #FlyTheFlag. The Instagram community took to the video with nearly 5,000 likes.

VR and AR Give Glimpse Into Retail’s Future

A recent addition to the holiday marketing repertoire is enhanced reality. Whether virtual or augmented, the technology is gaining traction among retailers. Most noteworthy, Facebook launched augmented reality camera effects for ad campaigns over the summer. This holiday season, Office Depot is using the technology to offer “Elf Yourself” ads. With this feature, consumers can animate themselves with elf-like effects.

An even more immersive and novel experience is virtual reality. Though more of an enigma, we can expect more VR experiences in retail’s future. Macy’s is an early adopter of the technology, launching “See Your Space IRL”  in time for the holidays. Available in about 70 Macy’s locations, shoppers can use a VR headset to envision a room in their home and experiment with different furniture pieces.

All in all, holiday shopping has come a long way from overnight campout sessions outside of stores to catch the latest deals. With a more digital, customer-centric approach, securing the season’s top purchases is a bit more seamless. Don’t get me wrong, I still think holiday shopping is a stressful time of year, but I’m thankful that so many retailers have stepped it up in hopes of a more fun and less chaotic experience.

Grocery Fulfillment: A Curbside Chat with Greg and Jeff

OK, we’ll admit it — the KG team likes to eat. And we have several very cool clients in grocery technology. So it’s no wonder that we spend a lot of time talking about the fast-changing world of grocery fulfillment. And in this blog, we’re taking a slightly different approach as our own Greg Earl and Jeff Ketner have an online chat about one of our favorite topics.

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A More Convenient Way to Get Your Groceries

Jeff: It’s the perfect day to chat about grocery fulfillment.  As I write, the KG office is getting its monthly mega-delivery of frozen dinners, snacks, sandwich stuff and everything else it takes to feed our hungry crew, courtesy of HEB home delivery. Our team’s ready to descend on the kitchen like a plague of locusts. And at noon, I’ll swing by HEB to pick up a Curbside order to take home, since our fridge at home is just about empty. Speaking of HEB Curbside, Greg, you’re one of its most outspoken fans — your love of curbside is probably only slightly behind your love of Cabo Bob’s.

Greg: While Cabo Bob’s transcends my love for everything in this world, I love HEB Curbside. As the area around my local HEB keeps developing, the store becomes more of a mad house. Even finding parking isn’t worth it for me. Being able to avoid the chaos, swing by and grab all of my groceries is a godsend. However, I will say that they could do a better job at updating their real-time inventory. Nearly every time I shop, they substitute items. This isn’t a deal breaker but can throw a wrench in my cooking plans every now and then.

I haven’t personally tried HEB delivery yet, but today’s office order went incredibly smoothly. Plus it’s much cheaper than when we used Instacart, right?

Be Careful – Not All Grocery Delivery Services Are Equal

Jeff: Yep, our first HEB Curbside pickup order was WAY less expensive than our Instacart deliveries. So I’m glad to see that Instacart is lowering its prices. Hopefully they can up their level of service, too; I tried Instacart one time with Central Market, my favorite grocery store in Austin, and it can politely be described as a disaster. The delivery was late, the communication from the person picking our order was incomprehensible, and I had a lot of trouble using my $15 off coupon code, which was the only reason we tried Instacart in the first place. A recent delivery experience from Randall’s, a perennial also-ran in terms of Austin market share, was far superior. I’m not sure who they use for fulfillment, but it was a surprisingly good experience.

Speaking of surprises, I find it interesting that our office is split nearly 50-50 among those who use grocery fulfillment and those who don’t. What’s up with our team here?

Believe It or Not, In-Store Shopping Advocates Are Out There

Greg: That’s too bad about your Instacart experience. I guess it’s difficult for them to maintain quality across all of their employees throughout the country. Speaking of quality, I think that’s exactly why some folk around here are torn on letting other people pick their groceries — especially when it comes to produce, which is very fair. I’ve received a few fruits or veggies in the past that I wouldn’t have necessarily picked for myself.  

However, some of the luddites around here just enjoy going to the store for the sake of grocery shopping – ridiculous! I think I can understand where they’re coming from though. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to pick out exactly what you want, roam the aisles and grab something that you didn’t even realize you wanted (a dangerous approach sometimes when your cart ends up well beyond your budget). Plus, a trip to the store is very worth it if there are free samples throughout the aisles.

The team especially enjoys shopping in-store at the more experiential/unique grocers including Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Costco. When you consider the option to drink a beer while shopping at Whole Foods, it does sound much more enjoyable. As for Whole Foods/Amazon delivery, the only experience I’ve had was extremely disappointing. I tried to order some prosecco for the office because Amazon touted a free two-hour delivery promotion. However, this ‘free delivery’ required a minimum that we didn’t need to reach and the ‘two-hour delivery’ meant I could select a two hour window, not that the item would be delivered within two hours of ordering. Going to Twin Liquors down the road saved me a lot of money and time. I’m curious about placing an entire grocery order though.

Jeff: Interesting! You’d expect a better experience from Amazon based on how fast they’ve been rolling out Whole Foods delivery – maybe it’s more worth it for an entire order. There sure are a lot of options out there and I don’t think we can expect the industry to slow down any time soon. There are a lot of factors for grocers to consider — cost, product selection, inventory, customer service, etc. I think we both are looking forward to seeing these services get even stronger and more rewarding, right Greg?

Greg: That’s right, Jeff. Unlike some of the colleagues, I’d honestly love to never have to think about getting my own groceries. Maybe I should move back home…

In the meantime, I can just eat Cabo Bob’s for every meal.

Flashback (Black) Friday

Working at an agency where I can obsess over retail, I’ve started appreciating the impact it has on my life. I love the industry because as NRF says, “Retail impacts everyone, every day, everywhere,” and it’s true. As I sit down to write this blog, waiting for inspiration to hit, vivid retail memories come to mind.

A Retail “Remember When?”

One of my earliest memories of Black Friday was in seventh grade when a classmate chose an early-morning shopping spree as a “birthday party” of sorts. The day after Thanksgiving, her mom picked up our group of friends in the family van, passing back orange juice and brown-bag breakfasts to enjoy as we headed for the mall. The year was 2002 – “back then,” stores didn’t open until 6:00 or 7:00 a.m. We were among the first people inside when the security gates were lifted. At that age, Black Friday to me wasn’t about Christmas gifts or strategizing my purchases. It was the thrill of the hunt, feeling like a grown-up in the holiday bustle and looking for bargains. I remember buying a pair of trendy sunglasses for less than $2 and thinking, “this is so fun!”

Knowing what I do now about the current retail landscape, I wondered if a little Googling would provide more perspective on that memory of mine. The furthest back I could go was 2004, but it was still a fun window to the past. Try it for yourself… the Black Friday Archive serves up more than 850 ads from the past 15 years. You’ll get a kick out of all the landline phones with Caller ID and portable DVD players, and you can make your own observations on the evolution of Black Friday.

The “Black Friday Creep”

I’m a Target girl through and through, so I started exploring its ad archive first. In 2004, deals started Friday at 6:00 a.m. By 2010, Target opened at 4:00 in the morning, then midnight in 2011, and 9:00 p.m. Thursday in 2012. You already know the rest of the story. In the year 2018, many stores will open before some families have sat down to eat their Thanksgiving meal. When looking at the collection of past ads, it’s easy to see how this trend evolved. Slowly but surely, Black Friday sales crept into middle-of-the-night territory, and then into the Thursday evening hours. And this year, JCPenny made headlines when it announced it would open at 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. That’s earlier than any other retailer yet.

For the first time ever, forecasts predict Christmas sales in the U.S. to surpass $1 trillion, and this year, the first day of November was very noticeably the kick-off of a big push to shop. Amazon, Target, Walmart, Kohl’s, and others started special promotions the day after Halloween, all competing for a share of your wallet. In the years to come, we’ll continue to see retailers dazzling us with deals and experiences each of the 54 days between Halloween and Christmas. Whether Black Friday will continue to be an important 24 hours of retail activity remains to be seen.

Smile, Then Shop

Four years after that birthday party, where did I find myself the Friday after Thanksgiving? In “Zone 1” of Bath & Body Works, working my first day as an employee there (side note: probably not the wisest day to start a retail job). That day is no less vivid than my first Black Friday memory. I was stationed at the store’s entrance with shopping bags and a ‘Tester’ bottle of peppermint lotion. Frenzied shoppers breezed right by me, too focused on the center-store deals to pay me any attention. I’ll never forget how frazzled yet energized I felt. This year, I don’t plan to do much in-store shopping, but I’ll leave you with this: if you’re gift hunting in-store this holiday season, be nice to retail workers. Even if it’s just a smile at the nervous high school girl trying her darndest to make your “offline” shopping experience a fun one.

Forget HQ2: This Is the Big News About Amazon and the Retail Industry

Amazon and its strategies are always at the forefront of my mind. Working with retail clients operating across all sectors, I’ve seen firsthand the impact Amazon has on a thriving retail scene. On Tuesday, Amazon announced its decision to split the company’s second headquarters between Northern Virginia and New York City. So, let’s take a look at what this really means for the retail industry.

Not a Bang, But a Whimper

In almost every way, it seems Amazon’s feverishly anticipated HQ2 announcement was anti-climactic. Few other companies have the resources to add 50,000 jobs over the next few years. But as is often the case with Amazon, the eCommerce giant is doing a host of other things retailers should focus on this holiday season.

For example, Amazon is on track to drive 80% of ecommerce growth this year. This will almost certainly account for more than half of all eCommerce sales during the holiday. That’s on the heels of Amazon’s Q3 sales of $56.6 billion, an increase of 29%.

Amazon’s first-ever toy catalog arrived in mailboxes last week, signaling Amazon’s intent to duke it out with Target and Walmart for toy supremacy following the demise of Toys “R” Us (did anyone really shop there the last few years?). Amazon is also offering free shipping for all holiday orders with no minimum purchase, even for non-Prime members.  Amazon is on track to become the #1 apparel retailer in the U.S. And that’s not to mention the hundreds of brick and mortar locations gained through the Whole Foods acquisition, and Amazon’s own branded moves into physical retail with Amazon Books and Amazon Go.

So, What Does It Mean?

Does this spell doom and gloom for the rest of retail? Not at all. In the face of Amazon’s dominance, the most innovative retailers are thriving, too. Projections indicate retail sales this holiday season will increase nearly 5%, the largest gain in recent years.

Our friends at IHL Group also noted that net retail store openings are outpacing closings by a margin of two to one. Yes, retailers that failed to embrace innovation (Sears being the “prime” example) are dying. However, a new generation of dynamic, exciting retailers are more than filling the void. And stalwarts such as Walmart, Macys, Nordstrom and others have kept pace to remain relevant in a retail landscape that’s changing at the speed of Amazon.

Back to HQ2: it’s exciting news for Crystal City and New York, and congratulations on winning 2018’s biggest economic development prize. But it’s all the other cool stuff happening with Amazon and the retail industry that will be the important story in the long run.

First Annual Groceryshop Brings Down the House in Las Vegas

In October, Catherine and Adrienne attended Groceryshop, a spinoff of the popular Shoptalk conference organized by the creators of Money20/20. We were joined by our grocery solution provider clients as we learned how the industry is quickly changing.

Catherine’s Take-Aways

The state of innovation and disruption in the grocery world is, in a word, amazing. At Groceryshop, Adrienne and I were lucky to get a front row seat to the fast-moving grocery/brand/CPG train. Let me tell you folks, put your seat belts on, because your favorite retailers and brands are set to change the way we think about grocery shopping.

Not that we have had any doubt as to the “state of the nation” for the grocery industry. We live and breathe these stories every day. But, we were completely blown away (in a good way!) by the amazing case studies and keynote sessions.  Speakers focused on how grocery retailers are pushing the envelope in technology innovation, of course. But, there was heavy emphasis on how leading brands and CPG companies are working hand in hand with their grocery brothers and sisters to make the entire shopping experience refreshing, convenient and engaging.

The general drum beat of the conference seemed to focus so much on brands and CPG and how they are working to set up their own points of sale and working diligently to gather their own customer data to build engagement. On the flip side, there were plenty of sessions that discussed how grocery retailers are using private label brands to help them build more direct brand relationships, and of course, to gather more data.

Adrienne’s Take-Aways

As Catherine attested, the convergence of retail and CPG, was amongst the hottest topics at Groceryshop. But making just as much noise was delivery and robots. If Groceryshop is representative of the broader industry, no one doubts it’s time for grocers to implement online. However, it’s still up for debate as how to best pick and fulfill orders to ensure they end up in the hands of happy customers.

Some lofty ideas for both picking and delivery were offered in the way of robots. During a keynote, Luke Jensen, CEO of Ocado, mesmerized the audience with a video of the company’s uniquely designed warehouses. In the video, a carefully orchestrated system of robots runs on a system of grids to perfectly pick customer orders. On that same stage, Albertsons announced a new partnership with Takeoff Technologies to provide picking robotics for the grocer’s warehouses.

On the delivery side, the question was bigger than just robots. Some companies like udelv proposed autonomous vehicles as the answer. But, many grocers aren’t ready to give up control to machines. They’re still trying to figure out if they should use their own people resources or partner with a third-party delivery provider. Throughout the show, speakers presented the benefits to both options. To me, innovators like Deliv, who announced $40 million in funding, stood out for its revolutionary crowd-sourced approach to delivery. Whatever the answers, grocers need to find a way to get product into the hands of customers, fast.

Take-Aways from the Groceryshop Stage

We could literally write a 10-page blog about Groceryshop, but we’ll leave you with a few quotes from the sessions. We encourage you to read what our friends at RIS News and Supermarket News had to say about this event.

On online grocery and how to make it profitable:

“It is a challenge to not fall in the trap of not throwing a lot of capital on engagement platforms without making it sustainable. As you improve the relevance of the offering, you change the nature of the engagement. We see more digital customers spending more time in stores, because the two are complimentary. Overall, it is important to improve the quality and efficiency of the operations, and improve engagement with customers.” – Yael Cosset, Kroger’s chief digital officer

On attracting customers who are not brand loyal:

“You have to have a great product. From a design standpoint, you want to create products that people are proud to use. As well, the overall end-to-end customer experience must be on point, from the unboxing, the web site experience and the retail environment.” – Andy Katz Mayfied, Harry’s co-founder and CEO

On how big CPG is to Instacart’s business:

“CPG is such an exciting and fast-growing area of opportunity for us – we are seeing 200% growth year on year in that business. We will be investing a lot in CPG, but it will only be successful in the spirit of partnerships with retailers and CPGs.” – Apoorva Mehta, founder and CEO

Shop if You Dare: Spooky Halloween Data and a Premonition of the Holiday Season

Today’s the day we’ve all been waiting for, ghouls and goblins alike. Children are trick-or-treating, parents are eating their candy and the country is celebrating peak fall weather and aesthetic. However, Halloween isn’t just the spookiest day of the year, it’s also a significant retail holiday that kicks off the upcoming holiday season.

For most, it’s easy to forget that Black Friday is less than four weeks away but here at Ketner Group Communications, retail’s always on our mind – which is why I’m dressed up as ‘J.C. Pennywise (It)’ to celebrate Halloween and the rapidly approaching holiday retail season.

Halloween Retail Projections

According to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey, total spending for Halloween is expected to reach $9 billion, the second highest in the survey’s 14-year history and similar to last year’s record of $9.1 billion.

Seventy percent of Halloween celebrants plan to hand out candy, 50% will decorate their home or yard, 48% will wear costumes, 32% will throw or attend a party and 30% will take children trick-or-treating. Also, whether or not pets want it, pet costumes continue to gain popularity, with nearly 20% of celebrants planning to dress their pets in costumes this year up from last year’s 16%.

Where are people shopping? According to NRF, 45% of shoppers will visit discount stores and 35% will go to a specialty Halloween store or costume store. Additionally, 25% will visit department stores, 24% will buy online and 24% will scour grocery/supermarket stores.

Possessed Stores

Following the untimely demise of Toys ‘R’ Us this year (RIP), you may have recently seen their storefronts back in business. But don’t be fooled. These abandoned locations have simply been possessed by the likes of Spirit Halloween and Halloween City, pop-up stores that are only open for a few months each year leading up to the holiday. Also called the “hermit crabs” of retail, these Halloween stores quickly move into empty storefronts – making closed Toys ‘R’ Us and Babies ‘R’ Us locations perfect spaces for the Halloween season. This also points to the ever-growing, opportunistic pop-up trend that utilizes events and relevant audiences to reach customers in unique ways.

What’s Next?

What should we expect once we wake up on November 1st, thankful that we made it through the frights and dangers of All Hallow’s Eve? Almost immediately, we’ll begin hearing about Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, and the holiday shopping season will be in full swing. In fact, Target already announced its strategy for the holidays – it will offer free two-day shipping with no minimum purchase required starting on Nov. 1. Meanwhile, Nordstrom announced that from Dec. 3 through Christmas Eve, they will offer “early bird” pickup before stores open their doors in the morning – and even around the clock at 23 locations. We’ll undoubtedly see more retailers expand fulfillment options during the holidays in order to compete against each other and Amazon Prime’s reliable, simple delivery options.

Meanwhile, with Toys ‘R’ Us gone and Sears a member of the walking dead, the question of who will take over these retailers’ business and customers this holiday season reverberates. We can expect to see retailers clamoring to take advantage by more aggressively promoting deals on toys like we never saw when Toys ‘R’ Us was the dominant industry player, with Target and Walmart matching Amazon step for step.

We hope that you enjoy your Halloween festivities this week and are as excited as us for the holiday season to begin. 2018 retail forecasts for the holidays look very promising, but beware… there are always frights waiting around the corner.