Omnichannel Options for Austin Shoppers

Exploring Omnichannel at The Domain

When looking for a new place to live after I graduated college, proximity to work topped my list of requirements. Luckily, I was able to find an apartment that I loved within a seven minute distance from work. My new home also happened to be only seven minutes away from the place I sometimes jokingly refer to as my second home: The Domain, a shopping center featuring some of Austin’s best omnichannel options.

Moving to North Austin has only made that statement even more true. What once was a light-hearted joke, is more of a reality for me now. As a frequent visitor of Austin’s premier retail hub, certain stores have caught my eye. Since I’m constantly reading about omnichannel trends, I thought I’d assess how my favorite stores are implementing these tactics. For a look at how The Domain exemplifies some of the most positive trends in retail’s ongoing renaissance, check out Jeff’s blog from 2018. Without further ado, here’s what I’ve learned about omnichannel options in Austin as a local consumer.

Nordstrom Provides Expanded Order Pickup Options

When it comes to omnichannel options, Nordstrom is no stranger. Nordstrom’s app is an essential tool for digital shoppers who like to browse online before they buy. When searching for items in-app, shoppers can even custom tailor the search bar to reflect their store location of choice. Plus, the app will curate personalized outfits based on your past purchases and search history.

A few months ago, I tested out the “reservations” option, which allows shoppers to reserve up to 10 items online. Through the app, I reserved a pair of shoes. Within a couple of hours, I got a notification that the pair of shoes I picked out were ready for me to try on. Upon my arrival at The Domain, I received a second notification explaining where to go to try on the shoes. After parking, I entered through the doors to the second floor and found the designated kiosk immediately. Subsequently, a sales associate directed me to a reserved dressing room and assisted me when I requested to try on a different size.

I’d call my experience a success. As retailers start to provide more omnichannel options where the digital and physical sides of the store work together, I’m looking forward to quicker and easier shopping trips. In addition to the reservation option, Nordstrom at The Domain also offers buy online, pickup in-store. In a jam-packed parking lot, customers picking up their online orders can park in reserved spaces, speeding up their shopping journey.

Away Creates Seamless Shopping Experiences

Away, a luggage startup and lifestyle brand, caught my attention on Instagram. With its “clicks to bricks” model, the formerly online-only retailer now has seven physical locations. Lucky for us Austinites, The Domain is home to one of Away’s stores. I’m taking off on a plane to Europe this month and realized it was time to upgrade my luggage. Perfect excuse for my first trip to Away!

Before visiting the store, I researched options and decided which pieces of luggage would be best for my traveling needs. Based on Away’s website and social media platforms, I’ll admit my expectations for the store were already high. To my surprise, my experience at the store exceeded my already-high expectations.

Though I had an idea of what I wanted, I had a few questions before making the investment. One of the sales associates was quick to greet me and patient with my questions. She even looked up measurement restrictions for the airlines I am flying to ensure my luggage would make the cut. Her help ultimately led to my decision to purchase a set, including a carry-on suitcase and bag. I left the store feeling refreshed and satisfied with my purchase. What started as browsing on Instagram turned into visiting the store and making a purchase. Yet another example of an omnichannel option in action!

Omnichannel Options Are On the Rise

All in all, omnichannel is putting a spin on traditional shopping and giving consumers something to look forward to. Whether it’s through a personalized app, store navigation tool or expanded pickup options, omnichannel is only growing. I consider myself lucky to live in a city that often gets a “first taste” of omnichannel options that later evolve. The latest and greatest is right in my backyard, so to speak. If my experiences at Nordstrom and Away are any indication, the future is bright for omnichannel retail.

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.

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.

***

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.

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.

PRSA ICON 2018: It’s All About Relevant and Data-Driven Content

Last week, the Ketner Group team attended the PRSA 2018 International Conference, better known to the public relations community as PRSA ICON, in our own backyard here in Austin, Texas. If you are not familiar with the conference, it’s designed specifically to help the communications community enhance our personal and professional network through career development and connecting with other PR practitioners.

Needless to say, the KG team definitely networked, and we DEFINITELY returned to the office with new ideas and methods for bettering our professional craft. We heard inspiring keynotes from Do Something’s CEO Aria Finger and digital marketing pioneer Ann Handley. The PRSA ICON breakout sessions we attended were all about perfecting your messages in clear yet relevant ways, and also explored new sectors of the communications industry. Here are just a few tidbits of the best practices we learned at PRSA ICON this year:

Lesson One: Communicating should ALWAYS be about your audience

Although as communication professionals we may think we are clearly delivering our messages, that may not always be the case. As we learned at the conference, we currently live in the age where content is king, but that can lead to a vicious cycle of “churning and burning” an immense amount of content, losing sight of one key component: your target audience. For example, think of a scenario where someone is just talking at you, instead of trying to understand what experiences or topics may be relevant to you based on your experiences and former knowledge – chances are, mid-lecture your mind will start drifting away to more relevant thoughts.

Therefore, your audience should always be at the forefront of the message. Key questions like ‘what is my audience’s point of reference?’ and ‘why would this be relevant to them?’ and ‘what does my audience need?’ should always lead your messaging strategy. After all, if you lose your audience, who is going to read your content?

Lesson Two: We are all, or should strive to be, data analysts

We live in a digital age where every search and click is tracked. And while we in the PR world are notorious for disliking math and preferring words over figures, it’s time to join the data revolution. At PRSA ICON, we discussed the need for PR professionals to dive into the world of data to create an even bigger need and sense of interest for each and every story, while continuing to make our pitches and strategies not only timely but also informed and relevant. As IBM’s Brandi Boatner explained during her workshop, while the world of data is intimidating, the key here is to start one step at a time. She recommended starting with Google Trends and then identifying data sets that are relevant to your communications strategy. As Boatner explained, when you dive into the world of data, you should not try to analyze a large amount of data all at once, as both you and your audience will be overwhelmed: “A good storyteller masters things that are unseen and with AI and data analytics, you can create a communications strategy that quickly identifies and gets ahead of trends.”

Lesson Three: Social media influencers are now a staple in public relations

As industry conversations continue to heat up on the effectiveness of social media influencers, the fact is, social influencers are now and will continue to be a staple in the world of communications. (Ketner Group recently profiled one such influencer in a recent blog!) What’s more, social media influencers can help companies effectively grow organic audiences and customers they would not have had before. As we learned at PRSA ICON, leveraging social media influencers for your communication efforts is a matter of conducting diligent research to identify the right influencers that will create a new level of authentic communication between you and your target audience.

As Dr. Seuss once wrote, “The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” And in public relations and communications as a whole, there is something new to learn every day! We look forward to implementing the lessons learned at this year’s conference into our communications craft as we continue to be life-long learners in this industry.

Retail Pop-Ups are Popping Off

Pop-ups are everywhere these days. What once started as an occasional, opportunistic trend has blown up to become an extremely POPular (nice one, Greg) industry worth billions of dollars that seemingly every brand and celebrity wants a piece of.

Just within the past few weeks, some interesting pop-ups have been announced:

  • Abercrombie & Fitchhas partnered with SBE Entertainment Group, a lifestyle hospitality company, for a series of co-branded events and pop-up shops at select SBE properties over the upcoming months.
  • Nordstrom, as part of its [email protected] program, has teamed up with Casper Mattresses to launch its Sleep-In at Nordstrom collection until August 26th at select locations.
  • Sephora will host an interactive beauty “house” in Los Angeles that will bring technology, products, and industry experts together for two days in October.
  • Plenty of brands will be present in the Hamptons for another highly anticipated summer of retail pop-ups.

Who’s Popping Up?

While iterations of pop-up shops have existed throughout history, Target is credited with launching one of the first contemporary pop-up shops in 2002 when it designed a Christmas-themed store on a boat on New York’s East River. Since then, we’ve seen a litany of pop-up shops by high profile players – from general consumer brands like Adidas to luxury brands like Tiffany & Co, to celebrity brands, such as Kylie Jenner’s Kylie Cosmetics and Gwyneth Paltrow’s pseudo-medicine lifestyle brand, goop, and more.

The music industry has taken a special interest in pop-ups. One of the most effective is Kanye West, who since his Yeezus album, has launched pop-up merchandise shops coinciding with his album releases that have fans lining up for the exclusive products. The most recent were his #ProjectWyoming merch bonfires for his latest album, Ye, where fans gathered around bonfires, listened to the album and purchased merchandise. Other artists have followed suit, ranging from Rihanna to Kendrick Lamar to Justin Timberlake, whose most recent album spurred a “Man of the Woods” shop in New York with Levi’s and other brands.

The Key to Successful Pop-Ups

While pop-ups obviously sell merchandise and products, more importantly, they sell an experience. In an era where long-term retail space can be expensive, e-commerce grows stronger, and customers want to be entertained, pop-ups are the perfect way to offer a completely unique experience, anywhere.

A great way to reach people is to figure out where they congregate and go to them. Nordstrom, for example, launched pop-up pods at SXSW and other music festivals across the country in 2016 to offer their shopping experience to thousands of festival-goers. They undoubtedly did their research to make sure these attendees were their target audience, and reached thousands of relevant music-lovers who were probably in a (possibly alcohol-induced) spending mindset.

Whether it’s at a festival or on a street corner, brands are seeing the benefits in the unique and flexible experiences that pop-up shops offer. As physical retail becomes more digital, pop-up shops will undoubtedly become even more unique and prevalent. With the right approach, they will allow any brand to reach new customers, bring a sense of exclusivity, or just simply engage their core audience in a new and exciting way for years to come.

This Year’s FIFA World Cup MVP is…. Technology

As the summer heat continues to roll in, it’s the time of year that the majority of us run for the nearest pool or beach as the temperatures rise and schools let out, and the expected “out of office” messages begin to appear in your inbox on a daily basis. However, this year, the “OOO” messages may also be appearing for an additional reason, the FIFA World Cup.

It’s that magical event that occurs every four years and brings a whopping 3.4B people around the world together to tune in and root for their favorite country. And while some of the players’ faces may be familiar from four years ago, as well as the all-too familiar brands including McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Visa and Budweiser, there are also new off-the-field players making their way onto the scene.

For example, if you’ve been tuning in to the matches this first round, you may have noticed Chinese brands, such as Hisense and Vivo making their presence strongly known on the sparkling World Cup advertising banners around the field. However, the biggest player of them all making its presence strongly known at the World Cup this year is, you guessed it…technology. And this year’s technology MVP comes in the shape of a Virtual Assistant Referee or VAR.

Virtual Assistant Referee

For the very first time at a FIFA World Cup, the referees are benefiting from the use of VAR to get an eyes-from-the-sky POV. Through this technology, referees are able to track and gather data on all plays in the field in real-time. This data is then automatically transmitted to an assistant referee who is away from the field. During calls such as penalties, goals and deflections, referees are able to call on the assistant referees to get a more in-depth look at the call. While VAR is doing a great amount of good, this technology is already causing some controversy with World Cup fans, as several blame the VAR system for awarding a penalty to the French team during the Australian and France face-off, consequently leading to France beating Australia.

There is a phrase that states “no publicity is bad publicity,” and while VAR may be having its moment of fame (or controversy) on the World Cup stage, one thing is for certain, referees, teams and World Cup organizers are gathering real-time data like never before. In the spirit of progression and pushing the sport to its limit, I believe that this technology will be a key player in helping the sport advance, and I for one, can’t wait for 2026 when the World Cup makes a pit stop in North America.

Not My Dad’s Grocery Store — But I Think He’d Approve

I have retail in my blood, so it may not be too surprising that I’ve spent much of my career focused on retail, grocery and CPG technology. Mom retired from the Sears credit department back when Sears was a healthy, viable company that was well-respected in the industry. Dad spent his career at the U.S. Postal Service but always had a part-time job in a grocery store or meat market for as long as I can remember.

They’d both be fascinated by the rapid changes in retail and grocery, especially Dad, who was intrigued by Jeff Bezos way back when Amazon was merely an online bookseller. So, with Father’s Day just around the corner, it seems only appropriate to focus on the huge changes in the grocery industry that Dad always had his foot in.

The Rise of Online Grocery

Here’s a sampling of some recent data points that underscore the magnitude of those changes:

  • Online grocery sales will reach 20% of total grocery retail by 2025, climbing to $100 billion in consumer sales, according to a study by the Food Marketing Institute, conducted by Nielsen. Amazon is the clear leader here, with 18% percent market share and $2 billion annually in online food and beverage sales. Dad would, no doubt, be surprised that the online bookseller, now the giant of online retail, is Disruptor #1 in today’s grocery industry.
  • The same report notes that 1 in 4 U.S. consumers are buying some of their groceries online, and more than 70 percent will participate in online grocery shopping within 10 years. Click and collect numbers are higher, according to Nielsen Homescan data, although frequency is low, which Nielsen believes makes sense, since it’s a new service.
  • Of those shoppers buying online, Coresight Research notes that 51% opted to pick up at the store through click and collect, while the rest chose to have their groceries delivered.
  • Online shopping isn’t just about small orders, either. Fung Global Research notes that online grocery will increasingly capture larger orders. (As I write, our office just received a “pantry loading” Instacart order with snacks, breakfast foods and more Amy’s frozen dinners than you can count, ensuring that KG’ers don’t go hungry.)
  • Brick-and-mortar grocery isn’t being left behind, either. Our client, Symphony RetailAI, pinpointed some of the trends that are reshaping traditional grocers in its Supermarket 2020 findings: displacing center-aisle items with prepared foods, where shoppers spend 3X-4X more than other areas; farmer’s markets in every store, featuring local produce; reducing the number of aisles in each store and focusing on highly curated items, with an endless aisle available online; and a higher proportion of private label goods.

Back to Basics

Would Dad recognize today’s fast-changing supermarket? I think he would – after all, these changes are all about offering shoppers an increasing array of choices for where, when and how they purchase groceries and other essentials. Ketner Group is fortunate to work with a number of clients that are helping shape the modern grocery industry, including Mercatus, GK Software, Symphony RetailAI, Displaydata and others. It’s one of the most fascinating, and fast-changing, segments in retail today.

In a sense, I believe that all the advancements in technology are helping bring grocery stores around full circle, to a day when grocers knew their local customers and catered to them. Who needed Instacart in the ‘60s? Several of my family’s local grocers in Wichita Falls offered home delivery to customers – you’d simply phone in your order, then pay your tab at the end of the month. Credit checks? No need for them; Kouri’s Grocery, for example, knew its best customers by name.

Today’s new grocery technologies are helping bring back an era of greater personal service. Of course, it’s impossible for regional grocers to know every customer by name. But online shopping, personalization and mobile apps help create a deeper level of customer knowledge, along with offers that can be fine-tuned to each shopper. These technologies are also helping regional grocery chains compete against the likes of Amazon and Walmart, helping ensure that they stay relevant. I think Dad would approve.

 

#RetailRoundup

This blog post has been provided by our intern, Meghan Farrell.

As we see every day, retail is constantly changing. Just when we think we’ve seen it all, a retailer, or solution provider, rolls out something new that disrupts the industry. Keeping up with new technology, trends and innovations is equally as hard as competing with it. So, Ketner Group has made that a little easier by compiling top retail news from the past few weeks.

“Meet Jetblack, Walmart’s click-free shopping service for upper-income New Yorkers” via Retail Dive

Walmart is stepping up its game…and its target consumer. Walmart is introducing a new click-free shopping experience called Jetblack (an ode to Walmart’s 2016 Jet.com acquisition, perhaps?). For $50 a month, customers can text this service and personal shoppers will deliver products to their homes as soon as the same day. Shoppers can also text Jetblack questions or even ask for recommendations. The service will offer products from Jet.com, Walmart, and other third-party retail partners such as Pottery Barn and Gap. Jetblack uses artificial intelligence and professional buyers across several product categories to fulfill customer requests.

The customer Walmart is trying to attract through this new service may be the most interesting part of this news. With a service that will cost $600 a year, upper-income consumers are clearly being sought after, a demographic that is not typically associated with the Walmart brand. As this service grows, it will be very interesting to see if Walmart will successfully attract this new customer base and compete with considerably cheaper subscription services like Amazon Prime.

“Sears to Shutter 72 More Stores” via Total Retail

With a loss of $424 million in its first quarter report and revenue falling more than 30%, things aren’t looking good for Sears. While many retail stores, including The Children’s Place and Gap, have had issues this year staying alive, Sears continues to outnumber its retail competitors with store closures. Sears identified 100 non-profitable Sears and Kmart locations and announced Thursday that it will be closing 72 of these stores in the near future. And many industry experts predict the retailer will be filing for bankruptcy very soon.

Sears is working hard to cut costs by closing unprofitable stores, but unfortunately, previous closures have only seen a continual decline of sales for the stores that are left. In efforts to save the company, the retailer is also working with an independent committee to sell some of its assets. These will include the Kenmore Brand to ESL Investments, Sears CEO Eddie Lampert’s hedge fund.

In order to maintain profitability, many brick-and-mortar stores have been forced to close numerous stores. Whether it’s going out of business entirely or shutting down unprofitable locations, this trend does not seem to be dying down any time soon.

“Will Best Buy’s Total Tech Support Service Boost Brand Loyalty?” via Retail TouchPoints

Best Buy has taken many steps toward improving the customer experience and support, and thus far has reaped the rewards. Last week, the retailer rolled out a new Geek Squad subscription service called Total Tech Support. This service is available for an annual cost of $199.99 which includes unlimited Geek Squad support whether it’s on the phone, in-store, on its website 24/7, or through the Best Buy Home App. This service will cover all of the subscriber’s appliances and electronics. Furthermore, it will also include discounts on device installation, hardware repairs, TV mounting, computer setup, purchase of AppleCare service or Geek Squad Protection, and more.

The nationwide expansion of the program comes after Best Buy saw successful results from a recent pilot. During this time, the Geek Squad helped 230,000 users set up, troubleshoot or fix devices in more than 400,000 instances. Best Buy tested different pricing models but shoppers preferred to pay annually rather than monthly, though Best Buy may offer more subscription options in the future.

Competitively, this was a very smart and well-timed move for Best Buy, especially with rumors of Amazon looking to directly compete with Best Buy’s Geek Squad. As consumers rely more and more on the devices in their homes, such as Smart TVs, the need for support has increased dramatically and Best Buy is in a great position to help.

“Amazon begins nationwide expansion of Whole Foods discounts for Prime members” via TechCrunch

In May, Amazon announced it would be offering a 10% discount on sales and featured products at Whole Foods for Amazon Prime members in Florida and by the end of the month expanded the offering across 12 more states. Amazon says this discount covers hundreds of products per store, plus the weekly deep discounts on featured products throughout the store. Discounts are also available for shoppers who use the Whole Foods delivery service.

The new program helps categorize Whole Foods as a more affordable grocery shopping destination, and further it from the “Whole Paycheck” image. In addition, it gives shoppers another reason to become a subscriber of Amazon Prime, and a reason for Amazon Prime subscribers to shop at Whole Foods – a win-win for Amazon. Observers can’t help but wonder if Amazon will make deals with other retailers and expand these types of offers to other stores in the future.

As we can all attest at Ketner Group, retail is a very exciting industry and one that never stops moving. In the past month alone, we’ve seen the in-store experience improving drastically, brick-and-mortar stores going online and AI doing unimaginable things. Stay tuned to see what happens next!