Sleeping with the enemy … or strategic collaboration?

By Chris Petersen and Adam Simon

One of the epic battles in the history of retail is the escalating war between the behemoths Walmart and Amazon. While Amazon’s total sales still lag behind those of Walmart’s, the annual double-digit growth of Amazon puts it on a trajectory to surpass the world’s largest retailer. However, the sleeping giant has awoken! Walmart is now creating new levels of innovation online, with click and collect and automated customer convenience at check out.   The rapid innovation and growth of these giants is certainly not great news for the rest of retail. Have we reached the age of “if you can’t beat them, join them”? Many retailers and brands are seeing opportunities in choosing a side. Are there any other alternatives left?

The retail goliath’s all-out war for customers via “marketplace partners”
In the battle of Amazon versus Walmart, it is no longer a war of ecommerce versus stores. Competing in today’s marketplace for omnichannel consumers requires massive infrastructure, systems, and logistics for the last mile all the way to the customer’s door. It also requires a vast assortment of products, including the most popular brands.

Increasingly, both Amazon and Walmart are searching for unique brands and products that differentiate, and attract customers to their ecosystem. For many brands, and even retailers, the choice seems to be that it is easier to partner with a giant rather than try to beat them.

Will those jumping in bed with Amazon see a “Prime” Future?
Amazon is so much more than a “retailer” – it is become an ecosystem of ecommerce, distribution and even building devices. A huge part of that ecosystem is the “Prime”, which fuels repeat visits and growth from Amazon’s most profitable customers. To attract Prime members, Amazon needs prime brands and offerings.

Best Buy electronics has recently “teamed up” with Amazon for voice shopping via Alexa in order to tap into Amazon prime customers and traffic. Kohl’s department stores has gone even further by opening Amazon product sections in their stores, and new processing for Amazon returns to Kohl’s stores.

From Nike collaborating on curated Amazon assortments, to Calvin Klein collaborating on pop-up stores with Amazon, both brands and retailers are strategically collaborating in new ways to tap into Amazon’s ecosystem and traffic. Amazon wins with prime products and new offerings.

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Walmart is rapidly recruiting its own coalition of brands and retailers
Walmart is no longer just playing catchup. They have leapfrogged Amazon in a number of areas, especially in click and collect. They also recognize the importance of assortment breadth and premier brands. In addition to purchasing millennial appealing brands like Bonobos and Moosejaw, Walmart is also focusing on curating premium brands and products. Who would have imagined that Walmart would now be collaborating with Lord & Taylor! As department stores struggle, Walmart offers a potential for Lord & Taylor to reach the masses, and at the same time, Walmart brings cache products to Walmart.com.

While Amazon may have Alexa, Walmart has aggressively collaborated with Google in voice shopping. Each giant is now literally matching each other blow by blow. Where does that leave the rest of retailers and consumer brands?

The upside of strategic collaboration with one of the giants
Simply put, omnichannel is not rapidly scaling throughout the rest of retail for many reasons.   The retailer conundrum is that if they make the extensive investments to expand online and home delivery, they starve their stores of much needed investment required to differentiate customer experience. Strategic collaboration with Amazon or Walmart offers many benefits: immediate turnkey access to ecosystems with massive traffic, no major capital investments for distribution and home delivery, reduced risk and costs. There are many upsides in reaching the masses to grow revenue by collaborating Amazon or Walmart, at least short term.

What is the downside of sleeping with an elephant?
There is a huge danger of “selling your soul” in order to survive in the short term, especially if you are a retailer. Whether it is collaborating with Amazon or Walmart, both brands and retailers must constantly evaluate:

  • Can we curate a “marketplace assortment” that sells online, without giving away our core value propositions that bring customers to our brand and stores?
  • If Amazon and Walmart own the interface of the sale, how do we engage customers?
  • How can we remain relevant to customers by offering better solutions and services?
  • What can we do better that the giants do not already do for customers?

With their vast infrastructure, systems, data and analytics Amazon and Walmart have the “big data” to leverage the most profitable products and customer segments for their gain. Are there any alternatives for the rest of retail?

Collaborating on data as the new currency for Customer Experience (CX)
The bottom line: retail is not dead. It is mediocre retailing focused on product and price that is dying! If it is only about products at a price, that is the forte of Walmart and Amazon and they are winning hands down.

The future for the rest of retail lies in creating relevance beyond products, price and promotions. Data is the new currency for strategic collaboration to differentiate value. Not just any data. The new strategic currency is “rich data” about how to establish the power of CX – Customer experience.

The most powerful untapped “gold” is the behavior of customers: before, during and after the sale. Beyond the giants, the innovative retailers, brands and distributors are strategically collaborating to create alternatives focused on how to engage customers throughout their journey, and how to deliver “knock your socks off” services that bring them back for more.

The alterative to “sleeping with the “enemy” requires both consumer brands and retailers to change the past paradigms of negotiating solely on products and price. The future of retail success lies in collaborating to create customer relationships, not the products sold.

Chris Petersen and Adam Simon are collaborating on a series of blogs that explore the rise of strategic collaboration and new customer centric ecosystems. This blog series will culminate with a worldwide panel discussion at the ContextWorld CES CEO Breakfast, where a global Brand, Distributor and Retailer will share their perspectives on strategic collaboration.

If you are interested in more information on this CES event, contact tgibbons@contextworld.com.

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Filed under Market Analysis, omnichannel, Retail

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