Category Archives: Retail

Is Amazon’s bid for Whole Foods a big blunder, or another brilliant Bezos strategy?

In the past couple of weeks, the news from the United States has been filled with headlines about Amazon’s pending acquisition of Whole Foods.

Amazon’s current bid for Whole Foods is the largest acquisition deal attempted by far. CEO Jeff Bezos is paying a premium price ($13.7bn USD) for a marginally profitable retailer who has not been growing. And the price may go higher if other suitors consider higher offers for Whole Foods in order to block Amazon’s acquisition of a nationwide retail food store chain.

As omnichannel shoppers continue to seek convenience of home delivery, a major obstacle has been the vexing problem of the “last mile” – moving quality fresh food from the warehouse to the customer’s house. Will this be the magic marriage that enables Amazon to leapfrog the competition? Or is Amazon’s move to owning stores a recipe for failure by reaching too far beyond its core business?

In this piece, we explore the pros and cons of the Amazon deal with a perspective by Context’s Global Managing Director Adam Simon, and omnichannel strategist Chris Petersen.

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Reasons why Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods is a recipe for failure – Adam Simon

  1. Amazon’s business model is ecommerce, not running stores

Amazon has built a tremendously successful model based upon online ecommerce. It specializes in warehouse, distribution and logistics to deliver items directly to consumers. Aside from a couple of pilot stores, it has no experience, team or systems in place to turn around a chain of 440 bricks and mortar stores with relatively flat growth and marginal profitability. Rather than be saddled with a retailer’s legacy systems and real estate, Amazon would be better off growing its own version. Or it could have acquired a chain with smaller format stores which would have better fitted the click and collect model.

  1. Whole Foods is upscale pricing and not consistent with Amazon’s strength for the masses

The standing cliché is that when people shop at Whole Foods they spend their whole paycheck. By design, Whole Foods offers very unique items and fresh organic foods at premium prices. Amazon is aggressively competing with Walmart in the US who is focused on the mainstream and value pricing. Whole Foods product range and high prices do not offer Amazon a competitive advantage in acquiring stores with broad customer appeal. Whole Foods brand and pricing is also inconsistent with Amazon’s own “Fresh” approach already in market.

  1. Mixing Amazon and Whole Foods cultures are like oil and water

Previous Amazon acquisitions like Zappos were designed to expand categories (shoes and apparel) but were also consistent with and built upon Bezos philosophy of “customer first” and ease of use. It’s not that Whole Foods is anti-customer, but the stores and culture were built around product differentiation and segmentation. The management philosophy and pay scales of Whole Foods are quite different from Bezos’ empire in Seattle.

Why Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods is brilliant retail disruption – Chris Petersen

  1. Bezos is investing for 2024 … the play for Whole Foods is not about grocery stores

If you follow Jeff Bezos the CEO of Amazon, he operates with a long-term vision. He has discussed how teams are in the process of planning the first half of 2024 today. Dennis Berman from the Wall Street Journal perhaps best summarized the Whole Foods acquisition:

“Amazon did not just buy Whole Foods grocery stores. It bought 431 upper-income, prime-location distribution nodes for everything it does.”

To underscore the value of an Amazon total integrated play, Whole Foods 440 stores gives Amazon to refrigerated warehouses within 10 miles of the about 80% of the US population. That kind of reach goes a long way of delivering fresh food the last mile to your door.

  1. Whole Foods enables Amazon to rapidly disrupt with its ecosystem

The Whole is greater than the sum of the parts [pun intended] and the parts of the Amazon ecosystem are formidable. Amazon has 100 million Prime members. Imagine what they could offer Prime subscribers in terms of preferred discounts and services in 440 stores. Amazon just announced a $20 version of an Alexa device built for ordering food and getting recipes … a perfect recipe for the Whole Foods concept and persona of fresh and organic.

  1. A core category of all households and the Prime subscription model is “food”

Half of Walmart’s core business is food and consumables, and it drives more than 100 million customers through its doors every week. It makes perfect sense why Amazon would buy grocery stores as opposed versus another type of retailer. As far as Whole Foods notoriously high prices, Amazon is the world’s best at shrinking supply chain costs and negotiating with suppliers. What better way to launch retail stores than to go after a category that drives weekly traffic and is synonymous with a subscription model augmented by Alexa and Dash reorders.

The future of retail is “hybrid”. Bricks and mortar retailers have been racing to build an online presence. Ecommerce realises the need to build a physical presence to complete the customer experience and establish an outpost for the last mile, especially in categories like food.

Will the Amazon big bet of 13.7 billion USD on grocery stores pay off? Chances are we won’t have to wait 7 years to find out. The “food wars” are already underway and we have a ring side seat.

It’s a great time to be a consumer! A very challenging time to be a retailer bridging both the digital and physical world.

 

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SH&BA – Convergence of the transformation of our digital lifestyle

The SH&BA – Smart Home and Builders’ Association – Retailer & Manufacturer Panel met this past week in London. The attendees were truly a reflection of the convergence of the devices and technology in our homes and lifestyle. Participants represented a variety of industries and sectors including: manufacturing, vendors, retailers, associations, government agencies as well as academia and industry experts. What does such a diverse group of attendees gather to discuss?

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Smart Home – The hub of a digital lifestyle
IoT (internet of Things) devices have been in existence for a couple of decades. They enable connecting a variety of devices to the internet to send and receive data. That capability is not very exciting for most customers. But the ability to use IoT to monitor household utility connections to save money becomes a much more compelling reason for consumers to consider a “smart” home.

Many of the examples discussed in the SH&BA forum were about the increasing ease of use for consumers, and the value the smart devices play in making life convenient. Steve Moore from Dixons Carphone illustrated how their Honey Bee becomes a hub to connect many devices in the home. And even more importantly, it becomes the homeowners’ support centre where they can get answers to questions about devices they own. Steve Moore perhaps best summarised the key to Smart Home expansion by saying that we are at the stage where our “Goal is to take the friction out of life”.

Maybe we shouldn’t be calling it “Smart”
Rick Hartwig from the IET (Institute of Engineering and Technology) made the interesting point that we shouldn’t be using the term “Smart” home. Smart implies futuristic … a long way off. Mr. Hartwig argued that in many ways aspects of the digital “smart” home are already here. Most customers who are online already have at least one device beyond a PC connected to an internet. In the near future, energy and power consumption will be prime drivers for the home owner to adopt “smart” connected technology which adapts its settings to hours of the day in order to save energy.

The Power of Voice is rapidly accelerating adoption
One of the most exciting buzz factors in the smart home arena is the power of voice control. Initially propelled by Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple and Microsoft are all rushing ahead with voice control speakers which become more humanised “hubs” for a variety of smart devices throughout the home.

Keynote speaker Theunis Scheepers brought some cutting edge examples from the evolution of the Amazon Alexa ecosystem. The speaker is the “human portal”, but the real genius is the Alexa cloud platform. The Alexa cloud is essentially an API system that enables partners to connect their devices to Alexa for voice control. In reality the Echo device is an array microphone and speaker – the “smart” is in the cloud that enables the customer to interact in a very natural way of using their voice to direct their digital lifestyle.

Theunis Scheepers

The Future of Smart Home
Adam Simon, from CONTEXT and Chair of the SH&BA Association, updated the group on the latest CONTEXT Smart Home Survey. The trends are clear, and consistently upward.   More consumers are aware of “smart home” and more plan to purchase a device for their home, but the patterns vary significantly by country.

From a consumer perspective, smart home adoption is still a “mid-term” play with purchases planned on 3 to 5 year horizon.   The exception is in the builder market where whole house adoption is accelerating because it is “built in” as the backbone of the home and constitutes a relatively small part of the overall home market.

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If there was one clear consensus and predictor for Smart Home it is that the power of voice will rapidly accelerate adoption. Amazon reported that Echo is now selling at 9X the holiday rate, and the Echo Dot is being bundled as a 6 pack so consumers can cover every room of their house. With the speaker hub and API cloud system we have now reached a stage similar to that of the smartphone with apps that make a connected life possible and convenient.

The next Retailer & Manufacturer Panel will be on 14th November, 2017.

For more information about SH&BA or if you are interested to attend the SH&BA panel please email marketing@shaba.eu

Guest blog by Chris Petersen, IMS

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Filed under Connectivity, Home automation, Mobile technology, Retail, Smart Home, Smart Technology

Window Shopping and Shopping on Windows

A running theme over the last few years in business news in the US and elsewhere is the terminal decline of the physical retail store. Many of the big name chains once thought of as bastions of the high street have fallen victim to the online juggernauts, on what seems like a weekly basis. The finger of blame is most often pointed at Amazon, whose profits continue to soar to such extents that some financial analysts are now claiming that their share price is overvalued and based upon forecasted earnings of massive proportions.

It is possible that President Trump may attempt to curtail Amazon’s growth through trust-busting legislation – something which could be motivated by his feud with The Washington Post and its owner/Amazon exec Jeff Bezos – however there is little legal ground to challenge the etailer simply because their business model and disruptive technology offers a better deal for consumers as things currently stand. It’s true that few retailers can take on Amazon based on pure pricing, however there are still assets which Amazon does not yet have: a large high-street presence and refined customer service.

I was speaking to a colleague recently whose wife works as a beauty consultant in London’s West End. She was upset that although their footfall was good and plenty of customers wanted to try out products, very few actually bought anything, and many could be seen price-checking and purchasing on Amazon before they even left the store. Let’s be honest: many of us do this every time we shop. Her general feeling was that they shouldn’t even bother stocking anything in-store. This remark was borne of bitter resignation, but some retailers have done exactly that, using a sophisticated omnichannel model to remove the need for significant store inventory.

There are certain categories where consumers will always want to try products in person, and which if prove unsatisfactory can result in a glut of expensive return logistics. Clothing and fashion is an obvious candidate; US brand Bonobos recently posted a $60m increase in revenue over the past five years, driven by their Guideshop setup. Consumers visit physical stores to see the new lines, try on clothing, then pay to have clothes delivered when and where they wish. The store itself does not hold large stock or inventory. Bonobos’ system challenges the assumption that most consumers want to leave with the product in hand, and has allowed them to reinvest logistical savings in staff training and a high service-level.

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This phenomenon is also seeing green shoots for technology sales, with showroom setups such as London’s Sandbox offering hands-on experience with new categories including VR. Like Bonobos, Sandbox’s function is to give consumers the chance to try room-scale VR, something Context’s 2016 VR consumer survey showed to be a key factor in purchasing VR. At this stage in the category’s lifecycle relatively few consumers have tried room-scale VR, and would therefore be unwilling to part with the daunting initial upfront cost.

These kinds of demonstrations are arguably more important for VR marketing than traditional advertising. VR can be a revelatory experience, but selling it to someone who has never tried it is an uphill struggle. It is also fair to say that many consumers shop online to avoid feeling pressured by a salesperson, and at present very few retailers can offer truly excellent face-to-face customer service. By removing the onus of making the purchase then and there, and potentially allowing for price reductions to compete with Amazon, Bonobos’ solution, or a modified omnichannel setup could be the saviour of the high street, not to mention a huge boom time for the distribution channel and drop shipments.

The art of window-dressing has a long and proud history, once a place of hubris for serious-minded shop attendants and source of satire for comedians, but now the whole store offers a window into (Microsoft) Windows.

by JW

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B2B – a risk for the channel or a missed opportunity for tech retailers?

The recent news about Amazon launching its B2B activity in Europe, starting in Germany, has generated a lot of press coverage. In the US it is reported that in the last two years the number of business customers shopping at Amazon has increased from 200,000 to 400,000, so resellers in Europe are concerned. “Amazon’s B2B challenge is a danger for the Channel,” was the headline on CRN UK’s front page.

So is this news a risk to the channel or in fact a missed opportunity for retailers?

Three years ago CONTEXT ran a conference which highlighted the opportunity of what we named “R2B” short for “Retail-to-Business”. Many retailers from across Europe attended this conference, but very few had the real commitment to make it happen. So will the news of Amazon’s arrival in this space make them wonder if they missed an opportunity? Surely if Amazon, with no stores, no experience of providing human-to-human customer service, and no expertise in business IT, can go for this sector, then the tech retailers can do so also.

Successful retailers in B2B are those who have invested in a service capability. Best Buy and the Geek Squad, DixonsCarphone and Knowhow, the Darty van with “le contrat de confiance” emblazoned on it – these are the retailers that have invested in service. Sebastian James, CEO of DixonsCarphone, said at Retail Week Live in March 2015 “if we don’t invest in the whole chain we risk to become irrelevant”. Some etailers have also managed to create a space in this area – an example is LDLC in France which has set up a nationwide network of resellers who help their business customers to install and maintain their IT equipment.

If a retailer is keen to take on Amazon in the B2B area here are the 5 key steps to follow:

  1. Identification and targeting of business customers through the use of CRM and intelligent sales activity – for example, every time a customer asks for a VAT invoice, this is a sure sign that they are a business; or when they purchase more than 2 of any machine, this should be a sign. Human interaction with the customer is important, as well as the posing of key questions online. On Staples website, the very first action is to identify yourself as a business or as a normal customer
  2. Curation of business SKU’s – with the support of vendors, retail is a way of targeting incremental sales from small businesses of less than 25 seats. But it is necessary to have the right products, which are not always made available to retailers. You can buy a Lenovo Thinkpad for a B2B customer on PCWorldbusinessonline, at Amazon.co.uk, at LDLC but not at Fnac, Darty, El Corte Ingles or even Media Saturn.
  3. Category management to drive out the optimal product mix – the business SKU is part of an ecosystem – understanding the upselling opportunities to meet the full needs of the business customer is a key element of success. R2B market data is a vital support for retailers by showing top selling products and typical market baskets.
  4. Service at every stage – the business customer needs service in store, online, at the point of installation and support in maintaining equipment in a functioning state. This is the most demanding element of the proposition in terms of investment. Recently, I asked the CEO of a retailer in the Middle East if he was concerned about Amazon’s purchase of Souk.com, and he said “No! We will differentiate ourselves through our service offering.”
  5. Financing of small businesses – this is a key activity which helps SMB to survive and grow. Healthy credit terms and even loans help small and medium businesses to expand without fear of cashflow shortage.

It is not too late for retailers to enter into this space, and capture a market which is at risk from the ever-innovative and expanding Leviathan which is Amazon.

by AS

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TCG Retail Summit – Top Themes for Future Retail Success

Guest blog by Chris Petersen, IMS

The TCG Summit represents a very unique gathering of top European Executives from across Europe. This year’s TCG summit, which was held at the end of March in Berlin, was particularly noteworthy in terms of the dominant recurring themes for future retail success, not only for technology, but all categories of retail. Even though the audience was primarily technology retailer and vendor leaders, innovations highlighted were less about the application of technology in the retail store, and much more about adapting to the most disruptive force in retail today – the omnichannel consumer.

Omnichannel is the New Normal
The underlying theme present in most of the presentations and panel discussions was omnichannel.   The TCG Summit in fact kicked off with Christophe Biget’s presentation focused on “innovation throughout the customer’s journey”.   From “walking in the customers shoes” to “customer centricity”, thought leaders were squarely focused on today’s consumer as a driving force of change in today’s retail.

If anyone had any doubts about omnichannel, it was key topic in almost every presentation and follow up panel discussion. The consensus in many discussions seemed to be that retailing is now moving beyond “omnichannel”.

“Experience is your product”
A top theme of both the presentations and panel discussions was focus on the customer experience as a key differentiator.   Jeffrey Sears from the Modernist group perhaps captured it best with his concept that “your [retailer] experience is your product”.   For traditional bricks and mortar retailers, the DNA now required is creating exceptional store experience as the new differentiator producing disruptive results. Despite all of the disruption from omnichannel, no one was predicting the demise of the retail store anytime soon. Many of the discussion panelists called out the need for new levels of partnership between vendors and retailers to “bring products to life”, particularly in stores.

Indeed, smart home products were frequently mentioned as the “poster child” for requiring hands on customer experience in store.   Smart home products are the growth category of the future that technology retailers are poised to lose … IF retailers don’t deliver an exceptional experience that connects products to the consumer’s life style.

Engagement – Yes we can!
The other underlying theme for future retail success is that retailers must develop internal DNA focused on customer engagement.   In the product centric past, it was enough to build stores, run ads and wait for consumers to come shop.   In today’s omnichannel world, consumers are very proactive and in control of their journey.   To be successful, retailers must focus on innovative ways to move from a passive display to proactive ways to engage customers where they are and how they want to purchase.

Perhaps the highlight presentation of the TCG 2017 Summit was from Nilesh Khalkho, CEO of Sharaf DG. Khalkho provided an amazing visual journey of Sharaf DG’s mantra of “Growing through Differentiation” in an omnichannel environment.   This journey included numerous examples of how retailers, especially technology retailers, will survive and prosper by truly differentiating on customer experience, engagement, and service.   The Sharaf DG story was a highlight that became a “Yes we Can!” rallying cry for what is possible in transforming technology retailing.

The Bottom Line – Results still Count
It is one thing for an executive team to say they are transforming to omnichannel, it is quite another to be able to execute omni-presence, experience and service 24/7/365.   There were a number of speakers and commentaries on the tremendous investments required to be able to create the experience and engagement demanded by today’s consumers.ETCG-Flashback-2017-43-2

As Adam Simon from CONTEXT highlighted, investors in tech retail are still looking for a return on their investment.   But achieving that return will require more than fiscal, operational expertise.   The successes, and the future of technology retail will require innovation on how to leverage talent in new ways that generate connected, customer relationships based upon a differentiated customer experience.

The bottom line for the future retail success – future success will not depend upon the sales transactions made today, but rather upon the customer relationships earned through engagement and services that will generate customer lifetime value.

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Filed under Connectivity, Home automation, IoT, Market Analysis, Mobile technology, Retail, Retail in CONTEXT, Smart Technology

CeBIT 2017 Points the Way to VR and Smart Device Growth

With 200,000 participants flocking to Hanover this year, the week-long CeBIT show can be an intimidating prospect. Over 3,000 exhibitors set up shop at the world’s biggest technology expo. And while this is not a show for big name product launches, it still provides a very useful snapshot of what’s hot in the tech industry from one year to the next.

This year, as we predicted, there was plenty of buzz around smart devices, the Internet of Things and Virtual Reality (VR)/ Augmented Reality (AR). These, after all, will be the technologies that in years to come delight consumers and power the next generation of European businesses.

VR/AR catches the eye
CeBIT 2017 had a bigger focus on VR/AR than ever before, highlighting the growing maturity of this burgeoning technology. If you were in any doubt of the scale of interest in this space, half of Hall 17 – one of the show’s aircraft hangar-sized expo spaces – was devoted entirely to firms exhibiting VR-related tech. As we predicted at the end of 2016, gaming will continue to drive forward interest in VR on the consumer side. But, as evidenced by its exposure at the business-centric CeBIT show, more and more companies are exploring corporate applications.

Examples included the “Virtofy” VR presentation system, which offers companies an opportunity to demo products and showcase projects to prospective clients/customers. Another interesting use case developed by engineers at the Zwickau University of Applied Sciences incorporates integrated data goggles into the helmets worn by steel workers – designed to flash up safety warnings and the like.

In Hall 2 Intel, in cooperation with Microsoft, presented the dataflow the companies expect in the near future. Based on the BMW i8, Intel presented with the Microsoft AR Hololens how cameras and sensors scan the environment of a future car in order to drive autonomously. Intel predicts that approximately 4000 GB of data will be tracked, processed and uploaded from cars in the future, which creates brand new business scenarios in this market.

IoT everywhere
As we mentioned in December, the Smart Home market is really heating up, with Apple, Google, Amazon, Samsung and Microsoft set to battle it out for hearts and minds in 2017 and beyond. True to form, the Internet of Things formed a major part of CeBIT 2017, with over 270 exhibitors from 29 countries participating. The IoT also had its own spin-off summit at the conference – a first for the organisers and again illustrative of the growing interest in smart products.

The IoT, of course, extends far beyond the smart home. In fact, attendees were treated to demos of everything from smart shirts and dog collars from Telefonica Deutschland, to Toshiba’s industrial applications for the energy sector.

Drones are taking off
The smart device revolution also increasingly extends up into the sky. As evidenced by the buzz at CeBIT, drones are fast carving out an IoT niche of their own. A large outdoor area sponsored by Intel drew many of the crowds, with much attention drawn to the bright orange H520 hexacopter from Chinese firm Yuneec. When combined with an on-board camera and Intel RealSense tech, it’s able to detect movements and distances like the human eye – enabling it to avoid obstacles in flight.

The Drone Park even drew the interest of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

by AD

 

 

 

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Filed under Connectivity, gaming, Home automation, IoT, Mobile technology, Retail, Smart Home, Smart Technology, virtual reality, Wearables

Reflections on DISTREE EMEA 2017

When the IT channel gathers in Monaco for DISTREE in February it is always good to get some winter sunshine, not just from the balmy Cote d’Azur weather, but also the opportunity to meet up with panellists, clients and new tech companies.

This year there was a strong distributor focus, and the keynote, delivered by Chris Petersen , our strategic partner, was a look at what distributors need to do to benefit from the omnichannel revolution. Chris challenged the audience provocatively with a tombstone showing that on 14th February 2017, traditional retail died. What is the significance of this date? It was on this day that Warren Buffett, the legendary investor, sold almost all of his WalMart stocks. The WalMart stock has been languishing for years now, as the company is incapable of catching up with Amazon on ecommerce. Their total of $13bn online sales is equivalent to the growth which Amazon puts on every year.

Chris elaborated on 5 areas where distributors can contribute. Here are two key ones:

  • The last mile represents 40% of costs – how can distributors help with logistics support such as drop shipment, and inventory management.
  • The long tail is the chosen strategy of ecommerce and particularly online marketplaces, which are big competition for distributors. What can distributors do to help retailers increase the breadth and depth of categories which they hold.

In addition, CONTEXT had a workshop slot, and presented a deep dive on three emerging technology areas – Smart Home, VR and PC Gaming. There is a thirst for understanding all these areas, as evidenced by the full house of those attending the talk. Of all of them, the theme which cropped up throughout the three days was PC Gaming. In the CONTEXT presentation there was a very visual presentation of the need for deep analysis in this area, with a slide showing two Asus models. One was a Republic of Gaming model, evidently a gaming machine.

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Adam Simon, Global MD – Retail, CONTEXT

The other was a “business” laptop, but when you dig into the specifications you can see that it is also gaming capable. The channel needs to understand the total market if it is to develop the gaming category, and that is where the CONTEXT categorisation is very useful.

Finally, we were asked to take part in a panel on Brexit. All 4 UK participants had been pro-Remain and are all now pragmatic if concerned about the future. We are delighted to see additional investments recently announced by tech companies in the UK, and look for an interesting competition between the hardware strong France and the software strong UK.

by AS

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Filed under Connectivity, Home automation, omnichannel, Retail, Retail in CONTEXT, Smart Home, Smart Technology