Tag Archives: Amazon

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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Google and Amazon lay the foundations for a virtual assistant to run our homes

The dream of the smart home always seems just out of reach. Everyone knows how it should work. You buy a new connected device, plug it in, and it instantly syncs with all your other devices. Of course the reality is often markedly different—one poor man spent 11 hours trying to make a cup of tea with his new kettle. This is not an isolated experience as many tech reviewers and consumers have documented their own valiant battles to control their devices.

The root cause of the frustration stems from the multitude of technology standards, but Google and Amazon are both making great strides trying to address it. They have realised that convenience is the key to making the category a success. And what could be more convenient than telling someone, or in this case something, to do a job for you? The Amazon Echo, newly available in the UK, has won over industry experts for its ability to search online for information, and control the home’s connected devices using simple voice commands. But it is Google Home that has many in the industry excited.

Google has always been a data company, with a mission to organize the world’s information. If you have a Gmail account, it’s been reading your emails for years. If you use any of its services such as Android, Chrome, Maps or Search it knows pretty much everything about your habits. A few years ago, it launched Google Now that aimed to map out your life as a personal concierge you could speak to. With Google Home, this goes one step further.

Advances in Artificial Intelligence mean that you can now converse with Google Home. After you ask it what’s on at the cinema, you can then ask it to filter by age-certification or genre, and then to book tickets. It will wake you up and give you a morning briefing based on the papers you read. It will alert you to any delays on your commute, and remind you about appointments. Plus, it can connect to your smart home devices—though not as many as the Amazon Echo—and operate them all by voice. Initial reviews have been very positive, and while there are discussions to be had about privacy and security, the promise is there for all to see.

We surveyed 2,500 European consumers about their hopes for the smart home, and only three per cent thought they needed a hub to control all their devices. But it’s looking more likely that a device like the Echo or Home will be the gateway to your home’s other devices, with users enticed by the ability to search and manage other aspects of their lives.

The price points are within consumer expectations, though they do not leave much room for purchase of additional smart home products. Thirty per cent said they’d pay up to £150 for smart home devices over the next year, exactly the price of the Echo, with Google Home set to retail in the U.S. at $129. Fifty per cent would pay more than £150, meaning these devices are accessible, and could well act as the catalyst for people to buy more smart home devices. Indeed, Google is pushing its Nest thermostats and IP cameras anew on the back of the Home launch.

By choosing voice as the input method, Amazon and Google have removed the cumbersome user-experience of finding the relevant app on your smartphone for the lights, and then navigating to another app for speaks. It is choice that could usher in mainstream acceptance for having a virtual assistant in our homes.

by AS

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Get big, get specialist, or get out!

You’re a brave person to be the only representative of a titanic eTailer in a room full of established and independent retailers. This was my thought last week at the PCR Bootcamp where I was lucky enough to evangelise on the subject of Smart Home to the brightest and best in the British ICT channel. Time and time again the name of a certain rainforest popped up when the subject of tough competition was mentioned. Having scanned the attendance register earlier that day, I knew that one of the Amazon team was probably in the audience, but if they were they had decided to wisely remain reticent and keep their head down.

In fairness, the presence of Amazon in UK retail is nothing short of terrifying. Amazon is now the first port of call for many consumers for just about everything from laptops to t-shirts suggesting that the 40th President of the USA was an undead monster. Indeed, in the last CONTEXT consumer survey on Smart Home, 80% of respondents in the UK said they would look to buy Smart Home products from Amazon, followed by Maplin with 60%. There is a lot to be wary of when in competition with Amazon, however that’s not to say that traditional retailers do not have a play in the current retail environment – even the mighty Achilles had a dodgy ankle.

Towards the end of the panel discussion, Rich Marsden (MD VIP) made the comment that in today’s world it’s “…get big, get specialised, or get out”. This resonated with everything I had tried to admonish during my own speech. The owner of a very successful Smart Home eTailer recently confided to me that a significant portion of his customers were those who had bought from Amazon but ended up returning the products because the post-sales support was not sufficient to help them set up their purchase. This particular eTailer has a fantastic technical support service and pride themselves on their very low return rate. Smart Home products won’t sell themselves and are not your average plug-and-play devices.

Consumers need to be educated, if possible in store and in person. Moreover, some products cry out for home installation and partnerships with trusted service providers. Many consumers struggle with resetting their fuse box, let alone fitting a new thermostat. As Rich went on to say “…there will always be a market for people who want to walk into a shop to make their purchase.” With emerging product categories such as Smart Home (and soon, VR), the experiential is far more important than convenience of purchase. It’s time for retail to bring back a little theatre and hands-on salesmanship, something an online transaction cannot currently capture.

by JW

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Filed under Home automation, Mobile technology, Retail in CONTEXT, Smart Home, Smart Technology

New products, new formats, old world

This year CONTEXT is hosting a breakfast at the CES show in Las Vegas. Our objective is to give a voice at CES where senior players can examine the issues which retailers are facing in Europe as we go into 2015. We have ICT retailers from Dixons, Boulanger, Auchan, Mondadori as well as the CEO’s of Darty, Euronics, Lick and Bimeks, and senior representatives from vendors and distributors such as Lenovo, Acer, Samsung, AMD, Netgear, Webroot, the GTDC and Esprinet.

The old continent is divided – there are continued risks to euro integrity, the latest being the threat of Greece reneging on its agreements; UK growth vs Eurozone stagnation; the threat of deflation in France which has been recorded for the first time since modern records began; and the cutting off of Russia – not many Russians will be expected this year at CES. What does 2015 hold for ICT retailers and for the European economy as a whole? There are two encouraging macro-economic trends – the collapse in the oil price puts more money in consumers’ pockets and the QE being engaged by the ECB for the first time will stimulate growth. But overall economic prospects in Europe show a fragile recovery.

Against this environment traditional ICT retailers face well documented threats – the growth of etailers such as Amazon and Ebay, the development of ecosystems in which they play a small role, such as Apple and Google, and the new threat posed by vendors themselves as they engage directly with end customers in a world of connected products.

Régis Schultz, Darty CEO will address the CES breakfast and maintain that unless retailers step up and deliver high value service to their customers, they will no longer serve any useful purpose. Retailers must reclaim customer relationships which are their lifeblood and which are at risk.

The Darty solution has been to advance unique service solutions. Schultz will talk about the innovative Darty button – it is a physical button which links to your wifi and smartphone, and is only available if you have a service contract. You press it and are put in direct contact with Darty service engineers 24/7. “Unless a product has a service opportunity we are not interested in it, for example we only sell Nest thermostats in a bundle with the installation performed by our engineers.” A 100% attach rate is a decision which Darty has taken even if they may lose some deals to consumers who want to instal themselves.

Hans Carpels, the President of Euronics, the 2nd largest retailer in Europe with a consolidated turnover of 17.6 billion euros, will deliver a message about his view of the European technology market in 2015. He is uniquely placed being at the head of a retailer with a presence in 30 countries spread across North, South, East and West Europe.

The old world of Europe is coming up with innovative ways to sell new products in new formats, and which will be explored at the breakfast. If you are interested in attending the Retail CEO breakfast, please contact Adam Simon, Managing Director of Retail at CONTEXT on asimon@contextworld.com

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