Target Adds Google Voice Assistant Shopping Nationwide

Target is the latest brick-and-mortar brand to sign on to accept requests made by owners of the Google Home through their voice-activated Google Assistant (aka “Okay, Google”) for delivery or pickup via its local online shopping marketplace Google Express.

In essence, the arrangement represents an expansion of Target’s existing use of Google Express.

Starting today, Target shoppers at most of its 1,800 stores in the United States can access items through Google Express and with the Google Assistant (except for Alaska and Hawaii). Target will offer two-day delivery, as well as free shipping for any orders over $35, Google says in a blog post.

Coming In 2018

Most of the capabilities of shopping through Google Express won’t be available until 2018. For example, after the new year, Target customers will also be able to use their Target loyalty membership through REDcard to get 5 percent off most Target purchases and free shipping when using Google Express. In addition, in 2018, Target shoppers will be able to link their Target.com and Google accounts, so the service will remember all their favorite items.

“We’re teaming up with Google to create innovative digital experiences using voice and other cutting-edge technologies to elevate Target’s strength in style areas such as home, apparel and beauty,” Target says. “Work is underway for Google and Target teams to bring this all to life.”

In August, Walmart unveiled plans to rollout a similar voice-activated shopping via Google Express and Google Home tools for its 4,700 U.S. stores and its fulfillment network “to create customer experiences that don’t currently exist within voice shopping anywhere else,” including choosing to pick up an order in store (often for a discount) or using voice shopping to purchase fresh groceries across the country.

These partnership on voice-activation comes roughly a year after Google Home debuted as a Connected Home product to augment Google Assistant.

“Shopping isn’t always as easy as it should be,” Sridhar Ramaswamy, SVP for Ads and Commerce, said in a blog post at the time of the Walmart deal’s announcement “When was the last time you needed to pick up something from the store but didn’t have the time to make the trip? Or you went to the store only to realize they didn’t have the brand you wanted? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get what you want, however you want, from the stores where you already shop? We launched Google Express and shopping on the Google Assistant to do just that: make it faster and easier for you to shop your stores like Costco, Target and  Walmart.”

Okay, Google, Target shoppers are ready to talk.

Target’s Many Omnichannel Steps

For Target, the expanded Google partnership follows a series of steps designed to tackle one of the primary challenges facing its omnichannel strategy by rivals like Amazon. In August, for example, Target acquired transportation tech company Grand Junction to promise same-day delivery to customers to match one of key appeals of Amazon’s discount shopping subscription program, Prime.

It’s the latest salvo store brand has taken to meet consumers’ demands in the age of Amazon and e-commerce. Those demands include personalized recommendation and satisfying customers’ purchasing preferences, such as online shopping/in-store pickup.

But as Amazon has expanded its discounts and two-day shipping with its Prime membership option, and has just heralded its Instant Pickup option, retailers have turned to one advantage they still possess — at least for the moment — in relation to Amazon: proximity to their customers and known inventory, which makes it possible to offer the ultimate convenience of letting someone click “buy” and then having it brought to them within a few hours.

The Rise Of Connected Intelligence, The Knowledge Graph

In general, the adoption of voice-activation and on-demand delivery/pickup follows the wider capabilities stemming from the rise of Connected Intelligence and the Knowledge Graph, which have propelled personalized, one-to-one connections between brands and digital assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Samsung’s Bixby as they enter the mainstream of consumer behavior.

While Amazon’s Alexa has assumed an early position as a leading voice-activated assistant, Google has stepped up its push into the space as its aligns its services to brick-and-mortar brands such as Panera Bread, which became one of the first national restaurant chains to begin offering voice-activated ordering and payment through Google Assistant.

The voice-activated ordering is currently available in Panera’s hometown of St. Louis and at its six locations in the Silicon Valley area. A full rollout of voice ordering is expected to come to all of Panera’s 2,000-plus U.S. locations by the end of the year, the company has said.

Other national brands that have formally aligned with Google’s voice-activated virtual assistant to accept spoken orders via the delivery marketplace Google Express, including Costco, Guitar Center, Kohl’s, L’Occitane, Payless, PetSmart, Road Runner Sports, Sur La Table, Ulta, Walgreens, and Amazon’s Whole Foods.

In the case of Target, the retailer has been aggressively — and at times, fitfully — revising its omnichannel strategy. For example, earlier this year, it decided to abandon its sub rosa e-commerce program called Goldfish, which was dubbed as the “store of the future.”

Before that, in August 2015, Target started a beacon program with Estimote to round out its in-store sales assistance. It’s unclear how vital the beacon program has been — or even whether Target has continued to use it —  since the company has not discussed those efforts publicly. Along the way, Target’s experiments with interactivity has included retail pop-ups and a showcase IoT-based connected home store in San Francisco.

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How Discount Grocer Lidl Can Build Store Traffic Following US Launch

After experiencing a favorable introduction for its first 20 U.S. grocery stores in , German discount chain Lidl has been trying to establish its footing as it continues its East Coast expansion.

According to analysis by proximity platform inMarket, the dip in foot-traffic Lidl has seen at some of its stores in North Carolina and Virginia is afflicting others in the discount grocery space as Walmart ramped up its challenge against Amazon’s Whole Foods and Target.

Finding Traction

Lidl, which runs over 10,000 stores across 28 countries, “launched with a bang” this past June 15th, inMarket’s report notes. The company’s U.S. stores drew a decent 2.6 percent Share of Visits (SOV, as inMarket abbreviates it) on its introduction to the U.S. market.

The U.S. launch by Lidl appeared to take customers from another discount retailer BI-LO, which saw a decrease in visits from May to June, inMarket says. North Carolina- based Harris Teeter, which is a subsidiary of supermarket chain Kroger, also lost SOV in June, suggesting that consumers went to compare shopping at Lidl. (We’ve reached out to Lidl’s PR department and will update accordingly.)

Lidl saw an initial burst of store visits in the US this summer, but traffic has since declined.

But rather than cannibalizing the direct competition, inMarket points to Walmart’s gravitational pull as representing the biggest problem smaller supermarkets are facing, as the retail giant attracts about 30 percent of grocery visits.

“Many of those visits [to Walmart] are likely to involve grocery purchases,” inMarket says. “It’s interesting to note that Walmart dropped from 30 percent SOV in May to 29 percent SOV in June — perhaps as its cost-conscious shoppers went to check out Lidl. Fellow mass merch chain Target remained at from May to June at 9.3 percent SOV in these markets.”

Conquesting Reconsidered

Despite Lidl’s sudden rise, and its direct rivals’ dip in visits around the time of its debut, BI-LO, Walmart and Harris Teeter have all recovered SOV as of September, inMarket notes.

“It’s still very early for the retailer, so there’s definitely potential to turn things around,” inMarket Communications VP Dave Heinzinger tells GeoMarketing. “From our perspective, we know that location-based digital ad programs can help offline retailers drive foot traffic into stores.”

One area for Lidl US to explore is managing the digital presence of its growing network of American locations. Ensuring that consumers have the right discovery tools associated with digital presence management — nearest addresses for online searches, store hours, contact details, and reviews — could quickly expand its initial customer gains.

Heinzinger is interested to see if Lidl could make an impact by targeting competitive shoppers via smart, location-based retargeting programs. (For the record, Lidl does not employ inMarket, which relied on location data from the 50 million consumers who use the company’s partner apps).

“For example, our data shows that BI-LO and Walmart had dips in SOV during Lidl’s launch in June, while Whole Foods did not,” Heinzinger adds. “A top-line recommendation might be to focus on their strongest audience — the cost-conscious shopper — by conquesting BI-LO and Walmart shoppers through online-to-offline retargeting. They might also skip wasting dollars/impressions on uninterested Whole Foods shoppers.”

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How Walmart Plans To Connect With App Content And Services Through Button Marketplace

Walmart is the latest retailer to sign on to Button Marketplace, an app engagement and payments platform that connects mobile content and commerce brands.

In addition to adding Walmart, the Button Marketplace has also added more than 30 diverse new retailers to the platform. These include fashion companies such as Gap, Express, and Under Armour; digital travel brands such as Hotwire, HomeAway, and VRBO; retail giants such as Target, QVC, Walgreens, and Sears; among many others.

The Marketplace is run by a company called Button, which provides the connective tissue between complementary mobile apps and websites to promote loyalty and payment.

Just by way of explanation, last May, The Weather Channel app began featuring Button Marketplace apps from Uber, Groupon, delivery.com, Caviar, and Resy.  As a result, its users would be able to hail a ride, sign up for a deal, get a food delivery, or make a reservation without leaving The Weather Channel to connect with those functions. In addition to maintaining engagement, The Weather Channel could potentially drive revenue through affiliate deals to promote those separate app functions.

As Walmart seeks to combat rival Amazon to be the primary online and offline shopping center for consumers, the extension to other apps within its own mobile base could help it prove its own greater convenience to consumers.

Michael Jaconi, founder and CEO of Button, was particularly ebullient in announcing what he believes the benefits are to the retail giant.

“Walmart joining Button’s Marketplace is one of the greatest accomplishments for the company to date,” said Jaconi, at his company’s Tap 2017 conference. “Enabling Walmart to expand the partnerships that matter most to them to the mobile channel is a core ingredient in their digital growth strategy. Now, with Button playing an important role in that strategy, I’m confident our platform will deliver the highest-converting channel for mobile buyers that exists.”

Jaconi backs up his claims by noting that as mobile commerce continues to grow, with smartphone sales expected to reach more than $102 billion in 2017 alone, retailers are seeking new avenues to tap into the growth of the mobile economy and acquire new users for the highest converting channels they have — their apps.

Back in February 2016, we spoke to Mike Dudas, Button’s co-founder, chief revenue officer, about the role that mobile was playing in blurring the lines between online and offline for retailers.

“We are focused on mobile commerce,” Dudas told us at the time. “But what’s really surprising is that mobile commerce is actually happening in store. For example, Walmart saw that something like 10 percent of their mobile transactions are happening in store on device.

“People want to walk in to a store and if it doesn’t have the good on the shelf, they say, ‘Guess what, I’ll buy it from you on my phone.’ You’re going to see retailers responding to this. You’re going to be able to buy anything and get it delivered at the biggest, most savvy and sophisticated retailers. There’s going to be a much bigger shift to transactions that occur on what some would call ‘remote commerce,’ but I would call “proximity commerce,” as I tap the phone and pay with a credit card.

“Then, there’s this whole class of transactions that occur with services like Uber, and other platforms where you can book anything from food to hospitality to movie tickets,” Dudas said, foreshadowing the dozens of partners Button has signed up since.

The Walmart deal follows its recent aim at Amazon by partnering with Google on voice-activated shopping.

Owners of the Google Home will be able to speak orders to their voice-activated Google Assistant (aka “Okay, Google”) for delivery or pickup via its local online shopping marketplace Google Express. The Walmart connection came on the heels previous store partnerships with Costco, Target, and Whole Foods, which, coincidentally, is being acquired by Amazon for $13.7 billion.

In addition to adding Walmart and other retailers, Button is also concentrating on publisher apps as well. It has signed up social news outlet Buzzfeed, which will be able to tap into mobile commerce apps in the same way The Weather Channel’s app is through the Button Marketplace.

“Buzzfeed is the king of merging content and commerce in the most authentic way,” said Jaconi. “Incorporating mobile shopping for consumers within their properties is an exciting opportunity, and the variety of Button Merchants combined with Buzzfeed’s content creates endless possibilities for all partners – a win, win all around.”

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Amazon To Open Its First Fulfillment Center In New York To Expand Faster Delivery

Amazon is moving aggressively to expand its promise of near-immediate delivery and physical pick-up options for its online shoppers by rapidly opening up fulfillment centers in major cities.

“We are excited to bring our first fulfillment center to New York and work alongside the state’s incredible workforce,” said Sanjay Shah, Amazon’s vice president of Customer Fulfillment, in a statement. “The support of local leaders has been instrumental in our ability to come to New York, and we are grateful for the welcome we’ve received to bring thousands of new jobs with benefits starting on day one.”

The fulfillment center comes a few months after the opening of Amazon opened its first brick-and-mortar bookstore in New York City as a showcase for its online/offline ambitions.

Amazon On The Move

Amazon employees at the 855,000-square-foot Staten Island fulfillment center will work alongside robotics to pick, pack and ship customer items such as household essentials, books and toys.

With the creation of its latest fulfillment center, which is coming to Staten Island, NY, coupled with the closing of its $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods, Amazon’s pressure on established brick-and-mortar businesses’ omnichannel strategies is apt to be felt even more acutely as the holiday season approaches.

Over the summer, Amazon has expanded its discounts and two-day shipping with its Prime membership option, and has just heralded its Instant Pickup option, retailers have turned to one advantage they still possess — at least for the moment — in relation to Amazon: proximity to their customers and known inventory, which makes it possible to offer the ultimate convenience of letting someone click “buy” and then having it brought to them within a few hours.

Meanwhile, Amazon’s instant-pickup has already begun in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Berkeley, CA., Columbus, Ohio, and College Park, Md. Initially, the items available with Instant Pickup include snacks, drinks and electronics, as well as some of Amazon’s most popular devices.

Amazon’s latest offering represents an expansion of the same-day pickup service at the 22 locations it began opening in 2015. These same locations will serve as Instant Pickup depots for Amazon Prime customers.

While available for free to Prime and Prime Student members, the program strikes at the heart of what has so far remained brick-and-mortar brands’ clear advantage over e-commerce: immediacy.

Omnichannel Pressure

New York represents one of its biggest tests.

Rivals like Target have been getting ready for the challenge. For example, Target’s purchase of San Francisco-based transportation tech company Grand Junction last month is designed to better position it against Amazon’s speedy delivery.

Grand Junction’s software platform is used by retailers, distributors, and “third-party logistics providers to manage local deliveries through a network of more than 700 carriers

Target and Grand Junction have currently been working on a same-day delivery pilot program for the Target store in New York’s Tribeca neighborhood. By 2018, Target plans to roll out same-day delivery to unspecified major cities, said Arthur Valdez, Target’s executive vice president, chief supply chain and logistics officer.

Target’s move follows similar tests by Walmart. In addition, same-day, app-based grocery delivery platform Instacart has lately been racking up partnerships with Costco, Key Food, CVS, and others.

The trend towards same-day delivery is becoming a wider retail imperative not reserved for discount shopping and food service.

Earlier this month, Office Depot announced  its same-day delivery program. The initiative kicks off on August 28 in Atlanta, Georgia and Los Angeles, California; and on September 6 in Ft. Lauderdale/Miami, Florida.

“With our new same-day delivery and our omnichannel approach, we are utilizing our retail stores as assets and part of our supply chain to give our customers the best possible experience,” said Office Depot CEO Gerry Smith.

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Who Should Walmart And Amazon Acquire Next?

As Walmart and Amazon rush to build up their respective online/offline commerce strategies, it’s safe to say that key acquisitions will play a part in efforts to keep pace, if not out-pace, the other as “the ultimate retailer” in consumers’ minds.

For example,  within the last three months, Amazon made its $13.7 billion bid to acquire Whole Foods, while Walmart bought e-commerce platforms Jet and Bonobos, speculation swirled around these two retail behemoths each striving to become the ultimate shopping destination—both on and offline.

Foursquare has come up with a list of some obvious acquisition targets that would fit Walmart’s and Amazon’s intersecting and unique needs in their drive towards retail hegemony.

But by basing its selected brand targets based on its foot-traffic data covering 2.5 million Americans, Foursquare CEO Jeff Glueck makes the case for where the best complements exist for each company in a blog post.

“Amazon and Walmart would both be wise to consider Nordstrom and Warby Parker,” says Glueck. “Amazon should consider Lowe’s; Walmart should look to Ulta Beauty.”

Among the analysis of each brand’s needs according to Foursquare:

  • Amazon prefers brands that foster an even deeper relationship with its current shopping base, and investing in challenger brands that are smaller and more upscale than in-market competitors
  • Walmart is playing catch-up in e-commerce, and so is looking to broaden its consumer reach and digital footprint, and develop delivery efficiencies.
  • Both companies are interested in attacking verticals that have proved resistant to e-commerce penetration.
  • Both companies want to refine and experiment with a “showrooming” strategy. They are also both interested in the same consumer: high-net-worth GenX and Millennials.
Source: Foursquare

Target Number 1: Nordstrom

If Amazon and Walmart aren’t fighting over Nordstrom by now, perhaps they should, Glueck says.

Amazon, in particular, needs to connect with the “right shoppers” in the physical world. And considering Amazon’s instant-pickup is initially limited to the 22 locations it began opening in 2015, it needs to expand its placement to actual stores beyond its Whole Foods connection.

“Amazon’s latest acquisition, Whole Foods, and Nordstrom have an overlapping customer set: Foursquare’s data shows that Nordstrom shoppers are almost 2X more likely to shop at Whole Foods than the average consumer,” Glueck says. “So an Amazon-owned Nordstrom chain would deepen Amazon’s relationships with its expanding core base.”

For Walmart, acquisitions are intended to bring in new customers. Nordstrom and its discount subsidiary Nordstrom Rack would likely broaden Walmart’s base to more upper middle income shoppers.

“[Nordstrom] consumers aren’t frequent Walmart-goers,” Glueck says, citing Foursquare’s foot traffic data showing they are about 55 percent less likely to go to Walmart than the average American.

“What Nordstrom does have is a bona-fide track record as well as a healthy concentration of Millennials and females, a nice addition for Walmart to balance out the the purchase of Bonobos, which has a wider male reach,” he says. “Walmart has to pursue familiar verticals that have deep online footholds. And Nordstrom has seen tremendous success versus comparable retailers in developing its e-commerce presence.”

As for Nordstrom Rack, it tends to rank number two in store visits and sales after the discount category leader T.J. Maxx.

“We found that Nordstrom Rack has actually lost more than 2 percent of its visit share to competitive discount retailers in the last two years. Amazon’s ability to slash prices further could lift the competitor brand, and give Amazon a strong foothold into the brick-and-mortar discount market. Imagine if everyday was Amazon Prime day at Nordstrom Rack…”

Source: Foursquare

All Eyes On Warby Parker

Showrooming — the act of comparing prices and products on e-commerce site at the same time one is browsing in a physical store — is the scourge of all brick-and-mortar retailers. And that’s largely thanks to Amazon’s all-encompassing inventory.

Since Warby Parker started its eyeglass sales as an e-commerce platform, it has used its online-only origins to help develop a strategy to combat showrooming at its 46 boutiques. Plus, Warby Parker is currently planning to open 25 more shops, a clear indication that its clicks-to-bricks program is working.

An Amazon purchase could further enhance Warby Parker’s distribution, while reducing its shipping costs.

Plus, consider Warby Parker’s strength with Millennials — over half its shoppers (55 percent) are in that age demographic, which over-indexes at luxury brands including Bloomingdales, Williams Sonoma and Lululemon according to Foursquare data.

Moreover, Warby Parker has similar shopper profiles and significant customer overlap with Whole Foods, as Foursquare data shows that 80 percent of Warby Parker customers also shop at Whole Foods.

Walmart certainly desires those Millennials and by acquiring Warby Parker, it would continue to trajectory its been on with the purchases of Bonobos and Jet.com — two very different offerings from Walmart’s typical shoppers.

“Though we’d expect Walmart to keep Warby as a stand-alone brand, if Walmart ever needed an infusion of new shoppers and/or Millennials into its stores, one way to do so—and quickly—would be to add Warby Parker services and eyeglasses into Walmart’s existing vision centers,” Glueck says. “In addition to being more than half Millennial, Warby Parker customers are 80 percent less likely to visit a Walmart versus the average American—so they’d be fresh eyes on Walmart’s existing inventory.”

 

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Walmart Paves The Way For Grocers With Higher Paid-Search Spending

In addition to its recent acquisitions of e-commerce platforms Jet.com and Bonobos, Walmart is already fighting back against Amazon’s burgeoning challenge in brick-and-mortar grocery space, as the Bentonville retail giant led all paid search advertisers in spending over the past year, a study by marketing platform AdGooroo found.

Walmart’s search spending jumped by more than 1,500 percent from 51,000 to an estimated $858,000 on “on 124 non-branded grocery store and grocery delivery” keywords in Google search from June 2016 through May 2017, AdGooroo said. Among the terms covered in AdGooroo’s analysis were  “grocery store,” “groceries delivery,” “grocery delivery service,” ‘online grocery shopping” and “supermarket.”

The retailer’s moves seemed to coincide with other efforts to support its position as the nation’s largest grocer. In addition to its purchase of Jet.com, Walmart has struck delivery partnerships with Uber and Lyft. It’s also expanded its curbside grocery pickup service as many other retailers have, such as Target.

The sudden and significant rise in Walmart’s search spending could also be a sign of Jet.com’s influence on the retailer, which Walmart acquired in September last year, spent an additional $82,000 on the keyword group during the period, up from just $3,000 in the 12 months preceding June 2016.

Aldi Follows Walmart

Right behind Walmart in AdGooroo’s paid-search rankings among grocers was Aldi, with $441,000 spent on the keyword group.

As the German supermarket chain expands its U.S. stores from 1,600 to 2,500 by 2022, its paid-search expenditures were up from $40,000 over the 12-month period.

Interestingly, Aldi averaged just $9,000 per month in spend on the keyword group from June 2016 through February 2017. Like Walmart, the chain’s spending surge appeared to be in concert with its other strategic moves, particularly when it comes to ensuring a stronger online presence in preparation for U.S. expansion roadmap.

In general, grocery brands’ invigorated SEO shift mirrors wider market moves designed to capitalize on the importance of social media channels like Snapchat and mobile micro-moments consumers turn to when it comes to making shopping decisions.

Where’s Amazon In All This?

Overall, AdGooroo found that Walmart captured a 19.1 percent share of total clicks on the 124 non-branded grocery keywords over the 12-month period, followed by Aldi (11.6 percent click share), Kroger (7.6 percent click share), Safeway (6.7 percent click share) and Fry’s (4.2 percent click share).

“Although the same top five retailers for ad spend also ranked in the top five for click share, Kroger and Safeway swapped places, showing that Kroger had a more efficient campaign than Safeway, since it spent less and received a larger share of clicks on the non-branded grocery keywords,” AdGooroo’s report said.

As for where Amazon was in all this paid-search activity, Amazon ranked 9th in AdGooroo’s ad spend survey on the non-branded grocery keyword group with $134,000 in spending from June 2016 through May 2017. Amazon also came in 9th in terms of clicks with a 2.8 percent click share.

Its acquisition target, Whole Foods, which has struggled technologically for a while, ranked 18th in ad spend with $51,000 spent on the keyword group over the last year. That represented a decrease for Whole Foods from the $57,000 the company spent on the same keywords from June 2015-May 2016 — and dismal 19th in clicks with a 1.2 percent click share.

In a separate study of retail sales growth by the National Retail Federation and Kantar Retail, Walmart’s ramped up search focus could have played a role in keeping it in the top spot.

“At 55 years old, Walmart may be the oldest new kid on the block, but it still has the energy and mindset of a startup as it continues to successfully battle the competition,” said Stores Media Editor Susan Reda said. Stores is the official publication of the NRF.

While main tale associated with retail these days seems to be one of retrenchment and struggle, as major brands like Macy’s and JCPenney shutter dozens of outlets, the NRF/Kantar Retail study sought to shine a brighter light on an industry taking steps to address omnichannel demands from consumers.

Retailers will always be measured by sales numbers, and ranking the leaders is important,” Reda said. “But so are the stories behind the numbers — it’s those stories that bring the Top 100 to life. The nation’s largest retailers are posting strong vitals. They’re embracing creative disruption, reinventing physical stores as places for brand experiences and exploring new ways to connect with the consumer.”

Considering that 90 percent of consumer transactions happen in a physical store, and that the majority of that that 90 percent is focused on grocery purchases, the challenge for independent markets and chains will rest on how well they play the SEO game, especially as the rise of voice-activated, Connected Intelligence assistants like Siri and Alexa are poised to have a greater impact on the answers consumers receive to their spoken search queries.

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How Amazon’s $13.7 Billion Whole Foods Acquisition Will Alter The Grocery Space – And Each Other

After shaking up the retail space for the past two decades, Amazon’s $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods represents the e-commerce giant’s latest and biggest move to dominate the grocery space.

Over the year, Amazon has shifted significant resources designed to challenge major retailers like Walmart and Target on the grocery front.

This week, Amazon Dash, the three-year-old device for immediate delivery of consumer packaged goods, has revamped its Amazon Dash Wand barcode scanner with the voice-activated digital assistant Alexa built into the device, Techcrunch reported.

December saw the opening of the prototype brick-and-mortar grocery store, Amazon Go, in Seattle. The Amazon Go concept allows customers to avoid the checkout line by simply walking in and leaving — as long as they have an Amazon Prime account that tallies the purchases automatically.

Amazon’s Challenge

“With physical store purchases still accounting for nearly 90 percent of all retail transactions even after a decade of e-commerce growth, Amazon realizes that continuing large-scale growth over the next 10 years as a company will require capturing a big slice of the physical store purchasing market — so as long as Amazon can make do with higher margins and less overhead than traditional retail stores,” Aisle411 CEO Nathan Pettyjohn wrote in GeoMarketing at the time of Amazon Go’s launch.

The purchase of Whole Foods, shows how Amazon plans to capture the the grocery space, leaving traditional markets scrambling more than ever to attempt to match its services and prices.

“The biggest challenge for Amazon now is that they offer so much choice,” says David Berkowitz, Chief Strategy Officer at marketing tech firm Sysomos. “For instance, there’s regular shipping, Prime, Prime Now, Prime Pantry, and Amazon Fresh. The same box of Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies costs $21 via regular shipping and $15.59 via Prime Pantry; these kinds of price differences are common. As Amazon grows more complex, it will need to find ways to become more streamlined, straightforward, and simple.”

In a conversation with GeoMarketing, Berkowitz related a discussion about Amazon with his parents last weekend. He tried explaining the differences among Prime Pantry, Fresh, and regular Prime. By the time he was done, “I had confused myself and essentially convinced them to stick with going to Costco.” (As a bonus, at Costco, you get the $1.50 massive hot dogs, he notes.)

“That there are now so many ways to order these products — website, mobile site/app, Amazon Smile (web/mobile), Dash, various Alexa-powered devices — adds to the convenience for customers — but only makes it more confusing,” Berkowitz says.

“Amazon will need to proactively address this,” he says. “Instead of making me compare how many packs of cookies are in each box and how many ounces are in each cookie, just show me that this same product is available a few different ways and has a few different costs.”

The Impact On Rival Grocers

Even as this deal has Whole Foods continuing to operate its 431 locations under its 37-year-old brand name, the combination of Amazon’s technology will be felt by consumers and rival grocers quickly. (As the Washington Post reports, investors in Walmart, Costco, Kroger, and Target felt the impact immediately, as shares in those companies fell as much as 13 percent with an hour of the acquisition’s news.)

But even smaller grocers, who have been buffeted by on-demand delivery from the likes of Fresh Direct and Instacart, will need to need to rapidly sharpen their own online/offline strategies.

“The Amazon deal demonstrates the need for grocery retailers to move faster in their digital efforts,” says Jeremy Neren, CEO of GrocerKey, a Madison, WI-based provider of e-commerce and tech services for local grocers and chains. “There was already pressure to do so, given the rise in consumer demand and pressure being put on by Amazon, that pressure only increases with Amazon now having a nationwide brick-and-mortar presence to add to it’s arsenal of digital tools to reach consumers and bring them into their overall ecosystem.”

Rival chains and independents should be thinking about finding partners that not only help them implement cutting edge technology, but also help them think about how to operate in a new environment such as e-commerce, Neren adds.

Furthermore, Amazon’s dominance of the voice-activated, Connected Intelligence space with the Echo’s Alexa. As these devices go mainstream, Alexa will certainly provide a direct line to grocery purchases to Whole Foods, placing even more pressure on rival grocers to also find a way ensure Alexa connects them to customers as well.

“It requires an entirely different operational approach than they are accustomed to operating in to serve their customers in-store,” Neren says. “It’s also important to consider that strengthening your digital presence does not simply mean e-commerce, it means providing more touch points to reach consumers — e-commerce is a component of that, but you must also consider how to augment the in-store experience via digital touch points such as value added native mobile apps.”

Can Amazon Bring Efficiency – And Lower Prices – To Whole Foods?

Whole Foods Market first opened in 1980 in Austin. That was two years after its founders started a vegetarian grocery called SaferWay (a play on the general supermarket chain Safeway).

It wasn’t until the 1990s, when the idea of buying organic food caught on outside of bohemian enclaves and the company capitalized on the embrace upscale consumers were making towards buying products that were at least perceived as being eco-friendly and natural.

But after a spate of aggressive store openings and acquisitions, Whole Foods began to be a victim of two separate perceptions: one, that it was too high-priced for lower-income and mainstream grocery shoppers, and two, that it was failing to keep up technologically with its core upscale consumers’ desire for more on-demand and omnichannel shopping choices.

To address some of those issues, in 2015 the introduction of “365 By Whole Foods Market” represented an attempt to attract millennials with a combination of lower prices and app-based, in-store shopping services and loyalty discounts. But with only four outlets at this point, Whole Foods has clearly had trouble scaling that idea.

Bryan Eisenberg, co-founder of B2C marketing consultancy BuyerLegends and co-author of  Be Like Amazon: Even A Lemonade Stand Can Do It, expects the acquisition to solve Amazon’s and Whole Foods’ respective problems in the current grocery space.

“Amazon has been trying to scale its grocery business for years; it’s where so much of our retail spend is,”Eisenberg said. “Part of the problem for Amazon in that space is that to sell groceries, obviously, you need a local footprint.

“The challenge is that Whole Foods has struggled the last few years,” he added. They’re not a technology company. They’re not good at efficiency. But from a brand perspective, they’re still strong, though people do feel they’re overpriced. Amazon will be able to give those stores the technology boost that they desperately need, Eisenberg said. We have 365 By Whole Foods store near us in Austin. But they haven’t pushed that concept far enough.”

The Endless Amazon Loop

The release of the Dash Wand with Alexa, along with announcement that the Prime members who add funds from a bank account to an online gift card will get 2 percent cash back on any Amazon purchase in the form of rewards/points, which can then be used to purchase of more products sold through Amazon.

That ability to entice shoppers to stay within the Amazon shopping system, which includes streaming video and music, is based on the bottom line idea of efficiency, immediate sales fulfillment, and lower prices than any other shop.

“The merger of the two brands will be great in consumers’ mindsets,” Eisenberg said. “Whole Foods does command some brand loyalty – though many people gripe about it being Whole Paycheck – by bringing Amazon to that, the prices have gotten more competitive, but they haven’t been able to shake the idea that they’re an over-priced supermarket. Amazon was able to keep that great ‘people culture’ at Zappos. I think they’ll do the same with Whole Foods, improving the perception of both the culture and the price points.”

From books to electronics to CPG to groceries, the Amazon brand has always been  to allow a user to log-in to its site and apps and get personalized recommendations based on previous purchases. Suggestions are based on what the user searches, and what similarly profiled consumers bought when searching for those products.

“The number one thing you’ll see implemented ASAP: checking out at the register with Amazon Pay,” Eisenberg says. “That’s important because the problem with Whole Foods is that they don’t know if someone walking in is the most valuable customer or the least valuable customer. That’s the same problem Walmart’s had.

“Now, they’ll let people log into their Amazon accounts and they’ll be enabling the ‘endless shelf’ pretty quickly,” Eisenberg says. “Being able to check out and get the data on their customers will have an enormous impact on both companies.”

To realize the potential advantages of owning Whole Foods, Amazon needs to make buying groceries as easy as buying books,” says Berkowitz.

“I get that there are options with Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle, and Audible, so Amazon shows me pricing options, and delivery options too,” Berkowitz says. “Digital options arrive immediately, while physical options have their own delivery times and costs. Amazon now has to do for Famous Amos cookies what it does for John Grisham novels.”

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When It Comes To Brick-And-Mortar Loyalty, Walmart Is Up As Fashion Brands Lag

The challenges facing major retail brands has been known for a long time, but the main opportunities those marketers still possess is the ability to command loyalty at scale by dint of their awareness and widely spread locations.

But, as with anything, some are better at driving loyalty than others.

As detailed in proximity platform inMarket’s Spring 2017 Loyalty report, the brands doing loyalty well are varied — Walmart was in the lead with a score of 2.68, followed by electronics chain Fry’s with 2.54, on down to Dollar General, Fred Meyer’s Jewelers, Target, Family Dollar, 99 Cents Only, Dollar Tree, The Home Depot, and Lowe’s.

What’s Driving — And Restraining — Retail Loyalty

Before getting to the brands that are struggling with loyalty, inMarket’s methodology for ranking the brands is based on location data captured 50 million mobile devices per month via its app partners.

The company looked only at non-grocery retailers based on customer loyalty from January through May, 2017. Each retailer is assigned a loyalty score, which is determined by repeat device visitation and is normalized for comparability.

For example, a retailer with 1,000,000 visits from 500,000 devices would have a loyalty score of 2, whereas a retailer with 10,000 visits from 4,000 devices would have a loyalty score of 2.5. Note: The average loyalty score for all non- grocery retailers in Spring 2017 was 1.45.

As for the bottom 10 companies in inMarket’s rankings, shoes and accessories retailer Nine West had the lowest performance with a 1.23 loyalty score. It was followed by other fashion and apparel brands Crocs, Wet Seal, Bebe, The Gap, H&M, American Eagle Outfitters — the non-clothing names were Toys ‘R  Us, The Kitchen Collection, Disney Store.

Personalization, Not Payoffs

The themes on both lists are clear: brands that promise savings and discounts tend to invite more loyalty. The primary presence of convenience stores like Walmart and Target, along with the dollar stores, naturally tend to have more frequent foot-traffic versus fashion retailers.

“Overall, there’s a clear trend toward discount/value retailers in the Top 10,” said Dave Heinzinger inMarket’s VP, Communications. “Walmart leads the pack, but the growth of dollar stores is being widely reported right now.

“It could be because millennials have become the ‘frugal generation,’ and they now make up the entire 18-35 prime spending demographic,”Heinzinger added. “They carry tons of student loan debt and make less than their parents when adjusted for inflation. I found it interesting that both Home Depot and Lowe’s not only made the list, but ranked with the exact same loyalty score. Perhaps its because of those never-ending home improvement projects that many of us have.”

On the question of whether apparel retailers tendency to lack the frequent foot-traffic that convenience stores do, Heinzinger added: “We view repeat device traffic as a key loyalty indicator — so if a retailer is retaining customers below average for their category, that’s a sign of distress.

“E-commerce is certainly a major factor in decreasing foot traffic, but it’s not the whole story,” he added. “Many of these mall-based fashion retailers are the polar opposite of the discount/value chains that are growing in 2017. They’re often charging full price for products that might turn up at outlets at a deep discount — which seems to be better aligned with today’s consumer behavior and specifically with millennial shopping preferences.”

Another obvious point, but worth noting nevertheless, is that loyalty is often connected to rewards in the form of discounts in the minds of consumers.

But as brands struggle with balancing the ideas of “value” and “premium,” the notion of driving loyalty beyond lowering costs for regular customers has been taking hold by brands.

Speaking at the NRF’s Big Show in January, Mike Mauler, EVP and president of GameStop International, made the point that loyalty needs to be defined more around the idea of personalization, not deals.

“The true power of our loyalty program is not the points or perks,” Mauler said. “We don’t find that consumers come into a GameStop to get points. We use loyalty to enhance our knowledge of what the customer wants,” Mauler said. “We send out updates and promotions. We can send out emails letting customers know, ‘Hey, Christmas is coming, you can trade in points worth $110 that they can then buy games for your friends.’”

For inMarket, the loyalty scores also provide a forecast of what retailers are likely to face in the near future.

“Eight out of the bottom 10 retailers for customer loyalty are either closing stores, halting expansion or laying off employees in 2017,” inMarket’s report said. “While Nine West hasn’t announced any store closures yet, their financial woes have been widely reported. Based on the Spring 2017 data, we predict Nine West will announce store closures before the end of 2017.”

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