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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