March 15, 2018

Aldi talks online in China

Aldi China online (photo: screenshot)
Aldi celebrates the Chinese New Year
The Year of the Dog could be a lucky one for Aldi in China. Germany's most profitable discounter went online there only last April. But that's a long time in cyberspace, and Aldi South seems to have used it well. The low-profile retail giant does not publish sales figures or customer numbers, but numerous indicators point to rapid growth in the People's Republic. Staff count at the Shanghai-based operation has already passed 100 and is growing rapidly; the highly-curated and keenly-priced offering on Alibaba B2C platform Tmall Global has nearly doubled to 200 lines; and cooperation has been extended with this local colossus to Tmall Classic, China's largest online marketplace. Of course the question burning in everyone's mind is whether Aldi South sees this distant e-commerce adventure as the prelude to opening physical stores in the Middle Kingdom. We are convinced that Aldi is not on a slow boat to China and that a start will be made within the next two or three years, probably in Shanghai. We also understand that they are looking for local management and beefing up their expansion team. So we asked country manager Christoph Schwaiger.
February 14, 2018

Aldi starts in bella Italia

Store sign at Aldi in Castellanza (photo: Mike Dawson)
Aldi sta arrivando!
Under the marketing slogan "una nuova idea di spesa!" (a new shopping idea), Aldi Süd (Aldi South) revealed its plans for the conquest of the Italian market today. After two years of planning via its Austrian arm, Hofer, the retail giant will open ten outlets on March 1 in five northern Italian regions. The stores, with sales surfaces of 1,000² to 1,400², will be in Bagnolo Mella, Cantù, Castellanza, Curno, Peschiera del Garda, Piacenza, Rovereto, San Donà die Piave, Spilimbergo and Trento. All will be served by the company's first DC in Oppeano, near head office in Verona. Germany's most profitable discounter has ambitious plans for national coverage and intends to open "more than 45 outlets" as well as nearly double staff headcount from 880 to 1,500 by the end of the year. On its website Aldi Italia is looking to open stores in all eight regions of northern Italy as well as in Tuscany. This is a fine start. But isn't Aldi coming a little late to the party?
February 5, 2018

Why Lidl should stay in the USA

A Lidl store in the US (photo: Lidl)
Back to the roots: Lidl's "glass palaces" on the East Coast of America could soon be succeeded by a more homely discount format
It's intriguing. Klaus Gehrig, the Big Boss of parent company Schwarz Group, has indicated to the German media that Lidl is facing strong headwinds in America. The discount giant is working "flat out" to modify the store concept it launched in Virginia last June. Sales surfaces are to be reduced from around 2,000m² to 1,400m² and expansion slowed. Lidl's US stores are also likely to more strongly reflect the solid discount virtues which have led to success in 30-odd European countries. All this would be perfectly normal for a Plc that has already invested an estimated €2bn in a land where many top international retailers have come a cropper. It would be called giving guidance to shareholders. But Lidl is a privately-run company. So why has Herr Gehrig sounded the alarm bell?
December 22, 2017

Retail pundits predict 2018 and beyond

Young lady with augmented reality (photo: %20franz12_%20shutterstock_528831)091.jpg
Disruptive technology: A triumph of human creativity expanding our mental horizons or a further step towards dystopia?
In 2017 venerable retailers Sears and Toys 'R' US were pushed into bankruptcy, while online giant Amazon bought organics specialist Whole Foods for $13.7bn. These events seem very much like harbingers of the future. Last year our panel of retail experts looked ahead and were concerned about politics (cf. Trump, Putin, Erdogan, Brexit). But even Tesla co-founder & CEO Elon Must thinks they now ought to be worrying more about Artificial Intelligence. Like all technology, machine learning systems can be a blessing or a curse, depending on who employs them and for what purpose. AI could help us to use less fertiliser and revolutionise subsistence farming in the developing world, but it could also begin to control us. So does AI keep the gurus awake at night, or will they prefer to sing the praises of drones and robots?
December 21, 2017

CEO Pieter Haas talks Ceconomy

Pieter Haas, CEO Ceconomy (photo: Ceconomy)
Pieter Haas: "We see Amazon as a 'frenemy'"
Since Metro Group was split into two separate entities in July, it has been a tale of two cities. The share price of Metro AG, which lumps "Metro" C&C and "real,-" hypermarkets together in a clumsy marriage, has fallen by around 8 per cent, while Ceconomy, with its "Media-Markt" and "Saturn" consumer/entertainment electronics stores, has seen a rise of over 20 per cent. This doesn't mean, of course, that Pieter Haas is having an easy ride. His home market is mature to saturated and he has a 800-pound gorilla in his room who answers to the name of Amazon. So has this CEO of a still essentially bricks & mortar retailer a cogent survival plan in a digital world and a clear game plan for Europe?
December 20, 2017

BRC boss Helen Dickinson talks Brexit

British Retail Consortium, Chief Executive, Helen Dickinson, OBE (photo: BRC)
Helen Dickinson: "We mustn't underestimate our interdependence with the rest of Europe"
It is difficult for any trade organisation when members are deeply divided on a political issue of existential importance. Wisely, industry lobby group British Retail Consortium (BRC) has tried to steer clear of politics and to concentrate on the possible consequences of Brexit for the British consumer. With the publication of studies, including 'New Tariffs Mean Higher Food Prices' and a 'Customs Roadmap', London-based BRC has provided particularly valuable information at a time when the UK government seems incapable of developing a coherent negotiating position for the country's food & beverage industry. A lot is at stake. In the event of a hard Brexit after March 29, 2019, many consumer basket prices would be on a cliff edge and we could be facing bare shelves. BRC Chief Executive Helen Dickinson, OBE, responds...
October 26, 2017

Verschueren talks retail, politics and Europe

Dr. Christian Verschueren, Director-General EuroCommerce (photo: Juha Roininen)
Christian Verschueren: "A week is a long time in politics"
Dr Christian Verschueren is Director-General of EuroCommerce, the principal European organisation representing the retail and wholesale sector. In his role you need to be both a firm leader and have great tact. These characteristics are seldom found in one individual, but Verschueren combines them remarkably well. His outlook is distinctly European, which is a sine qua non for an organisation embracing national associations in 31 countries and the interests of 5.4m companies (including both multinational retailers, such as Carrefour, Ikea, Metro or Tesco, and many small family operations). This means Verschueren has to deal with high EU functionaries and government officials while representing the often differing interests of EuroCommerce members. Without standing upon the dignity of his office, Verschueren makes a strong intellectual case for the trade's importance within the European economy. After all, retail and wholesale provide a link between producers and 500m European consumers who shop more than 1bn a day.
August 31, 2017

Chairman John Allan talks the new Tesco

Tesco Chairman John Allan (photo: Mark Mackenzie)
John Allan: "Tesco has gone from being a bit of a sinner to being exemplary"
Some encouraging figures of late should not make one forget that Tesco was in crisis mode only three years ago after a balance sheet scandal rocked the retail icon to the very core. Unilever manager Dave Lewis was catapulted in as CEO and chief trouble-shooter, but soon had to announce a massive property write-down as well as one of the largest annual losses in UK corporate history. Among the first events of his tenure was the Tesco Board's appointment of Dixons executive John Allan as Chairman. Since then, the management duo have presided over an impressive turnaround at the UK's largest grocer by sales. An overgrown assortment has been pruned, the vast store base streamlined, and, above all, consumer end prices sharpened. Tesco's latest quarter reveals the strongest growth at home since 2009 and a positive trend for the sixth season in a row. But the market leader with annual net revenues of €57bn is challenged as never before on its own turf by the German discounters and Amazon Fresh. Your call John...
August 17, 2017

CEO Dick Boer talks Ahold Delhaize one year on

1st birthday (photo: delmonte1977/Fotolia)
Happy first birthday, Ahold Delhaize
It's not every day that two grocers with 280 years of corporate history between them are able to celebrate their first birthday once again. But this is precisely what has happened at Dutch-Belgian retail giant Ahold Delhaize. The first anniversary since the jumbo wedding last summer is also a perfect opportunity for CEO Dick Boer to update us all on the progress made in integrating the two former rivals and their fiercely proud corporate traditions. The union has created one of the world's largest retail groups with 6,500 mainly supermarkets and convenience stores, spanning eleven countries in Europe, the US and S.E. Asia, and pro forma net sales last year just north of €62bn. But since then Lidl has intruded on Ahold Delhaize's patch on the East Coast of America, forcing fellow discounter Aldi into expansion overdrive. Amazon's bid for organics retailer Whole Foods is also a game-changer. This must concern a grocer who sees itself as the largest online food delivery service by sales in the US and the Benelux. So how well does Dick Boer sleep at night?
July 20, 2017

German drugstore barons dwarfed by WBA

Lady shampooing in a shower (photo: lenets_tan_Fotolia_164331842_M)
Global trend: Drugstore sales are foaming
The world's insatiable demand for health & beauty products has made a number of drugstore owners seriously rich. These include Stefano Pessina, CEO of Chicago-based Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA), and Li Ka-shing, Chairman of Hong Kong conglomerate CK Hutchison Holdings and retail subsidiary A.S. Watson. Both are the largest shareholders in their respective companies and personal billionaires. Götz Werner, Dirk Roßmann and Erwin Müller, the founders of leading German drugstore chains dm, Rossmann and Müller, also rank among the planet's wealthy. But their thriving businesses hardly extend beyond Europe and cannot match the US and Chinese giant in annual sales, store count or global reach. Put in health & beauty terms, they are provincial European belles in a Miss World contest.