November 12, 2020

Europe's top-dog retailers

Ranking podium (source: EFKS/shutterstock)
European champions: Schwarz Group gets gold, Amazon silver, and Rewe bronze (photo: EFKS/shutterstock)
If you hang our latest Top 50 ranking table of European retailers on your office wall, it will doubtless impress all trade visitors. But what are sales and market share prognoses for 2020 without interpretation? Even the most cursory glance at this fascinating snapshot, compiled by Edge Retail Insight, demands an answer to a number of questions. Why, for instance, does the largest retailer on the continent still make hardly more than one per cent of its annual sales online when Amazon is already snapping at its heels? Or why are there still no retailers from Central & Eastern Europe in the Top 10 – thirty years after the collapse of the Soviet bloc?
November 12, 2020

Talk with Alibaba president on Singles' Day

Alibaba logo (photo: screenshot from Alibaba Group's newsroom Alizila)
Alibaba in Guanggun Jie (Singles' Day) look (photo: screenshot from Alibaba Group's newsroom Alizila)
For better or for worse, everyone knows Amazon. But Alibaba? China's leading e-commerce player is still relatively unknown in the West. For many consumers the name probably still conjures up 40 thieves rather than an online retailer with global ambitions. Our readers, of course, know that Alibaba is a digital giant and a bit like Amazon, PayPal and Twitter all rolled into one. The Hangzhou-based company founded by legendary entrepreneur Jack Ma in 1999 is also growing like a supernova. According to Edge Retail Analysis, it still ranks only number 22 among Europe's top retailers by sales, but these jumped 24.5 per cent last year, outpacing even Amazon. The corporate boilerplate is certainly ambitious: "Our mission is to make it easy to do business anywhere. We aim to build the future infrastructure of commerce. We envision that our customers will meet, work and live at Alibaba, and that it will be a company that lasts at least 102 years." Why, though, 102 years and not 91 or 203 years? Perhaps Alibaba president Mike Evans will enlighten us...
November 3, 2020

US retailers and a new president

Foot Locker store boarded up (photo: Yau Ming
Sign of the times: US retailers board up their shops again (photo: Yau Ming
As US voters continue to flock in record numbers to the polling stations, retailers are taking no chance, and many are boarding up their shops. After the recent race riots, they clearly fear another round of plundering and looting. Donald Trump has divided the nation more than any other president since the civil rights movement in the 1960's. Regrettably, the cumbersome inauguration process in America means that disaffected citizens and frustrated politicians will have numerous chances to vent their displeasure up to January 20. Small wonder, then, that trade bodies FMI and NGA, retail multiples such as Walmart, Target, Aldi or Lidl USA, and even Trump's favorite whipping boy, Amazon, declined to comment on the current election. They also know that their own members, staff and customers are as polarized as the country itself. Given this understandable reticence, we asked industry experts Michael Sansolo and Jon Springer to take the pulse of US retail and how the trade will probably vote today.
October 2, 2020

Beating Mr Covid

colourful umbrellas in Rovereto (photo: Mike Dawson)
Creativity against corona: A colourful sight over the streets of Rovereto, where the locals refuse to capitulate to the virus, delighting both shoppers and tourists (photo: Mike Dawson)
Since February retailers and fmcg manufacturers have been challenged as never before in peacetime. They have risen to the coronavirus threat with feats of organisation and radical changes to their logistics. On the front line, store employees tread warily. Admin staff are now familiar with working from home. Some ask why they once commuted to the office every day. Even top managers question the vast carbon footprint they make by jetting around the globe when a videoconference would often do just as well. Lockdown, home office and furlough have accelerated structural change in the trade. As customers order more online, home delivery is becoming mainstream. Fear of infection has taken what little joy there ever was in shopping at mass retailers. A wave of small business closures has already begun to stoke unemployment and recessionary concerns. At all events, the feel-good factor is totally lacking among consumers. Anyone can draw a doomsday scenario, but ways out of the crisis are what really matters. So we asked a panel of international trade experts to find them...
October 1, 2020

Is price the new king of Italy?

Gunslinger (photo: armi1961/shutterstock)
Overkill: Most retailers see the lowest price as the ultimate silver bullet. But must they shoot from both barrels at once? (photo: armi1961/shutterstock)
Price has always been an essential marketing mechanism in retailing. It is obviously now of paramount importance when consumers are worried about losing their jobs in a post-Covid recession. On a recent shopping trip to Italy, it was therefore not surprising to find grocers like Interspar or Coop Italia proclaiming how they have frozen their prices. They do this everywhere on store banners, shelf stoppers, and price tags. They don't even spare their organic food departments. This is great for customers, but is it really good for retailer margins? After all, only one player can be the cheapest in the same way that only one gunslinger could ever be the fastest in the Wild West. Or are we really in some Italo-Western where all that matters is to be the last man standing? In the pursuit of an answer there is little point in talking with a discounter whose whole raison d'être is price. But what about a full-assortment grocer like Spar Österreich, Austria's leading retailer by sales, with more than 570 hypermarkets and supermarkets in northern Italy? This is a grocer, who has always been about quality, and therefore with a reputation to lose. So we asked country manager Paul Klotz how dangerous he thinks it is for Spar Österreich to play the price game in bella Italia...
September 16, 2020

Opinion wanted: Yours!

Questionnaire (photo: Pict Rider/
(photo: Pict Rider/
A good doctor regularly takes the pulse of his or her patients. The same applies to publishing. One can bore the pants off of one's readers simply by not covering the issues that concern them. This is a fatal mistake in a world where it takes just one click to unsubscribe from an online newsletter. But there is a simple journalistic remedy: Ask your own readers. As you belong to the elite group of individualists who subscribe to German Retail Blog, we are keen to discover more about your motivation as a reader. We should therefore really appreciate your answer to the following questions:
September 9, 2020

Whisky talk with William Grant & Sons

Rita Greenwood at William Grant (photo: William Grant)
Rita Greenwood: "Staying home with friends is becoming the new going-out" (photo: William Grant)
Wid ye lik' a wee dram afore ye gang? In the last part of our UK summer tour, our newspaper spoke per video conference with Rita Greenwood, Regional President Europe, Middle East & Africa, at venerable Scots spirits maker William Grant & Sons. Their 'blether' ranged from drinking whisky in the time of Corona to the Sassenachs taking Brexit with their tea just south of the border. With consummate diplomacy, the lady even managed to skirt carefully around the thistly question of Scotch independence. With revenues of €1.4bn in 2018, William Grant is still quite a small laddie when compared with global Goliaths Diageo (€13.3bn) or Pernod Ricard (€9bn). But like David, the company packs something powerful in its sling: Glenfiddich, the world's largest single malt whisky brand by annual sales... Talking of tipple, we have interviewed a conspicuously large number of whisk(e)y makers over the years, including Diageo and Beam, Inc. Readers may praise the assiduity but what must they think of our sobriety?
September 3, 2020

Talk with retail trend scout Matthew Brown

Matthew Brown, owner and MD of Echochamber Ltd. (photo: James Mackenzie)
Trend scout Matthew Brown: "Retailers should worry more" (photo: James Mackenzie)
In the fourth part of our annual summer tour, our newspaper spoke per video conference with retail futurist Matthew Brown about the most important trends in UK and international retailing. Brown is owner and MD of London-based Echochamber, an independent trend intelligence consultancy with a global client list. This professional globetrotter normally tours the world around twenty times a year searching for new store concepts, ideas and best practices. So who better than him to go on a retail safari with?

 But we are still living in the time of coronavirus. Thus all mental travellers with a penchant for retailing must accompany us on the interviewer's equivalent of an augmented reality trip...
August 30, 2020

New in English: FOOD SERVICE International

FOOD SERVICE International (credit: FoodService)
FOOD SERVICE International "It's a great source of information for all things foodservice!" (credit: FoodService)
May we draw your attention to the English version of one of our most influential and authoritative sister publications? FOOD SERVICE International provides global news for the HoReCa sector, which is intimately linked with retailing and the fmcg industry. For decades shopping centres, hypermarkets and department stores have profited from the customer frequency created by such illustrious names as McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut or Taco Bell. Attempts by retailers to go it alone have come to one conclusion: Gastronomy has to be done extraordinarily well with the flair of an Eataly if it is to create enough pull. Executed poorly or even only half-heartedly, the whole thing backfires. Top brands have also not been able to resist the sheer marketing power of food service concepts. Examples range from PepsiCo's former massive flirtation with fast food to Dr. Oetker, who intends to launch a first 'Pudu-Pudu' pudding shop in Venice Beach/California. Interested in this vibrant business segment which has been challenged as never before in the time of corona? Then check out FOOD SERVICE International, it's just a click away...
August 27, 2020

US online food retailers make a breakthrough

A Walmart self-driving delivery vehicle (photo: Walmart)
Walmart: The world's largest retailer is experimenting relentlessly with technology in order to find the Holy Grail of online retailing – a profitable food delivery business (photo: Walmart)
When it comes to buying food online, America has long been a slow starter. Other economically advanced countries such as Korea and the UK have far higher penetration levels. This is puzzling when one considers that the US is home to Silicon Valley, Amazon, Instacart and God knows who else. The old argument that there is an awful lot of chimney pots in Seoul and London won't rub. There are also quite a few in NYC, Los Angeles, Chicago etc., if one cares to count them. This year, however, and despite what Citizen Trump may say to the contrary, the coronavirus has hit the land of the free harder in terms of total infections and deaths than anywhere else on the planet. In most countries, home office, furlough and short-time work have created a sudden spike in demand for door-to-door delivery or click & collect in the stores. In the States e-commerce sales have positively exploded. So, is this a watershed moment for the US online grocery industry? We asked Bill Bishop, 'chief architect' at Brick Meets Click; retail industry consultant Michael Sansolo; and Jon Springer, executive editor at Winsight Grocery Business, for some enlightenment as to the new American normal…