November 3, 2020

US retailers and a new president

Foot Locker store boarded up (photo: Yau Ming
Yau Ming
A new type of boardwalk: US retailers have had to protect their shops again, but this time not from a hurricane
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)
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
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/
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)
William Grant
Rita Greenwood: "Staying home with friends is becoming the new going-out"
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

Matthew Brown scouts for retail trends

Matthew Brown, owner and MD of Echochamber Ltd. (photo: James Mackenzie)
(photo: James Mackenzie)
Trend scout Matthew Brown: "Retailers should worry more"
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!"
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
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…
August 27, 2020

Production almost back to pre-Covid levels

Supplier collage (photos: Studio Dagdagaz/Stock; Barilla; Paul Talbot; screenshot Carrefour)
Studio Dagdagaz/Stock; Barilla; Paul Talbot; screenshot Carrefour
Volume over variety: Was the motto for some food and fmcg suppliers during the height of the coronavirus crisis
Martial comparisons are generally best avoided. But, as in wartime, the coronavirus has brought out the best and the worst in people. We have had to endure black marketers selling protective masks and even basic foodstuffs at exorbitant prices, unprovoked attacks on vulnerable shop staff, and disinformation from the White House. Yet the crisis has also brought forth many unsung heroes. Selfless hospital staff serve their fellowman to the point of exhaustion. Others have volunteered to be human guinea-pigs in the search for a vaccine. Simple, hard-working people with their own families to care for have still found the time to shop for the old. Meanwhile the young are generally as feckless as they have ever been since time immemorial. They persist in 'hanging out' unmasked at super-spreader events. Marketers and sociologists have long tried to define them with such terms as Generation Y, Generation Z or The Millennials. Perhaps we should simply call them the Covid-19 Generation. Today's youth would not be so bright and gay if they inhabited a world of rationing with long queues for such basic commodities as pasta, water, milk or toilet paper. The fact that they don't is due to the tremendous speed and flexibility with which suppliers have met unprecedented spikes in demand...
August 20, 2020

Tech talk with Ocado Solutions

Ocado home delivery scene (photo: Ocado)
The long and winding road that brings Ocado to your door
On the third part of our annual summer tour, our newspaper spoke per video conference with Richard McKenzie, Chief Commercial Officer of Ocado Solutions. Parent company Ocado Group Plc, founded by former Goldman Sachs bankers Tim Steiner and Jason Gissing in 2000, is already the UK's largest online pure player. It has obviously been on a roll during the coronavirus crisis as the lockdown forced even the elderly to master the wonders of digital shopping. But there is more to this success than an unexpected windfall. Steiner now calls Ocado a tech company as well as a food retailer, which is why Ocado Solutions is forging corporate partnerships with global grocers...