What Amazon and Whole Foods wish they knew about in-store fulfillment

MINDS WERE BLOWN last week when Amazon.com announced its intention to acquire Whole Foods Markets 461 locations in a $13.7B cash buyout. A media and analyst frenzy followed that has kept the world of retail business on edge for many days.

As it happens, your intrepid storyteller was already deeply involved in a project focused on the in-store fulfillment of online orders. Click & Collect has been coming on strong for many months, and it seems like Amazon’s serial adventures with AmazonFresh Pickup, AmazonGo, Prime Now and Prime Pantry have been a primary catalyst. Obtaining a portfolio of physical stores is its most audacious experiment to date. Now the competition gets interesting.

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A Little Problem With Big Data

Courtesy RetailWire.comA STIMULATING DISCUSSION in RetailWire.com this morning led me to once again think deeply about how retailers are confronting so-called Big Data and applying it to their businesses.

The question posed was an intriguing one, given the continuing hype and mysticism ascribed to Big Data over the past several years.

What is your take on the advancements (or not) retailers are making in the use of data capture and analysis? Is it all leading to significantly improved customer experiences down the road, or something less?

The responses mostly seemed to accept two tacit assumptions: One, that all store data is Big Data. Two, that the primary goal of Big Data analytics is the creation of targeted promotional offers. I have a little problem with that.

When did retail POS data suddenly become Big Data? We’ve been collecting it (and mostly discarding it) for decades. Now that storage costs have finally declined, we can capture and hold it long enough to run a few queries and design a few models. Shopper in-store data really hasn’t changed much, but our ability to mine its potential has certainly advanced.

Certainly data flows from the POS and frequent shopper programs continue to expand. There are even some new sources, like in-store shopper tracking, entering the mix. Yes there’s lots of data. But is this really Big Data?

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A Framework for “Best Practice”

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NOT LONG AGO I WAS ASKED to prepare a “Best Practices” document for a retail solutions company. The task stimulated a round of research, investigation and deep thinking.

Best Practice is a term we invoke fairly often in the retail consumer products industry. Industry associations devote considerable resources to identifying them. Consulting firms convene their best subject matter experts to define and explain them. (Sometimes they invent them outright.) Sales organizations, especially, like to invoke them as evidence of the superiority of their solutions.

But is there consensus on the real meaning of best practice? Well I read up on what some of the experts had to say and added some original thinking of my own. Here’s what I came up with:

Best Practices are the reusable practices of the organization that have been shown to be successful in their respective functions. To make them repeatable and consistent, they are defined by the organization and institutionalized in various ways, often enabled by technology systems. Best Practices may deliver great value in driving customer experience, workflow efficiencies, speed, accuracy, reduced re-work, cost control, operational insights, business improvement and other benefits.

While specific Best Practices may vary across different organizations and industries, some tend to rise consistently to the top. Those worthy of the adjective “best” tend to reflect five key traits: They are Designed, Conscious, Measurable, Realistic, and Customer-Focused.

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Invoking Relevance

RelevanceBEST PRACTICE IN MOBILE ADVERTISING remains an oxymoron, as marketers grapple with the natural tension between intrusiveness and usefulness. There is a strong drive to justify ad spending and validate the business premise behind personalized promotions. Relevance seems to be the key, we are told, and the unique data-capturing and consumer-tracking capabilities of mobile devices should materialize a marketer’s nirvana in which every message is on-target and welcomed.

Recent consumer research from PriceWaterhouseCoopers suggests that this formula may need to be applied with greater subtlty, however.  In Mobile advertising: What do US consumers want?, PwC researchers find, “There is an overall aversion to the prevalence of mobile advertising. Even ads that are relevant to personal interests do not directly translate to ad interest or engagement.”

This poses a challenge indeed, since according to PwC, “The biggest challenge is to leverage the knowledge of how consumers are using mobile to improve monetization from ad delivery.”

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