NRF Bulletin: Personalization Done Right

Lewis and McVie at NRF

I’VE BEEN ON RECORD many times as a hater of shopper loyalty, but an advocate of intelligent personalization.

I admit my position can be construed as mincing words, but I remain stubbornly committed to the distinction. When marketers and retailers try to ascribe loyalty to their card-carrying customers they are usually delusional. When they demonstrate their commitment to those customers through good acts – by providing relevant values and experiences – they embark on a golden path.

Supermarket chains so regularly miss this distinction with their frequent shopper card programs that it is a small revelation to encounter one who seems to have it right. In a presentation at the National Retail Federation Convention and Expo this week in New York, Loblaw Companies, Ltd., the leading grocery operator in Canada, shared some insights about its PC Plus shopper program, launched last May, that suggest it belongs in that exclusive tier.

“From our best customers we capture 55-60% of their share of wallet. That leaves so much opportunity just with them,” said Peter Lewis, Sr. Dir., Customer Analytics & Loyalty at Loblaw (pictured at left in the photo above, with Graeme McVie, VP and GM at LoyaltyOne.)

That’s an insightful way of looking at the return from a frequent shopper program that truly distinguishes highest-value relationships and cultivates them accordingly. Best shoppers deserve our best efforts because they are our best prospects too.

Loblaw has embraced this approach with PC Plus, its digitally-enabled frequent shopper program, said Lewis. On a year-over-year basis, enrolled customers who used the targeted offers changed their behaviors in desirable ways:

  • They increased their number of visits by 12%
  • Their average basket size increased by 5%
  • The number of categories they purchase increased by 7%

Lewis also shared some statistics from the first 6 weeks of the program that indicated rapid acceptance:

  • 40% of sales were made using the card
  • More than 6,000 members were signed per store
  • 50% email open rate
  • 35% click-through rate on those emails

PC Plus uses analytics to deliver relevant, highly personalized offers. With thousands of offers available across the store, the mix is tailored down to the individual level, based on each shopper’s history.

“How big is the prize from personalization?” said Graeme McVie of LoyaltyOne, the company which helps Loblaw implement and operate PC Plus. “Even with best customers, opportunities exist to grow share of spend.” He shared an analysis of the 50 store categories across the top 20% of customers, which indicated a 50-70% share of spending, a finding which underscores the present value of best shoppers, but also their upside potential.

PC Plus is increasingly focused on the smartphone app as the “control center” for the shopper, Lewis said. It allows them to manage shopping lists from their phones, informs them of available offers, and allows them to accept offers in real time, even while waiting in the checkout lane moments before a transaction.

McVie added that the design of PC Plus is oriented toward “democratizing shopper insights.” Its strategy is two-fold: understand the needs of individual customers and consistently execute actions to satisfy them.

I’ve stated previously in this blog that we are entering a “post-loyalty” era, but intelligent personalization is far from dead. In fact it may just be hitting its stride at Loblaw.

© Copyright 2014 James Tenser

At eTail West: Pricing Transparency in an Omni-Channel World

I HAD THE PRIVILEGE on Feb. 27 of moderating an expert panel at the eTail West conference in Palm Springs, CA. I was accompanied by two of the industry’s bright lights: Wes Woolbright, National Pricing Director of Safeway, and Carol Spieckerman, President and CEO of newmarketbuilders.

The focus of the discussion was a presentation of a research study conducted by RetailWire.com late last year on the timely subject of Pricing Transparency. Some 284 retail and supplier executives participated. IBM was the sponsor.

The findings addressed the pervasive concerns about “showrooming,” a behavior in which shoppers examine products in a physical retail store but then seek out the lowest online price using their smartphones. They also looked at the more general issues surrounding pricing consistency for retailers who do business across multiple channels and/or geographic markets.

Panelists Wes and Carol both did a superb job, drawing from their years of professional experience to add perspective and insight to the discussion. The video runs 28 minutes, but I think it’s worth the time.

The event organizers, Worldwide Business Research, recorded and posted the YouTube presentation shown here and they have made a transcript download available.

You may also download the cited research study here.

© Copyright 2013 James Tenser

Price Transparency: An Opaque Matter?

ALMOST OVERLOOKED during the Autumn business conference-slash-election season was a nicely-done bit of research about the new price transparency.

Prepared by RetailWire.com and underwritten by IBM Smarter Commerce, the study “Pricing Transparency: Can Retailers Regain Control?” was released October 5. It was conducted in an effort to better understand the phenomenon known as “show-rooming,” where shoppers use apps on their mobile phones to check merchandise prices while shopping in-store.

The study authors define “pricing transparency” as “The ability to learn the relative price positions of a particular item across competitive retailers.”  The trend had some folks pretty nervous around mid-year, especially retailers who specialize in high-consideration purchases, like consumer electronics.

The findings indicated that Price Transparency falls mid-level on the continuum of general retailer concerns – below the economy, competition and consumer behavior. Considered among pricing practices, however,  respondents did worry about consumer price sensitivity in general (ranked as #1 concern by 35%) and transparency in particular (ranked #1 by 21%).

Increased price sensitivity seems to be an enduring consequence of the recent protracted economic downturn. Many shoppers have re-evaluated their purchasing behaviors. Smart phone apps both enable and reinforce these behavioral changes.

Retailers have some effective defenses available beyond absolute lowest prices. Most are related to enabling shopper success in other dimensions. Superior, relevant assortment, exclusive items, and excellent item availability all can have a positive influence here, the findings suggest.

The best practice formula remains somewhat murky in the brave new world of transparent prices, but this research begins to make matters clearer. An Executive Summary of the “Pricing Transparency: Can Retailers Regain Control?” study, can be downloaded at: http://www.retailwire.com/page/10133/.

© Copyright 2012 James Tenser
(This article was commissioned by IBM, which is granted the right of republication. All other rights reserved.)

Assortment – A ‘Matrix’ View

IN FAST-MOVING CONSUMER GOODS, the art and science of merchandising requires an informed balance of interrelated decision processes.

Microeconomics tells us that product sales rate will be related to price, albeit somewhat elastically. Space planning endeavors to allow sufficient quantities of each product to be stocked to meet shopper demand, without tying up excess capital. Assortment planning attempts to fit the most productive and satisfying mix of items into the space available. Inventory management balances the labor costs of replenishing shelves against in-stock levels.

There are other “levers” that figure into the process – from promotions, to new product introductions, to the depth and timing of markdowns, to the influence of competitors and even the weather. Taken collectively, these amount to a matrix of influencers on productivity and rates of sales.

For the retailer this comes down to the simultaneous management of customer engagement, assortment optimization, and pricing and profitability management. Or, as IBM DemandTec director of product management Carol Teng expressed in “A New Generation of Assortment Optimization,” a recent webinar hosted by PlanetRetail: “The right focus; the right product; the right price.”

[Learn more about IBM’s DemandTec solutions at its “Revolutionary Decisions” microsite.]

Teng shared five guiding principals for assortment optimization that are well worth summarizing here:

  1. Put the customer at the center.Make decisions based on actual customer demand, enabled by lowest level of data available. SKU proliferation adds costs for both retailers and manufacturers. Extreme choice does not necessarily drive more sales. Manufacturers face added costs due to forecasting and planning. Shoppers ultimately pay the cost for more unneeded variety.
  2. Don’t rationalize. Optimize. Keep key variety on the shelf, not just a simplified assortment that results from a “rank-and-cut” process. Use analytics to identify the weak-but-unique SKUs that are incremental and therefore important to keep. Identify products that are duplicative in the middle of the assortment curve, freeing up space to add truly incremental items.
  3. Localize. Average assortments yield average results. Store clustering enables assortments that are appropriately tailored to variations in consumer demand. Employ clustering tools that enable the right assortments to be derived based on demand variations across categories, banners and stores.
  4. Leverage available technology. This unlocks greater analytical potential. More sophisticated merchandising decisions are possible because computing power, customer intelligence, item intelligence, and connectivity are all on the increase. Mine available rich data sources: store, category, shopper and operational.
  5. Processs and organization changes are critical. Advisory functions currently in place support Category Management and vendor relations. In the near future, new advisory functions are needed with specific assortment optimization expertise at the cluster and banner level, based on insights about customer behaviors.

“We believe customer assortment truly is the next growth lever in retail,” Teng said. The building blocks for this capability begin with superior data sources, like POS and basket analysis; frequent shopper data on re-purchase and brand switching behavior; and shopper panels that reveal losses to competitors.

Assortment and other merchandising decisions are best made not in isolation, but in an inter-connected environment – a matrix, if you will. Ultimately assortment optimization will depend on an understanding of incremental demand and transferable demand. Practitioners must monitor these continuously as situations evolve. For each and every SKU and store cluster.

© Copyright 2012 James Tenser
(This article was commissioned by IBM, which is granted the right of republication. All other rights reserved.)
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