Retail data science requires a high level of expertise and collaboration on complex projects. In the first round of a year-long project with Engage3, six students from the UC Davis Graduate School of Management experienced a taste of what retail technology has to offer.
The Master of Science in Business Analytics program gives students the opportunity to work with a company on a long-term project. One description drew the interest of Abhinav Chatterji and his five teammates, intrigued by Engage3’s mission statement for the partnership: to help revolutionize the $22 trillion retail sales industry.
After the initial online meetings, the team prepared to work with Engage3’s data scientists on developing their 12 month project in the downtown Davis headquarters. From there, Chatterji describes, “We went on a four-day, rigorous sprint.”
The team met the employees at the Davis office, including CEO Ken Ouimet and other executives. Though surprised at first, the group quickly adapted to the company culture and felt welcomed. They then started their project with data scientist Sahar Pirmordian, working to build the foundation for their year-long partnership.
In the four day period, the team tinkered with thousands of lines of code to accomplish their pilot study. With the help of the Engage3 data scientists, the MSBA students funneled large amounts of data through their models and presented to the results to the Davis office.
The six students passed their first checkpoint in a long but rewarding project, and got a sense of the scale of the retail industry and its data potential. “We felt transformed into consultant or employees capable of delivering on deadline, under pressure,” writes Chatterji.
In the months since it has opened, Raley’s organic-focused concept store in downtown Sacramento has settled into the neighborhood. Its closeness to office buildings makes it a convenient stop for customers on their way to or from work, and there are very few competitors in the area. Engage3 visited the small-format store to take a closer look at its selection, and what is contributing to its popularity.
The parking lot is spacious, and allows for customers to park their cars without worry (there’s a 90 minute time limit, but Sacramento is notoriously difficult to park in to begin with). In front of the store is an ample amount of bike parking, as well as lockboxes for cautious bikers. There were a few electric-assisted bicycles to rent, the kind that are popular in downtown Sacramento and other cities. Market 5-ONE-5 is reasonable biking distance for customers working downtown or at the state Capitol.
I walked up to the entrance, noting the various signs boasting local coffee roasters and breweries. Next to a small garden section was a sign that read: “Beer tasting this Friday at 5:00 pm. Brews by: Fort Point Beer Co.”
Inside the Store
Once inside, I noted the size of the store immediately. Though it resembled a Whole Foods or a local food co-operative, the store was scaled down to fit a wide selection of products.
As I walked through the aisles, I looked up to find that there were no signs indicating the products in each aisle. Instead, there were a great number of employees roaming in the miniature grocery store. When I asked a floor employee where I could find a certain product, he led me directly over to the aisle and gave a few short product recommendations. It seemed that Market 5-ONE-5 was focused on knowledgeable and friendly employees to enhance the shopping experience, an approach that was unique to a small-format store with an organic-only selection.
Still, there something missing while I browsed through the aisles, and it took me a while to think of the answer. I kept seeing organic cookies and soups and soaps, but I found that there were no private label products. With Raley’s private label brand being so easy to identify, it came as a shock that they would pass on the opportunity to advertise it.
This may be the result of having very little competition nearby, as well as a slight boost to margins from both convenience pricing and organic-only products. Whatever the reason, it seemed that Raley’s was relying primarily on word-of-mouth marketing and customer loyalty to succeed with Market 5-ONE-5.
I became more convinced of this when I made my way to the food bar section of the store. In addition to a salad bar and hot food bar, the store offered fresh deli meals like soups and sandwiches. According to Yelp reviews of the store, this section was the crowd favorite, and several reviewers preferred it over the Whole Foods hot bar. Next to this was also a small coffee counter proudly displaying signs for a local coffee roaster.
A bit of background: since the city officially changed its title from the “City of Trees” to the “Farm-to-Fork Capital,” Sacramento and its residents have taken great pride in promoting local businesses and the food supply chain. When giving the option, shoppers who frequent grocery stores like Market 5-ONE-5 will typically buy local goods. The product selection in the store matched this sentiment.
After ordering my coffee (which was from a place called Temple Coffee, several signs told me) I sat down in the cafe area of the store to observe for a short while. Market 5-ONE-5 is currently partnered with Instacart, and a small sign near the food bar gave instructions for customers wanting their groceries delivered in the future. The store location makes it easy for Instacart to pick up groceries and deliver them to office buildings throughout downtown, from what I could tell.
I got up and explored more of the store, stopping by the meat department and refrigerated sections. Though there was a wide selection of fresh meat and seafood lining back end of the store, and it was all ethically sourced (with the price tag to match). The refrigerated sectioned fared better in terms of price, fitting into the range of a typical organic grocer or food co-operative.
The wine aisle was reasonably large but not overwhelming, and featured many bottles in the $10 to $20 range that I had never seen before coming to this store. About one quarter of the wine came from local wineries in the Sacramento and Lodi, California area.
As I made my way to the checkout counter, I also had a closer look at the fresh produce section. Consistent with store policy, every item was organic. The selection was limited to what was currently in-season with some exceptions for popular fruits and vegetables. Though the area was small, the produce displays were meticulously arranged to make up for it.
I finally checked out at a counter that looked like it belonged in a clothing store. There were no conveyor belts, magazines, or candy displays–just a cashier waiting to scan and bag your purchases. Though the experience was odd at first, I found that the transaction was more personal. I had no fear of holding up the next person in line or taking too long to finish my purchase.
I left Market 5-ONE-5 impressed by the range of products they offered in such a compact space. The lack of private labels items also was a significant surprise, and Raley’s seems to be fostering store loyalty rather than chain loyalty with this location. There were no in-store or online markers that suggested this was a Raley’s venture, focusing instead on the product selection and appealing to the downtown Sacramento crowd.
The store’s slogan is “Organics – Nutrition – Education,” fitting with the larger goal of providing ethical and sustainable goods to downtown residents. Based on the signage throughout, Market 5-ONE-5 aims to be a community space promoting local businesses. This idea was cemented in my mind when I walked out and saw a delivery van from the featured coffee roaster.
The latest store turning heads in Northern California isn’t known for its purchase-tracking cameras or smart shelf tags—-it’s drawing crowds to its particle board bins. Engage3 visited Falling Prices for a full report on what the discounter has to offer.
Falling Prices, a store based in the Sacramento-area city of Carmichael, serves as a liquidator of Target and Amazon goods. The store is attracting customers through word of mouth and local news coverage, touting a unique pricing model. Though the store is only open 5 days a week, prices fall—as the store name suggests— from $6 to 25 cents throughout the week.
If any goods are left in the store by the end of Saturday, when everything is priced at 25 cents, they are thrown away. Interested shoppers have to balance savings and selection throughout the week before the store is restocked.
When I arrived in the parking lot, the thing I immediately noticed was the sign hanging from the storefront. “Falling Prices” was printed on a white banner held up by four ropes. It was a Thursday, or a $2 day at the store, and there was still a variety of items to search through.
Outside, one of the windowed walls displayed the price schedule and a list of the product types that the store carried. While standing outside, I noticed a steady stream of customers going in and out of the store, despite it being an ,early afternoon on a weekday.
When I stepped inside, what caught my eye was the furniture in the store. Every piece of furniture, from bins to shelves to the checkout counter, was made from particle board. The shoppers paid no mind to the decor, and instead were busy sifting through the various bins.
The particle board bins were filled to the brim with shelf-stable food products and toys, among other items. I could see dozens of shoppers wading through the bins, uncovering hidden objects, and placing them in their carts. Here, a four-pack of chocolate almond milk; there, children’s Halloween costumes of every size.
On the far end of the store was a section dedicated to holiday decorations. Wrapping paper, string lights, and home goods made up the bulk of the items here. Immediately next to this area was a bin full of showerhead replacements. Signage was unnecessary, as everyone in the store knew it was $2 Day at Falling Prices.
I continued through the aisles, stopping to search through the bins and pick up odd items. In my cart I carried a collection of bobbleheads, canned sparkling water, a pair of headphones, and a showerhead attachment from an earlier bin.
Despite the appearance of the store, I could feel the excitement of the shoppers around me. The combination of discounted items and a treasure hunt vibe made the store enjoyable to explore.
After taking a few pictures and retracing my steps through the aisles, I was ready to check out. The wait was on the longer side, but this was mainly from the sheer amount of items that customers ahead of me had picked up in the store. Each cart had 20 or more items inside, and I was tempted to go back and pick out a few more items.
I walked away from the store with more than I expected, both in purchases and in opinion. According to a news interview, the owner of the liquidation store is looking to expand to a second location. Bargain hunters may find stores of a similar kind popping up in the area, but competitors will struggle to find a pricing strategy clever enough to outdo Falling Prices.
Local news stations featured Falling Prices during its second week of opening, attracting a larger crowd of shoppers and more items to liquidate. In the video below from the KCRA 3 Facebook page, you can see a larger variety of the products available.
This article is part of the Engage3 Visits series, where we explore concept stores and innovative retail technology. To learn more about our earlier visit to Sam’s Club Now in Dallas, you can read the blog here. For more information on our visit to Amazon 4-Star, the retailer’s customer-curated offering, you can click here.
New visibility illustrates precision pricing on ‘known value items’
In an article detailing the looming tensions in the retail industry, Winsight Grocery Business cites Engage3 as a leader in precision pricing technologies for retailers.
The publication, analyzing the aggressive pricing strategies being put in place by various retailers, points out that there is one common thread in the price war. Winsight writes, “Today, retailers are monitoring prices with exacting precision, right down to the store level.”
This observation was fueled by a blog published by Engage3 co-founder, Tim Ouimet. In the blog cited by Winsight, he clarifies the trend towards dynamic KVIs that are reevaluated much more often than once a year. Technology is playing a larger role in competitive pricing as a result: “The analysis needs to come down to the store level, down to the shopper level, down to the daily level, and have items coming in and out of the KVI list at those lower levels.”
Pricing battles are becoming the norm, but we may see much more wide-reaching effects from an automated retail industry in the near future. To read the full article by Winsight Grocery Business, you can visit their site here.
More adults are developing food allergies, and grocers are struggling to keep up with the needs of this food-sensitive group. In a study published by JAMA Network examining 40,443 individuals, researchers concluded that more than one in ten adults are food-allergic. Of those that were allergic, 45.3 percent were allergic to multiple foods, and nearly half reported developing their allergies as adults.
Health-focused grocery stores have long listed potential allergens on shelf labels, and the FDA requires that the “big eight” allergens be listed on packaging. However, as more adults develop allergies, these warnings may not be sufficient. Allergy-aware consumers are eager for clear labelling and warnings, whether they or a family member are the ones with the allergy. Their concerns are valid and urgent, as the number of people hospitalized from allergic reactions to food increased 350% in the last decade.
Show Trumps Tell
In a 2017 paper published in “Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology,” scientists found that consumers preferred the use of symbols over words for allergen warnings. In the same study, people were asked if they were willing to pay extra for allergen information on all food packages. The results were overwhelming: 75% of respondents said they were willing to pay for this, on top of their monthly grocery bill (NCBI).
“In terms of their willingness to pay, the majority of consistent respondents were willing to pay up to $10 extra per month for groceries for the inclusion of allergen labels on food,” reports the study. In other words, consumers are ready and willing to spend more for ease of shopping and peace of mind.
Beyond this, a significant number of survey-takers were willing to pay in the $10-50 range and even over $50. Consumers are willing to pay for the increased cost of food labelling, and may additionally improve their perception of allergy-conscious retailers.
Confusing allergen labelling presents an opportunity for retailers to fill the needs of their shoppers. Color-coded shelf labels and warnings make shopping simple for consumers with allergies and dietary restrictions. For this group of customers (which grows larger every year), clear allergen information contributes to their purchasing decisions.
Customers buying gluten-free products are even more discerning, as gluten doesn’t fall under the Food Allergen Protection Act in the United States. There is an added layer of difficulty when shopping, as food labelling for gluten is lacking compared to other allergens. The FDA only requires the identification of “ingredients that are — or contain any protein derived from — peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, milk, eggs, wheat, fish or soybeans” (FDA).”
Retailers like PCC Natural Markets, based in Seattle, have taken the initiative ahead of the FDA by labelling gluten-free products with orange shelf tags. The color-coding system makes it easier for consumers with food sensitivities to navigate their aisles.
Whole Foods recently increased their website functionally to account for allergies and dietary restrictions. Online shoppers can filter through products based on gluten-free, keto-friendly, and other attributes. The Amazon-owned grocer is one of the first major retailers to implement a product search system with dietary restrictions in mind, but other food-focused sites have had similar features for years.
In 2014, Pinterest users could start searching for recipes on the website based on their diet and to exclude certain ingredients. The update made it easier for allergy-conscious home cooks to find recipes, but shopping for allergen-free products was still a cause for concern. Retailers have been comparatively slow to adopt the technology and filter through ingredient lists on a large scale, but health-forward stores like Whole Foods and Earth Fare are warming up to the idea. The Whole Foods website change will likely lead to future app development that allows consumers to search in-store.
As allergy concerns continue to rise, consumers will be turning to retailers to help keep track of what is safe to eat and what is not. The increased number of sesame allergies is already affecting the market–the FDA is considering adding sesame, the ninth most common food allergy, to the list of necessary ingredient warnings. In the meantime, retailers have the ability to label these “fringe” allergies on shelves and websites. For the consumer with a sesame allergy, this means having a much safer shopping experience.
Frank Scorpiniti, CEO of Earth Fare, recently talked with Ken Ouimet of Engage3 on food allergies as well as many other topics. In addition to product searching, the two CEOs envision a store with full app integration to help consumers navigate aisles and avoid specific ingredients. To learn more about the future of app integration in retail, you can watch the video here.
Self-driving vehicles are set to transport more groceries than passengers, if Kroger continues its efforts. With the deployment of automated delivery cars in Scottsdale, Arizona, Kroger is taking steps to make grocery delivery easier than ever. The self-driving R1 vehicles, built by Nuro and working to bring Fry’s Food & Drug products to customers in the trial area, are indicative of a growing trend towards convenient grocery tech.
However, most consumers aren’t ready to take the leap of trusting self-driving cars, at least as passengers. In a recent survey by the Brookings Institution, only 21% of the thousands of respondents said they were willing to ride in a self-driving car. Much of the hesitation comes from moral concerns and how the vehicles should react in car crashes, but the technology is still appealing.
By bringing self-driving cars into the grocery space, tech companies can test and demonstrate the vehicles with minimal safety concerns. Consumers also have a chance to interact with this tech on a regular basis and grow to trust the delivery vans. Companies besides Kroger have started to integrate automated vehicles into their supply chain as well, most notably Amazon. The retailer recently deployed delivery via cooler-sized robots in a Seattle neighborhood. According to Amazon, though the carts require human supervision for the first stages of testing, they will eventually be able to deliver items on their own.
Still, the R1 cars in Scottsdale are the most advanced grocery delivery vehicles in use, and it’s easy to see why. Nuro, a company founded by former principal engineers at Google, has gathered an impressive team from tech giants and universities around the world. From the Nuro safety guide, we see a glimpse of the future to come: “Our custom vehicle is engineered to make delivery of everything more accessible — from groceries to pet food, prescription drugs to dry cleaning.” By partnering with a team on the cutting edge of self-driving technology, Kroger has set themselves up to be a leader not only in the grocery industry, but in automation as well.
The Nuro Ecosystem
The electric vans travel at a maximum speed of 25 mph and were originally accompanied by human drivers. The supervising employees traveled behind the Nuro R1s in their own vehicles as a way of monitoring the new technology. Since launch, the company has taken steps toward making the delivery fully autonomous.
What differentiates this kind of delivery from the competition is that the customers in Scottsdale can schedule the Nuro vans for same-day delivery, done through the Kroger app. Once a van arrives at a shopper’s home, they unlock a locker compartment on the vehicle with an in-app code. The speed and ease of delivery sets Kroger up to compete with heavy hitters like Amazon and Instacart, even if the range of the electric vehicles is limited.
The added consumer appeal of having groceries delivered via self-driving car is worth noting, as well. Nuro’s R1 fleet is fully electric, and the company frames their self-driving cars as an environmentally-friendly solution to errands. Their focus is on fewer emissions, safer deliveries, and less traffic congestion. It’s unclear how soon Kroger plans to expand their service with Nuro, but the technology is drawing interest from all over the retail industry.
Though consumers are slow to trust self-driving vehicles, Nuro’s R1 vans and similar delivery services may be able to win them over. The R1 is designed to be self-sacrificing and prioritize human safety on the road. Delivery vehicles are free from the ethical debates that have accompanied self-driving technology in the past.
Kroger has aggressively expanded their services in the past months, starting with their acquisition of U.K.-based Ocado. In November, the retailer announced plans to build an automated warehouse in Cincinnati. In combination with the Nuro’s vehicles, as well as a pilot to pick up Kroger groceries at Walgreens stores, the retailer is building an impressive infrastructure to compete with Amazon.
In response to the opening of new Amazon Go stores, Walmart and Sam’s Club are doubling down on its retail technology with an experimental store location in Dallas. At the end of October, the retailer announced its latest venture: Sam’s Club Now. The shopping experience is similar to Amazon’s cashier-less convenience stores but with a larger focus on customer engagement. Engage3 visited the Dallas store to see what Sam’s Club Now had to offer, and we were surprised by how similar it was to the retailer’s traditional locations.
Compared to the tech-forward Amazon Go stores, Walmart seems to put the human experience first, aided by technology. According to the Sam’s Club press release, “Our associates are key to bringing this experience to life…we’ve known for a long time our associates make the difference, and that won’t change just because shopping preferences evolve.”
This latest offering by Sam’s Club is about one-fourth the size of its traditional stores and includes electronic shelf labels. The retailer suggested the possibility of camera technology in the future as well. Purchases are done through the Sam’s Club Now app which tracks the items in a customer’s cart. Once the app is downloaded, a shopper can make grocery lists, search for items throughout the store, and use augmented reality features on certain products.
The Sam’s Club Now Experience
On arrival, the first thing we noticed was the curbside pickup spots outside of the store. Apart from smartphone integration, it seems that Sam’s Club is focused on ease and accessibility with this experimental store.
Once you enter with your club membership, you encounter a large charging kiosk with instructions on how to shop in the store. In order to make any purchases, you would need both a membership and a smartphone capable of downloading the app. There were no cash transactions in the store, so we had to rely on the Sam’s Club Now app. Thankfully, it was easy to set up. After opening the app and creating an account, we were ready to start shopping.
From the entrance, we made our way around the store, noticing the electronic shelf labels that were set up throughout the aisles. It resembled the larger warehouse locations, but with a focus on items that could be easily picked up and scanned. However, products were still displayed and stored in the traditional Sam’s Club warehouse style. The pallets, bulk items, and stacked shelves made it clear that this was a Sam’s Club store.
Amazon Go Store and Sam’s Club Now Comparison
We compiled some photos of AmazonGo (left) and Sam’s Club Now (right) to give a side-by-side comparison.
Beyond the center store, there were separate areas for dairy, meat, and produce. These refrigerated sections featured a more limited assortment than the retailer’s larger stores, but each area had enough space to add more products down the line.
For checkout, the retailer is relying on its experience with the Scan & Go app introduced two years ago. The app we downloaded allowed us to scan each item in our cart and track its total. When we were ready to check out, the transaction happened in the Sam’s Club Now app. Once it was complete, the app generated an e-receipt which we had to show upon exiting. Associates near the exit scan a QR code generated by the Now app, putting the checkout experience somewhere in the middle of the spectrum from tracking cameras to human cashiers.
We were thoroughly impressed by the app integration and electronic shelf labels, especially with how large the store is compared to an Amazon Go convenience store.
Amazon Go and Sam’s Club Now are operating different store sizes, but the smartphone-focused technology looks to fill the same need for shoppers. Easier navigation in stores and convenient, secure payments are featured in both. While Sam’s Club Now may be a much larger space, this experimental offering shows that retail technology is exploding in popularity. With the recent announcement of Kroger and Microsoft’s partnership, the trend towards smart shopping continues to grow.
Now more than ever, pricing based on solid data is necessary for retailers to succeed in this increasingly competitive market. This latest report from Gartner gives an overview of the different levels of pricing automation, and finds that most optimization service providers aren’t keeping up with the needs of retailers.
Unlike most vendors in the space, Engage3 has developed a platform capable of bridging the gap between pricing models and algorithmically-driven pricing. Uniquely, Engage3 starts with the cleanest competitive data available, making sure that your optimizations are based on a solid foundation. Check out our cross-channel Competitive Intelligence Platform offering here.
We also combine decades of expertise in retail pricing with strategic insights made possible through data science. Our Competitive Price Response lets you manage your price image goals vis-a-vis your profitability goals. For more information on the theory of Efficient Frontier, the science behind our optimization schemes, watch the video here.
USA Today recently came out with a report about which grocery item costs have risen the most in the last ten years. The increases ranged from 26 percent to 92 percent during the period, and affected a wide variety of products – from shelf-stable to frozen items to fresh produce. The causes identified for the price increases are shortage, demand, and regulation, and each has an impact on your grocery bill.
The most drastic price change in the shortage category included oils and fats, particularly peanut butter. Since 2008, the category has seen a 34.9% price increase, and coincides with peanut shortages throughout the U.S. The combination of smaller yields and consumer preferences has caused many families to reconsider buying peanut butter.
According to an investigative report by NPR in 2011, peanut butter manufacturers were paying almost double what they were before the shortage. Farmers were trading in their peanut fields for cotton, and droughts that year had peanuts soaring to astronomical prices. Trader Joe’s even pulled their private label peanut butter from shelves for a short time.
On top of this, demand for the pantry staple rose sharply. Tiffany Arthur from the U.S. Department of Agriculture noted in the 2011 article that, “Peanut butter consumption…jumped by 10 percent since 2008. Usually it goes up just one or two percent in a regular year,” she said. The shift in preference was an economic one. Peanuts are an inexpensive source of protein, and the U.S. recession shifted consumer tastes towards shelf-stable peanut butter. Though farmers have recovered from the shortages since that time, peanut butter hasn’t returned to its pre-shortage price.
Salt and food seasonings went up by 36 percent, marking a change in the way people are cooking at home. One of the most significant additions to shoppers’ kitchens is Himalayan salt, which has recently grown in popularity. Supermarket shelves today are filled with different brands of this gourmet pink salt.
Canned vegetables have become a staple, partly due to the increase in food-borne illnesses and recalls. The latest Romaine lettuce scare, among other outbreaks, could be contributing to consumers buying more canned goods. Health-conscious shoppers are also buying and cooking more vegetables at home, and prices for canned green beans, corn, peas, and the like have gone up 26.9 percent as a result.
Demand for seafood has put pressure on the fish farming industry, as seen by the 41.4 percent increase in shelf-stable seafood prices and 28.7 percent increase for frozen products. Poultry and beef shortages have also contributed to higher fish consumption. On top of this, new diets focusing on healthy fats and meat-centric meals have helped this trend along.
Apart from supply and demand, government intervention has played a large part in the increased cost of goods. The number one increase over the last ten years was for cigarettes, nearly doubling their price in the United States. From 2007 to 2017, cigarettes became 92.2% more expensive, primarily due to federal taxes on tobacco products. Research shows that a pack of cigarettes that, on average, sold for $4.91 in 2004 increased to $8.41 ten years later (24/7 Wall St.) The bulk of the cost is due to cigarette taxes like California’s, which raised the cigarette tax by 2 dollars per pack last year.
We may see more tobacco taxes in the near future because of mounting health concerns. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an advocacy group, claims that every 10 percent increase in cigarette prices could lead to as much as a 5 percent decline in cigarette smoking, a statistic that contributed to support for the 2017 California tax. Out of all the grocery items whose prices went up in the last ten years, cigarettes and tobacco products are the most politically charged. Regardless, the costs and taxes show no signs of slowing down. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, prices for cigarettes were 171.55% higher in 2018 versus 2000, resulting in a $8.58 difference in value.
Effects On Your Grocery Bill
Though the cost of groceries has gone up at a higher rate than inflation, there is now a much greater variety of products to choose from. Organic foods have grown in popularity and specialty grocery stores are thriving in the current market. Apart from some items that have increased a dizzying amount such as cigarettes and prescription drugs, prices have remained relatively stable. In addition to all this, the private label trend in recent years has allowed for prices to remain at the level of inflation. For detailed information on private labels and similar categories, you can read our Q1 2018 Pricing Report here.
As the markets closed on September 17th, the United States announced another round of tariffs against Chinese products. The tariffs, this time consisting of $200 billion worth of goods, were implemented on the 24th and will increase from 10% to 25% over the coming months. In return, China fired back with a list of 5,207 U.S. imports to be taxed, totaling $60 billion. National retailers like Walmart have responded by voicing concerns to US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and addressing potential costs to American consumers (CNN).
What started as a way of bolstering American business has become an all-out trade war between the two countries, with retailers in the crossfire. In such a situation, it can be difficult for affected retailers to implement new strategies quickly and effectively. Thankfully, with some insights into their competition and the national price leader, the most prepared retailers can come out on top.
Effects on Price Image
The prime question is this: who is going to pass on the cost to consumers first? Every retailer in the nation is waiting with bated breath for the answer. Private letters from Walmart and Target, among many others, have hinted at increased costs on the horizon, but there is no certainty of the first retailers to implement them (CNBC). The issue is that whoever passes the cost first hurts their price image the most. Items that were not hit by tariffs may still drop in sales because of the price adjustment, making the threat far greater than anticipated.
Still, this is only the beginning. The first retailer experiences the largest effects of the tariffs, but the next retailers to pass on the cost to consumers are also affected. This is where real-time competitive data can make a difference. Imagine that competing Store A raises the cost of a certain tinfoil to $8 in a market, and you are able to monitor that increase. From there, you can raise the price on that same product at your store to a lower price point than Store A. Though both products are affected by the tariff, your price image for tinfoil is maximized because 1) you were not the first in the market to raise the cost and 2) you are selling that product at a lower price than Store A.
Sliding Scale Tariffs
What makes these observations more crucial is the nature of the tariffs themselves. The increased cost for the latest affected products will go from 10% to 25% by January 1st, 2019, meaning that these small-scale retail battles will be happening on a weekly or even daily basis. Having up-to-date information on your competitors—both on a local and national scale—will translate to more victories.
The reality is that most retailers will face losses in the coming months because of tariffs, and stores hit especially hard by the increases have already taken steps to address them (USA Today). Accurate and timely competitive data can help to mitigate losses, especially when monitoring the national price leader. This is where store-level pricing is most important, because some price zones will be more heavily affected than others. Competitive data can inform a retailer when their competition is responding to tariff costs and how they can respond effectively. Implementing enterprise-level decisions in stores and going down to the local level can translate to a significant competitive edge in a post-tariff market.
A Watchful Eye
With the tariffs increasing to 25% by the end of the year, the market is racing to recover losses—the earlier a retailer can adopt a competitive strategy, the better. Because most retailers operate on low profit margins per item, an increase of even 10% on a product adds up quickly. In the case of a KVI, the increased cost to the retailer could negate any profit on that item, or even come at a loss. Figuring out a competitor’s pricing strategy and how often they update prices makes for valuable insights for decision-making.