Biggies bet on to go smaller.

Office Depot, other retailers pushing big to go smaller

Supersizing is out, and when it comes to retail stores, smaller is better.

Despite predictions a decade ago that brick-and-mortar stores would die, that has not happened.

Instead, smaller-format stores have debuted in response to competition from Internet sellers, rising costs and the overall economic downturn.

“It is the biggest trend. The most dramatic example would be Wal-Mart, obviously. It is 10 percent of U.S. sales. They are building smaller inner-city stores,” said Howard Davidowitz, president of Davidowitz & Associates, a national retail consulting and investment banking firm based in New York.

“Best Buy, Kohl’s, Staples, Target and Office Depot are building smaller stores as well. Frankly, almost everybody is downsizing their stores,” Davidowitz said.

“The overhead is less. The rent is less. The investment is less.”

Boca Raton, Fla.-based Office Depot Inc. is revamping many of its stores, remodeling them into more compact and shopper-friendly versions.

They range from about 5,000 square feet, one-fifth the size of a traditional Office Depot, to about 15,000 to 17,000 square feet.

“Customers say the smaller format makes sense from a shopping perspective,” Office Depot Chairman and CEO Neil Austrian told investors this week.

“I don’t think anyone in the retail business today can look ahead and say that a large box is what is going to make sense over time.”

So far, 41 Office Depots have been transformed.

On Tuesday, Office Depot reported a second-quarter loss of $64 million, or 23 cents a share, compared with a loss of $29 million, or 11 cents per share, a year ago.

Total company sales for the quarter fell by 7 percent to about $2.5 billion.

Its management team estimates that converting a couple of hundred stores to the smaller format could reduce operating costs by as much as $100 million a year.

Steven Schmidt, Office Depot’s International Division president, said competition is increasing globally, particularly on the Web.

“Category killers, just as in North America, continue to pop up all over the world,” Schmidt said.

“We are seeing more competitors show up on the Web every single day. We have to provide a customer experience that is better than or equal to competition so customers want to do business with us.”

Office Depot has committed $30 million this year to remodel or downsize 30 to 35 stores and relocate 25 to 30 stores with expiring leases.

Leases on more than 60 percent of its North American stores — with 1,111 stores in the United States — are expiring within five years, Austrian said.

The company’s strategy includes such options as retaining their format and location, downsizing, relocating within the same market or closing.

In 2013, more than 100 stores could be affected, Austrian said.

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Tech Drives Growth in Grocery E-tailing

Supply-chain tech helps to reduce cost & inventory and predict user behaviour

Everyday, I learn something new,” says R Rammurthy as he picks up a netbook, an Android tablet and a paper-clip file before climbing onto the driver’s seat of a white Maruti van loaded with four neatly packed baskets of grocery and vegetables. As he slips into first gear, he pointed to the netbook screen which displayed a map where the vehicle’s number flashed. The on-screen status of the vehicle changed from idle to moving and the address to which the baskets needs to be delivered popped up.

Rammurthy’s trip ended nearly twenty minutes later at the doorsteps of a customer– mother of a three-year-old who hates to spend the little spare time she gets during weekends at the supermarket. During the drive, the 28-year-old management graduate, who now handles a small team for online retailer Bigbasket.com, started explaining how his company manages to keep near-zero inventory and fulfils hundreds of orders everyday.

Online food and grocery retailing, fairly mature in the West and showing lot of potential in growth markets like China, has not been able to capture the fancy of Indian shoppers yet. Things, however, may be changing as a new generation of wellfunded online firms — Bigbasket.com is a key example — are using simple end-to-end technology solutions to offer deep discounts on grocery items, predict customer behaviour and keep a tight leash on expenses. With technology playing a key role, they are trying to make a dent in the estimated $343-billon food and grocery market in India.

For example, these firms use a supplychain technology that allow customers to place orders through multiple channels and later predict what a customer is likely to order. Combined with applications that track everything from the time an order is placed to delivery and devices that help during procurement, technology is helping these firms to make a compelling and convenient offer to the tech-savvy shopper. For these online retailers, the most important tech application is the ability to predict customer behaviour which lets them reduce inventory and thereby, cut costs. For instance, while a traditional retailer might have to stock his monthly offtake of atta at least three weeks in advance, an online retailer ends up stocking it for less than two days. “That is mostly analytics,” says Ambuj Jhunjhunwala, the founder of Mygrahak.com which sells food and grocery online in Delhi. Predicting customer needs helps them to plan in advance and procure based on needs. Need-based procurement works ideally well with perishable goods like food not to talk about saving expenses on storage space, which is a large part of expenditure for a traditional retailer.
Analytics also involves knowing the customer better which helps retailers to make tailor-made offers for customers and increase sales. Online retailers can also eliminate a large part of their frontline staff because customers usually help themselves. Typically, large format brickand-mortar stores spend much of their attention to figure out customer behaviour on the shopping floor and arrange goods so that they catch customer attention. This can now be automated as the platform generates enough data about individual preferences. “You have complete control over knowing what your customer is buying and great level of predictability. The stickiness of forecasting can go up as you use technology to predict,” says Anand Ramanathan, Associate Director at KPMG.

Shoppers, whose experience of buying grocery online has been good, tend to very loyal. For example, Asha Liju, a clinical research professional from Bangalore buys her grocery online. “This is the second time I’m buying online because its simple and saves me nearly 10 kilometres of travel,” she says.
Here again, technology plays a key role. Grocery buying is mostly a repetitive task something technology is known to do well. For instance, when a shopper logs into the account, a history of previously bought items makes it easier to pick instead of going through the motion all over again. “At each step, simple technology is helping us save time and money,” says Abhinay Choudhary, co-founder of Bigbasket.com. Bigbasket.com, which now has 100 people on its rolls, will supply anything from milk products to fresh fruits among 7,000 other items at your doorstep at competitive prices within a few hours of placing an e-order. “Our delivery vans even have cold storage facilities. This is very new but if we do it right, it will be big,” says Choudhary. His earlier venture was shopasyoulike, a similar food and grocery store catering to residents in Whitefield, Bangalore.

25-year-old Jhunjhunwala’s Mygrahak.com now claims that they process nearly 15,000 orders a month. “The average order size is Rs 1,250- Rs 1,300 . We can at least grow 30 times in Delhi alone,” he said. He recently introduced “card on delivery,” where a customer can swipe their cards at the time of delivery to pay for the order. Jhunjhunwala comes from a family of entrepreneurs and returned to India after graduation learning how to do business from his family, the promoters of BSE listed REI Agro.Chennaionlinegrocery.com, Town Essentials and Atmydoorsteps.com also operate in this space. Scale might not be an issue as demand from a large working population, which finds frequenting supermarkets an irritant, grows.
Investors also seem to be buying into the grocery e-tailing story. Last month, private equity firm Ascent Capital invested $10 million when Bigbasket.com co-founded by a team of eight which includes Fab-Mall co-founders Hari Menon, VS Sudhakar, Vipul Parekh, VS Ramesh and Abhinay Choudhary, raised its first round of institutional funding.

The food and grocery market accounts for over two thirds of the $505 billion Indian retail market. According to retail consultancy Technopak, the retail market is projected to touch $725 billion by 2017. The organised food and grocery retail market in India is estimated at $ 12 billion in 2012 and grow at a compounded rate of 30% over next the five years. “Though e-tailing is still a very small part of retail in India it is projected to grow at a fast pace and over the next decade its presence will be significant,” said Pragya Singh, Principal Consultant, Retail & Consumer Products, Technopak. Headroom for growth comes from the fact that that e-tailing accounts for a measly. 2% or $1 billion of the overall retail market and it is expected to reach $13 billion by 2017.
But retailing food and grocery online is not an easy task. Though there are success stories, the monumental failure of Webvan in the United States back in 2000 is enough to act as a damperner.

The challenges include being able to give consumers a large number of products to choose from, achieving consistency in quality especially when it comes to perishable goods and the cost of logistics. For instance, Mygrahak’s Jhunjhunwala has already invested $1 milllon in the firm and anticipates an expense of $4 million to $5 million every time it moves to a new city. While critics often cite the example of Webvan, the story may not repeat in India. Webvan may not be the best benchmark, argues Singh. “It is an example of a company that grew too fast in middle of the dotcom boom, rapid expansion to multiple cities, gigantic infrastructure including warehouses but not enough sales to back the same,” she said.

Even as its spends Rs 150- Rs 400 to acquire each customer, Mygrahak.com will break even this Diwali, claims Jhunjunwala. Despite the rosy numbers, e-tailers looking to sell food and grocery might have to expand cautiously, suggests Technopak’s Singh.
The Challenges 

* Achieving standardisation in quality and quantity when a large part of grocery items are still sold loose in India

* Having a comprehensive product range that covers all possible variations

* Delivery across large parts of urban and semi-urban areas

* Sensory needs of consumers are not satisfied through online channels
Fulfilment and logistics costs

Why Wal-Mart Is Worried About Amazon?

Five years ago, the world’s largest retail chain didn’t have to worry much about the world’s largest online mall. Only about a quarter of Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) customers shopped at Amazon.com (AMZN), according to data from researcher Kantar Retail. Today, however, half of Wal-Mart customers say they’ve shopped at both merchants. That’s leaving the mega-retailer—which long ago bested local brick-and-mortar merchandise stores and supermarkets across America—with a massive online competitor that is too tough to ignore.

Threatening Wal-Mart’s dominance are two trends: The discounter’s traditional customers—bargain hunters making less than $50,000 a year—are getting more tech-savvy, and more-affluent shoppers who began frequenting Wal-Mart during the recession are returning to Amazon as their finances improve. Amazon has moved into merchandise categories that Wal-Mart traditionally has sold, from diapers to vacuum cleaner bags. In its last fiscal year, Amazon posted 41 percent revenue growth, to $48.1 billion, vs. 8 percent at Wal-Mart. The chain’s 2011 online sales amounted to less than 2 percent of its $264 billion in U.S. revenue, says Kantar. “Amazon is always in our sights,” says Jeremy King, chief technology officer at the retailer’s @ WalmartLabs skunkworks in Silicon Valley. “My biggest issue is playing a catch-up game.”

In the last year Wal-Mart has increased its investment in its online business. The company has spent more than $300 million acquiring five tech firms since May and hired more than 300 engineers and code writers in the U.S. and India. Wal-Mart is also launching a program to allow the 20 percent of its customers without credit cards or bank accounts to make online purchases.

Wal-Mart’s acquisitions include Kosmix, a social-media firm, and iPhone app creator Small Society. The company hopes the newcomers can find a way to stop shoppers from engaging in scan and scram. That’s when would-be customers use their smartphones in stores to scan an item’s bar code and then buy it online from a rival merchant. The chain’s tech team also is working on a concept called Endless Aisle, which would let shoppers immediately order from Walmart.com via smartphone if an item is out of stock. “You can’t ask people to leave their phones at the door. So you have to give them value and an experience,” says Venky Harinarayan, @WalmartLabs’ senior vice president of global e- commerce. The former Amazon executive joined from Kosmix.

Wal-Mart is trying to improve links between its store inventory, website, and mobile phone apps so that more customers can order online and pick up their purchases at stores, which half of Web customers do already. Wal-Mart is trying Web-based shopping tactics, like its Pay With Cash program for Wal-Mart customers who don’t have credit cards. The new program allows them to reserve products online and pay cash at their nearest store. To cater to its affluent customers, Wal-Mart is selling more expensive items—for example, high-end televisions from Sony (SNE) and Samsung—only online.

Harinarayan’s team is also trying to tackle a new problem for Wal-Mart. Last year the chain was the No. 1 destination for holiday shoppers, with 53 percent of U.S. customers visiting its stores. That was down from 59 percent the year before. To lure gift shoppers, the techies have developed a Shopycat feature that scans the social media preferences of a consumer’s Facebook friends and suggests gift ideas sold on Walmart.com. About 150,000 users have installed the app.

To roll out more such innovations, Wal-Mart must improve its in-house e-commerce technology, so King will hire 87 engineers and coders to bolster the links between the stores and the website. “We’re starting from scratch to build a foundation,” says the EBay (EBAY) veteran. “Ideally, we’d have this platform built a couple of years ago.”

 

The bottom line: Wal-Mart, which gets less than 2 percent of its U.S. sales online, aims to bolster its technical capabilities to compete with Amazon.

 

Look customers in the eyes to lock them in the aisles.

Shopkeepers adopt the hard sell with some tailored software, writes Mark Russell.

IN THE film Minority Report set in 2054, a brewer’s advertising billboard identifies Tom Cruise’s character, John Anderton, through a retinal scanner. As he walks past, the billboard calls out: ”John Anderton! You could use a Guinness right about now.”

Far-fetched? Not according to retailers who believe this type of targeted advertising may well be the future of shopping.

New York company Immersive Labs is already using built-in cameras and facial recognition software in its outdoor billboards to determine the gender and age of passers-by so it can customise the advertisement on display to suit them and prompt sales.

So if a man strolls by on a cold morning, the display might change from an ad for women’s clothing to an advertisement suggesting a cup of coffee at a nearby cafe.

As Australian online shopping – expected to be worth $21.3 billion this financial year and $30.8 billion by 2015-16 – continues to threaten bricks-and-mortar businesses, retailers are using the latest technology, combined with social media, including more shopping apps, to lure customers back into their stores.

German shoemaker adidas is planning to install touch-sensitive display walls in stores from next year. The virtual footwear wall will allow customers to view the company’s entire range of 4000 pairs of shoes. If a customer likes a particular shoe the store will order it in.

Two cameras above the screen will watch shoppers’ reactions to determine which shoes are most popular. And like other companies, adidas is also gathering feedback by encouraging customers to use Facebook and Twitter to review its products.

Brisbane company Yeahpoint believes its MiMirror creation is the missing link between instore shopping and social media that will revolutionise fashion retail.

MiMirror is a touch-screen display with a camera that acts as a mirror and takes up to six photographs of customers in outfits they are considering buying. The shoppers then email the images to friends or post them on Facebook to get a second opinion.

No retailers have installed the technology yet, but the company is confident major stores will buy the device in coming months.

”The factors driving retailers’ decisions for the future are basically that the cost of business continues to increase and competitiveness in the retail environment is being challenged by the online market,” Yeahpoint’s John Anderson says.

”On the flip side, you have the time-poor consumer who wants to have a much more friendly, fun shopping experience.”

Sean Sands, of Monash University’s Australian Centre for Retail Studies, agrees, saying many consumers are bored with traditional retail and the only way to lure them back into stores is to offer the latest technology linked to social media.

A recent report released by the centre found that online shopping was creating tougher in-store customers because they were ”better informed due to the power of the internet”.

Half the population now research their purchases online before setting foot in a store.

Many are also armed with a wide range of shopping apps that can be downloaded on to iPhones, iPod Touches, iPads and other tablets and smartphones, that allow them to hunt for the best deals.

The RedLaser app, for example, allows instore shoppers to scan the barcode of an item to get the price and then checks online to see if it’s cheaper elsewhere.

Supermarket giant Coles’ ShopMate app, which notes specials and lets you cross off your shopping list as you go, has been downloaded 400,000 times.

Rival Woolworths does not have a shopping app but has one to locate missing trolleys.

Woolies’ app-lessness is not likely to last, however, as retailers respond to consumer demand.

Russell Zimmerman, of the Australian Retailers Association, says ”every retailer has to be in the online space in the foreseeable future” or they won’t survive.

According to PayPal, 8 million Australians buy goods using the internet, and one in 10 buy them with their mobile phones.

Google Australia’s head of retail, Ross McDonald, says this increasing use of mobile phones to search for stores and products has become a noticeable trend in the past six months.

Previously, 95 per cent of online traffic for shopping searches was from computers but 16-18 per cent of online inquiries were now from mobile phones. ”What we advise retailers is that it’s not so much about the app but making sure you are visible on a mobile device when someone searches for you,” he says.

Jo Lynch from Myer – which has an iPhone app that lets you peruse and buy goods with a tap of your finger – says the company expects its online business to generate sales of $5 million for 2010-11 and be worth up to six times that in the next few years.

David Jones’ Brett Riddington says the future of shopping is all about multi-channel retailing. ”Many customers will still want to go in-store to physically see the goods after checking them out online, but we need to make that a more entertaining and engaging experience,” he says.

E-tailing for Success.

WITH the economy performing below normal, many retailers who preferred having a physical presence are looking to go online at minimal costs and keep the cash registers ringing. Compared to a traditional brick and mortar storefront, an e-commerce store is a relatively small, convenient and lowcost startup. The only costs involved in the e-commerce platform include the monthly hosting and ISP bills. With a website, an e-tailer has the capability to gauge the market condition and make alterations accordingly. Taking into account all its benefits, e-commerce can be considered ideal during a recession as it helps retailers to stay globally competitive.

Serving retailers and consumers
Today leading global e-commerce retailers earn more than 10 billion in revenue on every portal they own, and this shows the shifting trend towards e-tailing. Affirming this, Pawan Gadia, VP, Ferns ‘N’ Petals (FnP), says, “We are achieving 60 percent growth year-on-year, thanks to e-commerce. In fact, 10 percent of the total turnover of the FnP Group comes from online sales.”

Videocon is also aiming big on e-biz. “In 2009, our target is to earn online sales of Rs 10 crore, and our current sales are very much in line with our targets,” adds Arindam Bose, VP–IT, E-biz and Exports, Videocon.

Consumers today are more open to the online medium. This trend is further catalysed by various product and price comparison websites that enable users to perform research on products that they intend to purchase. Moreover, increasing fuel costs, large mall crowds and low disposable incomes are motivating buyers to shop online. Mr Gadia says, “Contrary to a physical store that has issues of timeline, visibility, etc, an online store is more flexible. An FnP store closes at 8 pm every day, but the online store runs 24×7, thereby giving us more customers. We serve more than 2000 clients everyday on our online site.”

The e-commerce option caters to customers in the current economy because it offers products at lower costs. “E-biz reduces the logistics cost as the goods go directly to the end consumer. Any business model that removes layers and brings the consumer nearer to the manufacturer benefits all,” agrees Mr Bose.

Choose intelligently
Despite its potential, many people don’t know how to get started with e-commerce and are often confused about the numerous options available. Several solutions allow retailers to sell items online, but it is always advisable to approach retail-specific vendors who can customise solutions according to customers’ business needs. “Each customer has a different requirement. Some want a pure Web shop, while some want integration with CRM or ERP, and yet others seek telephonic booking. Each requirement should be considered individually before offering a solution,” says Manu Agarwal, CEO, ANMsoft and Naaptol.com.

Though most solutions may differ, some are fundamental for every online business enterprise, and these are listed below:

Design customisation solutions: Setting up a business involves considerable time, energy and money. It is necessary to create a brand that customers find familiar. Many ecommerce solutions force retailers into a particular site layout, template or theme, making them just another cookie-cutter, faceless, online store. An e-commerce service provider must understand the objectives of an e-tailer to equip the latter’s website with aesthetic solutions.

Scalability solutions: Retailers do not want solutions that limit the number of products on display or the amount of traffic that the site can generate. Therefore, e-commerce solutions must equip retailers to add dynamic features to his existing site.

Payment solutions: Many e-commerce solutions force customers to register before making a purchase. Forcing customers to leave a site when they are ready to purchase products is not a smart business practice. If a customer finds the payment options in the website too cumbersome, he/she may switch to another shopping site. Therefore, a retailer must ensure that customers are hooked on to the website until they have completed their transaction.

Order processing solutions: These solutions are specifically designed to save operating costs. In the absence of these automated solutions, a retailer has to maintain the inventory and keep a track of orders and process them.

Search engine optimisation (SEO) and Search engine marketing (SEM) solutions:
To drive traffic to the website, a retailer must employ an SEO or SEM. SEO is more popular because of its low costs and better results. However, a retailer must ensure that the SEO uses the right keywords to improve his website’s page rank. The website must contain the right keywords so that when a user searches for a particular product, the retailer’s website appears at the top.
According to Mr Agarwal, “A majority of the people who go online end up buying nothing or may not even visit a particular website. This is because the retailer and the service provider may have not set up means to direct traffic to the site.”
Coupon solutions: In the face of rising prices, consumers have once again begun clipping coupons. Giving away gift coupons serves to increase sales. People are always looking for discounts and freebies, and a site that offers similar incentives often sees repeated visits. E-tailers can send coupons as an SMS with unique promotional codes that shoppers can use on their e-commerce website, and receive discounts on online purchases.

Shopping Cart and Delivery Solutions: A customer should be given a free hand to add products to his/her shopping list, remove products, change their quantity, recalculate the order before processing and even come back to the same after logging out. On the delivery front, most clients prefer websites that offer free home delivery and, therefore, e-retailers must have a user-friendly delivery solution in place.

Innovations to help you save
In lieu of the ongoing recession, retailers have started exploring innovative ways to cut costs. Many e-tailers are outsourcing their retail operations to specialised retail vendors for reducing labour costs. One of the affected areas during this slowdown is advertising, and very few retailers seek to manage advertising costs. Retailers should ideally adopt online advertising tools like e-mailers, newsletters, etc. “Retailers can send e-mailers, promotions, gift coupons to their existing customers at a very low cost, and still enjoy sales benefits,” admits Mr Gadia.

In order to grow in the existing scenario, a retailer should place his merchandise where his potential customers are most likely to be. Going by this, the retailer should view e-tailing as a cost-effective channel to lure sales.

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