Holiday shopping behaviors: Black Friday is losing some of its luster.

It’s the beginning of October – which means that the holiday shopping season will soon be upon us.

… If it isn’t already, based on the holiday displays we’re already seeing cropping up at some major retail chain stores.

Of course, U.S. retailing firms have been gearing up for the season for months now, in terms of building merchandise inventories and so forth. But what sort of consumer shopping dynamics will they be facing this year?

According to new research published by Euclid, Inc. in its 2017 Evolution of Retail report which covers holiday physical and digital retail trends, Cyber Monday has now overtaken all of the other holiday-season shopping days in terms of consumer excitement.

That finding is based on a survey of ~1,500 U.S. consumers age 18 and older. While majorities of respondents report that they are excited about each of the three biggest revenue days of the holidays, for the first time ever Cyber Monday heads the list in terms of consumer interest and excitement:

  • Cyber Monday: ~72% of consumers report being excited about this shopping day
  • Black Friday: ~62%
  • Day after Christmas: ~55%

Clearly, online shopping continues to build momentum year over year. But the Euclid research also reveals that physical stores continue to have a major role in the “buying journey.”  Even among consumers in the 18-34 age group, three out of four respondents report that they visit physical stores on a regular basis to see products “in the flesh” – even if they purchase them online later.

Not surprisingly, “price” remain the biggest driver in consumer shopping behaviors during the holiday season, but convenience is another factor as well. It isn’t simply a store’s location that matters, but also how quickly shoppers can get in and out of the store that affects their views of “convenience.”

Interestingly, when comparing just in-store shopping plans, more respondents in the Euclid survey expect to be shopping on the day after Christmas (63%) than on Black Friday (60%) this year.

Perhaps the decisions by some big retailers to curtail store hours on that traditional first day of the holiday shopping season are being driven by more than simply altruism …

The complete Euclid report for 2017 can be downloaded here.

Whole Foods may now have to settle for half-a-loaf.

wfThe Whole Foods chain of upscale “healthy grocery” outlets just released its 2016 3rd Quarter results … and things continue to look a little less fresh and a little more droopy for company.

Sales for stores open one year or longer have now declined for the fourth consecutive quarter, and the latest ~2.6% drop is steeper than analysts had been predicting.

Company profits have slid more than 20% since the same time last year.

One bit of good news is that Whole Foods’ total sales have increased by around 2%. It isn’t exactly the double-digit growth experienced up until a couple years ago — but at least it remains a gain.

In a nutshell, the problems faced by Whole Foods, which describes itself as the “World’s Healthiest Grocery Store,” is a maturation of the market for high-end groceries and other foods. In the words of Stephen Tanal, a vice president at Goldman Sachs, as reported by Forbes last week:

“Wellness has gone mass, and it’s not coming back – never again to be relegated to niche specialty retailers serving price-insensitive early adopters.”

Underscoring Tanal’s contention is the fact that ~75% of Whole Foods store locations now have one or more Trader Joe’s located within five miles.  More than half of them have a Kroger store within five miles, and nearly 85% have a Costco outlet located within ten miles.

In response to the heightened competition, Whole Foods is speeding up implementation of its plans to open a line of smaller outlets called 365 by Whole Foods Market. According to the company, these are “value-driven” locations that feature a streamlined operating model while benefiting from centralized buying and auto-replenishment of inventory.

Reportedly, pilot locations in California and Oregon have been positively received, and a third location will be opening soon in the Seattle suburbs.

Other initiatives being undertaken by the company fall under an umbrella described by co-founder and co-CEO John Mackey as a “back to basics” program including refocusing on the customer experience as well as improved store layouts and wayfinding, signage and the like.

… And lower prices, too, one would presume – if the company is serious about reclaiming the mantle of “good for you” food market leader from Kroger, Wegmans, Redners and other “mainstream” chains that have been encroaching on Whole Foods’ turf.

Will Whole Foods regain the momentum … or continue to be on the defensive?  We’ll see how it plays out in the coming quarters.

Online shopping insights: Why is the in-store pick-up option so popular?

With online shopping so popular these days, why are consumers electing to pick up the merchandise they’ve ordered at the store?

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While it isn’t a pervasive practice, a study published recently by consumer analytics firm Connexity/Bizrate Insights finds that more than 30% of online shoppers have used in-store pick-up at least once during the past 12 months.

Even more surprising, perhaps, is that ~13% of respondents reported that they had considered abandoning a purchase because in-store pick-up wasn’t offered as an option.

As it turns out, people choose the in-store pick-up option for four major reasons:

  • To avoid paying shipping charges: ~55% cited
  • For the convenience: ~43%
  • Need to receive the order quickly: ~36%
  • Shopping online to ensure the item is available: ~29%

At first blush, I wouldn’t think that “convenience” means having to drive to a store versus having the product delivered right to the house. But perhaps “convenience” in this sense is related to product availability – avoiding a fruitless trip to the store only to find out after-the-fact that the desired product isn’t in stock.

But the other reasons cited make good sense, too. Everyone understands the desire to save money – if not on the product itself, then by avoiding shipping charges.  And if a quick drive to the store gets you the items compared to waiting a few days for the shipment to arrive, that’s understandable as well.

The Connexity findings underscore how important it is for retailers to align their e-commerce setups to allow for in-store pick-up – especially if the economics don’t allow them to offer a free shipping option. There’s simply too much competition from online-only retailers to afford losing sale to them based on any of the four factors listed above.

Holiday Sales: “Many Happy Returns”

retHere’s an interesting statistic coming out of the holiday season this year: Nearly one in four consumers has returned at least one of the gifts they received.

For gifts purchased online, returns are an even bigger part of the equation – as in one third of all online gift purchases being returned.

It’s part of a trend that’s growing at a pretty swift pace. In 2014, a total of $285 billion worth of merchandise was returned in the U.S., a 6% increase over the previous year and more than double the growth rate of retail sales as a whole.

Industry observers are expecting higher figures again for 2015 once the stats are fully tallied.

Which holiday gift items tend to be returned most often? In a survey of ~500 U.S. consumers conducted between December 28 and 31, 2015 by mobile app shopping circular developer Retale, the following gift categories were cited most frequently by respondents:

  • Jewelry: ~32%
  • Electronic products: ~29%
  • Gift cards: ~27%
  • Clothes/apparel: ~26%
  • Home décor/home improvement items: ~23%

Consumers may have gravitated to online shopping big-time this past holiday season, but as for the gift return “experience,” it’s pretty clear that consumers continue to prefer making a return at the store (~64%) rather than online (~12%).

Evidently, the “hassle factor” of shipping merchandise back to the seller – not to mention the cost of return shipping if that isn’t offered free of charge – is more onerous than getting in the car and driving to the store outlet.

As for the mountains of merchandise that retailers are having to deal with, it’s caused the growth of an entirely new business niche: reverse logistics firms.

These companies input information on each returned item and determine the most lucrative way for the retailer to dispose of it – which can include sending it to a wholesaler, selling it to a liquidator for scrap, or sending it to a distribution center to be repaired and resold.  Online “refurbished products” stores on Amazon and eBay enable retailers realize up to 70% of an item’s worth by selling those items directly to value-conscious consumers, compared to recouping only 20% or 30% in the past.

It’s part of the action –> reaction aspects of retail that pretty much define this industry.

What’s driving innovation in consumer packaged goods these days?

Consumer packaged goodsWith the steady rise in the number (and variety) of consumer packaged goods offerings, one might wonder if the factors that drive CPG innovation are the same today as they’ve been in the past.

There’s no dearth of research to help give us clues to the answer.  In the first half of this year alone, major CPG research results have been published by the likes of Accenture, Deloitte, Forrester, IRI and Kantar – and that just covers the first half of the alphabet!

The broad takeaway from these reports is that there are six major trends driving innovation in the industry.  Three of them are just as important as they’ve ever been, and three additional ones are becoming more significant as time goes on.

The three “classic” trends that drive CPG innovation as much as ever are convenience, value, and specialization.

They’re fundamental, they’re significant, and they haven’t lost their importance based on what’s happening in the larger marketplace or the economy:

Convenience is a major driver because consumers are always looking to get what they need faster and with less effort than before.  If a product saves time and delivers multi-benefit solutions, consumers will respond.

Value is always perennially important.  When the perceived value of a product goes down because of price pressures or a lack of differentiating benefits, brand loyalty is adversely affected.

Specialization – Product formulation and packaging can affect the way consumers feel about products.  The more that can be provided in the way of a “just-for-me” solution as opposed to “one-size-fits all,” the better.

If they concentrate on these three trends, most CPG brands do pretty well.  But there are three additional trends that appear to be gaining momentum.  Add them to the repertoire, and an additional competitive edge can be established:

Portability – As consumers’ lives have become more mobile than ever, a premium is placed on brand that can deliver on-the-go offerings.

Environmental Impact – It’s been a long time coming, but this trend finally appears to be reaching some semblance of critical mass. More consumers are considering environmental factors — not just as attributes for products that are “nice to possess,” but actually necessary for making a responsible choice. It’s more than the product itself; it’s also sourcing, manufacturing, distribution and disposal.

Health Impact – The days of CPG products being big on convenience but bad on health are numbered. Thanks to better education and more out-of-pocket medical-related cost responsibilities, health awareness among consumers has never been higher. It may not be translating yet into improved health metrics like lower obesity rates, but there’s pretty clear evidence that more people understand health risks and are taking more responsibility for their own personal health and that of their family members.  Products that can credibly claim to “healthy” benefits stand to gain in the competitive landscape.

Do you feel that there are other trends besides these six that that are influencing the development of consumer packaged goods today?  Perhaps ones associated with cultural diversity … or something else?  If so, please share your thoughts with other readers here.

Online user reviews: People trust their own motives for posting … but not others’.

user reviewsOne of the most important uses of the web today is for people to seek out user reviews of products and services before they buy.

Research shows that people place a high value on these user reviews, and they are more likely to influence purchase decisions than brand advertising and other forms of promotion.

The famous 90-9-1 rule — of every 100 people, 1 creates content, 9 respond to created content and 90 simply are just lurkers — may no longer be accurate.  But even if the rule still holds, that still means quite a few people are engaging in the practice of posting customer reviews and comments.

For most people who post reviews, their reasons for doing so are positive, if the results from a recent YouGov survey of U.S. consumers are any guide.  The research was conducted in November 2014 among American respondents age 18 or older.

When asked why they post consumer reviews online, the survey respondents cited the following reasons:

  • To help other people make better purchase decisions: ~62% cited as a reason why they post
  • It’s polite to leave feedback: ~35% of respondents cited
  • It’s a way to share a positive experience: ~27%
  • To make sure good vendors get more business: ~25%
  • To warn others about a bad experience: ~13%
  • To expose bad vendors: ~12%

Interestingly, the older the age of reviewers, the more likely it is that they upload reviews for the reasons listed above:  Respondents age 55 or older cited all but one of the six reasons in greater percentages than the average for all age groups.

What about the flip side of the equation?  Do those who post feel that others are posting reviews for the same reason?

thumbs up and downThat’s where the picture gets a bit murkier.  It appears that those who post do so for positive reasons … but they don’t necessarily think others are posting for similarly positive purposes.

In fact, about two-thirds of the survey respondents felt that some reviews are written by people who haven’t actually purchased the product or service.

A large portion — 80% — think that businesses write positive online review about themselves.

And nearly 70% believe that businesses post negative feedback about competitors’ products.

So it’s interesting:  People see themselves participating in online ratings and reviews for the right reasons, yet they suspect that other posters may not be playing fairly — or maybe even gaming the system.

It’s an indication that while user reviews are welcomed in practice, there are also nagging doubts about the veracity of what people are reading.

Still, surveys find that many consumers cast those doubts to the side, and continue to read user reviews and be influenced by them.