retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

About 20 years ago I heard a major industry executive talk about change. The reason I can still recall the comment is because he hit a major point so wonderfully. The industry, he said, is always changing. What seems different today (in the early 1990s, that is) is the pace of change.

If it seemed relentless then, today is off the charts.

The forces of change are everywhere and moving with baffling speed and in baffling ways. There was a fabulous example of the changing pace of global issues this weekend on the front page of the New York Times. It was a picture of a man in Afghanistan, sitting in a desolate area and working on a new generation Mac laptop clearly hooked up to an Ethernet cable.

It comes in the aisles of supermarkets, too.

Last week, I had the good fortune to host a panel for the Tennessee Grocers Association that featured one such moment. Ken Pink of E.W. James and Sons was talking about the incredible changes his 25-store company has seen in the small towns it serves in the western part of the state. One moment stood out.

Pink recalled that when he joined the company just seven years ago, Sunday was still one of the slower shopping days each week. Although seven years is just a short period of time, the world has changed for E.W. James. Now, Sunday is one of the three biggest sales days of the week. What’s more, the time of day when Pink’s average store will reach 50% of daily sales keeps getting later and later.

Now, neither change is earth shattering. For many other companies, especially those in urban and suburban areas, Pink’s numbers may reflect realities that faced years earlier. Yet, we can argue that it does matter.

Just as the man on the hilltop in Afghanistan with a laptop reminds us how the interconnected world has changed global politics, security and community forever, the subtle shifts in shopping patterns in western Tennessee matter. They remind us that even in the time of the nation’s biggest financial storm in 80 years, the erosion of traditional shopping goes on. And that demands our attention.

The endless shift of shopper visits to the weekend puts additional emphasis on the need for the entire supply chain to shift so that stores are properly stocked and looking their best on the days of the week when most shoppers are visiting. More than ever, that means Saturday and Sunday and in far too many quarters I hear griping that problems remain.

The endless shift of shopping trips to late afternoon and early evening - a trend fed, no doubt, by the growing percentage of working women - means stores need to think about how they staff during the day. If your best workers are on duty during traditional Monday-Friday daytime hours, you are out of synch with your customers.

What’s more, the nature of shopping trips themselves are switching. As FMI reported in its recent consumer Trends study, shoppers visit the supermarket less often each week than ever. Most likely that means shoppers are making one enormous stock up trip two or three times each month and filling in around that. That too creates lots of questions about whether today’s stores are properly answering the needs of shoppers who exist in constantly diminishing numbers.

Times are changing and, it seems, faster than ever.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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