retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Responding to yesterday’s story about Walmart dropping its Scan and Go app, one MNB reader wrote:

I currently use the Sam’s Club Scan and Go app.  This is one feature that has attracted me to retain my membership for this club store.  The thought of waiting in long lines, especially at Sam’s, would be reason to ‘stay away’. I love that I can grab what I need and literally walk out the door.

I don’t think they do a good job promoting this app and I can only speak of the club store I shop at.  Friends I talk to aren’t even aware it exists.  As for Walmart, they may not be testing this app in my area, but I certainly would consider using it specifically for the same reasons why I chose Sam’s Club.  The lines at Walmart are ten time worse.  I avoid that store because of that.  I hate that I need budget 30 minutes to check out a handful of items.  Self-scanning still not a ‘quick’ solution.  I hope they reconsider it and roll it out to more stores.


From MNB reader John Rand:

I find this to be an echo of a former (and continuing) problem in retailing – which is, to put it mildly, a lack of patience and inconsistent execution.

When the first hand-held scanners were made available to the general public to do self-scanning and speed checkout, a number of companies jumped on installing these. Most of them stopped within a year or two. But I was in touch with Food Lion (actually it first showed up in a Bloom – another good idea that was not well executed) and spent some unscientific but interesting time discussing the adoption of the tech by shoppers – and the pattern later checked out, at least anecdotally, in other retailers as well – in year 1, uptake was 1-3% of shoppers and perceived as pitiful; but in year 2 it rose to 5-7%, in year 3 it was 11% or better…and it skewed heavily to mothers with children. Amusingly the children thought it was cool and tended to learn its use faster than the parent and helped drive adoption.

But by year 3 the system was an orphan, shunted off into a corner, unadvertised, the rack of scanners  barely kept clean. The “converted” shopper knew how to use it, but new shoppers were largely left on their own, potentially clueless.

Something of an exception was Stop & Shop, which had a seminal role in developing the concept in the first place. They stuck with it, at least in select stores, and, again anecdotally, it leveled off at somewhere between about 10-15% adoption depending on the locale.

Still, relieving 10% or more of your shoppers of the entire checkout process, shortening lines and rewarding them for investing a little time to learn how to shop in a differentiated way, was hardly a failure. But because it was not a majority of shoppers, because it took patience and interaction with shoppers, because it was not an instant success, it tended to be abandoned, another wasted initiative.

Retailers need to cultivate a little patience, and maintain some follow-through on new ideas, or they end up killing their own solutions in the cradle.




I was criticized yesterday from paying too much attention to Amazon, which prompted the following email:

It seems about 20 years ago journalists covering the food/grocery business spent a lot of time covering the unfettered growth of Walmart, and the potential demise of everyone else. I can recall at the time it was a very real concern for many retailers (a number of whom are gone today because they either couldn’t or wouldn’t adapt).

Had you been writing MorningNewsBeat at that time (was it IdeaBeat?) it is likely that your articles and commentary would have carried a disproportionate amount of coverage related to Walmart. Walmart woke a lot of people up to the reality of a changing landscape.

Amazon is now doing the same at breakneck speed and with a significant amount of both capital and intellectual capital at its disposal. These folks are clearly very smart, very well lead, and fearless. While to some your coverage might seem excessive, you are shedding light on what others need to do to compete. For many it sucks not to be Amazon, just like it sucked not to be Walmart 20 years ago. But many will rise to the challenge, the landscape will continue to evolve, and the fittest will survive.

Who will it be 20 years from now?


Good question.

And yes, I know that in the early days of MNB (and yes, even before that at IdeaBeat), I got a lot of email saying that I was paying too much attention to Walmart.

It generally is my feeling that often the folks who complain the most about my coverage of certain companies are the ones who ought to be paying the most attention to what those companies are doing.
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