PROFILE

Mark Heckman

Principal, Mark Heckman Consulting
Mark is a supermarket industry veteran with broad experience based in a mix of retail marketing, brand partnerships, category management practices and consumer research. Over his career, Mark has worked with noted organizations in the supermarket industry to include positions of Director of Marketing Research at Marsh Supermarkets, VP of Marketing for Randalls Foods, MARC Advertising, and Valassis Relationship Marketing Systems. In 1993, Mark led the analysis team at Marsh that composed and presented the Marsh Super Study, which was published by Progressive Grocer Magazine and later became a case study at the Harvard School of Business.

In 2006 to 2011, Mark returned to Marsh Supermarkets to lead the marketing efforts at the Midwestern chain as Vice President of Marketing, following Sun Capital's purchase of the company. Upon completion of his duties at Marsh, Mark returned to his consulting practice where he currently works with retailers, marketing services and technology companies to develop sucessful programs and partnerships.

Mark is a past member and chairman of the Food Marketing Institute's Consumer Research Committee as well participating in the recent Retail Shopper Marketing Commission founded by Coca Cola and the In-store Marketing Institute.  Mark is a graduate of the Indiana University Kelley School of Business with a BS in Marketing and was honor graduate of the Defense Language Institute, at the Presidio of Monterey, CA. Mark currently resides in Bradenton, FL with his wife Karyn.

Visit the Mark Heckman Consulting website and blog...
  • VIEW ARTICLES
  • VIEW COMMENTS
  • Posted on: 04/17/2017

    How should retailers use social listening tools?

    Having a basic understanding of the importance and position of social media to your customers is essential in deriving the appropriate value of feedback you receive on social media. Like any consumer research instrument, knowing the profile and the magnitude of customers that use social media will help place their comments in the proper context, to avoid overreaction to isolated comments that do not reflect critical mass. Done correctly, retail customer researchers have a great new venue to gain shopper insights in the proper context of the customer base as a whole.
  • Posted on: 04/11/2017

    What will retailers gain from HHGregg’s loss?

    To answer the question as to how best competitors could attract former HHG shoppers, it is important to understand why HHG collapsed, seemingly overnight. One major factor was recent leadership were all experts at the wrong thing, namely 'traditional' bricks and mortar store retailing. While HHG attempted to build a point of difference around having large selections, they apparently paid precious little attention as to how to make appliance and home office needs shopping more convenient and valuable to a changing shopper base.Consequently, to win the lion's share of HHG shoppers, Best Buy and other smaller alternatives need to examine the entire appliance shopping process from the consumer's perspective and improve the customer's experience along the that path. Of course that means spending much more effort in synergizing the use of multiple shopper touch points between online and in-store offerings. It also implies that instead of offering the shopper the most choices, they offer the shopper the best choices, given the shopper's needs and budget and then provide a means to close the deal as painlessly for the customer as possible.
  • Posted on: 02/03/2017

    Will a new staffing model improve Lowe’s customer service?

    Cutting staff remains the quickest method to increase profitability, provided the cuts are done wisely and do not diminish customer service. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. More often than not, pencil sharpening at headquarters also affects the level of service and negatively impacts sales. At Lowe's (or any other DIY chain) having a knowledgeable person to help you make decisions and find the right solution is not just a luxury, but rather often the predicate for the sale.I also get a bit skeptical when I hear things like "eliminating department managers." My retail experience tells me that "ownership" by a single, competent individual is key to keeping stock on the shelves and sales heading upwards. The adage "if everyone is in charge, no one is in charge" remains a stark reality for corporate folks who believe they have created a new, less expensive, less people-intensive way to do business in the stores.It's interesting to watch retailers re-invent the same mistakes of the past and learn the hard way that savings on paper often turn out to be lost sales at the store.
  • Posted on: 12/19/2016

    Did retailers doom their holidays with deep discounts?

    It's just not the depth of these holiday promotions, but the length of time they are available to the shopper that ultimately dilutes their impact. Shoppers love the thrill of the hunt and when there is an element of urgency attached, the excitement of driving sales and traffic begin. However, when Black Friday becomes Black Friday Week or even the entire month is labeled such, the retailer is assuring themselves margin destruction and shopper interest will dwindle.While there are brands and retailers that lend themselves to an array of other value elements beyond price reduction, if you are selling commodity items such as electronics, packaged goods, and toys, there is likely very little chance that these non-price elements will supplant "price reduction" as the number one driver of purchase.My counsel is to pick and chose the depth of promotions and the length or frequency of promotions based upon the uniqueness of your product offerings. Further, if the majority of your products and services are easily found elsewhere, you will likely have no choice to discount, but do so, as others panelists have mentioned, in tandem with touting other free services or value-adds that could bring shoppers back another day to make a full margin purchase.
  • Posted on: 12/06/2016

    How can retailers prompt customers to write product reviews?

    I was recently "bribed" with free product by an online manufacturer to write a positive review, but it was only after I made a repeat purchase. I doubt that I would have taken the time to do so if I did not believe that product warranted a positive review and chances are the manufacturer was reasonably sure I was going to be positive about the product given my repeat purchase. As opposed to having a standing policy of rewarding all reviewers, I believe reaching out randomly to repeat buyers with such rewards can make sense, and can avoid "insincere" reviews motivated by a standing policy of pay-for-review.
  • Posted on: 12/01/2016

    Could digital advertising be replaced by a subscription model?

    One of the magical ingredients of Facebook and other social media mainstays is the cost of entry for participation:ZERO.If gradations of pay-for-view FB appear, I have serious doubt if the masses will continue to bite.I certainly agree that other media outlets have been successful with subscription models, but they also have compelling entertainment or content to warrant a subscriber's investment. Most social media, I would argue, does not have that punch for the average participant.In my view, the future of digital advertising rests in its inherent ability to be targeted and relevant. General "pop up" ads will always be considered an annoyance and will struggle to survive in digital media, but gleaning the right data from an online experience can lead to smartly understanding the consumer and their interests. Certainly there is much evidence that consumer profiling and targeting is already occurring with apparent success for advertisers.
  • Posted on: 11/11/2016

    Will Donald Trump’s presidency be good for retailers?

    It is true that many of the manufacturing jobs that have been lost are not coming back for a variety or reasons, however, anyone who thinks the trade agreements we are currently operating under are working to the benefit of the U.S. are sadly mistaken. With that said, workforce education and preparedness for the changing requirements of employers is extremely important and must be part of any labor recovery plan.Negotiating better deals is only one component of an economic approach that is geared to drive 3%-4% GDP growth. Something that the current administration cannot even fathom.Much more is begging to happen:
    • A plethora of Executive Order regulations that will be erased on the first day of the Trump administration will serve to be an initial positive shot to the business environment.
    • Repealing the ACA and replacing it with something that actually rewards competition and cost reduction will also be boon to small business growth and accordingly to retail.
    • Lowering the corporate tax rate and the repatriation of more than a trillion dollars in off shore corporate investment, will lead to more companies investing on shore in expansion and job opportunities, yielding more disposable income to be spent at retail.
    • With GDP growth comes the likelihood of higher interest rates and a bit of inflation. Inflation, controlled smartly by fiscal policy is a good thing for retail (especially food, energy, and durable goods).
    • Higher interest rates also means investment growth for the middle class who are not positioned to invest in equities and stocks. Personal savings growth should prove to be a positive for consumer confidence and retail.
    On the other side of the Trump Plan, spending on infrastructure and military concerns me if it is not properly staged to coincide with corresponding growth in GDP. Twenty trillion in national debt and its burgeoning debt service will be a constant drag on the economy.Let's face facts, when Trump and Republicans win Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio (by 8 points) it's a pretty good indication that what we are currently doing is NOT WORKING for the working class. While it is too early to predict how much of Trump's agenda will get accomplished and when, I for one am looking forward to steady retail growth in the coming years.
  • Posted on: 11/07/2016

    Will a national loyalty program yield rewards for Whole Foods?

    It is very late in the game for any retailer to be getting into the loyalty program business unless they are prepared to invest heavily into technology, content, and intellectual property to drive its success. The "loyalty" playing field is jammed with competition and I would suspect that many of Whole Foods's shoppers are already members of multiple loyalty programs at traditional supermarkets and beyond.To that point, there is a danger in thinking that such a program can in and of itself be the tool that turns Whole Foods's fortunes around. If mitigating a "high price" image is one of the key tasks for such a program, it has been my experience that "points," two-tiered pricing, members-only promotions and other margin investments are more often perceived as gimmicks rather than money saving vehicles for the shopper.If a loyalty program is in the future of Whole Foods, it should be worthy of the brand by focusing more on the types of attributes that Whole Foods is noted for such as cooking tips, heads-up tips on seasonal products, nutritional scoring, and even helping shoppers find related products in the store using a new shopping app.There is indeed value of having a dynamic shopper database that is the result of a loyalty program, but building such and keeping shoppers engaged is increasingly more difficult in a marketplace where loyalty programs have generally become more bother than benefit.
  • Posted on: 10/20/2016

    Will Millennials abandon traditional grocers?

    Millennials may be leading the exodus from traditional supermarkets, but they are certainly not the only cohort group that is curtailing their use of this retail format. Sure there are plenty of steps retailers of all stripes can take to attract Millennials and, as with all key shopper segments, it begins with understanding their priorities and in-store shopping patterns.The good news is that traditional grocers remain in position to offer the broadest and most relevant selection of their favorites and also arrange their assortment in such a way that saves them time and angst vis-a-vis the supercenters and other larger formats. That will not happen, however unless "traditionals" become less traditional.The larger question remains as to what is the destiny of traditional grocers in general. Given technology, changing consumer preferences and a plethora of new shopper options, obsolescence is right around the corner unless dramatic steps are taken to adapt.
  • Posted on: 10/18/2016

    It’s time to say goodbye to bad apps

    Trend studies tell us that folks are shopping more stores for their needs, both online and in-store. These same reports paint the picture of a shopper who wants to be focused and efficient, not one that will tolerate extra steps or work on their behalf, even if there is some incremental value for them in the process. I think we know what makes apps good or bad Easier is to use better than harder, payment options are good thing, and certainly if I can save tangible amounts of money and time, we know that shoppers will at least give you a test ride.But the truth of the matter is that shoppers have already said goodbye to bad apps. Today, practically every retailer in the shopper's consideration set has their own app with their own nuances and functions, which lives in its own world, and doesn't connect to any other retailer the shopper might engage. In this world, shoppers learn over a short period of time which apps to use and which they delete to make more space on their mobile device.In a perfect retail world, multiple retailers will learn that it is better to reside on a "community" shopping app, where multiple (and even competing) retailers actively engage a common customer base, instead of insisting the shopper use their app exclusively. Then the shopper would have no need to download a dozen apps instead, just one or two. That's what the shoppers want. It is that simple.So to answer the question of what makes an app successful, I would start with its ability to eliminate the need of other apps. After that, the rest is minutia.
  • Posted on: 10/12/2016

    Could a ‘breakfast aisle’ revitalize the grocery center store?

    While I applaud any type of merchandising concept that is driven from the consumer's perspective, what Kellogg's is doing is hardly new. Many retailers have attempted, with limited success, to reconfigure their stores on the basis of shopper solutions, rather than traditional retailer-brand category definitions. For example, my alma-mater, Marsh Supermarkets built a series of stores 15 years ago that drastically re-organized traditional categories into alcoves that surrounded the center of the store, which was predominantly fresh produce and specialty items. Each alcove focused on compatible items such as breakfast products, household products, juices and beverages, pet food, and on and on.The results were mixed at best, with many shoppers being totally put off by learning a new shopping routine that reflected a true departure from the traditional category/aisle configuration they were accustomed to. However, over time, many shoppers learned to adapt and actually preferred the new configuration as they found that compartmentalizing products in terms of how shoppers thought about them spared shoppers the trouble of going down long aisles with many items and categories they rarely or never buy.Of course, the perceived downside of shopper-centric merchandising is the notion if you do not drag the shopper by thousands of items they have no interest in they will not have the opportunity to "impulse buy" a high margin item that was not on their list. This of course is flawed thinking given much different shopper expectations nowadays compared to 15 years ago when Marsh "jumped outside the box."If the Kellogg's initiative has any lasting merit, it will be in the inevitable benefit to incremental sales based upon the thesis that if you more logically organize products per the shopper's use of them, shoppers will buy faster and have more time to buy other non-intended items during their incredibly short amount of time they spend in the store on any particular trip.
  • Posted on: 10/10/2016

    Will retailers lose retiring boomers to experiences?

    I am an advocate of brick-and-mortar retailers specifically focusing on managing the customer experience, whether it be for Boomers, Generation Xers or Millennials. The larger motivation for doing so represents a pure point of difference from those selling online or those occupying the "pure price" marketing position.However, creating a shopping environment that appeals to shopper's emotional and sensory needs requires a deep understanding of what truly motivates various shopper groups and applying that knowledge to shopper engagement.I feel it begins with assigning a specific, senior-level individual that has both a background in shopper psychology and retail operations to that task. These folks are not easy to find, but are truly in position to harness the right information about shoppers and translate that knowledge in cogent, doable programs and practices.
  • Posted on: 09/01/2016

    Schnucks bans solicitors from outside its stores

    It would be easy to hang Schnucks out to dry for this new policy, but actually given the situation with the union picketers, I would have made the same decision. What I would recommend Schnucks doing, however, is create an at-the-checkout coupon that adds a few dollars to the shopper's purchase that would go to the Salvation Army. These programs are easy to implement and very commonplace, particularly if you shop Publix, where they seem to have a checkout charity program going every week. Creative minds can always find acceptable alternatives to ringing bells and red buckets.
  • Posted on: 08/29/2016

    Target holds first storewide sale

    To David's point, I stopped in yesterday to Target and bought $75 worth of furniture and pet supplies yesterday, not knowing about the 10% off sale. No one told me about it in the store, nor was there any signage announcing it. I did not learn about it until after I got home and certainly did not get the 10% off my order.One of my merchandising mentors once told me, "Mark, anyone can give it away." After my experience yesterday, I am not sure that is true when it comes to Target.
  • Posted on: 08/26/2016

    Can Dollar General afford to price it out with Walmart?

    Dollars stores (as a retail channel) have found a viable niche over the past decade. However, market saturation and continued pressure from other price retailers (Walmart among them) is having a predictable effect on their performance.Many of these dollar stores have ventured into expanded frozen foods, dairy and even some produce. All of these additional offerings come with their own expenses and downsides.My advice to dollar stores is to think about being a source of a combined trip. This could translate into partnerships with c-stores and in some cases food retailers that have an expertise in fresh foods, meals to go, etc.Developing these offerings internally will likely be too expensive and too far afield from their core business to develop these offerings organically, but branded partnerships could drive incremental traffic and new synergies.

Contact Mark