Online grocery forecasts have always been tricky. I myself dramatically over-forecasted online grocery back in 2000 when Webvan and others had raised tons of money and were building highly automated grocery fulfillment centers. From my own source of credit card transactional data (90 million credit/debit cards) we can see the online percent of groceries growing from 2 percent to 3 percent pre-pandemic, then up to 5 percent through June. 20+ percent of the market in five years is, in my mind, possible, but not the most likely scenario. I suspect that many grocers (not Walmart and Kroger, mind you) will happily shuffle online priorities to the back burner as soon as COVID-19 passes in order to get back to a focus on what they see as their core brick and mortar business. This will be a mistake that will yield share to Amazon and other digital aggressors, but will also inhibit the overall growth of the online grocery market.
Historically the biggest problem with click and collect was that retailers insisted that consumers go into the store to pick up their online orders with the hopes that they would buy something else. The pandemic changed all that as consumers wanted to avoid going into stores, likely changing their preferences permanently. Retailers need to resist the urge to revert back to in-store pickup when the pandemic has passed.
Four factors will make this a holiday season like none before: 1.) Prime Day in October; 2.) the likelihood that Black Friday will not be the in-store shopping event that it has historically been; 3.) the likelihood that gift givers will see fewer of their gift recipients in person this year, and; 4) supply will be dodgy.
Throw out everything you know about holiday shopping, this one is without precedent. Walmart, Target and Amazon will set records this year. For everyone else, success this season will be driven by each retailer's ability to adapt quickly during an unpredictable fourth quarter.
I suspect that Walmart looks around and sees big tech companies becoming increasingly ambitious in their scope (and doubts Washington's will to reign them in) and has made the judgement that it's not enough to be just a retailer anymore. Personally, I think that they can be "just" a retailer, but that alone will not put them in the Trillion Dollar Valuation Club.
Target's decision to go more aggressively after food, years ago, was a critical driver of the success they are enjoying today. But what really stands out to me is the dramatic improvement in their fulfillment systems where they are now among a few retailers that are fulfilling the vast majority of orders directly from stores, which allows quicker shipping at lower rates.
Density drives the strategic thinking for both Walmart and Instacart, because density makes the economics of same-day delivery work. Walmart does not currently have enough delivery customers in certain markets, and partnerships make sense. I'd be surprised if Walmart made one national decision regarding same-day delivery when markets are so varied in density. An acquisition of Instacart could certainly make sense at some point, but even then Instacart will want to continue to service Walmart competitors to keep the service as profitable as possible. This is the (correct) decision that Target made with Shipt.
CommerceNext and BizRate Insights just released survey data yesterday showing that 43 percent of consumers used curbside pickup for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic. To be at least competent in curbside execution is mission critical for retailers today. Once through the pandemic, retailers will be tempted to try to drive consumers INTO the store to pick up online orders (rather than picking up curbside) in the interest of driving store traffic and incremental sales. They must resist this temptation and give consumers the convenience that they're coming to expect.
Historical retail data is far less useful today than it was before COVID-19. Consumer habits have been affected by externalities that seem likely to persist for the indefinite future. I believe that comparative competitive data becomes more important than ever, allowing retailers and brands to compare their performance against those like them. When assessing the performance of a retailer's management team during the pandemic, market share rather than performance against plan is the only reasonable way to determine whether the right choices were made.
The really interesting question to me is how much of the acceleration in online sales will stick once COVID-19 is no longer keeping shoppers out of stores. Will we see a Renaissance in brick-and-mortar retail that claws back much of the shift to online? Or will consumers be unwilling to give back the saved time that they'd become accustomed to spending on other endeavors?
The measure of success for Walmart+ should not be whether it compels consumers to ditch Prime - that is an unreasonable goal, given the breadth of perks that come with Prime. The more interesting dynamic will be the impact of this program, if it gains widespread adoption, on grocery competitors such as Kroger.
To answer the question of whether COVID-19 will change consumers' behavior in the long run will depend heavily on how the course of the pandemic plays out. If COVID disappeared as a threat by Fall or Winter, I think that consumers would pretty quickly bounce back to old behaviors (as evidenced by crowded bars of unmasked revelers in states that allowed it). Habits developed during the Great Depression and during WW2 had roughly 20 years to take shape, while we are less than half a year into the COVID era.
Large grocery store chains do a uniquely good job of tracking customer behavior across channels, tethered by loyalty programs with high participation rates. This manifests itself far more effectively in the online environment than in stores because stores struggle to deliver the tailored experiences that websites and apps can offer. The biggest opportunity for grocers is to more effectively use digital tools to influence the store shopping experience.
The intent of Microsoft's stores was likely more about showcasing than selling products. Microsoft can compensate for this loss of product showcase opportuntities with smart arrangements with retailers. For example, perhaps we'll see a very nice section of Best Buy stores designed and managed by Microsoft - similar to the Sephora/J.C. Penney model.
J.C. Penney should follow Gap's lead by seeking to come out of the coronavirus pandemic a different, more relevant company. Its goal should absolutely NOT be to come back a leaner version of what it was beforehand. Its model simply doesn't work anymore, whether they have 800 stores or 300 stores.