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...
  • Posted on: 12/11/2018

    Should Amazon buy Target?

    Perhaps the largest financial detriment to brick-and-mortar retailers is their ever-fading return on capital investment of big box footprints. In every case study and projection I read, shoppers will continue to substitute online and smaller retail footprint options in place of their past, steady reliance of physical stores. This leaves every big box retailer, including Kroger, Meijer, Walmart, and our friends at Target with the daunting task of managing these big boxes with massive inventories coupled with the prospect of fewer shopping trips as time progresses. Why would Amazon, which represents a more cost-effective approach to retailing, want that liability?
  • Posted on: 12/04/2018

    Walmart gives associates a tool to deal with out-of-stocks

    On bigger-ticket items that are offered at very competitive prices, I see this process being a winner. For an array of other out-of-stocks (OOS), I doubt if shoppers are going to take the time to track down an associate and create a separate transaction to make sure their favorite brand of guava juice is delivered, even if it is same-day. I believe the bigger problem with OOS at Walmart is three-fold; set integrity, space allocation and an effective recognition of OOS and re-stocking processes. All three of these issues are very solvable by re-stocking OOS items in a timely manner -- a much more effective deployment of both technology and floor associates than ordering the item and having it shipped.
  • Posted on: 11/28/2018

    Can customer lifetime value scores work against retailers?

    Taking a longer view of the customer's value to your business has always been a good idea and largely unappreciated by retailers who live from week to week, sales period to sales period. However, the formula the retailer uses to calculate value is certainly key to the effectiveness of any CLV effort. RFM modeling is clearly a component but, as we all know, the value of the shopper changes radically as they progress through the various stages of life and must be considered along with other factors influencing shopper behavior. Most importantly, for senior management to find CLV a credible tool for growing their business, it must be cogently linked to more traditional measurements such as sales performance, profitability, transaction size, and customer counts.
  • Posted on: 11/20/2018

    Will 2018 be the last holiday season for long checkout lines?

    Eliminating the checkout line is one of the most compelling changes to retailing in my lifetime. Unlike many innovations, it presents a win for both retailer (labor) and consumer (time, angst). I am impressed with the progress that retailers are making towards the elimination of lines and the entire checkout process itself, but it will take some time and significant investment. In five years or less, technology and the quick adaption of today's shoppers will team to streamline payment to an amazing degree. Standing in line will be a thing of the past, unless you are foolish enough to go to a theme park during spring break!
  • Posted on: 11/13/2018

    Do grocery stores have a customer engagement problem?

    As we all are aware, the role of traditional supermarkets is rapidly changing. No longer are they the recipient of a dominant percentage of their customer's overall food at home dollars. New physical store competition as well as online alternatives are diluting share of customer. To mitigate this erosion, physical store retailers should neither avoid technology nor heavily rely on it to change and protect their market share. I believe three areas of change are critical. First, a good mix of technology which actually accelerates the shopping trip will serve to preserve relevance to the time-starved shopper. Secondly, turning store associates into "food experts" is another key weapon in the brick-and-mortar retailer's arsenal that price formats and online venues cannot match. Lastly, offer BOTH in-store and online shopping alternatives and, in doing so, work to consolidate those efforts so that the customer gets the sense that they recognize you no matter which shopping channel you chose on a particular trip.
  • Posted on: 11/01/2018

    Will Albertsons have robots filling online grocery orders in its stores?

    Retailers are somewhat frantic in their attempt to automate the picking and delivery process to the point where a meager profit can be made, as well they should be. Using AI is a logical next step to reduce costs and enhance profit, but it has some inherently key limitations, especially in perishables. While I understand the Albertsons test is limited to a subset of items in the store in a confined area, to make this approach scalable, the robots will need to decide selection issues like the ripeness of bananas, the weight of a steak, and develop a "decision tree" process when the item ordered is out-of-stock. I have full confidence that these selection issues have been identified, but less confidence that a cogent solution has been determined. In the interim, AI sounds like a partial solution to me, but maybe that is enough to be worthy of pursuit.
  • Posted on: 10/08/2018

    Giant Food expects big things from a new, mini-grocery store concept

    With shoppers opting for increasingly more convenient options, smaller format stores make sense provided the retailer has done their homework in terms of variety, layout, solid store locations, and service offerings. From the report its does appear that they have studied the issues extensively before moving forward, however if Giant Heirloom Markets do not serve the vast majority of a shopper's food needs for a majority of the shopper's trips, success will be elusive. To that point, If the shopper is frustrated with not being able to find the items that comprise 70 to 80 percent of their routine shopping list in a convenient way this small format, like some that have fallen short before it, will not gain sufficient traction. I am intrigued by the notion of using trained personnel with iPads for extending the inventory, but question whether that process will be too troublesome for most to engage. I also question whether or not a footprint of only 9,500 square feet will suffice to house enough variety to be considered a viable shopping choice given all the other alternatives. Both of these concerns could be allayed by great execution and continuing to listen to the shopper.
  • Posted on: 10/01/2018

    Is traffic a flawed measure of engagement?

    Counting heads is better than not counting anything, but it's far from being a completely accurate metric. In fact, in many bricks stores, the majority of time the "traffic" spends is not in "purchase" mode, but rather in "transit" mode, moving from one purchase event to the next. This traffic in "transit" is not as likely to stop, view and engage a product. Using new methods of incorporating time spent in an are of the store and the range of vision of the shopper in that area will tell retailers much more about the viability of an area in terms of converting traffic into sales. The data and techniques now exist to not only truly identify the more sales potent areas of as a physical store, but also predict the likelihood of purchase given a more comprehensive view of shopper traffic. All of this helps level the playing field between bricks retailers and those in the online environment who current have access to much more information about their shoppers as they view their pages.
  • Posted on: 09/26/2018

    What’s Dunkin’ without Donuts in its name?

    Marketers are inherently restless. If they are not fiddling with something, they are perceived not to be doing their job. Often this is the case with name changes to banners, products, and in some cases, like Dunkin' Donuts, even the company itself. While I understand their desire to represent a broader customer experience and range of products beyond donuts, I can't help but think they are simply having an "IHOB" moment. Sometimes inertia is a good thing.
  • Posted on: 09/25/2018

    Is Eddie Lampert looking to save Sears or suck it dry?

    Having first-hand experience in a corporate environment led by capital infusion, I have learned that the money is always secondary to strategy and implementation if success is to be achieved. Those that already pronounce Sears "dead on arrival" are most likely correct. Years of neglect and bad decisions are very difficult to overcome. If there is an ember of hope still glowing at Sears, it lies in the ability to reinvent itself as a legitimate omnichannel player, rebuilding its internal brands and finding a way back to consumer relevance.
  • Posted on: 08/22/2018

    Target hits a bullseye in Q2

    Not taking anything away from the recent efforts of Target or Walmart to become more competitive and attractive to shoppers but the booming economy, specifically as it bolsters the spending of the middle class, is undoubtedly driving a significant portion of their respective successes. With that said, both retailers and particularly Target have improved in key areas of e-commerce, in-store and home delivery, and especially in the area of fresh foods. Given that shoppers are developing new norms in terms of where they shop for various categories, it will remain critical for Target to continue to grow their online business for categories and commodities that shoppers are embracing online. It will also be smart to re-invest some of the current gains into making stores more shopper-centric through better design and traffic flow, keeping in mind that shoppers are increasingly valuing their time and the efficiencies of the stores they shop.
  • Posted on: 08/20/2018

    Are stock-up grocery trips becoming a thing of the past?

    Prophetically, for some years now Herb Sorensen and a few others have advocated that the dimension of "shopper's time" be included in the array of metrics physical store retailers rely on to improve their in-store engagement. There is no doubt that shoppers' expectations of brick-and-mortar retailers are changing, given the number of new options they have to choose from -- all of them more efficient than large-footprint retail stores. Measuring and improving the dollars spent per minute in the store is a good start in improving the efficiency of the store, with efficiency being defined as getting items that shoppers want in front of them quicker, without requiring the shopper to waste time venturing to all corners of the store to complete the shopping trip. However the notion of bringing the product to the shopper instead of luring the shopper to the far reaches of the store represents a significant paradigm shift for most retailers. Nonetheless the results, if done correctly, will be larger baskets, more loyal, appreciative shoppers and, above all, survival in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
  • Posted on: 07/23/2018

    Retailers use brand ads to help pay for free delivery

    Similar to on-pack coupons and ads, the placement of brand ads in boxes will likely find its place in the mix of advertising options. Like most ads if the content and offer is smart, targeted towards the shopper's interests and compelling in terms of discount, response rates will reflect that.
  • Posted on: 07/06/2018

    Will America win the trade war?

    If I hear a so-called economic pundit tell me that "a tariff is a tax and not good for anyone" my head may explode. What I have not heard from any of these experts is that if the current round of counter-tariffs are not the answer in leveling the playing field among international traders and intellectual property cheaters -- then what is? The short answer is that there are few other viable options to motivate countries, friend and foe, to walk away from the gravy train they have enjoyed for decades when it comes to trade. The fact of the matter is that tariffs are not new. Onerous tariffs imposed on U.S. manufacturers and farmers by other countries have been inherently unfair and in fact have led to the demise of many industries. Those that prognosticate doom and gloom should keep in mind that the tariff salvos that are being batted about are projected by the Tax Foundation to effect U.S. GDP by a less than 1 percent, which could easily be neutralized by continued domestic growth. While soybean farmers and a few other sectors may need some short-term help, the end game is a noble one. In addition, China has much more to lose in a full fledged trade war with the U.S. Unlike the U.S., their economy is sputtering already and is heavily dependent upon U.S. exports to fuel their growth. Finally, if the prognosticators of doom are correct and the U.S. economy stalls due to these new measures, the Trump administration is keenly sensitive to the relationship of economic growth and their political standing. I think we all hope for some behind-the-scenes negotiating that mitigates the likelihood of a full out trade war. My counsel to retailers is to be mindful of the overall health of the U.S. economy and understand they may have to take short-term steps to cut costs and expense to remain competitive on commodities that may be affected. Retailers have proven they are rather good at taking such steps.
  • Posted on: 06/11/2018

    Too many meetings and reports undercut promos

    As a former VP of marketing tasked with staging promotions for a major supermarket chain, I can attest to the complexity of analyzing promotions. But more challenging is the pervasive misunderstanding among senior management as to the limitations of promotions and the duration of their effect. For example, I was often told by senior operations management that my promotions "didn't stick." Roughly translated, promotions with a stop date should continue to drive sales long after their benefits are gone. In reality, promotions are a means of interjecting another reason for trial. After the promo is over it is up to the retailer and brand to offer great products, price them competitively and to provide a great shopping experience to maintain some semblance of a post-promotional lift. Further, promotional analysis makes much more sense if it is done within the parameters of a category-level promotional plan. Once the plan is in place promotion results can be measured within the context of the plan and adjusted if they under-performed against empirical benchmarks and objectives. Unfortunately, many times the mentality of the retailer is to grab the promotional support money without first having a plan in place, which makes the post-promo analysis much less effective and essentially ad hoc.

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