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: 02/14/2019

    America has too many retail stores

    It is not that we simply have too many retail stores, we most certainly do. Exacerbating the problem is that many of the existing store footprints are too large to remain economically viable as the revenues continue to fragment across smaller, more convenient stores and online alternatives. To the point, if I were any of the retailers whose signature footprint is over 100,000 square feet, I would be looking at contingency plans to get smaller, faster. While there will always be a market for smartly-located big box stores, the number will undoubtedly continue to shrink as shoppers evolve to more efficient alternatives.
  • Posted on: 02/13/2019

    Can Whole Foods’ business afford higher prices?

    Before addressing the immediate question of the impact of raising prices, let it be known that the match between Amazon and Whole Foods was flawed from the very outset. At the time of the acquisition, Whole Foods was struggling with growth and profitability but yet had a very compelling customer proposition for the "foodie" niche. Along with their national footprint which I am sure was a prerequisite for Amazon, the acquisition made sense as some levels. However, the Amazon Prime customer is much more mainstream in their shopping tastes than Whole Foods. This disconnect has always been a limiter in growth development and will continue to thwart synergies between the two, irrespective of pricing policies. As far as raising prices is concerned, it will only exacerbate the gap between Amazon Prime customers and Whole Foods. How could it not? By the way, the retailer always has the option of absorbing price increases from suppliers and maintaining more competitive pricing at the shelf at a lower margin. Blaming price increases on suppliers instead of accepting lower margin rates is, in my opinion, yet another move that Amazon will eventually regret.
  • Posted on: 02/04/2019

    Did Trader Joe’s make the right decision to end grocery deliveries?

    Not every retail grocer needs a home delivery offering. Just as not every retailer can be the low price leader, etc, etc. What Trade Joe's offers is a unique in-store experience and they would be better off investing into new, strategic locations than joining costly and the now frenetic fray of unprofitable home delivery.
  • Posted on: 02/01/2019

    Shopper technology opportunities are the focus of FMI Midwinter

    Technology for technology's sake is not the answer. Advertising screens, kiosks and apps that consume precious shopping time can hinder more than help the cause ... (the "cause" being to make the in-store grocery shopping experience a better use of time and money for the customer relative to all the other options they now have). The first step is truly understanding how shoppers are currently using the store. How long do they spend in-store? Where do the crowds go? What areas are dormant? Which items are producing sales? Which items are serving only for promoting variety and/or receiving brand funding for their placement? From there a cogent plan can be executed to make stores more "shoppable" and efficient. Then and only then does technology help in the process of accentuating the new, more shopper-centric approach to customer engagement. The consideration standard should be: Does this technology help the shopper make quicker decisions, find products they want faster, deliver needed content, and get them on their way at a pace consistent with their experiences in other venues, whether they be online or in-store? If yes, measure the ROI and consider the investment. If no, move on, you are wasting your time.
  • Posted on: 01/31/2019

    Can Domino’s gain customers by offering free pizza for pies bought at rival shops?

    The fact that we are discussing this promotion on RetailWire is proof positive of the inventiveness and cleverness of this move. Time and Domino's pizza sales will tell if this works beyond expanding awareness. There is always a risk when rewarding customers for patronizing the competition. Many moons ago, Albertsons ran promotions financially rewarding shoppers to surrender their competitors' frequent shopper cards, failing to realize how easy it would be for those shoppers to get a new one upon return to the competitive store. The fact that I remember this promotion 20 years later tells me that it had advertising value, even though Albertsons never appeared to gain marketshare post promotion, nor did they run the promotion on a consistent basis. Accordingly, my sense is that when the smoke clears, Domino's will see a small bump in sales from the reward redemptions, but will enjoy no long-term benefit from the effort.
  • Posted on: 01/10/2019

    Is it now or never for J.C. Penney?

    Intuitively, the average J.C. Penney shopper is likely being drawn away by the likes of Kohl's, Bealls and a few other more streamlined regional department store formats. The aforementioned chains have been relatively successful by creating a "deal" environment, with coupons, store cards, store cash, and other incentives tied to both their loyalty programs and for the more occasional shopper. These competitors have also smartly sprinkled national and international fashion brands among their offerings, creating a quality image for shoppers who enjoy advertising the logo of their clothing manufacturer. In addition, these stores have become a destination location for value-priced but branded shoes, a very important category. Finally, these stores have chosen not to be in a mall and pay mall rents, but rather build and own their free-standing stores in strip centers, near malls, but much easier to access than the mall itself. The allegiance these stores has created is somewhat remarkable. J.C. Penney, conversely, has not been able to distinguish itself as either a place to find deals or branded merchandise, important to families with budgets and kids who are more brand conscious. Whether or not J.C. Penney can right the ship is a worthy question. The quick answer would be "unlikely." The longer, more optimistic answer could be perhaps, if they properly identify and survey their competition and from that analysis build a new value proposition around those elements that are relevant to the contemporary shopper and most importantly that J.C. Penney can sustainably own.
  • Posted on: 01/09/2019

    Is Lowe’s doing it right with its new tagline?

    One of the less "transformative" contributions an ad agency can make on their client's behalf is to provide a brand new, focus-group tested tag line without an executional plan behind it. While it makes everyone in the C-suite feel good about themselves for a short period of time, unless there are real, tangible elements evident in the stores and online which support the tag line, it's largely a waste of time and money. My sense with Lowe's is that they do have an opportunity to emerge out of the shadow of Home Depot, by focusing on in-store expertise and improving their current deplorable e-commerce platform. Having a good compliment of "experts" in each area of the store, readily available for advice and project consultation could provide positive marketshare movement, at least among us amateurs as we walk into a store that showcases a sea of options and complexities. Such a plan would likely involve more training and a new compensation structure. Secondly, they need to spend whatever it takes to become a truly integrated omni-channel retailer. That entails a platform where online orders are not sourced from multiple stores, causing multiple deliveries, multiple delivery days and multiple invoices. I just experienced this mess a few months back. The positioning statement I would offer for Lowe's is "Saving You Time and Money as Your Project Partner" -- but I would not introduce a new tagline to support that positioning until they can deliver on it!
  • Posted on: 01/02/2019

    Whole Foods to expand nationwide to drive Prime Now growth

    I mentioned a few weeks back that I thought the idea of Amazon acquiring Target made absolutely no sense given that large foot print stores represent an expense burden that will increase over the coming years as more shoppers split their business between online and bricks stores. As opposed to a big box acquisition, expanding Whole Foods as means to have a presence in both sides of retailing makes better sense given the footprint of Whole Foods is much smaller and the margins a bit higher. However, if this strategy is to have longer term success, Whole Foods must continue to morph into a store that has a broader shopper appeal than it does today. In doing so, Amazon should be prepared to stub their toes a few times as finding the right combination of quality meal solutions and low enough prices to attract critical mass shopping will be a balancing act that could alienate existing Whole Foods shoppers while not appealing to sufficient numbers of traditional grocery shoppers to drive the needed volume. This will be interesting.
  • Posted on: 12/28/2018

    Are dollar stores bad for cities?

    If urban shoppers of all demographic stripes are looking for low prices, cluttered stores and off brand merchandise, dollar stores are just what the doctor ordered, irrespective of any social or economic effects on the communities they serve. That is the niche that dollar stores have created and seized. Certainly the success of these stores creates new competitive pressures for local merchants (mom and pops), but isn't that the essence of a free marketplace? Ultimately, both dollars stores and their urban competitors will become better retailers due to the competition. The communities they serve should encourage that competition, not hinder it.
  • Posted on: 12/27/2018

    Kroger’s private label hits get their own store-within-a-store

    I agree with most that an overt effort to create a special presence for private label is a good idea and worth the effort. I am not convinced that Kroger is well positioned to attract the true "foodie" to their stores on a regular basis. Their on-going product development and promotion will determine if that can change. Nonetheless, improving the quality, depth and breadth of store brands remains a smart strategy to expand brand loyalty to the Kroger banner, eliminating one more reason to shop somewhere else.
  • 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.

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