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.

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  • 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.
  • Posted on: 05/15/2018

    Retail loyalty programs are no longer in the cards

    There are a couple of things going on with loyalty programs currently. First, mature loyalty programs that originally required a card for identification at the point of sale no longer require such, because using smartphone apps or just using an alternate identification number, such as a phone number, is now a viable substitute. Programs that do require a card are now typically payment-based cards, such as Kohl's uses so effectively to incentivize their shoppers with additional discounts for those Kohl's payment card transactions. Both are viable tracks for loyalty programs, however with e-payment systems becoming more widespread, I believe many loyalty programs will look to incorporate e-payment into the mix for all the reasons that Kohl's wants every shopper to use their private label card. In my view, what Macy's is doing with tiering their program and rewards borders on being too complicated for the average consumer. Simplicity is key.
  • Posted on: 04/05/2018

    Target succeeds by going big on convenience in small stores

    The ongoing gentrification of urban areas provides a ready base of upper middle class consumers for smaller store versions of big box retailers, even if the prices are a bit higher. If the right mix of products and variety are selected for these smaller formats, it is pure math that will make them much more profitable than their larger, more inefficient counterparts. The question remains as to how successful these smaller formats will be outside areas of densely populated affluence. All in all, a good move that bodes well for the future for Target and other retailers like them as they strive to remain a relevant force in the marketplace.
  • Posted on: 04/02/2018

    What would an acquisition of Humana mean for Walmart and its rivals?

    American healthcare is itself on "life support." Unchecked costs for meds, processes and equipment are untenable. Consumers need relief and when the current subsidies expire, many will be desperate. National food, drug and mass retailers with the cash flow to create another reason for customer patronage are in critical need of yet another point of differentiation. Retail/healthcare is not only a good idea, it is a marriage of necessity. Visiting clinics within the four walls of a Walmart Supercenter may not be everyone's cup of tea, but if such a merger can produce affordable healthcare plans and alternatives to the current, escalating expense of health insurance, this just might be the answer to a problem the Feds have been unable to fix.
  • Posted on: 02/27/2018

    Sam’s Club to push same-day grocery deliveries with Instacart deal

    All very good comments from my fellow panelists. I agree with Dr. George that it is a bit bizarre that a company the size of Sam's/Walmart would not opt to create their own delivery system, building off of their industry leading logistics platform. Perhaps they are using Instacart as a means to learn and later emulate their process. This move could also be an indication, as Dr. Herb Sorensen has often contended, that Walmart/Sam's logistical platform is built for moving pallets, not individual items. Home delivery and any "last mile" initiative is an exercise in moving individual items to individual customers, not something that most retailers other than Amazon are very good at.
  • Posted on: 02/15/2018

    Can Circuit City come back from the dead?

    The recent sudden death of HHGregg, an electronic appliance retailer that actually acquired many of the old Circuit City stores just before its demise, does not bode well for forecasting success for this new version of Circuit City. However if this new version is better balanced between online and brick-and-mortar and does a better job of product mix, pricing and service, there is always an opportunity for a new player. Invariably the key to success will be a mix of all of these issues, but also being able to showcase enough inventory in-store to promote variety and selection, while being prudent with inventory expense. Linking in-store to online in terms of kiosks and picking up and a whole host of omnichannel offerings will also be critical for bringing Circuit City back among the living.
  • Posted on: 01/29/2018

    Robots are not the answer to store challenges

    As the technology of robotics becomes more sophisticated and affordable, their increasing presence in the retail marketplace is inevitable. While I agree with others that there are many interpersonal transactions at retail that are just too complex and reactive to lend themselves to conversing with a machine, if and when those machines begin to be more pleasant and abiding than the retailer's human resources then we will see an impact on front-line jobs in retail. Personally, as a retail veteran, I have suspected that many of the accountants and finance people I have worked with in the past were robots -- or at least their responses to budget issues seemed robotic. I would think their jobs would be the first to go!
  • Posted on: 01/26/2018

    Grocers confront the fragmentation of loyalty

    Agree with all that maintain that contemporary shopper choice is no longer about loyalty, but rather about being in better position than a competitor to solve a shopper's problems or serve their needs on a particular trip. To address the question as to how retailers can leverage this behavior, I believe it begins with understanding what a particular retailer is positioned to do best. Some are conveniently located or more efficiently organized to serve the time poor, less price sensitive shopper, while others on the other end of the spectrum do a better job of providing better prices, albeit less conveniently offered. From there it is a matter of commitment on the retailer's part to be the best at whatever viable niche they have determined to be theirs. As with all things in retail, owning a niche is easier said than done, but expecting shoppers to be loyal for any significant length of time is yesterday's thinking.
  • Posted on: 11/03/2017

    Was Amazon scamming or searching for its HQ2 location?

    Location shopping has always been a smart strategy, especially if you have the clout and scale of Amazon. Competition is almost always the catalyst for a good deal. It remains to be seen how Amazon will disperse its leadership and functions among two headquarters but I have to believe that the second headquarters will be in a metropolitan area that is attractive to recruit upscale, young talent (sorry Duluth), has a much lower tax burden than Seattle and is logistically accessible to suppliers (a convenient to a hub airport and inter-state travel). It will also be important that Amazon have the ability to grow the size of their campus over time. Once the second headquarters is up a running, who is to say that they won't consolidate both offices there, leaving behind the high rent district of Seattle as they begin to deal with minimizing administration expenses to remain cost competitive with Walmart and others? With that said, I would think areas like Atlanta and Charlotte would be good candidates, but certainly other growth-centric towns are as well.
  • Posted on: 10/11/2017

    What marketing lessons can we learn from Amazon?

    Early adopters to Amazon enjoyed the concept of buying almost anything they could think of through their website. The flywheel concept of having affiliated retailers offer their products in addition to Amazon's own massive warehouse selection was and continues to be a major catalyst for adaption and growth. Individual retailers that now compete with Amazon for online market share are still largely disadvantaged with their relatively limited offerings.
  • Posted on: 10/04/2017

    Has Amazon really saved Whole Foods from its ‘Whole Paycheck’ trap?

    While Amazon has experimented with brick-and-mortar stores with limited inventory and offerings, the Whole Foods operation (450 stores) represents Amazon's first real encounter with the vagaries of operating labor and inventory intensive stores. With that said, as long as Amazon is willing to subsidize lower margins at Whole Foods, prices will indeed be more attractive to a broader range of shoppers and sales should benefit. However at some point, the balancing act of operating a "fresh" format with a full delivery operation will likely push against keeping margins artificially low, unless volumes are so robust that the economies of scale will generate sufficient profit dollars on low margins. To date, Amazon's amazing growth has been predicated not upon its ability to generate profit, but rather its unprecedented market share grab. If that formula changes, so will its pricing strategies.
  • Posted on: 10/02/2017

    Is the time right for Kroger to go hyper-local?

    Kroger's long history of de-centralization, that is, giving their leaders of the KMAs (Kroger Marketing Areas) the authority to make important decisions, should lend itself to the potential success of leading on local assortments. However (and speaking from experience) finding the right local suppliers that have the scale and consistency necessary to occupy space at Kroger is no easy task. It will require another layer of merchandising and logistics that will be challenging, even for Kroger. On the consumer side, regional brands have varying importance to shoppers. It will be key to do the upfront research to better understand which commodities and categories will have the strongest impact as well as understanding which areas of the country offering "local" products provide the best opportunity for differentiation.
  • Posted on: 09/29/2017

    How can grocers improve their digital experiences?

    The first major step for a grocer to improve their digital presence is to get over themselves and participate in apps and websites that host a community of retailers, not just themselves. Shoppers that engage retailers digitally (prior to the shop or during) will appreciate not having to engage each retailer they frequent with a different app and a different shopper profile. While this makes so much sense for the shopper, I am not holding my breath for retailers to agree. Secondly, if retailers want shoppers to use their mobile device in-store, they might want to actually offer Wi-Fi to augment the shopper's mobile network as most of the brick-and-mortar stores are built like Fort Knox and have very poor online reception. Lastly, retailers should be more bold in advertising the existence and benefits of using the mobile device apps in-store. Most do not do a good job of reinforcing their mobile offers in the in-store environment.

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