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: 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.
  • 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!

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