How Will Virtually Unlimited Choice Affect Shopper Behavior?
Will this create retail entropy?
It’s a great time to be a shopper. Inflation aside, there are limitless choices to discover, compare, shop and acquire products. Accessible shopping options are even helping savvy shoppers to counter the effects of inflation somewhat as they bargain shop across retailers. This expansion of shopper choice will continue unabated as more players compete and offer retail services.
“Learning to choose is hard. Learning to choose well is harder. And learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is harder still, perhaps too hard.” – Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less
Third-party delivery services are now delivering almost everything, creating an indistinguishable competitive environment that is bound to end up in a race to the bottom for pricing. Meanwhile, retailers of all types are beginning to question the wisdom of outsourcing the last mile to another company and opening the door for someone else to build a relationship with their shoppers. After all, if I regularly get my groceries from Instacart, who is actually my grocer? Ask Toys-R-Us how this plays out.
As we discuss in Retail Relevancy, Ted Rubin and I believe that the future of retail shifts the power away from retailers and brands in favor of consumers. When physical stores aren’t the primary choice for shopping, successful retail and product branding will depend on building relationships with shoppers. Kroger just began delivering groceries in South Florida, where it has no stores utilizing Kroger’s partnership with Ocado, a UK-based retail logistics provider. Kroger has a growing stake in the company and could likely choose to acquire it in a build, partner, buy strategy as Target did with Shipt.
“Ocado has also illustrated the ability to operate profitably in the e-commerce space, something yet to be realized in the U.S. across any major grocery retailer.” – Supermarket News
Profitability has been elusive, or simply ignored, thanks to massive VC investment for most delivery platforms. It is likely that no US retailer turns a profit on eCommerce at the moment. Consolidation is going to come quickly as valuations plummet and access to capital dries up. I predict that few if any third-party delivery services will be stand-alone by the end of 2023. It’s also likely that the incumbent retailers will move to bolster their in-house services as Kroger is doing with Ocado.
What does this mean for shoppers?
One of the missing equations from many of the eCommerce discussions is… what does the shopper want? A battle is raging about whether stores or online will be the dominant model. I think this misses the point. The only focus should be “what does the shopper want.” In most cases, the answer is a blend of services when, where, and how they want and need.
Many routine purchases will become automated as ever-improving marketing and retail AI not only predict shopper behavior patterns but also fulfill orders without requiring shopper engagement. These services are already growing and will become smarter as the machines recognize and react to personal replenishment. Media too will become more aware of how shoppers interact and engage, which will drastically alter the current media landscape.
Retail Media Networks are exploding as retailers leverage their first-person relationships with shoppers. Most marketers currently report not being very satisfied with Retail Media performance today, but I believe that will change over time thanks to retail data sets. Here again, Marketing AI which is powered by big data sets, will likely prevail. I predict the winners will be those with the biggest, most comprehensive view of the customers. It is hard to imagine that Amazon, Walmart, Costco, Kroger and Google don’t emerge as the largest retail providers in 5-10 years in the US. I think this process extends beyond retailers into media as well. Retailers are likely to take large slices of the media pie, just as Amazon has done with search. Media platforms will get disintermediated.
Shopping Entropy is at an inflection point. Many shoppers are changing their behavior in ways we’ve never seen before simply because they never had the options we do today. Price and location, the former order-winners for grocery and other types of retail won’t matter as much as brand trust and ease of use. Brand discovery, once controlled by big brands through media (the circular) and in-store real estate management (displays and shelf presence), will give way to new kinds of models bolstered by machine learning and shopper media enablement that simply gets products in carts and can even automate some shopping completely.
The future of shopping isn’t about stores or online, it’s about the frictionless fulfillment of goods and services – Retail Relevancy