Amazon Squares Off Against Big Box Retailers

 

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Earlier this year, Amazon reportedly began reaching out to several major consumer product brands, telling them that they’d be better off ditching retailers and selling their goods directly to shoppers through its service.

Amazon’s outreach culminated with executives from General Mills, Mondelez, Nike and other packaged goods manufacturers gathering for a three-day summit in Seattle this month to listen to the company’s innovative pitch.

Analysts point out that with a user base of more than 300 million shoppers (a number that increases monthly), Amazon doesn’t necessarily need these brands to bite – that they could simply manufacture their own products if the CPG companies don’t want to sell on Amazon’s marketplace. For companies that wish to avoid competing with the e-commerce goliath, it makes sense to consider leaving the Walmarts and Targets of the world.

An Increase in E-Commerce

 

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Randy Evins, senior principal of IVE Food Drug & Convenience at SAP Retail, said e-commerce sales are growing at rates far greater than sales through traditional channels, and is only just beginning to indicate future growth potential.

For example, recent studies show that e-commerce sales of consumer packaged goods grew 42% in 2015, faster than overall e-commerce growth of 30%.  And growth in specific categories is surging as consumers increasingly take advantage of on-demand and subscription-oriented services, either direct from CPG companies like Dollar Shave Club or from online marketplaces like Amazon.

“Fast growth in e-commerce is starting from a relatively low current base, but is expected to become a far more significant percentage of total revenue and sales volume for CPG companies,” he said. “While e-commerce today is usually less than 5% of revenue for some of the largest, most established brands, we see predictions that e-commerce sales will grow to roughly 30% of total industry revenue within the next 3-5 years.”

In 2016, Amazon sales made up nearly half of all online sales—and more than half of online sales growth.

Mihir Kittur, ‎co-founder and chief commercial officer at Ugam, noted that the rise of e-commerce sales in certain categories like batteries and baby wipes is extremely encouraging, and that it seems to reaching a point where e-commerce for consumer packaged goods is at an inflection.

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“With the rise of Alexa, chatbots and mobile apps, consumers have more convenient ways to order. Customers have proved time and time again they crave convenience, so to align with their needs, retailers are also continuing to offer speed delivery services and are improving their buy-online-pickup-in-store options,” he said. “Consumers can also save more money now, thanks to the rise of private label CPG products. In the next two years, we should see an acceleration of e-commerce growth for CPG.”

The Case For Amazon

 

The e-commerce transformation seems inevitable. By partnering with Amazon, companies will find that it’s a much faster and less expensive alternative to doing it themselves, which means higher margins on sales.  Amazon, being a single vendor, would be easier to manage with almost a turnkey platform with joint marketing dollars to promote products. It would also be easier and less costly to test products in markets, so CPG companies could double down on winning products and discontinue products that don’t sell.

“Amazon’s approach goes well beyond simply inviting CPG companies to sell their products online via Amazon but, rather, to partner with Amazon to re-imagine product design, packaging, pricing and distribution to capitalize on direct-to-consumer growth opportunities,” Evins said. “By partnering to address these opportunities, Amazon aspires to collaborate with CPG companies in ways that not only capitalize on e-commerce sales growth, but also help to re-imagine business models and business processes to engage with consumers directly, effectively and profitably.”

Jim Prewitt, VP retail industry strategy, North America at JDA Software, said CPGs have been building out their direct to consumer capabilities for the past several years and while they’ve been able to build out their web capabilities, fulfillment continues to be a challenge.

Amazon Fulfillment Center Opens In San Bernardino

“CPG manufacturers’ supply chains have been built for efficiency, shipping in larger quantities typically to retailer distribution centers, where the retailer became responsible for breaking it down to customer buying quantities,” he said. “They are facing the challenge of changing their supply chain to be able to handle shipping eaches to the consumers.”

Amazon could help address the challenges for the manufacturers by serving as their fulfillment mechanism, taking the responsibility of shipping eaches to the consumer. On the surface this is potentially a winning combination for the CPGs and Amazon. However, it could cause issues for the other retailers in the equation.

“The pressure from mass merchants, grocery, drug, etc., who comprise large percentages of current CPG volumes could derail this effort quickly,” Prewitt said. “It’s not reasonable to expect that major big box stores would accept this arrangement with Amazon.”

The Quandary

 

CPG firms are struggling to figure out Amazon, Kittur said. While Amazon is the dominant player in the market, most companies are confused on whether to treat it as a friend or a foe.

“The fear is that selling on Amazon could lead to brand dilution, extreme price discounting, and at some point the risk of an Amazon Private label,” he said. “Another point of concern is the conflicts that arise with existing channels when sellers begin to carry their products on the Amazon marketplace. Overall, CPG brands seem to have good relationships in place with store retailers, but their e-commerce readiness is not as mature.”

As the CPG industry adopts e-commerce, they are more or less running blind, as they have no clear idea on transaction and shopper metrics. Adding to the challenge is that CPG firms are soon likely to be caught in a pricing dog-fight between Walmart and Amazon.

“Amazon needs to improve its trust with CPG firms. Amazon can gain some of that back by flagging pricing violations to CPG firms,” Kittur said. “In many instances Amazon has taken action against some sellers and it needs to continue to demonstrate this in a more widespread manner. It also needs to work with brands on specific propositions for certain customer segments like Amazon Business or on exclusive available-on-Amazon-only products to help them drive growth.”

Looking Ahead

 

CPG companies have begun to take a closer look at the e-commerce landscape to better understand what is going on, but so far, they have been in a situation of “they don’t know what they don’t know.”

Operations Inside the Amazon.com Fulfillment Center On Cyber Monday

“They will need to move fast and test and iterate their e-commerce game plan,” Kittur said.  “There are no clear answers, but doing nothing is not an option. They will also need to build meaningful relationships with companies like Amazon and arrive at the right balance of store and online to be relevant to their shoppers.”

E-commerce growth will continue to become more pervasive across categories, driven mainly by changes in consumer demand. Evins noted that in response, CPG companies will continue to transform their operations to participate more fully in the new direct-to-consumer economy through partnerships with online marketplaces like Amazon, or by developing new models that enable a consistent brand experience via online channels, sub-24-hour order processing and fulfillment, and warehouse and logistics operations to enable deliveries directly to consumers.

One tactic Prewitt said could happen is the creation of Amazon-only products, package sizes, or bundles, similar to what CPG companies do for individual retailers today.

“Since Amazon has identified CPG as a growth driver, in time we can expect them to impact the marketplace the way they’ve disrupted apparel and are working to disrupt the grocery industry currently,” he said.

The reality is that the CPG core competency is innovating on the product side, not on the supply chain side. It’s best for CPG companies to leave it to the online retailers to optimize their supply chain to deal with the last mile.

The Present and Future of Alcohol

Alcohol is a multibillion-dollar market in the US, one that must constantly evolve in order to keep up with changing consumer needs. The category has seen some serious innovation so far this year, and our understanding of where the industry is now has provided us with some pretty significant clues as to where we can expect it to go in the near future.

The Present: Millennials Don’t Have Brand Loyalty

 

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According to a recent Nielsen study, last month only 24% of millennials knew what brand they wanted to purchase when they entered a liquor store. This is in stark contrast to 52% of baby boomers, who tend to have more developed, concrete preferences in this category. The study also found that just 11% of millennials bought alcohol on impulse.

What This Means for the Future

 

Alcohol brands can look at millennials’ lack of brand loyalty as an opportunity to have greater influence in-store, which means more investment in assets like package design and in-store advertising. Additionally, brands can be expected to make stronger attempts at building relationships with consumers via social media engagement.

The Present: Heineken Just Debuted a Non-Alcoholic Beer

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Heineken just released “Heinken 0.0” in order to compete with industry giants like AB InBev, which has made it their goal for 20% of their beer to be low- or zero-alcohol within the next eight years. Non-alcoholic beer manufacturers are also seeing the product as a potential rival to soft drinks, which have been losing retail momentum to lower-calorie options (Heineken 0.0 has half the calories of Coca-Cola).

What This Means for the Future

 

Beer brands – as well as other alcohol manufacturers – are going to start considering the financial promise of alternative markets. While producing non-alcoholic beverages may seem like an odd departure from convention for Heineken, research has shown that the European market for non-alcoholic beer has grown over the past five years as the overall beer market shrank. In Spain, zero-alcohol beers have as much as 10% market share. The future of the alcohol industry is going to depend on identifying and supporting niche trends like this that show potential for going global.

 

The Present: “Poptails” are Taking Off in the US

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The recent trend of “sloshies” (frozen alcoholic slushies, usually with a white wine base) has now evolved into “poptails”, frozen alcoholic popsicles. Initially introduced into the UK market, the treat has just become available in the US through brands like FrutaPop. Each pop in this particular brand has 5% alcohol and comes in thirteen flavors, including Sparkling Prosecco, Cranberry Mojito, Pina Colada, Rum Punch, and White Coconut Sangria.

What This Means for the Future

 

Innovation in the alcohol industry is trending towards understanding the consumer’s environment. Both poptails and sloshies appeal to young people drinking outdoors – summertime parties, poolside lounging, and beach trips are all served well by these products. Additionally, freezing the drink allows brands to incorporate the kind of special cocktail features that one could find in a bar, like the sprig of mint encased in the boozy Watermelon Mint Lemonade Pop. Finding ways to include these types of added-value traits is going to be imperative for new product development.

 

The Present: e-Commerce is Changing the Game

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The explosion in popularity of both online shopping and subscription box services is affecting the way that alcohol brands are packaging their products. Bulky, heavy glass bottles were never especially ideal for shipping from warehouses to retail locations, and they are doubly impractical for direct mailing. UK startup Garcon Wines has been in the news lately for their ingenious flat bottle design, intended to make the wine easier to fit through a traditional English letterbox.

 What This Means for the Future

 

Alcohol manufacturers (particularly wine companies) will begin straying from classic bottle designs and will start looking towards new solutions that preserve the product in a lightweight, yet functional way. It can be as simple as following Garcon Wines’ example with more compact structures, or brands can go as far as Bota Box has with their award-winning cartons, which are both much lighter and far less prone to breaking than standard wine bottles.

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As more brands begin to focus their attention on e-commerce rather than retail, design strategy will move away from what looks best on the shelf and will instead consider what will provide the easiest means of quickly transporting the alcohol to the consumer.