Consumer Goods

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FMCG mega trends and the all-powerful consumer

What mega trends are set to shape the global FMCG industry of the future?

I believe that the world is changing. In past centuries we saw that the producer of goods was the market leader, and this then shifted to the suppliers / shippers of goods overseas. Today we are living in an era where the consumer is the leader of the market.

Living in the information age (internet, digital and social media), acccess to FMCG products and services is availabe to consumers in seconds. Comparative data with scientific, financial, medical, utility, costing, availability, and more importantly company reputation and image analysis is readily available, allowing for easy comparison of all options on the market. Thus consumer choice remains the top factor governing the FMCG industry.

Another key factor is the pricing of FMCG products in the market, which should be in line with the buying capacity and priority choice of consumers in a particular market. This is tricky indeed, but requires a very careful analysis of consumers.

In a nut shell, the following can be classified as the mega trends for the global FMCG industry for the future:

  • The reputation management of the FMCG company (as a top priority)
  • Pricing (market level and global compatibility)
  • Sustainability for quality (both for goods and services)
  • Continuing renovation and innovation for all product lines
  • Responsible sourcing
  • Access and availability of product details to the consumer in a transparent and ethical manner (be it ingredients or scientific reasoning); compliance with regulatory or mandatory industrial law alone is not enough.
  • Strategies which prioritize volume sales for top line and bottom line achievement will lose in the long run, and companies competing for winning consumer trust and product of choice will win.

A lean business model, as excessive costs incurred in production are ultimately paid for by the consumer – and the consumer is aware of this

What role are big data and social media set to play in the future of FMCG?

As previously mentioned, the company reputation is the top priority. We live in an information age where news travels faster than can be comprehended or responded to by most organisations. Consumers will go for a good company image rather than a bad company image. My 12 year old son knows in the super market that we will not buy certain brands because they have certain ingredients in their products, which are bad for health or other reasons.

Social media is a highly interactive medium, engaging people from all walks of life and all age groups, nationalities, and gender. From Dad to Mom and from Grandpa to grand daughter, everyone has an opinion, and these opinions have a lot to be shaped by social media.
Social media is now a double-edged sword and can make or break your business with one single negative campaign by a single dissatisfied consumer (due to any reason – justified or otherwise).

Thus FMCG companies with good vision must continue to invest and engage consumers, opinion makers, and the general public to keep them informed of their product line and to provide answers to concerns regarding ingredients, scientific facts and other related factors which are frequently challenged and debated. Excessive amounts of anything is negative, but a constant and balanced presence on social media is a must.

What strategies will middle ground retailers employ in order to fight back against the current dominating trend of price discounters and high end retailers?

This is a debate in which even governments are involved, debating small and medium retailers versus mega super markets and price discounters.

I believe that this has to do with a careful analysis of the consumer shopping habits in any market. For example, in the US people are accustomed to shopping in mega malls, with discounts and time spent, whereas in India, Pakistan, Thailand or other Asian or African markets, consumer shopping habits also depend on distance and travel – thus going to a small retailer nearby is easier. Getting home delivery via the internet is becoming increasingly popular in developed nations such as the US and China, but again, in many developing or underdeveloped nations, the small and medium retailer is still in good focus for consumers (primarily for reasons of convenience to the local consumer).

Good strategies of large FMCG maufacturers or marketers do focus on both primary and secondary sales channels for price dicsounts, and have to take good account of small and medium retailers, as in most developing economies, the SMEs account for more than 75% of overall sales, a fact which cannot be overlooked.

How will increasing consumer awareness of health concerns affect the FMCG industry?

The FMCG industry has to adopt responsible sourcing and utmost compliance to health regulations, both for their employees and their consumers. The value chain (both upstream and downstream) has become a critical factor for all FMCG manufacturing companies, and it is crucial to remember that providing limited information about your product ingredients will not hide undesirable information, as there are other information mediums available to consumers.

Health concerns surrounding the ingredients in every FMCG product is a very current issue. There are debates on GMO-based versus organic products in F&B, there is debate over food colours and preservatives, levels of pesticides and insecticides, and even packaging of PET, Plastics etc., and the use of colours, batteries and so on in children’s toys.

Companies of today‘s modern times must engage the following principles:

  • Transparency in diclosure (for ingredients)
  • Scientific reasoning must support your ingredients. Companies with in-house and third party R&D validation for ingredients are better off; this is not an excess cost, rather a necessary investment into R&D for quality assurance
  • Addressing health concerns on labelling (transparently) is the need of the day, particularly for the food and beverage industry, and it is advisable to adapt to this scenario sooner rather than later.

What is the outlook for manufacturing and production within FMCG?

As the world population grows, so does the FMCG industry. The global recession has had an impact to varying degrees, with the majority turning to a “need to have“ concept versus “nice to have“.

I will summarise the outlook as follows:

Operationally: The outlook for the FMCG indstry is challenging yet positive for those who are willing to invest in sustainability, excellence, transparency in dislosure, responsible sourcing, continued renovation and innovation, lean structures, reputation management, and outward market analysis, paying attention to consumers‘ opinions and evaluating the market economy before launching new products. Moreover the dynamics of the US, European, Asian/ Afro Arab and Latin markets are entirely different from each other— balancing your product with the market economy, peoples‘ employment situations and GDP, as well as supply chain optimization and prioritizng peoples‘ needs are essential for success.

Geographically: in known human history of 10,000 years, the Greater China region (as the „middle empire“) , and India, Pakistan and Bangladesh as well as South Asian Countries, Persia (Iran) and the far east sub-continent accounted for two-thirds of the world‘s market economy for more than 9,500 years. History is now repeating itself; the FMCG companies who embrace change and adapt to and engage with the emerging markets will thrive. Resisting these changing opportunities is no longer an option.

“Sustainable Supermarkets: Do they really work?” interview with Mr. Antonio Vlamis

What is a “sustainable supermarket” and should competitors fear this new “eco-friendly” business model?

A sustainable supermarket, from an engineering perspective, is designed and constructed by using methods and technologies that ensure:

  • Minimum amount of electricity consumption
  • Usage of environmental refrigerants
  • Utilization of natural – renewable resources of energy

There are several KPIs that are critical for the financial sustainability of a commercial chain. One of them is the consumption of electrical power. The budget that is spent for the electricity needs of a retail chain must be less than 1.5% of the annual turnover.

The operational expenditure of a supermarket is highly affected by the energy cost, which means that an “eco-friendly” designed supermarket is more competitive and profitable. Just imagine:

  • An ECO convenience store (from 100 -350 m2 of sales area) spends 15,000 € less per year for electricity.
  • An ECO medium sized supermarket store (350-1000 m2 of sales area) spends 35,000 € less per year for electricity.
  • An ECO hyper market (over 1000 m2 of sales area) spends 50,000 € less per year for electricity.

Now, for example, imagine a commercial chain that is consisting of 100 convenience stores, 30 medium sized supermarkets and 5 hyper markets. This means that if the above mentioned commercial chain is consisted by ECO Stores, then it saves 2,800,000 € per year. This is a very serious reason for the competitors to fear this new “eco – friendly model”.

Please share examples of the environmental waste that occurs within current supermarket practices and how this created the push for more “eco-friendly” stores?

There are several types of waste that are produced by a commercial chain (like food waste that is not only an ethical and economic issue but it also depletes the environment of limited natural resources) but for the purpose of this interview I will focus on CO2 emissions which are very critical for the environment.

Global warming is caused by the emission of greenhouse gases. A total of 72% of greenhouse gases emitted are carbon dioxide (CO2).

Average Carbon emission due to electricity production of 1 kWh is 0.47kg (figure for electricity production methods that are used in the UK).

With that said, let’s imagine a commercial chain like the one described above, which is not made up of ECO stores. It operates 24 hours per day & 7 days per week. This commercial chain consumes 43,750,000 kWh/year and produces 20,562 tons of CO2 emissions.

A same sized commercial chain that is composed by ECO stores, produces 12,337 tons of CO2.

According to the Kyoto Protocol roll out plan and negotiations that were held in Lima in 2014, there was an agreement on a post-Kyoto legal framework that will obligate all major polluters to pay for CO2 emissions in future.

That means an ECO commercial chain will not only spend less on electricity, but will also pay less on environmental penalties.

One result of the Kyoto agreement is also the F-GAS Regulation that was voted by the European Parliament on 2014 (No 517/2014), which forbids the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) as refrigerants because of their high GWP value. (GWP stands for the climatic warming potential of a greenhouse gas relative to that of carbon dioxide (CO2), calculated in terms of the 100-year warming potential of one kilogram of a greenhouse gas relative to one kilogram of CO2).

Due to F-gas regulation restriction, HFC refrigerants are going to disappear from the market and their price is going to be multiplied, so a possible leakage will cost to retailers a fortune.

Thus, by upgrading the refrigeration installations of a supermarket, retailers achieve two targets at once:

  • Usage of low GWP environmental refrigerants and regulation compliance
  • Lower electricity consumption

Consequently, in order to conclude in addition to energy – expenditure saving, retailers have to comply to the relevant regulations in order to avoid penalties.

Can you share an example of a supermarket that made the transition to a “sustainable” initiative and succeeded? Please share the details of the overall process, i.e. timeline, prices, etc.

I will refer to two different examples. The first is from a scratch design and construction of a supermarket and the second is the modification of an existing commercial chain.

1. Creation of new ECO Store

Around 14 months ago, I undertook the design & project management of three 700 m2 supermarkets in Greece, more specifically, Santorini, Kyparisia and Akrata. The owner was a franchisee of AB Vasilopoulos SA, which is a subsidiary company of the Belgian Delhaize Group.

When I explained to the owner the benefits of an ECO Store, he was immediately convinced to follow through with my proposal and agreed to award me the study of the stores.

In the end, these stores included several new technologies in refrigeration, lighting and air-conditioning:


Usage of floating condensation technology in refrigeration (a technology where the condensation set point is dynamically adjusted according to the external environment temperature). – Saves up to 25% energy. 

Usage of a liquid sub-cooler in negative refrigeration. – Saves up to 20% energy.

Usage of CRO technology, which is a technology that is based on an algorithm in order to adjust dynamically the suction pressure, according the achievement of the set point of the temperature of the refrigerators. – Saves up to 10% energy. 

Usage of asymmetric set up of compressors rack by applying an inverter to a small compressor of the positive temperature rack and one to a small compressor of the negative compressors rack (with this method partial loads were managed accurately) – Saves up to 10% energy.

Usage of electronic expansion valves at the refrigerated self services and cabinets – Saves up to 7% energy.

Usage of “eco-friendly” refrigerant


    Installation of T5 ECO electronic lamps for the linear lighting (lighting of the corridors) – Saves up to 40% energy.

    Installation of LED lighting for the spot lights and the parking lights. – Saves up to 50% energy.

    Movement sensors in warehouses

 Air Conditioning

  •  Installation of inverter air conditioning of high energy class.

 Automation for opening and closing of the store

Automation that permits personnel to turn on and off all the equipment of the store by using a single button (This way personnel doesn’t forget to turn off one equipment during the closing of the store, like air conditioning, boilers, lighting, etc.)

After one year of operation, the stores energy consumption statistics were astonishing and my client was very happy. Every store consumed 40% less electricity compared to the average energy consumption of similar commercial chains of AB Vasilopoulos S.A.

This was translated to a saving of 90,000 € per year for my client.

Regarding the capital expenditure, we succeeded to keep the cost down compared to standard solutions because we succeeded to assemble the refrigeration equipment and all necessary automations in a Certified Greek factory with lower costs.

2. Energy improvement of an existing commercial network.

One success story of optimizing the energy footprint of a commercial chain is the Greek Super Market Company Market in SA. Market has been a client of mine for 4 years and the owner was willing to improve the sustainability of his network.

This company owns 140 stores, so we started to study the electricity consumption statistics of the network. For every store, we prioritized our moves and began, for every store, to run the below procedure:

  • Energy audit
  • Energy improvement study
  • Feasibility study
  • Realization of the study
  • Monitoring of the results
  • By this way, we optimized 40 stores and the company was awarded by an annual 720,000 € decrease in electricity costs.

    The modifications that we implemented to the 40 stores had a cost of about 1,800,000 € and the payback of the investment was 2.5 years.

    Many consumers expect sustainability to be built into their purchase, but they also expect it not to change the price point. For example, Whole Foods was named the winner of Greenpeace’s Carting Away the Oceans report the second year in a row. But for those with lower than average income, Whole Foods is too expensive. Will this rise in prices cause sustainable supermarkets to be a luxury to only those with wealth?

    I really disagree with the opinion that creating a sustainable commercial network rises the prices for the consumer. 

    Reducing the operating costs of the network is making it more competitive and the final result equals better prices for the consumers.

    Supermarkets operate in a highly competitive market and selling more remains is the dominant driver. For many corporations, the effect on the environment is not priority. How would you persuade one of these “eco-wasters” to become sustainable when cost is their main issue?  

    I believe it is very easy for me to persuade the ECO wasters by:

    • Presenting to them success stories of my other clients and their financial savings
    • Explaining to them the upcoming directives and the new European Commission regulations and penalties for the non adopters.
    • Explaining to them that spending on sustainability is investing in their jobs by upgrading their equipment and their stores and that they will increase the market value of their companies

    If some retailers miss the train of sustainability, then this is definitely going to cause a negative effect on their sales.


    What are growth drivers in the global retail chain sector in 2015?

    Being a leading-edge retailer requires a high-effort diligence to be innovative and a commitment to excellence in customer-centric practices, whether they are customer facing or not. To maintain a competitive advantage in 2015, retailers should focus their attention on meeting consumer demand in the following three areas: omnichannel capability, information security and customer loyalty.

    Omnichannel capability

    Omnichannel, in its simplest definition, means to be everywhere the customer is and provide the options to browse, consult and buy on demand when and how the customer wants. Consumers are looking for simplicity in their shopping experience – invisible transitions from one mobile platform to another (i.e. tablet to smartphone) and limitless accessibility to a retailer’s merchandise. While purchases at physical stores still far outpace the rapid growth of traditional retailer’s online shops – 94% to 6% according to the U.S. Census Bureau – retailers are finding innovative ways to blend selling channels for consumers.

    In-store pickup for online orders. Major U.S. retail chains such as Macy’s, Sears, Target and Wal-Mart give consumers the option to make purchases online and pick up items from a local store, which uses existing e-commerce technology and store-level inventory systems to repurpose the store as a fulfillment center. Retailers who leverage both the brick-and-mortar store experience and a digital presence, with appropriately tailored features and benefits, will see results from this winning combination for both the retailer and consumer.

    While continued investment in technological systems is critical, retailers also need to focus on attracting, grooming and retaining the right talent who can think broadly and strategically to create and grow the infrastructure needed to bring the omnichannel vision to life. The sector needs leaders who can drive results through people, and not at the expense of one over the other.

    Information security

    The level of awareness – and concern – about potential security breaches of personally identifiable information is on the rise. The 2013 security breach at Target, which cost an estimated $148 million and impacted over 40 million payment card numbers, was followed by the data loss of 56 million credit cards at The Home Depot in 2014. These similar breaches have occurred at eBay, T.J. Maxx, Marshall’s and Michael’s.

    Chip card + PIN transactions. To gain consumer confidence, active measures must be taken to mitigate risk and safeguard collected data. Consumers will see a widespread adoption of PIN and chip card technology at point-of-sale by retailers, primarily driven by an October deadline among the major U.S. card issuers. Under the agreement, the least compliant party – card issuer or retail merchant – assumes liability and expense for future breaches. More commonly referred to as EMV, this global payment system works to reduce fraud and secure data through multiple levels of encryption. An estimated 575 million chip cards will be issued by the end of 2015. Information security has to be a priority for everyone who handles data – not just IT, systems or legal.

    Retailers also must be willing to disclose how they are using data such as email addresses and spending levels: not asking for the sake of asking, but leveraging information appropriately to drive business decisions toward the benefit of the consumer.

    Customer loyalty

    Consumers who feel connected to a retailer’s identity are usually its most consistent social promoters and most profitable customer segment. Brand affiliation for consumers is an outward expression of lifestyle choices – social responsibility, fitness and environmental consciousness, among others. Retailers must continue to invest in rewards delivery networks that provide personalized, tailored experiences for consumers – often, this comes in the form of a loyalty program that offers value in both tangible and intangible ways.

    Shared partner loyalty programs. Coalition loyalty programs allow consumers to earn and redeem a single rewards currency at multiple stores with a single card, offering retailers a unique and unprecedented view into consumer behavior. Popular and successful in driving engagement and profitability worldwide for over 20 years – Germany’s Payback has a household penetration at 60% or Spain’s Travel Club at 70% – the U.S. introduced its first national loyalty program coalition, the American Express-operated Plenti, in 2015.

    Retailers must also focus on a multi-generational strategy for attracting and retaining all customer segments. A new generation of best practices will continue to emerge on how to recruit millennials to build loyalty to brands without alienating existing customers from other generations who are driving sales and profit today.

    How will tech innovations impact the retail and consumer goods industry in 2015?

    The overall supply chain (meaning manufacturers, distributors and retailers) is facing a huge business transformation. Companies will have to change their methods and stand new commercial and operational capabilities to meet the customers’ expectations and behaviors’.

    Smartphones will catch, follow and drive from web to store the customers’ attentions and consumption. About 65% of the global population will use a mobile phone by 2015 and these mobiles should attract 83% of Internet usage. Companies have to turn to predictive analytics by computing their information, and targeting the right product offering to the correct consumer in the most appealing way.

    SMAC (social, mobile, analytics and cloud) will feed back to the industries and the retailers, helping them to develop a real-time connection with their clients. We speak about rating, mobile search and information (mobile to store process) localization, and of course servicing.

    Demand driven revolution will help to move to yield management, predictive real-time demand and reduce inventory and prevent stock-outs. Consumers and the regulators will focus more and more on data safety and privacy. Ability to trace and record information will be an advantage to the company in order to provide the consumer with the trustworthy, suitable and effective information they are waiting for.

    Internet growth utilization and household budget pressure will provide more digital based applications to help customers to find the best value-for-money. Theses consumers will search for used products and/or will recycle them as secondary goods to be sold. Sharing, exchanging, renting goods and/or services will develop the circular economy, and that will have an impact on the traditional retail business.

    While customers will use these new technologies more frequently, others will abandon and turn back to the “old world”. Afraid, against the tracking, they will stop utilizing these tools and technologies for a world without the GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple), searching for a new value for their consumption such as direct link with the producer (alimentary goods), less technology (against Wifi, cookies,..) fighting against big brother, more (previous) real relationships and downgrading their overall consumption.

    We believe that 2015 could be the year of contrary trends. More technology and products, services with retail driven by these new IT customers behaviors… and at the same time, back to an “old world”, with less technology, searching for “real” goods and services, based on the sustainable downsizing consumption.

    How will emerging markets impact the supply chain throughout 2015?

    An Extended Value Chain is behind every product that reaches the market. The complexity of the Value Chain, the number of steps and intermediates involved, depends on the sector of activity and how each business model is structured.

    All companies involved and integrated into the Extended Value Chain start its activities with resources and add a portion of value with the activities and process they perform with the objective of fulfilling the client’s or consumer’s needs and expectations. The final consumer will define how this Value Chain will be remunerated because the more innovative and higher the perception of value is by the consumer, the more willing he will be to pay for this perceived value and, consequently, the chain will be better remunerated.

    With the beginning of the century, the focus of the Consumer Goods Industry is to reach the next billion consumers, who are largely in the emerging markets and there will undoubtedly be a supply chain transformation in these sectors in the coming years.

    The recent growth of the medium class brought an unparalleled dynamism in various sectors of the economy in emerging markets. The new consumers of this class will have access to product categories that previously weren’t part of their shopping baskets. Today, these markets experience an intensive flow of new products and services that generate the need for differentiation through innovation to compete with capture of value. The behavior of the market is in transformation, proximity and deep knowledge of consumer needs and the habits and attitudes become essential for the design, development and provision of a suitable product portfolio.

    Large corporations are already adopting the Reverse Innovation Process, starting to operate Research and Development Laboratories in these countries to develop new products, specifically for these markets, to fulfill the expectations of local consumers and then make those new products global from these countries. This directly impacts product design, price and logistic systems of these companies.

    Efficiency in management and in the process used in the Extended Value Chain will be responsible for the potentiation of the gains to all involved. These regions will have not only local supplied commodities, but also higher intermediaries with added value and products.

    This is the game of a win-win relationship. Consumers are willing to pay for products on which they perceive value and the companies deliver efficiently innovative products, increasing the return on investment with the efficient management of the Extended Value Chain.

    In the coming years, we will see (1) an increase in the number of companies implementing structure in emerging markets to design new products, (2) innovation coming from these markets, (3) seeking greater knowledge of local consumers, (4) stimulating a local and efficient Extended Value Chain enabling the use of local resources and concepts that generate greater connection of the brand to the final consumers and are considered exotic in the international market which will have a strong appeal for the international roll out.

    Supply Chain in emerging markets will be impacted by a company’s strategies with the need for innovation, efficient supply chain, search for knowledge of the local consumer, use of local resources and concepts with exotic appeal in the international market and the need to operate directly in these markets.

    Can multinational retailers be successful in the Chinese market?

    Since 2004, China has officially liberalized restrictions on the store opening of multinational retailers. Multinational retailers have experienced about 5 years of rapid expansion and development. In 2010, the multinational retailers collectively suffered a crisis of survival in the Chinese market. Carrefour, Home Depot, Best Buy and even retail giant Wal-Mart announced the closure of some stores or withdrew from the Chinese market. It was unexpected that the multinational retailers would encounter Winter in a market full of infinite potential. While McKinsey estimates: “From 2008 to 2025, just for Chinese cities, the consumption increment will be equivalent to that of creating a new market”. Undoubtedly, China’s retail market is full of potential.

    To further emphasize my point, multinational retailers have the opportunity to succeed if they can implement the correct strategy in China. To this end, the following points require some attention:

    #1:  To better serve the middle-class customer segment. According to McKinsey, the ‘’middle class will account for the largest share of consumption, affluent and above households will lead consumption growth by 2025 in China”. Significant expansion of the Middle class brings new demands and multinational retailers should be prepared to serve this new, emerging customer segment: Relatively mid to high end categories; Customized products and services; Seamless omni-channel retailing; More comfortable shopping environment etc.

    #2:  To invest in retail service products. Retail services meaning product lines which can enhance the core retail experience by offering value-added products and services. Products including: Prepaid card and 3rd party card, Financial Services (Credit Card, Money Transfer, Installment Loan, Insurance etc.), Convenience Products (Welfare Lottery, Bill Payment, Extended Warranties etc.) and Lifestyle Products (Tourism, Fitness Center, Children’s Education Center etc.). Retail Services is still quite a new idea and field for retailers in China. It can help retailers gain market share in four ways: meet customers needs, drive traffic and sales, reduce cost of payments and provide standalone profits. At Tesco, the income of Retail Services products accounts for almost 7% of its total income. So, for multinational retailers, the earlier they invest in this field, the earlier they will get returns from both financials and customers’ satisfaction.

    #3:  To steer the front from 1st and 2nd tier cities to 3rd and even 4th tier ones. According to the China Statistics Bureau, in 1st and 2nd tire cities, retail employees annual income growth is 5-10% and a core gold district annual rent increase is over 10%.

    Along with the soaring rate of manpower and real estate costs in 1st and 2nd tier cities, it has been declared the end of the dividend era, and the retail industry will now step into an era of meager profit or worse. Instead, Midwest, 3rd and 4th tier cities will be the driving factors of China’s urbanization. We can get a glimpse from the performance of China’s Top 100 retail enterprises; the average annual sales increase was 6% for those in 1st and 2nd tire cities, while this number was 18% in 3rd and 4th tire cities. Multinational retailers should actively build strategic alliances with local enterprises to seek entry into the market, or select the appropriate approach in anticipation of the future development of 3rd and 4th tire cities.

    #4:  To invest to improve food safety. In China, food retailing is definitely an important pillar of the retail industry, food products sales account for over 50% of retailers’ total sales. The frequent food safety incidents have made the customers lose confidence in retailers. With customer attention increasing on food safety, multinational retailers can bring their best practices and experiences in other countries to the Chinese market and to invest to make it their core competitive advantage.

    Opportunities and risks coexist. Multinational retailers should face the reality that the local Chinese retailers have made significant progress in recent years, learning from local players and the multinational retailers should be prepared to evolve with them in the market.

    What are the top 3 E-commerce trends in 2014 and which market segments are expected to grow the fastest?

    This article is structured into three parts to provide the context for:

    • Companies (the seller).
    • Consumers (the customer).
    • E-commerce technology (the tool).

    Companies (the seller)

    The key point for companies to take away is that e-commerce is (becoming) mainstream. For US companies this is a fact, one which is further confirmed by the high percentage of e-commerce-led venture capital exits. However, for some European companies, e-commerce remain a strategic debate at executive level, where the marketing manager is joisting with brands or retail managers, or a push-pull relationship between the information officer and a newly-created function, the e-commerce manager.

    E-commerce is challenging the traditionally silo-ed organization; the path to purchase is getting shorter, the return on investment is measurable, innovation is fast-paced; the blurring of the frontier between traditional marketing and sales or the divide between traditional retail and e-commerce. Such evolution is pushing the limit of traditional silo-ed organization structure and is creating new opportunities for companies to further develop their direct to consumer (DTC) effort. Additionally, companies are creating and manage the Zero Moment Of Truth of their product to have the right content at the right time throughout the customer journey.

    E-commerce has somewhat gone through a complete cycle from when it started as a stand-alone online store to ‘just’ another sales channel, to becoming a crucial part of a business with a strategic imperative that integrates traditional retail, wholesale distribution and the e-commerce dynamic into one omni-channel model.

    Consumers (the customer)

    From the customer’s perspective, this is marked by a strong growth of e-commerce traffic coming from mobile devices representing 25% of all e-commerce traffic in 2014. 75% of this traffic is coming from iPads and iPhone devices.

    These hyper-connected consumers are seeking information online that eventually influences 52% of all retail sales. This is an opportunity for companies to offer a coherent customer-centric online journey throughout the purchase cycle from product search (on or offline) to delivery of the products and customer care services. While using the active and passive data collected throughout this journey to better serve their customers and provide a personalized e-commerce customer experience.

    E-commerce technology (the tool).

    Firstly, looking at the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies Maps, amongst the key technology trends relevant for e-commerce application are big data, prescriptive and predictive analytics.

    The democratization of big data tools and applications is leading the path to a better prescriptive and predictive analytics that contributes to an enhanced customer experience, a better personalization and recommendation services, thus enabling mass personalization (an oxymoron). It is therefore reconciling the traditional paradox of mass services or products (economy of scale) versus personalization (hard to scale). Another positive side effect of data is that it allows companies to make more data driven decision throughout the organization at all levels of customer touch points.

    Secondly, the omni-channel technology is going mainstream with services and products such as digital stores, where e-commerce is blended to complement traditional physical retail. They provide the advantages of omni-channels and enable companies to provide new services in-store that deliver a personalized experience and increase in-store revenue.

    Thirdly, the growth of SaaS (software as a service) e-commerce solutions that are supported by an eco-system of developers who develop plug-in or features for the platform. Such models are often preferred as a way for companies to keep up with the speed of change and development of the web. On the other hand, it increases the complexity of companies to maintain their online store to ensure that it is up to date and support of the latest proven technology.

    The fastest growing market segments

    The largest and fastest growing segment for e-commerce (US) is the media segment, which includes products such as music, video, magazines and books. Within this segment e-commerce represents 24% of total retail sales in 2013. In 2014 this trend will continue to accelerate for all segments.

    I hope this article provides you with a glimpse of the trends, opportunities and challenges of e-commerce as it become a norm to complement existing businesses. E-commerce is becoming just commerce, losing the ‘e’ as we fully embrace the digitalization of business.

    If, like me, you believe that software will eat the world, such trends and the development of technology in general will profoundly change the way in which we search, buy, consume and live our life.

    What are the top 3 omnichannel challenges that consumer retailers in Europe will face in the coming year?

    Omnichannel is the key evolutionary driver of our current retail market–a market that has already weathered some fantastic storms, such as the explosion in online retailers, world-wide economic troubles, and game changing advances by market leaders and consumer technology.  The competitive race towards multi-channel integration has created a new reality for retailers, especially for those in the European market.  What are the omnichannel challenges that consumer retailers in Europe will face in the coming year?  Amongst the many, here are three that stand out to me.

    #1:  Hitting the moving target of consumer expectations.   Advancements in digital technology are creating an escalating series of ‘new normals’ which are shifting consumer purchase behavior.  Retailers who cannot keep up with expectations for seamless, compelling and innovative experiences across mobile, web, and brick & mortar lose both mind and market share.  The challenge of 2014 is for retailers to understand and act on the current shape of their customers’ path of purchase across all stages of the multichannel customer journey, from search, rich media, web sites, and ecommerce, to mobile, CRM & social.  More strategic is for retailers to build the institutional capability of recurring assessment, and to have the intelligence that this gathers feed directly into an omnichannel marketing plan which has seamless interoperability to all customer touch points.  Retailers who do this find that their marketing efforts succeed in driving revenue through a consistent brand experience, whereas their competitors who rely on traditional marketing experience diminishing returns on their investment.

    #2:  Integrating the supply chain.   European retailers include some of the most innovative multi-channel formats, many which have accelerated the evolution and connectivity of the supply chain from the producer to the consumer.  Yet most retailers still function in traditional models characterized by information hoarding, self-serving goals & metrics, and transactional relationships.  The challenge of 2014 is for retailers to understand and act on the strength of a unified, collaborative supply chain focused on serving the customer, with unified metrics and shared rewards.  More strategic is for retailers to convene a network which can flexibly respond to the pace of technological evolution and consumer expectations, unencumbered by legacy systems and process constraints.  Retailers who do this find that their customer insights & touch points multiply, inventory investments reduce, and COGS shrink–all on account of system-wide transparency & cooperation, whereas their competitors who rely on traditional chain-focused inventory management continue to be in a reactionary state (instead of strategic) with little to no visibility to supply chain customer & inventory issues.

    #3:  Adapting the organization.  The single greatest threat to a retailer’s adoption of omnichannel strategy is found internally within their own organization, and is created by legacy structures & success metrics which drive silo-oriented behaviors, non-cohesive customer touch points, and cross-divisional misalignment.  The challenge of 2014 is for retailers to redefine functional roles and platforms such that planning, marketing, warehousing, check-out, returns, and delivery each span the gap between the store, the screen, and the supporting home office team.  More strategic is for retailers to also unify goals, rewards and success metrics.  Retailers who do this find that their internal alignment enables true focus on serving the customer at multiple touch points in a unified approach that generates both revenue and consumer insight, whereas their competitors who maintain functional silos and divisional separation between brick & mortar and e-commerce remain mired in internal battles for resources and revenue.

    Who will win the retail race within Europe in 2014?  Online retailers continue to make progress and gain market share.  Yet brick & mortar players have the advantage of physical proximity which drives so many key shopping occasions.  My view is that those brick & mortar retailers who invest in overcoming the three key challenges mentioned here will emerge victorious at the end of 2014, and strategically positioned to evolve with the new omnichannel realities to come.  Retail is, after all, survival of the fittest. 

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