The trade is more and more consolidating and the retail landscape is moving faster and faster. What’s the impact of digital and internationalization on the retail world and strategy?
Bart Van Acker, retail specialist and currently Senior Key Account Manager at a major FMCG Company based in Brussels and Associate at Minds&More, answers our questions about changes within retail.
With consolidation you get a higher rotation in your contacts at the customer. How do you still build long term relationships?
Consolidation is a trend that has been going on for a while. In Belgium, there are 3 big groups responsible for 80% of the business: Delhaize-Ahold, Carrefour and Colruyt. The rotation of contacts depends a lot on the customer. If you work with big international groups like Carrefour, you will see a lot of new faces appearing. But if you’re dealing with a national client like Colruyt, the rotation rate will be lower. Another change is that you will also have a lot more contacts at different levels within the company.
But the roles are also changing. For example, one role of the buyer in the past was to negotiate the prices. In some companies, we can now see the role of “sourcing manager” appearing whose task it is to take care of the negotiations while the buyer is more focusing on category management and long-term development of his category. In cross country groups as Delhaize-Ahold, decisions can be taken either at an international level or at a national level which is an issue most Key Account Managers are dealing with.
To face those changes, we need to strive for long-time relationships. But on the other hand, the landscape in retail is changing so fast these days, it isn’t possible to make 5 year plans anymore. You find out about the trends, define the strategy and action plan, and try to accomplish it.
The whole landscape has become much more sophisticated. But you still need to build relations with buyers and other types of roles that are starting to appear within retail.
What are the major trends that you see increasing?
First of all, the Retail landscape is changing as new sales channels are appearing.
Beside traditional supermarkets and hypermarkets, there has been the rise and repositioning of hard discount over the last 5 years, resulting in increased pressure on price and margins.
Low end retail with players such as ‘Action’ is another rapidly expanding channel for some categories such as Home and Personal Care.
Foodservice and retail channels are ‘blurring’. Think for example about integration within retail outlets of Sushi shops, and the recently announced partnership between Delhaize and Foodmaker for sandwich “shop in shops”. One must remember that consumers are looking for shopping experiences and want to be entertained.
Furthermore, E-commerce and online shopping is an inescapable trend, now also growing in food, which leads to a changing competitive field. Colruyt recently communicated that last year already 5% of its retail turnover is done via the e commerce channel of ‘Collect&Go’.
Nowadays, you also have to keep an eye on what’s happening in the market all over the world. Not only at a national level. Amazon, Bol.com, Alibaba: you really have to check what is happening there!
But you also see some consolidation on supplier side: suppliers are getting bigger and become important partners that retail can’t do without.
Opposite to this you also see a consumer trend towards more ‘local’ products and brands. Craftmanship, authenticity, local bonding are important. Think for example about the rise of ‘craft beers’. Retail responds to this trend by giving more shelf space to ‘local jewels’ and looks for exclusive partnerships with small suppliers to differentiate itself from competition.
There is a lot to be done to innovate in new types of products and concepts. The ideal situation would be a partnership with suppliers where you co-create a category. It’s not only a balance of power. There’s also a lot of expertise and innovation to be shared.
What is the impact of digital on how you sell? Big data and Artificial intelligence
There’s a lot of progress to be made in sharing big data and info between retailers and suppliers.
Overall, digital e-commerce in food retail still has a relatively low turnover. But digital is an upcoming trend and is growing. That’s why retailers are investing in it.
On supplier and retailer side, teams dealing with digital are different from teams that deal with traditional retail. There is still a lot to be done on the side of the retailer because everything is different from offline to online: logistics (selling by consumer unit and not by carton, separate warehouses), but also product names or promotion types. It’s an own, typical approach within this online channel that needs to be fine-tuned with your offline approach.
Over the last 10 years how has your role changed? What are the new competencies that have become more important?
A lot already changed over the last 10 years. FMCG in Belgium is not growing anymore. There’s fiercer competition and more pressure on prices and margins but also pressure from retailers towards suppliers. If the cake is not growing anymore, you have to take some parts from competitors or suppliers.
It must also be pointed out that own brands of supermarkets have grown because consumers became more price sensitive.
Still, the basics of good Key Account Management are very important. You need people with more maturity that are able to keep a helicopter view and to make a synthesis of everything that happens.
You also need financial skills and awareness due to margin pressure. It’s not just telling nice stories and developing experiences. You also need to be present for daily implementation because retail is still detail. A strategy can be fantastic on paper, but it also has to take into account local circumstances and characteristics of each market. And you can’t do that from behind a desk in a faraway country.