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Physical, Digital & ‘Phygital’ Expansion

26 Jul 2023

As part of their ongoing mission to help clients stay ahead of the competition in a fast-paced, constantly evolving marketplace, The Mars Agency’s Customer Development teams closely monitor the strategic activity taking place across all key retailers and channels.

Each month, the teams compile Marketplace Assessment reports on the retailers (Walmart, Target, Kroger, Best Buy) and channels (Regional Grocery, Small Format, Pet, Beauty) that are most important to the business success of our clients. The following report outlines 6 noteworthy events across the retail landscape from the team’s most recent round of assessments. (To receive copies of the full reports, contact Group SVP Kandi Arrington at [email protected].)

Fresh Connect Builds Out Retailer Network

The Story: Kroger, Walmart and Albertsons all have become part of the Fresh Connect store network, expanding the service into more than 10,000 grocery retail locations. The “food prescription” program lets participating consumers shop for fresh fruits and vegetables at their preferred local store, swipe a prepaid debit card at checkout, and have the cost of qualifying items automatically deducted from the total bill.

Relevance: Participation in Fresh Connect gives consumers incentivized access to a fresh assortment of fruits and vegetables as well as more choices in stores that can fit into their budget. Membership in the network, combined with acceptance of government SNAP and WIC programs, can help these retailers bring additional households into the fold.

Opportunity: With the potential for new shoppers to visit Kroger, Albertsons or Walmart, and a possible increase in fresh-led trips across all three, national brands should consider developing programs that showcase fresh pairings to capitalize on the increase.


Target Taps Influencers

The Story: Target has rolled out “Target Storefronts” on their website. The page consists of a select number of influencers, all with different backgrounds, content and inspiration, who share their favorite Target finds in groups labeled “Collections.” Influencers can join through Target’s Partners Program as long as their website is family-friendly and a majority of their viewers are based in the U.S. Target Partners are able to choose any products available through the retailer to promote on their page. To keep a curated selection of products, for example, beauty influencers will likely feature makeup products and/or clothing.

Relevance: As influencers continue to make an impact on shopper behavior and purchases, Target has homed in on a way to pull all their finds into one location. The program also allows Target guests to explore choices from both familiar and new online personalities.

Opportunity: The Storefronts page is a great way for brands to find and partner with influencers who share the same passions, philosophies and love for the products. Through these partnerships, brands can access new audiences to build on their own loyal base.


Walmart Gets Greener

The Story: Walmart announced new sustainability measures designed to reduce the amount of packaging waste associated with online orders. These include moving from plastic to recyclable paper mailers, right-sizing cardboard boxes, giving customers the option to consolidate shipping on ecommerce orders, opting out of single-use plastic bags for pickup orders, and reducing mileage and delivery windows to create last-mile efficiencies.

Relevance: Walmart continues to look for new ways to become a more sustainable company while simultaneously expanding their store footprint in greener ways. The retailer’s environmentally conscious initiatives help signify broader efforts among large retailers to reduce waste and emissions.

Opportunity: Brands should continue working with their Walmart partners to better align with the retailer’s sustainability goals. Assess the packaging needs for your products and see if there are opportunities to reduce associated waste as well.


Aldi Delivers More Convenience

The Story: Grocery retailer Aldi has rolled out Aldi Express, a new partnership with Instacart being positioned as a “virtual convenience store.” The service gives shoppers across more than 2,100 Aldi locations access to roughly 2,000 of the retailer’s most-shopped items — including prepared foods, snacks, drinks, grocery staples and household essentials — with delivery options as fast as 30 minutes.

Relevance: As shopping habits continue to shift toward omnichannel, the convenience of Aldi Express is making the online grocery experience more effortless and accessible.

Opportunity: As shoppers continue to adopt alternative fulfillment methods and retailers explore new solutions to meet their customers’ growing demand for convenient options, it’s becoming more and more important for the convenience channel to retain its relevance and maintain loyalty. Brands should look for opportunities to provide exclusive programs or promotional offers that will help Aldi drive trial and traffic for this new program.


Wakefern Adds Smart Carts Aisles

The Story: ShopRite cooperative Wakefern Food Corp. will be the first retailer partner to deploy new Caper Carts. Launching in two stores, the program is being positioned as an easy way for shoppers to save money and find promotions. ShopRite customers using the carts can access their loyalty accounts to view deals, but also utilize the cart’s scales, sensors, artificial intelligence and computer vision to scan items as they traverse the store. To check out, they simply scan a barcode displayed on the cart screen in a self-checkout area to pay through a predetermined credit card.

Relevance: Retailers have been testing smart carts for years, with traction beginning to pick up recently. In the latest wave, the Amazon Dash cart hit the market in 2020, and Instacart soon after purchased Caper AI, manufacturer of the Smart Cart fleet currently being used at Kroger, Wegmans, and now, ShopRite.

Opportunity: Brands should work with their retailer partners to ensure that product images, names and promotions are updated and available through the Caper Carts. As the technology continues to evolve, these carts will be a great bridge between the retailer’s ecommerce and physical presence.


BJ’s Expands Into New States

The Story: BJ’s Wholesale Club opened its newest location in La Vergne, Tennessee, marking their first door in that state. The retailer’s U.S. footprint now boasts 238 clubs across 19 states.

Relevance: BJ’s has continued to grow its presence beyond their original East Coast roots in 2023 with five more clubs on track to open — including a Madison, AL, location that will mark the 20th state.

Opportunity: The retailer’s growing presence will increase competition in the club channel and inspire more offerings for channel shoppers. BJ’s has the lowest membership entry rate and is the only warehouse chain that accepts manufacturer coupons, making them a solid competitor, especially during this inflationary environment. Revisit your channel and retailer strategies and stay up to date on BJ’s growth opportunities.


The Mars Agency’s Customer Development practice is an unrivaled team of in-market commerce experts who simplify the complexity of retail for our clients. Located in Bentonville, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Chicago, Tampa and the “backyards” of other key retailers, they provide deep knowledge of the retailer, expertise in key business areas (like strategy, media and creative), and door-opening personal relationships with key executives to deliver an unmatched level of business success for clients across accounts, channels and shopper engagement platforms. For more information, contact Group SVP Kandi Arrington at [email protected].

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