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Retailers Expand Physical & Digital Services

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

Each month, the teams compile Marketplace Assessment reports on retailers (Walmart, Target, Amazon, Kroger, Best Buy, Ulta Beauty) and channels (Regional Grocery, C-Store, Drug, Value, Pet, Club, Beauty, Home Improvement) that are most important to the business success of our clients. The following report outlines noteworthy events across six key retailers from the team’s most recent round of assessments. (To receive copies of the full reports, contact Group SVP Kandi Arrington at [email protected].)

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Kroger Partners with GE on Meal Prep

Kroger has partnered with GE Appliances to bring the store to the stove. Consumers with select GE WiFi-connected wall ovens and ranges can review a rotating selection of Kroger-supplied recipes on the devices’ touchscreens. They can view a list of ingredients and cooking instructions, then immediately add all the necessary items to the digital shopping cart at a Kroger chain after linking their personal account by scanning a QR code on the touchscreen.

Relevance: Shoppers are looking for quick, easy meal inspiration in their busy lives, and you can’t get much more convenient than shopping at your stove. And with the selection of recipes on rotation, shoppers can regularly find something new. With users also able to get meal ideas by entering ingredients they already have at home into a recipe generator, the service also ties into Kroger’s Zero Waste program — whose goal is to divert 95%+ of food waste by 2025.

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Costco Spotlights Sustainability

In December, Costco.com’s homepage featured a link to the retailer’s sustainability initiatives. The company’s overall plan reflects “a holistic strategy … to address climate change” and reduce emissions by 39% by 2030. In addition to presenting highlights, Costco outlined its overall sustainability commitment, including the guiding principles, approach and climate action plan. 

Relevance: Retailers are increasingly being evaluated by their customers, the media, and company shareholders to demonstrate how they’re actively adopting and supporting sustainable business models. Costco underscored the importance of communicating these efforts to members by dedicating prominent homepage space during the busiest sales season. 

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Walmart Launches First Shoppable Series

Walmart is taking product placement to a whole new level with the launch of “Add to Heart,” an innovative 23-episode series that the retailer has coined, “RomCommerce.” The story follows “Jessica” as she returns to her hometown for the holidays and bumps into an old flame, Javi. Each episode features hot wish-list items that viewers can purchase directly through the content. From electronics to home decor, over 330 products presented in “Add to Heart” are sourced from Walmart. Viewers can watch — and shop — the series on TikTok, Roku, and YouTube. A dedicated “Add to Heart” page on Walmart.com gives customers the option to shop all the products showcased in the series or filter by episode.

Relevance: With Mintel finding that almost half (47%) of U.S. consumers have made a purchase through social media, this shoppable series is a great way to meet consumers where they already are. “Add to Heart” will also give retail media networks the ability to capture customers at all stages of the purchase funnel, starting with consumers engaging with an experience that can potentially drive awareness, consideration and purchase.

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Target Leverages Artificial Intelligence

Target is tapping into artificial intelligence to both elevate the guest experience and help forecast product demand. Outwardly, AI will be used to help shoppers find the most relevant products and deals, including through the ad placements they encounter via Roundel. 

The retailer is also using AI across its stores to track and predict product demand to keep items from going out of stock. The technology will ensure that inventory is in the right location to facilitate quick, efficient responses as demand fluctuates.

Relevance: Target is using AI to play a major role in its stated goal to create a personalized, seamless guest experience. The data that Target’s AI tech generates about product demand should also prove insightful for brand partners as well.

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Meijer Expands Market-Format Store Concept

Meijer is expanding its smaller-format “Market” store portfolio as 2024 begins. The Midwest mass merchant is adding a 5th location to its alternative-format portfolio with the launch of Fairfax Market in Cleveland’s Fairfax neighborhood. The store will focus on bringing fresh food and value to shoppers in a size that’s better suited for urban areas.

Relevance: Fairfax Market shelves will be stocked with roughly 2,000 local items, such as Cleveland Cold Brew Coffee, PUR Spices, Akron honey, various beers and wines, and beauty care products. The store will also offer fresh meat and produce, deli items and baked goods, along with both private-label and national-brand packaged foods and beverages. This format is a great alternative for the retailer to integrate more closely with local communities and create distinction for its stores — which represent an extreme departure from the 260+ supercenters with 220,000+ products that Meijer more typically operates.

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Publix Opens Online Flower Shop

Publix has launched online flower ordering with delivery provided by Instacart. Shoppers can order gift bouquets for monthly delivery or simply make purchases for special occasions (including weddings). Publix will change the varieties based on the season.

Relevance: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 22% of Americans bought flowers last Valentine’s Day, resulting in a single-day surge of about $2.3 billion. But remember that flowers aren’t the only thing shoppers buy for their loved ones: in 2023, the NRF reported that Valentine’s Day spending neared $26 billion in total.

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Opportunities for Brands

Retailers are looking for new ways to reach shoppers outside of their own digital or physical walls. As they explore new channels like interactive kitchen appliances or shoppable entertainment, more touchpoints into the daily lives of consumers become available. Brands should work with their retail partners to showcase relevant products through these new capabilities. 

Food waste and sustainability also continue to grow in importance for retailers and brands alike. As initiatives to combat both take shape, brands should find mutually beneficial opportunities to partner with retailers. With ESG (environmental, social, and corporate governance) initiatives evolving, brands will begin to see changes in critical operational systems like inventory management that they will need to address. Ultimately, sustainability practices are not just feel-good efforts for retailers involving food donations to sway consumer opinion — they also create a pathway to better margins and major cost-saving practices.

And with retailers looking to expand their formats and product offerings, brands should work with partners to find ways of helping. Publix’s flower delivery service, for example, provides a great opportunity to conduct a basket analysis and determine which items in the portfolio are most often purchased with flowers. Once identified, product bundles could spark ownable micro-occasions for seasonal offers at Valentine’s Day, graduation season or other key periods.

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Mars United Commerce’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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