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THOUGHT LEADERSHIP

Retailers Expand Store Formats and Shopper Tools

21 Mar 2024

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 five 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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Sam’s Club Expands into New States, Sizes

Sam’s Club announced plans to open more than 30 clubs across the U.S. over the next few years, although just one — a Florida location — is currently planned for 2024. Other locations are planned to open in high-growth suburban areas, where there are no or few existing Sam’s Club stores.

The new clubs will be approximately 160,000 square feet in size, larger than most current stores. Most will feature a seafood and sushi island, full-service floral department, and walk-in dairy and fresh coolers. They’ll also feature a larger healthcare space, including a patient waiting area, health services suites, private consultation rooms, and dedicated hearing and optical centers.

Relevance: Especially given their larger footprints, the new stores could offer brands unique opportunities through both in-store demos/merchandising and Sam’s Club MAP (Member Access Platform) media to capture new shoppers and align with the retailer’s initiatives to drive membership sign-ups. 

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Publix Trials Luxury Format 

Publix is testing out a new luxury format for some stores. The updated design features a larger selection of food service items with indoor (upstairs) and outdoor seating, an adjacent Publix Liquor store, and full-service pharmacy with drive-thru window. Additional store experiences will include wine and beer on tap, a flower department, and a ramen bar.

Relevance: Despite being one of the most loved regional grocers, Publix is constantly looking to improve its shopping experience. This move has the retailer heading more into the elevated experience level of Wegmans or Whole Foods and reflects a broader industry trend toward giving shoppers more reasons to visit and stay in-store longer. 

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Walmart Upgrades AR Tools

Walmart has increased its investment in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies that help shoppers envision how fashion and beauty products will look on them. 

The retailer’s latest expansion to the tool set is an Optical Virtual Try-On, which lets shoppers virtually try on different frames before purchasing prescription eyewear either through the Walmart app or on Walmart.com. By using 3D data and advanced algorithms to create a digital twin of any eyewear frame, Walmart is creating a more realistic virtual try-on experience.

Relevance: As technology becomes more sophisticated, Walmart is working to stay ahead of the innovation curve and deliver an online shopping experience that can rival the hands-on environment of the physical store. The Optical Virtual Try-On also improves the retailer’s status as a destination for prescription eyewear. 

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Target Mulls Paid Membership Program

Target is considering the launch of a paid membership program in 2024. The retailer’s current loyalty program, Target Circle, offers deals and rewards to members at no cost. The paid plan would increase the amount and level of special offers. 

Relevance: Target’s latest financial performance (its 2023 Q3 report shows a 4.9% decline in sales) could be influencing the retailer’s potential move into the paid membership space. And with shoppers having already embraced Amazon Prime and Walmart +, a paid membership program at Target could help the retailer better compete with its rivals and build deeper connections with its most-loyal “Guests.”

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Ahold Delhaize Publishes 2023 Annual Report

Published last month, Ahold Delhaize’s annual report for 2023 looks at the various ways the Northeast grocer plans to help shoppers manage their budgets in response to the inflationary period they’ve experienced. The plan includes keeping prices as low as possible, expanding its own brand assortment, and offering more promotions along with recipe inspiration for budget-friendly meals. 

Relevance: Annual reports can be a great resource for understanding the strategy and business approach at retailer partners. To help maximize brand success, brands should scour these reports to find:

  • Where their strategy aligns with the retailer’s.
  • Opportunities for conducting test & learns within their key business pillars.
  • Where their priorities may be shifting and how that could impact brand strategy.
  • How their strategy differs from other retailers.
  • What products in the portfolio might be the best fit (and why).

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Opportunities for Brands

From expanded dining amenities to additional healthcare services, retailers continue leaning into opportunities to elevate the shopper experience and establish themselves as convenient, one-stop sources for various shopper needs. Brands should be ready to lend a hand in relevant ways. And with shoppers spending more time in-store, brands should consider in-store promotions that capture the attention of shoppers.

By enhancing membership programs, retailers are looking both to strengthen loyalty and attract new shoppers through the excitement of exclusive benefits. As retailers like Target look to this tactic, brands should work with their retailer partners to help build on that excitement and deliver on the promise.

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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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